I rise to speak on the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and Other Acts Amendment (Federal Jurisdiction and Other Matters) Bill 2021. The main purpose of this bill is to amend the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 1998 regarding matters relating to federal or interstate jurisdictions that currently cannot be dealt with or heard in Victoria and make consequential amendments to the Magistrates’ Court Act 1989, the County Court Act 1958, the Supreme Court Act 1956 and the Civil Procedure Act 2010.
The bill also makes some changes to the County Court Act 1958 and the Judicial Entitlements Act 2015 to create the office of Deputy Chief Judge of the County Court and amends the Public Prosecutions Act 1994 in relation to the appointment of an acting Chief Crown Prosecutor and for other consequential amendments from creating the office of Deputy Chief Judge of the County Court. But I am actually going to focus on the main provisions of the bill, where the primary aim is to address the jurisdictional gap that the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal—the tribunal or VCAT—cannot currently hear cases involving federal or interstate jurisdictional matters because under the constitution it is not a recognised court. The bill creates a regime for such federal and interstate cases that would, because of their nature, normally be considered by VCAT to be dealt with by the Magistrates Court.
I have already stated in a contribution earlier today that as a border MP the arbitrary line that exists between my electorate of South-West Coast and South Australia is a line that has caused major challenges, particularly in the last two years with the COVID restrictions that both the Victorian government and the South Australian government have imposed on the people, who do not see anything when they cross the line other than a sign. Well, actually there are a few pretty big giveaways, and one of those is the state of our roads. When you head into South Australia, there is not a single person who does not note that the roads actually are an amazing improvement on what they see in my electorate, unfortunately, because as people well know, the further you get away from Melbourne, the worse our roads get.
Then you hit that South Australian border and magically they become much improved. Despite the least people in the state of South Australia, the South Australian government obviously do a much better job with their roads. But that is not what I am here to discuss, although it would be good to just make note once again that the roads could be given an injection of funding in my electorate just to help us out a considerable amount.
The reason I wanted to talk about the borders is because of a case last year that highlights the importance of why this legislation is important—and we are not opposing this legislation, because it does need to happen. I had a constituent call me. They have a house in a town in my electorate, and they had moved interstate and they had rented out the property. They rang me because they could not do anything about the situation that had evolved. The person who was renting the property had fallen into significant arrears and was owing the people over $8000, I think it was in the end, and had done a considerable amount of damage to the property. This was their home.
They had moved away for work purposes, from what I understand, from my memory. Now, they rang me to say, ‘We can’t do anything because VCAT can’t hear the case because we don’t have an address in Victoria’. They were so distressed. These are people who are average people, working hard, and their home that they had rented out so they could move for work purposes was being held to ransom—that was how they felt it was at the time. I remember the lady being so terribly, terribly distressed.
So I wrote to the Attorney-General—Minister Hennessy at the time, who is in the chamber today—and pointed out to her that we really did need to address this, that these people were left without access to justice. They were just amazed—and so was I, actually—to find that they could not do a thing. Now, I have actually just recently been in touch with them again when I saw that the legislation that we had called for and spoke to the minister about the need for had been actually introduced into the Parliament with the first reading. So I spoke to them and they told me that they had moved back to the town five months ago and still could not get access to their own home.
The case went to VCAT last week, and the person has to pay back the whole amount of the $8000 owed to them in rent arrears and they retained the bond so that they hopefully will be able to repair the damage. I am sure that will not cover it though. You can see in an example like that that there are real-life examples that exist when you are on borders that make no sense. I am sure when they moved to whatever state they moved to—I cannot remember—they did not think for a minute that they gave up their right to be able to have access to justice. So this bill does right that wrong, and hence we will not be opposing it.
But we saw last year so many challenges with the borders. So I take this opportunity to urge the government to have a think sometimes outside the tram tracks and how we in South-West Coast, for instance, are terribly affected when these changes come in that have not considered the challenges for a cross-border community.
Like the member for Lowan, who has also been a very fierce advocate, said, we have been left in some very compromising positions where children cannot get to school because a school bus cannot pick them up. I too take this opportunity to thank Luke Wilson, the cross-border commissioner, who has always been there. In fact he texted me just before to let me know the changes that will take place with South Australia easing restrictions—which is very good news—where people will not be isolating prior to the result of their COVID test coming through.
So I take this opportunity to say the border communities have had their fair share of challenges, much more often than people realised. I had the owner of a shop who lived on one side of the border and had his business on the other side. He was the man who did the mail for the town, he was the man who made sure there was milk and bread, he sold the bait—because the government has shut down the bait shed because they could not get through the processes and red tape. But, you know, red tape is something that we have got to try and stop being so onerous. I think one of the concerns we do have with this bill is maybe the lack of resources that have been put in place to cope with the backlog that will have occurred, probably mainly because of COVID as well.
Just today I had three people who cannot get their working with children checks. That is actually a lot in the last week or so. Now we have got the situation that people who are working with the NDIS, if they are working for an NDIS provider, must have that clearance to be an NDIS worker, and I am just wondering if this is another case where the Attorney-General’s office has just not got the resources to cope with that extra workload, and whether these working with children checks that I am being called about are backlogged simply because the government cannot manage to resource something when they make a change. They are so busy trying to get a headline rather than actually putting the processes in place to make it happen.
A gentleman that my office has spoken with over the last couple of days is going to be without a wage for the next six weeks. He works in a local school, and the school rang me today saying, you know, ‘He’s not going to have a wage for six weeks’. Because they said it would take 15 days. He rang me after, I think, about 2½ weeks. That was last week, and today they have phoned me to say he was told it is another six weeks. So they cannot have him on the premises without his working with children check, and the 15-day KPI that I think the government must have set—when he looked up the website—is well and truly overdue if he has got to wait another six weeks.
There is also the woman who rang my office today saying she also needs to renew her working with children check: she went on the website and nothing worked—she could not put her name in, she could not put her date of birth in, she could not put her address in. You know, this is not good enough. When we put processes in place, they must have the capability in the departments to actually ensure that people are able to comply with the regulations that the government sets.
But, you know, VCAT does provide us those opportunities that we do look for. Not that long ago, when the Lookout, a very important drug and alcohol rehabilitation project, was looking for a site, VCAT made a ruling that they were able to set up in Warrnambool. That is great news. Now we are just waiting for the government to give the funding. Given we all know the challenges that COVID has put our state under, and the mental health challenges which often do result in drug and alcohol addictions, we now more than ever need a rehab centre in Warrnambool. So I hope the government will consider that as an important promise to the people of Warrnambool, that they can rehab at home. And I will not oppose the bill.