COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2020
Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (15:46):
It is interesting in listening to the debate today that the members of the government talk about ‘reasonable and proportionate’. I have heard that mentioned today while the multi thousands of emails that have come to me, people who have knocked on the door and come into my office, or who have rung or written letters even—many of those—do not think it is reasonable and proportionate, the bill before the house. In fact most do not. Some are just lamenting their pure frustration at this botched response from the Andrews government, but most of them are saying that this huge overreach and quite unnecessary. I did not hang out a shingle anywhere saying, ‘Come and tell me your woes’. I do not mean that disrespectfully. I did not tout for any negative opinion; I was just an upper house MP who was prepared to listen. And we have all received them; we have all received many of those letters and emails.
What Victorians want is recovery and hope, but what they are getting is a dictatorial-style Premier. I want to talk about this unprecedented, power-hungry, lockdown elimination strategy of Daniel Andrews. It is crushing the livelihoods of thousands of Victorians, it is compromising their mental health and it is scaring the daylights out of many of them. This is not anything that I have done; this is not anything that MPs here have done. It is Daniel Andrews who is creating this. He has created it from day one.
I cannot understand it. Yes, an overseas virus came to our shores, as it was always going to, on the back of overseas travellers. In those early days when we were all glued to the television and we were watching Daniel Andrews, the Prime Minister and the other Premiers talk about national cabinet there was a feeling of hope and unity with respect to that. At national cabinet they were speaking daily, probably hourly from time to time, and yet what happened to Victoria is so vastly different.
I will go into the bill in detail shortly but will give some context around that. Daniel Andrews went, ‘I’m speaking to the Prime Minister’. All right. Okay, well done. Let us keep going on this. But what he then did was, rather than as a leader taking to the group discussion, ‘What are you doing with your overseas returned travellers? What are you doing in terms of hotel quarantine?’, he did not take the advice; he went out on his own. For some reason, and there has been much discussion around this—was it to in some way try and prop up the unemployment that was going to occur?—rather than accepting the Australian Defence Force (ADF) help, he propped it up by employing people on Gumtree via security groups. It just defies logic.
So he did that, but we have seen it backfire so terribly, and what we see now is that 90 per cent of all deaths in Australia are through Victoria—810 lives lost out of 898 Australians. We see 791 directly attributed to the hotel quarantine—98 per cent in my maths—and I know that Jennifer Coate in the inquiry is talking about 99 per cent or that evidence in that inquiry shows 99 per cent can be attributed back to the botched hotel quarantine. And these are not just numbers. They are people that other people loved. They are people who passed in isolation. Some will say, ‘Well, they’re aged. These sorts of things are always going to affect the aged and vulnerable first’. Yes, that is true, but on any given day when there is someone dying in a nursing home, a family member or a beloved friend can go and hold their hand and be with them—but not in this situation, not in this botched scenario, this nightmare that we have lived in Victoria.
And who is to blame? Well, every time I think about the Premier and what he is doing, I think of that pea and thimble trick; he has popped the pea of truth somewhere under a thimble, and he is moving it round on the table as fast as he can. We have seen various entities, such as the former Chief Commissioner, talk about and release commentary around a time span that could indicate who was actually that final governing body, who was the voice, that said, ‘Yes, let’s stop the ADF and bring in security officers’. And what we also have seen in a diabolical way is amnesia. This is not leadership; this is amnesia that we are getting. Again, it is diabolical that our Victorians have suffered so.
Indeed, in my own electorate of Eastern Victoria Region, Gippsland has zero cases and yet people are still locked down in terms of businesses that can open. No gyms can open, no dance schools can open, there are no swimming lessons in heated pools and the list goes on. And yes, you can say, ‘Oh, but it’s all for the greater good’, but New South Wales does not have to wear this burden. New South Wales does not have the subversion of executive government. Victoria had a government system and a cabinet, then it became the crisis cabinet and now it has morphed into the decision-maker of one. And there is no accountability with this. Certainly the daily briefings that the Premier provides are almost like having a tooth extracted without anaesthetic. He monotonously bats back questions, some of them very decent questions from media, about what is going on. Former Minister Mikakos has reflected, and I quote:
The fact that no such Cabinet, or Cabinet Committee, process was engaged for the setting up of the Hotel Quarantine Program is the root cause of some of the issues which have been ventilated before the Board in the course of this Inquiry.
We have seen that contact tracing is, again, just a debacle. Do we have enough people? Don’t we have enough people? Do we have a system working? Do we have fax machines? Why can another state, a comparable state like New South Wales, get it right and why do we get it so wrong? And why wasn’t a leader going to that and saying, ‘Listen, this is pretty desperate stuff. I need to lead my people out of this properly. What are you doing that we’re not’? It is about leaving your ego at the door and finding out the best solutions.
And in terms of—and I know others have made this point—the depression and the anxiety that people are suffering, I do feel for the people in Melbourne, my city cousins, being imprisoned for up to 22 or 23 hours in a day and having those curfews. It is just so, so tragic.
We know also from statistics that before COVID, Lifeline had approximately 2500 calls nationally per day. Now that in itself says that Lifeline is an amazing organisation and needs our ongoing support. But when Victoria came into its COVID response, we had 3000 a day across Australia and 1000 of those were in Victoria alone. Two out of three contacts to Beyond Blue were from mental health support services—two out of three were coming from Victoria. And the list goes on.
There has been a call to ease restrictions, and I adhere and commend and support those restrictions. Regional Victoria does not need to be in the state that it is in. We have seen a very odd backflip by the Premier recently to do with masks. Now we are getting to the point where we are very low in regional Victoria. We are beating this thing by the sheer goodness and will of the population, and yet the government is now saying, ‘No, sorry, shields are not right’. You can wear a gaiter, but apparently a bandana is not right. Where is the documentation behind this? Where is the science behind this? These are captain’s calls that again are not serving our people and the people are in genuine fear, as I have said.
There is so much fear that when this opportunity came, through this omnibus bill, to write to the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee, to write to SARC, there were 13 000 emails in only a few days. Now, the government only opened it up for a matter of a couple of days—13 000! Some of them cc’d me in as well and said, ‘How do I write?’—and away you go.
They are concerned about their rights and liberties. They are concerned that the original format of this bill engaged very severely—the omnibus bill engaged very severely—the charter of human rights. Last term I was in SARC and I know the process, and it was interesting that often when there is a bill that seems quite unrelated to engaging the charter of human rights, down in layer by layer it was identified how and what. Well, I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall in this one because I would have thought it took days, it should have taken days, to go through this level of how it compromises human rights.
Now, this new bill, or the amendments to the bill that was obviously not going to get through—otherwise the government would still have it on this bill sheet today—is better, but it is still a bad bill. These new provisions still impinge upon the rights of our freedoms.
The new part to the bill goes to, and looking at that in more detail, the authorised officers. Now, people were very concerned about authorised officers from the start, but this one still enables the secretary to enable police officers and PSOs to, without a warrant, enter premises to seize and search.
We have seen—yes indeed—in this other part that WorkSafe inspectors will have the power without a warrant to come in and seize anything that they deem is necessary, where they require the provision of information. They can require the destruction or disposal of anything in a premise, whether it be work or home. The other one that gets people still is: an employee in the public sector of the state—and that could be, taking up your point Dr Bach, a naturopath, a masseur, a parking attendant from Canberra or a social worker from Queensland—could close premises or direct a person to enter or not enter and remain at a premises. They could also, without a warrant, enter premises and search and seize—and the list goes on. People are very concerned about this.
Finally, I just want to reiterate a couple of things that one of the many people who have written to me has said—Helen Case from Drouin:
The current economic devastation to this State is immeasurable and flies in the accord of acting in the best interests of the State and its citizens.
The ongoing fear campaign and evasive commentary shows an abysmal lack of leadership—
The extension of proposed powers does not correlate with the submissive compliance of most Victorians—
and I concur with her—
and those who have not been submissive have yet to show any contribution to growing numbers in relation to this pandemic. In fact, most of the powers have very little to do with a virus and more to do with condoning invasive actions and inappropriate domination.
She goes on:
Let the Police do what they are extensively trained to do and regain the respect of the citizens.
Let the PSO’s confine themselves to the roles intended.
Let the Worksafe Inspectors concentrate on their field of safety in the workplace.
There has been no demonstrated need for this bill—
Victorians have been incredibly and overwhelmingly compliant for such an extended period of time … There is no need for the amendments.’
Well, I concur with her. I also concur with the Liberal and Nationals amendment that I think Mr Finn put up in relation to removing that 5-kilometre boundary. People have been shut in and their minds must be just about imploding with that restraint. We are beating this without this bill. There is no need for it and the Nationals will not be supporting it.