In Parliament

Grievance Debate - COVD-19 & Mismanagement


Wednesday, 11 November 2020.

Mr NEWBURY (Brighton) (16:31):

I rise to grieve for the people of Victoria because Labor has crippled our great State. Throughout the pandemic their decision-making has lurched between paralysed and frenetic. It led to directions that were contradictory. It also led to hundreds of thousands of Victorians being damaged financially and mentally. But worst of all, it led to tragic deaths. The net result of Labor’s vandalism is an economic basket case that this Government will never fix, a swathe of people who have been emotionally and mentally scarred, and a Government that has done untold damage to our institutions and undermined the community’s trust in them. Make no mistake: when the history books are written, they will record a Labor Government crippling our State.

Despite restrictions being lifted and only four active coronavirus cases in the community, this Government is still mismanaging the pandemic. The community is no closer to this Government having a plan for the important future challenges facing our state. The community has a right to know what is COVID normal, how will we live with this virus without ripping away freedoms and crushing our economy, and what is the plan of hope to rebuild both economically and in our institutions. Labor has kicked out foundation bricks in our economic engine room and in the structures that bind us as a community. These are the key challenges facing the future of our State and they are challenges the Premier is yet to acknowledge, let alone solve.

Throughout the pandemic we have been promised COVID normal, promises of life and freedoms that are close to normal, a life where mums and dads can open their businesses with certainty, and we can live free lives. Instead Victorians have no certainty beyond frenetic decision-making by press conference. Even their own road map has been ditched. So, what is the plan for our State? What is COVID normal?

There are just four active coronavirus cases in our State, yet millions of Victorians are forced to wear face masks even when they are alone. The blanket rule is wrong, especially when we know that health experts do not agree with the rule. They have confirmed that mandatory mask wearing is not beneficial. Peter Collignon, Professor of infectious diseases at the Australian National University, has said ‘wearing masks outside is not going to make a difference’.

And Catherine Bennett, Deakin University Chair of Epidemiology, has said mask wearing when out on your own is a confusing message. So why is the Premier forcing himself into people’s lives in this way? We know why. The Premier has admitted it. The Premier has admitted the mask-wearing rule is not in place for health reasons. The rule is in place because, as he said, ‘Simple rules are always best’. This decision is not about health. This is about Government control. The Premier has transformed. The Premier is now more bureaucrat than community representative.

We are wearing masks because a blanket rule is an easier rule for the bureaucracy to implement, and casually the Premier says it is not an imposition. Well, he is wrong, and he just does not get it. He continues to show disregard for individual freedoms and a dangerous flair for authoritarianism, a trait no right-minded community representative should have. He keeps showing us he is an authoritarian. It has happened again and again and again. Regional Victorians will never forget his blanket lockdowns of the regions, lockdowns that were forced on communities unaffected by the pandemic. When asked why he was destroying regional communities who had no link to the virus, he flippantly said a blanket rule was easier to administer.

The bureaucrat struck again. And the private sector will never forgive the way the Premier shut them down. He picked the public sector and union industry over the private sector. He kept certain public sector workers in place but shut identical private sector industries. And how did the Premier explain his damaging bias? ‘Because the bureaucratic arm of government did not have the power to watch over the private sector.’ So, he simply shut it down, how black-hearted.

The toll of that approach has set our economy back a decade, but no Victorian will forget the Premier’s decision to lock every one of us up. The curfew and restrictions on movement were barbaric. We know the curfew was not based on health advice, and we know that Victoria Police were not behind the decision. The Premier’s blunt and barbaric approach has scarred the community. The Premier chose not to save the minds of many Victorians. It will be a decision that will haunt him.

Victorians are not the only ones asking what a COVID normal is. The private sector business owners are asking the same question. They want to know how they practically play their part in the new normal. What we have seen from the government over recent weeks is more chaos, with Business Victoria making 100,000 lazy robocalls to businesses. As the chief executive officer of the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia, Peter Strong, said and I quote:

The government is just going to say how good they are by making 100,000 calls but it’s just pressing a button.… 100,000 nuisance calls have been made but as soon as you hear it’s a robocall you just hang up, it’s not very clever.

No, it is not very clever, but it never is with Labor’s approach to the private sector. We have seen the cost of this incompetence and the lack of cleverness. We saw the cost of Victoria’s contact-tracing system not being up to scratch. In fact, it was a Third World-grade contact tracing system. The lack of capacity was a significant cause of the virus spreading. It was a cause of the second wave. The Government could not track the virus, so they certainly could not stop the virus.

Labor’s failure on critical infrastructure should be a key finding in the hotel inquiry report—a report designed to be released in the Christmas week when no-one is listening, a report that will be nothing more than a whitewash costing well over $10 million.

Over recent weeks we have seen another alarming failure with critical infrastructure. This time Labor has dropped the ball on quick response codes. One of the great successes in New South Wales has been their ability to open the economy and put in place track-and-trace infrastructure. Obligations on businesses there include a requirement for digitised record keeping. Again, our government has not learned from its failures. Is the Government rolling out existing technology proven interstate? No. Instead the Premier has announced, and I quote:

We’ve moved to an entirely new IT platform.

And he boasted that our system would be, quote:

… probably the best IT product anywhere in the country.

Sound familiar? We all remember the Premier bragging about Victoria’s contact tracing system. What is it about the Premier’s need to be a hero and go it alone?

Well, Premier, despite the bragging this government has not rolled out anything. Nothing. They are bragging about something that does not even exist. Talk is cheap. Despite the eased restrictions and businesses opening we still have no idea when the Premier’s revolutionary technology will be available. In October the Premier said we would have a QR code system soon. This week the Minister for Health said the system is still not ready and there might be a limited trial announced in coming weeks. Well, we know what that is government speak for: no wide-scale roll-out this year—another failure.

But clearly the Government’s most significant failure for business has been to the economy. The state government has begun its budget sale job. When it comes to our economic standing we know, like everything else, Victoria has become the shocking stand-out in Australia. Labor are economic vandals.

This Labor Government has swung a wrecking ball through our economy because they just do not know how it works. The budget will be simple: big spending on the Government’s taxpayer-funded credit card, big spends and bringing forward government infrastructure projects. Labor’s economic policy will always have the public sector at its centrepiece. Labor just does not get the private sector, the true engine of economic growth.

The cost of Labor to this state is unprecedented.

Commonwealth Treasury data shows that in the September quarter lost economic output cost our state more than $100 million a day. Australian Bureau of Statistics retail trade figures released recently show that since the start of the pandemic in March Victoria’s retail trade has plummeted by almost 20 per cent. The Victorian trade collapse has pulled the entire country into negative territory. But these figures have a human impact. ABS data also shows that the average number of daily jobs lost in Victoria over August and September was 1200—1200 jobs per day, a figure which represents more than half of the total job losses in Australia since March. Treasury data also shows the effective unemployment rate in our state as 14 per cent when the national average is around 9 per cent. The damage to the private sector will be generational, and the associated psychological scars will not be forgotten— reckless vandalism.

But as a Parliament we should be deeply concerned about the way the Government’s actions have damaged our institutions with structural undermining of our democratic processes and reputational damage to law enforcement caused by the Premier’s misuse of power. This Government has abused its parliamentary majority. It bypassed Cabinet and its own Caucus, and it allowed this Parliament to become a lazy Parliament, a Parliament that rarely sits. The only lazier Parliament is in Queensland, which has a Premier who is behaving like she has declared the state a sovereign nation. We know why the Victorian Government has scrapped Parliament: the Premier only wants Parliament to sit when he is seeking to extend his personal power—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: On a point of order, member for Macedon.

Ms Thomas: Thank you very much, Deputy Speaker—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Just a moment, Member for Macedon. Member for Brighton, you need to resume your seat when a point of order is called.

Ms Thomas: On a point of order, Deputy Speaker, I would like you to note that the Member for Brighton appears to be reading verbatim from his notes despite the fact, as he bragged yesterday in this house, apparently he ran Parliament in Canberra. We know he is relatively new to this chamber, but as you know, Deputy Speaker, he should not be reading a verbatim speech as he appears to be doing.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Is the Member for Brighton reading from his notes?


Mr NEWBURY: Yes—or when he wants to rubberstamp an increase on the Government’s credit card. Every Member in this place knows that the Premier tried to shut down electorate offices, which are the community-based, front facing offices of this Parliament. The Premier was caught as being behind this shameful assault—another dangerous undermining of our democratic institutions by this authoritarian Premier.

There has been no greater crisis and institutional breakdown in trust than with Victoria Police. Make no mistake, the Premier’s repeated power grabs through changes to the legal framework have fractured the relationship between Victorians and law enforcement. Officers are the first to acknowledge privately that they have been asked to enforce laws that have directly undermined community trust, and which were not helped by police command resorting to name-calling from their podium. We know that community trust is the essential breach in the force doing its job best.

We know the community was aghast at the way the Premier casually knifed freedoms and liberties in the name of community health, just as casually as the Premier knifed his long-term friend the former Minister for Health. The powers the Premier enabled were designed to ensure that his critics could be arrested for critical social media posts, and they were arrested. The chasm of distrust has widened, and it is disturbing. As a community we have always been defined by our unwavering support for Victoria Police—an institution made up of men and women who put themselves in harm’s way for us. This breakdown has hurt so many officers.

Though the Premier has brought on institutional damage quickly, repair will not come with a snap of the fingers. Trust is hard to build up and easy to lose.

Paul Kelly, one of Australia’s most pre-eminent journalists, has written:

… a corruption of the polity, where individuals are intimidated, checks and balances don’t function, the public service is politically aligned and institutions are compromised … Andrews presides over a crisis of the system.

‘A crisis of the system’ is an accurate assessment.

It is understandable that the public is suspicious of their institutions, especially when their Government’s maladministration led to hundreds of deaths. Their Premier repeatedly could not recall and refused to be accountable for decisions he made, and we have a politicised public service that covers up for Labor. Look at the new Minister for Health. He is the landlord to the crook John Woodman, who is the centrepiece of an anti-corruption probe.

Labor has crippled the great state of Victoria. They have vandalised our state.

They have caused untold damage.