Spending Trebled,
Debt heading towards $170 billion,
another Labor Budget

Legislative Assembly 25 May 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (18:19): It is great to have the opportunity to join this debate on the Appropriation (2022–2023) Bill 2022 and Appropriation (Parliament 2022–2023) Bill 2022. This is my 16th budget, and it most certainly will be my last.

Of course for eight of those budgets I was associated with the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC), along with the minister who spoke just a minute ago for four of those years. Six of those years were either as chair of the committee or as deputy chair of the committee. And frankly I think that is probably enough exposure to the budget and the budget process for anyone. Probably Treasurers and Assistant Treasurers have more exposure, but for ordinary members of the Assembly that is more than enough.

I think it also needs to be said, though, that the landscape has changed enormously since 2006.

2007 was of course John Brumby’s final budget as Treasurer before he was moved up the ladder and became Premier later on that year. It was probably one of the last, if not the last, responsible Labor budgets that we saw.

I will come back to the numbers because clearly those numbers have changed enormously, but it is not only the numbers that have changed. Transparency in the budget process has been significantly diminished.

When Steve Bracks was Premier he had a very strong commitment to the PAEC process. He put extra money in; he felt that there was not enough money going in under the Kennett government, and he was probably right, frankly. He put extra money in, he made sure the committee was resourced and he was very, very keen to facilitate the process. Unfortunately what we see now is that while the number of hours of hearings may be the same, the schedule is very much curtailed—so early morning starts, late evening finishes. In terms of work, there is nothing wrong with starting early in the morning or finishing late at night, but when you have these sorts of hearings back to back, one after the other, you have got fresh ministers coming in, you have got tired and at the end of the time exhausted committee members, it is not a reasonable match.

You also have a situation where hearings are occurring at hours that are not convenient to the media, and that again minimises the coverage, so we have far less coverage at PAEC now than we have had in the past. I know people will say, ‘Who cares? It’s another committee hearing’. But the reality is the PAEC process is intended to take the place of consideration of the committee of the whole, or consideration in detail, as we now call it.

That is what PAEC is about. I know we do not do a lot of consideration in detail, but surely if there is one bill a year that you want to consider forensically and examine in detail, it is the appropriation bill. It is happening, but it is not happening to anywhere near the extent that it used to.

The second change that does concern me in terms of transparency or in terms of opportunity to examine these important documents is the fact that we are now conflating the debate—and I know that is not the technical term—we are now conflating the issues of the appropriation bill and the appropriation parliament bill.

Frankly, I have a problem with that for two reasons. The first is we are now forced to consider the appropriation of the Parliament in the same breath as the executive. That is not appropriate. The second point is I doubt if I have heard anyone mention the Parliament in this whole debate. You do not need to be debating the appropriation parliament bill for weeks, but it deserves to be examined separately and it deserves to be considered separately.

The practice now diminishes the role of the Parliament and effectively places it in this debate in a subsidiary position to the executive, and that, in my view, is not appropriate.

I think all members—it does not matter which party they belong to or to no party at all—need to be aware of the need to protect the position of the Parliament. And okay, if you are a member of the government, you do not need to go out and argue the case in public, but at least have a voice inside your own party and protect the position of the Parliament, because under the current arrangements it is being eroded. Democracy is multifaceted and the parliamentary process is an important part of it, but the reality is that unless we keep pressure on all facets of democracy—and the lesson of Saturday is our system is working, but we need to make sure we keep it working—unless we make sure we safeguard the democratic process, it is very easily diminished.

I want to give a recent example of how transparency can be diminished and democracy potentially threatened, and that is in the United States. A few days ago Jen Psaki, who was President Biden’s first press secretary, doing the briefings, stood down after 16 months. During the course of those 16 months she had given 224 briefings. In contrast, the however many press secretaries Donald Trump had had in total over four years given 205 briefings. So in 16 months Jen Psaki has given 224 briefings compared with 205 for the whole four years. That is about transparency and that is about access.

Now, I know they have a different system to us, clearly, but my point is in the United States they have taken action to repair the damage to the democratic process that was done under Trump. I am not suggesting that what is happening here is anywhere near as dramatic, but the point is we need to be vigilant. We need to be on guard to protect the process.

You cannot have a discussion about a budget without talking about debt, without talking about deficits, because debt is an ever-present part of every public budget, and of course deficits are a part of some budgets.

But this year, for the current financial year, the government forecast a deficit of $11.6 billion. The deficit at the end of this financial year will be $17.6 billion—just a lazy $6 billion variance. Yet the Treasurer a few weeks ago stood up and said, ‘Oh, we’ll be back in surplus in four years. We’ll deliver a modest surplus in four years’.

I think that has got a touch of the Wayne Swans about it, because it simply cannot be done.

In saying that, I want to make my position on debt very, very clear. You need to borrow money to build infrastructure, but you do not need to borrow money to fund cost blowouts that should not occur. You need to borrow money to support a budget in an emergency, and the deficits that have been run over the last couple of years I have no problem with when the money has legitimately been used for the emergency. But in many cases it has not been, and I will come back to that as well.

So I have no problem with the legitimate COVID expenditure, and I have no problem with sensible infrastructure provision, but unfortunately that is not the total story in this budget.

Coming back to the comparison with 2007, in 2007, when I came into the Parliament, the budget surplus was $324 million. We had net debt of $3 billion. The budget deficit for 2022 is expected to be $7.9 billion. Given the performance last year, who knows what it will actually be—who knows?

Net debt will be almost $119 billion; by the end of the forwards, $168 billion—21 per cent of gross state product at the end of the next financial year and 26.5 per cent of gross state product at the end of the forwards.

Now, to put that growth in perspective, the CPI index in December 2006 was 86.7; it had risen to 124.2 at the end of March this year. That is a 43 per cent increase in the CPI over that period. The appropriation bill, when you look at the amounts to be issued from the Consolidated Fund, totals $85.1 billion.

The corresponding figure in 2006 was $26.8 billion, in round terms. So in other words, in those 16 years notional spending has trebled.

Now, I know the CPI has gone up by, as I said, 43 per cent. The population has obviously grown significantly over that time as well. It has gone from 5.1 million to 6.6 million, but the government was spending back then $5188 per capita. If you index that by the 43 per cent, that comes to $7400 per capita in round terms.

But the actual spend per capita in this budget is $12 800, so over that 16 years real spending has grown by 73 per cent, and that is not sustainable. The government knows it is not sustainable. It cannot be sustainable.

Okay, interest rates are at historic lows, and we can probably support the sort of debt that that generates as long as interest rates do not move. But we know they are going to, so I think there are some concerns there.

I want to delve a little further into the detail, and that is to briefly talk about the Treasurer’s advances. Page 15 of the appropriation bill provides a $14 billion allocation as an advance to the Treasurer—$14 billion—and actually it is down a little bit. Last budget it was $16 billion. So what we are proposing in this budget is to allow the Treasurer basically to spend $14 billion on whatever he deems necessary. We are handing over $14 billion.

Now, during an emergency that is a reasonable thing to do. It is not desirable, but it is a reasonable thing to do. But we are coming out of that emergency now, and that approach should not be business as usual. We should not be allowing that sort of funding to be allocated and then simply signed off by the Parliament in a couple of years time.

Again, I go back to the figures from when I first entered this place. The amount provided for the Treasurer’s advance in 2006 was $482 million.

In other words, the amount provided in this budget compared with 16 years ago is 29 times higher. As I said, yes, it is reported back; yes, it appears in the Annual Financial Report; yes, we get to sign off on it two years down the track—but there is no oversight from Parliament. There is no veto. We only get to approve it when the money is spent.

And just in case there is a claim that it has all been spent on COVID, when you have a look at the figures in the budget papers nearly $8 billion was spent by way of Treasurer’s advance in 2020–21, which are the numbers that are reported, and $3.4 billion of that was COVID but $4.16 of that was not COVID, just simply extra spending not of an emergency nature.

Just very briefly in terms of the Mornington electorate, normally I stand up and say, ‘We got nothing, so thanks for nothing’. In this case I am delighted to say, after a 10-year campaign, Mornington Special Developmental School was funded for a rebuild. It has been a 10-year campaign. It is going to be a great development for the kids at the school. It is going to be a great development for the teachers, who do a fantastic job. It is very, very welcome news.

Unfortunately there is a long list of infrastructure works that have not been funded, but there is one funded, and for that I am very, very excited.

Federal Election 2022

Legislative Assembly 24 May 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (12:52): On Saturday, 21 May, Australians went to the polls.

The outcome of that contest was a change of government—a peaceful change in what have been somewhat turbulent times. I think the outcome, and the manner in which it was conducted should remind us all just how strong our democracy is and how lucky we are to have it.

Personally, it was a disappointing result, and of course it was also a disappointing political result from my perspective. It remains to be seen whether those that wear the teal can now switch from campaigning to actually delivering for their communities.

I suspect they will have a choice between sticking to their principles and actually delivering, so we will have to see how that works out.

In the Mornington electorate we have a new member for Flinders, Zoe McKenzie, who actually achieved a slight swing towards the Liberal Party.

Unfortunately in Dunkley the Liberal candidate, Sharn Coombes, was not successful, but Sharn was a great candidate. You could not have wanted anyone to work harder. Indeed I think she was probably the hardest working candidate I have seen in my 40 years in this game.

The outcome in no way reflected the effort. I do have enormous respect for Sharn’s dedication, the skills she brought to the contest and the manner in which the campaign was conducted.

I do extend my congratulations to Peta Murphy, and I look forward to working with Peta and with Zoe McKenzie in the service of the people of the Mornington Peninsula.

Adoption Reform welcome, but how about a Legislative Agenda?

Legislative Assembly 12 May 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (11:50): I am probably going to disappoint the member for Frankston, but I do want to congratulate him on his contribution and the points he made on that particular element of the bill. I agree it is totally bipartisan, and I think there is wholehearted support across the Parliament for what has been done.

Unfortunately I do have some issues with some other parts of the bill. I guess the fact that we are dealing with yet another omnibus bill, which is a grab bag of bits and pieces, really points to the thinness of the government’s legislative agenda; it is very, very thin.

We have an absolutely broken health system. We have a CBD that is screaming for support and getting next to none. We have an infrastructure agenda that even the Treasurer admits is at risk of collapse because of a shortage of materials; we have heard that in the last few days.

When we are talking about justice, we had a story on Anzac Day in fact warning that there will be a crisis in the courts that could take decades to clear. We have the government refusing to confirm the number of pending cases. We have the Auditor-General saying we need a 179 per cent increase in the number of courtrooms.

A few days after that the figures were released. I can understand why the government was not keen to have them released, because they showed there were 116 000 cases pending in the Magistrates Court; that is up 45 per cent.

Then a couple of days ago we had the Herald Sun reporting that criminals are walking free from jail early because of the backlog—judges reducing sentences to try and get guilty pleas to deal with the backlog. This is a very, very unnecessary and difficult situation for our justice system, but it is a reality.

There is nothing in this bill that addresses any of the multiple crises that we have currently across the state.

Just look at the second-reading speech: clarifying an issue in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010; gender-inclusive language in the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities; reforms to the Adoption Act 1984 and the births, deaths and marriages register—which, as I said, is I think the important issue in the whole bill. We have got diversity on the Judicial College of Victoria board, how they appoint alternate directors, a change to VCAT’s jurisdiction, updating of the Crimes at Sea Act 1999 and the secrecy provisions in the Gender Equality Act 2020.

None of those things are problematic in terms of the actual legislation, but they are essentially administrative matters. None of them fix the crisis that our justice system is facing across the state.

Before I speak about the range of matters that are in the bill, I do want to make some comments on part 8, which is the integrated birth certificates part of the bill. Part 8 makes a range of amendments to the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 and the Adoption Act. They are quite technical changes, but the outcome is to facilitate integrated birth certificates.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a very important reform, and I think it is a very welcome reform that will enjoy strong support. It picks up recommendation 26 of the Legal and Social Issues Committee’s inquiry into historical forced adoptions. This is an extremely difficult subject, and it has had a difficult history over a long period.

I have no doubt that many of the people that were engaged in the practice of what has come to be known as forced adoptions felt that they were doing the right thing. But we need to be clear: they were not doing the right thing.

It was a practice that led to enormous trauma for far too many, and it is a practice that has had ongoing impacts across the generations—the impact of trauma, mental health impacts and potentially physical health impacts.

This can, should be and I believe is a bipartisan outcome. I am certainly proud of the fact that I was part of the 2012 apology—a part of the government that introduced that apology—and I am proud to be standing here today saying I strongly support the changes that are part of this reform.

Going back to the chronology of the bill, in the time that remains, changes to the Crimes at Sea Act 1999, part 2—irrelevant to Victoria but necessary, absolutely. Changes to the Equal Opportunity Act 2010—now, the member for Malvern talked about clause 7. The advice we had was that it is an avoidance-of-doubt clause. If that is in fact the case, then I think it is quite a reasonable change.

New section 176B adds to the section 176 secrecy provisions to codify a range of exceptions. According to the second-reading speech it is about enabling disclosure where necessary to protect the safety and wellbeing of others.

There is nothing unreasonable there. I think it probably does indicate a weakness in the current FOI system—that the FOI system could be frustrated by hiding behind the secrecy provisions. And perhaps it also indicates a weakness in terms of the mandatory reporting provisions—the fact that we have to beef up this act to ensure that those things are still observed. Surely if we had a system that was doing its job, those provisions would override this, but unfortunately it appears they do not.

The changes to the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006—clauses 9 to 24—are largely about changing ‘his or her’ to ‘their’, ‘that person’s’, ‘the child’s’, ‘the member’s’ or ‘the Minister’s’. It is interesting in the style convention that ‘the minister’s’ has a capital ‘m’ even though it does not apply to a particular minister but ‘the member’s’ does not. I am not sure how that evolved, but it is an interesting observation.

Is it a reasonable change? From my perspective, absolutely it is. Personally, I would like to see this change happen a lot quicker than it is happening. I would like to see the legislation just done across the board, sort of similar to the 1958 consolidations of legislation that were undertaken.

I know some people are concerned about these sorts of changes. I suspect it is more about what you are used to than specific pushback about the intent. The fact is many people simply do not like change. That is the fact of it. I recall probably three or four decades ago the debate about whether you have a chair or a chairman or a chairperson.

That debate has largely been forgotten now, and over three or four decades that practice has changed. Now of course we talk about batters et cetera. So from my perspective, the sooner we can get this done the better. It is a debate that we do not need distracting us in difficult times.

Changes to the Judicial College of Victoria Act 2001—the second-reading speech suggested that it was about implementing the recommendations of the review of sexual harassment in the courts and VCAT.

Well, yes, it is about one recommendation, I think it was recommendation 7, but it is also about dealing with the “big” issues again: prohibition on acquiring or disposing of personal property of more than $50 000—I do not know why it was in there in the first place, but this takes it out; removing the reference to the need to execute delegations under seal; board absences approved by the chair not the Attorney-General; and fewer meetings a year—three meetings instead of four. Why not make it four meetings a year rather than saying ‘every three months’? And permitting the chair to appoint a temporary chair.

There is only one change related to the review, as I mentioned, and that is changing the number of directors from eight to nine or ten and boosting the number of people with broad experience in community issues affecting courts from two to three or four. So that is the implementation of recommendation 7.

The Magistrates’ Court Act—as I said, 116 000 cases pending, 45 per cent up. What are we doing? We are changing the mechanism for adjusting the court rules.

VCAT, federal matters—again something needs to be done, but it is hardly a matter of moment. The changes to the Adoption Act—I will not have time to go through them, but they are again an important part of that process and certainly to be supported.

There is nothing remarkable. These are largely administrative reforms. Most of it is housekeeping. The changes that I identified at the outset of my contribution are the important changes. I would like to see far more matters of substance on the legislative agenda of this place. I live in hope.

Public Housing – Well located Slums are still Slums

Legislative Assembly 12 May 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (10:07): We have a housing crisis on the Mornington Peninsula.

We have the sixth-largest number of rough sleepers in the state. We have low—in fact extremely low—vacancy rates in terms of rental properties. We have a genuine crisis.

I thought it might have been instructive to see what the government, particularly the member for Nepean, has been saying about housing, so I searched Hansard.

The member for Nepean has mentioned housing on the Mornington Peninsula once, on 9 September 2021. He asked the Minister for Housing to provide an update to his community about:

… how the Victorian government’s announcement on funding to provide housing support and targeted initiatives to address homelessness in—

the budget—

… will help to reduce homelessness on the Mornington Peninsula.

What was the response? None—absolutely none.

A government member asked in an adjournment for a response from the Minister for Housing and he has had nothing at all. I guess it is hard to talk about what you are doing when you are not actually doing anything.

My own electorate has a number of locations where public housing is literally falling apart—literally collapsing. It is prime real estate, but if you are not going to invest in public housing on the Mornington Peninsula, how about you utilise the assets better? Surely we can use them more effectively.

The sites are great, the buildings are not. Well-located slums are still slums.

There is a real opportunity here to take action and make improvements that will make a real difference to people’s lives. I challenge the minister, who it is great to see at the table, to really get on and do something.

Financial Assistance for Victims of Crime – Welcome, but why has it taken so long?

Legislative Assembly 11 May 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (18:27): I am pleased to have the opportunity this evening to make some comments on the Victims of Crime (Financial Assistance Scheme) Bill 2022.

Given the nature of the legislation we have been dealing with in recent weeks it is in fact a great pleasure to be debating a bill with a long title that says, ‘a Bill for an Act’. So it is not the usual grab bag for rats and mice or bits and pieces, it is not a so-called omnibus bill that covers the whole gamut of a department in order to make it up to 50 pages; it is actually a new act—with, obviously, some amendments to other acts. So it is a pleasure to be able to debate this bill.

My perspective is somewhat different from what we have heard from the member for Broadmeadows and the Minister for Public Transport. I would say: why has this taken so long? We have got a bill where clearly the purpose is:

to provide a new scheme to assist victims of crime in their recovery from acts of violence; and to amend …a range of other acts.

Why has it taken so long?

The second-reading speech clearly confirms the problems we have with the current regime. The minister says the Victorian Law Reform Commission:

found that the experience for victims in applying to VOCAT is highly retraumatising and requires engagement with an often complex, lengthy and delayed process … victims often faced lengthy delays before receiving awards, and were sometimes exposed to the indignity of the perpetrator being notified to attend a hearing.

These issues are not new.

A member interjected.

Mr MORRIS: I am quoting from the second-reading speech.

These issues are not new. For years, victims have been emphatically telling us that more work needs to be done to provide them with real access to justice … They see the system as broken and in urgent need of being rebuilt.

I endorse all of those remarks absolutely. This is not a new issue at all. The current arrangements do cause significant trauma. There are lengthy delays, and yes, the system is broken. I agree with all those statements from the minister.

So why did it take four years to get this bill into the Parliament? A media release of September 2018 says: 

The Government accepts all of the Commission’s recommendations in principle and, if re-elected, will undertake significant work to progress these reforms in the next term of government.

Well, frankly, talk about weasel words in a press release:

undertake significant work to progress these reforms …

The expectation from the public when you make an announcement of this nature and you talk about the next term of government is that it will be done in the next term of government.

But that is not what we see here. We see that almost four years after the media release we have now got a bill in the house and a commencement date 2½ years down the track—a December 2024 commencement date.

The release of the report and the media release was in the shadow of an election. The Victorian Law Reform Commission report confirms, as I said, that the system has failed too many. In fact it is probably fair to say it has failed most.

But four years on, almost in the shadow of the next election, this bill lands. I might be a little bit cynical after almost 16 years in this place, but I do not see, if it takes four years, any genuine commitment to reform.

We have heard lots of fine words this afternoon, lots of talk about commitment, but if it takes four years from the time you have a report with an almost fully formed process—a very, very solid report from the law reform commission—I do not see any genuine commitment, when you take four years to get the legislation and then, as I said a minute ago, another 2½ years to commencement.

The only commitment I see is a commitment to stay on the Treasury benches. Now, that might be a little bit cynical, but, frankly, that is the way I view what we are going through this afternoon.

I am not suggesting for a minute that the legislation is not good—it is. I absolutely support it. The member for Gembrook and the member for Ovens Valley touched on a few niggles, a few concerns that we on this side have, but they are very, very minor concerns. The bill is good.

Frankly, the credit I give the government is the reference to the law reform commission, because the model that we are dealing with this afternoon, as I said, is that of the law reform commission.

I could spend considerable time going through the details in the bill. I will not. Basically in part 2 it lays out eligibility for assistance, whether it be for primary victims, secondary victims or related victims, and there is reference to funeral expenses.

Part 3 deals with the processes—with the mechanics—of granting the assistance.

Part 4 talks about reviewing the assistance, variation of assistance, repayment if required and so on, and then a number of acts have some consequential amendments as well. As I said, basically I think it is a good model. The thing that really irritates me is that it has taken so damn long to get there.

I want to change direction and refer to the report in the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee (SARC) Alert Digest that was tabled in this place today and in the other place yesterday.

We get these reports every week. They are very rarely mentioned in debate, and when they are, I suggest it is in the nature of a stocking filler. It is an opportunity to pull a few quotes out when you have not got much else to say.

In saying that, I am not diminishing in any way the importance of these reports, because I think the fact that they do not actually get used in debate very much is an indication that the system is working, that the questions that need to be asked actually do get asked. So I am not belittling the reports at all.

In this case there are a couple of things that I want to mention very quickly that relate to the charter, and they are illustrative of the challenges of legislating the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities as this Parliament has done and then trying to fashion legislation such as this, where some of the issues that are laid out in the charter and that are generally universal do cause problems in this sort of legislation.

I want to say clearly that the approach in the legislation is the one I support, but SARC has raised a couple of potential conflicts.

The first is the impact through clause 22, which requires information to be fully made available when a claim is made or when assistance is sought. There are then some provisions in clause 33 that talk about the decision-maker taking account of the criminal record of an applicant or a deceased primary victim.

The issues are essentially around the issue of privacy and whether spent convictions should be considered. I know the committee is writing to the Attorney-General on that.

The other issue is around the admissibility of scheme documents, clauses 63 and 64—the admissibility of materials arising from the scheme and of cross-examination and admissibility of documents by consent.

So there is potentially conflict with the charter and potentially some issues with the statement of compatibility, but as I said, from my perspective what is in the bill is the appropriate direction we should be going.

This is an important piece of legislation. I can see absolutely no reason why it could not have been implemented three years ago; I really do not. Essentially the scheme was designed by the Law Reform Commission. It could have been in place. Just get on and do it, and do it as quickly as you can.

Updating Agriculture Legislation

Legislative Assembly 3 May 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (17:21): It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to make some comments on this Agriculture Legislation Amendment Bill 2022, which is not only physically a fairly substantial bill, but it does introduce a range of changes.

It is effectively an omnibus bill in the context of the agriculture area. True, I think most of the changes that are proposed are in fact related directly to agriculture; with some the link is perhaps a little more tenuous. Certainly with the proposed amendments to the low-THC definition, I think the link is non-existent, but ultimately they are, I guess, related in some way.

I think one of the issues, though, with a bill of this nature is that the changes are so many that, frankly, with the speaking limits we have we do not actually get to talk about all of them in any case—and I will not labour this point because I will obviously be burning time—and we do not get the opportunity to really address the whole bill, let alone particularly contentious clauses. I guess the comments from the member for Box Hill bear that out; he needed to focus on one particular area.

There are many changes. Most of them are administrative—or many are administrative, I should say—but some are in fact reasonably significant. I will comment briefly on the less contentious or less complex matters covered by the bill and then, hopefully, spend a bit more time on the bigger changes and where I see more issues.

The changes proposed to the Meat Industry Act 1993 and the Dairy Act 2000 are relatively straightforward. They are about ensuring that the Public Administration Act 2004 applies to both PrimeSafe employees and Dairy Food Safety Victoria employees.

There is an unambiguous exclusion in the current legislation. When we sought an explanation as to why that was in fact the case, apparently the reasoning was lost in the mists of time. No-one seems to know why the exclusion was put there—it is not obvious—so I certainly do not object to it being removed, but hopefully it will not come back to bite us.

The changes with regard to the Farm Debt Mediation Act 2011 extend the application of that act to forestry and agriculture and require that an exemption certificate is in place at all times before further measures are taken.

From my perspective any measures that serve to keep people on the land to keep them producing food and fibre are worthwhile measures. This bill will certainly assist in that way but it also does in fact streamline the processes associated with it, hopefully for the beneficiaries as well as the people seeking to enforce their entitlements.

The changes to the Plant Biosecurity Act 2010 appear to expand the role of inspectors but also to clarify their powers, so while some of it may be controversial, I think again it is largely acceptable. With the Rural Assistance Schemes Act 2016, it is streamlining again. Essentially providing flexibility for a member appointed to the rural assistance commission to operate part-time makes sense.

With the Wildlife Act 1975, a couple are very small, but I think certainly one of them is an important change. The first one is changing the words ‘game birds’ to ‘game that is waterfowl’, a distinction that is apparently important, and the second one of course is substituting a full stop for a semicolon, so we are dealing with another matter of substance there.

The first one, though, relates to the measures to protect non-shooters and shooters under section 58C of the act—that is, during the 2 hours before sunset through to 10.00 am the following morning, the exclusion of non-shooters through that period. I think it is important that that measure continues to work.

Changes to the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Control of Use) Act 1992—changes to the labelling requirements—are potentially controversial but, provided they are enforced the right way, are not a big issue.

With the Veterinary Practice Act 1997, there are a couple of concerns there from my perspective. There are some changes to the way the board can negotiate with those under investigation for professional misconduct. The changes proposed there, I think, are welcome.

There is a more nuanced approach to penalties; again, that is welcome. There is a change to remove the entitlement of Melbourne University to nominate a member of the board and replace that with a person experienced in veterinary education or veterinary professional development, and I think that makes sense as well.

But then there is the curious decision to remove the requirement that the chair and deputy chair of the board are in fact veterinary practitioners. That one I am not so enthusiastic about. The justification given during the briefing yesterday was that there are sets of skills required to chair a board. I agree, absolutely there are, but those skills are not mutually exclusive from being a veterinary practitioner, and I think if you remove that requirement and then move away from having practising vets on the board, it does change the way the organisation operates.

With the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994, there are significant changes to the noxious weed provisions. I will not go through the details; there are many pages of them.

I think the most significant thing is that the number of penalty units that will apply for breaches with regard to state prohibited weeds will move from 120 penalty units to 480 and for regionally prohibited weeds it will move from 120 to 240, but on the other side of the coin, regionally controlled and restricted weeds both drop down to 60 penalty units—so there are some winners and some losers.

I think the key point though is the potential for damage to be done to the livelihood of a primary producer through the spread of noxious weeds is significant. These are serious issues and they do require serious penalties, so I think that is a reasonable change, and the sliding scale is an improvement.

With regard to the Livestock Disease Control Act 1994, there are changes to the Apicultural Industry Advisory Committee, the Cattle Compensation Advisory Committee, the Sheep and Goat Compensation Advisory Committee and the Swine Industry Projects Advisory Committee.

Changes to the composition and changes to the way that the funds that these bodies administer are spent are largely to allow the cost of recruitment and so on to be defrayed and administrative costs to be defrayed. Surely that is something the government should be doing.

Secondly, there are big changes in terms of the membership. Each of those committees currently is constituted differently with different numbers and so on. This bill will increase the numbers to nine members. In each case—except the agricultural industry one—the members are often industry body nominees, and they have specific requirements related directly to that industry.

The bill that we have before us provides just basically a link in the first prerequisite and then provides a whole lot of others that require the board members to have no connection with the industry at all. Certainly the last prerequisite listed is basically whoever the minister thinks is appropriate, which gives, in my view, far more flexibility than is desirable.

It would be far more appropriate, I think, to keep those industries engaged, because—not that I am suggesting this minister will—a minister could in the future appoint a whole committee which would have absolutely no connection to the industry whatsoever under this legislation.

I want to finish on the changes through part 5 to the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981.

There are two distinct changes to schedule 4 and schedule 8, prescription drugs and controlled drugs, with regard to catastrophic natural events to assist the treatment of animals. That is a change that is very welcome.

Changes around cannabis, particularly the provisions relating to the authority to cultivate and process low-THC cannabis, are I think a big improvement as well—and beefed up.

Where I have a problem is the increase in the definition of ‘low THC’ from 0.35 to 1.0. We are tripling that number, and we have had no real commentary from the government, no explanation during the briefing. I am concerned about that particular measure.

Call in Second Retirement Village Application Now!

Legislative Assembly 3 May 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (19:20): (6344) My adjournment matter this evening is directed to the Minister for Planning, and the action I am seeking from the Minister for Planning is that he call in planning application P21/1949 to the Mornington Peninsula shire planning scheme—it applies to a property at 60 Kunyung Road, Mount Eliza—and reject it.

Speaker, I think with you in the chair I have raised matters relating to this property on many occasions in this house over the last three years, perhaps a little bit longer, most recently with regard to planning scheme amendment C270 for a rezoning.

This is the second planning application on this site. The first one was rejected, quite rightly. The applicant has done what—and I do not blame them for doing it—so many applicants do: they put in the ambit claim, put in the big one, then they come back with a smaller one and say, ‘Well, how does this fit?’.

The first application was rejected, and the second one should absolutely be rejected as well. This is a site outside the urban growth boundary. It is a site in the area that amendment C270 seeks to rezone to green wedge. It is a landmark site right on the southern side of Mount Eliza.

What is proposed here is a development with a footprint of nearly 15 000 square metres. It is not a modest, sympathetic extension to an existing facility, it is a massive development—yes smaller than the first one, but it is an absolutely massive development with numerous three- and four-storey buildings.

As I mentioned, it is outside the urban growth boundary. To approve this application would be totally contrary to planning policies that go back to the 1970s in this area.

There is a Mornington Peninsula planning statement, or localised planning statement, that expressly talks about providing a clear separation of the peninsula from metropolitan Melbourne, protecting the character and functions of the towns and villages, protecting areas of special character and having developments sympathetic with, respecting and enhancing the natural environment.

In this case this is a linear development between towns. It is effectively an expansion of the urban area of Mount Eliza.

To those of you who are familiar with the Planning and Environment Act 1987, this would be contrary to the intent of the Planning and Environment Act, where every expansion of the urban growth boundary needs to be agreed to by a motion by this house and by the other place. So this application is totally contrary to every agreed policy.

I request the minister: call it in and knock it on the head.


Mornington MP, David Morris, has demanded the Minister for Planning “call in” and reject the application for planning approval for a retirement village in Kunyung Road, Mount Eliza.

The first application lodged for the land was rejected by VCAT on appeal, after an initial refusal by the Shire Council. This time the applicant has taken their case straight to VCAT, by-passing council consideration.

Speaking in Parliament this week Mr Morris said:

This is the second planning application on this site. The first one was rejected, quite rightly…the second one should absolutely be rejected as well.

This is a site outside the urban growth boundary. It is a site in the area that amendment C270 seeks to rezone to green wedge. It is a landmark site right on the southern side of Mount Eliza.

What is proposed here is a development with a footprint of nearly 15 000 square metres. It is not a modest, sympathetic extension to an existing facility, it is a massive development—yes smaller than the first one, but it is an absolutely massive development with numerous three- and four-storey buildings…

To approve this application would be totally contrary to planning policies that go back to the 1970s in this area…this is a linear development between towns. It is effectively an expansion of the urban area of Mount Eliza…every expansion of the urban growth boundary needs to be agreed to by a motion by this house and by the other place…call it in and knock it on the head.

Further information: David Morris on 5975 4799

Mornington’s share of the State Budget – Not a whole lot!

In a welcome departure from its usual habit of ignoring the Mornington Electorate in the State Budget the Victorian Government has finally funded two desperately needed local projects.

After more than ten years of campaigning the Government has committed to re-build Mornington Special Development School, committing “at least $6.769 million” in today’s state budget. But students, parents and teachers shouldn’t be expecting immediate action as only a fraction of the funds allocated to the program will be spent in the next financial year. The budget papers show an “estimated completion date” of December 2025.

Despite the likely delay I am delighted the Government has finally seen sense. For too long this school has had to make do with sub-standard temporary accommodation, and no guarantee that the school would even remain on the current site. This announcement provides the certainty the school needs to confidently plan for the future.

The budget also provides funding for “critical works” on Mornington’s Fisherman’s Jetty which has been “temporarily closed” since 2020. The extent of the funding was not disclosed in the budget papers, so whether there will be enough money to actually re-open the jetty, or even when the works will be undertaken, remains uncertain. In spite of these misgivings I am pleased the Government has finally responded to my repeated calls for action.

These small wins are long overdue, but too many desperately needed projects were overlooked in this budget including:

  • Action to fix congestion on Bungower Road and Mornington-Tyabb Road
  • Desperately needed safety works at the intersections of Forest Drive and Uralla Road with Nepean Highway in Mount Martha
  • Long overdue and much needed investment in Mornington Park Primary School and Mount Eliza Secondary College
  • No funding to back the Shire’s commitment to the Peninsula Trail between Moorooduc and Mornington.

This year’s state budget was pretty much what we’ve come to expect in the Mornington Electorate – not a whole lot!