Speech: Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment Bill 2022

I rise to speak on the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment Bill 2022, and it is a pleasure to rise and speak on a health and wellbeing bill that does not have some of the controversies that we were forced to discuss last year under circumstances that were challenging for everyone, especially when we were not given the respect of having enough time given to us to have decent debate.

Things were rushed through and debated on the same day as we were given notice of them. So it is good to have this time to be able to consult and look at the effects of these changes.

This bill actually is an omnibus bill that seeks to address multiple issues, including some within the
labour hire industry, removing the stigma around HIV and hep C, providing personal immunity to
statutory office holders in line with statutory protection coverage in other states and territories and
expanding the CHO’s powers for pathology laboratories to provide additional data to the Department
of Health and assist with monitoring public health and notifiable disease management. That is actually
where I will start.

This is a bill that obviously I find fairly interesting, because we have been managing notifiable diseases
quite well for many, many years.

I often talk about my health experience here, and I can remember learning in the late 1980s about how we manage tuberculosis. It was a notifiable disease and still is.

There are many notifiable diseases, and there is a lot that goes on in the background so we can manage
our public health.

When you see things like this in the bill, which expands pathologists’ ability to cooperate and work together, I, like the member for Lowan, who has already mentioned it, have great confidence that this is happening very well already.

But I see the opportunity that this presents to have it in the bill and endorse that; I do not have any issues with it. But it does lead to the challenges we do have, and there are diseases that need to be managed.

At the moment—probably for the last few years actually—people might be surprised to hear that syphilis is on the rise, and it is important to know who has got it and how to manage it.

But it is also important to make sure we are looking at population, so having this change which allows more data to be looked at and to see how many people in certain areas have it and really manage population health much better of course I am going to endorse.

Contact tracing, and I have said it in this Parliament is already many times, is not new. It is something
that the government has had a part to play in with the health department for decades. This year, last
year and the year before, yes, I understand we were under enormous pressure, but it is really disturbing
that contact tracing was so badly managed and that we had so many instances where people were not
given the information that should have been available if it had been managed properly.

We now know that the health department in Victoria is the least funded department in any state of Australia, and that has been going on way before the pandemic.

When you have got a Premier who was a Minister for Health for three years before he became the Premier, it is just really disturbing, particularly during a pandemic, that he knew that so well and did not do what needed to be done to boost that capability — yet other states were able to manage contact tracing.

I am actually pleased that they have said that contact tracing is no longer necessary; over the last few days we have had that announcement. But the Labor government seems to be hanging on to this control.

People were not using it, but they have left industries like the hospitality industry still having to contact trace.

I had the COVID-19 infection in early January. I did not get contacted by anyone in contact tracing.
They did not contact anyone I had been in contact with.

It has not been working for a very long time. The thing is people are sick of the control and they want to have the respect for their lives back, and they know we need to do things differently. COVID is real, and we need to make sure we have got the right things in place.

But when we do not need things, like the contact tracing that has been changed now, the government needs to be responsive. They say there are going to be scientific decisions around it and we are going to find out more in the next couple of weeks around the mask change, for example, that we heard about yesterday.

I do not know too many people that can make much sense of this. Why on earth would you want to have masks on the people behind the bar but not masks on the customers?

Why would you have masks on kids from grades 3 to 6 but not year 7 or grade 2? When a doctor comes in and does a ward round they give you a treatment plan.

They have options: they might use an allied health framework to manage a patient, they might use a pharmacological model or a medical model or they might use a surgical approach.

But every time you listen to the rationale for their treatment plan, there is science behind it and you can figure it out.

Now, we have gone through a pandemic where the medical professionals have just been left trying to work it out, trying to commentate, because we have known for a long time that some of the things just do not make sense.

It never made sense to shut down playgrounds, and there was no evidence of the curfew having any evidence behind it.

Whilst it is so important to do things to bring your community with you, and that is why I do not have
any problem, for example, with the change in this legislation that helps manage notifiable diseases far
more effectively — and we should always improve that — the community need to know that the
government is doing it in a way that has the science behind it.

I will be interested in two weeks time to see how the government explain some of the changes that they are putting in place, which now they have to do within a two-week framework. I am not convinced we will get proper explanations that medical professionals at the very least will be able to understand.

I think we will get a lot of government speak that says nothing but with a lot of words there. What I think we have seen from this Labor government in managing the pandemic is a really iron fist approach.

If you say, ‘Well, you know, it kept us safe’, have a look at the states around Australia and ask yourself, ‘If we had such a heavy-handed approach and it worked, how come we’ve got the highest
death rate? How come we had the longest lockdowns?

How come our kids missed out on the most education, and some will never catch up? How come whole regions were locked down when there was not any disease for miles and supposedly contact tracing would have helped anyway?’.

I just think the secrecy—the lack of health evidence that should have accompanied these changes—is
appalling. I think somebody said, ‘This is a government who knows what’s best for you. It knows that
you can’t be trusted with the truth, so it doesn’t tell you the truth’, and I think that is a very powerful
quote.

But humans are pretty impressive, and I am very amazed and impressed by the community of
South-West Coast, the community of Victoria. They have gone and got vaccinated. We have got a
93.94 per cent vaccination rate. We know the importance of boosters. I am very grateful to have been
vaccinated. I am very grateful that I was not too unwell.

We do not need to have mandates in place anymore. People have made their decisions. It was about
health capability, and our hospitals have that capability.

Some people have had terrible health experiences in their life and they will not necessarily feel comfortable. As a nurse, I have always respected that. I have never said, ‘Sorry, obesity is something that is wrong. You’ve made a poor decision, so your overweight situation means that you’re not welcome in the health service, you’re not welcome to have treatments’.

It is the same with smoking. These are age-old discussions that we have had in health for years and years. Now that we have got the vaccine rates up and we have got people on board we need a confidence campaign to get people out and about.

We need to live with the virus. The mandates have no place anymore, they absolutely have no place. We are here in Victoria in the worst state because the government have failed the Victorian people drastically.

Our children are struggling. We are talking mental health issues in children. We would not have said those words even 30 years ago, but it is a tsunami now.

These kids have been put under enormous pressure. I remember a five-year-old in my life two years ago ran out of the shop we were in together because he was coughing.

He was terrified he was going to get into trouble. He actually said to me one night—I was babysitting—he thought we were not allowed to go to grandma’s place because he had heard that and
he said, ‘Where do I hide when the police come, Nanna?’.

These are the sorts of things our kids have been subjected to, so let us get on with a confidence campaign, live with the virus, encourage the vaccine and the booster, get rid of mandates and stop being a divisive government.

Labor have done enough damage. It is about moving forward, and I cannot say more clearly: we need a confidence campaign, to get back to real medical interpretation and give people the right knowledge and honesty.