Grievance Debate- Opposition Performance

MR FREGON (Mount Waverley) (17:46): Well, where do I start? I grieve also for the state of our opposition, but only so much so because my parents are lifelong conservative voters.

Mr Rowswell: On a point of order, Acting Speaker, in relation to standing order 110, relating to irrelevant material or tedious repetition, I note that this is the fourth government speaker who has grieved for the same subject matter, being the Liberal Party or the state opposition, and I would ask you to pay close attention to the contribution of the member, as the Chair may—

The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Dimopoulos): Thank you. There is no point of order. Thank you for your advice.

Mr FREGON: Thank you, Acting Speaker. So as I was saying, my parents have been conservative voters for all of their lives. My father ran a small business, a chemist shop, for all of his life, as I have said before in this house. As much as I could try and convince them that this side of this bench is a much better choice, I do not think I will have a go. I think if I was preselected for Ferntree Gully, I reckon Mum would support me. Dad? Yes, he probably would, but it would be tough.

Now, I grieve for the opposition because—and I agree with the member for Eltham—the state of the debate, as we have seen over the last number of years, has declined, and it has declined to what is almost a tribal Carlton versus Collingwood, Victoria Park, 1975, stoush.

Mr Morris interjected.

Mr FREGON: Well, I am not going to choose Carlton or Collingwood. I think the member for Eildon and I are both Hawthorn supporters, and we will not get into that. So what can we do about this? On our side of the bench, if you take the pandemic as an example, we try and explain. We have got the Premier, the Acting Premier, the chief health officer, the deputy chief health officer and every minister on a relevant basis, who day after day after day try and explain to the Victorian public, the Victorian people, about the viral mess that this world is living in that we are trying to suppress. And this is a national strategy—that we try and suppress this thing out of our state.

Now, we hear a lot of examples of people who are doing it very, very tough, and there is no shortage of those examples. As a government we are supporting those people, and obviously we have to draw lines in that support. We can honestly and openly debate where those lines are drawn—that is what this house is for—but when we start debating the actual health advice, when we start debating what our doctors are saying, we start getting into very dangerous and farcical territory.

Now, my son Sam, our youngest, was born with a defect in the—and I am not going to know the medical terms there—tube that went from one of his kidneys to his bladder. The amazing medical people that we have in our state spotted this in utero, and they said, ‘This might be a bit of an issue. The kidney’s not working as much as possible. We’re going to have to keep an eye on this’. So obviously as expecting parents Bec and I were pretty worried about this. But, okay, you trust in your health professionals, because that is what they do, that is what they are trained to do and that is what they spend their lives being trained to do—to give you that advice. So we said, ‘What do we do?’. He said, ‘Nothing yet. We wait until Sam is born. It might clear up, it might not’. Well, sure enough, Sam was born and the X-ray or whatever it was showed he had a kink in this tube. So at six weeks old little Sammy went into surgery. Obviously this was fairly troubling for us as new parents, but again, we trusted the health advice. I will give a shout-out to Dr Kimber out there. When we talked to him we said, ‘You know, this is really scary’. He went, ‘Oh, look, I do two or three a day’.

Our doctors, our health professionals, our nurses and our ambulance drivers do this for a living. If we do not trust them, if we sow the seeds of doubt on a daily basis, it takes longer and longer to bring that trust back. If you sow fear and discord as a mantra, I would argue very strongly on behalf of my parents that you are changing the very nature of your group. And if you go down those rabbit holes, it is very, very hard to dig yourselves out because you have got a lot of other rabbits with you and they will not let you go.

To make my point on this, on Monday there was a press release from the opposition that I and others thought just went a little bit too far into la-la land, so I would like to make a personal disclosure on that note. In 2012 I was walking out of my front door. It had just started raining. I was carrying two garbage bags. I put my front foot on the little porch step, it slipped and I fell. When I landed I noticed that my leg was going this way and my foot was going 90 degrees the other way, and I had broken my leg. Now, I was not overly impressed with this, as you can imagine. Can I just point out that on that day in 2012 I did not take a photo of the stairs—

A member: What about a video?

Mr FREGON: I did not have a video of the stairs either.

Ms Ward: Did you ring the police?

Mr FREGON: I did not call the police. I did not need to. I did call the ambulance, because I trusted our first responders. Can I just say also that today is Thank a First Responder Day and give a huge shout-out to our first responders. The two women who came to support me while I was lying there feeling a bit sorry for myself were fantastic. You could not have asked for more. They got me into the bus, and they said, ‘All right. We’re going to take you to hospital. We’ll take you to this hospital. They do legs’. Now, at no point during that exchange with the ambulance drivers did I say, ‘Well, can you show me the health advice, please?’. I was pretty sure I had just got it, so it was okay. They gave me the green stick. I do not know if anyone has had the green stick, but if you break a leg, the green stick is very handy.

Ms Ward: Yep. That’s a painful leg.

Mr FREGON: Yes. I had eight-odd weeks of not being able to move anywhere. Then I was in a moon boot, I think, for another four or five weeks after that.

Ms Ward: Did you give press conferences?

Mr FREGON: I did not give any press conferences and I did not need to actually ask the ambulance to release any of the details from where I had dropped in my house. That is how ludicrous it has got—that we are even supposing that there is some conspiracy, not just with the public figure, who apparently is meant to disclose everything that ever happens to them in their life, which again is ludicrous, but also with everyone else connected to the incident who are somehow involved according to some magical mystery ride of the consciousness of people who I cannot understand. I will also point out in my public disclosure that my grandfather’s name is Lindsay, and so is my son’s. I do not know if that is relevant.

Ms Ward: What does that mean?

Mr FREGON: I do not know, but that is where we have gone.

I have heard a little bit about business today from some of the members of the opposition. And look, everyone has the right in this place, when they are standing in this place, to say what they think, and they should say what they think. I do not know if members have seen the Mitchell and Webb skit where they go, ‘Don’t know much? Don’t worry about it. Send it to “What I reckon” at the BBC’. It is like everyone can have a go. Someone says the sky is falling, someone else says it is not. Great, what a debate that is. But everyone has the right to say what they want when we are in this place.

I have heard members from the other side, and I am not going to point out individuals because it does not matter. If one member from the other side or from our side is saying it, it is a collective effort. We do not always say the right things on this side or the other side. And if you do not say the right thing, you cop it and you fix it. I think we saw a minister do that today, correct something that slightly needed to be corrected. That is a good thing. I have done it myself in this house.

What I find hard to accept is when I am told, sitting here and being looked at, that no-one on this side of the house understands small business. I think to myself, ‘Now, hang on a second, I know this one’. I ran a small business for 20 years. I was in the corporate world for 10 years before that. I reckon I might know. Is it easy being in small business right now? No, it is desperately hard, and I get emails, similar to other members, showing how hard it is. And it is heartbreaking for some of these people. But if you look around the world to countries where they have not contained the virus, it is not better, it is worse. The strategy that is taken up by the national cabinet on suppression works. When we are locked down, like we are right now, it is bitterly hard on many people. And to all the people in my district and the whole of Victoria that are finding it very tough, I am so sorry it is happening. We are sorry it is happening, but we must contain this thing and get rid of it, because that is the way out for you to get back to making your business profitable.

We have seen that by how quickly we bounce back. Even the Shadow Treasurer accepted that we had snapped back, in her wonderful interview with Raf Epstein on 774. We understand, but you have to draw the line somewhere. We hear a lot that our brothers and sisters to the north in New South Wales are the gold standard in all things. Fair enough. What did they do? With the Northern Beaches, what was their business support? Well, it was a $3000 grant for the three weeks, I believe. And we have heard a lot today about the cap of $75 000 being in our structures. If I look through the list for eligibility for New South Wales support during the Northern Beaches lockdown, I see ‘have an annual turnover of more than 75 000’. It is the same. And this is part of what happens with the debate when you are just arguing against everything and for the thing that you think is better. Even though there might be similarities, you just skip those. And that is fine. You are trying to make your point, and you have got every right to make your point. But if your point does not make sense, people will wake up to it.

The Leader of the Opposition has a thankless job, and it does not matter if you are federal, state or whatever. I have sympathy for the person who is in opposition during a pandemic—not a whole heap of sympathy but, you know, a little bit. But the conduct of a person who is potentially putting themselves up to be leader of this state should be equivalent to being the leader of this state, and I personally do not believe this is what we are seeing. I think recent events in the opposition would say that there might be a few others who think that too. Now that is for you guys, not for me, and good luck. But I—

Mr T Smith: Guys and girls.

Mr FREGON: Well, guys and girls—it is just a collective, member for Kew. Sorry I had to explain that to you. In closing, if I think about the many people in the same situation as my parents, who are lifelong conservative voters, I see them looking at Sky, Murdoch and the debate coming from the opposition, and I see them getting sad and angry and dispirited. So I think we will continue to try to explain, we will continue to try and help and we will do our best. But what we end up with is the simple fact that you cannot be liberal with Victorians.

Question agreed to.