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Government Business May 2017

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — It gives me great pleasure to speak in support of the government business program. It is budget week — don’t we love it? Budget week on this side of the house is very, very exciting because we are delivering on the commitments we made to the Victorian people. It is a hive of activity. I was not here in the Baillieu-Napthine years, but I can imagine that on their side of the house there was an eerie silence around budget time when they were scouring their documents to see if there was anything for their electorates, and they were told by ministers, ‘No, no, maybe next year’. Well, that year never came.

On this side of the house, though, budget week is a busy week, but it does not mean that we cannot get on with the rest of the government business program. As the Leader of the House said, we have very important bills. We have got the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Public Order) Bill 2017 and we have got the Family Violence Protection Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2017. These are very, very vital bills in two areas of public policy where we have made a marked difference to the situations that prevailed before we came to office.

I will take my cue from the Leader of the House, who said that she would keep her contribution short to enable the house to get on with the government business program. However, I need to pick up the member for Box Hill on a comment, which I think was something like, ‘These matters’ — referring to the members for Tarneit and Melton — ‘cannot go unattended to’. I do not know where the member for Box Hill has been in the last few weeks. I think they have been very well attended to. The entire Parliament has focused on them. The Speaker and the President have, as they should in their capacities as Presiding Officers, protected the integrity of the Parliament. They have dealt with these matters, and the Premier has responded appropriately. So for the member for Box Hill to say that they have not been attended to is a fig leaf for him wanting to get back onto the front pages of the newspapers.

In my community’s voice, in my office and on the streets in the last few weeks what people have actually cared about, I say to the member for Box Hill, is the stuff that is in the budget documents. It is the $60 billion of investment in the quality of the Victorian peoples’ lives. On that basis, and on the basis of keeping it short, I commend the government business program to the house.

Monash Children’s Hospital

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — You know you have a Labor government when you almost cannot keep up with all the work going on in health and hospitals. The Monash Children’s Hospital is now open, complete with helipad, early in life mental health services and a new school, which is coming so kids can keep learning. I was also present for the announcement that $63.2 million will go to creating 34 more beds for emergency, separate treatment areas for kids and much better access for ambulances. I commend the government for the commitment to health care in my community and across Victoria.

$50,000 Study into Local Indian Centre

MR DIMOPOULOS — I would like to thank the Minister for Multicultural Affairs for announcing $50 000 for a study into the native Indian cultural centre in my community. The Indian community is growing in Victoria. We have got the largest Indian community in Australia, and the Indian population in the Monash region doubled between 2001 and 2011. As I said at the time of this important announcement, this is a first step in identifying opportunities that will give Indian people — Indian Australians — a greater sense of belonging and contribution.

Grange and Oakleigh Road Traffic Lights

MR DIMOPOULOS — I would also like to thank the Minister for Roads and Road Safety for again visiting the scene of many serious accidents in my community, the intersection of Grange and Oakleigh roads in Carnegie and Ormond. The minister showed great diligence and care in visiting the site in 2015 and seeing the problem first hand and providing funding for a fix last year. We have now got traffic lights, a great benefit for our community which will reduce the number of accidents and, I have no doubt, save lives.

Crimes Legislation Amendment

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — It gives me great pleasure to speak on the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Public Order) Bill 2017. In case I run out of time I am going to just quickly address some of the comments made by the member for Mount Waverley —

Mr Staikos — Lies.

Mr DIMOPOULOS — and they are lies, as the member for Bentleigh says. I am committed to the local council activities — —

Mr Gidley — On a point of order, Acting Speaker, I deem that as a reflection on me, and I note that there have been rulings from the Chair in relation to that word. I would ask that you examine the record of this debate, and if unparliamentary language has been utilised in this debate, not only should it be withdrawn, it should be struck from the record of any interjection and from the speech of the member for Oakleigh.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Kilkenny) — Order! I might ask the member to withdraw that comment.

Mr DIMOPOULOS — I withdraw the word ‘lies’; I did not call the member for Mount Waverley a liar, so I withdraw the word ‘lies’ — although, I have to say, the member for Mount Waverley is being mendacious, and I am advised that is a term that is not unparliamentary. I was actually going to give him some kudos for attending citizenship ceremonies and doing activities around Monash, including the Monash Rotary schools wreath laying that I attended with him as well the other day. But he must be in a parallel universe, because that is about the extent of the mutual understanding we have about Monash council and Monash council meetings. Monash council does not run Victoria Police, and there was no comment or suggestion by people on the council, whether Labor Party members or not, who have no constitutional right over police. Even if they did have that, they have made no comment in relation to the closure of four stations. If I may remind the member for Mount Waverley — —

Mr Gidley — On a point of order, Acting Speaker, I would ask you to draw the attention of the member for Oakleigh to the seriousness of misleading the house. The member for Oakleigh just made some very specific comments about what senior Labor Party figures did or did not say. I would ask you to inform him and remind him of that seriousness and ask him to be very cautious in what he is saying.

Ms Hennessy — On the point of order, Acting Speaker, if the member for Mount Waverley wishes to either caution or make a substantive comment about any contribution made by the member for Oakleigh, he would or should know that he must do that by way of substantive motion. It is not appropriate for, and is not the proper role of, the Chair to engage or guide on the substance of any issue that may in fact be a factual debate between people with different views.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Kilkenny) — Order! There is no point of order.

Mr DIMOPOULOS — As much as I tried not to actually make the agenda of my contribution the member for Mount Waverley’s agenda, I just have to correct the record for the next 30 seconds. Then I will get on to the good things we are doing. There was no suggestion that this government will be closing four stations in Monash. That is an outrageous comment to make. It is untrue and deliberately designed to mislead.

I just happen to have this handy — and you may say this is either providence or coincidence or something: when I was a candidate for the state seat of Oakleigh in the last election there was absolutely a live plan by Victoria Police, under auspice of the then Liberal Party government, to close all Monash police stations and open one next to or opposite Bunnings on Ferntree Gully Road. That was a live proposal — so live that the then Chief Commissioner of Police was on 3AW discussing it openly.

Mr Gidley — On a point of order, Acting Speaker, the member for Oakleigh is clearly misleading the house. The facts were very clear. That was Ms Morand’s plan and the Labor Party’s plan for a super-station, not the Liberal-Nationals’ plan, and we fought against that.

Ms Hennessy — On the point of order, Acting Speaker, I reiterate my contribution on the previous point of order. It is in fact the case that the member for Mount Waverley has had his opportunity to put his argument and his views on the floor of this house. It is now the opportunity of the member for Oakleigh, and if there is anything that the member for Mount Waverley wishes to take up, then the appropriate mechanism for doing that would be by way of substantive motion.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Kilkenny) — Order! There is no point of order.

Mr DIMOPOULOS — I think the credibility that I have in this place stands in stark contrast, and I will leave it at that.

Just in terms of this bill, it is a very important bill, and it also continues the commitments we have made to the Victorian community on very important matters about community safety and strengthening the ability of police to do their job to protect us. Because I only want to take up about a minute or so, I just want to make a specific comment in relation to two significant things that will happen with this bill. We are strengthening police powers in relation to certain circumstances in designated areas, but we are also clearing up the current position where some offences exist in common law but not in statute. We are cleaning that up and creating two new offences, as has been described by the Attorney-General in his second-reading speech.

I just want to say in my very small contribution on the bill that I think the bill is: something the police have asked for; a commitment we have made; and a mechanism that will make a tangible difference in the police’s ability to more quickly discern who is a troublemaker, and more quickly remove them from the scene to allow the public and the community to enjoy whatever activity they may be doing in that particular area. It also strengthens the ability to then prosecute those people who are subsequently arrested because we have clear offences under statute. That is primarily, in my words, the purpose of this bill, and I commend the Attorney-General for his intelligence, sensitivity and acumen in handling this bill, because it can be taken by some quarters into territory that we think is not appropriate — and some of those comments have been made in the media in relation to head coverings and other things. This is a bill that is absolutely warranted and absolutely does the right thing. It protects the community but also protects civil liberties, and I commend the bill to the house.

Holmesglen TAFE Funding

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — I had the opportunity last week to see the results of this government’s action on skills, training and jobs in major infrastructure projects across Victoria. Last Wednesday I joined the Minister for Training and Skills at Holmesglen TAFE’s Chadstone campus to announce $12 million in funding from the Stronger TAFE Fund. We all know what happened during the time of the last government: TAFEs were closing, courses were cut, staff were sacked and the training sector was in turmoil — a terrible record for those opposite. We are fixing this because it is what good governments do.

Apprentices on Level Crossing Removal Projects

Mr DIMOPOULOS — The Minister for Training and Skills and I later joined the Minister for Industry and Employment at Carnegie station, where our level crossing works are well underway, to meet some of the apprentices filling the 743 new positions that have been created in just the first year of this government’s major projects skills guarantee. The total number of apprentices expected to work on just the Caulfield–Dandenong crossing removal project is 200. So far this skills guarantee applies to 15 major projects and is expected to rise to 38 projects.

On Thursday I paid a visit to the precast yard in Pakenham, which is an amazing operation. This is a massive factory specifically producing sections for the new railway line in my community that will mean the removal of many dangerous and time-wasting level crossings. We are removing nine crossings on the Cranbourne-Pakenham line. Instead of closing this train line, which is the busiest in Melbourne, for months and months on end to dig a big trench — as proposed by those opposite for this line — we have got an operation where much of the work is done off site and transported in. That is good for the community and good for jobs in Victoria.

I thank the ministers for taking the time to visit my community, and I look forward to seeing even more skilled employment resulting from this government’s initiatives in training and major projects.

Natural Gas Resources

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — I strongly support the motion outlined by the Minister for Resources that condemns the Prime Minister. This is primarily, as the minister said, about protecting an important industry for Victoria; 190 000 jobs, as the minister said, are in our food and fibre sector, and it generates around $12 billion worth of exports. This is about being sensible. Although I have some affection for the member for Prahran, the more I hear the Greens and the Liberal Party members talk in this chamber the more I realise that really this party, the Labor Party, is the only sensible party fit to govern in the state of Victoria. You have got one side, which as the member for Malvern said — and I rarely agree with the member for Malvern — does not worry about the lights being kept on at all, and you have got the other side, the Liberal Party, which does not want to invest in clean energy, almost to the point of ideological opposition. We are the sensible party; we are doing both. We are doing both proudly, and we are doing both in a way that sustains, as the member for Essendon said, baseload capacity for a growing city and a state, for emergency services, for quality of life for Victorians, while also investing in a future that is clean-energy focused.

This issue has a long history, but at the beginning of my contribution I want to just quickly focus on the Prime Minister. He has made a mess of this national debate. In fact, it has run away from him. Good Labor premiers around Australia have run rings around the Prime Minister in what is effectively a national energy market. He should be the head spokesperson for what is effectively a national energy market, but the South Australian Premier beat him to it. This government has beat him to a whole range of initiatives in energy over the last two years. If you listen to this Prime Minister, you would believe that Victoria has enormous reserves of untapped gas that are just waiting to be explored and we are somehow reprehensible for blocking the exploration of those huge reserves.

Then you have got the Deputy Prime Minister, as others have said, who sort of says, in a nod to his National Party heritage, ‘Maybe we can protect prime agricultural land. We can exempt that, but we can get on with mining other areas’. If you listen to both him and Malcolm Turnbull, you would think Gippsland and the Otways are not considered prime agricultural land.

We should not listen to the Prime Minister or the Deputy Prime Minister because they have failed in this national conversation; they have failed in their leadership in this area. We listen to the facts, and the facts, as they have been spelt out by the minister and others, are that even during the previous government’s term, the parliamentary committee charged with investigating these matters found that you could not — I cannot remember the exact wording, but it was something to this effect — confirm whether there were huge gas reserves in Victoria. That question remains unanswered, yet that is the basis upon which this government has been accused by the federal government and the opposition for being somehow irresponsible for locking up huge gas reserves.

The facts are these: there are no proven or probable onshore gas resources in Victoria. We need to complete, as the minister said, a series of in-depth geoscientific studies on the risk-benefit impacts of onshore conventional gas exploration. Obviously we have banned fracking, much to the relief of a whole community in regional Victoria and those in metropolitan Melbourne. Even in my community people have been against fracking for good reason. That is completely gone, and I am thankful it is.

With conventional gas we know we will need to do a lot more work during the time of the moratorium. This will be overseen, as the minister said, by a lead scientist, as well as an expert panel of industry, farmers, local government and communities. The reality is the offshore gas resources in Gippsland and the Otways currently meet Victoria’s gas demand, and they are bringing new gas into our market today. But the real problem is what the minister and others have outlined, that Victoria, while being a net producer of energy for Victorian needs, because of the national market, exports effectively too much.

There are a couple of things I want to say about the national debate and the Greens role in it, because I think they deserve a particular mention in that. I just quickly want to retrace our history in relation to this. The former governments, under Ted Baillieu and Denis Napthine, established the Gas Market Taskforce, headed by Peter Reith, which delivered a report known as the Reith report. In response to that, the Labor opposition at that time promised to establish a parliamentary inquiry into onshore unconventional gas. On 29 September in 2015 the Leader of the Opposition announced the policy of a moratorium on both conventional and unconventional gas — fracking. Following our inquiry the government announced on 30 August 2016 that there would be a permanent ban on conventional gas, much to the relief of people, as I said.

On 7 March this year the coalition put forward an amendment to the bill in the upper house that removed the moratorium on conventional gas, established a gas reservation for Victoria and gave farmers veto rights over mining companies entering their properties. They made a complete and utter mess of what was sensible policy, informed by a parliamentary committee, informed by a statewide conversation. It made an absolute mess.

Effectively what you have got on their side now is — in fact probably going back to the Reith report, which really had no support — a throwing away of the last four years of good faith and conversations with farmers and regional and metro communities in Victoria. That is on that side. I think some of them are genuinely embarrassed about that turnaround, that about face, because they have probably had no control over it. There are some that did, in the leadership group, but that is embarrassing. So you have got that on one side.

Then what you have got on the Greens side is a total abdication of any sense of reason and responsibility in what is required to run a state. You are required to run essential services. You just cannot do what the member for Prahran is asking us to do, which is just to forget coal — literally; those were his words, ‘forget coal’. Absolutely there is a transition to a new energy future. You cannot just jump to it without any planning and without any investment by government.

I am extremely proud that we have done more as a party and as a government to support environmental causes than the Greens political party has ever done. I cannot say they have not argued for various things, but they have not delivered anywhere near what the Australian Labor Party has for the green future of our community and our nation. We have delivered far, far more, even just in the last two years in this term of government.

I have got a few highlights, but there are far more. We have established a $200 million Future Industries Fund, including support for emerging industries which include new energy technologies. Now there are six; one of the six is new energy technologies. So we are actually investing in new energy technologies, together with emerging companies and sectors. We have created a target of 25 per cent of our energy to come from renewable sources by 2020 and 40 per cent by 2025. They are really bold statements and targets, and I think when the minister announced those targets she and the Premier said they were bold, but that is what you should be in government — you should be bold. We have put in place green bonds to finance clean energy and environmental projects. Again, I remember that when the Treasurer announced green bonds they were quite world leading.

We have provided real change to encourage and support wind farms and put to bed that ridiculous rule that the previous government had about a 2-kilometre zone, which effectively banned wind farms. We have banned fracking, as I said. We have announced new solar farms which will power the entire Melbourne tram network. Today I see that we have announced funding to promote organic waste not going to landfill. This government has done more for environmental causes than any other political party. So I put what the member for Prahran said in the context of a high school debating conversation rather than of real government. This is what real government looks like, including the ban on fracking. I strongly support the motion in the house.

Jury Directions and Other Acts Amendment Bill

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — It gives me pleasure to speak on Jury Directions and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2017. It is obviously an important bill, as other speakers have said, including the Attorney-General in his second-reading speech. The bill seeks to reduce errors in jury directions and improve communication to juries so that we have clearer communication and therefore better justice outcomes. Hopefully we will have a more efficient justice system through the reduction of retrials and appeals.

There are many elements to this bill, but I just want to speak on a handful of them. This bill primarily amends the Jury Directions Act 2015 but also some other acts. In relation to the points I want to make in terms of how it is cleaning up jury directions, I am drawing from the Attorney-General’s second-reading speech, particularly in relation to one of the messes it tries to clean up, which is directions on previous representations. As the Attorney-General said, a previous representation is a statement made outside of the court proceedings, such as a witness’s earlier statement to police, which is something that is commonplace. Jury directions on this evidence aim to instruct juries on how they may or may not use the evidence and, where relevant, its potential unreliability. Directions on the use of this evidence are working well and do not need specific legislative intervention. The Jury Directions Act 2015 already contains directions on unreliable evidence.

The Attorney-General went on to say in his speech that, however, the common law currently requires trial judges to give additional directions on previous representations that are confusing or unhelpful for jurors. For example, judges must sometimes direct that evidence from a witness who heard a statement is not independent proof of the facts stated. This direction could be misunderstood by jurors to mean that a complainant’s evidence needs to be independently confirmed, which is not correct.

The bill will clarify and simplify this area of the law by making it clear that this and other problematic common-law directions are not required. While trial judges may still give such directions if appropriate, these provisions will reassure trial judges that they do not need to ‘appeal proof’ their trials, so to speak, by giving these directions in each case. That is a pretty significant example of what this bill seeks to clean up at the moment.

There are others — for example, differences in a complainant’s account, and I think the member for Hawthorn mentioned that in his contribution. Again, drawing from the Attorney-General’s contribution to the house — and this is a very important one — defence counsel often use differences in accounts to discredit a complainant’s credibility or reliability. Jury directions are quite an old tradition. More contemporary research shows that people retain and recall memories differently — that seems like common sense now — and truthful accounts often contain differences. For example, an August 2016 report published by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found that in the sample study defence counsel raised inconsistencies within the complainant’s own evidence in more than 90 per cent of cases.

Trauma can also exacerbate the normal variability of memory. However, these issues are not commonly understood, and there is a misconception that if you are a genuine victim and you are telling the truth, you will remember all the details of an offence against you and describe that offence consistently each and every time to any person in any context. I think we all know from our personal experience that that is not true, regardless of how traumatic the event. The bill will allow trial judges to address this misconception in appropriate cases. The direction will include that people may not remember all the details of a sexual offence, for example, or describe an offence consistently each time and that it is common for there to be differences in accounts. However, the direction will also emphasise that it remains up to the jury to decide whether any differences are important and whether they believe some, all or none of the complainant’s evidence. It is up to them to believe or not to believe; that is the role of a jury.

There are quite a few of these things, including, for example, the archaic notion that in a majority decision a jury must deliberate for at least 6 hours, which has caused problems in situations where jurors are deadlocked or other situations where they know the result far earlier than 6 hours. This bill seeks to remove that requirement and replace it with something more applicable to a range of cases.

Another interesting one is jury empanelment and peremptory challenges. The bill seeks to amend the Juries Act 2000 to provide that an accused person must have an adequate opportunity to view the faces of prospective jurors. My understanding of how that happens is that the traditional practice has been for potential jurors to walk in front of the accused or counsel for the accused. There were a couple of cases in recent memory where that did not happen and the jurors went straight to the jury box. Depending on the shape and infrastructure of the courtroom, going straight to the jury box may or may not lead to the accused seeing the prospective jurors’ faces. This bill seeks to amend that by providing that the accused must have an opportunity to see the faces of prospective jurors.

There are really important things to consider, such as the evidence of the accused, interest in the outcome of the trial, as the Attorney-General said, and a whole range of other very important provisions. This bill is the third step in a process to clean up jury directions, a process that commenced in 2013. Under this government there was the Jury Directions Act 2015 and the bill we have before us today. This is a really important area of improvement in criminal justice. Juries need to be assisted, but assisted in a way that is to some extent neutral because they are the ultimate deciders of guilt or otherwise.

I am going to resist the temptation to have a go at the opposition, which is unusual because opposition members do not resist the temptation to have a go at the government. For example, the member for Gippsland South talked about a crime wave that actually commenced under his government. In response to the member for Hawthorn and his general position that anything that this government does is apparently not done as well as he would do it, I want to remind the member for Hawthorn and the opposition that when they had a go at interfering with the court system they really made a mess of it, including in regard to the base sentencing changes they sought to bring in. The Attorney-General has described a number of times in this chamber the mess they made.

The Attorney-General has asked the Sentencing Advisory Council to provide him with the most effective legislative mechanism to provide sentencing guidance to the courts in a way that is consistent in approach and promotes public confidence in the criminal justice system, unlike the approach of the previous government, which was torn to shreds by anyone with any knowledge of the criminal justice system, such as really junior people — I say tongue-in-cheek — like President Maxwell and the Victorian Court of Appeal, which said:

The baseline provisions are therefore incapable of being given any practical operation. As we have explained, that is the consequence of the legislature having expressed its intention not by reference to a starting point taken from sentencing law, but by reference to an end point taken from the field of statistics.

The Court of Appeal goes on in terms of the mess the previous government made of its intervention in the court system. I am pleased the opposition is not opposing this bill, but unlike the intervention of those opposite, our reforms to the Jury Directions Act 2015 and the reforms we propose under this bill are good-quality reforms that were prepared in consultation with an eminent advisory board. I commend the bill to the house.

Monash SES – State Emergency Service

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — Last week I met some of the fantastic volunteers from the Monash branch of the State Emergency Service (SES). These people are genuine local heroes. It does not matter whether it is raining or hailing, if there are blustery winds or it is the aftermath of a natural disaster, the SES is on call. They do it as volunteers but in the most professional way. But it is not only weather events — the SES are at other emergencies too, helping our other emergency services, whether it is trying to find a lost person or helping to conduct searches for evidence in a crime. They are also there in times of major accidents on our roads. It is understandable that some of the things the SES volunteers see and do while on duty must be incredibly difficult. Therefore I cannot praise the SES enough.

The government recently announced a grant of over $19 000 to provide a proper kitchen for the volunteers at Monash. If you think about how many people come through there at all hours of the day and night, a modern kitchen is incredibly important. Also, the medium rescue truck that we provided some $100 000 towards is currently under construction.

There is always more to do, we know that, and I have had some very good discussions with the leadership of the Monash SES regarding some ways that the operations centre could be made even better. I will be raising these issues directly with the Minister for Emergency Services. I would like to thank the team at the Monash SES for allowing me to see the operation and witness the training they do every Monday night, and of course I would like to thank them and all our SES volunteers for the work they do 24/7, 365 days a year. As I said earlier, they are genuine local heroes.