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Sentencing Amendment (Correction of Sentencing Error) Bill 2015

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — It gives me pleasure to speak on the Sentencing Amendment (Correction of Sentencing Error) Bill 2015. As has been stated, courts are busy places. Judges are busy people, and generally they work very hard. Courts are increasingly congested. This is a formula for good work but also mistakes. This bill seeks to address those mistakes in a way that is efficient and fair. There are a range of errors, and I think it is important to clarify what those errors are and to talk about what the bill addresses. There are potentially some concerns about the administration of justice and the fact that there is a legal process of court appeals which covers more significant matters.

This bill does not seek to address those significant matters. Errors can generally be categorised into three areas: minor clerical errors — for example, miscounting the number of days the offender has already served pursuant to the sentence; jurisdictional errors — for example, imposing a sentence where the court has no power to impose such a sentence, such as imposing a suspended sentence after the abolition of those sentences, as we heard from the member for Hawthorn and others; and, finally, errors in how sentencing discretion is exercised — for example, imposing a sentence that is manifestly excessive or inadequate. It is important to make the point that this bill seeks to address the first and second but not the third category of errors.

As I have said, courts are busy places. In my previous job I worked in the courts in an administrative capacity and saw firsthand the level of energy of judges and the amount of work they do. There is not only the complexity of the content of material — the laws, the regulations and the precedents judges need to take into account — but also the mayhem of a judge’s life in the sense that they could be dealing with a matter today which they will not return to for a few weeks or months if it is adjourned. There is a range of intervening factors — for example, parties may not be ready or witnesses may not be available. By the time judges get to sentencing, they probably would have dealt with a handful of other trials in between. While judges do an outstanding job, it is easy to see how errors can be made in such a busy environment, with different cases coming before them at different times.

The consequences of errors are that if they are not picked up within the 14 days under section 104A of the Sentencing Act 1991, the only avenue for redress is formal appeal to a superior court. That is a problem. I worked for a time in the transcript services area of the courts. From memory the service delivery time frame for the transcripts of sentences to be provided to the County Court of Victoria was three days. So three days are already lost before the 14-day period begins. If you want to have a look at the spoken word in the courtroom according to the formal transcript of the Victorian Government Reporting Service, you may not get it for three days anyway. The 14 days is quickly eaten up.

Judges make sentencing remarks on their PCs in their own offices, but I tell that anecdote as an example of how easily the 14 days can be missed. Appeal time frames for superior courts are generally in excess of 14 days, so by the time parties get to look at the sentence in more detail and pick up those errors it is often after 14 days because their appeal time frames are longer and that is what they look at rather than paying attention to the time limit in section 104A. As has been said before, the consequences are significant costs because appeals cost money. There are also some real justice concerns for an accused or a convicted person who may, for example, spend more time in incarceration than they would otherwise have done, waiting for an appeal to reduce the sentence.

This bill seeks to address those concerns and the consequence of those concerns — costs and potential consequences in relation to negative justice outcomes — by providing two key provisions. One provision is getting rid of the 14-day limit under current section 104A and giving the original court more discretion in relation to how it is prepared to deal with clerical and minor errors. Another is giving the court the power to reopen proceedings to correct penalties imposed that may be contrary to the law. That is an important element.

Basically this provision gives a court, either on application by a party or on its own motion — after giving the parties an opportunity to be heard, which I think is an important element — the ability to reopen proceedings. Under this provision, if passed, the court may impose a penalty that is in accordance with the law and amend any conviction order under section 7. Importantly, in determining whether to reopen a proceeding under this section the court must have regard to the time that has elapsed since the imposition of, or the failure to impose, the original penalty. As we have heard, it gives the court some power not to be bound to a party using these provisions in a way that is perhaps unnecessary.

Finally, in determining a new penalty on the reopening of a proceeding in which a court has imposed a penalty, the court must take into account the extent to which a person to whom the proceeding relates has served, paid, complied with or otherwise suffered the consequence of the original penalty. There are some key protections in terms of justice and in terms of people who are at the negative end of such a proceeding. I think these are important fixes — smart, prudent, cost-effective fixes — to some significant problems.

It is important to note that this bill does not seek to do away with or trump the normal process of appeal inherent in criminal trials in Victoria or in our judicial system. Errors that are made by a judge because of factual inaccuracies or because a judge has erred in terms of reasoning are material, significant matters that should really only be the subject of appeal to a higher court. This bill protects the integrity of that very basic tenet of our criminal justice and judicial system.

The bill still provides a basis for finality of proceedings. When the time limits for correcting mistakes are taken away, there is still discretion for the court and, as I said, the discretion will be based on time elapsed. This will create a more efficient operating system for the hardworking courts that in my view are increasingly expected to have higher and higher legal standards and to meet community expectations. Now, through Court Services Victoria, they will be masters of their own financial and expenditure operating environment. I understand the courts brought this to the government as a concern in order for them to be able to govern their resources in a more effective way, and it is pleasing that the government has been able to provide not only an avenue for them to address those concerns but also one that protects the integrity of our judicial system. This is an important bill which is intelligent and effective, and I commend it to the house.

Glen Eira Residential Planning

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — I raise a matter for the attention of the Minister for Planning. The action I seek is a commitment from the minister to visit Carnegie in the city of Glen Eira to see firsthand the impact of new dwellings on local residential areas. I further ask for the input of my local community to be considered in any future decision-making on Victorian planning matters.

Planning issues are generally very emotive for local communities, with many individual groups having input and/or being directly affected by the rules and regulations that are in place at any given time. This includes but is not limited to local residents, the local council, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and VicRoads as well as developers. Many areas within the city of Glen Eira have undergone significant change in recent years, including Carnegie and Ormond. While these changes are not unique in Melbourne, there is a great level of community feeling about planning my local area.

I have personally been contacted by numerous local residents expressing their concern about what they believe to be overdevelopment in the neighbourhood. While I recognise that some certainty has been provided in the past for many residents, others have not been so fortunate and have been built out or are subject to living next to large buildings which have not been in keeping with the neighbourhood or which create an impact on local facilities like roads and parking. Carnegie has had more than its fair share of high-rise development, and residents are now rightly saying enough is enough.

We all understand that there is a need for appropriate housing, and it makes sense that many new dwellings are located close to important infrastructure like train stations, tram routes and shopping areas. However, I believe there has to be an appropriate balance between satisfying the demand for new housing and limiting the negative impact on existing neighbourhoods. That balance needs to start with the local council, but the state government also has a crucial role to play. I look forward to a visit by the Minister for Planning to my community and encourage him to meet on site with relevant parties to enable a more comprehensive awareness of local concerns.

Domestic Animals Amendment Bill 2015

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — It gives me pleasure to rise to speak in the debate on the Domestic Animals Amendment Bill 2015. It is fairly obvious from public discourse and discussion over the past three or four years that, as you, Acting Speaker, said, this area of policy has not kept up with the contemporary situation or the reality of every family that owns a pet. It has become a problem because it has not worked, and we need to fix it. That is what is planned to be done through the introduction of this bill.

The current legislative and policy arrangements see owners separated from their pets, and in a sense the community is exposed to dangerous dogs because councils are perhaps reluctant, after the experience of Monash City Council and other councils, to prosecute a case for declaring a restricted breed dog. It is very expensive, and there is a lot of anguish tied up with the current arrangements. It is easy to see the love each owner has for their pet, but perhaps not the independent assessment by an external party that the dog may not be the most loving dog.

There is a whole range of issues here that are problematic. One of the best sources of advice on how broken the system might be is the RSPCA, which has been quoted in the debate earlier. In June 2013 in a letter to the then Minister for Agriculture and Food Security the RSPCA said:

As we have made clear on several occasions previously, the RSPCA does not support BSL —

breed specific legislation —

Our view, based on the available international scientific evidence, is that any dog may be dangerous and that dogs should not be declared as ‘dangerous’ on the basis of breed. While we recognise that there is a strong genetic component in a dog’s propensity for aggressive behaviour, their trigger point for aggression and capacity to inflict serious injury is not isolated to any specific breed. The RSPCA does not believe that BSL is in any way effective in preventing or reducing dog attacks, or in protecting the public from dangerous dogs.

That is a very powerful message from the organisation established to be the experts in this field. There is also a whole range of problems experienced by local councils, as I mentioned earlier.

Prior to being elected I was on the Monash City Council. We contested, for at least a couple of years, at council level and at officer level the issue of breed specific legislation, specifically in relation to the case of a dog called Kerser. Kerser’s owner took Monash council to court. Monash council did what it assumed was the right thing: it declared that the dog was a restricted breed dog. The council was taken to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, and it lost. It was taken to the Supreme Court, and it lost. It cost the ratepayers of Monash over $180 000 for one dog. So while I understand conceptually the case the member for Bass put up about councils possibly feeling disinclined to declare a dog a restricted breed dog because of the holding costs that they will have to cover for the period of the moratorium, I think that pales into insignificance compared to the costs associated with an owner who is adamant that that dog is not a dangerous dog purely because of that assessment of the breed, which may be a flawed assessment. That case was prosecuted all the way to the Supreme Court, costing the council $180 000. In my view the holding costs are the least of the council’s worries.

To put it into perspective, I suggest this is a very small cohort for a big amount of trouble, in terms of a big amount of financial trouble and anguish. Part of the Glen Eira City Council area is in my electorate. The Domestic Animal Management Plan 2013–2016 for Glen Eira City Council tells us that out of 12 500 registered dogs only 5 were found to be restricted breed dogs. In Monash the statistics indicate that of more than 10 000 dogs registered only 15 were restricted breed dogs. But those 15 in a sense are part of the cohort that caused that $180 000 expense. For Monash council $180 000 is probably about the budget for the animal management unit in one year, so there is obviously a problem in this space. There is a problem because of an assessment that Parliament made in earlier times about what it means to be a restricted breed dog — an assessment that scientifically does not seem to stack up.

It is a good call by this government — in fact it was an election commitment — to review these arrangements. It is vitally important that the government does that. I believe we all agree with the principle that the community should be protected from dangerous dogs; I do not think that is in question here. We all agree on that, but the balance needs to be right. There needs to be a balance of not only community safety and children’s safety but also of the rights of an owner of a pet or a family who lives with the pet, particularly in a day and age where there are a lot of single-person households in which the pet really is a member of the family. I also think there is a right for animals to be judged in terms of their inherent character — and they do have inherent characters — rather than just by the low base of a definition of what breed they may belong to. I believe we agree that the community absolutely deserves to be protected from dangerous dogs, but I do not believe the current arrangements work.

I just want to clear up a misunderstanding. I have forgotten which member it was on the other side, but at least one said that this is a dangerous amendment because councils are going to abrogate their responsibilities. It is very clear that no abrogation of responsibility is allowed in this amendment. Councils will still be obliged to prosecute a case in terms of whether a dog is a restricted breed dog; the only thing they cannot do after this amendment is actually put that dog down for the duration of the moratorium.

The community should rest very easy in relation to this amendment; it does not diminish community safety in any way at all. The response we are proposing in this bill is measured and appropriate. The response is to have a moratorium until September next year while we basically bring the experts around the table to work out what is broken and how it can be fixed. I understand the discussions could include a review of data on dog attacks, breeds of dogs involved in attacks, the nature of the injuries, statistics on compliance with regulations, the science and current method used to identify restricted breed dogs and the responsible dog ownership program. They are all sensible questions to ask, and things are not really conclusive in terms of where we are at the moment with the current legislative framework.

I am also glad that the committee conducting the investigation will take into account the views of local councils, veterinarians, dog breed experts and animal welfare organisations. I encourage the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources to engage with the councils. I have had some concerns expressed to me by Monash City Council that the department has not engaged with it adequately in the last little while, and I encourage the department to do that. Councils will probably bear the biggest brunt of the current legislative arrangements so it is important that they be engaged in the review.

To give a sense of the anguish that councils face not only in terms of the financial cost but also having to make a decision they are not qualified to make — they do not have the economies of scale to garner the best experts around the world to make decisions about restricted breed dogs — the then mayor of the City of Monash, Geoff Lake, said in 2014:

We face the prospect of hefty fees whenever we declare a dog to be of a restricted breed …

Yet we have no other choice under Victorian law. The government’s shambolic approach to law-making in this area is being paid for by ratepayers across Victoria.

Therefore this is the best way forward. I support the bill entirely and think it is very appropriate that the parliamentary committee investigate this matter. While the amendment does not provide all the answers, it recognises concerns and is seeking parliamentary oversight in relation to those concerns. It should be made clear that this amendment does not restrict the ability of restricted breed dogs to be seized or held by councils, nor does it stop the ability for a dog to be destroyed under other sections of the Domestic Animals Act 1994. Dogs that are dangerous for other reasons can still be destroyed by councils. All the amendment does is seek to solve an issue that has occupied a lot of time and anguish over the last three or four years since the legislation was formed. I commend the bill to the house.

WEAC & Tandana Place

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — I raise a matter for the attention of the Minister for Mental Health. The action I seek is a commitment from the minister to visit Tandana Place in Oakleigh, which is run by Waverley Emergency Adolescent Care (WEAC), to discuss specialist programs for young people in the south-eastern suburbs and possible funding sources that could be available to such community organisations. WEAC, led by the inspirational Maureen Buck and a great team of staff, does a terrific job on a limited budget to provide care and support to young people in the eastern and southern suburbs of Melbourne. Established in 1985, WEAC relies heavily on local families and volunteers.

Last year I was pleased to join the Minister for Youth Affairs and Minister for Families and Children when she visited WEAC with the former member for Oakleigh. WEAC provides a number of essential services to our community. These include the provision of emergency accommodation for teenagers within their own communities to enable continuity with local networks such as school, employment and family. WEAC also provides counselling and family mediation, training and education for carers, parents and teenagers, as well as a level of direct financial assistance to families, dependent on the organisation’s budget. In Victoria WEAC is also at the forefront of dealing with youth drug and alcohol rehabilitation through a live-in service at Tandana Place. This incredible and very well regarded facility opened in 1998 and provides residential care in a 12 to 16-week program for young people between the ages of 12 and 20. This is the only facility in Victoria that provides a live-in rehabilitation service for young people under the age of 16 years.

Since its inception Tandana has helped over 200 people, with many of the referrals coming from Corrections Victoria and close to 50 per cent of clients being from regional and rural Victoria. The young people who need the service provided by Tandana are amongst the most at risk in our community. There are varying reasons for this, such as drug and alcohol addiction, abuse, family violence and mental health issues. A disturbing recent trend is the use of ice by clients referred to Tandana. The number of clients using ice rose from 15 per cent to 62 per cent in just a five-year period.

The stated aims of Tandana are to prevent total family breakdown by providing an opportunity for time-out accommodation, together with preventive or additional services such as medication, family therapy and specialist counselling. The service to our community provided by WEAC, including Tandana, cannot be underestimated. I have visited Tandana in the past, and I know firsthand that this is an organisation that looks after the most vulnerable in our society, and they need to be supported.

It is important to commend the mission statement of Tandana, which is to provide a safe, caring environment where young people are empowered to address their substance abuse and mental health issues and develop strategies for a life without drugs. WEAC is a not-for-profit agency that operates on a mixture of funding from donations as well as from government, but like many community organisations it is under financial pressure. I very much hope to visit Tandana Place again in the near future with the Minister for Mental Health to discuss future options for this fantastic organisation.

Cranbourne-Pakenham Rail Upgrade

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — I rise to congratulate the government, particularly the Premier, the Treasurer and the Minister for Public Transport for the recent confirmation that this government will remove nine level crossings along the Cranbourne-Pakenham rail line. This fantastic announcement will see all local level crossings in the electorate of Oakleigh removed in the next four years. The level crossings to be removed will include Murrumbeena Road, Koornang Road, Grange Road and Poath Road. In addition, level crossings bordering the Oakleigh electorate to be removed will include the vitally important Clayton Road and Centre Road crossing in Clayton, as well as the previously announced North Road crossing in Ormond.

My community has long fought for the removal of these time-wasting and dangerous level crossings, and I am delighted that they are finally being fixed. The announcement stands in stark contrast to the previous government’s sham process which resulted in delayed contracts, hidden cancellations and tentative plans to remove four crossings on this line. It was a completely inadequate policy that was never delivered despite numerous promises, bells and whistles, and media stunts.

The Andrews government’s commitment will see four railway stations rebuilt, including Carnegie, Murrumbeena, Hughesdale and Clayton. The purchase of 37 next generation, 50 per cent locally built high-capacity trains, in conjunction with the removal of level crossings, will result in a capacity boost on the Cranbourne-Pakenham line of up to 42 per cent, or up to 11 000 more passengers, during the morning peak period. The Premier, the Minister for Public Transport and the members for Bentleigh and Clarinda recently joined me at the Carnegie railway station to announce this new project. I look forward to welcoming them again as this historic project progresses in the coming years.

Grange Road Traffic Safety

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — (Question 147) My constituency question is directed to the Minister for Roads and Road Safety. I ask the minister if he can provide information and advice regarding any investigations into the unsafe traffic conditions along Grange Road, Carnegie, specifically the section between Oakleigh Road and Leila Road, and their related intersections. The very busy Grange Road caters to both locals and others travelling between North Road and Dandenong Road. Whilst a similar road nearby, Koornang Road, has roundabouts at the intersections of Oakleigh and Leila roads, Grange Road has not. Numerous accidents have occurred at these intersections on Grange Road. Oakleigh Road is home to the Ormond Community Kindergarten, and Kilvington Grammar — a school of some 700 students — is located on Leila Road. Both roads are also used by train patrons on the Frankston line. They therefore attract a significant number of pedestrians, as well as vehicle traffic. I believe these intersections to be significant black spots in need of urgent action, potentially the installation of traffic signals or roundabouts. I would welcome a visit by the minister to these sites.

National Parks Amendment (Prohibiting Cattle Grazing) Bill 2015

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — It gives me pleasure to stand up and speak on the National Parks Amendment (Prohibiting Cattle Grazing) Bill 2015. While the arguments have been fairly well prosecuted by the different sides, I would like to focus on what I think this bill is about. For me it is about protecting the environment for our generation and future generations, protecting the spectacular natural mountain landscapes, including the river red gum forests, and the lands that are culturally significant and important to Aboriginal communities, the traditional owners of those lands. That is what is at stake in this bill. It is about an environmental cause and a cause that is dear to our hearts. In terms of what is at stake for us, it is the very rare environmental aspects of the Alpine National Park. The park is home to approximately one-third of the state’s total rare and threatened species and contributes some of the most reliable and high-quality water to the state. That is what is at stake in this bill.

The damage the cattle cause is irrefutable. While I understand there are other animals that also cause damage, as has been referred to by other speakers, I do not think that is an excuse to allow cattle grazing to keep causing damage in addition to those other animals. The cattle trample on fragile moss beds and springs, they ruin stream banks and pollute water. They cause soil erosion and threaten the survival of rare plants and species. That is not me talking but experts.

I know very little about what devastation and erosion cattle cause, but a policymaker looks to the experts for advice. The experts were pulled together in 2005 as part of an alpine grazing task force which produced a report commissioned by the then environment minister, John Thwaites, under a very proud Labor government at that time. The task force found that cattle caused damage to water catchments, affecting water quality; modified and damaged the vegetation, including compelling damage to moss beds; are a significant threat to at least 25 flora species, 7 fauna species and 4 plant communities that are listed as rare, vulnerable or threatened with extinction; and contributed to the establishment and spread of several weed species.

On one side we are trying to protect the environment from erosion and degradation caused by cattle that do not belong there in the first place, and then we have a need to preserve these areas for future generations. But there is a third aspect to why this legislation is important — that is, we are keeping faith with the Victorian community. This is yet another opportunity for the government to deliver on an election commitment. On a day that saw the government deliver on one election commitment by releasing the contracts for the east–west link, in a week that saw the government deliver on another election commitment by introducing legislation for the Regional Jobs and Infrastructure Fund, and in a fortnight that saw the government deliver on yet another election commitment by committing to removing the nine level crossings from Dandenong to Caulfield, this is yet another election commitment on which this government is keeping faith with the Victorian community. That is why these things are important. In less than 130 or 140 days the government has kept faith with the Victorian community on a whole range of commitments.

That is on one side of the debate: protecting an incredibly important natural environmental area of Victoria for future generations from cattle damage, and keeping election promises. What do we have on the other side of the equation and argument? The member for Shepparton highlighted some very nuanced differences in her contribution to the debate compared with the others on that side of the house. I do not want to group everybody together but generally on the other side of the argument we have, as the member for Footscray and others have said, the rights of a privileged few to have grazing rights for their own purposes. They have other options. As we have heard, they have state forests and public land, just not national parks. The way national parks are created is not by somebody drawing a circle on a map; it is done through scientific and environmental research. For that land to be then open to grazing and other activities like that makes the process of selecting those areas to be national parks a farce. There are other options for those cattle grazers. They have their private lands and also state forests.

Those on the other side also say it is about bushfire mitigation. I am not a bushfire expert, but one would have thought that with all the significant inquiries we have had around bushfires this would have been one of the key recommendations or a key piece of the solution, but it is not. In fact the evidence is weighted the other way. Members have heard quite a bit about Williams, but I will also quote him. The research in 2006 by Williams and others says clearly:

There was no statistically significant difference between grazed and ungrazed areas in the proportion of points burnt. Fire occurrence was determined primarily by vegetation type …

There is further evidence to show that not only is grazing no silver bullet to bushfire mitigation but there is also the devastation and the erosion that cattle cause. A research paper by Amy Jansen and Alistar Robertson in 2005 states:

The ecological condition of riparian —

this is the first time I have used that word —

habitats and the biodiversity of terrestrial birds, wetland frogs and herbaceous plants were surveyed in river red gum habitats on the Murrumbidgee and Murray rivers. Sites were classified according to the intensity of grazing —

this is important —

by domestic livestock: ungrazed; low grazing … and high grazing … Declines in the ecological condition of riparian habitats and loss of biodiversity of birds, frogs and plants were clearly associated with increased grazing intensity in river red gum habitats.

I have quoted 2 of about 12 sources I have available. We have that on one side and we have the rights of cattle grazers on the other.

But there is another aspect to the argument from the other side, and that is the cultural connection. I have not known those opposite to be that interested in cultural connections in a whole range of areas when it comes to Aboriginal communities, but when it comes to The Man from Snowy River, as we have heard in colourful contributions from the member for Kew and others, it is not even about cattle. There is no sensible cultural connection with cattle, or cows, in the areas we are trying to protect.

The key aspect for us on this side of the house is that it is another marker in the proud achievements of Labor governments, current and past, federal and state, in terms of their environmental record. I take slight exception to the colourful contribution by the member for Kew. We do not follow the Greens; we lead. We lead in a whole range of social policy areas, and the environment is just one of them. The great Australian Labor Party was created a good 100 years before the Greens, and it will be here for another 100 years beyond the Greens. In fact it was created about 60 years before the Liberal Party. We do not follow people like the Greens on any of these policy issues. We lead the Greens. In terms of this government and previous Labor governments, the Greens and the Liberal Party follow Labor.

I will list, just as an example, some of the achievements of previous Labor governments. We have proclaimed the highest number of national parks in Victorian history — not the Greens or the Liberal Party but the Labor Party. We reduced logging by a third, including in the Otways. We returned water to the Snowy. We accepted that climate change is real and exists, we invested in clean energy and of course we removed cattle grazing from the Alpine National Park until the sneaky previous government reintroduced it.

The current minister has started with a bang. She has already cancelled fees for camping in national parks. We have got a new approach to managing and preserving our water supply, and we have a review of bushfire fuel management on public land. This is in just 140 days of government.

Just to smack down the previous contribution to the debate by the member for Kew, this party and this government lead on environmental issues; we do not follow. It is an absolute pleasure to speak on this bill and to continue the proud contributions of this party and this government on environmental issues. I support the bill.

Mental Health Amendment Bill 2015

Mr DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — I am happy to rise to speak on the Mental Health Amendment Bill 2015. As I mentioned in my inaugural speech, mental health is an area of deep interest for me, and I think a lot more work is required in this area. I am pleased that we have a very dedicated and proactive Minister for Mental Health. It is probably the right thing for me to say, but in this case it is also absolutely correct, and I am pleased that the minister was in the chamber to kick off this debate. I welcome the government’s commitment to pursuing these important and fairly varied amendments before us today. Some of them are around minor language and typographical errors, which nonetheless need a little bit more clarity and direction; some are more detailed changes. They show an acceptance that the area of policy and legislation in mental health, as in other areas, is ever-evolving and that we must keep up with those changes.

The bill also has some new provisions, and they are going to be the focus of my remarks on today. In particular I refer to a commitment to table in Parliament a state of Victoria’s mental health services annual report. We have the opportunity through that provision and the entire bill to correct past errors and to provide more clarity in legislation for such an important area going forward. As I said, this amendment basically provides an account of Victoria’s mental health system. It opens up the books on the state of Victoria’s mental health system through the provision of that annual report to the Parliament.

The government’s proposal for a 10-year mental health plan is one that I have previously welcomed and commended. I am pleased about the minister’s clarity and vision on this particular part. The minister’s second-reading speech states:

A key focus for the reform agenda —

that this 10-year mental health plan will usher in —

will be to consolidate and expand the progress already made to implement recovery-oriented practice by public mental health service providers.

Recovery-oriented practice lies at the heart of contemporary mental health service delivery. The aim of this approach is to support people living with mental illness to build and maintain a meaningful and satisfying life and personal identity, regardless of whether or not they have ongoing symptoms of mental illness.

It is an incredibly powerful and different way of looking at mental health. As we all know, mental health issues are extremely pervasive. Millions of Australians experience mental health issues, and, as we have discussed, many of us also know people who have experienced mental health issues and who continue to do so. There is no easy answer to this problem; there never is. Governments are only one part of the equation, but they are an important part of the equation, and they can definitely do a fair bit.

When doing the work of looking after community mental health issues we need to make sure that we have in mind the community and individuals. It is not about us and them. It is not about us doing something to the other — us treating ill people. It is a community effort, because for many Victorians and Australians mental issues are not a life sentence; they can be sporadic issues in life and they are experienced at different points. Members of the community suffering mental illness should be fully engaged and treated as adults who can make choices about their own health care.

I like the approach the minister talks about. The principle of choice is key and central, and engaging consumers of mental health services and carers in a dialogue and partnership is what it is all about. It is not about us doing something to them — those sick people over there. In terms of the government’s 10-year strategy, that has already started in the department and is present in everything we do. We do it responsibly, with rigorous consultation with key people and key parts of the community. The policy document we put forward before the last election states:

We believe a long-term vision for mental health care in Victoria is needed — one that shows a real commitment to improving mental health services and results for people. It will be developed in consultation with consumers, carers, mental health workers and service providers.

As part of that, there was a commitment, as I mentioned earlier, to enact legislation to provide for an annual report to the Parliament about the state of Victoria’s mental health services. Specifically, clause 17 of the bill headed ‘Functions of the secretary’ addresses this element and inserts new paragraph (k) in section 118 of the act. The new paragraph states:

to prepare and submit to the Minister an annual report in accordance with subsection (2) …

New subsection (2) refers to the report itself. It states:

As soon as practicable after the end of each financial year but no later than the following 31 October, the Secretary must submit to the Minister an annual report containing —

(a) a review of the services provided by mental health service providers during the financial year; and

(b) any other information requested in writing by the Minister.

The minister then must ensure that the report is tabled in both houses of Parliament.

The report itself, as we have heard from the minister, would include such things as treatment numbers, readmission rates, waiting times, length of stays, survey results and funding levels. It would also include qualitative and quantitative data, which is vital. This is an incredibly important report. Mental health services can lack the ability to read the service delivery outcomes and can lack clarity because we do not have the essentially big old mental health institutions of the past. Mental health services are provided in disparate and very different ways. A collection point for the outcomes of those services is very important. When people think about mental health, they often think about the tertiary and secondary sector and acute healthcare, but it is really a lot of other things. Millions of Australians are impacted on by mental health and never see the inside of a psychiatric ward. These issues are not just around hospital settings. I am sure the service delivery in the report will cover other settings as well.

Previously, as a part-time councillor at the Monash City Council, I had the pleasure of being involved in putting together the health and wellbeing partnership plan. Every council is required to put together a public health plan. There were some interesting statistics in relation to my community, which comes partly under the Monash City Council and partly under Glen Eira City Council, that I will refer to to demonstrate how mental health has a different face in different communities. It is not always about the institutions and the hospitals. For example, there is a high percentage of people in Monash — 13.3 per cent — reporting significant levels of psychological distress. The state average is 11.4 per cent, but in Monash it is 13.3 per cent. Thankfully in Glen Eira it is 9.3 per cent which is below the state average. There is the issue of dementia, which is growing significantly as an issue. In fact the Monash municipality is projected to rank fourth out of 79 councils in terms of dementia sufferers.

There are other places where mental health treatments and responses can take place. They include the local government sector and obviously the non-government sector, but they crucially also include the hospital setting. In the last couple of months I revisited a couple of psychiatric wards in areas abutting my electorate. They are very different in terms of their look and their outcomes. That is not because the providers of those services are ineffective or lazy; it is because there is no single streamlined approach. What else is lacking, and what this annual report to Parliament will provide, is that there is no real benchmark for what we had yesterday and what we will have tomorrow. I would like to see those services improve in my community and generally around Victoria through a very public benchmarking process.

I commend the minister and the party on coming to government with this agenda of having a transparent account of the mental health services provided to Victorians. It is another election commitment that this government will keep, and I am very keen to be involved, as I have said in previous statements, with the work ahead coming from this bill.

Huntingdale Bus Interchange

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — (Question 126) My constituency question is directed to the Minister for Public Transport. The Huntingdale train station in the electorate of Oakleigh is a major transport hub in the south-east. Thousands of locals as well as Monash University students and staff use a bus service from this station every day. Prior to the 2010 election Labor committed to build a bus interchange at Huntingdale station to provide a safer and more accessible area for bus passengers. The current facilities are, quite frankly, appalling. This decision was incredibly popular with locals and Monash University, which has been campaigning for many years for appropriate public transport. The previous coalition government made no commitment to this area. Last year Labor again pledged to build this incredibly important bus interchange. I seek advice and an update from the minister on the government’s commitment to build the Huntingdale bus interchange.

Carnegie Primary School

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — I rise today to speak about Carnegie Primary School, which is a terrific school in the electorate of Oakleigh. I recently had the opportunity to visit the school for detailed discussions and a comprehensive tour with principal Linda Jones and assistant principal Michael McCarthy. The discussions were very informative and have provided me with knowledge of the school’s future needs. I was also very fortunate to attend the school’s annual fete in early March, which was incredible. Hundreds of locals turned out on a fantastic day to enjoy the wide variety of rides, stalls and diverse food on offer. I pay tribute to the team that organised this fantastic local event.

Carnegie Primary School is home to over 500 students in 20 classes. It has an advanced education program, including Italian language classes, and puts a strong emphasis on English and mathematics. The school’s main aim is to foster in students the qualities and skills that will enable them to be successful, confident and tolerant individuals who are able to contribute positively to a constantly changing society. I must say the kids I met at the fete definitely fit that description. While Carnegie Primary School offers a great education to local kids, there are always things we can do as a government to foster improvement. I look forward to working closely with the Carnegie Primary School leadership team, parents and students in the coming years to create as many opportunities as we can for an even better future for the school and its community.