People found guilty of “intentionally and recklessly” breaching public health orders would face two years in jail or a $90,000 fine, the premier will get sweeping powers to declare pandemics and the public’s right to privacy will be enshrined in law under pandemic legislation introduced by the Andrews government.
PUBLIC HEALTH AND WELLBEING AMENDMENT (PANDEMIC MANAGEMENT) BILL 2021
Debate resumed on motion of Mr FOLEY:
That this bill be now read a second time.
Mr T SMITH (Kew) (18:01): I speak tonight on the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021 with a heavy heart and indeed genuine apprehension and fear for what these extraordinary laws will do to the society and indeed the people of Victoria, who have endured so much for such a long time because of the incompetence of those opposite us, who have misused their powers, who have locked people up, locked people out, destroyed businesses and mental health, seen our children miss more days at school than any other state in the nation, seen 85 000 people contract COVID-19 and seen 1065 people perish of COVID-19. We had the highest number of cases, the highest number of deaths, the most jobs lost and the most school days lost in the world’s longest lockdown. For 263 days we were deprived of liberty, deprived of happiness and deprived of a right to live our lives as we would choose—inalienable rights, rights that we never thought would be threatened on this continent, rights that have been stripped away again and again and again by the Labor Party. Rights, freedoms and traditions have been taken away by a bunch of people who think that they know best, that they can all tell us how to live our lives.
And now they want to do it all again. In fact they do not want to just do it all again, they actually want to make it worse. The provisions that are presented to us and to be debated for the next hour and then for some time tomorrow before the guillotine hits are garrotting, crunching through and smashing democracy, smashing parliamentary oversight, insulting the traditions of this place and insulting the basic premise of parliamentary oversight of the executive.
I will keep my remarks relatively short, because I want as many of my colleagues to speak on this as I possibly can manage. The president of the Victorian Bar Council, Christopher Blanden, QC, this afternoon has said this. The Andrews government’s draconian pandemic legislation is so bad that Mr Blanden has said:
If the Stasi had these powers, they would still be in force.
The Stasi—referring to the East German secret police. He said:
Once a declaration is made, the health minister is given the extraordinary power to make an order necessary to protect public health, including the power to order detention, restriction of movement ... They can be enforced and punishable if you breach them by imprisonment for an unspecified period of time, effectively at the whim of the minister ...
And then they’ve got this bizarre system where the only way you can challenge that is by making an application for review to someone called a detention review officer ... not to the courts.
That is absolutely true. Clause 165B provides:
The pandemic management order powers are as follows— ...
to detain a person in a pandemic management area in accordance with a pandemic order that requires the detention of the person (including a pandemic order that requires that the detention of a person be extended).
For the avoidance of doubt, clause 165BE provides:
Requirement to isolate or quarantine not of itself detention
So for those of you who were thinking that this is simply requiring returned travellers or the like to quarantine at home, be in no doubt: you are under arrest. These provisions relate to the arbitrary arrest of Australian citizens on their home soil. Arbitrary arrest—that is what we are talking about. That is the magnitude of these provisions.
Wednesday, 27 October 2021 Legislative Assembly- PROOF 131 Clause 165BI provides:
Review of certain decisions in relation to detention
A person who is detained or whose detention is extended under section 165B(1)(b) or 165BA(1)(b) may make an application to the Secretary for a review by a Detention Review Officer of the detention including, but not limited to, in respect of the following—
the reasons for the detention;
the period of the detention;
the conditions of the detention;
any other matter relating to the detention.
A person who has made an application under subsection (1) may make further applications under that subsection if—
the most recent application made by the person has been determined; and
since the most recent application was determined, new and materially different circumstances have arisen that affect the person in respect of the detention.
Now, here is the kicker if that was not bad enough. Clause 165BL provides:
If the detention of a person ceases because of a decision made on a review of the detention, the detention of the person is not unlawful ...
Think about that. The minister through an authorised officer can detain you and deprive you of your liberties—liberties that we have held dear for 800 years. The right of freedom from arbitrary arrest is enshrined in the Magna Carta:
No free man shall be seized, imprisoned, dispossessed, outlawed, exiled or ruined in any way, nor in any way proceeded against, except by the lawful judgement of his peers and the law of the land.
And here we are with this monstrosity, this thing, this egregious attack on ancient liberties, whereby if you are charged and apprehended and then detained by the minister’s goons at his discretion, not the courts but the executive, the Crown, can arrest you at his pleasure—at the member for Albert Park’s pleasure and indeed the dictator’s pleasure through the health minister’s pleasure. And even if the review officer happens to find your detention has been for whatever reason erroneous, it does not make that detention unlawful. I think it is utterly horrifying that when 90 per cent of the community at the very least over the age of 12 are going to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 the government are giving themselves the power of arbitrary detention for an unknown period of time.
Let us go back to what is being proposed here. The Premier of Victoria can declare a pandemic even if the virus or the disease is not present in the state of Victoria, or Australia for that matter. His health minister is then empowered to issue pandemic orders. These orders will constrain freedoms and rights that have been ripped from us over the last 18 months. But what makes this truly terrifying is that, without any redress, individual citizens—Australian citizens, Australians born with inalienable rights particularly against arbitrary arrest—can be banged up without charge at the minister’s pleasure.
There are some other egregious aspects—well, the entire bill is egregious, let us be frank. But there are some other particularly concerning aspects I wish to raise. There is no real parliamentary oversight of these provisions. Professor William Partlett at the University of Melbourne makes a very damning observation:
... the bill rejects a key parliamentary safeguard that is used in NSW and NZ.
The government talking point that this is similar to New Zealand and New South Wales is wrong. Those jurisdictions have entrenched parliamentary oversight over declarations of pandemic or emergency that give the government extreme power. Instead what we have here in Victoria is the government appointing an executive committee that sits within the executive government to oversight decisions made by the executive. They are a consultative body only. They have no veto powers. It is not of the legislature, it is of the executive.
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What we on this side of the house demand is genuine, legislative parliamentary oversight. We think— and we think it is only fair and reasonable given the extraordinary powers this bill is seeking to give the Minister for Health and his boss—that after a pandemic declaration or after a state of emergency is declared they should come back to the Parliament once every 30 days and get special majorities in both houses. It is only fair, it is only reasonable and it empowers each and every representative of the people of Victoria to approve or not to approve the extraordinary, unprecedented, ugly, foreign—very foreign—powers that the government is attempting to give itself through this legislation.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, often spoken about by those opposite:
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.
I suspect this document, this bill, this monstrosity, somewhat contradicts those high and lofty ideals, and that is why we on this side of the house, the Liberals and the Nationals, the only custodians in this building of individual liberty, of freedom, of people who do not want the government controlling each and every part of their lives—we are sick to death of the Andrews government controlling each and every part of our lives—say please, please just leave us alone. Get off our case. We are sick of hearing from you. We are sick of your lecturing, your hectoring and your posturing. Just go away. Stop telling us how to live. We do not want your pandemic legislation. We do not want your state of emergency.
You told us that if we all got vaccinated, which we all have, on 24 November the only restrictions we would need would be for quarantine and to lock out the unvaccinated for the rest of 2022.
I might have some disagreement with you about locking out the unvaccinated for the whole of 2022, but I agree you need some powers with regard to quarantine, particularly for non-Australian overseas arrivals. But that is it. You do not need arbitrary arrest powers. You do not need the power to use individual characteristics to declare a pandemic.
I do not think the government realises the level of fear that now exists within ethnic and religious communities and minorities because it has put into a bill the ability to discriminate by each and every characteristic that is listed in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010: race, religion, sexual orientation, gender and political belief. The Minister for Health has given authorised officers at his command the ability to discriminate on those characteristics.
It is a stunning overreach. It is a shameful overreach. We oppose these laws to the very core of our political beings. This is why the Liberal Party and the National Party exist. That is why Menzies set the thing up—to stop Labor overreaching, to stop Labor extending the state into areas of society and human existence that it was never meant to be in. We will oppose this bill in and out of the Parliament, and we will oppose it every single day until election day next year. I thank the house.
Mr CARBINES (Ivanhoe) (18:17): I am pleased to contribute to the debate on the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021 and to pick up in particular on some key aspects of where we started, where we have got to and where we need to go next to keep Victorians safe right across the state. As we know, the legislation that is before us today, these new laws, will provide a very clear and streamlined framework for managing pandemics into the future and making sure that we continue to keep Victorians safe.
As the Premier said just this week, and I quote:
Last year we committed that we would bring forward pandemic-specific legislation that was fit for purpose, and that is exactly what we have done.
We have learned a lot over the past two years of a once in a generation pandemic, and we are applying these lessons to manage pandemics in the future—while maintaining our ability to rapidly respond to outbreaks.
I think the key elements are, to take them from our media release of 26 October:
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As is the case with current State of Emergency declarations, a report setting out the reasons for declaring a pandemic and advice of the Minister and CHO will be tabled in both Houses of Parliament.
A declaration can initially be made for only four-weeks but can be renewed for three-month periods until the pandemic no longer presents a serious risk to the community.
The Minister will also be able to issue a pandemic order to a specific classification of person or group depending on their location ... or a particular characteristic such as age, vaccination status ...
In addition, the range of transparency and accountability measures introduced will act as a strong check and balance on the use of pandemic powers.
An Independent Pandemic Management Advisory Committee made up of experts and community representatives will be established to advise on the pandemic response and management powers.
We have also made sure that:
The new framework introduces two of the recommendations of the Fines Reform Advisory Board. The first is to exclude, in appropriate circumstances, vulnerable and disadvantaged people from the infringements system.
The second is to include a new concessional fines scheme to create penalty options for people experiencing financial hardship.
As we approach this Friday and 80 per cent double-dosed vaccinations—80 per cent of Victorians across the state—that is what you really need to focus on around the compact that we have been in with the Victorian community, the Victorian Parliament and certainly the Andrews government that has seen people make huge sacrifices, not just for themselves—we heard a lot about individuals in the opening remarks of the lead speaker for those opposite—but what they are prepared to do for others, what people are prepared to do for their families, what they are prepared to do for their neighbours or prepared to do for their suburbs, their towns, their communities, their state and their country, what they are prepared to do to keep people safe. It is not just about getting yourself jabbed twice.
It is about what you can do to lead by example—like wearing a mask when you are going to buy yourself a coffee or you are doing your shopping so the frontline workers, whether they are behind the check-out, whether they are serving you a meal, can see you are making sure that you are living by the rules and that you are demonstrating to others in the community that it matters to you and it matters to other people who are working hard not only to keep people safe but to maintain goods and services in our community. That is why you are wearing a mask when you are on public transport, why you check in through a QR code, when transport workers who have worked right through the pandemic are out there keeping Victorians safe and keeping them moving.
All these elements are nothing new in relation to the amendment bill. It is building on the learnings that we have developed and the practical experiences over the past 18 months to two years. It brings us back again to the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment Bill back in 2020 that was passed by this Parliament and in particular that omnibus emergency measures bill that led to temporary changes to protect tenants and injured workers and allow vital government functions to continue to operate— the national cabinet tenancy reforms. There were a whole range of elements that led to local government, who of course have grassroots connections in their communities, and the work that so many other organisations had to have done. So we had that back in 2020, and we had to pass them through this Parliament.
Of course we can go back further. We can go back to 2008, as I have touched on previously in this place, in relation to the forward-looking work we did when we had the issue of the SARS pandemic back in about 2002. And the plans that were put in place in the lead-up to 2008, when the Public Health and Wellbeing Act was first passed by this Parliament through the work of the Bracks and Brumby governments, led in large part by the now Premier and then Minister for Health, the member for Mulgrave, set out a plan to make sure that there were some legislative mechanisms, some priorities in place. While we dodged the worst of the SARS pandemic at that time, we were then able to address and deal with a pandemic if, heaven forbid, we had to deal with a pandemic—as we have had to. Back
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in 2008 we set some parameters and some experience that we could draw on, and that of course gave us a starting point; that gave us a basis from which to keep Victorians safe and to get our public service on the front foot to do what it could at that time to provide a safe environment for people as we got more and more information and of course back then, through the national cabinet, to do the lobbying and the work that needed to be done to ensure a reasonable vaccine supply to Victorians, let alone more broadly to Australians.
In 2008 we set those building blocks in place. Who would have thought and who would have ever wanted to hope that we would need to draw on that, to rely on that, to use that? That public policy foresight from the Bracks and Brumby governments, Labor governments at that time, has stood us in good stead. That has led us then of course to our Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment Bill in 2020, the omnibus bill, and the work that we have had to do in bringing that back each and every time to the Parliament to be affirmed in this place. Other states in a state of emergency do not have to come back to the Parliament; it is ad infinitum—they do not need to renew it, do not need to check it again. Once it is done it is done. It is not the way we have operated here. We have always had to bring these matters back for extension, for debate, and to affirm them here in the Parliament. We have had criticism from those opposite and the crossbench in the other place. They have as much right to participate in the development of legislation and to vote in this place and in the other chamber as any other member in this house and in this Parliament.
We have seen, further, the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021—again, further legislative plans that are needed to respond to what we know and what we have learned over the period of the pandemic and from that foresight and the plans that were put in place many, many years ago by previous Labor governments.
In the time left to me I would like to quote from the Age of 9 October 2021, where the member for Bulleen said:
‘Those who make these decisions—politicians—should be ultimately accountable for them ...
‘As a general principle, I think [public health orders] should be ticked off by a minister or the Premier.
‘When it’s a minister or a politician, we are responsible and we are accountable to the people, and I think during a pandemic, making legislation that is so wide-reaching, they should be accountable, and those decisions should be accountable to the people.’
No problem. That is why we are here. That is why we have got this amendment bill in front of the Parliament. That is why we seek to debate it today.
That is why we dealt with the procedural debates earlier in the day, and the obfuscation and the filibustering of those opposite, because ultimately it is our government, through this Parliament—and we will see where things lead in the other place—that continues to refine, amend and provide practical solutions to reflect the realities of today, and as best we can into the future, and continues to keep Victorians safe.
As people make their plans—post Friday, in many cases—to visit family and friends far flung that they have not been able to see and children who have been born into families that they have not been able to visit, people are thinking ahead to those opportunities that lie before them because of the sacrifices and the commitments that they have made over so many, many months. That is the focus, absolutely and utterly, of all Victorians—each and every one of them that I meet in the Ivanhoe electorate and across our state. I know that that focus in large part comes from the sacrifices people have made, the decisions that have been made in this Parliament, the opportunities that we have been able to give and the good graces of those who commit their working lives as health workers and public servants in our community to keep people safe and to implement the will of this Parliament.
I absolutely and utterly support the further amendments in this bill—just as we did with the earlier Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment Bill 2020, as we did with our omnibus bills in relation to
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these matters and just as we did back in 2008 as a government in planning ahead for just such occasions.
Victorians can rest assured that with further checks and balances we will continue to ensure that we draw support for these bills, and our affirmation is to introduce such laws to the Parliament on each and every occasion. I commend the amendment bill to the house.
Ms STALEY (Ripon) (18:27): I rise to speak on the Public Health and Wellbeing (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021. As the lead speaker for the Liberal-Nationals, the member for Kew has indicated we will be opposing this bill, and I certainly oppose this bill. I note in my opening remarks that we have actually had the text of this bill in the Parliament for less than a day. The government has what is called second-read it this morning, and now we have it for debate. That is very poor practice.
Could I say, though, it runs into what this bill is about, because this bill is an atrocious bill and it abrogates a lot of the powers that should be with the Parliament instead to the Premier and the Minister for Health. The member for Ivanhoe has noted some comments that were previously made by the Liberal-Nationals in relation to whether you have pandemic-specific legislation or state of emergency legislation. Now, we recognise that constantly having a state of emergency is not ideal, and that is one of the reasons we opposed the extension of the state of emergency. However, in crafting pandemic- specific legislation the whole idea is that you can narrow the focus on anything you might need to just manage the pandemic. That might be quarantine for overseas arrivals. It may be sporadic outbreaks. There may be a number of things that need to be done. But instead this bill goes the full overreach. It is as if it wants to start from the beginning and think of every way in which it can control Victorians if there is a pandemic here or anywhere else that it chooses to say it thinks is dangerous to Victorians. There is no limit to where the Premier can declare a pandemic and then re-declare it every three months.
This government has lost the moral authority to bring in legislation on this topic that is not welcomed by everyone. It should have worked with everyone. This is the government that has presided over the most deaths from COVID of any state in Australia, the most days locked down of any city globally— for Melbourne. I mean, this government does not have the moral standing to act alone anymore. It should be bringing a collegiate approach on a bill like this. Instead it has brought to us a truly draconian bill. That is not my word; that is the president of the Victorian Bar Council’s word, ‘draconian’.
I am just going to do a few of the provisions. I have limited time, and other colleagues will cover other aspects. But I will do what I can to explain what I think is wrong.
The first is that the pandemic does not need to be in Australia. It can be anywhere. It does not need to have a link between the risk from wherever it is from and the need to invoke this legislation. That is overreach. The Premier makes the declaration. Now, I happen to agree that it should be politicians that make the calls on these things, but they have got to be subject to the house. They have got to be subject to normal parliamentary scrutiny. This bill gives none of that. This bill does not have parliamentary scrutiny over the Premier making pandemic declarations. And there is no limit on the number of times a pandemic declaration may be extended—again, overreach. A key point about good governance is that you have regular checks and balances and you have mechanisms for others to evaluate—others being the Parliament, not somebody you have appointed yourself, which is how this bill works—work it out, have views and put them to you, and you have to defend them. But that is not in this bill.
Then I want to move to new section 165AK, and that goes to ‘To whom a pandemic order may apply’. It says in subsection (1):
A pandemic order may be expressed to apply to the following—
- (a) all persons;
- (b) specified classes of person;
- (c) specified persons.
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But then when we get down to who those specified classes of person are, it says in subsection (4): (a) a pandemic order may apply to, differentiate between or vary in its application to persons or classes of
person identified by reference to an attribute within the meaning of the Equal Opportunity Act ...
Now, what would be an attribute within the meaning of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010? Well, that would be race. That would be sexuality. That would be sex. That would be gender identity. That would be the presence or otherwise of a disability. It would also be political belief or religion. The Equal Opportunity Act is a cornerstone of our rights and liberties in a democratic society. As a society we have, through the Equal Opportunity Act, said these various groups cannot be discriminated against, must be protected in various ways, and to create laws that discriminate against them breaches that act and is unlawful. However, when we look at the statement of compatibility—a very long statement of compatibility—there is an admission. It says:
To the extent that the differentiation made in an order would otherwise constitute unlawful discrimination under the EO Act, this provision will limit the right to equality in the Charter.
They admit it; they know it is there. They cannot say that they do not know that they are setting up a framework that allows the Premier to declare a pandemic even though there is not one here and the Minister for Health to then create orders for classes of people not based on their health status but based on one of these characteristics. Now, that is unacceptable. It is fine to create classes of orders for people who have a specified illness or might be more susceptible to the illness or in some other way should be identified in relation to the illness. That is standard practice within public health legislation. Of course you can have groups of people. Groups of people can get an illness, and particularly when you are talking about an infectious disease, it can spread to others. I have no problem with them being able to identify groups. I have a massive, fundamental ideological, philosophical objection to overriding the Equal Opportunity Act.
I absolutely abhor that, and I abhor the idea that they think that that is okay because they ‘won’t use it that way’, in their words. That is not how you make legislation. You cannot make legislation and say, ‘Oh, but by the way, we won’t do it. We’re going to put it in the bill, we’re going to put it in the law, but trust us. Trust us, who had more people die from COVID than any other state. Trust us, who failed in our lockdown strategy so badly that Melbourne was locked down more than any other city. Trust us that we are not going to use the provisions in this bill that we are putting there that override the Equal Opportunity Act’.
‘We won’t use them’, they say. Well, I am sorry if I put it out there that I do not believe them. I just do not believe them. These provisions should not be there. They should be removed via a house amendment during the course of this debate. We are starting tonight. The Minister for Health is at the table; he can go away overnight and find a way to get rid of these abominable provisions from this bill. Because while they stand, the bill allows the Premier to declare a pandemic and the health minister to create classes of people that are subject to these orders and it overrides the Equal Opportunity Act. And I am sorry, but that is just not acceptable when we have over decades, in a bipartisan way, supported the removal of discrimination and legal hurdles against the very groups that the Equal Opportunity Act seeks to protect. And then they come with this pandemic legislation and they try and pretend that that is not what it says, but their own statement of compatibility admits that is what it says. They are in violation of Victoria’s charter of human rights. They know that. They know this legislation does that, and yet they persist. It must be opposed.
Mr McGHIE (Melton) (18:37): I rise today to contribute to the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021. This bill seeks to amend the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 to insert a new part to provide a targeted framework for government action to keep Victorians safe in pandemics. This includes provision for the ongoing management of the COVID-19 pandemic, following the expiry of the state of emergency. It will not only ensure Victoria can continue its effective management of the COVID-19 pandemic after the state of emergency expires on 15 December but also ensure that Victoria has fit-for-purpose legislation to implement
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crucial public health measures in the event of any future pandemics, and let us hope that that never, ever occurs—having any future pandemics. Managing pandemics through dedicated provisions will mean there is a legislative framework that recognises that. Unlike some other types of emergency, pandemics often pose an ongoing threat over a period of months and, as we have experienced, over years. The bill enhances the state-of-emergency model with improved powers to gather and share information, legislative safeguards to protect contact-tracing information and new accountability, transparency and review mechanisms. This transparency is what others have been calling for for some time.
I want to thank the Minister for Health for his work on this bill, and I notice he is at the table here today. Of course the essence of this bill seeks to allow the government to manage pandemics effectively and begin the road to recovery for Victoria sooner. As Victoria emerges from lockdown and seeks to recover, we have talked about the amazing events and upcoming attractions, be they the Moulin Rouge! production, the Australian Open or Formula One, but here we are this week all in disbelief at a surprise event. We have the Liberal-National parties’ cirque du soleil—the backflips and the mental gymnastics of the opposition. What an amazing example of psychological contortionism those opposite have performed recently on this issue.
We have seen in an article on 9 October 2021 in the Age that, and I quote:
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy agrees. He says the government—not public servants—should take
responsibility for managing the pandemic.
‘Those who make these decisions—politicians—should be ultimately accountable for them,’ Mr Guy said this week.
‘As a general principle, I think [public health orders] should be ticked off by a minister or the Premier.
‘When it’s a minister or a politician, we are responsible and we are accountable to the people, and I think during a pandemic, making legislation that is so wide-reaching, they should be accountable, and those decisions should be accountable to the people.’
Sounds to me like he agrees with the legislation.
And now this week we hear of the acrobatic feats where now suddenly they do not agree with their own musings. While opposition parties Australia-wide have worked in a bipartisan approach to fight this pandemic, we have now got clear evidence that those opposite are just playing politics. And like all circus performances, at some stage you bring out the clowns, and I refer to the Shadow Attorney- General, who could not articulate his own arguments about wanting to follow the New South Wales model when questioned on ABC radio. That was yesterday with Virginia Trioli. What an enlightening interview that was. It was all ‘but, but, buts’ and ‘um, um, ums’. It is one thing to be not across your portfolio, but it is a problem that you cannot even explain your own ideas and arguments.
The chief health officer last briefed non-government MPs on the state of emergency declaration in its report on 21 July this year. Despite their interest, it is my understanding that neither the Shadow Minister for Health nor the Leader of the Opposition have ever requested a briefing on the state of emergency or public health orders. It is this government that gets on and delivers for Victoria, and I should say first and foremost, this bill is about saving Victorian lives during pandemics. It is also about promoting and protecting the social, economic and mental welfare of Victorians to the greatest extent possible. We all know that Victorians have sacrificed so much over the last 21 months to get us to this point where we can reopen safely, and this Friday cannot come quickly enough for all Victorians.
To manage the pandemic and keep Victoria safe the state of emergency powers have been essential, and those powers are set to expire on 15 December. When we extended these through the Parliament back in March the government committed to reviewing the arrangements and bringing legislation to the Parliament to support the ongoing response to the pandemic. That is what we have here before us today. So this government listens and learns as well as delivers, and it has the ability to learn, not just criticise.
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The government has looked at the New Zealand model in terms of how their arrangements have supported their very successful ongoing response to COVID-19. Their lockdowns provided them with freedoms that were unseen anywhere else in the world until the delta variant escaped into their community from New South Wales. Of course in New South Wales the minister for health has very broad powers to take any action and give directions necessary to deal with the risk in consequences of COVID. This does not require a declaration of state of emergency or similar order to enliven these powers.
We are applying these lessons to manage pandemics in the longer term while maintaining our ability to rapidly respond to the current pandemic, including continued quarantining of international arrivals, requirements to be vaccinated and requirements to test and isolate for confirmed cases. Our current framework has allowed us to mount a world-class response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but as we move to the next stage of ongoing management of the pandemic, new arrangements will support the best and most transparent community response. So under Victoria’s updated pandemic management framework elected officials will be accountable decision-makers, with the role of the chief health officer remaining central to all key decisions. In addition the range of transparency and accountability measures being introduced through this bill are a strong check and balance on government’s use of pandemic powers. Public health orders will be made by the Minister for Health, who is accountable to Parliament. Public health advice on the pandemic orders will be tabled in Parliament, and a new independent advisory committee will review the public health orders and report to Parliament. The Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee has the ability to review public health orders. The minister will be required to publish an explanation on any charter rights that are or may be limited by a pandemic order.
There is no other Australian state or territory equivalent legislation that requires this level of transparency and accountability.
This framework will replace the current system where state-of-emergency powers must be renewed every four weeks up to a maximum of only six to nine months. An independent pandemic management advisory committee made up of experts and community representatives will be established to advise on the pandemic response and management powers. A statement of reasons for the decision to make pandemic orders, the chief health officer’s advice on how each order affects human rights under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, must be published within 14 days, and any advice of the new independent pandemic management advisory committee will be tabled in Parliament.
The Leader of the Opposition will be pleased that this government, the Andrews Labor government, agrees with his comments of 9 October. Under this new part of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 the Minister for Health will have the power to make pandemic orders if needed. As the Premier has said, we have consulted leaders in public health, human rights, law and policymaking as well as culturally and linguistically diverse community groups and the public housing and social service sector to ensure this legislation will meet Victoria’s needs well into the future. As we get on and deliver for and protect Victorians, these amendments allow us to continue to do just that.
Again, I just want to send my thanks to our nurses, doctors, health professionals, paramedics, police and all those that have been the coalface to protect and provide for Victorians. I encourage those Victorians that are not vaccinated to go and get the jab, and by the end of this week the Melton vaccination centre will have administered vaccines to 100 000 people. I want to thank all Victorians for their amazing effort to fight off this pandemic, and I know that we all look forward to getting the state back as one this Friday. I support these amendments, and I commend this bill to the house.
Mr R SMITH (Warrandyte) (18:47): I have been in this place for 15 years and without fear of exaggeration I can honestly say that I have never seen a worse piece of legislation that gifts not the government of the day but the Premier of the day unprecedented and draconian and dictatorial power. Now, putting aside for the moment that when an ordinary, pedestrian, run-of-the-mill bill comes into this place the minimum time that the opposition and indeed the people of Victoria have to review that
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legislation is two weeks. That is the standard in this place, two weeks. This legislation came to us this morning, a scant 7 or 8 hours ago—120 pages of legislation that will have the most far-reaching impacts on every one of the 6.5 million people that live in this state, that will have huge impacts on all of those people in a greater way than the government has had impact on them in the past two years.
Now, I should not have to stand up in this place and explain to those opposite the difference between intent and what is actually in a bill. I should not have to explain that, because this bill allows the government to do an extraordinary number of things that ordinary Victorians would be horrified with. And to hear the government in their press conferences get up and say, ‘Oh yeah, but we wouldn’t use it that way’, is just a ridiculous comment from a government that just is trying to pull the wool over ordinary Victorians’ eyes. This bill will allow detention without cause. This bill will allow arbitrary arrest. This bill will allow discrimination against people based on race, sexuality, sex, gender, disability, religion, political beliefs. That is what this bill allows, and if the Minister for Health and the Premier do not want to use the bill for those things, then put clauses in that narrow it, because at the moment that is what the bill allows. It is just an unbelievable situation that the government—the Labor Party, who come in day after day and talk about their commitment to getting rid of discrimination, ensuring that we do not discriminate against any class of person ever—come in with a bill that actively allows one man, the Premier of this state, to discriminate against all sorts of classes.
Do we think for a moment, do Victorians actually think for a moment that this Premier, who has let them down so badly in the last 18 months; who has stripped two years out of our children’s lives and who has damaged their education, their wellbeing, their mental health; and who has been the cause of thousands of businesses going bankrupt and closing their doors—you only have to walk down the street out the front doors of this Parliament to see ‘For lease’ signs and empty shops over and over again—or do you think people who were trapped on the other side of the New South Wales border for weeks and weeks and weeks believe that this Premier will not use these draconian powers to continue to hurt them?
Do you think that Victorians who were sent scrambling for the border on New Year’s Eve last year, sitting in a queue until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning with babies and children, do you think that they believe this Premier will not use these dictatorial powers? Those parents who have homeschooled their kids week after week after week, do you think they believe this Premier when he says he will not use these dictatorial powers? Do you think they believe the Premier who says, ‘Hey, Victorians, we don’t want to be like New South Wales; we’re just going to have a short, sharp lockdown, seven days’? It is a joke, but I have to say it anyway. It is too serious to joke about, but they say the worst part of a seven- day lockdown is the first three weeks.
It is ridiculous that this government expects that people will believe that they will not use the powers that are in this legislation. If you are not going to arbitrarily arrest people, then take it out of the bill. If you are not going to discriminate based on religion or political persuasion, then take it out of the bill. If you are not going to arbitrarily detain people, Premier, take it out of the bill. If you are not going to declare a pandemic and give yourselves the opportunity to impose these orders and directions on Victorians when there is not a pandemic in the state, let alone the country, then take it out of the bill. It is in the bill because you are going to use it. No Victorian believes you are not going to use the powers, because they have heard, day after day, the Premier get up in front of a press conference, hector them, lecture them, tell them off—never take any blame.
I hear those opposite: ‘Oh, this bill’s about responsibility and accountability’. Who remembers the Coate inquiry into hotel quarantine? No-one took responsibility. You want to give powers to one man who cannot even remember what he said to someone on one of the biggest policy failures this state has ever seen: 800-plus people dead, and this government could not remember who made the decision to put in train the circumstances by which they died. I mean, do you want to give this guy any more responsibility, any more accountability? Because he just will not deliver—but he will lock down Victorians again and again and again.
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Between the lecturing of the Premier and the droning diatribe of the health minister, Victorians have had enough of this government. They have had enough of being told that they are always wrong. The only certainty people of Victoria have is that this government is going to lock them down even more, subject their children to more lost days of education, subject their children to more mental health issues and subject business to more days and weeks and months of uncertainty.
I seriously have no idea how those opposite think that small business people are paying the bills. How is a gym owner paying a bill? How is a hairdresser paying their bills? How are these thousands, hundreds of thousands, of small business owners and sole traders paying their bills? Oh, it is just another week, another week. Do you know what? If you want to trade, take all your stock outside—I mean, what a ridiculous situation. It just shows that not one of those opposite has one clue how business runs, not one clue. So they think that a shoe salesman or a jewellery salesman is going to trot all their wares out in the front of their shop in the rain and the wind and trade. Is that what you honestly think? I mean, you must not have one clue about how business works. You think about a restaurant or a pub or a club that orders food on a Friday, has it delivered in the morning of the Friday, and you tell them at 6 that the weekend is over—and they throw $2000, $3000, $10 000, $20 000 worth of stock in the bin. How are they paying for that?
The Minister for Health could not care less. The Minister for Health, in this most important debate, is on his phone. Victorians, can you believe that? I am sure you can. Watching him on his phone is probably better than listening to him drone on and on and on about how he is locking them down again. Do you think any Victorian now believes that the government is doing all this according to health advice? I mean, it is the most unbelievable phrase coming out of the mouths of these people that we have seen in 18 months. I will give you a tip, Minister for Health, and I will give a tip to the Premier: no-one believes that you are following health advice, no-one. That is not why we have curfews—because of the health advice.
That is not why we shut down playgrounds—because of the health advice. That is not why we make people wear masks in the middle of a paddock in the country with no-one around—because of health advice. We do not do that. That is not why people cannot send their kids to school in areas like the member for Lowan’s over in Horsham, where there has not been a case. I mean, it is just ridiculous.
No-one believes this government anymore. No-one believes the Premier. I do not know if anyone believes the health minister, because nobody is listening to him anymore. But the fact is that this legislation has so many draconian clauses in it and the government is saying, ‘But we won’t use them’. There is not one possible way that a right-minded Victorian will believe one thing that this government says. You know why? Because this government said when we were 90 per cent vaxxed it would be all over. A week ago, ‘It’ll be all over. The pain’s done. The most lockdowns of any country, any city in the world will be over’. And by the way, that is not good government. That is nothing to congratulate yourselves on—having the worst lockdown rate in the world and the most deaths in the country. If you think that is good management and you think that is good public policy, you have got to be joking yourself. Victorians will not hear it. They were told last week there would be no more lockdowns, and one week later there is legislation that gives the government draconian, unfettered, unshackled power to do it all again. Well, I say to Victorians: on this side of the house the Liberal Party and the National Party will not stand for it. We will oppose this every step of the way—in this place, in the upper house and out on the streets.
Let me tell you something. If the Premier wants to know how much Victorians love this legislation, let him go down Bourke Street and stand in the mall. I tell you he will get a free character assessment down there, and he will have no doubt what people actually think of this legislation. I oppose this bill with the very core of my being.
Ms GREEN (Yan Yean) (18:57): I am very pleased to join the debate on the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021, and at the outset I want to congratulate my electorate for the fantastic take-up rate that they have had with vaccination. In the Nillumbik shire,
Wednesday, 27 October 2021 Legislative Assembly- PROOF 141
part of the Yan Yean electorate, more than 95 per cent of those 16 and over have had their first jab, and the second jab rate is at 85.7 per cent. That is up 7.8 per cent, and I congratulate them. In the Shire of Mitchell there is also in excess of 95 per cent first jab, and it is up 10 per cent in the last week for the second jab. That is at 76.2 per cent—so close. In the city of Whittlesea it is a little lower, but their rate of increase has been massive. They are at 89.7 per cent, that is up 2.9 per cent, for the first jab, and the second jabs are at 68.8 per cent—up by 10.2 per cent. Really the only reason the City of Whittlesea lags behind is that, like every municipality that has had younger people in it, it has taken longer to get them vaccinated—not because they did not want to but because there was a supply issue.
I cannot believe the confected outrage that I have heard from the other side. The member for Melton talked about the amount of somersaults and changes in position in relation to how this pandemic should be managed. He was absolutely right. He also referred to an interview that the member for Kew—the lead speaker on this—did on ABC radio with Virginia Trioli yesterday, which I also heard and which was just an absolute joke. He appeared to favour the New South Wales model, but he could not even describe what it was. And yet 24 hours later, 30 minutes he has got as lead speaker and he barely managed just over half of that speaking very slowly because he does not know what he is talking about. He actually has no ticker and no guts and no commitment in relation to fighting this pandemic. Just like the opposition leader, he will say and do anything to get elected and to raise fear.
It is a complete nonsense what the member for Ripon has been saying about the Equal Opportunity Act 2010. Is she really saying—
Business interrupted under sessional orders. Adjournment
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The question is: That the house now adjourns.
Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) (19:00): (6106) My adjournment is to the Minister for Health, and
he is in the chamber briefly—
Mr Foley interjected.
Mr SOUTHWICK: Thank you, Minister. I do raise this very important issue for you, Minister. It is from Arcare Caulfield, and it is particularly from Leo Bloumis—and I have contacted you, Minister, twice, both on 4 October and 21 October. Leo represents 110 residents. He is a resident at Arcare Caulfield. He wants to get a haircut, and his residents in Arcare want to be able to have their resident hairdresser back at Arcare. They are still waiting on some kind of response from the minister on this. Leo Bloumis, as I say, a resident, one of 110, contacted our office. He is effectively representing the 110 residents that are all desperate for a haircut. I know this might be a small thing now that we have all had a haircut, but I can tell you, those residents—and we have spent a lot of time during the pandemic talking about how the impacts of the pandemic lockdowns have affected a whole range of people—our elderly that have worked all their lives, that have paid taxes, they are the ones that we should also not be neglecting. Leo writes:
[QUOTE AWAITING VERIFICATION]
The government through the health department, the Department of Health and Human Services, is contributing to the deterioration of the emotional, mental, physical wellbeing of residents as well as their morale by having decreed the hairdressing business is not essential and could not be opened due to lockdown.
Evidently not. You have no idea what it has meant, what it is doing to the residents in their homes. One of the few luxuries for the residents is to feel good, to present themselves better, and they cannot do it. Having experienced long periods of lockdown this is a great and worrying concern, seeing themselves messy and unruly and they desperately want their hair cut. What Leo says is that it is:
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... emotional, demoralising, devastating for the residents to see themselves in the mirror.
Their hairdresser is a family business. They have been double vaccinated. They have been the hairdresser for the entirety of the seven years that Arcare has been in business and they cannot allow their business to operate as a resident hairdresser. Leo finishes by saying:
Just remember, that elderly lady in the aged care home with a messy head of hair in two colours, faded dye, natural colour, needing a perm and a wash—they could be your or your friend’s grandmother or great-great aunt. Please help them.
I think that is an emotional plea from somebody that deserves to be helped. Those residents deserve to be helped. As I say, I have written twice to the Minister for Health, with no answer. I would hope with this adjournment tonight that the Minister for Health has the decency of answering those elderly residents— (Time expired)
Mr FOWLES (Burwood) (19:03): (6107) My adjournment matter is also directed to the Minister for Health, and it does not involve hair. The action I seek is for the minister to continue to work with local communities and the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation to ramp up the Victorian government’s efforts to vaccinate Indigenous Victorians against COVID-19, particularly in large Indigenous populations such as Shepparton and Mildura. Close to 80 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Victorians aged 12 and over have had one dose, compared to 90 per cent of the wider population. When it comes to second doses, 58 per cent of eligible ATSI Victorians are fully vaccinated, compared to 71 per cent of the state’s total population. This gap leaves our First Peoples vulnerable to infection with coronavirus. In fact, recent leaked federal briefing papers, as reported in The Saturday Paper, reveal that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been infected with COVID-19 at a rate between two and three times higher than that of non- Indigenous Australians.
I note that once again the state government is doing the heavy lifting when it comes to fighting this pandemic. The Andrews government has partnered with Aboriginal community controlled organisations to close this gap by deploying mobile outreach vans, culturally sensitive pop-ups and surge workforce teams right across Victoria to offer more opportunities to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to get vaccinated. The mobile vaccination vans operated by the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation are being deployed to areas such as a Morwell, Seymour, Warrnambool, the Mornington Peninsula and the Grampians. In addition, a newly commissioned vaccination van coordinated by the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service will begin servicing metropolitan Melbourne from this week. Closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous vaccination rates is so crucial, and we acknowledge that community-led programs are the way to increase this vaccination take-up.
This is an issue that First Nations people have been vocal about right across the nation.
Central Land Council CEO Les Turner has pointed out that communities with Aboriginal controlled medical services rolling out the vaccine programs have had a far higher success rate, such as Kintore in the Western Desert, which has been soaring ahead of other regional communities. AFL star Charlie Cameron talked to the ABC about this issue recently after visiting his birthplace in regional Queensland. He acknowledged the trust deficit that communities like his own have for non-Indigenous authorities. The mayor of Charlie’s home shire said:
One of the best tactics we’ve come up with is getting our own people to do the jabs ...
Our mob don’t trust too many people, especially when it comes to needles, so if we’ve got our own people sending the messages, that makes it a bit easier for our people to come to terms with.
This is such important work, and I look forward to seeing the fruits of the minister’s continued efforts.
Wednesday, 27 October 2021 Legislative Assembly- PROOF 143
YARCK PUBLIC HALL
Ms McLEISH (Eildon) (19:06): (6108) I have a matter tonight for the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, and the action I seek is for the minister to find the funding to make a majority contribution to repainting the outside of the Yarck public hall.
Yarck is a delightful, very small town in Murrindindi on the Maroondah Highway. The hall has considerable history. It is 133 years old. It had a major refurbishment in July 2015, and the community groups were really supportive of this. The Yarck CFA, the Yarck CWA, the hall committee and Yarck incorporated all contributed to this project, which was pretty well driven by the Regional Growth Fund under the Baillieu-Napthine governments. The result is that they have a wonderful facility smack in the centre of town for community events. They have social events. They have markets—I was there just recently at the market—but it is also somewhere for an emergency response and a bit of a refuge centre for the town. The hall’s committee of management relies on local fundraising—sausage sizzles, functions, volunteers, performance shows. They have trash and treasure markets, and it has been near impossible to fundraise during COVID.
Yarck, as I said, is a small town, and it is so important that they have somewhere that they can meet. The issue is that the hall is of substantial size and the paint on the outside is lead based, so it is not something that the local community can do themselves. The job needs professional work. It cannot be just painted over; it needs to be sanded back. The committee of management have sought some quotes, and the price was in excess of $40 000. That is just well beyond what they will ever be able to afford. I can attest to this because I was there and I did see the state of the hall on the outside, and it is really difficult for them to fundraise. They are never going to able to do that. No number of events or concerts at the hall are going to be able to raise this much money, and they have lost events over the last couple of years. What needs to happen is the committee of management does need that funding. They might be able to provide $5000 at a stretch. They will be able to do working bees, but they are not going to be able to do the lion’s share of the work because of the requirements around lead-based paint. They really do need some help.
It would be a shame for this 133-year-old hall to fall into disrepair. It is really looking great on the inside, but it is getting shabbier and shabbier on the outside. I plead with the minister to support this. The community plead with her to support this so that we can have this wonderful building restored on the main street, on the highway, at Yarck.
Ms CONNOLLY (Tarneit) (19:09): (6109) My adjournment is for the Deputy Premier and Minister for Education, and the action I seek is that the Deputy Premier update me on the rollout of air purifiers right across my electorate of Tarneit. With COVID restrictions easing at last, parents and their kids can finally look forward to a return to school. I say that with a really big smile on my face here in this house because I have two small, primary school age children, and I know on not just several but many, many occasions it has been a struggle, to say the least, to juggle working from home with remote learning for two young kids.
As we open up and we create a COVID-safe environment, it is so important to ensure that our youngest kids, particularly those that are not eligible to get vaccinated yet, are able to go to school safely and happily, and most importantly that they are able to learn in a COVID-safe setting.
That is why it is so wonderful to see our government has actually got on with the job of making our school safe by rolling out many, many air purifiers and installing them in schools right across Victoria and indeed in my electorate of Tarneit. Now, in my electorate 11 local schools have received over 400 air purifiers as part of this rollout. This is really important. Knowing where we are at with their installation, for hundreds of families right across my electorate, will provide so much relief to parents who have done it pretty tough over the past couple of months and to their kids—to students who are returning to the classroom.
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Ms RYAN (Euroa) (19:11): (6110) My matter tonight is for the Premier. The Premier must abolish vaccine passports when we reach the threshold of 80 per cent double vaccinated on Friday. That is the action I am seeking from the Premier. I am deeply uncomfortable about the Labor Party’s refusal to outline an end date for the discriminations it has put in place for people who are not vaccinated. When I was in year 12 we studied the dystopian science fiction film Gattaca. I now feel like I am living in that film. The Andrews government is actively creating two classes of citizens, and it has shown no desire to end that. This week it has introduced its pandemic legislation, which enables it to shut down protests and individuals on the basis of attributes. Today the government said that that was to support the vaccinated economy. Why is the government bringing in legislation with no end date to these restrictions?
National cabinet agreed that at 80 per cent vaccination these restrictions should end. New South Wales has set a date of 1 December. In Victoria the Premier says that these restrictions on unvaccinated people are here to stay well into next year. On what basis? We are currently at more than 91 per cent single vaccinated, which means we will achieve 90 per cent double vaccinated. We are expected to reach 80 per cent double vaxxed on Friday. That is the threshold where national cabinet agreed that restrictions between vaccinated and unvaccinated people would end. But the Premier has walked away from that. Labor has broken that contract with the community, and by keeping these restrictions in place indefinitely Labor is entrenching disadvantage, fear, disunity and suspicion. You are tearing communities apart and you are tearing families apart.
Call me old fashioned, but I believe in some notion of individual responsibility. I believe that the government should be doing everything in its power to encourage people to get vaccinated, to convince them of the merits of vaccination and to warn them of the danger that you could get very, very sick and you could die if you do not get vaccinated. But I think that once we hit 80 per cent double vaccination, in line with national cabinet, any restrictions that seek to put in place different rights for vaccinated people versus unvaccinated people must cease, and epidemiologists agree with me. Tony Blakely says that at 90 per cent double vaccinated it would be unethical to keep people out of society. Professor Nick Coatsworth today said that excluding people from society was likely to cause more problems than it solved. Sharon Lewin, the head of the Doherty Institute, said that excluding people in the longer term was divisive. Catherine Bennett said it does not make sense to ban unvaccinated people from public settings when they had free range to mingle in private— (Time expired)