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Legislative Council

05 February 2019
Tania Maxwell  (DHJ)


Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (17:13:41): President, I would like to congratulate you on your newly appointed position within the Legislative Council. I would also like to congratulate all those in this chamber on your elected positions, and I look forward to building relationships and working with you all over the next four years. I stand here today as a member of the Legislative Council and representative of Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party, and I do so with courage, pride and a strong desire to successfully contribute in forging strong, fair and lasting initiatives for the betterment of our state and all who reside within its borders. Courage, I believe, comes from strength and trusting that you can overcome adversity and fear. There have been times in my life when I have experienced adversity and fear to such an extent it became completely debilitating. I am truly thankful I have been blessed with the strength and determination to overcome such adversity. Pride comes from the fact that I have been given this unique gift through our democratic process of being able to stand before you here today and for the next four years. It is a humbling and surreal feeling to be standing in this chamber representing the people of my electorate of Northern Victoria Region, knowing that my journey is to advocate on behalf of their needs, to represent them with service over ambition, integrity over expediency, to ensure their voices are heard within this 59th Parliament. A desire to make a positive difference to people’s lives has always been a priority for me, whether that has involved simply being kind to a stranger to enhance their day or working on a campaign which has demanded long hours of research, travel, time and energy. My heart has always wanted to give more. The catalyst for this overwhelming passion came from the tragic death of Daniel Morcombe, and his name still brings a tear to my eyes. When Daniel was abducted in December 2003, later to be identified in 2011 as having been murdered by Brett Peter Cowan, I wondered in bewilderment how a family goes on to function day to day whilst bearing such sorrow. Their resilience, strength and courage has always been inspirational and motivational to me, whilst also tarnished with extreme sadness and grief. I promised I was not going to cry. It was this tragedy and many other horrendous and largely preventable deaths within Victoria since that day which has provided me with the drive and determination to act on that need and longing to advocate for victims—particularly those who have lost their loved ones at the hands of violent and sexual recidivist offenders. Three years ago I co‑founded the campaign Enough is Enough, which came to fruition out of incredibly tragic circumstances in my home town of Wangaratta. The campaign provided me the opportunity to meet Bruce and Denise Morcombe and Senator Hinch, who has been incredibly supportive of the goals our campaign was attempting to achieve. Through the course of meetings with ministers and members of Parliament I became increasingly interested in the workings of politics and held a new appreciation for policy‑making processes and the deep complexities of political issues. I was also greatly disturbed by some of the outcomes of our justice system and the overwhelming realisation that victims and their families had to fight constantly, long after losing a loved one, just to receive the support they required and deserved. I am passionate about my community, safety being an extremely high priority. It is said that it takes a village to raise a child, and I believe that early intervention to support children and families is a key element to achieving a strong sense of connectedness and community spirit. Sadly, these days we have to a certain degree lost our villages to support our neighbours and communities. It is the Enough is Enough campaign which inspired me to dream of becoming a part of this political landscape to continue to support change and contribute to creating a state which provides opportunities, growth—both social and economic—and safe communities for all. Most of all I am here to be the voice for those who no longer have a voice to speak. I am here to seek solace and solidarity for communities who have experienced trauma and grief, to assist and enhance organisations who support the vulnerable, and to learn from my constituents about their needs to develop and sustain healthy, viable communities. I would like to tell you now a little about my humble beginnings. I cannot claim political pedigree, nor corporate collaboration. My roots are of the land, growing up in a small rural community in a farming family. I have experienced the hardships of droughts, testing not only our farmers but our wider communities. I watched my parents struggle to make ends meet, working hard to ensure they could provide food on the table each day. These times growing up were a struggle, particularly for my parents, and one which I only truly came to appreciate as an adult. I have worked in the harsh environment of Western Australia’s mines, being no stranger to long hours and hard work—a rewarding experience where I worked with people who embody the very spirit of this country—hard work for a fair day’s pay, and the great ideal of Aussie mateship and sense of humour. Once my mining days were completed I launched a business in Western Australia, importing genuine Native American artifacts, artwork and jewellery. I became interested in the Native American way of life, travelling to reservations throughout the United States, doing business directly with the native artisans, in turn supporting their own industry. Learning about their history and culture was inspiring, fulfilling and provided me with knowledge and great admiration for these incredibly artistic, resilient people and their culture. In more recent times I moved to the picturesque surrounds of north‑east Victoria, where I now live with my daughter and husband. I am constantly discovering the beauty, diversity and opportunities which this state has to offer. Prior to being elected I worked full‑time in a senior practitioner role for a local not‑for‑profit homelessness organisation, helping vulnerable youth and their families in our community. As well as full‑time work and supporting my family, I studied part‑time, gaining qualifications in the areas of youth work and mental health, and finally my diploma. Whilst not the final achievement I wish to settle for, it will do for now whilst I immerse myself in the political surrounds of this chamber. Working with young people and their families to overcome adversity, reduce absenteeism at school, overcome drug and alcohol issues and gain mental health support were just some of the daily tasks required working in the youth homelessness sector. This opportunity provided me with the knowledge and understanding of the importance of early intervention and primary prevention strategies. The Royal Commission into Mental Health will hopefully provide recommendations to increase support strategies. One would hope this will also identify ways in which to decrease waiting times for those who suffer mental illness in seeking the counselling and psychiatric appointments and care which they require prior to experiencing acute episodes of being unwell. I have provided support to families over the past five years by implementing initiatives to increase community connectedness, community safety, providing opportunities for our youth, particularly those in the social justice arena, and evaluating each program’s effectiveness. Working from a collective impact approach is paramount when implementing initiatives, whether large or small, as it provides objectives, measurable outcomes and alternative approaches to addressing issues—a framework I will utilise and adapt to the needs of my constituents. I am also dedicated to support much‑needed funding to assist our child and maternal health sector with the resources they require to help prevent postnatal depression and provide increased numbers of outreach staff to work closely with families to ensure attachment and bonding is monitored, encouraged and prioritised. Family and domestic violence within our society is completely unacceptable, and it is a high priority for me to work with the relevant stakeholders, community members and government to reduce and eliminate this horrific abuse. We must stand our ground when we say 'No’ to violence, and those responsible for perpetrating these heinous crimes must be held accountable. Early intervention and primary prevention are extremely important to ensure our children are monitored from birth and that families who may be vulnerable are supported early on to prevent disconnect and create responsive assistance as opposed to reactive measures. Working with the Department of Health and Human Services I observed firsthand how underresourced they are to encompass the needs of every family, which requires positive parenting support and other urgent interventions to keep children safe from harm. This was also noted throughout my electorate on my campaign trail. My electorate of northern Victoria covers an area of over 100 000 square kilometres. Its character is as diverse in nature as it is in size. Northern Victoria stretches from the South Australian border, taking in a myriad of tiny wheat belt townships in the harsh, hot, dry plains of the Western District. It follows the meanderings of the mighty Murray River, picking up the iconic towns of Mildura and Echuca, all the way to the greener climes of Wodonga and Corryong, before heading up into the magnificent alpine region. There it takes in the mountain resorts of Hotham, Falls Creek, Buller and Buffalo. The region then heads across to Mansfield, Kinglake and Whittlesea and skirts the rapidly growing metropolitan fringes as far as South Morang. From there it winds up to the beautiful area of the Macedon Ranges, encompassing the tourist areas of Daylesford and Woodend and back into the north-west of the state. Here it is back into the dry, flat plains around Wycheproof and Hopetoun and then into the Big Desert area and Murrayville near the South Australian border, a massive area to be sure, but full of incredibly unique landscapes, only surpassed by the wonderful people who populate this vast area. An enormous amount of produce is garnered from this northern region of Victoria—fruit and vegetables from the irrigated food bowl towns of Mildura and Shepparton, wheat and sheep from the Western District, cattle from the southern and northern districts, timber from the Murray Darling plains and the forested areas of the north east. Tourism too plays a huge part in the economic and social prosperity of this region. The winter season of the region’s ski fields in 2018 saw nearly 1 million visitors through the gates of the resorts. Of course many, many more flock to the region year round to enjoy the pleasures of such diverse things as the historic gold towns of Beechworth and Bendigo and the Murray River towns of Swan Hill and Echuca, once bustling with river trade, hauling goods the length and breadth of the river by mighty paddle-steamers, which were once commonplace. Now only a few survive to ferry tourists leisurely upon the waters of this most picturesque of rivers. In between there are myriad possibilities for visitors. Rivers and lakes satisfy the most avid of anglers and water skiers. If that is not your thing, then perhaps a visit to Ned Kelly country at Glenrowan or a hike in the high country, about which Banjo Paterson himself penned a few lyrics, which you may be familiar with. Of course the region offers some of the most outstanding wineries in the country, with cuisines sourced from the finest local produce to go with your favourite tipple. This region, however diverse and beautiful, like other parts of the state is not without its fair share of problems to overcome and adversity to contend with. Fire, flood and drought are a constant companion in country life, and although they can be devastating, we soldier on. We push through and we help each other, as this is the wonderful character of the Australian psyche. My thoughts go out to all in this wonderful country who are currently experiencing floods, drought and fire. From Mildura to South Morang and everywhere in between the issues identified whilst I was travelling were not dissimilar throughout the region, ranging from mental health, crime, drug addiction, the continual disagreement regarding the required interventions and responses for the Murray-Darling Basin to a lack of GPs in small towns, to name a few. The lack of resources available to provide much-needed outreach services, particularly in regard to the mental health of our veterans, was a constant topic of conversation. Our veterans often have to rely on volunteers to gain necessary support to keep them connected to their communities and to stabilise their mental health. Staff‑to‑patient ratios within nursing homes was a common theme throughout most of northern Victoria, with a highlight on the sad stories of abuse and neglect. Social media is a wonderful tool and a necessity to enable communication in our vast land, but there is nothing better than being face to face with people, particularly those living in rural communities. Travelling around my electorate of Northern Victoria Region was no easy task. It is a 6-hour drive from my home town of Wangaratta to Mildura. With stops in between to speak to locals and a couple of drinks it took us two days to reach that destination. Pre-election on the campaign trail I tried to visit as many places as I could. None of this would have been possible without the unconditional support and assistance of my amazing husband, Jarrod Toomer; my daughter, Lila Toomer; and my devoted crew, Karen Jones, Dot Fox and her daughter, Cheeky Cheeks. Without these people I would not be standing here today. I sincerely thank them for their love, long hours campaigning and their commitment to helping me be elected. Through 35-degree heat and through cold, blustery wet days from 7 in the morning to 7 at night they were there to work and help in any way they could. Karen celebrated her 70th birthday at a polling booth in Wangaratta. Her dedication to help was so pragmatic that she refused to have the day off. To all my volunteers: I thank you sincerely. To Stuart, my colleague and friend, I look forward to our journey over the next four years. I have expressed to you all here today my passion, experience, journey on the campaign trail and why I feel compelled to advocate not only for my constituents but for all who are exposed to vulnerability and adversity at some stage in their lives. I thank you all for listening, and I look forward to what the next four years may bring, both inside the walls of this chamber, within Parliament House and at the coalface of my electorate and this beautiful state of Victoria. Members applauded.