Matters of Public Importance – COVID-19

I rise to speak on the matter of public importance. I want to begin by saying thank you to all Victorians who have adhered to the rules that we needed to put in place to actually make sure we got through this pandemic situation. I want to thank the emergency workers, I want to thank the essential workers, I want to thank the families that stayed home. I also want to thank the truck drivers and the logistics operators who, when we saw demand outstrip supply, when people were scared and panicking and wanting to get supplies into their homes because they were not sure what the future was bringing, went over and above to reassure the community that we would all be able to get the things we needed, like meat, milk and toilet paper.

I especially want to focus on the nurses, the doctors and the hospital administrators who, while we all went home and hid, went out every single day, getting prepared for what was predicted to be an absolute catastrophe. My colleagues of the past went to work whilst they saw images of mass graves being built in countries like the UK, America and Italy, and let me tell you, it was unnerving. I had many conversations with my nurse friends and my doctor friends who were actually quite concerned. One girlfriend worked in aged care in an aged care assessment services team. That team was shut down and she was sent into the acute area, with the provision being, ‘You will need to talk to the families of older people who we will not have ventilators for’. Now, she was quite confronted by that and thought, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready for it’.

Another girlfriend who works in theatre said to me, ‘I’m actually really scared. I mean, can we actually get corona?’. At this point in time we did not know what this virus was like. We did not know what it was capable of. It was a very frightening experience. So cast your minds back to that time—we can all remember it—and think about the nurses and the doctors who put themselves in front of that war. Remember, nurses and doctors are very skilled. I wore masks in hospitals, in theatre, for years. I understand how to wear a mask. But we were hearing that masks would not protect us and we should not be wearing masks. Well, I was pretty impressed when the World Health Organization eventually came out and said, ‘You know what? Masks actually do work’, because I had seen the studies that said they have a 60 per cent effective rate. Well, that is if you do not wear them properly, but if you do not wash your hands properly, that also does not work.

So here we are now in a situation where we have flattened the curve. Thank you, Victorians. Thank you to the hospital staff. We have the ventilators. Warrnambool Base Hospital set up two environments: one they called the dirty environment, where the COVID cases would go, and one was where the normal ventilator patients we have always had would go. They were ready and they are ready. We will have outbreaks, but we have flattened the curve and we can take on what is in front of us.

We know that social distancing works. You know I cannot spit further than 1.5 metres, but if I am talking to you now, yes, spittle will actually land a metre away from me and it will infect you if it goes into the mucosal linings around your nose, your mouth or your eyes. That is just how it works, so stay away from people. I do not know whether we still need 4 metres square. Plenty of jurisdictions have actually changed that. That is for the scientists to work through, but it is not necessarily for us as Victorians to stay as closed down as we are when we have achieved—or haven’t we? Have the government done their job? Are they prepared? If so, why is Victoria staying so far away from the restrictions that we could ease that other states are easing?

I know today we have 21 cases, but let us remember 15 of those have returned from overseas, so we would expect that they should be isolated and are. It is actually seven, so we have a manageable number, and that will continue. We have no vaccine; we have to learn to live with the virus. We have never had a corona vaccine before. There is a family of corona diseases, so we may not get a vaccine.

So what have we got now? We have got a community who know how to wash their hands. We can use masks for the immunocompromised. We can actually make sure we manufacture more ourselves—oh, there is a thought: let us invest in manufacturing—and that is what we have done.

Mr McGuire: What about Broadmeadows? We are happy to help you out there.

Ms BRITNELL: Bring back western Victoria. We have got the whole Fletcher Jones, the old woollen mill. There is plenty of manufacturing still in western Victoria. That is what the dairy industry is very proud of—the fact that we manufacture in the regions.

We have got a $1 billion plan on the table. We are not saying it for election promises; we are saying it because we are here to work with government to bring about change together. We are busy trying to help Victoria get back on track and back into business, but here is a government who is not focused on getting back into business. In fact they are so not focused on getting back into business that they are more focused on themselves, and let me tell you why.

There was a $10 000 grant called the Business Support Fund, which should do exactly that: support businesses, not wrap businesses up in so much red tape and bureaucracy that many of the businesses who have contacted me have been rejected and do not know why. They cannot get any answers out of the department. It is an absolute debacle of a system that they are navigating their way through, and they are calling me going, ‘We just can’t figure it out’.

I have spent an enormous amount of time trying to get in touch with the former Minister for Small Business, Adem Somyurek. And guess what? No wonder I had no success. He was not focused on small business. He was not intent on getting back to me. He was too busy trying to shore up his power base. We saw two or three days ago on 60 Minutes some absolutely amazing footage of disgraceful corruption, corruption in the state of Victoria like I would never have believed we would see. That is the sort of thing you would see in the old Eastern Bloc countries. This is not something you would see in Australia. It is very shameful. Instead of the former Minister for Small Business helping our community, what was he doing? Helping himself. Disgusting.

But it does not end there. We also have the pubs in Victoria. I have got pubs in my area. Peter Reid just yesterday from the Yambuk Inn was desperate, saying to me, ‘I can’t get this Business Support Fund. Can you help me? I don’t know what is going on’. The pubs need to get back on track. They need to get people back into them, and the communities need it. But where has the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation—the former liquor licensing minister as of yesterday—been? Has she been talking to the pubs? Has she been talking to the industry? Has she been considering that the 2-metre square concept that I outlined before could actually be quite a reasonable scientific approach, which we have seen other jurisdictions implement? No, no. She was busy. She was also busy shoring up her power base. And do not tell me that Daniel Andrews does not know anything about it. For 10 years he has been in charge in the party, and the fish does rot from the head. Absolutely this rotten government is corrupt to the core while the people of Victoria were out there running their businesses, were locked up in their houses for weeks on end and were educating their children.

When I rang business after business after business at the start of this it was like we were in a war. They were saying, ‘We’re all in this together. We’ll get through this. We’ve all got to take a hit’. Well, has the Labor government had that approach?

Mr R Smith: No.

Ms BRITNELL: No. What have they been doing? Shoring up their power base and shoring up their ability—particularly Daniel Andrews—to stay in power. It is all about a focus on power, not the people—the people who elected us to stay here and represent them. But no, he even would not let the Parliament sit. There was no scrutiny around the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee inquiry. Nothing—it was so evident. Actually I hope Victorians are listening closely. I hope they are listening to the lack of scrutiny. Just today here in the lower house and yesterday we tried to put a motion forward to get the situation sent to IBAC. It was blocked—blocked twice. Thank God the upper house have passed it this afternoon. Why would you be afraid of scrutiny? If there is nothing to be frightened of, if there is nothing happening—

A member interjected.

Ms BRITNELL: There is a lot of video footage, so clearly something is happening. There is absolutely no way the Victorian community can now believe anything other than this government being rotten to the core. I feel like this should be the grievance debate because it is the 127 000 people that have lost their jobs that I feel sorry for. It is those businesses that are calling me who not only have no income and have basically lost their jobs but have their staff who go to the local school and who actually employ the teacher. It goes on, and these communities are who I feel sorry for. I am seriously worried about businesses in regional Victoria over the next 18 months. I do not think we have seen anything yet, so I urge Daniel Andrews to get his head back out of his party rubbish and get on with looking after the Victorians who elected him, because if he does not, we sure as hell will. We have got a back to business plan. We will invest in manufacturing. We will get back jobs on target. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! I remind members to refer to other members by their correct titles.