Thursday, 5 October 2023


Triple Zero Victoria Bill 2023

Richard RIORDAN, Steve McGHIE, Annabelle CLEELAND, Gary MAAS, Brad BATTIN, Emma VULIN, Kim O’KEEFFE, Nina TAYLOR, Bridget VALLENCE, Anthony CIANFLONE, Cindy McLEISH

Triple Zero Victoria Bill 2023

Second reading

Debate resumed on motion of Anthony Carbines:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Richard RIORDAN (Polwarth) (14:53): This afternoon I rise to present the opposition’s view of the government’s Triple Zero Victoria Bill 2023, and there can be no doubt that much work needs to be done to make sure that this essential service in the state of Victoria is the best it can be. There is no doubt also that over the recent years there have been many circumstances where the operation of the much relied on 000 call service has left Victorians wanting and asking questions. Whether in the media, here in this Parliament or amongst people and leaders in the service, there is general agreement that there is need for improvement. So while the opposition believes there is much more that could be done to make the bill presented today an even better bill, it is not one that we seek to oppose. However, we do flag the fact that there may be some amendments as we further discuss with stakeholders ways that we can make sure that this piece of legislation is the best it can be for the people of Victoria, because when it comes to moving the thousands of emergency services workers that we have in the state, whether they are paid professionals, volunteers or others, it is one of the most important duties that we have.

Unfortunately of course times of greatest need – and we have seen some of those already just this week; we have had two big elements of emergency services hard at work, and we certainly acknowledge the work of our firefighters and SES and other flood crew people – are a way of life here in Victoria, where there can be fires breaking out on Monday and floods washing away the same areas within the same 24 hours. It is always feast or famine in the emergency services area, and we need a system like that with our firefighters and emergency services and police. It is not how we look on the quietest days, but it is the way the service acts and responds and can be relied upon by our community at times of greatest need.

Unfortunately in Victoria in my lifetime there have been countless days experienced by Victorians where the phrase ‘All hell has broken loose’ has occurred. I was a kid in 1983 when we had Ash Wednesday, which was the first great event that I can recall. I can certainly recall that, because unfortunately I fainted at school from heat exhaustion and went home but I was treated to the great display of the fires coming back over Colac as a kid with the ash and the red night and all those things that were conjured up. And we had Black Saturday in 2019. Also, in my time as the local member for Polwarth, I had the experience at about 8 pm on the night of the St Patrick’s Day fires in my own electorate when I can recall I was sitting on the couch, watching probably Midsomer Murders or something, and my phone and the emergency app went ping, ping, ping. They continued to ping all night, and it was clear at that point that something big had happened – and indeed it had.

So it is a very important service that is offered, and I guess the first thing as opposition we ask is: why has this bill come to us now? What has precipitated that? In short, what really precipitated the onset was another natural event, and that of course was the pandemic. The pandemic really put our emergency service call system to the test, and sadly during that time 33 Victorians, it is estimated, lost their lives because of systemic failures that were detected and experienced within the 000 system. This bill has come to this Parliament because of that event.

We have had three main queries into what went wrong and how it could be improved, and that is how the system should work. The IGEM, the inspector-general for emergency management, did two reviews, one on preparedness for major public health emergencies, including pandemics, and the Review of Victoria’s Emergency Ambulance Call Answer Performance. At the height of the failures during the pandemic there was also the call to the former chief police commissioner Graham Ashton for the Ashton review. All reviews highlighted similar deficiencies in the system, but I guess the question we have to ask is: how did we get to these great deficiencies? How did we get a system that took Victoria’s call centre capacity?

Back, say, in 2014, when this government took over, Victoria was running a brilliant call centre service. We were 4 per cent above the national average. We were averaging over 93.3 per cent of calls answered in a timely fashion, within the time frames that the government and the system expected. Both New South Wales and Queensland, the two comparable jurisdictions, were not performing as well as us. Fast-forward to the pandemic, when the pressure was on – the years 2020–21, 2021–22 – when emergency services were under a lot of stress, the Victorian system collapsed, essentially, compared to the other jurisdictions. Once again comparing us to New South Wales and Queensland, while Queensland perhaps were not affected as badly, New South Wales certainly had a similar experience to Victoria, and yet they managed to keep their call centre averages above what was going on nationally. So both New South Wales and Queensland were in the mid to high 80 per cents, and the national average was a lower 81.3, mainly dragged down as a national average because of Victoria’s effort at 65.6 per cent.

No other state at that time and during the two years of the pandemic got close to the poor performance that Victoria had. What that poor performance did look like was the fact that the worst performance we had in that time was in January 2022, which was actually past the peak. So Victorians could have reasonably expected that after the initial hit of COVID in 2020 we would put things in place within 18 months to two years to actually get our call centre working more efficiently. And yet in January 2022 it bottomed out at a really dangerous 39 per cent of calls just not meeting the call requirements. When you look at basic figures on what goes through the call centres, about 36 per cent of calls are for ambulances, so we can assume that they are people who have got serious life issues at play that really need to be called on quickly. There are calls every 11 seconds and 2.7 million calls in a year. That is a lot of interactions with the community, and when it gets down to less than 40 per cent of the calls being answered in a timely fashion, I think everyone needs to have concerns about that and will want to know that the government of the day is going to do something about it.

What was the face of some of these consequences? In the Victorian press it was pretty heavily reported on. For example, there were two very well known cases that highlighted to Victorians what happens when we do not get this right, in the call centre situation. There were two really quite notable cases. One was the 47-year-old father of three, Nick Panagiotopoulos. The details of his event were well recorded in the public arena, essentially the heartbreak that the family will continue to live with as that was wrapped up. But it was 15 minutes before a call was even taken, and that was 15 minutes too late, sadly. There can always be what-ifs and what-fors; however, 15 minutes to get to a basic call centre to get put through is just way too long. Then there was the other well-recorded event of 14-year-old Alisha Hussein. Only a couple of weeks after the other event her family in their desperate plea to save their daughter’s life from an asthma attack had actually driven themselves to a hospital before they were even connected by phone to the call centre.

These were circumstances that were in the midst of the pandemic. The pandemic can be used to explain a lot of things, but I think most Victorians believe that there was something more systemic that was wrong with the system, particularly when the facts show us that other jurisdictions did not suffer as badly as we did and also that these were late in 2021. The pandemic had been with us for quite some time, and staffing levels, confusion, a lack of skills or training, or whatever the excuses may have been – the furloughing of staff – all those complexities that certainly led to early drops in performance should have and could have been better dealt with, there is no doubt about that.

One of the key tenets of this changed legislation is the new, rebadged Triple Zero Victoria, which is to move more power to the minister. I guess Victorians can rightly question, ‘Well, how much power didn’t the minister have under the old ESTA system?’ It was a government statutory board, it had a board appointed by the minister, and it had a reporting mechanism that went through to the department and people in government. It is a pretty hard line to follow that under the pre-existing situation there were not direct links to government and there was not capacity for government to know about it. Some of the things that the government was aware of – there is plenty of public evidence that the government’s attention had been brought to the fact that there were critical problems with the ESTA system. For example, in 2016 then Minister for Emergency Services James Merlino was warned of serious staff shortages and the consequences that would have and that occurred around the time of another natural event, being the thunderstorm asthma event, where the limits of the ESTA system were really brought to bear and it failed some Victorians.

In October 2021 the federal minister for communications Paul Fletcher wrote to the current Minister for Emergency Services. This was around the time of those other two deaths, but the federal minister wrote. The reason the federal minister for communications entered in on this was because Telstra had raised with the federal minister that the poor performance in Victoria, the inability of the ESTA system to actually pick up the phone and take calls from desperate Victorians, was such that their people were holding on and waiting to transfer, which was having a flow-on effect on the rest of Australia. Other states, other families, other people were being affected by the poor performance of Victoria. In that letter the federal communications minister pointed out that just on one day alone in October – and these were not the two days of the two cases I cited earlier – two calls were held longer than 30 minutes; 20 calls, between 20 and 30 minutes; 37 calls, between 15 and 20 minutes; and 53 calls held between 10 and 15 minutes. This was all on one day, 6 October 2021. That was another level of government intervening and explaining to the Victorian government that there was a problem with ESTA.

There have also been ongoing budget problems with the way we have funded ESTA. The old ESTA system required the shared agencies – fire, ambulance, police predominantly – to contribute to the funding of it. Pretty much since 2015 the Auditor-General has raised with the government the high risk of long-term and short-term sustainability concerns about ESTA, and that was simply that there was not enough money in the kit. This government has made much of its funding of programs and projects – it has found billions and billions of dollars for tunnels; it has found billions and billions for level crossing removals – but it is not finding the resources and has not found the resources to date to properly fund our emergency management calling system. Just in recent years, in 2016–17 the government had to top it up $31.2 million; the next year, $31.6 million; the next year, $32.4 million; and the next year, $33.3 million. So we were topping up a system that had not been structurally funded well to the tune of $33.3 million extra of funds – into a service that was still delivering results as bad as a 39 per cent ability to answer calls in a timely fashion.

These systemic problems have been well known to the government. They have been known to the emergency services minister, they have been known to the Treasury, and they have been known to the Auditor-General. It has not been a secret that there have been problems. And yet we get this bill.

A member interjected.

Richard RIORDAN: Well, in 2015–16 it was underfunded as well. But after eight years – this government has been in charge of it for eight years and has not done it.

Also there have been IT concerns. So we have funding issues, we have management issues and we have got IT concerns. A 2018 review found that the computer-aided dispatch system was failing. This government tinkered around the edges with minor repairs in 2021, and they failed to resolve the issues. There are still reports that call takers are forced to turn computers on and off. I thought I only had to do that at home on my home computer, but I certainly did not expect that level of IT failure in probably one of the most crucial areas where people expect IT to work. We have reports still that not only do call takers occasionally have to turn screens on and off to reboot the computer while they are talking to desperate people on the phone, they often have to resort to pen and paper still to take details.

The Ashton review, the most recent review that the government commissioned on top of all this ongoing data that has been flowing through to the government, also highlighted the fact that there just has not been a commitment from this government at any point to fully invest in the IT system to make it fit for purpose and into the future using all technologies and abilities it can. That is a great concern because in this bill, which has been specifically designed to try and give confidence back to the Victorian community that their 000 system is working, there is no reference to the need to put the investment and the support from government – the financial investment – into it.

They talk in the bill about how they are going to solve these funding problems with just direct investment. They are going to do away with contributions from the emergency services groups and rely on direct investment. The concern that many Victorians of course would have is that the direct investment the government has shown to the Auditor-General, to the Ombudsman and to all sorts of reviews and other important aspects of government has been wanting, and I do not think that the panacea exists in this bill to solve the long-term lack of funding in IT, in human resources and in other aspects. Victorians cannot have a lot of confidence that this is going to solve it. It is just like the big commitments that this government have made. This government was very adamant only six months ago that it was funding the Commonwealth Games and it was funding fast rail to Geelong. It promises all sorts of things, but when push comes to shove and the money dries up, it is very quick not to do them, and I think that is of huge concern to Victorians.

The member for Melton is probably going to absolutely blow his stack when I raise this next issue. But the question is: how does this bill deal with its industrial relations, IT and chronic funding weaknesses? This bill is clearly designed to convince the public that rebranding the control and oversight that the minister already has will magically improve the service. However, from the Ashton report, the IGEM report and observations from others, there is a massive issue in the way that this bill deals with its industrial relations elements. In June 2022 ESTA had around 961 operational staff and 243 support staff – so throughout the pandemic. Unfortunately – the figures are not clear – a lot of those people were furloughed, and just the pressures of the pandemic at the time caused significant staffing shortages. But the independent reviews of this have all determined that there is a lack of flexibility in the way that the ESTA system works. It is no good having an emergency service business that looks good when things are calm and there is not much happening; it is about how it operates under the most trying and stressful conditions. As we just discussed before, when things go pear-shaped in Victoria in times of natural disaster, whether it is a thunderstorm asthma attack all the way through to a Black Saturday, it is all hands on deck, and we need all systems working as well, as cleverly, as productively and as efficiently as they can at that time.

We know that the government during the pandemic were aware that this was a problem, and they went to the ESTA board and tried to have a flexible rostering system that was demand-based and an agreement to work through this to make sure that we did not have a situation where we had skilled call takers who could be more skilled in other areas, whether it was police, fire or ambulance. Could they skill up to help at times of high demand and high pressure to help take the load off those that were clearly not able to get to all the calls in a necessary time?

One of the difficulties we have is that just that simple task of trying to get an agreement in place for the pandemic involved the United Workers Union; Ambulance Employees Australia, Victoria division; the United Firefighters Union of Australia, Victoria branch; the Communications, Electrical, Electronic, Energy, Information, Postal, Plumbing and Allied Services Union of Australia, communications division; and the Victorian Ambulance Union. Every one of those groups had to agree on how we could make answering calls in times of emergency in the middle of a one-in-100-year pandemic more efficient and make better outcomes for Victorians. Yet the government was not able to pull that together and get agreement from those various different groups, who were all essentially providing the same service to the people on the end of the phone who ring 000.

When you ring 000, you are not ringing with any great understanding of who is at the other end of the phone; you just want to know that you are going to get connected. When something as complicated as that is sitting in the way and yet this bill is unable to deal with how you can have a more robust call-answering system that can scale up at times of great need and provide an ongoing service during normal flow times, that is something that would concern people. How are we going to judge the benefit of this bill to Victorians and the benefit to Triple Zero Victoria if essentially one of the critical needs that has been identified is not being dealt with or answered in the laying out of this bill?

In the Triple Zero bill one of the things the government are at great pains to point out is the greater control that comes through to the minister. Once again it is assumed now that any problems that have arisen in the past will be able to be solved by more ministerial intervention and direct control. While that I guess in theory can be true, I would argue and say very much that the powers that existed before still allowed great intervention and control and influence from the minister of the day. There has been much put into this document about how the minister will be able to appoint at least two delegates to the board if they feel that they need to have more say over what is going on. Once again, allegedly, the delegates are not voting, so I guess that they are providing a guiding, steering hand direct from the minister’s office. But we have seen this week, both on the government side and the shadow side, that ministers change from time to time. What Victorians want to know is that the strategic calls and the key decisions about what is best practice for emergency services are in fact not political decisions but rational, evidence-based and professional decisions from people who know and understand emergency management. So once again, a bill dealing with 000 and how best to do that which strengthens the power of the minister and the government and really does not address the capacity of the CEO or the board that has been appointed by the government to have real teeth in making sure that their agency is as efficient as it can be is a huge gap in the premise of what we are trying to solve.

ESTA’s shortcomings that have been identified are generally a reflection of this government’s mismanagement and lack of resourcing. As we discussed earlier, issues on a day-to-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute basis – good IT, contemporary, practical, fit-for-purpose industrial relations arrangements and others – are what really make a big difference to an efficient 000 service for Victorians, and that sadly is not dealt with in this bill. There is another thing this bill does not do enough to account for. It makes much of the fact that the performance measures, the areas that the public will be able to judge its performance by, must be eventually put on the agency’s website. As Shadow Minister for Housing, I can absolutely confirm that this government cannot even get printed and made publicly available how many houses it owns. For example, as of Monday this government is now two years behind being able to tell Victorians, in the middle of a housing crisis, how many houses it owns. What faith does –

Nina Taylor: On a point of order, Acting Speaker, I do not see how that is relevant to this bill that we are currently debating. I would ask, through the Acting Speaker, that the member for Polwarth return to the bill.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Paul Edbrooke): I believe the member for Polwarth has been fairly focused on the bill. I would remind the member to keep focused on the bill, though.

Richard RIORDAN: Thank you, Acting Speaker. I am in fact very focused on this bill, and I was just using that as one of many examples I could have used. If the member would like me to find some more examples, I am happy to. But the reason the housing example is a good one is because, on emergency services performance data and the figure that I quoted earlier in the contribution where only 36 per cent of calls were being answered, if we rely on this government to produce that type of data in a timely fashion where they can be accountable for their performance, then we could be waiting a very long time. This bill clearly lacks specifics about how quickly and promptly the agency and the government must report. So getting back to the housing example, when we are in the midst of a housing crisis, which is a regular commentary from the government, and they are unable to produce the most basic of data, which is how many houses they own, in a two-year time frame, what confidence can Victorians have –

Nina Taylor: On a point of order, Acting Speaker, with the greatest respect I believe that this has already been ruled upon, and I would ask for the member to consider returning to the bill.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Paul Edbrooke): I will uphold the point of order, and I will direct the member for Polwarth to return to the substance of the bill.

Richard RIORDAN: Clearly the member for Albert Park is not listening. The point of it is that important performance data around emergency service performance – this community, this Parliament, needs to have confidence it will be reported on in a timely and accurate way, and this government has a very poor track record at reporting on its data. It is very, very slow to market when it has reports it does not want the community to see. There is quite an extensive amount of detail in here about how performance data will be generated, who is going to generate it and who has a say over the type of data. Of course it is all vetted by the minister, and I guess that is to be expected. But what the community will want to know is that when that data is reported on, when adverse events happen, when systems are failing and when the government is not performing as it has promised to, the community will actually know about it. We do not want to find ourselves having to resort to tragic stories in the media and reported widely by other investigators and the like to actually have to put pressure on this government to release the data.

So I think it is not at all unreasonable to say that this legislation is deficient to the point that it is not truly holding the government to account to make sure that it is entirely transparent about how our emergency services are performing. As these performance measures will be reviewed over a five-year cycle, it is important that there is a consistency and an understanding in the community about what they should be expecting from their emergency service call centre. That concludes my contribution on the Triple Zero Victoria Bill. There will be many on this side that will contribute in both this house and the other, and so while we will be not opposing this bill, we look forward to some general improvements going forward.

Steve McGHIE (Melton) (15:23): I rise today to speak on the Triple Zero Victoria Bill 2023. I would firstly like to acknowledge the work of the Minister for Emergency Services in the other house and all of our emergency services personnel and our Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority dispatchers and call takers for the great work that they do. They are our 000 heroes. Currently we are aware of the bushfires and then the floods, and I thank them for all of their efforts in particular during this week.

I do want to start by referring to a couple of things that the member for Polwarth raised, and he raised two deaths recently. I will speak as an ex-paramedic, as an ex-secretary of the ambulance union for 23 years dealing with all of these issues, overseeing enterprise bargaining agreements at ESTA that had multi-union agreements that were already in place – they had discussions and they worked through issues during the pandemic. But of course that side of the Parliament would not understand working with unions and working with emergency services workers, because all you wanted to do was go to war with them. That is okay. We can put up with that. That is why you are sitting over there. Do you remember the writing on the trucks? It got up all your noses, didn’t it, in 2014? Do you remember the writing on the trucks? Yes, I am sure you do. That is why you are over there, and that is why you will stay there.

I have got to say, I have been involved in this system for the last 30 years.

Richard Riordan: On a point of order, I will just point out to the member for Melton, on relevance, that he might want to check what he just said, because the data clearly proves that his multimember agreements did not actually deliver what they were supposed to deliver.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Paul Edbrooke): That is not a point of order.

Steve McGHIE: I am not even going to respond to that, because I had experience for 23 years in dealing with this service and dealing with multi-union agreements that were covering all of the employees, involving the unions that you referred to, so that is okay. But for over 30 years before I entered this Parliament there have been experiences, unfortunately, of many deaths because of system failures. I will remind you that your side of politics privatised this system back in the Kennett –

The ACTING SPEAKER (Paul Edbrooke): I will remind the member for Melton to address his comments through the Chair. Is that what the point of order was going to be, member for Nepean?

Sam Groth: Thank you, Acting Speaker, I was going to make that point of order. Yes, reflections on the Chair are not appreciated, I am sure.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Paul Edbrooke): Thank you. You have the call, member for Melton.

Steve McGHIE: Sorry, Acting Speaker. I will just remind the opposition that they privatised this system back in the 1990s under the Kennett government to an American company called Intergraph. It was just a disaster, and there was death after death after death. There were multiple Coroners Court cases that I was involved in. Here they are trying to wave in our faces this issue of people dying, and yet they forget that era of the Kennett government privatising the system. They also forget their term in office between 2010 and 2014. People also died under your government’s watch in that period. And what did you do to ESTA during that period? Did you support them? Sorry, I apologise.

Richard Riordan: On a point of order, Acting Speaker – I thought you might have guessed – on relevance, talking about what happened 30 years ago is not relevant. This term of government has been the focus of the wideranging debate. I am happy for the member to go back with his data eight or 10 years, that is fine. But I think stretching back 30 years has to be ruled out of order for lack of relevance.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Paul Edbrooke): Thank you, member for Polwarth. I will make the rulings. I would suggest in this case that I have given you plenty of latitude in your contribution, and I will respect that in other members as well. I will remind every member to keep to the bill, though.

Steve McGHIE: Thank you, Acting Speaker. Just one other point I want to refer to that the member for Polwarth raised is about the data. I should remind the member for Polwarth that in their term of office in 2010–14, they refused to release data. In fact I think they went to court to try and stop the opposition getting access to data. That is how much they think of data. But anyway, I will move on.

This bill acts on the key recommendations from four independent reviews into the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority by bringing our emergency dispatch service closer to government and implementing organisational change. It will repeal the current Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority Act 2004. It disbands ESTA and will enact a new statutory authority called Triple Zero Victoria. It marks a new era of Victoria’s emergency service call-taking and dispatch service, and it ensures that Victorians can continue to have confidence and do have confidence that when they call 000 they will get the help that they need when they need it.

I should say that any death that occurs in a systemic issue or failure not only affects the families but affects emergency services workers, including the call takers and dispatchers, including the responders, regardless of what service they work for, whether it is the police, fire services, ambulance, VICSES, whoever it is. Let me tell you, I dealt with this for 23 years as the secretary of the union trying to support my members, previous members, that had to respond to cases where they thought they could save someone and unfortunately did not get to them in time. It is not a nice feeling – I have done it myself as a paramedic – and you live with that for the rest of your life. You have it in the back of your head, where it occasionally flickers up again for whatever reason, to remind you. I talk about people that die that are young, that are babies, that are older – people that should have had 20, 30, 40, 50 years ahead of them – and you live with that until you pass away. It is an amazing feeling and it is a terrible experience, and you would not wish that on anyone. I feel sorry for the families, and I extend my condolences to the families that have been affected by this. But I also send my respects to emergency services workers for what they do.

Again, I have to say that I have seen many changes in this system, and I will go back over the history of this dispatch centre. I do refer back to the Kennett era, which did privatise it out to an American company. It led to, as I said before, many disastrous outcomes. Then of course we moved to a statutory agency after a royal commission, after the Bracks government was elected. The statutory agency was created back in 2002, and then ESTA evolved out of that in 2004. Out of that royal commission one of the senior recommendations was that we should never privatise our emergency services communications, and that is why this new statutory body was created. I can rattle off examples of what occurred when it was privatised, but I am not going to –

Richard Riordan interjected.

Steve McGHIE: Do you want me to rattle them off? No, I will not, because it would be like playing tennis with your mate behind you. I could hit one over the net and you might try and hit one back, but that does not resolve anything. Let us face facts.

On this side of the house we do listen to the research, we listen to the experts and we read the reports, and this is why the Allan Labor government is introducing this Triple Zero Victoria service. The Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority capability and services review made 20 recommendations to transform ESTA’s governance, call-taking and dispatch service, technology and managed services, intelligence services and performance standards and to address systemic issues within the organisation. Of course the inspector-general for emergency management did a review. I send my respects to Tony Pearce. He and I worked together on the road as paramedics back in the 1980s and 90s in the western suburbs. He is a great fellow, and I thank him for all the work that he does. Clearly his review came up with a number of recommendations and a number of findings, and that has all been taken into account with this new service. We look forward to the outcomes of this new service.

I know I have only got a short time left, but I do want to say in that short time left that we need to support the new system. We need to support the workers in that system and what they do. They give their all on a day-by-day basis. We will grow the system and improve the system, but I have got to say Victorians need to take some responsibility also. There was an article in the Sunday Age last Sunday 1 October headed ‘Overhaul urged as triple-0 calls come in for sore ears, constipation’. What we see on a day-by-day basis, when there are 7000 calls taken, is that in particular in ambulance, where there are about 1000 calls per day, 300 of those calls per day are non-urgent cases that get an urgent response. So they are tying up ambulance crews to respond to them. It is not good enough, and Victorians have to help this system work properly. This is an important bill, and I commend this bill to the house.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Paul Edbrooke): I remind members that we are talking about numbers here but those numbers do represent people’s lives, and there might even be people in this chamber that have been affected by medical emergencies, so just keep that in mind.

Annabelle CLEELAND (Euroa) (15:34): I rise today to speak on the Triple Zero Victoria Bill 2023, a bill that attempts to address a crisis that has impacted the health, wellbeing and lives of residents in my electorate of Euroa. This is a bill that will help establish a new entity called Triple Zero Victoria by repealing the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority Act 2004 and by making amendments to other acts. This will result in the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority, ESTA, ceasing to exist in favour of this new entity. While there are concerns over the tight control the government will have over Triple Zero Victoria, I do acknowledge that something absolutely needs to change. The existing system has let down Victorians in desperate need of care and in far too many instances has cost people their lives.

This bill has been introduced following some damning findings in the ESTA capability and service review final report. The results on other services have also brought forward serious concerns – namely, the reviews that investigated this state’s preparedness for major public health emergencies and our ambulance response times. These reports were prompted by the well-publicised failures in the 000 and ambulance response systems, which resulted in the tragic deaths of 33 Victorians. These failures were a government oversight issue and not faults caused by employees of ESTA. In one of the most challenging times imaginable for our healthcare and medical employees, the call takers and staff at ESTA and Ambulance Victoria did a fantastic job. However, there was clear mismanagement of ESTA, with the government failing to foresee and act upon several significant problems that had emerged over recent years.

Although putting more control of the system in the hands of this government might not be the best option based on their previous performance with ESTA, it is fair to say that a change is necessary. To achieve this change, this bill lays out several provisions for the new entity Triple Zero Victoria and how it will replace ESTA. This includes their powers, objectives, functions, administrative matters, staffing and more. There are also several clauses that demonstrate just how closely this government will be attached to Triple Zero Victoria. Let us hope that this control comes with some accountability to fix the system.

Within my electorate of Euroa, failures within the 000 system and poor ambulance response times have genuinely been devastating for many individuals and their families. Earlier this year I spoke about how Victoria’s code 1 ambulance response times were in disarray. Response times were worse than they were in the 12 months previous, despite a significant decline in demand for emergency 000 calls, according to data directly from Ambulance Victoria. Over the previous quarter just 65.2 per cent of ambulances arrived on time in a code 1 emergency, despite target ranges of 85 to 90 per cent. The average time for an ambulance to arrive also remained above Ambulance Victoria’s target times. These code 1 emergencies are not minor incidents; these are people’s lives and not just numbers. These emergencies are high priority and time critical, but the targets have not been met. While marginal improvement has been observed across LGAs in the Euroa electorate, Ambulance Victoria targets were still not being met in our LGAs of Mitchell, Benalla, Strathbogie or Greater Bendigo for code 1 emergencies.

I recently had a constituent in Seymour reach out to my office to give his thoughts about the response times after his wife had passed away. He said:

… people are dying because the ambulance takes up to 1 hour to arrive even if they can see the station from there house (in my case) i lost my wife because the ambulance took 45 minutes …

He also mentioned how for three years he met with Ambulance Victoria, tabled petitions and spoke with MPs but has not seen a response. Victoria has not seen a response. This is a man who lives just 300 metres from his local ambulance branch yet was put through an inconceivable tragedy. Sadly, this is an experience that can be found in Mitchell, Bendigo and Benalla too. On average, people across the Strathbogie shire have been waiting close to 25 minutes for an ambulance in an emergency. These are densely populated regional areas, and yet the 000 system is failing regional Victorians.

In many of these regional areas volunteer patient transport systems have been stepping up to the plate where ambulances cannot. I would like to thank the Royal Flying Doctor Service community transport program that has been operating within my electorate in Heathcote. Since launching in 2018 RFDS community transport has been providing eligible clients with free transport from home to health appointments and funded social support groups. The volunteer-led program is currently operating in Heathcote, Rochester, Warracknabeal and Numurkah. For the Heathcote and Rochester sites the patient transport has completed nearly 25,000 trips, travelled nearly 700,000 kilometres and taken 1000 regional Victorians to appointments. This has all been made possible with the help of 50 volunteers. I was introduced to this amazing group during National Volunteer Week, and I remain in regular contact with them. The service this team delivers is so impactful for the communities it serves and is helping save lives every day. I am excited to host them at Parliament next month.

Off the back of a dismal budget for health care and a lack of funding to key health programs across the state, the work of volunteer groups has never been more critical. The patient transport team’s sole focus is to chauffeur patients in isolated communities to medical appointments, importantly facilitating transfers for appointments focused on early detection and intervention. For many of these patients this would not be financially practicable, meaning the service being offered is crucial in helping many patients change the outcome of their conditions and is in many cases saving lives. For the people this service is provided for it is about more than just accessing health care; it is also about maintaining social connections in otherwise often isolated communities.

Speaking more broadly, the issues within our ambulance services and response times are a symptom of a government that has neglected our healthcare system for too long. The stark reality is that our regional health services are really struggling. When I hear the government talk about how fantastic Melbourne’s healthcare options and medical facilities are, I feel the need to remind them that this state is bigger than just the city. Every Victorian, irrespective of where they live, deserves quality health care. This is a fundamental right and not a luxury. Beyond the extensive ambulance wait times, we have seen out-of-control surgery waitlists and cuts to essential health services. Earlier this year we saw cuts of up to 15 per cent to our grassroots and preventative services, including programs to address chronic illnesses. Last year we saw $2 billion cut from the health budget on top of cuts to preventative health services. The strategy to cut funding from preventative health care while allowing surgery to continue being deferred has been a double kick in the guts to Victorians. Our category 1 surgery waitlists, the most urgent there are, have ballooned by 45 per cent in a three-month period this year. Without further investment from government our regional healthcare system will continue to fail – and people are suffering. Every single person on these waitlists has a story to tell about deferred care and unnecessary time waiting in agony for life-changing surgery.

If the current state of our health system is a benchmark of this government’s performance, then it is failing dismally. 105 days ago I made an adjournment to the Minister for Health calling for a substantial increase in funding for regional health services so my community can get the health care they need when they need it. My office is the crisis centre when our community needs help, and too often we are assisting constituents impacted by Victoria’s broken health system. Regional Victorians, including those in Mitchell, Benalla, Strathbogie and Greater Bendigo, are bearing the brunt of the heartbreaking mismanagement of our health services by the minister. Our health system is not just failing; people’s families, loved ones and children are suffering. When I say loved ones, I also include my two-year-old daughter Quinn, who was hospitalised with severe respiratory issues in winter. Our local hospital could not afford to stock the critical dexamethasone she urgently needed. We went by ambulance to the Northern Hospital, where she was in one of 20 ambulances ramped at a hospital that had a queue to the emergency department that overflowed outside and in the rain. This week, three months later, I finally had a response from the minister, who bragged about the financial investment in the health system but failed to acknowledge the thousands of people in regional communities unable to receive the most basic of care. Lives have been lost and families shattered, and the minister responsible should be held accountable for her failures. This bill appears to be the first step to rectify this government’s failures in our health system.

In the ESTA Capability and Service Review: Final Report there were some damning points raised that I hope under a new system will be addressed. I will not touch on all of them, but I would like to point out that ESTA did not meet the primary ambulance emergency call answer speed benchmark in any month from December to June 2022. Call volume increases in this time period did not lead to this non-compliant response time performance. There were 40 potential adverse events associated with call answer delays, agency command and control issues during COVID-19-related surges in activity. In these events 33 patients did not survive their emergency. ESTA was unable to match the required operational staff numbers to meet the demand of ambulance calls that were forecast. The Victorian government was aware of ESTA’s precarious financial position as early as 2015.

Gary MAAS (Narre Warren South) (15:44): I too rise to make a contribution on the Triple Zero Victoria Bill 2023. In so doing, can I just say at the outset that I rise from a position of talking up the workers in this state, particularly workers who are professionals and particularly workers who are giving so much of their time and their effort, and sometimes as well in a volunteer capacity. When a transformative bill like this one comes before this place, I know that the actual intent of this bill comes from the right place. All I have to do is look around this chamber. I look over at the member for Melton: 23 years experience as a paramedic, and that is not talking about what he did beyond that time out on the road. I look over at the member for Pakenham: a CFA volunteer, hardworking, who knows what it means when those 000 calls come through and what you have to do to get out there and help. Acting Speaker Edbrooke, member for Frankston: we know what you have done before coming to this place, and we know also the traumatic effects that fighting fires can have, not to mention being a paramedic and being a first responder to our police. To all the workers who work in those roles: we talk you up in this place, and we will always thank you and commend you for the work that you do. To Ambulance Victoria, CFA, Fire Rescue Victoria, Victoria Police, VICSES and all the other relevant agencies: we commend you and we thank you.

That is why we need this transformative bill. It achieves the intent of the key recommendations from the independent review into the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority, ESTA, by bringing the entity closer to government and implementing organisational change. This is a good thing, and it is something that we all agree needs to happen. The government has accepted the 20 recommendations identified in the ESTA capability and service review, led by former Victoria Police chief commissioner Graham Ashton in 2022. The government is absolutely committed to expeditiously commencing the legislative process, aiming to enact the legislation before the end of the year once it has passed through Parliament.

The bill itself will bolster the governance, the accountability and the oversight of Victoria’s 000 service, establishing a genuine partnership across the emergency services sector. This move brings the new entity closer to the government, and it will – it just will – foster a collaborative approach. The name Triple Zero itself just made sense. It makes sense. Introducing Triple Zero Victoria as a robust, independent statutory authority, complete with a dedicated board and operational committee, is visionary, and to have a CEO in there as well guiding that work is imperative. This is what this bill does. But to have on that board the representatives from those organisations that I mentioned before – Ambulance Victoria, CFA, Fire Rescue Victoria, Victoria Police, VICSES and government departments as well as those relevant agencies – this is what we need and this is what is being done. The committee will provide that invaluable operational and strategic advice to help enhance those partnerships that need to occur within the emergency management sector.

The bill will facilitate a smooth transition by phasing out the current ESTA board and advisory committee upon the commencement of the new act, and importantly all staff will maintain their current enterprise agreements, ensuring continuity as they transition to Triple Zero Victoria under those same terms and conditions. This approach promotes stability and minimises disruptions during the transition process. Staff at ESTA , as we do point out and have pointed out, have absolutely worked tirelessly to support Victorians in the face of sustained, unprecedented demand during the pandemic and beyond, and we just cannot – we absolutely cannot – thank them enough. Thank you.

ESTA, as we all know, plays a pivotal role in that vital link between the Victorian community and the state’s emergency service agencies. It tirelessly provides 24-hour emergency call-taking and dispatch services for police, fire, ambulance and VICSES, it ensures safety and it gives security for all. The bill represents a transformative moment, and it aims to draw ESTA closer to the government, to its board and to the chief executive officer. The enactment of this bill will create the statutory authority of Triple Zero Victoria. It will be a dynamic entity and it will be spearheaded by that dedicated board and CEO, and the accountability will go directly to the Minister for Emergency Services, which means a much faster and more efficient and effective response to emergencies. Accountability is key.

Triple Zero Victoria is set to harness the collective expertise of professionals from the emergency and health services sectors. This collaboration promises to deliver improved services, drawing on a wealth of knowledge and experience to benefit the Victorian community. The introduction of the legislation marks a significant stride forward as the government fulfils its commitment to creating a more robust and resilient 000 service for the people of Victoria. It marks a new era for Victoria’s emergency call-taking and dispatch service, and it ensures that Victorians can continue to have confidence that when they call 000 they will get the help that they need when they need it. The bill will ensure Triple Zero Victoria can deliver an effective and sustainable service to the Victorian community now and well into the future.

Since October 2021 the state government has invested $363 million to help ESTA meet overwhelming demand. It has employed more than 400 extra staff, it has built better support and surge capacity for busy times and, most importantly, it has helped strengthen mental health support for staff and supported critical technology upgrades. The state government will continue to demonstrate unwavering support for the essential emergency services that Victorians rely on. In the 2023–24 Victorian budget provisions were made to allocate funding for ESTA to acquire a state-of-the-art computer-aided dispatch system, further enhancing their capabilities. In the year 2022–2023 ESTA admirably answered nearly 2.7 million calls for assistance – just extraordinary. It is a remarkable achievement –

Daniela De Martino: It’s huge.

Gary MAAS: Remarkable, member for Monbulk, and it translates to a call being answered every 11 seconds for the astounding 7350 calls which are handled daily. It is massive. Despite facing that unprecedented surge in demand, ESTA have consistently surpassed their benchmarks – I believe about 90 per cent – for ambulance call answering performance since last August. It is an unwavering dedication that they have to excellent performance, and it ensures prompt and efficient emergency responses for our community.

As I said at the start, this bill is a transformative bill in the ways that it will do things. Not only is it good for the organisation of ESTA, now to be Triple Zero Victoria, it is good for the workers who are transitioning over to that new entity and it will be good for all of our emergency services and our first responders. But most of all it will be good for the larger community and for the state of Victoria, and I commend this bill to the house.

Brad BATTIN (Berwick) (15:54): It gives me pleasure to rise to speak on the Triple Zero Victoria Bill 2023 on behalf of, or with, the opposition and support the member for Polwarth’s position in not opposing this bill but raising some issues. First of all, with your leniency, obviously we have had recently fires down through Gippsland and up through northern and western Victoria, and as we know we have also got the floods. I know it is one of those things – we talk about four seasons in one day in Melbourne. The impact of four seasons in one day, or in a very short period of time, particularly in some of our regional areas, can have devastating effects. So to all our volunteers and our career staff, those on the ground and also those taking 000 calls in relation to what is happening, I want to pass on, I know on behalf of everyone in the opposition, a huge thankyou.

We know 000 has had, we could almost say, a lifelong crisis. It is a system that has had failures for a long period of time. I will go to the member for Melton’s comments. I know he spoke about the time when it was brought over in the Kennett era and sold to Intergraph, a United States company, and that concerns were raised about the issues the member for Melton outlined. I agree with the member for Melton – there were some failures at the time. There were issues that happened with Intergraph. This was not private or secret; it was very public what was going on then. I am not sure if you were the secretary at the time, member for Melton, or if this was prior to you, but to raise those issues publicly is very important, because this should be in the public arena. If people are passing away because of failures with calls to 000, this should be in the public arena. I will stand by that. I was not there in the Kennett era when they were talking about what was happening with that at the time. However, obviously I have heard a lot since.

What I will take issue with, member for Melton, is that from 1999 until today, the Labor government have been effectively in control of the 000 or ESTA system. So there was not a contract that lasted from Kennett until 2023. There have been new contracts, new organisations, new legislation, new rules in place, new enterprise bargaining agreements and new discussions between the government and organisations, including the unions, and still it failed. It has failed all that time. I do not care – take all the politics out of this, it is just the failure of a system for such a long period time. The best time it had was from 2014 to 2015, when some of the results showed that we were just behind the nation, so things were on the improve.

However, what we have got now is a report that came out in 2016–17 which said that ESTA was chronically underfunded. It does not matter who owns or who has got control of ESTA, the report that came out at the time – in 2016–17 – specifically said to the government that it was underfunded, that if we had at any stage in the future a crisis, if we had at any stage in the future a major event, particularly anything that is an ongoing event, ESTA would not be able to answer the calls and that would put lives at risk. What happened? Lives were put at risk. You cannot blame COVID for what happened. What you can say is COVID had an impact on the level of calls, COVID had an impact on the ambulance responses and COVID had an impact on all of our emergency services. We do not deny that. What I do say, though, is the government failed to prepare for anything – even if it was for a shorter term than a COVID event – because they failed to put that funding in when required.

One of the reports at that time also said that one of the major issues around ESTA and the 000 system was that when you call 000 and it becomes overloaded, the backup system is an absolute failure. It got to a stage for Ambulance Victoria that the calls were coming in to 000 at such a rate that they had to make a decision – staff had to make a decision. I feel for staff who have to stand there and look at a system that is slowing down to such a degree that effectively they know it is going to die and they know the backup system will not be able to cope. The only alternative is to go through a full reset – to reset the entire system – so every person calling in to 000 then is going to pen and paper. You call up and someone will literally take down your details with pen and paper and someone will run that between the call taker and the dispatcher. Obviously that is opening it up to major concerns and delays, but there are major issues when you are doing it via pen and paper. There has been report after report to this government saying to upgrade the backup system first, because until the backup system is even at today’s standard, the future fixing of the system is never going to work. We all know that IT, no matter where you are, sometimes just fails. It is a given – IT sometimes fails. If it does, you need to make sure that there is a backup system there, particularly when it comes to life and life support systems, and 000 is that.

What we saw during that period of time was that the call rates coming in and the failure here in Victoria actually got to a stage where Telstra, who take the calls anywhere in Australia and then divert them around, said that they were concerned about the impact on the rest of the nation because of the amount of time that Telstra call operators had to spend on the phone whilst trying to connect calls to Victoria. And for every second, minute, 15 minutes, 30 minutes – and we have got evidence of calls up to 30 minutes – that they were sitting talking to someone, saying, ‘We’re trying to connect you,’ someone else could not get through. That is blocking up the Telstra system, which therefore goes to the 000 system per state. And our backups just were not there for it.

I know the one that hit me the hardest was Alisha Hussein, when we had the report come out around Alisha Hussein. I do not think any person in this chamber would have thought of anything other than trying to put themselves in that position and understand the impact of being in a car watching their own child die, trying to ring 000. It is just something you could not wish upon your worst enemy, yet a family had to do that here in the state. Again, that tragic event did become public – and so it should have – and hopefully that was what instigated some of the opportunities for change as we have moved forward. The government then came out very late and decided they were going to put a lot of money into 000 and to change in the system.

I do not believe this legislation is the answer to everything they wanted to do. There is some positive change. I do not think changing the name is going to change a lot in the system. What it does do, with the control going back to the minister, is remove some of the ambiguity of what can and cannot happen within 000, but what it does not do is guarantee the funding that goes in there or ensure that we have the things that have been called for over a long period of time – cross training, ensuring we have a backup team in there who can go from ambulance to fire to police to SES, depending on the circumstances of what the event of the day is.

Deputy Speaker, I know we both would know of Ash Wednesday and Black Saturday. We are going to have at some stage, unfortunately, another fire event here in Victoria. It is going to be a long event. It is going to be tragic. It is just what we have in Victoria. But we need to make sure that when that occurs, if we have not got enough call takers for fire services, we need to be able to move them from the other services to back them up and support them, and at the same time, if anything goes wrong, ensure that the backup tech system is still there.

We never want another COVID. I think I can fairly say that in this room. We never want another COVID, but if we do have another, we need to make sure that if our health network cannot handle what is going on and particularly our 000 calls, we have got the backup of staff and we have got the backup of the technology. That is more important than a change of name. That is more important than putting it back to giving a minister control of it. That was in the reports in 2016 and 17 – the very reports that said if you had have put the funding in at the time, there could have been preparations made that may have made an impact or change and difference to what happened to those people, the 33 people that died here in Victoria during that period of COVID whilst waiting for 000. It would have made a difference when we had the crisis with the thunderstorm asthma out here in our state. There are lots of things that would have been different if the funding was put in at the right time.

I do give the government credit for putting in funding as they are moving through now. I just do not appreciate the fact that it took so long. What it actually responded to was a political answer rather than the answer that it should have been – putting us in a position to save lives so we did not have to have this conversation here today.

Emma VULIN (Pakenham) (16:04): I too rise to speak on the Triple Zero Victoria Bill 2023. This bill is very important for our state’s responsiveness to emergencies. Passing this bill will repeal the current Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority Act 2004; ESTA and its board and advisory committee will cease to exist; and the new entity Triple Zero Victoria will be established. This bill is about ensuring Victoria has strong governance, accountability and oversight for our 000 service. Triple Zero Victoria will be a new independent statutory authority governed by a board with an operational committee. The new authority will be led by a CEO directly accountable to the Minister for Emergency Services. The focus of Triple Zero Victoria will be on delivering high-quality and timely call-taking and dispatch services and operational communication services for police, ambulance and fire services.

The reporting of two independent reviews has been considered for the drafting of this bill: firstly, the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority Capability and Service Review, also referred to as the capability and service review, followed by the inspector-general for emergency management’s ambulance call answer review, referred to as the IGEM review. One of the key things about going to the effort of having independent reviews is that they can provide an honest assessment and quality recommendations. The capability and service review made 20 recommendations and the IGEM review made eight recommendations, 42 findings and nine observations.

There has been a lot to consider in getting the operations and governance right for the new statutory authority Triple Zero Victoria. Strong governance is vital. You need a good chain of command, and I understand this from my time in the CFA as a lieutenant and commander’s aide on large, complex fires. It is quite important to have a system where there is a chain of command and people follow it on the fireground in complex situations.

A member interjected.

Emma VULIN: Yes, it is very handy. This bill has achieved the intent of the key recommendation in the capability and service review and the IGEM review to implement organisational change to bring the new Triple Zero Victoria closer to government. It outlines explicit responsibilities for the Triple Zero Victoria board and CEO. The bill also provides for strengthened oversight of the board and the CEO by the minister and the Secretary of the Department of Justice and Community Safety. The bill has stopgaps to prevent underperformance, with the minister being able to appoint up to two delegates to the board to strengthen and improve the performance of Triple Zero Victoria.

Victoria is the only Australian jurisdiction where the 000 call-taking and dispatch service is managed by a central organisation and not by the individual emergency services organisations. In this unique environment it is critical that the coordination between the Triple Zero Victoria call takers, the emergency services organisations and the government is clear and effective. The bill recognises this with the establishment of an operational committee, included in the reform to strengthen the partnerships. To ensure appropriate responsiveness for community health and public safety needs, the operational committee will set interagency strategic priorities, which will ensure that services delivered by Triple Zero remain fit for purpose. The committee will include senior leadership from the ambulance, police, fire and VICSES, deputy secretaries and the emergency management commissioner and will provide advice to the board to help ensure that Victorians calling 000 receive the highest quality service. Establishing the operational committee is responding directly to the IGEM’s review, which identified opportunities to ensure ESTA is more formally integrated into emergency management arrangements moving forward.

Victoria’s population will continue to grow, as I experience on a day-by-day basis in my electorate of Pakenham; we have three families moving in each and every day. It is vital that our 000 call takers have the support to cover this growth and be responsive to our community’s needs. When we are talking about calling for help, we are talking about a service that helps protect lives and save lives. The recent reviews revealed a call-taking system under pressure, driven partly by the COVID-19 pandemic. This government has responded to these reviews by developing the reforms presented in this bill, plus more today.

Calling 000 is about emergencies, where there is threat to life and safety. Calling 000 is a big deal. My daughter did this when she was nine years old, when I had my stroke in 2016. She was recognised with an award from St John Ambulance for her bravery on that frightening day. Since October 2021 the government has invested $363 million to help ESTA meet overwhelming demand, employing more than 400 extra staff, building better support and surge capacity for busy times, strengthening mental health support for staff and supporting critical technology upgrades. In 2022–23 ESTA answered almost 2.7 million calls for assistance, as the member for Narre Warren South mentioned in his contribution. This represents a call every 11 seconds, or 7350 calls each and every day. Despite this demand ESTA has consistently exceeded the 90 per cent ambulance call-answering performance benchmark since August 2022, and I think they should be commended.

I helped a woman who collapsed at the shops in Officer a few months ago. We needed to start CPR. The call to 000 was made and answered promptly, and they guided me and others to effectively and correctly use the defibrillator and keep time with chest compressions as we waited for the ambulance to arrive. I am fortunate to be first aid trained through the CFA, but I truly and sincerely thank God that the phone operator kept us in check and reminded us of the crucial steps to take while we waited – it is always different in an emergency than it is in the classroom.

The support provided by ESTA since 2021 has made a significant difference already. This year the government’s 2023–24 budget includes $2 million to further support reform of the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority, ESTA, with an additional investment for a new computer system to support emergency services 000 call-taking and dispatch functions. This is an investment to ensure Triple Zero Victoria is equipped as our state grows.

I have been fortunate enough to visit ESTA in Burwood on several occasions during training exercises with my fire brigade. The staff and facilities there are incredible. Their patience and skills are second to none in such a critical workplace, a workplace most of us would find very stressful – not that this place is not sometimes stressful. We had the chance to go into their training room and endeavour to type and select call scenarios in the system, with multiple screens, multiple appliances and different situations, and to type and select at a fast pace knowing accuracy means simply life or death. I really do not think many people think about the role these heroes play each and every day. They call the firies heroes, but we could not do our job at all without the skills of our call takers in the first instance. The camaraderie and the number of staff who have been there for decades were wonderful to see, and I appreciate the experience and knowledge they shared with me. I am pleased that ESTA’s dedicated workforce will be supported through the transition period as Triple Zero is created. They will be employed under the same terms and conditions they are currently employed under to ensure the continuity of service to the community.

The inspector-general for emergency management, IGEM, will continue to monitor and provide assurance around the performance of Triple Zero Victoria. The expectation is that the agreed performance standards will focus on the role of 000 services, supporting the overall incident response and delivering the best outcomes for callers in the community. Triple Zero Victoria’s performance will be considered in the context of an end-to-end process of incident management. This will drive behaviours which encourage efficiencies while reducing the focus on targets which do not directly measure the quality or outcome of services to an emergency service organisation or to the community.

Regarding fees under the new legislation, Triple Zero Victoria will no longer receive annual revenue through the fee-for-service model, and there is no provision for Triple Zero Victoria to charge fees for their services in the future. To provide financial certainty for emergency services organisations, Triple Zero Victoria will move towards a direct appropriation model. This piece of legislation is vital for our community and the public health response for the people of Victoria.

I just want to quickly take this time to thank all of our emergency services personnel: Victoria Police, SES, CFA, FRV, Ambulance Victoria, Life Saving Victoria and many others. I also want to thank the Minister for Emergency Services and her staff for coming up with this legislation that we are faced with today. I commend this bill to the house.

Kim O’KEEFFE (Shepparton) (16:13): I rise to speak on the Triple Zero Victoria Bill 2023. The Triple Zero Victoria Bill 2023 is a major component of the Victorian government’s reform to the state’s 000 service. Victoria’s ailing 000 call service will be rebranded and brought under government control and have its board disbanded after the COVID-19 pandemic exposed systematic failings. Victoria’s emergency 000 service will undergo a significant transformation to improve governance, accountability and oversight under new legislation. The Triple Zero Victoria Bill 2023 will reform the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority, known as ESTA, to bring it closer to government, ensuring greater oversight, and to provide clear and transparent accountability for the organisation board and chief executive officer. Under the reforms, ESTA will be renamed Triple Zero Victoria and established as a new statutory authority, led by a new board and CEO directly accountable to the Minister for Emergency Services, that draws on expertise from across the emergency and health services sectors.

The proposed reform is in direct response to the independent review into the capacity, capability, service delivery and financial sustainability of the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority by the former Victoria Police chief. The long-awaited report into the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority, commissioned in 2021, was finally released by the state government in May 2022. The damning 80-page review was commissioned after persistent reports of the call system crashing and significant concerns around the effectiveness of ESTA’s capability and capacity to deliver consistent 000 services across Victoria. As early as 2015 the Victorian Auditor-General warned that there were problems within the model, but Treasury and Finance in Victoria preferred simply to top up ESTA’s budget every year post fact rather than moving to a sustainable footing. It is disappointing to note that it took the state government some six years to undertake the review, knowing that the system was struggling, with dire consequences. They effectively chose to ignore the concerns and did nothing about it.

The review found that from October 2021 to March 2022 the performance of Victoria’s Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority materially degraded. Most 000 calls were not answered within 5 seconds, its standard benchmark, and often not within 10 minutes. In one case it took up to 76 minutes. The result? There were 40 events involving seriously ill or injured patients who were subject to call answer delays. Tragically, 33 people did not survive these emergencies. The report also found that the problems with ESTA predated the pandemic. It noted that a lack of rostering flexibility in enterprise agreements for its roughly 800 operational staff played a part in its failure to meet surge demand events such as the major storms in 2021 and peak periods of the pandemic. Emergency services organisations told the review they were concerned with ESTA’s capability, service delivery and unresponsiveness to their needs. There is a long-held opinion that ESTA’s critical role meant its shortcomings were not just unfortunate but have led to multiple deaths and injuries that could have been prevented. One ESO said its request for change has been unfilled for more than 10 years.

The capability and service review made 20 recommendations to the government in order to transform ESTA’s governance, call-taking and dispatch services, technology and managed services, intelligence services and performance standards and address systemic issues within the organisation. Mr Ashton found ESTA had suffered over the years because it had been unable to recruit and retain experienced call takers to deal with peaks in demand and that its culture was risk averse and had difficulty being agile when responding to emergencies. The ad hoc nature of the year-to-year supplementary funding arrangements limited ESTA’s ability to recruit to meet demand. The review found this also limited ESTA’s ability to plan beyond 12 months or implement longer term investments to improve the service during business-as-usual and surge events. Victorians should have confidence that when they call for help in an emergency the state has the organisational resources and systems in place to ensure the very best service is given and, most importantly, in a timely manner.

We cannot put lives at risk. I am sure that we all have stories to tell and we have been aware for quite some time about the seriousness of the breakdown of this system and that reform is needed. I had a friend call 000. She has MND. She had a Panadol stuck in her throat, which is terrifying when you have lost control of your throat function, a symptom of MND. Maxine was put on hold and diverted to different call centres whilst they were trying to figure out if she was a non-emergency patient. There were delays and confusion. She ended up driving herself to the hospital rather than waiting for certainty that an ambulance would come. She had not been given certainty through the 000 call function. She underwent surgery, and the outcome could have been a lot worse.

It has been noted that the focus of Triple Zero Victoria is to be on delivering high-quality and timely call-taking and dispatch services and operational communication services, something that the patient I referred to desperately needed. This bill enables the Minister for Emergency Services to confer additional functions related to the emergency management sector on Triple Zero Victoria when it would be sensible to do so and for the time specified in the ministerial order. An example of this is how non-emergency patient transport booking and dispatch services with ESTA are currently managed on behalf of Ambulance Victoria.

The bill also includes provisions that empower the emergency management commissioner to set performance standards that are endorsed by the Minister for Emergency Services. These outcome-based standards will be developed in consultation with Triple Zero Victoria, emergency services organisations, government departments and other related organisations. These performance standards, as a result, will be reviewed at least every five years to ensure that the standards remain fit for purpose and are meeting expectations.

In closing, I acknowledge the hardworking people who work in the 000 sector and our ambulance services. Hopefully with this bill we will address the critical failures of the past. I commend this bill to the house.

Nina TAYLOR (Albert Park) (16:19): It is certainly a pleasure to rise to speak on these important reforms and, I have to say, quite humbling to be, through this process, sharing this chamber – though they are not in the chamber now – with members who have actually participated in the emergency services in our state. It is wonderful to hear of their personal lived experience not only of delivering services but also of the hardship and the intense challenges. I have to say, as someone who has never been a member of an emergency service organisation or participated in a particular service, I am just in awe. I believe it requires a particular disposition and courage and dedication. They often have to work pretty unusual hours as well and shifts et cetera. I would really like the commencement of my contribution to be about gratitude for all that they do and are continuing to do to keep us all safe and supported.

Furthermore, I would like to just take up a couple of matters that have been raised through this very important debate today. I know there were a couple of matters raised by the opposition with regard to – and I do not wish to put words in their mouths – tighter control with regard to the minister. I think that was broadly expressed. I would like to just reaffirm that we know the bill achieves the intent of the key recommendations from the independent reviews into Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority, ESTA, by bringing the entity closer to the government and implementing organisational change. Now, on the one hand I might be stating the obvious, but the reason I am affirming that point is to validate the various reforms that are being brought into being through this important legislation. There is a good purposeful element to it. I mean, you do not have a review and then not actually pay heed to the recommendations that have been suggested. Our government is certainly taking those recommendations on board and implementing them, and that makes good common sense. I hope that allays some of the concerns. It did not seem to be a deep concern, but it was raised, so it is good to take this opportunity to work that through.

Issues of funding were also raised, and I should say that since October 2021 the Andrews Labor government has invested $363 million to help ESTA meet overwhelming demand by employing more than 400 extra staff, building better support and surge capacity for busy times, strengthening mental health for staff and supporting critical technology upgrades. Again I would like to address some of the matters that have been raised to date with regard to staffing and resourcing. The investment-delivered extra capacity will mean a more consistent and stable number of call takers rostered on each day and more workers to draw on for overtime and extra shifts to meet higher call volumes. It has also enabled a new supervision structure to better support call takers in this highly complex environment, improve call answer speeds and ensure patient safety remains paramount. These improvements coupled with unprecedented government investment have ensured significant improvements in ESTA’s call answer performance. I hope that acquits some of those matters that have been raised as well.

Furthermore, when it comes to the organisational structure, we know, given the unique nature of its services, maintaining Triple Zero Victoria as a statutory authority will preserve its operational autonomy – because we are talking about governance and addressing matters that were raised and then sought to be implemented through the review process – and its ability to respond quickly to emergency situations. This is a similar arrangement to how other emergency services operate, like Ambulance Victoria. Triple Zero Victoria will be governed by a board who have clear legislated functions to ensure the delivery of timely and effective call-taking and dispatch services, and I am emphasising those points because we can see here clearly what effect the legislation is seeking to bring into being and actually will deliver. The bill provides for clear governance of Triple Zero Victoria’s service delivery and a signal to the emergency services sector and the community of where Triple Zero Victoria’s focus will be into the future, and the bill will establish the role of chief executive officer of Triple Zero Victoria in legislation.

I am emphasising these important elements of the bill because fundamentally it is about strengthening governance and oversight. At the risk of spelling those elements out, these changes should not be underestimated. They are significant changes, and they ensure that everyone – the community at large – is clear about what measures the government is undertaking to really drive important reform in this area. The method and criteria for appointment to the CEO position will be set out in legislation for the first time – we should take note of that as well – ensuring that the CEO has the relevant skills and experience required to manage Triple Zero Victoria. I do think it is important, because it is easy, when there are reforms and bills and the wording in which legislation is often drafted, to overlook some of the very significant elements that are actually driving change. That is why I think it is important to focus on those elements here and now, while we are debating not only the purpose of the bill but what we expect it to deliver as well.

I also want to reiterate that I note what a difficult and complex role it is. I have to say that hypothetically speaking, but I know there would be broad acceptance of that position and understanding by those who have to take those calls when people are probably in significant distress. Having the right tools, disposition and know-how to handle them is certainly something I have a lot of respect for – and I know that has been, in a unified way, accepted by this chamber as well. I am just reiterating this point because it is very easy to dismiss just how hard and effectively our workers in the call centre work every day to keep Victorians safe. In 2022–23 ESTA answered almost 2.7 million calls for assistance, representing a call every 11 seconds, or 7350 calls every day. I say that from the perspective of saying, yes, this just shows you what an incredibly demanding role and workplace this is and what an incredibly important function it is, and hence the imperative to bring about reforms for this very important role in our community – literally the nexus between community and our emergency services, fundamentally.

I also do just want to touch on the issue of staff, because we are going from ESTA as it was to Triple Zero Victoria. Staff at ESTA have worked tirelessly, we know, to support Victorians in the face of sustained, unprecedented demand during the pandemic, and we simply cannot thank them enough. ESTA’s highly qualified staff will be supported through the transitional period. Staff employed by ESTA will transfer to Triple Zero Victoria on the same terms and conditions they are currently employed under to help ensure the continuity of service to the community. That is certainly important to me and, I know, to our government as a whole.

I used to work for a union, not specifically to do with emergency services, but I do understand that making sure that workers are well supported in a transitional space is incredibly important. I am relieved to know that this is being well and truly looked after. The dedicated and tireless ESTA staff do an incredible job on the front line every day. These reforms will also give them certainty that the highly skilled service they provide will be supported by a strong and resilient system. It is making sure that on the one hand the highly skilled staff are well supported through the transition. That certainly is important as part of our Labor values as well. Many of us in this chamber have worked in unions, but you do not have to have worked in a union necessarily to understand the importance of that. I think it is common sense to look after our workers, because they are saving lives at the end of the day.

A member interjected.

Nina TAYLOR: It makes good sense, doesn’t it? Also giving them certainty about the service in which they are working is extremely important; they deserve that. I think that will give the community comfort. Fundamentally we know that this is really important work. It is responding to the reviews and taking on board the important changes to ensure this system functions optimally into the future.

Bridget VALLENCE (Evelyn) (16:29): Today I rise also to speak on the Triple Zero Victoria Bill 2023, and I do so with some concern because 000 is that essential, critical emergency call service and call and dispatch service that Victorians expect to rely on. Sadly, over a number of years there have been systemic failures in the system, and finally we see some small steps forward from the government after years of inaction, years of underfunding and years of systemic issues. The 000 call service has been broken. On our side of the house we will not be opposing this bill or of course any attempts to fix and strengthen the critical 000 call and dispatch system. The Labor government, after years of inaction and knowing about these systemic failures, are bringing forward this bill today after several damning independent reports, so it is good finally to see some steps. We do not think that the bill covers everything that is needed, but we feel that it is at least a step in the right direction to improve what is such a critical and vital system that Victorians absolutely should expect to rely on.

Simply renaming ESTA Triple Zero Victoria is not enough, and Victorians will certainly be scrutinising the Labor government very closely to ensure that there is actually a marked improvement in this vital emergency response system. Lest there be any doubt, my concerns are not levelled at the hardworking and dedicated workforce – the staff at ESTA who take the calls, who deal with those harrowing calls and who work their hardest to get the service and the help needed to people at the time that they need it; they are really about the operational side, the management and the government, who have year after year failed to see the necessary requirement to fund and sustainably fund such a vital and critical service. It is really the government who has failed with the warning signs – not only the warning signs but the actual reported and documented evidence by independent bodies who have demonstrated that the system has been failing.

Tragically and unacceptably, independent reviews have revealed and identified that at least 33 Victorians have tragically lost their lives as a result of systemic issues within Victoria’s ESTA system and ambulance dispatch, and I take the opportunity to again extend my condolences to all of the families of those 33 people who died as a result of failures within the system, because of course nothing will ever bring those people back home. When Victorians call the 000 system, it is because they are desperate. It is because they are desperate and they need help. They need help at that moment in time. That is precisely why they are calling 000. Everyone knows it. Everyone has got it on their fridge at home: ‘In case of an emergency call 000’. Victorians expect and deserve to have that service responded to in a timely manner and responded to quickly in an urgent sense, but all too many times the system has failed Victorians.

As I said, Victorians expect their calls to be answered to get help when they need that help. But these independent reports have revealed the deep and systemic problems that have been known to this Labor government for years but so far not acted upon. The inspector-general for emergency management (IGEM) did a number of reviews, including the emergency call answer performance review, which exposed deficiencies in the system and that Victoria’s system had the worst performance in all of Australia. Also, the Auditor-General reported on the risk to the sustainability of the ESTA system. Yet it has taken years – years too long – for the Labor government to act. Victorians hope not just that this bill is a way for the government to rename and rebadge the ESTA system as Triple Zero Victoria but that funding and operational issues will actually be fixed and strengthened in response to those damning findings and the recommendations in the various independent reports that have exposed system failures for probably almost a decade now.

The government often refers to their spending programs, like the infrastructure program. I have got nothing against infrastructure, but they spend billions and billions on infrastructure, and also those infrastructure projects are billions and billions of dollars over budget, yet the Labor government have to date struggled to find sufficient funds to properly resource the ESTA emergency call and dispatch system. It has not been structurally funded well to ensure it is sustainable and delivering the level of service that Victorians expect of an emergency call and dispatch system. Again, the key points of the IGEM independent review are really troubling: 33 Victorians tragically died from emergencies that were linked to 000 delays or lengthy ambulance waits; the number of calls answered within the 5-second targets were consistently under the 90 per cent benchmark, as reported in the IGEM report; and at its lowest point, in January 2022, ESTA only answered 39 per cent of calls within 5 seconds.

As a mum at home, one of my sons had anaphylaxis, and I had to call 000 for my son, who has, unfortunately, a deadly allergy to peanuts. I have been in that situation where we have had the stress of needing to call 000 and having a very, very – I think, unacceptably – long wait for an ambulance. So I know only too well, having had firsthand experience of calling 000, about having an unacceptably long wait time when my son was in a very stressful situation for his mum, and it was a very painful situation for my son. To see these reports, to know the statistics are damning and for the government to have taken this long to just chip away at the edges and only dish out a little bit of money here and there has not been good enough.

It was quoted in the report by Tony Pearce that calls had fallen below community and government expectations, with Victorians waiting more than 70 minutes for their emergency call to be answered in January of 2022. That is just astonishing and completely unacceptable. That was January 2022. We find ourselves now in October 2023, so that is a very long time after these reports came through. That is still a very, very long time for the government to act. It is good that the government is taking a step forward now, but given that the crisis was well and truly known at least in January 2022 – despite the fact that we had known about the funding issues for years and years before, back to at least 2016 – when Victorians were having to wait up to 70 minutes for their calls to be answered, we find ourselves now in October 2023 and the government is only introducing a bill now. They are just way too slow to act for some of the most critical emergency services that Victorians expect and deserve.

Just think of the harrowing ESTA call that we heard from the mum of 14-year-old Alisha Hussein. Again, as a mother, this pulls on the heartstrings. They called ESTA. They called 000. They were on the phone. They just took that step to drive to the hospital, and still there was no ambulance dispatched, and sadly Alisha Hussein died. These reports can shed some light for a family like the Hussein family, but they will not bring Alisha back.

Also with this bill there are a couple of other concerns that we have. There is a lack of a timely requirement for the government to report on performance data and performance measures, and we would like to see that strengthened. The Shadow Minister for Emergency Services has foreshadowed that we may have some potential amendments that we might put forward when this bill gets to the upper house. Performance data is crucial to ensuring that this new Triple Zero Victoria will actually perform to the expectations of Victorians so that we do not ever again hear this level of tragic stories as the result of a government service like this one.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Before I call the member for Pascoe Vale, I would like to acknowledge in the gallery Mr Chirag Paswan, a member of the Indian national Parliament’s Lok Sabha. Welcome, sir.

Anthony CIANFLONE (Pascoe Vale) (16:40): I rise to speak on the Triple Zero Victoria Bill 2023, and in doing so I would like to acknowledge all of the contributions, particularly from this side of the house thus far, and the service from all sides of the house in terms of our emergency services, beginning with the member for Melton with his outstanding contribution. I acknowledge his service as a medic for many, many years. I would like to acknowledge the work of and thank all of Victoria’s emergency services staff, beginning with emergency call takers, right through to Victoria Police officers, Ambulance Victoria officers, our firefighters, health workers, Victoria State Emergency Service workers and PSOs, but as well our social workers, who have to deal with a lot of the fallout of a lot of these incidents, which sometimes can be forgotten.

This bill is a key pillar in the reform of Victoria’s 000 service, and the bill will do quite a number of things. It will focus Triple Zero Victoria on delivering high-quality and timely call-taking and dispatch services and operational communication services; establish a board directly accountable to the Minister for Emergency Services for all aspects of the business of Triple Zero Victoria that have clearly legislated functions; and define the functions of the CEO, who will be appointed by and report to the board and be accountable for the general conduct and financial management of Triple Zero Victoria. It will establish an operational committee of the board to formalise and embed meaningful partnership models between Triple Zero Victoria and emergency services and other key government departments, and the bill details the reporting requirements of the board to the Minister for Emergency Services and the Department of Justice and Community Safety.

The bill also sets out the process around establishing performance standards, which will be set by the emergency management commissioner in consultation with Triple Zero Victoria, emergency services organisations and key department stakeholders and be reviewed at least every five years. The inspector-general for emergency management will maintain a role in monitoring and assurance of performance standards. The bill marks an important step forward as the government delivers on its commitment to create a stronger, more resilient 000 service for all Victorians.

The bill builds on and is informed by the findings of the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority Capability and Service Review, which was led by former Victoria Police commissioner Graham Ashton. The bill also builds on and is informed by the findings of the inspector-general for emergency management’s Review of Victoria’s Emergency Ambulance Call Answer Performance: COVID-19 Pandemic-Related 000 Demand Surge, which identified quite a number of opportunities to strengthen governance, accountability and service delivery, including in times of peak demand. Both of these reports recommend organisational changes and reforms to ensure that the Triple Zero Victoria structure, functions and name align with community expectations and the services being provided. But both of these reports also set out clearly and factually the context in which ESTA have been operating through the unprecedented demands and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, which I will draw the house’s attention to.

I point the house to pages 2 and 4 of ESTA’s capability review, which state that ESTA responds to 2.5 million emergency calls annually and dispatches 2.1 million events per annum. ESTA employs approximately 1000 people, who do magnificent work across their three purpose-built facilities, which operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. However, for some time now there has been significant concern around the effectiveness of ESTA’s capability and capacity to deliver consistent 000 services across Victoria, and this review has been completed during a particularly complex and challenging time for ESTA. The report acknowledges that over the course of the review there had been and continue to be challenges in the delivery of some of ESTA’s call dispatch services. These include the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed Victoria’s emergency services organisations, particularly health services, to their limits. The Ashton review goes on to make 20 recommendations, much of which are either fulfilled by or progressed through the passage of this bill.

The review of the inspector-general into ambulance performance during COVID-19 on page 5 states:

It is not an understatement to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed life as we know it. For more than two years now Australia – and the world – has been dealing with a health crisis of such scale and consequences that the closest precedent was the devastating outbreak of Spanish Influenza following the Great War.

COVID-19 has challenged and stretched health systems across the world. Despite Australia’s relatively small population and situated within a continent of its own, state and national health systems have been subjected to significant stress and strain, affecting both systems and people.

The review recognised the vital and skilful work of all the call centre call takers and dispatchers during the past few years who have been presented with so many challenges. On the front line of Victoria’s emergency management system, these people have worked tirelessly to help safeguard the community. The review finds no fault with the people who have so capably served in this capacity through such difficulties that the pandemic has presented to us all. This work is highly skilled but also physically and psychologically demanding on the call takers, dispatchers and also their families.

The current benchmark for ESTA’s call answer speed for emergency ambulances is that within a calendar month ESTA answer 90 per cent of such calls within 5 seconds. However, despite its careful planning and best endeavours, ESTA’s call answer speed performance for emergency ambulances via 000 did fall during the period of the review below community and government expectations and performance benchmarks during the pandemic. This occurred in the face of an enormous and unprecedented demand for Ambulance Victoria services, demand that reverberated and challenged the health system broadly as a whole.

By the end of the 2020–21 financial year ESTA had answered 884,000-plus emergency ambulance calls, which was 53,200 more than the previous year. From the end of October 2021, as COVID restrictions began to be eased, this contributed to call volumes increasing significantly more, with ESTA answering approximately 2800 calls a day for eight months; that is 400 a day more than the previous year’s mean. As across the rest of the health sector, ESTA was also having to furlough a significant percentage of staff due to COVID-19 infections or those who were deemed as close contacts. At the very same time Ambulance Victoria assessed that many of these calls were for patients who did not need an emergency ambulance. Ambulance Victoria’s referral service was assessing 40 per cent of 000 calls and referring 24 per cent to alternative means of care or transport during 2021 – they were not emergencies.

The review identified 40 potential adverse events, sadly, during this period, which were associated with call answer delays; agency, command and control decisions; and resourcing issues. Tragically, 33 patients did not survive their emergencies, and my thoughts and prayers really are with their families and also the emergency workers who attended these cases. The review, however, did not make any findings about whether the associated emergency call performance issues may have contributed to the passing of these patients or whether faster intervention may have prevented these deaths. To quote from the report, the inspector-general for emergency management stated that:

These important questions are for the jurisdiction of the Coroners Court of Victoria …

with the inspector-general also going on to say that:

The actual consequences of degraded call answer and response times for the community may not be clear for some time.

And that:

It may also be necessary for longitudinal studies to track patient outcomes over time.

The inspector-general’s report put forward 42 findings, nine observations and eight recommendations, which again are being largely fulfilled through this bill. These reforms, along with the accompanying state investments, will help us to rebuild community confidence in our state’s emergency call dispatch system. Along with these reforms, since 2021 the Victorian government has delivered over $363 million in new investment to reform and strengthen Victoria’s 000 services, including through $333 million from May 2022 to deliver more than 400 staff, another $27 million in October 2021 to ease call-taking pressure and upgrade technology and a further $2 million in the recent budget to continue to support the implementation of these initiatives.

These improvements, coupled with unprecedented government investment, have ensured significant improvements in ESTA’s call answer performance. Since August 2022 ESTA have consistently exceeded the ambulance call answer speed benchmark of answering 90 per cent of calls within 5 seconds, and given they receive around 7500 calls a day – or a call every 11.6 seconds – this is phenomenal work that needs to be acknowledged.

I would like to end where I started by thanking every local emergency worker across Pascoe Vale, Coburg and Brunswick West. In this respect I am very pleased to share with the house that the member for Broadmeadows on 15 June officially opened the new world-class SES station on the border of our electorates, located at 1161 Sydney Road, Hadfield. The Victorian government invested $125 million, some of which delivered this brand new world-class facility, which is spread across 5000 square metres and includes a five-bay motor room, a modern kitchen and expanded office space, and is fully equipped with IT communications equipment that is all interconnected with the broader emergency network.

I would also like to conclude on another positive note and share with the house the story of young Chloe Bonner, an eight-year-old from Pascoe Vale who demonstrated maturity beyond her years in picking up the phone and calling 000 to save the life of her mum Sally Bonner. As a medical emergency was unfolding at her house, Chloe first rang her grandmother, explaining that she had found her mum making funny noises and that her eyes were closed. Chloe’s mum Sally is a diabetic. 000’s Darcy Martell, the ESTA call taker who took the call, then called Chloe directly, throughout which Chloe’s calm demeanour and capacity guided her to calmly follow the instructions that Darcy was giving her to help save her mum. Chloe’s bravery was recently recognised with an ESTA junior 000 award, which as a community we should all be very, very proud of.

In that respect I am very pleased to commend the bill to the house in the name of all our emergency services workers, who deserve our credit every single day, in the name of the SES centre that we have just recently opened that the member for Broadmeadows cut the ribbon to – which will go on to serve our community for many, many more years – and in the name of Chloe, who has done a magnificent job that we should all draw inspiration from. I commend the bill.

Cindy McLEISH (Eildon) (16:50): It looks like I might be winding up this debate, all being well. I rise to join the Triple Zero Victoria Bill 2023 debate. I guess this bill is reflective of the typical reactions of the government when they are under a bit of pressure, when the heat is on and when processes and systems are failing. We have had quite a number of failings with ESTA, and so what the government does is kind of try and start again and create a new agency. I cannot count the number of new agencies that the government has created during the last two terms that they have had. Now, what we see here with ESTA, the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority, is we have known that ESTA for quite some period has had a number of issues. It is a statutory authority. This bill that we have before us is actually going to repeal the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority Act 2004, and it will establish in ESTA’s place Triple Zero Victoria. As I said, ESTA is a statutory authority, and that is not the case with Triple Zero Victoria.

The aim of Triple Zero Victoria is to support other emergency services organisations and meet agreed performance standards. One thing we all know for certain is that performance standards have certainly been lacking in the last few years. It is not just COVID – I think sometimes people say, ‘Oh, the unprecedented demand with COVID’, but that should not be the reason that you expose flaws in systems and processes, which is what has happened. This bill has come on the back of the criticism of emergency response times, particularly ambulance response times. Now, this is not about Ambulance Victoria and the paramedics, by any means; this is about the concerns around the processes of making a phone call to 000 and what happens next. Because you expect – and I have called 000 in the past – that your call gets very quickly triaged and it goes to the right department, whether that is fire, police or ambulance, and you get to that department pronto and you get the response. But we see that that is certainly not what has happened, and there has been a lot of concern not just around the processes but around the resourcing levels and governance as well. As I mentioned, this issue did intensify due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but certainly that is not the only reason that we experienced a whole lot of the issues that we did.

There were a number of reviews that were undertaken to try and have a look at what happened and to make the changes – to investigate and have a good, hard look at what happened. We had, firstly, the ESTA Capability and Service Review, the final report which was conducted by the former Victorian police commissioner, Graham Ashton. Then there were two reports prepared for the inspector-general for emergency management, and these were the Review of Victoria’s Preparedness for Major Public Health Emergencies, Including Pandemics, and secondly, the Review of Victoria’s Emergency Ambulance Call Answer Performance.

I think many of us in this place would have heard of the dreadful situations where we had some 33 Victorians that died from emergencies that were linked to 000 delays and lengthy ambulance wait times. The number of calls answered within the 5-second target was consistently under the 90 per cent benchmark – consistently under. That was really quite alarming, and that meant that changes did need to be made. At its lowest point, in January 2022, ESTA only answered 39 per cent of calls within 5 seconds, so that is not good enough – I am quoting from an article in the Age on 3 September 2022.

Personally, I do know a couple of people who spoke to me because they had had issues. One person thought his wife was having a heart attack; this person had no medical training or involvement at all in his life – he had been a mechanic. He rang 000. It rang out. He rang 000 again, and it did not get answered. I think the third time what happened was they said, ‘Can you drive your wife somewhere?’ Now, he lived in a small country town where there was no access to an urgent care facility or emergency services. But what he did was he drove down to the Yea hospital, and the staff there monitored his wife in the meantime, which was particularly reassuring for him. The staff did an extraordinarily good job helping John and his wife.

I have another constituent in Mansfield who called to try to get an ambulance to his elderly mother, who required, obviously, immediate service and had been left on the floor for some time. So he rang 000, and they said, ‘There is no ambulance available.’ They did not put him through to the ambulance service in Mansfield. They said, ‘We can have a nurse ring you back. You can have a consultation over the phone.’ He knew his mother needed the ambulance service, and this went on for a considerable period of time. When you are in a small country town, the paramedics are part of the local community. People know them. They know them by name. They see them at the coffee shops. They live next door to people. He spoke to the paramedics, and they said, ‘What do you mean? We were in the ambulance station all that time.’ So all of that period ESTA did not even attempt to put the phone call to the ambulance station in Mansfield. They were sitting around having coffee. They were extremely concerned about this, as were the ambulance officers. They were quite distressed because they knew my constituent and his mother and realised that the system was certainly broken.

There are some similarities, I guess, between ESTA and Triple Zero Victoria. We have heard the government members talk about the board. Well, ESTA did have a board as well, and you would have to look at the composition of that board and the number of board members. I think there is a minimum of five and not more than seven, and I sometimes wonder if seven is the right balance or not. What the bill does here, though, is it aims to strengthen accountability and governance and brings the new agency closer to working with emergency services and the minister. In fact the minister is going to be, in theory, all over it, because they are going to be reporting directly there. The CEO and the board, as is typically the case, will be appointed by the minister in consultation with the relevant emergency services ministers. The new operational committee will be established to implement the recommendations of the reviews that I mentioned before. It sets its own terms of reference, which are to be approved by the board, and works with the emergency services operations to establish interagency strategic objectives. Interagency objectives are so important because we need everybody singing from the same hymnbook. I think that is really important.

I suspect that the bill is really just a governance piece rather than looking a lot at the operational models. The issues: the public should not see any real change other than a name change, but hopefully there will be better systems and processes and much better outcomes. It will not really satisfy concerns that the call centre performance and response times will not be fixed. Hopefully that is what will happen, but it will not unless they really review and revise the processes.

The funding – there are issues of how much they will get and where it will come from. Will there be a new funding model to ensure adequate investment aligned to the shifting demands? I am not quite sure about that. And the legislation will not resolve resourcing deficiencies which have been expressed within ESTA and with emergency services officers alike. The root of the problem, as we have said, was at operational level with a lack of investment in systems and staff. If you do not have the right systems – the right processes and procedures in operations – and staff, you are not going to have a strong model. The improved governance may provide greater oversight, but it will not correct the problems without commitments to greater levels of investment.

Clause 81 actually allows the minister to:

… set … agreed performance standards … including in relation to its governance, or administration or financial matters.

The minister must also review and endorse all other performance standards before they are set. So the minister’s hands will be all over this, unlike with a statutory authority, where it is kept quite separate. Does this mean that the minister is going to exert too much influence coming up with their own performance standards or not? We know certainly that the system is broken. The system does need to be changed. The government has acted on the reports that have been done, and for all Victorians let us hope these changes do improve matters.

The SPEAKER: Order! The time set down for consideration of items on the government business program has arrived, and I am required to interrupt business.

Motion agreed to.

Read second time.

Third reading

Motion agreed to.

Read third time.

The SPEAKER: The bill will now be sent to the Legislative Council and their agreement requested.