PUBLIC HEALTH AND WELLBEING AMENDMENT (STATE OF EMERGENCY EXTENSION) BILL 2021
Mr FREGON (Mount Waverley) (17:10): I will just note the member for Rowville’s question: when is the next lockdown? Good question. There is no accurate answer to that, but I think if we are really honest with ourselves what we can all say is that there will be another outbreak somewhere, and it may be Victoria, it may be New South Wales, it may be Queensland or WA, or it may be New Zealand or Taiwan or Singapore or any of the other countries that are lucky enough to not be swamped by what is a global pandemic. Almost a year ago I remember someone explaining to me what the definition of ‘pandemic’ was. About a quarter of the world’s population are likely to get the disease in a pandemic if presumably vaccines and things are not available. We are not there yet, thankfully, but with the numbers in the UK and the US and elsewhere it is certainly heading there. When you include India, Africa—the places in the world that might not get vaccines as quickly as we do—the prospects for some of those poor people are not good. We have had our share, and the opposition are entitled to argue from their point of view that things should have been better. I think we would all agree that the things that we have learned, if we had known them then, we might have done them better.
There has been talk about the numbers of people that have very tragically lost their lives. When we go back to April last year the consensus Australia-wide from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee was still that masks were not necessary. It is not necessarily what I saw in Glen Waverley from the Chinese Australians, because among people with family and friends who had lived in China through the SARS outbreak, the moment this disease came through, on went the masks. In hindsight they were right. But you have got to trust the evidence and the experience of the people who we trust to be our experts. You might disagree with them. Others might disagree with them. There will be countering views within those expert bodies—not every person will agree 100 per cent. But we need to take the consensus because without it, it is chaos. Different states have had different readings, and we still have national cabinet and the AHPPC that are bringing them together.
On our last lockdown of five days the Prime Minister said:
We’ve dealt with these (outbreaks) before, got on top of them before, in the last few weeks in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.
He also said:
A proportionate response by the Victorian Government … that enabled the contact tracers and others to be able to get on top of it and get the same successful result we’ve seen in other states …
They are not my words, they are the Prime Minister of Australia’s.
The main objective of this bill today is to extend the state of emergency. I accept that the opposition happily, at the premise of their statements, accept that a four-week extension is necessary. So we are not even really arguing that we should not extend it at all; we are arguing about how long. They concede it needs to be extended, so for how long? Let us think about that. The state of emergency as we stand gets renewed every four weeks. I think we all know that in this house. The chief health officer gives his advice, tables the reasoning and the advice, and it gets extended for another four weeks. So in essence if the opposition are happy to extend it for four weeks, that is what we are doing. And then the extension of the maximum time limit allows us to do that again. Now, yes, we could legislate every tiny little detail about what the CHO—the chief health officer—recommends. We could come back again and again and again. We could have the legal boffins draw up all the legislation in the world and we could argue it in this house, and I would be more than happy to do that, except—delay, delay, delay. When you consider the things that we have learned in the last 12 months and you consider that you want to get all those people working to legislate, to brief—do all this stuff—on something that might change twice in two weeks, I caution the opposition and the rhetoric incoming that those delays could be fatal for people.
During the course of the lockdown obviously aged care was a massive problem. Now, I am not going to lay into our federal colleagues, just like I am not laying into any one of us who has worked their tail off to try and protect Australian and Victorian citizens. But what I will say is that there was an aged-care home—and I will not name it, because it is not their fault—in my area that in one week had no cases, the next week had 35 cases and the week after had 43 cases. It was contained around that point, but we lost five people’s lives. If we knew everything 12 months ago, would it have been better? Maybe. But I say to you again: there will be more outbreaks—here, there, anywhere—because no system of containment is perfect. We do everything we can to approach the perfect and we learn, and we come back and we make it better and we make it better. I was speaking to a local GP in my area last week, who was saying, ‘Matt, we really need to do something about single-level quarantining away from hotels’. I agreed with him, and I was delighted to hear that is exactly what we are doing. But, again, 12 months ago almost, in March, the states all got together with national cabinet and the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee agreeing and all the state CHOs agreeing that hotel quarantine was the way to go. They all agreed.
I would think we have learned that, yes, we have all done a pretty good job. When it gets out, it is not good. And when it got out last year, by the time we realised where it was, it was really not good. I think since then, when you look at the Black Rock cluster, when you look at the speed of our contact tracers, the efforts this government has made to close the gaps—I am not going to talk about standards of whichever metal you want to choose, but every state is doing everything they can and every state has had outbreaks. You can quibble about, ‘Well, all of Victoria was shut down. Only the northern beaches were shut down’. And I can quibble about, ‘Well, there’s a spit access there, and then it did expand to Greater Sydney’. And you can make other quibbles, and we can argue all the finer details. And that is what this place is for. So that is fine. That is our job—to talk about the details.
At the end of the day we have shown that our contact tracers are up to it. Yes, we locked down for five days in a snap lockdown, just like South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland have done. Others say, ‘Well, yes, why did you lock down Mildura?’. I heard that from one of the members opposite. The outbreak was potentially at an airport, where people go everywhere. The contact tracers needed time, and we gave them that time, and it was hard—and for some people it was very, very hard. This is not over. It is a lot better than many other places and we want to keep it that way—and this bill does exactly the work to help us do that.