Second Reading: Public Health And Wellbeing Amendment (Quarantine Fees) Bill 2020

I rise to speak on the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Quarantine Fees) Bill 2020. I will begin by saying I support the amendments as put forward by the Shadow Minister for Police, the member for Caulfield. So I endorse the responsible shadow minister’s amendments to the bill, and I hope that consideration will be given to these amendments, because clearly it makes sense and it actually reflects the government’s thinking on another bill that they have put through this place very urgently in the last 12 months, given the pandemic, that takes into consideration people who are in hardship.

Basically the amendments say those that can afford to pay pay, and those that cannot are considered in legislation and actually identified so that we have the right waivers in place for those who cannot afford to pay.

I just want to bring to the attention of the community just how worrying this situation is. Today, being Tuesday, we are rushing through a very urgent bill that the government thought about on Friday. So today is Tuesday, and on Friday this bill came to the attention of the government. It was written and dated last Friday and will be put through the Parliament in one day through the lower house and through the rest of the week in the upper house. This is a bill that gives us the ability as a state to run hotel quarantine from the point of view of a cost recovery.

Now, hotel quarantine has been such an important part of managing the virus. We are an island country, so one of things we have always had in our favour is the fact that we are an island. As a farmer, I always was involved in pandemic planning. We talked about foot-and-mouth disease being not if but when, and I was involved in pandemic planning—project Minotaur it was—back in I think about 2008. I remember being in a room out near the airport with police, ambulance, teachers and people right across the sectors that you would imagine you would need in a room to plan for a pandemic. We had a scenario where the virus entered the country in Queensland, we all got news, and that afternoon we would not be able to cross to our cows across the road to milk them, we would have to get our kids home from school et cetera, et cetera.

I also saw this play out obviously—in 2011 I think it was—in England where friends of mine were stuck on their farms and their children were not able to go to school. People had to drop off groceries. So we have actually had lots and lots of examples around the world, and obviously as a nurse I watched with interest the Ebola outbreaks and SARS. These are things that were not overly surprising. We then got hit with a pandemic, and as an island country we put in place hotel quarantine.

Now, national cabinet was something that we all went ‘Thank goodness’ over. When needed, our leaders come together, work cleverly, put politics aside and in times of crisis put what needs to happen first. Unfortunately though for us here in Victoria our Premier decided that he would do it just slightly differently and did not accept the offer of the national government of the Australian Defence Force. He then proceeded to say that was not true, but we have all seen now in black and white the evidence in press releases and the like that that is actually not true.

The defence force was offered and was rejected. Consequently hotel quarantine was managed by private security people who had no training in infection control. It was absolutely horrifying to me—absolutely shockingly horrifying.

I just could not get my head around it; I still cannot get my head around it. Do you know what? Most people cannot get their head around it, probably even the ministers who, in front of the Coate inquiry, when asked who was responsible could not even admit that it was such a debacle that no-one, it appears, was responsible or they chose not to state that they were responsible for fear of the consequences, given that industrial manslaughter is now a law in this state and you would have to worry if you were a minister of the Crown on the opposite side about your implication as somebody who might be convicted of industrial manslaughter if you were responsible for hotel quarantine.

Because the reality is this Christmas when I sit around the table at my place I am fortunate to be able to have my mum at 88 still be able to sit around the table, but what about the 801 families that will not be going to visit their grandmother at the nursing home or at her home or the grandfather or the uncle. Those families will not forget and I do not think Victoria will forget that this was a debacle.

So starting hotel quarantine just this week and having agreed to take 160 people per day, the government now say, ‘Oops, we’re really not ready. We’re actually not ready, because the opposition asked a question on Friday we hadn’t considered. Should we have some legislation in place to be able to charge these people, because that is what we agreed to in July?’—after all the planning that has been going on for years, all the opportunity in the last nine months to get contact tracing right, to get hotel quarantine right and to learn from other states. New South Wales, Tasmania and Queensland are the ones we should look to and compare ourselves with. We are not in Europe.

We are not in California, who have gone into lockdown today for three weeks. We have put in restrictions, but rightfully so. It was not a matter of no restrictions or some restrictions, but the restrictions we had here in Victoria were very onerous as a result of the fact that the Premier stuffed up hotel quarantine. And when he has the opportunity to get it right, he is still scrambling, after it has begun, to get things in place. If this does not tell you that we have got a government that is really not organised, I do not know what does. If this does not tell you that this government is completely disorganised, I do not know what does.

It is extremely symbolic of the fact that the processes have not been put in place. This government is not cognisant of process. They are more interested in spin and performance—you know, the hero of the day: ‘I’m going to save the day. As long as I get up, I can indoctrinate the people by saying, “Look at me, I’m doing fine”’. Well, no—please take a minute to look a little bit. Scratch the surface and see that this government has got nothing in place—well, not nothing.

Okay, that is an over-exaggeration. But this is really important, because a department is so big that nobody knew what was happening—a department that is so big that they can actually have ministers say, ‘Not me, not me. I’m not responsible’, and so big that still with hotel quarantine, which started a couple of days ago, they have not got things in place.

Well, you know, we do not want a third wave. Every Victorian is absolutely begging this government to do it right, and I think they should be really nervous given what I have seen—that on Friday they had not even considered what they have had since July to put in place. Just take a bit of heed; we all do want to work together. We have been trying to do that.

Members interjecting.

Ms BRITNELL: Oh no, don’t you even think to striate that with me. Do not even think. There is no way, since this pandemic began, that I have done anything but endorse the restrictions that needed to happen—but not the onerous ones. There is no way I have done anything but try to work with the government, who have absolutely stonewalled my requests.

Members interjecting.

Ms BRITNELL: So on this occasion I will ignore those comments from across because I know you feel very, very worried yourselves, because you know this is really poor form. You know this is nothing but poor form to be here today rushing through a bill on hotel quarantine because you have not got it right yet. No wonder you are getting vocal over there—you should be embarrassed. But take—

Mr Dimopoulos: On a point of order, Acting Speaker, the member should address her comments through the Chair. She keeps referring to ‘you’. I am not sure if she is talking about you, the member for Thomastown, or us, as in the government.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Halfpenny): Order! I ask that you continue your address through the Chair, thanks.

Ms BRITNELL: Certainly. So I just want to ask, with due consideration, that the government take into consideration the amendments put forward, because this is really important.

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