Business of the House

Mr D O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (10:31): Speaker, I thank you for your forbearance in ensuring that The Nationals have the opportunity to speak on this motion. I rise to speak on the motion and support the member for Ripon in the amendment that she has put. Just to remind the house, we are talking about changing the standing and sessional orders to allow us to continue to sit in the way that we have been doing in the last couple of weeks in what you might call a COVID-safe manner or a COVID-safer manner. The motion says we will do that until ‘revoked by the house’. I remind the house that the Manager of Opposition Business, the member for Ripon, has put forward an amendment that that be removed, the ‘revoked by the house’, and replaced with ‘15 October or earlier if revoked by the house’. So effectively what we are saying is: put an end date to this. As previous speakers have said, if the government is serious and if the Leader of the House is serious in her determination that we will get back to sitting as quickly as possible, they should have no problem with accepting this amendment.

I have always maintained that the Parliament should be sitting as often as possible and as freely as possible. I am reminded—I think it was earlier this year, and I did in fact raise this with you at the time, Speaker—that even when we were opening up and at the time there were something like 50 000 people allowed at the MCG, the Parliament building itself was still closed. We were still subject to some restrictions here. Shortly afterwards those restrictions were lifted and the perspex went. I made the comment at the time that the Parliament really in a democracy should be the last place to close. Now, I got a flippant comment from the Leader of the House at the time that surely the hospitals should be the last place to close. Well, very obviously. But in a democracy this is the place where at our community’s worst possible times—whether it is a pandemic, whether it is a war—there must be the opportunity for discussion in this place, and I say discussion and debate in a personal sense.

The notion that has been espoused by some, including in the other place, including in the community, ‘Why can’t you just go online?’, fundamentally misunderstands the role of the Parliament. One of my former colleagues used to refer to the Parliament as a pressure release valve for the community. I actually think that is not too far wrong. Sometimes when there is real anger there, a local member of Parliament—whether government, opposition or otherwise—can actually express that view for the community. We have seen it, I hate to say, on social media, the release that people get from seeing their local member—or any member of Parliament, actually—stand up and give voice to their concerns, give voice to their frustrations. I am not in the habit of handing out free compliments to the member for Kew but yesterday he did that very well, and indeed his social media page has shown that.

Mr Rowswell interjected.

Mr D O’BRIEN: He is our good colleague and friend, member for Sandringham, that is right. But, no, he did speak very well, and it does give voice to the community’s views and the community’s frustrations. Whether you are in government, opposition, crossbench, Independent, whatever, I think we need to have that ability to actually provide a voice to the community here in the Parliament—not online, which, yes, we can do in the worst of circumstances, but not by submitting something in written form. That is not the same, and I take up some of the comments that the member for South-West Coast made about the ability to actually speak on the issues that are important now—the opportunities that an adjournment or a members statement or a constituency question gives you to speak and to debate the issues. It would be nice at the adjournment—and once upon a time ministers did come in and actually respond to adjournment matters. There are one or two left in this government, but mostly not. But in the day—I know in our days in government—ministers would regularly come in and actually respond to adjournment matters there and then. That was an actual form of debate where people could put issues and questions and ministers would respond. I would love to be able to do that right now on the issue of the vaccine mandate, for example, which I am sure we are all getting questions on, particularly from businesses, who are now saying, ‘Well, I’ve got eight staff and three of them don’t want to get a vaccine. What do I do?’.

Ms Britnell interjected.

Mr D O’BRIEN: ‘Where do I find staff to replace them?’—I heard this question asked of the Minister for Small Business in the other place yesterday, and the answer was pretty much, ‘Well, it’s not our issue. You’re going to have to get Fair Work involved and you’re going to have to get some legal advice’. Well, that is not good enough. We actually need some answers. If the government is going to take dramatic stances like this, it needs to be able to tell the Parliament how it will deal with the consequences, and we are not seeing that at the moment. We have seen a mandate edict from on high, much as we have seen for this entire pandemic: ‘Thou shalt oblige, you shall follow the rules—and bugger the consequences’. That is pretty much what we are getting at the moment, and I think on that issue I would call on the government to provide more information and more clarity on the legal situation for employers and employees. It is an issue that we should be debating in this chamber to get some answers from the government—and debating live.

I am pleased to hear the Leader of the House acknowledge in her contribution on this motion that every MP has the right to speak on debates in this chamber, because based on the points of order that she has taken all week you would think that she does not actually believe in that. She has been particularly cranky about the fact that we have actually taken the opportunity to speak on debates, whether procedural or substantive, as we are dealing with now. So I thank the Leader of the House for that. It is good to hear her acknowledge it.

I also pick up the comment that she made about the dual roles of MPs in here as both representatives of their electorate and as legislators. I do not know if it is free advice or criticism, perhaps, but she actually talked about the role of the opposition to interrogate and to scrutinise legislation. Well, wouldn’t that be nice to do in this chamber? I have been here for seven years and she has been the Leader of the House for that seven years, and if I am not mistaken, there has been one occasion where the opposition has had the opportunity to go into consideration in detail on a piece of legislation. So we can stand on this side and throw questions and raise issues in our speeches on legislation, but this Leader of the House in particular says, ‘Your role is to scrutinise legislation’, when every week we come in here and we have got a bill we want to actually go into consideration in detail on and she says, ‘We’ll see. We’ll see’.

In the Leader of the House’s contribution this morning she gave her usual tone about having our listening ears on—‘I hope the opposition has its listening ears on’. Fair dinkum, I nearly took a point of order on her being patronising. It was extraordinary. I was actually just waiting for her to stand up and say, ‘Wait till your father gets home’, because it was seriously so patronising and so like that schoolteacher or a mum to the opposition. And then she is saying that the opposition should be scrutinising legislation, when almost every week she uses the numbers at her disposal to ensure that we cannot—and without any sense of even honesty. If she just said, ‘Nup, we’re not doing it’, you would go, ‘Okay. We don’t like it, but we accept it’, but every week, ‘We’ll see. We’ll see if there’s time’. As I have said before, it is like when my little girl says, ‘Can I have a pony?’—‘We’ll see’. We know there is no pony. There is not going to be a pony. We are not getting ice cream after school, but she just keeps stringing us along.

I think the other thing that is important to raise in here is the issue of health advice and the clarity of what is being asked of this Parliament. Previous members have spoken on it, the fact that we get advice from a mid-level bureaucrat—not even the chief health officer himself sometimes—as to what the Parliament should do. But there is very little in the way of, as far as I am aware, any backwards and forwards on how we can mitigate this. It is just, ‘This is the advice you should do’, and we are expected to accept it.

It is a bit like the changes generally that are offered from this government in terms of restrictions and in terms of a road map. On the one hand we are told that we should be more bipartisan and on the other hand we get nothing from this government as MPs, as people trying to support our communities. I can tell the Parliament, and I am sure many members are similar, I reckon the last six times there has been a change of restrictions, either going into lockdowns or coming out, I have had a call or an email from a constituent before the Premier has even finished his press conference asking for clarity, as though the Premier has rung me beforehand to give me the full detail of what is about to be announced. We just get no support from the government in terms of answering those people’s questions. We get a media release about half an hour after the government media release comes out that says the same information that is given to the public, and we are expected to be bipartisan in helping people through this. I might add, I have a suspicion that the Labor government backbench does not get much more; I am pretty sure they do not get much more help. If they do, well, it is wrong. It should be provided to members on this side as well.

So I support the member for Ripon’s amendment. I encourage everyone to support the member for Ripon’s amendment on this substantive motion.

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