Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (State Of Emergency Extension and Other Matters) Bill 2020
Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (14:58): I was getting altitude sickness up there in the high country. Mind you, The Nationals love the High Country. But I am pleased to stand down here and speak on the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (State of Emergency Extension and Other Matters) Bill 2020 this afternoon, which looks at the extension of emergency powers. From the outset, it will not be a shock to anyone to note that The Nationals will be opposing this bill. In fact, it is not a bill at the moment, it is still an exposure draft. But we think it is a bad exposure draft. It has multiple flaws, and the main flaw is that it impacts on the lives, the livelihoods, the wellbeing, the senses, the emotions and the economy of so many people throughout Victoria, and people in rural and regional Victoria specifically.
If we go out to the foyer of our Parliament House—this amazing Parliament House, which has been here since around 1856 or thereabouts—inscribed into the foyer of Parliament House are words from Proverbs in the Bible:
Where no counsel is the people fall but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.
At the moment democracy is not experiencing safety at all. At the moment we are being delivered some form of democracy which in effect is a dictatorial state. Democracy is getting thrown under the bus under the guise of protecting us from COVID.
Now, in the past seven months our lives have been turned upside down, and for many far more so than for me and probably my colleagues in here. For many, they have had their businesses removed from them. They have had to go into hibernation with the hope of continuing on afterwards. Many have had to learn as a parent how to be a teacher as well as being a mother or a father or working from home, as we are required to do.
This parliamentary system has been put to bed by the Andrews government, and in doing that it is in contempt of Victorians as well as being in contempt of the democratic system. The Premier has got drunk on this form of power with his select few. What a leader does is lead his people. He leads. If we look to the Prime Minister and the way he and the federal government have handled this pandemic, we see leadership. What we see is somebody who is willing to communicate with all sides of Parliament—with the opposition and Independents. We know that the Prime Minister has had ongoing conversations with his opposition leader, but we are not seeing the same in the context of this state. We are not seeing a true leadership position, where the Premier provides updates. We—The Nationals and the Liberals—have not had any updates from the Minister for Health in any way, but I know that the Labor Party MPs have had them. Now, this is not a case of sucking your thumb; it is a case of us being able to go back into our communities and provide useful and supportive information to our constituents. And let me say—I am sure I can speak for many people here—we have had a plethora of constituents coming to us scratching their heads, pulling their hair out, wondering how they are going to survive in their business or how they are going to get to a funeral.
What we also know is that in other states the wave came over. We had people returning from overseas; we had this pandemic come to our shores. But in the time that have still been in lockdown in Melbourne, and unfortunately Mornington Peninsula is also in lockdown in stage 4, and regional Victoria is in stage 3, we see that New South Wales is back up and running. We see that Queensland is back up and running. They still have restrictions, for sure, but they are not in this diabolical context that we are experiencing today. My son is a nurse in Sydney. He can go to the Blue Mountains and go hiking and camping. He could go to a football match in a crowd. It is a concept for us; it is not a reality.
Now, these things are all well and good, but there is a pain on a real level that we see. We are seeing curfews like never before and severe lockdowns. We have had situations where two world wars and a flu back in 1919 never caused this amount of trouble.
The other thing that we know is that you only have to walk down the main street of Traralgon, which is where my office is and where I spend many days of the week, or go into Stockland Plaza to see the amount of shops shut. You go past two shops to see one open. That has to have an impact on the overall psyche of a town. It also has to have an impact on the fundamental economy of that town, and we replicate that over and over again—gift shops, beauticians…..
Today in Parliament I put in a petition which relates to sole traders. There are sole traders across the state who are saying they are being unfairly omitted from the state government support grants. Indeed, Minister Pulford had I think it was about 8 minutes all up to discuss sole traders, and she could not discuss one group that she had had an in-depth discussion with about how to support them. Sole traders, for example, do not need business mentoring. They know how to do their job. They just need to be able to have some support to get through this very challenging situation. We know that the federal government’s JobKeeper is a lifeline for people.
Recently I went to a funeral via Zoom and 10 people were there for Rita Bentley, an amazing lady, who spent her life supporting outdoor pursuits, Bush User Groups United and the Prospectors and Miners Association of Victoria. It was one of the saddest funerals I have ever been to, via Zoom, because the family only had 10 people there. Thank goodness it has not happened in my family, but my heart goes out to all of those people that it has happened to.
We should not be in this position now that we are needing to do that.
Like all other MP’s I have had multiple emails, and I think we did a bit of a count—a bit under 2500 emails opposing this legislation. And you are right, they are not proformas; they are individuals making individual comments. I have read so many of them my head boggles, but I appreciate the context and the comments that people make. The other point is, in relation to that, most—the bulk of those letters and emails—are saying, ‘Stop this legislation going through. Stop this legislation’. Some are saying we can go—we need to go—to zero. We need to stop and go straight to zero. Now, I cannot hold that belief, and the Nationals do not hold that, because we know that you cannot go from a stage 4 lockdown and a stage 3 lockdown to zero. It is like when you fill up a water bottle, and you fill it up and it gets to the top and it is full, and then it overwhelms and spurts everywhere. We cannot have the population of people, unfortunately, just going back to the good old days that do not exist anymore.
We also need to support our people who are at the very forefront—the nurses and doctors who have put their lives on the line in working with this. Some of those letters and my constituents often are saying things like they are living in fear. I have got a mother who rang up to ask me to oppose the legislation, who spoke about a friend—and I will not do any names so that people will be anonymous—of hers who actually took his own life. He was in his late 40s. He had been up in East Gippsland and he felt very positive about supporting people through the fires and clearing up and the like, but he was back at home living with his mother and he could not cope. I am taking that as a fact from this lady who spoke to me.
I have got another man who was speaking to me. I think he wanted to chat, almost like pastoral care. He had not left the house, other than for absolute emergencies to go and get food, for five months. I have got a father and mother of a newborn. The mother moved back into lockdown 4 to be with her parents to support the child, and he was living in fear that he could not come to Melbourne and actually see his child. He has not seen his newborn for months. We had to provide that information from the Chief Health Officer’s directives to try and give him that confidence. The list could go on and on and on.
What we also know is that Lifeline has had spikes in their calls. Beyond Blue have had spikes in their support system. The Centre Against Sexual Assault, in particular Gippsland CASA, a couple of months ago I was speaking to them, and they had had a 25 per cent increase in sexual assaults.
Now, we are not saying that the government needs to stop. But they need to stop this ‘six months, now six months’ pressurised system. And who is the architect of this? Well, the architect of this failure is Daniel Andrews. And what is that mark in time? It was the hotel quarantine debacle. We know from genomic sequencing that the cause of this second wave is the total and atrocious ineptitude of the hotel quarantine. We know from the Coate Inquiry, from former judge Jennifer Coate, that witnesses were outlining that they were given cultural training instead of infection control training. I will quote from this because it is worth putting on record: exhibit 023 statement from Luke Ashford, question from the Coate Inquiry:
Had you received any specialist training in respect of performing authorised officer duties for DHHS?
‘No’, was the response. He continues:
Prior to commencing I did some training online in regards to using the COVID-19 app, which was the Department’s sort of data capture tool. I did about an hour of training on that and also some standard employee equity and diversity training whilst working with the Department as well. But other than that, no, there was no other training.
So, we have a system that was the flashpoint that has spread this second wave. In the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearing—and I commend my lower house colleague Danny O'Brien for doing an outstanding job, along with Richard Riordon and Bridget Vallence in interrogating the Premier and the Ministers. If finger-pointing and denying reality and passing the buck was an Olympic sport, these people would walk away with gold medals.
The Premier is supposed to be talking to national cabinet and speaking to other states regularly—he told us that—why wouldn’t you discuss what is working for you? Why would you make these choices? Now, we need oversight and at the moment we are not getting it, and at the moment if this bill goes through, we will not have oversight. There needs to be parliamentary scrutiny. There needs to be an understanding through experts. Other than the Chief Health Officer, how do we know how the government is finding out their information and what they are doing? There needs to be an oversight committee and it needs to be comprehensive and understanding. We need to find a solution to this. We need a light at the end of the tunnel. Victorians deserve this, but at the moment they are not getting it.
The other point I would like to make in relation to this bill looks at this exposure draft. It goes to things like saying that this state of emergency still can operate when there are no active cases. I note my colleague Mr O’Donohue has done some very good research with Marcus Clarke, QC, that he will speak to in the Committee stage, and I will listen with most interest. It speaks about this no active cases. ‘Is that for a day? Or could it be for 11 months?’, Mr Marcus Clarke, QC, talks about.
The other thing that the bill does at the moment is changes ‘necessary’ to ‘reasonably necessary’. That actually lowers the threshold for the chief health officer implementing rules and restrictions. When I went to the virtual briefing the other day, they could not present an argument that the government had actually investigated other ways of doing things. We know in South Australia they are doing things differently. They are rolling over month by month. That was always my position: why don’t we look to other states and see how that is working?
So we, the Nationals and the Liberals, are certainly putting through amendments that are going to be flagged. We want to see a month-by-month basis. We want to see the removal of clause 6 that reduces that threshold. We want to confirm that Parliament will not be undermined during this crisis. We want to see in our clauses that the Chief Health Officer cannot designate the Parliament precinct as a no-go zone for democracy. We also want to see that it is only applicable to the COVID virus.
We do not want to see this continuation of pain. There must be a way through. Unless this bill is significantly altered, the Nationals will not be voting in favour. We will be opposing it.