Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (15:44): I am pleased to rise to speak on this legislation. Let us just remember—and let us be really clear—that if our government and this Parliament had done nothing about COVID, then our health system would have been overwhelmed and thousands of Victorians would have died, gasping for air, many of them doctors and nurses, many of them friends or family. I have no doubt that everyone in this chamber probably knows someone who has had COVID, is experiencing the effects of long COVID or is immunocompromised and is frightened by COVID. I have no doubt we all know someone. We all have constituents who are in that circumstance. Doing nothing seems to be what everybody is calling for, because they did not want the state-of-emergency legislation. That was not suitable, so doing nothing seems to be what they are suggesting: ‘Let the disease run wild; let’s do nothing’.
It is not acceptable here. It is not acceptable anywhere in Australia. It is not acceptable anywhere in the world. The ultimate human right is to protect life, and that is what this bill is doing. If you disagree with this proposition, I would really consider how you are representing your constituency, your half a million constituents. There are half a million at least in your electorates and you are saying, ‘We do not believe that we should protect the right of life’.
Mr Finn interjected.
Ms PATTEN: I thought that would get you, Mr Finn. We have got to manage this pandemic. We have got to curtail the spread of disease. That leaves us with two options. We declare a new state of emergency, which those on the other side—those that are opposing the bill today—vehemently opposed. My colleagues on the crossbench who are opposing the bill today, who have publicly stated they are opposing the bill today, publicly opposed the state of emergency. And a number of the reasons were, ‘We don’t see the health advice’, ‘Where’s the human rights assessment?’, ‘Why isn’t the Premier in charge of this?’, ‘Why isn’t the health minister in charge of this?’, ‘Why are they hiding behind the chief health officer?’. These were all the options. So today we have two choices: we can support this legislation or we can try and get through another state of emergency. Now, if March is anything to go by, that is not going to be easy. That is not going to be easy. I went on the record. I am actually in a very difficult spot because I went on the record in March and said I would not support another extension of a state of emergency. I said that in March, and I said that we needed specific legislation to deal with pandemics.
Mr Ondarchie: Ah, word play.
Ms PATTEN: In fact, Mr Ondarchie, you can check my op-ed in the Age. You can check my op-ed in the Herald Sun, where I said we needed pandemic-specific legislation, because otherwise we are dealing with state-of-emergency legislation that is designed to deal with floods. It is designed to deal with fires. It is not designed to deal with global pandemics. While we are dealing with COVID now, every single medical researcher is telling us this is not our last pandemic and we do not even know what the next pandemic is going to look like. So here we are with new pandemic legislation that is specific to pandemics, that enhances transparency, that enhances oversight, that has greater checks and balances, that improves on what we have used in that state-of-emergency framework. But this framework is just for pandemics.
Now, Liberty Victoria, the Human Rights Law Centre, the Centre for Public Integrity, the Law Institute of Victoria and many other expert organisations said we needed specific legislation. In fact I remember Mr Davis calling me, asking me to meet with the Centre for Public Integrity because they would explain to me why the state of emergency was not appropriate for pandemics and they would explain to me why we needed specific legislation for pandemics. And do you know what? They did. And that is why, in March, I said we need specific legislation. And I do not think the government were particularly happy with it, but they agreed. They agreed, and with my colleagues Mr Meddick and Dr Ratnam they also agreed that we could be part of that process of developing that legislation. So, yes, I do not think it is any big secret if Ms Crozier may have seen us. We were on the record in March. I remember standing at a press conference saying that I would be working with the minister to help develop and be consulted in this. I then spoke to Liberty Victoria. I then spoke to the LIV. I then spoke to the Centre for Public Integrity, which had been the pin-up for the opposition in the state of emergency.
Now, I note that the opposition has been silent about the position of the Centre for Public Integrity, and I can tell you they are actually supportive of this. Also, I will later in my contribution talk about the amendments that we have negotiated over the last two weeks with the government in light of the recommendations from the Centre for Public Integrity, from the Law Institute of Victoria, from the Victorian Bar, from Liberty Victoria, from the Human Rights Law Centre.
I take that back. I did not have an opportunity to speak to the Victorian Bar, but I did have an opportunity to speak to the Law Institute of Victoria. I did speak to the Human Rights Law Centre. I did speak to the Centre for Public Integrity. I did speak to Liberty Victoria. I just have to say that the misinformation that has been spread prior to today, but also today from Mr Grimley, from Mr Davis—I mean, they should know better. They probably should have asked for another briefing because they obviously do not understand this legislation. They do not understand this bill. They do not understand what it is doing. And I have to say that this is politically motivated. I think it is shameful. I am embarrassed for you. I am embarrassed for you, because to fan misinformation out there—
Mr Ondarchie: Now you want to adjust it.
Ms PATTEN: Mr Ondarchie, I will take that point up. I said it could be improved. I said that and I said the devil will be in the detail when I went on 3AW, which was quoted, I might add, by Mr Grimley. And there are many amendments to it that I have improved it on. It is legislation that tries to find that delicate balance between human rights and protection of human life. Now, as I said—
Mr Ondarchie interjected.
Ms PATTEN: Mr Ondarchie, you are verballing me. Please. Mr Ondarchie, you are just verballing me. It is actually not the case. I would encourage you to go back and listen to that interview where I stated that I had not read the legislation and the devil would be in the detail and I would be looking for amendments. So, okay. But I would encourage you to go back and listen to it, if you are so interested to do that.
What we have seen is an incitement of violence. We have seen fanning the fear of Victorians, and yes, Victorians are fearful. We do not have much left in our tank. This has been tough. We do not want to see any lockdowns. We do not want to see any more restrictions on our freedoms. I do not either. I watch every morning the vaccination rate because I know when we get to that 90 per cent that is when we can remove all of our restrictions. That is the national framework. That is not just Victoria.
I know that when I get the opportunity to get to the emails actually from my constituents and not from the people who email me from Queensland and New South Wales and Western Australia and everywhere else outside Northern Metropolitan, when I get the opportunity to actually speak to my constituents, I am trying to help them with their issues of mental health. I am trying to help them with their issues of housing or employment. That is what my job is doing and that is what I am trying to do. I want to go back to prepandemic. I would love to pretend it never happened, but by refusing to support state-of-emergency legislation and now refusing to support pandemic legislation, what are you going to do? These laws only exist for situations where carrying on as normal puts us at risk. If we did not have these laws of this type, there would be no way of curtailing the spread of COVID or any future pandemics. People will die as a result of that, and I certainly believe that. I heard one of the other speakers talk about Brazil, where we saw thousands. We were seeing mass graves. We are lucky. Australia is lucky. We have done extremely well. But let us remember that if we did not have these laws there would be no way—I repeat, no way—to curtail this. So we have got this binary choice: we look at how we have to restrict people’s rights to protect human life or we do not restrict human rights and we let people die. No jurisdiction in Australia or in the commonwealth has done that.
Every state in Australia has declared a state of emergency, and I know that many of the people who are opposing this legislation today are well aware that the state-of-emergency legislation in every other jurisdiction does not provide for assessments of human rights, does not provide for the publication of the health orders, does not provide for a Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee (SARC) to assess the orders, does not provide for an independent advisory committee to scrutinise and look at the legislation. No other jurisdiction does that. I think we are interested to note that Premier Perrottet used today to announce that he will be extending the New South Wales state of emergency to 2023, because every other jurisdiction has very little oversight.
Mr Ondarchie interjected.
Ms PATTEN: Mr Ondarchie, I am not even taking up your interjection. Mr Ondarchie has had a moment to provide a contribution. He does not need to—
Mr Ondarchie interjected.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Melhem): Order! Mr Ondarchie, let us stop interjecting, and let us have it all through the Chair. Ms Patten to continue, without any assistance from anyone.
Ms PATTEN: If I could just go to the point that Liberty Victoria made, and I think they put it quite eloquently:
… restrictions on human rights may be required to avoid a serious risk to public health (which is compatible with the right to life and the right to health).
We have learned over the last two years that our state-of-emergency laws are not fit for purpose. Our state-of-emergency framework lacks transparency and vests powers in health officials to make decisions outside their remit that affect the whole state. We know that COVID, while it affects our physical health, also affects so many other parts of our lives, and yet we have to rely on the chief health officer to make those assessments and make those rules. And the legislation does not require any reasons for that; they have to put out their declaration, and there is a lot of information in that, but not the health advice. It lacks that transparency. That is why in March I called for pandemic-specific legislation, and I was very open and vocal about that—and I know Dr Ratnam and Mr Meddick were also. So while Ms Crozier thinks it is surprising, it is not. It is not surprising.
As we know and as I will repeat, the pandemic legislation provides for greater separation of powers in the decision-making process; makes important transparency improvements, including full publication of the chief health officer advice; improves parliamentary oversight via the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee; provides for an independent advisory committee; and allows Parliament to disallow health orders in certain circumstances. But importantly, the buck stops with the elected officials, who are responsible to all Victorians at the polling booth. Now, I think it would be worth just noting what happens in other jurisdictions. Here, under this new legislation, orders are signed by elected officials. Okay, that happens in other jurisdictions. Powers are separated between elected officials—no, that will only happen in Victoria—where the Premier will make the declaration but the Minister for Health will be required to make the orders. Parliament may disallow health orders in certain circumstances. Actually, nowhere can that happen, with the exception, if this bill passes, of Victoria. The full health advice must be published. No other jurisdiction is required to do that, and certainly Premier Perrottet, when he just announced a state of emergency in New South Wales until 2023, did not have to put any advice out there; he could just say, ‘I’m doing that’. An independent pandemic advisory committee—no, you are right, Victoria is the only state. Parliamentary committee oversight—again, SARC. It was interesting to hear Ms Crozier talking about the wonderful oversight committee that the New South Wales Parliament has—that upper house crossbench committee that the Liberal Party of New South Wales refused to be part of. In fact they opposed the motion to establish that committee.
So here we have a very different view. And let us remember, as an upper house we can establish that same committee if we feel that is necessary. We established an inquiry into contact tracing and testing just last year. We have that power to do that if we think it is necessary. I think that is certainly something that this house has, because this is the house of review.
So the health minister has to publish everything, and if he does not agree with the chief health officer’s advice, he has to publish why. There is an independent advisory committee of experts to provide frank and public oversight. The bill empowers the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee to ensure that these orders are consistent with the charter of human rights. The transparency rules are the checks and balances that we need, and I would have to say that, in looking at the comparisons of other jurisdictions, which I did over this time in consulting around what would pandemic legislation look like—I looked at Denmark, I looked at New South Wales, I looked at New Zealand, I looked at the other states around Australia—you could see all of the gaps. They were all of the gaps, I might add, that the opponents of the state of emergency were articulating.
The amendments have been circulated, so we know that many of the concerns that were raised by the Centre for Public Integrity, the concerns that were raised by Liberty Victoria, the concerns that were raised by the Human Rights Law Centre have been addressed in those amendments—things like the extraordinary fines and charges for aggravated offences under this legislation. They have been halved under the amendments, and I think that is commensurate with other states. I would note that conduct endangering life actually has 10 years jail, so when you are talking about an aggravated offence of endangering people with a virus, I think we are hitting the right mark about this.
I think it was incredibly disingenuous of Mr Davis to start listing certain attributes that may have been captured by this legislation when he knows that is not the case, when he knows that attributes are pertaining to protection of life, pertaining to keeping us safe from a pandemic. But I am pleased that the amendments go further to provide clarity on that issue—that it may be about aged care, it may be about children, it may be about a range of people, but it is not, as some people have been trying to attest, things like religion or political beliefs. All of these protections are enshrined.
The power of detention—and this is my final point—I understand. You know, I noted everybody supporting a terrorism bill two weeks ago that provided extraordinary powers of detention—extraordinary—but everyone was silent on that. But this one, we have actually seen since March some considerable changes to it. We have seen over 200—I think it is 260 or 300—assessments of detention orders, and about a quarter of them have been varied. So I will watch with interest in that area, and I understand and I appreciate that under the new amendments this legislation will be reviewed within two years, and I will speak more about that during the committee process.
In summary, this has been an incredibly difficult time. I thank all of the health workers that have been incredibly supportive of our push for pandemic-specific legislation. I am very grateful for the health experts and the public health experts that have supported us in trying to find the right balance, because it is a delicate balance between protecting human rights and protecting human life. And I believe that while I do not think I have ever seen a perfect piece of legislation, we should not let the perfect get in the way of the good, and I support this legislation.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading speech 16/11/21