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.

“CALL IN RETIREMENT VILLAGE APPLICATION”
MORRIS TELLS PLANNING MINISTER

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!

Port Reform or Political Fraud?

Legislative Assembly 7 April 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (11:50): I am pleased to rise to make some comments on this alleged ports reform bill, the Transport Legislation Amendment (Port Reforms and Other Matters) Bill 2022.

It establishes Ports Victoria on a legislative basis. I understand it is currently an administrative unit. It defines some functions for Ports Victoria in terms of pilotage and towage, and it renames and, frankly, severely limits the port of Hastings—the current Port of Hastings Development Authority; it limits that enormously. There are some consequential amendments, and there are a number of random changes to other transport acts. Apparently the only common thread is the fact that they are associated with the Department of Transport (DOT), and that appears to be the ‘Other Matters’ referred to in the short title.

I am glad the member for Footscray says this is an important bill, because it is, but you would never know that from the way the government has approached this issue. This is a serious business.

The port of Melbourne puts through $26 billion worth of exports each and every year—$26 billion just of exports, not counting the billions and billions and billions of dollars of imports that go through that port. Yet the government is playing games. They are playing politics with an industry that is absolutely critical not only for trade but for the Victorian economy. It is a central part of the Victorian economy, yet the government is playing games with this whole issue.

They have a strategy that simply does not stand up. It does not stand up in any way at all. Then it says, in the second-reading speech, ‘The main purpose of this bill is to get on with the job of implementing commitments made in the response to the independent ports reform’. One of the dot points is:

Implements review recommendations in relation to local ports …

No, it does not. It does not go anywhere near doing that. So it is about playing games.

They claim that the government have accepted all 63 recommendations of the independent report. It might be more accurate to say they have not rejected any of the recommendations. When you read through the response document, it is clear they have not accepted them—support in principle or, ‘Yeah, that’s the right direction. We’re heading in that right direction’. That is not what is happening there.

Then we get to the briefing. Now, a few weeks ago I was very complimentary about a briefing the Attorney-General’s office organised for one of the justice bills. It was a thorough briefing and, as I mentioned at the time, conducted very effectively.

With this briefing unfortunately I was detained on committee business, and I was not able to attend. But I understand it was Friday afternoon at 1 o’clock, take it or leave it, and then access to the officers from the Department of Transport was either extremely limited or not available.

That is not acceptable in any way. This is not a rubber stamp. We are legislators. Any member of Parliament is entitled to be briefed properly on a bill and have access to the public service to get an honest answer, not filtered through the minister’s office—any member of Parliament.

For this sort of game to be played with the opposition, the principal alternate party in the Parliament, is completely unacceptable and should not happen.

I want to make some comments about the impact of this legislation on the port of Hastings. Clause 20 of the bill changes the current definition of the Transport Integration Act 2010. The current definition talks about facilitating:

… the development of the port of Hastings as a viable alternative to the port of Melbourne as a container port in order to increase capacity and competition in the container ports sector to accommodate future growth …

Clause 20 of this bill strips all that out so it is now:

… to manage, develop and operate the port of Hastings consistently with the vision statement and the transport system objectives—

which is already in the existing act. The minister’s press release goes on to say the change will be to:

… reflect its future role and open the potential for investment and development across a range of dry and liquid bulk trades.

In other words it will limit severely the opportunity for the port of Hastings to expand. It does not just limit it, it neuters this organisation. That is effectively what this legislation does. It neuters the port.

It is an endeavour, clearly, to promote the government’s harebrained Bay West scheme, which is a political fix. It is just a political stitch-up. It flies in the face of physical reality, of depths of water, of where trade is occurring, and it makes no economic sense.

The channels leading into the port of Geelong are 12 metres deep and 120 metres wide. The channel leading into the port of Hastings is 14.2 metres deep and 180 metres wide. It makes no sense to move a whole lot of sand out of Port Phillip Bay, with all the environmental damage that that includes, and starve Hastings of trade, in any other way than in a political fix—and that is exactly what this is. That is exactly what this bill is.

We know Infrastructure Victoria is an apologist for this government. Ministers and members will say, ‘Oh, but it’s independent’. It is not independent. There are some good people there, I do not doubt that for a moment, but their board is dominated by secretaries—secretaries whose job it is to do as the government directs, to follow the policy of the government—so to suggest that Infrastructure Victoria is providing independent advice is complete and utter nonsense.

There are some recommendations in the Independent Review of the Victorian Ports System relating to the need to protect land. Here we go—the need to ensure that there is not inappropriate encroachment on the boundaries of the port environs and to make sure the corridors are retained.

The reality is that the corridors and the land were established in Western Port in the 1970s. I am a former member of the Westernport Regional Planning and Coordination Committee. We reviewed that land and those corridors in the 1990s. They were again reviewed under the then Minister for Roads and Ports in the 2000s. All of that infrastructure is in place, yet it is being ignored by this government in a political stitch-up.

The next point I want to move to relates to local ports. Now, the story of local ports is a very sad one, and despite the Minister for Ports and Freight’s claims—I am delighted to see she is at the table—this bill does not implement the review recommendations in relation to local ports.

As the Age reported earlier this year, 19 piers and jetties are completely or partially closed in Port Phillip and Western Port. I have spoken recently about Fisherman’s Jetty in the Mornington harbour, which has been closed and, if it is left to the government’s own devices, probably will never open again.

The local community has stepped in and is seeking to open it. But the report made clear in terms of local port funding that none of the local ports operations are sustainable without funding administered by DOT and many of the local port assets are now approaching end of life—local port assets approaching end of life. 

Then we have the government response, which says absolutely nothing about funding despite a direct recommendation in the review of Victorian ports that funding for local ports needs to be addressed.

What is in the response—‘Oh, we’ll get to it. We need a funding formula’. Yes, we do need a funding formula, and we need it now, because the local ports framework talks about all the money they are spending—‘Oh, we’re spending $16.6 million to fund our local ports program’.

On $650 million worth of assets that is 2.5 per cent per annum, and the report acknowledges these assets are approaching end of life. So it is not like you are starting with brand new assets and you can work over 40 years, which is what the 2.5 per cent works out to, to deal with those.

The government’s own report has indicated these assets are collapsing, they are at their end of life, and this bill and this policy do absolutely nothing to fix that. 

There are a number of other changes in regard to the Tourist and Heritage Railway Act 2010, which I think are worthwhile changes, and there is an interesting one that extends to officers of the Victorian Fisheries Authority—or the CEO of the Victorian Fisheries Authority—the capacity to have delegation actions under the Conservation, Forests and Lands Act 1987, which is interesting in this bill.

But this bill as it is presented is a total fraud.

Brain Injury Matters

Legislative Assembly 6 April 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (09:53): I rise this morning to seek additional support for the Brain Injury Matters organisation as part of the forthcoming Victorian budget. The Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers would, I am sure, be well aware of the organisation. It is a not-for-profit run by people living with an acquired brain injury. BIM run a number of programs, including the highly valued peer support groups. A constituent has written recently:

I am a member of a weekly BIM Peer Support Group meeting in Frankston and have benefited a great deal from being part of the group. I have made friends, developed skills, accessed the community and had a lot of fun. I am afraid of increasing isolation and lack of confidence if BIM cannot find funding to continue my Peer Support Group. BIM’s research has found that addressing social isolation continues to be a key need for Victorian adults living with brain injury.

BIM would welcome an increase in the recurrent funding amount. This would allow the continuation of the BIM Peer Support Group I attend. Funding for the project team which runs the PSGs ends on June 30, 2022.

The Department of Health provides some modest funding which assists with staffing and accommodation costs, but that is not sufficient to ensure the ongoing operation of the peer support groups.

I think we are all only too aware of the mental health cost of the pandemic across the community, and that impact certainly extends to people with an acquired brain injury, so I do urge the minister to provide additional funding for this worthy organisation in the upcoming budget.

Approve C270 and Protect the Green Wedge Now!

Legislative Assembly 6 April 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (19:09): (6321) I raise a matter this evening for the Minister for Planning, and the action I am seeking from the minister is that he expedite the approval of amendment C270 to the Mornington Peninsula planning scheme.

Amendment C270—there is a lot of history here—has recently been exhibited, and exhibition closes on Friday.

Normally there would be a very long process from then until the amendment is approved, but I stood up in this house more than two years ago, in February 2020, and asked the minister to expedite the exhibition of the scheme. Two years on, it finally got on exhibition in February of this year. 

Since then I have raised the issue on at least three occasions. The reason I have done that is that this is critical for the future protection of the green wedge on the Mornington Peninsula.

The amendment itself deals with a number of sites that are outside the urban growth boundary but are not currently protected by green wedge provisions.

One is particularly sensitive and is one I have mentioned on many occasions in this place, and that is an application for a retirement village outside the urban growth boundary in Mount Eliza. The first application was knocked backed by VCAT. It is now the subject of a Supreme Court appeal. The second application is currently on exhibition and closes on Friday.

Just to give the house a sense of the scale of this development outside the urban growth boundary, land that is supposed to be protected, its total footprint is 14 963 square metres. There is the addition of three wings to the existing historic mansion, two four-storey and one three-storey; three freestanding four-storey buildings; two freestanding three-storey buildings; 246 car spaces; and a place of worship. So it is a very, very significant development in a totally inappropriate place.

Further down the road we have another application that is not affected by this planning scheme amendment but which seeks to turn an existing nursing home into a much, much larger retirement village with a significant footprint.

Again and again we are seeing these sorts of applications. In part it is a function of the value of the land—I understand that—but either we are serious as a Parliament and as a state about protecting this area or we are not.

I do urge the minister, as a first step in beefing up the protections for the green wedge, to get on with C270 and truncate the process period to the extent that he can, and let us get it approved.