I rise today to speak (metaphorically) to the Covid-19 Omnibus Bill. President, never has Victoria faced a challenge of the likes of this. This is, as so many have said, is unprecedented in living memory.
Before I turn my attention to the specifics of this emergency bill, can I take the time to thank those on the front line of this crisis…
The doctors, nurses and support staff in hospitals and clinics all over Victoria who are facing this challenge head on. As well as the army of aged care workers who are backed up by cleaners, security guards and administrative staff who are keeping our health facilities running. You are the real heroes of this crisis.
The researchers and lab assistants who are sprinting to find a vaccine – keep going. You are our future.
The shelf stackers and checkout operators at our supermarkets. If it were up to me – you would all get a huge bonus at the end of this crisis. Thank you so much.
To those who are keeping other critical services operating like electricity, water and internet. Without you continuing to go to work every day, helping our community, we would all be in trouble.
To those working in Councils who are the lifeblood of many community programs, I salute you. I have spoken to all the Mayors in my region of Northern Metro and I am aware of the pressure they are under. Yet every day, Council staff roll up to work in an effort to keep our facilities running. Thank you.
To the police and other emergency services personnel who are doing a fantastic job under what are truly trying circumstances. This state will forever be in your debt.
A special shout out to those working in the Mental Health sector and other areas servicing people who are at risk such as the homeless. Many citizens need help right now and you have been there for them. I know my party, The Reason Party, will continue to push to ensure you get the funding and back up you need.
And to the citizens of Victoria who have made a massive effort in social distancing, staying at home and following other directions. This crisis would be far worse if we had not all come together. It has been hard and we are not there yet, but when you look at what has happened overseas, we can see how this effort is working. Keep going. Your effort is saving lives.
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way we live and work; the way we interact with our loved ones and strangers on the street.
Many have lost their jobs and businesses have been shut. Our normally bustling city is a ghost town.
Life has changed – and will not be normal for a very long time. For some this has brought opportunities but for others quite the opposite. Women are locked in their homes with violent partners and without an opportunity to call for help. Many have lost their jobs and don’t know when they will ever be employed again. And for many this time of social isolation is negatively affecting their mental health.
On the other side of the pandemic we may be facing frightening rates of mental illness and unemployment.
But many of us have found new ways to work. Employers are realising that staff can work effectively and productively from home. What if trains and roads were always quieter because many of us spent a day or two working from home? It could mean that we would not need to continually expand our transport infrastructure.
It could also mean that people could live in regional areas while holding down a city job. It could mean school runs and bedtimes would be less hectic. If trains and roads could be used more consistently throughout the day, we could almost end congestion.
Prior to the pandemic there were approximately 280 people sleeping rough in the Melbourne CBD. That figure is now 24. It is extraordinary and we must work to maintain these remarkable advances. We can learn from Covid-19 and some of the unprecedented actions and decisions that have been made.
I see many opportunities arising from this crisis which I hope the government can see too. But sometimes you can be too close to the issue and miss them. You are so focussed on the brushstrokes that you can’t see the big picture – which is why the Reason Party is so very disappointed that the government opposes independent scrutiny and oversight. That scrutiny is not just looking for problems but also for opportunities.
Take poker machine gambling as an example – this time at home may have been a welcome opportunity for problem gamblers to break their habits and an opportunity that we can capitalise on, by reducing the numbers of machines across our state and reducing daily withdrawal limits, maximum bets per spin and daily trading hours.
This Bill is one of the most significant we have ever seen in this place and takes steps we have never seen in this state.
Like many, I am concerned about our civil liberties and the way in which some of these measures have been forced upon us, but recognise it is something we must do.
The Bill provides the extraordinary power to amend any piece of legislation by regulation, except for the Constitution or the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.
This appears excessive on its face, but after a lot of consideration, I feel that these powers are appropriately balanced by the following:
- The regulations can only respond to COVID
- They must be reasonable
- Both the regulation making powers and most importantly, the regulations made under them, will sunset after 6 months
- Non-political heads of jurisdiction must consent
- The changes can be procedural only, not change substantive law and the areas that can be changed are listed in the Bill
- Regulations can be disallowed by Parliament which now appears will continue to sit during this period
- Court challenges can of course, also be made.
We are facing an unprecedented crisis and these are unprecedented measures, but the exercise of emergency powers to date has been appropriate.
As I stand here today, there are only 93 current cases of COVID-19 in Victoria, with 28 people in hospital and only 12 in intensive care. It is a remarkable achievement when compared to most of the rest of the world.
This Bill traverses justice, tenancies, workplace injury, education and training, the EPA, local government, parliament committees, planning and nurse to patient ratios.
It is wide reaching and enables even wider reach.
This Bill asks us to put our absolute faith in the executive and I hope that Government will honour that faith.
I commend the Bill to house.