Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (15:46): I could say it feels like groundhog day again, but I do not want to say that, because this is different. After a number of sleepless nights and after a number of weeks of negotiations with the government on this bill, I am satisfied to support this bill. Not only that, I know that not supporting it would have been the morally wrong thing to do. To just say no would have been the morally wrong thing to do. It would have been the easy thing to do. Thank you to the Liberal Party—I received 7000 emails on Saturday all sent from a Liberal Party endorsed website saying all kinds of things to me. Sadly none of them provided me with a return email address, so I could not write back to them, because I do enjoy writing back to some of them; I do enjoy writing back and questioning them. But using the type of language that they used towards me, suggesting the things that I should do with all sorts of instruments and animals—I question how that helps them advocate for their position. How does that encourage me to change my mind? How does that encourage me to understand their position? But we did get a lot of those emails, and this had a lot to do with the opposition. I could have just said, ‘No, I’m out of here. This is not my circus, not my monkeys. You work it out’. But it is my circus. This is our state all together, and we have a responsibility to do what is right.
In supporting this legislation, I would have loved to have seen this legislation actually probably introduced six months ago, in October—when we were looking at this, when we asked for specific legislation, when we recognised that COVID was not going to leave us anytime soon. We just heard the World Health Organization today note that the number of COVID infections in the world is back on the increase. We had had seven weeks of steady decline. It has started increasing again today, or their reporting said there was an increase today. This morning we woke up to notifications about two wastewater announcements in Victoria: that fragments of COVID have been found in wastewater in the west and wastewater out in the Yarra Valley. It is still with us. We are still going to need controls. We are still going to need to act with caution. But we want to have some confidence, and I think certainly for me this was the hardest thing: how can we live in a state of emergency? And this is what we have been doing—we have been living in a state of emergency, and we cannot go on with that.
I am pleased to see house amendments today that also address some of those human rights issues—that right to protest, that right to question your detention—and that change the way that COVID fines will be applied specifically to children. These are all good amendments, but I think what got me over the line was really the absolute commitment to develop COVID-safe legislation—that we will be doing legislation that is focused on health.
We will actually be doing something that no other state in Australia has done. Let us not forget that every state in Australia is operating under a state of emergency. If we just said no, or if we said, ‘No, it must be one month’, I can tell you that my inbox could not deal with debating this every month, and I do not think it is necessary. We negotiated last time for at the very least the declaration to be tabled in Parliament so we could look at that. We also negotiated that we would get a briefing from the minister and the chief health officer, and that has happened every four weeks—we have been invited to these briefings. To me, this is a kind of level of transparency that no other jurisdiction has. There is no other Parliament that is getting this type of transparency.
But going forward we are going to have something better. We are going to have a piece of legislation that will be developed over the next few months, and it will be developed by an expert group. They will be consulting with business groups. I heard my good colleague Mr Meddick speak about this as well. They will be speaking to business groups, to the multicultural community, to the GPs, to the health services, to the rural and regional local governments, to the Department of Transport and to the tourism department. They will be speaking to everyone about how we can create legislation that is nuanced, that has the right risk measures and calculations in it.
On those risk measurements, I was very pleased that the government has also confirmed that within the next few days to a couple of weeks we will see some very specific regulations and information about how we deal with regional areas. Frankly, I have been spending a little bit of time in the regional areas with my colleague Ali Cupper in the other house, and I can tell you that the people at Wycheproof, the people at Birchip, the people at Manangatang, the people at Sea Lake could not understand for the life of them why they were in a five-day lockdown, why they were in stage 4 last month, when they had never been in stage 4 before. However, they want to remain safe. So the conversations in the Patchewollock pub were about sheep racing, but they were also about the fact that they understood that we need to stay safe, that we need to have hotel quarantine, that we need to self-isolate when someone has been infected or someone was a close contact of someone. They understood all of that. They just want it to be nuanced and they want the risk to be properly assessed, and I am very pleased that we hear that this is what is happening.
Now, the government has not got it perfect by any means. We have seen mistakes made; I acknowledge that. I am not the government, though. But I am also not the opposition. I am actually here as a member of Parliament to do what I think is best for my community, and having no ability to quarantine, having no ability to self-isolate is not the answer. In fact we would see our borders locked down. We would see New South Wales, South Australia, WA, Queensland, Tasmania—every other state—lock us out. We may be free to walk around our own state, but we would be locked out of every other state; that is without doubt. Or we would have seen the government having to rely on far more draconian legislation, like state-of-disaster legislation, and I do not think any of us would have liked to have seen us go down that pathway.
Again, many people have said to me, ‘So you’re going to trust the government for another nine months?’. Frankly, we have to do something, and COVID-specific legislation is the right way to do it. I would have loved it to have been done when I asked for it back in October, but I am pleased that we are doing it now. I am pleased that we have an expert group doing it. I am also pleased that the government has agreed that they will report back to this chamber and report back to the Parliament every three months about the progress of that group. We will still see the same reporting back of the declarations, with that same briefing available to members of this chamber every four weeks.
So we have got some levels of transparency that do not exist in other jurisdictions. I am not saying it is perfect. I know my good colleague, Mr Limbrick, will raise a number of issues around human rights and the transparency of those tests to our charter of human rights. I think he makes some very good points. However, just saying no here is not the answer. We actually have to do something. I have come into this place and so regularly I have said, ‘Let’s not let the perfect get in the way of the good’. This is another circumstance where we cannot let the perfect get in the way of the good.
I had 7000 emails, as I told you, telling me to stop the state of emergency—you know, ‘Stop the grab on power’ or whatever they were saying. But—I apologise; I will be very quick, Dr Bach—I spoke to the Burnet Institute. I spoke to the AMA. I spoke to the Australian Industry Group. I spoke to numerous groups that actually had significantly more nuanced approaches to this than ‘Just say no’, ‘Stop the state of emergency’ and the whole range of other kinds of wacky ideas that I heard. So who do I listen to? Do I listen to those 7000 emails that were generated by a Liberal Party website, or do I listen to the experts? Do I listen to the head of infectious diseases? Do I listen to the solicitor-general, Kristen Walker? Yes, I do. Do I listen to the Human Rights Law Centre? Yes, I do. Do I listen to the Law Institute of Victoria? Yes, I do. And they are telling me that we are on the right path—that this is the way to go.
Again, I accept that this is not perfect. I also accept that Victoria is more acutely aware of what a state of emergency means. I am acutely aware that the Northern Territory, the ACT, Queensland—well, Queensland had some lockdowns—some states, have never had to go into any form of lockdown, and that is great. I accept we have had a very tough year. I am talking to my constituents daily about how to improve that. I am working with small business operators in my community on how we can improve that. But I am seeing so many more people walking around the streets at the moment. I am seeing so many more businesses opening. I am actually starting to see some ‘For lease’ signs come down on Nicholson Street, on Sydney Road, on Lygon Street. I am starting see businesses build back up. I am starting to see us coming back. We will not bounce back, but we will come back, and we will come back stronger. I am starting to hear from mothers who are saying, ‘I love the flexibility that this has created—that I didn’t have to seem like some desperate person for wanting to take some time off to take the kids to school. I can do that. I can now work and take my kids to school, and I can do that effectively and efficiently’. I think we will keep some of the changes, and we have seen that with a piece of legislation that is coming to our house around the way the courts operate.
I have taken up this time so Dr Bach does not have to start for 30 seconds before cleaning. You can thank me later, Dr Bach.
I do not think this is perfect. I do not think that the government is without fault. But again I know that we are going to need something to take us forward. I know that COVID is not going to end, and it is not going to end in December. We are going to have to have a health response in place for this pandemic, and I plan to work with the government on this. I plan to have a seat at the table. I can bet that I will have a seat at the table and Mr Meddick will have a seat at the table. I kind of bet that the Shadow Minister for Health wishes she had a seat at that table. But by working with governments, by negotiating with governments, that is how you get a voice and that is how you get a seat at the table.