Emergency Service Workers Presumption Legislation: Motion

GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (15:17:32): I move: That in relation to part 4 of the Victoria State Emergency Service Act 2005, this house: (1) acknowledges: (a) that the process that emergency service workers have to undertake in order to claim workers compensation is often daunting, stressful and challenging, particularly if the claim is related to mental health; (b) the existence of current basic presumptive legislation laws in Victoria, but notes a lack of support for those suffering from post-traumatic stress; (c) the cumulative impacts of exposure to violence and conflict, which emergency services workers are often subjected to; (d) that legislating a presumptive compensation scheme for emergency service workers will reduce the stigma associated with post-traumatic stress injuries and assist people in accessing support services more efficiently and without further trauma; (2) calls on the government to establish a presumptive compensation scheme which places the onus of proof from the workers to the employer, by allowing emergency service workers and volunteers engaged in firefighting or life-saving duties to access workers compensation that will: (a) allow workers compensation claims that are post-traumatic stress related to be treated like any other work-related injury; and (b) ensure that the presumptive legislation will not remove the ability for an employer to dispute the claim if there is sufficient reason to believe that the injury is not work related and to avoid retrospective claims being made. Post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI) is all too common an occurrence nowadays. I refer to it as an injury as opposed to a disorder, as ‘disorder’ can bring about stigma and further exacerbate a person’s mental health issues. When you break a leg, people are quite forward in inquiring about your health, progress and rehabilitation. A broken bone is a physical injury. It can be clearly seen, and there is no stigma associated with it whatsoever. Sometimes a broken bone can even be seen as a badge of honour. How many times have you heard about a champion racing car driver or motorcycle rider speak of the broken bones they have had over their career? They talk about it like it is some sort of rite of passage. A broken mind in our society does not, however, have the same connotations associated with it. A broken mind cannot be seen from the outside. A broken mind displays many different symptoms. A broken mind is not as easily mended as a broken bone. It is not as simple as putting a plaster cast on. A broken mind is an injury; it is not a disorder. Those of us within the chamber who have experienced a traumatic event, be it a car accident, the death of a friend or family member or, even worse, seeing someone die in front of them, will know how it has affected them.

You will know how it has affected your behaviour, your thoughts and your feelings, and you may even know how you have changed your emotions and behaviour and how that has affected those closest to you. Imagine, then, having such a traumatic event repeated over and over and over and over again. Imagine the toll that places on your mental health, your mind and your now broken mind. Welcome to the life of an emergency services worker. In my maiden speech I made reference to the jobs I was part of as a serving police officer—talking to people in the midst of committing suicide, comforting those who were dying in front of my eyes, supporting family members following the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one and, dreadfully, trawling through thousands of child abuse images on a paedophile’s computer—and of course there is the dreaded death notification door knock. Being an emergency services worker takes a special type of person. In means that at times you have to take the horrific situation in front of you and somehow put it aside until the job is done. Some people move on from these scenes of devastation quite readily, while with others it takes some time. Every emergency services worker, no matter how well they appear to be coping with traumatic events, will at some stage in their life recall and reflect on what they have seen, what they have experienced. For some that is where the trauma ends, but for others that is where the mind breaks. Imagine, then, if you will, having served your community as best you possibly could, helping those most in need, being part of a person’s life, albeit fleetingly, at their lowest ebb and sacrificing your own wellbeing for the benefit of a safer and more secure community—and doing it for the greater good. Imagine, from those events, having a broken mind—a post-traumatic stress injury—and being unable to leave your home, let alone function effectively as a worker, but still having bills to pay, a mortgage to maintain and a family to feed, going from being a dedicated emergency services worker to feeling anxious, depressed, angry, fragile, tired, feeling like you cannot cope anymore and being at your own lowest ebb. Who is there to pick up the pieces where you once stood?

Probably by this stage you have inadvertently pushed your friends and family aside, sought medical treatment and probably sought some sort of compensation to assist with rebuilding your broken mind and your life—something to pay the bills, the mortgage and the medical expenses, something to get you back to the person that you once were before you dedicated your life to helping others. I commend the commitment shown by emergency services workers and volunteers to ensuring the safety of their communities, and I am sure that I speak on behalf of all Victorians in expressing immense appreciation for their work. It is important that they are supported in their time of need, just as they supported us, and continue to, day in and day out. The work that our emergency services do for us cannot be taken for granted. It is important that the Victorian government is there for our emergency workers when they need it most. The lasting effects on emergency services workers’ mental health and stability is something that cannot continue to be overlooked in the legislative process of workers compensation. An article released in September last year by Medicine Today stated that in Australia instances of PTSD are more than twice as prevalent in emergency services workers than in the general population. Furthermore, one in 10 currently active emergency services workers will have symptoms suggestive of post-traumatic stress injuries. Rates may even be higher among retired workers. A report released by Beyondblue in 2018 brought to light some alarming findings with regard to the prevalence of mental health issues and suicide in Australian emergency services workers. During the study 39 per cent of employees and 33 per cent of volunteers reported having been diagnosed with a mental illness by a mental health professional. This is an alarming rate compared to 20 per cent of all adults in Australia. The report also found that one in five employees get very poor quality sleep and that rates of suicidal thoughts in emergency services workers are significantly higher than the national average. To put it simply, our emergency services workers are suffering from mental health issues significantly more than the general population due to the extreme levels of stress and trauma they are exposed to when undertaking essential work in keeping us safe.

Compensation for their physical injuries sustained through work currently provides great support to our emergency services workers and volunteers; however, existing compensation schemes in Victoria fail to address the significance of the issue of mental health and post-traumatic stress injuries, and this further stigmatises these illnesses in the workplace, putting unnecessary strain on those who are keeping our community safe. I commend the Tasmanian government on their recent action to pass legislation to make it easier for public sector workers to access compensation for PTSI. The crux of this legislation is that diagnosed claims of PTSI will be automatically accepted by the government as work-related, which will ease the compensation process for those suffering. This action will greatly help to reduce the stigma around PTSI in the workforce. This is a great leap forward for Tasmania, and I sincerely hope that the Victorian government follows the example set and will act to ensure that similar support is given to Victorian emergency services workers. The existing legislation within Victoria pertaining to injury compensation for emergency services workers needs to reflect the traumatic nature and urgency of difficulties that victims of PTSI are going through. Onus of proof in cases of workers compensation needs to be shifted from the victim of the injuries and the incidents to the WorkCover authority. Our emergency services workers should not feel like they are fighting another battle when seeking compensation for injuries sustained in service.

This motion concerns itself with all emergency services workers, whether paid or volunteer, who apply for workers compensation for post-traumatic injuries that they have succumbed to as a result of their work experiences. Essentially, and unless proven otherwise by the WorkCover authority, for every case of a diagnosed PTSI their work is assumed to be the cause. This reverse onus thereby offers some relief of the pressure already burdened upon the sufferer. It is hard enough dealing with PTSI yourself and with your friends and family, let alone having to wade through the pressures being placed on you by the WorkCover authority to prove your work has resulted in your PTSI injury. Those with PTSI should not have to have their symptoms further exacerbated by the extenuating and magnifying processes of seeking workers compensation. I commend this motion to the house and trust that we, as leaders within our community and as decision-makers, will show respect to our emergency services workers and do whatever we can to assist and give back to those who have given up so much for us.

GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (16:12:30): I would like to thank all the speakers today for speaking on this motion. In particular it is pleasing to see the bipartisan support from the crossbench, the government, non-government members, the coalition and the Greens—all the parties coming together to support what I believe is such an important motion. I also echo Mr Bourman’s sentiments in that at some stage this does need to become legislation. You are right. A motion is one thing, but to make it set in stone in legislation is another, so that is something that we will be pursuing very strongly. Mr O’Donohue spoke about the importance of mental health recovery. He mentioned the assistance dogs program. That is also something that we are pursuing strongly, along with Mr O’Donohue and the coalition. I hope that these are some of the programs that the government can look at introducing.

They are very cost-minimal programs, but the outcomes for people with post-traumatic stress injury or PTSD are just incredible from what the results have shown, so we hope that these programs and the legislation will become part of this movement as well. It is all about raising awareness for mental health, in particular in this case for emergency services workers, but it is also about just having the discussion about mental health issues and how they can sometimes come on quite quickly and out of nowhere. For instance, after my maiden speech I sat down that night and I thought, ‘Gee, some of those events that I actually went through have actually affected me’. Some people react in different ways. That for me was the end of it, but for others that could be the start of that journey where their mind starts to break down. So it is important that we look after all the retired emergency services workers and also those that are currently serving. Just on a side note, I am wearing these nice pink and blue socks today.

They are from Read the Play, which is a mental health program running out of Geelong at the moment. It is all about ‘Sock it to Mental Illness’, so I thought it appropriate that I put on this pair of socks today. Thanks to Sirsock for all of those as well. They do a great job. Like I said, it is important that we raise these issues and get it done, but more importantly that we actually legislate it and do some good programs. In relation to the amendment, I do welcome the amendment and I thank the government for proposing it and coming on board to a certain extent, although from our perspective we were hoping for a step forward. We probably got half a step forward, but it is in the right direction nevertheless. I acknowledge that, and I do thank the government for their discussions. We have also had discussions with other key stakeholders, including the Police Association Victoria. Mr Gatt has also been appreciative of our efforts, and he is very keen to get this over the line as well. The amendment makes references to allowing claimants to access medical and like expenses quite quickly upon application or submission for workers compensation, which we recognise.

It does expedite the process and enable workers to access those support services a lot quicker, and we do appreciate and welcome that. We note that the amendment still does not allow efficient access to funds other than the medical. Perhaps that is something that we can look at when the legislation comes around. It also leaves out the burden of proof that the claimant still has to go through; it does not reverse the onus of proof, which is what we initially hoped for. But like I said, it is a step in the right direction. I look forward to working with the Andrews government in pursuing the changes on top of this motion today, and hopefully one day it will become legislation. We continue to show our support for the emergency services workers, who—as you said, Acting President Melhem—are often the ones that go into these horrific situations when people need them most. When most people are running out of a burning building, they are the ones who are running into it, so we need to look after those who look after us. Amendment agreed to; amended motion agreed to.

Condolence Motion: Sri Lankan Terrorist Attacks

GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (13:07:20): I join with other members in the chamber in speaking on this motion of sympathy on behalf of Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party. We express our sincere condolences to the victims and their families and to the Sri Lankan people following the horrendous attacks across Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. The horrific nature of these attacks is an attack not only on Sri Lanka but on all who advocate and live for freedom around the world.

Though I fear how fruitless my words may be in easing the pain of those affected by these atrocities, I know I stand with all Victorians in expressing my deepest sadness and sincerest condolences to the Sri Lankan people in this time of grief. Despite this horrific event, on top of the appalling incident in recent times in New Zealand, a clear message must be sent to all of those people driven to divide our society through carnage and the killing of innocent people. That message is that you will never win, you will never divide us and we, as a strong, inclusive and compassionate community, will always prevail with our own strength in unity.

Condolence Motion: Port Campbell

GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (13:56:23): (By leave) We express our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Ross and Andrew Powell, father and son, who both tragically drowned as a result of surf lifesaving in the rough waters off Port Campbell last week. Together we mourn and reflect on these two selfless, brave and noble men who made the ultimate sacrifice whilst volunteering on Easter Sunday. While most spend time with family eating chocolate and catching up with relatives over Easter, let us all remember that there are Victorians who gift their time for the safety and wellbeing of complete strangers—people like Ross and Andy. I give praise to our first responders, including the other surf lifesavers, police and firefighters who rescued two others involved in the incident and who did their best in their attempts to save the Powells.

I would also like to thank the surf lifesaving clubs around the state that took the initiative to run fundraisers last weekend for the families of Ross and Andy, who demonstrated their commitment to everything surf lifesaving stands for. Many funds have been raised to care for Andy’s unborn daughter and his partner. I know the supportive and tight-knit community of Port Campbell will offer whatever assistance they can to the Powell family. I know it will be an extremely tough road ahead, but I hope the Powell family can find some solace in their selfless sacrifice. Victorians are an amazing people. We come together through adversity, and we spend countless hours volunteering in many capacities to ensure we keep our communities and neighbourhoods safe. In their lives and in their deaths Ross and Andy epitomised all that makes a great Australian. May you both rest in peace.

Question Without Notice: Youth Crime

GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (15:20:27): My question is to the minister representing the Minister for Youth Justice, the Honourable Jaclyn Symes. Currently in Victoria we face a very real and significant problem of instances in which some youths are choosing to engage in antisocial and criminal behaviour rather than attending our schools. From my experience in working with the Victorian police I can personally attest to the seriousness of this growing problem in our communities. Statistics show that teenagers who end up in jail are far more likely to commit serious offences and to be incarcerated as adults. Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party is committed to ensuring that justice is a priority in our communities and to making Australia a safer place. It is an aim of the party to make sure that young people are attending school and are not partaking in antisocial and illegal behaviour that will lead to continued offending throughout adulthood, as is currently happening in Victorian communities. The party is committed to keeping Australian teens in school and out of prison. My question to the minister is: what steps is the Andrews government taking to ensure that instances of youth crime in Victoria are decreasing in frequency rather than increasing?

SUPPLEMENTARY:

I appreciate your answer, and I think you touched on a bit of the supplementary question, which is: is the minister able to provide any insight into how the government is making sure that Victorian kids are attending our schools and not engaging in antisocial behaviour in our communities?

Constituency Question: Public Dental Care

GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (15:56:18): My constituency question is for the health minister, the Honourable Jenny Mikakos. Recently my office met with the Victorian Oral Health Alliance. Access to affordable dental care determines the overall health of communities; however, the Western Victoria Region currently hosts some of the longest waiting times for public dental care. There are currently over 36 000 adults and children awaiting urgent and preventative dental care in western Victoria. My question is: is the health minister able to highlight the steps that the Andrews government is taking in order to reduce waiting times for public dental care in western Victoria? Ms Lovell: On a point of order, President, I just wanted to raise a point of order around a constituency question that I raised with the Minister for Public Transport on 6 March.

It was to do with a specific railway crossing in my electorate that is dangerous. The response that I received from the minister was just referring me to a website about a statewide program that that particular crossing is not part of. Constituency questions have to be about an issue that is specific to an electorate, and they cannot be about a statewide program. Presiding Officers have been explicit about this before. Therefore I consider that the answers ought to be the same—they should be specific to the matter raised and not about a statewide program. President, in conversations with you, you indicated that perhaps you do not have the power to encourage ministers to be responsive to questions. If you do not have that power to encourage ministers to be responsive, perhaps we could refer this to the Procedure Committee for a change to standing orders to require the answers to meet the same criteria as a constituency question. The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Ms Lovell. You are correct. There is nothing in the standing orders that says I can determine that an answer to a constituency question be redone by that particular minister. We do have a Procedure Committee meeting I think tomorrow or Thursday, and you being a member, we will have general business time, and I am happy for you to bring that up then.

Mark West Foundation Members Statement

GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (16:21:22): I rise today to congratulate and encourage a local Geelong charity, the Mark West Foundation. Over 100 kids annually are given an opportunity to play sport in circumstances where they otherwise may not have been able to. They may be struggling financially, they may have had parents or family members pass away or they may have been through horrible incidents which have left them unmotivated and disinterested. I had the pleasure of meeting Mark’s brother Paul and Mark’s childhood best friend and now foundation board member Tom Harriott.

Their enthusiasm for creating equality in Geelong is incredible. The motivation behind the five-year-old charity is not just to give a pair of brand-new footy boots to and pay registration for each child, but to encourage kids to be part of the community, surrounded by support, and to play sport, which we all know has endless positive effects on us, especially young people. Paul is carrying on his brother’s legacy after a freak on-field footy accident on Anzac Day 1998, which killed him instantly in a tackle whilst playing for the Newtown and Chilwell Football Club. Over 25 per cent of the sponsorship recipients are now female—a testament to the great work being done by community sports leaders to encourage young ladies to give footy a go. Last year three of the best and fairest winners in junior sides in the Geelong region were sponsorship recipients. Congratulations to Paul, Tom and Mark’s family and friends. I look forward to being updated on your next milestones and to doing whatever I can to ensure the continuation of the thriving Mark West Foundation.

Police with Tasers Adjournment Debate

GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (18:53:58): My adjournment matter is for the attention of the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, the Honourable Lisa Neville, and it relates to all frontline Victoria Police officers carrying conducted energy devices, otherwise known as tasers, as part of their tactical options. Having been trained in the use of tasers as an alternative non-lethal tactical option, I can personally attest to the effectiveness and increased ability of tasers in keeping our police members and public safe. The increased assaults upon our police members have become all-too-familiar occurrences. Our protectors are placing themselves at risk on a daily basis. It is irresponsible and reckless of us not to allow every police member on the front line access to tasers to protect them from such horrendous attacks. Currently police have access to tactical options and equipment that include the ASP baton, OC spray and firearms. These options are limited as to their use and effectiveness in certain situations.

For instance, OC spray is only effective where there is very little wind and can often affect bystanders nearby an incident. From my experience, the ASP baton is rarely used and can only be deployed upon certain areas of the body to limit serious injuries, and obviously the firearm is the lethal option and only deployed in life-threatening situations. The non-equipment-based options include the hands-on approach, which places officers in close physical contact with an offender, and the verbal option. With the verbal option it is not uncommon for offenders to be alcohol or drug affected, and the verbal option provides very little effect, if any at all, in these situations. Tasers, therefore, are a necessary component of the frontline police member’s options if we are to be serious about protecting their welfare and the safety of our community. Tasers are currently available to members of the critical incident response team and special operations group and in limited regional areas, including Mildura, Warrnambool, Wangaratta and Geelong. There were around 3000 assaults on police last year, and I have also been a member of that not too exclusive club. Tasers have been rolled out to police in New South Wales and Queensland. Why is Victoria seemingly always playing catch-up with other states?

Why are we not giving our protectors all the tools necessary to keep them and us safe? Minister Neville was quoted in the Herald Sun on 10 February saying that the government will: … continue to ensure that police are equipped with the necessary equipment they need to perform their duties safely and effectively. While this assurance continues the assaults upon our Victoria Police members will also continue, and I note that the rollout of tasers to all frontline police members has the full support of the Victoria Police Association. The action I seek is for the minister to roll out conducted energy devices to all general duties police officers across the state as a matter of urgency. This would provide all police officers with the necessary tools to keep themselves and the general public safe and further prevent the escalating violence against Victoria’s finest.

Energy Bill Second Reading Speech

GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (17:10:16): Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party is built upon a commonsense approach to politics. The state government’s Energy Legislation Amendment (Victorian Default Offer) Bill 2019 allows the government to set a default price for power and energy in Victoria. This gives certainty to families about what they can expect to pay, and this is just common sense. I share the concerns of many parents about rising electricity costs, and I understand that vulnerable members of our community will be increasingly concerned about the arrival of winter and the pressure that heating costs will add to their bills.

I support this bill as it allows the state government to set a precedent when it comes to pricing. I will vote in favour of this bill in the hope that the Premier uses it to keep downward pressure on power prices. Whilst I acknowledge the Andrews government’s commitment to growing the state’s renewable energy sector and reducing carbon emissions, I hope this can be achieved in conjunction with a better outcome for families. Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party realises that the climate is changing as a result of man-made factors, but I believe that affordable and reliable energy for families in my region of Western Victoria should be the guiding factor in how this legislation is used. We support this bill.

Christchurch Mosques Terrorist Attacks Condolence Speech

GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (15:14:13): I rise to speak on this motion and to offer my condolences. As we are aware, on Friday last week New Zealand encountered one of its darkest days, as put by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. This was an attack not only on religion but on the identity of a calm, loving and multicultural nation. Over the weekend mosques all around our state and country opened up their doors to all religions. They welcomed everyone with open arms to educate and to pause and reflect on the lost lives of their brothers and sisters. Despite the heartbreak and sadness this attack has brought, a compassionate understanding of and respect for the religion of Islam was seen by all in its highest degree. Out of the darkness has come light. Victorians have stood and will continue to stand side by side with those of all faiths and religions. As I stated in my inaugural speech in this place, I am not personally a religious person—my family are my religion. That does not in any way demean my or my family’s thoughts on religion within our community.

My kids have been taught, as I have been taught, to respect all religions around them and to learn to understand them. What has come out of such a horrendous event in New Zealand is strong, unbiased, apolitical leadership that puts the community first. This leadership is something which we can all strive towards. We should also give credit to all the first responders attending the scene as well as the emergency call takers, who did a remarkable job in unimaginable circumstances. I send my condolences to the families who will go on living without their loved ones. I send my condolences to New Zealand as it deals with such an attack on its identity. I also send my condolences to those of Islamic faith. Theirs is a religion which has had its authenticity questioned and its motives challenged yet will continue to stand tall alongside all other faiths.

Domestic Violence Funding Question Without Notice

GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (17:40:17): My question is to the Minister for Health representing the Minister for Prevention of Family Violence. The protection of vulnerable persons continues to be a core value of Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party, and this is reflected in our policy for domestic violence reform. On average eight women present to hospital every day because of domestic violence. Last week the federal government announced the next round of funding for its domestic violence action plan, providing $328 million until 2022. My question to the minister is: with this funding, what will be the steps taken by the Andrews government to ensure greater safety for women and families?

Supplementary Question:

GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (17:43:28): Is the minister able to provide any insight into whether Victorians can expect the federal government’s additional funding for the prevention of domestic violence to be matched by the state government in next month’s budget?