Thursday, 2 December 2021

The PRESIDENT (Hon. N Elasmar) took the chair at 10.08 am and read the prayer.

Announcements

Acknowledgement of country

The PRESIDENT (10:08): On behalf of the Victorian state Parliament I acknowledge the Aboriginal peoples, the traditional custodians of this land which has served as a significant meeting place of the First People of Victoria. I acknowledge and pay respect to the elders of the Aboriginal nations in Victoria past, present and emerging and welcome any elders and members of the Aboriginal communities who may visit or participate in the events or proceedings of the Parliament.

Photography in chamber

The PRESIDENT (10:09): I wish to advise that photography will be taking place from the galleries today to capture some photos of the chamber in action. The photos may be used for the website.

Chief parliamentary counsel

The PRESIDENT (10:10): I would like to acknowledge the service to this Parliament and government of Marina Farnan, the chief parliamentary counsel. Marina will be leaving the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel early in the New Year, and I am pleased that she has been able to join us in the lower public gallery this morning. Marina assumed the role of chief parliamentary counsel in January 2017. Previously she had been a second parliamentary counsel in the commonwealth Office of Parliamentary Counsel for more than 10 years. She has close to 30 years experience working as a parliamentary counsel in both jurisdictions.

The Office of Chief Parliamentary Counsel is an office of the government, but it stands apart from other public service roles because it works so closely with all members, not just government, and it works very closely with the staff of both house departments, never more so than in the past five years. Marina’s tenure as chief parliamentary counsel has coincided with a period of great change and challenges in legislation. In recent years we have seen a 20-fold increase in private members bills and an ever-increasing volume of amendments to bills. This comes in addition to the enormous task of drafting government bills, regulations and other rules, and performing the government printer role, including the Government Gazette. Marina and her team have met this significant increase in demand for this specialised service with great professionalism and commitment to public service.

I pay tribute to Marina’s service to both the commonwealth and Victoria, and I thank her team for their outstanding support to government and Parliament. We wish Marina well for the future.

Mr Davis: I concur completely with that. Marina is a first-rate person with great integrity. I and so many others in this chamber have been honoured to have dealt with her in her capacity and her professionalism, integrity and ability to turn amendments around very fast indeed. Thank you. It is a great loss.

Bills

Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021

Assembly’s amendments

The PRESIDENT (10:13): I have received the following message from the Legislative Assembly:

The Legislative Assembly returns to the Legislative Council ‘A Bill for an Act to amend the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 in relation to the effective management of pandemics and for other purposes’ and informs the Council that the Assembly has made the amendments suggested by the Council.

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (10:13): I move:

That the message be referred to the committee of the whole on the bill later this day.

House divided on motion:

Ayes, 20
Barton, Mr Melhem, Mr Tarlamis, Mr
Elasmar, Mr Patten, Ms Taylor, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Pulford, Ms Terpstra, Ms
Gepp, Mr Ratnam, Dr Tierney, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms Watt, Ms
Meddick, Mr Symes, Ms
Noes, 16
Atkinson, Mr Finn, Mr Maxwell, Ms
Bach, Dr Grimley, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bath, Ms Hayes, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Bourman, Mr Limbrick, Mr Quilty, Mr
Crozier, Ms Lovell, Ms Rich-Phillips, Mr
Davis, Mr

Motion agreed to.

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (10:20): I was not expecting people to vote against delaying this bill until later this day. With that in mind, I desire to move, by leave:

That the message be referred to the committee of the whole on the bill forthwith.

Leave refused.

Petitions

Following petitions presented to house:

Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021

The Petition of certain citizens of the State of Victoria draws to the attention of the Legislative Council that the community opposes the Andrews Government’s Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021.

The Bill hands enormous power to the Premier of Victoria, possibly perpetuating a pandemic dictatorship. It is undemocratic and a complete tyrannical overreach of political power. It inhibits proper Parliamentary scrutiny, transparency and potentially impacts scheduled state elections.

The Andrews Government has not consulted with the public on its powers.

The community specifically objects to the Bill granting the Premier wide sweeping powers to declare a pandemic despite low case numbers in the state of Victoria and potentially in the absence of cases, issuing pandemic orders for a period of time without the support of state parliament, and having the power to apply pandemic orders to classes of persons who can be identified by their characteristics or attributes, including but not limited to race, gender, religious, political belief or activity.

The petitioners therefore request that the Legislative Council reject the flawed Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021.

By Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (703 signatures).

Laid on table.

Frankston line elevated rail

The Petition of certain citizens of the State of Victoria draws to the attention of the Legislative Council, the risks and issues relating to the removal of Level Crossings on the Frankston train line. We the Petitioners highlight to the Legislative Council of Victoria that the Sky Rail will:

• Negatively impact neighborhood character.

• Create a visual bulk, overshadow property and reduce daylight.

• Attract crime and anti-social behavior including vandalism, graffiti and dumping of rubbish.

• Decrease property values.

• Increase noise to the surrounding community.

• Have a catastrophic impact on small businesses.

The Petitioners therefore request that the Premier of Victoria and the Government immediately rule out a Sky Rail for the Frankston Line and ensure that level crossings at Cheltenham, Mentone, Edithvale, Bonbeach, Carrum, Seaford and Frankston are placed underground. The Petitioners also request that the community is properly consulted regarding potential upgrades to infrastructure at stations where level crossings are not being removed, such as Parkdale and Mordialloc.

By Mr DAVIS (Southern Metropolitan) (730 signatures).

Laid on table.

Public land acquisition

The Petition of certain citizens of the State of Victoria draws to the attention of the Legislative Council that Banyule City Council recently announced its plans for an unprecedented public-private partnership. An unsolicited proposal was made by Fabcot Pty Ltd, Woolworths’ in-house Retail Property Development division to purchase public land in exchange for the provision of public infrastructure, the Rosanna Library.

Many other local councils are now engaging with Banyule City Council to establish similar partnership models across Victoria.

Unsolicited proposals mean that public land can be negotiated for sale without being identified as surplus or undergo transparent public consultation. Public infrastructure becomes bargaining power in confidential agreements, impervious to the public eye. These types of deals remove the public’s voice on the sale of public land, provision of local infrastructure and remove the ability to freely challenge attached private development.

At the core of these proposals is a grab for public land and the large sums of money private developers will pay to acquire this land. Power, money and influence of private developers will usurp the democratic process and interests of the public.

The confidential nature of these deals could create pathways for corruption and undue influence within local councils, allowing avenues for deception of the public.

All Victorian local government areas are susceptible to these risks.

The petitioners therefore request that the Legislative Council call on the Government and the Minister for Local Government to take action to prevent local councils from accepting unsolicited proposals to purchase land and from exchanging public land for infrastructure.

By Mr HAYES (Southern Metropolitan) (32 signatures).

Laid on table.

Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021

The Petition of certain citizens of the State of Victoria draws to the attention of the Legislative Council the proposed permanent pandemic legislation, the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021.

The past two years have shown us that the directions under the State of Emergency have been disproportionate and ineffective at protecting our community, and the public health data has been almost non-existent. When the curfew was deemed to encroach on human rights without any benefit to public health, the Government was ordered to release the data, however the curfew continued.

The proposed legislation gives too much power to one individual, the Premier of the day and contains elements that specifically target and disadvantage certain members of our community. When the State of Emergency expires, any bills related to future pandemics should be specific and evidence-based and proportionate to the threat to public health.

Legislation that can be enacted without any threat to public health will only cause problems for Victorians. These current COVID-19 directives have been introduced without the required supporting public health evidence and have been opposed by independent organisations and individuals including the legal community. There will be no such recourse if the permanent pandemic legislation passes.

The petitioners therefore request that the Legislative Council oppose the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021.

By Ms LOVELL (Northern Victoria) (379 signatures).

Laid on table.

Public land use

The Petition of certain citizens of the State of Victoria draws to the attention of the Legislative Council that thousands of local park users will no longer have recreational access to greater Lerderderg and Wombat State Forest. This will severely impact many local businesses which rely on local tourism.

The Victorian Environmental Assessment Council’s (VEAC) report on Central West Investigation: Draft Proposals Paper notes that “Wombat–Lerderderg National Park captures a large part of the highest-ranking areas of rare and threatened species habitat. The state-wide analysis shows the area to be among the most important for Victoria’s biodiversity with large and mostly contiguous areas of high value.”

Forest users want to ensure that this area is protected for generations to come, however, the area is already one of the best maintained and most important for recreational enjoyment in Central and Western Victoria. The area has been used as a recreational area for over a hundred years.

The plan, researched by the VEAC, proposes for 90 per cent of the greater Lerderderg and Wombat State Parks, which are currently available for recreational use, to no longer be accessible. This directly impacts horse riders, fishermen, hunters and mountain and trail bike riders. 65 per cent of submissions received by the VEAC were against the plan to turn land into national parks.

The petitioners therefore request that the Legislative Council call on the Government to reverse the Victorian Environment Assessment Council’s decision to turn recreational land such as the greater Lerderderg and Wombat State Forest into national parks.

By Ms LOVELL (Northern Victoria) (2148 signatures).

Laid on table.

Committees

Environment and Planning Committee

Inquiry into Ecosystem Decline in Victoria

Ms TERPSTRA (Eastern Metropolitan) (10:24): Pursuant to standing order 23.29, I lay on the table a report from the Environment and Planning Committee on the inquiry into ecosystem decline in Victoria, including an appendix, extracts of proceedings and minority reports. I further present transcripts of evidence, and I move:

That the transcripts of evidence lie on the table and the report be published.

Motion agreed to.

Ms TERPSTRA: I move:

That the Council take note of the report.

Five minutes in speaking to this report will not be nearly enough to do it justice. This report is significant in both its complexity and its outcomes, but I will do my best to give it some level of justice. The inquiry into ecosystem decline in Victoria is the largest in both its scope and its community reach undertaken by the committee in the 59th Parliament and one of the most extensive the committee has ever undertaken. It really is this committee’s magnum opus, but I am sure we might find ways to continue to outdo ourselves in the future. We thought that the recycling report was it, but for now this is actually the one.

The inquiry was conducted over eight months and the committee received over 1000 written submissions, held 16 days of public hearings and received evidence from 135 people, both as individuals and from a total of 43 organisations. These are the most hearings ever held by the committee for a single inquiry. Most of the inquiry was undertaken during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the committee needed to adapt to the restrictions that the pandemic caused, including shifting most of the public hearings to be held by videoconference, with both members of the committee and witnesses attending remotely.

There are many aspects to this report, but to sum up the central theme, reversing ecosystem decline is essential not only for our wellbeing but also for our survival. If one ecosystem is impacted, there are knock-on effects to others. There are examples of how this impacts human health. Soil health is one example. Poor soil health results in dust storms. Additionally, there is an effect known as the heat island effect, where poorly designed developments, lack of eaves and lack and/or loss of vegetation result in excessive heat. The over-preponderance of invasive pest, animal and weed species points to imbalances.

Additionally, to ensure human health and to ensure our food security is protected, it is essential that our biodiversity and ecosystems are protected. It is evident that whilst there has been a power of work commenced to care for our ecosystems more can be done, and opportunities present themselves through this report to rethink how actions have consequences and how this plays out in our natural environment as well as exciting training and job opportunities and opportunities for greater collaboration and cooperation.

In the committee’s view the evidence presented during this inquiry makes clear that mitigating and reversing ecosystem decline is of great importance not only to our physical and mental health but also economically, and concerted efforts need to be taken across all levels of government and industry and the community at large to mitigate adverse impacts. Reversing ecosystem decline must be seen as a shared responsibility by all of us.

During the inquiry the committee also heard extensive evidence from our First Nations peoples and traditional owners. Biodiversity is central to First Nations ways of knowing, and they acknowledge the significant impacts of the ongoing decline of biodiversity on country. The committee recognises the importance of ensuring traditional owner voices are central in all conversations regarding biodiversity. For this reason traditional owner views and recommendations for future change are incorporated throughout the report, as well as having a distinct chapter dedicated to this issue.

I would like to thank all First Nations people who presented evidence to this inquiry. I want you to know that we have listened to your concerns, and I hope that this report can in some small way play a role on the pathway to reconciliation and healing. The committee was fortunate to have a demonstration of cultural fire practices on Yorta Yorta land, and this provided an invaluable context for the substantial amount of evidence received about traditional fire and land management. I would like to extend a debt of gratitude to both the Yorta Yorta people, whose land we were on for the demonstration, and Victor Steffensen from the Firesticks Alliance, who explained the importance of these practices which the committee was able to witness firsthand. Personally I am grateful for the experience, and it was incredible to be on country to learn and to understand the importance of country to our First Nations people. This has been immeasurable.

I would like to thank all the people who made submissions—groups, individuals, experts, scientists and academics. You presented your evidence, and your time and insights were truly valuable and appreciated by the committee.

Despite the usual differences of opinion that always occur, I would like to thank committee members for their substantial commitment and the work that they have done throughout the inquiry. I would also like to express my appreciation for the fact that despite differences members have by and large remained professional and courteous to each other throughout.

Finally, I would like to particularly thank the secretariat and the committee staff for their hard work and professionalism in managing enormous amounts of information and in assisting the committee throughout in navigating such a broad and complex subject. Thanks go to Michael Baker, the committee manager, for his management of the inquiry. I would also like to thank Alice Petrie, inquiry officer, and Samantha Leahy, research assistant, for their tremendous work in preparing the draft report for the committee. Collecting, analysing and disseminating such an enormous volume of material was a herculean task. Also, thanks go to Cat Smith for her professional and seamless administrative assistance throughout the inquiry, and thanks to Holly McLean, who provided additional research assistance early in the inquiry before moving on to a new role.

Mr MEDDICK (Western Victoria) (10:29): I echo the sentiments of Ms Terpstra, who was our chair on this inquiry. I have a quick couple of comments, and I will make further comment when we return in the new year. I particularly want to thank the secretariat: Michael Baker, Alice Petrie, Sam Leahy, Cat Smith and Holly Mclean. Everyone on that side of the world was just outstanding through this inquiry with the support they gave each of us. I also want to thank all members of the committee for the bipartisan way in which they approached this. Certainly some of the recommendations are not what all of us would want. There are conflicting views here, but the inquiry was conducted with good grace and good humour, and I thank the members for that.

I particularly want to address two particular recommendations which are very close to my heart. I am very pleased to see that they are in the report. I will speak to them in just a moment, but I just want to state that this is an extraordinary report. It is so large, it covered so many areas, and I hope that the government will take up the recommendations of the report in total. I think they owe that to the people who submitted, and I think that will then reflect what is actually required.

In terms of the two recommendations that were close to my heart, they are two subjects that I have campaigned for the better part of 10 years for, and I am pleased to see that they are in the report. I argued for them, and I am pleased to see they came up. They are the recommendations for a phase-out of 1080 poison in Victoria and the reintroduction of the dingo, our apex land predator, in a trial period in Victoria to control introduced species. I am pleased to see that those recommendations are there. They will work hand in hand in the restoration of the ecosystems in Victoria.

Mr HAYES (Southern Metropolitan) (10:31): I want to welcome the Environment and Planning Committee’s report tabled today. It is a report which goes a great way to addressing the ecosystem emergency, and I really want to thank Michael Baker and his staff—Alice Petrie, Samantha Leahy, Cat Smith and Holly Mclean—who did a fantastic job facilitating this report and making the inquiry possible. We have a huge report here, and we had a huge number of submissions. We had a record number of witnesses and submissions, I think. All in all it is a great report. I want to thank all the people that contributed by giving their views to our committee.

Much can be learned from reading this report and our minority report about the state of our precious environment and our rapidly disappearing native species. We really need to declare a biodiversity emergency, and I do believe the report really needed to point to the great urgency with which action needs to be taken in protecting what we have left of our biodiversity and our precious forests and our precious water systems and land in Victoria. After many decades of indifference, neglect and mismanagement, the task before us is huge.

Another element, which is missing from a good report, is to acknowledge the damage done by running an economy based on ever-increasing population growth. That is something which is not discussed at all in the report, so it is in our minority report.

One great feature of our report is our engagement with our Indigenous community and our recommendations about how we can improve this engagement and raise their activities and their enterprise and their hard work in protecting our environment into their proper place. I have run out of time. There is a lot more to say, but Mr Melhem will say it for me.

Mr MELHEM (Western Metropolitan) (10:34): I also rise to speak on the report by the Environment and Planning Committee on the ecosystem, and I want to start by acknowledging the great work by the secretariat, which was led by Michael Baker as the committee manager; Alice Petrie, inquiry officer; Samantha Leahy, research assistant; Cat Smith, administration assistant; and Holly McLean, research assistant for the first half of the inquiry. They have done a magnificent job in putting the report together. It is one of the very important reports done by this committee in this term of Parliament. I also want to acknowledge the work of the chair of the committee, Ms Terpstra, and deputy chair, Mr Hayes, and all the members who participated in the deliberations and in putting the report together.

As previous speakers have said, we had a significant number of witnesses and submissions to the committee. This will probably be one of the most important reports by the committee. There were a lot of great recommendations to make sure that we look after the ecosystem in Victoria. I look forward to the response from the government—which I believe will be a positive one—to adopt the recommendations and the findings in the report, and I acknowledge Minister D’Ambrosio’s work in that space with the various policies implemented so far by the Andrews Labor government to make sure we have a good ecosystem. Without having the balance right to ensure we have a good ecosystem, life on earth will be somewhat challenged in the many decades to come, so it is important that we pay attention to that. I commend the report to the house, and as I said, I am looking forward to the government’s response and the adoption of the various recommendations and findings in this report.

Dr RATNAM (Northern Metropolitan) (10:36): I too rise to speak to this really fantastic report, a report from the Environment and Planning Committee into biodiversity loss and the extinction crisis that our state faces. I want to thank firstly the committee and the secretariat for all their incredible work, particularly Michael, Alice, Sam, Cat and Holly, who I felt really poured their heart and soul into this report, because it is reflected in the quality and depth and breadth of the report before you. I am particularly proud that this was the result of a Greens motion before this place, and I thank everyone in this place for supporting that motion, because what we have seen is that this inquiry was absolutely urgent and absolutely necessary if we are going to halt the decline of biodiversity in our state.

We found throughout this extensive inquiry that there are significant and consistent drivers of biodiversity loss and extinction. They are climate change, habitat loss, invasive species, weak and inadequate laws and regulations and enforcement around our biodiversity and a lack of government and consistent funding. What we also found was that there are things that we can do to halt this rapid decline of biodiversity in Victoria. We found through the course of our inquiry that there are nearly 2000 species now on the threatened list in Victoria. This is completely unacceptable, and there is no doubt that we are in an extinction crisis. It saddens me to think that my daughter will grow up in a world without the richness in plant and animal life and biodiversity that we have been able to enjoy and humans have been able to enjoy for thousands of years. Our plant and animal life have an equal and important place on this earth, and in fact our survival—the survival of humans—depends on it. We cannot survive without our natural environment.

I am proud of the work that the Greens have done. It is core to what we want to achieve in this Parliament, and I hope that we will be able to heed the recommendations and act urgently to halt the extinction crisis that Victoria faces.

Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (10:38): I would like to speak on the report released today, and in doing so I would like to share my congratulations and thanks to the secretariat who worked very, very hard—Michael Baker, who was truly swizzling in terms of his dealing with members of Parliament; Alice Petrie; Sam Leahy; Cat Smith and Holly McLean. Notwithstanding their great efforts, I would also like to announce my disappointment that this report, which is substantive, is a missed opportunity to actually provide a balanced and clear view of the state of this state in terms of threatened and vulnerable species. What report after report after report come through with is that invasive weed species and bushfires are the two greatest threats to our vulnerable species. But what we have seen in this report is a Labor and Greens alliance. It should have been a forensic analysis of government departments and of government policies, but what we have seen is the majority report is a propaganda machine on the benefits of Safer Together and a propaganda machine for the forestry plan. It is highly disappointing that very good scientists that really deal with science as a whole have not made it into this report.

What I do like to acknowledge is the fact that we have had a significant involvement of Indigenous people and specifically Victor Steffensen. I have been championing his cause, firestick burning throughout the land, and for him to come down and speak. What has been highly disappointing is the biased nature of the predominant recommendations for this, focused on the government patting itself on the back.

Dr CUMMING (Western Metropolitan) (10:40): I too wish to rise to thank the committee for the hard work that they actually put in for the inquiry into ecosystem decline in Victoria. For me it was great to see some of these recommendations placed in for my Western Metropolitan Region, one being finding 19:

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning has not delivered the Western Grassland Reserve and the Grassy Eucalypt Woodlands Reserve by 2020, as specified in the Melbourne Strategic Assessment program.

And then recommendation 18 says:

That the Victorian Government consider funding the immediate purchase or leasing of … high quality grasslands within the proposed Western Grassland Reserve and the 36 reserves proposed by the Melbourne Strategic Assessment within Melbourne’s urban growth boundary. These areas should be urgently acquired to facilitate … sound management to conserve and restore biodiversity values.

Now, my residents in Western Metropolitan Region—who love their Maribyrnong River, who love all the wetlands in the west, especially along our coast, from Williamstown and right along to Werribee and the like—have done so much as community groups looking after those grasslands, looking after habitat loss, trying to do their best for threatened species and land management. So for us to see an acknowledgement that the biodiversity in Melbourne’s west needs to be protected—this government actually needs to step forward. Rather than paying lip service to previous reports they actually need to fund these small community groups.

Mrs McARTHUR (Western Victoria) (10:42): I too would like to place on record my interest in this report. I am a signatory to the minority report. I place on record my thanks to the amazing staff of the secretariat, led by Michael Baker. The others have all been mentioned. It was a mammoth exercise. But I endorse Ms Bath’s comments about the biased nature of this report, and as for this recommendation that we trial dingoes in the Grampians, well, all I can say is it would be a trial of how to destroy the greatest wool industry in Australia, right on the edge of the Grampians. If you want to slaughter the wool industry in Australia, then take up this recommendation. The dingoes are not even purebred dingoes. They will be hybrid dingoes. In fact they will be wild dogs, nothing more and nothing less. As long as they identify as a dingo they will be right. There on the edge of the Grampians is the finest wool stud in Australia waiting to have every lamb slaughtered by wild dogs. Anybody who thinks this is a bright idea needs to get out of Fitzroy, is all I can say, and the City of Yarra. Get out into the real world and see what happens in the real world, where farmers actually do more for the environment than all the hundreds and thousands of bureaucrats sitting in these offices. Not enough of them are out in the real world actually making sure that the noxious weeds that have taken over the parks of Victoria are eradicated. They are out of control, the weeds. And you also in this report do not want cold burning—extraordinary. You want to actually burn the forests so that they do not recover properly. You burn the canopy with a wild, intense bushfire, and it is terrible.

Dr BACH (Eastern Metropolitan) (10:45): I wholeheartedly endorse the comments of my Liberal and National party colleagues. I also want to put on record my sincere thanks to the secretariat, who were fantastic, Michael Baker—they were wonderful. As has been said, this was a huge effort by them. My thanks also, in all seriousness, to the chair, Ms Terpstra. She was very fair in the manner in which she went about her duties. She was an excellent chair, in a fine tradition of excellent chairpersons from the ALP of this committee.

Nonetheless, this report ultimately, despite the fine work of the secretariat, is a biased report. There is a series of quite mad recommendations. The one that is the most bonkers has been hit upon by my colleague Mrs MacArthur. The reintroduction of dingoes into areas of the state in particular that have high sheep populations is quite odd. We have been sought to be reassured on the basis that dingoes will only be able to feast on sheep on a temporary basis—it is just a trial. I would remind the house of the wise words of one of my favourite economists, Milton Friedman:

Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.

If this is enacted by the government—and I will be fascinated to see what the formal position of the government is on this point—then we will see not a trial, not dingoes reintroduced for a short time, but dingoes reintroduced for a long time.

There are so many threats to our ecosystem, and they have been hit upon by a range of members—certainly climate change, certainly bushfires, pests and invasive species. And whilst there is a large amount of content, much of it entirely credible, on the threat of climate change in this report, there is not enough regarding the threat of pests and invasive species, and too many voices, especially from regional Victoria, that were silenced in the final report, so I commend particularly the minority report to the house.

Motion agreed to.

The PRESIDENT: Before I call the Clerk, I wish Sally West a happy birthday. She does a good job with the usher’s rod.

Papers

Papers

Tabled by Clerk:

Auditor-General’s Reports on—

Council Waste Management Services, December 2021 (Ordered to be published).

Results of 2020–21 Audits: Local Government, December 2021 (Ordered to be published).

Dhelkunya Dja Land Management Board—Minister’s report of receipt of the 2020–21 report.

Emerald Tourist Railway Board—Report, 2020–21.

Environment Protection Authority (EPA)—Report, 2020–21.

Gippsland Waste and Resource Recovery Group—Minister’s report of receipt of the 2020–21 report.

Goulburn Valley Waste and Resource Recovery Group—Minister’s report of receipt of the 2020–21 report.

Infrastructure Victoria Act 2015—Victorian Infrastructure Plan 2021—Government Response, under section 37 of the Act.

LanguageLoop—Report, 2020–21.

Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group—Report, 2020–21.

A Statutory Rule under the Supreme Court Act 1986—No. 144.

Subordinate Legislation Act 1994—Documents under section 15 in respect of Statutory Rule No. 150.

Surveyors Registration Board of Victoria—Minister’s report of receipt of the 2020–21 report.

Sustainability Victoria—Report, 2020–21.

Trust for Nature (Victoria)—Report, 2020–21.

Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation—Report, 2020–21.

Victorian Environmental Assessment Council Act 2001—Notice of request to the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council for an assessment of forest values in the Immediate Protection Areas in the Strathbogie Ranges and Mirboo North, under section 26C of the Act.

Victorian Inspectorate—

Report, 2019–20, under section 39 of the Crimes (Controlled Operations) Act 2004 in relation to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission.

Report, 2019–20, under section 39 of the Crimes (Controlled Operations) Act 2004 in relation to Victoria Police.

Report, 2019–20, under section 74P of the Wildlife Act 1975 in relation to the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

Report, 2019–20, under section 74P of the Wildlife Act 1975 in relation to the Game Management Authority.

Report, 2019–20, under section 131T of the Fisheries Act 1995 in relation to the Victorian Fisheries Authority.

Victorian Plantations Corporation—Report, 2020–21.

Victorian Rail Track (VicTrack)—Report, 2020–21 (in lieu of that tabled on 28 October 2021).

Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation—Report, 2020–21.

Victoria State Emergency Service Authority (SES)—Report, 2020–21.

Yorta Yorta Traditional Owner Land Management Board—Minister’s report of receipt of the 2020–21 report, together with an explanation for the delay.

Proclamations of the Governor in Council fixing operative dates in respect of the following acts:

Essential Services Commission (Compliance and Enforcement Power) Amendment Act 2021—Remaining Provisions—1 December 2021 (Gazette No. S673, 30 November 2021).

Justice Legislation Amendment (Criminal Appeals) Act 2019—Division 1 of Part 2—4 December 2021 (Gazette No. S673, 30 November 2021).

Business of the house

Notices

Notices of motion given.

Notices of intention to make a statement given.

Joint sitting of Parliament

Legislative Council vacancy

Senate vacancy

Mr DAVIS (Southern Metropolitan—Leader of the Opposition) (10:54): I move, by leave:

That this house meets the Legislative Assembly for the purpose of sitting and voting together to:

(1) choose a person to hold the seat in the Legislative Council contingent on it being rendered vacant by the resignation of the Honourable Edward O’Donohue;

(2) choose a person to hold the place in the Senate rendered vacant by the resignation of Senator the Honourable Scott Ryan;

and proposes that the time and place of such a meeting be the Legislative Assembly chamber on Thursday, 2 December 2021 at 4.45 pm.

This is a very important motion. This chamber has a tradition of appointing people swiftly both to the Senate and also as replacement people for either party, any party, to the Legislative Council. Mr O’Donohue has resigned, and I put on record, as I have at other times, his good service. But I also make the point that it is an extremely important principle. I was troubled to hear and to see some of the transcript from the lower house, where it seemed very clear that the manager of government business in the lower house were seeking to link the passage of the pandemic legislation with the joint sitting. Now, if that is the case, that is outrageous. We saw the wrong activities occur—

Ms Shing: On a point of order, President, I am just wondering what the relevance of the joint sitting as proposed for later this day has to do with what Mr Davis is now seeking to put before the house.

Mr DAVIS: On the point of order, President, the appointment process itself is significant, as is the principle of swift appointment to the Senate and the Legislative Council where there is a vacancy.

The PRESIDENT: Mr Davis to continue.

Mr DAVIS: I will be brief; I am conscious of the time. We saw a wrongful thing occur in Queensland under Premier Bjelke-Petersen, where a person who was not the right choice was appointed to the Senate. That is an example of wrongful process, and the linking of a piece of state legislation to an appointment to a vacancy in the Senate is an absolutely outrageous step, a step that is not acceptable to the Liberal Party or the National Party and a step that is completely unacceptable to I think people of all parties across the broad Victorian community. With those points I say that I wish the Assembly and the Council well when they meet jointly to do that appointment, having registered my cautions and concern about the potentially very unfortunate trajectory that we were on.

Motion agreed to.

Members statements

Government performance

Mr FINN (Western Metropolitan) (10:58): I have long held a deep-seated desire for those we represent to appreciate the ideals for which we in this Parliament stand. Sadly 2021 has not helped that ambition one little bit. Is it any wonder Victorians hold us in such contempt when a government elected on a platform of equality for all now enthusiastically mandates discrimination? It is no wonder we are held in such low regard when someone elected on an extreme libertarian platform ditches any pretence of commitment to freedom to jump into bed with a government that despises freedom. It is no wonder the electorate has no time for us when a man elected to fight for justice for his industry, which was comprehensively screwed over by the Andrews government, then votes for a bill that will see the entire state comprehensively screwed over by the Andrews government. And I am sure it is not just the taxi industry bewildered today.

Thankfully all is not lost. When I stand on a podium out the front of this building and all I can see is a massive sea of humanity—hundreds of thousands of people; indeed hundreds of thousands of Victorians—I know there is hope, and hope is something that we desperately need in this state. You can be guaranteed that this new movement, this people power movement, will continue to grow as long as the Premier of this state continues to act like a despot. In offering my very warmest wishes to members, staff and their families for a very happy and peaceful Christmas I assure you all that 2022 will be a year I will fight for the people of Melbourne’s west and the ideals Victoria needs to become great again like never before.

COVID-19 vaccination

Mr MELHEM (Western Metropolitan) (11:00): 2021 has been a difficult year for Victorians. We sacrificed time with loved ones, and a lot of parents had to struggle with balancing homeschooling and their own work obligations. Students missed out on major milestones. Our frontline workers worked hard to keep us all safe. Every sacrifice of every Victorian saved countless lives. We also rose to the challenge. We knew that the only way to get back out there safely was to get vaccinated, and that is exactly what we did. Last week we hit the target of 90 per cent double vaccination in Victoria, making us amongst the highest in the world. Thanks to the achievement of Victorians, we can now celebrate the festive season with our loved ones, and we can start making up for lost time.

Government achievements

Mr MELHEM: I want to acknowledge the significant achievements of this government, particularly in the Western Metro Region. Just to name a few, we have completed seven level crossing removals as part of the western roads upgrade, the West Gate Tunnel and Sunbury line upgrades, and the list goes on. I would also like to thank the Premier, Daniel Andrews, for his leadership during this difficult time and for the great work he has done on behalf of all Victorians, and I am proud to be a part of his government.

Felicitations

Mr MELHEM: I wish everyone a very merry Christmas and a happy new year and a safe one.

Rennis Witham

Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (11:01): On a more sombre note, I wish to extend my heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the late Rennis Witham, who passed away on Monday, 25 October, at the age of 73. Rennis’s recent obituary in the Age ended with the words ‘A comrade to all’. Those who knew Rennis will tell you that those four words truly sum up the person that she was.

Motivated by her values, Rennis worked tirelessly for her community. Rennis was a force of nature. She fought and worked for the health care of working families in Melbourne’s west. She was a strong advocate for the Joan Kirner Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and most recently she worked on the Point Cook Community Hospital consultative committee. She was also a very active member of the community in Williamstown and fought for the environment. She opposed uranium mining and more recently was part of the campaign to protect Point Gellibrand from inappropriate development.

Rennis was a life member of the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party. She served with distinction over a long period of time as a member of the Victorian Labor Party’s health, community services and senior Victorians policy committee, most recently in her role as president. Rennis was also the Victorian Labor heritage officer, celebrating the proud history of the Labor movement, particularly in Melbourne’s west.

Last Friday I had the privilege to join a gathering at the maritime museum in Williamstown, another passion project for Rennis, with many others who were lucky enough to know Rennis. Vale, Rennis Witham.

Christmas safety

Mr ONDARCHIE (Northern Metropolitan) (11:03): In December, across the globe, Christians and others celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Christmas is a time of prayer, of celebration and of the coming together of family and friends.

Victorians of many backgrounds often travel great distances over this time and see each other for their annual holidays. Often at this time, however, we can be distracted. It has been a tough two years, and getting back into the swing of things can be difficult. We may have lost certain skills or fallen behind on our to-do list. I would like to encourage Victorians to check the security of their homes before they go away and make sure that general maintenance is up to date, particularly any unsafe power connections. It is important to drive safely, especially if you are driving long distances, and please remember to take lots of breaks.

For your children, I encourage you to look around and try and find an intensive swimming lesson or holiday program to enrol them in at a local pool. Many of our children have missed out on swimming and safety lessons over the last two years.

Felicitations

Mr ONDARCHIE: Can I, President, on behalf of the Ondarchie family, wish you, all the members of Parliament, our wonderful staff, and indeed all Victorians, a very safe, happy and holy Christmas time. May God bless you all.

COVID-19

Mr LIMBRICK (South Eastern Metropolitan) (11:04): It is rare to see public art anywhere that is as heartfelt and moving as the collection of things you will find right now on the steps of Parliament House. The people of Melbourne have left objects that represent the things they lost during lockdown and the subsequent mandates. You will find uniforms of all kinds left by people excluded from their jobs—nurses, police, pilots and ambulance uniforms. You will find union cards and helmets. There are school uniforms left by mothers who are grief-stricken about their kids who have dropped out of school. There is even a wedding dress and several memorials for people who have committed self-harm. I am telling you about this because through all this political debate some of the language used to dehumanise these people is disgraceful. Let us call it what it is: this is bullying. There are millions of Victorians who do not want a divided society. They are peaceful people from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and beliefs. You might not agree with these people, but Parliament is not a playground. The marginalisation and name-calling of these Victorians is not acceptable. It must stop.

Felicitations

Ms VAGHELA (Western Metropolitan) (11:05): As the year draws to a close on what has no doubt been a trying and enduring year for us all, I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you at this last scheduled parliamentary sitting week of this year. Thank you to my fellow members in this chamber and the other house, my electorate office staff and our ministerial staff and everyone who has supported us this year, from the team at Hansard, our IT staff and parliamentary advisers to the table office staff, our clerks, catering staff, security personnel, our cleaners and all my peers and colleagues that have allowed us to get to where we are today. Thank you to you, Acting President, and also our President, for all your guidance and support throughout the year.

I also want to pass on a special thankyou to all my constituents of the Western Metropolitan Region for all the sacrifices they have made over the past 20 months. It has not been an easy period. Thank you for all your patience and belief in our road map to recovery from this pandemic. Thank you to all the community leaders, community groups and places of worship in my electorate of Western Metropolitan Region for quickly adapting to the changing environment and moving their activities and programs to a virtual platform to continue to support our community during the difficult pandemic period.

Thank you to principals and teachers at our schools and early learning centres in Western Metropolitan Region for continuing to provide the necessary education for our children. I would also like to especially thank our essential services staff, frontline service providers, health workers, nurses, doctors, allied health professionals and emergency service providers, who have put their own lives at risk to keep us safe during the pandemic. I applaud every Victorian for the significant contributions and sacrifices they have made to get us where we are today, and I would like to personally wish all Victorians, including residents of Western Metropolitan Region, a safe holiday period and a happy New Year for 2022.

Pat Gleeson

Mrs McARTHUR (Western Victoria) (11:07): Today I want to celebrate one of Warrnambool’s great men, a great achiever and volunteer and a great dad and husband, Mr Pat Edward Gleeson. Pat Gleeson died two weeks ago. He was 78 years of a life well lived. He made his mark in the automotive industry, spending three decades selling cars from his dealership. His family says even after retirement he would remember every car he sold and when and to whom. He was a top sportsman, so capable at football—a mighty kick—and handy with a golf stick. Any club was lucky to have him. He volunteered and started things that today just keep going—the Acme field days, the Wunta festival, the beloved Rotary Hole in One. He donated so much and he did so much, and in return he was loved so much. Everyone knew Pat and Pat knew everyone. His loss will be felt—a compliment not afforded all. His wife of 55 years, Helen, last week said Pat’s ambition was to go to the moon. Well, he may not have made it there, but there is no doubt he is looking down on us from a much loftier place today. My sincere condolences to his beautiful family. Vale, Pat Edward Gleeson.

Police conduct

Dr CUMMING (Western Metropolitan) (11:08): When Parliament was debating the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021 at 7.00 am on 1 December 2021, the police, under the Parliamentary Precincts Act 2001, started to remove the protesters off the steps of Parliament and push them onto the footpath. Matthew, a homeless man in his 30s, was approached by the police. He was asleep in a sleeping bag. He was forcibly dragged out of his sleeping bag by six police officers, dragged around the steps of Parliament to the side of the parliamentary precinct and roughly handled. The footage is there. This is not on. This is not the way that you actually treat Victorians—a homeless man; a young, homeless, articulate man. He was woken from his sleep by the police officers, and even in his slumber was able to say, ‘Could you please explain why, under the Parliamentary Precincts Act, I am actually being dragged around by six police officers and roughly handled on the side of this Parliament building?’. I request the CCTV footage of what occurred at 7.00 am on 1 December out the front on the steps of Parliament. This is enough—enough of the way that you talk about these protesters. It is disgusting the way that you have treated them on the steps while we were in here debating yesterday.

Docklands Primary School

Ms WATT (Northern Metropolitan) (11:10): I was proud to be able to work alongside the new Docklands Primary School to establish a 40-kilometre-an-hour traffic zone and an additional crossing supervisor outside the school to improve safety for parents, children, teachers, pedestrians and of course the local community. Safety at the busy Footscray Road intersection was identified to me as an urgent issue by the local community, and I was glad to receive the support from the Minister for Roads and Road Safety, Ben Carroll, so that swift action could be taken to resolve the situation.

The Andrews Labor government has shown time and time again that instead of sitting around and talking it is getting things done. The Docklands community has been crying out for a school for some time, and I am proud that we were able to deliver the new, state-of-the-art vertical school to service the area. The brand new Docklands Primary School is nearing the end of its first year and is just one of 100 new schools that will be built by 2026 by the Andrews Labor government. I would like to extend a thankyou to all the work that principal Adam Bright, the school council and the teaching faculty have done for a successful first year for Docklands Primary School. I look forward to working with the school community for a great year in 2022.

Felicitations

Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (11:11): This year has been a challenge; there is no doubt about that. I say to all Victorians: merry Christmas; you have earned it. I do not think anyone will be taking for granted the time we get to spend with our families and our friends this year. This is the time of year for us all to come together. So I would like to thank in advance all those charitable organisations who spend their holiday season looking out for others less fortunate than themselves. In my electorate we are lucky to have so many compassionate and giving people who truly embrace what it means to be a community. We have Berry Street, a family violence organisation that this Christmas will be donating gifts to Victorian children in foster, residential and kinship care. I say thank you. There is the Uniting Church, who are accepting donations of toys, non-perishable food and e-gift cards to give to families in need this Christmas. I say thank you. Hundreds of Salvation Army volunteers will spend their Christmas Day dishing up meals and providing food hampers to those in need. I say thank you. There are also the Vinnies Christmas appeal, gift wrapping volunteers and then of course all of those healthcare workers who will be generously spending their Christmas Day working in our hospitals looking after Victorians. I say thank you. Please drive safely on our roads this holiday season, look out for others and stay safe.

Health care

Ms SHING (Eastern Victoria) (11:13): As we move our way through this global pandemic it is important to note that we have faced pandemics in Australia and around the world many times before. One of the most significant pandemics that has been experienced, and experienced for those at the edge of disadvantage, is HIV/AIDS. I want to rise today to acknowledge the efforts of clinicians, of community, of healthcare workers, of hospitals and of governments of all political persuasions to bring greater awareness of the stigma and the discrimination that sits alongside HIV and AIDS and to commit to understanding more about how we can further support communities that are vulnerable. In this regard it is crucial to note, as we move toward vaccinations, double vaccinations and then a third vaccination or a booster and are facing omicron and facing variants as they emerge around the world, that it is these disadvantaged people and countries which are at the front line of the numbers of COVID cases that cut a swathe through communities and kill hundreds of thousands of people who cannot afford access to good-quality and consistent health care, who live in economies where medication is not subsidised, where health care is not available and where the distances to treatment and support are unable to be overcome. As a nation in the Asia-Pacific region, it is crucial that we understand our own obligations to make sure that those around us are cared for, beyond Australian borders.

Teachers

Mr ATKINSON (Eastern Metropolitan) (11:15): I just want to comment on the fact that there have been many people who have contributed a great deal to the support of people in our community during the pandemic process and the lockdowns and so forth—so many first responders who have done exceptional work, often in very challenging circumstances—but I particularly want to reflect today as we draw to the end of the year and the close of the school year on the work of teachers. There has been a remarkable effort by the people involved in our education sector in the work that they have had to do and the extra effort and commitment that they have had to apply, and they are already very dedicated people, those people who are educators in our community. But there was extra effort that they had to put in this year in developing different ways of both providing the learning opportunities for students and also in many cases providing significant support to those students and their families. It is a remarkable effort that so many teachers have put in. I think it would be remiss of us if we did not acknowledge as a Parliament the commitment and the efforts of those teachers right throughout our education system in these past two years, but obviously I reflect especially on 2021 at this time.

Felicitations

Mr ATKINSON: I convey my best wishes for Christmas to everyone involved in the Parliament, both members and staff, and all of those people who support the operation of this Parliament.

Box Hill Institute

Ms TERPSTRA (Eastern Metropolitan) (11:17): I want to just rise to make a brief statement on my visit to the Box Hill TAFE this week in my role as TAFE ambassador. It was wonderful to see the newly refurbished campus, but also we got to see the newly refurbished Fountains Restaurant as well as the fantastic facilities that have been upgraded for students who are studying hospitality and also learning trades, such as pastry chefs and the like. It was wonderful to see those students on campus and to see the fantastic skills they are learning.

Felicitations

Ms TERPSTRA: I would also like to take the opportunity at this time of year to wish everyone in the parliamentary precinct a very happy Christmas, and I would also like to thank everybody in the precinct who works with us in this chamber—the clerks, the table office, everybody. If I list everyone I am sure I will leave someone out, so I really do not want to do that. I worry about that always. I just want to say thank you to everyone for helping us fulfil our roles here in the chamber and in the Parliament this year. It has been a very challenging year with lots of different things we have needed to adapt to, and it has been seamlessly done. I would like to thank the clerks particularly for their help and assistance in making our job that little bit easier. I would also like to thank people in my region, the Eastern Metropolitan Region, for all the sacrifices that they have made throughout the last year. It has always been a difficult and challenging year, when we have all been pulling together and thinking about each other and thinking about how we can help each other get things done, but just being kind to one another as well is pretty important in these very challenging times. Again I would like to thank everyone and wish everyone a very happy Christmas and a safe, happy and prosperous new year.

Yarra Ranges Tech School

Dr KIEU (South Eastern Metropolitan) (11:18): On Monday I received the opportunity to visit the Yarra Ranges Tech School as the Victorian government’s STEM education ambassador. I was delighted to learn all about the many fantastic STEM programs provided by Yarra Ranges Tech School to schools and their students and the ways in which the school is building connections between schools and industry and community. The Yarra Ranges Tech School offers students an interactive and inclusive learning environment in which they are able to learn, explore and create. I extend my sincerest appreciation to the director, Ashley Van Krieken, for his hospitality and an insightful and informative tour.

Indonesian Kawanua Night

Dr KIEU: On another matter, last week I also had the pleasure to attend the Indonesian Kawanua Night on behalf of the Honourable Ros Spence, Minister for Multicultural Affairs. Victoria’s Indonesian community is a shining example of what makes Victoria such a successful multicultural state, and Friday’s celebration was a testament to our state’s vibrant and diverse multiculturalism.

Felicitations

Dr KIEU: On yet another matter, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all members of both houses, all the staff of Parliament and all Victorians of our great state a joyous and happy festive season coming, and I would like to thank all for their resilience and perseverance in what has been a very challenging year. We are looking forward very much to normal and rebuilding our state and a good time ahead for us.

Noble Park development

Mr TARLAMIS (South Eastern Metropolitan) (11:20): The Andrews Labor government’s suburban revitalisation program has invested a further $360 000 in initiatives that will benefit the Noble Park community. These projects were developed by the Noble Park Suburban Revitalisation Board and community partners, including AMES, Reclink and the City of Greater Dandenong, who provided an additional combined $123 500 for these projects.

One project is stage 1 of the Our Space community garden project at AMES Noble Park, an exciting multistage project with a broader vision to develop a community-designed and managed environmental sustainability precinct that engages with and provides a space and a voice for the culturally diverse communities living in the south-east corridor of Melbourne, enabling them to participate in and contribute to the environmental sustainability of their local community. Another is Reclink’s ActiVIC and Street Games projects, which will see a six-month program of free pop-up sport and recreational activities targeting women and girls, CALD communities and young people. Activities will include swimming, soccer with Melbourne City FC, basketball, table tennis and skateboarding.

Other projects include the planting of up to 50 new trees; decorative crate displays and temporary public art installations; interpretive signage featuring stories of Noble Park’s evolution, which will create a pedestrian trail connecting local parks and significant locations; a youth fest in 2022 in the Noble Park skate park precinct, with free activities and workshops, including music, sport, art and skating; a skateboarding masterclass program and community soccer clinics, providing 12- to 25-year-olds an opportunity to connect, socialise and learn new skills; and a six-week yoga in the park program to reduce barriers for women to access health and wellbeing services. As the chair of the Noble Park Suburban Revitalisation Board I am proud of our work to make Noble Park a green, vibrant, safe and accessible place for all our community to come together and enjoy and live.

Mont Albert and Surrey Hills train stations

Mr DAVIS (Southern Metropolitan—Leader of the Opposition) (11:22): I want to make some comments today about progress of the level crossing removals at Surrey Hills and Mont Albert. I am concerned increasingly about the management of these crossing removals. Now, we all support the removal of the crossings. We all support the crossings going underground. What we do not support are the removals of Surrey Hills and Mont Albert stations and the coalescing into one station near Lorne Parade Reserve. The consequent loss of Lorne Parade Reserve is a shocking outcome—and the loss of more than 500 trees. The government has still not given a guarantee that even the Anzac trees up in Churchill Street will be protected. I say to the minister over there in the chamber now: he could get active and save those nine trees that were planted in 1965, 50 years after the first Anzac Day. The government has not yet said it will protect those trees. I say that we should protect those trees, and I say many of the other trees along the corridor should be protected too. The wholesale removal of more than 500 trees is an outrage. It is completely and utterly unnecessary. If the government were to stick to its original promise of two stations, we could well proceed. There is no engineering reason why that cannot happen, but I say that Paul Hamer, the local member, is weak and useless and has not been prepared to stand up for his electorate.

Felicitations

Ms PULFORD (Western Victoria—Minister for Employment, Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy, Minister for Small Business, Minister for Resources) (11:24): On what is the second-last sitting day for the Legislative Council at the end of a second extraordinary pandemic year I thought I would take the opportunity to wish members and staff of the Parliament a well-deserved rest and a happy, safe and peaceful summer break, for those that are getting one. The things that have been required of all of us as representatives of our communities have been extraordinary, but so have the things that have been required of us as parents, as children, as friends of people who might be immunocompromised, as purchasers of goods and services and indeed of course in our professional capacities. People have had to go above and beyond on so many occasions. I am sure every member in the chamber has had a friend or a colleague that has experienced very significant hardship and been very personally impacted. That is the burden that everyone has had to bear. I think it is important to reflect on that, for people to be kind to one another and for us to look forward to a much, much better 2022.

I would like to thank the Parliament team, in particular our clerks, Hansard, security, the attendants, catering, the library folks, committees, IT and broadcast for helping us in what have been very challenging circumstances to mostly work from home but continue to respond to the demands of the community in ways that have perhaps never been called on by a previous generation of parliamentarians. I thank them very, very much for their service and work and wish them a safe and happy Christmas or whatever kinds of festivities they like to have at this time of the year.

Animal welfare

Mr MEDDICK (Western Victoria) (11:26): I wish to use my last members statement of the year to reflect on what we have achieved together for animals despite the difficult circumstances this year. We have seen funding for a range of vital projects to improve animal welfare, including funding for farmed animal sanctuaries for the very first time and the state’s first virtual fencing trial to protect wildlife and road users.

I have also been honoured to spend a large part of this year as the chair of the Taskforce on Rehoming Pets, and I want to thank my parliamentary colleagues in the other place, Maree Edwards and Gary Maas, for their important work. We have done important consultative work on how to improve pet rehoming pathways and survival rates and look forward to handing down the final report in the coming weeks. We have seen changed speed limits on roads with high wildlife strike, achieved vet nursing in free TAFE, reformed wildlife rescue in emergency situations, and we will soon see the immediate reuniting for pets, something the Animal Justice Party has long campaigned for.

This has been another year when we have proved Martin Luther King’s maxim that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. While this is just a small sample of everything we have been able to achieve together, I want to thank the house, the animal protection community, the Animal Justice Party and of course my parliamentary team for helping to make that all happen. And I also want to thank the clerks and all the supporting staff here in the Parliament for making such a difficult period easier to bear.

Ecosystem decline

Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (11:28): I would like to continue my discussion in relation to the minority report in the Environment and Planning Committee report handed down today on the inquiry into the decline in ecosystems. The work of the Liberals and The Nationals has resulted in our presenting a fulsome minority report. It has 15 positive recommendations to help combat or aid in the combat of major threats. They include abandoning the Safer Together fire policy and adopting the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission’s recommendations for fuel reductions; working with traditional owners to reintroduce cool Indigenous techniques to complement and work with the prescribed burning programs that we have; collaborating with traditional owners to offer accredited courses in conservation and Indigenous land management, similar to New South Wales; employing a landscape-wide strategy for conservation management of threatened species; abandoning the Andrews government’s abominable ban on native timber logging by 2030—their focus on this particular industry, which is world class, is just an abomination; and abandoning the Andrews government’s idea of reintroducing dingoes as an apex predator. Also, putting a special focus on pests and weeds with local groups like Landcare is a fantastic idea.

Felicitations

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (11:30): As the parliamentary sitting year draws to a close I would like to thank the thousands of people in my electorate who have engaged with me over the year on those issues that are important to them. I appreciate the cooperative relationships that I have with councils, services, organisations and community groups throughout Northern Victoria, and I am committed to listening to them and working with them and advocating for them, apart from running up the stairs. I acknowledge everyone in my electorate of Northern Victoria who faced all manner of challenges in what was another difficult year.

I am proud to put justice, community and advocacy for victims of crime at the heart of my work. This year the justice inquiry took submissions and held hearings. We secured reviews into responses to stalking, coercive control and combating illicit tobacco. We are working to further extend presumptive rights for firefighters, for improved ambulance response times and for equity in regional areas. As we head into what I hope will be a beautiful summer, I also hope it will be safe for our regions and free of bushfires and other natural disasters. I would like to wish constituents a safe and happy festive season and all those in this chamber.

Business of the house

Notices of motion

Ms TAYLOR (Southern Metropolitan) (11:31): I move:

That the consideration of notice of motion, government business, 683, be postponed until later this day.

Motion agreed to.

Bills

Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021

Assembly’s amendments

Message from Assembly agreeing to following Council’s suggested amendments referred to committee:

1. Clause 4, after line 14 insert—

Detention Appeals Officer means a person appointed to be a Detention Appeals Officer under section 32A(1);

Detention Appeals Registrar means the person appointed to be the Detention Appeals Registrar under section 32F(1);”.

2. Clause 4, page 4, after line 33 insert—

“(2A) In section 3(1) of the Principal Act, the definition of Detention Review Officer is repealed.”.

3. Insert the following New Clause to follow clause 10—

‘10A Detention Appeals Officers and Registrar

For section 32A of the Principal Act substitute—

“32A Governor in Council may appoint Detention Appeals Officers

(1) Subject to subsection (2), the Governor in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister, may by instrument appoint a person as a Detention Appeals Officer at any time when a pandemic declaration or a declaration of a state of emergency is in force.

(2) A person appointed as a Detention Appeals Officer must be an Australian lawyer of at least 10 years’ experience.

32B Remuneration and allowances

A person appointed as a Detention Appeals Officer is entitled to the remuneration and allowances determined from time to time by the Governor in Council.

32C Terms and conditions of appointment

(1) A Detention Appeals Officer—

(a) holds office for the period specified in the instrument of appointment, which must not end after the time when the pandemic declaration or declaration of a state of emergency referred to in section 32A(1) ceases to be in force; and

(b) is eligible to be reappointed; and

(c) holds office on the terms and conditions determined by the Governor in Council.

(2) A Detention Appeals Officer is not, in respect of the office of Detention Appeals Officer, subject to the Public Administration Act 2004.

32D Independence of Detention Appeals Officers

A Detention Appeals Officer—

(a) must act independently, impartially and in the public interest in the performance of their functions and duties and the exercise of their powers; and

(b) is not subject to the direction or control of the Secretary or the Minister in relation to the performance of their functions or duties or the exercise of their powers under this Act or the regulations.

32E Detention Review Officers taken to be Detention Appeals Officers

(1) A person who, immediately before the commencement day, held office as a Detention Review Officer under the old Act is taken to have been appointed as a Detention Appeals Officer under section 32A(1) on and from the commencement day.

(2) The Governor in Council is taken to have determined the same terms and conditions as applied under the old Act, in respect of a person taken to be appointed as a Detention Appeals Officer because of the operation of subsection (1), to the extent that those terms and conditions are consistent with sections 32A, 32B, 32C and 32D, with the following modifications—

(a) the Governor in Council may terminate the appointment of the person and the Secretary may not terminate the appointment of the person;

(b) the terms and conditions on which the person holds office, including in relation to remuneration and allowances, may be later amended by the Governor in Council and not by the Secretary;

(c) a reference in the original instrument of appointment to a Detention Review Officer is taken to include a reference to a Detention Appeals Officer;

(d) a reference in the original instrument of appointment to a state of emergency ceasing to exist or be in force is taken to include a reference to a pandemic declaration ceasing to be in force;

(e) a reference in the original instrument of appointment to the functions, duties and powers of a Detention Review Officer is taken to include a reference to the functions, duties and powers of a Detention Appeals Officer under section 200C and Part 8A of this Act;

(f) a reference in the original instrument of appointment to the detention under section 200 is taken to include a reference to detention under section 165B(1)(b) or section 165BA(1)(b).

(3) In this section—

commencement day means the day on which this section came into operation;

Detention Review Officer has the meaning given by the old Act;

old Act means this Act, and regulations and instruments made under this Act, as in force immediately before the commencement day;

original instrument of appointment means the instrument of appointment of a person as a Detention Review Officer under the old Act.

32F Secretary may appoint Detention Appeals Registrar

(1) The Secretary by instrument may appoint a person to be the Detention Appeals Registrar for the purposes of this Act.

(2) An instrument of appointment of a person as the Detention Appeals Registrar may—

(a) specify the functions, duties or powers under this Act or the regulations to which the appointment relates; and

(b) be made subject to any conditions that the Secretary considers to be appropriate.

(3) A person appointed as the Detention Appeals Registrar is employed under Part 3 of the Public Administration Act 2004.

(4) The Secretary must ensure that the Detention Appeals Registrar has access to such information as may reasonably be required for the performance of the functions and duties and the exercise of the powers of the Detention Appeals Registrar under this Act or the regulations.

(5) The Secretary may employ persons under Part 3 of the Public Administration Act 2004 to assist the Detention Appeals Registrar in the performance of the functions and duties and the exercise of the powers of the Detention Appeals Registrar under this Act or the regulations.”.’.

4. Clause 12, page 18, lines 3 and 4, after “: see sections 165B(1)(b) and 165BA(1)(b).” insert “Special protections apply to detention under this Part, including the right of a detained person to apply for review by a Detention Appeals Officer of the detention: see Division 6.”.

5. Clause 12, page 35, lines 23 and 24, after “: see section 165AI(2)(a) and (b).” insert “Special protections apply to detention under this Part, including the right of a detained person to apply for review by a Detention Appeals Officer of the detention: see Division 6.”

6. Clause 12, page 41, after line 18 insert—

“(2A) Without limiting subsection (2)(c), an explanation under that subsection must include an explanation of the following rights that the person has, or may have, and the processes in respect of those rights—

(a) the right to complain to the Ombudsman under the Ombudsman Act 1973;

(b) the right to make a complaint under section 185 of this Act; or

(c) the right to seek review in a court.”.

7. Clause 12, page 44, lines 6 and 7, omit “Secretary for a review by a Detention Review Officer” and insert “Detention Appeals Registrar for review by a Detention Appeals Officer”.

8. Clause 12, page 45, line 20, omit “Secretary” and insert “Detention Appeals Registrar”.

9. Clause 12, page 45, line 22, omit “Detention Review Officer” and insert “Detention Appeals Officer”.

10. Clause 12, page 45, after line 23 insert—

“165BIA Secretary and Detention Appeals Registrar to provide relevant information and assistance to Detention Appeals Officers

(1) The Secretary and the Detention Appeals Registrar must use their best endeavours to provide a Detention Appeals Officer with all relevant information in their possession including, but not limited to, documents and information mentioned in section 165BJ(3)(ab), as soon as reasonably practicable after an application under section 165BI is received by the Detention Appeals Registrar.

(2) The Secretary and the Detention Appeals Registrar must use their best endeavours to provide a Detention Appeals Officer with any information requested by the Detention Appeals Officer under section 165BJ(3)(c) within 24 hours after receiving the request.

(3) The Secretary and the Detention Appeals Registrar must provide all reasonable assistance requested by a Detention Appeals Officer for the purposes of the Detention Appeals Officer considering and deciding applications for review.

(4) The provision of information under subsection (1) or (2) is authorised or required by law for the purposes of the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 and the Health Records Act 2001.”.

11. Clause 12, page 45, line 24, omit “Detention Review Officer” and insert “Detention Appeals Officer”.

12. Clause 12, page 45, line 28, omit “Detention Review Officer” and insert “Detention Appeals Officer”.

13. Clause 12, page 45, lines 30 and 31, omit “Detention Review Officer” and insert “Detention Appeals Officer”.

14. Clause 12, page 45, line 34, omit “and the reasons for it, within—” and insert “, the reasons for it and the review rights available to the applicant within 72 hours after the application was received by the Detention Appeals Registrar or within such longer period as is requested by the applicant.”.

15. Clause 12, page 46, lines 1 to 6, omit all words and expressions on these lines.

16. Clause 12, page 46, after line 6 insert—

“(2A) Without limiting subsection (2), the advice under that subsection must include an explanation of the following rights that the person has, or may have, and the processes in respect of those rights—

(a) the right to complain to the Ombudsman under the Ombudsman Act 1973;

(b) the right to make a complaint under section 185 of this Act;

(c) the right to seek review in a court.”.

17. Clause 12, page 46, lines 7 and 8, omit “Detention Review Officer” and insert “Detention Appeals Officer”.

18. Clause 12, page 46, after line 10 insert—

“(ab) may consider any documents and other information relied upon by the authorised officer who detained the person or extended the detention of the person under section 165B(1)(b) or 165BA(1)(b) and may consider any other information in relation to the person’s detention; and

(ac) must take reasonable steps to contact the applicant in relation to the application; and”.

19. Clause 12, page 46, line 12, omit “Detention Review Officer” and insert “Detention Appeals Officer”.

20. Clause 12, page 46, line 15, omit “Detention Review Officer” and insert “Detention Appeals Officer”.

21. Clause 12, page 46, line 20, omit “Detention Review Officer” and insert “Detention Appeals Officer”.

22. Clause 12, page 46, line 25, omit “Detention Review Officer” and insert “Detention Appeals Officer”.

23. Clause 12, page 46, lines 27 to 31, omit all words and expressions on these lines and insert—

“(b) subject to subsections (5), (6) and (7), to vary or cease the person’s detention.”.

24. Clause 12, page 46, lines 32 to 35 and page 47, lines 1 to 8, omit all words and expressions on these lines and insert—

“(5) A Detention Appeals Officer must not vary or cease a person’s detention under subsection (4)(b) unless the Detention Appeals Officer has consulted and considered the advice of the Chief Health Officer about the proposed variation or cessation.

Note

The Chief Health Officer can delegate powers, duties and functions: see section 22.

(6) If a Detention Appeals Officer consults the Chief Health Officer about the proposed variation or cessation of a person’s detention, the Chief Health Officer must make their best endeavours to provide oral or written advice about the proposed variation or cessation within 24 hours.

(7) If the Chief Health Officer provides oral advice under subsection (6), a written record of the advice must be prepared as soon as practicable—

(a) by the Chief Health Officer; or

(b) by the Detention Appeals Officer, who must provide a copy of the written record to the Chief Health Officer for endorsement by the Chief Health Officer.”.

25. Clause 12, page 47, lines 9 to 29, omit all words and expressions on these lines.

26. Clause 12, page 67, lines 26 to 30, omit all words and expressions on these lines.

27. Clause 12, page 68, lines 1 to 4, omit all words and expressions on these lines.

28. Clause 12, page 73, line 14, omit “Detention Review Officer” and insert “Detention Appeals Officer”.

29. Insert the following New Clauses to follow clause 14—

‘14A Information to be given to detained persons

After section 200A(1) of the Principal Act insert—

“(1A) Without limiting subsection (1)(c), an explanation under that subsection must include an explanation of the following rights that the person has, or may have, and the processes in respect of those rights—

(a) the right to complain to the Ombudsman under the Ombudsman Act 1973;

(b) the right to make a complaint under section 185 of this Act;

(c) the right to seek a review in a court.”.

14B Applications may be made for review of certain decisions in relation to a person subject to detention

(1) In section 200B(1) and (5) of the Principal Act, for “Secretary” substitute “Detention Appeals Registrar”.

(2) In section 200B(1) and (5) of the Principal Act, for “Detention Review Officer” substitute “Detention Appeals Officer”.

(3) In section 200B(5) of the Principal Act, for “made” substitute “received”.

14C New section 200BA inserted

After section 200B of the Principal Act insert—

“200BA Secretary and Detention Appeals Registrar to provide relevant information and assistance to Detention Appeals Officers

(1) The Secretary and the Detention Appeals Registrar must use their best endeavours to provide a Detention Appeals Officer with all relevant information in their possession including, but not limited to, documents and information mentioned in section 200C(3)(ab), as soon as reasonably practicable after an application under section 200B is received by the Detention Appeals Registrar.

(2) The Secretary and the Detention Appeals Registrar must use their best endeavours to provide a Detention Appeals Officer with any information requested by the Detention Appeals Officer under section 200C(3)(b) within 24 hours after receiving the request.

(3) The Secretary and the Detention Appeals Registrar must provide all reasonable assistance requested by a Detention Appeals Officer for the purposes of the Detention Appeals Officer considering and deciding applications for review.

(4) The provision of information under subsection (1) or (2) is authorised or required by law for the purposes of the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 and the Health Records Act 2001.”.

14D Detention Review Officer must decide applications

(1) For the heading to section 200C of the Principal Act substitute—

“Detention Appeals Officer must decide applications”.

(2) In section 200C of the Principal Act, for “Detention Review Officer” (wherever occurring) substitute “Detention Appeals Officer”.

(3) In section 200C(2) of the Principal Act, for “the reasons for it, within 24 hours after the application was received by the Secretary” substitute “the reasons for it, and the review rights available to the applicant, within 72 hours after the application was received by the Detention Appeals Registrar or within such longer period as is requested by the applicant”.

(4) After section 200C(3)(a) of the Principal Act insert—

“(ab) may consider any documents and other information relied upon by the authorised officer who detained the person or extended the detention of the person under section 200 and may consider any other information in relation to the person’s detention; and

(ac) must take reasonable steps to contact the applicant in relation to the application; and”.

(5) For section 200C(4)(b) of the Principal Act substitute—

“(b) subject to subsections (6), (7) and (8), to vary or cease the person’s detention.”.

(6) After section 200C(5) of the Principal Act insert—

“(6) A Detention Appeals Officer must not vary or cease a person’s detention under subsection (4)(b) unless the Detention Appeals Officer has consulted and considered the advice of the Chief Health Officer about the proposed variation or cessation.

Note

The Chief Health Officer can delegate powers, duties and functions: see section 22.

(7) If a Detention Appeals Officer consults the Chief Health Officer about the proposed variation or cessation of a person’s detention, the Chief Health Officer must make their best endeavours to provide oral or written advice about the proposed variation or cessation within 24 hours.

(8) If the Chief Health Officer provides oral advice under subsection (7), a written record of the advice must be prepared as soon as practicable—

(a) by the Chief Health Officer; or

(b) by the Detention Appeals Officer, who must provide a copy of the written record to the Chief Health Officer for the endorsement of the Chief Health Officer.”.

14E Review referred back to Chief Health Officer

Section 200D of the Principal Act is repealed.’.

30. Clause 19, after line 29 insert—

“248CA Applications made under old section 200B

(1) If, immediately before the commencement day, an application made by a person under section 200B of the old Act had not been determined, the old Act continues to apply in relation to the determination of the application.

(2) In this section—

commencement day means the day on which Part 2 of the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Act 2021 came into operation;

old Act means this Act, and regulations and instruments made under this Act, as in force immediately before the commencement day.”.

Committed.

Committee

Resumed.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I remind members that there is limited scope to speak on the questions that postponed clauses be agreed to and that debate should be constrained to why members support or oppose the question. It is not an opportunity to reopen general questions and answers on the clause. That opportunity ceased when the committee dealt with the bill in the first instance. Mr Davis has a couple of new amendments, so I invite him to circulate those amendments.

Mr DAVIS: I will explain them later. Circulate them, please.

Postponed clause 4 (11:39)

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: The question is:

That clause 4, as amended by the Assembly on the suggestion of the committee of the whole Council, as amended, stand part of the bill.

Committee divided on amended clause:

Ayes, 20
Barton, Mr Melhem, Mr Tarlamis, Mr
Elasmar, Mr Patten, Ms Taylor, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Pulford, Ms Terpstra, Ms
Gepp, Mr Ratnam, Dr Tierney, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms Watt, Ms
Meddick, Mr Symes, Ms
Noes, 17
Atkinson, Mr Davis, Mr Maxwell, Ms
Bach, Dr Finn, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bath, Ms Grimley, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Bourman, Mr Hayes, Mr Quilty, Mr
Crozier, Ms Limbrick, Mr Rich-Phillips, Mr
Cumming, Dr Lovell, Ms

Amended clause agreed to.

New clause 10A agreed to.

Postponed clause 12 (11:48)

Mr DAVIS: I appreciate that this has come back from the Assembly. We have some proposed new amendments, and they have been circulated. I move:

1. Clause 12, page 16, after line 12 insert—

“165AHA Extensions to pandemic declarations to be approved by Parliament

(1) Despite anything to the contrary in this Division, in order for an extension to a pandemic declaration to continue in force, the extension must be approved by each House of the Parliament within 30 days after the extension is made.

(2) If an extension to a pandemic declaration is not approved by each House of the Parliament under subsection (1), the extension ceases to be in force on the day after the 30 day period referred to in that subsection.”.

In relation to amendment 1, I should state for the house that we had a similar provision but different—it required a special majority—that we sought to move earlier, but we think that for this clause 12 this is an appropriate addition. It provides a significant check, it provides a significant balance. The community will understand our longstanding concern that the Parliament have oversight, that the Parliament have the ability to say yes or no to extensions over a longer period. We do not accept that the Parliament should not be the main body doing that. We accept that democracy should be to the fore here. It is all very well having bureaucrats making decisions, but actually at the end of the day this requires the democratic balancing of a whole series of matters. So a declaration can be made, but extensions that go on should require that democratic oversight.

The second provision relates to disallowance, and this is different from the earlier one. It is a wider provision. It catches more, and it makes it very clear that despite anything else the Subordinate Legislation Act 1994 will apply and that:

(2) Regulations cannot be made under section 4A of the Subordinate Legislation Act 1994 exempting an instrument referred to in subsection (1) from the operation of that Act or any specified provision or provisions of that Act, but the following are not required in relation to any proposed instrument—

(a) consultation under section 12C of that Act;

(b) the preparation of a regulatory impact statement—

so we make that clear too, and:

(3) An instrument referred to in subsection (1) is subject to disallowance by a House of the Parliament.”.

A single house, importantly. We strongly counterpose this with the government’s proposal that there be this crazy model of a joint sitting, a bizarre model requiring a joint sitting, that will likely not provide the oversight and the protections that are needed. There is no reason why these provisions should not be subject to the normal disallowance provisions as far as is possible, and that is what this amendment seeks to do. It is wider in its application than the earlier version we moved, but I want to make it clear that we regard this as a very important matter of principle. We say that the chicanery and the mechanism that is set up by the government in the bill as it currently stands in its entirety is not up to purpose and will not provide the protections, the checks or the balances that are required.

Mr BOURMAN: Whilst I will be supporting these amendments, I am finding out about them right now, and that is arrogant and dismissive and does the Liberals no credit. If you want our help, at least let us know these are coming. It is lucky that the issue itself means that I have to vote for them. It is just not fair.

Mr DAVIS: I accept the process is not ideal; I am quite happy to. I can honestly say that the parliamentary—

Members interjecting.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Excuse me! Mr Davis, without any assistance from bay 13 down there.

Mr DAVIS: I just want to be quite open and say that literally these have been drafted through a very narrow window. There have been a number of iterations go backwards and forwards, and literally this has come to the chamber just now. I am not saying that that is the ideal process—I accept it is not—but I am indicating that I have done the very best I can.

Ms PATTEN: These are remarkably similar to amendments that we debated late into the night on Tuesday. I see some words have been changed, but the intention of this is yet again to bring health orders back to this chamber to be debated every four weeks or whenever a health order is made.

These are not planning orders. These are actually, in some circumstances, life-and-death orders, and given the debate and the level of debate that we have had on extending state-of-emergency legislation and the debate we had on Tuesday night on even having regulations for a global pandemic, please let the chief health officer, let the Minister for Health, let the processes—the joint house committee, the independent expert advisory committee—do the work. We will be able to raise our discontent or our opposition to these orders at the appropriate times, but to enable this house to disallow mask wearing on trams I think is not only frivolous, it is actually dangerous.

Dr BACH: We have heard a lot, quite rightly, through the debates we have been having recently in this place about life and death. When the initial bill from the government was laid on the table of this place and the government argued it was urgent, we were told by Ms Patten, no less—

Ms Symes: On a point of order, Deputy President, I would ask for your guidance in relation to the remarks that you commenced this committee stage with, that there is very limited opportunity to speak on the questions. We are now hearing Dr Bach launch into what sounds like a bit of a second-reading contribution. While I am happy to hear feedback on the amendments that Mr Davis has put—I would like to have an opportunity to ask some questions and talk about the amendments—I think everyone should be confined to a discussion about what Mr Davis has put and to follow what you have advised.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: That is fair. The Attorney is right. Any contributions need to be made on these amendments.

Dr BACH: It is exactly because of the fact that we are talking about issues of life and death that it is so important, in my view, that this place should have ultimate say. The elected members of this place—elected by the Victorian people—should have the ultimate say over these orders. The point that I was about to make was that in the view of government members and Ms Patten the bill now has been improved. That is the view of the government and Ms Patten. The bill has been improved by the fact that the government could not ram it through as an emergency measure but rather had to take more time. So this argument, this spurious argument, is undercut by our experience in this place over recent days, because it is the government’s stated position that having more views, consulting more widely—albeit not with us—has led to, in its view, a significantly improved bill. The Victorian Bar association has continued to make very strong comments that we should be, this house and the other house—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Dr Bach, sorry, I need to bring you back to the amendment that is before us, please.

Dr BACH: I have been surprised by the government’s new position on unicameralism. We believe very strongly that both houses should have the power—to come very directly to the second amendment—to disallow these orders. It is also very important that both houses should have the ability to look at these orders and to make decisions. The argument that has previously been put, that the new process of a joint sitting somehow undercuts Victorian democracy, is ridiculous—unless you are newly fully committed to unicameralism. I say we should leave that to Queensland and to Brazil and to China. We are bicameralists in this place, and thus these new amendments are excellent, and I commend them to the house.

Ms MAXWELL: This is starting to feel like groundhog day. I would also like to reiterate the sentiments of Mr Bourman. My colleague Mr Grimley and I came down here asking, ‘What is this amendment?’, and I think it is quite disrespectful that there was not a phone call, an email, something. You have had time to consider drafting these amendments—even if you did not know the exact content of what was going to be in them, we could have had some advice that they were coming. I just would like you to consider that further in future, because this happens time and time again. I think we are all a bit over the pandemic bill. Let us get on with it.

Ms SHING: One of the things that is inherently flawed in the arguments being put by Mr Davis and Dr Bach and others today is that on the one hand they have called for parliamentary scrutiny, oversight and accountability; on the one hand they have said that this in fact should be something which the entire Parliament ought to properly have a say in; on the one hand they have said that the bill, which now includes a joint investigatory committee which goes across both houses, is an improvement; and yet on the other hand when it comes to the actual notion of a disallowance function itself those opposite are now arguing that, rather than parliamentary scrutiny and oversight and a capacity to reach into the nature of decisions being taken, it should be some parliamentary oversight, scrutiny and ability to reach into the decisions that underpin health orders and declarations.

It is disingenuous in the extreme for those opposite to say on the one hand that they want the entire Parliament to be able to do the job of parliamentary democracy in the context of the elected role that representatives across this place and indeed others have as a consequence of elections that bring us here and yet on the other to say that in fact the joint opportunity for sitting in the determination of a disallowance is inappropriate and that it should be a matter that either house can resolve. You cannot have it both ways, and in that context the amendment traverses well-trodden ground that we have been going through for hours and hours now. Again, it speaks volumes to motivation that underpins the opposition’s motivations in this regard in moving these last-minute amendments, which seek to reprosecute arguments which have fallen in this house in the context of debates, amendments and divisions over the course of the last 36 hours.

Business interrupted pursuant to sessional orders.

Questions without notice and ministers statements

Workplace safety

Dr BACH (Eastern Metropolitan) (12:01): My question is to Minister Stitt, the Minister for Workplace Safety. Minister, as the Minister for Workplace Safety you voted with the government to extend Tuesday’s sitting beyond midnight despite the house already having sat for 12½ hours at that point. What message does that send?

Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (12:02): I thank Dr Bach for his question. Leaving aside for a moment his own role and his party’s role in how long the debate went in the last 28 or 30 hours of debate, I would expect that the Victorian community, who elect us to this place, have a very high expectation that when it comes to the safety and wellbeing of all Victorians and protection against this terrible virus, COVID-19, this global pandemic, we would go above and beyond and actually do whatever it takes to get legislation through to protect the livelihoods and the safety of all Victorians.

I am not going to come in here and be lectured by the opposition about the safety of workers, because frankly my commitment to the safety of workers runs very deep—anyone who knows me knows that to be a fact—unlike the opposition, who only ever ask me about workplace safety when there is a political point to make. Their commitment to health and safety can barely get through question time. I reiterate the government’s view on this. Yes, we all were here for a very long time. For my own part I made sure that my staff got adequate breaks, that I rostered people and that I did not have people here into the wee hours. But for me, I have a job to do. People elected me to this place to do that job, and I make no apology for that.

Dr BACH (Eastern Metropolitan) (12:04): Minister, do workplace safety rules and guidelines support workers working for 25 hours straight?

Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (12:04): I thank Dr Bach for his supplementary question, which is an ‘Oh, look, another gotcha moment’. Take it seriously. If you actually care about fatigue and workers safety, then take it seriously, and with every piece of legislation that we bring to this place about strengthening the code for safety of workers, support it.

Dr Bach: On a point of order, President, on relevance, the supplementary question was very narrow. The minister is now taking the opportunity, which you have made sure that members do not, to attack the opposition. She should be brought back.

The PRESIDENT: I think the minister was relevant in her answer.

Ms STITT: I have concluded my answer to Dr Bach’s supplementary question, and I stand by my answer.

Fox and wild dog control

Mr MEDDICK (Western Victoria) (12:05): My question is for the Minister for Agriculture in the other place, and it relates to Victoria’s fox and wild dog bounty program. Foxes and wild dogs are intelligent animals with amazing similarities to our companion dogs and cats, yet the Victorian government awards prize money to hobby shooters for every fox and dog killed across the state. This program has cost taxpayers $17 million despite no proven conservation value, with only a 4 per cent drop in fox numbers and no long-term benefits. Because of the difficulty in differentiating species, threatened native dingoes are often victims too. There is no denying the damage to wildlife and the environment that these predator species cause, but effective humane alternatives exist and they must be explored. Will the minister end the failed, ineffective and expensive bounty program and instead explore humane and effective alternatives such as fox-proof fencing, guardian animals and fertility control?

Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (12:06): I thank Mr Meddick for his question. The question will be referred to the Minister for Agriculture for a response in accordance with the standing orders.

Mr MEDDICK (Western Victoria) (12:06): Thank you, Minister, for doing that. Foxes are also tortured in this state by hunting with horses and hounds, which literally sees them torn apart limb by limb. This blood sport is illegal in other countries where it was traditional. Why is it permitted to continue here?

Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (12:06): I thank Mr Meddick for his supplementary question, and the supplementary, as with the substantive, will be referred to the Minister for Agriculture.

Ministers statements: emergency services workers

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:07): I rise to update the house on how our government is supporting our fantastic emergency services personnel right across the state. We continue to back our emergency services in Victoria with record investment in infrastructure, vehicles, staff and equipment. Last week I was particularly busy seeing firsthand the result of our government’s record investments and meeting with FRV, CFA, SES and Life Saving Victoria. Our investments are helping boost emergency services capability before the summer season.

In 2017 I stood alongside the Premier in Wangaratta to announce that our government would build a new hub for the hardworking volunteers at the Wang SES, and it was great to be there from the announcement all the way through to the official opening of the new facility. I really want to congratulate the volunteers on an amazing new home. I know that my colleague Harriet Shing, along with the Deputy Premier, opened the new SES facility in Emerald on the weekend, and that unit has been obviously exceptionally busy over recent times—

Ms Shing interjected.

Ms SYMES: the busiest in Victoria—and so to have a new purpose-built facility is very apt for that community. While in Wangaratta I met with the hardworking FRV brigade, and I was particularly delighted to meet one of their new recruits, who told me it was the best job she has ever had.

Last Tuesday I opened the new Central Highlands emergency management training centre in Ballan with the CFA chief officer, Jason Heffernan, along with CFA personnel and the member for Buninyong, Michaela Settle. We were treated to a demonstration of how the facility will help CFA volunteers in their training. The outstanding facility will help ensure they have the skills and experience to respond to emergencies.

On Wednesday I managed to fit in meeting lifesaving volunteers to announce the beginning of their patrol season. This season will have more resources than ever and run for longer than ever thanks to additional funding. There have been far too many tragic drownings, and it is critical that we help to support our lifesavers to highlight the importance of water safety.

I want to take the opportunity to again thank our emergency services personnel for their tireless work in the state of Victoria.

City of Moreland

Mr ONDARCHIE (Northern Metropolitan) (12:09): My question is to the Minister for Local Government. Minister, do you support the renaming of the City of Moreland?

Mr LEANE (Eastern Metropolitan—Minister for Local Government, Minister for Suburban Development, Minister for Veterans) (12:09): I thank Mr Ondarchie for his question. The short answer is that I have had a conversation with the City of Moreland—their chief executive officer and their mayor. They explained to me that it was only 27 years ago, during the Kennett amalgamations, that Moreland was named after a slave plantation in Jamaica south. It is not named after a person. It is named after a place that ran 500 slaves every year through that plantation for the ends of growing tobacco and a number of other things. So I would really understand if anyone that lived in Moreland would actually support their council in looking at whether there could be a different name.

Members interjecting.

Mr LEANE: I will get there—patience. If I put myself in the place of the people of the good City of Moreland—bad name, good city—I would not like having that name as my council. My understanding is that when it was proposed that would be the name there was a question mark at the time, under that government, about, ‘Maybe this name shouldn’t be used’. There was not any great research but there was a question mark over it, and that was disregarded.

I support the City of Moreland in their endeavours to research, and go to the community, that perhaps there should be a different name to a slave plantation in south Jamaica. Do not look at me like that. It is true. It was named after a slave plantation in south Jamaica. Yes, some Farquhar or whatever his name was—his father made all the money off it—actually bought that land around there, and he named that land like his own land. He removed all the Indigenous people. He removed them. He made sure that the Aboriginal people went. He moved them on and then had his own space of land to himself, which he bought up with proceeds from slavery. And it happened to be in between two of the councils that were amalgamated, so they said, ‘Well, let’s call it that’. So it is not named after a person. It is not a name that has been there for hundreds of years. It has been there for a couple of decades-plus, and it is named after a slave plantation in Jamaica south.

Mr ONDARCHIE (Northern Metropolitan) (12:13): I will take that as a yes, then, Minister. Has the government therefore consulted with the residents of the City of Moreland about this name change?

Mr LEANE (Eastern Metropolitan—Minister for Local Government, Minister for Suburban Development, Minister for Veterans) (12:13): There is a period of consultation that the council have to go through as far as a name change goes, so they are going to take that time to make people aware that this particular council is named after a slave plantation in south Jamaica. I am sure they will get some feedback about what people think about that, and then there is a process that has to be gazetted by our government. So there is a bit of a process to go forward. I know that people are going to run around talking about cancel culture, but if it was me I just would not want to live in a place that was named after a slave plantation in south Jamaica. Most people would not want to do that. The council will do their work and then they will come back to me, and I am sure that there will be lots of opportunities for some great names.

VicForests

Mr HAYES (Southern Metropolitan) (12:14): My question without notice is to the minister for the environment. Minister, I refer to reports by the ABC last week which allege widespread and illegal logging by VicForests. Experts like Professor David Lindenmayer, Professor Stuart Khan, Dr Chris Taylor from the Australian National University and Danya Jacobs, a lawyer from Environmental Justice Australia, identify VicForests as a lawless logger, a cowboy operation and an outlaw organisation. The report refers to the failure of the Office of the Conservation Regulator to regulate VicForests as a charade, bordering on corruption, from the agency that is meant to be doing the regulation. The same organisation, VicForests, is now claiming it lost $4.7 million due to an unprecedented number of court challenges from community groups. My question is: why does the minister continue to fund VicForests, a repeat environmental offender, with $18 million a year, and will the decision to give them another nine years of access to native forests be reviewed given their past poor performance?

Mr LEANE (Eastern Metropolitan—Minister for Local Government, Minister for Suburban Development, Minister for Veterans) (12:15): I thank Mr Hayes. I understand his concern, and I am sure the minister for environment is very concerned about the topic that he has raised, and I will make sure that he gets a response from the minister for environment within the provisions of the standing orders.

Mr HAYES (Southern Metropolitan) (12:16): Thank you, Minister. Recent breaches by VicForests highlighted the inaction of the Office of the Conservation Regulator, which confirmed breaches had occurred but declined to take any regulatory action despite scientists alleging breaches in hundreds of locations. Jordan Crook from the Victorian National Parks Association said:

The world is going one way and the Victorian government is going the other way, which is the wrong way.

Will the minister please take action to empower the regulator to enforce action on illegal logging, requiring them to be timely and accountable?

Mr LEANE (Eastern Metropolitan—Minister for Local Government, Minister for Suburban Development, Minister for Veterans) (12:16): Once again, I thank Mr Hayes for his supplementary question, and I will ensure the minister for environment gives him a written response within what is provided in the standing orders.

Ministers statements: Olivine Place

Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (12:16): On Monday morning I had the great pleasure to officially open the shared space community centre at Olivine Place, Donnybrook, the first-ever growth area social planning tool partnership in Australia. Olivine Place is such an amazing place. I would encourage anyone to go there. But it is much more than just bricks and mortar. It is about people, industry-linked training, jobs and a future for a new, vibrant and growing community of Melbourne.

The City of Whittlesea, developer Mirvac, construction company Winslow and Preston Reservoir Adult Community Education all joined forces to ask the local community what kind of adult education they wanted and needed, and then they set about delivering it. Together they looked at the local employment opportunities and designed training to support the skill shortages in the area and the goals of the community. This is what true skills and training partnerships are all about. PRACE will be delivering a suite of foundation skills at the centre in addition to a pilot course that has been especially designed to deliver the construction skills needed in the growing area, where it is projected 500 jobs will be created. This pilot course is supported by the Adult, Community and Further Education Board’s Just in Time grant program. What is important is that this course also leads to pathways from certificate II in civil construction.

This partnership between industry and Learn Locals closes the loop to provide real local employment opportunities. I am proud that the Andrews Labor government recognises the importance of adult community-based education and training and works with communities and industry to achieve real goals which are an investment in our social and economic future.

Container deposit scheme

Mrs McARTHUR (Western Victoria) (12:18): My question is to the Minister for Local Government. Minister, isn’t it a fact that Andrews Labor government officers are routinely requiring councils to sign non-disclosure agreements as part of the introduction of container deposit rules, and how is it that such anti-democratic behaviour is acceptable?

Mr LEANE (Eastern Metropolitan—Minister for Local Government, Minister for Suburban Development, Minister for Veterans) (12:19): There is a lot of discussion about democracy this week, isn’t there? Do not worry about it. We have introduced this new thing where MPs get death threats if they vote a certain way, but that is not a problem for democracy, is it? Not a problem at all. On Facebook they tell you they are going to kill your grandkids and all that sort of stuff. That is not a threat to democracy, is it?

Members interjecting.

Mr LEANE: Go on, do your point of order. People share Facebook posts, and then the comments are there that they are going to kill certain MPs’ kids. That is not a democracy. But apparently—

Ms Crozier: On a point of order, President, I fail to understand why Mr Leane has gone off on this frolic of his own. Could you please bring him back to the question that Mrs McArthur asked? It is about container deposit schemes, not about something that he is intrigued about.

The PRESIDENT: The minister has got 2 minutes and a bit, so I am sure he will come back to the question.

Mr LEANE: I am happy to get to the question. I am happy to get more information for the member as far as her question goes. These sorts of agreements are not new in a lot of ways as far as contracts between state government, federal government and councils go. I do not think you are unearthing this next big conspiracy about members of government departments, like, ‘I’m going to do this undemocratic process’. It is just amazing. President, you tell me to get the member a written response under the standing orders at the end of question time, and I guarantee you that because of my respect for you the member will get that response.

Mrs McARTHUR (Western Victoria) (12:21): Thank you, Minister. I look forward to your detailed response. I am amazed that you do not know anything about this, because this is a pretty serious matter. These documents are being demanded of councils. Shouldn’t councils and local communities deserve to be fully consulted on the introduction of such a scheme free of any bullying and thuggish behaviour on these non-disclosure agreements? I look forward to that response, Minister.

Mr LEANE (Eastern Metropolitan—Minister for Local Government, Minister for Suburban Development, Minister for Veterans) (12:22): I think that was a question-statement-something, a general putting it on the public record, demonising public servants and everyone conspiracy theory, which has been this Parliament’s life this term. I will get the member a written response. I am not too sure how to put in written form a response to that question. I am not too sure how I will go about it.

Members interjecting.

The PRESIDENT: Order! Mr Davis, I think the minister is willing to give an answer to Mrs McArthur, though I have doubts about her question, to be honest, because I did not understand the question. Mrs McArthur, just to clarify the issue, can you repeat the question.

Mrs McARTHUR (Western Victoria) (12:23): I am very happy to repeat the question. Minister, shouldn’t councils and local communities deserve to be fully consulted on the introduction of this container deposit scheme free from any bullying and threats of a non-disclosure agreement?

Mr LEANE (Eastern Metropolitan—Minister for Local Government, Minister for Suburban Development, Minister for Veterans) (12:23): So a container refund scheme is evil, is it? When you give your can back and you get 10 cents, there is some evil conspiracy. This is the worst opposition that this state has ever had to suffer. It is bizarre.

Mr Davis: On a point of order, President, the intent of the question is very clear. Communities should be able to make their case and understand these things without a non-disclosure agreement from government officials right across the whole state.

The PRESIDENT: Mr Davis has raised a point of order, and I know that the minister has indicated he will provide an answer.

Health services

Mr QUILTY (Northern Victoria) (12:24): My question is for the Minister for Health. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 we have seen substantial reductions in medical services and procedures to all patients. Preventive medicine and diagnostic screenings have been delayed or cancelled. There was a 37 per cent decline in breast cancer screenings and a 55 per cent decline in colorectal cancer screenings. Over a period of 6½ months there was a 10 per cent reduction in cancer pathology notifications. The reduction in cancer diagnoses is not from a reduction in the rate of cancer. It has been estimated that 2530 cancer diagnoses were delayed or missed in the six months from April 2020. These are just the statistics for cancer. Thousands more people have missed screenings that would have detected other serious illnesses. It is not due to crowded hospitals; it is due to COVID restrictions. Our COVID response has come at enormous financial expense, but there have been many more non-financial costs as well. Minister, what is your department doing to increase services to meet the backlogged demand for cancer patients who were forced to take a back seat under the COVID restrictions?

Members interjecting.

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:25): There have been a few interjections, Mr Quilty, about the standard of your question. It is an excellent question—a very important topic. Of course we encourage people to not delay their diagnostic tests and to make sure, particularly in relation to any concerns they have, they seek medical advice accordingly. The information that you have sought I know is a matter that the Minister for Health is very much across, and I think it would be appropriate for me to get you a very thorough response from him. So I will ask for that and perhaps get it to you as soon as possible, rather than in accordance with the sitting days. How about I give you a commitment to make sure we try and get that by the end of the week?

Mr QUILTY (Northern Victoria) (12:26): Thank you, Minister. That was 2020. What did 2021 bring us? For the people of north-east Victoria, we lost a wing of our only cancer hospital, annexed to deal with COVID patients because our local base hospital lacks capacity. If we thought 2020 would be the end of lockdowns, we were proven wrong, and we have endured many more over the course of 2021. We need to expect not only a surge in cancer diagnoses but a surge in patients presenting with later stage cancer. When COVID hit, the government got tunnel vision. Every other consideration was thrown out the window. Happiness, wealth and security all took a back seat to reducing COVID numbers. Even other health considerations were sidelined so COVID could take centre stage. I doubt the health costs of diminished access to services and undiagnosed illness factored into the government’s COVID response. Minister, what does the chief health officer health advice estimate as the number of additional deaths that will occur because of reduced access to health care as part of the government’s COVID response?

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:27): Mr Quilty, my advice is that all cancer screening services continued throughout 2020–21 despite the challenges of COVID, but I will add your supplementary question to your substantive question.

Ministers statements: family learning support program

Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (12:27): It was my pleasure to visit the children, families and staff at the family learning support program at Wingate Avenue Community Centre in Ascot Vale last week with my colleague the member for Essendon, Danny Pearson. This Brotherhood of St Laurence program delivers outreach support in public housing sites across the City of Melbourne, the City of Moonee Valley and the City of Yarra. They are currently supporting 88 preschool-aged children in 64 families through a home visit program.

This initiative is all about building parents’ capacity as their child’s first teacher and helping connect families to kindergarten and long day care. The program’s bicultural workers are the key to its success. They apply their cultural knowledge, language skills, lived experience and community connections to engage directly with vulnerable culturally and linguistically diverse families and communities. Many of these families are newly arrived migrants and refugees, so an important function of the program is helping parents to navigate Centrelink and childcare subsidy applications and enrol in local kindergartens and childcare services.

I am proud that the Andrews Labor government has invested $368 000 to support this initiative for the past two years, and I am delighted that we have been able to extend the program until the middle of next year with a further $150 000. This successful program ensures that children and families from diverse backgrounds are experiencing the benefits of early learning in ways that are culturally and linguistically appropriate. It is just one of the many ways we are investing in early childhood education to ensure all children get the very best start in life.

Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority

Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) (12:29): My question is to the Minister for Emergency Services. Minister, in response to the chronic paralysis of ESTA’s call centre, as of today how many additional operators have actually been employed to deal with this ongoing crisis?

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:29): I thank Ms Crozier for her question and the opportunity to thank our hardworking ESTA personnel. I think I have reflected in this house previously what a tough job it is, answering the phone from people in need, in an emergency, very often in desperate situations and not knowing what to do—having someone on the end of the phone who is calm, giving you advice and doing the important role of dispatching our other emergency services personnel.

Ms Crozier, we have made significant investment in ESTA in relation to employing more staff. The staff at ESTA undergo significant training, which is appropriate, particularly when how the system works is that not everybody at ESTA answers a call from 000. Hopefully not too many people have had to call 000, but you get asked which service you want. So with the call taker that you get, it is not as though they pick up the same call for fire, police, ambulance or indeed SES. I assume your question would be more around probably the ambulance dispatch, which is where we have seen significant pressures because of the pandemic. Those call takers obviously have to have training in relation to health expertise, and we have trained paramedics that sit within ESTA as well to provide that extra support. And then there are the other people who take calls for non-emergency transport and the like. It is a really fascinating operation out there. As I said, all of the staff are there for one reason, and that is to help Victorians.

I can get you some staff numbers, Ms Crozier, but the last investment was to employ an additional—I want to say 43, but I will have to just make sure. I do not have the figures in front of me.

Ms Crozier interjected.

Ms SYMES: Oh, you know the answer to the question you have asked me?

Ms Crozier interjected.

Ms SYMES: In total? The 43 are in various processes of being recruited. Is that all you wanted to know? It seems as though you already know.

Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) (12:32): Minister, thank you for that response. You did make mention of the work that those call takers are doing in very stressful times, and I agree with you. Minister, on a daily basis, when Victorians call 000, many are still waiting more than 10 minutes to speak to an operator, and in some instances Victorians are being transferred to an automated response system. Minister, when in the words of the Premier ‘every second counts’, why is your government continuing to put Victorian lives at risk?

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:32): Ms Crozier, that is really unfair on the ESTA organisation. They are focused on dealing with unprecedented levels of demand. I have answered questions on this issue several times. We have more than a thousand calls a day more at this time than two years ago. It is a massive amount of calls, and unfortunately many of those callers, up to 40 per cent, are calling 000 when they should not, so we are working with our emergency services personnel on education for the community. We know that there are a lot of calls, particularly related to COVID, where people are scared. They are panicking that they are going to be really sick with COVID and want to make sure they can get an ambulance if they need it. There is an automated service, which is appropriate, Ms Crozier. If there is an issue that is being triaged that is not urgent, it is important that our call takers are not held up helping those people so they have got appropriate— (Time expired)

Fire services workplace safety

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:33): My question is to the Minister for Emergency Services. Minister, this week the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) released the report of its independent review of Ambulance Victoria. It was noted to be both painful and confronting and uncovered entrenched disrespect, victimisation and bullying. To the credit of Ambulance Victoria, this report is transparent and they have accepted all the recommendations from the review. With respect to the similar review of fire services and the stubborn position of the union to block its release, will you once again seek to gain access to this report or make changes to the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 so future taxpayer-funded reviews cannot be blocked?

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:34): Ms Maxwell, in relation to your question where you mentioned the VEOHRC report into Ambulance Victoria, it is compelling reading. It is an important review, and I want to commend the management of Ambulance Victoria for taking that seriously. I also want to thank the brave members, every single member of Ambulance Victoria who came forward to share their experience with the commission, and I encourage those members to continue those conversations. They are important conversations to have. We should not have workplaces that are not inclusive, respectful and safe.

I have talked about the culture of the emergency services agencies that I have responsibility for in relation to the emergency services portfolio, and you have asked for specific information on the VEOHRC review into workplace culture in relation to the fire services. I have answered this question on several occasions. I cannot table a review that I do not have. VEOHRC have advised me that they cannot provide me with a copy of the review not because of their legislation but because of a court order made by the Court of Appeal in 2018. I do not have the capacity to force them to break a court order. That would be inappropriate in any sense but particularly in my other portfolio of Attorney-General.

What I would say to you, Ms Maxwell, is that rather than focusing on a report from five years ago, which I have not seen and I do not have access to, the government is focused on cultural change. We are investing in and delivering in partnership with all of our emergency services organisations, and you have referenced Ambulance Victoria. There are other organisations where issues have been raised, and I think it is important to acknowledge that. I think I have said also on the record that the agencies that I deal with do not shy away from their responsibilities to address this. They do not deny that there are problems, but we are all working together to ensure that all of our agencies are safe and inclusive. We really want them to be a welcoming place, particularly for women. That is something that I am particularly passionate about, and I know you share that passion. As I meet more and more people in the organisation, I am really confident that everyone is focused on that end goal.

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:37): Thank you, Attorney. The VEOHRC report of Ambulance Victoria noted 52.4 per cent of surveyed respondents reported experiencing bullying. An internal review of fire services revealed similar statistics. If the government seems unable to obtain this report for tabling in the Parliament, will the government initiate a new similar review of fire services that will be more transparent?

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:37): I think I addressed the issues that you spoke about. I meet with our emergency services agencies on a regular basis, and always on the agenda is workplace culture. I will continue to have those conversations with them, and as I meet more and more staff and volunteers in the organisations as well I will be focused on outcomes. As I said previously, I believe that our agencies are well on their way to understanding their culture and have in place some really ambitious objectives to ensure that they are one of the best places to work in the state.

Ministers statements: COVID-19 vaccination

Ms PULFORD (Western Victoria—Minister for Employment, Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy, Minister for Small Business, Minister for Resources) (12:38): I am absolutely thrilled to share with the house the news that Australia’s first mRNA COVID-19 vaccine candidate has now been manufactured, and this has happened here in Victoria. In just five months this has occurred, and this is not only Australia’s first mRNA COVID-19 vaccine candidate but Australia’s first-ever mRNA therapeutic or product. The manufacturing breakthrough was supported by mRNA Victoria in partnership with the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS), the Doherty Institute and IDT Australia, a manufacturer based in Boronia. They have utilised Victoria’s strong medical research and our manufacturing capabilities.

I would really like to acknowledge those who have worked tirelessly over the past year to make this a reality, including the head of the vaccine and immunisation research group at the Doherty, Professor Terry Nolan, AO; the team leader of the vaccine project at MIPS, Professor Colin Pouton; the MIPS director, Professor Chris Porter; the head of molecular virology at the Doherty, Professor Damian Purcell; the CEO of IDT Australia, Dr David Sparling; and of course all of the people who work in their teams and in support of this.

The government funded the purchase of new mRNA manufacturing equipment as part of a $5 million announcement in June 2021 to support MIPS’s advance doses for phase 1 clinical trials, which will start early next year. It is part of a $50 million investment our government has made into mRNA to support the development of research and manufacturing and an enhancing of our ecosystem here in Victoria. Victoria is the only place in Australia where we can be confident that Australia has both the pharmaceutical manufacturing expertise and capability and the science and research capability for success in this endeavour. I am so proud to be working with these people on this extraordinary work.

Written responses

The PRESIDENT (12:40): Regarding questions and answers today: Mr Meddick to the Minister for Agriculture, Ms Tierney, two days, question and supplementary; Mrs McArthur to Mr Leane, one day, question and supplementary; Mr Hayes to the minister for environment, Mr Leane, two days, question and supplementary; and Mr Quilty to the Minister for Health, two days, question and supplementary, Ms Symes.

Rulings by the Chair

Questions on notice

The PRESIDENT (12:41): I have received a letter from Dr Bach regarding his question on notice 3839. After checking the question and answer, I reinstate the question.

Constituency questions

Northern Metropolitan Region

Mr ONDARCHIE (Northern Metropolitan) (12:41): (1560) My constituency question today is for the Minister for Police. The people of Wollert are concerned about hooning and illegal dumping of commercial and building rubbish in their new suburb. I recently invited the people of Wollert to complete my community survey, and I thank those many people of Wollert who replied to my survey. Wollert is such a diverse and wonderful community, with many Victorians building new homes, and they are excited about their new area, but they do want a safer and cleaner suburb in which to raise their families. To protect my residents, my question to the minister is: will the minister commit to extra police controls to better deter hooning on Harvest Home Road, illegal dumping of rubbish near De Rossi Boulevard under the nearby parklands under the powerlines and the illegal dumping of rubbish along Lehmanns Road and Findon Creek? When I asked the minister before about illegal dumping of rubbish the minister said, ‘Well, that’s not my issue. That’s an issue for the minister for the environment’. Well, what we are trying to do is stop this in the first instance. That is why we are calling for more police patrols. The Wollert residents really care for their community, and they want a cleaner and safer suburb in which to raise their families.

Western Metropolitan Region

Ms VAGHELA (Western Metropolitan) (12:43): (1561) My constituency question is directed to the Minister for Training and Skills and Minister for Higher Education, the Honourable Gayle Tierney. My question relates to the portfolio responsibilities of training and skills. The pandemic has been an important reminder of how important healthcare workers are for the world. Work is currently underway at Kangan TAFE’s new health hub in Essendon. The new $2 million facility will feature two nursing simulation labs, a pathology simulation lab, a nursing storeroom and other training and staff spaces. Through an agreement between Kangan and the Moonee Valley City Council students at this campus will have more training and placement opportunities. The Andrews Labor government has revitalised TAFE with its free TAFE program, and with this new world-class facility we will be able to address the skills Victoria needs. My question to the minister is: can the minister provide me with an update on how many health students will be able to train at this facility in my electorate of Western Metropolitan Region?

Western Victoria Region

Mr MEDDICK (Western Victoria) (12:44): (1562) My constituency question is for the Minister for Agriculture in the other place, and it relates to yet another devastating farm fire in my electorate, in the town of Anakie. Just last week our youth wing, the Young AJP, revealed that 12 500 hens had suffered horrifying deaths, burnt alive by flames and suffocated by smoke. This is the second fire on an intensive chicken farm in as many weeks. We know that as long as factory farming remains legal, the risk of farm animals perishing in this way will remain high. I also note there exists a perverse incentive to maximise insurance returns by having all the animals perish. What is the minister doing to prevent these fires, which are becoming a disturbingly common occurrence?

Northern Victoria Region

Ms LOVELL (Northern Victoria) (12:45): (1563) My question is for the Minister for Education and concerns the acquisition of land adjacent to the Toolamba Primary School. Toolamba Primary School, also home to the Toolamba Kindergarten and Toolamba Preschool, has a current enrolment of 141 students and is set in a significant residential growth corridor, as identified in the Toolamba Growth Plan 2020. As such, the school is expected to grow exponentially in the future. Up until now the school has been landlocked, unable to acquire land to build infrastructure to cater for the increasing enrolments. Fortunately, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has presented itself to the school community, with a block of land on the eastern side of the school for sale for $230 000. A business case and other documents supporting the purchase of the land have been submitted by the school council to the Department of Education and Training, but no commitment for the purchase of the land has been obtained. Will the minister provide funding of $230 000 for the Toolamba Primary School to purchase the block of land to allow for the capacity for future growth and expansion at the school?

Northern Victoria Region

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:46): (1564) My constituency question is to the Minister for Transport Infrastructure. Upgrades to the Sunshine station will connect the airport with the rest of the rail network. However, there is no provision for a standard gauge platform to accommodate the north-east line. The minister is currently suggesting that north-east line passengers needing to get to the airport will change at Broadmeadows to a bus or taxi until the Suburban Rail Loop northern section is built in 2053. However, the Border Rail Action Group have noted it would be far quicker for passengers to transfer at Sunshine rather than wait for a bus at Broadmeadows. Wodonga council wrote to the minister seeking a standard gauge platform at Sunshine. So my question is: will the minister review the plans so that travellers on the north-east line are not excluded from this metropolitan service?

Southern Metropolitan Region

Mr DAVIS (Southern Metropolitan—Leader of the Opposition) (12:47): (1565) My constituency question today relates to planning in the local area of the City of Boroondara. I wonder if the Minister for Planning would publish a list of all the new planning schemes in the last five years that withdraw power from local councils: VC187, VC190, VC196, VC194 and VC170 on transport—I am going through a long list, and there are more. What I am seeking for him to do is to publish on the government website, so my question is: will you publish on the government website a list of all the planning schemes that have been implemented since November 2014 that strip power from the City of Boroondara?

Western Metropolitan Region

Dr CUMMING (Western Metropolitan) (12:48): (1566) My question is to the Minister for Health in the other place, and it is from parents of a 17-year-old who has just finished year 11. Now, the school will be running a year 12 camp in February, and they have been advised only fully vaccinated students can use and stay at their facility. Students and teachers will form a strong connection that will develop through activities and there will be a lot of team building, resilience-focused mindfulness, goal setting and planning. They will develop their motto and the words to keep them motivated throughout the year. Now, this is not a social event. This is a crucial event to the beginning of a student’s full year of schooling and is considered part of the school curriculum. Will the minister consider rapid testing as an alternative to vaccination in these situations, so students do not miss out on crucial starts of their final year?

Eastern Victoria Region

Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (12:49): (1567) My question is to the Minister for Public Transport. My Leongatha constituent is frustrated by the poor and substandard public transport ticketing system operating in South Gippsland. In 2016 Labor released a regional network development plan and committed to simplifying and streamlining the regional ticketing system. The report also identified the need to include the Myki system in rural and regional Victoria. One example is that a tourist hopping on a bus at Leongatha to go to Melbourne was turned away and told, ‘Go to the local milk bar, because you cannot use a Myki card or a credit card’, and she did not have cash or a ticket. This is 2021, people. The government need to get their act together. My constituent wants to know: what is the government’s time line for the introduction of the Myki ticketing system to be rolled out in South Gippsland?

Northern Victoria Region

Mr QUILTY (Northern Victoria) (12:50): (1568) My constituency question is for the Minister for Health. Earlier this month Yarrawonga Health diverted staff from the community health program to manage COVID testing demands during our most recent border outbreak. Moving staff from vital services is an all-too-common approach by this government. When managing testing demand in regional areas you are happy to force regional health services to rob Peter to pay Paul. While you are spoiled for choice in Melbourne, community health services are vital to communities in northern Victoria. They make up for our shortfall in specialist medical practitioners. They offer postnatal and drug and alcohol services, dental and oral health clinics, social workers, counsellors, dietitians and diabetes education. They are vital, as they address the chronic health issues which we experience at much higher rates out in the bush. A month ago I spoke about Wodonga residents being turned away from testing. Cutting services is not the solution. Minister, why must our already overburdened regional health services have to divert staff from vital health services to meet testing demand?

Western Victoria Region

Mrs McARTHUR (Western Victoria) (12:51): (1569) My question is for the Minister for Health. Last week a distressed Western Victoria constituent alerted me to the classification of charity shops, such as St Vincent de Paul, as non-essential. This means the unvaccinated cannot go in—in fact they are being turned away—potentially including the most vulnerable, the very people who need help to survive. Charity shops or op shops could not be more essential for these people. For many they are the only affordable source of basic items—socks, underwear, clothing, kitchen items; the stuff of daily life. Given other stores are also off-limits to unvaccinated customers, not only is this government mandating vaccinations but via this abhorrent classification it is mandating cruelty to those in need. Segregation of society always finds a way to hurt the vulnerable, so I ask the minister: given Victoria’s 90-plus per cent double vaccination rate, will the government reassess charity stores as essential?

Northern Metropolitan Region

Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (12:52): (1570) My constituency question is for the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change. Kate Jost, a resident of mine in Reservoir, is really concerned that native birds and wildlife in her area are being attacked by domestic cats. Darebin council has introduced a cat curfew, but in her experience cat owners are not being fined for having their cats out after dark. She says that situation is replicated throughout many councils in the north. So her question is: does the minister have data on the impact of domestic cats on wildlife in the Northern Metropolitan area for the past 12 months, and has that impact decreased with the introduction of curfews?

Eastern Metropolitan Region

Dr BACH (Eastern Metropolitan) (12:53): (1571) My question today is for the Minister for Roads and Road Safety. What will the minister do to improve safety on Springvale Road in Glen Waverley? Recently I distributed a local survey to residents in my electorate, in Glen Waverley, and you will be surprised to learn that I have received a very large volume of correspondence back. I want to thank every single resident for contacting me. Many got in touch with me about the state of Springvale Road in Glen Waverley. The house will be interested to learn that AAMI recently found that Springvale Road, specifically in Glen Waverley, was the second least safe road in the entire state, and yet we have had no meaningful action from this government. When it comes to road safety, Springvale Road in my electorate, in Glen Waverley, is the second worst road in the entire state. Now, I believe Mr Carroll to be a person of good will. I would welcome him into my electorate to meet with me, to inspect the road and to meet with concerned locals. That may be too much to ask, so my simple question is: what will he do to improve road safety for my constituents?

Eastern Metropolitan Region

Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (12:54): (1572) My constituency question today is for the Minister for Planning. Last week I met with residents of Ferntree Gully who are deeply concerned about a proposed aged-care facility to be built on St Elmo Avenue, a small no through road surrounded by nature reserves and wildlife. Glengollan propose a 12-metre-high, 108-bed building that will overshadow surrounding homes, cut down trees, add to existing traffic and parking issues and, frankly, make living in this high fire risk area even more unsafe. I would encourage the minister to visit the site himself. Knox City Council declined Glengollan’s planning proposal, and now Glengollan is taking the council to VCAT based on this government allowing aged-care corporations to build whatever they want. I ask: is it appropriate to have such a high-density 12-metre-high aged-care facility on a narrow residential no through street in a high fire risk zone?

Sitting suspended 12.55 pm until 2.04 pm.

Bills

Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021

Committee

Resumed.

Clause 12 further discussed (14:04)

Mr LIMBRICK: Although I acknowledge that some of the processes to get to this amendment were a bit unorthodox, nevertheless the Liberal Democrats will take any opportunity to stop this two-tiered and divided society that the government is proposing.

Ms CROZIER: I rise and also speak in support of Mr Davis’s motion, because what this is about is having the ability for disallowance. I think if you look at the process that the government has set out it is rather clunky. The Minister for Health makes a pandemic order and then tables the pandemic order in the Parliament. Pandemic orders are considered by the new Pandemic Declaration Accountability and Oversight Committee. If this committee wants to recommend disallowance of an order, the pandemic orders need to be referred to the new independent pandemic management advisory committee, who then would consider the orders and provide their advice back to the Pandemic Declaration Accountability and Oversight Committee. The Pandemic Declaration Accountability and Oversight Committee would then consider that advice. If they decide that an order should be disallowed, they can make—

Ms Symes: On a point of order, Deputy President, just coming back to your instructions at the start of this committee stage, this is not an opportunity to revisit issues that were contained in the debate on previous days. Ms Crozier is directly reading back to me my own words and words within the bill, and I think that she should just leave her comments to the amendments that have been put by Mr Davis.

Ms CROZIER: On the point of order, Deputy President, the point I am making, so the Leader of the Government understands, is—

Ms Symes: Oh, I understand.

Ms CROZIER: As I said at the outset, Attorney, it is rather a clunky process, and the ability for a house to have a disallowance I am explaining to the house again, as I was before you interrupted me—

Ms Symes: I think we have got it, Ms Crozier.

Ms CROZIER: No. Again, I want to make the point why this is a necessary amendment that we are discussing today. I think this is fair and reasonable, and if I am allowed to I will just take the advice from the Clerk.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: The member has only been going for a few seconds. I ask Ms Crozier to continue but to make sure that her comments are directly relevant to the amendment before us.

Ms CROZIER: Thank you for that guidance, Deputy President. This is in relation to Mr Davis’s amendment about the subordinate legislation that he spoke about and the necessity to have disallowance in one of the houses of the Parliament. If we are talking about true oversight and true transparency, this is why this amendment is needed.

As I was saying before the Attorney interrupted me, the Pandemic Declaration Accountability and Oversight Committee would then consider that advice. If they then decide that an order should be disallowed, they can make a recommendation to both houses of Parliament that that should occur. A resolution would then need to be passed by the Parliament to hold a joint sitting to consider the recommendation of disallowance. If a joint sitting is convened, then an absolute majority of the total number of members of Parliament would need to vote to disallow a pandemic order. The point is this would be extremely unlikely in this Parliament, for instance, because of its make-up. Even if all members of the opposition and the crossbench were to vote in support of the disallowance, at least 15 members of the government would need to cross the floor in order for a disallowance to occur. This is why it is important.

Mr Davis: This is in addition.

Ms CROZIER: As Mr Davis points out, this is in addition. It is an amendment to this part of the bill. This is about true accountability, true transparency. As we have debated over the last 48 hours, it is about the process that the government has come to this Parliament with. We are talking about this very important bill that has taken a lot of the attention of the community, who are concerned about it. So many people across various parts of the legal fraternity, business and health acknowledge all of that. Well, I see the Attorney sort of squinting and making faces, but this is an important process. If we want true transparency—

Ms Symes: I wasn’t.

Ms CROZIER: Sorry, I will take that back then. I thought you were.

Ms Pulford: On a point of order, Deputy President, the advice that you gave to the committee at the outset was very clear. Insofar as I understand, how the standing orders relate to a procedure like the one that we are conducting at the moment is also very clear. I think we would all be very keen to hear Ms Crozier make some new points or to provide some new content, and that would be in order. But that is not what is happening, so I would perhaps encourage you to ask Ms Crozier to be mindful of your ruling, mindful of the procedures, mindful of the fact that we spent a long time on all of this content yesterday—indeed the observation has been made already in the committee stage that there are some very modest changes to matters that were considered by the house yesterday that are now being considered—and I ask that we move on.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Ms Pulford. I have been listening carefully to Ms Crozier, and she is comparing what is currently in the bill to what is being proposed in this amendment. I would encourage Ms Crozier, though, to make her current comments on the situation that we debated the other day succinct and to talk about the new content and the new process that is proposed by the amendment.

Ms CROZIER: Thank you, Deputy President, again for your guidance. I make the point that this is in parallel to what is currently in the bill, as we have debated over the last few days. I think it is an important element. I mean, the bill is live. This is an amendment that I think all members in this house should support, and I urge them to support it, to give that assurance about greater transparency and accountability. It is exactly what we are elected to do, and I would urge all members to support Mr Davis’s amendment.

Dr CUMMING: Listening in on the debate today I do appreciate the opposition bringing this amendment at very short notice. I understand what it is like trying to get something drafted up, and I do understand why possibly there has not been the opportunity to be briefed on this amendment. There have been plenty of times that the government or people on the crossbench have put things in my lap. Obviously just recently we had 20 amendments from the government to get our head around overnight while we debated the bill for 24-plus hours.

For me, on the opposition’s amendment, it would seem that during the state of emergency we were encouraged to have monthly briefings with the chief health officer, Professor Sutton, which occurred at the start and stopped in July. On the 30-day aspect, that seemed to be okay for the government’s agenda when we were sitting under a state of emergency. Thirty days was apparently a great period for us to get a report as well as to have what were apparently monthly briefings, which stopped in July even though in this chamber we were promised that that was going to occur every 30 days, or once a month. In respect of this, I am happy to have this conversation on behalf of the community. The community is still not happy with the pandemic bill. They wish for the bill to be killed. They are still protesting on the steps of Parliament, despite being dragged off and into Parliament to be roughly handled—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Sorry, Dr Cumming, just a second. There are a couple of significant conversations going on in the chamber, and I think people should show you the respect of listening to your point of view. Could you please take any conversations outside of the chamber or listen to the member on her feet.

Dr CUMMING: Deputy President, I understand the government are getting ready for Christmas and they are booking their holidays—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I am sorry, that was not an invitation for you to comment on the members of the chamber. I am just trying to draw attention to your contribution and have people listen to you.

Dr CUMMING: I thank you, Deputy President, and there are some listening on the other side of the house, so I appreciate that.

Members interjecting.

Dr CUMMING: And I am getting rumbles from my colleague from Western Metropolitan Region.

Members interjecting.

Dr CUMMING: And now I am getting the belt from the other side, but I am getting smiles from—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Dr Cumming! If we can all just give every member of the chamber, whoever has the call and is on their feet, the respect of listening to them without assisting them, that would be fantastic.

Dr CUMMING: Please respect the Chair. That would be lovely. For me, I will be supporting this amendment today, even though it has been thrown in my lap. I have had a lot of things thrown in my lap this week from the government and the opposition. I am happy to support this.

As I was saying, there is still a large amount of community angst about this pandemic bill. They still have concerns around detention and what that actually means. I know that the government has defined that—the Attorney-General did—and it is a word used throughout this bill, but they do have concerns when it comes to detention and when it comes to quarantine and the facility that is being built at this time. It would be great if the government helped the community understand what that is about, because there is a lot of misinformation out there. It is the government’s job to help with the misinformation out there, rather than creating a vacuum for people to think otherwise. They see the black and white in this bill and they just see what is occurring in the way of what is being built, and it would be great if the government articulated the difference and helped allay their concerns so their anxiety could be diminished. We are coming up to Christmas. It would be great to finish off this pandemic bill. I do not think my position has changed since yesterday, and it will not change.

Members interjecting.

Dr CUMMING: But everyone has the right to actually put up an amendment.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Dr Cumming, if you can just contain your comments to the actual amendment.

Dr CUMMING: Thank you, Deputy President. I am trying to, but I am also hearing things from the floor and I am not quite sure if I should take up those interjections in this conversation or not.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: As we all know, interjections are disorderly, so it would be very helpful if the interjections stopped and Dr Cumming could concentrate on her contribution on the amendment. But, Dr Cumming, if there is an interjection, you have every right to take it up, but just tell the house you are taking up the interjection.

Mr LEANE: I do not think that is actually in the standing orders.

Dr CUMMING: I think it might be just part of the parliamentary ‘This is how this works’, Mr Leane. I know you were the President. I know you are saying it is not part of the orders—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Dr Cumming, on the amendment. Let us stick to the amendment.

Dr CUMMING: I would like to; I would really like to.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Can you please now contain your comments to the amendment.

Dr CUMMING: Correct. Obviously this amendment is in reference to extensions to the pandemic declarations being approved by Parliament. We have spent a lot of time since this pandemic bill went back to the Assembly and now discussing who are going to be the members of the committee proposed in the bill. Those conversations have been occurring. For me, seeing as those conversations are still being had and we have not finalised this bill, I am more than happy to continue having amendments put if they are going to improve the bill one way or another. I do take what others have said within this debate—that we do not need to hear each other’s voices on repeat. But I do wish for the government to please understand why people are protesting and rallying, please do not dismiss these humans that have concerns and please do not continue to use language that diminishes them in any particular way, because it is not helpful.

Mrs McARTHUR: I rise to support Mr Davis’s amendments, and in doing so I thought I would remind the house that the government also supports amendments. After all, they brought 83 amendments to the house over the last couple of days when we were debating this bill.

Ms Symes: On a point of order, Deputy President, I was happy to give up my slot for Mrs McArthur to go first, but I do not need to go through the amendments that the house has already considered. If she could confine her comments to the limited debate that you have provided guidance on, I would appreciate that.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Attorney. Whilst you have allowed Mrs McArthur to go before you, I do not think you have actually given up your slot. You still have a time to speak. Mrs McArthur has made about two sentences worth of contribution. I think she is just giving some context, but I do draw her attention to my ruling that comments must be contained to the new amendments, not reprosecuting any of the old debate.

Mrs McARTHUR: Thank you, Deputy President, and thank you, Attorney. Anything we can do to make this bill better, more transparent, more accountable and more in line with how democracy actually properly works in a bicameral system of government must be good. You should obviously welcome it. The idea that it was inappropriate to bring further amendments through, when we were told originally that the original bill was perfect, it was urgent and it had to be dealt with, and then the government produced 83 amendments—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Sorry, Mrs McArthur. Could you get to the amendments.

Mrs McARTHUR: If the amendments ensure that there is greater accountability and transparency if an issue comes before it that needs to be disallowed, then I cannot for the life of me understand why the government would not welcome this approach. Anything that makes the bill and this legislation and the management of a pandemic better should be in the interests of the government and the people of Victoria. So I have absolute pleasure in supporting Mr Davis’s amendments, and I urge everybody to do so. The fact that they have come at the eleventh hour is not unusual. We got the amendments from the government at a very late time too, and it may be all understandable. So that is not an issue up for grabs at all. I support the amendments, and I urge my colleagues on the crossbench obviously to do likewise.

Ms SYMES: A lot of people outside this place watch what is going on, and it is pretty hard to follow. It is pretty confusing, and it is a lot of theatre. I am going to call this what it is: this is an opportunity to continue to oppose a bill that you do not like—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Sorry, Attorney. We have said that this debate is narrow and on the amendments. So I know that you are only just starting your contribution, but I do draw your attention—

Members interjecting.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! You have called others out very early in their contributions, so I do draw your attention to your own wishes that people contain their comments to the amendments.

Dr Bach: On a point of order, Deputy President, I would note that numerous members opposite—I will not name them—are very loudly reflecting directly on the Chair. They should desist.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Dr Bach. I did notice that myself, and, yes, I would ask for some quiet in the chamber while the Attorney gives her contribution.

Ms SYMES: Deputy President, I would like to confine my comments to your ruling. That is what I would like to speak about, and I would remind members of the chamber—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: It is not about my ruling. It is about the amendments, and that is what we are debating. We all want this to be over as soon as possible, so let us move to the amendments, please, Attorney.

Ms SYMES: The reason we have amendments here today is because of the Clerk’s advice, as outlined by the Deputy President, that debate on the amendments that have come back from the Assembly is to be limited in scope to the question that postponed clauses be agreed to and should be constrained to why members support or oppose the question. That would have meant we could not talk about the bill anymore. The advice was, ‘Oh, actually you can make amendments to the amendments coming over’, and what we have seen is the opposition frantically try and come up with something that they can put up here so we can continue to talk about it so they can continue to oppose the bill. I think that is important for the public to understand. I would like to call out Mr Limbrick—integrity, honesty. You stood up and you said, ‘I’m going to take every opportunity to oppose the bill, so I will support the amendments’. That is exactly—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Attorney, this is not an opportunity to attack individual members. I just think that naming members and attacking them is not right.

Ms SYMES: Deputy President, you are calling points of order. You might want to wait for members to call points of order rather than raising points of order yourself from the chair.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I am not raising points of order. I am giving you guidance that it is not an opportunity for you to individually attack members.

Ms SYMES: I was not attacking Mr Limbrick. I was thanking Mr Limbrick for his honesty in relation to how he wants to conduct himself in this bill, and that has been very consistent. The opposition on the other hand—the amendments that they have brought to the chamber are the same as what has been brought forward. They are materially the same. I would encourage not the Deputy President but perhaps the President to look at this, because I am actually concerned about the precedent.

The advice is that you cannot bring amendments that are similar or have the same intent as have been previously put, and I would argue that these are similar. I would argue so much that they are that I am not even going to give you arguments against your amendments because I have already done that. You can refer to my comments in Hansard, because I have responded to all of the points that you have made. It is an opportunity just to drag this bill out, and I really think that people need to understand that, because I think this chamber is confusing for people.

Just so people understand, this is not a real amendment. This is an opportunity to continue to oppose a bill. It is their right to do so. I think it is completely misguided. I think it is wrong. I think it is dangerous to tell the public that we should not have a framework for handling a pandemic. But on that, I think another person raised a reasonably good point. I think it was Dr Cumming who suggested that we should not be on repeat in relation to this very limited motion, that it limited the ability to consider the amendments that have come back from the Assembly.

Your amendments are no different to what you have previously been doing. It is an abuse of process, and you know that, but fine. You want to use the opportunity to continue to talk about a bill. I do not appreciate it. I think that the President should look at this to make sure that we do not have this happen in the future. With that, I move:

That the question be now put.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Pursuant to standing order 12.25, the member has sought to move for the closure of debate. Standing order 12.25(2) requires that six other members must rise in their places to support the motion. I ask those members who wish to do so now to rise in their places to indicate their support.

Required number of members having risen:

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: There being at least six members who support the closure motion, I will put the question forthwith without amendment or debate.

Committee divided on Ms Symes’s motion:

Ayes, 20
Barton, Mr Melhem, Mr Tarlamis, Mr
Elasmar, Mr Patten, Ms Taylor, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Pulford, Ms Terpstra, Ms
Gepp, Mr Ratnam, Dr Tierney, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms Watt, Ms
Meddick, Mr Symes, Ms
Noes, 17
Atkinson, Mr Davis, Mr Maxwell, Ms
Bach, Dr Finn, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bath, Ms Grimley, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Bourman, Mr Hayes, Mr Quilty, Mr
Crozier, Ms Limbrick, Mr Rich-Phillips, Mr
Cumming, Dr Lovell, Ms

Motion agreed to.

Committee divided on amendment:

Ayes, 17
Atkinson, Mr Davis, Mr Maxwell, Ms
Bach, Dr Finn, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bath, Ms Grimley, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Bourman, Mr Hayes, Mr Quilty, Mr
Crozier, Ms Limbrick, Mr Rich-Phillips, Mr
Cumming, Dr Lovell, Ms
Noes, 20
Barton, Mr Melhem, Mr Tarlamis, Mr
Elasmar, Mr Patten, Ms Taylor, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Pulford, Ms Terpstra, Ms
Gepp, Mr Ratnam, Dr Tierney, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms Watt, Ms
Meddick, Mr Symes, Ms

Amendment negatived.

Mr DAVIS: I move:

2. Clause 12, page 71, after line 12 insert—

“165CRA Application of Subordinate Legislation Act 1994 to instruments made under Part 8A

(1) An instrument made under Part 8A (other than an instrument made by the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee) is a legislative instrument within the meaning of the Subordinate Legislation Act 1994.

(2) Regulations cannot be made under section 4A of the Subordinate Legislation Act 1994 exempting an instrument referred to in subsection (1) from the operation of that Act or any specified provision or provisions of that Act, but the following are not required in relation to any proposed instrument—

(a) consultation under section 12C of that Act;

(b) the preparation of a regulatory impact statement under section 12E of that Act.

(3) An instrument referred to in subsection (1) is subject to disallowance by a House of the Parliament.”.

Committee divided on amendment:

Ayes, 17
Atkinson, Mr Davis, Mr Maxwell, Ms
Bach, Dr Finn, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bath, Ms Grimley, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Bourman, Mr Hayes, Mr Quilty, Mr
Crozier, Ms Limbrick, Mr Rich-Phillips, Mr
Cumming, Dr Lovell, Ms
Noes, 20
Barton, Mr Melhem, Mr Tarlamis, Mr
Elasmar, Mr Patten, Ms Taylor, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Pulford, Ms Terpstra, Ms
Gepp, Mr Ratnam, Dr Tierney, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms Watt, Ms
Meddick, Mr Symes, Ms

Amendment negatived.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: The question is:

That clause 12, as amended by the Assembly on the suggestion of the committee of the whole Council, as amended, stand part of the bill.

Committee divided on amended clause:

Ayes, 20
Barton, Mr Melhem, Mr Tarlamis, Mr
Elasmar, Mr Patten, Ms Taylor, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Pulford, Ms Terpstra, Ms
Gepp, Mr Ratnam, Dr Tierney, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms Watt, Ms
Meddick, Mr Symes, Ms
Noes, 17
Atkinson, Mr Davis, Mr Maxwell, Ms
Bach, Dr Finn, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bath, Ms Grimley, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Bourman, Mr Hayes, Mr Quilty, Mr
Crozier, Ms Limbrick, Mr Rich-Phillips, Mr
Cumming, Dr Lovell, Ms

Amended clause agreed to.

New clauses 14A to 14E agreed to; amended clause 19 agreed to.

Reported to house with amendments made by the Assembly on the suggestion of the Council.

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (14:52): I move:

That the report be now adopted.

Motion agreed to.

Report adopted.

Third reading

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (14:52): I move:

That the bill be now read a third time.

The PRESIDENT: The question is:

That the bill be now read a third time and do pass.

House divided on question:

Ayes, 20
Barton, Mr Melhem, Mr Tarlamis, Mr
Elasmar, Mr Patten, Ms Taylor, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Pulford, Ms Terpstra, Ms
Gepp, Mr Ratnam, Dr Tierney, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms Watt, Ms
Meddick, Mr Symes, Ms
Noes, 18
Atkinson, Mr Davis, Mr Maxwell, Ms
Bach, Dr Finn, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bath, Ms Grimley, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Bourman, Mr Hayes, Mr Quilty, Mr
Crozier, Ms Limbrick, Mr Rich-Phillips, Mr
Cumming, Dr Lovell, Ms Somyurek, Mr

Question agreed to.

Read third time.

The PRESIDENT: Pursuant to standing order 14.27, the bill will be returned to the Assembly with a message informing them that the Council have agreed to the bill with amendments.

Casino and Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2021

Second reading

Debate resumed on motion of Ms SYMES:

That the bill be now read a second time.

Mr ONDARCHIE (Northern Metropolitan) (15:00): I rise to speak to the Casino and Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2021. The bill amends various casino- and gambling-related acts to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence, a very important royal commission, to strengthen the oversight and regulation of casino operators and to establish the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission (VGCCC).

This is the first of two bills to deal with the recommendations of that very important Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence. The commission was established to inquire into and report on the suitability of Crown Melbourne to hold its casino licence here. That inquiry was preceded by the New South Wales Bergin inquiry, which found in part that Crown Melbourne facilitated millions of dollars to be laundered through a bank account of its subsidiary and that Crown Melbourne allowed operators with links to organised crime to arrange for junket players to gamble at the casino. Commissioner Finkelstein, AO, QC, handed down his report on 15 October 2021, and he made 33 recommendations.

When we think of Crown Casino, many people think of the wider aspect of the Crown entertainment complex, a complex which I have visited on many occasions—I have visited with my family on many occasions—but it is suggested that over time the Labor Party have had an unhealthy relationship with elements of the Crown Casino. When we think of Crown Casino, we think of things other than poker machines and roulette wheels—I do. But I do confess to you, Acting President Gepp—I suspect you know this—that I am a bit of a gambler. I do not mind a punt on the horses. I do not mind a punt on all three forms of racing, being racing, pacing and chasing: the gallops, the thoroughbreds; the trots, as it is colloquially known; and the greyhounds initially. I do not mind a bet on each of those sorts of things. I cannot say I am remotely successful. In fact those in my family would say I am probably in the red, not the black. But nonetheless I do enjoy a bit of a punt.

But when I think of Crown I think of more than just the casino element itself. I think of the entertainment complex: to go there for the movies, to Gold Class; to go there for things like the Palladium for weddings and for very important fundraisers and for dinners and a range of things. I think of going to see music there and going to the nightclubs. In fact when the kids were younger we would take them to—it has been renamed now; it is called PlanetKids—a big entertainment area for children, which had nothing to do with the pokies or roulette wheels. There were all these what we would have called Ataris when we were kids, but much more refined than that. There is now Holey Moley golf as well, where the kids can play a form of minigolf. And there is Playtime for kids down there as well. I have friends that work there. I have a dear friend who is part of the Crown management team, and this bill today is no reflection on any of those people.

When Commissioner Finkelstein handed down his report, as I indicated to you, Acting President, he made a number of recommendations—33, in fact. The commissioner stated, and I quote:

… for many years Crown Melbourne had engaged in conduct that is, in a word, disgraceful. This is a convenient shorthand for describing conduct that was variously illegal, dishonest, unethical and exploitative.

Despite finding that Crown was unsuitable to hold the casino licence, the commissioner did stop short of recommending the licence be torn up. In his final recommendations he pointed to the risk that the cancellation of Crown’s Melbourne licence would cause considerable harm to the Victorian economy and innocent third parties. There are a lot of people employed both directly through the Crown entertainment complex and through all its ancillary businesses and the supply chain as well.

The amendment bill seeks to address nine of the royal commission’s 33 recommendations. This bill addresses four key areas: the appointment of a special manager, from recommendations 21 to 23; the strengthening of the regulatory powers, recommendations 20 and 27; increasing the obligations of the casino operator to cooperate, recommendations 19 and 18; and ensuring the state can swiftly act on the royal commission’s recommendations. It is time to get on with it. The government has given in-principle support to the remaining 24 recommendations, subject to some further analysis and consultation.

The main provisions are for a special manager to be appointed by the Governor in Council to oversee the operations of Crown for a period and to provide for the minister to use that special manager to issue instructions. The position is limited by time and limited by funding, and that funding is provided by Crown. The special manager has the rights and privileges of a director of the casino under the Corporations Act, but not the right to vote, and the power to give the casino a written direction to take a particular action or to refrain from taking a particular action. Victoria’s first IBAC Commissioner, Stephen O’Bryan, has been appointed to the role. The special manager must report every six months to the minister and the regulator on Crown’s remediation efforts, with a final report due at the end of the two-year term of Mr O’Bryan’s appointment. The regulator will make decisions about Crown’s suitability based on that report from Mr O’Bryan. The bill includes offences for non-compliance with a written direction or obstruction to the special commissioner.

As per recommendation 23 of the royal commission, the bill requires the regulator to consider each of the special manager’s reports and allows the regulator to undertake any action it sees fit. It provides for the cancellation of the casino licence held by Crown Melbourne unless the regulator exercises its discretion to find the casino operator suitable and that it is in the public interest that the licence continue within 90 days of receiving the special manager’s final report. In the absence of action from the regulator, the licence will be automatically cancelled 180 days after the regulator receives the special manager’s final report. The onus is on Crown to prove its suitability; that goes beyond the royal commission’s recommendation. When the final report is handed down it will be up to Crown to prove its bona fides. If the regulator decides that Crown has become suitable, the investigation into Crown’s suitability will be undertaken for at least three years.

The bill also provides for new powers for the regulator: new powers to make recommendations arising from its investigations; new powers for the regulator to direct Crown, as the operator of the casino, to directly appoint a suitably qualified expert and to pay the costs of that expert; and new directions powers to require the operator to answer any questions and produce documents. It also increases the existing maximum fine from $1 million to $100 million. This fine can be applied retrospectively and goes beyond the royal commission’s recommendation that the maximum fine be increased to $10 million.

The bill introduces a general duty for the casino and associates to cooperate with the regulator, places an obligation on the casino operator to notify the regulator of any significant breaches or likely significant breaches of any legislation and creates an offence if the operator provides false or misleading information to the regulator. It also creates a new offence prohibiting junkets to the casino and operators who deal with junkets. Now, we have heard about these things before. People come in from various countries or from various places around Australia. Some of them are flown in, some of them are limousined in, and the idea is that they would spend and spend often. I see my colleague Mr Erdogan nodding in agreement; I trust he is not one of those people. So there are some new rules about how Crown Casino optimises its business opportunities but does not break these new laws.

The bill makes changes to prevent the regulator from being open to a legal challenge or for taking disciplinary action by implementing those recommendations of the royal commission. This includes removing the requirement to give Crown 14 days to demonstrate why disciplinary action should not be taken, per the royal commission’s recommendation. The bill prevents the regulator from cancelling or suspending Crown’s licence on the basis of the royal commission’s findings and recommendations unless it is implementing a recommendation from the special manager to do so. I think that is a balance.

The bill repeals certain regulatory provisions of the casino management agreement that require the state to pay compensation if it takes specified actions without the consent of Crown. This unilaterally varies the casino management agreement. It ensures that no compensation is payable by the state and that there is no breach of contract by the state. The bill, however, still requires Crown to pay $250 million on 1 July 2033. The bill includes provisions to ensure that there is continuity from the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation to the new commission. However, this bill does little to provide any details on the structure of the commission. The Victorian gaming operation that is outlined by this bill—the VGCCC, as I think we are calling it now—will come into effect on 1 July next year.

I am a bit worried, in speaking to this bill, about the government’s response to the royal commission. It was only 2½ pages long, yet when this bill was introduced to Parliament a couple of weeks ago in the lower house and then in this house they had already received the report from the royal commission. The government’s claim that they only saw the royal commission’s recommendations when the report was handed down on 15 October, I think it was, is quite surprising, to be honest with you. They said they had not seen anything, they had been in no dialogue. They said, ‘Oh, we only just saw it when it turned up in the mail’. One has to suspect if that is right. Crown of course holds some concerns regarding the fines, which have increased, as I indicated, from $1 million to $100 million, and that they can be applied retrospectively.

The legislation does not require the reports produced every six months by the special manager for the minister to be published. So the special manager writes something up to the minister and—for a government that claims transparency and accountability—will not be required through this legislation to let us see them. The government says, ‘Well, we’re still sort of weighing up a decision on that at the moment. We haven’t made a decision on that’. But I have to say this bill has been in the Parliament building now for a number of weeks. It has passed the Assembly. It has been here for its first and second reading, and we are debating it today, so I would say to the government, ‘Come on, get on with this. You know what you want to do. Just come clean with us’.

The government have acknowledged, to be fair, that much of the detail around the new commission is yet to be worked out. The bill gives them a headline, in a sense; here is a starting point. In light of the royal commission’s findings that Crown breached the Casino Control Act 1991 in terms of its licence, there is some valid criticism to be made that the regulator had the powers before and did not exercise them. I think in this case, as the government looks to shuffle around the deckchairs on this, they have not really addressed the failings of the regulator.

I am concerned that we are at the point where the special manager will be writing to the minister at the set time with recommendations and findings and yet the government are yet to confirm whether they will be made available in the public domain. They have failed to indicate if they will brief us, the opposition, on what those findings are even in a closed meeting. They have failed to address their claim of transparency as a government in this matter. I think this government has been very, very slow to act. They have been very slow to respond to the long deliberations of Mr Finkelstein and the royal commission. But starting to address and deal with the royal commission’s findings is, from my perspective and that of the Liberal-Nationals coalition, an interesting step forward and a positive step forward.

In the committee stage of the bill today I will be looking to move some amendments. Those amendments are specifically around transparency, around ensuring that in the time shortly after the special manager writes to the minister with their report—after Mr O’Bryan writes to the minister with his report about what is going on with the casino operations and specifically outlines any concerns or indeed maybe some positive aspects of it all—that report to the minister will be made available and be published. I will look to do that in the committee stage of the bill.

Other than that we think it is a good thing that we have got to the point where the government are supporting the recommendations of the royal commission—the important royal commission. We look to make sure that any casino operator or gambling operator in this state cleans up its act. We have no problem with that, and we will therefore not look to oppose the bill today. In the committee stage I will look to circulate my amendments, and I will be looking to ensure that the report of the special manager to the minister and the regulator can therefore be published. The opposition will not be opposing the bill today.

Mr ERDOGAN (Southern Metropolitan) (15:16): I rise in support of the Casino and Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2021. The Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence handed down its final report on 15 October 2021, which included a wideranging set of recommendations focused on improving the sector at a systemic level. I note Mr Ondarchie in his contribution went through some of those steps and some of the recommendations that have been mentioned, but I will also discuss some of the government’s responses.

A response was tabled on 26 October by the government, which accepted the royal commission’s findings and affirmed its commitment to take whatever action is necessary to strengthen oversight of casino operators in this state. This was to ensure that Crown is held accountable for the serious misconduct uncovered by the royal commission and to ensure Victorians that such activities will not occur again. Among the 33 recommendations made by the royal commission, the government supports nine in full. This bill supports the government’s swift response to the findings and recommendations of the royal commission by delivering on these nine recommendations first. It will facilitate a stronger approach to several recommendations in the final report that seek to impose strict conditions on Crown and ensure the state is not hampered in its efforts to implement comprehensive regulatory reforms now and into the future.

In particular this bill will enshrine oversight arrangements in law through the appointment of a special manager. It will also strengthen regulatory oversight and obligations on the casino operator by establishing the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission to reduce the risk of wrongdoing from recurring. Based on the royal commission’s recommendation the bill provides for the automatic cancellation of the licence at the end of the special manager oversight period unless the new regulator determines that Crown has become clearly suitable to continue holding the licence. The cost of oversight is to be borne by Crown, and this thereby introduces an unprecedented arrangement in Australian corporate history. Finally, in recognition of the complexity of reforming the sector, this bill enables the state to act swiftly in implementing the royal commission’s recommendations and mitigates the legal risks the state inherits in this process.

This landmark legislation represents the first tranche of reforms that will institute a fairer, more transparent and well-regulated casino and gambling sector in our state. It will be followed by the second tranche of legislation that is intended to be made law within the current parliamentary term. The second set of reforms will encapsulate the government’s in-principle agreement with the other 24 recommendations made by the royal commission, upon undertaking further detailed analysis and consultation. The approach reflects the breadth and complexity of these recommendations, which are concerned with minimising gambling harm, making structural reforms to the casino operator and addressing anti-money-laundering risks. Depending on the outcome of the consideration of the remaining recommendations, a third tranche may also be necessary.

By way of background, it was in February 2021 that the Victorian government instituted a royal commission to examine whether Crown Melbourne was suitable to hold a casino licence and whether doing so was in the public interest. After a comprehensive investigation the royal commission delivered its final report to the government on 15 October 2021. The royal commission’s findings were alarming and cast significant doubt on the continuity of this prominent landmark, located in my electorate of Southern Metropolitan, which is also one of the largest employers in the region. What came to light about the gravity of Crown’s misconduct shocked many Victorians, including me. The wrongdoing was not isolated instances of misconduct. I could talk more about the past and Crown’s conduct, but I will leave that for the public to read about in the royal commission’s findings, which outlined all of this in detail. The harmful effects of the wrongdoing did cause suffering not only to the gambler but also to their family, friends and the broader Victorian community. It was in response to that that we did initiate a royal commission, which is the highest possible investigatory body.

There are many aspects of the royal commission’s findings that I would like to reflect on. The commissioner, the Honourable Ray Finkelstein, AO, QC, emphasised that it was a difficult decision that he had to come to. In spite of the despicable behaviour of Crown, the royal commission identified that the immediate cancellation of Crown’s casino licence was not necessarily in the interests of the Victorian community and there was a real risk of significant social and economic harm arising from a cancellation at this time to innocent third parties, including thousands of workers. The royal commission also indicated that Crown Melbourne has the will and capacity to reform itself to become suitable to hold a casino licence, which will be to the benefit of the Victorian public. Therefore Crown will be given one opportunity to reform itself before the automatic cancellation of its licence in two years if progress is not deemed satisfactory. This approach was recommended to ensure the least disruption to the thousands of Victorians employed by Crown, while Crown’s reform work and operations will be closely monitored by the special manager.

The role of special manager was also reflected in the discussion and contribution by Mr Ondarchie previously, but it is important to outline the roles and responsibilities of this position. The bill is the legislative backing for the appointment and the functions of a special manager for a two-year period. The special manager is a time-limited position, appointed by the Governor in Council, to specifically deliver on the royal commission’s key recommendations. They will have the power to oversee the affairs of an unsuitable casino operator until it reaches a state of suitability. During the two-year period Crown’s licence will continue to remain in place unless new information that was not identified by the royal commission emerges or further breaches occur.

It is critical to emphasise that the special manager will not be a mere monitor. Instead they will have significant rights, privileges and powers over the casino operator. This includes the ability to investigate Crown’s operations and ensure compliance with all its regulatory obligations. The special manager will also be able to make binding directions to the board to take or refrain from taking a particular action. They are empowered by the bill to employ staff and engage consultants as necessary to carry out their duties, with the cost of this being paid for by Crown Melbourne.

The bill will enable the special manager to delegate several functions, duties and powers except for the power to direct the casino board. The special manager will be the ultimate decision-maker at Crown Melbourne’s casino for two years. To assist the government and the regulator in being abreast of Crown’s remediation efforts, the special manager will provide them with formal reports every six months. The final report will make a recommendation to the regulator regarding Crown’s suitability to hold the licence. The regulator must clearly be satisfied with Crown Melbourne to avoid automatic cancellation of its licence.

To inform the regulator’s decision on Crown’s suitability, the final report will also consider several other matters, including the conduct of the casino in operations and whether there has been evidence of maladministration or illegal or improper conduct during the two-year oversight period. Subject to the passage of this legislation, Stephen O’Bryan, QC, will be appointed as the special manager. As Victoria’s first Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commissioner, I am confident that Mr O’Bryan has the right experience to oversee Crown’s reform agenda and will bring integrity and accountability to the casino’s operations.

It is important that this bill be seen as part of a package that strengthens regulatory powers. The special manager plays a critical role in promoting better behaviour by Crown Melbourne. But it is also important not to limit our reform agenda to one organisation. Instead it is essential to enshrine a regulatory framework that will maintain acute scrutiny of the casino to make sure the misconduct uncovered by the royal commission will never occur again. Concurrently with instituting the royal commission, the Victorian government commenced an independent policy review of casino regulation. On 3 August 2021, based on the findings of the review, the government announced its intention to establish a new and powerful standalone casino and gambling regulator. The bill will give the new regulator, the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission, greater powers to compel Crown to comply with its recommendations. Failure to comply will result in punishment in the form of new penalties. It is important that we mitigate a number of risks as well.

They were the reforms I wanted to discuss, but I think what we need to focus on is that in accepting the royal commission’s conclusions the government has granted Crown the option to undertake a comprehensive reform and remediation program with stringent oversight conditions. I believe this gives Crown the perfect opportunity to continue its work. But I do want to mention that Mr Ondarchie—

Mr Ondarchie interjected.

Mr ERDOGAN: Mr Ondarchie, you made an important point on your interest in these casino junkets. On these junkets that you took an interest in, you should be pleased to know that we are taking very strong steps to mitigate these in future. There are a number of changes to the Casino Control Act 1991 which create offences and prohibit the casino operator from indulging in these kinds of behaviours. These new offences also apply to a casino operator that engages with or deals in junkets. I think it is important to understand that element of these reforms.

On that note—I could go on at length—a royal commission is the highest form of public inquiry. Our government did introduce a royal commission, led by Commissioner Finkelstein, to thoroughly investigate, and a number of recommendations have been made. I commend the bill to the house.

Dr RATNAM (Northern Metropolitan) (15:27): I welcome the opportunity to speak to this bill today, but I have to say that it is a bit strange to be on my feet in this place actually agreeing with the approach the government has taken on Crown Casino. I rise to speak in support of the Casino and Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2021. The changes in this bill are perhaps the first actual consequences that Crown has ever faced for its appalling behaviour over many years, and it has taken us a really long time to even get to this point. This government and previous governments have spent years shielding Crown from the repercussions of its bad behaviour. Despite allegation after allegation of corruption and misconduct by Crown and shocking evidence of criminal activity, this government repeatedly sidestepped widespread calls to crack down on Crown. Instead, the minister and the Premier constantly excused Crown’s behaviour and reiterated their belief that the regulator was doing its job, despite all evidence to the contrary.

It took a damning inquiry across the border in New South Wales for the government to finally act. The royal commission inquiry into Crown Casino was long overdue. While the Greens welcome the findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence and support the full implementation of the recommendations, we cannot help but be dismayed that Crown has been given yet another chance, especially given the scale of wrongdoing revealed in the course of the royal commission. Commissioner Finkelstein described Crown’s behaviour as disgraceful, variously illegal, dishonest, unethical and exploitative. To quote some of Commissioner Finkelstein’s comments:

The catalogue of wrongdoing is alarming, all the more so because it was engaged in by a regulated entity whose privilege to hold a casino licence is dependent upon it being, at all times, a person of good character, honesty and integrity.

It is difficult to grade the seriousness of the misconduct. Some was so callous that it is hard to imagine it could be engaged in by such a well-known corporation whose Melbourne Casino Complex is visited by millions annually.

Looking at the laundry list of the misconduct, it is clear that the commissioner’s disgust with Crown was warranted. The money-laundering allegations that kicked off the Bergin inquiry were only the tip of the iceberg. There were repeated breaches of law by Crown and its staff, both in Australia and overseas. Crown allowed serious criminal conduct to occur within its walls and only encouraged the junkets that were backed by drug trafficking and organised crime syndicates. Crown cheated the government out of millions of casino tax for years by classifying its loyalty program promotions as winnings paid out from poker machines when calculating its gambling tax bill. It is likely that the total amount of unpaid tax, the result of a full decade of deliberate tax evasion, is much higher than the $61.5 million Crown repaid in July—not to mention years earlier pressuring the government into ditching the high roller tax. It repeatedly obscured information or provided misleading information to the regulator and other external bodies, and it took every opportunity to cancel, restrict or totally avoid having any external reviews. It believed itself untouchable, so much so that senior crown staff were able to bully the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) inspectors out of doing their jobs.

Of course Crown created a culture where gambling harm was not only facilitated but encouraged. People who gambled at Crown were three times more likely to experience gambling harm than those who gambled elsewhere. Players were left alone to gamble continuously for more than 12 hours with no intervention by staff or encouraged to keep gambling despite already being hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

In light of all this wrongdoing, Commissioner Finkelstein found that Crown was not suitable to hold a casino licence. He said, and I quote:

When these facts came to light, it was inevitable that Crown Melbourne would be found unsuitable to hold its casino licence. No other finding was open. The only difficult question was what should be done in that circumstance.

But ultimately Crown was given another chance, a two-year grace period to change its ways. I am not surprised, because Crown has very successfully managed to convince an entire state that it is simply too big to fail. It has done this by funnelling thousands and thousands into major party coffers, by providing a revolving door from ministerial and advisory roles into cushy corporate jobs and ensuring both Labor and Liberal governments do its bidding, by preying on the vulnerable and by using its growing wealth to avoid consequences for its bad behaviour.

In the minister’s second-reading speech she noted that ‘Crown will be given one, and only one, opportunity to reform itself’—a bit rich coming from a government who has given Crown second chance after second chance after second chance and years of special treatment, like having lower tax rates on its gaming revenue compared to every other gaming venue in the state or being allowed to operate special unrestricted pokies that would be illegal anywhere else.

It begs the question: after all the misconduct, all the wrongdoing and all the harm caused by Crown, what on earth will it take for Crown to actually lose its licence? And what will it take to bring the casino operator into line? Commissioner Finkelstein noted Crown has embarked on a program of reform, including overhauling its board and senior leadership team, and that the likely success of the reforms warrant giving Crown another two years to get it right, with heavy oversight and monitoring, including appointing a special manager who will effectively have control of the casino for the next two years. But actually tackling the gambling behemoth we have created in this state requires not just change within Crown’s corporate structure but also actual change led by the government, and it is good to see the government acknowledging this and beginning this work in this bill today.

One of the major changes is the creation of a new gambling and casino regulator, the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission—VGCCC. The new regulator will have stronger powers to force Crown to answer questions and provide information. It is great to see the government finally commit to overhauling the gambling regulator.

The Greens have been raising concerns about the ability of the VCGLR to properly oversee Crown’s activity and hold them to account for their wrongdoing. Way back in 2017, in one of the first things I did in this Parliament, I moved to refer the VCGLR to an inquiry, a motion that was voted down by both sides of this house. It turns out we were right. The regulator had its hands tied, unable to properly regulate Crown, keep it in check or properly fulfil its oversight and scrutiny roles. Crown’s sheer size and power meant it was practically untouchable, and the government simply looked the other way.

It is also really good to see the separation of the gambling and liquor regulators into separate bodies. We heard from whistleblowers over the course of the royal commission that the liquor side of the regulator sucked up more and more time and resources and that the gambling inspectors were severely limited in their ability to do their job.

In another welcome move, the bill increases the maximum penalties under the Casino Control Act 1991. When Crown was fined a paltry $1 million for its failure to properly manage its junkets earlier this year, the government and the regulator pointed out that the $1 million fine was the maximum available under the act. But for Crown, a billion-dollar behemoth, a million was loose change. The new penalties will hopefully provide a stronger deterrent to Crown in their own language, money—that is, if the new regulator is able and willing to actually hand them out. The $1 million maximum fine was the first time the maximum had been given to Crown, despite many other clear breaches of the law for so many years. The real test of the success of these reforms will be how often the new powers are used and whether the new regulator will actually have the courage to wield its full regulatory powers.

The government is also finally ripping up Crown’s compensation clause, where Crown was entitled to a $200 million payout if the government did anything to harm Crown’s bottom line. This outrageous provision was the legacy of the previous Liberal government and meant no government could introduce harm minimisation protections on pokie machines, reduce the number of machines or increase the casino tax rate. With the removal of the compensation clause, the government has finally started down the path towards proper gambling reform and actual harm minimisation measures.

Commissioner Finkelstein was especially critical of the way Crown exploited the many vulnerable people who visited the casino, describing the manner in which Crown Melbourne deals with the many vulnerable people who have a gambling problem as perhaps the most damning discovery by the commission, and I quote:

Crown Melbourne had for years held itself out as having a world’s best approach to problem gambling. Nothing can be further from the truth.

However, this bill stops short of introducing any actual harm minimisation provisions. We understand that the government is likely to introduce a bill in the new year which will implement the remaining recommendations, including those that address gambling harm. The Greens hope that the government takes this opportunity to actually implement world-class gambling harm minimisation measures in Victoria and, in the spirit of this bill, go above and beyond the recommendations of the royal commission—so not only the mandatory binding precommitment system, as recommended in the final report, but also dollar bets on pokies across the state; reduced spin rates on pokie machines; the removal of pokies in the casino that operate in unrestricted mode; higher tax rates on Crown’s pokies and gaming tables so that it actually pays its fair share of tax for once; and we have to get gambling money out of politics once and for all. We have seen its corrupting influence, and it must stop now.

Finally, I want to take a moment to remind the chamber of a group of people who have largely been forgotten in the story about Crown—the workers. We hear often about Crown’s key role in Victoria’s economy or that it is one of the state’s biggest single-site employers but very little about the people in those jobs. I was privileged to have the opportunity to meet with members of the Crown workers union before the report was handed down, workers who have bravely shared their stories of working for Crown and their anxieties and fears about the future. And throughout the two years of the pandemic Crown’s workforce especially suffered. Not only were they repeatedly furloughed on and off over the last two years, this year they were left in fear of paying the price for Crown’s bad behaviour, losing their jobs if Crown lost its licence, while at Crown, who is at fault, the executives were unscathed. Crown’s leadership were more interested in saving their own hides and securing their own leaving bonuses than supporting the many workers they employed. I would urge Crown’s new management to remember the many humans who they employ and to retain the current conditions and that the government develop a plan to protect workers should the casino operator change in two years. I encourage the special manager to genuinely engage with Crown’s workers, really listen to them and include those who know the place inside out in the decision-making process right from the start.

The saga of Crown Casino in Melbourne is one of the biggest corporate and political scandals this state has ever seen. It is a story of how governments privilege billionaire corporations and corporate donors over the people, letting them write their own rules. Crown is the biggest casino in the Southern Hemisphere. Its size has meant governments have been too scared to act against it and is the primary reason it has kept its licence. The test of the government’s commitment to reform will be whether it is prepared to reduce the size of Crown’s gambling operations and prioritise addressing gambling harm so that the too-big-to-fail excuse is not pulled out again in two years time. I am supporting this important bill with the hope that it is just the first step of this government reining in the devastating harm the gambling industry does to people, and I look forward to continuing to work with the government to put the Victorian community first.

Mr HAYES (Southern Metropolitan) (15:40): In poker a royal flush is a special form of the straight flush. It can only be formed in four ways, giving it a probability of one in 649 739. I hope the maths is right.

Ms Patten: That’s a fun fact.

Mr HAYES: There you go. I would take those chances, though, over the odds of the government ever bringing the hammer down on Crown Casino unless it is dragged kicking and screaming to take said action, which is what has led to this bill today. For years Crown Casino has wielded unprecedented power over our governments of whatever persuasion. By using backroom influence and questionable donations Crown has effectively bullied and lobbied our governments into turning a blind eye while it facilitates money laundering operations, underpays tax and breeds a systemic culture of crime.

In 2016 19 Crown employees were arrested in China for promoting gambling illegally. The Victorian government did not even bat an eyelash, perhaps a reflection of the standards they might deem acceptable. However, eventually the New South Wales government undertook an inquiry. Where was the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation? Who knows. It is truly an embarrassment that the New South Wales inquiry had to do the Victorian commission’s job to start with. There was even little concern from the Premier, himself a former gaming minister, who simply palmed the job off to the underpowered and largely incompetent regulator, the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation. The findings, which assessed Crown’s activities in other states like Victoria, were daunting, and quite frankly it was an indictment of the government that this was happening right under their very noses. We are talking about accusations of profiting from drug trafficking, child exploitation and prostitution.

And then, to put a cherry on the top, Fairfax and 60 Minutes ran an exposé on the casino in which they alleged Crown was working with junket operators backed by organised crime. So with little choice the Premier finally announced a royal commission—a commendable move, a welcome move but a move that took far too long. There are echoes through this chamber from members who wanted Crown investigated: Dr Ratnam many times, Ms Patten many times. I myself submitted half a dozen questions to the government to the same effect. The fact that it took so long for decisive action is mind numbing.

Let us fast-forward to Commissioner Raymond Finkelstein’s findings and recommendations, 33 of them, whereby the commissioner ultimately recommended against stripping Crown’s licence due to, and I quote, the ‘risk of significant harm to the Victorian economy and to innocent third parties’. While I understand the commissioner’s decision on those grounds, I do find it quite disturbing that Crown was saved by its sheer size and propensity for wealth creation. As the media described it, Crown has become too big to fail. It is an old joke, but it gives a new meaning to the phrase ‘ministers for the Crown’. A lesson to budding criminals: grow your enterprise to economically stimulating proportions, and you will be immune from prosecution. If we were discussing smaller-scale businesses engaged in these criminal acts, they would all be behind bars now. To quote singer Bob Dylan, probably for the first and hopefully not the last time in Parliament: ‘Steal a little and they throw you in jail; steal a lot and they make you king’.

And now moving on to today’s bill. I support the bill, but I am not overly convinced. It is a bit of a token fix for a huge and systemic issue that no government really wants to tackle. This bill will address nine of 33 recommendations by Commissioner Finkelstein—a good start, but by this logic we will have to wait for the other 2½ bills before we have finished the job. I do not really like the idea of releasing instalments for action on bills like it is some kind of Star Wars trilogy. I would much prefer the government address the problem head-on and with a degree of urgency.

I do welcome the oversight by Stephen O’Bryan, QC, a former commissioner for IBAC, who should feel quite at home combing through the shady underworld antics of Crown Casino, and I have a lot of faith that he will reveal the full extent of the picture.

As part of the bill a new swathe of powers will be handed to the regulator, however, and obligations will be put on the casino operator, all of which I support, which should go some lengths to cleaning up the gambling industry in Victoria. But we will have to see. Watch this space. This action is long overdue. For far too long Victoria’s regulator has been a toothless tiger compared to other jurisdictions. It is self-regulation gone wrong, as usual. A news report states:

Charles Livingstone, a gambling regulation expert and academic at Monash University, said the VCGLR’s periodic review had none of the powers given to investigations in NSW and WA.

And I quote again:

‘It can’t compel witnesses, it can’t investigate the system of regulation, it can’t recommend changes to the system of regulation … and it can’t recommend changes to itself’, Dr Livingstone said.

‘If the government was serious, it would appoint an inquiry with the powers of a royal commission—which is what Commissioner Bergin suggested regulators should have—and that inquiry should also look at the role of the VCGLR …

the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation. Let us see this commission split in two, which is apparently going to happen. So these changes go a decent way to empowering the commission in its work.

In summary, Crown has been a flashpoint for crime for many years, and it has taken the government a very long time to catch on. So I am dubious, but I hope to be pleasantly surprised and that the regulator and/or Mr O’Bryan will get a clear picture of what is unfolding behind closed doors at Crown. Crown say they are going to clean up their act and fix these systemic issues, but of course they would say that, wouldn’t they, when there are billions of dollars at stake. Actions speak louder than words. I very much support the bill, but I look forward to episode two and episode three of the legislation.

Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (15:47): I am pleased to rise to speak to the Casino and Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2021. As some will recall, a couple of years ago I did bring a motion of urgent public importance to this chamber in relation to Crown. Now, it may not have been successful then—in fact it absolutely was not successful then—but it was clear at the time that there was insufficient oversight of Melbourne’s casino and it was not free from criminal influence. There was no doubt about that. It was questionable whether gaming was being conducted honestly, and it was very questionable whether problem gamblers were being protected as the act required them to be. It has taken some time since then—well, it has taken a royal commission here, but I think that was certainly instigated by the inquiry in New South Wales—and it has taken effort from people in this chamber and many others outside this chamber. I would also like to make note of the federal member for Clark, Mr Andrew Wilkie, who has been quite tireless in fighting and in advocating for better regulation of gambling, not just in Victoria but around the country. So I am pleased to stand here and speak in this context.

The bill responds to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence. It strengthens the regulatory oversight of the casino by establishing the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission. The bill provides for oversight arrangements via the appointment of a special manager to oversee the casino and for the cost of the oversight to be recovered from Crown Melbourne. The bill provides for the automatic cancellation of that licence at the end of the special manager oversight period, unless the regulator determines Crown has become clearly suitable to hold the licence. I suspect there are many of us in this chamber and in this state that would possibly be surprised if Crown ever was suitable to hold that licence. However, this bill sets out a way to regulate that and a way for that decision to be made. It also strengthens the powers of the regulator and the obligations on the casino operator to reduce the risk of wrongdoing. In so doing the bill acquits the first nine of the 33 recommendations of the royal commission. It is a very good start, but still we are hopeful that we will see the rest of those recommendations acquitted through legislation very early in the new year.

When I spoke to the Alliance for Gambling Reform, they too were of the view that this legislation adequately responds to those nine of the 33 recommendations. However, like me, they are acutely aware that until the second round of legislation is put in front of the Parliament next year not a great deal will change to assist problem gambling and the harm that that causes not just those people but their families and the community at large. So in my mind, as I say again, it is crucial that the legislation due in the new year is presented swiftly and effectively, particularly in regard to things like mandatory precommitment.

In the meantime—and again I would like to thank the alliance for their advice—Minister Horne can and should overwrite the existing responsible service of gambling code of conduct to decrease the number of hours people can use a poker machine uninterrupted and do so via ministerial directions. This could be done now. This could be done in the interim while we wait for that legislation to pass the Parliament next year. Put simply, this would decrease the harm at the casino whilst the remaining legislation is under development. I think is a very simple and elegant solution that would assist us right now in reducing the harm that gambling causes many people and many families in our community.

As I have said previously in this place, this is something that has been of great interest to me for a number of years. It is why I brought on debate. It is why I released the whistleblower video testimony with Andrew Wilkie the year before last, and that was quite a unique collaboration between state and federal Independents. Certainly we are starting to see more of that, and I welcome the collaboration of Independents and small parties working across parliaments, across state jurisdictions but also working within federal and state.

The public needs to have confidence, and right now it does not. Now, I do not know, but I suspect Crown is probably speaking to any number of entities, or maybe just one entity, that may be interested in taking over that licence going forward. But when—as we keep hearing, and we keep hearing it because it is true—Crown is the largest employer in our state, we have an obligation to ensure that it is acting and operating ethically, morally and legally.

I am not sure that we can get there. I am not sure when you are talking about a monopoly on such a large business that that can ever be perfectly right. I quipped outside one day that maybe we need two licences. Maybe that is the way to bring Crown into better regulation, by having more casinos, which seems incredibly and completely counterintuitive. But I think we should be considering, when we provide a monopoly to one business, the impact that that does have and the difficulty that we have seen to date in ensuring that that business acts ethically, morally and legally.

I would also like to note that I will not be supporting the Liberal amendments to this bill. I did consider them in great detail. If I thought that they improved the regulation of the casino—if I thought that that was the intent of them—then they would have had my support. But it seems that they are still considering the special manager that this bill introduces as an administrator, and it is not. It is a manager. It is there for oversight; it is not an administrator.

A member: It’s not?

Ms PATTEN: Sorry, the special manager is an administrator, not an investigator. Pardon me. Regarding this idea that we are reporting, it is not an investigator’s report. It is not an investigation that they are doing. They are administrating. They are administrating the casino. I certainly understand that neither does the special manager, Stephen O’Bryan, QC, support the Liberals’ amendment. But anyway, give it your best shot.

Mr Ondarchie interjected.

Ms PATTEN: This is not about accountability, this is actually about—

Members interjecting.

Ms PATTEN: The Liberals’ amendment does nothing for accountability. It does nothing for better scrutiny. It flips the process. It does not enable the special manager; in fact it detracts from the special manager’s job. It detracts from the special manager’s job, which is why the special manager does not support these amendments. But it appears that those shouting to my right are ignoring the special manager’s expert opinion on this. They apparently know better, and this would not—

Mr Ondarchie interjected.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Bourman): Order! Mr Ondarchie, it has been a long week. I am not allowed to have coffee here. Can we keep it down a little bit, please.

Ms PATTEN: Acting President, I understand that the standing orders still allow you to ask others to go and have a cup of coffee. But that may not help you in your coffee deprivation.

I support this bill. It certainly goes to nine out of the 33 recommendations that were made. There is a lot more work to be done. As I have also said, I will advocate to the minister that she also considers the gambling code and amends it herself—she can overwrite that gambling code of conduct—to ensure that we start to protect problem gamblers at this gambling behemoth in the middle of our city.

Mr MELHEM (Western Metropolitan) (15:58): I also rise to speak on the Casino and Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2021. This bill is the first step in acquitting the recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence. The bill does not address every single recommendation by the commission. As I understand it, 33 recommendations were handed down by the commission. This particular bill will only address a number of those recommendations—I think it is nine recommendations—as the first step. The most urgent recommendations made by the commission are addressed as part of this bill. The remaining recommendations will be addressed as part of subsequent bills or amendments which, as I understand it, will be hopefully sometime next year.

The three key areas of the bill—the recommendations that we are implementing and giving effect to—are, one, to appoint a special manager, who will be the ultimate decision-maker at Crown, bringing unprecedented oversight, and we are also strengthening regulatory powers and imposing—

Mr Ondarchie: Not the ultimate one. That’s not what the legislation says. It doesn’t say the ultimate one.

Mr MELHEM: Well, we can debate that.

Mr Ondarchie: That’s not what it says. It doesn’t say the ultimate one.

Mr MELHEM: Well, in operational matters it could be. There is always someone who has ultimate power above another person’s ultimate power. So it is by degrees. There is always someone who has got higher power than you or me, Mr Ondarchie, absolutely, so thank you for clarifying that.

Also, we will be strengthening the regulatory powers and imposing obligations on the casino, because part of the commission’s deliberations were questions of whether Crown should be entitled to continue holding a licence. The view of the commission was no, they have actually lost that right. But because of the circumstances that currently exist, the commission did not recommend that their licence should be fully suspended. That is why we have all these recommendations for changes to the act imposing further restrictions on Crown. I suppose they have got a couple of years to make sure they can earn the right to continue to operate in the state of Victoria. I hope they get their act together and implement all the changes coming out of the royal commission to make sure that all the issues they have faced in the past—all these allegations of all these wrongdoings—become a thing of the past and they can operate in accordance with their licence and then, when the two years are up, they can retain their licence and continue operating as one of the biggest employers in the state of Victoria.

I want to pay tribute to and thank Commissioner Finkelstein for his work. I know the commission had a short period of time in which to pull this together and come up with a fantastic report. It basically picked up a lot of the problems, and that is why the government has accepted all the recommendations. I talked earlier about whether Crown should continue to hold a licence, and there has been a lot of debate about that. I am sure the commissioner has contemplated whether or not he should recommend that the licence be suspended, but the commissioner found that the immediate cancellation of Crown Melbourne’s casino licence was not in the best interests of the Victorian economy as a whole, so that is why he has opted for the changes which the bill is dealing with. As I said earlier, a future bill next year will implement the remaining 24 recommendations of the commission.

If the government had decided to terminate the licence, there was a real risk or significant risk of social and economic harm to the Victorian state as a whole and to innocent third parties—thousands of workers—from cancelling the licence, so that is something that had to be taken into account. But I think the commission formed a view that you could not ultimately trust Crown on its own to reform itself, and I think that is going to be problematic. So that is why all these changes were recommended, and the government accepted these recommendations to make sure that we do not simply leave it to Crown to reform itself, because we do not believe Crown is capable of doing that. That is why the commission recommended that Crown be permitted to continue operating the casino under extremely stringent and unprecedented oversight by a special manager, which I mentioned earlier, for two years. After the two years the special manager will provide a final report back to the regulator to inform any decisions about Crown’s suitability.

To use the commissioner’s own words, and I quote, ‘Crown Melbourne will not be in control of its own destiny’. I think it is a very important point to note in this debate that the future of Crown is no longer in their hands—it has been taken on by other people—but what remains under their control is they have got an opportunity over the next two years to implement all the necessary changes to become a model citizen, to make sure they meet all the requirements we expect of them in Victoria and to make sure that all the wrongdoings which occurred over the past 20-odd years do not occur going forward, whether it is money laundering, whether it is all sorts of things they are not supposed to be doing. So it is in their hands. But they will be closely monitored and closely supervised by the special manager and by the new regulator.

Mr Finn interjected.

Mr MELHEM: Oh, Mr Finn—maybe by the Victorian Liberal Party. I think you are pretty good at these sorts of things. You do not want to go there.

Mr Finn interjected.

Mr MELHEM: We do not want to go there. Let us leave it at that. This bill will go a long way to address these issues I have talked about. As I mentioned earlier, the final report was tabled in October. This bill will deal with the nine most urgent recommendations, and the remaining 24 we will make a response to. It will require a second tranche of legislation, which is planned for next year, to acquit any actions arising from these recommendations. The intention of this government obviously is that we get that part in within this parliamentary term.

I turn my mind to strengthening the other side of the casino, which is the new authority, the VGCCC. On 3 August this year the government announced that we will be establishing the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission to provide dedicated focus on the casino and wider gambling activities across the state. This authority will not just deal with Crown, it will also deal with other gambling facilities in the state of Victoria. The authority will be enshrined in law. It is part of this legislation, so it is legislated. It basically will continue on and will have a level of independence and resources to make sure it can carry out its functions.

The other thing worth mentioning is that the government has made its position very clear. It is accepting the recommendations and implementing the most urgent ones. It has clearly stated that it will be cancelling Crown’s licence at the end of the special manager’s term if, for example, they do not comply with or meet all the requirements. Using the Premier’s words, ‘We will not hesitate to do that’. So really the onus now is on Crown to clearly reach suitability to revoke that decision. Basically the default position is: if they do not meet all these requirements, they could lose their licence. It is in their control to make sure they meet all these requirements.

In conclusion, can I just say the commissioner has done a tremendous amount of work in that space in a short period of time to reform the industry. I know that was built on the back of the work that was done in New South Wales. We believe that the reforms recommended by the commissioner are good reforms. This bill will go a long way to implementing the most urgent and important part of that reform. It will go a long way to improve the regulations and make sure Crown is operating within the law, not outside the law, and stamp out some of the bad behaviours and some of the areas like money laundering and so forth, and further changes will occur next year.

I want to congratulate the minister and the whole of the government for giving urgency to this issue and bringing it to this house. There have been some comments about why we have taken a bit of time to get to this point and bring the bill here. We had to get it right—I think we have got it right—to implement the most urgent aspects of the royal commission’s recommendations. I hope the house will support this bill. I am looking forward to the second tranche some time next year so that we can become the benchmark in Australia and possibly in the world, to make sure we have got gambling industries operating to world’s best practice and that all these unlawful things that were occurring in recent times will be things in the past. With these words, I commend the bill to the house.

Mr QUILTY (Northern Victoria) (16:10): I will be brief. We recognise the severity of the findings from the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence, and we will not be opposing this bill. The report made clear there have been significant failings within the operations and integrity of Crown Casino. The misconduct identified included money laundering, tax evasion, staff mistreatment and a range of other elaborate acts of deception and non-compliance. I am concerned by the nature of this misconduct which has been allowed to happen. These findings came from a royal commission that this government did not want, and when it did concede it turned all the attention to Crown while trying to avoid any scrutiny for its own shortcomings. While it is true that Crown committed some dubious acts, it is also true that the regulator may have failed to do its job. So the question is: why was the regulator not doing what it was meant to be doing?

In 2016 almost 20 Crown employees were arrested in China for promoting illegal gambling, with similar activity being reported in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. While this is only one aspect, it should have been one of many red flags that something fishy was going on, yet five years later here we are still cleaning up. What is the point of a regulator and of regulation if regulated bodies can get away with illegal activity for years on end right under their nose? The fact is that Crown has been in bed with this government and previous governments, and it is a systemic issue. Former gambling ministers no doubt have questions to answer, but I guess they will not recall.

As for the bill, I have some serious concerns. Clause 8(3) adds a new disciplinary action if the operator has failed to implement a recommendation. It is not really a recommendation if they are compelled to enact them. Under section 20(1) the maximum fine would increase from $1 million to $100 million. This far exceeds the recommendation by the commissioner, who had initially recommended $10 million. Now, this enormous fine might be appropriate as a deterrent, but these penalties are retrospective. I quote:

The increased maximum fine will apply to new disciplinary action, even if the grounds for the disciplinary action have already occurred before this amendment commences …

So it is a massive increase in penalty value and retrospective powers. Governments should never increase penalties retrospectively.

I also have concerns about the extent of the investigation powers into Crown. New division 4 of part 3 of the Casino Control Act 1991 would require the establishment of a special manager to oversee the casino. This special manager is given oversight and veto powers over the board and can effectively dictate operations. In practice this means the special manager is the ultimate decision-maker in relation to the operations of the casino. Section 36L would provide that the special manager and their delegates are not personally liable for anything done in the performance of their functions and that any liability attaches to the state. However, the casino must pay all costs for the appointment and ongoing performance of their functions. So essentially the state is internally attached to Crown’s operations but is insulated from the effects of their actions.

Ultimately I think that this bill to increase the regulation of Crown misses the point. Crown captured the regulator before, and there is no reason to assume they will not do it again. The real underlying problem is that Crown is a government-supported monopoly. Creating this monopoly created a structural problem from the start, and these outcomes were more or less inevitable. The Liberal Democrats believe in a free market and fair competition, and we know that monopolies, especially when aided by the state, open the door to corruption. What we should have done is taken this opportunity to cancel Crown’s licence and then issue several new licences to create some competition, and then we would have had several smaller casinos, none of which would have been too big to fail.

I condemn the actions and corruption identified in the findings of the royal commission, and I am glad to see some accountability being enforced. However, I do have concerns over some of the recommendations, which seem intrusive on a private business regardless of its size. If the government is to be given such authority over the casino industry, then it must also be prepared to be accountable for any shortcomings which arise in the future.

The Liberal Democrats will support the bill, with reservations. I worry that government involvement in Crown Casino will end up being a case of the blind leading the blind, or possibly a case of the corrupt being managed by the corrupt.

Dr CUMMING (Western Metropolitan) (16:15): I rise today to speak on the Casino and Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2021. This obviously comes from the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence. The main purposes of this bill are to amend the Casino Control Act 1991, the Casino (Management Agreement) Act 1993, the Gambling Regulation Act 2003 and the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation Act 2011. In speaking on this bill I would firstly like to acknowledge the great work of the federal Independent member for Clark, Tasmania, Mr Andrew Wilkie, and his staff, who have been great at caring for whistleblowers. Thank goodness for the whistleblowers coming forward and being brave enough to speak publicly and to expose what has been happening in Crown Casino for a very long time.

I am not quite sure if others would realise—I will give a little history lesson here—that once upon a time here in Victoria the only gambling machines, or pokie machines, were on the New South Wales border and Victorians would get on buses and go to the border of Victoria and New South Wales; it was a great economy for our border communities. Then Ms Kirner, the then Premier, wished to help the Essendon Football Club, so as a trial they got poker machines. From that, the Kirner ALP government decided that we would have Crown Casino. Most people will remember the ribbon-cutting by Jeff Kennett at Crown Casino, as well as the wonderful Australian actress who attended naked on the night; she has gone on to do many wonderful things and is now internationally known. I remember that night. I remember watching it on TV and watching her naked, making the political point that this casino was going to take everything from people.

What I understand historically from reading John Cain’s autobiography is he was not supportive of pokie machines at all and said within his party room he felt that pokie machines would hurt the most vulnerable in our communities, that they would hit them the hardest. John Cain was right. He was right in saying at that time that people who were looking for hope were the ones that normally would buy Tattslotto tickets. They are the ones currently that go to the pokie machines in the western suburbs and use all of their unemployment benefits or their pensions, clinging to hope that somehow they are going to win some money and get themselves out of their financial misery.

When I sat on Maribyrnong City Council it was very clear to me throughout those years that within that council area $50 million a year would be taken out of that community and spent in marginal seats somewhere else. All of the western suburbs municipalities have roughly $50 million to $70 million taken out of them every year, and that money is spent by the state government elsewhere, not in the western suburbs. But what we actually saw at this particular time during the COVID pandemic when the pokie machines were actually switched off for an amount of time due to health concerns was a drop, a distinct drop. A lot of the addicted people who are addicted to pokie machines wrote to me saying that they wished that this government, once they reopened these pokie machines and those venues actually opened again, would somehow limit their times and their licences, because we have pokie machines in the west that are open 24/7. We have the greatest density of pokie machines in the poorest and most vulnerable areas. It would seem that a lot of the licences are not in eastern suburbs communities, but they are used in the western suburbs for the most vulnerable and for people who are clinging to some kind of financial hope. But when we reopened, no, they went back to normal. And sadly, due to a lot of people losing their businesses, as well as the mental fatigue and problems that they have had through these lockdowns, they have gone straight back to the pokie machines hoping that somehow they will win some money to get themselves out of their financial problems.

We know the pokie machines are designed in a way to suck you in. They are designed in a way not for you to win but for the venue to win. Anyone can give lip service to how a small amount of that money is actually used in community groups, but the vast majority of it goes into consolidated revenue and is used by the government of the day and especially around marginal seats. For me, and talking to this actual bill, it is pretty clear that when it comes to the royal commission there are 33 recommendations and this only touches on nine. So it is only a third of what should be done. The royal commission found that Crown Casino played a huge role in many Australian and international crimes, and yet Crown Casino was still allowed to keep its licence, at least temporarily. Crown is now effectively on a two-year good behaviour bond, and I for one do not believe Crown will get through these two years without a scandal. Now, mark my words, there will be more scandals, more crimes, more whistleblowers coming forward and more evidence. That will actually be exposed, and that will be for the good of this community.

I am pleased that the government has brought this forward before Christmas and has touched on nine of the 33 recommendations. I would like to end by wholeheartedly acknowledging the Independent member for Clark in Tasmania, Mr Andrew Wilkie, and his staff, and I might make a mention of one staff member, Mr Rohan Wenn. I know, as we all would know from our own staff that we have here, that they work above and beyond for their elected members. Sometimes when you have a passion project, I might say, when you realise something is so wrong and you can see it, staff members just put in the long hours and make sure that everything can actually be done to make sure that that problem is exposed.

For me, I believe that the regulator is responsible for the many crimes at Crown. The regulator failed to do its job, and Crown took advantage of this. I believe that the regulator was set up to be weak by this government or other governments at the time and to be an enabler of Crown and its crimes. As Four Corners and 60 Minutes made clear, using the extraordinary vision leaked to Andrew Wilkie by the whistleblowers, the crimes were there for everyone to see. The regulator literally filmed a cooler bag of cash being laundered. The crimes were there. Where was the regulator at that time? The blame for Crown stops at Spring Street, and I would hope that this government continues on and does the work to take up all 33 recommendations that are there. It is great that you have done your nine, but we need to make sure that Crown cannot continue on this path.

Sadly, it looks like they are going to have a good behaviour bond for the next two years. Sadly, in my time in the next 12 months I will be witnessing this, but I guess if others here are re-elected they will have to deal with the next government in the 60th Parliament, because this is the 59th, and deal with the legacy of Crown again.

Mr LEANE (Eastern Metropolitan—Minister for Local Government, Minister for Suburban Development, Minister for Veterans) (16:27): Can I thank everyone who has contributed to this debate and thank everyone who has indicated they are happy to support this bill, with of course Mr Ondarchie’s potential amendment. Can I acknowledge Ms Patten, Mr Hayes and Dr Ratnam for their concerns around harm minimisation. We are committed to fulfilling those recommendations. It is just a matter of getting them right and doing them right. I thank particularly Dr Ratnam. She said she had actually met with a number of workers at the casino. She was absolutely right that through no fault of their own they are potentially concerned about their ongoing employment. That is one of the reasons for the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence recommendation of putting Crown on notice for two years to get their act together, because immediately removing the licence would have meant those thousands of people would be out of a job.

Mr Ondarchie mentioned that he has enjoyed going to the complex to see different things—entertainment for the kids and other things. He mentioned music. I have got to say I have been to a few concerts there, and it is actually a really good venue. I thank him for his contribution as well.

I know Mr Ondarchie flagged an amendment around the special manager tabling in Parliament reports. The concern around that, Mr Ondarchie, is the special manager’s reports will include commercially sensitive information, information that is subject to legal privilege. Releasing the reports prematurely may hamstring the special manager in holding the casino operator to account. That is our concern about Mr Ondarchie’s and the opposition’s amendment. Can I put on the record in my speech now that we really want to be clear that we are not opposed to the publication but we are concerned about doing it in this way, for the reasons I mentioned before. This amendment was not recommended by the royal commission, so that is another reason why we believe that this amendment should not be accepted by the house and put in place. We understand very much it is important to ensure that there is transparency and public support in the process of holding the casino operator to account. For that reason we will publish the final report provided to the regulator along with the six-monthly reports after the term of the special manager and any decision of the regulator subject to special interest requirements of the Gambling Regulation Act 2003. This will occur within six months of any decision of the regulator about Crown’s suitability to hold a licence.

We will also release summary activity reports throughout the special manager’s term, but the only thing that will not be contained in there will be the commercially sensitive and legally privileged information. These will contain information on such matters referred to the regulator on any disciplinary action, the focus of the special manager’s activities and costs incurred. We believe this strikes the right balance between the regulator acting decisively without interference by the casino and ensuring transparency in the process. The summary activities report will provide adequate disclosure before it becomes appropriate to publish the special manager’s report after his term. We know transparency is important, and I understand that this is where Mr Ondarchie is coming from, but we need to manage the sensitive information properly because the stakes are quite high.

Motion agreed to.

Read second time.

Committed.

Committee

Clause 1 (16:32)

Dr CUMMING: In clause 1 I just want to make a statement to say that obviously this is just three of the recommendations out of the 33. It would seem that Crown Casino now is on a two-year good behaviour bond. Is there a reason why the government has done this rather than going harder at this particular time?

Mr LEANE: I am happy to answer that, and thanks for the question, Dr Cumming. It was not recommended. We are actually going over and above in these recommendations, going harder in terms of what the recommendations from the royal commissioner stated. The royal commissioner did state that the reason not to cancel the casino’s licence immediately—exactly what I actually said in my summary speech directed towards Mr Ondarchie—was that thousands of workers rely on employment at the casino, and he felt that it would penalise them through no fault of their own for Crown acting in a very inappropriate way.

Mr ONDARCHIE: I thank the minister for both the second-reading speech and his summing up of the bill today. It is wonderful what we can do when we work together on things. I have some amendments I would like to circulate now please, and I choose to speak to those after they have been circulated.

Minister, through the Chair, these amendments I put before you today. I recognise in your summing up you talked about the commercial sensitivity of some of the matters in the special manager’s report to the minister and how we need to protect the prudentials of the casino through that process. I accept that as a point of view. Nonetheless I do think in the areas of transparency that we will be looking through the amendments I will move shortly in my name for a way for the Parliament to be cognisant of what is going on in the casino operator’s activities. So my amendment, which I will move shortly and I will not choose to speak to again with your forbearance, Minister, is that the report be presented at the house of Parliament within seven days of the minister receiving a report and then if the house is not sitting, on the very next sitting day after that time. So when it gets to clause 3, I will move those amendments standing in my name.

Dr CUMMING: I have just one more through the Deputy President to the minister. My question is: what is the government doing to actually help facilitate the whistleblowers during these next two years to make sure that they can continue to come forward if there are issues with Crown from now on while they have got their temporary licence?

Mr LEANE: It is not actually prescribed that this is an actual task for the special manager, and I think the special manager will be able to determine where he would like to advise the government on any poor behaviour from the casino—from Crown. Where staff members are getting treated in a poor fashion our expectation is that we will hear about that. We have got a person on the ground, and we will also rely on the acts that protect whistleblowers currently to protect them.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I inform members that we need to interrupt business as we have received a message from the Assembly. The time has arrived for the house to meet with the Assembly in the Assembly chamber to choose a person to hold a place in the Senate rendered vacant by the resignation of Senator the Honourable Scott Ryan and to choose a person to hold the seat in the Legislative Council rendered vacant by the resignation of the Honourable Edward O’Donohue.

Business interrupted pursuant to order of Council earlier this day.

Joint sitting of Parliament

Senate vacancy

Legislative Council vacancy

The PRESIDENT (16:39): I have a message from the Assembly:

The Legislative Assembly informs the Legislative Council that the Assembly has agreed to the Council’s proposal for a joint sitting on Thursday 2 December 2021 at 4.45 pm in the Legislative Assembly Chamber for the purpose of sitting and voting together to:

(1) choose a person to hold the place in the Senate rendered vacant by the resignation of Senator the Honourable Scott Ryan; and

(2) choose a person to hold the seat in the Council rendered vacant by the resignation of the Honourable Edward O’Donohue.

Sitting suspended 4.40 pm until 4.55 pm.

Bills

Casino and Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2021

Committee

Resumed.

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 (16:56)

Mr ONDARCHIE: I move:

1. Clause 3, page 4, lines 13 to 15, omit paragraph (b).

This amendment has consequential effect for the other amendments that I have this afternoon.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: You are right. It is a test for your remaining amendments.

Mr LEANE: I really appreciate that Mr Ondarchie was present when I gave my second-reading summary and did direct my comments towards his position. I respect his position, but the government is not going to support Mr Ondarchie’s amendments for the reasons that I put on record in the second reading.

Dr CUMMING: I guess this question could be taken by the government. When will the government implement a time frame? Are they proposing to actually have a time frame?

Mr Ondarchie: He said that in the summary.

Dr CUMMING: Did you?

Mr Ondarchie: He is nodding. There are commercial aspects to this that preclude them from—

Dr CUMMING: Just to take it off the floor, so what I understand—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Just so we get the committee straight, we cannot have conversations across the counter answering questions. Mr Ondarchie, if you can allow Dr Cumming to ask a question and the minister can answer it, we can then get it on record in Hansard.

Dr CUMMING: I have a question to the minister. Is there a time frame for the implementation? And I do understand that the minister has brought this up in his second-reading summing up, but if he could answer my question, that would be great at this time.

Mr LEANE: Dr Cumming, I hope I am on the right track in speaking on this amendment about reporting by the special manager and then an ultimate report from the special manager, which will go towards whether Crown should keep their licence or not in a period of time. The special manager will give periodic reports while he is in this position, and then when the decision is made whether the casino should keep their licence or not, that report will be made public.

Also, as I stated to Mr Ondarchie, there are some things as far as privilege and commercial in confidence go that will not be in those interim reports because we are concerned that might affect the special manager’s job as he is doing it. We can go back and see what else can be released once his job is finished.

Dr CUMMING: I appreciate the minister’s answer. Is there a loose time frame at all? Is this going to occur in the next six months, 12 months, or is it indefinite? I am just wanting to have a rough idea of, if there is a time frame, what is the government’s rough time frame for all of this to occur.

Mr LEANE: I suppose, working backwards, that the casino has been put on notice for two years. The special manager will be in place. On the time frames around his reporting, as I said, periodically he will report to the public, and then the decision being made from the recommendations by the special manager and others around whether Crown Casino are actually in any position whatsoever to keep their licence will be done with a six-month period ahead—so if they do lose their licence, it gives time for a new licensee to come in and to maintain those jobs.

Dr CUMMING: I appreciate your patience, Deputy President, as well as the minister’s. Thank you, because I just needed to construct what that time frame was. That makes a lot of sense. The government has said the reason it has given the two-year temporary licence is that obviously it did not want those employees to be disrupted. It makes sense to me that you are giving some time for this report, not knowing how long that report may take to formulate. Is that what it is? I am just trying to construct the time frame, just to have it on the record rather than it feeling very loose, because I think there is misinformation out there. I just would love to know the government’s time frame.

Mr LEANE: Look, the two-year time frame is in concrete and the time frame around the periodic reports from the special manager. But getting back to the decision around whether the casino keeps its licence, or this licence-holder keeps its licence, the approach will be that we will give it six months notice, and we are hoping to do this within the time frame that the casino is on notice for, two years—within that period.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Just on the minister’s response, I think the minister means that, should the bill pass, those dates and requirements will be in concrete.

Mr LEANE: Yes.

Dr CUMMING: I just want to understand the periodic reporting—if it is meant to be reported every month, if it is meant to be reported every three months. I just want to have a bit of an understanding of the construct of this time frame that the government has so that, I guess, if anyone in the broader community is listening, they will understand what the intent is here today.

Mr LEANE: Thank you, Dr Cumming, for clarifying. Sorry, I was going on the wrong angle as well. The periodic reports will be every six months.

Committee divided on amendment:

Ayes, 13
Atkinson, Mr Davis, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bach, Dr Finn, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Bath, Ms Limbrick, Mr Quilty, Mr
Crozier, Ms Lovell, Ms Rich-Phillips, Mr
Cumming, Dr
Noes, 23
Barton, Mr Maxwell, Ms Symes, Ms
Bourman, Mr Meddick, Mr Tarlamis, Mr
Elasmar, Mr Melhem, Mr Taylor, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Patten, Ms Terpstra, Ms
Gepp, Mr Pulford, Ms Tierney, Ms
Grimley, Mr Ratnam, Dr Vaghela, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms Watt, Ms
Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms

Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to; clauses 4 to 42 agreed to.

Reported to house without amendment.

Mr LEANE (Eastern Metropolitan—Minister for Local Government, Minister for Suburban Development, Minister for Veterans) (17:11): I move:

That the report be now adopted.

Motion agreed to.

Report adopted.

Third reading

Mr LEANE (Eastern Metropolitan—Minister for Local Government, Minister for Suburban Development, Minister for Veterans) (17:11): I move:

That the bill be now read a third time.

And in doing so can I thank all those who made contributions to the second reading and, for their contributions in the committee stage, Mr Ondarchie and Dr Cumming.

The PRESIDENT: In order for me to determine whether an absolute majority can be obtained, I ask those members who are in favour of the question to stand where they are.

Required number of members having risen:

Motion agreed to by absolute majority.

Read third time.

The PRESIDENT: Pursuant to standing order 14.27, the bill will be returned to the Assembly with a message informing them that the Council have agreed to the bill without amendment.

Circular Economy (Waste Reduction and Recycling) Bill 2021

Second reading

Debate resumed on motion of Ms SYMES:

That the bill be now read a second time.

Mr ONDARCHIE (Northern Metropolitan) (17:13): I am still struggling to understand whether we are not having a Wednesday, we are on Wednesday now or we are on Thursday at the moment. It is quite hard to work out. I rise to speak on the Circular Economy (Waste Reduction and Recycling) Bill 2021. This will be a new act which sets up Recycling Victoria, which includes a provision for the head and outlines the objectives and reporting mechanisms. It includes a framework for the container deposit scheme and the waste recycling services, which is known as the fourth rubbish bin.

Labor’s waste and recycling services failed during 2019 following China’s National Sword policy announcement and the collapse of SKM Recycling. Their recycling system did not withstand the changes in the global recycling market and impact on local recycling service delivery. Thirty-three councils in Victoria were left without kerbside recycling services, resulting in mass landfill. This resulted in landfill fires, including the one at Kealba—I know Mr Finn is very familiar with that fire at the Kealba landfill. They need to find a new system. The development of Victoria’s circular economy aims to produce systems for effective waste and recycling and is this government’s attempt to combat the previous failed system. In February 2020 Labor announced their intention to introduce a container deposit scheme and a four-bin kerbside system by 2023. The bill focuses on the circular economy, which aims to maximise and continue the use of products and waste material over their life cycle. Recycling Victoria, or RV as I will refer to it during this contribution, will sit as a business unit within the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) in the same way as Solar Victoria, or as Consumer Affairs Victoria does in the Department of Justice and Community Safety. RV will see the replacement of the waste and resource recovery groups. It is expected that all staff from those groups will be offered continuing employment in Recycling Victoria.

The bill includes provision for a head of Recycling Victoria in part 2. It establishes the position and outlines its powers and functions. Reporting to the secretary, the head regulates, oversees and provides strategic leadership for the waste and recycling sector. The head can initiate, or indeed be directed by the minister, to conduct an inquiry into current, new or emerging issues.

Part 3 of the bill talks about data collection. It is designed to identify risks and opportunities in the market and to inform responses through reporting obligations, exemptions from reporting requirements, information reporting and sharing, such as through the Environment Protection Authority, police or Sustainability Victoria, and there are limits on what can be shared and how it can be shared.

There is an area in part 4 of the bill relating to procurement. Agreements will be reached, I am told, by the head of Recycling Victoria, should the position be established, with councils and the alpine resorts management boards. It can provide assistance with training and support to local governments through the procurement methods.

Part 5 talks about the fourth bin. It talks about the power in this part to make and review service standards, but it is missing a fair bit of detail. If this bill should pass, the government are looking to undertake a regulatory impact statement and some further consultation to develop the detail around this fourth bin concept.

The container deposit scheme features in part 6 of the bill, and it is short on detail, sadly. It does nominate a scheme coordinator, who will be hired or perhaps even fired by the minister. Both the minister and the head of Recycling Victoria can give directions. This CDS can manage the administrative and financial elements of this scheme.

It does define the network operator or operators who are contracted. It allows for one or more operators. It manages with those network operators the collection infrastructure, and the network operators are paid on a per-container-collected basis.

Now, I do recall as a kid that as part of—this will not surprise too many people—the Church of England Boys Society (CEBS), which is a bit like the scouts and was run by the Church of England, we used to do Cash a Can down at the local shopping centre with one of the leader’s trailers. We would stand there and collect cans—people would bring their cans and we would throw them in the trailer or go down to the recycling place—and we got a few bucks for them.

Mr Finn: They were empty?

Mr ONDARCHIE: Well, they were empty, Mr Finn. Our leader would take them down to the recycling place in exchange for some money, which would go towards buying equipment for the Church of England Boys Society. It was terrific. We bought things like rowing boats and rafts and camping gear and basketball equipment—a lot of great things. The then container deposit scheme or Cash a Can, as it was called back then, did some great things and not just for the CEBS but for a whole range of community benefits. I think Apex at some point ran a Cash a Can too. I was a member of Apex, and I think they ran it as well.

I think part of this container deposit scheme that is being put to us also talks about the requirements for first suppliers, such as beverage companies, for sale and consumption. They will be required to register the eligible containers, so Asahi, for example, would need to register. I suppose Coca-Cola Amatil would be required to do that as well. Indeed the retailers might need to register beverage containers as well. It allows for a refund of a set amount in Victoria. This refund is only available in Victoria, which does cause a bit of concern for those cross-border communities. They have had a tough time during the pandemic, those cross-border communities. Several of them were locked down when there were no cases at all in those communities. It is very unclear—I will be looking for the minister to help me with this—how we manage those cross-border communities in terms of the refunds for community groups, network operators et cetera. The eligible containers in the bill, not surprisingly—or it might come as a surprise to you, President—for the container deposit scheme are those that contain beverages, as remarkable as that is. The structure of the scheme does in some way resemble that of New South Wales, which is the scheme that most of the operators are the most critical of. However, the government of the day in Victoria maintain that community groups, charities and sports clubs will be able to benefit from the scheme. Well, we will see.

Part 7 talks about enforcement—the creation of offences and other mechanisms to enforce compliance by councils and waste and recycling sector entities with their legislative obligations. It includes show cause notices, improvement and prohibition notices, court orders and penalties, powers of entry and inspection warrants.

The Liberal-Nationals coalition, through the Shadow Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Cindy McLeish, has done a great deal of consultation. I am not sure how much consultation the government has done in preparation for this bill, but we have done a great deal: with the Municipal Association of Victoria, with council mayors and CEOs, with the alpine resort CEOs and chairs, with the Australian Industry Group, with the Australian Beverages Council, with Coca-Cola Amatil, with the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia, with Boomerang Alliance, with the Victorian Local Governance Association, with council executive managers, with the Victorian Transport Association, with the Australian Council of Recycling, with the Australian Organics Recycling Association, with Lion and with the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group as well. There were some concerns. There were some concerns with this bill which have been relayed to us.

The majority of councils support a circular economy and CDS, but have some concerns. They include that CDS provisions allocated to regulations will preference large multinational waste companies and not allow the inclusion of local family-owned small businesses. Now, we know through the operations of this government through the pandemic that they just hate small business. They have ruined small business. You know, you just have to go down Bourke Street, which Mr Finn tells me many of our colleagues on the government side are not keen to do, or go down Bridge Road or go down Swan Street or go down Victoria Street—and if I can use this in the sense of a pun with this bill—and they are littered with ‘For lease’ signs. Now, some of the data suggests to us that one in eight of those small businesses will never reopen. Indeed I know that for some of those small businesses the operators have actually lost their houses through their businesses. And where are they living right now? In the second-floor spaces of their businesses—all of the family are lying on the floor in the second-floor spaces of their restaurants because they have not got a house anymore. So I am concerned about what this bill is going to do for small business.

Councils have also indicated that there is going to be lots of pressure to report more and this will increase the workload of councils. The government are really handing responsibility to councils and saying, ‘You take care of it’. The bill locks councils all into the same approach, the kerbside transition, which essentially does not work right across Victoria, particularly in regional areas. I suspect my colleagues Ms Bath and Mrs McArthur will talk about the regional impact of this bill in their contributions today. The glass bin allocation falls significantly short of the costs to council to manage and transition to the kerbside service. Councils are currently supported and represented through the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group, which is going to be dissolved. It has been operating for a long time, and they are going to get rid of it through the introduction of this bill.

I have personally had approaches from many councils. But let me refer to one of my own, if I can, in my electorate of Northern Metropolitan Region, the City of Whittlesea. Indeed the chief executive officer, Craig Lloyd, has written to me about the Circular Economy (Waste Reduction and Recycling) Bill 2021, and Mr Lloyd has outlined for me a number of concerns with this bill, which I would like to share with the house. The major concerns for the City of Whittlesea include, he said:

Local Government has had limited … involvement in the creation of this Bill.

There has been very little consultation, as I have outlined already.

This is despite the significant implications of this proposed new act on—

council—

… service delivery.

The proposed governance structure decreases the role and scope of Local Government …

and will reduce independence. The current Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group:

… which include significant local government representation in favour for local governments role being delegated to one representative on an ‘advisory committee’, has left the local government sector with significant concerns that the implementation of the new Act is likely to be based on ideals rather operational reality for service delivery.

That is a very good point Mr Lloyd made. He went on to say:

The mandating of a one size fits all structure does not allow Councils to tailor services to reflect the waste needs and affordability of their communities …

a legitimate concern. Mr Lloyd continued:

There is an assumption the materials recycling and reprocessing markets will develop through private sector investment outside of a thorough sector development strategy.

He went on to say:

… Recycling Victoria is set up to become a regulator rather than the enabling structure of the current Waste Resource and Recovery groups.

Mr Lloyd from Whittlesea Council went on to say:

The focus of the act seems weighted towards Council collection, rather than more significant waste streams that arise from construction, demolition, commercial and industrial waste streams.

And Mr Lloyd said there are:

Assurances that Recycling Victoria will use the data Councils provide to inform government decision-making.

Now, as an aside, that could never happen, could it? The collection of data by this government could not ever be used for ulterior motives, I say sarcastically. Mr Lloyd said:

The collection of data should … be focused more broadly from councils to all waste generating activities.

Mr Lloyd from the City of Whittlesea went on to tell me that there are some missed opportunities that should be covered in this bill. These include:

Resolving the financial structures of the waste and recycling industry—including the embedding of a—

built-in—

polluter pays principle into all goods and products.

Currently there is little incentive for residents to reduce their waste in what they pay for collection services. He went on to say that the opportunity is missed to place:

… more responsibility on product creation to avoid non-recyclable material generation.

Mr Lloyd made a very important point to me on a missed opportunity that is about:

Tracking all supply chain resource streams that are likely to end up as waste. This would assist—

all of us, I guess—

in gaining a better understanding of material flows from first sale to ultimate secondary use products.

And he said to me, quite rightly, that:

Methods to track recycling throughput to final secondary products …

is a missed opportunity. He said that the role of local democracy in decision making in the creation of waste collection services has not been a factor in creating this act and that the role of waste to energy in Victoria’s waste system is a missed opportunity.

Now, the coalition have a very clear policy on waste to energy about reducing kerbside collection and using that to generate energy in this state. It is a policy we have had for a long time, and the government are playing catch-up on this. So we think this bill could have done a little bit more than simply creating Recycling Victoria. Mr Lloyd summed up in his correspondence to me by saying:

It is critical that local government has clear and direct influence with Recycling Victoria. While Council should be open to being regulated for failure to meet best practice, there needs to be certainty that this service standard is fair, reasonable and able to be delivered.

We know in this place that this government has a long track record for mismanaging projects and mismanaging money and will shift responsibility to local government. And who ultimately will pay for that? The ratepayers. It is a pretty simple equation: if you follow the money, any stuff-up with this government ends up in the Victorian taxpayers’ bills. Now, I am told it is raining outside, and it is probably that cold outside that Tim Pallas has got his hands in his own pockets. This government will always hit up Victorians for more money rather than managing projects and managing costs.

Among other approaches we have had is that of the Australian Beverages Council. They want to see that a number of shortfalls in this bill are going to be rectified to ensure a better scheme for Victorians. The Australian Beverages Council—I have had a letter from Geoff Parker, the chief executive officer, and Cathy Cook, the head of corporate affairs—think the scheme could be improved to:

Ensure a multiple network operator model to foster more competition, better service regional areas—

of Victoria—

and allow smaller businesses and charities to make and keep revenue in the state.

The Australian Beverages Council think there should be six different network operators around the state. It will ensure some competition, but it will also ensure small business and community group involvement. Locking the state into three or even one will lead to a monopoly in this state—that is currently seen in New South Wales. Locking in six different network operators stops that multiple clip of the ticket as it goes through. So this is a chance to open competition and create better outcomes for Victorians.

The Australian Beverages Council go on to tell me that we should delink the transport and processing from collection and that will solve the problems large waste companies have with servicing regional Victoria and open up more opportunities for regional businesses across Victoria. And goodness me, don’t we need that more than ever right now—to support regional businesses in this state. Look, it is possible that one or two transport companies could effectively cover the whole of the state, including collecting recycling containers from collection points in small regional towns. That is what happens in Queensland at the moment but not in New South Wales.

The Australian Beverages Council also goes on to tell me that structuring the scheme coordinator as not-for-profit ensures the revenues stay in the scheme and will improve it. That is not a bad idea, making sure that the scheme if it operates effectively can reinvest itself in continuous improvement and efficiency. There is an issue, as the Australian Beverages Council has pointed out to me:

Mandating that bulk return point operators are not contractually obliged to rent or buy the network operators’ own equipment in third line forcing arrangements as is currently the practice in NSW.

Creating an equivalent monopoly could disadvantage this whole process. So I thank the Australian Beverages Council for their feedback to me.

We talked to VicRecycle as part of our consultation. They support a CDS, as I think we all do, but they think there should be some amendments to this bill before it is passed. They are worried about the exclusion of CDS objectives. They are worried about the framework around the scheme coordinator, and they worry that there is not enough opportunity for involvement of the community sector.

Boomerang Alliance thinks that this is a step in the right direction but there needs to be more clarity around the roles and responsibilities of Recycling Victoria and what the further plans are beyond this point. Simply starting something is not the endgame here. It should be working from the outcomes backwards here, and starting Recycling Victoria, whilst it is a first step, is just starting some other agency that does not actually at this point lead to appropriate outcomes.

Alpine Resorts think there is a lot more work to be done on this bill. They think it is okay. They support a CDS, but they are worried about funding. They are worried about engagement. They are worried about the fact that regional groups could be collapsed if this bill is passed, and that, whilst conceptually it is not a bad idea, it may affect some of the regional goals. So there needs to be more consultation, particularly with our regions about how this is going to affect them. I think there will be more feedback come to us as we continue.

I have some amendments that I will look to circulate in the committee stage of this bill. I think there is some opportunity for us to get this right. I think some local governments will adopt this well. There are some local governments that I think are going to struggle to deal with it. There are some local governments that struggle to deal with anything, to be perfectly honest with you, and I think at this time—

Mr Finn interjected.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Well, Mr Finn interjects with Wyndham. That is certainly one that has a bit of a struggle. But I am going to go to one in my own electorate if I may, and that is Yarra council. Yarra council are struggling to organise themselves. They are struggling to organise a mayor and struggling to deal with councillors who are, quite frankly, abusing people on Chapel Street—yes, and not dealing with that appropriately. But let us come back to the bill at hand before the President directs me to do so—

Mr Finn: Any political party involved?

Mr ONDARCHIE: Well, thanks, for that interjection, Mr Finn. I do not normally react to interjections, but he asked me if there was any political party involved. The Greens Yarra council has refused to listen to residents’ pleas to have their recycling rubbish collected weekly. Let us get that right—the Greens-led council in the City of Yarra. Their residents, 52 per cent of whom are renters, want to get their recycling collected weekly because they actively, conscientiously are focused on recycling and making sure their rubbish is separated into recyclables and landfill. They said, ‘We’re filling up our bins because we’re doing such a good job’, and the Greens Yarra council are saying no.

Mr Finn: So the Yarra Greens are against recycling.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Well, it does seem, Mr Finn, to pick up your interjection, to be hypocrisy that the Greens, who are all things clean, are saying ‘Well actually, no, we’re not going to pick up your recycling every week’.

A push to reverse a move to fortnightly recycling collection was dismissed at a meeting with Yarra council, with at one stage the waste management boss, Joe Agostino, telling residents, ‘You’ll have to have a new relationship with your bin’—for goodness sake. I do not know what that means. It conjures up all sorts of things. Ratepayers right now are struggling with the overflowing recycling bins, because they have got a strong focus on that, and they are being told to drive it to Burnley depot: ‘Take it there yourself’. Now, it lacks appreciation of the sort of people that live in the City of Yarra. As I say, many of them are renters, many of them do not have cars, many of them use public transport or cycle a great deal—and we know there are more increased cycling lanes in the City of Yarra. So the city is saying, ‘Yes, we know you’ve got extra recycling. Drive it down to the Burnley depot’. What? On the back of their Malvern Star? For goodness sake, how are they going to do this?

This is a council that is all talk and little delivery. I will be interested to see how the Greens member today in the chamber responds to frustrations with Yarra council over supporting those who are actively involved in recycling. Yarra council said at one stage, ‘If your bin’s overflowing, get to know your neighbour better and put it in their bin’.

Mr Finn: What if theirs is overflowing?

Mr ONDARCHIE: Well, they can go to the next one, apparently, Mr Finn. So you know what is happening? It is frustrating for residents. I know it is frustrating for residents in Richmond, because I talk to them a lot. I have done surveys in Richmond, if people are not sure about that. So you know what is happening? When the recycling bin gets full and they cannot put it in the neighbour’s one because it is full and they cannot put it on the back of the penny-farthing and take it down to the Burnley depot, do you know what they are doing, sadly? They are putting it in the waste bin, in the landfill bin. So much for Yarra council and its commitment to green.

Port Phillip council are under some fire for shaming residents over recycling. They are saying, ‘If you don’t get your recycling act right and put things in the right bin, we’re going to stop collecting the bin’. They are going to stop collecting it. It is loonyville out there. But I am most annoyed at what is happening in Yarra. Over 2300 residents presented a petition to council about picking up the recycling bin every week. This is to the Greens Yarra council; the Greens Yarra council were presented with a petition that said, ‘Could you pick up our recycling bin every week, because we’re doing a really good job on separating our landfill from our vegetable material, from our recycling? Could you pick our bins up every week?’. Over 2300 people signed this petition to Yarra council and said, ‘Could you do it?’, and it was rejected seven to two by the councillors.

Mr Finn: What was the rationale behind it?

Mr ONDARCHIE: Well, to pick up your interjection, ‘What’s the rationale?’—because they are all talk and little delivery. That is the problem. They are even all talk and little pick up, by the way, as it would seem.

The discontent in the community is massive about this. Whilst this bill will look to do something through the creation of Recycling Victoria, my deep concern is some of these renegade councils like Yarra will just thumb their nose at this scheme and go, ‘We’re going to do it our own way’. I commend the people who live in the City of Yarra, and I have met many of them who are doing a really good job in separating those things for bins. I was out in North Fitzroy just the other day—Monday—talking to some people. There was a lady there picking up stuff in Edinburgh Gardens, picking up recyclable bottles and things like that to put in her recycling bin. I did not have the heart to tell her, ‘If you fill your recycle bin, Yarra council can’t be stuffed coming to pick it up’. So I commend those people.

The former Greens mayor—I do not know who the Greens mayor is this week; I think they spin the wheel and decide who the mayor is down there given they cannot decide—said that the new cardboard recycling thing down in Burnley is a great opportunity for residents to take their recycling down. So they come out of their apartments with their recycling and have to walk it all the way to the Burnley depot because they do not own cars, they do not get access all the time to one of those car-share programs—

Mr Finn: They could take it on the tram.

Mr ONDARCHIE: They might be able to take it on the 48 tram running down Bridge Road. But that is a ridiculous suggestion by the council: ‘Pick it up and take it there yourself because we’re not coming around to pick it up’. You know what I think councils should focus on? Rates, roads and rubbish. Quite frankly, Yarra council is starting to frustrate lots and lots of people. What they did say at one stage: ‘Oh, I’ll tell you what we’ll do, because we can’t pick it up every two weeks, we’ll just give you a bigger bin’. Where are they going to put these bins? Where are they going to put them? They live in apartments. Do they put them in front of the foldaway laundry? It is just ridiculous. Someone said, ‘Oh, they could put them in their storage cages’. Many of them do not have storage cages at their apartments. There has been little thought, little commitment, by Yarra council to generally what recycling is as part of the circular economy.

We will be looking to make some amendments in the committee stage of this bill, a number of amendments, and I am hopeful that those who subscribe to the theory of more recycling and a greener Victoria will support us on the journey of these amendments. But we will wait and see whether there is just more talk and little action.

Ms VAGHELA (Western Metropolitan) (17:42): I rise to speak on the Circular Economy (Waste Reduction and Recycling) Bill 2021. I take this opportunity to congratulate the Honourable Lily D’Ambrosio, the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change and Minister for Solar Homes, and her staff for the important work they have done in this area. Their hard work, dedication and leadership will help deliver an important piece of reform that Victorians have been advocating for for a very long time. I am proud to be a part of the Andrews Labor government that is taking the next steps towards developing a circular economy that maximises the re-use of materials and reduces the amount of waste that goes to landfill. Across Australia and around the world governments are exploring new initiatives and processes to assist with producing less waste and recycling more. The common consensus is that we all need to do our part to support our environment in any way we can. Waste management is a big and complicated issue, however, and there is no easy, quick fix for it. It requires leadership, consultation, strategic planning and a government that is prepared to take on challenges and make difficult decisions.

The Andrews Labor government puts the needs of Victorians first and continues to develop and deliver much-needed reforms that help better shape and prepare our state for the future. As many of us in this chamber and indeed in this Parliament will remember, China implemented its National Sword policy. China’s National Sword policy restricted or banned the importation of most plastics and other materials, which meant recycling contracts in Australia were threatened, resulting in a waste crisis, including a waste crisis in recycling facilities locally here in Victoria. In 2019 in Victoria we witnessed severe disruptions to our waste and recycling services and we saw the collapse of SKM Recycling. The collapse of SKM Recycling resulted in 33 councils being without kerbside recycling services. This disruption left many people with no option but unfortunately to send recyclable materials to landfill. As a result at the time the Andrews Labor government acted and provided an important $6.6 million relief package to councils directly affected by the closure of SKM, which included a rebate to cover the cost of the landfill levy so councils were not out of pocket.

What we learned from China’s decision was the fact that Victoria’s waste and recycling system was dependent on decisions and changes made in global markets. It clearly demonstrated what the consequences can be for our local recycling service delivery here in Victoria. It showed that we need to have strategies in place to be less dependent on global markets. It was also clear that there is a lack of consistency across the state’s recycling system. The lack of consistency is as a result of each council having a different waste bin system, with different standards as to what can be placed in each bin. We all know that in some instances when you move around our state you can see differently coloured waste bins for different collection purposes, and this can be confusing. In some municipal council areas you may have more bins and in other areas you may have less bins to dispose of your waste. In my electorate of Western Metropolitan Region the collection services for Hobsons Bay City Council can be different to that of the neighbouring councils of Wyndham, Brimbank or Maribyrnong. This often can cause confusion, resulting in recyclable materials ending up in landfill by error.

We know that until now the state government has lacked the power to direct councils when it comes to these services, and we understand that this needs to change. The Andrews Labor government has worked in partnership with councils, industry and the wider public to develop a policy which would address the issues in our waste and recycling sector. In February 2020 the Andrews Labor government released the Recycling Victoria: A New Economy, our 10-year circular economy policy. The policy sets out the systemic change that is needed to cut waste and boost the recycling and re-use of our precious resources. This is our plan for a cleaner, greener Victoria with less waste and pollution, more jobs and a sustainable and thriving circular economy. Recycling Victoria: A New Economy is a 10-year plan to address the urgent challenges in the recycling sector and to make fundamental changes to help prevent those issues from recurring. Through this policy the Victorian government has committed to overhauling our household recycling services by introducing a four-bin system and a container deposit scheme to improve the value captured from the materials we recycle. This policy is a 10-year plan that sets four ambitious targets for improving our state’s recycling system. The plan also includes a commitment to addressing plastics pollution.

The bill provides the legislative framework for achieving many of the commitments outlined in this policy. The Circular Economy (Waste Reduction and Recycling) Bill 2021 is a central part of the Andrews Labor government’s once-in-a-generation reform of Victoria’s waste and recycling system to make it more effective, accountable and consistent with community expectations. We have invested an unprecedented $515 million to deliver this reform, which lays the foundation for the state’s transition to a circular economy and supports the creation of more than 3900 jobs. The introduction of this bill assists with having strong regulations in place to ensure that our recycling industry is better regulated. Until now we have not had a single central body to regulate the industry.

Through the establishment of Recycling Victoria we will have a body that will oversee and provide strategic leadership for the sector. Recycling Victoria will have the power to oversee, anticipate and mitigate risks to the stability of local waste and recycling markets. It will enforce service standards for the quality and performance of waste and recycling services. This includes the government’s reforms to kerbside waste collection. These reforms will mean that all across Victoria, no matter where you live, every household will have access to four separate waste stream services: food and organics, glass, commingled recycling and household rubbish. This will improve the quality and quantity of recycled materials and will reduce waste going to landfill. There will be a staged transition to the new system, which councils will complete as per the needs of their local communities. All households will have access to services for glass recycling by 2027 and to food organics and garden organics by 2030. Councils will adopt the new four-bin system, which will use standardised bin lid colours to make recycling easier.

The introduction of a container deposit scheme is a win-win situation for all Victorians. It will see less litter and pollution in our community and environment. It will provide economic opportunity for community and charity groups, and it will see fewer bottles and cans going to landfill as the recycling industry will have access to more pure streams of materials. Glass collected through a container deposit scheme is worth up to $100 more per tonne than glass mixed with other recyclable materials. And all of this has proved that the Australian recycling sector creates 9.2 jobs for every 10 000 tonnes of waste managed, whereas sending material to landfill creates only 2.8 jobs. This government’s waste and recycling reforms will create nearly 4000 new jobs.

The Andrews Labor government is committed to optimising the use of recycled and re-used Victorian materials across all rail and road construction through the Ecologiq program and the Recycled First policy. Victoria’s Big Build is delivering 120 projects and provides a crucial opportunity to drive significant change in the re-use of waste material. The Recycled First policy is the first step to achieving this. It requires bidders on infrastructure projects to demonstrate how they will optimise their use of sustainable materials.

Recycled aggregates, glass, plastic, timber, steel, ballast, crushed concrete, crushed brick, crumb rubber, reclaimed asphalt pavement and organics are all being used in place of new materials in major road projects. 190 million recycled glass bottles are being used in the $1.8 billion western roads upgrade. More than 400 000 tonnes of high-grade recycled content have been used in the western roads project, and another 2 million tonnes of recycled materials have been identified for use in the M80 ring-road, Monash Freeway and South Gippsland Highway upgrades. Residents of the Western Metropolitan Region are already benefiting from these innovative investments delivered by the Andrews Labor government.

In conclusion, I would like to state that this bill will deliver a comprehensive, consistent and enforceable approach to overseeing and supporting the delivery of waste, recycling and resource recovery services across Victoria. It will provide confidence and clarity to householders that their efforts to sort and recycle will minimise waste and maximise resource recovery. I commend the bill to the house.

Mr MEDDICK (Western Victoria) (17:53): As a keen member of this house’s Environment and Planning Committee and a participant in the parliamentary inquiry into waste and recycling I have heard firsthand the many problems that our current waste systems are failing to address. Bringing the waste management and recycling services together under a single head will make the accountability for success clear. We all at the end of the day want the minister and the government accountable anyway, so it is much better to ensure a coherent public service approach across the whole state.

The container deposit scheme is overdue and welcome. I note that it is a particular example of a general principle that the government has, to date correctly, selectively pursued of charging those in society a fee for the creation of negative externalities. This is part of the large-scale change that is needed to our economic settings in order to slow and soften our destruction of the natural environment and habitat for all living things. By creating an incentive to re-use and recycle we gradually reduce that same pollution. It is a commonsense, logical approach. We call it pollution. For animals, stray containers can be death traps. Given the extent of pollution in our natural environment from these containers, on behalf of these animals I urge prompt action.

I know that the government continues to work on further reforms in addition to this bill, and I am glad it is because this bill can only be the first step of many that are required. The bill establishes Recycling Victoria, who will have a range of functions including: to collect data from a wide range of sector participants to understand and report on the state of the waste and recycling sector; to perform inquiries into specific or general parts of the sector; to provide a range of supports to councils in procurement and contracting of waste and recycling services; to require councils across the state to provide consistent and reliable waste and recycling services to households and require those councils and other waste and recycling service providers to meet service standards; to provide appropriate direction and oversight to the container deposit scheme as the scheme regulator; and to encourage and enforce compliance with these new requirements through graduated and proportionate enforcement powers. It requires a charter of engagement to set out how Recycling Victoria plans to engage with key stakeholders on how it will carry out its functions. And the bill provides a head of power to make supporting regulations in relation to the elements of this bill to carry out all of the above functions.

I commend the minister and the government for starting to tackle the problem of waste and pollution associated with our consumption of goods in this state. I note and agree that this is just a first step, but as the first step is often the hardest, I commend the government for taking it and setting us upon a significantly improved path. My support for this bill notwithstanding, I will have some questions in the committee stage that have been raised to me by some stakeholders. I hope the minister will be able to give, through his answers, some clarity and confidence to the industry.

Mr HAYES (Southern Metropolitan) (17:56): I want to speak to this bill, which follows on from the findings of a Legislative Council Environment and Planning Committee inquiry, which I was deputy chair for and also took a great interest in, on the subject of waste and recycling. Evidence heard at the inquiry included that of Mr John Bradley, Secretary of the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and I quote:

… the circular economy policy focuses on four key objectives: to reduce the amount of raw materials we need for production and construction, improve design and increase use of recycled materials; to design products that last longer and can be more easily repaired, re-used and recycled at the end of their lives; to adopt business models that need less materials through sharing products between multiple users, supplying products as a service and digitising where possible; and to recover and manage waste in ways that increases its value as a resource for recycling.

Now, there are some major challenges there. If we design products that last longer, we are returning to a culture that existed before we created in-built obsolescence. If, for instance, a product is designed that lasts twice as long, then that means less sales. Our current economic system is not based on that. If we adopt business models that need less materials through sharing products between multiple users, that also means less sales. Therefore we need to create sales through other means, such as service industries and digital knowledge-based products. What we are talking about here is challenging the economic orthodoxy that assumes the never-ending growth of consumption, and when discussing sharing products between multiple users, we are also talking about setting up a more communal way of living.

In terms of waste and consumption of products in general, Australians use 10 million plastic bags per day and 3 billion coffee cups per year. Please allow me to repeat that for emphasis: 10 million plastic bags per day and 3 billion coffee cups per year in Australia, to be trashed or maybe recycled. Often these items end up in parks and waterways and are washed into the ocean or end up in landfill. This bill is a belated but welcome recognition that we cannot really continue on like this. Certainly it is true that in Victoria we have a waste crisis, with a wider environmental crisis. Consumption, which forms a big part of our economy, produces environmentally damaging waste. There is no such thing as throwing it away and forgetting about it. It ends up somewhere, and it often ends up as pollution.

I commend the government for its response to the inquiry last year in terms of recycling management. In recent years we know that there has been an immense loss of faith in the recycling system on behalf of the Victorian public. So many people diligently and conscientiously have been sorting out their waste. They thought it was to be recycled, and that was not the case. Naturally people felt betrayed and let down, and more than a few reacted with the question: why bother? So I believe this bill is an important step in restoring the public’s faith in recycling and helping to protect the environment. However, by no means are the measures contained in this bill to be regarded as game over. There is an enormous public appetite for more action in this area.

Here I point to the enormously successful ABC series War on Waste. It was a ratings smash, and it is evidence of the public urging that more needs to be done. The series was voted by TV Week in 2019 as one of the best 100 Australian TV programs ever. Well done to the ABC, because it not only raised awareness about waste management, it showed us the great public appetite for improved performance in this area. So we await the outcomes from this bill with keen anticipation.

The move to improve data monitoring in the sector is also most welcome. To quote the management consultants motto, ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’. The government in their second-reading speech mentioned the 2019 Auditor-General’s report, which found that Victorian waste data collection and management was incomplete, inaccurate and unreliable. People have a desire for the sector to be accountable, which data collection and publication will achieve. People want to see outcomes and they want to see an improved environment. It is hoped that this bill will go a good way to achieving it.

Certainly the container deposit scheme aspect of this bill is something that has been urged on the government by the public for so many years. A container deposit scheme is not only an integral part of the circular economy, it should also be a way for charities and individuals to supplement their income. However, I will say that I am studying the opposition amendments with some interest and will be listening closely to the debate on the container deposit scheme, which will follow the circulation of those amendments.

Another aspect of the circular economy I want to examine is what the government can do in its procurement practices to lead by example. This is most important. To develop a recycling industry, the government should be buying products which are either recycled in part or fully recycled. This can be a first step towards mandating the inclusion of recycled material in a lot of products. It should be searching for opportunities to reward private sector initiatives by purchasing from companies which are exemplars in upcycling and recycling. It will also then create opportunities for new market entrants and more employment in this area.

During the Environment and Planning Committee’s hearings into ecosystem decline, the report of which was just tabled today, evidence was heard from Dr Brian Coffey of RMIT. Dr Coffey raised concerns about the low levels of ecological literacy among our public servants. What he meant by the term ‘ecological literacy’ was a fundamental basic education that understands the nature of the environment and our relationship with it. He said there is a flaw in the area of public management theory and practice and that this is displayed in the way we govern the environment. He suggested that the Victorian Public Sector Commission undertake a review of the Victorian public sector to gauge the level of ecological literacy and from there develop training courses in ecological literacy. I believe an ecologically literate Victorian public sector will help lead the way in further developing the circular economy.

Another aspect of Dr Coffey’s evidence was that it is not enough to recycle waste, Victorians need to reduce the amount of waste they generate—and I agree. Reducing consumption is something that our current flawed economic model is not well designed to accommodate. I call on the government to have an honest conversation with the people of Victoria on the ways that consumption and therefore waste can be reduced, and it is a conversation on how we can create an economy that is more supportive of this, because at the heart of protecting the environment is a restructure of the economy and governments in general have shown little or no appetite to take on the challenges involved with that to date. But this bill is a good start.

If we are to achieve the underpinnings of the circular economy, we need to reshape our fundamental view of the economy and how it operates. This needs further detailed attention, and it needs further government and private sector initiative, because the world of infinite resources and infinite growth seems to be coming to an end quite rapidly. Our world population boom in the last century has put enormous stress on the planet, and the time has arrived to find different and more sustainable ways to live.

At the tabling of the inquiry into recycling and waste management I commended the government for accepting many of the recommendations of that inquiry, and I commend the government for introducing this bill. Our committee’s recommendations were big on a statewide recycling education program, and I believe this is most important. The government says it has already started it and it is ongoing, but I have not seen or heard much of it at all yet. It is very important that such a campaign, and it says this in the report:

… should be similar to continuing public education campaigns such as those by the Transport Accident Commission and WorkSafe …

Those campaigns really do capture public attention. All in all, despite these issues it is a fantastic response by the government to our report. But I urge further action, because this bill is not a destination in and of itself. Much remains to be done, and much attention will be paid to the steps contained in this bill as a guide for further action in this area.

Mrs McARTHUR (Western Victoria) (18:07): I rise to speak on the Circular Economy (Waste Reduction and Recycling) Bill 2021 with a sense of deja vu. It is the latest in a seemingly endless series of feel-good bills from this government, which identifies a genuine problem but proposes legislation which is incomplete, bureaucracy laden and a cost-shifting burden which will hurt local councils and does nothing to recognise the different waste landscapes in regional Victoria.

On my first point of incompleteness, we have already heard from Mr Ondarchie about some of the things this bill is missing. Part 5 leaves to regulations the detail around waste and recycling services. Part 6 leaves to regulations very significant parts of the detail about the container deposit scheme. It is a real characteristic of this government to leave out all the detail, to ask us to pass bills in principle but then to leave all the important parts to subordinate legislation made later via ministerial regulations. It has happened on countless bills to date, most memorably on the licensing of free camping on riverfront Crown leases operated by farmers, with absurd results which this house should have been aware of before passing the principal legislation. We might as well just have a second reading of these bills and skip the rest.

On my second point, of bureaucracy, this bill’s contribution is obvious, with the creation of Recycling Victoria. We have already got a circular economy in bureaucracy, rebadging quangos and committees and the revolving-door staff hire policies between government departments, agencies and regulators. They do recycling very well, this government. The problem is that this government completely fails to adhere to the other mantra—namely, reduce, re-use and recycle. Well, we certainly get the recycle, and we get the re-use parts, but the figures show this government has done nothing to reduce bureaucracies and quangos and the staffing costs that come with them.

My biggest criticism, however, is of the impact this bill will have on local councils, particularly in regional Victoria. It is not simply that container deposit provisions left to later regulation seem likely to preference the large multinational waste operators, not local and often family-owned, family-friendly businesses, it is also a wider failure to understand the difference in the landscape between metropolitan and regional councils. The bill appears to require the same approach for the transitioning of kerbside waste collection across the board in a completely unrealistic way. The cost of waste collection is exponentially larger in rural areas. The distances are enormous, the population sparse, and the tyranny of distance makes the collected product far more expensive for councils to deal with except through local landfill. We all want to move away from that, but it is not so simple out in the country.

I am a big advocate of waste to energy. Despite the protestations of the Greens, even countries with world-leading recycling rates make use of this technology. A number of countries achieve a 55 per cent reduction in waste through recycling, and the outlier is Germany at 66 per cent. This means that without waste to energy, somewhere between one-half and one-third of waste would still be going to landfill, even if we achieved world-leading recycling rates. The solution is simple: only 1 per cent of waste goes to landfill in Germany, and that happens because the remainder is safely and cleanly processed, generating electricity as a by-product. I am no critic of the circular economy, but to pretend we can jump straight to it without the intermediate step of waste to energy is fanciful and ultimately damaging to our environment. Unfortunately it is hard to make the numbers stack up for waste-to-energy plants in the regions. As landfill levies rise it is clear that the government intends waste to energy will become more viable, and the private sector will step in to build the facilities. Outside the cities, however, the volume of waste generated will never justify this kind of investment, and the transport costs will be massively greater for councils. Increases in the levy therefore hit them harder, and I do not believe that in this, as in so much else in the area of waste collection, sufficient consideration has been given to the increased costs their ratepayers have to bear.

Finally, I wish to return to the topic I raised in questions this morning with the Minister for Local Government. He appeared not to understand that councils are being required to sign NDAs by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning in preparation for the introduction of the container deposit scheme. Council officers will not be able to comment on the compensation offer by government for the increased collection and sorting costs they will face. They will not be able to share the information either internally or externally. This is unthinkable. Where is the transparency we have recently heard so much about? Transparency and accountability are words for this government; there are no actions. Councils cannot share and compare the funding offer. If they cannot, how can they know if they have been unfairly treated, if certain government-favoured councils are getting a better deal? How can councillors understand their own budgets without this vital information? And most shockingly, they cannot even reveal if they have not been given enough funding to provide the services. Their ratepayers will be socked by these new costs where the shortfall exists, and they cannot even speak out.

The idea that elected council representatives cannot know what council officers and CEOs are being asked to work on or decide about with the investment of ratepayer money is abhorrent, frankly, to me, and I cannot understand how this government has even potentially gone down this path. All councils should be able to compare products and companies that could do recycling. Why should it be left to some multinational company that would get the contract? The idea that there can be no consultation, not even with councillors let alone the ratepayers of a municipality, is something this government should hang their heads in shame about. I urge the Parliament to support amendments that I think the coalition are going to move, which will ensure greater competition, greater transparency and a better approach to this whole issue of recycling and waste.

Dr KIEU (South Eastern Metropolitan) (18:16): I rise to speak to and support the Circular Economy (Waste Reduction and Recycling) Bill 2021. Waste is a part of our life. The waste produced has to be managed, and waste management is a very complicated business. It has many impacts on our lives, on the environment, on the air we breathe, on the water we drink and on the soil that we live on and also use for planting. It also has very significant impacts on the habitat of animals or fish or marine animals. For example, the plastics that we have produced for containers and for other purposes: when they are broken down into smaller particles they contaminate the waterways and affect marine life substantially. Waste also substantially impacts the climate change problem—the problem that we are facing at the moment and into the future.

Two-thirds of Victoria’s emissions from the waste sector result from the decomposition of organic material in landfill—so the organic material itself is responsible for two-thirds of the gas emissions that would contribute to our problem of climate change. Organics, when they are put into landfill, can generate gases, and not only gases like methane. Also they can create some other problems for health and even explosions or burning. So we have to manage waste, and it is not only management. We also need to recycle the waste, because some of the things that we throw out can actually be recycled or re-used in one form or another.

Not too long ago, the collapse in 2019 of SKM Recycling, which left 33 councils without kerbside recycling services, and also on top of that the announcement of China’s National Sword policy, which banned the import of most plastic and other materials recycling, created some problems for us in Victoria. But then the Andrews Labor government provided a $6.6 million relief package to assist councils impacted by these disruptions and worked in partnership with councils, with industry and also with the wider public to develop a policy that would address the issue of our waste and recycling sector. So we have to be prepared, we have to be smarter in reducing waste and we have to be more efficient in recycling waste.

Following public consultation in February this year, or last year, 2020—we are moving very fast now—the government released a 10-year circular economy policy, and the policy is named Recycling Victoria: A New Economy. This is a policy to address the urgent challenges in the recycling sector and also to make fundamental changes to help with some of the problems that we face in sending recycled materials elsewhere. So the government has committed to overhauling our household recycling services by introducing the standard four-bin system—the four bins will have also standard colours—and also to introducing the container deposit scheme so that we can capture more of the value from the materials that we are recycling.

The Recycling Victoria: A New Economy policy, sets very ambitious targets. I just want to list some of the main targets here—namely, to divert 80 per cent of waste from landfill by 2030, to reduce waste generation by 50 per cent per head by 2025 and also to halve the volume of organic material going to landfill between 2020 and 2030, with an interim target of a 20 per cent reduction by 2025. In order to achieve those very ambitious targets one of the main problems we have at the moment is that there has not been any one central body that has been responsible for this regulation. This bill will change that. This bill will allow us to create Recycling Victoria, a body that will oversee and provide strategic leadership for the recycling sector. It is expected that by mid-2022 next year Recycling Victoria will be up and running. They will have the powers to oversee, to anticipate and to mitigate risks to the stability of our local waste and recycling market.

This bill also lays the foundation for the introduction of our container deposit scheme. Elsewhere in Australia, across some other jurisdictions, we have seen the success of container deposit schemes, and this bill will enable us to introduce the scheme. It will then enable us to see less litter and pollution in our community, in our environment, and also provide economic opportunity to the community, to individuals, to charity groups and to sports clubs by providing financial incentives for those entities or individuals to collect and recycle the containers. That will also create jobs for our economy. Some of the analysis estimates that, for every 10 000 tonnes of waste managed, the recycling sector will create 9.2 jobs. If we were to send all those recyclable materials to landfill, then only about three jobs would have been created, so it is a substantial increase in the jobs created, and so we expect that the waste and recycling reforms that we have introduced will create 4000 or so new jobs for our state.

To sum up, recycling and waste reduction is one of the primary ways for us in Victoria to engage with sustainability policy. We Victorians want to have the confidence that the materials that we put into recycling bins actually can be re-used or repurposed. That is why it is so important that we have introduced this bill in the house today, because we also know that an industry as large as the waste and recycling industry does require strong regulation. I urge the members of the house to support this bill.

Mr QUILTY (Northern Victoria) (18:25): I move:

That debate be adjourned until later this day.

Motion agreed to and debate adjourned until later this day.

Business interrupted pursuant to sessional orders.

Ms TAYLOR: I move:

That the meal break scheduled for this day, pursuant to sessional order 1, be altered from 60 minutes to 45 minutes.

Motion agreed to.

Sitting suspended 6.26 pm until 7.20 pm.

Joint sitting of Parliament

Senate vacancy

The PRESIDENT (19:20): I have to report that the house met with the Legislative Assembly to choose a person to hold the seat in the Senate rendered vacant by the resignation of Senator the Honourable Scott Ryan, and that Mr Greg Mirabella was chosen to hold the vacant place in the Senate.

Members

Ms Burnett-Wake

Swearing in

The PRESIDENT (19:20): I have to report that the house met with the Legislative Assembly to choose a person to hold the seat in the Legislative Council rendered vacant by the resignation of the Honourable Edward O’Donohue and that Ms Cathrine Burnett-Wake was elected to hold the vacant place in the Legislative Council.

Ms Burnett-Wake introduced and oath of allegiance affirmed.

Bills

Circular Economy (Waste Reduction and Recycling) Bill 2021

Second reading

Debate resumed on motion of Ms SYMES:

That the bill be now read a second time.

Mr QUILTY (Northern Victoria) (19:24): I will be brief. This bill does two things. First, it centrally plans our recycling industry. Second, it introduces a new tax on drinks in containers. The Liberal Democrats oppose central planning and refuse to vote for an increase in taxes. For those reasons we oppose this legislation. ‘Here we go’, you say. ‘Those wacky Liberal Democrats are doing it again’. Recycling is an idea that sounds great. How could anyone oppose it? The answer to that question is: because it is not economic and also because it is more harmful to the environment than not recycling. Much like the ban on single-use plastic bags, recycling does more damage than it prevents—not, of course, that that will stop anyone in this place signalling their virtue by voting for it, because when it comes to ‘green’ policies virtuous intent matters more than actual outcomes. To make recycling viable in this country we need cheap power. Sadly, all our green policies are based on making electricity more expensive, which makes recycling less viable.

Ms Patten: So if there was a nuclear clause in the bill, you would support this bill.

Mr QUILTY: Indeed. I will let you into a secret: from the moment recycling becomes cost effective, manufacturers will embrace it with enthusiasm, and you will know it is cost effective because you will not have to slug consumers with new taxes to pay for it or to pay out massive subsidies to entice private enterprise into the market. Until we get there recycling will be a net drag on the economy and on the environment. When it takes more energy to recycle than it does to use new materials, the net impact on the environment is negative. Instead we should be safely storing all these used materials underground for future entrepreneurs to mine for resources when it becomes viable to do so.

The centrally planned recycling industry is a response to the collapse of SKM Recycling and the closure of Chinese imports of recyclables. It is difficult to see how moving management of recycling from councils to state government will have an impact on decisions made in China, but I can see how government management will change things around the collapse of SKM. SKM was a private company that could only waste so much money before going bankrupt. When it collapsed it left an enormous clean-up cost, and then the costs ended. Public recycling, on the other hand, has unlimited access to taxpayer funds and can continue to drain taxpayer money on inefficient and costly projects without end. The reason recycling needs to be propped up by the government is that it cannot support itself. It is a failed business that government wants to perpetually maintain in its failed state.

One new change in the bill is that councils will be required to offer a separate glass waste service. Small pieces of glass make sorting difficult and can ruin batches of plastic or cardboard recycling. The government hopes that by making you do the sorting work recycling will become self-supporting. We will never know, though, because the new cost for recycling will be buried in government budget papers. We can expect that rubbish sorting requirements will become increasingly stringent and recycling costs will rise regardless.

Now, I have fond memories of myself as a child enthusiastically scavenging through rubbish bins for aluminium cans in order to get my cent per can, but then the price of aluminium dropped and it just was not worth the effort anymore. I also know of border residents who collect cans and bottles in Wodonga and cart them across the border to the New South Wales machines. I do think these recycling schemes that pay can breed future entrepreneurs, so they are not all bad, although this seems to involve a lot of moving of cans and bottles from recycling bins, where they are currently being picked up by efficient collection services, which is what is happening to most eligible containers now, into lots of small trips by private vehicles to the machines at the recycling points. The parents who pay for the recycling bins and then have to pay to drive their kids’ collections to the machines may not appreciate it quite as much as the new young entrepreneurs do.

I will not go into the details of how the collection scheme will work. I do not like the central planning involved in the model and I do not like that it squeezes out small regional businesses in favour of a handful of large city-based companies. In effect it will move more money from the regions to Melbourne, as does every act of centralisation. However, the container deposit scheme is a thinly veiled tax. The way this scheme works is that the government charges beverage companies a tax. The companies then pass those costs on to consumers. While some people will go through the effort of returning their cans to get their tax back, most will not. And with the bureaucratic models involved, little local collection points are likely to be passed over in favour of a small handful of large, mechanised collection depots, making it ever harder for consumers, especially those in the regions, to get their money back. A tax is a tax, and this is a tax. The Liberal Democrats will never vote for an increase in taxes, and so we will be opposing this bill.

Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (19:30): I rise this evening to make a brief contribution on the Andrews government’s Circular Economy (Waste Reduction and Recycling) Bill 2021, and in doing so I would like to share with the house some of my experiences as a member of the Environment and Planning Committee when we conducted an inquiry into recycling and waste management. Through that we learned the very important concept around a circular economy and investigated some of the communities and countries in Europe where they have a 1 per cent landfill system, and the key factor in that is a circular economy. I think it was really wise to investigate some of those countries, which we did.

One of the key factors about a circular economy of course is recycling, and recycling is very much the word of the moment. It is the word that when you are a schoolteacher you talk about from the early years and the primary school years all the way through. It is about taking a raw ingredient, making the product in whatever form it is and then using, recovering, managing, recycling, remanufacturing, repairing and re-using, and the cycle starts again.

Now, the bill really sets up a container deposit scheme, and when we were on the committee for that inquiry we actually went and saw that the New South Wales government had established a container deposit scheme back in 2017. I think there were a lot of good models and good systems that the New South Wales government implemented back then, and indeed the system that they adopted was a reverse vending system. I am sure Victoria will introduce a comparable system.

The key factor that New South Wales was looking to address was to reduce litter, and they have done that very successfully. Their system looked at recycling glass, plastic, aluminium, steel and carton drink containers, and indeed they have a return-and-earn system. It also looked at reverse vending machines. We saw that, and it is really widely adopted in the communities. I also went to Echuca during that committee, and we went over the border to Moama and saw that most of the population of Echuca goes over the border to make their deposits and get their cash, their 10 cents an item. In fact the Moama recycling depot, the reverse vending machine, is one of the busiest in the whole of the state of New South Wales because Victorians use it, so it shows that it is adopted well.

The other key thing is that there is the impetus for charities, for schools and for sports clubs to do that recycling, and again it is a wise scheme. The other thing that is important about this sort of scheme is that when materials recovery facilities—and we have MRFs throughout the state, and particularly in Eastern Victoria Region we have MRFs—collect commingled waste, they can actually remove and recycle those container deposits as well.

Now, one of the things that I know our lead, Mr Ondarchie, will do is very shortly he will be flagging some amendments that will improve this bill, and the key factor about these amendments is to make sure that regional Victoria does not miss out—and it does time after time. We want to see regional network operators. We want to see that for a very real, two-fold reason—it is about creating local jobs in our region, and we certainly desperately need local jobs in Eastern Victoria Region. I might just add, the latest figures have come out for the central region of Latrobe Valley and that local government area is back up to at least 8 per cent unemployment. That is not something to be cheerful about at all. We see even other major centres are still well below that. So we are seeing the depression in the market, we are seeing people losing their jobs through the terrible pandemic and the closure of our businesses and industries, and we are seeing that 8 per cent. What we need are these ongoing sustainable jobs, and that has been a mantra of mine for a long time in the Latrobe Valley post the Hazelwood closure.

We need these regional network operators for the jobs across regional Victoria but also environmentally. Why would you process recycling far, far away? Why would you have a centralised system in Melbourne? You have got CO2 emissions in terms of the footprint and the travel times. We have seen this government again and again and again make very unsustainable environmental choices in relation to tenders and contracts. We have seen, would you believe, dry-cleaning for our paramedics taken from East Gippsland and Gippsland and travel all the way through to Shepparton to a centralised service. Ambulance Victoria workers have gone to their local drycleaners for years and years and years and had quick turnarounds, and now this government is putting their uniforms on the backs of trucks and sending them through to a centralised service. They have also done that with the CFA uniforms. This does not make environmental sense. It produces CO2. It does not make sense. Regional network operators certainly do make sense.

The other comments I would like to make are in relation to The Nationals and the Liberals zero landfill policy. Part of a circular economy is about putting less into our landfills, and of course then councils do not have that long-term burden of having to look after, maintain and service—and the EPA as well—the grandfathering of tips that are full. We have a zero landfill policy by 2035—a reduction by 100 per cent. We are also looking at providing $120 million to Sustainability Victoria for these targeted actions: a recycling futures stream and an energy-from-waste stream. Energy from waste is a very critical part of a circular economy and also of zero landfill. Again, I have seen that very successfully completed—countries in Europe are doing that very well.

In my electorate in central Gippsland we have Opal Australia, or Australian Paper, in Maryvale. A couple of years it had its 80-year anniversary of existence—80 years of servicing the population in terms of Australian Paper but also creating vital jobs in our region. Energy from waste is important, and Australian Paper has spent a number of years—probably four or five years—developing this really forefront energy-from-waste baseload energy to create that energy source that it needs and which is one of its most significant input costs in order to produce its goods. It is a $500 million proposal, and stage 1 alone will create 500 jobs in the creation of the plant and they are then looking at 400-plus jobs, most in central Victoria, which is fantastic. This proposal is of course dependent on stock from municipal waste, and that is going to be the key thing. It is incredible to think that for many, many decades councils have just been able to, as they have had to without an alternative, put their municipal waste into pits and then look after them. This energy from waste recycling, using it as feedstock for energy, is going to be absolutely fantastic.

Now, there are other industries, businesses and local industries that are coming up with their own form of energy from waste, so there will be a tendering process and there will actually be quite some competition for that municipal waste. A great conglomerate, a great group of people I met only a few weeks ago, are a consortium of local businesses called the Gippsland Circular Economy Precinct. These gentlemen I met are the CEO, Scott McArdle, and King Arthur, executive director, and they are focused on hydrogen production from recycled material, including municipal waste and agricultural waste. If you ever go through country Victoria and beautiful Gippsland, you will see silage bales wrapped up in this plastic that is almost always impossible to recycle. In the past farmers were able to take it to their tips for free, but now it is often a great impediment in that cycle. If we can get these things recycled in a really positive way, I am really excited to see how the Gippsland Circular Economy Precinct will operate.

They have brought on an overseas company called H2X, and they are looking at hydrogen in transports—hydrogen in vehicles and buses. I think that is really exciting. We know that electric cars are going to be the way forward, but in terms of larger capacity, so a larger pool of our large transports and trucks, the batteries for electric operations are going to be substantive, and having a hydrogen economy that enables you to fill up regularly along major routes is a really exciting opportunity. I look forward to them developing; I look forward to them taking their proposals, if they are looking for grants, to both the state and federal governments. I look forward to Gippsland embracing this, and I certainly hope the government does.

I have had the feeling recently that the government likes to talk about hydrogen but then it walks backwards from it. I think this government and all governments really need to look at hydrogen, both blue and green, as really positive options. In fact hydrogen can even be a storage facility, because when you are producing it in excess—and through solar as well, and we have got considerable solar panels in the market—then it can actually be stored and used. This form, the one that I was just speaking about, creates hydrogen from the chemical decomposition of waste—municipal waste et cetera; others require water to be split. And of course hydrogen from coal requires gasification of coal, but then the carbon dioxide produced is sequestered. All of those should be on the table as long as they are economically viable and will stack up. A lot of work continues in that space.

As I said, I am very pleased that Mr Ondarchie is going to move some amendments to improve this bill, but really the concept around recycling is so very important. This is a bill that can be improved, but certainly The Nationals will not be opposing it this evening.

Ms TAYLOR (Southern Metropolitan) (19:44): I am going to address some of the matters that have been raised here tonight with regard to this wonderful reform that we have for Victoria. Who likes landfill? Nobody likes landfill. And let me say it is extraordinarily expensive to maintain landfill. Even after a certain site has been closed off it costs a bomb to maintain. So when I hear comments from over there—I think it was Mr Quilty—talking about the costs of recycling, it is far more expensive to keep contributing to more and more landfill. In the long run you create vast areas of space in our community which cannot be used for other purposes, and they take very long periods to transition out of that toxic state. So it is absolutely imperative, particularly when we are looking at climate change, to reduce emissions and create a much more sustainable future for our state.

With regard to regional areas, everybody is part of this story in terms of recycling reform. We know that 79 councils have submitted draft transition plans. When we are looking at the issue of consultation, we know that our government has been consulting at least bimonthly over the last two years with the Municipal Association of Victoria. Nobody is being left out of this story. We are not hiding it—far from it. Many of the issues have been flagged here with regard to regional areas and the difficulty of distance and the like and making sure that they have appropriate facilities that are proximate to them to be able to recycle as well. I am going to bring this to a really definitive point—and that is, this is exactly why we need a systematic approach across the whole state, to give business certainty. If they have those clean recycling streams where in particular you take glass out of the mix and you do not have it blending in with cardboard and rendering products basically to a point that they cannot be recycled and cannot be repurposed, this will give business certainty and they are far more likely to be able to take the risk that is involved with investing in a business to move forward and be able to really invest in recycling into the future. That is the purpose of setting up a centralised framework—in part to be able to give certainty to business so they are more inclined to actually jump in and be part of this fabulous reform.

I did hear some comments about New South Wales and people being very critical of the container deposit scheme up there. I have actually witnessed the recycling system up there, the CDS in particular. It is obviously very complex, and it is quite onerous to set up in the first place. However, they are reaping the rewards of having invested in this technology. Just for the purposes of the record, New South Wales has a much higher rate of return for their CDS than Queensland, for instance. I am not critical of Queensland; I am just saying that if you are going to criticise New South Wales, we need some perspective on this—68 per cent of eligible containers returned versus 60 per cent in Queensland, while the increase in prices has been much lower. So I am not sure that we really want to lay into New South Wales. I am not sure that that really is productive or in any way enhances the debate that we are having today.

The other thing I heard Mr Ondarchie doing was really laying into some of the councils, and I am thinking, ‘How is that helping with the process of reducing waste, reducing landfill and actually getting everyone on board and being part of this process into the future?’. I am not sure that we really want to slag off any councils at all. I used to be a councillor, and I know there was great excitement even years ago to really get people to get their organic waste, for instance, and put it into the green bins rather than putting it into trash, because what we know is that when we are talking about emissions, as it stands two-thirds of Victoria’s emissions from the waste sector result from the decomposition of organic material in landfill. So it makes good sense to divert that waste from landfill and actually use that organic matter in a way that is productive for the state. For instance, in Port Phillip—they were criticised by Mr Ondarchie—there are high-density housing blocks down in Port Melbourne that have actually started lining up green bins. They started with a couple, I believe. They have now got seven, because local people are getting on board. They are excited. They want to be part of this. I can assure you that Victorians want to be part of this solution.

There were other issues raised with regard to the bill—that it needed to be more prescriptive with regard to the tender process, for instance. I think that is what Mr Ondarchie was getting to. Why would we want to be overly prescriptive? I would have thought that having a competitive tender and therefore having a broader audience—a broader range of the market, I should say—to compete and be part of this great recycling reform has got to be a good thing to make sure that we actually get the best organisation, whether they be for-profit or not-for-profit, to be part of this recycling reform. So that was an interesting comment, but not one that is necessarily constructive or helpful in this debate.

The other thing I was going to acquit was with regard to the comment that perhaps there was a little too much emphasis on the domestic market and not enough on the commercial market. In fact we know that there is actually a mandatory sorting of materials, and let me get that quote. It includes a head of power to require the mandatory sorting of recyclable waste by businesses by 2025. How about that? It actually does pay to look into the detail within the bill because you might find that there are actually some pretty optimised solutions, whether it be for domestic situations or for commercial situations. I think that was essentially what I was going to acquit today, but fundamentally what I will say is I know that the bill is actually a lot more definitive than Mr Ondarchie was trying to allege over there, because we know that we actually have very specific goals with regard to outcomes here. It is not willy-nilly; it is very definitive.

Insofar as the goals that we have with this, I will say that when we are looking at Recycling Victoria, we want to divert 80 per cent of waste from landfill by 2030, with an interim target of 72 per cent by 2025; cut total waste generation by 15 per cent per capita by 2025; halve the volume of organic material going to landfill between 2020 and 2023, with an interim target of a 20 per cent reduction by 2025; and ensure every Victorian has access to food and garden organic waste recycling services or local composting by 2030. That sounds like they are pretty ambitious goals, but they are achievable. We are going to get there, and I tell you what: it is way better than great, hulking waste incinerators across the state, which is all the Libs want. You know, all these smoke and mirrors, but all they want to do is set up great, hulking waste incinerators across the state. They cost a bomb, and they are not too nice for the people who have to be near them either. They cost a bomb, and I tell you what, they do not deliver on what they say they do. It is far better to have them as the last—not the top—resort. It is far better to repurpose; it is far better to do great things with our organic waste and not to create waste in the first place.

Dr RATNAM (Northern Metropolitan) (19:52): It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak in support of the Circular Economy (Waste Reduction and Recycling) Bill 2021. This bill is what happens when you have Greens in Parliament. We have been campaigning for years for better waste solutions in Victoria and pushing the government to go further and faster on recycling reform. In this bill we have a set of really important, long-awaited reforms to fix our broken recycling system—changes that the community have been campaigning on for years.

Introducing a container deposit scheme has been one of our key policies since we first entered Parliament. In fact we first introduced our own bill to create a container deposit scheme back in 2009—12 years ago—and we have reintroduced it three more times since, most recently in 2019. But the government dragged its feet on introducing a scheme, and in that 12 years waste and recycling policy stagnated, with no overarching waste policy in place since 2014 and virtually no major reforms to substantially reduce the volume of resources going to landfill for decades. Victoria spent too many years relying on shipping our waste and recycling out of the country and making our waste crisis someone else’s problem, which meant that when it all came crashing down in 2018 the government suddenly realised they had no real waste or recycling policies beyond sending it to landfill or shipping it overseas and forgetting about it. In many cases our recycling was not even being recycled, but instead it was being stockpiled in warehouses, and when these stockpiles caught fire and the toxic and dangerous smoke spilled out across the northern and western suburbs, people rightly asked: ‘How did we let it get to this?’. It was clear that Victoria needed a huge investment in our recycling system so that we could actually start properly recycling waste so that it was fit for re-use.

This bill also shows the value of the parliamentary committee system. The Greens-initiated inquiry by the Environment and Planning Committee into recycling and waste management was the final push that made the government act. This was one of the largest and most expansive inquiries in this Parliament’s term—that was until today when another Greens-initiated inquiry on biodiversity loss and extinction was tabled, which pipped the recycling inquiry at the post. That waste inquiry—so expansive, so comprehensive—received hundreds and hundreds of submissions that told a very damning story about what had happened to recycling in Victoria. We found that a lack of systematic coordination and regulation and enough monitoring and enforcement led to the system collapsing. We heard and were told that what we needed to do to increase recycling in Victoria was increase separation, reduce waste at its source, increase product stewardship programs, invest in a proper circular economy policy and essentially engage in a fundamental rethink about how we think about consumption and disposable goods. And of course it made a strong recommendation for Victoria to finally introduce a container deposit scheme, the last state in the country to do so. So it is great to see the government heeding the recommendations of the inquiry and committing to transforming Victoria’s waste and recycling system.

The bill is setting up the structure for the new container deposit scheme, and while we might be the last to the table in the country on this reform, the Greens are really pleased that we got here at last and that from now fewer bottles and cans will end up in our waterways and oceans and more Victorians will be recycling their old bottles into new bottles. This bill also sets up Recycling Victoria, which will be the new regulator for the state’s recycling, replacing the current waste and resource recovery groups. The WRRGs, alongside councils, have done a great job for years in managing the intricacies of waste management and recycling, and while it is good to see that WRRG staff will be transferred to the new regulator, bringing their expertise and skills into the new system, we hope councils are also included in the work going forward.

This bill requires all councils to collect four waste streams: residual waste, commingled recyclables, food and garden organics and glass. A separate bin for glass was one of the recommendations made by the recycling inquiry. Glass can be easily recycled and turned into new products, but in our current recycling system it gets mixed up with all the other paper and plastic and is frequently contaminated and no longer suitable for recycling. The reverse is also true—that the glass breaks in recycling and then contaminates the other products in the commingled recycling. A separate bin for glass products means we are well on our way to having a solid glass recycling industry in Victoria. It is also really good to see food and organic recycling rolled out across the state. Organic waste makes up as much as 40 per cent of a red bin, and most of the organic waste is food. And while many of us compost, there are many others who are unable to in their homes.

I am also aware that the local government sector is concerned that every council in the state will be pushed into a new, four-bin kerbside service, as the minister’s second-reading speech indicated this would be the default, and that for some councils—say, a rural council where lots of people are composting on their own property—a four-bin service may not be appropriate. While the Greens are really supportive of the four waste streams and do want every council to sign up to food organics and garden organics services and glass recycling, we also understand the fear raised by the local government sector that being too prescriptive might restrict councils’ ability to choose the best service for their area if it improves recycling. Some councils may be running their own really successful compost programs or finding innovative ways to re-use glass. There are also parts of Victoria where it makes more sense for residents to use drop-off services for recycling rather than having trucks travelling a long way for small pick-ups. I am aware that the bill allows for exemptions, and I hope that this is used not to exempt any council from one of the streams but to allow some flexibility in how councils provide recycling services to their residents.

I know many Victorians will be really excited at the ability to properly recycle food and green waste, to turn old glass bottles into new ones and to help Victoria reduce its waste footprint. But this is a significant overhaul of recycling in Victoria, and to make sure it is successful we need good community education campaigns to go alongside the rollout of the new system. There is already a lot of confusion about what can and cannot go in your recycling bin. Can we recycle used coffee cups? What about pizza boxes? Is foil recyclable? The switch from three to four or two to four bins in some places will cause some confusion. In councils where they already offer food waste services there is some evidence that where community education was limited or non-existent the services are being very poorly used, if at all.

Part of the reason we ended up in the waste crisis in the first place was that our recycling was contaminated and generally poorly done. We do not want to see this new system roll out and be struck with the same flaws because the government forgot to tell everyone how to use the new bins. We have a good opportunity to get this right the first time, so let us take it. The Greens would like to see a good investment in community education and behavioural change and a statewide education campaign to encourage all Victorians to increase their recycling. We are conscious that while the minister has indicated Sustainability Victoria will continue to hold this role, there is work to be done to expand the types of education programs that we are running in the state.

This bill is a great first step in fixing Victoria’s waste crisis and reforming our recycling industry, but if we are really going to create a circular economy, as described in the title of this bill, we need to go a little further than what is in this bill. We need to seriously start looking at boosting our local recycling industry and encouraging greater take-up of recycling products. We need to improve producer responsibility for waste so that the companies who are making the products are responsible for their entire life cycle, including what happens to them after they are used. We also need to ban all single-use plastics to reduce the amount of unnecessary plastic and packaging we are producing, and we need to avoid bad waste solutions like incineration. Burning all our waste is as bad an idea as shipping it all out of the country. It means signing contracts with big incinerator plants to supply them with the huge amounts of waste they need to burn to be economically viable. The more waste we send to incineration the less we are recycling and re-using, and the more waste we burn the more toxic fumes we are pumping out into the air. We are really disappointed that incineration remains an option on the table and that there are already a number of projects planned in our state. Waste incineration has no place in a circular economy and essentially inherently undermines it.

While I am pleased to support this bill today, I hope that the government really commits to transitioning Victoria towards a zero-waste state with lots of locally made recyclable products and a strong local recycling industry so that there is no waste left to burn.

Dr CUMMING (Western Metropolitan) (20:01): I rise to speak on the Circular Economy (Waste Reduction and Recycling) Bill 2021. As I have said in this house before, caring for the environment and in particular the relationship between the environment and waste management is a longstanding passion of mine. It is fundamentally important for all of us to care for the environment, not just for our health’s sake but for our children and for future generations.

The voice for the environment does not belong to one person and certainly not to a political party. I sat on waste boards for over 20 years. I have discussed waste and recycling more times than you can count throughout the 20 years that I was a councillor and mayor in local government. Various state governments consulted with me regarding solutions to our waste problems. I have been very critical throughout that time of state governments not making waste and recycling a priority. More than two years ago I raised this issue in this house. My very first motion was about establishing appropriate targets to enable action and support consistency of food and organic waste collection across Victoria; supporting and working in partnership with local government to divert organic waste, including food waste, from landfill and ensuring it is collected and managed with clearly identifiable and market-ready products; exploring funding options for an organic waste recycling system through the current waste levy; ensuring that the frameworks, guidelines and standards meet the implementation targets; and expanding to a comprehensive statewide education and behaviour change community program. That motion was agreed to by this government, so I am delighted to stand here today and support this bill.

The bill is part of my push for waste solutions and paves the way for a number of reforms outlined in Recycling Victoria, which was released early last year. While it will see a number of major reforms, there is still some room for improvement. I realise that these reforms cannot just be implemented overnight, but having to wait until the end of 2030 for a food and garden organics service is a bit long.

There will also have to be considerable consultation with local councils. There are challenges in inner-city areas, where having four bins is not really an option, and some communal facilities will have to be provided. Now, in rural areas a large number of properties have no current garbage collection, so work will have to be done to find a viable alternative for them and to provide funding assistance to enable it, as they certainly do not have the funds in rural councils.

I also want to briefly touch on the container deposit scheme. The Australian Beverages Council has contacted me, as they have no doubt contacted other members. They are strong supporters of recycling, but they have some serious concerns about the scheme. These include ensuring that the scheme coordinator is a not-for-profit entity and cannot act as a collection point or a network operator and that a scheme coordinator must be representative of the beverage industry. They also say collection points are split from the network and the operators and that the six proposed zones are serviced by unlinked, separate network operators. They also have further issues that need to be addressed when regulations are drafted, and no doubt some of these concerns may be raised in the committee stage.

For me, I think there will be challenges ahead in implementing this, but I hope that the government continues to work and engage with councils and other stakeholders and community members on these issues. I do support this bill, but I also want to touch on some of the things that were raised by other members in this Parliament during this debate. For me, in Western Metropolitan Region, we have had a lot of waste fires. This was due to SKM Recycling really taking advantage of councils and the contracts that they held and stockpiling waste in factories right across Victoria. The greater community and councils actually thought the recycling was being sorted and sold to China to make sure that there was an end market. So it was a shock to everyone in the community to find out what SKM was doing at that particular time, as well as the rude shock that we felt in West Footscray from those waste fires and subsequently felt at the number of stockpiles of recycling all over the state.

When it comes to waste to energy, I am very pleased to see that this state government is actually taking this seriously and that there are councils with applications for waste-to-energy facilities. For me, I have said very clearly that there is far too much waste in the current system. We have far too much waste in the environment, in our oceans and in our rivers, and these are not easily sorted like kerbside recycling. There must be a way for us to remove all of these waste products from our environment, and the solution is waste to energy. There is no way, with the amount of waste that each individual actually produces, that it is possible at this point in time to be able to just recycle and to find end products. We have to be serious about the amount of individual waste. It was clear during these COVID lockdowns the increased amount of waste and recycling that was being produced, mainly from people buying Uber Eats or takeaway. The amount of waste in people’s bins from this easy takeaway lifestyle has been overflowing our systems. You might think that it is great having some of these containers being made of paper, but as soon as you add grease and you have got organics involved, they are not so easily disposed of.

We obviously have to use organic waste, which is a major, major contributor to our environment and CO2 emissions. Organic waste is the solution to the majority of our environmental problems. The push that I have made with this government is around making sure that we have great organic solutions, because that is the top of the tree of our waste problems. Next is making sure that we obviously reduce the amount of waste that we all create, going down the path of making sure that we sort our recyclables and things that can be easily used and can be easily transformed into other products—that is a must. And then obviously the residual goes to landfill.

Waste to energy is our way forward to making sure we deal with the bulk, probably 20 or 30 years’ worth, of waste that is sitting in our rivers, on our beaches, in our environment and along our roads and corridors that everybody sees. We need a waste-to-energy facility, or multiple across the state, so that that is not going to spare. It is a wonderful resource that we can use, waste to energy, and a very simple solution, especially in regional Victoria, where you have localised solutions to localised problems.

One of the biggest waste problems, from my knowledge, and costs is in carting the waste, and some other members have brought that to the attention of this house—petrol costs and throwing it on trucks. Victoria is a very large state, and when we come to regional Victoria and regional solutions, sticking everything into one little truck, the petrol and the hauling cost just outweigh many of the benefits. The cost is just enormous to those regional communities and those regional councils. So this state government, with the waste levy, needs to make sure that it is absolutely looking after regional Victoria. They need to spend the waste levy on what it was designed for 10 years ago, which was these waste solutions, such as waste to energy, as well as making sure that every Victorian has the opportunity to have organic waste dragged out of the system so that it is not contributing to the environment the way that it does. As soon as it is put into the ground, the gas emissions—the methane—is the problem that we have.

I commend this government for listening to me and listening to the community. I want to thank everyone who came forward during inquiries, especially the people from the west. There were so many people from Western Metropolitan Region. There were a couple of days when it just felt like the whole of the western suburbs was there to have those conversations. It was just wonderful to see, because in the western of suburbs of Melbourne we have been crying out for solutions. So I commend this motion. It is great to see some of the container deposit issues that are working in New South Wales. It seems to be one step up on what South Australia has been doing, and I would hope that the Victorian solution is better again. So I commend the state government, and I look forward to continuing to work with the state government on this particular issue on behalf of Western Metropolitan Region.

Mr Finn interjected.

Mr LEANE (Eastern Metropolitan—Minister for Local Government, Minister for Suburban Development, Minister for Veterans) (20:14): Before I start can I just take the licence to acknowledge and congratulate Ms Burnett-Wake, MLC, for her recent swearing in. I am going to disappoint particularly Mr Finn; I heard his interjection. I think I have got quite a lengthy summary speech, but I am hoping it might address some of the issues that may come.

Mr Finn: I move that the question be put.

Mr LEANE: I am already standing, so you only need five other people. But I will try and get through as quickly as I can. The Circular Economy (Waste Reduction and Recycling) Bill 2021 is a central part of the government’s once-in-a-generation reform of Victoria’s waste and recycling system, and it lays the foundation for the state’s transition to a circular economy. The bill enables better and more recycling, recovery and re-use of our precious resources, less waste in landfill and a recycling system that Victorians can rely on. It provides for Victoria’s new container deposit scheme (CDS), which will increase recycling of drink containers into new products, reduce litter, create new jobs and provide opportunities for community organisations to raise funds. The bill content was informed by extensive consultation with councils, community and industry via a series of consultations in 2019 and 2020 on the development of the Victoria’s circular economy policy, Recycling Victoria: A New Economy. Further industry and community consultation was carried out on options for a new waste bill, an authority and the container deposit scheme.

Laying the foundations of our new four-bin system is one of the integral reforms in the bill. These reforms are necessary to achieve our ambitious climate change targets. Two-thirds of Victoria’s emissions from the waste sector results from the decomposition of organic materials such as food and garden waste in landfill. Mandating the provision of a separate food organic and garden organic service, or FOGO bin, will remove thousands of tonnes of organics from landfill. These reforms will also ensure more valuable materials for recycling. A pure separation stream of glass recyclables is more valuable to the industry than cardboard that is full of bits of broken glass. Industry will be able to do more with these materials. However, as discussed with councils in the development of the bill all councils and alpine resort management boards will have flexibility to deliver services in alternate ways to kerbside collection where appropriate.

This has been our government’s position since the beginning. The amendment proposed by Mr Ondarchie to clause 60 is not necessary, as the bill already provides for flexibility but in a different way. The way in which the councils and the alpine resort management boards can provide a service obligation in clause 60 can be tailored where appropriate, as it is subject to the regulations under item 4, schedule 1, and the service standards in division 3 of part 5. For example, for the rural and regional councils, where many residents may live on acreage without kerbside bin collection, alternative services will be provided. Similarly, for high-density metropolitan councils, where residents may live in high-rise apartment buildings, we have committed to working with councils on alternatives to four kerbside bins. All councils and alpine resort management boards have submitted draft transition plans, which acknowledge this flexible implementation approach for the four services, and we have an ongoing program of active engagement with councils on the implementation of these services.

As for the advisory committees, the amendment proposed by Mr Ondarchie with regard to omitting the word ‘an’ and inserting ‘each’ in clause 66 would have no substantive effect. Clause 66 already requires the minister to consider any advice or comment from a mandatory committee established under clause 37. In the event where the minister establishes more than one advisory committee, it is agreed that each committee’s advice or comments would be considered. The provisions as drafted already have that effect; therefore it is not necessary to amend the bill.

As for community education and behaviour change, there has been lots of discussion in the lead-up to this bill about the importance of community education and behaviour change campaigns in order to ensure Victorians are informed and excited about these changes. With any big reform like this we know how important it is to bring the community along through education programs. Under clause 16(b) the head of Recycling Victoria has an express function:

… to provide strategic planning for waste, recycling or resource recovery services, including by developing and implementing strategies and plans that foster sustainable, resilient and effective markets within a circular economy …

Recycling Victoria will also work with existing government agencies to continue their important roles in promoting our circular economy. Sustainability Victoria will continue to deliver behaviour change and education programs, given their deep expertise in this area. RV will work closely with Sustainability Victoria to ensure education and behaviour change campaigns align with and promote statewide service standards.

As far as the container deposit scheme goes, we know Victorians are very excited about the new container deposit scheme, or cash-for-cans program, that we will be rolling out in 2023. This bill provides for implementation of that scheme. We have seen the success of these schemes in other jurisdictions, and we have taken lessons from each one to ensure that we will be delivering a scheme that works best for Victoria. This includes Victorian charities and not-for-profit organisations, which stand to gain from this scheme in a big way.

Victoria’s CDS will be a new and accessible way for charities and community groups to raise money for services that all Victorians enjoy. In keeping with our government social enterprise strategy we are working with community groups and charities as we design the CDS to make sure all Victorian charities and community groups can take part and benefit if they wish. Some of the ways they will be able to do so are by collecting containers for refunds, running container collection drives, receiving donations—people will make containers available to donate their refunds to their favourite registered charities—and running refund collection points as businesses. Having an accessible and convenient network of collection points is central to the design of Victoria’s CDS. This will enable broad participation in the scheme and maximise the return of containers. The more containers are returned, the greater the opportunities for charities and clubs to benefit.

This bill sets out a split responsibility model that requires scheme coordinators to manage the administration of the scheme and network operators to manage the collection point network. By sharing responsibilities for its operation the scheme will have checks and balances so it is clear and accountable and ensures collection points are convenient and successful, which is crucial for an effective CDS. The roles of scheme coordinators and network operators will be appointed through a competitive tender process.

Mr Ondarchie has respectfully proposed amendments to clauses 89 and I think clause 91. His amendments would impede this competitive process. The Victorian government will be able to test the market for one or more network operators to deliver a world-class network of refund collection points without pre-empting the way the market can respond. This will ensure the best possible outcome for Victorians. It is also worth noting that the bill as drafted does not impose any stipulation that network operators must operate in the metropolitan area, nor does it prohibit them from operating in Melbourne and the regions. Which regions network operators will cover will be determined through the tender process; however, they are not limited through the legislation.

As far as the cross-border communities go, I thank Mr Ondarchie for bringing this up in his second-reading speech. Mr Ondarchie raised his concerns around the cross-border community. With this bill Victoria will join other states in introducing a CDS. A consumer purchasing an eligible container in Victoria will be eligible for a refund in Victoria, just as their neighbours are in New South Wales and South Australia. Cross-border communities will be well served through the provision of a convenient, accessible network, with minimum performance requirements set in regulations to ensure Victorians in metropolitan regions and remote parts of the state all have access to refund collection points. Victoria’s CDS will have minimum access and service standards set in regulations. That will see Victoria set a new national benchmark for network operators to deliver the most accessible and convenient CDS through the highest number of refund collection points per person in Australia.

There was some discussion in the earlier debate about the number of network operators. Let me be clear: this bill allows for multiple network operators. The bill will be supported by regulations and contracts. In a recently released expression of interest, suitable organisations were invited to apply to run network operator regions across the state. The government will review the proposals and appoint the best mix of organisations to deliver the network who can deliver a world-class scheme that meets Victoria’s high expectations. Depending on the proposals there will be somewhere between one and six network operators.

In summing up, recycling is one of the primary ways most Victorians engage with sustainability policy. Everyone puts things in the bin, and when people put things in a recycling bin they want to do so with the confidence that those materials will actually be re-used or repurposed. That is why it is so important that this bill passes.

We know that an industry as large as the waste and recycling industry requires strong regulation. Analysis has proved that the Australian recycling sector creates 9.2 jobs for every 10 tonnes of waste managed, whereas sending material to landfill only creates just under three, and this government’s waste and recycling reforms will create nearly 4000 new jobs—because that is the reality of a good strong circular economy. It is good for our environment, it is good for our economy and it is good for Victorians, and this bill delivers on all fronts.

I think I will finish there. For some reason I feel like I have only had a couple of hours sleep for the last few days, so I apologise if that was an ordinary effort.

Motion agreed to.

Read second time.

Committed.

Committee

Mr ONDARCHIE: I ask that the amendments in my name be circulated, and at a point in the future I will get to speak to those.

Clause 1 (20:28)

Dr RATNAM: Thank you, Minister, for that summary which did go to addressing a number of concerns that a number of us have raised and that have been raised with us by the local government sector et cetera.

I just have questions on a couple of elements—firstly, the four waste streams. I am really pleased to see the four waste streams across the state so that everyone can have access to glass and organic recycling. I do know that some councils are concerned that this may limit their ability to increase recycling and re-use should there be another way to tailor their service to the community that does not, for example, fit the four-bin system perfectly. They might have other innovative ways that they are increasing recycling, and they are concerned that they might be pushed into a four-bin kerbside pick-up service across the board, which is not appropriate for every council.

Minister, can you confirm that councils will be able to retain some flexibility in how they offer recycling services as long as they are increasing material separation and recycling rates? Can they still innovate and create new ways of increasing recycling? It is not going to lock them in through this legislation?

Mr LEANE: I thank Dr Ratnam for her question. The answer I think is, yes, we can confirm that councils will retain flexibility in how they offer recycling services to their community as long as they are ensuring the provision of the four separate waste and recycling streams mandated under the bill. All councils must offer a separate glass service and a separate food and organics service by the dates specified in the bill, as this is essential in keeping material out of landfill.

We know that two-thirds of Victoria’s emissions from the waste sector results from decomposition of organic materials. Providing a separate food and organics service is essential to delivering on our state’s ambitious climate change targets. Separate services will also increase the value of our recyclables. A separate pure glass stream is much more valuable to the recycling industry. These higher value recyclables can actually save councils money as the industry will pay more for non-contaminated streams of material.

We understand there have been concerns. The minister has committed to keep meeting with both councils and the Municipal Association of Victoria. The minister is working closely with councils to determine what is appropriate for each council, and all councils and alpine management boards have submitted draft transition plans, which acknowledges the flexibility of the implementation approach for the four services.

I think, Dr Ratnam, given that the time frame for separating the glass is by 2027 and for food it is by 2030, there is a lot of time to work with councils. I have spoken to councils myself and I have spoken to the department responsible for this legislation and the minister, and we are keen to work in and find ways. Some of these, particularly rural, councils have concerns about the four bins, and I also mentioned some of the highly populated urban areas have concerns. When it comes to the glass there could be just collection points rather than the third and fourth bin.

Dr RATNAM: Thank you, Minister. That is really helpful. I am really glad to hear about the work and consideration that has gone into how to maintain that innovation and not stifle, for example, solutions that might be fit for context for different kinds of municipalities.

My next set of questions—I have only got a couple more—are around community education. Obviously this is a big change in how we recycle in Victoria. It is a welcome change, but a big change has its own challenges, including making sure that everyone is on the same page and understands how to use the new recycling services. You spoke in your summing-up about how Recycling Victoria (RV) is going to be working very closely with Sustainability Victoria (SV), which I understand has the remit around public education programs, hence it is not built into Recycling Victoria’s objectives—and that is understandable. Is there any more detail you could provide about the types of education or behaviour change programs that are planned alongside this bill? For example, will Sustainability Victoria receive any more funding so they are able to expand the types of programs they do? I am interested to know what the government’s plans are to make sure that there is a good complementary education program, whoever runs it, to run alongside Recycling Victoria taking off.

Mr LEANE: I will check with the box about the types of educational programs and the funding. I just confirm for Dr Ratnam that Sustainability Victoria will continue to deliver behaviour change and education programs given its deep expertise in that, and RV will work closely with Sustainability Victoria to ensure that education and behaviour change campaigns align with and promote statewide service standards. But let me check those other two points.

Thank you, Dr Ratnam. I can advise you that there are millions of dollars that are going to go towards a campaign as far as education goes, which includes TV ads, social media and a number of other avenues to highlight it to the community and bring them along with this reform.

Dr RATNAM: My final question, Minister, is around the extended producer responsibility scheme, so producers taking responsibility for their packaging and where it lands. I am aware that an extended producer responsibility scheme was proposed in last year’s option paper but was not taken up in this bill. Is the department still considering introducing a scheme in future?

Mr LEANE: The container deposit scheme (CDS) is the flagship of our producer responsibility scheme.

Mr MEDDICK: Minister, clause 82 in part 6 of the bill, which is on page 72, concerns the appointment of the scheme coordinator. Minister, the scheme coordinator is not required to be a not-for-profit, and this has raised the question as to whether the coordinator should not be able to act as a collection point or network operator to avoid a for-profit entity being appointed to coordinate the scheme and potentially owning the supply of waste and the collection and recycling, effectively monopolising this scheme and preventing small charities and not-for-profits from acting as collection points. Why is that not an aspect of the bill?

Mr LEANE: Can I thank Mr Meddick for his question. It is a really good question. The scheme coordinator should be an expert and a capable organisation with the incentive to drive an efficient scheme with strong probity oversight. The Victorian government will appoint the scheme coordinator from an open and competitive procurement process to find the most suitable organisation to run a world-class scheme. The bill does not specify the governance structure of the scheme coordinator, particularly whether it is for profit or not for profit, or the board composition of the scheme coordinator. The bill requires the appointment of a scheme coordinator and one or more network operators as separate entities to perform different functions. Other requirements for the scheme coordinator and network operators will be set in regulations and contracts. The current procurement process stipulates the same entity or related entities cannot be both the scheme coordinator and the network operator.

Mr MEDDICK: Thank you, Minister, for your answer. I think that will give some clarity to some of the questions that I have been asked. In a similar vein but in a different clause, clause 91 on page 79, but still part 6 of the bill, concerns the appointment of the network operators. Does the bill as it stands shut out community groups, charities et cetera from tendering to act as network operators in their own right?

Mr LEANE: That is a really important question. Thanks, Mr Meddick, for that. Charities and not-for-profits are welcome to respond to current requests for expressions of interest and future requests for tender for network operator roles. The Victorian government invites applications from any organisation that can deliver a world-class scheme for Victorians. Charities and not-for-profits are also eligible to manage collection points through agreements with network operators, and I think Mr Meddick has and I know I have come across some great social enterprises that actually do work in this area. So it is a really important question, and I am sure they are currently looking at getting the expressions of interest out as we speak.

Mr MEDDICK: Thank you, Minister. I have only got two more questions, and they relate to the same part in the same clause, but they are just going down a little bit more of investigating there. In New South Wales, for instance, the network operator has taken advantage of their scheme to corner 80 per cent of the container collection, extracting all the most lucrative collection points and leaving the not-for-profits and charities to access those that are almost impossible to eke a profit from. How is that different here?

Mr LEANE: It is a good question, I think, as well. The Victorian government is designing a container deposit scheme that provides the optimal system for Victoria, drawing on design elements from other jurisdictions. This will include further regulations and contractual arrangements to enhance system performance and ensure a convenient and accessible network of collection points. The Victorian CDS has adopted a split responsibility governance model similar to the New South Wales scheme but has diverged from New South Wales in other aspects, including a commitment that containers collected through the scheme will be offered through a transparent sales mechanism to the broad market.

While it is true that in New South Wales approximately 80 per cent of the containers flow through the network operator-managed site, it is worth noting that the network operator only directly manages approximately 50 per cent of the collection points. This means 50 per cent of the collection points are managed via not-for-profits, charities and small business. The 50 per cent of the collection points managed directly by the network operator are predominantly reserved vendor machines located in accessible, mainly retail, car park locations. These locations have been well used by New South Wales customers. In New South Wales approximately 145 collection points are managed and hosted by not-for-profits and charities. In 2019–20 St Vincent de Paul New South Wales collected the greatest number of containers in New South Wales after the network operator itself.

Mr MEDDICK: Thank you, Minister, for your answer. Similarly, does the bill specify, then, that the scheme coordinator and the network operator are prohibited from being a collection point, and if not, why not?

Mr LEANE: I once again thank Mr Meddick for his question, and it is a fair question. The bill sets out a split responsibility model that requires the scheme coordinator to manage the administration of the scheme and the network operators to manage the collection point network. By sharing responsibilities for its operation, the scheme will have checks and balances so it is clear and accountable to ensure collection points are convenient and accessible, which is crucial for an efficient CDS.

Clause 79 sets out the functions of the scheme coordinator. This does not include managing collection points. Clause 90 sets out the requirements of the network operator agreement, which will require it to establish and operate collection points. The bill will be supported by regulations and contracts. The regulations will include additional preferments and requirements for both the scheme coordinator and the network operators. The recently released procurement specifications clarify that the Victorian government will not appoint the same entity as both the scheme coordinator and the network operator.

Ms BATH: Minister, when I was on the inquiry into recycling and waste management we actually visited Tomra, which is the New South Wales operator. It was 2019, and from the conversations they had it was all going very, very well. When we went to the government side there they also had a discussion and said it was also going very, very well in terms of collection recycling et cetera. But subsequently there have been conversations that indeed in terms of collection they are up to about 60 per cent of collection, whereas the Queensland model is actually at a higher rate at roughly around 85 per cent. I guess what I am seeking to understand is: what did the government do to assess the merits of each, the New South Wales versus the Queensland model, and what were some of the overriding decisions that made this government, your government, choose the New South Wales model?

Mr LEANE: Just confirming, that is on the CDS?

Ms BATH: Yes.

Mr LEANE: Ms Bath, I am going to have to respectfully disagree with the figures in terms of 85 per cent in Queensland. There is no scheme in the nation that is running at 85 per cent. The figures we have are Queensland is running at 64 per cent and New South Wales is actually running at a higher percentage of 68.

Ms BATH: Thanks, Minister. So was it that higher percentage that therefore was the sole driver as to which scheme to model on for the container deposit scheme? Is that something that was sort of the full driver? I am not trying to be cute about it. I am just trying to factor in: what were the merits of New South Wales that left the Queensland model to the side, from the government’s point of view?

Mr LEANE: Ms Bath, I think the process was to cherry pick the best parts of all existing schemes in the nation, and yes, there probably was a weighting towards New South Wales, and I think a lot of elements were taken into account. But in saying that, it is not solely replicating what New South Wales is doing. We have actually looked at other jurisdictions that we think are doing some good work in this area as far as the CDS goes. As far as the percentage goes, that was just one of the elements.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Minister, I have a number of questions before I get to my amendments. With your forbearance, I would like to ask all those questions in clause 1 and then I will have to go through them clause by clause as we go through, if that is okay with you.

Mr LEANE: Yes, whichever way you want.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Minister, on clause 1 of the bill, could you explain to us how RV is going to be funded?

Mr LEANE: Thank you, Mr Ondarchie. The funding that is going towards the waste and recovery groups will be the funding that will be transferred, because they will not be necessary once RV comes into place. So that funding will fund RV.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Thanks. It looks initially to me that there is going to be an injection from the Sustainability Fund to provide RV with almost a start-up fund, if I could put it that way, from the outset. How much is that likely to be?

Mr LEANE: The Sustainability Fund already is what funds the waste and recovery groups to the tune of about $8.5 million per annum, and that is what will go towards RV to fund that operation.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Thanks, Minister. So will that be an annual contribution to RV?

Mr LEANE: As I stated, that is the amount that has been directed from the Sustainability Fund to the waste and resource recovery groups, so we envisage that will be utilised annually to fund RV.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Minister, can I just double-check that number—did you say $8.5 million? It does not seem enough according to the Sustainability Fund activities report, where I read it is about $82.9 million, not $8.5 million. So can we just double-check that, please?

Mr LEANE: This was the answer I was struggling to find in my book. Thank you, Mr Ondarchie. The government will ensure that Recycling Victoria has the resources required to efficiently and cost-effectively discharge its statutory functions and provide these through standard budget processes. The bill and the establishment of Recycling Victoria are a key component of the Victorian government’s $380 million circular economy plan, Recycling Victoria: A New Economy, to reduce waste and landfill for more and better recycling and a thriving sustainable economy. The government will also transfer budget funding currently allocated to the waste and resource recovery groups to RV. As RV will be the successor in law of the waste and resource recovery groups, it will take on their assets and also their liabilities. Establishing Recycling Victoria as a departmental business unit will enable it to access many shared services and reduce operational costs.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Thank you very much, Minister. That was lovely—well read! Minister, it seems to me on examination, when we talk about the funding—the $380 million in total I think you quoted back to me or thereabouts—there seems to be, from my observation, a bit of an overlap between Sustainability Victoria and the Environment Protection Authority Victoria, the EPA. So will the money be diverted from either of those bodies as part of the funding that you quoted for RV? I understand it is part of the budgetary process, but I am trying to work out where the basis of it comes from.

Mr LEANE: So you want to know if it is going to come from the EPA?

Mr ONDARCHIE: If it is coming from the EPA or SV.

Mr LEANE: Mr Ondarchie, on the EPA it is a no, but I am going to read you an answer on Sustainability Victoria’s role, which is to facilitate and promote environmental sustainability in the use of resources. Its functions involve promoting environmentally sustainable practices, markets, technologies and industries, including resource efficiency, energy efficiency, renewable energy and water efficiency.

The bill introduces a targeted regime that focuses on waste reduction and the circular economy, supported by significant powers for oversight and enforcement of the recycling and resource recovery sector. Recycling Victoria will exercise strategic oversight of the waste and recycling sector to provide statewide product stewardship, planning and regulatory market oversight functions. Its focuses will be on improving the stability and performance of the waste and recycling market to drive improved outcomes for materials and facilitate the growth of Victoria’s circular economy.

Sustainability Victoria will continue to deliver waste and resource recovery education services, promote behaviour change and provide industry support, including the administration of grants funding, and these are critical complementary activities to Recycling Victoria’s responsibilities. These clear, distinct roles will address the issues of confusion over government agency roles and responsibilities, which was a major concern of local government and industry.

Establishing RV as a business unit provides a high level of ministerial oversight, with opportunities for more direct alignment between government policy and implementation. Recycling Victoria’s functions have been carefully balanced, with measures to ensure the independence of regulatory decision-making by the head of Recycling Victoria, including clear legislated functions and powers and transparent accountability measures that are complementary to the regulatory role.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Thank you very much, Minister. That is certainly a comprehensive answer—probably better than I could have got out of the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, to be honest with you, but thank you anyway. Minister, the bill somewhat seems focused on supporting a circular economy here in Victoria, but it makes no mention of waste avoidance. I talked about this actually in my constituency question today around commercial industrial waste, construction and demolition and those sorts of waste streams, which account for about 70 per cent of all waste. It would seem to me that that has greater scope for circular economy creation and waste avoidance than currently exists in the bill. Why has that not been catered for in this legislation?

Mr LEANE: Thank you, Mr Ondarchie. As I said in my answer to a question from Dr Ratnam, there will be millions of dollars spent on an education program around the establishment of the CDS and also the establishment of collecting waste such as glass and food products in the future as far as 2027 and 2030 go, and part of the education program will take into account ways to reduce waste, exactly as you said. The education program will go towards ways of reducing waste as well—and it is a good point that you make—particularly in those industries. So there will be an onus on all types of sustainability when the education program gets rolled out.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Thank you, Minister. Respectfully, I was of the view that Dr Ratnam’s questioning was around the domestic residential market and hospo. I was specifically talking about commercial and industrial waste and demolition waste, which as I indicated accounts for about 70 per cent of stuff that is dumped. I am just wondering why there has been no attention to those specific sectors in the bill.

Mr LEANE: It is a very good question, Mr Ondarchie, and I think I have got a very good answer for you.

Mr ONDARCHIE: I have no doubt you think that.

Mr LEANE: I think a lot of things. The bill actually has got in it that there is a head of power for mandating the sorting of business recyclables by 2025, which covers your concern around those businesses in terms of construction or whatever. But service standards can be set by the minister as well, so she can set service standards in those particular industries that you have concerns about. It is actually a really good question you ask, because with those standards around those particular industries they should be trying to recycle more; you are 100 per cent right. So she can set standards for service in those particular sectors.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Thanks, Minister. Minister, my experience over my time in the Northern Metropolitan Region—if we think about things like toxic fires, illegal dumping and things like that—is that the EPA has moved away from a collaborative approach with councils to being much more of a compliance organisation, if I can put it that way. If we follow that process with the creation of RV where councils are currently required to report to SV, to DELWP and to the EPA, there is going to be an onus on councils to report to RV on a range of things associated with the circular economy. Councils are probably of the view that that is going to require additional resourcing, increasing the cost to councils for waste management compliance issues. What support will there be for local governments in being able to enact the requirements of RV vis-a-vis the circular economy?

Mr LEANE: There has been a lot of consultation with local governments. Because of the way particularly the CDS scheme is set up, and the other schemes as far as what I mentioned before goes, councils will make more money from glass that does not have other contaminants in it, so there is an opportunity for councils to actually increase their finances as this particular bill is enacted. And DELWP will continue to speak to local governments around the implementation of these schemes. As I said, if we are talking about glass, there is an end date for that to actually happen as far as separation by 2027 goes. If we are talking food, it is 2030. So we have got time to talk—and the CDS is 2023. We will commit to continuing to talk to local governments. I have actually had a number of conversations with DELWP itself and am making sure that we do continually talk to local governments and listen to any concerns they might have about implementation.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Minister, councils now operating through the recycling bin collection find that there may be little financial upside or even cost neutrality to them in some places. With the creation of RV and a new method of collecting and different network operators outside the scope of the waste and resource recovery group, will there be revenue shock to any councils from this?

Mr LEANE: Well, I have got to say, Mr Ondarchie, there is not an expectation. As I said, there might be some opportunities for revenue—and with the CDS—depending on where councils might want to find themselves in that process, so there is not an expectation that there will be a revenue shock. There is also time to work with councils and take into account their concerns. As I said, with these schemes there are a few years and a number of areas where we can work with councils to ensure that they can get the best outcome for themselves and the people that they represent.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Minister, the bill that is before us, should it pass, locks councils into the same approach for kerbside transition, which does not work completely across all councils in Victoria, particularly regional councils. How is the government, through RV or whatever mechanism, going to support those councils to not have to apply the same mechanism?

Mr LEANE: As I said, Mr Ondarchie, there is the availability for councils to have that flexibility. It does not have to be a four-bin system for every council; say, with glass there might be collection points for certain councils where that is just not appropriate. You mentioned regional councils, and you are right. They will have that flexibility. It might be just they have to abide by the act through the process where there is glass being collected that is not contaminated by other waste, but that does not have to mean a bin at every door. It can take into account what you are saying. And also in highly urbanised areas, as far as high-rises go, there is a similar thing. We will work with councils. It does not have to be the four-bin system.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Thank you, Minister, for acknowledging that the four-bin system will not be applied carte blanche across the board. Thank you. That is going to give some relief to some people. Talk to us a little bit more about the board, or the advisory committees, of RV. Could you talk to us about the sort of skills composition that you are going to be looking for in these advisory committees?

Mr LEANE: So, clause 37(2) of the bill mandates that there have to be regional, rural and local government people with experience as part of the advisory committee. The advisory committee members would be best suited to give the best advice to the minister, and of course people with expertise in the sector would be one of the categories of personnel that we would be looking for in the advisory committee.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Thank you, Minister. I guess one of the things the regional councils are worried about—and let us take a council like East Gippsland shire, 21 000 square kilometres—is their needs are different to the City of Stonnington’s, I would say. So is there an absolute assurance that our remote regional councils, for example, are going to be well represented and their views heard on this advisory committee?

Mr LEANE: Thank you, Mr Ondarchie. As I stated, that provision in the act actually mandates that there has to be regional representation and also regional and rural representation with local government experience. And you are actually right that councils are different and—getting back to your previous question—that we need to have some flexibility and tailor different ways for this collection to happen. It will happen very differently in Stonnington than it will happen in East Gippsland.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Thank you, Minister. I guess, following that line of questioning, councils are concerned about how this transition is going to work and then into the medium term. The Melbourne waste resource and recovery groups have been very, very good at working hand in hand with councils to guide them through how things are going—to recovery, to give them advice and to give them guidance about efficiency and effectiveness of new programs. They have been very, very good. There is some concern around municipalities, as has been expressed to me, that when we move to this RV model and, if you will pardon the pun, the Melbourne waste recovery groups get dumped, then how will that level of support continue from an advisory perspective, a compliance perspective and an innovation perspective for councils?

Mr LEANE: Mr Ondarchie, all the staff in that particular waste recovery group and the regional recovery groups will be going to RV, so all of that expertise that is currently with those groups will be at the new entity.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Thank you very much, Minister. I am now thinking about how operationally this is going to work. Let me give you an example. Mount Buller and Mount Stirling, for example, have got those special—if I can just call them this—rubbish hut structures where they put all the equipment. When we go to a recycling program for, say, Buller and Stirling, they are going to have to redesign those facilities to accommodate the new models and the bins et cetera. Will there be any support for places like that for the cost of reconfiguring their assets?

Mr LEANE: Mr Ondarchie, those particular Alpine groups—as you said, like those places such as Buller and Stirling—are actually presenting plans about how they might be able to work in with this particular bill, and the department is committed to working with them. And getting back to that similar situation that you mentioned, not all councils will embrace the same way of going about things.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Minister, thank you for your answer. So will there potentially be some sort of grant program for organisations that need to reconfigure or adjust things? I am not talking specifically about councils and reporting requirements; I am talking about infrastructure. Will there be some sort of grant program available that these places can access? Because the rules will have changed, they will need to make some decisions that are going cost them money. Will there be something like that for them?

Mr LEANE: Mr Ondarchie, there is no dedicated grants program at the moment. But, as I have said, some of these provisions have got a bit of a long lead-in if you recall. I know it goes quick, but it will be 2027 before the glass needs to be separated—we would hope that that work will be done by then—and it is 2030 for the food and organic waste to be separated, so obviously the government will be prepared to work with them. As you said, whether it is an organisation like the ones at Buller or Stirling that have their own particular system or whether it is a rural council or whether it is a large metropolitan council, we will continue to work with them and support them in their endeavours.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Yes, that will do. Minister, as I have indicated to you, I have got questions on a range of clauses, but I was going to do them all in clause 1 if that is okay. Part 2, division 2, allows the head of Recycling Victoria to grant exemptions for companies and other entities from a wide range of potential and significant requirements. While the final decision on exemptions is still to be outlined and will probably appear in the Government Gazette and probably on the department’s website as well, there does not seem to be any provision for public comment or consultation through that exemption process. Why is that, and will that be available?

Mr LEANE: Thank you, Mr Ondarchie, for the question. As Mr Ondarchie knows, there are some regulations that will need to be produced if this bill is successful and passes. Those regulations, as Mr Ondarchie knows probably better than me, will need a RIS, and with the RIS the draft regulations have to be presented to the public as part of the regulatory impact statement.

Mr ONDARCHIE: When will the RIS likely be undertaken, Minister?

Mr LEANE: Mr Ondarchie, if the bill does not pass, there will be no RIS process, but if it does pass, the first half of next year.

Clause agreed to; clauses 2 to 59 agreed to.

Clause 60 (21:21)

Mr ONDARCHIE: I move:

1. Clause 60, page 56, after line 20 insert—

“(4) The Minister, by order published in the Government Gazette, may exempt a Council or an Alpine Resort Management Board from the requirements of this section.

(5) An exemption under subsection (4)—

(a) may be given either unconditionally or on specified conditions; or

(b) may be limited to specified circumstances.

(6) In deciding whether to give an exemption under subsection (4), the Minister must have regard to—

(a) the current waste and recycling services and processes being provided or followed by the Council or Board and the extent to which those services and processes have successfully met community expectations and the Council or Board’s requirements; and

(b) the level of investment required by the Council or Board to comply with section 60 having regard to the size of the Council’s municipal district or the size of the Board’s alpine resort.”.

What this does effectively is allow the minister to exempt a council or an alpine resort management board from mandatory waste service requirements. It can be complex, the way this rolls out, so my request of the committee is for it to accept my amendment 1.

Mr LEANE: The government will be opposing this amendment. As I have stated, I think, a number of times through the committee stage, we will support the flexible delivery of requirements for councils to provide waste and recovery services. We have got a number of years to support that, particularly around glass and food, and we will ensure that we support councils through the process, whether they are rural, metropolitan or peri-urban.

Amendment negatived; clause agreed to; clauses 61 to 64 agreed to.

Clause 65 (21:23)

Mr ONDARCHIE: I move:

2. Clause 65, page 60, line 8, omit “28 days” and insert “60 days”.

The clause provides for a notice period on a service standard commentary to be available within 28 days. For example, if comments were required on a service standard on 22 December, it would hardly provide enough time for people to respond with due consideration of information. So we would like people to make an informed decision and informed commentary on the service standards, and we move therefore to increase that from 28 days to 60 days.

Mr LEANE: The government will not be supporting Mr Ondarchie’s amendment. The service standards we discussed before. There will be public consultation, and it can still be longer than 28 days. But we believe this particular time period is appropriate.

Amendment negatived; clause agreed to.

Clause 66 (21:25)

Mr ONDARCHIE: I move:

3. Clause 66, line 24, omit “an” and insert “each”.

This clause talks about a minister getting advice from an advisory committee when considering making, amending or revoking service standards. Our view, having listened to the minister’s responses in the committee stage of this bill, is that the advisory committees, structured properly, could each give valuable advice to the minister. So we are moving an amendment that says, rather than taking advice from ‘an’ advisory committee—to get it grammatically correct—that in fact it be from ‘each’ advisory committee.

Mr LEANE: The amendment proposed from Mr Ondarchie we will not be opposing—we will not be supporting.

Mr Ondarchie: Oh, I thought we had a deal.

A member: Why am I here, then?

Mr LEANE: You are here to correct my incorrect language. We will not be supporting Mr Ondarchie’s proposed amendment with regard to omitting the word ‘an’ and inserting ‘each’ in clause 66. It would have no substantive effect. Clause 66 already requires the minister to consider any advice or comments from a mandatory committee established under clause 37. In the event where the minister establishes more than one advisory committee, it is agreed that each committee’s advice or comments will be considered. The provisions as drafted already have that effect; therefore it is not necessary to amend this bill in the way proposed by Mr Ondarchie.

Amendment negatived; clause agreed to; clauses 67 to 81 agreed to.

Clause 82 (21:28)

Mr ONDARCHIE: I move:

4. Clause 82, page 72, after line 32 insert—

“(3A) It is a condition of an appointment under subsection (1) that the Scheme Coordinator must carry out the functions of the Scheme Coordinator on a not-for-profit basis.”.

Specifically, we have talked about—both in the second-reading contributions and through this committee stage—that the scheme coordinator can exercise functions, as we propose, on a not-for-profit basis. The minister indicated they were not that keen on it. They were looking for much more of a commercial operation. We think that disadvantages charities and other community groups. So this amendment looks to ensure that the scheme coordinator exercises those functions on a not-for-profit basis.

Mr LEANE: The government will not be supporting Mr Ondarchie’s amendment. The Victorian government must choose the best organisation to run a world-class CDS for Victoria. The legislation should not constrain the government’s ability to test the market by prescribing the legal structure of an organisation that is permitted to respond to a competitive process. Schemes throughout Australia see the scheme coordinator role capable of being performed by both profit and non-profit organisations. Victoria plans to test the market through a competitive procurement process. As I mentioned to Mr Meddick, there are organisations that are not for profit that I am sure will be looking at the expression of interest and I am sure will be able to provide this sort of service. We do want to open it up to a competitive process, and we will hopefully support some of those not-for-profit organisations so they can be successful.

Amendment negatived; clause agreed to; clauses 83 to 88 agreed to.

Clause 89 (21:31)

Mr ONDARCHIE: I move:

5. Clause 89, after line 29 insert—

“(5) Subject to subsection (6), the Minister may enter into a network operator agreement for a person to carry out the functions of a network operator in a metropolitan area, a regional area or both.

(6) The Minister must not enter into a network operator agreement for a person to carry out the functions of a network operator in both a metropolitan area and a regional area unless the Minister enters into at least one other network operator agreement for another person to carry out the functions of a network operator in that regional area.”.

We are worried about a monopoly taking over metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria. This amendment to this clause is designed to allow organisations under the minister’s agreement to carry out network operator functions in both metro and regional areas on the proviso that there is already one regional operator operating, because we do not just want one Melbourne-based organisation to take over the whole place. I know our regional colleagues are very cognisant of that. That is what this amendment is designed to do: to ensure that there is a balance for regional communities, for jobs and for operations across regional Victoria but that it then does not preclude the skills and the strong balance sheets of companies in the metropolitan area also tendering for that work. We are looking to make sure monopoly does not occur here. That is why I think it is important, and we would look for the government’s support on this one.

Mr LEANE: Mr Ondarchie, the government will not be supporting this amendment. The Victorian government needs to be able to test the market for one or more network operators to deliver a world-class network of refund collection points without predetermining the way the market can respond. Prescribing a number of network operators risks poor outcomes for Victorian consumers. The Victorian government needs to be able to assess market responses through a competitive process to deliver a world-class CDS. The Victorian government has recently commenced an expression-of-interest process that enables up to six network operators to deliver the network operation function across Victoria.

Committee divided on amendment:

Ayes, 11
Bach, Dr Crozier, Ms Lovell, Ms
Bath, Ms Davis, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Bourman, Mr Finn, Mr Quilty, Mr
Burnett-Wake, Ms Limbrick, Mr
Noes, 23
Barton, Mr Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms
Cumming, Dr Maxwell, Ms Symes, Ms
Elasmar, Mr Meddick, Mr Tarlamis, Mr
Erdogan, Mr Melhem, Mr Terpstra, Ms
Gepp, Mr Patten, Ms Tierney, Ms
Grimley, Mr Pulford, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Hayes, Mr Ratnam, Dr Watt, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms

Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to; clause 90 agreed to.

Clause 91 (21:40)

Mr ONDARCHIE: For the sake of colleagues in the chamber, I can indicate that I will not be calling for any more divisions tonight. I move:

6. Clause 91, after line 23 insert—

“(5A) In addition to any renewal under subsection (4), the Minister may renew the appointment of a network operator for any further period if—

(a) after reviewing the operation of the appointment, the Minister is satisfied that, in the circumstances, it is appropriate to do so; and

(b) the network operator agrees to the renewal.”.

There is significant capital investment, resource investment and employee skill development and training associated with network operators and the job they have to do. The amendment we seek to make today, if it is suitable, allows for the minister to appoint or reappoint a network operator for a period of greater than three years if the minister is satisfied and it is appropriate to do so. This provides some certainty for the capital investment and the resource allocation of the network operator, it provides some certainty for those operators that are working with municipalities and it provides some certainty for the workers so they know what is going to happen. We think this is a good, flexible arrangement to allow the minister, if things are going well, the investment is going well and the outcomes for communities are going well, to extend that period beyond the three years.

Mr LEANE: Thank you, Mr Ondarchie. The government is not in a position to support this amendment. The bill as drafted allows an incumbent network operator to be renewed after their agreement term has ended: five plus three plus three, for a total of 11 years. However, a reappointment, in contrast to a renewal, would require a new procurement process for the government to test the market for the best candidates to manage the refund collection network. It is important that the market understands that these are not unlimited contracts, to ensure that network operators always deliver the highest service standards to prevent any possible complacency in service delivery.

Mr ONDARCHIE: There was a bit of noise in the chamber, respectfully, Minister, so I did not quite hear you at the start. Did you say the government are in a position to support this amendment?

Mr LEANE: I said, Mr Ondarchie, the government is not in a position to support this amendment.

Amendment negatived; clause agreed to; clauses 92 to 212 agreed to; schedule 1 agreed to.

Reported to house without amendment.

Mr LEANE (Eastern Metropolitan—Minister for Local Government, Minister for Suburban Development, Minister for Veterans) (21:45): I move:

That the report be now adopted.

Motion agreed to.

Report adopted.

Third reading

Mr LEANE (Eastern Metropolitan—Minister for Local Government, Minister for Suburban Development, Minister for Veterans) (21:45): I move:

That the bill be now read a third time.

In saying that, can I thank all the members who contributed to the second-reading debate and thank for their contributions in the committee stage Mr Ondarchie, Dr Ratnam, Mr Meddick and Ms Bath.

The PRESIDENT: The question is:

That the bill be now read a third time and do pass.

House divided on question:

Ayes, 32
Bach, Dr Gepp, Mr Pulford, Ms
Barton, Mr Grimley, Mr Ratnam, Dr
Bath, Ms Hayes, Mr Shing, Ms
Bourman, Mr Kieu, Dr Stitt, Ms
Burnett-Wake, Ms Leane, Mr Symes, Ms
Crozier, Ms Lovell, Ms Tarlamis, Mr
Cumming, Dr Maxwell, Ms Terpstra, Ms
Davis, Mr Meddick, Mr Tierney, Ms
Elasmar, Mr Melhem, Mr Vaghela, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Ondarchie, Mr Watt, Ms
Finn, Mr Patten, Ms
Noes, 2
Limbrick, Mr Quilty, Mr

Question agreed to.

Read third time.

The PRESIDENT: Pursuant to standing order 14.27, the bill will be returned to the Assembly with a message informing them that the Council have agreed to the same without amendment.

Committees

Parliamentary committees

Membership

Mr DAVIS (Southern Metropolitan—Leader of the Opposition) (21:52): I move, by leave:

That:

(1) Ms Lovell be discharged from the Standing Committee on Legal and Social Issues;

(2) Ms Burnett-Wake be a member of the Standing Committee on Legal and Social Issues;

(3) Ms Lovell be a participating member of the Standing Committee on Legal and Social Issues; and

(4) Ms Burnett-Wake be a participating member of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Planning.

Motion agreed to.

Bills

Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021

Council’s amendments

The PRESIDENT (21:53): I have a message from the Assembly:

The Legislative Assembly informs the Legislative Council that, in relation to ‘A Bill for an Act to amend the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 in relation to the effective management of pandemics and for other purposes’ the amendments made by the Council have been agreed to.

Domestic Animals Amendment (Reuniting Pets and Other Matters) Bill 2021

Introduction and first reading

The PRESIDENT (21:54): I have a message from the Assembly:

The Legislative Assembly presents for the agreement of the Legislative Council ‘A Bill for an Act to amend the Domestic Animals Act 1994 to improve the process for reuniting pets with their owners and to make other miscellaneous and consequential amendments and for other purposes’.

Ms PULFORD (Western Victoria—Minister for Employment, Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy, Minister for Small Business, Minister for Resources) (21:55): I move:

That the bill be now read a first time.

Motion agreed to.

Read first time.

Ms PULFORD: I move, by leave:

That the second reading be taken forthwith.

Motion agreed to.

Statement of compatibility

Ms PULFORD (Western Victoria—Minister for Employment, Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy, Minister for Small Business, Minister for Resources) (21:55): I lay on the table a statement of compatibility with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006:

In accordance with section 28 of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (the Charter), I make this statement of compatibility with respect to the Domestic Animals Amendment (Reuniting Pets and Other Matters) Bill 2021 (the Bill).

In my opinion, the Bill, as introduced to the Legislative Council, is compatible with the human rights protected by the Charter. I base my opinion on the reasons outlined in this statement.

Overview of the Bill

The Bill amends the Domestic Animals Act 1994 (the Act) to enable animal shelters and consenting veterinary clinics to receive lost cats and dogs and reunite them with their owners, thereby reducing reliance on councils and facilitating the efficient and humane reunification of lost cats and dogs with their owners. Amendments inserted by the Bill will allow shelters and vets to make enquiries to verify ownership of lost dogs and cats, and impose record keeping and reporting requirements to ensure councils can conduct compliance activities. The Bill also makes a number of amendments to improve the administration and enforcement of the Act.

Human rights issues

The human rights protected by the Charter that are relevant to the Bill are the right to privacy and property rights.

Right to privacy

Section 13(a) of the Charter recognises a person’s right not to have their privacy, family, home or correspondence unlawfully or arbitrarily interfered with. An interference will be lawful if it is permitted by a law which is precise and appropriately circumscribed, and will be arbitrary only if it is capricious, unpredictable, unjust or unreasonable, in the sense of being disproportionate to the legitimate aim sought.

Information collection and sharing for the reunification of lost cats and dogs with their owners

Vets and animal shelters that receive a lost dog or cat will be required to scan the animal within a certain period after receiving it. New section 84DA, inserted by clause 5, provides that a person, body or veterinary practitioner who receives a lost cat or dog and finds a microchip or identification marker on it must make a reasonable effort to compare the information on the microchip or marker with any information kept by the relevant council. It is anticipated that the vet or shelter would do this by attempting to contact the council to cross reference the identification information with pet registration records. If the owner is identified within 24 hours after the arrival of the cat or dog, the vet or shelter must take reasonable steps to contact them and arrange for recovery of the cat or dog. The owner (or their agent) may recover the cat or dog if they can show satisfactory proof of ownership.

These provisions engage the right to privacy because they involve the collection, use and disclosure of personal information, such as the name, phone number and address of a person who owns a cat or dog. However, any interference with the right to privacy will be lawful and not arbitrary. Personal information will only be collected and shared to the extent necessary to identify the owner of the lost cat or dog, verify that the ownership information is accurate (as the information on a microchip may list the breeder or a previous owner) and contact the owner to arrange for collection of the animal. Further, this information is provided by owners as part of the registration process and in expectation that it will be used for such purposes, which are in the owners’ interests. As such, these provisions are compatible with the right to privacy under the Charter.

Information sharing for compliance and enforcement

Clause 5 inserts new section 84DD, which provides that a person, body or veterinary practitioner must keep a record of the prescribed details of each dog and cat received and of every owner who has recovered a lost cat or dog, and must provide this report to the relevant council within the prescribed period. This information will enable councils to undertake follow up compliance activities, such as ensuring that an unregistered cat or dog is registered with council.

Clause 23 amends section 63H(2) of the Act to provide that it is not an offence for a holder of an animal registry licence to provide prescribed identifying information from the animal registry service to a general inspector (who is an officer of the RSPCA) under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that inspectors have more timely access to information when investigating an offence against that Act.

Finally, clause 31 inserts new section 74AA, which provides that an authorised officer may require a person to produce a document or record which the authorised officer reasonably believes to be relevant for the purpose of ascertaining compliance with the Act or Regulations. Under section 76 of the Act, refusing or failing to comply with a requirement of an authorised officer, without reasonable excuse, is an offence. While an authorised officer already has some search and seizure powers under section 74 of the Act, this amendment creates a general power to obtain documents or records (subject to the conditions already mentioned). This is necessary in order to effectively monitor and enforce compliance with the Act in circumstances where only limited identifying information is available in connection with an offence (for example, where only a telephone number is supplied in an online advertisement).

These provisions engage the right to privacy by permitting personal information to be disclosed to a third party without consent. However, the circumstances in which information can be shared and the scope of that information is such that any interference with the right will be lawful and not arbitrary. These provisions serve important functions of promoting accountability and compliance with the relevant Acts by ensuring that councils and inspectors have timely access to information that they need to fulfil their statutory duties and functions. Further, the information provided to councils under new section 84DD is information that councils currently collect when a dog or cat is recovered—this amendment simply accounts for the fact that the lost cats and dogs may be handed in to a vet or shelter instead of the council, and allows councils to retain oversight so compliance activities can be conducted. Accordingly, I consider that these provisions are compatible with the right to privacy.

Entry and inspection powers

Clause 21 amends section 58AF of the Act to clarify that it is a condition of a commercial dog breeder approval that a Departmental authorised officer may, at any time, enter and search the premises on which the breeding domestic animal business is being conducted for the purpose of monitoring compliance with a relevant provision.

Authorised officers already have entry and search powers under Part 7 of the Act. Relevantly, the powers in section 58AF can only be exercised in certain, confined circumstances, and will be a known condition of registration as a commercial dog breeder. Any interference with the right to privacy will be lawful and proportionate to a legitimate aim of ensuring compliance with the Act.

Source number applications

Clause 24 amends section 68P of the Act to require certain persons to give additional information to the Secretary as part of their application for a ‘source number’. A source number is a number that identifies an individual, breeder or organisation who is registered on the Pet Exchange Register, and is needed when advertising a dog or cat for sale. The amendments to section 68P require a microbreeder who is applying for a source number to provide details of any conviction or finding of guilt for a relevant offence, as well as details of any order to which they have been subject that prohibits them from owning or selling a dog or cat. The amendments also provide that an applicant who is not a recreational breeder or microbreeder must provide their address to the Secretary when applying for a source number.

Although the right to privacy is relevant to these amendments, applicants who are seeking to participate in a regulated industry have a diminished expectation of privacy. The information to be provided is only information that is necessary for or relevant to the determination of the application. Further, the more sensitive information to be provided around a person’s convictions or findings of guilt for relevant offences replicates the information required to be provided by recreational breeders, and is necessary for the Secretary to be able to determine whether a person or body is lawfully prevented from breeding or selling animals. The Secretary already has the power under section 68ZF of the Act to decide not to issue or renew a source number if the applicant has been convicted or found guilty of certain offences against the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 or has been subject to an order prohibiting them from owning or selling a dog or cat. Any interference with privacy is therefore neither unlawful nor arbitrary.

Property rights

Section 20 of the Charter provides that a person must not be deprived of their property other than in accordance with law. This right requires that powers which authorise the deprivation of property are conferred by legislation or common law, are confined and structured rather than unclear, are accessible to the public, and are formulated precisely.

Seized cats or dogs

Clause 5 inserts new section 84DB into the Act, which sets out the circumstances in which an animal shelter or vet must relinquish a lost dog or cat to a council authorised officer. These circumstances include when the shelter or vet has not been able to identify or contact the owner of the dog or cat, has concerns about the health or welfare of the animal, or reasonably suspects the dog (in the case of a lost dog) to be a dangerous or restricted breed dog. The animal must also be relinquished to a council authorised officer if the owner has not recovered the cat or dog from the shelter or vet in the given period. Once the dog or cat has been relinquished to the council, it may be dealt with under the existing scheme in the Act.

The Charter implications of the powers for seizing, retaining and disposing of animals under the Act have been addressed in the Statements of Compatibility for other Bills, such as the Animals Legislation Amendment (Animal Care) Bill 2007. To the extent that the relinquishing of a cat or dog to a council under new section 84DB may ultimately result in a ‘deprivation’ of property, I consider that any such deprivation meets the conditions for lawfulness described above and is therefore in accordance with law and compatible with the Charter.

Seized GRV greyhounds

Clause 34 amends section 84Q(2A) of the Act to permit a council, person or body with custody of a seized Greyhound Racing Victoria greyhound to retain custody of the dog pending the outcome of the prosecution against the dog’s owner for certain offences.

The power to seize and retain dogs and cats in similar circumstances is an existing power under the Act and has been assessed in previous Statements of Compatibility as compatible with the right to property. To the extent that the amendment may amount to a deprivation of property, I am satisfied that the powers are appropriately confined and in accordance with law.

Documents and records

Where a document is produced in response to a request under new section 74AA, discussed above, an authorised officer may take extracts from it or remove the document or record for as long as it is reasonably necessary to make copies or take extracts. These powers engage the right to property in section 20, but do not limit it. Documents may only be requested where relevant for ascertaining compliance with the Act or Regulations, and may only be retained for the period necessary to make copies or take extracts. I consider that the specific and confined circumstances in which an authorised officer can retain a document or record mean that any interference with property occasioned by the Bill is in accordance with law and therefore compatible with the Charter.

Conclusion

For the reasons set out above, I consider that the Bill is compatible with the Charter.

The Hon. Gayle Tierney, MP

Minister for Training and Skills

Second reading

Ms PULFORD (Western Victoria—Minister for Employment, Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy, Minister for Small Business, Minister for Resources) (21:55): I move:

That the second-reading speech be incorporated into Hansard.

Motion agreed to.

Ms PULFORD: I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

Incorporated speech as follows:

The Victorian Government continues its commitment to animal welfare by introducing new laws that will allow vets and registered animal shelters to reunite lost cats and dogs with their owners more efficiently and humanely.

Victoria has high pet ownership rates, with an average of 665,000 dogs and 215,000 cats registered with councils each year. Pets are very important members of our families and when a pet goes missing it can be extremely stressful for the family as well as the pet.

Under long-standing laws, lost cats and dogs (which I will refer to as pets) can only be provided to council authorised officers or to vets and shelters that have an agreement under the Domestic Animals Act 1994. Unfortunately, only around 23 per cent of vets have such an agreement, making it currently inconsistent with Victorian law for the remaining vets to accept and reunite lost pets.

This Bill enables Victorians to take any lost pet to a participating vet clinic or registered animal shelter to be reunited with its owner, in addition to still being able to take them to council authorised officers. This is an important change that acknowledges the important role of vets and shelters in supporting the community when pets go missing.

Vets will be allowed to scan lost pets and then reunite them with their owners if they choose to do so. Importantly, the Bill allows vets to opt-in to the reunification process, acknowledging that not all veterinary clinics have the time or resources to provide this service.

In recognition that there are staffing, time, resource, boarding and administrative costs associated with pet reunification, vets will be allowed to request a nominal fee from the owner of the returned pet, but will not be able to compel payment or make reunification contingent on payment.

The Bill also includes provisions to ensure that public safety, animal welfare, equity and compliance with existing laws is maintained. When a microchip is scanned, the database will indicate if a dog has been declared dangerous or menacing. The Bill requires these dogs to be relinquished to the relevant Council. This is also required for any dog that the vet reasonably suspects has been involved in a dog attack or is a restricted breed dog—or any pet whose welfare the vet is concerned about or that the vet determines may have suffered neglect. The pet can also be relinquished to Council if the owner cannot be identified or contacted, or if it is not collected within the recovery time stipulated or agreed between parties.

Vets will be required to keep records of the pets they have reunited with owners and submit these to the relevant Council at prescribed times. This will assist the Council to conduct any follow-up compliance activity needed to keep the community safe and ensure all pet owners are contributing to the cost of council animal management services by ensuring their pets are registered and being confined appropriately.

Minor penalties for relevant new provisions are in place to help ensure animal welfare, community safety, compliance, equity and accountability objectives can be achieved.

The Government has consulted extensively in developing these reforms with 1066 submissions from the community, veterinarians, councils, shelters, rescue groups, community foster care networks, animal registry services and peak representative organisations. We will continue consulting with key stakeholders in developing consequential regulatory amendments to support these Bill amendments.

During consultation, it became evident that while reuniting lost pets through vets and shelters will be a significant improvement, there is still a significant number of microchip records that have not been kept up to date and, as a result, are inaccurate. It would be extremely distressing for all involved if a lost pet was returned to the wrong person.

Consequently, the Bill also introduces a verification process so that vets and animal shelters will either check with the local council that the ownership details match, or if this is not possible, require the owner or their agent to verify ownership when collecting the pet. In most cases this would be a council pet registration document, recent vet invoice or other forms of proof.

The overwhelming feedback that microchip records are not being kept updated by owners highlights the importance of ensuring ownerships details are current with both the Council and the microchip registry. That is why the Government will also invest in an advertising campaign to remind owners of the importance of updating their details with microchip registries.

These important reforms will allow vets and animal shelters to maintain existing relationships with councils and keep any current agreements in place. The reforms do not affect these agreements or prevent new agreements from being entered into under section 84Y of the Domestic Animals Act 1994.

Most of Victoria’s registered animal shelters already have a section 84Y agreement in place with councils which allow them to provide pound services and to reunite, treat, desex and rehome animals. These reforms provide an opportunity for the majority of Victorian vets who do not have council agreements, to reunite lost pets with their owners.

The Bill also makes numerous amendments to improve compliance and administration of the Domestic Animals Act 1994.

Reinforcing our commitment to the landmark puppy farm legislation reforms, various amendments have been made to:

• Clarify and provide legal certainty around the number of dogs that can be approved for a commercial dog breeder (up to a maximum of 50)

• Clarify that the Chief Veterinary Officer is allowed to recommend specific conditions be imposed on a commercial dog breeder application or renewal

• Increase the period within which the Minster must make a decision on commercial dog breeder applications or renewals from 40 to 60 days to allow enough time for required processes, inspections, and for the Minister to adequately consider recommendations and reports.

Clarifying provisions have also been included to remove ambiguity about existing authorised officer monitoring and inspection powers over breeding domestic animal businesses.

At times, it is necessary to use the exemption provision in the Act to facilitate certain activities which would otherwise contravene the Act, such as Greyhound adoption days. Exemptions for an animal, class of animal, domestic animal business or class of domestic animal business already exist. This Bill introduces increased flexibility to exempt a person or class of person—and the power to apply, adopt or incorporate any standard, code of practice or other document to an exemption to ensure there are relevant controls that can also be applied to the activity.

A Bill will also provide that non-racing greyhounds, walked on a lead outside the owner’s property, no longer require a muzzle. While this is currently given effect through an Order in Council made under the Act, the Bill will legislate this arrangement. The Bill will remove the requirement for anyone advertising a Greyhound Racing Victoria (GRV) greyhound for sale from obtaining a source number or including one in an advertisement. GRV has its own traceability system which can track greyhounds prior to their retirement from the industry.

The Bill also includes a provision allowing authorised officers to require a person to produce a document or record that could assist in determining compliance with the Act. Similar provisions exist in other Acts, and the requirement for this was brought about by difficulties in determining a person’s identity when the only identifying information in a pet advertisement is a mobile phone number. This provision will enable authorised officers to approach companies for such information when investigating suspected non-compliance. The provision provides a reasonable excuse for a natural person to refuse to comply if doing so would tend to incriminate them or make them liable to a penalty. This reasonable excuse would not apply to a telecommunications company for example.

In order to allow authorised officers to continue to perform their duties remotely during emergencies like COVID-19 and bushfires, the Bill also includes a provision that amends the circumstances in which an identity card needs to be produced.

Other amendments in the Bill are required to improve efficiency, compliance, administration, accountability and clarity include:

• Amending the definition of a recreational breeder to ensure they are registered with their organisation as a breeding member;

• Allowing the Minister to delegate the power to declare an organisation as a declared bird organisation;

• Creating an offence that a person must not threaten, abuse or intimidate an authorised officer consistent with similar offences in other legislation;

• Aligning the foster carer registration fee period with the existing registration period for pets;

• Clarifying that the Minister must also notify the relevant Council of a refusal to grant or renew a commercial dog breeder application;

• Allowing RSPCA general inspectors to obtain ownership information from an animal registry service (microchip registry) without needing to first apply to the Secretary of the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (DJPR);

• Requiring applicable organisations (e.g. Dogs Victoria) to notify the departmental Secretary (DJPR) when a breeder resigns from the organisation;

• Allowing source numbers to be issued to people even if they have no intention to advertise pets for sale;

• Providing more detail in instruments of appointment when appointing departmental and restricted authorised officers;

• Requiring additional information be collected through Pet Exchange Register enrolments and applications for some applicant categories to assist compliance activities;

• Clarifying that the Court can make separate orders relating to prohibiting a person found guilty of certain offences from keeping animals for sale or keeping any animals and from prohibiting them from working for a recreational breeder or microbreeder; and

• Correcting minor errors in referencing.

This Government is committed to taking a holistic approach to domestic animal reforms and has supported a Taskforce looking at the rehoming process for pets that are unfortunate enough not to have an owner. In addition, the Government has committed $5 million over four years to support animal rehoming services. In order to reduce the number of pets needing to be rehomed in the future the government has also allocated $1.5 million over three years in grant funding to enable the delivery of free or low-cost desexing programs for cats and dogs owned by vulnerable and disadvantaged Victorians.

This Bill is another important step in helping our domestic animals through more humane and efficient reunification. It achieves improvements in laws that further ensure we meet community expectations in relation to animal welfare, compliance, enforcement, community safety, accountability, equity and efficient administration.

I wish to thank all of the stakeholders who engaged with the development of this Bill. Their assistance has helped reshaped the lost pet reunification process to help owners to be reunited with their beloved pets more quickly. Pets are important members of Victorian households, and enabling their quick return benefits all members of our community. I wish to thank everyone in advance who will contribute to implementing this Bill and who will, in future, ensure pets are returned to their homes sooner to curl up in their favourite sleeping spot.

I commend the Bill to the house.

Mr ONDARCHIE (Northern Metropolitan) (21:55): I move, on behalf of my colleague Ms Bath:

That debate on this matter be adjourned for one week.

Motion agreed to and debate adjourned for one week.

Major Events Legislation Amendment (Unauthorised Ticket Packages and Other Matters) Bill 2021

Introduction and first reading

The PRESIDENT (21:56): I have a further message:

The Legislative Assembly presents for the agreement of the Legislative Council ‘A Bill for an Act to amend the Major Events Act 2009 to prevent the unauthorised advertising and sale of ticket packages for sports ticketing events and ticketed events to which a major event ticketing declaration applies and for other purposes’.

Ms PULFORD (Western Victoria—Minister for Employment, Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy, Minister for Small Business, Minister for Resources) (21:56): I move:

That the bill be now read a first time.

Motion agreed to.

Read first time.

Ms PULFORD: I move, by leave:

That the second reading be taken forthwith.

Motion agreed to.

Statement of compatibility

Ms PULFORD (Western Victoria—Minister for Employment, Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy, Minister for Small Business, Minister for Resources) (21:56): I lay on the table a statement of compatibility with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006:

In accordance with section 28 of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006, (the Charter), I make this Statement of Compatibility with respect to the Major Events Legislation Amendment (Unauthorised Ticket Packages and Other Matters) Bill 2021 (the Bill).

In my opinion, the Bill, as introduced to the Legislative Council, is compatible with human rights as set out in the Charter. I base my opinions on the reasons outlined in this statement.

Overview

The Bill amends the Major Events Act 2009 (the Act) to:

• prevent the unauthorised advertising and sale of ticket packages for sports ticketing events or ticketed events where a major events ticketing declaration applies;

• require sports event organisers and ticketed event organisers to keep a public register of authorised ticket package sellers for sports ticketing events or ticketed events where a major events ticketing declaration applies; and

• require ticket sellers to provide the face value price; intended sale price of the ticket; and seating allocation of a ticket in any resale advertisement for sports ticketing events or ticketed events where a major events ticketing declaration applies.

Human Rights Issues

The Bill engages a range of human rights under the Charter, discussed below. However, to the extent that the Bill limits any Charter rights, such limits are reasonable and justifiable in accordance with section 7(2) of the Charter.

Right to Privacy

Section 13(a) of the Charter provides that a person has the right not to have their privacy, family, home or correspondence unlawfully or arbitrarily interfered with. An interference will be lawful if it is permitted by a law which is precise and appropriately circumscribed, and will be arbitrary only if it is capricious, unpredictable, unjust or unreasonable, in the sense of being disproportionate to the legitimate aim sought.

New sections 160A and 182GA, inserted by clauses 5 and 19 of the Bill, require the sports event organiser of a sports ticketing event and the ticketed event organiser of a ticketed major event to keep a register of authorised ticket package sellers for each event. The register must include the name or business name of the seller, their ABN or ACN, the Internet site where tickets are authorised to be sold, and, if the seller ceases to be an authorised ticket package seller, the date the authorisation ceased. The organiser must also publish the register on the official Internet site of the event. If there are no authorised ticket package sellers, the organiser must publish that fact on the site.

Under new section 160B and 182GA, inserted by clauses 5 and 19 of the Bill, the organiser of the event must also provide the register to the Minister as soon as practicable after the completion of the event.

New sections 160C and 182GC, inserted by clauses 5 and 19 of the Bill, provide that in any advertisement or offer for sale of tickets in a ticket package for a sports ticketing event or ticketed event to which a major event ticketing declaration applies, the authorised ticket package sellers must include their full name or business name, their ABN or ACN, and a statement that they are authorised to sell or distribute tickets to the event in a ticket package.

These clauses engage the right to privacy by requiring certain information about authorised ticket package sellers to be collected, published and shared. Where that information concerns individuals, it may interfere with the privacy rights of those persons. However, any interference will be authorised by law, and will not be arbitrary. The relevant information is minimal in nature, and requiring its collection, publication and sharing in the circumstances set out in the Bill is necessary to ensure that ticket package sellers can be effectively identified and appropriately regulated. I therefore consider that these clauses are compatible with the right to privacy.

Right to freedom of expression

Section 15 of the Charter provides that every person has the right to hold an opinion without interference and has the right to freedom of expression which includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds. Section 15 also provides that lawful restrictions may be reasonably necessary to respect personal rights and reputations, or for the protection of national security, public order, public health or public morality.

New sections 166D and 182GE, inserted by clauses 9 and 19 of the Bill, prohibit a person from advertising or offering for sale tickets for a sports ticketing event or a ticketed event to which a major ticketing event declaration applies in a ticket package, unless authorised to do so. New sections 166E and 182GF also prohibit a person from falsely claiming to be authorised to sell tickets in a ticket package for such events.

New sections 166F and 182GG, inserted by clauses 9 and 19 of the Bill, require that any advertisement or offer for resale of tickets for a sports ticketing event or an event to which a major event ticketing declaration applies must include the asking price or intended sale price of each ticket, as well as its face value price and the seating allocation of the ticket. New sections 166G and 182GH make it an offence to include inaccurate or incomplete information about those matters in an advertisement or offer. Penalties apply to persons, other than authorised ticket package sellers, for breaching these provisions, with higher penalties applying where six or more tickets are offered or advertised.

These provisions may engage the right to freedom of expression by prohibiting a person from engaging in certain forms of advertising expression or claiming certain things. They may also engage the right to freedom of expression by mandating that certain information be included in advertisements or offers for sale. However, I consider that these measures are lawful restrictions reasonably necessary to protect public order and the rights of others by ensuring that persons do represent themselves as being able to sell ticket packages when they are not authorised to do so, and ensuring that consumers have appropriate and accurate information. I therefore consider that these provisions are compatible with the right to freedom of expression.

Right to Property

Section 20 of the Charter provides that a person must not be deprived of their property other than in accordance with law. This right is not limited where there is a law that authorises a deprivation of property, and that law is adequately accessible, clear and certain, and sufficiently precise to enable a person to regulate their conduct.

New sections 166C and 182GD, inserted by clauses 9 and 19 of the Bill, prohibit a person from selling or distributing tickets in a ticketing package for a sports ticketing event or a ticketed event to which a major event ticketing declaration applies unless authorised to do so.

These provisions engage the right to property by preventing persons from dealing with tickets to certain types of events in a particular way. This may be considered a ‘deprivation’ of property to the extent that a person may be deprived of the right to deal with their property as they wish. However, to the extent, if any, that a person may be deprived of property rights, that deprivation will be lawful as it is authorised under legislation. I therefore do not consider the right is limited.

Sections 167C to 167F of the Act provide for powers relating to surrender, seizure, retention, return and forfeiture of tickets in circumstances where certain offences have been committed, or may have been committed, under the Act. Clauses 12 to 15 amend those provisions to apply those existing powers to the offences provided for under the Bill. These amendments may interfere with the right to property by depriving persons either temporarily or permanently of their property. However, any deprivation will be lawful, as the provisions of the Act set out clear parameters and processes for the use of the relevant powers. The powers are necessary for the investigation and enforcement of the offence provisions, and to ensure appropriate forfeiture of tickets where a person is found guilty of an offence relating to dealing with those tickets in a prohibited manner. I therefore consider that the application of those powers to the new offences under the Bill is compatible with the right to property.

Presumption of Innocence

Section 25(1) of the Charter provides that a person charged with a criminal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law. The right is relevant where a statutory provision shifts the burden of proof onto an accused in a criminal proceeding, so that the accused is required to prove matters to establish, or raise evidence to suggest, that they are not guilty of an offence.

The Bill introduces a number of new offence provisions that contain ‘reverse onus’ elements (sections 166C to 166G and 182GD to 182GH). By creating ‘reasonable excuse’ exceptions, these provisions may be viewed as placing an evidential burden on the accused, in that they require the accused to raise evidence as to a reasonable excuse. However, in doing so, the offences do not transfer the legal burden of proof. Once the accused has pointed to evidence of a reasonable excuse, which will ordinarily be peculiarly within their knowledge, the burden shifts back to the prosecution who must prove the essential elements of the offence. I therefore do not consider that an evidential onus such as this limits the right to be presumed innocent.

The Hon. Jaala Pulford, MP

Minister for Employment

Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy

Minister for Small Business

Minister for Resources

Second reading

Ms PULFORD (Western Victoria—Minister for Employment, Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy, Minister for Small Business, Minister for Resources) (21:56): I move:

That the second-reading speech be incorporated into Hansard.

Motion agreed to.

Ms PULFORD: I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

Incorporated speech as follows:

Ticket scalping laws are important to protect passionate fans from paying exorbitant prices to attend declared major event as well as protecting event organisers from others unfairly leveraging off the risk undertaken to stage such events. And that is why the Government is introducing these amendments to strengthen our existing laws.

In 2018 the Victorian Government expanded its ticket scalping regime to encompass major cultural events as well as major sporting events. A total of 29 declarations have been made since then to cover a diverse range of events such as the:

• AFL Grand Final

• Australian Open Tennis

• Boxing Day Test Match

• Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

• Hamilton

• Moulin Rouge! The Musical

• Melbourne International Comedy Festival

• Meredith Music Festival; and

• Melbourne Winter Masterpieces: French Impressionism.

Major Events hold a pivotal place in the very fabric of Melbourne and Victoria. The Eventful Year Report undertaken in 2018 found that Victoria’s major event calendar delivers an estimated $2.5 billion annually to the Victorian economy, through the visitation and expenditure of interstate and international visitors. With the easing of restrictions and opening of travel as part of the National Plan to transition Australia’s National COVID-19 Response, major events will be at the forefront of Victoria’s economic recovery.

An important revenue stream for major event organisers is the capacity to make agreements with authorised sellers to bundle together tickets into packages with such add-ons as travel, accommodation, and hospitality. However, the selling of unauthorised ticket packages has been an increasing area of concern for consumers and event organisers.

The practice of unauthorised ticket packages impacts negatively on event organisers and artists who carry the financial risk of hosting events. Media reports have regularly focused on the practice occurring for the AFL Anzac Day match between Collingwood and Essendon and the Australian Open. Tennis Australia has provided examples of unauthorised sellers advertising misleading ‘hospitality’ tickets at substantially inflated prices where fans received hamburger vouchers, rather than the full hospitality package they were expecting.

The Major EventsAct specifically refers to the offence of the selling of a ticket to a major declared event, at more than 10% above its face value purchase price. However, the Act does not explicitly address the application of this to tickets that are contained in packages. This has led to some ticket resellers creating their own ticket packages without authorisation from the event organiser, as an attempt to circumvent the ticket scalping laws.

It is inconsistent that an individual is prohibited from reselling a ticket to a declared major event on the secondary ticket market at a price mark-up of more than 10 per cent above the face value purchase price, yet another individual or company is able to use the same ticket as part of a package and re-sell it with a far higher mark-up.

It is proposed to amend the Act to prevent the sale of unauthorised ticket packages for declared major events but continue to allow ticket packages authorised by event organisers to be sold. It is important not to impact legitimate ticketing packages authorised by event organisers, which may constitute a key part of their financial and ticketing strategy for staging an event. The amendments also intend to place only minor administrative requirements on event organisers.

Each event organiser of a declared event will be required to publish a register on their event website which will list the authorised sellers of ticket packages for each event. Authorised sellers of ticket packages will be required to state they are authorised to do so in their advertisements. It will be an offence to falsely claim to be an authorised seller of ticket packages to a declared major event.

Requirements for Additional Information in Resale Advertisements to Declared Major Events

Presently, there are few requirements relating to ticket information to be provided by ticket resellers in their advertisements or offers for sale. Often these advertisements provide extremely limited information and consumers are unaware of the original face value of tickets, as well as the location of the seats they are purchasing. This limits the ability of consumers and Authorised Ticketing Officers to identify if a ticket is being sold at 10 per cent above the face value price for declared major events. It can also mislead consumers as to the value of the ticket they have purchased based on the seating location at the venue, for example a front row seat compared to a seat high up in the grandstand or at the back of a venue.

The Bill will amend the Act to require ticket resellers in any advertisements or offers of resale to declared major events to provide:

• the original face value price of the ticket;

• the price at which the tickets are being offered for resale; and

• information such as seat details and location.

This will provide valuable information for consumers and allow them to assess the value of a ticket on the secondary ticketing market. It will also assist Authorised Ticketing Officers in enforcing the Act by making monitoring of breaches easier.

Similar provisions were contained in the recent Western Australian ticket scalping legislation and the proposed amendments are also similar to the ticket scalping provisions in the United Kingdom’s Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Victoria faces ongoing strong competition to maintain its status as Australia’s major events capital. Robust anti-ticket scalping laws are an important factor in protecting this position and encouraging event organisers to stage events in Victoria, strengthening our position as a global events destination.

I commend the Bill to the house.

Mr ONDARCHIE (Northern Metropolitan) (21:57): I move, on behalf of my colleague David Davis:

That this matter be adjourned for one week.

Motion agreed to and debate adjourned for one week.

Service Victoria Amendment Bill 2021

Introduction and first reading

The PRESIDENT (21:57): I have another message:

The Legislative Assembly presents for the agreement of the Legislative Council ‘A Bill for an Act to amend the Service Victoria Act 2018 to expand the ability of Service Victoria to deliver Government services to the public and for other purposes’.

Ms PULFORD (Western Victoria—Minister for Employment, Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy, Minister for Small Business, Minister for Resources) (21:58): I move:

That the bill be now read a first time.

Motion agreed to.

Read first time.

Ms PULFORD: I move, by leave:

That the second reading be taken forthwith.

Motion agreed to.

Statement of compatibility

Ms PULFORD (Western Victoria—Minister for Employment, Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy, Minister for Small Business, Minister for Resources) (21:58): I lay on the table a statement of compatibility with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006:

In accordance with section 28 of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006, (the Charter), I table this Statement of Compatibility with respect to the Service Victoria Amendment Bill 2021 (Bill).

In my opinion, the Bill, as introduced to the Legislative Council, is compatible with human rights as set out in the Charter. I base my opinion on the reasons outlined in this statement.

Overview

The Bill aims to enable the Victorian Public Sector to be more accessible, adaptable, fairer, innovative, and simpler, while enhancing safeguards on information protection. The Bill also aims to support digital transformation in the Victorian Public Sector so it is a digital-ready part of a thriving Victorian digital economy, and to improve the delivery of digital services to Victorians and Victorian businesses, in partnership with governments of other Australian jurisdictions.

To achieve this, the Bill will make important reforms to address barriers to service delivery and digital transformation within the Service Victoria Act 2018 (Service Victoria Act).

Specifically, the Bill will amend the Service Victoria Act to:

• provide for improved and new mechanisms to empower Service Victoria and the Service Victoria CEO to deliver public services with government departments, entities and agencies (service agencies) (clauses 4, 5, 7, 9–11, 13–15, 17, 28, 29 and 31);

• expand the types of services and functions that Service Victoria and the Service Victoria CEO can deliver to include a broader scope of Victorian public services, as well as services of the Commonwealth and other States and Territories (clauses 4, 5, 7, 9–11, 13–15, 17, 28, 29 and 31);

• support the digital transformation and innovation of services across government by:

• enabling the use of digital tokens in Victoria, such as digital licences and permits, via Service Victoria (clauses 4 and 21);

• ensuring that a customer can use an electronic identity credential issued by the Service Victoria CEO as evidence to verify their identity for a government transaction (clause 23); and

• allowing the Service Victoria CEO to require the use of a Service Victoria accounts for specific transactions, where it is necessary to support the delivery of customer services (clause 16);

• enable government departments and agencies to access Service Victoria’s cost-effective and fast data storage capabilities by allowing the Service Victoria CEO to hold service agency data in a segregated database (clauses 4, 13, 28 and 31);

• clarify and expand the data protections under the Service Victoria Act, and ensure they are more consistent with other privacy and public record laws (clauses 4, 18–20, 22–23, 25–27 and 30–31); and

• make a range of minor and technical amendments to support the operation of the Service Victoria Act.

Human rights issues

The Bill engages the following human rights under the Charter:

• privacy and reputation (section 13);

• recognition and equality before the law (section 8);

• freedom of expression (section 15(2)); and

• taking part in public life (section 18).

For the following reasons and having taken into account all relevant factors, I am satisfied that the Bill is compatible with the Charter and, if any rights are limited, the limitation is reasonable and justified in a free and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom in accordance with section 7(2) of the Charter.

Right to privacy and reputation (section 13 of the Charter)

Section 13 of the Charter states that a person has the right not to have their privacy, family, home or correspondence unlawfully or arbitrarily interfered with and the right not to have their reputation unlawfully attacked.

Subsection 13(a) of the Charter contains internal qualifications on this right, being that interferences with privacy only limits the right if it is unlawful or arbitrary. An interference will generally be lawful where is it precise and appropriately circumscribed, and will generally be arbitrary only where it is capricious, unpredictable, unjust or unreasonable, in the sense of being disproportionate to the legitimate aim being sought. Therefore, the right to privacy protects a person from government interference, and excessive and unsolicited intervention by other individuals.

Privacy is a right of considerable breadth and is difficult to define. The fundamental values which the right to privacy express are physical and psychological integrity, individual and social identity, and the autonomy and inherent dignity of a person. It protects the individual’s interests in the freedom of their personal and social sphere. It also encompasses the right to establish and develop meaningful social relations.

However, this broad right can still be subject to reasonable limitation under section 7(2) of the Charter. Further, interference with privacy will not be arbitrary if it is reasonable in the circumstances and in accordance with the Charter.

A number of the reforms in the Bill engage the right to privacy and reputation, each of which is discussed below.

Minimum standards and information handling

The Bill amends the minimum standards in the Service Victoria Act, which specify the circumstances in which the Service Victoria CEO can collect, use, disclose and retain different categories of information under the Service Victoria Act.

These amendments clarify the Service Victoria CEO’s obligations to protect the privacy of individuals transacting on the Service Victoria platform and ensure individuals can control how the Service Victoria CEO handles their information.

Specifically, the Bill amends the Service Victoria Act to clarify that the Service Victoria CEO may:

• collect customer service information, account information and identity information from an individual that relates to another individual where is it is necessary to perform a function under the Service Victoria Act (for example, to register a child’s birth, information may need to be collected from more than one parent when registering with Births, Deaths and Marriages), and for account information and identity information, only where the individual has also consented to the collection (clauses 4, 18 and 25);

• use and disclose customer service information, account information and identity information where the individual to whom the information relates has provided their consent (clauses 4, 19 and 26); and

• retain information in relation to incomplete applications, customer service information and account information, for as long as it is necessary to perform a function under the Service Victoria Act, or to satisfy any requirement to retain that information under law (clauses 4, 20 and 27).

These amendments expand the situations in which the Service Victoria CEO may collect, use, disclose and retain information, which may give rise to a prima facie interference with an individual’s privacy.

However, the reforms do not breach or interfere with the right to privacy, as they allow for the collection, use and disclosure of information for the purpose of delivering public services to Service Victoria’s customers (specifically being the persons whom the information has been collected from), and are generally consistent with the information privacy principles under the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 (Privacy and Data Protection Act) and the health privacy principles under the Health Records Act 2001 (Health Records Act).

In addition, the interference is not unlawful or arbitrary, as the Service Victoria Act provides a legislative framework to handle information for clear, tailored purposes that are necessary to enable the delivery of public services to individuals choosing to transact with Service Victoria. This includes continued compliance with the Privacy and Data Protection Act and Health Records Act and retaining oversight by the Victorian Information Commissioner and Health Complaints Commissioner.

The Bill further protects the right to privacy by increasing the scope of information that is subject to the additional protections and minimum standards under the Service Victoria Act.

This is achieved by expanding the definitions of authority, customer service function, customer service information, identity verification function, official information document and transaction, and allowing the performance of non-statutory functions and additional methods of conferring or performing functions under the Service Victoria Act.

This enables the Service Victoria CEO to perform a broader range of functions and increase the scope of information that receives the additional protections afforded by the Service Victoria Act, and by ensuring that the minimum standards also apply to information collected when delivering those functions to businesses and other organisations.

Further, these provisions are supported by the existing offence provisions in the Service Victoria Act which provide an additional layer of privacy protection by creating offences for the unauthorised access to, use of, or disclosure of data or information by or under the Service Victoria Act by the Service Victoria CEO, and Service Victoria’s staff, agents or contractors.

Customer accounts

Clause 16 of the Bill amends the Service Victoria Act to permit the Service Victoria CEO to require a person to create a Service Victoria account to access certain services, where it is reasonably necessary to deliver a function under the Service Victoria Act—for example, to deliver a digital licence or permit using the Service Victoria mobile application.

The requirement to create a Service Victoria account to access a public service may limit the right to privacy to the extent that a person needs to provide information to the Service Victoria CEO to establish the account to access the public services. This is because, in some situations, a person may have no choice but to create an account if they want to access a specific service and as such may not be providing voluntary consent to the collection and use of information for the purpose of creating the account and the storage in that account of any information required to deliver that service.

However, any interference with privacy will not be unlawful or arbitrary as the Bill will provide a legislative framework to permit the Service Victoria CEO to require an account to be created only where it is reasonably necessary for the delivery of a particular function.

To the extent that this may limit or interfere with the right to privacy, the limitation or interference is reasonable and proportionate because:

• a person will still be able to transact using a guest account for transactions that do not require an account and can choose to close their account at any stage;

• the reforms do not:

• require any particular information to be provided in any particular manner or time to the Service Victoria CEO to establish an account; or

• prohibit public service delivery directly by a service agency or mandate service delivery by Service Victoria;

• information that the Service Victoria collects, uses, discloses or retains for these functions will be subject to the information protections under the Service Victoria Act, and will be handled in accordance with the Privacy and Data Protection Act and the Health Records Act; and

• Service Victoria and government agencies will work together to ensure that, where appropriate, there are alternate ways to access public services, including non-digital delivery.

Segregated databases

Clause 28 of the Bill amends the Service Victoria Act to provide clear legislative authority for the Service Victoria CEO to establish and maintain a database:

• on behalf of a service agency, subject to the approval of the Minister for Government Services and with agreement of the relevant service agency; or

• when directed by the Minister responsible for the Service Victoria Act, where it is necessary to support the delivery of a function that the Minister has directed the Service Victoria CEO to perform.

This will enable Service Victoria to provide quick, cost-effective solutions when responding to government priorities, including where service agencies do not have the required technology or capability to store date. It will also enable Service Victoria to rapidly roll out new services or programs, for example, as it did for the travel voucher scheme or QR code program to support the COVID-19 pandemic recovery response.

This engages the right to privacy because the databases may hold information that includes personal information and health information about individuals who are transacting with Service Victoria or service agencies to access public services. Service Victoria could also hold other information held by service agencies that is not personal or health information, or that otherwise information that is sensitive information. Increasing the amount of data that is held by Service Victoria may also increase the cyber security risks, which may increase the risk of interference with the right to privacy.

In addition to Service Victoria’s stringent cyber security and data protection framework, the Bill protects the right to privacy by creating the following obligations and limitations in respect of the database:

• Service Victoria is required to keep each data set relating to a particular public service separate from any other data that is held by Service Victoria, and is prohibited from collecting, using, disclosing or retaining information held on behalf of a service agency, except where necessary to perform its functions under the Service Victoria Act (for example, to develop or perform maintenance on the database); and

• in addition to the data protections afforded by the existing offences under the Service Victoria Act and Service Victoria’s obligations under the Privacy and Data Protection Act, Health Records Act and the government’s data protection and security policies, the Minister can issue mandatory guidelines relating to the handling of data by Service Victoria which Service Victoria must comply with.

Services performed with or on behalf of other jurisdictions

The Bill enables Service Victoria to deliver functions for or on behalf of government agencies in other jurisdictions. Where it does so, it will be required to comply with the Service Victoria Act, other applicable Victorian laws and any applicable laws of other jurisdictions.

For these reasons, to the extent that the reforms described above may limit the right to privacy in section 13 of the Charter, any such limitation is lawful, not arbitrary or capricious, reasonable and necessary to allow Service Victoria to operate with a legitimate defined purpose to support Victorians by providing public services with government agencies effectively and efficiently.

In addition, the reform may promote the right to privacy by driving privacy and data security improvements in circumstances where government agencies’ existing processes or systems do not adhere to current best practice principles.

Therefore, the Bill is consistent with the right privacy in section 13 of the Charter.

Recognition and equality before the law (section 8 of the Charter)

Section 8(3) of the Charter establishes what is generally known as the right to equality, stating that every person is equal before the law and is entitled to the equal and effective protection of the law without discrimination. This right ensures that all laws and policies are applied equally, and do not have a discriminatory effect. Measures that assist or advance persons or groups of persons disadvantaged because of discrimination do not constitute discrimination.

However, the right is not absolute and can be subject to reasonable limitation under section 7(2) of the Charter.

For the right to equality to be interfered with, there must be discrimination within the meaning of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Equal Opportunity Act) on the basis of an attribute of a person as set out in section 6 of that Act, such as age, breastfeeding, disability, employment activity, gender identity, industrial activity, marital status, parental status, personal association, physical features, political belief or activity, pregnancy, race, religious belief or activity, sex or sexual orientation, or status as a carer (noting many of these attributes have defined meanings in the Equal Opportunity Act) .

Discrimination against a person can be direct, or indirect, and relates to impermissible differential treatment that results in less favourable treatment based on one or more of the attributes above. Under the Equal Opportunity Act, indirect discrimination occurs where there is a requirement, condition or practice that has, or is likely to have, the effect of disadvantaging a person with a protected attribute, and the requirement, condition or practice is not reasonable. Discrimination may be justified if the criteria for differentiation is reasonable and objective, with the aim of achieving a legitimate purpose.

It is possible that the Bill engages the right to recognition and equality before the law by enabling or increasing the delivery of digitised public services, for example by:

• expanding the scope of the definitions of customer service functions and identity verification functions and consequently the scope of functions that the Service Victoria CEO can perform (clause 4);

• making it easier for service agencies to engage with Service Victoria, by adding additional mechanisms to enable the Service Victoria CEO to perform functions on their behalf (clauses 4, 5, 7, 9–11, 13–15, 17, 28, 29 and 31); and

• allowing the Service Victoria CEO to require customers to create a Service Victoria account in some circumstances (clause 16).

This could indirectly discriminate against people if they cannot access or use, or have difficulty accessing or using, digital technology due to a protected attribute, as it may result in people having difficulty accessing some public services. These potential barriers may be addressed by Service Victoria and service agencies administratively, such as providing alternative means of accessing public services (e.g., through non-digital means) and additional guidance and support to vulnerable Victorians seeking to engage with government.

In my view the reforms are reasonable and do not constitute direct or indirect discrimination under section 9 of the Equal Opportunity Act, and therefore do not breach the right to equality under the Charter, as they seek to have a legitimate purpose to support the delivery of accessible, equitable and fair services for all Victorians (including disadvantaged or vulnerable Victorians) by broadening Service Victoria’s ability to deliver government services.

Therefore, the Bill is consistent with the right in relation to recognition and equality before the law in section 8 of the Charter.

Freedom and expression (section 15(2) of the Charter)

Section 15(2) of the Charter provides that every person has the right to freedom of expression which includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds orally, in writing, in print, by way of art or in another medium of their choice.

Section 15 also provides that special duties and responsibilities attach to this right, and that lawful restrictions may be reasonably necessary to respect personal rights and reputations, and to protect national security, public order, public health or morality. The right is not absolute and can be also subject to reasonable limitation under section 7(2) of the Charter.

A number of clauses in the Bill engage the right to freedom of expression by requiring a person to do certain things, such as:

• Clause 16 permits the Service Victoria to require a person to create a Service Victoria account for the purposes of performing a function under the Act if the Service Victoria CEO believes it is reasonably necessary for the performance of that function. This may practically mean a person needs to provide necessary information in a format acceptable to the Service Victoria CEO to establish the account to provide them with a public service, and satisfactorily protect their information provided, which is a justifiable limitation on the right

• To the extent that this may limit or interfere with the right to freedom of expression, the limitation or interference is reasonable and proportionate because the Bill and the Service Victoria Act:

• does not require any particular information to be provided in any particular manner or time to the Service Victoria CEO to establish an account;

• a person’s consent is still required for the collection, use or disclosure of relevant information by the Service Victoria CEO;

• does not prohibit public service delivery directly by a service agency or mandate service delivery by Service Victoria; and

• a person will still be able to transact using a guest account for transactions that do not require an account and can choose to close their account at any stage.

• Clause 21 inserts new Part 5A which permits the Service Victoria CEO to provide an authority or official information document to a person in hard copy, electronic document or digital token. This is to enable a broad range of authorities or official information documents to be provided digitally to Victorians. This may require a person to receive an authority or official information document, that was previously in another format, in a format determined between the Service Victoria CEO and a service agency head (or as otherwise granted in accordance in the new Part 5A).

To the extent that this may limit or interfere with the right to freedom of expression, the limitation or interference is reasonable and proportionate because the Bill and the Service Victoria Act:

• requires the relevant document to include all information required to be contained in or displayed in the document under other laws; and

• does not prohibit the public service delivery of a particular authority or official information document directly by a service agency or mandate their delivery by Service Victoria.

Although these provisions may engage the right to freedom of expression, in my view any limitation is minimal with respect to providing or receiving information and is lawful, reasonable and necessary to allow Service Victoria or the Service Victoria CEO to operate and support the delivery of accessible, equitable and fair services to Victorians. Therefore, the Bill is consistent with the rights in relation to freedom of expression in section 15(2) of the Charter.

Taking part in public life (section 18)

Section 18 of the Charter states that every eligible person has the right, and is to have the opportunity, without discrimination, to participate in the conduct of public affairs (directly or through freely chosen representatives), and to have access, on general terms of equality, to the Victorian public service and public office. This right applies to all people in Victoria.

The right to access the Victorian public service is not defined in the Charter and there is limited Victorian judicial consideration of the full scope of the right (which is modelled on Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights).

It is likely that this right is intended to only apply to a person’s ability to be appointed to or employed in, a public service role or public office, and does not extend to accessing public services provided by the Victorian public service. This means this right is unlikely to be limited by the Bill.

However, if the right does extend to accessing services provided by the Victorian public service, in my view the Bill will significantly enhance Victorians’ right to take part in public life by enabling a broader range of public services to be available on Service Victoria’s accessible and user-friendly platform, which provides people with greater access to public services. In particular, it may make them accessible to persons with a form of disability (being economic security, health, location or otherwise), who may have limited access to participate in public affairs or access public services.

If the right does extend to accessing services provided by the public service it could limit access to public services for some Victorians, if they cannot access or use, or have difficulty accessing or using, some or all types of digital technology.

This could be for a broad range of reasons, including: cultural, economic insecurity (i.e. lack of affordable or regular access to digital technology), family violence (monitored, restricted or impacted access to use of digital technology by victims), health reasons (limited ability to, or unable to use digital technology for any reason), language barriers (limited ability or inability to use relevant digital technology developed by government if they cannot read or interpret the language used) or simply a lack of trust in certain technology or government.

As stated above and considered in further detail below in “Other human rights considerations”, this can be largely addressed administratively by Service Victoria and government, including by Service Victoria and services agencies providing alternative access to public services and providing additional guidance and support to vulnerable Victorians seeking to engage with government.

In my view, the reforms are reasonable, generally enhance, and do not unreasonably limit the right to take part in public life under the Charter, as they seek to support the delivery of accessible, equitable and fair services for Victorians by broadening Service Victoria’s ability to deliver services. Therefore, the Bill is consistent with the right to take part in public life in section 18 of the Charter.

Other human rights considerations

For the reasons above, if the reforms did result in limitations to the rights to take part in public life, freedom of expression, or recognition and equality before the law, it would likely not be a direct result of the Bill’s reforms.

Instead, it would be a result of government, Service Victoria, or a service agency not providing or retaining necessary accessible, alternative, physical or offline services to support Victorians who may have difficulty accessing or using digital technology or providing ease of access for Victorians to necessary digital technology (for example, at a local library or public service office).

This can be addressed administratively, on a case-by-case basis, by Service Victoria and other relevant service agencies for particular services. Service Victoria will work with service agencies to ensure that all Victorians, including disadvantaged and vulnerable Victorians who may not be able to access or use digital services, can still access and engage with public services.

Finally, the Bill’s reforms may also provide opportunities for the promotion by Service Victoria and government of the Charter’s freedoms and rights through improved digital public service delivery.

Hon Jaclyn Symes MP

Attorney-General

Second reading

Ms PULFORD (Western Victoria—Minister for Employment, Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy, Minister for Small Business, Minister for Resources) (21:58): I move:

That the second-reading speech be incorporated into Hansard.

Motion agreed to.

Ms PULFORD: I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

Incorporated speech as follows:

I am pleased to introduce a Bill that will make it even simpler and easier for Victorians and Victorian businesses to access public services, and ensure the Victorian Government is delivering the highest quality services to them.

Enabling Victorians and Victorian businesses to easily use public services is more important now than ever before. 2020 and 2021 have been years where all Victorians were asked to make big changes in the ways we live and work. With the uncertainties and challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Victorians have needed to interact with and rely on essential public services more than at almost any time in recent history.

The government transformed the way public services are delivered in Victoria by establishing Service Victoria and passing the Service Victoria Act 2018 (Service Victoria Act) through Parliament to create a centralised and streamlined digital platform for individuals and businesses to transact with the government for the most popular transactions.

Service Victoria was created as Victorians have no choice but to transact with government for services, so it is important they are served well.

Service Victoria was also created in recognition that Victorian customers and businesses should not have to visit multiple government departments and agencies, online or offline, or fill out paper-based applications to access the services they need. They should be able to access everything they need online, ideally through one simple and easy to use central government platform.

Service Victoria has made great progress in achieving this, by enabling almost every Victorian to access 43 government transactions on its digital platform, which includes its website and mobile app. Service Victoria has made it faster, more convenient and simpler for people to transact with public services by creating an adaptable and innovative data, legal and policy framework to support Service Victoria in its work.

Our investment in Service Victoria ensured we already had the digital expertise and capability in Service Victoria when COVID-19 reached Victoria’s borders. The COVID-19 pandemic further demonstrated the need for user-friendly public services to be accessible online.

Our investment has served us well, as it meant that we were ready to develop and deliver a QR code check-in service, COVID-19 digital certificates, regional and metropolitan travel vouchers, and border permits and exemptions to support Victorians and Victorian businesses.

Service Victoria’s five years of experience and the extraordinary challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have taught us that we need to keep innovating to ensure Victoria remains competitive and a world-class place to do business and to live.

In particular, there are changes that can be made to the Service Victoria Act to ensure we are prepared to respond effectively to future challenges facing Victoria, such as ensuring Service Victoria is able to expediently deliver services to Victorians on its online platform and to deliver innovative digital service delivery, including through the now almost universally known Service Victoria mobile app.

Service Victoria’s successes mean that there is also an increasing demand for its services by the individuals, businesses and the government. Victorians now expect public services to be as easily accessible as private sector services, such as those provided by banks and telecommunications companies. These demands will likely continue to increase as we implement digital transformations and improvements across all parts of Victoria’s public services. Service Victoria is doing everything it can to meet this expectation. However, Service Victoria is facing barriers in meeting this increasing demand for its services due to unnecessary limitations in the Service Victoria Act.

This Bill enables Service Victoria to make it even simpler and easier for Victorians to get things done with government by removing barriers in the Service Victoria Act that limit or prevent Service Victoria from performing the services that Victorians and Victorian businesses want.

These barriers, while technical in nature, have real consequences for individuals and businesses because they limit the delivery of online public services using Service Victoria’s innovative, customer focused platforms. They are also easily resolved by this Parliament.

The Bill will also ensure that the Service Victoria Act is able to support the vision of the upcoming Victorian Government Digital Strategy 2021–2026 to make life and business accessible, easy, fairer, connected and inclusive for all Victorians now and into the future.

The Bill will also support the government’s digital business licensing program, as well as contribute to the government’s efforts to overhaul government regulation for Victorians and Victorian businesses.

I am therefore pleased to introduce a Bill that will make critical improvements to the Service Victoria Act and ensure Service Victoria is better equipped to flexibly meet the increasing demand for its services; to deliver the level of personalisation and improved experiences Victorians now increasingly expect to quickly respond to urgent government priorities; and to ensure public services are able to keep up with the rate of technological change in Victoria.

I now turn to the important reforms in the Bill.

Summary of the Bill’s reforms

The Bill will amend the Service Victoria Act to:

• provide Service Victoria with a flexible toolkit of improved and new mechanisms to deliver services and transactions;

• expanding the range of functions and services that Service Victoria can perform;

• enable government departments and agencies to access Service Victoria’s cost-effective and ready to go data storage capabilities;

• support the digital transformation and innovation of public services across government;

• clarify and expand the coverage of the data protections under the Service Victoria Act to ensure Service Victoria has the flexibility it needs to deliver services without interfering with personal privacy, and ensure they are consistent with other privacy and public records laws;

• enable the use of digital tokens by Service Victoria with government departments and agencies; and

• resolve other legislative barriers identified by Service Victoria, government agencies and departments since the commencement of the Service Victoria Act, including through a range of minor or technical improvements.

A flexible toolkit of improved or new mechanisms for Service Victoria to deliver its services

The Service Victoria Act authorises Service Victoria to perform certain administrative functions on behalf of other government departments and agencies that they are responsible for delivering, where the function has been transferred to Service Victoria through regulations. This means Service Victoria is responsible for delivering those transferred functions.

The Service Victoria Act regulates Service Victoria’s performance of two types of administrative functions, being customer service functions and identity verification functions.

In certain circumstances, Service Victoria can perform other functions that do not fit within the definitions of these two functions. However, the circumstances in which this can be done are legally complex, which means that it can be time and resource intensive to arrange for appropriate arrangements for Service Victoria to perform even the simplest functions, like receiving information from Victorians and passing that information through to a government department or agency to comply with a legal requirement.

Service Victoria also does not have the full range of powers and clear application of the Service Victoria Act’s information protections when performing these functions that would otherwise be available when performing a customer service function or identity verification function under the Service Victoria Act.

While useful in many circumstances, the current transfer regulation mechanism has proven to be time-consuming and impractical in some circumstances, or not suitable for certain types of functions that Service Victoria may be asked to deliver, particularly in urgent situations.

It is preferable for the Service Victoria Act to clearly set out the ways that Service Victoria can be empowered to perform functions and to ensure the information handled by Service Victoria is protected by the minimum standards and other requirements under the Service Victoria Act.

The Bill will ensure Service Victoria is empowered to deliver efficient digital services for government and Victorians, and the relevant personal or sensitive information is protected under the minimum standards of the Service Victoria Act. The Bill will also provide Service Victoria with greater flexibility by clarifying and expanding the mechanisms by which Service Victoria can support the delivery of public services.

This will allow Service Victoria and government departments or agencies to choose the most appropriate mechanism for Service Victoria to deliver services, depending on the type of transaction the services involve, the government department or agency currently performing the service, delivery timeframes and other relevant circumstances.

Importantly, these mechanisms are used by agreement with the consent of a government department or agency, or where appropriate, the relevant Minister. This means Service Victoria can respond quickly to directions by government and deliver digital public services to meet new and emerging priorities.

In summary, the new or improved mechanisms for Service Victoria will include performing:

• customer service or identity verification functions by written agreement with a government department or agency, including with government departments or agencies of the Commonwealth, other States and Territories, under which responsibility for the functions remains with the relevant government department or agency, and Service Victoria simply assists with delivering services for the government department or agency;

• customer service or identity verification functions under statutory delegation or authorisation provisions of legislation where the Service Victoria CEO is not specifically mentioned;

• new functions in relation to the delivery of public services where the Minister responsible for administering the Service Victoria Act directs Service Victoria, including to deliver services that do not have a partner government department or agency or in circumstances where they need to be urgently delivered, but there is insufficient time to prepare formal transfer regulations or other legal instruments; and

• a broader range of functions and transactions.

These changes expand the jurisdiction, source, scope, and types of functions that Service Victoria can perform. These common-sense changes to Victorian laws remove unnecessary red tape within the Victorian public sector which may prevent government departments and agencies from engaging with Service Victoria to deliver innovative public services.

It also means Service Victoria can deliver more services, more efficiently, and better support Victorians and Victorian businesses when using public services.

By enabling Service Victoria to perform services by agreement with, or on behalf of, government departments or agencies of the Commonwealth, or other States and Territories, Victoria will be able to more effectively link its services with services delivered by government departments or agencies in other jurisdictions. This will provide opportunities to make public services across Australia easier to access for Victorians, including potentially digital national police checks.

Expanding the range of functions and services that Service Victoria can perform

Currently, the Service Victoria Act enables Service Victoria to perform customer service and identity verification functions but defines these functions narrowly. These definitions limit Service Victoria from delivering the broad scope of administrative services requested by government and its agencies.

The Bill will expand the definitions of customer service function and identity verification function to include additional administrative functions that are commonly performed when delivering public services.

It is impossible to predict all the types of customer service functions or identity verification functions that Service Victoria may need to deliver. In recognition of the varied and dynamic nature of administrative functions that government performs for customers, the Bill will also allow additional types of customer service functions or identity verification functions to be prescribed in regulations.

The ability to prescribe additional functions in regulations will mitigate against the need for further reform to the definitions of customer service function and identity verification function over time while still allowing parliamentary scrutiny through ordinary mechanisms.

The Bill also makes it clear that Service Victoria can perform statutory and non-statutory functions where necessary to deliver public services. Importantly, these changes, coupled with the ability to perform functions by ministerial direction, give Service Victoria the flexibility to perform a wide range of customer service and identity verification functions to meet the needs of Victorians and Victorian businesses.

Providing access to Service Victoria’s data storage capabilities

The Service Victoria Act currently prevents Service Victoria from retaining specific types of information once it has been used for the specific purpose for which it was collected.

This was intended to reflect that Service Victoria would typically pass-through data to a relevant government agency, and not need to hold a duplicate copy. However, the limitation prevents government departments and agencies from using Service Victoria’s data storage capabilities and has been found in some circumstances to be impractical to implement.

This includes circumstances where the government department or agency does not have data storage infrastructure of its own to deliver a particular public service or if its existing information technology infrastructure prevents it from operating effectively with the Service Victoria platform.

The Bill will amend the Service Victoria Act to provide clear legislative authority for the Service Victoria CEO, subject to obtaining approval from the Minister responsible for the Service Victoria Act, to hold a separate and secure database on behalf of a government department or agency, which is held on the Service Victoria platform and operated by the relevant government department or agency.

The relevant government department or agency will retain ownership and control over the information in the database, with Service Victoria simply being a custodian or repository for that information unless asked to also provide services using the database by the agency or department.

This cost-effective and fast solution will strengthen government’s service delivery capabilities and maximise the return on investment in Service Victoria by enabling government agencies and departments to utilise existing government expertise and resources.

This ensures agencies can benefit from Service Victoria’s stringent cyber security and data protection measures, including Service Victoria’s security assessments against the Victorian Protective Data Security Standards.

These measures are designed to comply with existing data and privacy protection obligations under the Service Victoria Act, Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 (Privacy and Data Protection Act), and Health Records Act 2001 (Health Records Act).

The Bill will set a clear process for Service Victoria to follow for storing data of other departments or agencies. In particular, Service Victoria will:

• only hold data of an agency by agreement with the agency or department;

• segregate agency or department data from other data;

• be prevented from accessing or using government agency or department data, except for in limited circumstances; and

• need to conduct assessments against the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 and privacy laws to make sure there are no adverse impacts on customers.

The Bill also empowers the Minister to:

• direct Service Victoria to establish a database to support the performance of a function that the Minister has directed Service Victoria to perform; and

• issue guidelines for establishing and maintaining databases, which will enable additional safeguards to apply if necessary.

Supporting public sector digital innovation and transformation

Enabling the use of digital tokens

The Bill will enable Service Victoria to deliver official documents to a customer digitally through the Service Victoria mobile application or a computer application, called a digital token. For example, a digital token could be a working with children check.

This Bill will allow digital tokens to become a robust and secure technology for transacting with government. Importantly, it also ensures customers can rely on digital tokens obtained through Service Victoria for official purposes under legislation, including proving their identity.

Digital delivery is convenient for customers and supports more customer choice for how to transact with government. As digital tokens are issued through a Service Victoria link to a Service Victoria account, tokens can be accessed anywhere and anytime. They will integrate seamlessly with existing regulatory frameworks, making it easier to collect, access and show government documents.

Digital delivery will also allow regulators to update digital licence details in real time. In time, digital tokens will become an easy way for Victorians to show Victorian licences, permits and other official documents.

Requiring customers to establish accounts to support digital service delivery

Modern-day online services often require a customer account to support digital delivery. Public services are no different. This is because customers need an account to take advantage of digital document delivery and storage through an account.

The Bill clarifies that customers can be required to establish a Service Victoria account where it is necessary for Service Victoria to deliver customer services.

This recognises that a government agency or department often requires an ongoing relationship with a customer through a Service Victoria account to perform a function and avoids the need to create separate account logins across multiple government departments or agencies.

To maximise customer choice, customers will be able to transact as a guest for any services that can be performed without an account and can close their account at any time.

Clarifying and expanding the Service Victoria Act’s data handling provisions

The Service Victoria Act contains provisions that regulate the handling of customer information held by Service Victoria, including in relation to the collection, use and disclosure, and retention of information. These are known as the minimum standards.

These rules apply in addition to protections on the handling of information under other legislation, such as the Privacy and Data Protection Act and the Health Records Act. This means customers can transact with Service Victoria with ease, knowing their personal information is protected.

The Bill will enable Service Victoria to deliver new types of customer and identity verification functions under the Service Victoria Act. By expanding the scope of those functions, the Bill brings more information under the protection of the minimum standards in the Service Victoria Act.

The Bill makes crucial adjustments to the minimum standards to ensure Service Victoria has the flexibility to use information to deliver services under the Service Victoria Act, including new services enabled by the Bill.

These amendments will give Service Victoria’s customers flexibility and choice about how Service Victoria handles their information and whether they would like that information to be retained to make future visits faster and easier.

The Bill will also make technical amendments to the minimum standards to ensure that they are not unreasonably restrictive on how Service Victoria performs its functions under the Service Victoria Act and better align them with Service Victoria’s obligations under other laws. This includes making sure information is retained when required under another law and allowing customers to consent to how their information is used.

Importantly, Service Victoria will remain subject to oversight by the Victorian Information Commissioner and the Health Complaints Commissioner in handling this information, and the offence provisions in the Service Victoria Act in relation to the improper, misuse, or unauthorised access or use of information (as well as applicable offences under other laws).

Conclusion

This Bill will:

• make it easier for Victorians and Victorian businesses to access public services, and ensure the government is delivering the highest quality services to them well into the future;

• improve Service Victoria’s ability to meet the increasing demands from government and the public for Service Victoria’s unique capabilities to deliver accessible, adaptable, efficient, fair, fast and innovative digital public services;

• support a digital-ready public sector for the benefit of all Victorians who are already a part of a thriving Victorian digital economy; and

• better equip Service Victoria to quickly respond to future urgent government priorities, including the delivery of public services in support of the State’s response to, and recovery from, the COVID-19 pandemic.

I commend the Bill to the house.

Mr ONDARCHIE (Northern Metropolitan) (21:58): I move, on behalf of my colleague Mr Davis:

That debate on this matter be adjourned for one week.

Motion agreed to and debate adjourned for one week.

Adjournment

Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (21:58): I move:

That the house do now adjourn.

Latrobe Special Developmental School

Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (21:59): (1678) My adjournment matter this evening is for the Minister for Education in the other place, and it relates to a boy called Tahj, his mother, Nicole, and his father, Paul. Tahj is 17 years old, and his 18th birthday is in March next year. Tahj has an intellectual disability—autism—is largely non-verbal and is of Aboriginal descent. Tahj has been at a school in my electorate called the Latrobe Special Developmental School all his educational life. He has been there for 11 years. Tahj and his mother and father have decided that it is time for him to move on to an adult educational setting, a daily living program for moving him towards independence.

Tahj’s mother contacted me, because I have worked with people with disability and their parents and this school before, to highlight her very real distress at the fact that when the request was put by her and Tahj’s father for Tahj to be able to graduate with the five other students that are graduating, who are 18, he was rejected. He was rejected by his teacher. I suggested that he contact the principal and ask for a rationale and ask for that to be overturned. The principal came back and said, ‘No, we still do not want him to graduate. He can go to another end-of-year celebration. He can graduate if he comes back and graduates when he is 18 at the end of next year’. Now, we feel—I concur with the mum and dad, and Tahj is very, very upset by this—that he deserves the right, after 11 years, to be able to graduate with five other young people and move on to the next phase of his life. They are quite happy for him to not have the same certificate, to have a different set-up but to graduate as a valedictorian. When I spoke with the parent, she then asked the principal. The principal doubled down, and the regional director sent this:

… a key issue is a perception of inconsistent application of rules/processes at the school.

It goes on to say the final-year focus is about transition. What the parents and I believe is that this is an individual school for individual children with disability. If a young man who has been there for 11 years wants to graduate on a day—and the time has now passed; it was 6 o’clock tonight—at this school, there is no legal reason why he cannot. There is no educational law that he cannot. It is a choice that that school could make. I have asked the Victorian equal opportunity commissioner to intervene, and she was willing to do so. I have asked Tahj’s parents what their thoughts are, and they are going to make a complaint. I ask the minister to look at this case and provide reasons why this child was not able to graduate.

Renewable energy

Ms VAGHELA (Western Metropolitan) (22:02): (1679) My adjournment matter is directed to the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change and Minister for Solar Homes, the Honourable Lily D’Ambrosio. This adjournment matter relates to the portfolio responsibilities of energy, environment and climate change. The Andrews Labor government is making sure that everyone keeps warm in winter and cool in summer without feeling financial pressure. In the 2020–21 Victorian state budget the government announced a $335 million initiative to support 250 000 Victorian households to replace outdated, unsafe or inefficient electric, gas or woodfired heaters with energy-efficient reverse-cycle split systems. Reverse-cycle air conditioners are energy efficient and can be used throughout the year. More than 3300 Victorians have already taken advantage of this rebate since it opened to community housing organisations in May and to owner-occupiers in August 2021. Now the rebate eligibility has expanded to include rental properties. We are doing this so that the rebate reaches as many vulnerable Victorian households as possible. We want to enable the rental providers to go beyond compliance. The added bonus is that decent heating will make the property more attractive for prospective tenants.

These upgrades will not only help the people who would struggle to afford a new heating and cooling system but also make Victorian homes more resilient to climate change. These heating and cooling upgrades will improve the comfort, wellbeing and health of Victorians while creating new jobs. This is part of the most ambitious and transformative renewable energy programs in Australia. The action I seek from the minister is to provide me with an update on how the residents of the Western Metropolitan Region can take advantage of this amazing program.

Animal welfare

Mr MEDDICK (Western Victoria) (22:04): (1680) My adjournment matter this evening is for the Minister for Agriculture, and the action I seek is that she establish an independent animal protection agency. In Australia we mistakenly believe we are leaders in animal welfare. Regrettably, this is simply not true. International standards rank countries from A to G on how animals used for food, clothing, entertainment and experimentation are treated. The global animal protection index can be accessed from our federal government’s agricultural webpage. All of Europe ranks higher than us, as do India and Malaysia. Our overall score is a D. For farmed animal welfare, Australia scores a dismal E, alongside Turkey, Colombia and Ukraine. Complicit in this are the lack of national frameworks for animal welfare and the voluntary and outdated codes of practice for livestock.

Voiceless, an independent animal protection institute, has formulated the Voiceless Animal Cruelty Index, or VACI. VACI is the first interactive index that ranks the nature, extent and intensity of cruelty associated with farmed animal production and consumption. The index ranks 50 countries responsible for 80 per cent of the global breeding, killing and eating of farmed animals and birds. VACI’s formula looks at producing cruelty—how many animals are killed for food; consuming cruelty—how many animals people eat; and sanctioning cruelty—how well legislative frameworks protect animals. Whilst the world animal protection index scores us low, the Voiceless Animal Cruelty Index scores us last, on a par with Belarus. Why? Because Australians consume almost twice as many animals as the global average.

Studies continue to demonstrate that over 90 per cent of Australians believe animals deserve much better than they are getting. That is over 24 million Australians who want better laws to protect animals. This government has the opportunity to lead as it undertakes a thorough review of Victoria’s animal welfare laws. The action I seek from the minister is that she establish an independent animal protection agency. An IAPA would scrutinise animal welfare legislative frameworks against international standards, ensuring the prevention of cruelty, proper investigation and enforcement, and the realisation of genuine animal protection. Will the minister lead the way in this country by establishing an independent animal protection agency?

Broadmeadows road infrastructure

Mr ONDARCHIE (Northern Metropolitan) (22:07): (1681) The adjournment matter I have this evening is for the Minister for Roads and Road Safety. Broadmeadows residents are concerned about traffic and congestion and the time it takes them to get to work. My office recently conducted a survey in Broadmeadows. I am very pleased that many, many residents responded to that survey. It may well be the last survey that I do for this year. Every morning residents in Broadmeadows experience choked roads and frustration as traffic is banked up. Residents told me they do not have jobs that will easily allow them to work from home or use public transport to get there. Many of them have been hurt by the state’s lockdowns and they need to get back to work to support their families. They say it is a nightmare trying to get to work on time in the morning peak hour and the evening is just horrible. It is taking many, many hours in some cases to get home. With the increased traffic on the roads, it has been difficult for people to get to their homes and to see their families. The action I seek from the minister is by way of directing the Department of Transport to investigate the light sequencing and safety at the intersections of Camp Road and Pascoe Vale Road, Johnstone Street and Pearcedale Parade, and Camp Road, Blair Street and Widford Street so my residents can spend less time in traffic and more time with their families.

Swimming and water safety education

Ms TAYLOR (Southern Metropolitan) (22:08): (1682) My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Education, the Honourable James Merlino, and the action that I seek is for the minister to update this chamber on the progress of this Victorian government’s programs on swimming and water safety education for our next generation of Victorians.

I understand that vouchers for lessons missed during the pandemic were offered at the beginning of this term to ensure all school students had the opportunity to catch up on vital swimming and water safety skills. Swimming and water safety education has been embedded in the Victorian curriculum since 2016. Obviously restrictions have meant many schools have not been able to deliver practical swimming lessons over the past 18 months, but when the pandemic began in 2020 the Department of Education and Training worked with Life Saving Victoria to develop classroom-based resources to teach vital water safety, and I am very pleased to hear from parents and teachers in Southern Metro that their children and students have engaged with these online resources over the past year to keep building their knowledge of the water while pools were closed.

I understand that a new interactive in-class program was made available from this term, designed by Life Saving Victoria to ensure children meet that knowledge component of the Victorian water safety certificate. I have been further advised that this certificate is being updated to align with the National Swimming and Water Safety Framework, setting out the swimming and water safety skills and knowledge that every Victorian student should have by the end of primary school.

I look forward to the minister’s update, and I am proud of our continued work and investment in swimming and water safety education programs in our state-run, Catholic and specialist schools. Always backing ourselves in, hey, because we do good things.

Regional media

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (22:10): (1683) My adjournment is for the Minister for Government Services, and the action I seek is for the minister to review the campaign expenditure requirement for advertising on regional and rural media. It is government policy that regional and rural communities should have equal access to government communications and that regional media channels are used to deliver this. The Victorian government spent $84.6 million on media advertising for the 2019–20 financial year, and $9.5 million of this was spent on non-digital regional and rural media, which includes press, radio and outdoor advertising. This represents 19 per cent of the government’s total campaign advertising expenditure.

Departments and agencies are required to spend at least 15 per cent of campaign advertising expenditure on regional and rural media, so at least spending was slightly above this threshold. However, I suggest to the government that a 15 per cent base requirement is ridiculously low given the expanse of regional Victoria, the number of regional media outlets and the heavy reliance of local communities on local media for trusted information. The WIN Albury bureau closed in June 2019, and mid-year nine local bulletins were axed, including Shepparton and Bendigo. A number of print news outlets have shared concerns with me that the government has not utilised them for advertising, not only for pandemic information but across agencies and departments.

I was dismayed last week to learn that ABC Goulburn-Murray has cut local programming, and the 9.00 to 11.00 am program will be replaced with a statewide show. ABC Goulburn-Murray, most recently with Sandra Moon and Alice Walker, has supported our region through the pandemic, with regular updates on border closures and restrictions. Back in the early days of my justice advocacy through the Enough is Enough campaign, the ABC supported me on this program back when Joseph Thomsen was on the microphone. Last week I also received news of the closure of the Macedon Free Press, another blow for regional media.

Regional outlets provide essential information at times of natural disaster along with local context and scrutiny of state and federal politics. Losing local news is bad for small communities. In their absence people are turning to social media, where information may not be published with the integrity of professional journalism. My constituents value their local media. Our government should value it too, not just for sharing important news stories but through advertising. There is a balance that can be achieved to support the survival of regional media and ensure our local communities have access to both local content and local context.

COVID-19

Mr FINN (Western Metropolitan) (22:12): (1684) I wish to raise a matter this evening for the attention of the Premier. Premier, the problem that Victoria has at the moment in particular is that most Victorians are lockdown drunk. They live in fear that the Premier will pop up one day and just lock everything down again, and that is the simple fact of the matter. As late as last weekend I was at a christening, in fact, and the family that invited me to the christening—

A member interjected.

Mr FINN: Well, it will not be soon. They had booked a hotel in Richmond for lunch—which I thought was very nice—and it was a very nice lunch too. But as was explained to me by little Ruby’s mum, they had been terrified the night before, unable to sleep, because there had been a couple of cases of the new variant. And that immediately struck them down with a desperate fear of lockdown.

This is happening all over the state, and I know out in the western suburbs it is happening from business to business, from family to family and from factory to factory. Everybody is terrified that the Premier is going to wake up one day and lock everybody down. The fact that we have this new legislation that has gone through this week has not helped that, not even one little bit. The mental health crisis that has been created by the lockdowns is not being helped by this constant state of anxiety that people are feeling about when they are going to be locked down again.

So I am asking the Premier to consider the vaccination rates, and I am asking him to consider the impact that the lockdowns have had on average Victorians. We are not talking about captains of industry or anybody like that, we are talking about families in the suburbs or in the country areas of Victoria. We are talking about people who just want to look after their kids, who just want to pay their mortgage and who just want to go out and work for a living. They are the sort of people that we are talking about. They are the salt of the earth—people who pay their tax, observe the laws of the land and do all the right things. They are the ones who are suffering as a result of this fear, constant fear—lockdown phobia, if you like. It is something that is very real, and it is something that I am hoping the Premier will knock on the head. It would be easy for him to do. All he has to do is to call a press conference—and we know he can do that—and announce that there will be no more lockdowns, and that is what I am asking him to do. Tonight I am asking the Premier to call a press conference to announce to the people of Victoria that he will not be locking down our state again.

COVID-19 vaccination

Dr CUMMING (Western Metropolitan) (22:16): (1685) My adjournment matter is to the Minister for Health in the other place, and the action that I seek is for the minister to explain why permanent exemptions are not available for COVID-19 vaccinations when they are available for all other vaccinations. In order to grant a vaccination exemption for any vaccine, a medical practitioner, paediatrician, clinical immunologist, infectious disease physician or public health physician must complete an Australian immunisation register immunisation medical exemption form. This form allows for a permanent vaccination exemption due to a medical contraindication, including previous anaphylaxis to the vaccine or a vaccine component, or a temporary vaccine exemption due to a non-permanent contraindication because of an acute major medical illness. This form is to be completed in conjunction with the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation’s expanded guidance on acute medical conditions. This clearly states valid reasons for temporary exemptions. One reason is:

Any serious adverse event attributed to a previous dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, without another cause identified, and with no acceptable alternative vaccine available.

Let me quote what a serious adverse event is. An adverse event is considered serious if it requires:

… in-patient hospitalisation or prolongation of existing hospitalisation OR results in persistent or significant disability/ incapacity OR is potentially life-threatening.

Then it says:

AND

• has been reported to a state/territory adverse event surveillance system and/or the TGA.

AND

• has been determined following review by, and/or on the opinion of, an experienced immunisation provider/medical specialist to be associated with a risk of recurrence of the serious adverse event if another dose is given.

The assessment of an adverse event following immunisation, or the AEFI, requires detailed information on the event and a determination of the likelihood of a causal link with vaccination, as well as the severity of the condition. So you can see if you received the first dose of the vaccine— (Time expired)

Cancer screening

Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) (22:19): (1686) My adjournment matter this evening is for the Minister for Health, and it relates to breast screening. I was just talking to our newest member in the house, Ms Burnett-Wake, and we were talking about how vital it is for women to have breast screening and the delays for so many people that are not being able to get in to see the services that they require. That is a very concerning thing. BreastScreen Victoria’s annual report for 2020–21 noted that 30 776 fewer women than the department’s target were actually screened, and this followed the reductions in 2019–20, partly because of the suspensions through the first part of the COVID pandemic in early 2020. The point is that over the past 20 months there have been many, many women—thousands of women—who have missed out on this screening. As we were just discussing, there are delays for months for people to be able to get in and have proper screening, and women are having to use other measures to be able to go private and be able to have a breast screen when they find a lump. This is really concerning.

Of course there are other cancers—whether it is bowel cancer, gynaecological cancer, prostate cancer, skin cancer—and all with really vital screenings so that we can prevent people from developing cancer and having very serious health outcomes. So the action I am seeking is for the government to task the department with a public awareness campaign to highlight the issues around the importance of cancer screening and highlight the importance of really understanding the cancer detections and those signs and symptoms so that people can attend their doctor, get the proper screening that they need to prevent them from developing very serious cancer and developing very serious health outcomes into the future.

COVID-19 vaccination

Mr LIMBRICK (South Eastern Metropolitan) (22:21): (1687) My adjournment item is for the Minister for Health in the other place. More than 4500 scouts are expected at VicJam this year, the Victorian Jamboree, which is the scouting highlight of the year for these girls and boys. It would be a big economic boost for the town of Elmore, near Bendigo. VicJam is more than 11 days of camping out. It is a reward for hard work completing the various tasks and activities that are required to participate. During the darkest times of lockdown one thing these girls and boys held onto was if they completed their tasks on time they could look forward to going to VicJam. Parents have paid up to $1500 for tickets to the event, which are non-refundable, and it was paid before they were aware of how vaccine mandates would work for children. The risks of children getting COVID are very small, and not all of them choose to be vaccinated. I have had many parents contact me that have paid for their children to attend VicJam, and they are very distressed now that their children are unable to go because their children have chosen not to take the vaccine. I have also spoken with some children who are very distressed about this. My request to the minister is to urgently review the current health advice so that all children can attend VicJam on their merits rather than their medical status.

COVID-19 vaccination

Ms LOVELL (Northern Victoria) (22:22): (1688) My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Health, and it concerns the government’s decision to include children over the age of 12 years and two months in Victoria’s vaccinated economy rules. The action that I seek from the minister is to immediately implement a grace period to extend until at least the end of the summer school holidays to ensure that unvaccinated children over the age of 12 years and two months and under the age of 16 years are not excluded from Christmas activities such as Santa photos, milestone family events and regular social pastimes to avoid the disenfranchising of families over the Christmas, New Year and school holiday period.

Like many members, my office has been inundated with emails and phone calls from constituents distressed about the impact of the Andrews government’s decision to include children over the age of 12 years and two months and less than 16 years in their vaccinated economy. The Andrews Labor government announced on 11 October that both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines could now be accessed by children aged 12 to 15 years. The uptake by this cohort was strong, and in early November Victoria reached the 90 per cent fully vaccinated benchmark for those aged over 12 years. At 10.47 am on 18 November the government announced that as of 11.59 pm that night people not fully vaccinated would be severely restricted on where they could go, including those aged 12 years and two months and over. Including 12- to 15-year-olds in the vaccinated economy had not widely been publicised to parents, and they were caught by surprise when the government sneakily announced it with just 12 hours notice. The decision has impacted the everyday lives of tens of thousands of Victorian children who have found themselves unable to attend and participate in long-planned functions and events.

I was recently contacted by the owner of a dance studio who informed me that the new mandate means that thousands of Victorian dance students aged 12 to 15 have now been excluded from their dance and performing arts classes, performances and exams due to their vaccination status. Last week my office was contacted by a constituent who had long planned a public memorial service for this week for her departed mother, but she had discovered that her 13- and 15-year-old children were not allowed to attend the service and pay their respects to their grandmother. A Shepparton photographer contacted me expressing concern that he must now forbid unvaccinated children from participating in family portraits and Santa photos.

This mandate will also mean that 12- to 15-year-olds will miss out on school holiday activities like visits to the cinema, activity parks, VicJam and other venues. This minister must acknowledge that our children have endured more than enough over the last two years, and I urge him to implement an immediate grace period until the end of the summer school holidays to ensure that young Victorians are not disenfranchised any further.

COVID-19 vaccination

Mr QUILTY (Northern Victoria) (22:25): (1689) My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events. Why are the restrictions on golf not on par with the pandemic restrictions that apply to all other community sports? Information on the sport and exercise section of the Victorian government coronavirus website claims that vaccine requirements do not apply to community sport. The website describes community sport as ‘organised competitive sports with membership’. This definition fits golf to a tee. Despite that, the same webpage also specifically singles out golf and says you are required to be vaccinated to play golf. I cannot find anything in the public health directions that would explain this difference. Of all sports, there are few that are more COVID safe than golf. Players have a lot of space and do not spend the whole time huffing and puffing. The government has done many cruel things in the enforcement of the vaccine mandates—locking 12-year-old kids out of ordinary life; getting hardworking Victorians sacked from their jobs, including emergency services people who were heroes 12 months ago when working in medical teams—all at our expense.

A vaccine mandate for golf is a very minor cost in comparison to some of the things the government has done. However, it is also extraordinarily hard to justify from a health or science position. It is literally an example of the government inflicting restrictions on the unvaccinated purely to make their lives miserable, with no gain for the rest of society. The action I seek is for the minister to remove the conflicting and false information from the website and to make golf like any other community sport. Golf is an organised community sport with membership. Obviously this is not like excluding unvaccinated kids from swimming pools and swimming lessons that might save their lives, but still.

Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal

Dr BACH (Eastern Metropolitan) (22:27): (1690) On this side of the house we have a deep affection for the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. We do so for a range of reasons, one of which is because we set up the tribunal under the outstanding reformist Attorney-General Jan Wade. Over the last few days I have been spending some time going back through previous Labor Party policy documents, and I must report to the house that, somewhat to my surprise, I found many of the commitments in these previous documents to be entirely to my liking. For example, in 2014, before coming to government, the Labor Party promised that it would fix the, and I quote, ‘clogging of the court system’ and deal with, and again I quote, ‘the problems being encountered by VCAT, which is intended to be a quick, low-cost and user-friendly alternative to the courts’. And thus tonight my adjournment matter is for the Attorney-General. I agree entirely with these sentiments. In the Labor Party’s 2014 document it went on to whack, in some respects not entirely unfairly, the former Liberal government.

Well, it is a matter of fact, it is a matter of record, that since that time these court systems and indeed the clogging of VCAT, to use the words of the Labor Party’s 2014 election manifesto, have only become worse. They have become worse year upon year. However, the clogging of VCAT has been exacerbated over the last 18 months by the Labor government’s many lockdowns. This was demonstrated to all and sundry when VCAT’s most recent annual report was tabled here in this place just a few weeks ago. For the benefit of the house, it showed that over the last financial year the number of pending cases rose by 90 per cent and the number of finalised cases reduced by 19 per cent. In an additional report, the Court Services Victoria annual report, it was demonstrated that the cost of justice in this state is going up—again, something that the Labor Party in its 2014 election manifesto said that it would fix. The average cost per case at VCAT is now $1413, a full 44 per cent greater than previously estimated. Well, justice delayed is undoubtedly justice denied. We have had wonderful promises, which I entirely endorse, from those opposite. It is time for those opposite to match their words with actions. The action that I seek from the Attorney-General is for her, finally, to properly resource the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Women’s sexual and reproductive health

Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (22:30): (1691) My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Health, and the action I seek is for the minister to widen the scope of the 2021–25 women’s sexual and reproductive health plan to include surgical abortion and treatment for menstrual issues, endometriosis and menopause.

I am really fortunate to meet with a number of stakeholders in women’s health, and they have advocated in so many areas, but many have raised concerns about the consultation paper released by the department for the SRH plan and have read the plan. I have read the plan, and I agree with them. We are concerned that the plan is too narrow. It is focused on disease, which absolutely has its place, but the sector would like to broaden that focus to include prevention and good sexual and reproductive health across the life cycle. This is particularly important for pelvic pain issues such as endometriosis. It takes Victorian women 6½ years to get a diagnosis of endometriosis. Many women have to visit multiple doctors until they find one who believes their pain. After the diagnosis much of the advice is, ‘Try mindfulness’, or my personal favourite, ‘Have a baby. That’ll fix it’. Pelvic pain begins in puberty and can affect women for decades of their lives. Our sexual and reproductive health plan must give a more fulsome approach to menstrual health.

Likewise, while I am happy to see a strong focus on early medical abortion, the plan does need to widen its focus to include surgical terminations and particularly to decide whether our hospital system has the capacity to deliver these services, which is why my adjournment matter for the health minister seeks his action to direct his department to broaden the scope of the sexual and reproductive health plan to include surgical abortion, information and treatment for menstrual issues, endometriosis and menopause.

Responses

Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (22:33): We had 14 contributions to the adjournment debate this evening, and I will refer each and every one of them to the relevant ministers.

The PRESIDENT: The house stands adjourned.

House adjourned 10.33 pm.

Joint sitting of Parliament

Senate vacancy

Legislative Council vacancy

Members of both houses met in Assembly chamber at 4.46 pm.

The Clerk: Before proceeding with the business of this joint sitting, because it is a joint sitting to also fill a Council vacancy it is necessary to appoint a Chair. I call the Premier.

Mr ANDREWS (Mulgrave—Premier): I move:

That the Honourable Colin Brooks, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, be appointed Chair of this joint sitting.

He is willing to accept the nomination.

Mr GUY (Bulleen—Leader of the Opposition): I second the motion.

The Clerk: Are there any other proposals? There being no other proposals, the Honourable Colin Brooks, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, will take the chair.

Motion agreed to.

The CHAIR (Hon. C Brooks): We will begin the proceedings with the Senate vacancy. I advise members that the rules set out in joint standing orders 19 to 23 now apply. I now invite proposals from members for the appointment of a person to hold the vacant place in the Senate.

Mr ANDREWS (Mulgrave—Premier): I propose:

That Greg Mirabella hold the place in the Senate rendered vacant by the resignation of Senator the Honourable Scott Ryan.

He is, I am informed, willing to accept the nomination. In order to satisfy the joint sitting as to the requirements of section 15 of the commonwealth constitution, I also advise that I am in possession of advice from the Liberal Party’s registered officer that Greg Mirabella is the selection of the Liberal Party of Australia, the party previously represented in the Senate by Senator the Honourable Scott Ryan.

Mr GUY (Bulleen—Leader of the Opposition): I second the proposal.

The CHAIR: Are there any further proposals? As only one person has been proposed, I declare that Greg Mirabella has been chosen to hold the place in the Senate rendered vacant by the resignation of Senator the Honourable Scott Ryan.

We will now proceed to the vacancy in the Legislative Council. Under the Constitution Act 1975 this joint sitting must be conducted in accordance with rules adopted by members present at the sitting. The first procedure therefore will be the adoption of rules.

Mr ANDREWS (Mulgrave—Premier): I move:

That joint rule of practice 2 be the rules for this joint sitting.

Mr GUY (Bulleen—Leader of the Opposition): I second the motion.

Motion agreed to.

The CHAIR: The rules having been adopted, I now invite proposals from members for a person to occupy the vacant seat in the Legislative Council.

Mr ANDREWS (Mulgrave—Premier): I propose:

That Ms Cathrine Burnett-Wake be chosen to occupy the vacant seat in the Legislative Council.

She is, I am informed, willing to accept the nomination. In order to satisfy the joint sitting as to the requirements of section 27A(4) of the Constitution Act 1975, I also advise that I am in possession of advice from the Liberal Party’s registered officer that Cathrine Burnett-Wake is the selection of the Liberal Party of Australia, the party previously represented in the Legislative Council by the Honourable Edward O’Donohue.

Mr GUY (Bulleen—Leader of the Opposition): I second the proposal.

The CHAIR: Are there any further proposals? As there are no further nominations, I declare that nominations are closed.

Motion agreed to.

The CHAIR: I declare that Ms Cathrine Burnett-Wake has been chosen to occupy the vacant seat in the Legislative Council. I will advise the Governor accordingly.

I now declare the joint sitting closed.

Proceedings terminated 4.51 pm.