Working With Children Permits – No excuse for delays

Legislative Assembly 23 March 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (14:47): (6284) My question is for the Attorney-General.

I recently met with a constituent who had spent almost three months trying to get his working with children card renewed.

The card had expired on 14 December last year, and he had started trying to get it renewed in mid-November. The online system indicated that further information was required but unfortunately did not bother indicating what that further information was, so he had to resort to the telephone to try and move things on.

He called every day for three months but kept getting a recorded message saying to call back either later this day or the next business day.

Of course it is important to have a working with children check when required, but in this case it was also a prerequisite for membership of his local men’s shed, and consequently his membership of the men’s shed was in doubt.

Whatever arrangements it has been necessary to make to cope with the results of the pandemic, clearly they are not working. The government needs to resolve this problem of delays.

So my question to the minister is: why has this unacceptable situation arisen, and what is being done to fix it?

Fines Reform – Too Little, Too Late

Legislative Assembly 23 March 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (18:11): It is a pleasure to join this discussion on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Fines Reform and Other Matters) Bill 2022.

I guess, picking up from the previous speaker, the issue is not so much about whether we have a fines system or not. I am sure we would all prefer that people do not break the law. I think equally we need to be very much aware of whether the penalties are appropriate to the offence, whether the offences themselves are appropriate.

That has been most of the discussion this afternoon—about the appropriateness, the level, the manner in which those fines have been enforced.

Of course the bill before us this afternoon is not so much about that, which is really a matter of principles. It is about a discrete set of amendments.

If you look at the explanatory memorandum, clause 1 of the EM, sometimes that is pretty helpful in terms of telling you exactly what a bill does. But when you look at this one, it talks about amending the Fines Reform Act 2014, the Infringements Act 2006, the Sentencing Act 1991, the Sheriff Act 2009, a range of project acts—EastLink, North East Link, West Gate Tunnel—the Magistrates’ Court Act 1989, the Road Safety Act 1986, the Taxation Administration Act 1997 and the Transfer of Land Act 1958, none of which really tells us what the bill is in fact doing.

I guess the key issues addressed by the bill are about implementing recommendations from the Fines Reform Advisory Board, which was established following an Ombudsman’s report in 2019, which I will come back to and talk about in a minute.

The bill really seeks to implement recommendations 1, 5, 12, 18 and 20, and if time permits, I will come back and talk about some of those. In general principle, as the member for Malvern has indicated, the opposition does not have a problem with those.

Also there are some changes to support ease of enforcement. The information collected is relatively scarce, and the bill will allow additional data, contact details, to be collected—email addresses, mobile phone numbers, those sorts of things.

The bill also determines that the internal reviews that participating agencies conduct cannot be contracted out. Of course we know about the Ombudsman’s report on that, with a number of councils. What on earth possessed them to think they could contract out those functions? I really do not know what the councils were thinking, what the CEOs were thinking. It was just silly stuff as far as I am concerned, but it happened. That practice, thankfully, has been pretty much done away with, but the bill will clarify that and provide a legislative basis for it.

The bill also begins the process for the development of an electronic service of fines process—begins rather than ends. That is obviously a complex matter. It is very much a cultural shift, and I imagine it will take some years to proceed. It also provides a stronger information-gathering basis for that.
It is interesting, the way in which the government has engaged with fines reform, or failed to engage, because the Fines Reform Act of course was passed in the 57th Parliament under the coalition government.

Royal assent was on 1 September 2014 and the default date for proclamation was set as 30 June 2016, yet the government failed to get on and do the work that was necessary to implement the new act, so they had to come into this place and have that date extended. They extended the date to 31 May 2018. So instead of taking basically 18 months to implement the new set-up, the government took the best part of three years.

In fact they sought to—well, not ‘sought to’, they did—commence operation of the act on 31 December 2017. What happened? It was a monumental failure, and of course what came out of that was the Ombudsman’s report of April 2019. So effectively the act started at the start of 2018; by April 2019 the Ombudsman had to report on the comprehensive failures.

In the report from that time the Ombudsman noted that Fines Victoria—and this is not a bad reputation to achieve in just 15 months—was the third-most complained about agency in the state of Victoria. The Ombudsman noted that she had oversight of over 1000 public bodies and Fines Victoria was the third most complained about.

During that first year of operation the Ombudsman had meetings with Fines Victoria and alerted them, and she noted that people had their licences wrongly suspended. They were treated as being liable for substantial fines when they had not committed an offence. She went on to talk about the worry and frustration because people who were affected by this could not get through to the agency, and rightly she said in the vast majority of those cases the Ombudsman should not have had to intervene for Fines Victoria to have, in her words, ‘simply done the right thing’. She then went on to talk about IT and other things, which others have touched on, but the fact is this implementation was completely botched.

It was effectively three years late—2½ years late—and when it went live it was an absolute disaster. It is not just, ‘Oh, it didn’t work’. Literally thousands of people’s lives were adversely affected because of those sorts of issues. It was a monumental mess.

So part of what we are engaged in today is cleaning up those failures. We are implementing—well, the government is seeking to implement through this legislation—another five of the recommendations from the Fines Reform Advisory Board.

What interests me about this, though, is that we are still a fair way from having that process finalised. Again it has been a very, very long journey.

We still have three recommendations that were supported in full by the government—recommendation 8, recommendation 14 and recommendation 15—not yet implemented. There are another two that were accepted in principle and have not yet been implemented, recommendation 16 and recommendation 21. I do not have time to go into the details of those recommendations, but I have read the report, I know the details involved and I really cannot for the life of me see why they have not been done, particularly when you there are three that were accepted in full and have yet to be implemented.

As I mentioned, I will not probably have time to go through the five that are being implemented in detail, but I do want to refer to recommendations 12.1 and 12.3, which the minister referred to in her second-reading speech, which are about the time-served scheme for prisoners.

The theory behind that of course is that if a prisoner does not pay the fines that are due, they simply serve additional time. What is being done with this legislation is people who elect to serve time are effectively given a discount of any cost and fees that have been added.

If people elect to pay in full, they do not get the discount. It seems to me that we are in fact setting up a disincentive and encouraging people to stay in prison. So I have a problem with the implementation of that recommendation.

With regard to the rest of the bill, I think it is a reasonable approach, but it needs to be hurried up very, very much.

1 Mount Eliza Way – Not for Sale!

Legislative Assembly 23 March 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (09:48): It appears the impact of the government’s financial recklessness is becoming evident. In fact they are now selling off assets.

One asset is 1 Mount Eliza Way in Mount Eliza. It is a 2600-square-metre block, and the asking price is $2 million to $2.2 million, so it is a valuable block.

The issue is that the government is doing this with absolutely no warning. This land has been a reserve for as long as anyone can remember, and in fact when I looked at the Landata map last night it is identified as the Mount Eliza Way Reserve.

It appears it was a road reserve purchase that is no longer required and is now being disposed of.

The recent report from the Environment and Planning Committee made the point that requiring highest and best use, which is government policy, leads to loss of sites such as this—sites that have been used for passive recreation for decades if not significantly more. This one probably goes back to the 1960s, when the road was constructed.

The issue with this one, though, is that I understand there has not been much conversation, if any, with the council. The council through third parties have certainly indicated that they would be prepared to consider acquiring the site.

This is the main gateway to Mount Eliza. It is an absolutely critical site. It will have a significant impact on the treescape if this proceeds and is developed.

So I call on the minister to suspend this process until the local community can be consulted properly.

New Act for Puffing Billy

Legislative Assembly 22 March 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (17:37): It is a pleasure to join this discussion on the Puffing Billy Railway Bill 2022.

There was an interesting comment by the previous speaker about supporting volunteers. I am not quite sure that that is the way many of the Puffing Billy volunteers actually see the outcome of this bill, but that is by the way.

The bill is pretty much stock standard, the sort of thing you would expect setting up any sort of authority of this nature, and it is not really that much different to the old Emerald Tourist Railway Board.

It is interesting, some acts seem to endure forever. I can remember from my first weeks in this place debating the Prahran Mechanics’ Institute Act, amendments to the act of 1899, and I think it is still around. It certainly was in those days; it was being amended in those days.

Yet here we have an act, the Emerald Tourist Railway Act 1977, 44 years old, and it is absolutely and completely out of date. It is not that many years ago, 1977—certainly from my perspective—but Victoria is a very, very different place. Australia is a very, very different place, and I think it has to be said this organisation is also a very different place.

Others have talked about the growth of permanent positions; the number is either 70 or slightly under. That of course puts pressure on the volunteer side, and I know that there are reports—and I do not know that they are any more than reports—that there is what has been described as a toxic relationship between the current board and the volunteers. And I would certainly hope that this legislation—not that it is apparent in the words on the papere—will go some way towards resolving those differences.

As I said, it is a pretty stock standard piece of legislation. It establishes the board; provides the objectives, functions and powers; provides for the growth and development of the Puffing Billy Railway—well, you would hope so; requires business and strategic planning; recognises the heritage significance; and, coming back to the volunteers again, recognises the importance of the volunteers. I am not quite sure that it actually does that, but the way the board in future conducts itself will certainly have far more to do with that, with repairing the relationship with volunteers.

As others have mentioned, of course, no matter how outdated this piece of legislation is it probably would never have really been looked at if there had not been that dark history. I am not going to refer to that person by name. I do not think he should be referred to by name in any further part of this debate. You just wonder. We have heard far too many times in recent years of these sorts of incidents, the sorts of abuse that occurred.

The fact that someone with the history of this individual could then come back and have a senior role in the organisation and easy access to victims is just appalling. In the 1950s and 1960s, while I am sure they were very much conscious of the issues and aware of the need to take protective measures, the community standards were no different. You simply wonder why it was allowed to happen.

So the Ombudsman’s recommendation, which was a review of the current structure and composition of the Emerald Tourist Railway Board, and it was a little bit longer than that, was—I will not say the minimum that could have been done, but it was one of the absolutely essential aspects to come out of the report.

The minister’s response—and the response was reproduced in part in the Ombudsman’s report—talked about the sensitive matter and tragic events and was an appropriate response in the circumstances. But further on the minister said:

… I have requested that the department manages and oversees their implementations—

that is, the recommendations—

as soon as possible.

Well, that was in June 2018; this is March 2022. I know we have had some events in between that may have slowed things down a little bit, but I do not think it is unreasonable to ask why it has taken four years. Why has it taken four years?

The Ombudsman pointed to the gravity of the problem and made a strong recommendation to have the review. The review was conducted. Others have talked about the dates. That was early in the piece. And then the government has just dropped the ball.

The other aspect of this that does concern me, and the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee highlighted this in the Alert Digest, is that the act does not come into operation until 1 July next year. Now, we were told a couple of weeks ago, last sitting week, that it was terribly important to get this bill on for debate today. It could not be adjourned for two weeks; it had to be adjourned for 13 days.

It is not going to come into operation until 1 July next year. But there has been no explanation of that, no explanation at all, from the government. There is an expectation, certainly from SARC but I think from the Parliament as well, that if we are going to debate legislation—we are going to, I am sure in this case, agree to this legislation—the government owes us an explanation as to why it is going to take another 15 months to implement it. Frankly, it is not going to take that long. It should not take that long. It should be a matter of months at most before this new board is operative.

Unfortunately while the minister—I think it was the minister at the time—responded absolutely appropriately to the Ombudsman’s recommendation, the follow-up from the government I can only say has been somewhat mediocre.

I want to move on to another question, which is why we need specific legislation for this railway. We have had since 2010 the Tourist and Heritage Railways Act. We have 21 organisations that operate under that act, yet apparently we need a separate act for Puffing Billy. I do not think that aspect has been covered.

Clearly when you look at VicTrack’s so-called blueprint for the future—and it is a damn skinny blueprint in terms of heritage railways—while they note that there is separate legislation for Puffing Billy, the Puffing Billy organisation itself is very much treated as just another heritage railway.

There may well be justification for separate legislation, but it is pretty hard to see from this vantage point. I am aware that there are some arguments around who owns what assets and there are certainly some financial pressures with Puffing Billy, as with other railways, but I am not sure there are any less than at Puffing Billy anywhere else.

The Mornington Railway Preservation Society wrote to me right at the start of the pandemic after their income had dropped to zero, and they detailed their expenses, they were spending $25 000 to refurbish a steam locomotive. They had obtained some sleepers from the Avon rail bridge project, and they were able to bring those sleepers back to Moorooduc, but it was going to cost $4000 to get those sleepers back to Moorooduc—a big cost for a volunteer organisation. For public liability insurance to run an operation like that, to run a train, the figure quoted—and this was two years ago—was $15 000 to $20 000.

We have not had that explanation as to why this particular railway, as iconic as it might be, should be treated any differently to the other 21 organisations around the state. I would certainly have liked to have seen that.

The legislation, as far as it goes, sets up quite a respectable statutory organisation, and I think it will fill the bill, but perhaps it is not the best outcome that could have been delivered.

Fisherman’s Jetty – Time for action

Legislative Assembly 10 March 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (17:22): (6274) I raise a matter for the Minister for Ports and Freight this evening, and the action I am seeking from the minister is that she direct her department to work with the Mornington Yacht Club and Parks Victoria to facilitate the transfer of responsibility for the management of Fisherman’s Jetty at Mornington harbour from Parks Victoria to the Mornington Yacht Club.

I raised this matter just a little over a year ago in this house.

Fisherman’s Jetty is a small jetty, in Mornington harbour. It is a relatively minor piece of infrastructure but beloved by many. It has been closed, because its structural integrity has been compromised, since 2020. In March last year I raised the issue. The response I got back was:

… the local port manager … is sometimes required to restrict access to assets, such as has occurred at Fisherman’s Jetty …

Works and planning for Fisherman’s Jetty are considered for funding and prioritised for investment along with other marine assets.

In other words, do not hold your breath.

Well, the Mornington Yacht Club, being experienced in managing this harbour, having managed assets in the harbour for many years, are realistic about the chances of obtaining funding, and they have advised me that they are very much aware that Fisherman’s Jetty is, in their words, not a current priority under the Sustainable Local Ports Framework.

There are 150 or so wharves and other similar infrastructure across the state that require maintenance, and Fisherman’s Jetty just is not going to make it onto that list.
They have had the jetty assessed and they have confirmed that since its construction in 1990 there has been no maintenance, so the jetty is literally falling apart. That is why it is closed. They are, however, prepared to take over responsibility both for the initial repairs to get the jetty back into a fit condition and for maintaining the asset—maintaining a public asset.

A private yacht club is prepared to maintain the asset and maintain access for the public to the facility. But of course these wheels move slowly.

Parks Victoria is the local ports manager. The footprint that the yacht club has in the area does not include Fisherman’s Jetty, and that needs to change.

So I am seeking from the minister the cooperation of her department and Parks Victoria to work with the yacht club so that this public asset can be repaired and reopened and made available to the public again.

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.

Regional Status no threat to Green Wedge

Legislative Assembly 9 March 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (09:57): Last night the member for Nepean during the adjournment debate repeated an assertion that he has made on a number of occasions that according the Mornington peninsula regional status would somehow negate the green wedge controls.

Mr Brayne: Correct.

Mr MORRIS: Correct?

Mr Brayne: Absolutely.

Mr MORRIS: The member knows, and if he does not he damn well should, that the green wedge controls are incorporated in the Mornington Peninsula planning scheme.
If there is any daylight between according the Mornington Peninsula regional status and the green wedge controls, it can be dealt with by the stroke of a pen, by a ministerial amendment.

The member knows that the Minister for Planning is the person entirely responsible for the Mornington Peninsula planning scheme, and if there is any daylight—I do not accept that there is, but if there is—it can be dealt with immediately by a planning scheme amendment.

Now, the fact is that for the last two years I have been seeking to get amendment C270, which will actually protect the green wedge, up—crickets from the Minister for Planning for two years.

Finally, he has done it now. Ten months out from an election he has agreed to it. Do not come in here and tell this Parliament that the Labor Party’s position on protecting the green wedge is superior. And if the member for Nepean—

Members interjecting.

The SPEAKER: Without interjections.

Mr MORRIS: If the member for Nepean needs to resort to scare tactics to get elected at the end of the year, then he needs to reflect on how little he has done since he has been here.

Codes of Practice and Incorporated Documents

Legislative Assembly 9 March 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (18:32): It is a pleasure to join the debate on the Conservation, Forests and Lands Amendment Bill 2022. Many people say, ‘It’s been an interesting debate’, but I have genuinely found this to be an interesting debate and perhaps a low point in the manner in which we operate as a legislature.

Now, I am not having a crack at any of the speakers on any side, but there have been all sorts of commentary. The ruling is that it is a very wide debate —and again, I am not reflecting on the Chair in any way, because the precedent, I am sure, was established much earlier in the debate. We have had contributions about little penguins.

We have had contributions from this side on the timber industry. We just heard lots about the Mornington Peninsula, and I am tempted to take up a few of the points the member for Nepean made, but I will resist the temptation. And we have also heard great slabs, I am sure, quoted from the briefing books.

The reality is most of the contributions that have been made actually have said nothing about the bill. The suggestion that these amendments incorporate the precautionary principle, incorporate the actual detail, could not be further from the truth.

That is the reality. I mean, the amendment is—I have not bothered to count up the words, but it looks like perhaps 100 words in an amendment to section 31 of the Conservation, Forests and Lands Act 1987, and it is a variation on an existing power that relates to codes of practice.

That is all it is. It is a variation to that power. It does not do anything else. Yes, it potentially provides capacity for the minister to then take further action. It sets up the framework. But it does not do any of the things that have been claimed for it during the time I have been in the chamber.

It effectively says that an incorporated document is not only incorporated in the form that it is when it is incorporated but can be subsequently varied, and it gives that flexibility. And then the bulk of the words in this amendment are simply talking about the requirement to gazette the code of practice when it is varied and that it does not come into effect until it is gazetted.

There is no doubt that the timber industry has been a central part of this discussion, and that has played out in the contributions. Indeed there was a fairly long slab in the second-reading speech that talked about what the minister intended to do with the code in terms of the management provisions and whether they should be an incorporated document or whether they should be formally part of the code. But again, while that was a big slab of the second-reading speech, it is not part of the bill before us today; it is not actually what the bill does.

I do have some concerns about the form in which this particular amendment, as minimal as it may be, is being presented and the fact that we are dealing with a discrete bill to add a handful of words into an existing act, on the one hand. I cannot immediately recall the title of the bill that was dealt with last sitting week which incorporated a raft of amendments to a range of justice matters that were so broad that when we were briefed on the bill individual advisers were not able to talk about other sections of the bill, because were the responsibility of a different minister. The only common feature in that legislation was it was in the same department, but it was a very disparate range of matters. And now one sitting week later we are dealing with a bill that simply inserts a handful of words into existing legislation.

But the difficulty I have with this particular bill is not that it is complex. Someone said earlier—I cannot recall who it was—that it is complex. It is not complex. It is 100 words, for goodness sake. It is not complex.

The issue I have is about what it does, because if you work through the impact of the words, what it is effectively saying is that an incorporated document can change but it does not change the code. It really gets down to the point of where the threshold is. How substantial do the changes to an incorporated document need to be before they constitute a change of the code? We do not know that.

A concern I have had basically since I first stood up in this place in 2006 is the fact that so rarely do we actually as legislators have the opportunity to question legislation.

If you read the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee report on this, it notes that it has an issue—if I can find the report—potentially with the parliamentary oversight. The committee will correspond with the minister and ask some questions about how that will be worked through in the context of section 32 of the act. That is a significant question in the consideration of this bill, which we as legislators should have the opportunity to ask.

But of course the reality is we never get to consideration in detail, so we do not have the opportunity to consider and ask about the impact of this clause. I think that is a problem. Yes, it was certainly a Liberal government that introduced the government business program, the guillotine, but it was in response to ongoing bad behaviour, ongoing overnight sittings and just a complete rort of the opportunity to consider matters in detail.

We have now gone the other way, where we get 10 minutes to speak on a bill no matter what the complexity is and we cannot ask any questions. I think it is very, very difficult for anyone, whether you are government or opposition, to say you are doing your job, you are scrutinising legislation appropriately, when we have the system that we do now. It is a criticism that arises out of questions that come up in this bill.

It will not affect me, clearly, but I think we really do need to have a look at whether we are in fact carrying out our duties and the duties that the Victorian public think we should be carrying out when we process legislation in this way.

The other issue with the potential reduction in parliamentary oversight is again one that is becoming more and more obvious. We have had a series of bills come through where there is an effective dumbing down of legislation. What previously would have been in legislation is in fact inserted into regulation. What would previously have been inserted into regulation goes into a code of practice. The reality is that the only people that win out of that are the Victorian bureaucracy, because they take up the powers that this Parliament is ceding to them by taking that approach.

It is important that we recognise this Parliament and passage through this Parliament should not be considered a mere formality. Processing legislation through this Parliament should not be a rubber stamp, and that is pretty much where we are at the moment.

There are legitimate questions about the impact of legislation, as few the words are, and the opportunity is not there to get that clarification which I think it otherwise deserves.

As others have said, the opposition will not be opposing the bill; however, there are some significant not only process issues but practical issues so we know exactly what the impact is. And as the debate has demonstrated, there is a breadth of opinion on that.

Mt Eliza Secondary College – Funding Urgently Needed

Legislative Assembly 22 February 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (14:49): (6214) My question is to the Minister for Education.

I recently received an email from a constituent, and I will quote it in part:

I’m shocked and so disappointed at how little public investment has been allocated to my local high school—

Mount Eliza Secondary College—

… is in desperate need of being brought into line with neighbouring local schools. Given the demographic change with many young families moving into Mount Eliza, the school is not prepared for the needs of these families. The infrastructure is inadequate, or at the least in much need of upgrade …

and I would certainly second that.

The infrastructure is extremely inadequate.

It is not as if there has been underinvestment; there has been effectively zero investment in the school probably for the entire last 16, if not more, years.

So, the question to the minister is:

What are the minister’s plans to bring the Mount Eliza Secondary College infrastructure up to a standard comparable with neighbouring secondary schools?

Robert (Robin) Fitzgerald Cooper

Legislative Assembly 8 February 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (12:23): Perhaps I can fill in that blank for the Premier: what was on the end of the chain was actually the gold pass for the Mornington electorate, and he carried it with him every day that he served in this place.

Today we pause to recognise the contribution to the Victorian community of the Honourable Robin Cooper, my predecessor of course in the seat of Mornington.
The debate is occurring because Robin was a minister, as has been said, between January 1997 and October 1999. And while his time in cabinet, I think it is fair to say, marked the pinnacle of his political career, it was a relatively brief interlude in a very long period of public life and an even longer period of public service.

In preparing for the debate I managed to unearth a copy of the 1985 Liberal candidate biographies. I am not going to read it out, but when you look through, they mostly run to about half a page; Robin’s well and truly filled the page. It makes for some interesting reading. As I say, I will not go through it in detail, but it does mention that he was educated at Xavier and later at Taylors College, which was not at all unusual in the 1950s, and then followed that with a management supervision course.

As others have said, 20 years followed in the building industry, interrupted—I do not think anyone has mentioned this yet—in 1964 by national service. In those days that was effectively two years out. That period ended as a self-employed consultant, but still in the building industry, from 1980.

But in terms of that profile, when you get to the community section, that is when you start to see the Robin Cooper that I really knew: 20 years service as a volunteer firefighter at the Mount Eliza CFA; election to the Shire of Mornington in 1972—there seems to be some controversy about when he was actually shire president, but my understanding is it was the council year 1979–80; member and chair of the Peninsula Regional Library Service; member and president of the Mount Eliza High School council; member of the Western Port Regional Planning Authority; member of the Mornington Peninsula development committee; and so on and so on—you get the idea.

Not content with all that, he was a player in a Mount Eliza Cricket Club premiership side and a long-suffering but ultimately triumphant Demons supporter.

Robin was elected to the Mornington council in 1972, I think a few months before Henry Bolte, the long-serving Premier, retired. As many would either recall or have learned, one of Bolte’s signature policies was creating the “Ruhr of Victoria” in Western Port and developing Hastings and French Island and turning that area into an industrial hub—it has got to be said—despite the wishes of most of the locals.

When Bolte retired that opened an opportunity to reassess that plan, so Robin’s time in local government, the 1970s and early 80s, were an absolutely critical time for the Mornington Peninsula. If that industrialisation had gone ahead, if we had had that nuclear power plant on French Island, if we had had the suburbs that were expected to go on the Moorooduc plain with tens of thousands of houses for factory workers and port workers and so on, the Mornington Peninsula that we enjoy today would be a very, very different place.

The contributions of the three councils then on the Mornington Peninsula and councillors like Robin Cooper were significant in getting those things changed.
Like many parts of Victoria, the peninsula experienced change as a result of the 1982 election. The seat of Mornington had been established in the 2nd Parliament, but in 1967 it was renamed Dromana. The footprint was pretty much the same, but the name was changed. In 1982 Dromana was captured by the ALP and for the first and only time in local electoral history the Mornington area was represented by a Labor MP in this place.

Now, Robin’s political ambitions I do not think were a secret from anyone. He was active in the party. He contested preselection for state seats, as the Leader of The Nationals said, on two occasions, and he actually contested preselection for the seat of Flinders as well, so his plans were out there. As an energetic Liberal and an experienced local shire councillor he was absolutely determined that the continued presence of the ALP in the seat of Dromana, as it was then, would not be tolerated, so he put his hand up again.

There was a redistribution—the seat of Mornington was recreated—and when he stood he gained a 3 per cent swing and of course returned the seat to the Liberal Party. As others have said, he held it for 21 years: he was re-elected in 1988, 1992, 1996, 1999 and 2002.

But in 1985 it was a very different seat to the seat we see today. On the Port Phillip side it was only the southern half of Mount Eliza and the town of Mornington that were included in the seat. Then it was sort of a long, narrow, horizontal seat that went right across to Western Port and included French Island—not Phillip Island but French Island.

As the population grew the seat changed dramatically, and eventually it contracted westward and moved north and south and took in the whole of Mount Eliza, kept Mornington, took in Mount Martha and was pretty much the seat we have today although a little bit smaller. As we all know, when you have change on that scale it can make things a little bit challenging for continuing in this place, but despite those changes Robin’s reputation as a very strong local representative endured, and so ensured continued success at the polls.

When he was elected to Parliament in 1985, as others have said, he went straight to the front bench as Shadow Minister for Local Government and Shadow Minister for Public Works.

And unlike today where councillors if they are elected need to immediately resign their council seats, for some time Robin was actually Shadow Minister for Local Government and a councillor at the Shire of Mornington as well. I believe his term ran out in August of the year he was elected, but he did six months wearing those two hats, so he had skin in the game when it came to the amalgamation debate.

Of course that debate immediately put him in the spotlight, and I know he relished the opportunity it gave him to get up and belt the government. I remember sitting up in that gallery one night probably in the late 1980s, and he was still waving the local government flag. He did a very vigorous adjournment—with far more vigour than you would see in most adjournments today. He had that spotlight, but when the reform agenda collapsed—and I do not think there is a kinder word you can use than that—he moved on. He became Shadow Minister for Police and Emergency Services, and he became Shadow Minister for Corrections as well, which I know he was not that enthusiastic about. He returned to local government in 1989 but added tourism and then the shadow ministry of public transport in 1990.

When Jeff Kennett returned to the leadership I think the nicest thing you could say is that Robin’s progress temporarily stalled. So he went to the backbench. And when the Kennett government was elected in 1992 he took the chair of the Public Bodies Review Committee, which does not sound particularly exciting, but if you think about it in the context of a reforming government and all the work that was done on amalgamating, eliminating public bodies and reforming the public sector at that time, it was a significant role.

When the government was re-elected in 1996 he became Parliamentary Secretary for Transport, Roads and Ports, and he joined the cabinet in the following year as Minister for Transport and held that post until 1999.

In the years of opposition that followed he, as the Premier said, sat in that chair. He mostly supported the leadership but always had serious input into parliamentary strategy—if you were to ask Robert Doyle, he might have a different view—and of course finished his time in this place as Manager of Opposition Business under leader Ted Baillieu.

The final comment I want to make in terms of Parliament is both in government and out of government he was a very strong supporter of the committee system, and when I was elected he actively encouraged me not only to be involved but to turn up and engage. And that was certainly very, very good advice.

Not only did he chair the Public Bodies Review Committee but, as the Leader of the Opposition said, he served on the House Committee. He had a couple of turns on the Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee and 14 years as a member of the Privileges Committee. I am coming up for twelve years on the Privileges Committee, and I certainly endorse the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition.

Community service remained a priority for Robin after his retirement. He remained almost until the end a very active member of the community. He was a particularly active member of the committee of the Mornington Information & Community Support Centre and was for a time their president.

From a personal point of view, when I joined the Mornington business community in 1980 Robin was shire president, and at that time of course he was trying to balance the conflicting demands of public office, a growing family and a fledgling business.

He was one of those people you think you know because you read about them in the paper. You might see them down the street and give them a wave, but you really do not have anything much to do with them. I cannot recall when we first met, but I suspect it was 1982 or 1983 and was probably in the context of discussions between the Mornington Chamber of Commerce, of which I was an office-bearer, and members of the council—something to do with Main Street, I suspect.

But I can certainly clearly recall sitting next to Robin at a chamber of commerce dinner in around 1984. He would have been the Liberal candidate for Mornington. I was amazed that one person could sit on one 7-ounce glass of beer for the entire night and drink the last half inch or so as he left. But I probably now understand better the demands of public life and attending dinners. At the time, though, I was a lapsed member of the Liberal Party, having joined in 1975 and relocated to the Mornington Peninsula from Canterbury. I had a new business, open seven days a week, and that really did not leave very much time for anything else, so as I said I had lapsed.

At that time no-one was going to convince me to go and put time into a political party when I really was not getting enough sleep running the business.

But by 1986 Robin had convinced me to rejoin the Liberal Party, and the following year, partly with his encouragement, I stuck my hand up for a seat on the shire council, contested a seat and won it, and that really I think began a partnership that endured for more than 20 years. For almost five of those 20 years I chaired the electorate for him, and then of course he was generous enough to work very closely with me during the campaign in 2006.

Sometimes when you work closely with people you find they are not who you thought they were, but certainly—as again the opposition leader said—that was not the case with Robin Cooper. What you saw was what you got. You might not have liked what you were getting, but that was it. I think that in part was one of the secrets of his success in public life, because he was absolutely fair dinkum.

Certainly it was his example and that of another great Liberal, Alan Hunt, that fed any political ambitions I might have had, and I certainly thank him for encouraging that and for his support to allow me to be here speaking in this debate this afternoon.

All of us who serve in this place know that we cannot begin to do so without the strongest support of those closest to us. Robin’s marriage to Jennifer—it endured for most of his adult life—was a life partnership in the true sense of the word, and as the children arrived and grew, they joined and strengthened the partnership. Robin would have been the first person to admit that he could not have achieved everything he did without the backing of his family and particularly not without Jennifer’s enduring encouragement and strong support.

Robin served his electorate—the greater Mornington Peninsula—and the state of Victoria with distinction. His family can be justly proud of his service and of his achievements, and my thoughts, and I know Linda’s thoughts, are with Jennifer and with Rebecca, Jeremy and Anna. Vale, Robin Cooper.