Matter of Public Importance-COVID 19
FREGON (Mount Waverley) (15:54): I will never get that 10 minutes back. I am delighted and stoked to talk on this matter of public importance (MPI), and it is obviously of a level of importance economically that we have not seen since World War II—
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order!
Mr FREGON: I do not need to crack a joke; the member for Gembrook does that himself.
On 26 January in Mount Waverley we had a gentleman with the coronavirus have dinner at the House of Delight.
Mr Battin interjected.
Mr FREGON: The interventions are getting worse.
Mr Battin: Interjections! An intervention would help you.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order!
Mr Fregon: So a health crisis, 26 January, and at that time we could see in China that the coronavirus was coming to us. And this is a very serious issue, as you would know. So I got a call around that time that a man had been to the House of Delight and had dinner. That was the first we knew about a local case in our area in the east, and all of a sudden the Department of Health and Human Services kicked in, the Minister for Health, the Premier—everything started. Since that day things have not stopped. We are still going through a crisis. This government from day one has acted swiftly, decisively and appropriately. The schools in my area that have a great number of Chinese-Australian students were immediately involved. We had parents who were concerned. We had a case of a gentleman at Monash hospital, as talked about before. So this is something that the government took very seriously from day one.
Now what have we done in regard to that? Well, there are a lot of numbers: what money has been spent, what money has been committed, what money has been delivered. I put to you that the actual figures are not as important as the fact that they were appropriate, that what was done was what was required. We had our school system with cleaning—that was doubled. We had the term finish early. We had a social experiment in education that nobody would ever have planned for. If you went back six months and you said to all our parents and our students and our teachers, ‘Hey, here’s an idea: what about next year in around about March you all stay home for about eight weeks and you’ll learn from home via remote learning and Zoom?’, there was no way anyone would ever do that; you would not take that choice. But that is what we did, because that is what was required and that is what the experts said. We can all have a laugh and a joke and have a go at each other, and that is all fine. But the reality is that we listened to the experts and we did what they said—and we should probably do that in a few more areas in this country as well. Maybe after this time, this virus, this moment that we will all remember for the rest of our lives, that will be the impetus of us listening to our experts from now on.
So it is worth us, as the member for Albert Park said in his MPI, thanking the Victorian community, and we definitely should. The Victorian community have acted in an exemplary way. Now, it has not been easy for any of us, especially those of us in this house—and I count those on the other side in this. We have all had to do the work, and it has been work of a nature that had to be done immediately. We all worked from home—not just us obviously, everybody. Our students have learned from home. Our kids have been at home. I think the only one who has been exceptionally happy about the last six months is my dog, because she has had the whole family home, seven days a week—24/7. She is a bit upset now too, because we are going back slowly.
I would like to thank the schools in my area, particularly the principals. I rang them in what would have been very late January or 1 or 2 February, just before the term started. The department had already contacted them. The minister’s office had already been on top of it, and they already had the instructions they needed to go forward. As I have checked in with them over the duration, the feedback I have got is that the Deputy Premier and Minister for Education’s office has done everything that they have required and that things have been done. Reinventing education in a matter of two weeks of holidays that were brought forward, only to get everything in place and get it all settled and then have to undo it all again—but they did it. I will not mention all my schools, but you know who you are, and you know that I am grateful.
Business—we have heard a bit about business today. The member for Polwarth might disagree with me, although he is not here—some of us, like him, have many years in business, and I know exactly what this period would have done to the business that I ran not two years ago. It was a very small business. We did not make a lot of money, but we worked hard, and this would have given me the thought when coronavirus hit: do I close the doors? If my business drops 70 or 80 per cent, what do I do?
Now, I will also say that I have been proud to be a member of Parliament at a time when for the most part politics has been thrown out the window. Obviously that has not continued today, but that is to be expected. I think we can thank the national cabinet, the federal government, obviously our Premier, our government and also local government for the work they have done.
There is so much more that I could go on about in regard to this government’s response, but what I will say is that I had a call from a long-term business acquaintance of mine. He is a man I have dealt with for about 30 years, and I respect him, and I think we can call each other friends. This man is an avid Liberal supporter. He gave me a call a couple of weeks ago, and he said he was a little bit worried about people not listening about social distancing as much as they should, but he also said, ‘Look, Matt, you know where I stand in all this stuff’. I went, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah’. He said, ‘I’ve got to tell you, the Premier and your side have done extremely well’. He said, ‘I don’t know who the Liberal leader is, but if there was an election right now I would vote for you guys’. That man lives in Malvern.