Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (15:29): This year has been, it does feel—many of the days feel—like groundhog day, particularly as we are coming back to debate the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2020, which amends the legislation we debated in March, earlier this year.
Although, it was quite different last time we debated it. It did not go to a vote. In fact the whole chamber supported the bill. And frankly, I am not sure what has got in the water. I am sure our wastewater testing could probably tell us, but something has changed.
Mr Barton: What can it be?
Ms PATTEN: Mr Barton, I am not sure what has changed. But I think I understand what has changed, and I will talk about that in a minute. Most of this bill is exactly the same bill that we debated in March. We debated about how we needed to keep our prisons, our courts, our systems, our local government and our parliamentary committees working. And way back in March that did not seem too radical. It seemed quite sensible. It seemed quite practical. In fact some of the measures—things like being able to put forward electronic documents and the like—are things that I actually think we should consider.
Certainly I was speaking to some groups who were working with prisoners, particularly at the women’s prison the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre and they said one of the effects of this is that it has enabled video visits with inmates’ families. For some prisoners it is the first time they have seen their pet, it is the first time they have seen their dog, it is the first time that their children have been able to sit comfortably at home while they speak to their mother. These are things that I think, coming out of COVID, we should be looking to adopt. But now is not the time to talk about any further legislation, given the fear and fury that has been instilled in us today listening to the previous speakers.
However, this is not the same bill that passed the lower house. This is a very different bill, because what passed the lower house was overreach. What passed the lower house was not good. What passed the lower house instilled greater fear in our community. The proposal that authorised officers could pre-emptively detain Victorian citizens not because they breached COVID quarantine or they breached health directions but because they might—or because an authorised officer thought that they might. That went far too far. There was no judicial oversight of this either, nor was there any appropriate review mechanism. And I, amongst many of the people in this chamber, was vehemently opposed to that section of the bill. I am very pleased that the government did listen to the representations that were made not just from me but from other people in this chamber, and also from the Law Institute of Victoria from very senior barristers, from the human rights commissioner and so on. So those detention provisions are gone.
The provisions relating to authorised officers have also been significantly pared back. I note that the bill now seeks to really constrain the powers in this category of authorised officers so that, obviously, they cannot detain anyone, and also it seeks to limit those powers in various spots. And I note Mr Davis also touched on this, but we will have effectively four classes of people that will have different powers under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 if they are appointed and trained as authorised officers. So the police will have a certain number of powers, you would then see WorkSafe Victoria inspectors having certain powers within workplaces and you would then see possibly health service professionals and interstate health professionals, particularly in the regional areas, helping as we open up.
I just want this state to open back up. I think we all want it. We all desperately want to be able to see our friends and families. We desperately want our businesses to open. And I have to say I believe that this bill is actually sensible in assisting us to get there. I think that specifically and particularly when I look at regional areas, where people are worried and scared that the dirty Melburnians will be sneaking into their regional areas and using their hairdressers and enjoying their wine and visiting their cafes—sorry, that is probably a bit too touchy at the moment, the cafe visiting.
We need to be able to strengthen how we have the controls that keep our community safe, and they are really important and it will not be as it was 12 months ago; it will be different and we will have to socially distance and we will have to be careful about getting tested when we think that we been near someone or we are feeling unwell. We will have to be cautious about hotspots. We will have to learn to deal with this and to keep ourselves safe because we are not going to be without COVID. I hope next week that we start opening up. Let us accept—and I know everybody here will be probably clicking the refresh button every morning to see the morning numbers—that Victoria is going to have some COVID for quite some time. We can open up, but we do need people out there in the workplaces ensuring that workplaces are as safe as possible. We do need people out there, health officers, providing contact tracing out in the regional areas. We need all of this to ensure that we can move to step 3, to step 2, to step 1 so that we can open up again in whatever that COVID-normal way will be.
So I think this bill is now a functional bill. It does that. It will allow us to keep functioning. I am desperately hoping that we will open up in Melbourne next week, and I really hope that the regional areas almost go back to normal next week. Ms Lovell actually yesterday raised some interesting points about the border bubbles where you have got a vineyard open in Albury but not one across the river, but the people from Victoria can visit the one in New South Wales. There are these contradictions around it, and I think this is what can be fixed and this is what we need to be doing.
But if we do not support this bill, if we just say, ‘No, I don’t want to support it. I supported it in March; I’m not going to support it now’—and it has not changed. Let us just remember that. It really has not remarkably changed. I will get onto possibly why I think people have changed their position on this bill, but if this bill was not successful we would be back to 1500 Victorians travelling across Melbourne into the Melbourne Magistrates Court every day. We would be back to having pools of 200 people getting interviewed for jury duty. We would see the end of any online local government meetings. We would see the end of any online joint committee meetings in this place. We would see changes in the way that we could operate our courts. We would see significant changes which right now are ensuring that our prisons and our courts for the most part can work safely at the moment. So there are many areas where this bill will assist us to open up. This bill is not about keeping us shut in my opinion.
However, that is not what you would think by listening to this chamber, by listening to some of the misinformation that is being spread out there, hearing the Leader of the Opposition undermining the chief health officer in this place, hearing Mr Finn questioning the mental health of the Premier. This is actually now becoming a trust issue, and I am very concerned about the fear in our community because people are really scared. Looking at some of the things that people are writing to me about this legislation, they think that this means that people are going to walk into their houses and steal their children. They think that this means that they are going to be locked away. They think that this is a horrific attack on the Australian people’s democratic freedom.
I mean, every state in Australia actually has—well, if you want to call it draconian—more draconian legislation than this. Every state in Australia has authorised officers with far more power than we are debating here today. Yet that seems to be silent. No-one seems to be speaking about the powers in Queensland, the powers in New South Wales and the powers in Tasmania. No-one seems to be speaking about this. But here we keep wanting to blame someone for this pandemic; someone has got to be at fault. Now, in my mind, I would actually like to know what went wrong, and I want to know how we can make sure that that does not happen again. But I do not think that sending around misinformation that breeds mistrust helps our community. It makes our community even more fearful. It makes our community scared. When you say you cannot trust the chief health officer, when you say that the chief health officer is not up to the job, this does not help the community. This does not help the community’s mental health. This does not help the community feel safe. This does not help the community in moving forward.
This bill has not materially changed, yet all of a sudden it is the most treacherous breach of our democratic freedoms ever. Yet in March no-one had that to say about it—no-one. In fact we all reluctantly supported it. We look at what is happening around the world, and I know my friends, when I speak to them in the United States or England, think we are blessed. They think we are actually bloody lucky.
I am desperate for this state to open up. I am desperate for my local businesses to open up. I am desperate for my constituents to be able to get back to work as they did and for my constituents’ children to get back to school. I am desperate for that to happen, but I know that we actually are going to need some controls to ensure that that happens safely and to ensure that our constituents feel safe, because I know that right now, because of all this fear out there, our constituents do not feel safe. They are scared. They are scared that if they go out there something bad will happen—that they will get arrested on the street.
This bill is supported by the AMA. This bill is supported by the Australian Industry Group. This bill is supported by Liberty Victoria. This bill is supported by the Commissioner for Human Rights. This bill is supported by the Law Institute of Victoria—by the QCs that criticised this bill. They are now saying that they are satisfied that this bill finds the balance between health measures and civil liberties. Felicity Gerry, who is one of the prominent QCs who wrote to the Premier about this—I spoke to her last week—says we need these health measures. She is in the UK at the moment—again, another one who wishes that the UK could do some of the things that we are doing here, that wishes that they could see their infection rates going down, that they could see their infection rates at the rate of ours and that they could even have a chance to do contact tracing, because that is just out of the question in these jurisdictions. But we need this.
We need these measures to ensure we can do the contact tracing, to ensure that we can create this ring of steel around Melbourne and to ensure our regional areas can go about their business in the free way that they should, because at a 0.4 infection rate they should be back in business completely. That is what I want to see. I want to see regional Victoria and I want to see Melbourne open up, and I think we can do it. I think we can move to step 3. The epidemiologists are telling us that we can do this if we do it safely, if we do it with some of these measures that ensure that we can do it safely and that ensure that our justice system can continue to operate but can do it safely and if we can ensure that we can keep our aged-care facilities safe. But we have also got to—and it behoves us in here to do this—try and instil a level of trust in our community, because that is what we are losing, and we have been losing it for a long time.
We know about the Edelman Trust Barometer. We no longer trust our churches—possibly for good reason; we no longer trust our corporations; we no longer trust so many of our institutions. Sadly, some of the rhetoric and the vile information that we are feeding our constituents is further breeding this level of mistrust in our community, and that is something that we need to stop. That is something that we need to fix. I, for one, actually support this bill. I do not support everything the government has done, and on saying that and on finishing, I support the amendment that Mr Davis presented today on the 5 kilometres. I have yet to see the evidence of that. Now, probably if I was in a regional area, I would not want to be saying that, but as a Melburnian and as someone who represents an inner-city electorate, I do support the abolishment of the 5-kilometre rule. But we do need health measures. We do need the health department to be as well resourced as possible to ensure that we can come out of this safely and to ensure that our businesses can open up and they can open up safely.