Member for Western Victoria
Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party

Appropriation 2021–2022 Bill 2021

Mr GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (11:12): I rise to speak on the Appropriation (2021–2022) Bill 2021, and I have to say that I have read those red paperback budget papers with some positivity. I definitely conclude that Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party had a number of wins, with items we have been pushing for for a long time finally being funded. It makes a lot of the work that we do in this place seem worthwhile when the government do listen and act on our advocacy for important matters. Needless to say, there is long way to go on some of these matters, especially victim support, which I will talk to in just a moment, but on the whole we are seeing some good things. Firstly, the mental health commitments are overdue but are very much welcomed by Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party. We have spoken on countless occasions about the various shortcomings of Victoria’s mental health system, mainly in relation to wait times in regional Victoria. I have also proudly spoken about the high proportion of mental health issues in our frontline workers in comparison to the broader Victorian population. This investment is a serious one at that, and I do not think that our state has ever seen such a spend. I hold reservations about the impact this levy on businesses might have. It is common knowledge that employment—and its associated stability, such as through income, routine and purpose—is potentially the biggest factor in the collective mental health of the state. This is potentially why we are seeing some awful statistics come out of Victoria’s extensive lockdowns. So what I hope is that this levy will not trickle down into the redundancy of workers, as this would only result in mental health battles for those individuals. My biggest ask of the government in this budget was to fund a victims legal service, and to some extent they delivered. Victoria now has its first-ever dedicated victims legal service or VLS. It was not exactly what we wanted, and there was nowhere near the funding that will be required to host the services that survivors need, but we have made a start. I have been working for a number of years on what this service might look like, and I would like to take the opportunity to thank Michelle Zammit for working with my office to provide on-the-ground advice and echoing the voices of many victimsurvivors that she has worked with in her various roles. A VLS could have a number of victim-focused services, including providing advice to a victim about their substantive legal rights and entitlements, rather than the general legal advice that the Office of Public Prosecutions or the Victims Support Agency might already provide, and how to make a complaint to an investigatory, prosecuting or Victims Support Agency, pursuant to the Victims’ Charter Act 2006; attending conferences between victims and the police or the OPP, where the VLS could act as a victim’s representative; assistance with writing a victim impact statement to ensure that it is admissible should the victim choose to read this aloud in court; appearing on behalf of the victim where a cross-examination is occurring into the victim’s previous sexual history in sexual assault matters; and appearing on behalf of the victim when an application for the victim’s confidential communications is requested. Here the VLS could dispute the extent to which the victim’s communications are disclosed to the court, protecting their privacy. These are some things, and there are a number of other things, that the VLS could be tasked with, but you get the idea. It would be a very important, very broad service that victims of crime do not currently have but which they desperately need. The budget only includes $7.3 million over three years for its version of the VLS. This service would help victims of crime to prepare for compensation and restitution orders that come under the Sentencing Act 1991. This was also part of our proposal, and for that I am grateful. When the OPP or police are successful in prosecuting a crime, under section 85B of the Sentencing Act the victim of crime who has suffered injury as a result of the offence may seek compensation. In practice this avenue is limited to those whose perpetrator has money or assets. Despite the OPP being able to represent a client in one of these cases, it is my understanding that they rarely do, so the victim of crime is basically left to fend for themselves in trying to get compensation for their physical or mental injury. I spoke to a survivor just a few weeks ago who was about to start the 85B process. They were scared to start this process, and to be honest they were very lost. It is a pity that this funding will not be accessible to that survivor in time, but it is good to know that we are moving to a model where survivors in future will have this support. There are a number of questions that I hope to pose during the committee stage today in relation to the VLS, and I hope we get some answers, mainly for the survivors who wish to access this service in the future. I am very keen to find out how many survivors the government hopes to see supported by this funding announcement and whether this will be enough resourcing for the demand. My gut feeling is that however well intentioned this announcement is it sadly will not touch the surface. I am very glad to hear that the specialist family violence court commitment made through the Royal Commission into Family Violence will be upheld and funded in the 2021–22 budget, albeit not within the original time line. The original upgrades were supposed to be completed by July this year, but they are unlikely to be completed before next year it would seem. I will be asking about the time line for this facility in the committee also. When I visited the specialist family violence court in Ballarat I was pleasantly surprised by how trauma informed it was, including separate entrances for victims and perpetrators, toys for children who have no choice but to attend court and specialist trained staff. I would like to thank the Barwon Area Integrated Family Violence Committee for their advocacy in getting the specialist court on the government’s radar and keeping me informed on just how important the specialist court is to the region. Something I have been speaking about for some time in this place is the burden recidivist alcohol and other drug offenders, or AOD offenders, have on our legal system. They take up resources, commit serious crimes and continue to cost the community tangibly and emotionally, yet we still do not have anywhere near the number of AOD rehabilitation beds that we need. In the 2021–22 budget Corio, Wangaratta and Traralgon are welcoming new AOD facilities. Corio, one of the lowest socioeconomic areas in the country, will receive funding for 30 beds. An ABC article in February states that Melbourne’s Uniting ReGen facility had 90 people on its waiting list and Odyssey House had almost 300 people waiting between six weeks and three months to receive treatment, and people were dying whilst waiting for treatment. The government said that this funding will open up treatment beds for 900 people a year, which sounds fantastic, but I would like to know what analysis was used to estimate that this investment would be adequate. How many people statewide are waiting for or are in need of residential AOD treatment, and therefore will this funding announcement address Victoria’s need to curb AOD use? It has also been brought to my attention that most residential AOD facilities are still operating under social-distancing requirements, including limiting the number of beds that can be used by patients. I hope that these restrictions will be removed as soon as possible to cope with the likely surge in demand as things get back to normal. It is a worry that this announcement of residential rehabilitation beds was not coupled with investment in detox beds. Generally residential rehabilitation does not occur until detox has been completed. One strategy floated is to have a number of detox beds within a residential facility and to have all necessary staff on site and in one place to provide consistency and continuity for patients. Speaking with the Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association, they absolutely welcome the announcement as well. However, they note that there are a number of different types of treatment and we need to ensure that each area of rehabilitation has the investment required. On just one day in December last year the agencies that contributed to their survey collectively had over 800 clients waiting for some type of AOD treatment. This included residential rehab, dual diagnosis, youth residential and day rehab. But I note that the figure is ultraconservative and not all agencies respond. People drop off waiting lists regularly whilst still requiring treatment and for a range of other reasons. I read with interest in the budget papers that the rural and regional workforce incentive is being rolled out after a number of trials in different sectors. The $11 million will hopefully incentivise mental health professionals to take employment opportunities in our regions, where they are crying out for skilled workers, including from the health industry. My unfortunate scepticism from this announcement originates from revelations made in December last year that one-quarter of cash incentives that were supposed to attract schoolteachers to rural Victoria were being used in metropolitan Melbourne. Regional Victoria becomes the poor cousin again. It is just not good enough that programs needed to support regional and rural workforces are being funnelled the other way. Therefore I would have liked to have seen this money not coming from the Consolidated Fund but from a fund where there are strict guidelines on how the department can and cannot allocate the money. I would also like to address an issue I have raised many times about rural and regional housing that ties to this point. In Yarriambiack shire I have heard of a person who was successful in gaining a job as a kinder teacher, but he needed to househunt for months in order to be able to take up the new role. It is not new information that the vacancy rate in regional and rural Victoria is at an all-time low, with some places not even boasting one rental available. However, how is the government planning to incentivise mental health practitioners to move to these areas, including Hamilton, without investment in developments in housing? As I said in this place recently, only five out of my 24 council areas have had a minimum investment guarantee. That is 19 that do not have any money pledged from the Big Housing Build. So therefore if you cannot fix the housing problem, I regretfully have my doubts that you would get this incentive program working effectively as well. There was $220 million in the budget for reducing the court backlog, and I have got plenty of committee questions on this issue, but I will leave my comments to that process so as not to double up. Very generally, I welcome the expediting of appointing additional court staff, judges and magistrates to reduce the court backlog. However, I would like to see the figures and information the government used to determine how much investment was needed and in which areas. Until we have this information, my question would be: how do we know that this is enough? Just quickly and lastly, I would like to also congratulate the government on finally investing a serious amount of money on child protection: $1.2 billion. Again, my sceptical mind hopes a portion of this funding will go towards longevity of successful programs instead of 12-month bursts of funding—and this is a big contributor to the loss or high turnover of staff. I have also spoken about the wait times to assess out-of-home care providers and how this inhibits the rate at which carers are checked and appointed. In summary, I am happy with the budget and the way it addresses many issues I and my colleague Ms Maxwell have raised in this place. It unfortunately missed out on a big opportunity to provide adequate care and support to our survivors of crime, especially sexual crimes, but it has made a start. This is better than nothing, but rest assured, we will keep fighting for victims of crime. I commend this bill to the house.


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