Archives: Speeches

Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment Bill 2022


Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (15:09): I would like to rise to speak quite briefly on this bill. It is a fairly varied bill, but it does deal with notifiable diseases and bloodborne diseases and it certainly looks at the gathering of testing data et cetera. So it does go to various places, as Ms Crozier spoke about just earlier.

But I think the area that I would really like to touch on is the repeal of references to HIV and hepatitis C. I know that there are so many people who will be incredibly grateful about this amendment to this piece of legislation. This just takes us another step towards removing the stigma and discrimination against people who have HIV and hep C, and it is a stigma that can be fatal. It is a stigma that sometimes means people do not seek the help that they need.

They get ostracised from their families. We saw that people with HIV, particularly in the earlier days, were not dying from HIV, they were dying from suicide, and they were dying because of the stigma, the discrimination and the shame imposed upon them for contracting HIV. So this is a good development. This is a very positive part of this legislation. As I say, there have been in numerous areas numerous changes to legislation over the last two terms that the government has put forward that go more and more towards removing that stigma around HIV. I am grateful for it, and on behalf of the HIV-positive community I express their thanks for this.

HIV now is treated much like diabetes. It is something you will have for the rest of your life, but it is not what is going to kill you; you are not going to die from it. And in fact most people who are taking the medicine as prescribed will not even test positive. They will have such a low viral load that it will not even show up in a test, and it would be next to impossible to transmit HIV when they are taking the medication, as they are now. We also have things like PEP and PrEP, which are other preventative tools to stop people from contracting it in the first place, or if they feel they have been exposed, they have those tools to help them not fully contract HIV. So this is a really welcome amendment.

I have to say I have been involved around HIV since the late 1980s, and I do not think any of us thought in the late 80s that we would be talking about HIV in the way that we are talking about it today—that we would be talking about HIV not actually being transmissible and people living full lives, never going from HIV to AIDS. Now, that is in this country, and we are one lucky country for that. Many other countries are still struggling with this and we have still got a long way to go globally, but here in Australia we have done a remarkable job to fight HIV.

I would just like to comment quickly, given Ms Crozier’s comments, around testing and sex workers. Now, sex workers were the first cohort of people to be cognisant of the risk of HIV. Long before the community was aware of it we saw the sex worker community become very aware of it and very concerned about it. We saw almost 100 per cent of sex workers using safe sex practices, as I said, back as far as 1987, 1988, in Australia. The Australian sex workers were right at the front of this, from prevention and also looking after their own health through sexual health testing, as they will continue to do under a decriminalised model. Sex workers will continue to look after their health, and I think it also should be noted that there has never, ever been a transmission of HIV from a sex worker to a client—ever—in Australia. There is not one single reported case of a sex worker transmitting HIV to a client or during their work. So it is an unnecessary concern, and it goes I think very much to the judgement and stigma that people place on sex workers, that somehow sex workers cannot be trusted, even with their own health, and that somehow the government must control them because these—most sex workers are female—women are fallen. There is a considerable amount of moral judgement placed on them in this regard.

There is nothing to be afraid of. When you speak to all of the transmissible disease experts, from the Burnet Institute even to the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre—they were saying the three-monthly compulsory testing was unnecessary and expensive and sex workers were seeking to look after their own health. They did not need legislation to do that.

The other point I would just like to touch on is—because I am sure Dr Ratnam will be speaking soon; she is putting up amendments in relation to drug checking and drug notifications—as many of you would be aware, she and I have jointly sponsored a bill on pill testing. That sits on the notice paper, and it may be something that we debate before the end of this term. But what we are seeing is a growing amount of evidence—not just international evidence, where pill testing has been undertaken and has been regular practice for many years, even decades, but even within Australia. The ACT has been conducting and supporting pill testing for a number of years now; in fact there will be a festival in the ACT next month where there will be a pill-testing facility established. The concept of pill testing is supported by the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and just about every single alcohol and other drug expert and person who works in that field. So we are going to be seeing festivals come back, thankfully, and I am sure we are all very happy to see that the festival season will hopefully be almost as normal as possible come the end of this year.

What we see from pill testing is it is almost a loss leader, and I have witnessed this not just in Australia but also overseas, where you will have someone coming in, bringing in their pill to be tested. Now, the machine that goes ‘ping’ does the testing and lets them know what is in that substance, and we know that if that substance is not found to be what that person thought it was or is found to be something dangerous, guess what, that person does not consume that substance and that substance is disposed of. But most importantly as part of that process they get to speak to a health practitioner—and it is phenomenal; you cannot get some of the young people out of the tent because they have so many questions around drug use. They have so many questions about the interactions between various drugs, whether that is prescription medication or recreational drugs, as it were. It is that education that happens at that point, and we know that actually it prevents deaths. It is a very sensible approach.

In Dr Ratnam’s amendments there is also an amendment where if a bad batch of drugs were found in our community, then this would require the police to report on that. Now, we saw this in Chapel Street where a number of people died unnecessarily because we did not get out there on the radio and tell people. We did not get out there on the social media to warn people about a very bad batch of NBOMe which was being sold as MDMA, and we saw people die as a result.

Contrast that to about six years ago in the Netherlands where there was a similar, deadly batch of illicit substances going around. Now, they have an early warning system, so of course it went out on the news. It went out on all of the social media networks, and that prevented possibly hundreds—well, hundreds of injuries, if not deaths. We could and we should be doing that in Australia. It makes absolutely no sense that we are not doing it.

So this is harm reduction, and I think when I have listened to debates over the last seven years no-one seems to have opposed harm reduction—except when it comes to illicit drug use. Then it is just this proposal—and it is a preposterous proposal—that we just tell people to say no, that all drugs are dangerous, so you must just say no.

It is not happening. And it does not matter how many penalties you put around drug use, the number of people who are using drugs does not decline. What does decline is the safety. What does decline is the ability for that person to seek help. So I think largely this bill is uncontroversial and welcome in regard to HIV and hepatitis C. But certainly I welcome Dr Ratnam’s amendments to this bill, and I commend the bill.


Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading speech 7/4/22


Medicinal cannabis


Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (16:51:551:): I rise to speak about the petition that was tabled in this house just yesterday—a petition calling for a review of roadside cannabis testing laws. This is about equality. This is about the 172 000 patients who have been prescribed medicinal cannabis. All they are asking for is equal driving rights. All they are asking for is that they be allowed to have a complete defence for the presence of THC in their oral fluid or blood when they have a valid doctors prescription for a product, when the nature of their offending does not involve dangerous or reckless driving and when the officer cannot establish reasonable grounds to suspect driver impairment.

I know everyone in this chamber knows someone who is using medicinal cannabis, and probably they have told you that it has helped them sleep better, that it has helped remove the pain, that it has helped them get their lives back, because this medicine has helped, as I say, over 100 000 people and growing. The numbers are growing. The products are growing. The range of symptoms that it can affect is growing as well.

We are not saying that if someone is impaired they should be allowed to drive. We are just saying that if people have been prescribed a legal prescription medication and can drive safely, then they should be allowed to do so. We allow people to drive when they have prescriptions for opioids. We allow people to drive when they have prescriptions for benzodiazepines. We ask them not to drive if they are feeling impaired. Their doctors provide them with that evidence that they should not drive if they are feeling impaired, and that is all the hundreds and thousands of medicinal cannabis patients are asking for.

In Victoria we were the first state to legalise medicinal cannabis. We were progressive. We set the pace for the rest of the country to follow in our steps. We also set a medicinal cannabis industry plan. We set targets and strategies for how we were going to build a medicinal cannabis industry in Victoria, and then we put the complete brakes on it by saying that medicinal cannabis patients must be treated differently to all other patients. It is just not fair. It is not right. It is not based in science. It is not based in evidence.

We have seen other jurisdictions, like that radical place, Tasmania, where they have a defence.

And, guess what, since medicinal cannabis was legalised in Tasmania there has not been an increase in road deaths, there has not been an increase in people driving impaired, but it has meant that people who get great relief from this medicine are allowed to do that.

Let us just remember who we are talking about. The average age of a medicinal cannabis patient is 52; they are female. So that is a 52-year-old woman—not actually very high up in our driving fatality statistics, not even very high up in our road incident statistics. Many of us have been talking about endometriosis in recent weeks; many of the endometriosis patients are finding great relief from medicinal cannabis. I spoke to one just the other day, and she said, ‘I can only use it when I’m on holidays’. So it is only when she is on holidays that she gets the relief that that medicine can provide for her.

This petition is asking for a trial. It is not asking for anything radical. In fact Australia is one of the only jurisdictions that prohibits medicinal cannabis patients from driving when it is safe to do so. We are pretty much the only jurisdiction. So this petition was asking the government to allow for a trial, to allow for those patients who have a valid prescription from their doctor to be allowed to drive when they are not impaired. I do not think that is too much to ask.


Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Statement on petition 6/4/22


Political donations


Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (15:32): Well, I do not know. It feels like parents fighting, doesn’t it? We know that both of the major parties are able to manipulate legislation and to manipulate the system to their advantage. And I know that I heard Mr Finn crying poor and Mr Tarlamis saying, ‘We would never do that’. However, we know both of you take advantage of whatever opportunity you can. It is avoidance, not evasion—is that right? There is that very fine line between what is legal and what is not. So I am happy to lend my support to Mr Hayes. I think the motion picks up on Reason Party policy, and I think probably a lot of us on the crossbench would have similar policies. In fact we did some work on this, and certainly during the debate in the last term we worked with Mr Tarlamis and obviously Mr Jennings on trying to find a pathway forward that did give us the system that we as a community deserve and we want.

We want the public to trust in us, and when the public does not, that is when it is really hard to bring them along with change. And as we saw, the Centre for Public Integrity only two weeks ago released a paper called Integrity Inadequacies, and that was particularly focusing on Victoria. They said that our state frameworks were falling short when compared to other jurisdictions. They went on to say that there might be a dinner where Mr Gepp is the lead speaker and people are spending thousands of dollars to hear the wise words of Mr Gepp, but we know that the parma on offer at Mr Gepp’s fine dinner did not cost thousands of dollars. So the difference between the cost of running the event and the fee needs to be explicitly captured as a donation, and I think this is certainly what Mr Hayes was going to in his contribution today and also in his motion. That is actually what New South Wales does. While I certainly think that our legislation would try and capture that, I do not know whether it does adequately. We know that it excludes gifts between registered parties, and I think that is a significant loophole.

We can tighten these donation rules, but I think that the better solution to this problem—and certainly the Centre for Public Integrity concurs—is that we cap election spending. I think that is where we could really disincentivise big donations, disincentivise fundraising, and as Mr Tarlamis knows, that is exactly what I negotiated last term as part of the review. They put an amendment into the Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 so that a review is to be conducted, and that is to happen after this election. In that is whether the act should be further amended to provide for a cap on political expenditure and, if so, whether the cap should apply generally or to specific persons or entities, the value of the cap and the consequences of failure to comply with the cap. That body of work is coming up. After this election we will be looking at that cap, and I think that actually is where we can limit the relevance and maybe the undue influence of donations.

This is from Professor Joo-Cheong Tham from Melbourne Law School, who would also concur:

The absence of limits on election campaign spending in the Victorian legislation risks placing pressure on the “political donation” caps, as parties and candidates seek to meet unabated demand for campaign funds. If the bill had provided for limits on spending, they may have curbed the impact of the uneven flow of private and public funds that will result from its enactment …

And he went on to talk more about this. I think with the independent review due next year I will find it hard to believe that the expert panel would not come to the same conclusion.

I think Mr Hayes goes to that in his point about Canada, that that is one of the things that Canada does—there is a cap on spending. It is the same in the UK and the same in New Zealand, and this is certainly, I think, the way that we can get meaningful change in this. We can curb the perceived undue influence that donations have in our democratic process.

So I see no problem in broadening the definition of ‘donation’, and I was listening to Mr Tarlamis and watching him shake his head during some of this as well. Yes, they did broaden that definition, and it did capture a number of areas that had not been captured previously. But, as I say, there is going to be an independent review after this election, and I welcome that review. Without being unkind, Mr Hayes, I think that review actually will hopefully go to what you are doing and possibly more than us talking on a Wednesday afternoon, as delightful as it has been to be here for this.


Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Motion by Mr Hayes 6/4/22


Sexual offence reporting


Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:03): I am very pleased to rise to speak to Mr Grimley’s motion today. You know, it is frightening: 87 per cent of people who are sexually assaulted do not report that assault to the police, so something is terribly wrong about that process. I know this government is introducing some legislation around victims of crime compensation, but what we need to do is change some of the structure and some of the systems in place to make it easier for people to report those crimes. I think also fundamentally we need to be working further and further to prevent those crimes from occurring, and that requires really ground-up cultural change. We saw that in the Royal Commission into Family Violence, that often this is as basic as being around equality—around equality and a whole range of other issues that lead to violence against women. It is not only women who experience sexual violence, but it is mainly them.

As the motion states, the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) recently looked into sexual violence and reported late last year. It was a very expansive report and it made numerous recommendations, but principally it made it clear that the system needs to change so that when the system is in place it is straightforward and it is not traumatic for people who experience sexual violence. This we heard throughout our most recent inquiry into the criminal justice system—that the processes are not trauma informed and that the processes in our justice system can quite often further traumatise someone. Survivors of violence want to see the criminal justice system hold people responsible. The people who are responsible for that sexual violence must be held to account. But how they are held to account varies, so there have been lots of discussions even around restorative justice in this area. I know when we were doing Mr Grimley’s inquiry into the management of child sex offender information a number of the victim-survivor organisations said, ‘We just don’t want the perpetrator to do it again; we just don’t want it to happen again’.

Now, we need to look at why people do not report to the police. As I said, 87 per cent do not report to the police. People do not think that they will be believed, or they do not want to go through that criminal trial—and I totally understand that. We heard from people talking about their experiences in the court system, their experiences of having to come face to face with a perpetrator or, when they wrote victim impact statements, the fact that their perpetrator could actually amend those statements and could question what they were saying in their victim impact statements. There are lots of areas where we can reform this. I know the VLRC has made a significant number of recommendations, as did the Legal and Social Issues Committee’s inquiry into Victoria’s criminal justice system. We certainly looked at better ways to provide trauma-informed systems and to provide systems where victims can be heard and can feel like they have been heard.

I think we heard this time and time again—that the victim sometimes felt like a bystander in the case—and that is sort of how our system works. Quite often it is the public prosecutor that takes on prosecuting the case, and the victim becomes almost just a witness in their own experience of violence. I think we need to change this. We need to embed trauma-informed practices into the design of our justice system, and it needs to be more accessible, which means making it easier for people to come forward. And you know, for many people it actually has to be less adversarial, because quite often it is that adversary that is absolutely frightening. It is a reason why people do not want to go through with the process—because the process is frightening. It feels like they are having to set themselves up for a battle.

I share Mr Grimley’s concerns that we should have been working on this for decades. We have been tinkering around the edges, but we have not got there. And as I said right at the outset, change has to happen within the community. We have to understand that we do not accept any form of violence, but as I have also said, the system needs to change. The VLRC has made some really broad recommendations, but we need to understand sexual violence. We need to understand what it is and how it permeates some of our culture, and we need to support the people who experience it.

People still do not want to talk about it. We have seen Grace Tame and we have seen some other really brave women starting to stand up and talk about the sexual violence that they have experienced in different areas. But it is still difficult, and I would suggest that probably the majority of women who have experienced sexual violence have not stood up publicly and talked about it. Many of them may not have told a single soul about it or maybe told just their closest friend or their family. We need to find the tools and we need to find the ways to enable people to talk about sexual violence and to be able to report it. There are many barriers, and I think the VLRC report goes into this.

We also need to talk about public education. Stopping sexual violence should be everyone’s business. Organisations like clubs and schools and employers should have stronger obligations to do what they can to eliminate sexual violence and harassment. I would like to do a shout-out to the Fitzroy Football Club. They have been doing some extraordinary work around addressing sexual violence. They have been working with their men’s teams and their women’s teams. They have been bringing professionals in there to have some really hard conversations with club members, and from all accounts it has been incredibly positive for not only the women in that club but also the men.

But the system for responding to sexual violence is under strain. We have heard that victim support services, police and lawyers are all overworked and under-resourced, so getting assistance and finding an intermediary to help you in the court system quite often is not possible because they just do not exist, particularly if you are in regional areas. So we need to create a system that is straightforward and effective. I can see that the government is doing this, but there is a lot more to be done. The VLRC has said this needs to be across government; it cannot just be the justice department. We need to look at the health department, we need to look at education and we need to look at policing. It needs to be across the board. It is a big task, but I would implore the government to prioritise this for victims of sexual violence and all Victorian women.


Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Motion by Mr Grimley 6/4/22


Puffing Billy Railway Bill 2022


Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (15:15): I rise to speak to this bill. The fond memories and the fun stories that Ms Shing told about Puffing Billy are so true, and it is this wonderful, iconic part of Victoria and part of our history, part of many of our childhoods and part of happy childhoods for many to come. However, that is not why we are doing this bill. The reason we are doing this bill is the nightmares that occurred as part of Puffing Billy.

From the outset I would like to thank the Ombudsman, Deborah Glass, for her telling review into the governance structures that allowed the harm to happen, that did not stop the harm from happening, that did not have the structure to prevent this. I would like to think that it was not wilful blindness, I would like to think it was not indifference and I would like to think it was not ineptitude. But here we have a circumstance where a lifelong sex offender, a volunteer at Puffing Billy, was allowed to continue to work there for nearly 30 years. He was first convicted in 1959 and was given his job back after he was released from jail. That would be unheard of today. I am so pleased that that would be unheard of today, and I am so pleased with the work that has been done around institutional child sexual abuse. Ms Crozier chaired one of those very fundamental reports into changing that, and we have seen royal commissions into this.

This bill goes towards amending some of those errors that occurred so many years ago. But it was that poor legislative framework under the existing act, the Emerald Tourist Railway Act 1977, and the inappropriate board and management composition which enabled that executive committee of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society to control the Emerald Tourist Railway Board. The conclusion was that it was the lack of processes and the lack of governance that facilitated—the Ombudsman used the word ‘facilitated’—the offending.

That is after the fact now. I do not think this is closing the gate after the horse has bolted; this is ensuring that nothing like this ever happens again. We have done so much, as I say, not only in our inquiries but also in our legislation here to ensure that structures are in place to make sure that this is never repeated. Even more recently we have addressed things like the confessional seal in this place, where we have just said, ‘There is no excuse. There is no governance. There is no excuse for not reporting child sexual abuse and not stopping it’. In many ways this bill goes towards that. I am very pleased that it also does a number of other things but that it ensures, I hope, the longevity of this most iconic attraction that hopefully will bring much joy to generations to come.

But we still are having to address and we are still having to face up to the past. We are still having to face up to the things that we let happen. I remember releasing a report called Hypocrites back in 1994.

I received death threats for doing that. I received a threat: ‘How dare you? How dare you name people who have been convicted of abuse? How very dare you do that?’. That has changed in the last 30 years, and I am so pleased that it has changed. This bill ensures that we make certain that it can never happen again.

I do want to speak about the Puffing Billy Preservation Society. It was established in 1955, with the objective of preserving the railway and its historical assets for future generations, and it has done just that. It is a wonderful society. It saved the Puffing Billy initially. It owns rolling stock. The society operates today with over 1000 current members. Several hundred of those members volunteer on the railway, and their contributions continue to be critical to the sustained operation. This bill also enables some of that to happen, but I think it possibly could be improved to really recognise the tireless work of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society. I mean, they do the maintenance on the tracks, they preserve the locomotives, they drive the locomotives. It is volunteer led, and this is truly wonderful. I just think it is so important to commend the very fine work of that society.

I know many of you would have received emails from many of the volunteers from the Puffing Billy Preservation Society who are really feeling like they are being brought into disrepute by this bill, and they are not. They are wonderful volunteers. They are people who do amazing things for our community, who continue this beautiful tradition of the Puffing Billy. The current members only acted appropriately, they have never done anything wrong and they are respected, and it is important that their voices are heard. As I said, I know many of you would have received emails from them, and I thank them all for their advocacy here, because they are volunteers; they do not necessarily have time to look at legislation and be kept up on the goings-on of the Victorian lower house or even the upper house.

I would like to particularly do a shout-out to Jeremy Paton—no relation—who is the vice-president of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society. He has been tireless in his work to keep that beautiful tradition and the beautiful stories—that we heard from Ms Shing and we heard from Ms Burnett-Wake—about the importance of this wonderful, iconic attraction here.

The Ombudsman recommended a review of the current structure and composition of the Emerald Tourist Railway Board and the governance issues associated with its relationship with the society, and that has informed many of the provisions of this bill. The Emerald Tourist Railway Act 1977 obviously is not a suitable framework, and a replacement act with these modernised provisions to effectively support contemporary operations safely is necessary, and it certainly has my support. But as Ms McLeish highlighted at length in the other place, there may be a way to achieve this that better serves the current members of the preservation society, who have not done anything wrong and have given so much to Puffing Billy. I look forward to the committee of the whole on this bill. I look forward to exploring further some of the amendments that the opposition will be putting up on this bill. But this is a modernisation of legislation. This is necessary. It does recognise the wrongs of the past. But I want to ensure that it also respects the volunteers that currently work so hard for Puffing Billy, and I want to ensure that that respect is incorporated into this legislation and that in no way do those terrific volunteers feel deprived of that through this legislation.


Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading 5/4/22



Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (16:20): I would like to rise to speak briefly to the Conservation, Forests and Lands Amendment Bill 2022, and I have to say from the outset I feel like it is deja vu. I feel that we have traversed this issue many times, certainly in recent years, and we do not seem to be able to get it right, because it is not right. We need to transition this industry, and there are ways to do it and it should be done, rather than us trying to tinker around the edges with a bill such as this one.

You know, even with that interjection of COVID-19 to our lives I still remember the 2019 bushfires. I am sure Mr Quilty would remember them as well, and they were devastating. They were devastating on our native flora and fauna, and we have certainly have not recovered from them. In fact we have not recovered from the 2003 bushfires that devastated much of New South Wales. As I drive up to a property in New South Wales I still look for the mountain ashes that were there—mountain ashes that, when it was hot and we were driving up, would leave a strong peppermint smell in the air. They are coming back, but they have still got decades to go before they come back. I cannot forget the picture of that kangaroo bloated, dead on the side of the road, having tried to scratch on the side of the road to get away from the fire. In 2019, 1.5 million hectares of Victoria burnt in those bushfires, including more than half of the East Gippsland LGA. The fires wiped out the native forests, and they put significant strain on our endangered species. In terms of VicForests, that included 40 per cent of the area earmarked for native timber logging in East Gippsland.

At the end of 2019 the state government announced Victoria’s forest industry transition from native forestry and the end to harvesting native forests by 2030. Good. I do not see why we cannot bring this forward. Much of the timber that is being harvested is mainly for pulp, and there are many other ways that we can create jobs and we can create pulp. One of them is the need to transition to plantation timber, and I get that. We are working very hard on that, and it is important.

But as I have said many times in this place, we should be unlocking the extraordinary potential of industrial hemp. This is a product that could grow in all of the areas that we are looking at. Hemp should be the future of paper, and it can be. It could be the provider of many more jobs than are currently available in the timber industry. We heard Mr Hayes talking about how overseas are leaving us behind with their new technologies and with their new way of doing things. We could be a leader here as well, and we certainly could do this with hemp. Hemp grows 4 metres in 100 days. It is the quickest carbon to biomass available. The University of Melbourne is undertaking extensive research into how we can move from logging native forests to using hemp instead. Hemp is cheaper, it restores the soil and it does not destroy old-growth forests.

One acre of hemp can produce as much paper as 4 to 10 acres of trees. I will say that again: 1 acre of hemp can produce as much paper as 4 to 10 acres of trees. Hemp stalks grow in four months, whereas trees take 20 to 80 years. Hemp has a higher concentration of cellulose than wood, which is obviously the principal ingredient in paper. Hemp paper does not yellow, crack or deteriorate like tree paper. These are the raw facts, and this is where we should be going. This is the conversation I think this Parliament should be having.

I congratulate the government for announcing that there will be an end to the harvesting of our native forests, but let us do it faster, let us talk about the opportunities of how we are going to do that and let us start talking up hemp. Now, we actually need some legislative change for hemp. I would love to see some changes that would make it easier for us to introduce this industry. I have spoken to the unions about this, and the unions are very open to this. I have spoken to pulp mills; we can use our existing mills. We actually do not have to change a lot to transition to a much better product—a product that grows a lot faster, is a lot better for the environment, is a lot cheaper and is a lot better for our native flora and fauna because we do not need as much because it is a much denser cellulose product. And it is not just paper—we are seeing hemp really as an alternative to many timber products. Looking at particle board to high-strength beams: in 90 days you can grow the fibre required for structural beams rather than the 30 years it will take to grow that same beam, that same product, using timber. The rest of the world is going this way. We are seeing considerable changes: Germany, Canada and the United States are investing a lot of money into hemp as fibre, and we should be doing the same. We could be leaders in this area.

Going briefly back to the bill, I know that it deals with the codes of practice and the precautionary principle, and I understand that. I would have to say that I very much appreciated the minister’s office for the briefings that we have received about this. I certainly do not have the same concerns I heard from the opposition about the godlike powers that this bill may present. I note that the opposition is concerned about this legislation, but I understand that they are not opposing it. I cannot see that supporting a constraint on litigation in the way that this bill does is a positive. I cannot see that either of the godlike powers, as they are called, or the constraints on litigation are good things when we look at some of that litigation that has actually successfully protected native wildlife in the past and when we look at the warriors and the fighters who have stood up when we have seen the timber industry—and this is no offence to many of the industry workers—logging on streams and illegally logging. This bill will constrain, to a degree, the ability to litigate against that.

So again I thank the minister’s office and the minister herself for her detailed briefings. As I say, they did allay some of my concerns, but I will support Dr Ratnam’s reasoned amendment. I do not see any problem with a reasoned amendment to see an inquiry into this. I would hope that that inquiry would look at alternatives to the timber industry—how can we transition faster? As I say, hemp could not be faster: 90 days for 4 metres. But I do not think we should be massaging codes and making it easier to log native forest. We should be planning for short-term transition, and as I say, hemp could be a centrepiece.


Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading 24/3/22



Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (10:07): Pursuant to standing order 23.29, I lay on the table a report from the Legal and Social Issues Committee on the inquiry into Victoria’s criminal justice system, including appendices, extracts of proceedings and a minority report. I further present transcripts of evidence and a summary booklet, and I move:

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

Motion agreed to.

Ms PATTEN: I move:

That the Council take note of the report.

As members of Parliament we get some really special opportunities to investigate matters of great importance, and I would have to say that this inquiry into the criminal justice system has been one of those privileges but also one of those challenges. As members can see, it is an enormous report. It is an enormous body of work, and it certainly consolidated my view, and I suspect the view of many of the members of the committee, that we need to improve the way we deliver justice in Victoria. In doing that we need to ensure community safety, but we need to find modern solutions to reduce offending and reoffending. As members can see, this report stretches over two volumes. There are over 100 recommendations for change. The committee held over 50 public hearings on this, and we involved over 90 representatives from different organisations as well as individuals.

We made it a priority to involve many individuals with lived experience of the justice system, and during this inquiry we heard some really heart-wrenching, tragic evidence from victims of crime who have survived just unimaginable loss and grief. I am really grateful to a number of them who are here today. I would really like for the chamber to note Ms Cathy Oddie, Thomas Wain, Dianne McDonald, Tracie Oldham and Lee Little, who are joining us today and who have been part of this crucial inquiry. Their contributions can be seen in this report. They were influential in this, and I hope that the government listens to what they have to say today.

I want Victorians to be safe always, and we must make inroads into achieving that goal. But I do not believe—and certainly the evidence showed us this—that building more prisons will do that. In fact it may do absolutely the opposite.

The government’s priority should be on supporting victims of crime, rehabilitating offenders, circumventing recidivism, ending over-representation of Aboriginal people in our jails and ensuring early intervention for those who are disadvantaged. That was one of the saddest facts that we found in this—that socio-economic disadvantage is so closely linked to increased risk of engagement with the criminal justice system. While the vast majority of people do not come across the criminal justice system, different forms of social disadvantage compound to increase that risk of criminalisation and victimisation.

The committee has made a number of recommendations for a strong focus on early intervention. We must identify individuals at risk and provide those social supports to divert them away from the system. I believe this includes changing the minimum age of criminal responsibility. It also needs to look at the way cautions and court-based diversions are used. They are a key mechanism to divert people away from the system, but currently their application is inconsistent and often at the discretion of the attending officer.

The Victorian government is currently developing a new victims of crime financial assistance scheme, and I encourage it to review the 31 thoughtful and considered recommendations regarding victims of crime that are captured in this report. These include the urgent need to embed trauma-informed practices into the design of the criminal justice system. It needs to be more accessible and a less adversarial process for victims of crime.

We need to take a stronger look at the bail system. We have seen unsentenced prisoners now accounting for 87 per cent of prison receptions. The purpose of bail is to keep the community safe from high offenders, but denying bail has had negative effects on so many people who have been charged with an offence, and it has disproportionately impacted women, Aboriginal Victorians, children, young people and people living with disabilities. The same goes for parole. We are now releasing people without parole, and that does not necessarily make the community safer.

So I am very pleased to present this report on the criminal justice system in Victoria. I hope that it influences the government to work towards a more modern rehabilitation-focused justice system. This is what all stakeholders want, and it would have a significant positive influence on the lives of individuals and the safety of our community.

I would like to thank the secretariat staff for this extraordinary body of work: inquiry officer Alice Petrie; the research assistants, Caitlin Connally, Samantha Leahy, Jessica Wescott and Meagan Murphy; and administrative officers Cat Smith and Sylvette Bassy, under the management of Matt Newington and Lilian Topic. I would also like to thank my committee colleagues for all of their great and substantial work on this report.

Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member of Northern Metropolitan Region
Legal and Social Issues Committee Report tabled 24/3/22


Duck hunting


Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (10:44): I am delighted—well, I am disappointed that we are not talking about a duck bill, we are talking about a duck motion. I would not say that I am disappointed; I just wanted to be able to say ‘duck bill’. The motion does very much what the duck bill does, which is to call on the government to announce its duck shooting season by 1 January and to require rescuers, protesters or even residents to stay 100 metres away from where people are shooting.

I do not think it comes as any surprise in this chamber my position on duck hunting. I am entirely opposed to it. I would love to see an end to it. I joined my crossbench colleagues Mr Meddick and Dr Ratnam in 2019 to call for an end to duck hunting.

And this is not a new idea. Duck hunting has been banned in New South Wales. It has been banned in Queensland. It has been banned in WA. We are lagging behind New South Wales by 20 years.

A member interjected.

Ms PATTEN: Duck seasons. We are lagging behind New South Wales by 20 years and WA by 30 years. Now, yes, Mr Bourman is correct. Shooting ducks still occurs in those states, but we do not call a season for it. It is a much more restricted thing, and it is not popular. 85 per cent of Victorians would like to see an end to duck hunting. I can tell you my email inbox is not being filled with supporters of duck hunting. It is being filled with quite the opposite.

We know that this is a ban on shooting native animal birds, and studies have consistently shown us that our Australian birds are declining, whether that is climate change, whether it is humans moving into those habitats, whether it is bushfires or whether it is for a number of reasons. And every season hundreds of protected ducks species are found shot and abandoned. We heard this in a members statement from Mr Meddick just earlier today. Based on past seasons each year I am told that rescuers will recover around 300 illegally shot protected species and 100 of Victoria’s rarest waterbirds, the freckled duck. Now, this is abhorrent. How on earth could we as a community, as a society, be announcing that there should be a season on ducks? As I say, no-one—well, very few people—in our community want to do this. Inevitably we are seeing birds like swans being shot, and that is despite the laws preventing this. These stories, we hear them every year, and certainly since Mr Meddick has been in this chamber we hear them very regularly.

But I receive emails, and I am sure all of you receive email after email, telling the stories. I was also contacted by someone who is literally having bullets rain on their home, because their home is actually within 30 metres of a prescribed killing area. With Mr Bourman’s motion suggesting that we should limit rescuers and limit people who oppose duck killing to 100 metres you are asking people to move out of their homes in some cases. I have spoken to people who are opposed to duck killing whose homes, as I say, are within 30 metres of some of the prescribed areas. So it is not time to shore up duck killing dates. It is not time to remove protesters from the area. It is time to end duck hunting and the duck hunting season.


Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Motion by Mr Bourman 23/3/22



Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (18:05): I would like to speak in favour of this motion for a short and sharp inquiry into a very specific part of this omnibus bill, being the extension of presumptive rights to mechanics and those that work in workshops. I do not think any of us oppose the notion of workers having presumptive rights. We want to protect all workers, and to a large extent this bill goes to so many of those protections and expanding those protections, as we have heard this evening. I would like to just take this quick opportunity to thank all of those people who have worked to protect us for so long.

But the path to the presumptive legislation that we have now was a really long and arduous one. It took decades of firefighters fighting for this, collecting the evidence and presenting to numerous parliaments around not only this country but internationally. Firefighters watched their colleagues die of brain cancer, they watched their colleagues die of other forms of cancer and they kept trying to fight for presumptive rights. They were knocked back, knocked back and knocked back, and finally the evidence was enough and they were able to prove that without doubt they deserved presumptive rights for a range of cancers. This was a really difficult, difficult campaign, but the science won and the evidence won, and now we have presumptive rights legislation.

I think it is reasonable to consider this quite sudden move to extend the firefighters presumptive rights to mechanics and workshop personnel. We are not asking for anything long, but we are asking for a short inquiry, as Dr Ratnam says, to look at the impact that this may have on the existing presumptive rights. Because I know: I look around this chamber—many of us spent many hours, days, in this chamber debating presumptive rights and the right for firefighters to have them because the evidence proved beyond reasonable doubt that they deserved it. Right now I have not seen any evidence, but that is not to say that we cannot offer a scheme for other workers that do come across the same carcinogenic chemicals that our firefighters do. But I want to see an inquiry to ensure that this does not impact on the existing scheme and to ensure that this is the most appropriate mechanism to protect those other workers who put themselves at risk and who do come into contact with asbestos and with other dangerous chemicals.

I think this is a very reasonable thing to do in this case. Considering how long it took us to get presumptive rights for firefighters, I do not think another few weeks to consider the impact of this bill on those existing rights is unreasonable, and I would urge people to support this motion.


Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Workplace Safety Legislation and Other Matters Amendment Bill 2021 | Amendment by Dr Ratnam 8/3/22



Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (10:54): I am pleased to rise to Ms Maxwell’s motion today. It is one that Ms Maxwell, Ms Watt and I have probably lived for the last year or so as part of our inquiry into the criminal justice system. These issues were very pertinent and were really expressed by a wide range of people. We met with many victims of crime and organisations supporting them and a variety of legal organisations that also spoke of the need for victims of crime to really be included in the process. That has been a difficult thing to grapple with in our current justice system. Where does the victim sit in that system? Because for all intents and purposes the victim is not part of the proceedings. The victim is sometimes just a mere witness to them, a mere bystander to the crime as far as our court system is concerned. So this motion really does go to that.

The impact of crime on victims and victim-survivors, their families and their loved ones is different for every person, is complicated, can often be absolutely profound and can have ongoing psychological and physical impacts. As I say, it is different for everyone. People have varying levels of trauma and varying levels at different stages, and that recovery is not necessarily the same for everyone—and some people may never recover. So anything that we can do to address those current system limitations and better meet victims’ needs for assistance is absolutely a good thing.

As Ms Maxwell has already stated, the 2018 Victorian Law Reform Commission report, the Review of the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996, made 100 recommendations to reform state-funded financial assistance to victims of crime. The principal recommendation was that the existing act be repealed and replaced to include a new state-funded financial assistance scheme for victims of crime. I understand that work on that is afoot, certainly hearing from the government speakers who expressed that as well. We also heard that during our committee investigations.

You will need to watch this space to see where our committee landed on this. The report—and it is quite a tome; in fact I believe it is going to go to two volumes—is currently at the printers, so I hope that we will be able to table that very shortly. But much of what we heard is on the public record. Much of what we heard was in the public hearings that we undertook around the state and also in the public submissions that were made by a wide variety of people. Some people will live that day every day for the rest of their lives. Other people have found ways to deal with that, and they have found different solutions to recovery. But it is different for everyone, and our current scheme probably does not reflect that.

I think we hear that in everything. We heard that in the homelessness inquiry—that our current system creates these boxes of service and creates these boxes of assistance, but if you do not fit that box or if you need more assistance, if you need more than three months assistance, ‘Well sorry, you have to reapply and go back in’. And the same applies for victims of crime. So we see that there are considerable shortcomings in it.

Also, many times, as I said, victims of crime feel like bystanders in this whole system. They feel like a third party that is kind of watching what happened—what was this intimate part of their life. They are just watching from the sidelines, and in many ways they are treated like they are sitting in the audience viewing, with people talking about the most profound day of their life quite often and the most damaging day of their life.

So if we can work out a way that is less adversarial, is more accessible and of course is better resourced—we heard that many times. Sometimes it was simple things like changing the architecture or changing the design of courts so that victims’ families did not have to come face to face with the perpetrator. We heard that this has worked successfully in some court places and in some systems, and I think we can do a lot more in that area.

For many victim-survivors and their families just trying to traverse the justice system if they have never been involved in it, to understand the court structure, to understand the processes—and they are complicated and quite often they are archaic and draconian—is difficult. We need to provide some legal assistance to victims, to victim-survivors, to their families so that they can better understand the system, they can better understand the role that they have to play in that system and they can better understand the resources that are available—and certainly those resources do need to be expanded, and that is without doubt.

We understand from the government that a new system is being developed. Certainly from speaking to Fiona McCormack, the victims of crime commissioner, she was optimistic about some parts but concerned about others and concerned that we did not go far enough—things like recognising victims in the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. Those were areas that were discussed with us in public hearings, so I am certainly not speaking out of school here. We do need to address those gaps, and those gaps were very articulately put to us not only by Fiona McCormack but by families, by survivors, by victims who all spoke about how the system had let them down and at what point. We heard so many varied stories about where the system failed.

This is about our community. It is about our community’s wellbeing, it is about our community’s recovery and it is about people who have experienced significant trauma. They need our help, and our system should be able to provide that. And we need to be able to do it in a far more effective way than we are doing it right now. We know change is happening, but for many of us change just cannot happen fast enough and change seems to take this inordinately slow process to get through. Now, I appreciate that that change is happening, but give us some idea of how long we have to wait for change, how long survivors have to wait before they feel that there is an adequate system that meets their diverse range of needs. With that short contribution I would like to commend Ms Maxwell’s action.


Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Motion by Ms Maxwell 8/3/22