In Parliament

Second Reading Speech - Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment


Friday, 4 September 2020

Mr NEWBURY (Brighton):

The Premier is taking our State down a dangerous path. This Bill gives him that power. When the pandemic hit, Victorians gave the Premier their trust on the condition that we defeated the Coronavirus, and Victorians did the right thing. Instead, this government’s failure spread the virus. We have watched this government cause harm to the community and this government cause the second wave of the pandemic. This government left the quarantine door open. This government has overseen a testing system that has turned sick people away, and a Third World-grade contact tracing system that led to the prolific spread of the virus. This caused hundreds of deaths. Is there any wonder that Victorians are angry? Their trust has been broken. They know that the Premier has misused power and failed them. He has turned Victoria into a surveillance state where his critics are arrested or visited by police. He uses daily media conferences to swamp the media message, then bullies, finger-points and fear-mongers, blaming others. It is just blame.

The Premier has used his power to impose restrictions that hold Victorians hostage in their own homes and restrict children’s education to the point that it has stunted them. This Premier is so bloody-minded he has introduced a permit system for little children. Unconscionably, he jailed towers full of public housing residents. We are restricted from moving outside our suburbs. We are curfewed to daylight hours. The Premier has misused the power he has been vested with. This state is on a dangerous path, a path that has destroyed the lives and livelihoods of our neighbours, where thousands have been forced to close their businesses and hundreds of thousands have been left without jobs. The Premier is dangerous, and this bill is poisonous—and the community knows it. The community has spoken in an unprecedented way. They do not trust the absolute power it grants, and they have pleaded for this bill to be opposed. As Andrew wrote to me:

The continuation of these oppressive restrictions is unreasonable, unbalanced and ultimately unconscionable.

My community has been resolute on this bill. A significant proportion of my community was provided with a survey on the issue. Six thousand residents accessed the survey in less than one day—6000. The response was overwhelming: 80 per cent opposed the Premier’s power grab to extend the laws for a further year, and 88 per cent supported more parliamentary scrutiny of new government power. We know that the response in Labor electorates was equally ‘visceral’, with Labor caucus members briefing that ‘people are over it’ and that, ‘This would never have happened if they had bothered to ask us what we thought’.

And you can see the truth from the limp contributions by the Labor members on this bill and the flimsy one-page excuse of a second-reading speech.

This bill is poison, and Victorians know they have been sold out by Labor. The release of the Premier’s draft map yesterday, authenticated by his own private office, confirms that this government does not have a back-to-life plan. It has no back-in-business plan for the private sector and no plan of hope for our state. Instead the Premier is planning to lock Victorians down for longer, and perversely, he expects us to thank him, to feel grateful—grateful for an approach that has caused social and economic devastation. Enough, Premier! These restrictions have caused the mental health epidemic in this state. Mental health issues have swept across our community like a tidal wave.

As Jim recently wrote to me, and I quote: Lets also not forget the significant increasing mental health impact this is now having on the once healthy people.

This is wrong, wrong, wrong in every possible way.

These restrictions have caused isolation, and this government has no intelligent policy response. The gap has caused a mental health epidemic in this state. Experts have called out for a policy response, and it has fallen on deaf ears.

Months ago, John Brogden, the chairman of Lifeline Australia, said and I quote: … the new lockdown measures are taking a toll on the mental health of Victorians.

Data from the Department of Health and Human Services is equally alarming. It shows a 33 per cent rise in children presenting to hospital with self-harm injuries and an almost 10 per cent increase across all ages. These numbers are a clear expression of the pain being felt in our community, especially the pain these restrictions are causing young people. In my community the prevalence of young people in pain is real. A cohort of young teenage girls are self-harming.

In good conscience, Premier, the mental health damage caused by these restrictions cannot be allowed to continue. Victorians must be given a back-tolife plan. That plan must mitigate mental health issues and support our most vulnerable and isolated. A key way to do that would be through an urgent introduction of a support bubble—a bubble reaching more than just singles. In the United Kingdom people can form a support bubble. This allows them to spend time together inside each other’s homes. In the United Kingdom this bubble is made up of one other household of any size. If one person develops coronavirus symptoms, everyone in the bubble must isolate. The support bubble policy allows people to socialise and feel supported whilst also keeping the risk of catching the virus low, and it would allow people, including the elderly and vulnerable, access to the support they need.

These restrictions have disproportionately affected the care that elderly and vulnerable people receive. As Marie recently wrote to me, and I quote: We deserve an approach that properly balances the need to support and protect the elderly and vulnerable without destroying the rights, liberties, financial stability and hope for Australia as a whole.

Lockdowns create more devastation than solutions. Living in fear while people loose their livelihoods and families, whilst the elderly spend their last days alone is neither acceptable or necessary.

The support bubble is the type of policy that our government should have implemented. A bubble only available to singles is not good enough, and it is not smart enough policy. It will not help young people in pain, and it will not help many of the elderly and vulnerable who need additional support. The social damage inflicted upon our community has been profound, and the government has not implemented clever policy responses.

Tragically the economic carnage has been equally devastating, and then again the government has no sophisticated policy answers.

As Bruce recently wrote to me: … Business owners in Victoria are in a desperate state. Businesses going broke, relationships and families breaking down and even business owners taking their lives. What we are seeing in Victoria is madness …

We know that devastation has been partly caused by the Premier prioritising preventative health over policy that structurally supports the economy. The Premier does not understand the private sector. You can hear it in his droning, look-at-me press conferences where it is all about him. Private enterprise is a foreign concept to him.

The national accounts reveal a devastation in raw numbers. Victorian state final demand has fallen by 8.5 per cent, and household consumption expenditure has decreased by 13.7 per cent, which includes a 64 per cent fall in hotels, cafes and restaurants. We can see the reality of those numbers in every main street across Melbourne. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. They include the mums and dads of our communities, the human face of our economy, who have taken a risk to realise their dream. In main streets across Melbourne shopfronts have closed for good. No-one should ever forget that these businesses are built on family savings and house mortgages. These restrictions have shattered these families and their dreams.

As Donna recently wrote to me: I am looking at businesses closing down everywhere with no hope of revival. Church Street looks like a ghost town … people have put years of hard work into their business only to loose everything, light that was once at the end of the tunnel is now just a black hole …

These businesses are also the employers of our local communities, where young people get their first job, and now many young people have been left without work.

Young people like Tim are calling out, and I quote: I have personally never felt such despair as I do right now from these ongoing measures. I can’t work, I can’t afford to live, I am not allowed out or to visit with people to keep myself sane. No end in sight.

Wake up, Premier. Our economy is on its knees. The Business Support Fund when it was announced was a mess. The fund’s eligibility was restrictive and actively shut out many worthy entities.

And though amendments were made, sole traders continue to be ignored. To add insult to injury, businesses contacting the government are ignored.

This bill is poison. The power it delivers is dangerous. The community have repudiated this bill, and it has broken their trust.