Business of the House – Program

Mr D O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (10:21): It is a shame that the member for Burwood’s time has expired because he wanted to get ‘cognitive dissonance’ in three or four more times before he finished, just to highlight how clever he is. I would say to the member for Burwood, apart from reinforcing the member for Ripon’s point of order just now about staying on topic, that the day that we have got 1763 cases—the highest number Australia has ever recorded in a single day—is not a day to be bragging about how well the government is managing this pandemic and talking about curfews and things that are really working so well. I would suggest that perhaps we focus on the government business program.

It is an interesting government business program. There are some bills there that will be of interest to me and my electorate and more broadly those in regional and rural Victoria. I am also rather astounded at the suggestions from the member for Burwood that this is an hour of blather. I mean, come in here any day of the week when this Parliament is debating bills and tell me that you do not hear an hour of blather from the other side about whatever legislation is before this chamber. I particularly look forward to hearing the blather from government members about the Water and Catchment Legislation Amendment Bill 2021, which is going to get into the weeds a bit on details of the Barmah Choke and delivery shares and the like. That will be interesting as 15 of them get up consecutively and read out the government’s speaking notes.

The Leader of the House is not here now, but she seemed to be quite upset this morning that the Parliament was actually debating a motion. Well, that is what we are here to do, and that was indeed the point, that was what all the members on this side in speaking about the sitting arrangements motion were actually doing. We were debating and pointing out the lack of opportunity that we have this week in Parliament. The fact that the Leader of the House kept getting up and complaining about it, taking frivolous points of order, and then had another whinge about it in speaking on this particular motion on the government business program just shows she does not actually get the point that we were trying to make, which is not surprising because the government really is not that fussed about actually having debate here in the chamber.

There are some good bills on the agenda this week. I would also like to add with respect to the government business program what is missing and what I think we actually should be debating—and that is the topic du jour. This is the issue that is, I am sure, filling the inboxes of all MPs this week and last week—that is, how the government is handling vaccinations and mandatory vaccinations. Now, I am double vaxxed. I absolutely support vaccination. I am encouraging every one of my constituents to go out and get vaccinated now. That is the way out of this pandemic. I support the mandating of vaccines for aged-care and healthcare workers because they are working with vulnerable people. But I do not support the wider mandate. I actually think this Parliament should be debating these sorts of issues. Now, this is being implemented under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 powers. They are extraordinary powers. We have never seen powers used like this to mandate that some 1.5 million Victorians get a vaccine. Now, as I said, I absolutely encourage everyone to do so, but I think this is something that should be debated on the floor of this Parliament and should be on the government business program this week: how the government is using a midlevel bureaucrat, the chief health officer, to mandate vaccination for hundreds of thousands, millions, of people across the state, farmers included—for example, they need a vaccine under the law to go outside and milk their cows.

I mean, that highlights how silly this is. To highlight it even further, hairdressers and beauty workers are not mandated. So there are some serious issues with this, and they are issues that should be being debated. I think it is a very serious issue about people’s rights. Whether it is right or wrong, it should be being debated in this chamber. It reminds me of all the health advice that we hear, and we have heard it again in the last week or two with the road map, with changes to restrictions. I am always bemused when there are reports of cabinet meetings well into the night and meetings going on between health officials and senior ministers about how the restrictions are going to change, but then we are told, ‘This is all based on health advice’. Well, why isn’t it then that Brett Sutton just comes up and says to the Premier, ‘Here’s the health advice’, and the Premier grabs it, goes out and reads it? Is the government suggesting perhaps that it is not just based on health advice, that it actually makes some political decisions as well? We will never know because we never see the health advice, and we will not see the things that should be being debated this week being debated.

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