Youth justice centres - taxi fares (7.2.2017)

Written on the 10 February 2017

7 February 2017


Questions without notice

GEORGIE CROZIER (LIB - Southern Metropolitan)


My question is to the Minister for Families and Children.

In yesterday's Ombudsman's report into youth justice, financial support, including taxi fares for young offenders' families, has been offered as compensation for children being moved to the Grevillea unit in Barwon. Minister, since the Grevillea unit has opened as a youth justice facility, how much taxpayer financial support has been requested by offenders' families and how much has been paid?

Ms MIKAKOS (Minister for Families and Children) I thank the member for her question. We have really started with the really big-picture questions here today.
Honourable members interjecting.


Ms MIKAKOS We have made no apology as a government for the fact that we have gazetted the Grevillea unit of Barwon Prison to be used as a temporary youth justice facility, something that the opposition is yet to indicate its support for. I know Mr O'Donohue certainly did express concerns about this particular unit being used for this purpose at the time.
What I would advise the member is that the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 does actually provide for a statutory requirement for the department to provide access for family visits. In fact the Supreme Court even made comment about this matter recently. Clearly the member has not looked at that judgement.
But the point that I make is that access to transport for families has been a longstanding practice and was in fact a practice during the previous government as well. Access to transport for families has been a longstanding practice of the department. In fact a shuttle bus service has operated at the Malmsbury youth justice facility for 20 years during the time of the Baillieu and Napthine governments and in fact going back to even the Kennett years.
So families who do not have access to private transport are eligible for transport assistance to take them from their nearest public transport stop to the Grevillea unit. This may involve access to a taxi from the Lara station to Barwon prison. Families do not receive any direct financial support, but rather the department is billed directly for the taxi fare. There is a shuttle bus, as I have explained, that runs to and from the Malmsbury train station, to the centre, to assist people visiting young people at the Malmsbury facility, as I have explained. So these are longstanding arrangements to ensure that young people continue to have access and contact with their family.
We know that connection to community as well as family members is a key aspect of ensuring that offenders can be rehabilitated and to help to prevent reoffending upon their release. It is important that we can actually keep those relationships where they do exist and in many cases they do not exist with family members and with others to ensure that they do have support upon their release.
There are no such arrangements in place obviously for Parkville, given its proximity to public transport, but the point that I make to the member is these are longstanding arrangements that existed under the previous government. It really is rather disappointing that the member is outraged now, when she was certainly not outraged when it happened during the time of the previous government.

Ms Crozier On a point of order, President, the minister has had considerable time to answer this question. It is pretty straightforward. I asked how much has been spent, and she still refuses to answer that. I am just asking that she be drawn back to the context of the question and answer the question.
Ms Shing On the point of order, President, in asking the substantive question the member has not actually indicated any time period and has not actually specified the nature of the request in any detail, so on that basis the minister is entitled to go to the context, which she has quite rightly been doing for the time that she has taken to date.
Mr Leane interjected.

The PRESIDENT Order! How shall we describe that, Mr Leane? Should it be a members statement or should it be an adjournment item, or are you simply a media commentator or what?

Mr Leane It was just an outburst of frustration.

The PRESIDENT Order! Try to contain yourself.

Mr Leane interjected.

The PRESIDENT Order! Thank you. I am not having a conversation.

Ms Wooldridge On the point of order, President, I know that the backbench see an opportunity to move forward, but Ms Shing should note that if she aspires to the frontbench, she needs to actually listen to the questions being asked. The question very clearly stated it was 1 January 2015; that was very explicit. Ms Shing might do well to listen rather than have her itchy feet trying to get to the frontbench.

The PRESIDENT Order! In respect of the original point of order, which was from Ms Crozier, in fact the minister still does have 50 seconds in which to respond. I am actually mindful in terms of the question as to the limits that she might have in responding at any rate to such a question, because I would have thought that not all of the costs were compiled. But nonetheless, the minister might well have an opportunity to inform us in part, and I might well be able, if she does not, to seek some further written response if that is not forthcoming.
In respect of the other two, there is a time frame. In respect of Ms Wooldridge's comment, I think the commentary at the end perhaps encouraged by Mr Leane's extensive commentary was not helpful. Ms Mikakos to conclude.

Ms MIKAKOS Thank you very much, President. I have already outlined to the house the fact that there is not direct financial support for families; rather, the department is billed for taxi fares. In fact the member has indicated a time frame in which the Grevillea unit was not in fact used as a youth justice facility that is, for a large part of last year. It is a facility that opened very late last year.
President, obviously the figure is not one that I have with me at the moment, but I am certainly prepared to look and see what figures might be available to provide to the member.


Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) I note the minister's answer.

Minister, did you sign off on the approval to allow taxi fares to be offered rather than a shuttle bus, that you have just described is being used at Malmsbury then?

Ms MIKAKOS (Minister for Families and Children) As I have just explained to the member in responding to the other substantive question, this is a longstanding practice. In fact there is a requirement under the act that relates to family visits in relation to young offenders. As it is a longstanding practice and an operational matter, that operational matter was one that was put in place by my department.
Honourable members interjecting.

The PRESIDENT Order! I note an interjection by Ms Shing, where she said that it was not apposite to the substantive question. In fact it was certainly apposite to the answer that the minister had given.

Mr FINN (Western Metropolitan) My question is to the Minister for Families and Children. Minister, the new site
Mr Dalidakis Come on, King Cory!

The PRESIDENT Order! Mr Dalidakis, there is no such person in this place, and I will not entertain it. Mr Finn, from the top.

Mr FINN And Tim Pallas will not be in the other one after the next election.

Mr FINN This is for the Minister for Families and Children. Minister, the new site for the Werribee South youth justice centre, known in Werribee as the youth jail, is just 469 metres away from residential homes. Will you outline to the house and to my livid constituents what you meant by the quote 'a significant buffer between the preferred site and residential areas', as outlined in your media release yesterday?

Ms MIKAKOS (Minister for Families and Children) I thank Mr Finn for his question. Mr Finn, this is a very important investment that we are making in Victoria to build a brand-new $288 million fit-for-purpose, high-security youth justice facility for Victoria. This new facility, I can assure the community of Werribee South and Victorians more broadly, is going to be built as a high-security facility. We have had Neil Comrie
Honourable members interjecting.

The PRESIDENT Order! The minister without assistance.

Ms MIKAKOS Thank you, President. I asked my department in November last year to have an independent review of the Parkville riot. The former Chief Commissioner of Police Neil Comrie provided the department and government with advice around the Parkville facility. What that report did say is that the Parkville facility is not fit for purpose to be used as a youth justice facility into the long term. That is why we are going to be building a new facility that will have 6-metre reinforced concrete walls; it will have anti-vehicle-ramming systems put in place in relation to all entry points; and in fact the design is going to take on board all the design imperatives that have been given to government and to the department by Neil Comrie. So I want to reassure the community there in relation to the high-security features of this particular facility.
I make the point to Mr Finn that in fact the Parkville facility, which has been operating for 30-odd years, is in a highly residential area. In fact there is no buffer at the Parkville facility. There are homes right around the Parkville youth justice facility. That has not had any impact on residential values in the Parkville community if we just look at how expensive the properties are in that community. What I did say, Mr Finn, in the media release is that there is a significant buffer from where the facility will be located to the nearest residences. In fact I have been out on location there, and the nearest residences are in fact across a freeway more than 700 metres away. I have looked at the location. We have examined this location very thoroughly. The preferred site at Hoppers Lane in Werribee South has been chosen based on a very extensive process of examining numerous locations right around Victoria. It has been chosen because the land is government land; it is close to health, education and other community services; it is close to transport; and the 31-hectare land parcel can accommodate future growth as well. So we will be working with the local community and the local council to reassure them and to provide them with information about this vital investment in terms of infrastructure for Victoria.

The PRESIDENT Order! Mr Finn, you are still with us.

Mr FINN (Western Metropolitan) I am only just, President. Thank you.
Minister, in December last year you told the house in answer to a question from me:
I can advise the member that of course there will be consultation as part of this process with affected local councils and others who might have an interest in this particular issue, but I will have more to say about the issue very soon.
Minister, in your media release yesterday you said, 'Following close consultation with the local community' the site was chosen. Minister, with all due respect, no-one in the western suburbs has heard from you, full stop. And up until yesterday we were pretty happy about that. Could you outline to the house what consultation was undertaken by you, including who it was with and on what dates?

Ms MIKAKOS (Minister for Families and Children) I stand by the comments I made to the house previously. We are embarking upon a consultation and information process with the local community there. I have spoken with the CEO of Wyndham council. My chief of staff has spoken with the mayor. In fact I am planning to meet with both of them, hopefully later this week. In fact we have been letterboxing local residents both yesterday and today with information about the project.
Honourable members interjecting.

The PRESIDENT Order! The house is pursuing, in a line of questions, some serious matters that have great import to the community. I do understand that the opposition has great interest in this, indeed as no doubt do all the crossbenchers and government members. The minister is providing an answer. If you do not like the answer, there are other mechanisms to take up that answer and to pursue this matter further, but I ask for the courtesy of the house to allow the minister to respond without assistance and certainly without a barrage of interjections.

Ms MIKAKOS It would be helpful if the Cory Bernadi of Spring Street opposite would actually let me answer the question that was posed

The PRESIDENT Order! Minister, I have already made a comment about that. That has nothing to do with the business of this house. All that does is provoke people. I note that after my remarks Mr Dalidakis has done it further. He ought not do it again, and nor should any other member. It has nothing to do with this house. We have a convention in this house that all members well know, that we do not accept comments on internal party matters for any of the parties. I police that vigorously. It goes both ways. These little quips as part of the answer or the question are not helpful, particularly on matters of such gravity.

Ms MIKAKOS This site has been selected on very strict criteria, and we are speaking to council and the community about these matters. As I have sought to explain, we are getting materials letterboxed to local residents. We are planning community information sessions as well. There is a hotline that has been established.

The PRESIDENT Order! The minister's time has expired.


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