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Planning and Environment Amendment

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — It gives me great pleasure to speak on this bill. This has been a big issue — I know other colleagues have said similar things — in my community, particularly around Carnegie and Ormond and parts of Murrumbeena and Notting Hill, covering two different councils: Glen Eira and Monash. The many hundreds of people in my community I spoke to in relation to this specific issue feel quite let down by the previous government’s handling of development generally. In my view the bill addresses some of the current imbalances in the planning system. I disagree entirely that it is underwhelming. You are damned by the opposition if you make any little bit of progress in this area, and you are also damned if you do not do anything.

Just to be clear, the bill amends two key provisions of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 — sections 60 and 84B — to set out that the responsible authority must consider, before deciding on a permit application, the volume of community objection and community concern. My issue with planning in the municipalities my electorate covers is that while there has been an increase in development pressure over the years, including in our previous time in government, the last few years under the previous government saw an acceleration of that pressure and there was not a commensurate response by the previous government.

Firstly, we had the imposition of the commercial zones with no height limits. After that we had inconsistent application of residential zones. For example, Glen Eira City Council applied for and received from the then government and the then Minister for Planning a translation of the zones from the old to the new without consultation with the community. I remember the language from when I was on the Monash City Council, that it was a ‘direct translation’ between those incoming zones and the zones that existed. That is a misnomer; there is no direct translation; there is an approximate translation. My concern about that is that the new zones have different attributes from those that were ‘directly’ translated.

An example of that for my community, particularly around Carnegie, is around the streets on the south side of Neerim Road — streets like Shepparton Avenue, Belsize Avenue, Tranmere Avenue, Elliott Avenue and others. For any normal layperson Neerim Road would be a hard-and-fast border in terms of separating a clearly residential zone from an activity zone where the railway station and shopping centre are. The so-called direct translation meant that probably the first 10 houses or so on the south side of Neerim Road ended up being in the high-growth zone and so could have high-density development while half the street is not in that zone. To me, that does not make sense. If that is what was meant by ‘direct translation’, it has failed.

There is an enormous amount of anecdotal evidence in Glen Eira specifically but in other areas in Monash as well where the development pressure is intense. Just the other week we had a decision by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) approving a 12-storey apartment building in Carnegie — 12 storeys! We are not talking about Richmond; we are talking about Carnegie. It will be the highest apartment building in Carnegie and the highest in the whole city of Glen Eira, and it is entirely inappropriate. That is one example.

I also have here a report from the City of Glen Eira from its meeting of 28 April. Item 9.8 on the agenda for that council meeting shows the number of new dwellings approved for the period before the residential zones came in and the number for the period after. In the 15 months before, May 2012 to July 2013, in Carnegie there were 92 new dwellings. In the 15 months after the new zones came in there were 221 new dwellings. That is an enormous increase. I do not necessarily ascribe every single one of those new dwellings to the residential zones, but you cannot look at those statistics and not find a causal relationship between those two things. Ormond in the same period went from 19 to 55, more than doubling.

This has been said before. I have no issue with development but I have an issue with development that is out of step with community expectations. While community expectations are hard to define, if you do enough work, you can define what they are. My personal view is that VCAT is out of step with community expectations. What ends up happening is that councillors and council officers self-regulate in anticipation of a VCAT outcome. You then start having conversations with the community, saying, ‘We should do this because you could get a far worse outcome at VCAT’. I do not think those kinds of conversations are constructive.

This bill is not a magic pill — I want to make that really clear to my community — and it will not relieve all our development pressures. Unfortunately it will not be a magic pill for some of the most offensive development applications. It will, however, be one of a number of tools in our armoury as residents to fight the most excessive elements of development. This government is not just introducing one bill to equalise the current imbalance that exists between the planning system and residents. I note that the Minister for Planning has also released a discussion paper entitled Better Apartments. The minister and the government have made a commitment to review the implementation of residential zones later this year. This is the third initiative that makes changes to what VCAT and the authorities must consider. These three things will together lead to an outcome which equalises the current power imbalance between residents and the development process.

I am proud to speak on this bill. I look forward to the other two initiatives announced by the government and the minister taking shape and starting to enhance the planning system for residents so that they have a say in the planning of their community and their future. I commend the bill to the house.

Children, Youth and Families Amendment

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — That was a hard act to follow. The member for Pascoe Vale’s knowledge and contribution to the debate on this bill was very good, and I agree with her remarks.

It is a pleasure to speak on the Children, Youth and Families Amendment (Restrictions on the Making of Protection Orders) Bill 2015. I am proud that this bill not only fulfils a Labor commitment but that it also retains the Children’s Court’s oversight of service provision by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), as contained in section 276 of the Children Youth and Families Act 2005.

The bill fulfils this commitment and enables the court to retain its current discretion as to whether or not to make a final protection order based on the services provided by DHHS, which is vital. I am also proud more broadly of Labor’s commitment and delivery in this budget of a whole range of services for vulnerable children and families. The budget includes $257 million over four years in child protection, out-of-home care and family services. There is a 17 per cent increase for child protection and family services compared to the previous year’s budget. In total, additional funding for the families and children portfolio is $615 million over five years and 110 new child protection staff. These are vital reforms. A wonderful organisation in my electorate, Waverley Emergency Adolescent Care, along with others, keeps me abreast of the pointy end of service provision in this portfolio, and I know that money will be put to very good use.

It is reprehensible that the previous government even moved into the space where it moved these provisions, particularly after such a high-profile case was brought to light. Members have heard a bit about that case, but I want to refer to an article by James Campbell in the Herald Sun in relation to it:

The case concerned a brother and sister aged under 10 who were taken into care in 2011 after allegedly suffering physical abuse at the hands of their mother.

The children were placed in two residential units run by community agencies on behalf of DHS. According to a news report, the Children’s Court later heard that while in these ‘resi units’, as these houses are known, ‘the girl was sexually assaulted by a boy six years older than her on at least two occasions … and she and other children were also allegedly sexually abused on numerous occasions by another boy, while the boy ‘was allegedly groomed and raped by an older boy and also witnessed a girl living in the unit having sex with older men outside the unit’.

This was all happening under the aegis of the department. The article continues:

The abuse came to light after the children’s mother went to court to fight a bid by the DHS to keep them permanently.

In refusing the DHS’s application, the court found the department’s secretary, Gill Callister, was in ‘fundamental breach of her duty of care’.

There is no doubt that the Department of Health and Human Services has a very difficult job. This bill is not about the department; it is about what is right and what oversight exists over the executive arm of government, whether it is represented by DHHS or any other department. After news of this case broke, the previous government moved to restrict the power of the Children’s Court to have that kind of oversight, which is absolutely reprehensible. Today we are seeking to address one of the worst aspects of the former government’s legislation. This bill requires DHHS to provide services to vulnerable families before orders and arrangements are made to remove their children for good. That is a very good outcome.

Like the member for Pascoe Vale, I am encouraged by the commitment of the Minister for Families and Children to hold a review about elements of the earlier bill — I have a range of concerns — which will come into force in March 2016. In her contribution the member for Pascoe Vale did an excellent job of explaining the rationale or hierarchy of the inalienable rights of the child.

We need to go back to the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005. The best interests principles of the child is enshrined in that act, as are some other provisions about what constitutes best practice. Section 10(3) in division 2 states in part:

… in determining what decisions to make or action to take in the best interests of the child, consideration must be given to …

(a)    the need to give the widest possible protection and assistance to the parent and child as the fundamental group unit of society and to ensure that intervention into that relationship is limited to that necessary to secure the safety and wellbeing of the child …

These are really important points:

(b)   the need to strengthen, preserve and promote positive relationships between the child and the child’s parent, family members and persons of significance to the child …

As the act also states, there are obviously things like:

(f)    the desirability of continuity and stability in a child’s care …

I understand that was the stated motivation behind the previous government’s moves to change this area of the law. It is important to bear those principles in mind because they guide implementation of policy in this space.

To be frank, other aspects of the earlier bill are also offensive. I want reconsideration of those aspects to be in the review that the government has proudly committed to undertake next year. Those issues revolve around the role and integrity of the Children’s Court of Victoria, the rights of biological parents in relation to their children and the new permanent care order arrangements that have been spoken about. They are the arrangements that will operate to provide permanent non-parental care arrangements for the child up until the age of 18, and they may include conditions that the child have contact with the parent up to a maximum of four times per year. Additional contact is only to occur with the approval of the permanent carer. The child’s parent can only make an application to vary or revoke the permanent care order in the initial 12 months and then the door effectively closes. There is a small proportion of parents who can make a request after the first 12 months, but after two years there are can be no more requests.

Despite the Department of Health and Human Services now offering assistance with our government’s changes, it is not good enough to say to our most disadvantaged families that the door will close on them and their children after 12 months. That absolutely needs to be reviewed next year, and I look forward to that. I want to see consideration in that review of that specific limitation, but I also want to see other elements covered off — for example, the family reunification orders that last for 24 months. We should not be sitting here in the Parliament believing we have the capacity to predict every eventual context or situation. As the member for Pascoe Vale said, ‘Every situation is different and let us be careful what we do in the name of child protection’. It is my fundamental view that in any civil democratic society the courts are the final arbiters. Anything that starts hinting at restricting the court’s ability to make decisions based on the facts it has before it is of grave concern. That is why I would like to see a review of the integrity of the oversight provided by the Children’s Court on DHHS. In this context it is DHHS, but it could be any department, or any executive arm of government.

In the upcoming review the Children’s Court should have the ability to extend those reunification orders for longer than 12 months, up to 24 months depending on the context. There is a range of things I would like to see in the review. Also raised has been the issue of adoption in the hierarchy of permanency arrangements ahead of what are more sensible options. I want to be clear that this bill is not about DHHS. DHHS has many hardworking staff who do a terrific job under very difficult circumstances. This bill is about we as a government, through the authority of the Parliament, not telling parents and children that we will make decisions about removing them from each other’s lives ahead of the actual circumstances of a case based on what we think might be true at this point in time. That is where I want to head with the review we undertake next year.

I am proud of this bill, and I am proud of the fact that we addressed the most negative features of last year’s bill. The sector and the community rightfully applaud this approach. I would like to see next year’s review consider other negative elements of the earlier bill. It has given me pleasure to speak on the bill, and I commend it to the house.

Public Accounts & Estimates Committee Report

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — It gives me pleasure to speak on the report of the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC). As other speakers have said about their participation, I enjoyed the opportunity of being on this integral committee, which provides the opportunity for Parliament and the community to conduct in-depth scrutiny in relation to budget expenditure. Contributions from ministers and some departmental officials were very helpful in revealing a whole range of matters. As the member for Essendon said, the macro-economic landscape was very important, and it was great to see a Labor government with just as strong a handle on these key aspects of the fundamentals of the budget as it has on other budget commitments.

In the electorate I represent level crossing removals featured, as did Amsleigh Park Primary School and the Huntingdale bus interchange, but more broadly a commitment has been made of $81 million to support the Royal Commission into Family Violence, $148.6 million for new custody officers to free up police officers, and we also heard about small and discrete but still important projects such as the restoring of the Coroners Court death review unit, which was disbanded a few years ago. Obviously the education state got a big mention, and I agree with the member for Eltham that, generally speaking, the ministers performed very well. I do not say ‘performed’ in a trite sense, but I mean it genuinely in relation to the way they exposed the intricacies of the budget.

Every opposition seeks to score points in the PAEC process, but this was such a good budget. I am not saying Labor governments always bring down good budgets, but this Labor government absolutely does, and because of that there were no king hits. As much as the members for Mornington, Kew and Gippsland South tried — and they did a good job — there were no king hits to find. It was a good budget, the ministers’ answers were thorough and robust, and in a sense it has been a clear run for the community and the Parliament to understand the budget without facing any successful scaremongering in relation to it. I found it a useful process in a whole range of areas. I now know discrete little things that I never thought I would know about different portfolios, which is excellent — and it enhances the role of our job as local members of Parliament.

I will address some criticism made about Dorothy Dixers by government MPs during the contribution of the member for Gippsland South. I must say that if you were in that room for the two-and-a-bit weeks, you could not help but notice the amount of backroom dealing done by the opposition members of the PAEC team. They were literally rushing past witnesses in order to get to the back of the room and obtain instructions from Inga Peulich from the upper house or whoever else was there. At different stages they were also receiving instructions from shadow ministers. It was far more coordinated than anything I have seen on the government side in terms of the budget, but I do not begrudge that. Coordination and teamwork are important, but if you are going to do it, do not then cast aspersions on the other side.

Having said all that, I agree with the lovefest that has been PAEC for us this year. It was like a Big Brother house, with some budding romances in there, but obviously in a very platonic sense. I would go so far as to say — and I am not just referring to opposition members but also The Nationals and the Greens — that I would not mind having a drink with the entire PAEC team at some point. I say that to demonstrate to the community that people can work together in this house to achieve things, with slightly different motivations but working together nonetheless.

I thank Valerie Cheong, the executive officer, and her team. They were very good. We also got intimately acquainted, whether they realise it or not, with the Hansard reporters, because they were on the same table, as opposed to in this place where they are a bit more removed. A lot of people contributed a lot of time — public servants, well-meaning political officers, and a whole range of others as well as journalists. I think it was a productive process, and I look forward to next year.

Only Labor Will Rebuild Amsleigh Park Primary School

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Victorian Labor will rebuild Amsleigh Park Primary School, Leader of the Opposition, Daniel Andrews, announced today.

Mr Andrews joined Labor Member for Oakleigh, Ann Barker, Labor Candidate for Oakleigh, Steve Dimopoulos, and Shadow Minister for Education, James Merlino, to deliver the news to parents and teachers.

Labor’s $5.7 million commitment will go towards modernising teaching and learning spaces, including construction of new junior school learning spaces to replace old LTC (light timber construction) buildings.

Quotes attributable to Mr Andrews:

“Only Labor will upgrade Amsleigh Park Primary School so our kids get the best start.”

“This major new investment will give students state of the art learning facilities so that the school can continue to provide a first rate education.

Quotes attributable to Ann Barker, Labor Member for Oakleigh

“The current Liberal Government has done nothing to improve our local schools.”

“Amsleigh Park Primary School is a fantastic school but urgently needs to be rebuilt and modernised. Labor’s plan will make this happen.”

Quotes attributable to Steve Dimopoulos, Labor Candidate for Oakleigh

“Amsleigh Park Primary staff and the school community works very hard to provide quality educational opportunities for the growing number of students who attend this great school.

“They deserve the further opportunities that will come from Labor’s commitment to rebuild and modernise the school facilities.”

Key Facts

• The Napthine Government abandoned Labor’s plan to renovate, rebuild or modernise every Victorian government school.
• The Napthine Government has only spent a state-wide average of $278 million a year on capital works compared to an average spend of $467 million by Labor in its last term in office.
• Amsleigh Park Primary has been waiting four years for this much needed commitment.

Labor Will Provide 1000 Defibs to Victorian Sports Clubs to Save Lives

defib

An Andrews Labor Government will provide 1000 defibrillators to Victorian sporting clubs and facilities to improve survival rates for people who enter cardiac arrest.

During a cardiac arrest, the chance of survival decreases by 10 per cent for every minute without defibrillation. Labor’s plan will make sure a defibrillator is near, so action can be taken sooner.

Calling 000 for an ambulance and early use of defibrillators, combined with CPR, are the key steps to survival. These machines have been responsible for saving thousands of lives across the country. More can be done.

Labor’s $2.7 million plan will see 1000 defibrillators provided to sporting clubs across Melbourne and Victoria.

Key Facts

• Each year over 5000 Victorians go into sudden cardiac arrest while not in a hospital – that’s 14 people every day. Around 20 per cent of these happen in a public place.
• Most deaths involving cardiac arrest occur before a person reaches hospital.
• Defibrillators can work on people of all ages, and provides voice prompts and instructions for operators on how it should be used and advice on when to perform CPR.
• Public Access Defibrillators are already in place at a number of locations across Victoria, including the MCG, National Gallery of Victoria, Sovereign Hill, Melbourne Airport and Melbourne Zoo.
• The placement of defibrillators in accessible public places is supported by The Heart Foundation, St John Ambulance Australia, Australian Resuscitation Council and Defib for Life and Sports Medicine Australia.

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