MELINA BATH (Eastern Victoria) (10:04): I am rising this morning to make my contribution on the Regulatory Legislation Amendment (Reform) Bill 2023, and in doing so I will cover off on a number of clauses and the changes within the bill but also touch more heavily on some than others, as is my opportunity. Certainly this is an omnibus bill that amends 14 acts across 10 portfolios. Some of them are fairly minor and technical in nature. But we heard a broad-ranging contribution on Tuesday, so I will take up where some left off. The bill has four objectives. One is to streamline requirements for businesses and social service providers. We all are in favour of streamlining businesses. We all just need our businesses to afford to stay in business. This is something that we have seen in Victoria under a Labor government: we have seen many businesses leave Victoria in their tenure. Also the bill will improve emergency preparedness, and I would like to do a little bit of a deeper dive into that; support technology-neutral legislation; and make simple and uncontroversial amendments to support an efficient regulatory system through amendments to a variety of acts.

In relation to the streamlining of businesses, unfortunately we have seen an inordinate amount of businesses leave Victoria – going elsewhere, exiting the state, finding it is just too hard to do business in a Labor government environment. We have seen, as we all know, over 50 new or increased taxes. We have seen the burden of that falling on small businesses. Indeed small businesses also make up about 95 per cent of the total business community in our state. We also know that 26 per cent of those small businesses are in our rural and regional towns. They are very much the heartbeat of our rural towns in our main streets. They do so much. They employ our local people, they give opportunities in a diversity of industry and commercial operations and of course they donate to our sporting clubs, charities and communities. We certainly always thank them for that. But unfortunately in 2023, 7600 of them thought that it was really not worth being in business or they were just not able to be in business, and I am sure those COVID lockdowns, which really put a strain on businesses, impacted very heavily.

The government claim that some of their regulatory changes will provide over $2.6 million in annual savings to businesses in Victoria. These are removing licences and permits and making regulatory compliance much easier. If you do the maths on how many businesses are in this state, there are approximately 700,000. As I have heard my colleague Mr Mulholland speak about, if we do the maths across those businesses, they can have a thin smear of savings, of under $4 per year. We are hearing from the Commonwealth Games inquiry – and I am not speaking out of turn; I am actually speaking in relation to the hearings that we had in Geelong and in Ballarat last week – that there is a lack of confidence in the ability of this government to deliver on its commitments and promises post that Comm Games cancellation. I do not believe that a smearing of under $4 per year in annual savings is going to give much confidence to many of those businesses. We also heard that Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Cost and Ease of Doing Business in Victoria report perceived that we are of course the most expensive state to do business, hence some of this exodus and the fact that people are absolutely struggling to keep that flow, to make their profit, to pay their wages and to pay for their stock.

This bill certainly, as I said, looks at a range of things. It changes the Casino Control Act 1991, and it looks at the Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2005 arrangements under the child information sharing scheme. It would be remiss of me to not be able to take this opportunity to say that the government has child safe standards in schools. I have been contacted by a number of concerned parents in my electorate over many years about how child safe standards cannot just be a statement. They have to be enacted and lived through every level of the school organisation, from principals through to teachers and that school community. I call on the government and indeed the Minister for Education and Department of Education to have a fresh look at child safe standards and ensure that there is that commitment to protect our children, both normal children, if I can say that, in our state system and also those children in disability schools. It is highly important. I am sure there are many people who feel as passionately as I do about it, working in the government system, but I just want to put on record that there are many parents who are concerned that these child safe standards are not always being adhered to.

Part 5 looks at the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981, and while I am on a roll on the education system, part 6 amends the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 by removing ambiguities and inefficiencies with the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority and the VIT, the Victorian Institute of Teaching. Again, we have got an inquiry into teaching in the upper house, and if you are interested in going online and having a look at some of the public submissions made, some of those submissions actually highlight a frustration with both the VRQA and the VIT. But what we really see in some of those submissions is the impact of the lockdowns of our schools on teachers, on school principals and on students attending and their outcomes. What I would say to the government is that many of those submissions are very concerned about teacher vacancies and the fact that we do not have enough qualified staff in front of the required classes, and this is putting a huge burden not only on the teachers and the school community but on principals struggling to fill those classes. I have also heard of principals actually having to write lesson plans, give them to their CRTs, emergency teachers, and then correct that homework. That is not what a principal should be doing, and many of those submissions to that inquiry certainly pertain to that. So any slight efficiencies that can be created with this bill will be welcome, but again, a deep dive is needed into the VIT and VRQA and their overall efficiencies.

One thing that is really prevalent in the minds of the Mirboo North people at the moment could pertain to this part of the bill, which is part 7, which looks at the Environment Protection Act 2017 to grant authority to the EPA to authorise transportation of waste in an emergency, and it updates the EPA’s response to this sort of emergency context by allowing the EPA to set proportionate regulatory requirements about waste transport when we have these dire circumstances. There are certainly dire circumstances in Pomonal, and I congratulate my western colleague Emma Kealy for doing a power of work supporting her community, standing up for their needs and drilling down and working with levels of government, council, response organisations and volunteers – also the same in Eastern Victoria Region, in Mirboo North and environs. What I do know is that the Mirboo North transfer station is full to overflowing, and I want to give my thanks to all the staff that are working incredibly hard there. There is green waste debris from the devastation of the storm coming there, and I understand that they need some industrial mulchers there, because they are absolutely full to brimming. We also need to see this clean-up contract from the government come into play today, if not last week.

I note Mr Batchelor spoke about asbestos in his contribution to this bill and the importance of dealing with asbestos in the most sensitive way to protect the health and safety of our public. I understand that with this storm that occurred on Tuesday last week, there were homes whose roofs blew off. Some of the homes in Mirboo North are new and fabulous, and some of them are old and fabulous. But some of those old homes do have asbestos in them. I put on record that governments need to expedite what they can do if there is any asbestos floating around on public land but also support those who are doing the professional clean-up on their own land to be able to dispose of it in a safe and environmentally understanding way. I will hold my conversation about I Cook Foods because Mr Mulholland went into that in great detail, and I support his comments. It was a sad indictment on how government can reach honest people, loyal people and ethical businesses, shut them down and cause great distress and loss of income not only to them but to the people they employ.

Part 10 looks at gaming, part 11 the meat industry. Part 12 has my particular interest in relation to the Regional Development Victoria Act 2002. It increases the membership of the Regional Development Advisory Committee from nine to 10. It is a fairly perfunctory and minor change. But what we know from this government over time is that rather than calling it Regional Development Victoria they are turning this department into ‘regional underdevelopment Victoria’. During the former 2010–2014 Baillieu and Peter Ryan government they established an incredibly worthwhile streaming fund. It was $1 billion over a period of time for regional development. They equipped regional development to provide grants for councils in rural and regional Victoria to increase the capacity of the councils for infrastructure that benefits our community and benefits people living their lives so they have a better quality of life, really trying to bring up the standard to a more city-based standard. That $1 billion also provided regional business with investment opportunities, but it was really specific about having to ensure that jobs were created. Those businesses could be involved and provide that important context around government grants but also leverage to make that economy grow and sing in our regions. I congratulate our former Deputy Premier Peter Ryan, who was an outstanding advocate, as were many of my colleagues in that space.

What we see with this government is that regional development is being gutted. It is becoming another back room in the department of meganess. What we see is that they have a Tiny Towns grant. I feel like this Tiny Towns grant is about making larger towns into tiny towns, because this government is under developing this whole regional development space. It is an indictment. We hear people all the time congratulate our regional Victorians on their work in dire times, on their volunteerism, which I endorse. But then we see this government is pulling funding out of this. The investment in our regions needs to stay. It needs to be increased, and it needs to be realised.

Tom McIntosh interjected.

Melina BATH: I hear Mr McIntosh is going to get up and have a little gad about. Well, Mr McIntosh needs to go to his Minister for Regional Development and call on her to reinstate proper funding to our regions, not turn tiny towns into tinier towns but provide and leverage that investment, that care. There are people in regional development departments in my region who are scratching their heads, saying, ‘How can I actually provide that investment, that support?’ For that matter, this bill can pass, but this government needs to focus on regional and rural Victoria.