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.

Extension of Covid Provisions – Not all are justified

Legislative Assembly 10 March 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (11:54): It is a pleasure to rise to join the debate on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Trial by Judge Alone and Other Matters) Bill 2022.

It is interesting, the words that dominate that title are ‘trial by judge alone’ of course, but when you dig into the detail of the bill that is but one aspect. It is clearly the headline aspect, but I think there are other matters in there that are perhaps a lot more concerning than that one, particularly given the time-limited nature of the bill. I guess that highlights the issue that I raised yesterday.

I do not intend to spin the wheels on it, but there are, I think, some legitimate questions to be asked about this bill. The manner in which we deal with legislation in this place precludes it, and the scrutiny of legislation by the house is diminished by the processes we are currently following.

I also want to acknowledge the briefing that was provided by the Attorney’s office to the member for Malvern and I think the member for South-West Coast and myself. Briefings do not always actually provide information, but the briefing that was provided in this case was genuine and collegiate, and I think a number of other ministers’ offices could learn from the approach taken by the Attorney on this bill.

With regard to the trial by judge alone, of course these are matters that have already been dealt with in 2020 at the start of the pandemic. We have pretty much had this framework in place, and it has worked okay.

The principle of trial by jury, as others have said, is a particularly important one. It is one of the cornerstones of the British legal system that we have inherited, and it is a process that I think needs to be protected. Alternatives should not be considered lightly; that is for sure.

But in the case of the trials that occurred in the previous period, I understand there were 60 applications to the County Court and 51 were granted. There were six applications to the Supreme Court; six of those were granted. Iin the case of the Supreme Court four were resolved and two proceeded to trial. I am not sure of the numbers on the County Court.

So we are not talking about enormous numbers, but it is important that the principles, as I said, of trial by jury be retained. And, of course, as I mentioned at the start of my contribution, this is one of those time-limited—well, they are all time-limited—provisions, but this is particularly time limited, so I think in this case it is probably an acceptable provision.

I want to then move on to the amendments that deal with the changes to the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005, and there are essentially provisions that were added to that act back in 2020 which were to be repealed on 26 April this year, and this bill will extend that repeal date further. Interestingly, not all of those provisions that were to be repealed on 26 April are being extended, but the majority are, and there are a couple of provisions in here that do concern me.

There are provisions relating to allowing a person to attend a hearing via AV link. That is fine. I certainly do not have an issue with that, but there are some provisions relating to, effectively, the sidelining of bail justices and the time lines in which these hearings need to be dealt with that are of concern. We have heard again and again from the government side of the pressures on the courts.

We have heard from this side repeatedly concerns about the resources provided to the courts. Both legitimate, so why on earth are we sidelining bail justices in this process? They are being completely sidelined. They are taken out. So where in the principal act a court has to hear an application—for example, for an interim accommodation order—within 24 hours, and there are other sections where similar things apply, the fallback position built into the legislation is a bail justice. The extension of these provisions removes bail justices.

The other aspect which is particularly concerning to me is that the act under normal circumstances, in normal times, would say these matters need to be dealt with within 24 hours. The current position as a result of the changes that were made in 2020, and which will be extended by this bill, is that the matters must be dealt with not within 24 hours but within one working day.

If it is Monday to Tuesday, it is clearly not a great issue, but if it is Friday to Monday, then it is a significant extension, and that again does concern me. Perhaps in 2020 those sorts of things could be justified. Given the circumstances we now find ourselves in, those sorts of provisions cannot be justified, particularly as we are dealing—given this is the Children, Youth and Families Act—with kids, and they do not need to be kept hanging around for an extra two days. I think that is a matter of concern as well.

There are some changes under the Evidence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1958 with regard to AV links. I think they are reasonable. Others have talked about the deferral of the de novo changes. Frankly it staggers me that this is still hanging around. I can recall in some of the very first sections on committee reports that I sat through as a new member in 2006 and 2007 the then member for, I think, Ballarat East talking about the de novo appeals, because that was one of the few committee reports that could actually be talked about. And he did it again and again and again. So this thing has been on foot for 16 years at least—probably a lot more. When is it going to end?

Originally the provisions that apply to this were going to come into effect in July 2021. That was extended at the start of last year to 2023. Now we are talking 2025. I think that really is way too long.

There are also some concerns with regard to the Crimes (Mental Impairment and Unfitness to be Tried) Act 1997. They are essentially of a legal nature, and as I am not legally trained, I am not going to wade into those waters, but I do draw the attention of members to the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee report, particularly page 12 of the Alert Digest, which provides some detail.

There are also some interesting interpretations by the courts as to when these sorts of interventions are justified and how a person with a disability might be treated, and it lays out the concerns there.

Essentially the issue, though, is that up to a year after royal assent a court may specify a longer period that it considers reasonable for when a special hearing may be held. I think that is a reasonable concern, and it is certainly one of the issues that I would have liked to have the opportunity to pursue with the minister had we gone into consideration in detail.

The final point I want to comment on is the issue that was spoken about by the member for South Wast Coast, and that others have mentioned too, and that is the changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004.

The situation here is that, just to get the words entirely accurate, if an employee in retail or hospitality forgets to wear a mask, then they are automatically deemed to have engaged in an act which is an immediate risk to health and safety.

So if someone in a supermarket wears their mask under their nose or just cannot stand having it on and takes it off for a few minutes and a WorkSafe Victoria inspector happens to see them, then that is deemed an immediate risk to health and safety. But if I am in the same supermarket and in the same area, as a customer, without a mask, as I am permitted to be, that is not a risk. That is a complete and utter nonsense.

And it is not as if it is a 10-cent fine; the penalties for these matters are significant and potentially catastrophic for a business. So why are these provisions being included, and why do we have such inconsistency between a permitted action on behalf of a customer and effectively a serious breach that could close down the business on the other hand?

There are some significant issues in this bill.

Pandemic Management a Total Failure

Legislative Assembly 17 November 2021

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (17:53): It is a pleasure to rise and make a contribution to this matter of public importance advanced by the member for Ripon.

It is interesting to reflect, to the extent that you need to, on the contribution of the previous speaker. I guess the take-out I would have is that it does not matter whether you are telling the truth or not; if you say it loud enough and you say it with apparent conviction and you keep repeating it, then someone is going to believe it.

But I do not think anyone in this chamber believed it, frankly. Certainly no-one on this side of the chamber believed it, because we know exactly how bad the record is that the member was trying to, frankly, misrepresent.

I do strongly support the matter advanced, as I said, by the member for Ripon, because if there is any matter of public policy that is more worthy of serious examination by this house, it is the manner in which the government has managed the approach to the pandemic in this state.

The numbers themselves tell a story; you do not need to go much further: 107 000 cases in round figures so far; 260 days locked down; 1248 deaths so far.

Ms Britnell: Huge.

Mr MORRIS: As the member for South-West Coast says, huge. You contrast that with the result to our immediate north: fewer than half as many deaths, 612; well less than half the days locked down—lockdowns of course are not just inconvenient; they are job killers, they are business killers, they are life destroyers—and the total number of cases, less than 80 000.

We had 50 000 more people contract COVID in this state than in New South Wales.

I think we are right to express our concerns about the government’s management of this pandemic because they have failed. They have failed comprehensively to keep Victorians safe.

No matter how loud the bluster, the fact is lives have been disrupted across the state. I do not know a single person in my electorate that has not been touched significantly by the impact of COVID. And we have had it relatively easy, although we have been part of the metropolitan lockdown. We should not have been, but that is probably a subject for another time.

The community has been badly affected. Other communities I know have had it a lot worse. This was a situation that did not need to happen.

The example is there in New South Wales. They had competent management in New South Wales. The result in Victoria, is damaged lives, a damaged economy and mental health impacts I think beyond anything probably in the post-white settlement of this state—huge impacts.

The fact is the mental health impact will go on for the longest, but damage has been done to the economy, jobs have been lost and lives have been disrupted.

I was talking to a constituent on Sunday, and he said, ‘I’m 85 years old. I haven’t seen my grandkids for two years. I don’t have that many more years left. I’ve lost that time’. The impact has been huge and it has been unnecessary.

We now have a situation where the view of the government is that, ‘Oh, we’ll have more of the same. We’ll continue this. We’ll change the rules’. We cannot talk about the bill, so I will not do that, but, ‘We’ll change the rules and we’ll have more of the same’.

When I spoke on the extension of the state of emergency back in February I made the observation that you cannot use such a draconian and arbitrary regime to govern in a democracy. You can do it in short bursts, you can do it for emergencies, but you cannot use the sorts of powers that the government has invoked in its management of the pandemic to govern in a democracy.

Yet that is what has happened. That is what has been going on since March last year. Now, I am the first person to say on occasion intervention—and intervention on that scale—was probably justified, but for short periods only and with proper accountability.

The issue is it has gone on and on and on. I made the observation back in February. I said, ‘What happens when we get to November? Will we still be there with this wicked virus?’. Yes, we are.

And we are seeing a wish to continue a regime that has not worked. It has not worked and in fact it has done considerable damage.

Now, the observations that are included in the matter of public importance, the observations from the Ombudsman, the bar council and so on, really are talking about protecting democracy under an emergency situation.

The first issue I have with the way the government has been managing the pandemic is that it has not worked.

The second issue I have with it is the way in which power has been concentrated: not only has the community been sidelined, the Parliament has been sidelined and half the cabinet has been sidelined.

A very few people have taken power into their hands and used it, we have had no accountability and we have had limited opportunities in this place.

Frequently the only reason we sat was to facilitate something the government needed.

We do not have an appropriate accountability mechanism. It is all very well to say, ‘Oh, a parliamentary committee will do the job’, but with the way we structure our parliamentary committees in this state they cannot do the job, speaking as both a former chair and deputy chair of the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee and having worked with two members of the current cabinet, Minister Pakula and Minister Pearson.

Yes, we work with good faith. Yes, we got a lot of good things done and I think to the benefit of the community and to the benefit of accountability of government from both sides.

But the reality is that when a conflict arises between the majority of the committee and the government, either the majority of the committee do as they are damn well told or they are replaced. That is the way it works. So let us not pretend that we can have some fig leaf of accountability through a parliamentary committee which is dominated by government members.

If you have a parliamentary committee that perhaps has a non-government chair and perhaps has a non-government majority, then you are possibly part of the way there.

I was interested to see a piece in the Conversation from, I think, Monday from associate professor William Partlett and a number of his colleagues. They made the suggestion there that there was an alternative accountability mechanism in New Zealand.

I note the Premier has not picked up that particular accountability mechanism, so I think there is a lot to be said for this matter of public importance submitted by the member for Ripon and it certainly is and remains the number one public policy concern for me.

Andrews Govt stands condemned for Covid Inaction

Legislative Assembly 6 October 2021

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (12:53): I am delighted to join this debate on this matter of public importance proposed by the Member for Caulfield because we are rapidly becoming the most locked down city in the world, as the motion notes.

By the end of this week, we will have been locked down for more than 250 days, and that is certainly a record that we have never aspired to in this state. We are record breaking in many ways, but we did not wish to break this record.

On this government’s watch, as the Member for Eildon and I am sure others have said, we have gone from the world’s most livable city to the world’s most locked down city. For 248 days as of today we have been locked down. By the end of the month, if the road map holds—and given the record of the Premier, given the record of the cabinet, that is a big ‘if’— we will have been locked down for 267 days.

Now, that is a denial of basic human rights, but it is not just a denial of basic human rights. It has come at a huge cost to this state and to this community—the cost in terms of lives destroyed, the cost in terms of businesses that have been trashed, the avalanche of mental health problems that I have seen through my electorate office and I know every member of this house will have seen through their electorate office, and the tail on that, the cost on that, is just going to be enormous.

We have also seen, anecdotally at least, an avalanche of family violence, and the cost of that, again, is going to be huge.

We know the cost in terms of lives is currently 888, but we do not know what the true cost, the total cost, is, because of this government’s determination to keep the community locked down, to keep us locked up.

The mental health costs, the lives destroyed, the businesses crashed—the cost is going to be absolutely huge.

Now, we have heard constant comparisons throughout the period of the pandemic with overseas constituencies. I am not going to go through that list today. We have heard themagain and again and again.

But the fact is the only true figures that are relevant are the comparisons with other states of this commonwealth, and the fact is that of the 1378 deaths we have had in Australia 888 so far have occurred in Victoria—almost two-thirds of the deaths from this pandemic have occurred in Victoria.

Now, the Premier says he does not want us to be New South Wales, but frankly, from where I am standing, that comparison is looking pretty damn good.

If you look at it, yes, they have had more cases—66 000 against 45 500—but beyond that they have 9165 active cases, against 14 410, less than half the days of lockdown and about half the deaths.

So why do we not want to be New South Wales, because they are doing a damn sight better job than the government is in Victoria.

Others have talked about transparency. The Member for Mount Waverley talked about the health advice. The fact is we have asked again and again and again and again for transparency on the health advice. You do not get it.

Why? Because there is clearly political interference in terms of the translation of the health advice to the manner in which the lockdown has been conducted, and there can be no better indicator of that than looking at who is locked down and who is not, relative to the rate of infection.

As of yesterday’s figures, the Mornington Peninsula had an infection rate of 41.2. We are locked down.

Latrobe city, now open, has an infection rate of 88.7, more than twice the rate; Macedon Ranges, 81.6; Warrnambool, 59.7; Gannawarra has few cases, okay, but 57.3; Colac Otway, 55.6; Ararat, 50.7—none of those municipalities are locked down, but the Mornington Peninsula is.

Do not tell me the restrictions are based on health advice, because they clearly are not, and if they are, then the health advice is completely off base. I prefer the former explanation.

I did want to just refer to a couple of emails that I have had from constituents, people who run businesses.

The first is from a builder, and he says:

I currently directly employ 13 people and many more indirectly … And this is before the last construction halt. We are about to sign a contract for a project on Phillip Island that represents 25% of our turnover for the next 12 months … Me or my employees will not be able to attend the site as it is regional.

So it is a big slice of his business for the next 12 months. He and his employees at the moment cannot attend that site. He goes on to say:

… how are we meant to plan for the future or even operate our businesses with such ridiculous restrictions. When will this madness end …

Another small business person who runs a remedial massage and myotherapy business says:

… we are not part of a category that receives the extra $5000 continuity fund

In other words, they are on their own.

The last 2 lockdowns have cost me personally $14,000 after government grants … I … have told my landlord I just do not have any money left in my account. I am not sure how I will pay the upcoming bills at all.

That is a terrible situation. We have a government that has refused to recognise the human costs of its actions. We have a government that has refused to recognise the genuine impact on the Victorian community.

We have got a government that has refused to recognise and consider alternative approaches. And why would you not consider an alternative approach when this one has so clearly failed?

So they stand condemned, in my view, for the price that all Victorians have been caused to pay, they stand condemned for their gross negligence in administering and “looking after” Victoria throughout this pandemic, they stand condemned for their total failure to deal with this pandemic appropriately and they certainly should be condemned as is suggested in this motion.

Business interrupted under resolution of house of 5 October.

OHS changes matter, but not at the cost of jobs

Legislative Assembly 7 September 2021

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (15:37): It is a pleasure to rise to open the debate for the opposition this afternoon on the Occupational Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021,which, as the long title tells us, is a bill to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, the Dangerous Goods Act 1985, the Equipment (Public Safety) Act 1994 and the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013.

There are, in reality, five different aspects to this bill. Part 2 essentially relates to the labour hire provisions. It inserts definitions of ‘employer’ and ‘employee’ and seeks to impose a common regime—in the case of labour hire companies and their employees—where the same standards apply to both the labour hire firm and the employer at the location where the particular individual goes about their day-to-day business.

Part 3 relates to indemnities on pecuniary penalties—so essentially preventing people from insuring against pecuniary penalties, or organisations and companies insuring against pecuniary penalties. The interesting part about Part 4 is that it is headed ‘Service of notices’, but it includesclause 15, which the explanatory memorandum says is a minor amendment, but in fact it is much broader than that, and I will come back to it. The part also facilitates the electronic service of notices, as the heading suggests, and other minor changes.

Part 5 has another rather innocuous heading, ‘Powers of certain office holders’, and that certainly conceals some nasties as well. Part 6 is headed ‘Seized items’, and remarkably the text of that part of the bill reflects the heading.

But more broadly the bill is an interesting insight into the thinking of the government. It is an insight into the priorities of the government.

Now, some may characterise the changes that are proposed in this legislation as reasonable, and undoubtedly there are provisions in this bill that are reasonable, there are provisions in this bill that essentially mirror changes that have been made in other Australian jurisdictions governed by both sides of politics.

But equally there are some provisions in this bill which, from my perspective at least, could only be characterised as questionable.

The second observation I would make is that the changes proposed by this legislation could under no circumstances be considered to be urgent. Do the people of Victoria consider these changes to be a priority? They certainly do not in my part of the world.

Perhaps they do in Labor land. Perhaps if you are a government employee—and I hasten to add I am not maligning government employees; there are many thousands of terrific government employees—or someone who is getting up and going to work every day, has a full income, or not only has a full income but perhaps had a rise in the value of their assets, which has happened in both the stock market and in terms of housing prices, you are totally unaffected by the pandemic. The only inconvenience that you have is the fact that you cannot go to the supermarket after 9 o’clock at night. Then, if that is the land you are living in, legislation like this might be a priority.

But I do not live in that land. I live in the real world.

I live in a world where small businesses are hanging by their fingernails, literally barely surviving. They get up every day and they think, ‘How on earth am I going to pay the bills? How am I going to meet the rent next week? How am I going to meet the wages this week? How am I going to make sure that the week after I still have a business to come to?’.

At the same time they are trying to homeschool their kids. They are dealing with the mental health impacts of the pandemic. It may not be affecting them directly —although, sadly, there are, in my observation, many people in small business that are really struggling from a mental health point of view. Or, they might not be struggling with a mental health problem from the direct impact of the pandemic but many of them are certainly suffering from the impact of the way in which the government has managed the pandemic.

There is a reason the economy, while it superficially looks okay, has for many, many businesses effectively tanked.

Every day I talk to people who have not had an income, a reasonable income, since February last year—if they were not affected by the bushfires. Yes, they have had a semblance of normal trading in the times we have not been locked down but in the 200 and whatever days we have been , they are really struggling. They are barely surviving.

As I say, the mental health impact is not just on the kids, although I think any member of this house would have seen firsthand the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of kids. It is not just that. Adults are hit hard too. They cannot cope with the pressure of homeschooling, they cannot cope with the pressure of potentially losing a business that they have built from the ground up, a business that is now evaporating around them—literally evaporating around them—through no fault of their own.

This is government business time. This is the time when business should be discussed that affects the whole of Victoria, a Victoria that is in crisis—business that affects the whole state. Instead what we are discussing in fact is a bill that is intended to benefit one section of the community at the expense of the other.

I will give you a direct example from the bill. The bill creates a new duty which requires labour hire providers and host employers—this is part 2—to work together by engaging in consultation.

What does that mean? That means consulting and cooperating and coordinating activities to ensure the protection of the health and safety of labour hire workers. Now, that is absolutely critical—the protection of the health and safety of any worker is absolutely critical—but a failure to comply with the consultation duty is proposed by this bill to be an indictable offence.

The requirement to consult is going to have a direct impact on the flexibility of small businesses, and if you take flexibility away from small businesses you again endanger their survival. They are already, frankly, facing an existential threat. That existential threat is COVID. They need to be able to staff up quickly when demand booms. Labour hire is an efficient way for small businesses to do that, and this bill directly limits that flexibility. There is a real disincentive to use labour hire built into this bill—the indictable offence I referred to earlier. 

This is exactly an example of what we should not be talking about at the moment. We should not be talking about legislation that endangers jobs. We should not be talking about legislation that puts at risk the recovery.

Yet the government goes along on its merry way. It talks about the impact on small business, but it does not understand it. It talks about the impact on the economy, but it does not understand it. What it does not seem to understand is that if small businesses do not survive then the long-term impact on the economy, and more importantly because of that the long-term impact on jobs, is going to be horrendous.

This is a bill and a government that is engaged in social engineering. You could not get a better example of the sort of social engineering we are seeing, effectively harnessing COVID to achieve an outcome. This bill is an excellent example of that.

Turning to the detail of the bill, as I said, it has essentially five parts; the last is really not contentious in any way. Starting with part 2, labour hire, it inserts a number of definitions. It inserts, as I mentioned, an extended definition of ‘employer’ and ‘employee’ and puts in a requirement,—a duty, to consult. I do not think I have yet mentioned the penalties, but the penalties for that failure to consult are 180 penalty units for a natural person and 900 penalty units for a body corporate.

Safety in the workplace has to be paramount, whether it is this workplace—and we see these screens around us here—or whether it is a heavy manufacturing plant where the risks are more about potentially getting caught in machinery or run by over by a forklift or whatever.

Whatever the workplace, there are inherent risks and safety has to be paramount. But along with that—and it is not really a ‘but’; it goes directly with it—we need to make sure that regulation does not become overly complex, that it can be understood by the people who are doing the job.

Whether it is on the factory floor or working in Parliament House, the people that are doing the job need to understand the rules, so they cannot be overly complex and should not be confusing.

But this bill, as I mentioned, suggests that the labour hire employer and the host employer, for the purposes of OH&S, are jointly responsible. So you have immediately got a situation where there is potential confusion and, worse than the confusion, the real risk that safety objectives in the workplace might be undermined. We need consistency.

And of course we also, I know, understand across the chamber that health and safety obligations have to be shared. It is not all the employer’s responsibility, it is not all the employee’s responsibility—responsibility has got to be shared. When you have overly prescriptive laws—and this bill in this section is, in my view, overly prescriptive—there is a real opportunity there to start a blame game and undermine the objectivesand in fact lessen the safety of the workplace.

A failure to consult will become an indictable offence. And beyond the risk to occupational health and safety in a workplace, the very existence of that indictable offence is going to be a problem because it is an imprecise obligation.

Effectively, given the words in this bill, we are requiring the courts to determine whether the level of cooperation and the level of consultation have satisfied the legislative requirement. We just do not know that. We are going to have to ask the courts. That of course leads to uncertainty and again raises business risk. So again you have a potential threat to jobs, although in this case the risk to workplace safety I think is higher.

Moving on to part 3 of the bill, which is the section related to indemnities for pecuniary penalties, and againamending the OH&S act, the Dangerous Goods Act and the Equipment (Public Safety) Act. Essentially it is two measures, the first being a prohibition on insurance and indemnity for pecuniary penalties and the second beingan offence for undertaking those activities. It is targeting indemnity. And I should also note, to be fair, that we understand that it is not about insuring against court costs. It is not about insuring against any penalties that might be imposed by the courts. It is about the direct pecuniary penalties.

The point is again about business risk, because if you cannot insure against something, then you increase the business risk. That means you have got to make provision in other ways. And if you have to make provision in other ways, those are funds that are not used to employ people and those are funds that are not used to grow the business. So that really is a significant issue. It is effectively a punitive measure again on jobs at a time when we can least afford it.

There is a second aspect to this: that it runs the risk of deterring people from becoming engaged in corporate governance. We might have a situation where good people wary of the penalties do not engage and the standard of corporate governance erodes, so I think that is a potential risk as well.

But if we are going to proceed with this provision, how about we make it even handed, aim for consistency on indemnity prohibition? Why shouldn’t a union official be penalised under the act—be personally liable to pay the penalty? Why shouldn’t a union be prohibited from paying the official’s penalty? If we are going to go down this path on one side, why don’t we make it fair on both sides?

Again, these are significant penalties. As I mentioned, it is $300 for the individual, $1500 for a corporate.

Moving on to part 5—as I mentioned, the innocuously named ‘Powers of certain office holders’—essentially this is about both health and safety representatives and union representatives being able to take photos or make sketches or recordings of any part of the workplace at which a member of a designated work group works.

Again, I understand the intent of this clause, but I really have some problems with it, and those problems are deep enough that I am proposing a reasoned amendment. Therefore, I move:

That all the words after ‘That’ be omitted and replaced with the words ‘this house refuses to read this bill a second time until the government has fully addressed concerns about the appropriateness of the provisions in the bill relating to powers of entry and offences by authorised representatives’.

Clause 29, which authorises the actual taking of photographs, is fairly straightforward, but clause 30 is the power with regard to union officials and clause 31 is the safety net, which allegedly provides a limitation to the way in which any photographs taken in the course of exercising those duties may be used.

Now, the problem I have with that is that the so-called safety net, clause 31, has holes big enough to drive a truck through. Literally it has holes big enough to drive a truck through. As I mentioned, clause 30 gives union officials a statutory right to take photos and make recordings when they enter workplaces.

One problem is that there is nothing in the legislation to indicate that they actually have to tell people they are recording conversations—no obligation to disclose that they are recording conversations at all—and that is a substantial increase in the powers of the union at the expense of small business and at the expense of jobs. There is a problem with that and, as I mentioned, with the safety net.

The relevant words are under clause 31. You cannot use or disclose information ‘for a purpose not reasonably connected with the exercise of a power under this part’—under part 8, which is where the rights of union officials are defined for the purposes of the workplace safety legislation. And the concern is: what does ‘not reasonably connected’ mean? What exactly does ‘not reasonably connected’ mean? It is not defined in the bill. And if you do not know what it means, then the offence becomes irrelevant.

In my view, it is not really creating an offence at all.If you do not create an offence, if you do not have that safety net which is critical to the integrity of this process, then the photographs or the recordings can be used for a whole range of purposes that they should not be used for.

For example, if a union official takes a photo or makes a recording and then decides to use it on a website to criticise, in their view, safety at a particular site, is that legitimate?

It really has the capacity to allow occupational health and safety to be weaponised, to become part of the toolset of industrial relations, and that is not what any of us are seeking to achieve with workplace safety. It would be a real risk to workplace safety should that occur. The opportunity to misuse a photograph or misuse a recording, to agitate on alleged health and safety issues is a problem.

We do recognise the utility of this power, but you have got to have the safety net right. I am not sure it is warranted, but if it is, you have got to have the safety net right, and in terms of this legislation, it is not right, because, as I have said, it is potentially an industrial weapon. And that is not what workplace safety should be about and it is not what workplace safety legislation should be about.

I think I may have skipped over part 4. Yes, I did, so I will just come back in the couple of minutes remaining to part 4. I will just say very quickly with regard to part 6, which is ‘Seized items’, I think I indicated very quickly earlier that I have no problem with that part. The provisions are quite sensible from my perspective.

Going back to part 4—two issues. The second-reading speech refers to, on page 4:

… the Government has committed to introducing an infringement notice regime under the OH&S Act by the middle of this year.

And that is why we are putting electronic delivery of infringement notices in now.

I am not aware whether that regime has in fact been introduced or not. If it has not yet been introduced, it does beg the question of why those provisions are being inserted into the act, but, as I said, I am not aware of the detail on that. I simply raise the question.

The final point on part 4 is, as I mentioned right at the outset, clause 15 on the provisional improvement notices. The intention is to, in section 60(2) of the OH&S act:

… after “person” insert “or, if the person is a body corporate, an employee, agent or officer of the body corporate,”.

The problem with that from the perspective, again, of the opposition is that it is unclear what the limitations are that are placed on that provision.

So it cannot be simply any employee of the body corporate. It has got to be an employee who understands the activity, has knowledge of the activity, has knowledge of the risks that are associated with that activity, and unfortunately the words that are in this bill simply do not make that explicit and again potentially lead to a diminution of the efficacy of the act that we already have in place. So I flag those concerns as well.

But to return to where I started: I do question why we have a bill like this before us at this time. This is a bill that has the potential to cost us jobs, not help us create jobs. This is a bill that has the potential to grind more small businesses into the ground at a time when we know damn well they are not doing it tough, they are literally hanging by their fingernails.

Many—I hesitate to say most, but sadly if we do not get this resolved soon, there is a risk it may be most—small businesses are in real trouble.

And I only have to walk down the street and talk to local traders, local tradies. People that have worked for decades to build up their business so they have got a nest egg for retirement are suddenly, well into their 40s, into their 50s, finding that what they have got is not worth anything and they are either going to have to start from scratch or they are going to have to build up again.

Those are the issues we should be addressing in this government business time. On this bill, as I said, there are some reasonable parts, but legislation like this should be put aside so the Parliament can do what it needs to do and work in the service of the people of Victoria.

COVID Restrictions Send a Shiver Down Our Spines

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (13:51): This morning’s announcement of renewed COVID measures and the causes behind them have I am sure sent a shiver down the spines of many Melburnians and Victorians, not least because once again the state government is using a hammer to crack a walnut. Once again it is the whole of greater Melbourne being locked down despite the exposure sites—

Members interjecting.

Mr MORRIS: You are right—not being locked down, being limited, despite the exposure sites being in a relatively tight area. It is not exactly a measured and proportionate response.

To add insult to injury, though, the conditions are not imposed on the City of Greater Geelong, but they are imposed on the Mornington Peninsula despite the peninsula being in every single case further away from the exposure sites than is the City of Greater Geelong.

  • The Brunswick site, the closest point to the City of Greater Geelong, is 53 kilometres, but to the peninsula it is 73;
  • the Epping site is 70 kilometres and 84 kilometres respectively;
  • the Reservoir site, 62 kilometres and 75 kilometres respectively;
  • Bundoora, 69 from Geelong, 71 from the peninsula;
  • and Highpoint West, 41 from Geelong, 72 from the Mornington Peninsula shire.
  • But despite all that, despite that site being almost twice as far away from the peninsula as Geelong, Geelong is not affected and the peninsula is.

People should not have any confidence in the public— (Time expired)

The Mental Health Challenge

MR MORRIS (Mornington) (12:31): I must admit just listening to the member for Thomastown’s assessment of the opposition’s response, it sounded more like it was an assessment that was predetermined rather than of what I actually heard from the member for Ferntree Gully.

In fact, as the member for Ferntree Gully made it clear, the Opposition is not opposing this bill at all.

The bill before the house is about facilitating provisional payments for mental health claims in the workplace. Workplace safety is a critical issue, and I think everyone in this house would agree on that point. If we have differences, they are generally about the best way to achieve a safe workplace and are not about the principle at all.

This bill is intended to tackle a significant workplace safety issue: mental health. But mental health is not only a significant workplace safety issue, it is a significant community issue and of course a significant community safety issue as well. So while this bill picks up some part of it, it needs to be addressed in all forms.

As the member for Ferntree Gully identified, the bill does have some shortcomings. He has foreshadowed some amendments that are intended to improve the bill, but as a general principle the need to address mental health challenges in the workplace is not in dispute. Let me make that clear: it is not in dispute.

To a certain extent the bill actually reflects the position the ALP took to the 2018 election. Their platform from that year, on page 17, talks about exploring ‘provisional payments on claim lodgement to ensure workers receive an income while their claim is progressed’. But of course that was not just about mental health injuries. It is not a complete acquittal, what we have before us in terms of this bill, and I think it is reasonable to ask: why is it not a complete acquittal?

Perhaps the minister, while no longer in this house due to the change in arrangements, may be able to advise when the rest of those planned reforms are likely to be made available.

Part 2 of the bill outlines a provisional payments scheme, which will be inserted in the principal act. Part 3 proposes some complementary amendments to the Accident Compensation Act 1985, which is of course an important part of this regime. Part 4 proposes changes to a number of acts with regard to personal injury compensation for volunteers.

I do want to take the opportunity to recognise those volunteers, and particularly our frontline volunteers. It has been a hell of a year—a hell of an 18 months—for them, and I think it is fair to say that it would be very, very difficult and probably impossible to provide the sort of comprehensive emergency management services in particular that are absolutely essential to this state without the enormous contribution we get from volunteers.

But it is not just about frontline services, it is about services more broadly. One of the acts to be updated in part 4 is the Juries Act 2000, and that of course is another critical service which can only be provided by members of the public. So it is important that not only are they protected from out-of-pocket expenses and so on but, if there is a risk of injury, they are appropriately protected.

There is not a significant level of detail in this bill beyond the design of the scheme itself, but it is also not a bill that requires you to dive into the minutiae.

It is a discussion largely about principles, and where there is divergence, as I mentioned, the member for Ferntree Gully has proposed some amendments to those provisions. 

Mental health issues generally are, in my view, one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. For whatever reason—and I certainly do not consider myself qualified to expound at length on the cause—it is a great challenge. It is generally not seen as an existential challenge in the way that climate change is rightly seen or the pandemic has rightly been seen, but it is a potential threat.

Is it an existential threat? Not yet, but if we do not do something about it, if we do not address it, if we continue to treat the symptoms and not the causes, if we do not get those growing numbers under control, then it is going to be a problem. We will have a serious problem.

It is now generally accepted that mental health problems are illnesses; they are illnesses capable of being treated and they are being treated in a much more effective way.

We have come a long way as a society, and we have come a long way when it comes to treatment, but certainly when it comes to treatment we have a long, long way to go. We simply do not have the capacity as a society to manage the issue on the scale that is required, and we certainly do not have the capacity or even apparently the plans to manage the issue on the scale that is going to be required in the future if we do not get it under control.

When you think about physical health, yes, treatment measures—the manner in which we treat physical health problems—have developed enormously. Particularly post-World War II there have been some incredible strides forward.

But some and probably most of the significant change in recent years at least has occurred because of preventative health measures. Many, many more people understand that if they look after themselves a little bit better, if they get a bit of exercise, if they do not have quite so many drinks at night, if they do not eat quite as many fatty foods and they select their diet more discriminately, then they can have a big impact on their general health. But unfortunately we have not seen that sort of progress when it comes to mental health.

Now, I am sure every member of the house is aware to a greater or lesser extent of the impact of the pandemic on mental health, particularly during the lockdown period and the immediate aftermath of the lockdown period. It is an impact which—I am not qualified to measure it but according to the professionals—is way beyond the capacity of the public mental health system to manage. 

To a large extent that impact arose directly from measures taken to prevent the spread of disease. Now, I do not intend to relitigate the efficacy of those measures in this debate. That is a question we are talking about in many other forums, but in the context of this bill I do not intend to relitigate it. But I think in the context of this bill it is worth asking the question: could we have done better from a mental health perspective? And I think the answer is undoubtedly yes. We could have done a lot better from a mental health perspective.

Now, just looking at the WorkSafe Victoria annual report for 2020, it indicates there that claims for mental injury grew to 14.3 per cent of new claims in 2019–20, up from 14 per cent in 2018–19 and 12.6 per cent in 2017–18, which does not sound like a particularly high growth trajectory. But if you look at the overall numbers and you look at the trend across the century so far, it has come from almost nowhere. Now, some of that is because these injuries may not have been recognised as such at the time, but it is growth and it is significant growth.

I think there are some significant issues there.

In the last 40 years we have seen enormous improvement and enormous change in the way things are built, the way they are moved, the way they are handled, the way they are maintained—driven by improvements in workplace safety. We are not seeing those sorts of changes in terms of mental health injuries.

The number of physical injuries that have been prevented, the reduction in the loss of life and the reduction in the impact of permanent incapacitating injury have been tremendous. We are not doing the same thing in terms of mental health. We need to rethink that approach.

This is a good start, but we need to be doing more on the prevention side as well.