Archives: Speeches

Sustainable Forests Timber Amendment (Timber Harvesting Safety Zones) Bill 2022


Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (17:59): I rise to speak to the Sustainable Forests Timber Amendment (Timber Harvesting Safety Zones) Bill 2022, a bill that purports to improve Victoria’s legislative framework for safe timber harvesting. The bill is said to respond to increased dangerous forest protest activity in timber harvesting safety zones, but the government have not been able to document evidence of increased OH&S incidents in their briefing to my office. Rather, it seems like it was a vibe thing, that we are worried that this could be. Well, my vibe is that this is not an OH&S bill at all. Rather, it is the corruption of an OH&S framework for the primary purpose of criminalising peaceful protest. It is crude. It does not have my support.

I have spoken in this place many times in criticism of native logging. It is unnecessary and there are far better options. We are already seeing native timber plantations; there is hemp for paper et cetera. It seems quite absurd to me, these repeated legislative efforts to shore up an industry which is being completely phased out by 2030. So with laws like this where the consequences could also be the permanent phasing out of some of our most precious endangered species it also sets a dangerous precedent, and we heard that from Mr Hayes—that we start here in using OH&S as a form of stopping protests, and where do we stop?

Forest protests are not arbitrary. As we have seen in court cases like the Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum v. VicForests, there have been numerous contraventions of environmental laws in numerous forest areas where unlawful logging occurred that failed to avoid serious and irreversible damage to the greater glider, which was less than a month ago listed as an endangered species. I think it is important to understand—and I have met with them—that the average protester is a 60-year-old woman taking a photograph of a habitat tree with a GPS location in shot to document that that particular tree should not be cut down. Freedom to protest sits at the heart of our democracy. It is enshrined in our charter of human rights. It is a right that we should be protecting, just like the species that are placed in jeopardy by unlawful logging, for which this type of protest is an important check and balance. We have seen this play out clearly in our courts many times, and as Mr Hayes mentioned, this was not once, this was not twice—there have been at least 66 incidents that were alerted by so-called protesters in the forest. You may ask: if a tree with a greater glider in it falls in the forest but there is no protester around to hear it, did it really happen?

I do not support the bill. The Reason Party does not support the bill. In that context I thank Ms Bath for providing me with some information about her amendments on this bill, but I cannot support those either.


Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading speech 4/8/22



Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (10:15): Pursuant to standing order 23.29, I lay on the table a report from the Legal and Social Issues Committee on the inquiry into children affected by parental incarceration, including appendices. I further present transcripts of evidence, and I move:

That the transcripts of evidence lie on the table and the report be published.

Motion agreed to.

Ms PATTEN: I move:

That the Council take note of the report.

This is a really important report and it is a report that just fills me with the sense of privilege that we have in this place. Before I speak to the report, I would really just like to note that a number of the very important people that were part of creating this report are here in our chamber today. These are people who have had lived experience of incarcerated parents, and I would like to welcome to the chamber Holly Nicholls, Rachael Hambleton and Clarisa Allen, and also Glen Fairweather, who is the general manager of the Prison Fellowship. They really helped make this report the report that it is today.

I would also, before I forget, like to thank all of the staff that worked on this report. This report is a really special report, so I am really grateful for the work and dedication of the team and that was Lilian Topic, Meagan Murphy, Kieran Crow, Joel Hallinan, Jessica Wescott and Cat Smith. I just thank them so much for this report, because this report looks at a hidden group of children. No-one has line of sight on these children. These are the children of parents who have been incarcerated. Right now there are about 7000 children whose parents are in prison in Victoria. No department, as we found in this report, has line of sight on them, has any care for them, whether that is when the police arrest their parents, whether that is when their parents go before the courts or whether that is when their parents are then in the corrections system. No-one is seeing these children. Well, we saw them and we heard from them, and it was, I would have to say, an absolute eye-opener. We must protect these children. We are signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and these children are protected under that convention, yet we have not done enough. We know that when their parents are incarcerated they can experience disruption to schools, isolation, stigma, the effects of a reduced family income and housing insecurity, and sadly many may be incarcerated themselves. Now, that is not a given, but we heard from some of those children who are adults now that that fear constantly lives with them.

I would have to say that what I am particularly ashamed about is the number of Aboriginal children that are taken into care as a result of their parents being incarcerated. In fact Aboriginal children are losing their parents at a greater rate than they were last century when we were removing them from their families. This is of immense concern to me, and it should be of immense concern to all of us. But there are things that we can do, and I think this report shines a light on that. We make nearly 30 recommendations. Certainly, look, if we wanted to fix this problem, let us fix inequality and disadvantage in our society. Obviously that is something that we at the Legal and Social Issues Committee have heard time and time again, whether that was spent convictions or whether that was the justice inquiry—that those are the main causes of people entering into our corrections system and being incarcerated.

But I think we need to allow our courts to consider dependent children. We are locking Aboriginal women up at an alarming rate at the moment, and many of them, in fact most of them, have children. We are not locking them up because they are violent or a risk to society, we are locking them up for non-violent crimes generally related to disadvantage and poverty. I think we can rethink that, and I think we can do far better in that area. That would be around rethinking sentencing. Some of my committee members may not agree with me, but I also think it is about rethinking bail. It is about rethinking what we do with parents and also then rethinking how we maintain that connection—that family connection. We know that family connections are the biggest protector against crime. I urge all members to read this, and I want to say to the people in this chamber today: thank you. We see you, we hear you and we must act on this. This report will be your legacy.


Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Report tabled 4/8/22


Hon. Jane Garrett MP


Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (10:32): I am saddened but privileged to be part of this condolence. I too cannot actually remember the time that I met Jane, but I remember a particular time when—I had met her many times before that—I had just been elected. It was in 2014 and I was sitting in Rathdowne Street kind of thinking, ‘Shit, what have I done?’. Jane came past and saw me, ordered a bottle of wine and sat down with me for a couple of hours and was just so generous in her support, in her insights, in her ideas. She gave me quite a bit of wine, which ended in some greater confidence I think. I do not know whether it was the wine, but it was certainly her words.

Later she opened my office, and she was so genuine in her joy and genuine in her happiness for us. We were not on the same team, obviously, but she made me feel like it was important, and it is important that we are in here. Last night I was looking at some of her contributions, because it was just so lovely, as so many have said, to hear her speak, to hear that laugh, to feel that smile. But one contribution that I remembered was during birth certificate legislation in this place. She talked about her own struggles with the ‘y’ in Jayne, in her name, and it was not at the end, it was in the middle. So it was ‘Jayne’ with a ‘y’, not ‘Janey’. Although I am sure she was ‘Janey’ as well to many of her friends. But she said at that time:

We have such a solemn responsibility as parliamentarians, and in a debate such as this we are literally holding the wellbeing of people in our hands.

Then she went on to say:

When I first came into Parliament, in my inaugural speech I spoke about what I wanted to do and be in every decision that I made in Parliament.

We felt that every time she spoke: she was in that. It was her. She was giving so much of her when she spoke. She went on to say that:

At the centre of it was respect for every corner of our community, and for me respect is that you see, respect is that you hear and respect is that you act.

And like probably no-one else we will see, she did that so respectfully, so deeply, so passionately and often so poignantly. Then she went on to say:

There is no greater example or requirement for respect than when we are debating in this chamber, and all of us to the best of my knowledge enjoy a right that a small group of our community do not enjoy. When we are charged with that responsibility, we must see the people that we are making decisions about. Most importantly, we must hear the people and then we must act.

Those words will stay with me. That is actually the advice that she gave in many different ways. That is the sentiment that she provided in so many of her contributions in here, in so many of her contributions in the electorates.

As so many said, we loved hearing Jane speak, whether that was in this place, whether that was in the community or whether that was even at a polling booth. I used to love standing next to Jane at polling booths during election time. It was joyous. There was much laughter, much banter and quite often—not from me of course but from Jane—singing. You always felt that she had time for the issue that you wanted to discuss with her and that she had time for you. I know that people in the electorate, since her passing, have also said that. Certainly a number of the people who worked on Rathdowne Street commented about this a lot. Whether she was talking about cemeteries or bushfires or payroll tax she was insightful, she was poignant and, as many have said, she was often very funny.

To James and Molly, Sasha and Max; to Graeme; to Catherine; to all her friends and all her colleagues, we will deeply miss her. My heart bleeds for you. The world is a lesser place with your loss. From the team from my office and from the Reason Party, vale, the fabulous Jane Garrett.


Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Condolence motion 3/8/22


Covid-19 vaccination


Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (17:21): I cannot say I am pleased to speak on this motion, but I am compelled to. This morning I second read a bill that was something really important, and it was really important to the majority of people in Victoria, around access to reproductive health from public health providers. I take my time in this chamber very seriously. I feel incredibly privileged to be here to represent my community, and every moment, including those precious 90 minutes that I get on a general business day—I get them twice a year—is precious. I think long and hard about what I am doing. I plan for them. I go out and speak to stakeholders. I take a lot of time.

This motion I do not think took a lot of time. I do not think it took a lot of thought. And I wonder what the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are going to tell their grandkids about their time in Parliament—what did they achieve? Well, they did get to go to Parliament from a nightclub. Now, that is kind of cool and you could tell your grandkids that. Of course no-one else was at the nightclub. The music was not playing. The lights were going, so there were some lovely red and blue flashes on their faces as they joined Parliament from that nightclub. They could tell their grandkids that they drew a turd on the map of Victoria and called it Rexit. Interesting. Again, my grandkids would probably find that funny.

But what did they do here? I mean, this is a silly motion—to ask us to say that we will not request people to be vaccinated in the future. I mean, I am sorry. Mr Gepp read out those numbers—that is impressive. The vast majority of Victorians very much believe in vaccination. In fact I would ask the question: do we ever want to elect someone into this chamber that does not believe in vaccinations? Yes, this is a democratic palace, this is a democratic place and everyone has the right to be here—everyone, including the people over 70 and the immunocompromised that visit this place. I wear a mask today. I have the constitution of an ox. I do not get sick. I do not wear a mask to protect myself, although I think I should, but I wear a mask to protect others. I wear a mask because I do not want to harm someone else. I get vaccinated for that reason as well. I would be surprised if any of us did not think the same way. I also get vaccinated so that people who are immunocompromised can come to this chamber, so that people who are immunocompromised or older and more susceptible to various viruses and diseases can visit this Parliament, can take part in the parliamentary process and can give evidence face to face in our committees—that is why I do it—and so that people who work here are not at risk when they come here.

Those are the reasons why I choose to get vaccinated, why I believe we all have a responsibility to be vaccinated. It is a great privilege to be in this chamber. It is a great privilege to represent our communities. I do not think that we should even consider not doing what we can to protect our community, and getting vaccinated is one of those things.

I recently, in fact just this weekend, went to Malaysia, where they are still asking for vaccination status when you go into a shopping mall. When you go to Malaysia you actually have to give them evidence of your three vaccinations, and they are very strict about it. They want to know the batch number. It was kind of over the top, and I have to say I spent a lot of time at check-in completing the documents that I had not done before I got there. However, the rest of the world understands the seriousness of this. I understand the seriousness of COVID. I understand the seriousness of viruses. I understand that this will not be our last virus. I understand that this probably will not be our last pandemic. As we are seeing, pandemics are becoming more regular.

I am actually stunned that I hear that the LNP would support this motion, that they would say, ‘If we’re elected, we won’t ask members of Parliament to be vaccinated’. Who else are they not going to ask? That to me is treading down a very dangerous path. We are considered leaders in our community, and we should lead. I suspect there are reasons why Mr Limbrick and the LDP have brought forward this motion—well, they are suspicions. But this is serious. COVID is serious. I take the job here seriously, and I do not think this is a serious motion. I do not support it.


Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Motion by Mr Limbrick 2/8/22


That the bill be now read a second time.

When the USA Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and with it nearly 40 years of women’s abortion rights, it caused shock waves here. In Victoria, thousands took to the street in protest. My sense was that the loss of that principle in the USA felt like a loss to women and gender-diverse people everywhere. We felt acutely the stripping of autonomy and the debasement of women. It was a slap in the face to the gender equality that we continue to fight for.

It caused many of us to ask, ‘Could it happen here too?’.

The very sad truth is that it is happening here. Right here and right now, in the Victorian public health system, women and gender-diverse people are being denied the right to contraception and abortion. Similarly, Victorians in the public health system are being denied the right to access voluntary assisted dying.

The problem is of Catholic origin.

The Health Service Act 1988, the foundational piece of legislation that make provisions for the carrying on of hospitals in Victoria, distinguishes between two types of public hospital—ordinary public hospitals and denominational hospitals. The latter being Catholic public hospitals, or in other words, Catholic hospitals that are publicly funded to provide public health services.

It is these publicly funded denominational hospitals that may be denying women the right to contraception and abortion, and all of us, the right to voluntary assisted dying. It is that issue this bill seeks to cure.

Let me give you some examples.

A pregnant woman is zoned to attend the Mercy Hospital for Women—a major public hospital specifically providing obstetrics, neonatal and gynaecological care. Despite it being a major public hospital for women, she cannot obtain contraception, abortion or family planning advice there.

A woman who is prescribed the pill is knocked off her bike and rushed to emergency at St Vincent’s public hospital. Her injuries cause her to be admitted for several nights. When asked about the medication she usually takes, she is told by the nursing staff that they do not have pharmacy stock to dispense the pill.

A terminally ill patient is admitted to the public system palliative care hospital Calvary Health Care Bethlehem. There they cannot access advice on voluntary assisted dying, despite that being their wish.

A patient undergoes a C-section for the birth of their third child. They request a tubal ligation. The Mercy Hospital refuses this procedure and the patient must wait to recover from their caesarean to undergo a second procedure at a different hospital.

In the public system, where patients do not have a choice of provider, public hospitals simply should not be refusing ordinary public health services.

Women and gender-diverse people deserve better. The terminally ill deserve better. The public health system should not be limited by the minority views of a religion—not in Melbourne, Victoria, in the year 2022.

This bill will change that.

The heart of the problem lies in the artifice of institutional conscience. It is a confection, and this bill makes that clear. An organisation does not have a conscience, it cannot think, which means it is ideology not conscience that is preventing access to contraception, abortion and voluntary assisted dying.

In practice it suppresses conscience. For example, a patient in good conscience may request a lawful medical service and a doctor may in good conscience be willing to provide it. However, if the institution’s code prohibits certain procedures for religious reasons, both the patient and doctor’s consciences are arbitrarily suppressed by the rule.

This occurred recently when a patient pregnant with twins found after a series of scans that at 20 weeks there was no amniotic fluid and both twins’ lungs had not developed. They would not survive outside the womb and the patient had developed a dangerous infection from the leaking amniotic fluid. The only safe option for the woman was to be induced, but the woman and her doctor were forced to leave St Vincent’s Hospital and go to another hospital to undertake this really sad procedure.

This bill will ensure that ideology has no place in the public health system and that individuals, not organisations, can conscientiously object. Nothing proposed in this bill interferes with an individual health practitioner’s right to conscientiously object, and that is based on their own sincerely held beliefs or moral concerns. That personal right remains protected.

Turning to the detail of the bill, the purpose of the bill is to amend the Health Services Act 1988 in relation to contraception, abortion and voluntary assisted dying services provided by denominational hospitals and to make related amendments to the Abortion Law Reform Act 2008 and the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017.

The bill is directed at denominational hospitals specifically, as it is only these hospitals in the public health system that are engaging in the type of institutional discrimination against women and the terminally ill that the bill seeks to remedy.

The bill nominally commences on 1 July 2023, if not proclaimed earlier.

The bill introduces an obligation to provide certain services in certain circumstances akin to the examples I highlighted earlier, and that is with respect to contraception, the supply of contraception from in-house pharmacies, abortion and voluntary assisted dying services.

The bill provides that a denominational hospital cannot direct or otherwise cause a registered health practitioner to refuse to provide these services.

The right of an individual doctor to refuse on the basis of a conscientious objection is not affected.

Victorians should have access to the same basic services in the public health system, whether they find themselves in a public or denominational hospital. It is a matter of equality. For too long women and gender-diverse people have faced barriers because of stigma, shame, or geography. Public hospitals should not be an added barrier.

We have achieved safe access. Now it is time for fair access.

I commend the bill to the house.


Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading speech 2/8/22


Wallan Quarry


Ms Patten: President, I present a petition bearing 1,320 signatures from certain citizens of Victoria requesting that the Legislative Council call on the Government to reject the permit for the proposed quarry in the Beveridge northwest precinct and introduce legislation to prevent the development of quarries within the urban growth boundary in Mitchell Shire.

I move —

That the petition do lie on the table.


Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Petition tabled 9/6/22


The $2.9 billion in health infrastructure, the $2.4 billion for emergency staff and new wards, the 7000 healthcare workers, including 5000 nurses, are really good for Victoria. It is probably what the community expected. When I have been out there asking people about the budget I do not think anyone was surprised by it. I do not think anyone was terribly excited, but I do not think anyone was surprised by it, that the budget had a health focus. I think given the last two or three years we have had that is not surprising.

But what was surprising were the cuts in alcohol and other drug services, to the extent of $40 million. We know that during COVID people’s alcohol consumption increased. We know that during COVID people’s drug issues were exacerbated, alongside their mental health issues. We know this, but we saw cuts in this area. I think this is a kind of short-sightedness or—I probably should not mention this—the ambulance being at the bottom of the cliff rather than there being a fence at the top. The alcohol and other drugs sector has been starved of resources. We know the waiting times for people trying to get into treatment. When someone decides that they need help, being told that they have to wait six months for that help is not acceptable. I cannot tell you how disappointed I am and how disappointed the really hardworking, dedicated alcohol and other drug workers are. We do not have enough rehab beds. We do not have enough treatment. We do not have enough counselling.

The killer in this is that when you cut those services, when you cut alcohol and other drug treatment, you exacerbate the problems in our emergency rooms, you exacerbate the problems in our courts and in our mental health facilities. When you cut alcohol and other drug services you send those people back into our mainstream health system. Frankly it lacks reason, and I would really urge the Treasurer to reconsider this and to look at the benefits. We know that when we spend money on harm reduction, harm minimisation, for every $1 we spend we save $27—and that is because we avoid someone needing an ambulance, that is because we avoid someone ending up in an emergency department and that is because we avoid someone ending up in our prisons. Please, Treasurer, these are short-sighted cuts to this budget, and they are things that we need to remedy.

In November I moved a motion in this chamber that called on this government to introduce a dedicated portfolio for loneliness, and that was passed with the government’s support. I am sure that many of you are conscious that loneliness has emerged as one of the most serious public health challenges being faced around the world. Loneliness is a better predictor of premature death than physical inactivity. Obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day—loneliness is a better predictor than those conditions or activities. Lonely Australians have a significantly worse health status than Australians who do not experience loneliness. So I have to say I was really pleased to see the government quite literally put its money where its mouth is and invest directly in loneliness by way of $9 million to establish 10 new social inclusion action groups in local government areas. This will foster connection and reduce social isolation in vulnerable groups. I am really pleased that this is a win for a Reason policy.

The budget has allocated significant resources—$1.8 billion—to building new schools and upgrading existing ones. But again schools in my electorate of Northern Metropolitan have missed out.

Coburg High School—this school has grown exponentially. I remember being there back in 2016 when it was just a newly opened school that was accepting maybe two or three grades. It has now got a population in excess of 1250 students. It is lacking science rooms. Students are now having to take their music lessons in a storeroom. It desperately needs funds, and the picture is no better for nearby schools like Glenroy College and John Fawkner College. If we wanted to tell some of our most disadvantaged communities that we really did not care a fig about them, we would send them to some of those schools. It is reprehensible that we have not invested in those schools but we have invested in far wealthier schools. These deserve funding, and I would urge the Minister for Education to keep this front of mind.

Not only are we seeing these schools being decimated through the lack of funding—literally falling apart around the students’ ears; you look at the results in our primary schools in those areas that feed into those high schools and their results are well above average—these are smart kids—and then if you look at the results at John Fawkner or Glenroy, those results have dropped down. Not surprisingly, parents do not want to send their children to those schools, so we are seeing overcrowding in other schools. We have these schools, we have these growing areas and we need to address this. I implore the government to invest in the north. It has been neglected.

I was in Broadmeadows on the weekend, and you only have to look at Broadmeadows station to see the neglect of the north. I was assured, at a function I was at to celebrate the work of volunteers in the north, that the government had earmarked an upgrade to Broadmeadows station by 2050—2050. Now, this is a place where you do not actually want to walk through that station’s underpasses in daylight, let alone on a winter’s evening. It is absolutely frightful, and it sends a message to my constituents in the north that we just do not care. This is a postcode with some of the most disadvantaged people. This is where we should be investing.

I continue to promote small business and innovation. We know those are the drivers to the future economy. We must be responsive to the start-up sector and emerging industries and nurture those bright new ideas capable of catapulting our economy. We have seen this in Victoria. We are actually responsible for a number of unicorns, and I think we should be proud of that. I have to say that I think the government’s approach to attracting international businesses has been well funded, particularly in the medical research area, and that is in my electorate around Parkville. We have seen some great work in that area. What I particularly endorse is the equity investment pilot fund. This is about providing equity funding to those start-ups. This is really welcome out there in the start-up industry.

Also providing grants to small businesses looking at low-carbon manufacturing—this is something that we in the north used to be very good at. We used to be manufacturers in the north. But we have these opportunities, and I welcome the government’s investment there. I look at things like mineral sands and the opportunities there. I for one drive an electric vehicle. I know that the minerals that made that vehicle are rare and precious, and we have great reserves in Victoria. A shout-out to Manangatang—that is an area where we have some mineral sands. So I look forward to seeing governments invest in those areas, help us and keep that in Australia. Do not allow those big multinationals to come in, reap what they need and then leave—well, for mineral sands—a fairly shallow hole but a hole nonetheless.

Look, there is more we could say about this. I think the other missed opportunity was an investment in hemp. I spoke at length about this last sitting week, so I will not do it again, but we certainly need to invest in areas like hemp. We need to make it easier for hemp growers. We know that these are the types of new crops that will enable new and innovative and low-carbon manufacturing to occur in Australia.

Let us also not forget women’s health. We certainly saw some investment into women’s health; we did not see enough. I think something that I have been trying to highlight in this place has been the issue of endometriosis. We have heard a lot of talk but we have not seen the investment come into play. I thank the government for committing to an endometriosis centre, but we did not see any money for it, so I am hopeful that we will see some announcements and some commitments to that. I hope both sides of this chamber commit to really funding endometriosis research, endometriosis treatment, and most importantly a cure for endometriosis. It is debilitating. It affects one in nine women, yet we spend more money on snoring than we do on endometriosis. We spend more money on sleep apnoea than we do on endometriosis, by a considerable amount. So again it is a call-out that the government commit to significant funding to the various really innovative organisations operating here, whether they are operating out of the Epworth, whether they are operating under Hudson, Monash, the women’s hospital. There are really great, dedicated researchers that just need a little bit of love from the government.

Removing the current land transfer duty exemption applying to the transfer of dutiable properties to an institution with a religious purpose—this is another great way of bringing in some much-needed funds. We understand, and this is through the Parliamentary Budget Office and through other research, this would bring in another $13 million over the next couple of years. We pay transfer duty when we buy and sell our homes, so why shouldn’t religious organisations? It was just a few years ago now that Fairfax revealed that the Catholic Church holds assets in Victoria valued at more than $9 billion, including banks, a superannuation fund, an insurance company, a news service and a telecommunications provider. Properties reportedly include offices, residences, car parks, conference centres, tennis courts, mobile phone towers and a restaurant. They are the largest non-government landholder in the state, so why should that wealth be duty free?

Of course I cannot contribute to a budget debate without mentioning the regulation of cannabis. We spend billions of dollars in prohibiting cannabis.

Mr Finn interjected.

Ms PATTEN: Welcome, Mr Finn. Glad you came in at just the right moment.

Mr Finn: Beautifully timed, wasn’t it?

Ms PATTEN: Perfect timing. We know we could actually earn about $200 million if we regulated cannabis, let alone the savings we could make if we regulated cannabis. You never know, even Mr Finn might investigate that proposition.

A member: I doubt that very much.

Ms PATTEN: It is not a radical policy, Mr Finn, it is happening all over the world. We are seeing it in Canada, France, Germany, Mexico more recently, Malta. We are now up to nearly 50 per cent of the states in the United States now regulating the sale of cannabis rather than prohibiting it. The outcomes, shock horror, have been positive.

The other thing I want to quickly touch on is around the money that we spend on justice issues.

We are not spending enough around the causes of crime. Again, we are spending on the ambulance, not on the fence. Let me give you some examples. Take the capital works: we are spending in this budget $111 million on new justice projects but only $80 million on housing projects. We are spending $27 million on refuge and crisis accommodation. In fact, that is slightly less than what we are spending on the Fawkner cemetery. Now, I am pleased that the Fawkner cemetery got some expansion money; it is needed. However—

Mr Finn interjected.

Ms PATTEN: It is needed. It is still the last tram stop on the line, but really, to be spending more on a cemetery than on refuge and crisis accommodation means that we really do need to have a rethink about that.

Our spend on acute mental health beds is about half of what we spend on prison beds. As some of the people in this chamber know, we did a homelessness report. We understand that preventing homelessness prevents crime. In the homelessness inquiry we saw this; in the justice inquiry we saw this. I would again point out that we are locking people up via refusing bail because they do not have a home. We are effectively locking up people because they are homeless, not because of a crime that would have accounted for a jail term. Look at the awful, awful circumstances of Veronica Nelson. She stole an ice cream; she died in our prison.

The hydromorphone trial for clients of the supervised injecting room—I was very sad to see that that did not get up. Again, we know that by providing hydromorphone to clients at the supervised injecting room we would have reduced crime. We would have engaged those people to come back from where they had been, engaged them back into services, engaged them back into treatment and, more importantly, stopped them having to traffic on the streets or purchase on the streets. We would have reduced the crime enormously, and I will keep on at the government about a hydromorphone trial. We have seen it in other areas.

I would like to also give a shout-out to the Legislative Council. I know that those in the other chamber do not seem to know what we do here, and I have heard them say that more than once—and the budget shows that. We get a tiny amount of the budget, yet this is where law is actually passed. This is where law is reviewed. This is where law is, effectively, made. Our Legislative Council committees, our standing committees, do an enormous body of work in policy. This is about connecting with our community. This is about our transparency and our accountability to our community. This is so important, and yet the Legislative Council gets a tiny proportion—$2 million. So again I would implore the Treasurer and the government to start spending and start valuing the work that this house does.

Finally, measures like the GDP—they are relevant but they are not the whole picture. Other jurisdictions are working into a wellbeing budget, and I think we need to do that. Our constitution says that we are for and on behalf of the people of Victoria now and into the future. We have to be measuring that. The former chair of the United States Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, noted that:

The ultimate purpose of economics … is to understand and promote the enhancement of well-being.

Now, again, I know that the government has shown some interest in this area. I would hope that the next budget that we see here will have some wellbeing indexes. Let us measure that. That is what I would love to see in the next budget: more measurements of our wellbeing. As a fun fact, the GDP went up when we had the Black Saturday bushfires. GDP went up, so as far as the budget was concerned, that was a great result. But we know we need to measure the wellbeing of our community.

That is what they expect us to do, that is what we need to do. It is not my position to oppose a budget bill or a financial bill, so I will leave it there.


Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Cognate debate 7/6/22



Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (11:01): I would like to rise to speak briefly on this bill. As speakers before have said, this is a very broad piece of legislation that covers a number of other acts and a number of areas of our agriculture industry. I note Dr Cumming’s contribution. I think many of us have received some quite alarmist emails about what this bill might do, whether it is pulling up people’s veggie gardens in their back gardens or impacting on the biodynamic industry or the organic industry. I have no doubt that certainly some of the correspondence I have received has cleared up some of those concerns and found that they are unwarranted.

The area that I just want to touch on today is the amendments to how we treat hemp licences and how we treat the small but burgeoning hemp industry in Victoria. As many of you know, we established a hemp task force here in this Parliament. I am fortunate to be a member of that task force. This is really to look at the challenges and opportunities that the industry is facing. I am pleased to say that this bill does go to some of those challenges, one in particular, which is around aligning the THC allowed in hemp plants across the nation so we will have a standardised measurement for that, which will enable for much greater import-export, particularly across our state borders.

This product has incredible potential. It is quite an extraordinary plant. It is a crop that Victoria should be doing everything in its power to enable and to build. Hemp has been in Australia since the First Fleet. Hemp seeds came out with Sir Joseph Banks. There are some theories that not only were we designed to be a penal colony but we were designed to be a hemp colony, because as we know, back in the 18th century the British navy survived on hemp. The British navy could not exist without hemp. Its sails were made of hemp, its rope was made of hemp, its uniforms were made from hemp, and most of its hemp came from Russia. We were seeing those Crimean wars way back then, and it is a timely reminder today—not that we buy much of our hemp from Russia anymore—that the reason that they looked at hemp down in Australia was that they were worried about the regular supply of hemp coming from the Russian nations back in the late 18th century.

Hemp has been in this country for well over 200 years. It is a product that has been grown for thousands of years. If you look at some of the most ancient Chinese manuscripts that still exist, they were made from hemp paper, and they still exist because they were made from hemp.

Hemp is making plastics. It is cleaning up toxic soils. It is cleaning up toxic water. It has got innumerable uses. Look at the bioplastic polymers; if anyone is interested, I have got a hemp bowl in my office that is strong—so strong. I literally have thrown it around the car park here trying to break it. It will not scratch. It will not break. It is an extraordinary product. Really, in a weird way it is quite magical. It is extremely light, it is extremely strong, it is biodegradable and it is renewable, unlike petroleum-based plastics we are using now. Products that feel just like plastic are made from just grounding up the hemp stalk. You just ground it up, mix it with water and make yourself some plastic. In fact there is a company, sadly not in Victoria but operating now out of Tasmania, that is looking to supply little disposable salad bowls for Woolworths and Coles because they can do a translucent one.

I am just trying to paint the picture that hemp is an incredibly diverse and important crop, and it should be the future for paper in Victoria. In fact it should be the future for timber in Victoria. If you are interested, I have also got some composite hemp products that mimic a four-by-two plank, that mimic plywood, but are stronger, and rather than waiting for 20 years for trees to grow, it takes four months for a hemp plant to grow. One acre of hemp can produce as much paper as 4 to 10 acres of trees.

Ms Symes: Still going on about this?

Ms PATTEN: Every opportunity I get to talk about hemp I will. We are saying that 1 acre of hemp produces as much paper as 4 to 10 acres of trees, and the hemp takes four months to grow compared to the 10 to 20 or even 80 years that we need for the trees. It has got a far higher concentration of cellulose than wood—that is why it goes further.

These are just two products, but it can do rope, it can do textiles, it can do clothing and it can do shoes, food, insulation, hempcrete and biofuel, so you could literally run a city on hemp. In fact I was looking at some hemp buildings the other night. One acre of hemp will build a building, so you could actually grow your own buildings in Victoria in four months rather than in the decades that it would take to do that with timber.

As I mentioned, I support the aspects of this bill that align the THC values across the jurisdictions, and that is something that the hemp task force really did—we made those recommendations. But the hemp industry says we need a goal of 1 million acres, and at the moment I think we are at about 288 hectares, so we have got a long way to go. We need to be encouraging agriculture to take on this crop, and this bill does not do that.

What we heard loud and clear from farmers and people involved in the industry is that we need to remove the stigma around hemp, and there still is significant stigma around hemp. It has been caught up in the kind of hard-on-drugs, cannabis debate for decades—for centuries. In fact there was that link that was erroneously made earlier, in probably the 1950s, that led to a real prohibition on hemp. Hemp is really only coming back in this century again.

We needed to simplify and streamline those licences. I acknowledge there have been some improvements in that area. I think the last tranche of changes to those licences went way too broad, so we were looking for police records of a stepson. We took a very broad definition, and I am pleased to see that this bill has narrowed that.

But still, the fact that in this bill the Chief Commissioner of Police can veto a hemp licence sends a completely wrong message about what a hemp crop is. A hemp crop is not a cannabis crop. It is not an opium poppy crop. It is a crop that makes great paper, makes great clothes, could make great plastic, could make great houses, could make great roads, could make great hempcrete sound barriers. It should not be taken to this much higher level of licensing, as if it is somehow dangerous.

I note also—and the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee noted this in their report—the exemption from the spent convictions scheme. So even if someone had a very historical conviction for something, that would be disclosed in deciding whether this person could have a hemp licence. I mean, you would probably get more danger out of growing a rapeseed crop, and certainly if you were growing acacia. The types of poisons and drugs that you can pull out of acacia—DMT for one—are far more dangerous than this, and you are not asking for licences for people to grow acacia, even though very dangerous substances could be produced from that.

I will signal now that I intend to vote against, at the very least, clauses 57 and 58 of this bill. I think that it was a real missed opportunity, that we should have got ahead of the curve here and that this bill should have been about promoting the hemp industry, about promoting the opportunities of hemp in Victoria, rather than what I am seeing here. It is further stigmatising, it is further telling potential growers that this is a dangerous crop and that the police commissioner may have a role in deciding whether they can grow it or not. So as I said, I think it is a missed opportunity. We still have a hemp task force, so I am still optimistic that we can start promoting this industry in Victoria in other meaningful ways. But on that note I will finish my contribution, and I look forward to listening to the committee of the whole.


Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading speech 26/5/22


1080 Poison


Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (15:20): I rise to speak in support of Mr Meddick’s motion. It was interesting hearing Mr Grimley talking about the long experience of Mr Hinch in this area. Certainly as someone who has got a conservation reserve of some 300 acres that backs onto the Snowy Mountains national park, I am well aware of the use of 1080 and I am well aware of the ineffective use of 1080. I am well aware that it has not stopped the feral pigs, it has not stopped the foxes, it has not stopped the rabbits and it has not stopped the wild dogs and the feral cats. We still have a significant issue with all of those despite decades of baiting using 1080. So we have to do this differently. We know that this is an incredibly dangerous poison. While it has not stopped the number of pigs, rabbits, foxes and dogs in my area, it has had an effect on some of our lizards, it has had an effect even on some of our marsupials and it has really had an effect on some of our birds.

I was pleased to see that some jurisdictions are already phasing this out in Australia. We know that most jurisdictions overseas have already done it. They understand that it is a horrible poison that does awful things to any animal that consumes it, but more importantly it actually is not an effective pest management and pest control strategy. As we know, it has been banned in most countries. I mean, it was banned in the USA in the 1970s. This is something that other jurisdictions moved on from long ago. Australia is in a real backwater in regard to the use of this poison.

I note that—it was only probably last year—the Blue Mountains local government have phased out using this. There have been calls for national parks in New South Wales to phase out using this, and, probably closer to home, we have had a parliamentary inquiry report that is recommending that we phase this out—so we must do this. As that inquiry into ecosystem decline in Victoria found, we have some really significant issues around the decline of our ecosystem, the decline of our species and the extraordinary rate of extinction of our native animals in this country. 1080 plays a role in that, and it does not play a good role. There are far better ways to protect our native flora and fauna than using 1080, which has been found to, as I say, not even be effective.

So this is a sensible motion, I think. Most of the farmers in our region no longer use 1080. They do not have to. We have hunters in the area—which might not be the Animal Justice Party’s solution to this. We have hunters and we have other ways to protect any of the livestock in the area that has been attacked by dogs in the past. That concern has largely disappeared in my area, as has the use of 1080. So there are other ways to deal with this, and I commend this motion.


Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member of Northern Metropolitan Region
Mr Meddick’s motion 11/5/22



Non-employee transport workers


Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (11:13): I rise to speak just briefly on Mr Barton’s motion. It is sensible. Mr Barton and I did not come to fisticuffs, but we possibly did not see eye to eye in the last term when I introduced the Ridesharing Bill 2016 that was about recognising ridesharing, recognising that we needed to do something about that emerging part of the industry and recognising that it needed to be regulated. In doing so it was not great for the taxi industry, and I understand that, but it has been really wonderful to see how Mr Barton has been able to represent and advocate for the industry and is now seeing the industry as a whole. This motion goes to the fact that it is not just the taxi industry, it is the whole industry. It is all of those contractors. Whether they are driving an Uber or a DiDi, whether they are driving for Amazon or whether they are driving for Menulog or whoever they may be contracted to, they need the same protections.

Last week I was at the memorial for workers who have died, and it is one of the most moving memorials that you can ever witness, where you watch in silence as shoes are placed on stools in memory of each person who has died in a workplace accident.

Those numbers are going to grow because—and it seems remarkable that we had not done it before—we did not actually count road accidents in workplace deaths up until quite recently so we are now seeing that. We are now seeing the people that Mr Barton is working to protect through this motion being reflected in that memorial. Now their shoes are on a stool to be remembered, and if we do not do something, we will just keep having to put more shoes on more stools.

We need to introduce ways to protect that emerging cohort of workers. You know, this is not reinventing the wheel. This is not doing something that is out there. This is not doing something that is actually all that unusual. In fact New South Wales has done it. From both sides of the house it gets bipartisan support. For some reason I am hearing people in this chamber saying that we do not need it, we have got adequate protections—we do not. We do not have adequate protections. In fact we have very few protections for these workers, and we certainly need to be able to set minimum standards.

The minimum wage at the moment is $20.30 or something. I suspect that many of those delivery people would dream about getting the minimum wage. They would dream about it. They do not have even the basic minimum working conditions that most workers just assume would never be taken away from them. Quite rightly we are arguing for increases on the minimum wage, but here we are talking about workers who do not even have the privilege of being able to call to receive the minimum wage, do not have the privilege to be able to call to have proper meal breaks to ensure that they can work safely. We call them subcontractors, and I think the gig economy is changing the way we work. It is changing, and there is no point trying to put our head in the sand to say that it is not happening. It is changing and so our regulations and our enforcement have to reflect that.

I guess from my perspective, I draw on what we are doing with sex work. We have decriminalised sex work, but that is actually about providing greater protections to those workers who are self-employed. That is about the government recognising that those workers, even though they are self-employed or they may be subcontractors, need protection. They need workplace health and safety regulations and requirements to protect them and the people that they may work with. Drivers are no different. Drivers need that protection, and there should be a body to ensure that that happens.

We heard Ms Terpstra and Ms Shing speak about the various court cases on this, but I think we should also be really turning to what we have seen in New South Wales—what they have been able to do in setting minimum rates for some of these workers and what they have been able to do in setting work conditions which will improve the safety outcomes. You know, we see those ads about the reason we have these rules. It is so that people do not just work safely they come home safely—they come home through that door. It is those ads you see on television about someone coming home to their family that really get to the point of our regulations in this community. And if we are a modern society, then we must be extending those protections, extending those rights, to all workers.

I think Mr Barton is being progressive in this motion, in recognising that this economy is here to stay. The technological revolution will change the way we work and will change the relationship between employers and employees. It is changing, and that is, probably sadly for some, inevitable. But introducing a tribunal such as this will provide a voice, will provide a really balanced voice, and it will be able to establish those protections so we are not seeing more shoes on stools at our memorials.


Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Mr Barton’s motion 11/5/22