Tuesday, 30 November 2021

The PRESIDENT (Hon. N Elasmar) took the chair at 11.35 am and read the prayer.

Announcements

Acknowledgement of country

The PRESIDENT (11:36): On behalf of the Victorian state Parliament I acknowledge the Aboriginal peoples, the traditional custodians of this land which has served as a significant meeting place of the First People of Victoria. I acknowledge and pay respect to the elders of the Aboriginal nations in Victoria past, present and emerging and welcome any elders and members of the Aboriginal communities who may visit or participate in the events or proceedings of the Parliament.

Condolences

Hon. Sir James Gobbo, AC, CVO, QC

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (11:36): I move:

That this house expresses its sincere sorrow at the death, on 7 November 2021, of the Honourable Sir James Gobbo, AC, CVO, QC, and places on record its acknowledgement of the valuable services rendered by him to the people of Victoria as Governor of Victoria from 1997 to 2000.

Sir James Gobbo was born 22 March 1931 in Carlton to Italian parents. Sir James was seven years old before his parents permanently immigrated to Australia, and at the time he spoke little to no English. His parents ran a cafe in Melbourne, but they encouraged him to study hard. He heeded that advice, and his hard work paid off. He was sent to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, paving his way for a distinguished career in the law. Perhaps more importantly, Oxford is where he met his wife, Shirley.

It is true to say that Sir James truly had a stellar legal career. He took silk at the mere age of 40 and joined the bench at 46, serving for almost 16 years on the Supreme Court. He served as the chairman of the council of the National Library of Australia, the Australian Multicultural Foundation and the National Advisory Commission on Aging and served on the Council for the Order of Australia.

He was knighted in 1982 for his service to the community and awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia for his contribution to the law, multicultural affairs and hospitals. Sir James served as Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria before his appointment as Governor in April 1997, a position he served with distinction and grace and one that his family, friends and Victorians can be truly proud of. He went on to become the commissioner for Italy.

Many of his achievements came as firsts. He was Victoria’s first Catholic governor and the first governor to come from a non-English-speaking background. He made a lasting contribution to our state through his work in the law and also his longstanding public service in the variety of positions that I have outlined. He lived a remarkable life and gave many migrants who came after him someone to look up to, someone to aspire to.

Sir James Gobbo helped shape our state for the better and has given us all a model for a life of service and a life well lived. On behalf of the government, this chamber and the people of Victoria I extend our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Lady Shirley Gobbo, their five children and their families.

Mr DAVIS (Southern Metropolitan—Leader of the Opposition) (11:39): I desire to associate myself and the opposition with this motion and indicate Sir James Gobbo is a great loss. He was a friend to many of us. Many of us knew him very well. He was a selfless individual, and I do want to reiterate some of the points that the Leader of the Government has made.

He was born in Carlton on 22 March 1931 to Italian parents. As the leader said, for many years they did not know English, and it took some years for them to settle here permanently. But it is a migration story, a fantastic migration story of a family who have made an enormous impact on Australia and on Victoria in particular. In 1944 he was accepted into Xavier College. He became a member of the Xavier College crew that won the 1948 Associated Public Schools Head of the River. After leaving Xavier he studied law at the University of Melbourne. He was at Newman, was awarded a Rhodes scholarship and he was very successful at Oxford as well. He married Shirley in 1957. They had five children. As Ms Crozier and I know well, James Gobbo, Jr was a Liberal candidate in Bentleigh in 2006. He did a very good job and is also a firm friend.

Sir James served as Lieutenant-Governor from 1995 and was later appointed as Governor. But it is also his career before that that is interesting: early appointment, as the leader has outlined, as a QC, eventual appointment to the bench and his very significant contribution particularly into some obscure areas of law, the land acquisition act. When that act came in in 1986 there was a whole series of cases, and he presided over a number of those cases, making significant contributions to jurisprudence in that area. So I think he is a person who has made quite a unique contribution to the law in that way on the Supreme Court.

It is interesting, actually—I was just going back and looking at the farewells in 1994 from the bar association newsletter. You can read, as you read through that, the warmth towards him. And I think that this is true of everywhere that he went, whether it was in the school sector, in the multicultural sector, in the legal sector, his time as Governor—and many of us had quite a bit to do with him in his period as Governor—his decency and his warmth came through quite amazingly. I can remember many times at functions he would come up to you and he would move you to the side and talk to you quietly. He would like to engage one on one. He always had some pearls of wisdom to impart to new MPs and would engage in a way that was respectful and thoughtful, and his long wisdom came through.

So an Italo-Australian who made such a remarkable contribution—the sweep: as Rhodes scholar, QC, on the bench, Lieutenant-Governor, Governor. But he remained in community life after he was removed. I do want to put on record a measure of sadness which I think is typified by 8 August 2000, the Herald Sun, when Steve Bracks decided not to allow the appointment of Sir James to continue. I think that was unfortunate. I do not want to labour it but I think that was unfortunate. But Sir James continued on beyond that, with a lot of community activity. I know the Caritas links, and the links to a number of other key charities I think were just fantastic. So I for one personally greatly regret his passing, and I see him as an absolutely exemplary Victorian.

Dr BACH (Eastern Metropolitan) (11:44): I too want to make a brief contribution regarding this motion, to lend my wholehearted support also to the motion that the Attorney-General has put forward, endorse her sentiments and also the sentiments of the Leader of the Opposition.

Sir James’s achievements are quite staggering. We are all aware of his family story, which only makes his achievements all the better but hopefully also says something wonderful about this state. We are all as members of this place, as so many other Victorians are, deeply proud of our migrant roots and our multicultural heritage. We can always aspire to do better, to include other and new groups of Victorians, but I do think that the story of Sir James and his remarkable record of achievement is something that we should hold up, as the Attorney said, as a beacon of hope for all Victorians. She noted something that I think is also quite significant and that was seen as a significant barrier at the time, and that was Sir James’s Catholicism at a time of intense sectarianism—unlike our time today, thankfully. This was another barrier that Sir James had to overcome but did overcome with his usual and characteristic warmth and goodwill.

It has been noted that as a barrister, as a silk, as a judge on the Supreme Court, he has left a huge legacy in Victorian jurisprudence. Mr Davis referred to his work that is legendary regarding the land acquisition and compensation act. He left a whole series of other eloquent judgements that will guide our understanding of the law into the future. But I think most of all it is not Sir James’s remarkable intellect nor even his achievements, but really his character that most Victorians think about and look to when we think about Sir James. His embrace of and love for our state, our multicultural state, should be something that continues to give us hope into the future.

Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) (11:46): I rise to also speak to this motion. In rising to speak to the condolence motion for the late the Honourable Sir James Gobbo, Companion of the Order of Australia, Commander of the Royal Victorian Order and Queen’s Counsel, I acknowledge and commemorate the life of an extraordinary Victorian. Others have spoken about the many achievements and the barriers that he had to overcome, but it is the remarkable story of his family who came to this country and who contributed in such a remarkable way and then gave the opportunity to Sir James to really achieve and excel in everything that he did. Sir James’s life has been extensively detailed by many in this Parliament, in the commonwealth Parliament, in the media, the judiciary and elsewhere, and, as I have also said, his life was one that was so well led.

Sir James was born in Carlton and then the family moved back to Italy, as others have said. They came back and he went on to be educated at Xavier College and then became a Rhodes scholar. He was an erudite and articulate barrister, justice and then Governor of this great state. Sir James dedicated himself to public service and duty in so many ways, and it is doubtful we will see many more people with the character of Sir James. As the Italian newspaper Il Globo said, ‘A piece of our history has gone’. Certainly with Sir James’s many achievements Victoria has lost a great man. I send my condolences to his wife, his children and his extended family at this time.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS (South Eastern Metropolitan) (11:47): I too rise to support the motion of condolence for Sir James Gobbo. Like many, I was unable to attend the state funeral due to the sittings of this place, but I have listened to the wonderful eulogies which were delivered by Jeremy Gobbo, by Allan Myers and by the Governor, and those eulogies talked about Sir James’s achievements but also his contributions to society. We of course know and we have heard that he was a Rhodes scholar, he was a Queen’s Counsel, he was a Supreme Court judge, he was a Knight Bachelor, he was a Knight of the Order of St John and he was Governor of Victoria. But he was also a man of strong Christian and Catholic faith who did so much work for the community outside his official roles, be that at the highest levels working on immigration policy with the commonwealth government or even at a direct level providing warm clothing to homeless people on cold nights on the streets of Melbourne.

I first had the pleasure of meeting Sir James and Lady Gobbo about 25 years ago. One of the great traditions of this place, now lost to history, was the President’s dinner, which was an annual event where the President of the day would host and fund a dinner for all members of the Legislative Council and the clerks of the Council, and the Governor of Victoria would be the guest of honour. The attendance at these President’s dinners of Sir James was always a highlight. He was a very humble speaker but he was a very engaging speaker, and he was a great storyteller. As Mr Davis reflected, Sir James would always enjoy having a quiet word in the corner of the room—this was in room K—with new members of Parliament to talk about what they were doing, what they should do in their duties as new public officials and to give advice and guidance. Those were wonderful occasions which, as I said, have regrettably been lost to history.

Sir James’s departure from Government House was disappointing for many. Mr Davis remarked on the circumstances, which frankly did no credit to Steve Bracks. But Sir James and Lady Gobbo left Government House without rancour or bitterness and continued to serve the people of Victoria. For more than 20 years Sir James served the people of Victoria in other roles after his post-Government House life, and we are all the better for that service. In the words of Allan Myers in his eulogy, Sir James was ‘an inspiration to do good’.

Mr ATKINSON (Eastern Metropolitan) (11:50): Other speakers have covered most of the things that I might have wanted to add to this condolence motion, but can I say that there are some people in life that you meet that actually put your entire career in perspective. They make you stop and think, ‘Why have I not done more? Why have I not had the energy that this person has had when they have contributed so much?’. Sir Justice Gobbo was an extraordinary man, an extraordinary Victorian and one of the great treasures of this state. His contribution as a migrant was an exemplar for so many other people who followed him, particularly from migrant communities, into fields of academia, the law, science, education, health areas and so forth. He was one of those people who in many ways, both directly and indirectly, mentored many of those people. He was a person who was very humble.

Mr Rich-Phillips spoke about his contribution to supporting the homeless, and it is interesting that even in his 80s, even within weeks of his actual passing, he was out there on the streets of Melbourne looking after homeless people, ensuring that they were okay. In fact this man, who had been an extraordinary person in the law and then went on in our system of government as a Governor, and an exceptional Governor at that, would actually sit down beside these homeless people and talk to them one on one—one human being to another human being—understanding and wanting to understand even better the circumstances of each of those individuals. He was a person who was prepared to provide advice, but always again quietly, always again not in an overbearing way, but to in fact share his experience, his knowledge, his wisdom and without a doubt in the context of so many other people that he came across in life.

And it was a life that was lived on a very wide stage, because not only was it in the law, not only was it as Governor in that role and not only was it in terms of the support of people who were in necessitous circumstances but it was also as a great contributor to multiculturalism in this state, which is one of our greatest strengths here in Victoria. He was one of the real champions of that multiculturalism in this state. He worked with Co.As.It, which was a significant organisation in the Italian community, providing a range of social services as well as language courses and so forth and supporting people who came from Italy to settle here and start new lives in Australia.

He was also involved in other areas, such as palliative care and the health sector. In fact I think the Catholic Church, whenever they had a significant leadership role, an area where they needed somebody who was to be a sound and effective person in getting an organisation moving and ensuring it had proper governance and was able to understand the role that it needed to play, would then call on Sir James Gobbo. He was involved in many organisations. I mean, the biography, as I said, puts all of our careers into some perspective, because he was a man of great energy and a man who was a man of service to others. It was the way he lived his faith, the way he lived truly to his values, and all of us can only hope to in some way emulate some of the great work that Sir James Gobbo did on behalf of Victoria.

The PRESIDENT: I ask honourable members to signify their assent by rising in their places for a 1-minute silence.

Motion agreed to in silence, members showing unanimous agreement by standing in their places.

The PRESIDENT: Proceedings will now be suspended as a further mark of respect.

Sitting suspended 11.58 am until 1.05 pm.

Bills

Special Investigator Bill 2021

Victorian Collaborative Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing Bill 2021

Windfall Gains Tax and State Taxation and Other Acts Further Amendment Bill 2021

Royal assent

The PRESIDENT (13:05): I have a message from the Governor, dated 30 November:

The Governor informs the Legislative Council that she has, on this day, given the Royal Assent to the undermentioned Act of the present Session presented to her by the Clerk of the Parliaments:

50/2021 Special Investigator Act 2021

51/2021 Victorian Collaborative Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing Act 2021

52/2021 Windfall Gains Tax and State Taxation and Other Acts Further Amendment Act 2021

Joint sitting of Parliament

Senate vacancy

The PRESIDENT (13:05): I would like to remind the house that on Thursday, 14 October 2021, I announced the receipt of a message from the Governor transmitting a letter from the Governor-General notifying that a vacancy had occurred in the Senate through the resignation of Senator the Honourable Scott Ryan. I have now received a letter from the state director of the Victorian division of the Liberal Party of Australia stating that they have selected the person to be nominated to fill the seat in the Australian Senate created by the retirement of Mr Ryan.

Mr DAVIS (Southern Metropolitan—Leader of the Opposition) (13:06): I move, by leave:

That:

(1) this house meets the Legislative Assembly for the purpose of sitting and voting together to choose a person to hold the place in the Senate rendered vacant by the resignation of Senator the Honourable Scott Ryan and proposes that the time and place of such a meeting be the Legislative Assembly chamber on Wednesday, 1 December 2021, at 6.45 pm; and

(2) standing, sessional and temporary orders be suspended to the extent necessary to provide that on Wednesday, 1 December 2021, the order of business will be:

Messages

Formal business

Members statements (up to 15 members)

General business

At 12 noon questions

General business (continues)

At 6.45 pm joint sitting in the Legislative Assembly chamber

Statements on reports, papers and petitions (30 minutes)

Adjournment (up to 20 members)

I might just say that people will be aware that Mr O’Donohue will resign tomorrow. He will communicate that—or the Governor will communicate that—to the chamber tomorrow morning, and we would seek to move a similar motion tomorrow to match that.

Motion agreed to.

The PRESIDENT: A message will be sent to the Assembly informing them of the Council’s resolution to hold a joint sitting and requesting their agreement.

Questions without notice and ministers statements

WorkSafe Victoria

Mr DAVIS (Southern Metropolitan—Leader of the Opposition) (13:08): My question is to the Minister for Workplace Safety. Given the losses at WorkSafe’s workplace insurance arm of $4.4 billion over the last three financial years, the commissioning of a crisis committee and the urgent injection of $550 million late last year to keep WorkSafe afloat, will the minister outline to the house what steps she is taking to ensure the financial viability of WorkSafe, enabling it to continue its critical work of providing medical support and payments to injured workers?

Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (13:09): I thank Mr Davis for his question. Of course we know that currently the scheme is facing challenges; this is not news. We know that there are increasing numbers of mental injury claims that the scheme is dealing with, together with many of the challenges of COVID-19 and the impacts of COVID-19 on the WorkCover scheme.

It is important to note that it has been a very challenging environment in which to see return-to-work outcomes, particularly during the pandemic. That is why we are focusing so heavily and why the authority is focusing so heavily on efforts around prevention of injury in the first place. It is why the scheme is very focused on ensuring that employers have guidance around what they can do to prevent mental injury in the workplace. It is why our government is taking on the challenges that have been part of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. We know that Victorians spend at least a third of their lives at work, and therefore those challenges of modern workplaces in terms of injury prevention, particularly when it comes to the mental wellbeing of Victorian workers, are so important. I am very confident that the scheme is fully focused on those challenges.

In addition to that, of course, we are not going to turn our back on injured workers. Our government has a strong record of supporting injured workers. We have introduced into this Parliament provisional payments that ensure that those workers who put in a claim around mental injury get the medical support that they need immediately, because we know that the key to a successful return to work for many injured workers is early intervention. And we will continue to make efforts around preventing people staying on the scheme for longer and getting a real focus on return to work. I know that the board of WorkSafe and the senior executives are absolutely focused on and committed to improving our return-to-work outcomes.

We have also taken action to ensure that businesses have been supported, particularly during the pandemic. That is why there was a grant to WorkSafe, and that is why we provided over $350 million worth of premium relief to businesses during the pandemic. We understand that it is incredibly important to support business during this time so that they can in turn support their workforce, prevent injury and return injured workers to work safely.

Mr DAVIS (Southern Metropolitan—Leader of the Opposition) (13:12): The minister’s answer is one that has not grappled with the gravity of the situation. And I say, Minister, that the Auditor-General said, ‘The value of the outstanding insurance claims liability for WorkSafe’, as reported in the annual financial report 2021, ‘almost doubled over the last five years’, reaching a total of $24.5 billion. Is it a fact that this is not sustainable?

Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (13:12): I thank Mr Davis for his supplementary question, and I am very confident that the board and the senior executives at WorkSafe understand very well the challenges that the scheme is facing. And can I say that this is not a situation that is unique to our jurisdiction. Similar pressures are on all of our workers compensation schemes right around the country. I am absolutely committed to making sure that the fund is financially sustainable, because I understand that that is the key to making sure that workers get the support that they need. I will point out to Mr Davis that the funding ratio of WorkSafe is at 118 per cent, which is at the midpoint of the preferred range, and I am very confident that WorkSafe understand the pressures and understand the steps they need to take to ensure the financial sustainability of WorkSafe into the future.

VicForests

Dr RATNAM (Northern Metropolitan) (13:13): My question is to the minister representing the Minister for Agriculture. Reporting last week on the ABC’s 7.30 report revealed not just that VicForests has been illegally logging on steep slopes and putting Melbourne’s water supply at risk but also that it had previously hired a private investigator to spy on Victorian citizens, and today another report has been released demonstrating that VicForests has comprehensively failed to do the regenerative work it is required to do. It is clear VicForests is a rogue agency that can seemingly get away with anything. What steps will the government be taking in light of today’s deeply concerning new evidence that VicForests has been failing in its obligation to regenerate forests?

Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (13:14): I thank Dr Ratnam for her question. The question will be referred to the Minister for Agriculture for her written response as per the standing orders.

Dr RATNAM (Northern Metropolitan) (13:14): Thank you, Minister, for passing that question on. One of the deeply troubling reports aired by the ABC is that VicForests paid a private investigator to spy on a Victorian citizen and to follow them for four days. The Greens and the public are deeply concerned by a public government agency spying on our state’s citizens. Will the government rule out any further spying on citizens by VicForests?

Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (13:14): I thank Dr Ratnam for her supplementary question that goes to making some serious allegations in respect to people following people. That will be referred to the Minister for Agriculture for a response.

Ministers statements: early childhood workforce

Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (13:15): Today I would like to update the house on a number of initiatives our government is taking to support the mental health and wellbeing of the early childhood workforce. Early childhood teachers and educators do an incredible job at the best of times, but throughout this pandemic they have truly gone above and beyond. Educators have been at the front line, easing the worries of our youngest learners, answering their questions and providing reassurance when things did not feel so certain. They have been a rock for families and communities. However, it often comes at the cost of their own wellbeing, with stress and fatigue felt by many. We know that service leaders do their best to support the wellbeing of staff, but we want to make sure everyone has the tools they need to protect and promote mental health and wellbeing.

The Department of Education and Training is currently providing free targeted training to service leaders, and this includes online webinars and interactive online resources. The webinar, presented by Smiling Mind, will focus on practical strategies for promoting positive mental health and wellbeing and creating a thriving team culture. Services can also use their school readiness funding to access the Beyond Blue Be You program to support and promote the mental health and wellbeing of educators, children and their families. The department is also funding a wellbeing support program for staff employed in kindergarten services that operate under the Victorian Early Childhood Teachers and Educators Agreement. Finally, professional development is being delivered in partnership with Early Childhood Australia on the topic of career longevity and building a sustainable career.

As a profession that always puts others first, we want all teachers and educators to feel valued and supported and able to help young Victorians should the need arise. Again I thank the sector for all they do to ensure our youngest learners thrive.

WorkSafe Victoria

Mr DAVIS (Southern Metropolitan—Leader of the Opposition) (13:17): My question is again to the Minister for Workplace Safety. I refer again to the losses at WorkSafe’s workplace insurance arm of $4.4 billion over the last three financial years, the commissioning of a crisis committee and the urgent injection of $550 million late last year to keep WorkSafe afloat, and I ask: will the minister guarantee that premiums for employers will not rise this financial year or next financial year?

Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (13:17): I thank Mr Davis for his question. Of course he would be very well aware that premium decisions are made at a particular cycle in the year and that they take into account a range of considerations, including claims liabilities, investments and of course the economic outlook of the state. I would like to remind Mr Davis that the $550 million contribution that the government made to WorkSafe this financial year was all about ensuring that employers had that support they needed coming out of the economic pressures that the pandemic has created in our state and indeed our country and the globe, giving our employers that support so that injured workers get the support that they need.

It is a little bit rich being lectured by Mr Davis about financial management of WorkSafe when in the four years that those opposite were in government they took $641 million out of the WorkCover scheme. I will always work hard to ensure that WorkSafe is financially viable, because I understand the direct relationship between that and keeping workers safe at work and getting injured workers back to work safely.

Mr DAVIS (Southern Metropolitan—Leader of the Opposition) (13:19): I simply record that governments of all colours have taken dividends from the WorkCover authority, including yours. In 2021 under your watch the claims liability of WorkSafe increased by $4.3 billion to reach $24.5 billion. Do you accept responsibility for the $4 billion blowout in claims liability under your watch, and if not, who is responsible?

Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (13:19): I thank Mr Davis for his supplementary question. As I have already outlined, in my answer to his previous question, these are not new issues. We understand that there is pressure on the scheme for a number of key reasons. One is the pandemic. The second pressure on the scheme is the number and the complexity of the types of injury claims that are being made in our state. Our government will always look to ways that we can proactively prevent injuries in the first place but also make sure that injured workers have the supports they need and the treatments available so that they can return to work quickly. Of course the scheme and those at WorkSafe responsible for the finances of the scheme are looking incredibly closely at these pressures. But we are not shying away from the fact that there are challenges that face the WorkCover scheme in our state, which is why we have a program of reforms aimed at the financial viability— (Time expired)

Land tax

Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (13:21): My question is for the minister representing the Treasurer and relates to tax concessions for the so-called religious charities. Fairfax revealed several years ago that the Catholic Church holds assets in Victoria valued at over $9 billion, making it the largest non-government landholder in the state. Those holdings reportedly include banks, a superannuation fund, an insurance company, a news service and a telecommunications provider. Properties reportedly include offices, residences, car parks, conference centres, tennis courts, mobile phone towers and a restaurant. My question is: which of those business types do not receive land tax concessions even if registered as part of a Catholic Church charity?

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (13:21): I thank Ms Patten for her question. It is a topic that she has advocated and sought advice on regularly, and I will certainly seek a detailed response from the Treasurer and respond in accordance with the standing orders.

Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (13:22): Thank you, Minister, for that. The Treasurer’s office recently advised my office that charities do have to pay land tax if the land is used for commercial rather than charitable purposes. My supplementary question is: how is that charitable-versus-commercial assessment made by the government?

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (13:22): I do not have that information on hand. I will seek an answer from the Treasurer and provide it in accordance with the standing orders.

Ministers statements: Premiers’ Reading Challenge

Mr LEANE (Eastern Metropolitan—Minister for Local Government, Minister for Suburban Development, Minister for Veterans) (13:22): Today I would like to provide an update to the house on the Premiers’ Reading Challenge Book Fund. It is so important that children of all ages are encouraged to develop a love of reading and important literacy skills to support them throughout their education. This year more than 71 000 kids participated in the Premiers’ Reading Challenge, reading more than 2.8 million books—a fantastic effort. The challenge encourages students from prep to 10, and even young children below school age, to read a set number of books on their challenge book list. This is a great program, proudly supported by the Premier, Daniel Andrews, and the Minister for Education, James Merlino. Those two blokes go all right, I reckon.

Recently I had the pleasure of announcing $1.1 million to support public libraries across the state and Vision Australia to purchase the books on next year’s challenge list. It is vital that all children have the ability to participate in the challenge by borrowing books they need from their local library. It is also encouraged that more children engage with their libraries and participate in the great programs and resources they have available. Libraries have done an amazing job throughout the pandemic to keep communities connected, keep children engaged in reading and reach out to vulnerable people. I applaud them in this work, and I look forward to continuing to support this fantastic program.

Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal

Dr BACH (Eastern Metropolitan) (13:24): My question is for the Attorney-General. It was revealed at a recent Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearing that at 30 June 2021 there were 16 419 pending cases in VCAT’s residential tenancies list, amounting to 59 per cent of VCAT’s total pending cases, so thousands of Victorian renters and landlords are in limbo, unable to secure a tribunal hearing to sort out their disputes. Organisations representing both renters and real estate agents say VCAT is in immediate need of additional funding and staff to address the delays. Attorney, will you commit to adequately resourcing VCAT now to clear this 16 000-plus backlog of cases?

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (13:25): I certainly welcome the question from Dr Bach. The backlogs at VCAT, much like in the court system, have been a direct result of the pandemic and the restrictions that have forced our courts and our tribunals to act in different ways. VCAT really was not set up with the infrastructure to anticipate a pandemic, so we have worked hard with the organisation. We provided significant funding in the last budget—over $56.7 million—to move more of their hearings online. In addition, we are working closely with VCAT and also with Court Services Victoria (CSV) on initiatives to help the staff at VCAT to get through their list in a timely manner.

I acknowledge that for many people in the residential tenancies list there are some delays. There has been prioritisation of the cases so that people in immediate need are being prioritised, and some of the outstanding matters in relation to more of the simpler matters are perhaps the ones that people are waiting on. It is an unacceptable wait. I continue to work with the VCAT president and CSV on initiatives to address this issue. We have recently worked within the department of justice with the dispute settlement centre to provide some of the resources from that centre and their expertise in relation to similar types of work so that we can provide additional resources to VCAT and their staff, and those resources will be dispatched. We are hoping to see significant improvements in the waiting list. Dr Bach, I am very happy to give you a separate briefing if you like on some of the initiatives that are underway, because everything you have said is accurate. It is not acceptable, and we are working very hard to rectify it.

Dr BACH (Eastern Metropolitan) (13:27): I do thank the Attorney for her response and for her kind offer. I will certainly take her up on that. As a matter of fact, while of course these backlogs have blown out over the course of the pandemic, they were growing before COVID hit. Officials from your department, Attorney, also advised the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee that some of these matters will not be heard within 12 months. You have talked about the fact that this delay is to you unacceptable, and I thank you for that. What is your advice nonetheless, Attorney, to Victorian renters who have been waiting and continue to wait for unacceptable lengths of time to have their cases heard?

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (13:27): Dr Bach, I am not shying away from the fact that this is an issue that we need to put attention towards. As I indicated in my answer to your substantive question, as recently as last week I met with the president of VCAT. I intend to go down and talk to the staff about these issues and hear from them about some of the barriers that they might be facing. As I have said, there has been a significant investment in funding and additional resources through CSV. As you would appreciate, there is an independence of VCAT, so I have offered assistance from the government’s perspective to work collaboratively with VCAT and with CSV. In terms of people’s matters, there is an unacceptable delay and we are attempting to ensure that we get on top of those as soon as possible.

Fire Rescue Victoria

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (13:28): My question is to the Minister for Emergency Services. Minister, Fire Rescue Victoria’s first annual report details an overtime bill for Victorian taxpayers of more than $71.8 million. Across the organisation’s 3570 staff and firefighters, this averages out at $20 112 per employee. All up, each FRV employee costs an average of $181 730 a year. In comparing the service’s overtime with similar organisations in other states, the overtime required for our fire services staff seems incredibly high. For example, Fire and Rescue NSW’s overtime for 2019–20 was less than half, and their overall employee expenses are about $200 million less. Minister, has the government had discussions with Fire Rescue Victoria to question the high rate of overtime paid to staff and made attempts to try and address this blowout for the future?

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (13:29): I thank Ms Maxwell for her question in relation to fire services. I know she is a big advocate for both our volunteer and our career firefighters in our state. As we know, Victoria is one of the highest risk fire areas in the world. From talking to both our CFA and FRV staff, as I have been getting out and about in the new role, you used to probably have a bit more predictability about when there would be a fire, and now that seems to be almost year-round, given climate change, so it is so important to have support for both our career and our volunteer firefighters.

We did make a commitment to increase firefighter numbers, and that is exactly what we have done. There have been 450 funded since 2015. In relation to the matters I just went through, it is really important that we continue to make appropriate investments for the safety of Victorians. Firefighters work tirelessly 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and certainly deserve the pay and conditions for the sacrifices that they make in relation to the enormous effort that they put in.

With the transfer of many of the CFA staff into FRV there were an additional 1670 staff overall in the 2020–21 year compared to the 2019–20 year and an additional 1445 operational staff, including career firefighters, that were part of the transfer from CFA to FRV, and also 225 support staff. In relation to some of the figures that you are putting out there, I will have to double-check that because I do not think you took into account the fact that there were a lot of the support staff that transferred in relation to that as well. There is a lot of work going on. We continue to work with FRV on their needs and on ensuring that we give the best support for the firefighters and the support services so they can continue to do their important work.

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (13:32): Thank you, Attorney, and a big shout-out to all those in the fire rescue positions who do so much work to keep us all safe. The overtime bill for operational staff included $21.6 million for recall overtime and $10.3 million for overtime to maintain strength of the operational units. $33 million was counted as ‘Other’, so I would be interested at some stage to know what that covers. But my specific supplementary question is: overtime that represents $20 000 annually to each staff member might seem great for their pay packet, but has there been or will there be any evaluation completed on the implications for safety of such a high level of overtime being required for these emergency employees?

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (13:32): I can assure Ms Maxwell that at all of the meetings I have had with all our emergency services the welfare of our staff and volunteers that put themselves on the line time and time again for the protection of the community is at the forefront of their considerations. You would appreciate that I have had conversations in here about workplace practices and sexual harassment and the like, and I can assure you that a topic of conversation I have with every agency is the welfare of their staff.

Ministers statements: innovation sector

Ms PULFORD (Western Victoria—Minister for Employment, Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy, Minister for Small Business, Minister for Resources) (13:33): I am delighted to update the house on the latest in Victoria’s long and proud history of innovation. It was over 6000 years ago that the earliest innovations were recorded in this part of the world, and some 20 years ago we charted a bold course to create a globally competitive research and innovation ecosystem through sustained investment in science, product development and commercialisation, and today we are an innovation leader. Victoria’s innovation ecosystem has helped to make our economy one of the strongest in Australia and has enabled some of the nation’s and the world’s most creative ideas and businesses to succeed. Decades of strategic investment has set our state up with outstanding innovation capabilities, positioning us a forerunner in fields such as medical research and life sciences, and created tens of thousands of jobs, but we do want to go further.

Our government wants to ensure that Victoria is a leader across many fields for years, indeed generations, to come, which is why yesterday I was delighted to launch Victoria’s innovation statement to outline a bold ambition for our state and to help elevate and celebrate our innovators across every sector and connect them with one another and with opportunities for growth. This is underpinned by record investments in the sector, like the $2 billion Breakthrough Victoria Fund. The innovation statement sets out the Victorian government’s innovation agenda with six clear actions to drive us forward, including capitalising on our research and innovation potential, cultivating our startup ecosystem, taking Victorian innovation to the world, developing our talent, growing our innovation precincts and delivering innovative services for Victorians. Our vision is to create an economy that is powered by innovation, and to do this we need to be ambitious and we need to be bold. I know that together with our businesses, researchers, entrepreneurs, innovators and investors we can build a brighter future and a stronger and more inclusive Victoria. I am excited to see what can be achieved together over the years to come.

Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal

Dr BACH (Eastern Metropolitan) (13:35): My question is again to the Attorney-General. Attorney, in the recent Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearings, in response to questions again regarding the backlog of cases pending at VCAT it was revealed that there is a 25- to 35-month delay on the planning list from beginning to finalisation of matters. Now, I thank you for your previous offer of a briefing and for noting a range of potential measures that the government may take, but nonetheless I would ask you if you could outline for the house today any targeted measures that you will put in place to seek to address this unacceptable delay, specifically on the planning list.

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (13:36): I thank Dr Bach for his question. I think I would be hesitant to respond directly. The question you have asked is quite inappropriate because, as you would appreciate, I am not the boss of VCAT. I work collaboratively with VCAT. I want to make sure that with Court Services Victoria (CSV) and through conversations with VCAT I can offer them support as is appropriate, but it is not appropriate for me to be directing them in any sense in that regard. But what we have done is work with them.

I have got to say that the people at VCAT do a fantastic job. It has been an unprecedented time, and pressures, and they had systems that were not suitable to pivot directly to online and other methods. But I can say that the digitalisation funding that went to VCAT was particularly of relevance to the planning division, and that will continue to be a good asset as we work with VCAT and help to support them in their hard work and their dedicated work.

Everyone is focused on this issue, Dr Bach, I can assure you. The conversations I have with VCAT and with CSV are about coming up with solutions and supporting the independent tribunal to ensure that they can best serve the needs of Victorians who have matters going to VCAT. That includes the planning list, and the digitalisation funding is indeed helping in that regard.

Dr BACH (Eastern Metropolitan) (13:38): I do thank the Attorney, although I note that in my question I most certainly did not ask her to direct VCAT to do anything. Indeed my question was entirely in keeping with Labor’s pre-election commitments before 2014. Nonetheless, Attorney, pending cases and unresolved case numbers now have been growing year by year, then accelerating through the pandemic, under the Labor government. I note your candid acknowledgement regarding these issues and how you see them. Many of the matters that you have been talking about and the support that you have been discussing will cost money. Will you provide a commitment today, Attorney, to fully resource the tribunal to ensure that Victorians can have confidence in having their cases heard in a timely manner?

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (13:38): I appreciate the advice, Dr Bach, but it is not really how things work. $56 million was provided in the last budget to VCAT, and indeed I am working with them on the next budget, which will be for the attention of this house in May.

Police conduct

Mr QUILTY (Northern Victoria) (13:39): My question is for the minister representing the Minister for Police. Over a decade ago the Bracks government made a deal with the police union. The government uses taxpayer funds to cover the legal costs of police officers under investigation for wrongdoing. Ever since, the relationship between the government and the police union has only grown closer. Since 2000, police numbers have swelled from 250 per 100 000 people to 330 per 100 000 people. While other industries have unionisation rates below 30 per cent, the police union has a rate of 90 per cent plus. Government funding for the police has tripled, and Victoria Police is now the largest law enforcement agency in the country. Their equipment has become increasingly militarised. We have more rifles, tear gas, armour, rubber bullets and even armoured vehicles. Police powers have grown, and complaints against police continue apace. Minister, can you tell us: what is the justification for taxpayers having to foot the legal bills for police who are accused of wrongdoing?

Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (13:40): I thank Mr Quilty for his question. There are a number of things that were in the lead-up to the final question that are serious allegations, again, and I will refer this to the Minister for Police.

Mr QUILTY (Northern Victoria) (13:40): One of the biggest favours government does for the police force is the protection offered to police accused of corrupt behaviour. It is a key part of the deal that flipped the police union from opposing Bracks to supporting him. Our government arms police, empowers them with extraordinary authority and then spends taxpayer money to defend them when they are accused of wrongdoing. Perhaps that is why the unionisation rate is so high. This pandemic has been lucrative for VicPol. They have seen the opportunity to justify the purchase of their paramilitary equipment and have had an unending supply of overtime work and penalty pay, and the taxpayers have paid for the defence of officers involved in many publicised instances of police wrongdoing during the pandemic protests. Using taxpayer money to shelter the police from the consequences of bad behaviour can only lead to more bad behaviour by police. Minister, how much taxpayer money has been spent on legal fees for police being investigated by the Office of Police Integrity, IBAC or other investigatory authorities since this agreement was made?

Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (13:41): I thank Mr Quilty for his question and, again, his extraordinary list of serious allegations leading into a question. I am sure that the Minister for Police will respond at length to each and every one of those allegations, as she has done, and will do that in accordance with the standing orders.

Ministers statements: Swinburne University Prahran campus

Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (13:41): I am very pleased to share with the chamber that the Andrews Labor government has reached an in-principle agreement with Swinburne University to purchase the Prahran campus. Prahran has a rich TAFE history. Starting with the Prahran Mechanics Institute, it soon became a campus focused on art and design. It has focused on the arts for over 100 years. It was a sad day when Swinburne announced that it would end training at the campus, caused by the previous government’s cuts to TAFE. But the community got behind the campus and saved it from closing, with Melbourne Polytechnic taking over the site. Today we are writing the next chapter of Prahran’s TAFE history.

In buying the site we are again cleaning up the mess left by the previous government. The former government gifted almost 50 per cent of the site to Swinburne, despite knowing that Swinburne would discontinue training at the site. This meant that we now need to buy back the land to secure the future of training at the site, and I am pleased that Swinburne has agreed to reinvest the proceeds of the land they were gifted back into TAFE. This will ensure secure TAFE at Prahran and that we will get investment in TAFE at Swinburne’s other campuses. We cannot change the past, but we will redress previous decisions taken.

I want to pay particular tribute to Ms Taylor, who has fiercely argued the case for government to secure the future of the Prahran campus as a vibrant education and arts precinct. TAFE is such an important engine room for the creative industries. This is good for our economy and it is good for Victoria’s reputation as the creative capital of Australia.

Written responses

The PRESIDENT (13:43): Regarding questions and answers today: Dr Ratnam to the Minister for Agriculture, Ms Tierney, two days, question and supplementary; Ms Patten to the Treasurer, Ms Symes, two days, question and supplementary; and Mr Quilty to the Minister for Police, two days, the substantive and the supplementary questions.

Constituency questions

Northern Metropolitan Region

Mr ONDARCHIE (Northern Metropolitan) (13:44): (1548) My constituency question today is for the Minister for Transport Infrastructure. Residents in Wollert are concerned about the lack of public transport. Their concerns only grow as the neighbourhoods grow and the new housing and public transport infrastructure fail to keep up with that growth. Many residents face a 2-hour one-way commute to work, missing out on important social and family life, and recently I conducted a survey into Wollert and got many responses from the community. I am really grateful to them as well. The Wollert locals expressed a desire to see train services in their growing suburb and better bus services too. Across Epping North and Wollert 38 000 residents currently do not have access to frequent public transport. This will grow to 65 000 residents by the year 2030. The question I have for the minister is: will the minister direct the Department of Transport to commence the Wollert public transport feasibility study into a train line and in the short term do a review of the bus services to better service the Wollert area?

Western Metropolitan Region

Ms VAGHELA (Western Metropolitan) (13:45): (1549) My constituency question is directed to the Minister for Public Transport and Minister for Roads and Road Safety, the Honourable Ben Carroll. My question relates to the portfolio responsibilities of public transport. The Andrews Labor government is making the experience of commuters catching a train easier by building and upgrading more car parks at train stations. The Victorian government is delivering 11 000 new and upgraded car parks at train stations across the state. The west is getting many new and upgraded station parking spaces, including at Watergardens, Werribee, Wyndham Vale, Aircraft, Tarneit, Deer Park and Caroline Springs stations. I am sure that commuters are eagerly waiting to use the new parking as our state opens and they head back to work. My question to the minister is: can the minister please provide me with an update on the Car Parks for Commuters project across the Western Metropolitan Region?

Northern Metropolitan Region

Dr RATNAM (Northern Metropolitan) (13:46): (1550) My question today is for the Minister for Roads and Road Safety. Bell Street is a major road crossing east–west across the mid-northern suburbs of Melbourne. It has over 47 000 vehicles passing along it daily on average, making it one of Melbourne’s busiest roads. It is also home to Coburg High School, which students from Preston attend. Many of these students must walk through the Bell Street risk zone at the intersection of Bell, Elizabeth and Nicholson streets and across the Bell Street bridge over the Merri Creek to attend. There are no other pedestrian or road crossing points in the vicinity to access the school. This is an extremely dangerous spot, with the congestion of major intersections, narrow rough footpaths and no safety barriers or setbacks to make crossing the bridge on foot safer. There have been several near misses, with cars mounting the footpath, and one student was hit by a car in the area. Minister, what are the time line and budget for a risk assessment of the safety of students walking to Coburg High School through the Bell Street risk zone?

Northern Victoria Region

Ms LOVELL (Northern Victoria) (13:47): (1551) My question is for the Minister for Emergency Services. Approximately one month ago 58-year-old Dumitru Pavel from Yalca was feeling unwell, and sensing something was wrong, he drove himself to Cobram hospital, as he did not hold an Ambulance Victoria membership. Upon examination, Dumitru was advised that he was suffering a heart attack, and it was determined that he required urgent specialist care at Bendigo Health. Dumitru was conveyed by ambulance to a local sporting field and then by air ambulance to Bendigo. After a stay in hospital, Dumitru is still recovering from the heart attack, but has been slugged with a bill from Ambulance Victoria of $11 280 for the two ambulance trips. Dumitru cannot afford to pay this large amount of money and contends he should not be responsible for the costs, as he had driven himself to the Numurkah hospital and the transfer to Bendigo was determined by the hospital, not him. Will the minister order a review of the circumstances surrounding Dumitru Pavel’s case and waive the outstanding Ambulance Victoria bill imposed on Mr Pavel for services that he did not request?

Western Victoria Region

Mr GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (13:48): (1552) My question is to the Minister for Roads and Road Safety in the other place. Torquay College moved to its current site in Grossmans Road in 2001. Since then, the school has expanded significantly and now accommodates more than 1000 students. There has also been significant residential development surrounding the school. The traffic infrastructure in the school area is under stress, particularly during school pick-up and drop-off times, and this presents daily annoyance for local residents and potential danger for students and residents alike. With just one vehicle entrance to the school drop-off point on Eton Road, traffic banks up behind the roundabout on the corner with Grossmans Road. Drivers are reverting to risky practices, such as overtaking the queues at speed on the wrong side of the road. For students, there is just a single pedestrian crossing on Grossmans Road, so they often resort to playing chicken on Eton Road, leaving them exposed to this poor driving behaviour. Can the minister as a matter of urgency direct VicRoads to look into the installation of the necessary infrastructure to ensure that the children who attend Torquay College and local residents in the area are kept safe from harm from vehicles?

Eastern Metropolitan Region

Dr BACH (Eastern Metropolitan) (13:49): (1553) My constituency question is for the Minister for Health in the other place, and it is regarding the Service Victoria app. I was recently contacted by a constituent from Glen Waverley called Jenny. Now, I do not want to imply that Jenny is a troglodyte. She is most certainly not. However, she has become very frustrated by her smart phone and in particular by the Service Victoria app that has become so ubiquitous for us through the course of the pandemic. The simple story is the app is just incompatible with her phone. Her phone is a Samsung. It is only a few years old, but for some reason, as I dare say we have all heard from constituents of ours, the app simply does not work on phones such as these. Other jurisdictions, like Queensland, have gone out of their way to ensure that their application runs on older phones. My simple question—I hope it is a simple question—is for the Minister for Health: why hasn’t Victoria?

Western Metropolitan Region

Dr CUMMING (Western Metropolitan) (13:50): (1554) My question is to the Minister for Health in the other place. Can the minister please clarify the regulations around medical appointments and vaccination status? A number of residents have contacted my office as they have been unable to get face-to-face medical and specialist appointments. They are unvaccinated and their appointments have been changed to telehealth appointments if they can get them. There is a long wait for an available appointment and the appointments are often rescheduled. Telehealth appointments are not suitable for all of their ailments. One person had melanoma and a basal cell carcinoma and needs other moles examined. However, this constituent has been waiting for an appointment since April. People who are not vaccinated should not be denied care. Many residents in Western Metropolitan Region are in this predicament.

Western Metropolitan Region

Mr FINN (Western Metropolitan) (13:51): (1555) My constituency question is to the Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers, and I draw the minister’s attention to the naming of one of my constituents, Aristea Havelas, as a 2021 young carer ambassador for Victoria. She has been helping her brother Kon for most of her life and is very keen to see more support for carers in our community. I have to say I have known Aristea’s mum, Despina, for some years. She has done a remarkable job over a very long time to help families with autism and indeed is a former Brimbank Citizen of the Year, and richly deserved that was. She is truly amazing, and it is not surprising her commitment has been handed down to her daughter. As for Kon, he is a champion. Minister, what actions do you have in mind to increase support for carers of people with disabilities in Melbourne’s west, and when will you put those thoughts into action?

Northern Victoria Region

Mr QUILTY (Northern Victoria) (13:52): (1556) My constituency question is for the Minister for Health. Every week I am talking to constituents who have been denied health care in Northern Victoria. I was contacted by a gentleman who was denied access to his normal Wodonga GP clinic and told he would need to make a telehealth appointment. He was okay with that as he only needed a script repeat, but he asked staff what would happen if he needed to see the doctor in person. He was concerned to be told that he would have to wait outside of the building in the street and be screened before entry would even be considered. I have heard from multiple constituents regarding eye clinics in Wodonga and Yarrawonga not accepting unvaccinated people. Surely health clinics of all types are classified as essential. It cannot be the government’s intent that unvaccinated northern Victorians no longer receive health care. Minister, can you confirm that medical care providers are following government orders when they turn away unvaccinated patients?

Southern Metropolitan Region

Mr DAVIS (Southern Metropolitan—Leader of the Opposition) (13:53): (1557) My constituency question today is for the attention probably of the Minister for Planning most appropriately, but certainly it concerns the Minister for Local Government and the Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers too. It relates to Margaret Snowdon, who lives at 53 Fitzgerald Street, South Yarra, near the Jam Factory. She has made multiple attempts to get parking permits, but unfortunately for her she lives in a building where there is a caveat that says she cannot get a parking permit. Now, the difficulty for this is—she has been there several years—her property is run by Mind Australia and everyone there has a disability and gets a disability pension in most cases. She cannot walk properly, so this is quite serious, but she cannot get a parking permit. There are solutions that have to be found here, but it seems some sort of planning arrangement where there is a caveat over this is unacceptable, so I ask the minister: is this acceptable, that planning instruments and caveats prevent a parking permit being arranged for a person with a disability?

Western Victoria Region

Mrs McARTHUR (Western Victoria) (13:54): (1558) My question is for the Minister for Roads and Road Safety and concerns the poor state of the Glenelg Highway, particularly the stretch between Hamilton and Dunkeld. I have frequently raised the appalling potholes on regional roads in Victoria, but on my trip just last week the state of disrepair was more like craters than potholes. It is incredible that a major highway between important regional towns is left in this state. An ordinary sedan will not cut it in Western Victoria now; you need a four-wheel drive or an SUV—just another reason we are still yet to see fleets of Priuses and Teslas. My question for the minister is: what is the cost of the damage done by this on-road off-roading, how does VicRoads publicise that compensation is available and how much is paid out annually to the unfortunate motorists and commercial vehicle owners of Western Victoria Region and beyond?

Southern Metropolitan Region

Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) (13:55): (1559) My question is to the Minister for Public Transport. As we have opened up and been driving round I and others, and certainly constituents, have been noticing the amount of graffiti that is along the public transport corridors. I have mentioned this before in the house about the sky rail over Toorak Road, which has got so much graffiti on it in such a short space of time that it is absolutely disgraceful.

Mr Davis: It’s ugly.

Ms CROZIER: Very ugly, Mr Davis. The government assured us that underneath these sky rails there would be all manner of gardens—

Mr Davis interjected.

Ms CROZIER: All sorts of things, Mr Davis, but the amenity would be improved. Well, it is far from improved. It is an absolute mess and it is very unsightly. The question I ask the minister is: when is he going to get this graffiti removed as it is so unsightly and so many people have raised it with me?

Mr Ondarchie: On a point of order, President, I draw your attention to standing order 8.08(4), which requires responses to constituency questions within 14 days of the question being asked. Constituency questions are probably one of the most important things we can do in this state, asking questions on behalf of our constituents who do not have the capacity to get to the minister themselves. I have a number of outstanding constituency questions: one to the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change that was asked some 33 days ago; one to the Minister for Public Transport asked some 35 days ago; and one to the Minister for Health, health being one of the most important things happening in Victoria at the moment, that was asked 175 days ago. I still do not have responses to them.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr Ondarchie, for your point of order. Unfortunately it is not within my capacity.

Petitions

Following petitions presented to house:

Western Victoria Transmission Network Project

The Petition of certain citizens of the State of Victoria draws to the attention of the Legislative Council the Victorians who will be negatively impacted by the proposed Western Victoria Transmission Network. Our highly productive and rich volcanic soil, invaluable irrigation farmland, unique historic landscapes and natural mineral springs must be protected and preserved. We object to the current proposed corridor and terminal station site. Using appropriate underground technology along alternative routes such as existing roads or easements would be a more logical decision. It would have a far more positive impact on future generations and ensure our vital food security is neither compromised nor threatened.

The petitioners therefore request that the Legislative Council call on the Government to work with the Australian Energy Market Operator and review the proposed Western Victoria Transmission Network and seriously look at all alternate options and technologies for a better outcome for all Victorians.

By Mr GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (1252 signatures).

Laid on table.

Frankston line elevated rail

The Petition of certain citizens of the State of Victoria draws to the attention of the Legislative Council the risks and issues associated with the proposed sky rail at Parkdale.

The proposed sky rail will negatively impact the character of the neighbourhood. Parkdale has a unique village feel and cafe culture that thrives on community interaction with natural light and flora. The sky rail’s visual bulk will cast a shadow that catastrophically impacts this culture, directly affects small businesses and also attract crime and anti-social behaviour, such as vandalism, graffiti and dumping of rubbish. The sky rail will also increase noise to the surrounding community.

The local residents require consultation with businesses prior to construction to ensure adequate parking is available during construction and note that there is a heritage overlay that exists on the Parkdale shops at Como Parade West.

The residents accept that progress is inevitable, but sky rail is not the best solution for Parkdale.

The petitioners therefore request that the Legislative Council call on the Government to immediately stop work on the proposed sky rail at Parkdale, conduct community consultation that includes local residents and small businesses and ensure that the level crossings at Warrigal Road, Mentone and Parkdale Railway Station are placed underground.

By Mr HAYES (Southern Metropolitan) (1690 signatures).

Laid on table.

Eastern Health emergency and maternity services

The Petition of certain citizens of the State of Victoria draws to the attention of the Legislative Council that Healesville Hospital and Yarra Valley Health need an emergency department and maternity ward.

Healesville is the centre of Yarra Ranges Shire, is home to over 150, 000 people and covers approximately 2, 500 square kilometres.

Currently, there is no emergency department or Urgent Care Centres (UCC) in any hospital in the Yarra Valley. The nearest emergency department is at Maroondah Hospital which is 36 kilometres from Healesville Town and the closest maternity ward is at Angliss Hospital, which is 44 kilometres away or Box Hill Hospital, which is 50 kilometres away. It takes, on average, 45 minutes to an hour to reach these hospitals during an emergency situation.

Currently, Eastern Health is only concentrating on Box Hill, Maroondah and Angliss Hospital for all of its developments.

Healesville Hospital and Yarra Valley Health already have a wonderful space to accommodate an emergency department and maternity ward. In the past, Healesville Hospital functioned well with an emergency department and maternity ward.

Towns with less population than Healesville already have emergency departments and UCCs. The Victorian Government and Eastern Health need to prioritise the health concerns of the Yarra Valley people.

The petitioners therefore request that the Legislative Council call on the Government to work with Eastern Health and prioritise an emergency department and maternity ward for Healesville Hospital and Yarra Valley Health.

By Ms LOVELL (Northern Victoria) (1573 signatures).

Laid on table.

Sex education

The Petition of certain citizens of the State of Victoria draws to the attention of the Legislative Council that sex education in schools is insufficient. While we are pleased that education on consent will soon become mandatory in Victorian state schools, we acknowledge that sex education as a whole in Victorian schools remains inadequate.

We view this as an opportunity to reform sex education in Victorian schools overall to ensure all students receive a thorough and holistic sex education. We are concerned that schools rarely engage with topics such as rape culture, victim blaming and LGBTQI+ sex education. We believe all schools should cover these subjects, recognising the role of schools to provide safe environments for all students.

There have been a shocking number of past and present school students coming forward to share their stories of sexual assault and harassment. We are disappointed that these students did not receive adequate education or support, and that schools continue to fail to take sufficient action to ensure their school cultures are safe for all students.

Furthermore, we recognise the role of education in a child’s development, and hence view education as playing an important role in making society a safer place overall. Consent should be taught to younger year levels, acknowledging that sexual assault and related issues can affect people of any age and that young children are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse. Schools should take necessary measures to ensure all students feel safe while discussing this topic.

The petitioners therefore request that the Legislative Council call on the Government and the Department of Education and Training to include compulsory holistic sex education, that includes the topics of consent, rape culture and LGBTQI+ sex, in the school curriculum.

By Dr RATNAM (Northern Metropolitan) (2047 signatures).

Laid on table.

Waste and recycling management

This Petition of certain citizens of the State of Victoria draws to the attention of the Legislative Council the unavailability of funding for schools to implement commingled recycling programs.

Whilst schools receive a budget to manage waste, this does not cover recycling, meaning that many schools do not have recycling bins. Whilst households are getting a new recycling bin and councils are being given additional funds to facilitate this under the Recycling Victoria policy, schools are left without funding options for recycling unless they choose to fully fund this themselves.

Schools are a missed opportunity in Victoria’s recycling policy, as they generate many recyclable materials. Implementing recycling in schools is a valuable opportunity for students to learn how to recycle and have the knowledge to become informed global citizens and make sustainable choices in the future. This is particularly relevant with the introduction of the purple-lid bin, as implementing it in schools will encourage students to take this knowledge home and facilitate the success of this new bin in households.

Recycling is a key part of Victoria’s transition to a circular economy and it is vital that students are actively and practically educated about recycling for this transition to occur.

The petitioners therefore request that the Legislative Council call on the Government to provide facilities and funding to schools that allows them to finance ongoing commingled recycling programs that mirror the four-bin system being implemented in Victorian households.

By Ms TERPSTRA (Eastern Metropolitan) (247 signatures).

Laid on table.

Bills

Forests (Wood Pulp Agreement) Repeal Bill 2021

Introduction and first reading

Dr RATNAM (Northern Metropolitan) (14:00): I move to introduce a bill for an act to repeal the Forests (Wood Pulp Agreement) Act 1996, to terminate the agreement set out in the schedule to the act and to provide that any rights, privileges, obligations or liabilities under that agreement cease to exist on that termination and for other purposes, and I move:

That the bill be now read a first time.

Motion agreed to.

Read first time.

Dr RATNAM: I move:

That the second reading be made an order of the day for the next day of meeting.

Motion agreed to.

Committees

Economy and Infrastructure Committee

Inquiry into the Use of School Buses in Rural and Regional Victoria

Mr ERDOGAN (Southern Metropolitan) (14:01): Pursuant to standing order 23.29, I lay on the table a report from the Economy and Infrastructure Committee on the inquiry into the use of school buses in rural and regional Victoria. I further present transcripts of evidence, and I move:

That the transcripts of evidence lie on the table and the report be published.

Motion agreed to.

Mr ERDOGAN: I move:

That the Council take note of the report.

I am pleased to present the Economy and Infrastructure Committee’s report on the use of school buses in rural and regional Victoria. Victoria’s school bus program is at the heart of education in rural and regional Victoria. Since 1944 the program has safely transported generations of school students in rural and regional areas across our state. The key message in the committee’s report is that the school bus program is highly valued by the communities it serves and must remain first and foremost a service dedicated to school students. The key message in the committee’s report is that the school bus program is highly valued, as I have stated, but with this in mind the committee has handed down 12 key findings and nine recommendations for the future of the school bus program.

Although the committee has recommended expanding access to school buses for the general public, the committee is firm in its belief that no student should be disadvantaged by changes to the school bus program to accommodate the public. It is also important to emphasise the committee’s recommendation should only be viewed as a small part of the solution to transport disadvantage in rural and regional Victoria. We know that young people, the elderly and low-income households experience transport disadvantage in rural and regional areas. Providing public transport to small populations that must travel large distances to access services and employment is a significant challenge for all governments. That is why we should always be searching for new and innovative ways of delivering public transport in rural and regional Victoria. As such, the committee has recommended the government look at making greater use of school buses during downtime where possible and better inform local communities of existing spare capacity. We have a recommendation which relates to the implementation of technologies in this area.

Throughout this inquiry safety issues have been at the forefront of discussions. The recommendations in this report have been designed so that parents can be assured that their children are safe when travelling on school buses with members of the public. Child safety is paramount. The committee has recommended that the installation of CCTV cameras on all new school buses as they join the school bus program be mandated. It has also called for parents, school communities and young people to have input into the formulation of child safe policies.

On behalf of the committee I would like to thank the many people who contributed their experiences and ideas to this inquiry. The inquiry received 147 written submissions and heard from 27 witnesses across four days of public hearings. We listened to people from the bus industry, social service providers, government departments, religious institutions and public policy academics. We also spoke with school representatives, parents groups, local councils and advocates for public transport users, including the young and elderly. This report could not have been written without their invaluable experiences and evidence. I would like to acknowledge the work of my fellow committee members: the deputy chair, Mr Finn, as well as Mr Barton, Mr Gepp, Mrs McArthur, Mr Quilty and Mr Tarlamis. I would also like to mention the participating members for their contribution: Mr Meddick and Ms Watt. Thank you to our secretariat staff as well—Justine Donohue, Caitlin Connally, Kieran Crowe and Patrick O’Brien—for their assistance in the production of this report. Thank you also to my office staff, in particular Chris Jervis.

I was really encouraged by this inquiry because it showed a government service that works, that delivers for communities. It is a service that serves tens of thousands of Victorians annually, and the committee found that it is so popular that our recommendations should fit into the mould of keeping the service and only making what I guess you would call improvements going forward but not a major adjustment because of how well the service is received. This is an example of government at work, and we are delivering. I commend the report to the Parliament.

Motion agreed to.

Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee

Alert Digest No. 16

Ms TERPSTRA (Eastern Metropolitan) (14:05): Pursuant to section 35 of the Parliamentary Committees Act 2003, I lay on the table Alert Digest No. 16 of 2021 from the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee, including appendices. I move:

That the report be published.

Motion agreed to.

Papers

Papers

Tabled by Clerk:

Crown Land (Reserves) Act 1978—Minister’s Order of 7 June 2020 giving approval to the granting of a lease at Victoria Park Reserve.

Health Complaints Commissioner—Report, 2020–21, under section 139 of the Health Complaints Act 2016.

Interpretation of Legislation Act 1984—Notice under section 32(3) of the Act in relation to the Variation of the Code of Practice for Timber Production 2014 (No. 1/2021) (Gazette No. G47, 25 November 2021).

North East Link Act 2020—North East Link Tolling Agreement, of 27 October 2021, under section 51 of the Act.

Parliamentary Committees Act 2003—Government response to the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee’s Report on the 2019–20 Financial and Performance Outcomes.

Planning and Environment Act 1987—Notices of Approval of the following amendments to planning schemes—

Casey Planning Scheme—Amendment C281.

Casey, Darebin, Macedon Ranges, Port Phillip, South Gippsland, Yarra Ranges Planning Schemes—Amendment GC195.

Casey and Frankston Planning Schemes—Amendment GC181.

Greater Geelong Planning Scheme—Amendment C439.

Mornington Peninsula Planning Scheme—Amendment C262 (Part 1).

Nillumbik Planning Scheme—Amendments C133 and C145.

Victoria Planning Provisions—Amendment VC214.

Police Informants Royal Commission Implementation Monitor Act 2021—Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants: Progress Report, 2020–21, under section 28(2) of the Act.

Statutory Rules under the following Acts of Parliament—

Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2005—No. 142.

Magistrates’ Court Act 1989—No. 143.

Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 1998—No. 141.

Subordinate Legislation Act 1994—

Documents under section 15 in respect of Statutory Rule Nos. 139, 140, 141 and 144.

Legislative Instruments and related documents under section 16B in respect of Treasurer’s guidelines of 12 November 2021 for the exercise of the Commissioner of State Revenue’s power to approve a person to be a permitted provider under section 55 of the Duties Act 2000.

Victoria’s Mental Health Services—Report, 2020–21, under section 118 of the Mental Health Act 2014.

Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health (Forensicare)—Report, 2020–21, together with an explanation for the delay.

Proclamations of the Governor in Council fixing operative dates in respect of the following acts:

Suburban Rail Loop Act 2021—1 December 2021 (Gazette No. S649, 23 November 2021).

Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and Other Acts Amendment (Federal Jurisdiction and Other Matters) Act 2021—Remaining Provisions—29 November 2021 (Gazette No. S649, 23 November 2021).

Business of the house

Notices

Notices of motion given.

Notices of intention to make a statement given.

General business

Dr RATNAM (Northern Metropolitan) (14:14): I move, by leave:

That precedence be given to the following general business on Wednesday, 1 December 2021:

(1) order of the day 1, second reading of the Road Safety Amendment (Hoon Events) Bill 2021;

(2) notice of motion 631, in an amended form, standing in the name of Dr Ratnam referring a matter relating to the rise of the far-right extremist movement in Victoria to the Legal and Social Issues Committee;

(3) order of the day 6, resumption of debate on the second reading of the Bail Amendment (Reducing Pre-trial Imprisonment of Women, Aboriginal, and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2021;

(4) the notice of motion given this day by Mr Davis on Victoria’s economic performance;

(5) notice of motion 632 standing in the name of Ms Crozier on ambulance performance;

(6) order of the day 2, resumption of debate on the second reading of the Local Government Amendment (Rates and Charges) Bill 2021;

(7) notice of motion 610, in an amended form, standing in the name of Dr Cumming referring a matter relating to the effects of COVID-19 on the physical and mental health of Victorians to the Legal and Social Issues Committee; and

(8) notice of motion 682 standing in the name of Mr Barton referring a matter relating to the impact imprisoned parents have on their children to the Legal and Social Issues Committee.

Motion agreed to.

Committees

Economy and Infrastructure Committee

Reporting dates

Mr ERDOGAN (Southern Metropolitan) (14:16): I move, by leave:

That the resolution of the Council of 17 March 2021 requiring the Economy and Infrastructure Committee to inquire into and report by 13 December 2021 on the impacts of the closure of the Hazelwood and Yallourn power stations be amended so as to now require the committee to present its report by no later than 31 May 2022.

Motion agreed to.

Members statements

Werribee house fire

Dr CUMMING (Western Metropolitan) (14:16): Today I stand to give my sympathy to the Osman family. Last week the family suffered the horrific loss of four children. Hamid, Esin, Nadir and Elin were killed when the fire tore through their Werribee home. As a mother it breaks my heart. I can only imagine what the family is going through. I also want to acknowledge the love and support shown to the family by the western suburbs community, the CFA, the FRV, firefighters who responded, the SES—providing grief support to neighbours—the people showing their respect and leaving tributes every day and the Sudanese community and faith leaders for their support. A fund has been organised to ease some of the stresses, to bring them some support and to return the love that they have shown others. My thoughts and prayers are with the family and their friends dealing with this loss.

Shepparton Art Museum

Ms LOVELL (Northern Victoria) (14:18): Saturday, 20 November 2021, was a landmark day for the Shepparton community with the opening of the Shepparton Art Museum, or SAM, to the public. I was fortunate to have a tour of SAM last Monday, and what a magnificent facility it is. Coinciding with the official opening is the museum’s first significant exhibition, by acclaimed Yorta Yorta artist Lin Onus. Titled Lin Onus: The Land Within, the exhibition is a celebration of Lin’s connection with the Yorta Yorta people and with the broader Shepparton region. SAM will continue to be home to Australia’s largest collection of Indigenous art and will bring many visitors to Shepparton and the Goulburn Valley. My congratulations go to SAM chairman Stephen Merrylees, the SAM board and artistic director and CEO, Dr Rebecca Coates, for their leadership and vision in creating such a wonderful space. I welcome and encourage all members to jump in the car and visit Shepparton during the summer break to experience SAM for themselves. They will not be disappointed.

Greg Mirabella

Ms LOVELL: I would like to congratulate Greg Mirabella on his nomination to fill the casual vacancy to serve as a Victorian senator in the Australian Senate. Greg is a former member of the ADF, a current CFA member, a farmer, a husband and a father who has long advocated for regional Victoria on many different issues to make the lives of people in the country better. I know he will continue with his tireless work and will be a true representative for regional Victoria.

Felicitations

Ms LOVELL: Finally, I would like to wish all members of the house and their loved ones a safe and very merry Christmas and a prosperous 2022.

Swinburne University Prahran campus

Ms TAYLOR (Southern Metropolitan) (14:19): Well, I am very pleased today to say that I accompanied Minister Gayle Tierney to a wonderful announcement at Prahran TAFE and—what was it?—an in-principle agreement with Swinburne University of Technology to continue high-quality local training by purchasing three parcels of land between Chapel, High, Thomas and Green streets. I tell you what, there was not a dry eye, because Patrick School of the Arts had singers from The Boy from Oz, because they are going to put on a play, and it is just going to be brilliant. It was a really emotional day, and do you know why? It is because we are backing TAFE and we are backing the future of education—local TAFE for the area of Prahran and for the state of Victoria but also the arts, and we know the community want it. We know Stonnington council are absolutely behind it. We know local stakeholders want it, and of course we want it, because the arts and education are in our DNA.

I must say that as part of more than $1 billion in cuts to TAFE funding the former Liberal-Nationals government caused Swinburne to end training in Prahran but still gifted almost half of the site’s land to Swinburne in 2013, despite knowing training would cease. However, as a condition of the proposed sale, the Labor government will ensure almost half the proceeds will be reinvested by Swinburne University into TAFE at its other campuses to offset the historical gift with high-quality training and opportunities for Victorians. It will also allow the Labor government to consider opportunities to further enhance the site into the future in collaboration with local stakeholders through a campus master planning process.

Whistleblower protection

Mr QUILTY (Northern Victoria) (14:21): In the early 2000s Australia bugged the East Timorese Prime Minister’s office to gain an advantage in negotiations over oil and gas fields. A whistleblower from an Australian intelligence agency brought this to light. We should not use our national security apparatus to bully smaller countries out of the little wealth they have. That whistleblower spoke to a lawyer, Bernard Collaery, and Bernard went on to help the East Timorese government build a case to reopen negotiations. In response the Australian government sued Bernard and sent officers to intimidate him. Initially the government successfully won rulings to hold the case against Bernard in secret, but Bernard won his appeal and is set to have his trial in public.

This was an extraordinary abuse of legal processes to attack a lawyer. The federal government is again trying to shroud this process in secrecy. Attorney-General Michaelia Cash is trying to overturn that decision based on evidence that is itself being kept secret. If the federal government had its way, whistleblowers would be charged for speaking the truth, would be tried in secret and would not even be able to see the evidence that is being used to convict them.

This process is a black mark on Australia. The reliance on secret courts and the policy of intimidation against whistleblowers is a mark of despotism in their operation. Secret courts exist to allow the quiet and expeditious removal of people the government does not like. They have been abused by every government that has had access to them. It is evident in our treatment of Julian Assange, another whistleblower that our government has helped to bully in silence. Victoria has its own secret court under the name of the chief examiner. The Liberal Democrats believe in honest government. We believe Australia must end its reliance on secret courts and suppression orders.

Eastern Metropolitan Region health services

Dr BACH (Eastern Metropolitan) (14:23): I want to take this opportunity to thank every single one of the many residents of Mount Waverley who recently responded to my community survey. Now, I had a huge number of responses about local roads—something Mr Ondarchie, among other members, is very passionate about—but in particular I heard loud and clear a strong message about Victoria’s health crisis in my electorate. Now, there are wonderful hospitals full of wonderful staff in my electorate—I am thinking about hospitals like Box Hill and also the Austin. And yet what this Labor government has done is to run down our health infrastructure over such a long period of time to the extent now of course that we are seeing unacceptable ramping—and that was referred to by my constituents in response to my community survey—and of course very long waits for really important surgeries, leaving many of my constituents in pain.

I want to take this opportunity to do something I have done on many occasions, and that is to put on record my deep gratitude to our fantastic health workers, especially in my electorate of course—I am biased—who have done an incredible job through the period of this pandemic. They deserve more support. Where are the 4000 ICU beds that were promised across the state 18 months ago? When it comes to the dreadful blowouts that we have seen, the waste and mismanagement on major projects, every single one of those dollars is a dollar that could have been spent on our health infrastructure, including on our health infrastructure in my electorate, where people are feeling the pinch regarding this health crisis so badly.

Felicitations

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (14:24): Well, it is that time of the year again. It is our last sitting week of Parliament, and I just want to take this opportunity to thank all the staff that make our day so much easier in here, from the clerks to the hospitality staff, right over to DPS and the services and support that they provide to us. The table office is another group of people who do an incredible job to ensure that our work is made so much easier. To everybody within the Parliament—my colleagues in the Legislative Council, my colleague Mr Grimley and most of all to my staff—I say thank you. My staff have worked tirelessly, and I know they are looking forward to having a bit of a break given that we have had the bushfires and COVID. It has been non-stop, and I really commend them for their loyalty, support and work. As I said, I thank the Parliament itself for ensuring that we all get to go home safely every evening after work and for supporting us in the job that we do. I do wish everybody a wonderful Christmas and New Year, and I hope that it is very safe. I look forward to seeing you after the break.

Government performance

Mr DAVIS (Southern Metropolitan—Leader of the Opposition) (14:26): I rise today to draw the attention of the house and the community to the Standard & Poor’s report yesterday. It was a shocking report for Victoria. It is the report card on our performance as a state in terms of COVID-19, but more broadly the economy, and Victoria was singled out for the COVID response and the issues around debt. Standard & Poor’s said on Monday that ‘fiscal challenges remain’ for Australian states and territories:

We anticipate record infrastructure spending and lower revenue streams over the next decade …

They talk about how it would ‘drive debt to record levels’. But they single out Victoria:

We anticipate Victoria’s debt levels will rise the most, with debt more than tripling from 2019 …

and other states much less than that. They went on to say that Victoria had the weakest fiscal position and credit rating in the country. Melbourne also holds a record of the world’s most locked-down city, at 262 days. Further, Standard & Poor’s said:

Victoria continues to display structurally weaker budgetary metrics and a higher debt burden relative to domestic peers …

And they go on. But the point here is that this government has mismanaged our economy and they have mismanaged the state’s budget as well. It is true that the budget was already in deficit at the end of December 2019, before COVID, and COVID has accelerated the outcome. So we have got a fall in gross state product, we have got a fall in gross state product per head, we have got the highest unemployment and the weakest financial position and the greatest debt of any state.

Felicitations

Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:28): I would like to echo Ms Maxwell’s gratitude to all of the staff here and congratulate you, President, and the team for managing an incredibly difficult year. I think you have done it with good humour, but also you have managed to keep us all very safe this year. On behalf of I am sure my team, and I am sure on behalf of many others here, we are very grateful for that.

Pill testing

Ms PATTEN: I would also like to congratulate today the New Zealand government for legalising pill testing. In the words of the health minister Andrew Little, ‘This legislation is about keeping people safe’, and that is what pill testing is about. People are not going to stop taking potentially dangerous substances just because we say ‘Just say no’, but we can help them make wiser choices and reduce the risks of harm with the right tools. New Zealand found in their trial that up to 70 per cent were likely to take less drugs or none at all after interacting with a pill-testing service. The research is equally compelling in the ACT. Along with my colleague Dr Ratnam, we have introduced a bill here to legalise pill testing. If we are serious about public health, then we must follow New Zealand’s lead and legislate for pill testing in Victoria before a summer tragedy occurs.

Ambulance Victoria

Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) (14:29): I want to make a statement about the terrible report handed down today by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. In the yearlong inquiry that was undertaken for this review there are some horrifying stories from paramedics. I note one paramedic gave this testimony to the inquiry:

People are managed through bastardisation, fear-mongering and authority dictatorship, and it’s been like that forever …

This is damning. There are reports of sexual harassment, one in two of the paramedics or those working with ambulance services responded that they have experienced bullying, nearly 50 per cent reported experiencing discrimination and 34 per cent reported experiencing victimisation. It is really alarming that there is such a toxic culture within Ambulance Victoria, and this is putting the lives of Victorians at risk. Daniel Andrews has been the Minister for Health or the Premier of this state for 10 of the last 14 years, so he has been in charge of this. He has overseen this happening, and as a result we have got record ambulance ramping and we have got record numbers of people being taken off because of stress and sick leave. It is no wonder when you have got such a toxic culture, and the Andrews government has done nothing to remedy it.

Dromana quarry

Mr HAYES (Southern Metropolitan) (14:31): I strongly agree with Tess Dickie, a lawyer who works with dust-related diseases, and her article entitled ‘Let this quarry proposal turn to dust’ in the Age on 11 November:

The pandemic has taught us that there are some health risks you cannot necessarily see, feel or taste.

The proposed quarry at Arthurs Seat poses a huge health threat for the region if permitted to go ahead. The quarry is likely to create airborne dust, potentially creating chronic exposure for local communities. Ask the 120-plus doctors, health experts and community members who have called for the government to abandon the plans for a quarry at Arthurs Seat. Red Hill Consolidated School is just 800 metres away from the proposed site, and it is not unforeseeable that the quarry could cause residents to have irreversible injury and chronic lung conditions from this site. It is not only going to impact on community health but also cause mass environmental destruction. I cannot see a win here for the community or the environment. In fact I see destruction of an absolutely wonderful and scarce piece of native bush, a large piece of native bush and habitat for animals. I strongly encourage the government to close the door on this proposal and put community health and welfare first.

VicForests

Dr RATNAM (Northern Metropolitan) (14:33): The stories aired on the ABC’s 7.30 program last week about the outlaw behaviour of Victorian government agency VicForests paint a shocking picture of an agency that has been allowed to behave outrageously and unlawfully at the cost of our environment. At a time when our planet is facing an extinction crisis VicForests has been found to have logged forests illegally, to have failed in its obligation to regenerate forests and even hired private investigators to spy on people trying to protect our environment. Let us remember this is an agency auspiced by the Victorian government and subsidised by public funding. Our Greens offices have received many calls condemning VicForests’ behaviour and commenting that such actions threaten the reputation of Victoria’s entire public sector. Adding insult to injury, VicForests has been operating at a loss each year.

VicForests’ reprehensible behaviour cannot be allowed to continue, but it has because the Victorian government has refused to regulate and monitor the behaviour of its logging agency. Despite numerous breaches reported to the Office of the Conservation Regulator, no penalties have been issued. All the while threatened species get closer to extinction and the state’s water supply is put at risk by this rogue agency. If we are serious about protecting the forests that sustain life on this planet, then governments must act. That begins here in Victoria with this state government referring this matter to the Victorian Public Sector Commission and replacing VicForests with a new forest transition authority immediately.

Victorian Senior of the Year Awards

Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education)

Incorporated pursuant to order of Council of 7 September:

The Victorian Senior of the Year Awards are presented annually as part of the Victorian Seniors Festival, and I’m really pleased that two constituents from south-western Victoria were recognised this year.

Uncle Locky Eccles from Warrnambool was honoured with the Healthy and Active Living Award.

Uncle Locky is a very fitting winner of this award, which recognises him as a role model and community leader.

Uncle Locky is a proud Gunditjmara elder, active in reviving the Peek Woorroong language and teaching it to thousands of children in Warrnambool kindergartens.

He is also a respected and encouraging football umpire.

He builds relationships with people of all ages and is committed to reconciliation and achievement for all young Aboriginal people.

Congratulations also to John Fox from Timboon, who was awarded a COTA Senior Achiever Award.

John is a very active volunteer with a number of community groups in Timboon and increased his workload during the COVID pandemic to make sure that Meals on Wheels were delivered to people, as well as volunteering to ensure isolated community members had transport.

John has found volunteering extremely rewarding and values the connection it has given him with other members of the community.

I’m so pleased that Timboon and District Healthcare Service nominated John so that his contribution to the community could be recognised.

Congratulations also to Ken Mansfield from Highton and Uncle Frank Laxton from Ballarat, who were also recognised with a COTA Senior Achiever Award.

All are such amazing contributors to the community in their senior years, and I thank them for being so generous with their time, skills and care for others.

Learn Local providers

Mr MELHEM (Western Metropolitan)

Incorporated pursuant to order of Council of 7 September:

Learn Locals offer individualised and flexible learning programs for Victorian learners. They are especially critical in developing the literacy, numeracy, and digital skills of adult learners with limited prior education.

Every day, Victoria’s adult and community education sector changes the lives of learners by empowering them to obtain meaningful and sustainable employment, pursue further study, and live happily in their community.

The Learn Local Awards are an opportunity to recognise excellence in the sector. The 25 finalists in this year’s awards reflect the sector’s incredible diversity, originality, strength, and resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I had the opportunity to visit some of the finalists of this year’s awards. One of those providers was Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services, which has six finalists across the organisation and individual categories.

Their course for Karen-speaking engineering students starting work in Australia has been one of this year’s most successful pre-accredited training programs. It provides bilingual support and tailored, industry-aligned training for students in the Karen community undertaking a certificate II in engineering studies at Bendigo TAFE to assist them in completing the course. Over 80 per cent of graduates of the program have gained employment in relevant industries following the course and many aspire to continue their engineering studies at a higher level.

The program is a finalist in multiple award categories that recognise the leadership, innovation, and local partnerships that have made it successful. Robyn, who designed the program, has been named as a finalist in the pre-accredited trainer category, while the centre also has two students, Hussnia and Than, who are finalists in the pre-accredited learner categories.

Thank you to the team at Loddon Campaspe for having me at your centre.

The winners of the 2021 Learn Local Awards will be announced on 10 December. Winners in organisation categories will receive $10 000, while those in individual categories will receive $5000. Good luck to all the finalists!

Business of the house

Notices of motion

Ms TAYLOR (Southern Metropolitan) (14:34): I move:

That the consideration of notice of motion, government business, 683, be postponed until later this day.

Motion agreed to.

Orders of the day

Ms TAYLOR (Southern Metropolitan) (14:35): I move:

That the consideration of orders of the day, government business, 1 to 3, be postponed until later this day.

Mr DAVIS (Southern Metropolitan—Leader of the Opposition) (14:35): The government is seeking to adjourn these three matters, and those matters are worthy of discussion now. As Mr Ondarchie just said to me, the royal commission’s material is related to the first one, the Casino and Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2021. But, more importantly, the government seeks to move to the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021 and the running sheet is not ready. This is not the fault of the clerks; it is the fault of the chaotic process that the government has had negotiating with its favoured Independents and negotiating, effectively, a new bill—a bill that is quite distinct from the original bill. Clearly there are amendments to the original bill. There are new amendments that the government has struck with Mr Barton, there are new amendments that have been struck that have only just very recently been in the public domain, and the community is seeking to understand all those amendments. We have got lawyers looking at a number of the amendments and seeking advice on those amendments. But in any event, the running sheet is not yet ready and we are about to, on the government’s proposal, commence this bill. I do not believe we should commence it until the running sheet is there, and I think there are other reasons why we should not commence it too, and I will make those points later. But at this point, until we have a running sheet and until the opportunity is there for lawyers and others to advise the opposition and indeed members of the community more broadly on the matters that the government proposes to change in the bill, I do not believe we should be moving immediately to this bill.

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (14:37): Just speaking in support of the motion put by Ms Taylor, as I have indicated to members of the chamber, clause 1 ordinarily in these types of bills generally takes a while. I am prepared to answer and go through the general themes that people want to cover and the specifics. The run sheet is really only provided for a rundown of the order of the amendments et cetera. I think that if we get through clause 1 and the run sheet is not ready, we can have a conversation about reporting progress at that time, but I really do not see that that is going to be an issue. We will receive advice from the table office in relation to how far away the run sheet is, but let us not forget that the run sheet is just a reflection of what has already been circulated and is available to members for their consideration. It is really just an additional thing that the clerks give us to help guide us through the clauses. Generally I do not even look at it until after clause 1, so whilst it is a valuable document that guides the committee stage, it is generally not of much use until we start to get into the flow of things with amendments and working through the bill.

So my proposal would be to start clause 1 and have a general conversation about the bill. I am sure people have got questions that I am happy to address. We have got people in the box ready to assist that discussion, and as I said, if we need to have a consideration of a break a bit later then we can look at that, but it is not necessary at this point in time. This is a very important bill, as you know. If this bill does not pass this week, we are in a dangerous situation of not having a framework to protect Victorians, and in that regard it is something that is important for us to progress as a matter of urgency.

Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) (14:39): Ms Symes has been all over the place—not through any fault of her own, I might add; I think it is the government and others that are driving this. But there are 20 pages of amendments that the opposition were provided with late last night. There were dozens of amendments provided by the government in the previous sitting week. This government has provided dozens and dozens of amendments to this bill that it previously said was urgent and needed to be put forward. You have got advisers in your box, but we have got people also looking through this because they have also got concerns about what you are proposing. On Tuesday, 16 November, it was the Leader of the Government that said:

Of course this legislation should be afforded adequate time to be debated and scrutinised by this chamber.

Well, when you change the whole time and bring in late amendments—dozens of them; 20 pages—it just demonstrates the chaotic, shambolic process that is in place.

Members interjecting.

Ms CROZIER: I hear the government members over there interjecting frantically. They know they have ballsed this up. It has been a complete shambles. There is a framework that they talk about. Well, there is a framework—we have got the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008. That is in place already.

Mr Davis interjected.

Ms CROZIER: That is right; it could be improved. That a consultation process has not been undertaken with any of us, despite the offers, is just appalling. The arrogance! The appalling process that the government has undertaken, the pet Labor-voting Independents that they have gone to—

Ms Pulford interjected.

Ms CROZIER: I have asked questions, Ms Pulford, and I have never had a response from the health minister’s office on what I have asked. So I say to you that you and your other members, your other colleagues, have been totally disregarding the public of Victoria on this, and I find it absolutely atrocious that the amendments that are coming in—the dozens of amendments—are not getting afforded proper process again. It just demonstrates a government that is shambolic, is chaotic and, quite frankly, has changed its—I will not say, ‘position more times than the Kama Sutra’; I will get into trouble. But you have changed your position on this bill after everything you have said over the last few weeks on this. It is a disgrace. And I concur with Mr Davis.

Mr ONDARCHIE (Northern Metropolitan) (14:42): I rise to speak against this motion today on a couple of levels. One is the fact that—

A member interjected.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Sometimes empty vessels make a lot of noise, don’t they? I rise because the government have talked about the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence as something that is very important, and the results of that have come through in some legislation to be presented to the house first up today. In saying so, I note the minister’s second-reading speech refers to how urgent this bill is in trying to clean up what happens down at Crown Casino and in gambling generally. So I find it a bit confusing that they said that that was important—an important matter to protect Victorians, particularly as we get out and about now and people are starting to visit those sorts of venues—and now they are saying, ‘Well, actually it’s not that important; we’ll push it aside’.

The second point I would make to you is that I reflect on the government’s words on the Thursday of the last sitting week when they looked to postpone debate on the pandemic bill. They postponed the bill on the premise that it needed more consultation. They needed more time to consult around the elements of the bill, and here they are today presenting a number of amendments to the house without adequate time for members of Parliament, the crossbench and the opposition at the very least, to consult with our constituents. If last week it was important to defer this bill to allow more time for consultation, why is that not important today? The reason is that they have mismanaged this whole process. And now they are going, ‘We’ve got a horizon running towards us very, very quickly. We need to get something done. We’ve negotiated some special deals with people on the crossbench, and here are some amendments we need you to put into the house today, agree on today and pass today’ without ‘adequate consultation time’, in their words, for us to deal with our constituents. That is why we should oppose this motion right now. That is why we should not deal with the legislation today. Give us, as the government would say, adequate time for consultation.

Mr FINN (Western Metropolitan) (14:44): I have to say that in the time that I have been in this Parliament, in both houses of this Parliament, I do not recall a bill that has had a greater level of public interest than this legislation today. I have received well in excess of 15 000 emails. Now, that is almost unheard of—15 000 emails. And yes, I have responded to each and every one. Interestingly enough, no members of the government appear to respond to those emails, to those constituents reaching out to them offering their opinion on what is going on. And now we have a situation where the government is attempting to—after dealing with one Independent, it seems, for an extended period—debate a bill which is substantially different to the one that we debated two or three weeks ago. It is just absolutely nonsensical. You know, I am getting a lot of emails from people saying, ‘When can we see the amendments? When can we consider the amendments?’. Well, the government says, ‘We’ll let you see them, but we won’t let you consider them’. Now, that is a nonsense.

In a bill this important—and let us face facts: this is a very important bill. This is a bill that is as far-reaching a piece of legislation as has ever been before this Parliament. This legislation gives the Premier of this state unparalleled power. It gives the Premier of the state almost total control over every aspect of Victorians’ lives. Now, if Victorians are not allowed to take time to consider and time to have consultation on this, you have got to wonder what the hell is going on, because this is something that does involve every single Victorian—simple as that, every single Victorian—and every single Victorian who wants to have a say should be allowed to do it.

Now, by rushing this through today—and keep in mind we were very happy, with the original bill, to debate it at the last sitting week, but the government did not want to do that. No, the government did not want to do that. No, but they want to do it today. This is largely a new bill, but the government wants to debate it anyway. Consultation and the Andrews government are not exactly great bedfellows, it has to be said. They do not consult on anything. You just have to listen to people from a wide cross-section of the community to understand that this government is just not interested in consultation. And here they are again today, trying to speed this through before anybody knows exactly what is going on.

I urge the government to have a rethink on this, and I particularly urge Ms Symes to have a rethink on this. I think she is hopefully more of a reasonable person than is her leader—well, it would not be hard, I suppose—and I would hope that she would consider that the overwhelming majority of Victorians are very keen to have a say in what this legislation proposes and indeed more importantly what this legislation means for their future and their families’ future, because that is what it does. We are talking about detention. We are talking about lockdowns. We are talking about a whole range of measures, all in the hands of the Premier. I was going to say ‘and the health minister’, but the health minister really does not know what is going on. It is all in the hands of the Premier, and that sends chills down the spine of every Victorian because we all know that the Premier of this state is addicted to power. He is addicted to control. He is looking forward to this legislation, and he is going to run amok.

So we need the time to consult with our constituents. We need time to fully and properly examine these amendments ourselves so that we can fully understand them. This matter is too important to be rushed through because, ‘Hey, Labor’s got the numbers’. It is too important for that, and I urge the government to take that into consideration. I urge Ms Symes in particular to do what she was talking a little bit earlier in the week about, and that is proper process. It is time that she implemented that with this bill.

Ms SHING (Eastern Victoria) (14:49): It is always interesting to hear Mr Finn talk about a bill about which he clearly knows nothing and talk about amendments which, despite receiving them last night, he still appears to know nothing about. And it is always insightful to see those opposite, in fact who are usually pretty well-informed about the views associated with perhaps a small number of their own constituents in the form of the readership of the Herald Sun, failing to understand indeed what the substance of the issues here is. There is not a bad summary in fact in today’s papers off the back of what was sent to everybody last night. And further to that the really interesting point—

Ms Lovell interjected.

Ms SHING: Oh, sorry. Ms Lovell is indicating she does not read the Herald Sun because she is a member of Parliament.

Ms Lovell: On a point of order, President, the member is verballing me. I was saying the government should inform members of Parliament; we should not have to read it second-hand in the Herald Sun.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Ms Lovell. I did not see it that way.

Ms SHING: And again Ms Lovell has betrayed her lack of understanding of this given she did not read, obviously, the amendments that came through last night before in fact they were publicised anywhere outside of the membership of this place. What we have in fact seen since the last sitting week is an extensive period of negotiation. We have had public commentary today from members of this place that goes precisely to the good-faith, extensive consultations, discussions and negotiations that have taken place. Those opposite last sitting week said that this was so urgent it had to be brought on at the same time as saying that they would do everything they could to kill the bill. Then when we sought to adjourn the matter off they opposed that on the basis that they in fact wanted to proceed, and then in fact when we asked for an adjournment to conduct the very consultations that they are now saying have not occurred they were wholly against the process.

This is very much a case of coalition doublespeak yet again. ‘Do as I say, not what I do’. It is basic, cheap, tawdry politics, and why would we expect anything more or anything better from those opposite? What we do see is an embarrassment for the coalition yet again, because not only did they fail to return the calls of people who were interested in talking about this particular legislation but in fact they have gone out repeatedly after being told by their leader not to hang out with people out the front—a wizard and his three-legged dog and 15 people who have been camping in the gardens for two weeks—instead of actually coming to the table to talk about something which would be workable. When we look at the amendments that have been proposed by the opposition they are only workable to the extent that they achieve the cheap political aim of the coalition, and that is to kill this bill.

Mr Finn: On a point of order, President, it seems to me that Ms Shing is now debating the contents of the amendments and in fact has already started the committee stage of the bill, so I would ask you to have her contain herself on this occasion.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr Finn. I heard other speakers before talk about the bill in a similar way to Ms Shing, so Ms Shing is still in order.

Ms SHING: Thank you very much, President. It is nice to know that there is a consistency of ruling where Mr Finn had in fact not just flung the door open but almost busted it off its hinges.

What we see here today is an opportunity in fact to proceed with the debate of legislation which in my view relates to the subject matter of a global pandemic as it relates to the impending expiry of the state of emergency on 15 December, which were it not renewed—and we have reason to think that in fact there is insufficient support here for a renewal of the state-of-emergency declaration—in fact on and from 15 December there would be no framework in place whatsoever to regulate the way in which pandemic management and public health policy and response is galvanised across this state.

News flash for those opposite: we are in the midst of a global pandemic. We can see from actions taken by other jurisdictions overseas that there are ongoing threats and issues that need to be managed. If those opposite are now mounting some cute argument about how a royal commission into a casino should trump a global pandemic in the business order, you would have to look at why. You would have to look at why they are making these arguments. In fact any reasonable person would conclude based on the tawdry tactics of those opposite over the last six months at least of this particular challenge and these environments of pandemic response that there is nothing more in this than seeking to kick the can down the road and leave Victorians in the lurch when we get to 15 December. Shame on you.

Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (14:54): I rise to concur with my Liberal colleagues in relation to opposing this motion. Hypocrisy, thy name is Labor, and we get it stuffed down our throat and Victorians are getting it stuffed down their throats on a daily basis. On 16 November—last sitting week—we were told that this was an urgent bill, that it had to be pushed through, that it was a life-and-death proposition. On 18 November it was po-faced hypocrisy when they came to this chamber and said, ‘Oh, no, now we need to consult. Now we need to go out to our constituency and have a conversation’.

Members interjecting.

Ms BATH: Victorians. The only difference between that 16 and that 18 was a person by the name of Mr Somyurek. That person decided to come out in the public arena and say, ‘I’m going to oppose this bill’. He then wandered into Parliament and wandered his way into this chamber. That is the only change that they made from urgent bill to ‘Oh no, in all good conscience we need to consult’. Well, what a load of claptrap. We saw last night, at the eleventh hour, 20 pages of amendments come through. And did they send them to me? No. Did they send them to anyone in this place?

Members interjecting.

Ms BATH: You are talking rubbish about the fact that you are here to provide information. Did they send them on? How obtuse in the extreme that now all of a sudden, guess what, you have got the numbers and now it is urgent again. I say again: hypocrisy, thy name is Labor.

House divided on motion:

Ayes, 20
Barton, Mr Melhem, Mr Tarlamis, Mr
Elasmar, Mr Patten, Ms Taylor, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Pulford, Ms Terpstra, Ms
Gepp, Mr Ratnam, Dr Tierney, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms Watt, Ms
Meddick, Mr Symes, Ms
Noes, 17
Atkinson, Mr Davis, Mr Maxwell, Ms
Bach, Dr Finn, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bath, Ms Grimley, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Bourman, Mr Hayes, Mr Quilty, Mr
Crozier, Ms Limbrick, Mr Rich-Phillips, Mr
Cumming, Dr Lovell, Ms

Motion agreed to.

Bills

Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021

Committed.

Committee

Clause 1 (15:05)

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: We will start with clause 1. In the absence of a running sheet, we will stick to clause 1.

Mr DAVIS: I just want to record first of all that there should be a running sheet, and I do not hold the clerks or the parliamentary staff at all responsible for that. Inherently the large number of amendments that have been proposed by government at this late hour, late last night, are complex and the production of a running sheet takes significant time. In that circumstance it is my view that the committee should not be dealing with this matter.

This bill has not been properly examined by the broad community. The amendments have not been properly examined and the alternative approaches have not been properly considered. The government has not consulted properly with the opposition, nor with the business community. In the last sitting week, on the Friday, I asked for a referral of this bill to the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee. I asked the government to get SARC to look at this bill urgently. We had previously asked for that to occur. There has not been a proper public process where this bill could be considered. There has not been a proper process where the business community and the broader community were able to examine this, to put submissions, to give evidence. In that context, I move:

That progress be reported and the committee have leave to sit again once a joint select committee is established to inquire into, consider and report by Tuesday, 8 February 2022, on an appropriate balance of pandemic legislation and regulations, having regard to the rights of Victorians, health outcomes, protections for the economy and jobs, including small businesses, with high levels of democratic protections and scrutiny, including appropriate transparency and parliamentary oversight and:

(1) the committee shall consist of:

(a) four Assembly members, comprising three members from the government nominated by the Premier and one member from the opposition nominated by the Leader of the Opposition;

(b) four Council members, comprising one member from the government nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Council, two members from the opposition nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Council and one member from among the remaining members in the Council nominated jointly by minority groups and Independent members;

(2) a majority of the members appointed pursuant to paragraph (1) will constitute a quorum of the committee;

(3) the chair of the committee must be a non-government member;

(4) in addition to exercising a deliberative vote, when votes on a question are equally divided, the chair, or the deputy chair when acting as chair, shall have a casting vote;

(5) the committee may proceed to the despatch of business notwithstanding that all members have not been appointed and notwithstanding any vacancy;

(6) the committee must commence its work by Monday, 6 December 2021;

(7) consistent with the powers of the Legislative Council, the committee may:

(a) summons witnesses to attend the committee;

(b) require the production of documents and other things;

(8) the committee shall operate under the provisions laid out under joint standing order 15;

(9) if, in the event the Legislative Assembly does not agree to the establishment of the above joint select committee by 12 noon on Saturday, 4 December 2021, then a Legislative Council select committee will be established to inquire into, consider and report on the terms set out above and the committee shall consist of seven members comprising three members from the government nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Council, two members from the opposition nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Council and two members from among the remaining members in the Council nominated jointly by minority groups and Independent members;

(10) if a select committee is established pursuant to paragraph (9), a majority of the members appointed pursuant to paragraph (9) will constitute a quorum of the committee and the rules set out in paragraphs (3) to (7) will apply; and

(11) the foregoing provisions of this resolution, so far as they are inconsistent with the standing and sessional orders or practices of both houses will have effect notwithstanding anything contained in the standing and sessional orders or practices of both houses.

I will be brief. The purpose of this is to enable a proper process to occur and enable the business community to see and have their say, to enable health experts to have their say too, to enable the broad Victorian community to have the opportunity to input and to make comment and to examine the best way forward. We accept that the state-of-emergency approach is a flawed approach. We accept that there is a better way forward, but let us find that better way forward, rather than the government negotiating first for six months with three Labor-voting Independents and in the last week with some crossbenchers, not all crossbenchers, and select crossbenchers in particular.

But the reality is that the broad Victorian community have not had their say in this. The broad Victorian community have not had their opportunity to speak. Those who have lost their jobs have not had a chance to speak. Those in small businesses whose small businesses have been destroyed have not had a chance to speak. Those whose schooling has been disrupted have not had a chance to speak. Those whose family and community have been disrupted have not had a chance to speak, and indeed the opportunity to speak in these matters is incredibly important. It may be that the government can actually learn something from listening to the broad Victorian community. It might be that in fact some in the business community will have something to say about how this could be structured.

We have actually got an economy that is in deep trouble. We have got an economy that is actually contracting, that is shrinking, at the moment, and concerningly pandemic legislation is likely to inject uncertainty and unpredictability and damage the economy in the recovery and rebuild phase. These are very significant concerns, and it is a proper way to go forward with a proper parliamentary inquiry involving both houses, a special select committee, with the purposes of looking at this legislation and alternatives and ways forward that will be least impactful for the community, least impactful in terms of business and the damage that is being done by this government. In the 263 days of lockdown the larger number of deaths that have occurred in Victoria, tragically, and the huge economic damage that has occurred are as a result of the government’s mismanagement of the pandemic.

Ms SYMES: The government do not support this stalling tactic, and we would like to commence questions on the bill.

Mr LEANE: I move:

That the question be now put.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Does the member have six members who stand in support?

Required number of members having risen:

Committee divided on Mr Leane’s motion:

Ayes, 20
Barton, Mr Melhem, Mr Tarlamis, Mr
Elasmar, Mr Patten, Ms Taylor, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Pulford, Ms Terpstra, Ms
Gepp, Mr Ratnam, Dr Tierney, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms Watt, Ms
Meddick, Mr Symes, Ms
Noes, 17
Atkinson, Mr Davis, Mr Maxwell, Ms
Bach, Dr Finn, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bath, Ms Grimley, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Bourman, Mr Hayes, Mr Quilty, Mr
Crozier, Ms Limbrick, Mr Rich-Phillips, Mr
Cumming, Dr Lovell, Ms

Motion agreed to.

Committee divided on Mr Davis’s motion:

Ayes, 17
Atkinson, Mr Davis, Mr Maxwell, Ms
Bach, Dr Finn, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bath, Ms Grimley, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Bourman, Mr Hayes, Mr Quilty, Mr
Crozier, Ms Limbrick, Mr Rich-Phillips, Mr
Cumming, Dr Lovell, Ms
Noes, 20
Barton, Mr Melhem, Mr Tarlamis, Mr
Elasmar, Mr Patten, Ms Taylor, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Pulford, Ms Terpstra, Ms
Gepp, Mr Ratnam, Dr Tierney, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms Watt, Ms
Meddick, Mr Symes, Ms

Motion negatived.

Mr DAVIS: There is a prior matter which the government may be able to assist us with. I note that the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee—again, it has probably not covered itself in glory with this particular bill—in its Alert Digest No. 15 had a series of questions on the consideration of the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill. They have not been answered. I note the Alert Digest that has come this week, and those questions and the assurances and matters sought by the committee have not been dealt with.

For example, on page 44 of Alert Digest No. 15 the committee notes that broad ministerial orders can be made and it then seeks assistance from the minister. I could go on, but I think my point is very clear: assistance has been sought from the minister in answer to some of the matters raised by SARC in its cursory deliberations. But in any respect I think as a courtesy to the chamber and the committee those responses should be received.

Ms SYMES: Thank you, Mr Davis. I am very happy to go through those issues throughout the committee stage, and I am getting a copy of the SARC response so that you can have that for your reference as well.

Mr DAVIS: It would actually be helpful for the chamber to have the chance to read these and consider them in a reasonable and fair way. I mean, this Alert Digest No. 16 was tabled this afternoon in the normal way, but it is not there, so I am just not sure when we actually get to see that matter.

Another prior matter, Minister: there have been a number of negotiations with a number of members of this chamber over the recent week or two. There are three Independent members that there were negotiations with before, but there have been a number of negotiations. I wonder if the government would make available, as an early step, all of the materials that were provided to those Independents. I think the chamber and the community are entitled to see them.

Ms SYMES: Mr Davis, most of the material that was provided in conversations with members of the crossbench was correspondence between me and stakeholders, which I am sure I am happy to go through, and also a summary of the amendments that were circulated last night in a sort of easy-to-read one-pager. If you want that, that is fine. It is just a summary of each of the amendments that form the package that will be introduced formally later today.

Mr DAVIS: I do not think that is quite the full story, Minister. In fact Mr Pizer, QC, was employed to negotiate and discuss matters with the—

A member: He wasn’t employed.

Mr DAVIS: Well, how was he involved? Was there a consideration paid? Was he on the salary? Was there a salary or a contract? I just pick up the interjection from the member over there. Was there a contract or a salary for Mr Pizer and Dr Doyle—eminent individuals, both of them. Was he provided with payment via the Burnet Institute or some other way? I am just trying to establish the veracity of advice. Are these salaried people? Are they people on contracts? What is the exact basis of it? Were they paid a consideration? And the material that they provided to—

Mr Melhem: Focus on the bill.

Mr DAVIS: It is about the bill, and it is about the material around the bill.

Members interjecting.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Can we have some quiet in the chamber, please. I indicate to Ms Shing that if she wishes to interject she needs to be in her seat. She cannot interject from where she is standing.

Ms SYMES: The eminent people that were being referred to by Mr Davis were part of the expert reference group. Those individuals were available to provide expert detailed advice that might have been sought. I was in the room every time they were, and there were no documents exchanged. It was just the opportunity for members to ask specific questions of the people that were on the expert panel, which indeed gave advice to the government about how to best craft a bill that was fit for purpose for Victoria.

Mr DAVIS: Thank you, Minister. Therein lies my point. It is that they were actually giving advice on how to craft a bill that was so-called fit for purpose and the veracity and the basis of that advice has been provided to certain crossbenchers but it has not been provided to the broad community. And that information should be in the public domain so it can be tested—so that it can be tested in this chamber, so that it can be tested more broadly in the community. Businesspeople should be able to see that material. Dr Doyle—who is an eminent doctor; I know him reasonably well and I have a high regard for him—what information was provided to the crossbench by him? And the same with Mr Pizer: he is an eminent QC, but what information was provided? None? So they just sat in a room silent—is that what happened? Dead silence—is that what occurred?

Ms PATTEN: Just to maybe provide further information for the house about that process with Mr Pizer and Professor Doyle, they were there to actually answer questions. They were not there to provide information to us. There were no documents there in trying to get through the development of the bill, in working out what should be in pandemic legislation. I would be happy to provide you with the information that I sent to the government and the documents I sent to them about what I thought should be in the bill. But I can assert that there was no information coming the other way, except in response to questions that I asked.

Mr DAVIS: Further to this point, this actually concerns me even more. We actually have now a spokesperson for the government actually providing a response when the minister is not prepared to provide that sort of response. But, you know, without in any way being negative about those individuals, because I actually have met both of them and had dealings with both of them in other matters, the veracity of what has been provided to the crossbench should be open and able to be tested. That is a key point. So my point is: is there a transcript ? Is there a record? Did someone take notes? Were there minutes? So these were unminuted conversations. There is no agenda. There are no minutes. They just answered questions. This is ephemeral. It has now gone into the ether. We cannot actually see it. No-one knows what has actually been discussed in detail. I say that that information should be available to the community, and we should be able to see what is involved there.

Ms CROZIER: I would just like to follow on from this line of questioning.

A member: It wasn’t a question.

Ms CROZIER: Well, it is, because we have been asking for information. I have got a couple of questions that I would like to ask in relation to this. I was inadvertently provided with an email on 5 March, and at that point the government was providing consultation to three Independents: the Greens, the Justice Party and the Reason Party. So I would like to understand how many meetings the government had with those three members—

Mr Melhem interjected.

Ms CROZIER: To take up Mr Melhem’s interjection, I think the public would like to understand this, and I am asking the government: how many meetings did the government have with those three crossbenchers prior to the last sitting week, before this bill was introduced and before the shambolic process that has occurred since the introduction of this bill?

Mr Davis: They have a schedule of meetings.

Ms CROZIER: The schedule of meetings. It was clear in the email. I will read it out again. ‘Placeholder: standalone pandemic legislation briefing’ is the subject, and it is about the suggested dates that would work for those crossbenchers. I would like to understand when the government met with those three crossbenchers on this legislation, prior to the introduction of the bill two weeks ago.

Ms SYMES: Ms Crozier, it is not for me to detail the diaries of members and ministers in this place, but I can confirm that several meetings have occurred between many members of this chamber, members of the other chamber and people who sought information in relation to this bill, as is appropriate for an important bill such as this.

Ms CROZIER: Thank you, Attorney, but I honestly think, because this has such enormous interest from the public, the public have a right to understand what was done. You see, we were cut out of those discussions, the opposition and other crossbenchers. When I questioned the minister on 19 March, he said:

… the Opposition put itself outside the process when it voted against the SOE extension.

So we and the other crossbenchers were not even afforded the courtesy, and I think the Victorian public deserve to understand. If you are unwilling to provide that schedule, then that speaks volumes about the secret discussions held behind closed doors, and I think the public, as I said, would like to understand those dates. You have got them; please provide them.

Ms SYMES: Ms Crozier, this bill is the result of all of the consultation. So the evidence that you are seeking is detailed in the bill, which is a result of talking to experts, relying on an expert reference panel, talking to people that wanted to make sure that there was a framework to protect Victorians, and the evidence is what we were wanting to get through today.

Ms CROZIER: I am sorry that I am having to labour the point here, Attorney, but this is very important. There were—

Ms Symes interjected.

Ms CROZIER: No, it is not disingenuous. I am asking, and I raised—

Ms Symes interjected.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Sorry, Attorney. Ms Crozier has the call.

Ms CROZIER: Who is being disingenuous is you, because you will not provide the information to the Parliament.

Mr Gepp: On a point of order, Deputy President, while Ms Crozier was on her feet and the Attorney was interjecting, you pulled the Attorney-General up. When the Attorney-General was on her feet, Ms Crozier consistently interjected and nothing was said. We need to have an even-handed debate.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: That is not a point of order, Mr Gepp. That is frivolous.

Ms CROZIER: As I was saying, I think the lack of your willingness to provide this basic information about how many meetings the government had with the crossbench on this bill is important, and I would ask for that to be provided. The advice is there, some advisers are there, they would know. It came from the minister’s office, the minister’s office advisers are in the box.

Ms Tierney interjected.

Ms CROZIER: I think it is important, Ms Tierney. You might not, but the public who are listening to this debate, who have been very concerned about this bill, want to know what was said with those three crossbenchers before the change to this legislation, because what was presented to us is completely different now, as we know. So I would ask that that information be provided. The other information that I asked for in the—

Members interjecting.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Can we have some quiet, please.

Ms CROZIER: I realise the government do not think this is important, but it is important, in the interests of transparency for the Victorian public, and I would ask that that schedule be provided to the Parliament, to this chamber, and I would ask, as I asked in the briefing that was provided when the second reading commenced two weeks ago, for the stakeholders. Who were the stakeholders that the government consulted on this? I was provided with two names—Mr Davis has mentioned two eminent people, as you have referred to—but I never got a response from the government about who else was consulted on this important bill. As Mr Davis has said, the business community, the entire Victorian community are affected by this legislation. They are taking great interest in what we are doing today. They want to understand: has the government got this right? That is why we are in this process. So who were the stakeholders that the government consulted with, Minister?

Ms SYMES: Ms Crozier, the stakeholders who were consulted in the development of the bill have been extensive and it has involved meetings and submissions and follow-up meetings—in particular, key stakeholders with expert experience in law, human rights and public health, including the Centre for Public Integrity, the Law Institute of Victoria, the Human Rights Law Centre, Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, the Victorian Ombudsman, the Australian Medical Association, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, Ambulance Victoria, the Victorian Council of Social Service and many more. That is not an exhaustive list. But I have had meetings from some of the legal aspects with lots of people as well, and indeed members that were wanting to understand and contribute to a framework to protect Victorians also were involved in discussions about their views on the bill.

I think we have heard at least from one member who is willing to let you know what she proposed in the bill, and I think throughout the debate we will hear some of the asks by members who have indicated they support the bill and they might go through some of the things with me that they did not get into the bill that they would have liked to have seen in the bill, which will probably give you a good sort of understanding about what was involved in some of those conversations.

Ms CROZIER: Thank you, Attorney. So the stakeholders that you just referred to, were they consulted prior to the introduction of the initial bill into the Parliament?

Ms SYMES: Yes, and after.

Ms CROZIER: Could you please provide a list of the stakeholders who were consulted prior to the introduction of the original bill into the Parliament to the chamber, because, as I said, I requested that and I did not receive a response. I would like those stakeholders and also the submissions. What submissions were presented to the government, by whom and when were they presented?

Ms SYMES: Ms Crozier, I have gone through who was consulted. I went through that. Most of the submissions—when I say ‘submissions’, a lot of it was being communicated through the media, through opinion pieces and indeed through informal means. In terms of some of the meetings I had, it might have been more a discussion about people’s interests as opposed to a formal submission, so I do not think I can get you an exhaustive list of everything that has been provided to government in terms of stakeholders’ views in relation to this bill. But I can certainly take you through the stakeholders that are on the record today saying that the bill should pass.

Ms CROZIER: Attorney, you said before and after the introduction of the bill. What I think we need to understand and get some clarity on to clear this up is there were very few stakeholders that were actually consulted prior to the introduction of the bill, and you said in your answer to my previous question that the submissions were not actually formal submissions as you implied.

Ms SYMES: Some were.

Ms CROZIER: We would like to see those ones if they were and when they were provided to government because, as you said, there were opinion pieces in the media. Well, that all happened after the bill was—

Ms SYMES: No, it didn’t.

Ms CROZIER: Yes, it did. No-one had seen the bill. There was not a draft exposure of the bill—

Ms Symes interjected.

Ms CROZIER: You might want to argue with me, but I think the public have a right to know who were the stakeholders, when were they consulted, what were the submissions that you spoke of just now that were provided to government. I think the chamber deserves to see those. Who was consulted prior to the introduction of the initial bill and then who was consulted after, when you realised you did not have the numbers and then you stalled the process. I think we need to understand exactly, because we all read the papers. People understand what is going on, but what the Victorian public deserve to understand is the truth about who was consulted prior to the introduction of the original bill.

Ms SYMES: I will get a list and provide it to you.

Ms CROZIER: Were any business groups consulted and are on that list?

Ms SYMES: Ms Crozier, I will provide you with a list. I will get it compiled and have it provided to you as soon as it is available.

Ms CROZIER: Thank you, Attorney. Thank you for that assurance. I would also like the dates on which each individual stakeholder was consulted and if they provided a submission. I think that is fair and reasonable.

Ms SYMES: No, it is actually not, Ms Crozier. We are here to debate the bill. The bill is a product of extensive consultation. I will provide you with a list of who was involved. I am not giving you diary entries. I am not giving you confidential information. Anything that is available I will certainly provide. I have told you there are stakeholder letters in support, but what you are asking for is—

A member: A fishing exercise.

Ms SYMES: Pretty much. It is not something that is relevant to today’s debate on the bill. I will get you the information that you are seeking, but you are starting to make up things that perhaps do not even exist.

Ms CROZIER: Attorney, if I am making it up, then just provide me with the information that I have asked for, because—

Ms SYMES: I have committed to that.

Ms CROZIER: No, you have not.

Mr Melhem interjected.

Ms CROZIER: Well, Mr Melhem, I think this is important because—

Mr Melhem interjected.

Ms CROZIER: You don’t think it is important? There are millions of Victorians who are concerned about this legislation.

Mr Melhem: Debate the bill.

Ms CROZIER: I am debating the bill. I want the information, Mr Melhem. I think this Parliament deserves to understand who the government consulted with—when they consulted and who they did it with—before the introduction of the original bill. That is not hard to ask.

Ms SYMES: I have said I will get that for you.

Ms CROZIER: Yes, I want the dates when you consulted and I want to know if you consulted with business groups.

Ms SYMES: I am not giving you people’s diary entries. That is inappropriate. You always harp on about people’s privacy. I am not giving you diary entries. I will give you a list of people.

Ms CROZIER: I am not asking for diary entries. I am just asking for when you consulted with stakeholders and: did you speak with any business groups and when? I think that is fair and reasonable.

Members interjecting.

Ms Symes: On a point of order, Deputy President, just responding to the conversation that Ms Crozier and Mr Davis are having about me to each other, business groups were consulted.

Ms CROZIER: Well, good. Provide the details, then.

Ms SYMES: I have just committed to that. How many times do I have to tell you?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I know there is a lot of emotion in this debate, but can we please stick to the chamber standing orders and direct our comments through the Chair rather than as conversations around the chamber.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, as one of the groups that you should have consulted I am asking you: have you consulted in the recent necessary consultation process with taxidrivers, Uber drivers and other hire car drivers, as opposed to just the representative of the Transport Matters Party?

Ms SYMES: I can assure you that we have received emails and suggestions and views on the bill from Liberal Party members, members of the Transport Matters Party and probably members of Mr Limbrick’s party. I am pretty confident that people who wanted to have a say were able to contact their local members and all of that has been taken into account.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, you did not actually answer the question. You have said that you consulted with the Transport Matters Party. I specifically said: did you consult with those people most adversely affected during your other lockdowns—taxidrivers, Uber drivers, hire car drivers who had no customers to drive around—and if you are going to propose increased powers and orders in this new sort of legislation, were those groups consulted, and when?

Ms SYMES: I will be providing a list of who was consulted to Ms Crozier. I have given that commitment.

Ms CROZIER: In the briefing this morning, Attorney, I was told that the crossbench from the upper house were consulted as well as the crossbench in the lower house. So I would also like to understand who was consulted in that process, because there were members in this house from the crossbench that I understand were not consulted, and I think it is important that the Victorian public know exactly who was consulted and when and who those MPs were, considering that there was no offer by government to provide consultation to the opposition nor to other members of the crossbench.

Ms SYMES: Ms Crozier, all crossbenchers were invited to briefings, is my understanding.

Ms CROZIER: Okay, so why was the opposition not invited, then?

Ms SYMES: Ms Crozier, did you seek to have a meeting with me or Mr Foley in relation to these matters? What you did indicate was that regardless of the amendments that you are proposing in this bill you are going to vote against it, so I guess with the time that was available, it was best spent talking to members that indicated they wish to see a framework established and not those that wish to see it destroyed and to cause chaos to the Victorian community.

Ms CROZIER: Well, Attorney, I think you are verballing the opposition. The opposition leader actually did seek to say, ‘Let’s get this right’, and there was no offer from government. So I think the record stands clear, and yes, we are very concerned about not only the bill and all those people that spoke out about it that you said you consulted with prior to the introduction of the first bill, but there are millions of Victorians who are also concerned, so we did want to get this right. As we said from the start of the pandemic, we will work with the government, but the government arrogantly dismissed any offer of that. So do not try and verbal what has gone on here, Attorney. They are the facts. We have said that we are very concerned about the process, and the process we have seen is a complete and utter shambles, what has gone on, because of the way the government has conducted itself. I want to go to the point now about what you said. On 16 November you said:

The bill has been available for 20 days. I am not sure what an additional two days will deliver to those opposite.

So why did you pull it? Why have you gone so dramatically from—

Ms Symes interjected.

Ms CROZIER: The point is, Minister, you knew you did not have the numbers. But you did not undertake that proper consultation process, and I am just trying to get to the point of why you did not go through a proper consultation process in the lead-up to the last sitting week.

Ms SYMES: Ms Crozier, I have outlined that there has been extensive consultation in relation to this bill. It is true to say that a lot has happened since the introduction of this bill. We have got amendments to demonstrate that. A lot of people have had their say. I understand that you have indicated you were in receipt of an email that talked about consultation; what action did you take to involve yourself to produce an outcome? I will reiterate that the bill and the amendments that we are going through in the committee stage reflect the consultation, the good-faith negotiations, to develop a framework that will protect the health and wellbeing of Victorians. As I have committed, any of the material that I have committed to provide will be made available shortly.

Mr LIMBRICK: I would like to ask the Attorney, in relation to Ms Crozier’s questions about consultation, would it be possible also to get a list of organisations that were consulted after the bill was introduced? I note that in the media there was much reporting about some organisations that said that they were not satisfied with the level of consultation, and I wonder if it would be possible to add to that. I appreciate that diary entries and stuff might be taking things too far.

Ms SYMES: Thank you, Mr Limbrick. It is actually a good point that you make, because what effectively has happened is a lot of people were asked about what sort of framework Victoria should have, and it was not until they actually saw the bill that they were like, ‘Oh, hang on, actually I might’ve expressed a view: we can’t rely on the state of emergency, we need something’. It was not really until they had something to look at that it provided an ability to have really meaningful consultation. For example, some of the people in the legal world, legal industry, really focused their minds on certain issues towards the end as opposed to issues that they would have thought of in the crafting of a bill.

This is a bill that is really significant, and it has been developed in a pretty short amount of time. Was there time for an exposure draft? No. Was there time to do backwards and forwards again and again? It makes it really difficult. We provided nine months while the health experts were managing a pandemic. The same people that are giving government advice on the orders, what they should look like, are the same people in the department that give advice on how to craft legislation. We are learning from the people that are managing the pandemic, so their experiences were really, really important in crafting the bill. So while they were managing a pandemic, we were asking for their experiences, and I think it is pretty obvious that that took some time, because you do not want to take people off the front line when you have thousands of cases, people in hospital, people being very sick and people dying. So it was a challenging exercise for the Department of Health to craft a bill as committed in the time line provided with the people who were indeed—

Mrs McArthur: All just sitting in an office.

Ms SYMES: I take that up, Mrs McArthur. To suggest that people are sitting in their offices—what, twiddling their thumbs? Go and visit the people at the Department of Health. They have not had a day off in 20 months. It is really appalling to reflect on the hard work of the people that have been working in our health department, who as I said, have been managing a pandemic, advising government, working with the chief health officer (CHO) and developing legislation. That is a fair workload in a really challenging year when people have been giving their all, and they are tired. So was the consultation perfect? No. I will give you that. But it was extensive, and this bill reflects that.

Mr HAYES: I rise to make a statement as well as to probably ask a question as I get to the end of it. I just want to say that I did originally oppose this bill, but thanks to a few actions and maybe a game of bluff by Mr Somyurek, I and Mr Barton got the opportunity to consult with the government on some of the issues here. I may well support some of the government amendments, and I may well vote against quite a few of them, too. But I want to explain why that is the case.

You know, I was very firm on some of the things that I was asking for, such as better oversight by the Parliament of the orders and legislation. I also was asking for a disallowance motion by either house. I wanted people who are detained to be able to appeal to magistrates. I wanted the level of fines looked at. I wanted the jail sentences reduced or removed, and they were removed, which was terrific, and I thank the government for that. I wanted the Ombudsman to have oversight, and that has come in too. I wanted a time frame, like a sunset clause, and a review of the working of the legislation is on the way. I also wanted a statement from the government about a pathway out from mandatory vaccinations for the people who remain unvaccinated. The government, to their credit, went into extensive discussions in good faith with me and Mr Barton, took a lot of time and did go through a lot of matters with us, and I thank them for that. I think we did get progress, and I do think we have got much improved legislation from the bare bones that were brought in here earlier without any real oversight or any real independent review processes for people affected by this, so we have had some good movement there. We have had many legal bodies now come out and say they are happy with the bill, including the Human Rights Law Centre and the Law Institute of Victoria. They are happy with what Mr Barton and I achieved in bringing the government along to a better place, I think, but not to where I wanted to go to on quite a few of those items that I have talked about.

But the main one being the big clincher for me was the disallowance, and I do not think we have got a real disallowance system there now. So I may well move an amendment on that as we go through, when we do get the government’s amendments. There are still some technical problems there in preparing an amendment. But I also want to ask the government if they could, around that time or when we get to talking about that, please talk about what the process is that they envisage by which the committee could, if they recommended a disallowance, get that or how that process would go in bringing about a joint sitting. I do not think a joint sitting is a good idea myself, because we would have to get 15 government members to cross the floor for a successful disallowance, and one house could frustrate the other by not agreeing to the joint sitting. So I think it is a flawed way of doing it. But the government could shine some light on how that would take place.

I want to thank all the stakeholders that have talked to me and the legal bodies, and I want to thank Ms Symes, Ms Shing and Minister Foley for their willingness and good faith in entering into the negotiations with me and Mr Bourman.

Ms SYMES: Was that a question?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: No, it was a statement.

Mr HAYES: There was a question about the disallowance.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: What was the question, Mr Hayes?

Mr HAYES: The question was if the government could shine some light on—it does not have to be now; I know they might need to do a bit of research on the process—a disallowance and the joint sitting.

Ms SYMES: Mr Hayes, I certainly appreciate your comments. I appreciate the diligence and attention that you have brought to understanding the bill, bringing your concerns, indeed allowing stakeholders to talk to you and then you advocating for their concerns in some conversations. So I appreciate the effort that you have gone to to get what you consider the best bill possible for the situation. I understand you putting your final position on the record today. In relation to disallowance, it would be my preference to go through that at the appropriate clause, because I think there will be several questions. So I will wait until then, if that is okay, and if you are not in the room I will make sure that someone lets you know we are getting to that topic.

Mr HAYES: You will get someone to wake me up?

Ms SYMES: Yes.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Minister, I want to pursue a few more questions that Ms Crozier was prosecuting with you about your consultation with the crossbench and when and where that happened. We will come back to that. Mrs McArthur asked you about a range of things, and you responded about the amount of emails that you have received from members of the public and interest groups et cetera. How many emails did you get? You can keep it to within 100 or 500 or something if you like.

Ms SYMES: Mr Ondarchie, I have no idea. I try and keep good tabs on my emails, and I get a range of emails on a range of topics, between this and duck hunting and the rights of prostitutes. I have tried very hard to keep on top of not so much the pro forma ones, because they are not saying anything differently, but the people that have written to me. And I would expect this is what all members of Parliament do: if people have written to you with personal stories that are not just those clicky things that it says down the bottom, then of course you take their concerns on board. And I, who has had a role in contributing to the development of this legislation, bring those experiences and those stories with me.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Thanks, Minister. Yes, we all got lots of emails. Some of those that you frivolously called ‘clicky things’ are people’s feelings. They went to the trouble of letting us know about their feelings, and there were individually written ones as well. Minister, whilst you are unable to provide me with a precise number of pandemic-related emails that you got, what percentage of those emails were against this legislation?

Ms SYMES: Look, what I would like to say, Mr Ondarchie, is that of course I recognise that the pandemic, the health response, the restrictions, the lockdowns, have been awful. Of course this has impacted people’s lives, and of course I want to hear about those stories and respond with empathy. That does not mean that then translates to not having a piece of legislation. Unfortunately a lot of people see this bill as representing the pain that they have experienced in the past 20 months. Not that I think a lot of people take the time to read the detail of the bill, and I do not blame them for that. I think it is our role and I think it is the media’s role to explain why these things are important. So I want to acknowledge that. But for me, having a framework that enables the health experts to give us advice, to have orders and rules in place to keep people safe, is something that we have tried to develop. But I know that a lot of people that were hurting see this as a continuation of their pain. That is not the intention of this bill. I want to say that we acknowledge that pain. We acknowledge that it has been difficult, but that does not mean, as politicians, as ministers, as the government, that we abandon a safe framework, and that is the conversation that I have been having with many people.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Let the record indicate that, whilst the minister was unable to tell me what percentage of emails she got that were against the pandemic legislation, I think she is suggesting, for the record, ‘It doesn’t matter what the people say, we’re doing this anyway’. I think that is what she is reflecting here. Because let me say to you—

Ms Symes: On a point of order. Mr Ondarchie, it has been a while since we have had an exchange in the committee stage, but it is all coming back to me. You always repeat my words that are not my words.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Sorry, Attorney, what is your point of order.

Ms Symes: My point of order is: do not verbal me. Do not tell me what I told you in your mind, because it is not what I said to you.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: It is not a point of order, but I do ask the member to consider that. Can we have points of order through the Chair rather than questions to the members.

Mr ONDARCHIE: For the record, just so the minister is clear, I got thousands upon thousands upon thousands of emails about this pandemic legislation. And I will tell you the percentages because I know the percentages. The number of people who were against this pandemic legislation was 100 per cent. Not one person wrote to me in favour of this pandemic legislation. Not one person wrote to me—

Ms Symes interjected.

Mr ONDARCHIE: If we are not going to verbal each other, let us not. Not one person wrote to me and said they were in support of the pandemic legislation. That is the representation I have received. And if I can pick up Mr Melhem’s earlier interjection to Ms Crozier when he said, ‘You don’t speak for the people, you talk for yourself’, actually that is our job: to speak for the people. That is our job. So to correct Mr Melhem’s interjection, in fact it is Ms Crozier’s job to speak for the people, and that is what she is doing here today.

Minister, have you had individual representations that have asked you personally, because of personal circumstances, not to pass this pandemic legislation?

Ms SYMES: Yes.

Mr ONDARCHIE: And what is your response to those people who have taken the time individually and emotionally to ask you not to? I add to that the loads of people—Mr Finn is much more expert in this than I am—that have been outside the Parliament, up and down Spring Street, up and down Bourke Street, down Flinders Street, in the Treasury Gardens on the weekend peacefully, the families making their point. What is your message to them?

Ms SYMES: Mr Ondarchie, we have a bill before the house today that is to protect the interests of every Victorian. I recognise that a lot of people are concerned about reliving what we have gone through in the past 20 months, but Victorians have done an outstanding job in getting vaccinated, in following the rules. We are open. It has been great to see the optimism, the enthusiasm. I went to the soccer on Sunday. People are out and about and free and safe because they did the right things, and they did the right things mostly voluntarily. But a lot of people needed to know that the rules were there that were set by their government, that were informed by the health experts, to ensure the safety of all Victorians and indeed protect our precious health system.

Going back to your earlier point about people that wrote to you opposing to the bill, I just cannot fathom that there was no-one from the AMA or the nurses or ambulance drivers or indeed parents of kids with Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis or people that are too scared to leave their homes because of people that are saying that we do not need rules and we do not need vaccinations. There are a lot of people that are scared about an environment of having no rules.

Members interjecting.

Ms SYMES: There is nothing draconian about this bill. This is a framework with amazing oversight. It will be—

Dr Cumming: On a point of order, Deputy President, people should not be frightened to leave their homes. The Attorney said that people are actually frightened to leave their homes around people being unvaccinated. I think that is the point she was trying to make, and that is not the case. If you are in one breath saying that there are people out and about—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Dr Cumming, I appreciate your point, but it is not actually a point of order.

Ms BATH: I am interested in, and it is following on from the line of questions that Ms Crozier asked earlier, the consultation process and who you spoke to. My interest lies in the fact, when we look at this pandemic and the response from the Andrews government, that we had poor management in hotel quarantine, which I am not going to go into in great depth, we had contact tracing that was archaic and we have had lockdowns longer than any other state or country in the world. The importance to my mind is—we heard that the Premier took response from the chief health officer around the science—the need to include a multidisciplinary approach to a pandemic, including emergency management. So my question goes to: did you, in the consultation—and could you provide, if you did, the specifics—speak to Emergency Management Victoria? Did you speak to those volunteers who would be implementing some of these measures or be involved in a whole pandemic process or a state of emergency if there was another form of state of emergency—the CFA, Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria, the SES, Ambulance Victoria and logistical suppliers? Did you speak with specific consultants or experts to do with how to manage this? And to my point that we saw it was poorly managed throughout but specifically at the start, the Victorian government needs to learn from its mistakes. Have you included these sorts of people—also even ex-army or colonels—who have real experience in the way to manage very highly serious situations? Have you spoken to any of them in your consultation process, Attorney?

Ms SYMES: Ms Bath, we have spoken to a range of people. I can confirm we have spoken to a range of people that fit the category that you have just described. What generally happens in this place when we have a bill that the opposition do not agree with and have indicated they will vote against is we spend a lot of time talking about who was consulted. There was an extensive consultation process. A lot of people have given their views in relation to this bill. Is everyone happy with it? No. That does not mean their views were not sought. Did we speak to every individual Victorian? No. However, we have received a range of feedback from a range of stakeholders, a range of individuals, including emergency services.

Dr CUMMING: I would like to thank the Attorney for the genuine conversations that we have had in relation to this pandemic. I would also like to thank you for acknowledging that this government should take the approach—and I hope from now on in—when it comes to legislation of putting it out there into the community so you can actually get genuine community feedback rather than it being dropped into either the Parliament’s lap or members of Parliament’s laps and having narrow conversations and narrow negotiations around legislation. It would be great to actually always have this kind of level of having a piece of legislation out there for the broader community to partake in it.

For me, Attorney, yes, we had some conversations around my concerns the last sitting week. They were that I wished that this government actually had genuine consultation with all members of the crossbench and the opposition together—the word ‘together’ was my big point; all the current amendments and any proposed through the consultation be given serious consideration; the concerns around oversight, detention and the powers of the authorised officers are addressed; and the concerns raised by the QCs and the law institute are addressed.

I also requested that all vaccine mandates be removed, and we obviously had a lengthy conversation about that. I hoped that we could go back to 14 October when everyone was able to work, that we did not have the government making people frightened of the unvaccinated, that we had a not separated community and that we had an inclusive community. It would seem that New South Wales is looking at having that on 15 December, but it would seem that this government has made no public announcements and is not changing its position on looking at continuing this vaccinated economy into 2022, if not into 2023, even though the Premier has at times said—months ago—we probably would have a vaccinated economy up until April or when the tennis was going to be played. The announcements kept changing. But it would seem that the government is still holding onto the rhetoric that it is okay that people who have made the decision not to be vaccinated for whatever reason—and it is a very small percentage, and some are actually, as I have raised in this house many times, looking for the other vaccine that is available from Adelaide—are not allowed just to go back to work, and we have rapid testing.

From conversations that we had last sitting week there was another meeting arranged, and I was told that you were not available for that Tuesday or Wednesday meeting or Minister Foley was not available. The meeting that was arranged was going to be on a Wednesday but was made to be on a Tuesday and was just with the advisers, so I sent my electoral officer there. In that meeting there were a number of questions that my staff raised on my behalf that have not been answered since, and we have had subsequent meetings, and even the crossbench meeting on Friday that went for half an hour was really an information session that was only really discussing the current bill and the current house amendments. On Friday afternoon we had no idea on any new amendments. We obviously had a meeting yesterday, Monday, and everyone was involved, and even at that stage we were just given the new amendments at 10 o’clock at night. As the opposition has raised, this has not given us time to be able to thoroughly consider your amendments today, and this is why we are actually standing here talking about clause 1 for hours—because we have not even got a running sheet to be able to—

A member interjected.

Dr CUMMING: No, I have not. I still have those questions unanswered, being around, at the time, even my own amendments. I am obviously one of the people here who has spent a lengthy amount of time reading through this, going through it bit by bit, not just going through the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 but getting the pandemic amendments and putting them through it so I can actually see what it looks like, as well as trying to improve it—and genuinely trying to improve it, not playing politics or anything but wanting to have those genuine conversations about improving this bill. So I still find it interesting or upsetting that even with all my genuine wants in the way of consultation the government still only consulted one by one during this week, and the concerns that I raised have not been answered, even though they were emailed. There have been no forthcoming answers to my questions.

One of my questions was around the amendments that I proposed. At that time in the meeting my staff were told that there was legal advice on the reasons you could not support my amendments. But then I asked for the legal advice and it has not been forthcoming. I also asked questions around the consultation process and I still have not got those answers. I guess the following are still outstanding, and this is from the email that my staff sent to the advisers at that time. I wanted a response regarding the amendments to the act regarding the functions of local councils—that was requested; the provision of the legal advice concerning the definition of ‘pandemic’; consideration of further changes to the release of the health advice, and it would seem some of the house amendments are possibly looking at that, so that is good to see; consideration of the removal of SARC and the oversight by an independent parliamentary committee, and we will differ about how you have coined that compared to what I proposed; consideration of a meeting to be held with the crossbenchers and the opposition since the adjournment of the bill, and I have just gone into that, and my desire for us all to be in the one room seems to never have been the case; and confirmation of the consideration of the amendments that I proposed, which I still have not heard about.

It would seem that you can have meetings with other people and their considerations are taken into account, verbal or otherwise, and have meetings at all times and hours, but for me, who put the effort in and spoke in Parliament about my amendments, I still have not heard from the government. I asked for confirmation that the concerns of the QCs and the law institute have been addressed, and I requested a further meeting with Associate Professor Doyle, which has not been forthcoming. In the meeting, when we asked if the opposition was going to be included in these meetings, the response from the adviser was that it was ‘above my pay grade’. I will leave it there, Attorney, if you would like to answer any of those questions.

Ms SYMES: Thank you, Dr Cumming. There is a little bit in that. In terms of your amendments, I am happy to go through them when we go through the bill. That is fine. Professor Doyle attended the briefing that you were invited to, and I am sure if you were after another meeting, that that could be arranged. He was happy indeed to talk to you, particularly on vaccinations, his experience in hospitals and the like, so I think that that would be invaluable.

I have certainly got a fair bit of material in relation to your amendments. I do appreciate the time you have taken to go through the bill, and as you have acknowledged, a lot of the issues that you have raised have been addressed through the various house amendments from the government. I think that when you reconcile those you will be satisfied that some of your wants and asks have been addressed. But I think it is easier to go through them when we get to that stage.

I understand there was a meeting and then there was another meeting that was rescheduled. There is no intention not to provide you with the information. I think it just seems that there has been a bit of an inability to line up suitable times for people to exchange that information with you and your office.

Dr CUMMING: Thank you, Attorney. I did make myself available, and obviously it would have been great to have those detailed conversations on the Monday seeing that the government must have been spending a bit of time with these amendments. To be here today, knowing that the government has got amendments but I cannot put them through in the way that I would have liked to—I have not had the opportunity to use my own legal counsel, which I have done the whole time—has put me in a position where I am going to be doing this on the run. It would be great, because I heard just earlier, Attorney, that you have a bit of a briefing or a summary. That would be great. But this is just going to make this whole process obviously a lot longer seeing as we do not even have a running sheet because it has all been a bit last-minute. We could have spent even some more time, and I do understand your urgency in wanting to have something still in place on the 15th.

For me, Attorney, I want to also be on my feet today to acknowledge all of the greater concerns of the community around this pandemic bill. It was loosely written. There were major faults in it, and in some ways I am happy that the government have actually acknowledged some of those concerns and have deleted some things and improved others. For me, Attorney, the mandates are my sticking point and this rhetoric that we somehow have to be fearful of the unvaccinated when we know that people who are vaccinated will be spreading the disease and can spread the disease. The people who are vaccine hesitant have real concerns around their hesitancy. And because they are emergency workers they have seen vaccine injuries and they have a level of concern that is very real.

It is sad that we are in a position at the moment due to I guess it being not very clear even from the peak medical bodies or from this government how we are getting a level of care out there via GPs and specialists that are not treating the unvaccinated. I would never in my wildest dreams think that a person’s vaccination status would stop them from getting medical care, and this is occurring as we speak.

For me, Attorney, I cannot understand, I cannot fathom, why someone who is not vaccinated for whatever reason they have cannot partake in society. It just makes no medical sense to me. It makes no social sense to me. I have struggled with that and with the government in the way of their rhetoric and the way that they have framed things throughout the last couple of months. To have people, as you have just said, scared to come out of their house just in case they bump into someone who is not vaccinated or scared to sit on a bus next to someone who is unvaccinated—what were they doing on 14 October? I really cannot believe that this language is still being used rather than concerning ourselves with people who have the infection. People who have the infection can pass on the infection or the disease, and everyone else should be taking their normal precautions against it.

I have always been a pro-choice person, but this vaccinated economy that your Premier or this leader has actually consistently pushed is ruining people’s families, their businesses and their lives. And they are now pushing to mandate for children, removing parental rights and excluding children from partaking in society due to their vaccination status. This government needs to rethink it.

Ms SYMES: Dr Cumming, you and I have had lots of conversations about vaccinations. Vaccinations are safe, effective and the best way to protect yourself and your family and your community. It helps you to avoid contracting the virus and limits your likelihood of passing it on. We know from the rates of people in hospital that they are more likely to be unvaccinated and that the seriousness of the impacts of this virus on them are more severe if they are unvaccinated.

With that in mind, I would just like to draw to your attention some comments that the Premier made in relation to the vaccination economy this morning. He said that we have asked extraordinary things of all Victorians over the last two years and that we know and understand it has been incredibly difficult for many people and businesses. All the directions that are in place, including the vaccinated economy settings, are reviewed regularly by the chief health officer and the public health team based on the most up-to-date epidemiology. This will take into account things like new variants, vaccination rates, booster rates and the rollout of the paediatric vaccine. No-one wants to see any of these rules in place a day longer than they need to be, and whenever the public health advice says it is safe, we would look to scale them back or remove them altogether.

Dr CUMMING: Attorney, on the Premier’s words this morning, this government is continuing the vaccinated economy but now it is mandating children. Regardless of paediatric vaccines, the only exemption that is given at the moment is if you are allergic to the vaccine. The only way you are going to know if you are allergic to the vaccine is if they put it into you.

There is no five- or 10-year study on this vaccine. All we have are millions of people who have been vaccinated. We know what the side effects of the vaccine are. That is all we know. We are not giving the community any choice by mandating vaccination. If they wish to make the choice and if they are worried about those side effects on their own health, because they do know their own health, by mandating it we are seeing a large amount of presentations to hospitals for vaccine injuries. These vaccine injuries are far worse than some of these small children getting the disease. We know from experts that children will get a mild case of this virus and from all the variants that are coming towards us. We also know from experts that children’s immune systems are much different to adults. We further know from scientists that we are not going to get herd immunity if we continue down this path of just having a vaccinated community without allowing a certain amount of infection. When is this government going to stop mandating and allow people to make those choices, especially parents for their children?

Ms SYMES: Dr Cumming, any mandate is considered continuously, and under this bill the public health advice would be tabled in Parliament for any orders that sought to continue a vaccination requirement in particular settings. In relation to the information that you have put on the record today, I am not qualified to have a conversation about vaccines and the issues that you have raised, but it would be open to you to take up another opportunity to have a briefing with Associate Professor Doyle, who is much better placed to go through the issues that you raise. They are quite outside the bill. I understand how they connect and why you are raising them in this context, but in relation to the specifics of how they work, the impact and your concerns about people that are hesitant and the like, I think that would be a good conversation for you to have with Associate Professor Doyle if you are happy for us to facilitate that for you.

Mr LIMBRICK: I would like to follow on with something related to what Dr Cumming was talking about. One of the big fears that people have with this bill is around the mandates, but it is not just around the mandates. The bill gives the government the ability to set up this separation, and what we have seen happen in the community and what many people are fearful of is this dehumanisation and stigmatisation of people who choose to not have vaccines. Will the government give any commitment that once this power goes into place they will attempt to remove that—do whatever they can to fight against that dehumanisation that has happened? A lot of people feel like they have been erased, that they are a lower class in society because they have made a personal medical decision.

Ms SYMES: Sorry, Mr Limbrick, I am not quite sure what your question is.

Mr LIMBRICK: Will the government make some sort of commitment once this bill goes in, if this bill is to pass, to attempt to stop the dehumanisation of people that have chosen to refuse vaccines? Because I think this is a very serious problem that is causing a very serious divide in our society. As you have seen, many people are on the streets, and they are not all people who—I have spoken to thousands of these people now—have chosen not to have a vaccine. They are also people like me who are very concerned about the division being created in our society, and I would seek some sort of commitment from the government that they will do whatever they can to stop this dehumanisation and stigmatisation of these people.

Ms SYMES: Mr Limbrick, as I indicated in relation to the comments that the Premier has made, we continually look at the orders that are in place, particularly in relation to vaccine requirements, and that is informed by the health advice. I think you make some good points about provision of accurate information being really important to help people not feel scared to ask questions, to make their own choices—provided they have accurate information. I think that there has been a lot of work done, particularly with the CALD communities and some leaders in those communities, to ensure that people have the most contemporary information about their options. But I agree with you: it is part of the government’s role to ensure that we can have a cohesive society. And that is something that we always strive to do, whether it is in our protection of people’s human rights or encouraging people to seek support that they may need. I will take on board your comments, but of course that would be the government’s ambition—that, as we are safely stepping out of the pandemic with the rules in place to protect people, we can make sure that everyone feels as though they are on the same journey.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her answer. On a related note, in a media release when this legislation was first announced, which was titled ‘Laws to Enshrine Safe and Clear Pandemic Responses’, on 26 October the Premier said:

We have learned a lot over the past two years of a once in a generation pandemic, and we are applying these lessons to manage pandemics in the future—while maintaining our ability to rapidly respond to outbreaks.

Could the Attorney provide examples of some of these learnings and how they are incorporated into this bill?

Ms SYMES: I think broadly, Mr Limbrick, I sort of covered this earlier in relation to it being important to hear from the health experts, people on the front line, law enforcement and people that have been dealing with the pandemic under the state of emergency—knowing the rules and restrictions or requirements on people that supported aged-care facilities, for example, our hospitals and the like. So it was more about learning from the experiences of people that were particularly on the ground dealing with the pandemic and the tools that they thought they needed to ensure that they could keep people safe.

Dr CUMMING: Attorney, just on the same line of questioning and just from the points that you have raised, why can’t the government recommend for under-16s rather than mandate, seeing that by mandating you have actually created a society where small children are being isolated, segregated, made to feel that there is something wrong if they do not get a vaccine, where parents have got legitimate concerns around their health or want to go get their health concerns thoroughly investigated prior to even getting them vaccinated? But seeing that the government has mandated it, these children are now, apart from going to school—because the only thing that they can do now is actually go to school—excluded from all of their sports, all of their end-of-year concerts, going to a restaurant or going to a cafe. There is no long-term study about fertility. There is none. It could not be possibly known what effects these vaccines have on those children. Then there are all of these children that are presenting with heart problems from the vaccine that is being mandated on top of them, and then knowing that there is no compensation or anything in place. These vaccines are allowed to be put into people and there is no compensation for any damages done to them from the vaccines. Last week three public health experts stated that the lockout of the unvaccinated people should end when the vaccine rates top 90 per cent.

Ms Patten interjected.

Dr CUMMING: Ninety-five, ninety—I will take one from Ms Patten from behind. They argue that this is high enough to protect the state from any increased transmission that might happen if the unvaccinated were given the same rights as those who did have their vaccines. Professor Catherine Bennett, the epidemiology chair at Deakin University, said:

‘Once you get to 90 and 95 [per cent]—

there you go, Ms Patten—

you have such a small population of unvaccinated people who could contribute to transmission dynamics in a major way. It becomes even lower over summer as more people are exposed,’ she said. ‘There’s not enough to undermine what we’re trying to achieve or to overload hospitals.’

Professor Julie Leask is an immunisation policy expert at the University of Sydney and a World Health Organization adviser who chairs the agency’s behavioural and social drivers and vaccination working group. She also said the compulsory vaccines were warranted in limited circumstances, such as for healthcare workers, but it is really difficult to justify applying that to many other sectors of society for long periods of time. I quote her:

‘When we reach a sufficient level of vaccination, the value of locking people out is tiny, and we need to pull back and let unvaccinated people participate. We need to ask ourselves whether we are willing to keep allowing the 5 per cent of the population to continue paying that price,’ she said.

Professor Blakely said the potential increase in transmission caused by unlocking the unvaccinated could be offset by maintaining measures such as mask wearing in crowded places, social distancing, physical distancing, working from home a couple of days, obviously rapid testing—there are so many other levers you can pull.

But obviously the Premier continues to state that we need a separated society to 2023. He said at least to the grand prix, and last week he said he hoped that the restrictions would be released some time at the end of 2022, probably before the election, and once everyone has had their booster shot. He said he might say more about time lines and the vaccination economy when Victorian numbers reach 95. But we need the answers now. We would like to have an inclusive Christmas. I do not want to see unvaccinated Christmas carols and vaccinated Christmas carols. I believe this government needs to lift all the mandates now and allow people to go back to work with safety measures.

Ms SYMES: Thank you, Dr Cumming. I know that you bring a lot of thought to your views, and I appreciate your putting those on the record. I would point out that we are not at 95 per cent yet, and as I went through the Premier’s comments earlier today, continuing to look at the effectiveness or the need for vaccination requirements is something that is always ongoing. Obviously there are boosters and new strains and other considerations that we will be seeking health advice on. I would say—back to my previous response to your comments—a lot of these issues are outside the bill. I am not qualified to talk about vaccinations from a health perspective, but Professor Doyle is, and I am certainly happy to arrange that. I would point out that it is the use of the powers that impacts potentially the issues that you are talking about, and this bill provides transparency on the decision-making that will make very clear the public health advice that underpins any decisions to maintain vaccination requirements.

Mr LIMBRICK: That is good segue to transparency. As the Attorney and many would know, one of my key concerns throughout the pandemic, since the emergency powers were first introduced or first used—and it was actually one of the main reasons that we did not support the extension of the emergency powers—has been the inability of anyone outside the public health team to independently determine the proportionality both in terms of the health response and in terms of the human rights responses. Now, I acknowledge that the new bill does talk about releasing the health advice and some type of human rights justification, and that is a good thing. But what I would like to ask the Attorney is: what are the consequences for the government if they do not release these documents as listed in the bill?

Ms SYMES: Mr Limbrick, particularly some of the amendments go to these points in relation to the time lines for material to be provided, so it is very much set out, the expectation of this chamber, if indeed the bill passes. So, you know, ministers are responsible to the Parliament, and the expectation will be that that material is tabled accordingly as set out in this legislation. The joint standing committee that is proposed also by the amendments would have the ability to deal with these matters, to call the minister—to call anybody—in relation to the material if it was indeed not provided. But it would certainly be our commitment to meet the requirements that the bill would set on our government, and indeed it would be our expectation of a future government to do the same. The consequences obviously of the consideration of the joint parliamentary committee could be to recommend a disallowance based on the non-provision of relevant information.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her answer. My reading of the bill as well is that—assuming these amendments we have been discussing all pass—the only real consequence could be if this joint committee recommended disallowance and both houses of Parliament collectively voted to disallow that particular motion or that particular mandate or whatever the direction is, because they did not table the advice. Is that the only repercussion for the government, or potential repercussion?

Ms SYMES: No, not really. You have got public responsibility. You have got scrutiny from our friends in the media and the like. But it would also be open to the Parliament to move a motion against a particular minister, as is the case for any range of reasons. So the joint committee would be the appropriate mechanism to have these issues dealt with, and because it is in legislation it is pretty clear what the requirements are. There are times set, and we have reduced the times—I think we have halved the times—through the amendments for the government to comply with the commitments that the bill puts on our government and any future government to provide that relevant information.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her answer. If the government had that commitment, though, to provide these documents, why is there a section—it is new section 165AQ, I think—that talks about, and I quote from the bill:

A failure to comply with the requirements of this section does not affect the validity of the pandemic order or the variation, extension or revocation …

Why was that included if the intention was to comply with these disclosures?

Ms SYMES: The provision of health advice, for example, might be transcribing the verbal advice that has been given by a health official. So maybe the CHO has given a committee of cabinet advice and that results in a decision of the health minister to issue an order. That order is in place for the protection of Victorians, but if in the time line from the CHO providing that verbal advice to the time that it is put in writing something happens to him or her or if there is a genuine reason that the paperwork is unable to be tabled—I do not know: floods, fires, all range of things—it is not intended that a normal administrative issue would cause them to not comply, but there may be a genuine reason that the four days is not met, and the consequence of that order then being disqualified is pretty serious. That is why the provision would be there as a sort of fail-safe to make sure that the order does not fail just because there may be a genuine reason or unavoidable reason that a particular document has not been tabled.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her answer. There have been previous document motions through this house where this exact information has been requested; I note that the opposition have put some through and I have put one through myself. When these responses have come back, for the health advice briefings and the human rights charter assessments—the exact two documents we are talking about disclosing here—executive privilege was claimed on those exact documents. It is stated in the response that was signed by the Attorney that it was not in the public interest to release these documents. Why was it not in the public interest then but now it will be in the public interest after this bill passes?

Ms SYMES: We recognise that in order to ensure that there is public confidence and transparency this bill has been well thought through in its crafting. Its objective was to provide as much information as possible, and this bill is requiring the government to provide the information that we base our decisions on. It is also the case that these will be ministers decisions, and it is appropriate that ministers decisions be made available to the Parliament because that is who they are accountable to.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her answer. Again on this topic, the two pieces of transparency information, in regard to the written record of advice given by the chief health officer the bill talks about giving a copy of that advice verbatim, but then when it talks about the human rights charter assessment it says that the government will give an explanation, not necessarily the advice. I note that in previous state-of-emergency extension negotiations the state-of-emergency extension report was one of the concessions that the government gave. I was very interested in that report at the time—the idea was to increase transparency around directions. When I actually started reading the monthly state-of-emergency extension reports, what I discovered was that the justifications in those reports were nothing more than a series of dot points. What sorts of guarantees will we have for how the human rights charter assessments that we are going to receive here are going to be detailed justifications on why the rights of Victorians are being limited rather than just a few dot points?

Ms SYMES: Mr Limbrick, it would be a summary providing the oversight that the community and stakeholders have called for. It would certainly be open to the joint committee to interrogate the fulsomeness of that information if it wished to, but it is certainly the government’s intention to be very transparent. This bill has been crafted to facilitate the provision of information so that decisions that we make can be justified. But we also need to balance the need to make sure that the state is protected in relation to legal privilege. You want full and frank advice from your advisers within government, so there may be instances where you are not going to provide detailed legal advice. But a summary for the decisions, to provide the basis for why the decision was made, is the intention of the legislation.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her answer. One of the reasons that people want to see, I think—and I want to see—the charter assessments and the advice is not only to determine the proportionality but to have some reassurance about the legality. I know that the current legislation talks about how any restrictions on rights must be the least restrictive of rights, and there have been many, many questions about many of these directions about whether they really are the least restrictive means of dealing with something.

Dr Cumming brought up this exact point before—maybe in a different way to the way I am going to bring it up—that with the mandates themselves on jobs it seems quite clear that there are alternate methods of mitigating some of these risks, such as rapid antigen tests. I think that we want some sort of guarantee that any sorts of powers that are used here really are going to be the least restrictive of rights and are not crushing a walnut with a sledgehammer type of thing.

Are you saying that the only real guarantee that we will have here is that we will have this joint committee and then they will be able to say, ‘Well, we don’t think this is good enough. The government needs to do more’? Is that the mechanism through which we can gain fulsomeness with these human rights charter assessments?

Ms SYMES: Mr Limbrick, a minister’s charter statement has to address whether there are less restrictive means. That is a part of the assessment. So that would be an element that would have to be explained in the documents that are tabled. It is correct to say that the joint committee would have the capacity to interrogate the information that is tabled and question whether there is additional information that needs to be provided. But I can assure you that with this piece of legislation, the framework that we want to establish, we want to be able to have public confidence in the decisions that government are making, particularly in light of high vaccination rates and, hopefully, stepping out of the pandemic. We want to make sure that the correct balance of the issues that you raise are taken into account and that we can be transparent in relation to our decisions—and they are ministerial decisions—and there are plenty of ways, particularly setting up a dedicated committee, to interrogate the minister’s decision-making.

Mr MEDDICK: Like everyone else I have got a number of questions, but I am going to confine the questions that I have to the sections of the bill that they actually apply to and to the clauses they apply to. So what I am looking at is what we have got here, which is clause 1. I think we are still on clause 1. Is that right?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: We are on clause 1. We still do not have a running sheet 2 hours in.

Mr MEDDICK: Yes, that is okay. No problem. I am just looking at clause 1 as it is written, so my question might seem somewhat perfunctory around everything else that has been going on. I want to refer back to that clause as it is written and which, like every other clause 1 in every other bill that I have seen here, sets out and provides for preliminary matters including purposes of commencement. Then it lists a number of acts underneath that the bill seeks to address, and then it finishes with that single statement: ‘to make consequential amendments to other Acts’. So my question, Attorney, is that I would like—and I am happy for you to take this on notice and get it back to me—to address that simple statement. What consequential amendments might there be to other acts? What acts might they be, as it is written in the bill and in the explanatory memorandum here?

Ms SYMES: Thanks, Mr Meddick. I will have to take that on notice. But, for instance, with the Fines Reform Act 2014 and the Infringements Act 2006—let me give it to you exactly.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: While the Attorney is doing that, I can inform the committee that the table office has almost finalised the amendments. Once they have finalised the amendments, they can start to put together a running sheet. We will be waiting a little while longer for that.

Ms SYMES: Mr Meddick, it is a normal part of clause 1 to take account of all of the flow-on impacts that there may be to other acts. An example that the advisers box was able to give me was the COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria (CQV) arrangements. We could probably get you a list, but they would be really minor. You list acts that are being amended because the bill has an impact in some way. The others would be a facilitation of that impact and just a consequential flow-on without any real impact. But the way all of these interact together, they have usually just got to cross the t’s and dot the i’s to make sure that there is no legal ambiguity left.

Dr CUMMING: Just flowing on from Mr Limbrick’s line of questioning around the transparency aspects of the bill and verbal advice, we have witnessed the daily Dans, or the Premier’s verbal health advice, throughout this pandemic. It would seem that at the start of this year the government took it upon themselves to say that that was verbal advice. When I asked questions around this pandemic bill and the way it was written I was told that it was written in a way so that verbal advice could still be given and verbal advice could still be received. In all of my professional life I have never seen, even when I have received verbal advice and been in meetings, that it has not been documented as well as being transparently available. I questioned the timing of that, requesting that even within those meetings and even with the health advice that is being received it should be documented. I heard the answer that you were just giving earlier, Attorney. You were saying that it would seem that from this pandemic bill what we are going to receive from now on in are summaries from the minister. That is now going to be our health advice, and somehow we should be thankful that at the end of 2021 we are going to start seeing the minister’s summaries when we know that they were part of normal meetings that have been occurring for the last 18 months.

I have got on my feet numerous times, I think almost weekly, every time the directions have been tabled here from the chief health officer. On those Wednesdays, when you get 5 minutes to speak on a report, I have got to my feet. I think there are now 20 reports from the chief health officer, but they are only directions. We were promised at the last extension of the state of emergency that we would have monthly chief health officer meetings, and the last chief health officer monthly meeting was held in July.

What I understand from the community is they want to see detailed health advice. They want to see the details of where these directions have come from, where these mandates have come from, where the closing of playgrounds came from. They have not been happy, and I have not been happy, to think that this government has been making things up as they go along. They have been having verbal advice that the daily Dan or the daily whichever minister has rolled out. That is the health advice. They are receiving verbal advice, and there is nothing that anyone can actually see—no paper trail of these directions and this heath advice or which experts you are talking to to actually come up with this government’s directions or the chief health officer’s directions. So I am not sure with this pandemic bill that the community is going to be happy with just receiving the summaries from the minister. They really want some chunk.

Ms SYMES: Dr Cumming, it is not the minister’s summary of the health advice. The CHO will be providing the health advice, or the deputy CHO, as the case may be, which will be tabled. It is the summary of the decision that the minister is making that would be tabled. We need some flexibility to ensure that appropriate advice and decisions can be transcribed to be able to be tabled. You would not want a situation where the government is not able to receive verbal advice, but the intention of the requirements under this bill is to ensure that a lot of material is provided for the very reasons you articulate: for public confidence in the decisions that the government is making. I accept the points that you are making. It is difficult for me to convince you when it has not happened yet, but it is the intention of the government to meet the aims and provide the advice that you have articulated under this new framework.

Mr FINN: Attorney, by way of explaining the question that I am asking, I want to reference a couple of people that I know and the difficulties that they have faced of recent times as a result of the vaccine mandate. One is my little sister. She has been suffering from breast cancer for some 2½ years now. We thought last year that she had beaten it, but it came back, and she has been admirable, extraordinarily admirable, in her battle against this insidious disease. The tumour was shrinking, and it was looking good until she was vaccinated. It had such an impact on her that the tumour grew.

She obviously was deeply concerned by that, as anyone would be in that situation, I am sure. She went to the doctor to ask for an exemption, given that she did not want the tumour to continue to grow, and the doctor said no because the doctor had been told by the authorities that he could not do that. So much for the doctor-patient relationship—just absolutely extraordinary. So here we have a situation where a woman with breast cancer is in fact putting her life further in danger if she double vaxxes. That to my way of thinking is something that should not be an allowable or a tolerable thing in this state, but according to the Premier she is not allowed to go anywhere or do anything unless she is double vaxxed.

Another friend of mine, a man of about 40 or 41, I suppose, has very severe rheumatoid arthritis. Now, he has over a number of years had severe breakouts of this arthritis, and when he was vaccinated recently the breakout of the arthritis was horrendous. He was in agony. He could barely walk, much less do anything else. Now, as you can imagine, he is not at all keen to get a second dose of this, given what the first one did to him. Anybody else in his situation I am sure would feel exactly the same. He was in a pretty bad way. He had never felt the sort of pain that he felt as a result of the vaccination having an impact and flaring up his rheumatoid arthritis.

I find it impossible to believe that the Premier would demand that he be double vaxxed in order to live a normal life. I mean, we are not talking here about people who have chosen not to be double vaxxed for whatever reason; we are talking here about two people who have very, very solid health grounds not to be double vaxxed, and they are being frozen out of society for their health problems. Now, this seems to me to be absolutely extraordinary and something that in Victoria in 2021 is surely inconceivable. It is just extraordinary. Attorney, what I am asking you is: how can the government insist that these two people go ahead and have another vaccination shot, given the difficulties that they have felt as a result of their first vaccination?

Ms SYMES: Thank you, Mr Finn. At the outset I wish your sister good health with her breast cancer battle and also for your friend who you indicated suffers arthritis. It is a debilitating condition. So I wish them well. What you are stating is somewhat outside the bill, but just to give you some information, I certainly understand the concern in the community. But vaccines are safe and have been extensively tested and approved by the TGA. The advice that these vaccines are required is based on the severe health risks posed by COVID. If a GP believes there are grounds for an exemption outside of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation list, they can refer the case for review by the Victorian Specialist Immunisation Services. So just to go back a bit, in relation to the ability for doctors to grant exemptions, the list of contraindicators that qualify for exemptions are outlined by ATAGI, not the Victorian government.

Mr FINN: Once again, I think, Attorney, this in fact is well within the bill, because what we are talking about is the Premier endorsing a process whereby a couple of people who are suffering from acute illnesses are frozen out of society. Now, that is something that I find impossible to believe in this day and age, in 2021, in a supposedly civilised state. It is just extraordinary and certainly within the powers as prescribed in this particular legislation.

On another matter, I wish to draw to the Attorney’s attention something that happened in my electorate just very recently, and I am sure the Attorney will be very aware of what I am talking about—that is, a raid by authorised officers of the government. ‘Authorised officers’—very Stalinist, that term, isn’t it? But it was authorised officers of the government that raided a local doctor’s surgery in Sunshine, a doctor who has been a family GP in that area for 30 years. He had treated in that time thousands of local people. There are many, many local people who were dependent on him for their health care. He is a man who is much loved in that community, a man who is very much respected in that community, but he was raided, for reasons that I am not aware of, by the authorised officers. Not only was he raided, but his medical files were taken. This seems to be a severe and clear breach of the doctor-patient relationship. We hear a lot about that in certain instances; in others apparently it does not matter. This is one of them.

I would like to know if under this legislation what has happened to Dr Mark Hobart in Sunshine is likely to happen to other doctors around the state. Will this be a regular event now? Under the Premier’s control will we see doctors being raided? Will we see doctors being closed down? Will we see confidential medical files being taken away and God knows how many people left without a GP to look after their health issues? Is this something that we can expect to see if this legislation is passed? Can we expect to see it on a regular basis?

Ms SYMES: Mr Finn, whilst it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the specifics of the situation that you have articulated, the crux of your question is the power of authorised officers. Authorised officers have formed a key component of the COVID-19 response. They have been critical to compliance and enforcement, quarantine arrangements, contact tracing and the operation of public health directions. The on-the-ground support that they have provided has included functions such as meeting international and domestic arrivals at airports and other ports of entry; issuing detention notices to facilitate the quarantine program; undertaking compliance checks; and inspecting businesses and undertaking enforcement action, including issuing infringement notices where the power has been delegated by the secretary. Under the new part in this bill, authorised officers will continue to perform this critical role.

In addition to general compliance and enforcement powers and the existing suite of public health risk powers, authorised officers can be authorised to exercise pandemic management powers when a pandemic declaration is in force. The bill provides for the CHO to authorise authorised officers to exercise the pandemic management powers, and the new powers are additional to existing powers already available under the act, including the public health risk powers and general compliance and enforcement powers. It is worth noting that authorised officers were not created by the pandemic—they existed before that—but have been obviously deployed to respond to the challenges that we have been presented with.

There are two categories of pandemic management powers under the new part. Pandemic management order powers are powers that relate to pandemic orders, and authorised officers may take actions to give directions to implement or give effect to pandemic orders made by the minister. This includes giving directions to ensure persons comply with pandemic orders. An authorised officer may also detain persons in accordance with a pandemic order that requires a person to be detained. Authorised officers also have separate powers to take actions or give directions that they believe are reasonably necessary to protect public health.

The types of directions that may be given are similar to restrictions that may be imposed under a pandemic order. This provides for a residual power for authorised officers to impose reasonably necessary requirements to protect public health where these are not already regulated under a pandemic order. A direction given by an authorised officer must not be inconsistent with a pandemic order, recognising the pandemic orders are the key instrument through which population-scale requirements may be imposed under the new part. Authorised officers will usually only be able to give directions applying to one person, apart from certain persons in limited circumstances.

Mr Finn, it is certainly worth noting that the actions and decisions of authorised officers are subject to a review from the Ombudsman if there is a complaint from somebody that was unhappy with the experience that they had with an authorised officer.

Mr SOMYUREK: When we met when there were the bushfires in January 2020, when we were in the middle of the bushfires, we were called in to discuss the bushfires, to be debriefed by the Chief Commissioner of Police and the emergency services commissioner at that point. At that point we were told we were going to go into a state of disaster. We got to understand the full breadth of powers that the state has when we go into a state of disaster, and many of us were surprised that we did not have to go to Parliament to exercise those powers. We were actually shocked, many of us ministers around the table.

A few months later unfortunately we had to do the same thing. We were debriefed on our state-of-emergency powers. Again we learned we did not have to go back to Parliament to be able to utilise or exercise those powers. Again it came as a bit of a shock. We were wondering around the cabinet table at that point, seeing pictures of Wuhan where people were being locked down, whether we would ever be able to do that in the state of Victoria, in the Western world. We thought we would not be able to. We thought we would not have the social licence to do that. So we were a little bit concerned, and we were wondering what we were going to do to be able to deal with the pandemic if it came to Australia.

Now fast-forward 20 months down the track. What has been proven is that Australians are law-abiding citizens and they like their order and they do follow laws and rules, so we have actually managed it quite well. The government has utilised its extensive extreme powers that have been there. However, when I look back at how we locked down 6.5 million people, at how we imposed curfews on 6.5 million people—I am not saying that it was the wrong thing to do, I am just looking back at the powers we have got—the government and I agree that we do need reform of the act, but the only problem is that we come to that reform from diametrically opposite directions. When I look back over the last 20 months and look at the extreme coercive powers that not just this government but government has at its disposal I think, ‘Well, how do we bolster those safeguards? How do we bolster those checks and balances?’. That is where I think the next direction of reform needs to come from, because it is open to abuse—and not just by this government. It might be a Matthew Guy led government in 12 months time. I do not want Matthew Guy, who gets a bit of white-line fever, to be exercising extreme coercive powers. So it is about any government, not just Matthew Guy or this government, exercising those powers. That is my perspective.

When I look at this bill I see a bit of Orwellian doublespeak, I see synthetic or illusions of accountability mechanisms, but what this bill is really about is—whereas I looked back and thought, ‘We need to bolster our checks and balances and safety mechanisms’—a government that has been irritated by those very weak mechanisms that are in place now and wants to use those extreme powers in an unfettered way. Again I say to those opposite, to everyone, that it does not matter what government it is—it does not matter if it is a Daniel Andrews, a Matthew Guy or a Finn government in the future—what matters is that government should not have access to unfettered powers. That is my issue. What we ought to be talking about now is how we are going to bolster those safeguards, checks and balances, and oversight, accountability and transparency measures.

There is obviously a myriad of complaints about this bill. There have been complaints from the Law Institute of Victoria, from the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, from the Ombudsman, from the Victorian Bar association—from the 60 QCs who penned the letter picking holes in the bill. My expertise is both from a theoretical perspective, because I think I know Parliament pretty well and I have studied it pretty well, but also from a practitioner’s perspective—I am concentrating on the parliamentary angle—so from my perspective there are three issues: one, politicisation of the pandemic; two, removal of independent oversight; and three, erosion of parliamentary accountability. When I talk about the politicisation of the pandemic, I am basically talking about the transferring of legal authority to make pandemic orders or health orders away from the independent medical expert to a politician.

Now, I know I am going against the grain, and I know even some of those groups that have written in complaining will look at it from a theoretical perspective and say, ‘Of course parliamentary accountability. Of course the minister should have those powers’, but I will explain why it is wrong. For a start, when you are transferring those powers to a politician, a politician is motivated by good public policy but a politician is also motivated by, and has to be motivated by, winning the next election. Why? That is not just expediency. If you believe in your party’s ideology, if you believe in your party’s values, you believe that your party governing the state of Victoria is the best thing for the people of Victoria, so the politician has to have one eye on winning elections.

I also believe that when you are in a crisis situation—no matter what that crisis is; it could be war, it could be natural disaster, it could be a public health crisis—the first thing any democracy ought to be doing, the first thing every democracy ought to be doing, is taking the politics out of that particular crisis. We have seen that in the past with war cabinets. What happens in a war cabinet? You get bipartisan support. We saw that with Prime Minister Morrison when he called a national cabinet. That was all about depoliticising the pandemic, and that worked a treat. We looked at the United States where they were all at each other’s throats, and in Australia we were kicking goals. That was working very, very well. What I say to you is depoliticising or taking the politics out of the pandemic is very important. Unfortunately right now we are still in the middle of a pandemic. This is the wrong way to go. There needs to be a discussion. I do agree there are some problems with an unelected official being able to close down a whole state, but I think right here, right now, transferring this authority in the middle of a pandemic goes against the grain of what you should be doing in a crisis situation.

Two, removing independent oversight. That is essentially nobbling the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman’s role is to review, it is to monitor, it is to investigate, it is to report back on administrative decisions. And the Ombudsman has done a good job. The public housing towers in Flemington was a very, very, very strong report. We got an insight into how the public health orders were actually made. It was a very strong report. We need that. When you are talking about such extensive coercive powers we need that independent oversight. It is very important.

The next thing is the erosion of parliamentary accountability. Now, what I am talking about here is not having to come back to Parliament with a state of emergency or a pandemic declaration. I have been critical of the status quo. I have been critical of the current act, which reflects my amazement in January 2020. I have always thought if you are declaring a state of emergency, surely you have got to go to the Parliament. The Parliament represents the will of the people, and what better way of testing your social licence than going to Parliament to lock people up, to lock people down and to impose curfews. Again, I am not being critical of the government for doing that. I am more talking about the accountability mechanisms here.

Even the status quo—you should not have to wait. I believe you should have to come to Parliament within six weeks to get the state of emergency declaration ratified by Parliament. But what has been proposed here goes diametrically in the opposite direction. You never have to come back to Parliament. You never have to come back to Parliament, so you can actually rule by decree. That is wrong. My perspective—and it has been since the very first day I heard about this in the cabinet in January 2020—is to say, ‘Well, you’ve got to go back to Parliament for this’. Again, this goes in a completely separate direction.

I have read the amendments. I think they are a step in the right direction, but I do not think they go far enough. I think in theory they are okay but in practice they are not going to be of much value in terms of safeguards and checks and balances. Look at the numbers when you are talking about a joint sitting. In the lower house there are 88 people. There are two times more lower house members of Parliament than there are upper house members of Parliament, and government is formed in the lower house. So I think, whilst it was a valiant effort by Mr Barton, at the end of the day in practice it will be of little utility. I would also like to declare to the house that I will not be voting on the amendments, but I will be voting against the bill.

Ms SYMES: There is a little bit in that, Mr Somyurek. I guess you did miss your opportunity to contribute to the second-reading debate so it is fair enough that you wanted to put some things on the record. There are a few points in there that I would just take up, and a lot of them will be covered in sections of the committee, but I would point out that no other state has been required to return to Parliament. That was an anomaly here in Victoria which we, during the state-of-emergency extension debate, all pretty much agreed was not a satisfactory arrangement, which is one of the things that led us to craft a bill that was fit for purpose and responded to the needs of Victoria based on the experiences that we had had.

You are incorrect to say that there is any change in relation to the Ombudsman’s oversight. She has endorsed this package and, for the record, would still be able to conduct an inquiry such as the tower review that she did under this framework, as she does and has always been able to do under the legislation that is in existence now.

You mentioned the concerns of a range of stakeholders. I can confirm that the stakeholders that you mentioned are all on the record today encouraging the Parliament to pass the bill, including the Centre for Public Integrity, the Human Rights Law Centre, the Law Institute of Victoria and the Ombudsman, as I mentioned. I can give you a list of all the people that are on the public record today supporting the bill. Mr Somyurek, yes, they have raised concerns, but the government has listened to those concerns and responded to them whether directly in consultation with the stakeholders or indeed through Mr Barton and Mr Hayes, who took on a lot of the issues that were raised by stakeholders, and they have been addressed.

I guess in relation to the issues that you raised the only other thing that I would point out is that you make the observation that it is your view that you do not think a government should be able to ‘rule by decree’ I think was your terminology. Mr Somyurek, there must be a pandemic that exists, and it has to be on reasonable grounds to be of concern to the health and safety of Victorians. This is about ensuring that the government has adequate powers to protect Victorians, not to arbitrarily make rules that do not have a purpose of protecting their lives.

Mr Somyurek, thank you for your comments. If you have got any further specific questions, I am more than happy to address those.

Mr SOMYUREK: On a point of clarification, in terms of the independent oversight—that is, the Ombudsman—the Ombudsman at the moment can have a look and investigate any administrative direction by a bureaucrat, but once these powers shift to the executive the Ombudsman cannot do that. The Ombudsman has to wait for a parliamentary—

Ms SYMES: That is wrong.

Mr SOMYUREK: No, it is not. She has to wait for a recommendation of the parliamentary committee, and even that is not clear. I spoke to the Ombudsman’s office yesterday. Even then it is not clear whether the Ombudsman can actually investigate a recommendation. If you notice the wording in the amendments, it says ‘investigate’ or ‘clarify’. The Ombudsman cannot self-reference. The Ombudsman will need to wait and hope that the numbers are there on the parliamentary committee to get a recommendation up, and even then the law is not completely clear on that.

The other point is: in terms of ruling by decree, I am not talking about what has happened in the past, I am talking about what is going to happen from now on in terms of coming to Parliament with state-of-emergency powers or the state of pandemic powers. You are talking about the past; I am not talking about the past, I am talking about the future. I am talking about not necessarily an Andrews government in the future, I am talking about any shade of government. So I think it is fundamentally wrong to exercise such extreme and coercive powers without coming to Parliament to get ratification of those powers.

Ms SYMES: Mr Somyurek, a lot of that was a statement, but categorically you are wrong. The Ombudsman can still investigate administrative implementation of the orders. She can investigate on her own motion. The powers under the Ombudsman Act 1973 are in no way curtailed by this bill. Her existing powers still exist. Yes, she can investigate on own motion. Her role is very important. If there are people who experience issues that they wish to take up or they want to make a complaint about, they will be facilitated directly under this bill, and we will be going through that process, I suspect, in quite a bit of detail in other discussions throughout the committee stage.

Mr SOMYUREK: Okay. Now I have got to the bottom of what the minister is saying. Minister, you will find that the Ombudsman can now only investigate the implementation rather than the merits, so you are technically correct but you are not completely correct. You are talking about implementation only. Why implementation only? The decision might be made by the executive, but then of course it will need to be implemented by the bureaucracy, so then you can investigate the bureaucracy on the implementation side but not the executive making the decision side.

Ms SYMES: The impact of the orders, which would be exercised by bureaucrats effectively, of course can be reviewed by the Ombudsman, as is appropriate. But ministers are accountable to the Parliament. Are you suggesting, Mr Somyurek, that the minister should be accountable to the Ombudsman?

Mr SOMYUREK: This is a point we need to make on the accountability mechanisms: when you are transferring power or authority away from an independent medical expert—apolitical—to a politician, you need to make sure you bolster those powers, not strip powers away. What we are doing is stripping powers away. We are stripping oversight powers away.

Ms SYMES: No, we are not.

Mr SOMYUREK: We are. The Ombudsman can only investigate the implementation, but not how the decision was made, not the merits of it. So in the Flemington housing commission estate example the Ombudsman went out there and found that it was actually a crisis cabinet decision that the deputy chief health officer was forced to sign off on 15 minutes before a press conference was given. So an Ombudsman cannot actually go to that level of detail right now. They will have to either wait for this parliamentary committee to get the numbers on the committee to get it through or wait and just do the implementation part of it because they can, because it will be implemented by the bureaucracy.

Ms SYMES: Mr Somyurek, there are very few people who do not believe that it is appropriate that these decisions be made by a minister. Even the opposition support that these decisions should be not made by an unelected bureaucrat and should be made by a minister. There is a provision in the bill to establish a joint parliamentary committee that has the capacity to look at these decisions. There is no Ombudsman jurisdiction that I know of that is able to investigate the decisions of ministers. The ministers are appropriately accountable to Parliament.

Mr SOMYUREK: That is exactly right. They cannot. That is why by moving the decision away—very important decisions like pandemic orders, which actually get to lock people down—they cannot be investigated. Yes, the ministers are accountable to Parliament—that is why we need to be bolstering the accountability mechanisms of Parliament, not diluting them, and that is where you and I disagree.

Ms SYMES: The amendments that have been circulated by me to members in this chamber both last sitting week and last night have been consolidated into one set of house amendments, and I would like to formally circulate those, please.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: And we now have a running sheet as well, so members who want a running sheet can see the Clerk.

Ms CROZIER: I was just looking at these amendments, and there seem to be quite a number of them—substantial amendments to a bill that was perfect two weeks ago and is now being completely amended. But nevertheless, I want to just go to Mr Somyurek’s comments. He made a couple of interesting comments around his experience, one from when the state of disaster was declared during the bushfires of 2019–20, in January of that time. I recall that the Leader of the Opposition was given the courtesy of being told by the Premier that a state of disaster would be declared, but that never happened with the pandemic. I am just wondering why that never happened, Attorney. Can you answer that question?

Ms SYMES: No, Ms Crozier, I am not in a position to give you an answer to that question.

Ms CROZIER: I did not think you would. But the point is that, as Mr Somyurek said, when you were sitting around that table you were all pretty stunned about the powers that were going to be given under the state of disaster and the state of emergency.

Ms SYMES: Not given, existed.

Ms CROZIER: Well, under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act the powers—

Ms SYMES: The state of disaster is not under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act.

Members interjecting.

Ms CROZIER: No, the state of disaster was declared—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Can we just have Ms Crozier explain what she is saying?

Mr Leane interjected.

Ms CROZIER: Well, Mr Leane, I will explain it to you. The state of disaster was declared in a state of emergency. Now, during the pandemic—

Ms SYMES: You need to explain that to me, sorry. You need to explain—

Ms CROZIER: I will start again. During the bushfires, the state of disaster was notified. There was notification.

Ms SYMES: The emergency services minister.

Ms CROZIER: Correct. The Premier actually rang the Leader of the Opposition, Attorney. That is what he did. He never did this during the pandemic. He has never contacted the opposition about the state of emergency, the state of disaster or anything else. That is my point. Now, I just want to go back to what Mr Somyurek was saying. When you sat around that table and understood the powers that were given and the powers that were obviously being—

Ms Bath interjected.

Ms CROZIER: That is right, Ms Bath, they are contained in the bill. They have had significant impacts on every single Victorian. I am going to go into clause 12 when we get to the disallowance and the joint sitting because there are still some concerns from a number of people around that, and he made some points. But my point again is about the fact that the government—the Premier, actually—declared a smaller cabinet. There was a cabinet of eight. I do not think you were in that.

Mr DAVIS: The crisis cabinet.

Ms CROZIER: The crisis cabinet. That was formed. Everybody was very aware of the significance of the pandemic.

Ms SYMES: I’m listening.

Ms CROZIER: Good. I am glad you are, because I think this is important. Again, it goes to the transparency about what has happened over the last 20 months, because there has been no transparency. There has not been any transparency about the advice that has been provided. To follow on from what Mr Limbrick said, the minister’s second-reading speech says:

… this Bill is built on many lessons from the management of the COVID-19 pandemic in Victoria, Australia and around the world …

The reason I started this discussion with you was around what had happened from the bushfires, the lessons learned from the state of emergency and state of disaster declared for the bushfires and the pandemic since early 2020. The minister is saying there are lessons learned. What are those lessons? I do not think she answered that question appropriately to Mr Limbrick. Understanding what Mr Somyurek has just told the house about his concerns when the ministers sat around that cabinet table—the minister was there—what lessons have been learned, and why has it taken 20 months to get to this point if there were concerns raised way back then?

Ms SYMES: Ms Crozier, the lessons learned are the experience of the last 20 months and how that has fed into the development of a framework that effectively enables the government, along with its health officials, to successfully manage the challenges thrown at us by a pandemic. I am not the health minister; I am very fortunate that I am not. That is the toughest job going around. It is a collection of people’s experiences, lessons learned—same thing—in terms of making sure that we come up with the most appropriate set of legislative requirements that enables the government to do what it needs to do whilst also facilitating public confidence, the provision of information, the involvement of members of Parliament and effective oversight and transparency.

The bill in particular responds to the concerns raised by stakeholders about needing more transparency. That is why there are requirements set out as they are. I cannot go into the details of every lesson learned, because I did not learn them. We had experts feed that in. We had Professor Doyle, who spends time in COVID wards, telling people about the importance of these measures. We had Jason Pizer, who is an administrative law expert, making sure that we have a framework that is robust to challenge. I would say that a lot of these orders have been tested in the courts. Some have been successful and some are ongoing. There is a number of people who have contributed their experiences and their advice to craft a bill.

As Ms Crozier points out, I have circulated amendments, I think appropriately. Once the bill was public there were further questions asked and we have clarified and made further amendments to address any of those concerns, indeed with the intention of ensuring that the public have, as I said, some confidence about the way government forms its decisions and indeed will execute anything that is in the interests of protecting the Victorian government. I think the new detention appeals panel is a very clear example of us listening to the concerns of stakeholders and people wanting to make sure that they knew the processes were particularly independent and robust.

Ms CROZIER: Attorney, I think you said protecting the Victorian government. I think you meant protecting the Victorian public.

Ms SYMES: I did indeed, thank you very much.

Ms CROZIER: But you also said that there have been a number of challenges in the courts. I am wondering: what has the legal bill been for the Victorian taxpayer to defend the government’s decisions that they have made throughout the pandemic?

Ms SYMES: Ms Crozier, that is certainly outside the bill. But it is certainly appropriate for the government to respond to legal action that has sought to question decisions that we have made in connection with the public health response.

Ms CROZIER: I think we will be asking those questions again at the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC), but we also asked for the stakeholders. You mentioned the stakeholders, and I am looking forward to getting that list before we finish this evening, because we will not be back in the Parliament until February and we need to see those lists and the SARC report that was mentioned by Mrs McArthur.

But I want to go on to the point that you make about the framework, because in the Minister for Health’s second-reading speech he said:

… this Bill will provide a fit-for-purpose framework which will facilitate the critical management of COVID-19 and the safe transition to the next stages of the National Plan …

He went on to say:

With all epidemiological evidence indicating that the threat and unpredictability of COVID-19, while declining, will remain in our community for some time, new legislation is essential.

I am wondering if you could not only provide a copy of that epidemiological evidence that outlines how long COVID-19 will remain a threat to the community that you have, understanding that I think we all appreciate that COVID is in the community, that in some states—

Ms Symes interjected.

Ms CROZIER: Hang on, I have not finished.

Ms SYMES: As a point of order, I have read the documents that we have tabled in the chamber, and they cover off on that exact point that you are asking for more information on.

Ms CROZIER: The epidemiological evidence about COVID-19, how long it is going to last for?

Ms SYMES: Yes.

Ms CROZIER: On that basis then, could you outline to the committee what it is?

Ms SYMES: No, I cannot. I just remember reading it in the documents that were tabled. I would draw your attention to the documents that are tabled at the monthly extension of the state of emergency, which went into that. I found it fascinating. I started to read it, but I am not in a position to give you advice or regurgitate that advice because it is not my expertise.

Ms CROZIER: Thank you, but I do not know that we have received—that is the point—all of that advice. Because there is modelling, there are new treatments, there are a whole range of—

Ms SYMES: It is all in that paperwork.

Ms CROZIER: I will go back and have a look at that.

Ms SYMES: I would encourage you to, and also if it is the modelling that you are seeking, that is certainly public.

Ms CROZIER: All right. Look, there is some modelling that is public, Minister. We know that. The modelling and some of the evidence have not all been made public, and we know that too. There has been modelling that has gone on. Some of it has been made public, I concede. I know that. But there is also other evidence that you would have had and advice received from the CHO and others that has never been provided. We know that. We have been asking for it in this house.

But I will go on to talking about how you have framed this bill. It is being framed for future pandemics, but is it not the intention that the government wants to utilise the powers contained in this bill for the foreseeable future?

Ms SYMES: Yes.

Ms CROZIER: My point is that we have got the current situation. Thankfully we have opened up. We have got omicron that is being looked at. We have had a lot of concern around that variant, and various individuals are saying we need to wait and see. I suppose the point is that there is just a lot of uncertainty. This bill goes to the point that if that omicron variant, as we know, came from South Africa, the government could make decisions based on what is happening around the world. That is how the intent of the bill was written.

Ms SYMES: No, that is not true.

Ms CROZIER: Attorney, it says in the legislation it does not have to be present in Victoria. That is the point.

Ms SYMES: No, but, Ms Crozier, it has got to be a serious health risk to the Victorian public from the pandemic. So the suggestion, which I have heard being bandied around out there, that there may be some disease in the Amazon and all of a sudden the Victorian government is going to say, ‘Hang on, there is a pandemic there and there, so we are going to declare a pandemic here in Victoria’. That is just ludicrous.

Dr BACH: Could I just follow on from that question to seek some further clarification from the Attorney on exactly this point. The bill says that a disease is a disease of pandemic potential if at that particular time ‘the infectious disease has the potential to give rise to a pandemic, but is not yet a pandemic disease’. So the Attorney is right: much of the feedback that I have received and many of the conversations that I have had, for example, with constituents have been around exactly this point. My advice is that the wording here is very loose, but I wonder if perhaps the Attorney could talk us through, well, exactly who would be making the decision about whether or not a pandemic disease or rather a particular disease or an infectious condition was a disease of pandemic potential and how that process would work if, as she says—through you, Deputy President—she is keen to allay people’s fears about this element of the bill.

Ms SYMES: Thank you, Dr Bach. That is a good opportunity to address some of the issues that Ms Crozier has put on the record. A pandemic declaration can be made when the Premier is satisfied that there is a risk to public health arising from a pandemic disease or a disease of pandemic potential, as you have identified. The Premier may make a pandemic declaration whether or not the pandemic disease or disease of pandemic potential is present in Victoria. This is to address circumstances where a disease emerging in another jurisdiction presents a serious threat to Victoria—so precautionary and proportionate actions can be taken to ensure the disease does not take hold in Victoria.

I think at this point it would be useful just to point out the history of how governments have responded to pandemics. There was no state-of-emergency call to respond to H1N1, for example. The intention is to use the legislative framework only in genuine areas of need. In making or varying or extending a pandemic declaration, a number of steps are required. The Premier must consult with and consider the advice of the Minister for Health and the chief health officer. The Premier must also prepare a report to be tabled in Parliament that includes a statement of reasons for making the variation extension or the revocation of the pandemic declaration, as the case may be, and a copy of the advice of the minister and the chief health officer in respect of making the declaration. Where a declaration has been varied, he or she has to provide a summary of the pandemic orders made. Also the ability of the independent pandemic management advisory panel is that they can also review orders.

So this is setting out a very robust but flexible arrangement so that appropriate measures can be put in place to protect Victorians from a pandemic. Who anticipated a one-in-100-year pandemic occurring right now, as we are experiencing? The legislation is designed, as Ms Crozier has identified, to deal with the situation now, unfortunately. Hopefully we do not have to use it in the future, but we have tried to craft a bill that could foresee the unexpected.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, we have now heard from Mr Somyurek. When we were here last you said that the bill was so urgent that we had to pass it with great speed at the time we were in the chamber, but then you had to defer it so you could brief Mr Somyurek. How did that briefing go, given his statement?

Ms SYMES: Mr Somyurek did not accept my invitation for a discussion about this bill.

Mrs McARTHUR: Well, Attorney, then the reason why we abandoned ship last time was irrelevant in that case. There was no need to brief Mr Somyurek, but in actual fact it was to persuade a crossbencher to change their mind. Is that the case, Attorney?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Mrs McArthur, you need to confine your questions to the substance of the bill. If the Attorney feels she can make some statements about her briefing to Mr Somyurek, that is fine, but we do need to make the questions relevant to a clause in the actual bill.

Mrs McARTHUR: Well, thank you, Deputy President. It seems to me the discussion has been extremely wideranging up to now, and statements have been made by a number of people. But we are at this point because the Attorney insisted that we stop the debate so that we could brief Mr Somyurek. That appears not to have happened.

Ms SYMES: With respect, Mrs McArthur, it is a matter for him whether he accepts a briefing or not, but it was not the only reason that the bill was paused. I am very up-front about the fact that I do not think I will ever proceed with a bill that I do not have the numbers on, because it would be a disingenuous symbol to the Victorian public that we are going through a pantomime of a bill that is going to be defeated. As I have been on the record saying in this chamber many times, there is a lot of important legislation, not just this bill, that we need to proceed with, so to take up a day of these conversations about a bill that the opposition indicated that even if their amendments were successful they would defeat would have been a waste of everybody’s time.

Mrs McARTHUR: Thank you, Attorney. Can I ask then in clause 1(a) it states that a purpose of this bill is to enable ‘the effective management of pandemics’. So, Attorney, does the government therefore believe that it did not effectively manage the pandemic, which is why this legislation is apparently required?

Ms SYMES: No.

Mrs McARTHUR: Well, Attorney, if the government does not concede that it did not effectively manage the pandemic, why is this legislation necessary?

Ms SYMES: Well, Mrs McArthur, your side have made it quite clear that they do not believe that there should be a framework to protect the health and safety of Victorians. This government fundamentally disagrees with you on that point.

Mr LIMBRICK: I would just like to clarify a couple of issues on the record on the role of the Ombudsman. We were talking before about the role of the Ombudsman. They can review the implementation but not the decision-making process. I note that in the investigation into the housing towers report the Ombudsman came to some conclusions around whether a decision breached human rights because it was done in a short time frame. Would that type of review not be possible on the decision but only on how people acted after the decision was made now?

Ms SYMES: Mr Limbrick, the decision that the minister makes is not reviewable by the Ombudsman, but the flow-on effect of the decision is. So the implementation, the execution of what flows from that decision, the operation and the impact on people are what her job is to do. The decision that the minister makes is subject to parliamentary scrutiny, which is why we have established originally SARC but now an arguably greater independent joint parliamentary committee focused on these particular issues.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her answer. On that report that the Ombudsman wrote—

Ms SYMES: Yes, sorry. I think you did ask me if she could still do that under this framework. Yes.

Mr LIMBRICK: Thank you for the clarification, Attorney. One of the recommendations that the Ombudsman made was around the detention powers. She recommended that anyone detained under these powers should be guaranteed access to fresh air and exercise and that an amendment to the Public Health and Wellbeing Act should be made to reflect that in the detention powers. The Liberal Democrats have previously put forward an amendment to this house—I think it was on the last state-of-emergency extension—and that was defeated by the house. I note that this new legislation does not include those sorts of protections for those rights either. What was the government’s reasoning for not including a guarantee of fresh air and exercise for detainees?

Ms SYMES: Mr Limbrick, I was just looking for my summing-up comments because I did address these issues. The detention guidelines will deal with the provision of fresh air and the like, as you have articulated, so there is a commitment to ensure that those are picked up in the guidelines.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her answer. So these sorts of issues about what sorts of rights will be prioritised, for example, will be handled through guidelines rather than legislation. Is that what you were saying, Attorney?

Ms SYMES: Yes.

Mr LIMBRICK: Another right, which I have raised many times and was also raised in the second-reading debate, is the right to peaceful assembly. We have seen what I would characterise as disastrous attempts to suppress that right almost totally. What sort of commitment can the government give to ensuring that at least some sort of harm minimisation approach to facilitating that right would exist in the future?

Ms SYMES: Mr Limbrick, I did refer to this in my summing up because it was of particular interest to the Greens. I outlined this in my summing up and would want to refer you to those comments, but indeed they will be covered in the compliance and enforcement policy that will be developed.

Ms CROZIER: Minister, Mr Leane passed me a list of the stakeholder consultations—thank you—when I was speaking previously. I note on this list the legal stakeholders; human rights, public health and community groups; social services; public housing; and information protection, meaning the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner and the health complaints commissioner, which were consulted prior to the tabling of the first bill, but there was no business. And it was only after the bill came to light that business was even thought of, it seems, because all of those other entities were also consulted again—they had further discussions with the government—and you have listed a whole lot of industry and local government groups. Did they provide submissions to you, or was it just verbal feedback?

Ms SYMES: I do not know the answer to that, Ms Crozier, because I was not involved in those initial consultations.

Ms CROZIER: I am just wondering if the advisers could give you that information.

Ms SYMES: Even if they were, Ms Crozier, without the permission of the parties I would not be in a position to confirm that or provide that information. If you were wanting to seek that information, I would encourage you to ask particular stakeholders.

Ms CROZIER: Attorney, the reason I ask is that I think it is in the public’s interest to understand what level of consultation the government did with these groups. I note that you consulted the Victorian Bar prior and then again, but the Victorian Bar have come out again today to say that they think the amendments still fall short. They actually said that they provided a submission, a detailed submission. The Victorian Bar made a detailed submission to both the Department of Health and an expert reference group following a briefing on the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021 on 3 November. So they are speaking about what they have done publicly, and that is why I ask about the other important groups, because as we know the restrictions that have been put in place have affected every single Victorian. Victoria has had the harshest restrictions and the worst outcomes—there is no denying that; that is a fact—in Australia. It still has. We have got the highest numbers; New South Wales’s are going down. We are not in a very good position. So I think it is imperative because, as Mr Davis and others have said, these groups actually want certainty. They want to understand what it will mean, and that is why it is important that we have a degree of transparency and that we understand what their concerns are. The Vic Bar are saying what their concerns are—they have stated it. So I do not think it is unreasonable in this process for this Parliament to understand how many of those groups provided submissions and whether they suggested amendments, like the Victorian Bar have, because they said in their statement today that they did provide amendments. The submission addressed the intent of the bill and specific sections and recommended a number of amendments.

Ms SYMES: Right.

Ms CROZIER: Well, yes, it is right. My question is: do you understand that there is a degree of transparency needed, especially amongst the business group? Because they want the confidence. At the moment they do not have the confidence, because you have chopped and changed. You keep changing the goalposts on decisions, on things that you are putting into the public domain, and they want to understand exactly what is going on. It is pretty clear from what I gather, if you are unwilling to say that, that the consultation was lacking. Again I ask: how many provided that feedback, or did any of them make any suggested amendments for you?

Ms SYMES: Ms Crozier, many amendments have been suggested, and the government has taken some of those on board. On others we have respectfully had a differing opinion. The latest statement from the bar, for example, argues that the bill falls short because the dispute appeals officers are appointed by government and that the process should be more akin to a magistrate or a VCAT member. But that fails to recognise that the appointment of the detention appeals officers will be identical to the appointment of VCAT and magistrates, for example. It is a Governor in Council (GIC) appointment. So I guess, with respect, a lot of people have made suggestions. A lot of them are not necessarily workable. I would say that there have been a lot of people that have views about how this Parliament should operate, how the oversight committee should work, and I would say that the people that are within here are probably best placed to give advice on what is most workable in the Victorian Parliament because that is where our expertise lies. But I have had heated debates with stakeholders who do not think the way I articulate the way Parliament works is reality. There has been a good sharing of ideas. Have we acquitted everybody’s wish lists? No.

The government is confident in the amendments that it has accepted. We think they enhance the bill. They give greater confidence to members who want to support a framework, want to support a piece of legislation passing this Parliament. Have we made compromises? Sure. Have we agreed with everyone? No. Nor is this any different to most of the bills that we bring through this chamber. Of course there is a lot more public attention on this, but the process is no different to almost every bill that we do in this place.

Mr LIMBRICK: Back to an issue of, talking about another right, the right to participate in public life. We have seen that limited somewhat during the current state of emergency, when a number of members of Parliament were suspended due to not handing over their vaccination status. But it has been put to me by a number of people that there are concerns about people being disenfranchised while under pandemic powers. Now, we saw something recently in local council elections in New South Wales where people who were unvaccinated were not allowed to vote in person at a premises, at a location, because they could not check in. They were forced to do a postal vote, is my understanding. What sort of protections will there be to ensure that the right to participate in public life is guaranteed? Also, is it possible to actually delay an election using these powers? This is something else that has been put to me.

Ms SYMES: Mr Limbrick, the charter assessment is for all of the orders, so as I articulated earlier any decisions that seek to impinge on any of the rights afforded under the charter have to be explained and tabled in Parliament and obviously have to be proportionate, and that decision-making is to be explained. And my advice is that it is not possible to delay an election.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for clarifying that point about not being able to delay an election. However, I do have other concerns about protecting the right to participate in public life. Not only have members of Parliament been suspended if they do not comply with these mandates, we have also got a situation—

Ms SYMES: That is a separate issue though, because it is a matter for the chamber.

Mr LIMBRICK: Okay, yes. Yes, but it demonstrates an intent that the government would be willing to act on that though—act on politically.

Ms SYMES: I do not think it is a good example to bring to this debate, Mr Limbrick, because the vaccination requirement to attend the Parliament was not a government decision, it was a chamber decision. It was a decision of the Parliament, which you voted for—didn’t you, you guys? I am pretty sure you did. So in that regard we kind of have different rules that apply to us than do to the public, and I think it is not a really good example to use. But what you have raised is just further charter considerations. And I do want to confirm and put on the public record that all orders must comply with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her answer. Yes, I concede that the Parliament suspending members was not due to the emergency directions. But there was an effect due to the emergency directions where advisers were effectively given the choice of continuing their employment or not. That was under the emergency directions. That clearly could inhibit. Let us say that there is a political party that does not believe in vaccination, for example. They would be effectively prohibited from participating both in the Parliament and in working for someone in the Parliament that had those views, as an adviser. This is a severe implication to my mind, a severe limitation on the right to participate in public life. How can we guarantee that this will be protected?

Ms SYMES: Mr Limbrick, I will just confirm that there is nothing in this bill that provides the government with any power to mandate over vaccinations for parliamentarians. We are not able to do that, which is why the chamber considered such things. I guess vaccination requirements or vaccination mandates are not novel. They are not unprecedented. We had no jab, no play and requirements of health providers before the pandemic. I acknowledge that, in the example you gave, it would be difficult for, right now, a parliamentary party to exist in the same way we are existing if they did not want to comply with public health orders. It would be difficult.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, going on with the theme of Mr Limbrick about rights, you have mandated that 12-year-olds now do not have the right to enter certain premises with their parents. And you are, I guess, hoping that there will be a vaccine for five-year-olds. How will the rights of five-year-olds be protected under this proposed legislation?

Ms SYMES: Mrs McArthur, the charter does not discriminate between ages, to my knowledge.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, you have certainly discriminated against children in your mandates. I would just like you to confirm that you will be continuing to do that with even younger children who will be denied access to enter premises with their parents if the vaccine does become available for five-year-olds.

Ms SYMES: Mrs McArthur, of course I am not in a position to confirm that. I am not the relevant minister, and it is a hypothetical question.

Mrs McARTHUR: Thank you, Attorney. I would just like to read you out a message from a very concerned Victorian citizen who would love to have a vaccine but cannot because she has a one-in-four chance of a severe reaction to the available vaccines because of her medical history. She has rheumatic fever, with later relapses, and consequently has an enlarged heart. So the cardiologist at Epworth has her on blood thinners twice a day to prevent clotting, and now she also has arterial fibrillation and has to take heart tablets. Her father died of myocarditis, and her brother died having a heart attack. AstraZeneca can cause blood clotting and Pfizer and Moderna myocarditis and other heart conditions. She cannot get vaccinated until she has the newer vaccine that is coming, but she is totally denied access to anything and in fact is nervous about going anywhere because she is also unvaccinated and cannot get access to a vaccine that does not have these products in them that cause these particular health problems.

She and so many others cannot get medical exemptions to be able to live any sort of normal life. For these people in this situation, that is a human right. These people are not against vaccinations, but her doctor has said that, if she was to have a vaccine, to have the vaccine she would have to be hospitalised. Now, is that the path we should go down in this state—if you go down the path of insisting everybody has to be double vaccinated when people have serious medical implications that actually prevent them from having vaccines and yet do not fit the criteria for an exemption? Are you going to do anything about that with your new powers?

Ms SYMES: With respect, Mrs McArthur, the questions that you are asking are outside the scope of the bill. It is not open to me to comment on individual cases, and in relation to medical exemptions I went through the process with Mr Finn. I would encourage people to seek advice from their GP. If you have a particular case that you want me to forward to the Department of Health to contact and provide advice and support in relation to the exemption processes, if they are not satisfied with their GP’s advice, then that would be available to them. If you want to provide that detail, I can follow that up for you, but medical exemptions, vaccination requirements et cetera are not part of the bill. They would be facilitated by the bill.

Ms CROZIER: I was just going to make the point that Mrs McArthur’s questioning is relevant to the bill, Minister, because we are talking about certain groups of people that cannot be fully vaccinated for one reason or another, and this bill goes to determining certain groups of people.

Ms SYMES: Where?

Ms CROZIER: Clause 16 I think it is—I have got to go back and have a look at it—in terms of attributes and other things.

Ms SYMES: The amendment removes that. You know that.

Ms CROZIER: Yes, I know. The point is the intent of the bill was to have certain groups of people. That is why I think Mrs McArthur was asking the question, on behalf of those people who are concerned about the extent of this bill. That is what we are doing here. Now, if you can assure Mrs McArthur, like you have, that that is not the case, then that is a good thing. I think she will be reassured, as will her constituent.

I want to go to the point that Mr Limbrick made about elections, because we did ask this question in the briefing that we were given on 28 October. The response was:

No power conferred on the Premier or the Minister in this Bill enables the suspension of the operation of any act of Parliament, including preventing an election from being held. For example, the Constitution Act 1975 and the Electoral Act 2002 provides for when an election can be held and a pandemic order could not override this.

That is an election, but that does not preclude campaigning activities or pre-poll, does it?

Ms SYMES: Ms Crozier, you are correct. Those activities would not be caught by the—

Ms Crozier interjected.

Ms SYMES: Your articulation is accurate. The activities associated with an election would be separate to the constitutional fixing of the date for an election. But again, any order would have to be subject to the charter and must consider the impact, the proportionality et cetera. And as Mr Leane is all too familiar with, we had local government elections during restrictions just recently.

Mr LIMBRICK: I would just like to clarify something that the Attorney mentioned before when I asked about this topic of elections. When I asked whether an election can be delayed, I recall that the Attorney said that she had advice. Is she saying she received advice on whether it was possible to delay an election?

Ms SYMES: No. There is nothing in this bill that affects the timing of an election. I have not had formal advice on it, but the people in the box confirmed it. That is where the advice came from.

Sitting suspended 6.29 pm until 7.33 pm.

Ms CROZIER: Minister, just before the dinner break I raised the issue around elections, after Mr Limbrick had, because we raised that in a briefing. At the time of the briefing the advisers could not tell us, and they followed up with the answer that I provided to you. In your answer you said that it would be conducted like a local government election—

Ms Symes interjected.

Ms CROZIER: Well, I am just about to clarify, if that is not what you said, because Mr Leane was interjecting. But the point is that campaigning could be suspended, pre-poll could be suspended, if this legislation comes in and there is a risk to public health. So what advice has the government got around those issues in conducting an election, or next year’s state election, understanding that, as you say, or as the government says, the risk is still here and the pandemic is still ongoing?

Ms SYMES: The government has not sought such advice, Ms Crozier.

Ms CROZIER: So the government has not sought any advice as to how an election would be run or how this legislation would impact election campaigning or pre-poll activity?

Ms SYMES: Ms Crozier, no, we have not sought advice on hypothetical situations. The advice that I have provided you is that nothing in this bill changes the constitution in relation to the occurrence of the 2022 election.

Ms CROZIER: Thank you, Attorney. While I understand the date is fixed, and that is part of the constitutional requirement which you are referring to, the activities around the election date for next November would be and could be impacted. As you say, yes, it is a hypothetical, but it is an important element to understand, because there is a possibility that it might occur because this legislation is coming in. I do not think anyone is thinking that COVID will be gone by next year. We have seen the latest variant, omicron, and everybody getting their knickers in a knot over that. There will be another variant and another variant, and so what I am trying to understand for the Victorian public is: what provisions will the government put in place for campaigning activity or proper process to occur in the event that this legislation has to be enacted at the time close to the election?

Ms SYMES: Ms Crozier, I am not in a position to predict what the pandemic or indeed what the concerns may even be in November next year. It is not relevant to the bill. There are no provisions in the bill that impact elections directly.

Ms CROZIER: I think it is relevant to the bill. This bill impacts what we can and cannot do. That is what this bill does.

Ms SYMES: That is true for everything, not just elections.

Ms CROZIER: Correct, and for the election of next year, which we asked about in the briefing, and the advisers did not know. They had to seek that advice, and the advice came back. But there are a whole range of aspects that will be implicated through this legislation for next year’s election. As I said, how-to-vote cards, polling booths, pre-poll and campaigning activities could be curtailed. So I think it is in the best interests of Victorians to understand that this legislation could impact those activities. That is true, isn’t it? This legislation could curtail those activities in the lead-up to next year’s election. Not the date—the date is set by the constitution—but those important election activities could be impacted by this bill.

Ms SYMES: Ms Crozier, it might be something that we would get advice on closer to the event in the event that a pandemic declaration is in place. It is not open to me to go through hypothetical situations of next year’s election. All I can confirm is that if there were orders that needed to be made for the protection of the Victorian public in or around November 2022 it would be done in accordance with public health advice and in compatibility with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.

Ms CROZIER: I raise the issue because I think it goes to the heart of our democracy and the issue around why people are very concerned about the powers of this bill and the erosion of our democratic rights. Now, you—the government—have had to amend this bill significantly based on the concerns and the fact that you did not have the support of this house, of this chamber. So you have had to go out there and amend the substantive bill that was brought into the other chamber and then into this house—amend it so you can pass it. So I think it is very relevant to what we are talking about here today, because the rights of Victorians have been eroded significantly. And they are not trusting of the government because of what has happened over the last 20 months—the lack of, as this bill will do, providing that advice. But I want to go to the point of the joint sittings, which is—

Ms SYMES: Can we wait to get to that point?

Ms CROZIER: Well, we can, but I make the point, Attorney, and I know you are dismissing me here, but I think these are really important issues. Under the current formation of how the Parliament is you have got a large majority in the lower house—you have seen where the crossbench have gone with your so-called ‘behind closed doors’ negotiations—so the joint sitting, the power of the Parliament, means nothing. The joint sitting means nothing in this bill because it is actually so weak. You cannot get the oversight that you are saying this bill will do. It actually does not give the Parliament the oversight, and that I think is important in the context of how an election will be run next year. So I will ask more questions about the joint sitting element and oversight when we get to the clause—clause 12, I think it is—but I do want to stress that this needs to be considered very, very carefully. If you have got no advice on something that is so important to our democratic rights and our democratic principle, about this very example of how this legislation may impact the state election next year, then, frankly, I do not think you have done consultation broadly enough.

Dr BACH: I might ask a question or two also about oversight, just picking up some of the points that Ms Crozier made, and in doing so I will refer to some of the criticism of the bill that has been made by the Victorian Bar association. Certainly my view, in keeping with comments of Ms Crozier and others on this side of the house, is that the oversight mechanisms in this bill do not go anywhere near far enough, and the bar association agrees. In a statement released just recently, today, the bar association said this regarding oversight—firstly, parliamentary oversight:

While the joint committee—

proposed by the government—

will be able to recommend disallowance motions for pandemic orders, these must be passed by an absolute majority in a joint sitting of parliament.

That is a point that Ms Crozier was referencing before. I continue to quote the bar association:

The government of the day will almost always hold this majority. The Victorian Bar believes the Minister’s pandemic orders must be subject to ordinary disallowance procedures applicable to other legislation.

So my simple question to the Attorney is: why does the government believe differently?

Ms SYMES: Thank you, Dr Bach. With respect, the bar are incorrect in their assertion there. If you look at the history of the make-up of this Parliament, including even recently, that is not what would eventuate. To suggest that in every instance the government of the day would win a joint sitting by an absolute majority is—

Dr BACH: Well, it could be us.

Ms SYMES: The assertion that the government of the day would always win an absolute majority in a joint sitting is factually wrong in history, and history would demonstrate that it is not always correct either.

Dr BACH: Continuing on with the theme of oversight and scrutiny and indeed continuing on regarding the deep concerns of the bar association, in addition they say this:

The proposed amendments replace Detention Review Officers with Detention Appeals Officers appointed by the Governor in Council and impose a requirement that they act independently.

The bar association says:

However, a Detention Appeals Officer is appointed by the government. The Victorian Bar believes a review of a person’s detention must be by an independent judge or magistrate.

Again, my very straightforward question to the Attorney would be: why does the government believe differently?

Ms SYMES: With respect again to our friends at the bar, this is a nonsensical argument, Dr Bach. As you would appreciate, as the Attorney-General I make appointments of magistrates, Supreme Court judges, County Court judges and indeed VCAT members, and the exact same process will apply for the appointment of detention appeals officers, so to suggest that they are not independent would suggest that judges are not either.

Mr FINN: Minister, I go back to a question I asked earlier—unfortunately you did give an answer, but it was probably a little irrelevant to the question that I asked—and that is about the prospect of doctors being raided by authorised officers and confidential medical files being confiscated, as we have seen recently in Sunshine. What does this legislation do to the chances of that occurring again? Does this legislation increase the Premier’s power to authorise such raids?

Ms SYMES: Mr Finn, it is a slightly convoluted question.

Mr FINN: Not as convoluted as your last answer.

Ms SYMES: It was pretty clear, actually. To the last part of your question: no. In relation to the construction of your other question, we went through the powers of the authorised officers in quite a bit of detail, and so my answer remains the same as what I gave you earlier. There are avenues for people to make complaints if they believe that any actions of the authorised officers are not in accordance with the act.

Mr FINN: Attorney, it would have been nice to have a yes or no, but if you insist on that we will allow people to make their own judgement, I suppose. On another matter, and one that has been pursued a little bit tonight, what it has been suggested to me that I ask by a constituent is: does this legislation in any way give the Premier or the health minister the power to stop unvaccinated people from voting at the next election?

Ms SYMES: No.

Ms CROZIER: Attorney, in the second-reading speech the minister commented and said the community leaders and experts who took part in this process were relying on information to suppress the virus. In the second-reading speech the minister said:

They also highlighted some problems that have emerged in implementing these measures.

I am wondering if you could provide to us what those problems were. He went on to say:

They raised concerns about aspects of the current legislative framework and difficulties in communicating the purpose and impact of these measures to the public.

Now, I think this goes to the transparency issue, the lack of trust and the ability for people not to understand, but the minister said that they highlighted the problems. I think we need to understand what those problems were.

Ms SYMES: Ms Crozier, your question is outside the bill, but I would come back to my earlier comments that this bill has been crafted with the experiences of those that have operated under the existing framework to ensure that we have a more appropriate, fit-for-purpose pandemic legislation framework for the benefit of Victorians.

Ms CROZIER: Attorney, I fail to see how this is outside the scope of the bill when the second-reading speech talks about the development of the bill, and these paragraphs are under that subheading. This is about the bill, about the development of the bill, and I think that Victorians need to understand exactly those questions, so I put it to you again: what were those issues that were highlighted by the experts in the development, as pointed out by the minister in his second-reading speech?

Ms SYMES: I would point you to the details of the bill, Ms Crozier. Anything that is in the bill that does not currently exist is generally a result of the fact that the system under the state of emergency under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act was not fit for purpose, and that is why we have a bill that is aiming to do that.

Ms CROZIER: Well, I do not think that is a very satisfactory response, Minister. If you are going to just refuse to provide information to us, then it says so much about you and the government again. In fact I would suggest that the response in the last 20 months has been so ineffective, so damaging and so destructive that you have put this bill in place to cover up the mess that you have left here in Victoria. If this state of emergency ends on 15 December, another state of emergency could be initiated, could it not?

Ms Symes interjected.

Ms CROZIER: I am asking the question: could it not?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Sorry, through the Chair, please.

Ms SYMES: Sorry, Chair. The state of emergency only exists if the Parliament approves the extension of it, Ms Crozier. Would you like to put on record your party’s position in relation to that proposition?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Ms Crozier, just before I call you, can I just remind people once again that I know there is a lot of emotion in this particular committee stage, but if we could refrain from commentary just being bandied across the chamber and come through the Chair. If you wish to interrupt someone while they are on their feet, call a point of order. Ms Crozier, to continue.

Ms CROZIER: I raise these questions because the government has said that there will be no framework in place post 15 December and come 16 December, which is true. But it is also true that an extension of the state of emergency could apply where the current orders are in place, and that is what I was asking the minister. Out there in the public there are a lot of people who are confused about what is going on, so I was trying to get some clarity. And yes, to go to the minister’s somewhat inappropriate response, we have said time and time again: bring it back into the Parliament so the Parliament can decide on a month-by-month basis. In fact I brought in a private members bill about greater transparency and accountability in the middle of this year, which you voted against. It is not that we do not want greater transparency, as you are trying to achieve in this bill; what I am trying to get to the bottom of is to explain and for Victorians to understand what this bill will mean, how it impacts them and how it was developed. And as has been highlighted in the minister’s second-reading speech, there were problems that you have refused to answer or provide us with adequate answers on. Again, I would say that the minister in his second-reading speech did say that there were concerns around communicating the purpose and the impact of these measures to the public. So how will you be communicating this legislation to the public and the impact that it will have?

Ms SYMES: Ms Crozier, the bill contains measures to do just that. It requires the government to table advice that it receives. It strengthens parliamentary oversight. There is the establishment of an independent pandemic management advisory committee with representation from a range of experts—yes, appointed by the government. But by all means, if you have got people that you think should be on it, please make those suggestions. We want to have a panel of experts that the community have confidence in—people that are respected, people such as we have been discussing. I do not know if they have been offered positions, but the likes of Associate Professor Doyle and Mr Pizer are people that really understand what we are talking about and bring expertise. I take offence at your suggestion that the panel would be diminished in their expertise because they are appointed by the government.

I extend the invitation for you to make suggestions of people that would be on that panel. In fact I have received suggestions from members of the crossbench. This bill is about greater management of the pandemic, learning the lessons from the last 20 months and indeed providing more oversight and more transparency to ensure that the Victorian public are very clear on why we are doing what we have to do to protect their interests.

Ms CROZIER: Attorney, I was not diminishing their expertise, but I would say that—

Ms SYMES: I think you were.

Ms CROZIER: I was not. You say this. I was not. What I am saying is it is a government-appointed panel, and with the history of what is shown, there is probably a fair bit of bias towards the government. I have to say, if you look at the history of what you have got in your department, the advice that has been provided—

Ms Symes interjected.

Ms CROZIER: Well, I am happy to say that the Victorian public have not got the transparency and accuracy of information that is being provided to you but not to the public.

Ms SYMES: You should support the measures in the bill then. That is exactly what it is designed to do.

Ms CROZIER: Attorney, I would say we have been in this house for 20 months arguing for greater transparency and the release of information, which you have never provided—not ever provided. You have provided—

Ms SYMES: That is nonsense.

Ms CROZIER: It is not nonsense. Everybody knows that the orders are the orders. That is not the advice.

Ms SYMES: Deputy President, I am wondering if Ms Crozier could come to a question or at least advise the house that she is making a statement.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Ms Crozier, continue.

Ms CROZIER: Thank you, Deputy President. Again you said that you had learned from the mistakes of the past 20 months. There are lots of mistakes, lots of—

Ms SYMES: That is not what I said. Do not verbal me.

Ms CROZIER: Well, correct me with what you said. You said, ‘We have learned from the experience and the lessons of the last 20 months’. So there are lots of lessons. You cannot explain those to the house, previously as stated. What I was going to ask I will come back to actually because it is on a later clause. But I want to just make the point—I know that Mr Limbrick wants to follow up on one thing that I was saying, so I will let him do it—and I do say again that it is important that the public understand how what you are saying in terms of the openness and transparency in this place will actually be afforded when there is a range of views that dispute that.

Ms PATTEN: I just want to make a couple of comments, having listened for the last getting on for 5 hours of this opening of the committee of the whole. In March I reluctantly supported the extension to the state of emergency, which many people in this chamber did not support. They did not support it for a range of reasons, and they fought vehemently against any extension to a state of emergency. And at that point I made it very public that I was reluctant about the state of emergency because it lacked transparency, because it lacked accountability, because we were not seeing the advice, because we were not seeing it coming back to the Parliament. So since March we have actually been working on that. I actually I would like to thank Mr Davis for introducing me to the Centre for Public Integrity, because in March he did that. In March he introduced me to the Centre for Public Integrity to tell me how wrong the state of emergency was and the reasons why it was wrong and the reasons why we needed pandemic-specific legislation, and the reasons were: transparency, accountability and scrutiny. And I listened. I listened to that, and in March I said to the government that I would support an extension on the provision that they introduced pandemic-specific legislation—and that is what we have before us now.

And, yes, it has been amended, and I am very pleased it has, because even through that process of talking to Liberty Victoria, the Law Institute of Victoria, the Human Rights Law Centre and the Centre for Public Integrity, while speaking to all of them about what this should look like, we were also looking at what Denmark was doing. We were looking at what New Zealand was doing. We were looking at what New South Wales was doing. What we knew was that what we were doing in Victoria—which was very similar to what is being done in Tasmania, South Australia, Queensland, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and probably the ACT and Queensland—was not what we needed for a pandemic where people were saying they did not understand. They wanted to see that transparency, they wanted to effectively see how the sausage was made, why those orders were being made, what was the advice, and here we have some legislation that is presenting that.

This legislation is better now because people have got up and done the work and worked and consulted with different organisations. I would challenge anyone in this chamber who is voting against this legislation to tell me that it is not better than the state of emergency, tell me that this is not better, that this is not more transparent, that this is not allowing greater accountability, that this is not allowing greater scrutiny. Because it is.

Mr Meddick, Dr Ratnam and I worked hard on this. People can just stand on the sidelines and say, ‘No’. Many people in this chamber have said, ‘We don’t care what this legislation looks like, we’re not supporting it’. Many of you are on the public record saying just that. But in actual fact I went out there and talked to the community. I went out there and talked to different organisations about what would make this better, what would be good pandemic legislation. And I would have to say right now we have got a whole range of amendments as a result of that.

Now, many of you who will be voting against this legislation today—and you have made that very clear in the media—have made it very clear that this legislation is something that we should be frightened of. I ask you: should we be more frightened of this legislation than we were of the state of emergency? We were supposed to be very frightened of that because the minister was not responsible, because the health advice was not being published, because there was no oversight committee in the Parliament, because there was no expert advice, because the Ombudsman did not have the right role. We have listened to that, and I have carefully listened to the Law Institute of Victoria, to the Human Rights Law Centre, to the Centre for Public Integrity. I have met with them many times, numerous times, over the last six months that I have been interested in this.

From the outset, when this legislation was first tabled and we saw it, we immediately sent that out, asked for advice, went to our stakeholders, got that advice, and still I just do not know what the people who are voting against this legislation want. This is something that is quite outstanding, this is something that is actually quite unique to Australia, the fact that this will be the only state that is publishing its health advice, only state that has a—

Members interjecting.

Ms Tierney: On a point of order, Deputy President, it is my understanding that you have made a number of comments in terms of the conduct of this chamber since we have started this and a lot of them have got to do with unruly behaviour and interjections. I put to you that what has just happened with Ms Patten is absolutely unacceptable, and I ask you to pull those opposite into order.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! It is not a point of order, but Ms Patten to continue, without assistance, please.

Ms PATTEN: We have a series of amendments before us this evening that have been negotiated by a range of people and are a result of the very good and diligent work of stakeholders, the very good and diligent work of the Ombudsman, the very good and diligent work of the law institute, the very good and diligent work, as I say, of the Centre for Public Integrity—all of that work. We are now seeing a changed threshold for declaring a pandemic, reduced financial penalties, tighter publishing and tabling time frames, clear application to our charter of human rights, an independent advisory committee that is resourced, an entirely independent review of this legislation commencing within 18 months, a new parliamentary joint committee without a government majority to oversight it, a new mechanism for parliamentary disallowance, an independent detention appeals panel to sit outside of health and be appointed like a commission, clarification of just how the Ombudsman can review these matters, an entrenched right to protest, plus undertakings in relation to detention guidelines. This is supported by the AMA, by the nurses and by, as I say, all of those legal entities and stakeholders, and still it is not enough. I would love it, but in the 5 hours I have not heard anyone articulate what they want. All you want is to say no, and that is easy. It is really easy to say no. It is actually a lot harder to come to the table, to pick up the phone and to work on it.

Ms SYMES: Thank you, Ms Patten. And like other members of this place in the last 5 hours who have taken the opportunity to make statements, thank you for your insight. It is really considered. I appreciate the effort that you have gone to to give due consideration to this bill, and we welcome your support. And we know that we have not met everything that you wanted addressed in the bill, but we have gone a long way to meet those.

But there was one of the comments that you made that I just want to bring to the attention of the house. You mentioned the Centre for Public integrity, and you mentioned that they were brought to your attention by Mr Davis. As we know, we have engaged with a lot of stakeholders about this bill. It is often, ‘Don’t take my word for it’. It is good for me to be able to point to experts and their opinions of this bill, because I think that that is more powerful than me as a member of the government trying to persuade you that this bill should be voted on tonight. But I do want to put some comments on the record from the Centre for Public Integrity:

The amendments that have been conceded by the government in the last two rounds of negotiations provide a far better framework in which the need for extraordinary, urgent government action to keep the community safe, is met with a number of extraordinary, fit-for-purpose transparency, oversight and accountability mechanisms that are consistent with Victoria’s democratic commitments.

We think the proposed legislation is standard-setting …

In the circumstances, what has been achieved is laudable and there are many dimensions of the legislation that we think will be—or should be—adopted in other jurisdictions in Australia and abroad. And, of course—

and I guess to some of the points that we were referring to, Ms Crozier—

there is the fact that we are still learning about pandemic management.

Ms BATH: Attorney, in terms of the panel—I have been listening; I was here for most of the time except for probably half an hour—I would like to understand about the make-up of the panel. With any major emergency we have seen the importance of complete management, and by that I mean logistics people who can effectively organise and manage an emergency. So I want to understand, on this panel, as well as health advisers are there logistical people? Are there people who can rally an army, for want of a better word, to be able to organise a pandemic, or is it just constituted of health experts?

Ms SYMES: Thank you for your question, Ms Bath. The panel would be a range of experts who can provide detailed information that would be pertinent to the orders and the particulars of the pandemic. For instance, if it was a new pandemic that only impacted children, you would have paediatric experts. I think we had a lot of questions around, ‘Would the business community be invited to participate?’. We are not limiting the expertise of the panel. We want it to be flexible and appropriate and to ensure that we can receive advice from a range of experts relevant to the particular circumstances.

Ms BATH: Again I guess I go to the point that when you have this significant reach of restrictions that can be placed on people’s lives, there needs to be, again, significant understanding of the ramifications—so small business, yes; industry, yes—but also the logistics of how to keep a supply line going and how to not grind the economy down to a standstill, like we have seen. Minister, how would you assess what the best panel would be—to have logistical experts, to have supply chain experts, to have the army if we need to, to have that sort of broad-reaching matrix of good skills?

Ms SYMES: As I said, whatever expertise based on the nature of the pandemic would be relevant to the panel at any particular time.

Ms BATH: And who makes that decision—the Premier and the health minister, Attorney?

Ms SYMES: The Minister for Health, in consultation with the CHO, appoints the panel members.

Mr LIMBRICK: I would just like to briefly respond to Ms Patten’s remarks about what people who oppose this want. I cannot speak for the Liberal Party, but I can certainly speak for the Liberal Democrats. We have openly discussed that we are happy to have some sort of quarantine and detention powers for people who are infected, but what we do not want is the government having the power to have a two-tiered society where people are excluded from society. We do not want the government to have the power to force businesses to sack people based on their medical status. We do not want the government to have the power to lock people in their homes for months on end. And we do not want the government to suppress protests and open fire on people. This is what we have seen over the last 20 months, and this is what we do not want. I think the idea that we are somehow just opposing everything the government does and not being constructive at all is totally wrong.

That said, I would like to ask a question with regard to human rights again. One of the key principles that was incorporated into the Public Health and Wellbeing Act was around time limits. If there is going to be a restriction on rights, it must be necessary, proportionate, justifiable and time bound. Why was the decision made for this legislation that there will be no time boundaries on orders that are made? Because we can keep continuing this forever. In the previous legislation there was a time boundary of six months, which could then be extended later, but there are no time boundaries in this. How can this be considered a justifiable way of managing human rights when there are no time boundaries on it? And why wasn’t it considered that we have, say, three-month intervals? I know that the government has criticised some of the opposition’s amendments in the past when it said, ‘Oh, well, they wanted month-by-month extensions’, which we actually supported. I think the government’s response was that it might be a waste of Parliament time, but we are talking about suppressing the rights of Victorians here, and I think that is an absolutely appropriate and very important thing for the Parliament to be debating. And we are seeing the level of public engagement with this debate at the moment because they know that their rights are at stake here. That is why so many people have been upset. Why wasn’t some sort of—three-month or six-month or whatever it might be—time boundary decided on rather than this endless pandemic power?

Ms SYMES: Mr Limbrick, unfortunately there is not an expiry date on a pandemic. It is essential for the government to have flexibility and confidence to manage and respond to any emergency circumstances causing serious risk to public health or a significant and widespread danger to life or property in Victoria. The current pandemic has been present, as we know, for almost two years, illustrating that it is extremely difficult to anticipate how long a pandemic will pose a serious risk to public health, and it is impractical to place limits on the number of renewals of a pandemic declaration, as we have lived through the extension of the state-of-emergency situation.

The government’s pandemic management bill proposes a far more responsible and balanced course. It contains numerous checks and balances, and we have gone through many of those measures throughout the committee stage today. Extensions on the pandemic declaration are limited; they are limited to 28 days in the first instance and then three months afterwards. As facilitated by the amendments, the government has agreed to commence a review of the new part of the act within 18 months.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Before we continue I might clarify something with Ms Patten’s comments, and thank you, Mr Limbrick, for clarifying your position on it. Ms Patten’s comments tended to try and open this up to be another second-reading debate. This is not a time for speeches about what people want or do not want in a bill. We are in the committee stage. I remind everybody that the committee stage is about asking detailed questions about the bill. The time to put on the record what you want in the committee stage is in moving your amendments and when you will speak to your amendments. That is where we will hear what the crossbench and the opposition want out of this bill in this stage. The time for general commentary around what people wanted or did not like about the bill was the second-reading debate.

Mr LIMBRICK: Thank you, Deputy President. I appreciate that clarification. I did not intend to make a statement, but I felt compelled to respond because it was clearly directed at people who are—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I was not criticising you. I was just saying that Ms Patten’s comments were wrong because they tended to open it up to that, and I was just making that point—that it is not a time for people just to make speeches about what they wish to be in the bill. That is part of moving amendments in the committee stage, and you are quite within your rights just to continue to ask detailed questions about the clauses in the bill, which is what this stage is about.

Mr LIMBRICK: Thank you, Deputy President. Again I would ask the Attorney on the time-limiting part. I do not accept that the 28-day limit is valid—I mean, it is valid, but if the objective of the bill is to increase parliamentary oversight, for example, why was the decision made to not have some sort of parliamentary oversight at regular intervals, like three months, for example?

Ms SYMES: Mr Limbrick, the new joint committee will not be confined by any time limits. They can inquire into any matter within the scope of their remit, which will be established through this bill. There is no requirement for them to sit when Parliament is sitting or anything. They can have full oversight at any time.

Dr CUMMING: My first question to the Attorney is around something that Ms Patten raised around what other members of Parliament want. Does the government regret not including all members of Parliament in the conversations, in the discussions, from March this year? For me, as soon as I was able to see a copy of the bill I was able to read it and prepare amendments that I could debate. It would seem in listening to Ms Patten that she is unaware of the amendments that have been prepared. Ms Patten just earlier asked for a copy of my amendments even though I brought the amendments two weeks ago into Parliament, I have sent emails, I have had those conversations. I guess, Attorney, this is one of the problems I sense from having individual conversations with members of Parliament rather than having us all in the room to be able to hear each other’s concerns, build on each other’s concerns and make improvements to the bill. So my question is: does the government regret not having these conversations with members of Parliament earlier?

Ms SYMES: Dr Cumming, whilst not directly relevant to the bill, I appreciate the considered approach you have taken in your contribution to this legislation. I went through the experience in the last couple of weeks and the short time frame the government had to construct this bill. Six months, nine months—it is not a long time to draft a bill. That is very quick, particularly to craft a bill that is responding to such important, urgent matters. So it is fair to say that a lot of the issues were not issues until the bill was made available. As we have seen, since the bill has been made available a series of amendments have been agreed to, and I thank those that have contributed to that constructive dialogue to formulate what is, if you take the stakeholders word for it, a very good bill that deserves to pass the Parliament of Victoria.

Dr CUMMING: I guess, Attorney, we have had this debate before, when we debated the state of emergency last September, because this pandemic bill is just amendments to the Public Health and Wellbeing Act. When we did the omnibus state-of-emergency bill last September there were issues that I raised at that time around that authorised officers were in the bill already. There were things that actually sat under local government within the Public Health and Wellbeing Act. Even at that time, last September—that is 12 months ago—it would have been great to start having those conversations with the government with the experience that I have in local government, knowing that local government is an arm of the state. With a lot of things that this government has done throughout this pandemic if it had used its arm of local government, there could have been other amendments made to the Public Health and Wellbeing Act in a shorter time frame than 12 months. That would have helped along the way—if there had been consideration at that time. The government was very quick to attach hotel quarantine and the cost at that particular time. That amendment to the Public Health and Wellbeing Act was snapped together quite quickly. So it shows to me that when the government is willing and wants to put up amendments in a quick time frame it can. But I feel—and you can tell me if I am wrong—that because we were sitting under a state of emergency these amendments took the time that they did, because you were just waiting for the end of this state of emergency rather than doing the amendments that needed to be made at the times that they could have been made.

Ms SYMES: Dr Cumming, I can confirm that the MAV were involved in consultation in the development of this bill, and I am sure that experiences from local councils were fed into the development of this bill in relation to the experiences that people had. That was considered by the expert panel and indeed the health minister before he brought this bill to cabinet.

Mr LIMBRICK: I would just like to clarify something that the Attorney mentioned earlier about when the drafting of this legislation started. Can I just clarify: did the Attorney say they started drafting it in March this year?

Ms SYMES: No. I think March was when we committed to developing standalone pandemic-specific legislation. I do not know when the drafting started. Ordinarily you would develop submissions and consult drafting instructions before drafting starts. So I do not know when the actual drafters commenced this bill, but it was the debate—and I looked back at Hansard for the extension of the state of emergency—where I put on public record that it would be the government’s intention to start the development of pandemic-specific legislation.

Ms BATH: Attorney, I would like to talk about in the Public Health and Wellbeing Act under ‘Emergency powers’ there is a compensation clause, and it says:

A person who suffers loss as a result of a decision by the Chief Health Officer to give an authorisation … may apply to the Secretary for compensation …

Now, I am interested to understand how this new bill will influence that. We know that throughout the pandemic there have been a great number of people who have suffered a great deal of loss, whether they be fines for not having the right sign up in their front window or not having hand sanitiser or something, and there have been some fairly significant fines that have been measured out, so I am interested to know: will that be captured in this bill? Will it still be the secretary, or is it now the health minister and the Premier that will bring effect to this clause in terms of compensation?

Ms SYMES: Which section of the substantive act are you referring to? Is it section 204?

Ms BATH: It is ‘Division 3—Emergency powers’. Yes, 204.

Ms SYMES: My advice is that that does not apply under this bill.

Ms BATH: Could you elaborate as to why that does not apply under this bill? What is not being caught by this? Could you elaborate on your answer, please?

Ms SYMES: Ms Bath, I can confirm that this provision has never been used, and so there was no intention to transfer it into the bill that we have before us today.

Ms BATH: It has never been used, but having said that, you will not be able to seek compensation with this new legislation even though you could have been severely affected, locked down and, as this says, suffering loss as a result of the decisions that are now made by the health minister or the Premier. So you are not allowed to seek compensation?

Ms SYMES: Well, nothing in this bill prevents people’s rights to accessing consideration from the courts, but this is a very limited provision that, as I said, has not been utilised. But in relation to people that have certain issues that they wish to take to the court in relation to the matters that you have raised, that is certainly still open to people.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Attorney, I would like to take you back to a couple of matters that were raised by Dr Bach a little earlier in the committee’s consideration of the bill. The first I will take you to is the matter of disallowance of orders and the mechanism—

Ms SYMES: Can I just interrupt you if you do not mind, Mr Rich-Phillips? I have indicated to other members that specific questions around that are best left to the clause, and I guess I would also ask members in terms of general questions if you would like to move through clauses so that you can ask these specific questions. Or did you still have matters in clause 1 that you wanted to go over? Because if we start to get into specifics, I would prefer to go clause by clause. It is easier to follow.

Mr FINN: I want to go back to an issue that I raised a little bit earlier, and I just want to clarify with the Attorney if indeed she did make an offer to those unvaccinated Victorians who cannot get an exemption from the committee that she has asked them to apply to. I understand, if my recollection is correct, that she offered some assistance to them. If that is the case, I am very, very pleased, but I just wish the Attorney to clarify if indeed that is the case. For example, my sister has told me and I have been contacted by a number of people listening to this debate or watching this debate tonight who have said that they have been to their doctor and their doctor has said, ‘Don’t bother even trying, because you’re not going to get an exemption. It doesn’t matter what’s wrong, you’re not going to get an exemption’. This is happening all over the place. People are going to die because of this. You cannot get much more serious than that. So I am hoping that the Attorney will clarify that she is in a position to assist those Victorians who wish to make an application for an exemption of this nature.

Ms SYMES: Mr Finn, whilst your question is not directly related to the bill, as I did indicate to you, the Minister for Health’s office would be more than happy to provide advice on the process for those people that wish to seek more advice in relation to exemptions. I outlined that there is the Victorian Specialist Immunisation Services, which you can ask for further advice on exemptions. I explained that ATAGI are responsible for detailing where those exemptions apply. But, absolutely, if your sister or anybody else would like to send through their details to the Minister for Health’s office, information will be provided.

Mr FINN: Alternatively, we could go to the funeral. Attorney, on another matter, you gave a guarantee before that this legislation would not prevent people voting at the next election. Given the Premier’s enthusiasm for segregating the vaccinated from the unvaccinated, would this legislation prevent the unvaccinated from actually physically attending a polling booth with vaccinated people—the same polling booth?

Ms SYMES: Nothing in this legislation states that, no.

Mr FINN: I am very interested to know what is so special about voting, given that you cannot be an unvaccinated person at a pub, being with vaccinated people, and you cannot be an unvaccinated person at a cinema and at a whole range of places, but apparently it is all right to go to a polling booth. I am just wondering what special significance the magic of a polling booth holds that protects people from the dangers of the unclean.

Ms SYMES: Mr Finn, none of the examples that you just articulated are covered in the bill.

Mr FINN: That is why I am asking the question: I want to know if indeed this legislation gives the Premier the power to stop this. I know we are jumping ahead a little bit, but later in the bill it says that the minister may make a pandemic order ‘that the minister believes is reasonably necessary to protect public health’. Now, I would assume, given what has happened in so many instances already with regard to the segregation that has been put in place by the Premier, that the unvaccinated would not be allowed to attend the same polling booth as vaccinated people. That would be to my way of thinking a natural follow-on position given what has already happened in the state to this point.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: The Attorney will take that as a statement.

Dr CUMMING: Attorney, I apologise, but I am almost going to take an interjection from the floor from Mr Leane, and it is a question. The last time we met was the end of that week. The Premier actually announced on that Thursday night that 12-, 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds had to be vaccinated to partake in everything—everything but school. They had to be double vaccinated, and that is what—

A member: And the supermarket.

Dr CUMMING: And the supermarket—everywhere. I have got a 10- and a 12-year-old, and in this chamber I brought to the Parliament’s attention that my son would have been struggling to go to his 10-year-old brother’s birthday on Saturday. So, Mr Leane, during that week I went and saw my GP—he has been in Footscray for 50 years—to talk through the possibility of getting an exemption for my 12-year-old. My family has a history of heart disease. My father died at 54, my nephew died last year, Mr Leane, at 39 and I would like to check out my two young boys’ hearts before I go down the path of giving them a vaccine where I know that currently in the hospitals there are 50 children, teenagers, presenting every week with heart conditions from reactions to these vaccines.

So for me I wanted to check that out, and I wanted to be able to get an exemption while I went and saw a paediatrician. My doctor of 50 years experience said to me the only exemption that can be given is if he is allergic to the vaccine. So for me, Mr Leane and Attorney, and others it is very hard to get an exemption, even when you actually have deep concerns, family issues, things that you know—anaphylaxis, diabetes, you name the condition—because there is no such thing as an exemption to the vaccine, only if you are allergic to the vaccine. You can roll your eyes at the moment, Mr Leane, but I can assure you that is what the GPs and others are being told. I hear from the Attorney that there are a long list of possible exemptions, but they are not being used.

I said to my GP that I am the mummy. I am the parent, Mr Leane. My son is under 16, and I should be able to make those choices for my son. He does not understand fertility. He does not understand if he has got a heart problem or not. And for me, my parental right is being taken away because of this mandate, right? And you are going to continue this mandate up until five, not recommending but mandating.

My question is this: what is the exemption, Attorney? Please read out the exemption, because it is not happening at the moment—not even recommending, it is mandated for 12-, 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds, who do not have the mental capacity to understand why they cannot go to their formal at the end of the year, because of not being double vaccinated.

Ms SYMES: Dr Cumming, I would refer back to my previous comments in relation to exemptions to vaccination. I am not in a position to provide you with detail through this committee stage. I am not a health expert. I have also offered for you to accept a briefing with Professor Doyle, and as I have indicated, I will be able to perhaps assist by providing you with the list of contraindications published by ATAGI in terms of the exemptions. I understand the issues that you are raising outside the bill, but I am happy to facilitate further information for you and indeed for you to have a conversation about these issues with relevant experts, separate to the bill.

Dr CUMMING: Thank you, Attorney, for your answer, but it is not helping the community at the moment, because we are in a situation where we have got some 12-, 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds who cannot access their Medicare records, because you have to be 14 and above. Twelve-year-olds cannot make those decisions, it is their parents. And my GP said all his job is, for willing parents, is to put the vaccine into people. But if you have got concerns, you wish to get an exemption and you wish to go down a path of finding out if it is okay, he cannot do it. He cannot give me an exemption for three months while I wait for the paediatrician, and to get a paediatrician appointment takes six months. If my child has either behavioural issues or mental health issues due to the lockdowns, it is very hard to see a mental health physician at this time.

For me, what I understand also—and this is my other question, Attorney, while I am still on my feet—is there are many people out there that have already had COVID. They wish to have an exemption because they have already had the disease and they have got natural immunity, and they are being denied an exemption. They are being told that they have to be vaccinated. There are many people out there currently who have had one dose of vaccine. They have had a reaction and they have been told to get the other dose. Now, I know it is doctor by doctor, but it is because of these mandates that the GPs, the physicians, the specialists—

Mr Leane interjected.

Dr CUMMING: The specialists are not seeing people because they are not double vaccinated, Mr Leane. That is ludicrous. You are sitting there mumbling, so if you want to contribute—

Mr Leane interjected.

Dr CUMMING: You are my springboard, Mr Leane. For me, these are the concerns that I am hearing out in these protests and in emails. I have heard so many concerns from parents, and parents are very upset that they have lost their parental consent rights. What is this government doing to give them back? Why is it mandated? Why can’t it be recommended?

Ms SYMES: Thank you, Dr Cumming. As you know, these are issues that you have brought to my attention, and this is the very reason that we wanted to set up a briefing with you and Professor Joe Doyle. We will facilitate that so that you can have those conversations. I have got a little bit of information here which was following up from our meeting as well which may be of assistance.

Mr LIMBRICK: I would like to ask a couple of questions about the pandemic powers. I am not going to talk about vaccines for a bit. One of the definitions included in this bill is around disease vectors, which are effectively animals that are not humans that can transmit or carry disease that can be transmitted to humans, and one of the powers in the bill is to quarantine or destroy disease vectors. Can I ask: what is the thinking behind having this in the bill? Because I am not aware of anything associated with COVID-19 other than I think I read somewhere that cats can transmit it. But is this related to COVID-19, or is this related to envisaged other possible diseases that might need to be controlled?

Ms SYMES: My advice, Mr Limbrick, is that this is a provision designed to futureproof the framework. It could be any pandemic—not specific to COVID.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her response. I have another question around the powers, and, sorry, I will talk about vaccines again. With regard to vaccine mandates, which power would they actually be using to implement this? Because to my mind there are a couple of different powers that they could use here. One could be the requirement to produce information—so, you know, you have to produce your vaccination status—and the other one could be the general power. Which power is it envisaged that mandates, for example, would be enforced with?

Ms SYMES: A pandemic order.

Mr LIMBRICK: That is a general power?

Ms SYMES: Yes.

Ms CROZIER: Attorney, I am referring to the second-reading speech again. The minister, in his second-reading speech, spoke about implementation of the regulatory framework once the bill passes, and he spoke about the operational teams that are preparing training and guidance materials for authorised officers to support the bill’s measures to ensure proportionate compliance. I have got a couple of questions. I am wondering: how many authorised officers does Victoria now have? I know that we spoke about a number during the state-of-emergency debate, from recollection—

Ms Symes interjected.

Ms CROZIER: Yes. I think you gave me a number at the time, and I am just wondering: has that increased and what is the number of authorised officers currently? Then I am wondering if you could explain to the committee around that element of proportionate compliance: what does that entail in terms of the training that these authorised officers will be getting to ensure that proportionate compliance is undertaken?

Ms SYMES: I am happy to get you some numbers of authorised officers, bearing in mind that is under the state of emergency, not under this bill specifically. In relation to your question about the training, it depends on the role the authorised officer would be undertaking, so you might have different training for someone who is meeting people at the airport as opposed to somebody who would be visiting those that are in home isolation, for example.

Ms CROZIER: I did not hear the first part of that answer. I think you said you could not provide the number of authorised officers to the committee. Is that right?

Ms SYMES: No; I am happy to get it for you. The initial advice I have is that it is around 400 across CQV, industry and health, but because I do not have that formal advice I am happy to follow up and get you confirmation of that number.

Ms CROZIER: Thank you, Attorney, for that confirmation. In relation to that specific guidance, that is exactly the training that they would get under the current act, is it not, in terms of the duties they are performing, whether they are doing home visits or working in other areas? Is it exactly the same training that would be required for the responsibilities they have under the current act?

Ms SYMES: Yes.

Dr CUMMING: Attorney, I have a question. I know it falls a little outside of the bill again, but it is around testing. There are a lot of questions from the community around antibody testing. I know that this government, as you brought up earlier, says there is a need to keep mandating so that people will actually take their booster shots. There are people in the community who would like to know the level of immunity within their blood either via their vaccination, if the vaccine has actually worked for them, or from having COVID, and they want an antibody test to see their level of immunity. It would seem that is almost impossible. GPs will not give you an antibody test even if you have tested positive via a PCR test for COVID and have been made to self-isolate, and then afterwards they will just say in general terms that you are shedding. Like I have said, they have been told that even to go back to work they have to go down the path of actually getting a vaccination, when they know via a PCR test, having isolated and obviously feeling ill from the disease, that they have had COVID. So why can’t they have an antibody test? Why is there not any level of testing around even the vaccines and how they are working for people?

Ms SYMES: Dr Cumming, I would refer to my invitation to facilitate a conversation with a health expert. I am not in a position to give you details in relation to those issues that you have raised. They are interesting issues that you have raised, and you have spoken with me about these previously. But again, if it is not Professor Doyle we will certainly put you in contact with someone you can tease out these issues with.

Dr CUMMING: Thank you, Attorney, for that offer. This is the level of problems that are out in the community at the moment that this mandating has created, because there is a level of misinformation that is fed from what comes out of the Premier’s mouth in the daily health advice, which is framed in a certain way and is interpreted down the chain. The practicality of how it is actually playing out means that normal medical concerns are not being addressed in the way that you would normally deal with somebody who has had a disease and whether they should get a vaccine or not because they have got antibodies. There is no conversation around people’s immunity or what kind of immunity they have because they have already had the disease.

Even in this place, Attorney, we as members of Parliament were thrown out of this place and were told we could not turn up and work here at Parliament until we showed our paperwork. We were not given the option of a rapid test, and we still are not. I am still here in Parliament and we are still not given the option of having a rapid test—they are not here—to be able to work. Out in the community everybody wants to go back to work, Attorney, even if they have to have a rapid test or if they could test their antibodies, because they could have had COVID during this delta outbreak or they could have had COVID last year and not known it. But nobody is allowing them to test their antibodies.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: The Attorney is taking that as a statement.

Mr LIMBRICK: There were questions earlier today from SARC to the minister, and I have just received a copy of the response from the minister. I would like to ask a question about one of the responses. One of the questions was: ‘can pandemic orders and management powers be used in relation to any diseases and areas?’. I think the question was referring to if you declare a pandemic, then can you then use those powers for any disease? And the response seems fairly clear—that you can only use it for the disease that is specified in the pandemic declaration, which is fine. But one thing I would like to ask is: how do we define a disease here, because we have had lots of different variants? If we are defining the disease by the genetic structure, for example, then when we have variants they are going to be different ones. So how are going to define the disease in a tight enough way that it will be only for that disease and its particular variants?

Ms SYMES: Mr Limbrick, I just want to test some of the advice I have got here. Give me a sec.

All right. I will have a go at this, Mr Limbrick. A pandemic declaration is in relation to the virus, which is the underlying virus which may have a variety of variants but would still be covered by the one pandemic declaration. So in the current context we are talking about COVID and the different variants that we have come to know by name; it would all be captured under the one pandemic declaration. If you had a completely separate one—I do not know, whatever name it is, virus B—that all of a sudden appeared that was completely different, it would be open to the Premier to declare a separate pandemic declaration or add it to the existing declaration. It would allow for both under the legislation. Does that answer your question?

Mr LIMBRICK: Sort of. I thank the Attorney for her answer. I suppose what I am getting at is with the diseases, like what you say, I suppose there is a nomenclature. So you have all coronaviruses, which includes the common cold, and then you will have the current coronavirus and then variants of that. I suppose what I am asking is: which level are we expecting to define or declare the pandemic on, because what I am concerned about is that if we define it at an ‘all coronavirus’ level then you could use emergency powers for the common cold, which would be inappropriate?

Ms SYMES: I think it has to come back to the requirements to be able to make a pandemic declaration, which require the Premier to be satisfied that there is a serious risk to public health and the serious risk arises from a pandemic disease or a disease of pandemic potential. And the term ‘serious risk to public health’ is defined by the Public Health and Wellbeing Act via reference to a number of factors, including location, immediacy and seriousness of the threat to ensure that a benign pandemic—common cold—cannot be used as the basis for a declaration.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her answer. But I think it raises the question, though, that a pandemic declaration can only happen if we have sufficient knowledge of the disease, like if we have studied it enough to be able to classify it and all of those things. So is that what we are saying here—that only when we have enough knowledge to classify a disease and specify it can we declare a pandemic? If there was some unknown disease, for example—you know, God forbid, people started getting sick with some unknown disease—we could not actually declare a pandemic until we had studied it. Is that correct?

Ms SYMES: Mr Limbrick, that is why the Premier would have to seek the advice of the public health experts in forming a view as to whether there was serious risk to public health.

Ms CROZIER: Similar to Mr Limbrick’s questioning, I was going to ask about endemic disease. What happens when corona COVID becomes endemic, so it is present within the community—which I think is sort of what Mr Limbrick was getting to in terms of the variants and the severity of disease—like the common cold that is endemic across our population? We could get to a point where COVID is endemic, so there is no pandemic anymore, but where there could be, just bear with me, an outbreak, like the flu or like some other serious virus—you know, SARS or MERS.

Now, they were not pandemics, but they were serious outbreaks that caused significant health concerns. So at what point would the government determine that the pandemic was over and now it was endemic? Would that be based on WHO advice or is it the government’s own interpretation about the severity of disease within the community?

Ms SYMES: Ms Crozier, once the advice is provided that the pandemic is in fact endemic, the declaration would be revoked. And in relation to who provides that advice, that would be the public health experts that are well known to the Victorian public, the CHO, and they have, obviously, networks into the other jurisdictions, and these are the types of conversations that those people have in giving advice in relation to pandemic or endemic situations.

Ms CROZIER: Well, certainly that is the case, Attorney. We have had the national cabinet that has got ministers, the Prime Minister and the chief health officers from around the country, and yet there are different decisions made by different governments within our country.

Ms SYMES: Not from a declaration of the actual virus.

Ms CROZIER: No, but with all due respect, I am talking about if there is a severe outbreak in New South Wales and it is endemic here. Well, let us just say it is endemic across Australia. The WHO has ruled out COVID being pandemic by February, just as an example. You are saying that the government would take advice from the chief health experts. But if there was a declaration from the WHO, which then declared a worldwide pandemic—a lot of the advice came to Australia and that is why we took the provisions we did—is there not a bigger body like that that the government—

I know you say that they would look to those other bodies, but if it is declared endemic, as you said, then the pandemic declaration would not stand. Would the legislation then be immediately revoked by the Premier?

Ms SYMES: Yes, if the advice was that the virus is now endemic, the declaration would be revoked because there is no pandemic.

Dr CUMMING: Attorney, one of the issues that I have raised a few times in the last 18 months is about the possibility of having COVID-ready kits or something that the community could have at home while they are at home with COVID. From the conversations that we had last time I am hoping to know more about how the community can manage COVID at home. Apparently you are currently using a model from the UK, but it would seem that the actual experience of people who are sitting at home with COVID has not been that. There have been a lot of people in the community who are either finding their own home remedies or treatment protocols that they have actually seen from overseas, and people who can afford to are able to go and get those home remedies or import things from overseas while others, like the vulnerable in my community, are being denied care at home while they have got COVID. They are being told that they will have a GP visit or they are getting a phone call to find out if they have got food, but they are not actually being given any medications or remedies that they could use at home to actually reduce their viral load so their COVID does not increase or get worse so they do not actually end up in hospital.

Ms SYMES: Again, Dr Cumming, that is well outside the bill, but for the benefit of the house I will just give some generic information about the issues you have raised about at-home care of positive cases and access to treatment.

Thanks to the high vaccination rates in Victoria and the protection that that is providing our population, we have been able to transition the way we respond to and manage COVID through a triage system that begins via a survey when patients receive contact from the department that they have a positive result. Some cases can be safely and successfully managed at home. We find that some people prefer to be at home rather than at hospital when they do not require more intensive treatments and do not have underlying medical conditions, especially people who are fully vaccinated. The program monitors individuals with COVID-19 and ensures they receive the support and care that they need, and anyone who is at risk of deteriorating is identified early and transitioned to higher levels of care. With the support of the patient’s GP they have a telehealth appointment on days two, five, eight and 11 at minimum and more often if required. They receive daily text messages to self-enter their symptoms on a COVID monitor. If patients elect not to receive text messages, then the clinical care team will call the patients daily and enter symptoms directly on their behalf into the COVID monitor. Severe symptoms will trigger a response from the complex care COVID team, who operate seven days a week, and the program ensures that all patients have access to and receive the care they need at the time that they need it.

So I am happy to provide some of this information, which was a direct follow-up from your and my meeting, but, Dr Cumming, in relation to these kinds of matters outside the bill, again I ask if we could confine those to a separate briefing with a health expert.

Dr CUMMING: Thank you, Attorney. I do appreciate that. Seeing that I brought this up 12 months ago without having a vaccine around, last year there were 20 000 people that actually had COVID in the community in my area. And this year we have also got a lot of people who have had COVID and obviously have not gone to hospital, but they have managed it at home. Despite the answer that you have just given me, Attorney, it would seem that with GPs on tele consults there is a lot of writing down of symptoms but there is still a distinct lack of understanding of what the treatment protocol is, what GPs can actually hand out and what GPs are actually doing to make sure that those COVID-positive patients are not progressing, that their viral load actually stays at a minimum and that they do not progress to ending up in hospital.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Dr Cumming, the Attorney is being fairly generous with answering questions that are outside the scope of the bill, but this questioning along the lines of treatment is well outside the scope of this bill, so we might ask you to take those questions offline and see if the Attorney can assist you in getting some answers to those questions but not as part of the committee stage.

Mr LIMBRICK: I have just got a couple of questions relating to time lines. In the event that this bill passes, the advisory committee and this joint committee will need to be set up within just over a fortnight. What sort of time line does the Attorney actually think that the advisory committee and the joint committee would actually be set up in, and what sort of processes will be used to set that up?

Ms SYMES: Thank you for your question, Mr Limbrick. In terms of the passage of this bill we have obviously got until 15 December in relation to a pandemic declaration, which—given our current situation and what we know—would be pretty much a given. The legislation provides for the independent pandemic management advisory committee (IPMAC) to be established within 30 days, and the requirement to establish the joint parliamentary committee is as soon as practicable. Obviously as that involves nominations from within the Parliament, we would seek to engage with members of the Parliament to form that committee.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her answer. If I am understanding her correctly, the joint parliamentary committee would not be formed until the next sitting of Parliament in the new year. Or is it possible for that to happen earlier somehow?

Ms SYMES: Mr Limbrick, that is a very good question. The commitment is ‘as early as practical’. But you are right: you would need Parliament to confirm that. So we would have to think about how we would achieve that, but that would be the intention.

Ms CROZIER: Two months in limbo.

Ms SYMES: No, not necessarily. You can meet informally, and there is nothing to stop that. It would involve collaboration and cooperation of members of the Parliament, which we are all accustomed to doing.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her answer. With regard to the advisory committee, has any work been done already on identifying and tapping people on the shoulder? Because it seems like a big job to get such a wide and diverse group of experts together. Even within 30 days I imagine that would be a difficult task considering these people are not just sitting there waiting to get onto this committee. What sort of work has already been done there?

Ms SYMES: Mr Limbrick, we are keen to establish that quickly, but it would have been inappropriate to pre-empt the passage of this bill, so an EOI will be put out as a matter of priority once this bill has secured passage through the Parliament.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her answer. Will these committee members be compensated somehow for their service on this committee?

Ms SYMES: Yes.

Mr LIMBRICK: I think the Attorney already knows what my next question is going to be. How much?

Ms SYMES: It is outside the scope of the bill. It is technically outside of the scope of the bill because it is not provided for in the bill. However, I will take that on notice and get you some further information, because there is no problem in making that information public.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her answer, but I would have thought that this would be considered, surely.

Ms SYMES: Yes, okay. Sorry. The government have remuneration guidelines; it is just a matter of which category. It is not as though we are just plucking it out of thin air. It would be comparable to other committees. I just do not have the table in front of me. We have guidelines for these types of things; I just do not know which category they would be appointed under.

Ms CROZIER: Could I just ask on that: would they be approved by cabinet? Would that go through the normal cabinet process to be approved—on the selection and the remuneration?

Ms SYMES: Yes.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Just on that, Minister, will there be a secretariat attached to that committee?

Ms SYMES: Mr Ondarchie, the answer would be yes. I will see if I can get any more specific details in relation to that.

The answer is yes. During the second-reading debate, during my summing up, this was an issue that was particularly of interest to the Greens. They asked for confirmation from me via the Minister for Health that this committee would be adequately resourced, and we have given that commitment.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Minister, how many members are there on the committee?

Ms SYMES: It is not defined and it is not set, because we want to make sure that we can have the appropriate experts to deal with whatever situations may be presented to us, depending on the type of pandemic and the type of situation that Victoria faces.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Do you have it in the order of?

Ms SYMES: No.

Ms CROZIER: I mean, we know the type of pandemic that we are currently in, Attorney, so I just do not understand your response of ‘it depends on what type of pandemic’ when we know what sort of pandemic we are in. Will these positions be advertised and go through that normal process? That would take some time. My point is—

You are rising to your feet.

Ms SYMES: It is because I have already answered the question, so rather than you waste time—

Ms CROZIER: They will be advertised?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Attorney, Ms Crozier has the call, so can you resume your seat?

Ms SYMES: Mr Limbrick asked the same question. I have already answered it. I am just saving you some time.

Ms CROZIER: My apologies. I could not hear you and I said I could not hear you, and I think it was when you were answering.

Mr LIMBRICK: Does the Attorney believe that that 30-day time frame is realistic? I have employed many people before, and even for relatively unskilled positions it can take a while to get them. For very highly skilled people that we would expect to be on this committee, 30 days to me does not seem like a reasonable time frame.

Ms SYMES: It is 30 days after the declaration.

Mr LIMBRICK: Which would have to be 16 December or something—okay.

Dr CUMMING: I just have one question, and I know it is a bit outside the scope too, Attorney. You have been very gracious in answering some of the constituent questions that we have been raising tonight. This one comes from the Footscray traders. When the government mandated vaccines, how did the government come up with the figures for fines? We had obviously the longest lockdowns—we had six lockdowns—and then when vaccines were mandated for people to work we had authorised officers going around Footscray threatening fines of $100 000. How was that figure, or even the $10 000 fines or the $5000 fines through this pandemic and the lockdowns, arrived at?

Ms SYMES: Thank you, Dr Cumming, for your question. The appropriate fine values are determined based on comparison with similar offences or similar conduct. Fines are obviously designed to deter inappropriate behaviour and to apply a penalty for breaches of rules that are set. As you may be aware, the government through amendments has agreed, based on the feedback from particularly our community legal centre sector, to reduce the fine amount that was in the original bill that was brought to Parliament. It will be halved, and we are also introducing a concessional fine regime to enable those people that have healthcare cards to receive a lower fine which is proportionate to their ability to indeed address that fine.

Dr CUMMING: Thank you, Attorney, for your answer, but it would seem that even with the amount that was used after 15 October in the way of proportionality of the amount that was derived for a fine—normally there are warnings. The authorised officers would go around—

Mr Ondarchie: Discretion.

Dr CUMMING: Discretion. Under the current Public Health and Wellbeing Act when a health officer from a local council goes around and inspects a health premises or they inspect a food premises, normally the fine is really large when there has been an outbreak, such as food poisoning. But to just have these very large fines for people who are working when they are not vaccinated—there is no disease present, they have not hurt anyone and they have not given anyone those diseases—how did the government derive under the chief health officer regulations or directions that that was actually seen to be proportionate under the current health and wellbeing act? Seeing that normally when we deal with diseases and outbreaks and health risks within the community, such as, like I said, food poisoning—we have seen many cases in Footscray or other places—then that goes through a process of the courts and it goes through a process of seeing how many people were affected by somebody passing on the disease or the health risk. It would seem that these were not proportionate. It was just about a mandate and people not being vaccinated—no disease present.

Ms SYMES: Thank you, Dr Cumming. It is important for a system to have adequate compliance and enforcement measures. For serious, egregious breaches it is appropriate that fines be applied. But the practice has been to provide a warning as a preference, particularly for low-level breaches such as not having your check-in thing in the right place and things like that. There has been—I think we had a conversation earlier—attention to education and ensuring that businesses in particular know their obligations and requirements and support provided in that regard. But in relation to the fines as set, they were decisions of government. We have committed to halve those in this bill. That is basically it.

Dr CUMMING: I am still going to go down this line of questioning, because I do not believe that the setting of the fines can be considered reasonable or proportionate. Even the halving is still extreme. It would seem that throughout, and even within the last six months, there are many examples. Even when the Premier called a lockdown, you know, not everyone was glued to their phone and would have known what was going on. Then the authorised officers were running around handing out $10 000 fines, rather than possibly saying, ‘Hey, you mightn’t know that we’re going into a lockdown’. It would seem that there have been a large number of examples. Twelve months ago when we were discussing the state of emergency and authorised officers I was given assurance by the government that they would not be heavy handed, that the government would go around—

Mr FINN: You believed it, did you?

Dr CUMMING: Yes. And for me, my experience is that with the grants that I have heard about—from the government, $10 000 to do this, or the small business grants—you have to jump through heaps of hoops to get any grants or compensation back for the lockdowns, but it is really easy for the government to go around handing out fines for non-compliance, rather than a proportionate, measured, human and considered response to these small businesses. It would seem that small businesses were hit more than any other industry. The construction industry does not seem to have been given the bigger fines for non-compliance. It would seem that small business has been hit and hit and hit throughout these lockdowns and through these mandates, and from being allowed to open it would seem that they are continuing on with these authorised officers and handing out fines.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: We will just take that as a statement? Fine.

Mr LIMBRICK: I just want to clarify a mechanism. I realise I am jumping ahead, but maybe it is best to just acquit it in clause 1 if that is convenient. With regard to the mechanisms for seeking relief for a detention order in proposed section 165BA(1)(b), does this relief just rely on section 33 of the human rights charter? In the human rights charter there is the ability to refer to the Supreme Court for judicial review. Is that the mechanism through which one can obtain relief from a detention order?

Ms SYMES: I am not clear where you are at.

Mr LIMBRICK: Let me come back to you on that one.

Ms BATH: Attorney, just returning to the pandemic advisory committee. The government has called the pandemic, the advisory committee has been established, the government in one, two, three or six months closes down the pandemic. What happens to that advisory committee? Is it disbanded and their remuneration ceases on the spot? Is it ongoing? Are they suspended and still funded, or are they removed entirely?

Ms SYMES: At the point of a declaration being revoked the panel would be stood down.

Ms BATH: Thanks, Attorney. And that means their funding would then be ceased, is that correct? I am assuming a nod means yes.

Ms SYMES: Yes. They are a fixed-term appointment in connection to the declaration of the pandemic.

Ms BATH: I know that in the SARC response from the health minister he talks about a public authority. I am interested in how the committee reports (a) to the Premier and the health minister but also (b) for transparency to the community or the wider Victorian population. Is there any requirement? How can we get to see, as Victorian citizens, the information provided from the advisory committee?

Ms SYMES: They have to table their advice in Parliament.

Ms BATH: Thanks, Minister. Is that specified as monthly or weekly, or what is the format of that? And would it be individually categorised, so logistics, we will say, health—what is the format of it?

Ms SYMES: They provide advice to the minister and under proposed section 165CG the minister has to table it within four days.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 2 (21:29)

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, why does the operation of division 2 of part 4 come into effect on a different date?

Mr Davis: On a point of order, Deputy President, Ms Crozier called no on that clause.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I did not hear any noes, so that was my problem. I did not hear Ms Crozier call it. I did not hear Ms Crozier say no, so I did not ask if a division was required.

Ms Symes: The protest comes after a member has even asked a question on clause 2, so whilst I respect if the Deputy President missed it, it took a full 90 seconds for you to raise it as a point of order. I am sitting right here, and I did not hear you say no either.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: We cannot re-put the clause. I am sorry, the clerks have advised me. But we need people to actually call louder, because I just did not hear it, I am sorry, and the clerks did not hear it either. We have moved on.

Mrs McARTHUR: I will reiterate my question. The Attorney is busy. She is on the job.

Ms SYMES: Mrs McArthur, the intention of clause 2(3) is to reset the state of emergency. So, as you know, the state of emergency was declared 20-odd months ago and we have been here extending it, and this is to confirm that it will go back as though the state of emergency had not been declared and revert back to zero.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Just arising from the minister’s answer to Mrs McArthur, is it the government’s intention, then, to proclaim these new provisions as soon as royal assent is received, or is it the government’s intention, with as the minister described the reset of the state of emergency, to continue under the existing state-of-emergency provisions for the current pandemic at the present point in time?

Ms SYMES: That would be informed by the health advice, Mr Rich-Phillips.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: But with the passage of the bill and clause 2 coming into effect, or that relevant provision coming into effect on the 15th, as you have said, the reset of the state of emergency occurs. So you are now indicating to the committee that the government may not use these new powers, it may actually use the existing powers. Is that correct?

Ms SYMES: No, there will be no intention to extend the state of emergency. Sorry, yes.

Dr CUMMING: Did we clarify earlier what is the time frame—like weeks, months, years—without limits to the definition of ‘serious risk to public health’? Did we actually define that there have to have been no cases of the disease in Victoria for a period of time? Is there going to be a definition to that?

Ms SYMES: I am sorry, Dr Cumming, we are in clause 2, which is about the commencement of the act.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Dr Cumming, we have moved to clause by clause now, so it is questions relating to the actual clause before the committee.

Ms SYMES: Wait until clause 4.

Committee divided on clause:

Ayes, 20
Barton, Mr Melhem, Mr Tarlamis, Mr
Elasmar, Mr Patten, Ms Taylor, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Pulford, Ms Terpstra, Ms
Gepp, Mr Ratnam, Dr Tierney, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms Watt, Ms
Meddick, Mr Symes, Ms
Noes, 17
Atkinson, Mr Davis, Mr Maxwell, Ms
Bach, Dr Finn, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bath, Ms Grimley, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Bourman, Mr Hayes, Mr Quilty, Mr
Crozier, Ms Limbrick, Mr Rich-Phillips, Mr
Cumming, Dr Lovell, Ms

Clause agreed to.

Clause 3 (21:41)

Mr DAVIS: In one sense it is self-explanatory:

In this Act, the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 is called the Principal Act.

Do all the objectives and aims of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act apply?

Ms SYMES: I will just seek some supporting information to my answer. Once these amendments to the principal act pass, the objectives would apply, because this forms part of the principal act. But this part has its own objectives as well.

Mr DAVIS: So how are the new objectives to be weighted against the old objectives when incorporated in the act?

Ms SYMES: Well, that would suggest that there is a conflict. I do not think there is.

Mr DAVIS: In the current objectives there is often weighting and balancing—for example, charter-related matters.

Ms SYMES: Mr Davis, clause 3 is pretty narrow, and this discussion is outside the scope of clause 3. I refer you to my previous answer.

Mr DAVIS: With respect, it is not outside or narrow or anything like that. It is introducing new concepts into an act, and I am trying to understand the interrelationship with the existing concepts.

Ms SYMES: We would anticipate that they exist in harmony.

Mr DAVIS: With respect, they often do not. Charter objectives, for example, are often in conflict with the public health aims, and one of the key points is that the charter objectives seek to protect human rights and in many cases the public health objectives seek to override human rights. They are often in conflict. That is understood, and that is not a failing in the act; it is actually understood. But there are new objectives coming here, and in that sense I want to understand how they are incorporated.

Ms SYMES: Mr Davis, I will just repeat that they will be read harmoniously.

Mr DAVIS: With respect, just to assert that they are read harmoniously does not actually answer the question. They may well be in conflict in certain circumstances and perhaps naturally so. So the fact that there are new objectives there means it is a perfectly reasonable question as to how they are to be weighted and balanced.

Ms SYMES: Mr Davis, the additional objectives have been set out in the new part and in accordance with the ordinary principles of statutory construction. They are designed to fit within the principal bill, so it is not as though that has not been thought through.

Mr DAVIS: With respect, it does not actually answer the question of how they are to be weighted, how the government intends these potentially conflicting matters be resolved.

Ms SYMES: I refute the suggestion about them being potentially in conflict. Would you like to bring to the attention of the house a conflict that you have identified between the objectives?

Mr DAVIS: I have actually just brought one to the house’s attention, and that is where a public health order of some type is made—a pandemic order, perhaps in this context—and indeed it restricts the human rights of people. Now, that may well be necessary, it may well be in the public interest, but it is not true to say that there is no conflict.

Ms SYMES: This may assist, Mr Davis: the preservation of public health will be the primary consideration in making decisions under the pandemic part. This is in line with the broader objectives of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act, which include protecting public health and preventing disease, illness, injury, disability or premature death and promoting conditions in which persons can be healthy. However, the COVID-19 experience has illustrated the duration and complexity of pandemics as well as the significant impact both a pandemic and its management have on the Victorian community, and this means the decision-making in a pandemic context will necessarily touch on a broad range of matters, including social, economic and mental wellbeing. I think that is just a longer way of saying they will work in harmony.

Mr DAVIS: I will just record that it does not actually say that, and I think there are conflicts. I will just record that I do not think the minister has answered that satisfactorily.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 4 (21:48)

Mr DAVIS: I have some general questions that relate to a cluster of these definitions, and maybe it is pertinent to do them as a group, as it were, or I can do them individually. I am in the committee’s hands.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: The Clerk has suggested you go alphabetically.

Mr DAVIS: Okay. ‘Contact tracing information’ has the meaning, it says, given by section 165CB (1). Does this include the common definition of ‘contact tracing’ as would be understood if you looked at the dictionary, as it were, or read the newspaper? Does it have a broad definition of ‘contact tracing’?

Ms SYMES: Mr Davis, the meaning of ‘contact tracing information’ is very clearly set out on page 58 of the bill. I am not quite sure how that is not enough for you. New section 165CB—would you care to read that, or would you like me to read it out for you?

Mr DAVIS: You can read it out if you wish.

Ms SYMES: I do not really wish to. I will just draw your attention to it. It is three paragraphs. It explains really clearly what contact tracing is.

Mr DAVIS: My point is it is limited to that. It is not a broader sense of contact tracing in the sense that the community would understand it.

Ms SYMES: Mr Davis, I would refer you to new section 165CB, ‘Meaning of contact tracing information’. I do not see how what is there would not align with what the community’s understanding of contact tracing is, but that is my opinion.

Dr CUMMING: Taking up a point that the Attorney has just raised and Mr Davis has just mentioned—just understanding that, Attorney, it says here:

(a) is recorded in any form, and whether true or not, about an individual whose identity is apparent, or can reasonably be ascertained, from the information; or

(b) is collected by a digital visitor registration system for the purposes of contact tracing, whether or not the information is about an individual whose identity is apparent, or can reasonably …

Are you just talking about CCTV? What is meant by ‘digital visitor registration system’? Is that just—

Ms SYMES: QR check-in.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, clause 4(5) largely replaces the existing section 3(4) with new wording that can relate to any pandemic—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Mrs McArthur, you are moving on to a new section. We might go back to—

Mrs McARTHUR: Clause 4.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Yes, but it is not consequential to what Mr Davis is asking, so we will continue to move through the definitions with Mr Davis.

Mr DAVIS: Unless someone has got another one, I want to ask about the ‘disease of pandemic potential’ definition. I note the SARC report, and I just record for the chamber’s and the community’s attention that the SARC answers came at 8.14 today, despite the government having—

A member interjected.

Mr DAVIS: Tonight—8.14 pm—when the committee had been in operation for a number of hours. Answer 1 is to: can pandemic orders and management powers be used in relation to any diseases and areas? It says:

I consider that pandemic orders and pandemic management powers can only be used in relation to the disease referred to in the pandemic declaration and that they can only be used “in, or in relation to” the pandemic management area (see section 165AM(2)). For example, a power to prevent or limit entry to a pandemic management area may involve the use of powers “in relation to” that area but strictly outside the area—for example at the border of a pandemic management area to stop people going in.

A reading of the power—

and I am quoting from the health minister’s letter—

to make pandemic orders under section 165AI in its legislative context confirms that pandemic powers can only be used in relation to the relevant pandemic disease for which a pandemic declaration has been made. The following provisions also make clear that pandemic orders can only be used in relation to the relevant pandemic disease or disease of pandemic potential—

which is why I am asking at this point—

for which a pandemic declaration has been made …

I just want to return to some of the points that were made by Ms Crozier and Mr Limbrick here. With this ‘disease of pandemic potential’ a declaration can be made regarding a disease of pandemic potential even if there is not a pandemic. Is that correct?

Ms SYMES: Mr Davis, the bill is crafted in a way so that we can receive advice in relation to the risk that the disease has to be a pandemic. So, as you have identified, if it has the potential to give rise to a pandemic but has not yet, it can enliven a pandemic declaration.

Mr DAVIS: So a pandemic order can be made where there is no pandemic and there is only the potential of a pandemic. Just let it be recorded that that is the case.

Ms SYMES: On a point of order, Deputy President, this happens to me quite a bit with members opposite where they stand up and they say what I said and it is not what I said. To give me an opportunity to correct them I think is appropriate, because it is misleading the house when they verbal me and put a contention that is not true. We have gone through in some detail the requirements and the satisfaction of the Premier that on health advice there has to be a real threat to public health and safety. This suggestion that a declaration for a pandemic will be declared on a whim because there is some vague illness in some far distant land is an absolute furphy. That is not what is intended, it will not happen and there has to be—

Mr ONDARCHIE: You rule it out?

Ms SYMES: I rule it out. Absolutely, Mr Ondarchie. If you look at the definitions in the bill, look at clause 4(6). It talks through a disease of pandemic potential. It says that:

… at a particular time if—

(a) at that time, the infectious disease has the potential to give rise to a pandemic, but is not yet a pandemic disease; or

(b) all of the following apply—

(i) before that time, the infectious disease was a pandemic disease;

(ii) at that time, the infectious disease is no longer a pandemic disease;

(iii) at that time, the infectious disease has the ongoing potential to give rise to a pandemic.”.

So to suggest that I have said anything that would give rise to anyone believing that a declaration can be called when there is no threat and no risk to public health and safety is not true.

Mr DAVIS: Let it be recorded that when you read it out it actually sounded precisely like what I had just said. Further in the advice from SARC:

Section 165AK(3), as proposed to be amended by House amendments—

and this is where the interplay of these amendments comes in—

… if so amended will provide that differentiation under that section is to be ‘relevant to the serious risk to public health posed by the disease specified in the pandemic declaration to which the pandemic order relates’ …

I wonder if the minister might enlighten us. ‘Relevant to the serious risk to public health’—what exactly does that mean?

Business interrupted pursuant to standing orders.

Ms TIERNEY: Pursuant to standing order 4.08, I declare the sitting be extended for up to 1 hour.

Ms SYMES: Mr Davis, I did just seek some advice from the box because I got a bit lost in your question, but so did they. Could you just go through that again?

Mr DAVIS: I am quoting from the SARC response that was received today from the Minister for Health, and I have just quoted directly from it:

Section 165AK(3), as proposed to be amended by House amendments circulated by the Attorney-General, The Hon Jaclyn Symes MP on 30 November 2021, if so amended will provide that differentiation under that section is to be “relevant to the serious risk to public health posed by the disease specified in the pandemic declaration to which the pandemic order relates” and the examples under that subsection refer to “a pandemic disease or a disease of pandemic potential”.

My question thereby, relating to this definition and the words in the health minister’s letter, is: what is meant by ‘relevant to the serious risk to public health’?

Ms SYMES: I know where you are now. This is in relation to the house amendments in terms of the removal of the equal opportunity attributes. What the house amendment is proposing to do is ensure that:

(1) A pandemic order may be expressed to apply to the following—

(a) all persons;

(b) specified classes of persons;

(c) specified persons.

(3) Without limiting—

Mr Davis, I think I know where you are at in relation to the issue that you raised, but can you connect it back to clause 4 for me, please?

Mr DAVIS: Yes. Well, I will read it again. This is in the—

Ms SYMES: No, but which part of clause 4 are you referring to?

Mr DAVIS: I am looking at this in the definitions section here: ‘disease of pandemic potential’:

Section 165AK(3), as proposed to be amended by House amendments circulated by the Attorney-General—

and I am abbreviating now—

… if so amended will provide that differentiation under that section is to be “relevant to the serious risk to public health posed by the disease specified in the pandemic declaration to which the pandemic order relates” and the examples under that subsection refer to “a pandemic disease or a disease of pandemic potential”.

Consequently I am asking the question: what does ‘relevant to the serious risk to public health’ exactly mean in this context?

Ms SYMES: Just because it mentions ‘disease of pandemic potential’ does not mean that that relates to clause 4.

Mr DAVIS: No, but I am trying to understand what this means in relation to here. Under the subclause it refers to a pandemic disease or disease of pandemic potential, which is one of your definitions in the bill here.

Ms SYMES: None of us is following your question, because your question is related to the house amendment which seeks to put beyond doubt the fact that the bill was not intended to cover attributes in the Equal Opportunity Act, such as political affiliation and the like. It is not—

Mr DAVIS: But you hook it to this definition of ‘pandemic disease’ or ‘disease of pandemic potential’.

Ms SYMES: But it is not relevant to the definition of it. I am happy to go over that amendment when we get to it, but it is not relevant to clause 4.

Mr DAVIS: But you are using precisely the same definition here.

Ms SYMES: But we could talk about any of the definitions that are in here and link it to a clause.

Mr Davis interjected.

Ms SYMES: All right, let me take that one on notice, because I cannot understand it and neither can anyone over there. So if we can come back to that clause later, that might be useful.

Mr DAVIS: There is another section in here that I do want to ask about, and that is ‘pandemic management general power’, ‘pandemic management order power’ and ‘pandemic management power’ and some of these definitions. I want to understand how the sections that are referred to work with respect to the definitions. We have seen how some of these management aspects have operated. If I look, for example—I could have picked up any of these reports—at the 20th Report to Parliament on the State of Emergency, and I quote page 11:

The Acting Chief Health Officer advised that the availability of the emergency powers … continues to be necessary to manage the COVID-19 threat effectively …

These definitions relate to the management of a pandemic. It could be COVID-19, it could be another pandemic, but we have one that we have had a close association with more recently. On the same matters at page 31, point 157, the same long document talks about:

I consider that the availability of the emergency powers … remains necessary to manage the threat …

As part of this management we have seen the government use various types of orders to restrict activity, restrict changes, and I just ask: is that what these definitions relate to, ‘pandemic management general power’ and ‘pandemic management order power’? The bill states:

pandemic management power means a pandemic management general power or a pandemic management order power …

I am just wanting you to elucidate what this means. Is this meaning in the same way as we have observed with the recent reports, the use of management in that context?

Ms SYMES: Mr Davis, with respect, you know the answer, because it is really, really clearly set out on pages 36, 37 and 38 of the bill. It goes into really specific detail:

The pandemic management general powers are as follows—

(a) to take any action or give any direction, other than to detain a person, that the authorised officer believes is reasonably necessary to protect public health;

(b) to detain a person in a pandemic management area for the period the authorised officer believes is reasonably necessary to eliminate or reduce a serious risk to public health.

It goes on to talk about ‘restricts movement’, ‘requires movement in, into or from a pandemic management area’, ‘prevents or limits entry to a pandemic management area’, ‘requires a person to refrain from organising or participating in a gathering whether public or private’, ‘requires the use of personal protective equipment’, ‘requires a person to refrain from carrying on activities’, ‘requires the provision of information’, ‘requires medical examination’, ‘requires the quarantining, destruction’—it is pretty thorough. I am not sure I can do a better job of explaining what that means than as is set out in very prescriptive terms within the bill as provided.

Mr DAVIS: And will the orders made under these pandemic management powers—the general power and pandemic management order power—be backed up by health information of the type we have seen in the past with the recent pandemic? And let me be very specific: the government in each case where an order is made has behind it the chief health officer currently. It will be different in this bill; it will be the minister. In each current case the chief health officer has a brief that provides a legal backup to their decisions. Will each of these orders—these pandemic management powers, which means a pandemic management general power or pandemic management order power—have a brief or other document backing them up? You went down the long list of various things that can be directed, but will there be a document or a brief that supports the use of those powers?

Ms SYMES: Mr Davis, we are in the definitions section of the bill, and as we have outlined I think a lot in clause 1—the requirement for the minister to publish public health advice, statements and summaries of the charter is a feature of the bill. But in terms of more of the operational stuff, that is later in the bill.

Mr DAVIS: So what exactly will be published on these orders? Will a formal brief be published? Is that what will be released? Or will a different document, a summary document—as we have seen with these flimsy reports—be published? Will a formal brief be published?

Ms SYMES: Mr Davis, the orders made by the minister will involve a statement.

Mr DAVIS: Perhaps the minister would elucidate what that statement is exactly. What does it involve?

Ms SYMES: I cannot go into specifics, Mr Davis, but as we have gone through, if the Parliament believes that the material provided is inadequate, there is opportunity for the joint standing committee to look at that. But it is the intention of the government to provide very detailed, relevant information to ensure that the decisions made, the reasons for the decisions and the supporting documentation that led to those decisions is publicly available, and that is one of the strengths of this bill.

Mr DAVIS: Let me ground this in a very specific case. This chamber ordered the release of the briefs with respect to the charter. You responded to the chamber on 3 May 2021, and the public documents that had already been released were provided. Out of a total of 11 documents provided, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11—five—were already public. For example, regarding the cover brief, number 6 of those documents that you provided on that list, ‘Cover brief—re-issue of public health directions to limit the spread of novel coronavirus 2019’, the date of the document was 2 August 2020, the author of the document was the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the government claimed executive privilege over that document, saying:

Executive privilege is claimed over the document on the basis that disclosure would reveal the high-level confidential deliberative processes of the Executive government, or otherwise genuinely jeopardise the necessary relationship of trust and confidence between public officials and a minister.

Executive privilege is also claimed over part of the document on the basis that disclosure of parts C and D of the document would reveal confidential legal advice of the Government’s advisers.

So this is not an abstract question. This is a recent example, and what I am trying to understand is: what would actually be released in relation to these management order powers? When one of these orders is made, what will actually be released? Will the brief behind it and the reconciliation with the charter be published? What will actually be published? Or will executive privilege be claimed over many of these documents?

Ms SYMES: Mr Davis, I would draw your attention to clause 165AP(2)(b) and (a). That is set out pretty clearly, but someone of your experience would also know that, no, it is not the intention of the government to table briefs.

Mr DAVIS: I am very disturbed to hear this, because these are the legal documents that actually stand behind many of these points. Many of these decisions actually have a brief behind them that actually empowers an official, that actually gives a legal weighting to their set of decisions. This is what has troubled me about this bill, or one of the key things that has troubled me about this bill: that the government has made flimsy proposals to publish additional information, but actually when we get to the heart of it, the government is actually not going to publish the critical documents—the documents that actually empower, the documents that actually balance and weight all of these things.

Ms SYMES: That’s not true.

Mr DAVIS: Well, it is actually true. If the briefs are not going to be published, we will not see the actual clear, full reasons—unadulterated, unredacted, undoctored, undiluted by the government. So I am very concerned, and I remain very concerned and become more concerned as we progress that what we are going to see is the government use this approach to hoodwink the community again that we are going to see the actual briefs, the actual documents on which these decisions are made. I am not going to say more on this—not at this point anyway. I will just record that I am very concerned at what I have heard.

Ms SYMES: That was quite a performance, Mr Davis. I can assure you that the government has full intention of following the bill. It requires that a copy of or a written record of the advice given by the chief health officer in relation to the making, variation, extension or revocation of the order will be tabled. A statement of reasons for the making, variation, extension or revocation of the order will be tabled. The reasons the minister is making an order will be tabled. So your fears are misguided, and I can assure you this government does not operate like that. We have committed to doing what we say we will do, and that is tabling the information for the public’s interest and indeed for your own interest.

Mr DAVIS: Let me just record the kind of antics the government has gotten up to on this. I have watched the Premier in the other chamber. He has got up and he has held this document, he has put it down on the table and he has said, ‘Here’s all the health advice’. But of course it is a lie—it is a complete lie. There are the orders that are attached, and I could go to any date you choose where there has been an order made. Here we look at 30 December 2020, the ‘New South Wales border crossing permit scheme directions (no. 3)’, and it talks about revoking the earlier one, persons who have been in these areas in the specified time frame are permitted to enter Victoria, blah, blah, blah. And then it does give a reason—it gives a single-paragraph reason; that is what it does. It says:

The exercise of these emergency powers sought to extend—

Ms Symes: On a point of order, Deputy President, I would ask that the member be brought back to the definition clause of the bill. We are on clause 4. Mr Davis is continuing to make longwinded statements, and I think he is repeating himself.

Mr DAVIS: On the point of order, Deputy President, I am directly talking to these three definitions here, including the pandemic management power and the pandemic management order power—

Ms Symes interjected.

Mr DAVIS: I am, and I am asking how this is going to work in the context of the decision-making around these items. We have before us a very similar recent example. I am quoting something from 2020 here, where the government said—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Mr Davis to continue at this stage.

Mr DAVIS: I will be brief, but:

The exercise of these emergency powers sought to extend existing restrictions to persons who have been in the Blue Mountains or Wollongong areas (in line with the latest information …), to reduce the risk of incursion of COVID-19 in the community in Victoria.

That is the reason. That is one reason. But there is no detailed balancing, there is no detailed discussion of charter issues, there is no detailed discussion of the other aspects of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act, the proportionality, questions of transparency, questions of accountability—none of those are touched in this document. Frankly, I am very concerned that what we are going to see is the same sleight of hand occur here, where the government gives a trite, simple little explanation but does not actually release the detailed information. What we have heard now makes me very concerned that the minister actually intends that the full formal briefs are not released.

Ms BATH: Attorney, this is in clause 4(1), ‘pandemic management area’. I am interested to know the definition of ‘area’. So it could be applied to an LGA, a local government area—that is my question—or a suburb or a town? That is, a pandemic declaration. It could be a street. It could be a particular business. It could be this particular room. So it can actually be quite finite. It could be a particular church or a school or the like. Is that correct? There is no non-size. It can be as small—

A member interjected.

Ms BATH: Yes, or the whole of the state.

Ms SYMES: You are correct, Ms Bath.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Minister, can I ask you about subclause (3) on page 5, which amends the definition of ‘prescribed senior officer’ in the principal act to add the reference ‘or is an employee of a health service’. Now, ‘employee of a health service’ is not defined in this bill. It is also not defined in the principal act—neither ‘health service’ nor ‘employee’. So are there any constraints on who is an employee of a health service for the purposes of this provision?

Ms SYMES: Mr Rich-Phillips, I am advised it is the natural meaning of ‘an employee’ and the natural meaning of the term ‘health service’.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Thank you, Attorney. So an employee would be the cleaner engaged by a health service as an employee, if they were employed, or it would be the gardener engaged by a health service as an employee, if they meet the legal definition of an employee. Given that, why does this bill provide for someone who may be the cleaner at a health service or the gardener at a health service to be declared as a ‘prescribed senior officer’ for the purpose of delegation under this bill?

Ms SYMES: It is not an automatic entitlement to be an appointed as a prescribed senior officer. It is just the eligibility of an employee of a health service to ensure that we can pick up all those people who would be suitably qualified and experienced to take on that role. So there is still the appropriate selection process or identification of relevant people. Just because it is a broad definition does not automatically give you both titles.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Well, Attorney, to go to the principal act and the amendment that you are adding—sorry, I will just find it—on page 16 of the principal act it states:

prescribed senior officer means a person who is of a prescribed class of persons, being a person who is employed under Part 3 of the Public Administration Act … other than as an executive … of that Act;

And you are now seeking to add ‘or is an employee of a health service’. So the principal act and this definition you are inserting will mean that anyone who is an employee of a health service is within the definition of a prescribed senior officer. So it is not ‘may be in that class’, it is ‘will be’ a prescribed senior officer.

Ms Bath: The Friday night cleaner.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: So as Ms Bath said, the Friday night cleaner will fall within the definition of ‘prescribed senior officer’. Now, a separate question is whether they are given a delegation or not, but the base definition of ‘prescribed senior officer’ will include all employees of all health services. Is that correct?

Ms SYMES: Yes, but they still have to be prescribed, so it is not an automatic right.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Well, Minister, could you refer to the principal act and outline where that requirement is, because the principal act actually describes anyone falling in that class as a prescribed senior officer, and your amendment will extend that class to include an employee of a health service, so it is not subject to selection. Anyone who is an employee of a health service automatically by this definition becomes a prescribed senior officer.

Ms SYMES: We would maintain that you would still have to be prescribed.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Minister, what is the mechanism for that, then, because I would argue the act does that? So if you are saying that is not the case, can you point to where the mechanism is that will allow someone to be prescribed or not prescribed, because the definition itself prescribes someone in that class.

Ms SYMES: Yes, but if you refer to page 15, Mr Rich-Phillips, ‘prescribed’ means prescribed by the regulations. So if you read page 16 in conjunction with page 15, I think it would become clear that it is still required to be prescribed.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Thank you, Minister. I see the reference you are making on page 15. That may be the case with respect to a prescribed class of person, which is within the definition of ‘prescribed senior officer’. But the section you are now seeking to add by way of the clause in the bill, ‘or is an employee of a health service’, does not say ‘is a prescribed employee of a health service’. It simply states ‘is an employee of a health service’ so there is no requirement in the element you are adding for a person to be prescribed within that category in order to become a prescribed senior officer. The use of ‘prescribed’ twice in this principal definition is unhelpful, but the element you are seeking to add does not require that prescription. Yes, where there is a prescribed class of person in the principal definition I agree with you that that requires prescription by regulation, but the element you are adding does not require prescription. It simply declares ‘is an employee of a health service’, not ‘is a prescribed employee of a health service’.

Ms SYMES: Mr Rich-Phillips, we are really getting into the weeds here. If you look at ‘prescribed accommodation’, for example:

prescribed accommodation means any of the following which is prescribed, or is of a class which is prescribed, to be prescribed accommodation …

It lists camping grounds. Not every camping ground is going to be prescribed unless it is prescribed by virtue of the legislation, so I can only reiterate that ‘prescribed’ is defined in the principal act to mean prescribed by regulations, and that would apply to the definition of ‘prescribed senior officer’.

Sitting suspended 10.29 pm until 10.47 pm.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, clause 4(5) largely replaces the existing section 3(4) with new wording that can relate to any pandemic disease rather than just COVID. Why are you proposing to change the wording of this provision so that the expanded definition of ‘serious risk to public health’ applies to the entire act rather than just division 3 of part 10, as the existing provision applies?

Ms SYMES: Mrs McArthur, it is simply that the existing clause is just related to COVID and this is to ensure that it can relate to a new pandemic disease. As you would appreciate, the intention of the bill is to be pandemic specific but not specific to a particular pandemic.

Mrs McARTHUR: Thank you, Attorney. Then specifically which other provisions in the act that use the phrase ‘serious risk to public health’ does the government believe this expanded definition is required for?

Ms SYMES: Mrs McArthur, it is changing the definition so that the act can take into account the new definition. The words ‘pandemic disease’ are only used in the new part of the act—so the bill.

Mrs McARTHUR: Okay. Then in clause 4(5), again, the definition of ‘serious risk to public health’ includes circumstances in which ‘there have been no cases of the disease in Victoria for a period of time’. Attorney, how long does the government anticipate ‘a period of time’ to be?

Ms SYMES: That would be informed by health advice, as appropriate.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, under this provision could there conceivably be a serious risk to public health when there have been no cases of the disease in Victoria for a year?

Ms SYMES: Mrs McArthur, we have gone through extensively the definition of ‘serious risk’ and how the health advice would inform whether a pandemic declaration can be made to respond to that risk. There is no restriction on the timing. For example, there could be cases in other jurisdictions which would enliven the definition of ‘serious risk’ by virtue of what the public health officials tell us.

Mrs McARTHUR: Thank you, Attorney. In that case it could be for two years or more.

Ms SYMES: I would bring you back to there having to be the existence of a serious risk at the time that a declaration of a pandemic is made.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, what if the federal chief health officer or the federal minister said there was no serious risk? Would the Victorian government, with this legislation, act unilaterally?

Ms SYMES: Mrs McArthur, the advice is that the CHO can take into account advice such as from the federal health officer. The independent advisory panel can also review the decisions that a minister makes and indeed the health advice as provided by the CHO, but I would put on record that we are not aware of any dispute between the health officials in Australia in relation to the existence of a pandemic, for example.

Mrs McARTHUR: Thank you, Attorney. I just wanted to be clear that then you would be acting in unison with federal advice.

Ms SYMES: That has been the practice, yes.

Mr HAYES: Minister, I am not sure if this is the relevant place to ask this, but it well could be. I wanted to ask: what is the difference between a detention appeals officer and a detention appeals registrar? And why is their method of appointment different—one being appointed by the secretary and one being appointed by the Governor in Council?

Ms SYMES: Registrars support the scheme, which is a different role to the officers.

Mr HAYES: Sorry. I am not trying to be difficult, but I just wonder what you mean by ‘support the scheme’. Are they involved in the review of a complaint against a decision or someone objecting to a decision?

Ms SYMES: Registrars are administrative and do not make decisions.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Minister, I would like to reluctantly take you to the definition of ‘pandemic disease’ inserted in this provision, which is a little bit circular. It is on page 5, and it is proposed to be inserted as a new subsection (5) after section 3(4) in the principal act:

For the purposes of this Act, an infectious disease is a pandemic disease at a particular time if, at that time, there is a pandemic outbreak of that infectious disease.

Now, ‘pandemic disease’ is not defined anywhere else in this bill, and it is not defined anywhere in the principal act. Can you explain what a pandemic outbreak is, which gives rise to the definition of ‘pandemic disease’? Is there a recognised definition of ‘pandemic outbreak’? Is it something that is declared by the WHO? Is there a trigger for something to be a pandemic outbreak and hence flow to being a pandemic disease?

Ms SYMES: This has come up a lot, Mr Rich-Phillips, in terms of the term ‘pandemic’ and whether it can be defined in the bill. We note that the terms ‘pandemic disease’ and ‘disease of pandemic potential’ are defined in the new sections 3(5) and (6), inserted by clause 4. And in terms of defining the word ‘pandemic’, pandemic events by nature and complexity can continue for an extended length of time, up to years. The chief health officer can provide advice to the Premier on the threshold of a pandemic disease. There are no widely accepted objective criteria on this threshold, as demonstrated by the World Health Organization’s delay in declaring COVID-19 a pandemic in early 2020.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Thank you, Minister. I guess the challenge here is that this definition goes to a new definition of ‘pandemic outbreak’, which, as I said, does not appear anywhere else in the legislation, the principal act. It has been introduced as a new concept. I have obviously heard what you said previously about risk to public health et cetera in terms of describing a pandemic, but this definition takes us back to the need for a pandemic outbreak. So can you put some clarity around what that pandemic outbreak is, which is really a prerequisite for all the other elements that you have talked about with serious risk to public health et cetera?

Business interrupted pursuant to standing orders.

Mr LEANE: Pursuant to standing order 4.08(1)(b), I declare the sitting to be extended by up to 1 further hour.

Ms SYMES: The ordinary meaning is what is intended here, Mr Rich-Phillips. It is a widespread or global outbreak of a disease, and I would draw your attention to page 7 of the explanatory memorandum, which is quite useful to address the issues that you have raised.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Thank you, Minister. Maybe to short-circuit: a pandemic outbreak does not require a declaration or a recognition by WHO or any other international body of a pandemic? It can be determined by other local criteria, like you have spoken about previously?

Ms SYMES: Yes, but it still has to enliven other relevant sections of the bill in relation to posing a serious risk.

Dr CUMMING: Thank you, Attorney. I am going to go back. I know we are on clause 4. We have been talking about definitions and pandemics and of course we are here today to obviously talk about COVID. One of the issues that I raised earlier was around immunisation or being immunised against COVID, and on some of the questions that you could not answer earlier I went off just to get some further information. One was around ATAGI—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Dr Cumming, we are on clause 4 and we are now doing very specific questions about the clause. If you are just wanting to get information on vaccinations, I appreciate your interest in this and I think we are all interested in that as well, but you may need to do those as questions on notice or supply a list of questions to the Attorney to get an answer from the health minister for those. I am sorry. They just do not fit with this clause.

Dr CUMMING: Just on that, because within page 5 it talks about a serious risk to public health and we are talking about this in the way of a pandemic disease.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Clause 4 is about definitions—

Dr CUMMING: Yes, that is correct.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: and defining those things. It is not talking about vaccinations at all.

Dr CUMMING: No, it is not talking about vaccinations specifically but it is very broad in the way of definitions, and it actually talks about—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I am sorry, Dr Cumming, the questions about vaccinations do not fit in this clause of the bill. In fact they are outside the scope of the bill. So I would suggest that you do give a list of questions to the Attorney to try and get some answers. I am sorry. We are all interested in the answers to the same things as you, but they just do not fit within this part of the bill, I am sorry.

Dr CUMMING: Clause 4, page 4, lines 22 to 24—my amendment is talking about omitting all the words and expressions on those lines.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I am sorry, Dr Cumming. We are just about to start the amendments. I suppose you can speak to it now, actually. If you would like to speak to your amendment, the thing is that you cannot move your amendment because it is identical to the minister’s. You can either speak to it right now or you could wait until it is moved by the minister and speak to it to at that point, when it is relevant to the question that is before the house.

Dr CUMMING: I can do one of two things. I can ask a question on the clause that currently I have questions on. So my question is regarding page 5: what is the time frame—weeks, months or years? Under 4(b) in the bill it says:

there have been no cases of the disease in Victoria for a period of time.

What is the time frame—weeks, months or years?

Ms SYMES: It is deliberately undefined, Dr Cumming.

Dr CUMMING: And then my next question is on the same page, a little bit further down. It talks about obviously ‘pandemic disease’ and ‘disease of pandemic potential’, which was raised earlier by others. So whose advice is it—is it the chief health officer’s or the World Health Organization’s?

Ms SYMES: Dr Cumming, the chief health officer provides advice to the minister taking into account epidemiology around the world and here at home, but we have not referred to the World Health Organization in the bill.

Dr CUMMING: Obviously when we have seen the chief health officer’s directions in the past they have a bit of a summary at the very start, they talk about the World Health Organization and when the pandemic was actually declared and they go into some further information around that. I have seen that within the directions, but there is no reference to the World Health Organization within the declarations of the pandemic or the definitions of the pandemic.

Ms SYMES: Dr Cumming, the chief health officer can provide advice to the Premier on the threshold of a pandemic disease that poses a risk to the health of Victorians. Objective criteria that are widely accepted do not exist, as demonstrated by the World Health Organization’s delay in declaring COVID-19 a pandemic in early 2020. Using the World Health Organization’s declaration of a pandemic may seem like an obvious way to define a pandemic, but in fact it presents several issues. A good example of this is the current pandemic. On 25 January 2020 the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed here in Victoria. The World Health Organization declared an outbreak of a public health emergency of international concern on 30 January 2020 and did not declare a pandemic until 11 March. So while Victoria did not declare a state of emergency until 16 March, when the CHO provided advice to the Minister for Health that COVID posed a serious risk to public health in Victoria, that is how we should be managing and responding to public health risks, not waiting for an international body to issue advice which may be delayed and put the health of Victorians at risk.

Dr CUMMING: Just to understand that, obviously the World Health Organization made that declaration in January. We understood there were cases, and then under the state of emergency the Premier or the health minister or the chief health officer made those declarations here in Victoria. But it would seem that even currently under the new strain there is obviously World Health Organization advice that is taken into consideration. I do not understand why in a pandemic situation—which is normally declared by the World Health Organization, because they are the peak body looking at outbreaks of infection across the world and then highlighting that to countries so that they can make their own decisions—you could not actually straddle both in the definitions by making sure that there is a provision in this bill to talk about the World Health Organization and the way that they declare a pandemic outbreak of an infectious disease as well as the possibility of a localised outbreak of infectious disease that you would actually declare and raise to the World Health Organization. But it would seem that this is written in a way that it is just a Victorian pandemic.

Ms SYMES: Dr Cumming, the bill still requires that there must be a serious risk to the public health of Victorians as a result of a pandemic or disease of pandemic potential. The experience is that of course our public health officials consider and take advice from the global stage, from experts and from concern of cases coming across borders into Australia by a variety of means. But I guess that might not necessarily be the case. The World Health Organization might declare a pandemic somewhere that is of no risk to Victoria, so the basis that we want this framework to operate on is that there must be a risk to Victorians from a pandemic or potential pandemic. We believe that in practice there would be consideration of the World Health Organization, but we do not necessarily need to be reliant on them or beholden to them.

Dr CUMMING: Just on that, one of the concerns that were raised from others, with the legal minds when they looked at this, was the problem here that it talks about the potential but it does not talk about the disease or the cases and the number. It just talks about ‘pandemic potential’. So this is where we fall short of some of the lockdowns and some of the experiences this state found when we were chasing COVID zero—that really the number of cases within the community might not necessarily have the potential to be a pandemic. I am not saying that with COVID, but seeing that we are making laws for future pandemics and diseases, there should be an amount of disease or cases or a measure for that declaration to be declared.

Ms SYMES: Dr Cumming, the measure is on the advice of our public health officials taking into account, as they always do, a range of local and international intelligence. But I think I have addressed your issues in our previous discussions.

Mr HAYES: Minister, while I was someone who was in discussions with you and the health minister talking about a tighter definition of what constituted a pandemic for consideration, I just want to say in relation to Dr Cumming’s amendment, even though that is sought there, I cannot support it, for the very reason that you raised about the World Health Organization and the delay that came from them about COVID-19 and declaring that a pandemic. I welcome the attempt to get a better definition but cannot support the amendment.

Mr DAVIS: Can I just put on record our agonising over this, because I think Dr Cumming is actually trying to get a tighter definition. We have our moments, of course, with the World Health Organization. Let me say it is an imperfect body, I suppose the same as all human institutions, but it is an extra dose of imperfection from time to time, and that makes us somewhat nervous about being shackled more formally to it. Notwithstanding that, I completely and utterly understand what you are trying to achieve with this. We think a lot of this is too loose, and I see that you are trying to more sharply define this. I just do not think on this occasion we can support it. This would be a classic case where a proper process that had proper public input more broadly actually over a longer period would have dealt with these sorts of points. We simply could not deal with every aspect of the bill that was flawed, and this is one of them. You have had a go at it, and I am not disrespectful of that at all. I kind of see the point.

Ms SYMES: I move:

1. Suggested amendment to the Legislative Assembly—

Clause 4, after line 14 insert—

Detention Appeals Officer means a person appointed to be a Detention Appeals Officer under section 32A(1);

Detention Appeals Registrar means the person appointed to be the Detention Appeals Registrar under section 32F(1);”.

In relation to my amendment, this is quite straightforward in relation to the definitions section. We have gone over these in our discussions, and it is inserting new definitions.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Minister, I do have some questions on this. I am happy to do them either now or when we get to your proposed clause 10A insert, which is a substantive clause. I was wondering: can you outline to the committee why you are proposing these as suggested amendments? Can you just outline why they are suggested amendments?

Ms SYMES: Yes, Mr Rich-Phillips. The advice of drafters and the clerks is that because of the financial implication of the detention appeals officers in particular they should be suggested amendments—because of the appropriation attached to that.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Minister, I assume that is because of the remuneration provisions. Are you able to outline how much that appropriation is for this function?

Ms SYMES: No, I do not have that. Sorry, no.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: I might leave the substantive questions to the substantive clause on this.

Dr CUMMING: Just in relation to the detention appeals officer and the register, does this actually just fall within the guise of a pandemic, seeing that the word ‘detention’ is obviously used throughout the Public Health and Wellbeing Act and the word ‘detention’ is used in a medical setting, such as, and I have given these examples before, when someone is having a mental health episode and they become a voluntary or non-voluntary patient? There is a list of how they can appeal—within 28 days, so to speak. So with these definitions of this new detention appeals officer, detention appeals registrar, detention review officer and the definitions and uses of them, will they only be subject to a pandemic or can they be used throughout the health and wellbeing act in other ways in other health situations?

Ms SYMES: Thank you, Dr Cumming. These roles are established in relation to this part and only in relation to detention as per a pandemic declaration.

Suggested amendment agreed to.

Ms SYMES: I move:

2. Clause 4, page 4, after line 21 insert—

public authority has the same meaning as it has in the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities;”.

Again, we are making minor amendments to definitions.

Amendment agreed to.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Attorney, I would ask you to move your amendment 3, please. As Dr Cumming’s amendment 1 is identical to the Attorney’s amendment 3, Dr Cumming will not move her amendment.

Ms SYMES: I move:

3. Clause 4, page 4, lines 22 to 24, omit all words and expressions on these lines.

This has been well canvassed, and I know I have got at least one vote.

Mr HAYES: I just want to ask the Attorney: if we are removing SARC from the definitions here, does that stop SARC from carrying out their usual work in relation to pandemic declarations or orders made under the pandemic declaration?

Ms SYMES: I can confirm the answer is no.

Amendment agreed to.

Ms SYMES: I move:

4. Suggested amendment to the Legislative Assembly—

Clause 4, page 4, after line 33 insert—

“(2A) In section 3(1) of the Principal Act, the definition of Detention Review Officer is repealed.”.

Suggested amendment agreed to.

Dr CUMMING: I will just read in my amendment 1, which is:

1. Clause 4, page 4, lines 22 to 24, omit all words and expressions on those lines.

This removes the definition of ‘Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee’, which we just did, as the committee is not going to provide effective, unbiased oversight, and I think it should be removed from the bill.

I move:

2. Clause 4, page 5, lines 24 and 25, omit “there is a pandemic outbreak of that infectious disease” and insert “it is declared or otherwise assessed by the World Health Organisation to be such a disease”.

3. Clause 4, page 5, line 28, omit “if—” and insert “if, at that time, it is not a pandemic disease but is the subject of a public health emergency of international concern as determined by the World Health Organisation.”.

4. Clause 4, page 5, lines 29 to 34 and page 6, lines 1 to 5, omit all words and expressions on those lines.

On the current definition of the word ‘pandemic’, to define a pandemic the World Health Organization declares a pandemic disease as such, and this should be reflected in the definition.

The World Health Organization declares an infectious disease and that could later become a pandemic as a public health emergency of international concern, such as COVID-19. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak as a public health emergency of international concern on 30 January 2020 and as a pandemic on 11 March 2020. The definition recommended is in keeping with that. So it amends the definitions of ‘pandemic disease’ and ‘disease of pandemic potential’ to relate to the declarations made by the World Health Organization. I move these all together.

Ms SYMES: I do thank Dr Cumming for bringing this conversation to the chamber. As we have indicated, we are not in a position to support the amendments, but I concur with Mr Davis: on the face of it, there is some merit in it, but just in a practical sense it would potentially lead to unintended consequences. But of course we value the advice from the World Health Organization, and as such that it would be part of the basis of the CHO’s advice is our expectation.

Committee divided on amendments:

Ayes, 3
Cumming, Dr Limbrick, Mr Quilty, Mr
Noes, 32
Bach, Dr Hayes, Mr Ratnam, Dr
Barton, Mr Kieu, Dr Rich-Phillips, Mr
Bath, Ms Leane, Mr Shing, Ms
Bourman, Mr Lovell, Ms Stitt, Ms
Crozier, Ms Maxwell, Ms Symes, Ms
Davis, Mr McArthur, Mrs Tarlamis, Mr
Elasmar, Mr Meddick, Mr Terpstra, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Melhem, Mr Tierney, Ms
Finn, Mr Ondarchie, Mr Vaghela, Ms
Gepp, Mr Patten, Ms Watt, Ms
Grimley, Mr Pulford, Ms

Amendments negatived.

Clause postponed.

Clause 5 (23:33)

Mr DAVIS: These clauses are about delegations or the exercise of powers. The secretary can delegate to ‘any prescribed senior officer’. ‘Any’, I take it, means any. What will be the criteria?

Ms SYMES: Mr Davis, this is a very standard delegation clause and so is well versed in the public sector.

Mr DAVIS: So what will be the criteria for that delegation?

Ms SYMES: The explanatory memorandum goes through some of these issues, Mr Davis. I would encourage you to read that. The delegation—just let me check one thing.

Yes, Mr Davis. I will refer you to the explanatory memorandum, which specifies that delegations:

… will ensure the Secretary is able to delegate to this skilled workforce where appropriate, including to utilise this surge capacity to assist in responding to a pandemic.

And as I discussed with Mr Rich-Phillips, there is the expansion of prescribed senior officers to include employees of health services. So the delegation would happen in the normal way in the public sector, and that is only to appropriately qualified, experienced people that meet eligibility as a prescribed senior officer.

Clause agreed to; clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 (23:38)

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, clause 7 expands the functions and powers of the chief health officer to include having to provide advice to the Premier in addition to the minister or secretary. So, Attorney, has the government received any legal advice that due to the absence of this amendment they may have been running the risk of falling foul of the law due to the chief health officer directly advising the Premier?

Ms SYMES: Falling foul of which law?

A member: The current act.

Mrs McARTHUR: Yes.

Ms SYMES: No.

Mrs McARTHUR: Okay, then. Attorney, during the COVID-19 pandemic has the chief health officer ever refused to advise the Premier because it is not his current function and power under the principal act?

Ms SYMES: My advice is no.

Mrs McARTHUR: Then, Attorney, why is this amendment necessary?

Ms SYMES: This is to ensure that it is beyond doubt that the Premier’s role and the new role of the CHO under this framework is reflected. The Premier is to take into account consideration of the CHO before making a pandemic declaration.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, just please confirm: is it presumably, then, solving an issue that presented itself over the past 18 months? Otherwise it would not have been included in this legislation we assume.

Ms SYMES: That is a statement.

Mr DAVIS: Has the government examined the prospect that there could be confusion in the CHO reporting to two ministers in this way?

Ms SYMES: The CHO provides advice to government in a number of ways and gives advice to particular ministers in relation to their function during a pandemic. I spoke to the CHO when I was Minister for Agriculture. It is appropriate in his role to provide public health advice to the government, and I cannot see how it matters if he is talking to a variety of members across government. That is appropriate. That is his role.

Mr DAVIS: I just want to make a short comment to put on record my concern with this clause. One of the problems through this pandemic, especially in the second-wave period, was the implementation of the mission coordination committees and approach. Different missions were set up. New lines of authority were set up. The Premier directed that certain secretaries would respond to him and not to their minister, and the confusion and issues that developed from the mission coordination committee approach was a significant part of the failings in that second wave.

Whilst the mission control committee was set up at the end of April and went through until late in 2020, it is clear that the breakdown of normal ministerial accountability and normal response of secretaries to ministers, and in this case the CHO to the health minister—that standard response—was modified. And indeed I would put on record that the experimentation that occurred with those mission control committees was a significant cause of the breakdown in good governance and the errors that occurred in the second wave. I will just record that this adds to this confusion, and the idea that the CHO should be answering several masters at once and not one primary master, or mistress indeed, is particularly a concern.

Ms SYMES: Let me put on the record that we have a very straightforward clause here, which is asking that the chief health officer provide advice to the Premier, and that Mr Davis has concerns about the chief health officer of our state providing health advice to the Premier.

Mr DAVIS: I will just make it very clear that the chief health officer has always provided advice across a wide range, but there has always been a clear delineation where the primary link was to the health minister and the department.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 8 (23:44)

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, clause 8 relates to the chief health officer’s power of delegation. The existing provision in section 22(1) of the act prevents the chief health officer from delegating this power of delegation, but this proposed amendment makes no such prohibition. Why does the chief health officer need to be able to delegate this power of delegation?

Ms SYMES: Mrs McArthur, as you can see, the clause confines the ability for the CHO to delegate as appropriate, as provided by (1A)(a) and (b), but it is not delegating the power of delegation.

Mr DAVIS: Can the chief health officer delegate these powers to a person without an MBBS—is the best way to describe it?

Ms SYMES: Mr Davis, again for the sake of repeating it, I would encourage you to read the explanatory memorandum that accompanies the bill, because it goes through these issues in quite some detail. The amendment recognises that a large number of authorised officers may need to be authorised to effectively respond to a pandemic, including broader classes of authorised officers permitted to be appointed under part 13 of the principal act—so if the chief health officer considers it appropriate to delegate his power. That is why the expanded ability to do so to authorised persons has been provided for, to assist with efficiently operationalising the pandemic response.

Mr DAVIS: Well, let me record here that whilst I can see circumstances where this could be used appropriately, the chief health officer has traditionally delegated responsibility across a number of medical areas only to medical practitioners, and it appears to be wide open for the chief health officer to delegate traditional medical decision-making or medical advice to non-medical actors.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Attorney, take that as a statement or—

Ms SYMES: It is a statement, but it is only for authorising authorised officers to do things as is appropriate. So to suggest that the CHO is going to delegate any of—

Mr Davis interjected.

Ms SYMES: Well, as appropriate. With respect, Mr Davis, I think that anybody in the position of a chief health officer is going to ensure that any delegation of their power is to someone who is able to perform the job as delegated.

Dr CUMMING: In the same line of questioning as the opposition leader in this house, under clause 8 it talks about part 13 of the principal act currently and the new section, which is 165CN, to be inserted by the bill. It actually talks about police officers and expanding the ability to delegate the powers of these authorised persons to assist with the efficient operation of a pandemic response. My concern here is that, as raised earlier, if used correctly or wisely, it could be fine, but what we have actually seen during these times is that this ability—or the use of police in a pandemic response—has not been proportionate, from what I have actually seen so far. I still have not had any information around if the police actually want to be part of a health response in a pandemic. To me, police officers really should not be responding to mental health episodes. I do not understand why they have actually been used as part of Mr Daniel Andrews’s army during this pandemic. As others have said, we should have been using a proportionate health response using medical professionals, not police officers.

Ms SYMES: Thank you, Dr Cumming. Police can be authorised but can only exercise limited public health risk powers, not pandemic powers. If you follow the clause and how it interacts with the substantive act, it is only limited to the powers that are conferred under sections 165AW, 189 and 199. Public health risk powers are essentially enforcement powers.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, please correct me if I am wrong. Tell me that up until now the chief health officer has not had the power to authorise police officers, protective services officers, WorkSafe inspectors, public sector employees of other states and territories and designated service providers. Is that correct?

Ms SYMES: What is your question?

Mrs McARTHUR: The question was: am I correct in understanding that up until now, before this legislation comes into power potentially, the chief health officer has not had the power to authorise these extra categories of designated officers? Is that correct?

Ms SYMES: No, it is covered by section 250 of the current act.

Mrs McARTHUR: So the chief health officer has authorised these people currently?

Ms SYMES: As authorised officers.

Dr CUMMING: Deputy President, can we just clarify this line of questioning?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Attorney, are you responding?

Ms SYMES: Yes. We went through a lot of this in great detail in the state-of-emergency extension in relation to authorised officers, and there is certainly the ability to appoint authorised officers. Look at section 250. So the secretary can appoint authorised officers who can exercise powers and enforce public health orders issued by the CHO—existing.

Mrs McARTHUR: So, Attorney, the secretary can authorise authorised officers, but that is different to the chief health officer, isn’t it?

Ms SYMES: But the chief health officer issues the health orders which the authorised officers are enforcing.

Dr CUMMING: Just on that, under the state of emergency that is normally where the police powers would sit. This new section is bringing that ability under the health act. So what I understand is it was a separation. The emergencies sat under the state of emergency. Now you are bringing some of these—the chief health officer can actually now start directing police. Am I right, Attorney?

Ms SYMES: It is just replicating the state-of-emergency arrangements by introducing—

Dr Cumming interjected.

Ms SYMES: Correct.

Dr CUMMING: So to be correct here, there was a separation of these powers—it sat under emergency powers—and now we are bringing these into the health and wellbeing act?

Ms SYMES: When a pandemic order is declared.

Dr CUMMING: Correct, and for me—and I will state it again—I am extremely uncomfortable with this section of this act, seeing that I believe that when we talk about a health response I do not believe police officers are the people that should be used in a pandemic or a health response. And I will keep it at that.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Attorney, did you wish to respond or take that as a comment?

Ms SYMES: Look, I would just ask members to review the explanatory memorandum for clause 8, which sets out the purpose of this clause.

Clause agreed to.

New clause (23:56)

Dr CUMMING: I move:

5. Insert the following New Clause to follow clause 8—

‘8A Function of Councils

In section 24(f) of the Principal Act, for “children living” substitute “people living, working”.’.

This is a new clause. It actually allows councils to provide vaccinations. Currently under the health and wellbeing act it only actually talks about maternal and health care and the provision of immunisations to children. In my 20-plus years experience of sitting on a council there were many times when councils provided influenza vaccinations and other different vaccinations to adults. It is a really simple amendment that would actually help in a pandemic situation or any situation. This amendment allows councils to administer flu vaccinations, any vaccinations, during a pandemic to children and adults living, working and being educated within that municipality.

Ms SYMES: Thank you, Dr Cumming. The government will not be supporting your amendment today, not because we disagree with you but because it is unnecessary, because local governments are not confined by the act in relation to what you are seeking to achieve. The section of the principal act which requires local governments to administer vaccines to children living or learning in their LGA is set out, but that does not prevent them from administering vaccinations to anyone else, including adults living and working within the LGA. So your amendment is not required to achieve the outcome that you are seeking. We would say that there is nothing in the bill that prevents that from happening now.

Mr DAVIS: The opposition will support this amendment. We understand what Dr Cumming is trying to achieve. I understand the minister’s point that local government is not actually prevented from administering vaccines and immunisations of various types and does in fact, but I think one thing that we can learn out of the pandemic is that local government’s role has got to be reinforced. It has actually got to be strengthened, and this is a good signal; it is a clear signal. I would argue that one of this government’s failures is to actually get local immunisation going at an early point at council level. We all understand that as kids we got shots at school; we got shots at council chambers. And the locality, the proximity, was actually a significant part in the success of the rollout of immunisations. And this new clause clearly reinforces those important points.

Ms SYMES: I just wanted to make a comment in relation to Mr Davis’s contribution. I concur. We would have loved for local councils to be able to administer vaccinations—if the federal government had provided adequate supply, perhaps that might have been something that would have been on the cards at an earlier stage—but to suggest that we have not been working well with councils is false. The Department of Health works with local governments on a daily basis, and throughout the COVID-19 vaccination rollout local government have been an essential partner in the facilitation of this. We have worked closely with these partners to provide many of the sites around Victoria that have been administering the COVID-19 vaccinations, for example, and many local governments have also been part of the COVID-19 vaccine ambassador program, supporting the rollout of the vaccinations through local campaigns. So councils have done a fantastic job in promoting vaccination.

Business interrupted pursuant to standing orders.

Mr LEANE (Eastern Metropolitan—Minister for Local Government, Minister for Suburban Development, Minister for Veterans) (00:01): Pursuant to standing order 4.08(1)(b)(ii), I move:

That the sitting be extended.

Mr DAVIS: The opposition will oppose this extension. We have seen a vacillation by the government as to whether the bill is urgent, whether it is not urgent. It is midnight. It is time for us to go home. Indeed we think that this is the time to end this for the day and come back on Thursday for a continuation. So we will oppose this attempt to push this late into the night. I should say that routinely government members criticised the opposition, when we were in government, if we did go late.

Ms SYMES: When was that?

Mr DAVIS: Well, you were not here. I am just making the point. I am also making the point that I think it is important for the staff. And I think there is every reason why we should go home now and come back on Thursday to complete this matter.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: There is actually not supposed to be a debate on this, so I will put the question.

Committee divided on motion:

Ayes, 22
Barton, Mr Meddick, Mr Symes, Ms
Elasmar, Mr Melhem, Mr Tarlamis, Mr
Erdogan, Mr Patten, Ms Taylor, Ms
Grimley, Mr Pulford, Ms Terpstra, Ms
Hayes, Mr Ratnam, Dr Tierney, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms Watt, Ms
Maxwell, Ms
Noes, 13
Bach, Dr Davis, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bath, Ms Finn, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Bourman, Mr Limbrick, Mr Quilty, Mr
Crozier, Ms Lovell, Ms Rich-Phillips, Mr
Cumming, Dr

Motion agreed to.

Ms SYMES: I was saying lovely things about local councils but just confirm that we are not in a position to support Dr Cumming’s amendment.

Dr CUMMING: Just on my amendment and obviously what was raised by the Attorney as well as Mr Davis, I believe that this government could have used their arm a lot more, and their arm is local government. I hear the Attorney saying that it would have been great if the federal government had handed out the vaccines at a faster pace, but for me, watching tents being popped up rather than council facilities being used to actually do vaccinations—the money that was used during this pandemic for popping up tents could have been given to local governments to paint their local facilities, to use their local facilities, and you would have had a much more localised response for your vaccination rollout. There was a lot of money spent on popping up facilities rather than having localised responses, and yet you are right, Attorney, that when the councils were called upon they were happy to help. But they were not called upon enough throughout this pandemic, and the money that this government has used throughout the pandemic could have been used for lasting infrastructure throughout every single municipality for the vaccine rollout and for testing. I feel that this government has squandered money and could have spent money on long-lasting responses and facilities throughout this pandemic.

One of the things that upset me the most was when we had testing done and you popped up tents right next to Highpoint and then people just walked throughout the shopping centre, potentially with disease. It was not well thought out. You could have actually used local facilities and local doctors throughout this whole pandemic. The use of local government was mild. This is saying that by not just allowing vaccinations by maternal and childcare nurses but actually strengthening the use of local government for vaccines throughout future pandemics and using municipalities, it would actually strengthen this whole pandemic management bill, because this is something that was missing throughout the last 18 months. You need to rectify that for future pandemics.

Ms CROZIER: If I could just briefly speak to this amendment that Dr Cumming has put forward, I agree that if we are talking about lessons learned in this pandemic, one of the issues has been the mismanagement of the vaccine rollout. Now, the government will blame the federal government, and that ping-pong will go back and forth, but really it has been shambolic from the word go.

Ms SYMES: We cannot roll out what we do not have.

Ms CROZIER: Well, Ms Symes, the fact is, if you look at it—and I am not going to labour the point because it is so late at night—you were offered a booking system by the federal government way back in March and you did not take it up. You went at it alone, and there were so many problems with that. That stalled the process. Really, our local governments could have been very effective in assisting in getting out into the community, because we know that you were not even speaking to many parts of the community until very late in the piece. And again, I know that there will be this blaming of the federal government, but it is clear that there were significant problems. We know there were significant problems with getting information to the Australian immunisation register—it was not put in correctly. There were a lot of issues that were problematic from the state end. You can defend it all you like, but they are the facts. And if we had a better—

Ms Symes: On a point of order, Deputy President, Ms Crozier has just stated that those are the facts. I can confirm that the facts that she has just outlined are false. The state government was not offered a booking system, it was advised by the federal government that they were developing one, and they never did.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Attorney, it is not a point of order. Perhaps you can include that in your answer.

Ms CROZIER: Attorney, the federal government was providing a lot of support for you back in March for a booking system that was not taken up. Nevertheless, I am not going to go on with it. What I am saying is, to go to Dr Cumming’s point about using local governments, if lessons are to be learned—and you said, or the minister did in his second-reading speech, that this is why this pandemic bill was coming to this house, because of the lessons learned—I think the vaccination rollout in Victoria has been pretty dismal. Pharmacies were slow to get up and running. They were way behind those in other states, like New South Wales. There were a lot of issues, and I think if it is to be done again, then using the resources of local government would be much more effective.

Committee divided on new clause:

Ayes, 15
Bach, Dr Finn, Mr Maxwell, Ms
Bath, Ms Grimley, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Crozier, Ms Hayes, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Cumming, Dr Limbrick, Mr Quilty, Mr
Davis, Mr Lovell, Ms Rich-Phillips, Mr
Noes, 20
Barton, Mr Melhem, Mr Tarlamis, Mr
Bourman, Mr Patten, Ms Taylor, Ms
Elasmar, Mr Pulford, Ms Terpstra, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Ratnam, Dr Tierney, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms Watt, Ms
Meddick, Mr Symes, Ms

New clause negatived.

Clause 9 (00:22)

Committee divided on clause:

Ayes, 19
Barton, Mr Patten, Ms Tarlamis, Mr
Elasmar, Mr Pulford, Ms Taylor, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Ratnam, Dr Terpstra, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms Tierney, Ms
Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Meddick, Mr Symes, Ms Watt, Ms
Melhem, Mr
Noes, 15
Bach, Dr Davis, Mr Maxwell, Ms
Bath, Ms Finn, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bourman, Mr Grimley, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Crozier, Ms Limbrick, Mr Quilty, Mr
Cumming, Dr Lovell, Ms Rich-Phillips, Mr

Clause agreed to.

Clause 10 agreed to.

Suggested new clause (00:30)

Ms SYMES: I move:

5. Suggested amendment to the Legislative Assembly—

Insert the following New Clause to follow clause 10—

‘10A Detention Appeals Officers and Registrar

For section 32A of the Principal Act substitute—

“32A Governor in Council may appoint Detention Appeals Officers

(1) Subject to subsection (2), the Governor in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister, may by instrument appoint a person as a Detention Appeals Officer at any time when a pandemic declaration or a declaration of a state of emergency is in force.

(2) A person appointed as a Detention Appeals Officer must be an Australian lawyer of at least 10 years’ experience.

32B Remuneration and allowances

A person appointed as a Detention Appeals Officer is entitled to the remuneration and allowances determined from time to time by the Governor in Council.

32C Terms and conditions of appointment

(1) A Detention Appeals Officer—

(a) holds office for the period specified in the instrument of appointment, which must not end after the time when the pandemic declaration or declaration of a state of emergency referred to in section 32A(1) ceases to be in force; and

(b) is eligible to be reappointed; and

(c) holds office on the terms and conditions determined by the Governor in Council.

(2) A Detention Appeals Officer is not, in respect of the office of Detention Appeals Officer, subject to the Public Administration Act 2004.

32D Independence of Detention Appeals Officers

A Detention Appeals Officer—

(a) must act independently, impartially and in the public interest in the performance of their functions and duties and the exercise of their powers; and

(b) is not subject to the direction or control of the Secretary or the Minister in relation to the performance of their functions or duties or the exercise of their powers under this Act or the regulations.

32E Detention Review Officers taken to be Detention Appeals Officers

(1) A person who, immediately before the commencement day, held office as a Detention Review Officer under the old Act is taken to have been appointed as a Detention Appeals Officer under section 32A(1) on and from the commencement day.

(2) The Governor in Council is taken to have determined the same terms and conditions as applied under the old Act, in respect of a person taken to be appointed as a Detention Appeals Officer because of the operation of subsection (1), to the extent that those terms and conditions are consistent with sections 32A, 32B, 32C and 32D, with the following modifications—

(a) the Governor in Council may terminate the appointment of the person and the Secretary may not terminate the appointment of the person;

(b) the terms and conditions on which the person holds office, including in relation to remuneration and allowances, may be later amended by the Governor in Council and not by the Secretary;

(c) a reference in the original instrument of appointment to a Detention Review Officer is taken to include a reference to a Detention Appeals Officer;

(d) a reference in the original instrument of appointment to a state of emergency ceasing to exist or be in force is taken to include a reference to a pandemic declaration ceasing to be in force;

(e) a reference in the original instrument of appointment to the functions, duties and powers of a Detention Review Officer is taken to include a reference to the functions, duties and powers of a Detention Appeals Officer under section 200C and Part 8A of this Act;

(f) a reference in the original instrument of appointment to the detention under section 200 is taken to include a reference to detention under section 165B(1)(b) or section 165BA(1)(b).

(3) In this section—

commencement day means the day on which this section came into operation;

Detention Review Officer has the meaning given by the old Act;

old Act means this Act, and regulations and instruments made under this Act, as in force immediately before the commencement day;

original instrument of appointment means the instrument of appointment of a person as a Detention Review Officer under the old Act.

32F Secretary may appoint Detention Appeals Registrar

(1) The Secretary by instrument may appoint a person to be the Detention Appeals Registrar for the purposes of this Act.

(2) An instrument of appointment of a person as the Detention Appeals Registrar may—

(a) specify the functions, duties or powers under this Act or the regulations to which the appointment relates; and

(b) be made subject to any conditions that the Secretary considers to be appropriate.

(3) A person appointed as the Detention Appeals Registrar is employed under Part 3 of the Public Administration Act 2004.

(4) The Secretary must ensure that the Detention Appeals Registrar has access to such information as may reasonably be required for the performance of the functions and duties and the exercise of the powers of the Detention Appeals Registrar under this Act or the regulations.

(5) The Secretary may employ persons under Part 3 of the Public Administration Act 2004 to assist the Detention Appeals Registrar in the performance of the functions and duties and the exercise of the powers of the Detention Appeals Registrar under this Act or the regulations.”.’.

This is a substantial amendment. It responds to concerns that have been raised. It indeed seeks to clarify some matters, but I guess the best description would be it ensures that we are cementing independence in the detention review scheme.

The detention review scheme was established in April of this year and acts as a significant additional safeguard concerning detention decisions. There is a lot of debate around detention. Detention is more often than not, in the practice that we have come to know throughout the pandemic, the requirement to isolate, whether you are an arriving traveller or indeed you are a positive case close contact and required to self-isolate at home. That is the practical application of when we are talking about detention in the vast majority of situations.

The Public Health and Wellbeing Act currently allows the secretary to appoint detention review officers who are employed under the Public Administration Act 2004. They must be lawyers with at least 10 years experience. New section 165BJ provides that upon review of a person’s detention they are empowered not to vary the person’s detention or refer the application to the CHO for review.

As I said, there have been issues raised. I have had a lot of questions from human rights advocates and also legal stakeholders. A consistent concern has been that the detention review scheme, whether in reality or whether it is perception, lacks sufficient independence. Competing tensions arise between strengthening the independence of detention review and not compromising the efficiency, time lines and public health focus of the current process. On balance these following amendments have been proposed, taking into account the key drivers of public health considerations as well as having a system that actually in practice works.

First, the detention review officers will be renamed detention appeals officers and be appointed by the Governor in Council rather than the secretary. They will no longer be employed under the Public Administration Act. Second, to further underscore their independence, it is proposed that the bill expressly provides that detention appeals officers are not subject to the direction of the secretary or the minister in respect of any decision made. Third, instead of the chief health officer, detention appeals officers will be empowered to vary, cease or affirm a person’s detention. In other words, they will be the final decision-maker. They will be required to make a determination and, using best endeavours, provide written reasons within 72 hours of an application being received. Their review of an application will be de novo, encompassing any matter considered relevant. To ensure that public health expertise remains central to decision-making, detention appeals officers will be required to consult with the chief health officer before deciding to cease or vary a person’s detention. Finally, a number of amendments that are, I guess, consequential are directed towards ensuring that the detention appeals officers are supported in the independent role, including requiring the secretary to appoint a registrar who will support the detention appeals officers to make contact with the applicants and use best endeavours to provide the detention appeals officers with the information required to make their decisions—so not decision-making, just administrative support. Importantly, these proposed amendments, as I said, strike the right balance between providing an independent review of a person’s detention and ensuring that the process remains timely and informed by the most up-to-date public health expertise.

In practice we will commit to ensuring that the public health orders, the detention orders that are provided to any individual that is required to isolate, for instance, will have very clearly set out the location, the time, how to access the review and indeed how to make a complaint to the Ombudsman.

Mr HAYES: Minister, I have got two questions. Firstly, I just want to say this is a vast improvement on what is in the existing legislation. It does really bring some independence into it in the way of the review, and I commend the changes as something I was pleased to see. But I want to put on record that also I was pressing for the ability to have, as an add-on or an either, appeal to a magistrate if the person detained so wanted to go there, because I believe that preserves the intention of habeas corpus when someone is detained against their will—that they could go to a court. I know that they can go to the Supreme Court, but that is a bit of a high bar for the ordinary punter to try and get there. So I just want for the record, if the Attorney would state why the government was not inclined to go down that path for us first, and then I have one more question after that if I could.

Ms SYMES: Thank you, Mr Hayes. I know that we have had extensive discussions about this particular matter, and as you know both I and Mr Pizer spent a lot of time mulling over the merits of being able to appeal to VCAT or the Magistrates Court, but the reasons I outlined—to ensure that review is meaningful and to ensure that somebody has the ability to have that dealt with before, frankly, they have finished the term of their detention—were a key factor in landing where we did. I consulted extensively on this. I spoke to VCAT, I spoke to the Magistrates Court, I spoke to the LIV and I certainly spoke to the Ombudsman and can confirm that stakeholders are comfortable with the new arrangements as proposed by the amendments today.

The appointment of the VCAT magistrates and judges is also a GIC appointment, which is what is proposed to be the vehicle to appoint detention appeals officers, to absolutely enshrine their independence and to confirm to you, Mr Hayes, that the appointment process is akin to those other judicial or tribunal memberships. As I said, the provision of information for people to access review will be clearly set out, and also the Ombudsman was very keen to ensure that people who might be subject to a detention order were afforded the ability to contact her and make a complaint if they so wanted to access that.

As I indicated in putting my amendment, the detention review scheme has existed since April under the current regime. I can report that there have been a number of reviews sought—266—and in terms of the process that has been followed we have not received any complaints about people that have accessed that detention review scheme. However, as indicated, what we really wanted to do was ensure that there was public confidence in it, particularly for stakeholders who raised concerns about ensuring that the system was robust and completely independent. I can confirm that there is no ability for the minister or the CHO or the secretary or anyone else within government to provide a direction to an officer when they are exercising their review of an application.

Mr HAYES: Thank you, Attorney. It is a great improvement. I also want to ask here about 32E in your amendments, ‘Detention Review Officers taken to be Detention Appeals Officers’. So that is, the existing review officers will become detention appeals offices, but with the raising of the bar the criterion is now ‘an Australian lawyer of 10 years experience’. So if the existing detention review officers are not lawyers of 10 years experience, will they still be rolled over into the new category?

Ms SYMES: All of the existing officers fit that criterion, so they will be transferred to the new system. Yes, they all qualify.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Minister, can you outline how many detention review officers are currently appointed under the current scheme so we have got an idea of the scope of that?

Ms SYMES: We will have that because I asked for that a second ago: eight.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Thank you, Minister. So those eight dealt with the 266 appeals you referred to earlier? Can I ask you about suggested new section 32C, which is the terms and conditions of appointment for the new proposed detention appeals officers. Can you clarify 32C(1)(a), which is the period of appointment? Suggested new section 32C(1) states:

A Detention Appeals Officer—

(a) holds office for the period specified in the instrument of appointment, which must not end after the time when the pandemic declaration or declaration of a state of emergency referred to in section 32A(1) ceases to be in force …

It is somewhat clumsily worded, but is the intent there that the appointment of a detention appeals officer does not extend beyond the declaration of the pandemic?

Ms SYMES: Correct.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Thank you, Minister. Given that, Minister, can I take you—and we will come to this later—to clause 12, which provides that in new section 165AB the Premier may make a pandemic declaration, and it goes on to talk about the form of that. But it states in new section 165AC that a pandemic declaration ‘must be in writing’ and must specify:

the period for which the declaration continues in force, which must not exceed a period of 4 weeks …

and then it can be extended. So a declaration cannot be made for more than four weeks. Does that therefore mean that the appointment of a detention appeals officer can also not be for more than four weeks at a time?

Ms SYMES: I think the answer is no, but let me find out.

Mr Rich-Phillips, the appointment of a detention appeals officer is contingent upon the existence of a pandemic declaration, and therefore the role would not exist. There would be no role to play without the pandemic declaration in place. So in the unlikely event that there was a detention order in place at the same time as a revocation of the pandemic declaration, it would cease.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Thank you, Minister. That is not the issue I am going to, though. The issue I am seeking clarity on is the period of appointment for the appeals officer, because you have clarified that the appeals officer’s appointment cannot go longer than a pandemic declaration, and the act is quite clear that a pandemic declaration can only be for four weeks and then has to be a new pandemic declaration. Therefore it follows from that that the appointment of a detention appeals officer can also only be for four weeks, being the maximum duration of a pandemic declaration. Then a new pandemic declaration would have to be made and presumably a new appointment for the appeals officer also made. Is that correct?

Ms SYMES: No. The declaration still exists; it is just extended. It is not until it is revoked that you would find a situation where the term of an officer would cease.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Thank you, Minister. Could you expand on that? I take your point about a declaration existing, but the bill is quite clear. It says, in relation to a pandemic declaration:

(1) A pandemic declaration must be in writing and must specify the following—

(c) the period for which the declaration continues in force, which must not exceed a period of 4 weeks but may be extended under section 165AE.

So it is saying it must not exceed a period of four weeks and then you can have a new one. Does that not automatically follow, then, that the appointment of an officer would also expire at four weeks, because it must end when the declaration ceases?

Ms SYMES: No, because the time period can be extended. So the declaration does not come to an end unless it is revoked; it is just extended. So there is no severing of the declaration arrangements. There has to be a positive action: it either has to be extended or revoked.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Thank you, Minister. So in that sense is this provision different to what we currently have with a state of emergency? With the current state of emergency, that has to be renewed on a monthly basis and all the orders which have been made by the CHO under the existing state of emergency expire with the state of emergency and are then remade with the new state of emergency. None of those purport to continue through the creation of a new state of emergency. They intentionally all lapse. The end times for those have all been set with the end of a state of emergency, and fresh orders will be made replicating the originals with the new state of emergency, which makes a very clear distinction between the state of emergency ending and the new one beginning. Are you indicating that this provision around pandemic declarations is not the same, so it is not one ending and a new one beginning, for the purposes of these appointments but also frankly the orders that will be made under these?

Ms SYMES: Mr Rich-Phillips, page 11 of the bill goes through the fact that the declaration continues to be in force for the period of the declaration, so pandemic orders do not have to be remade under an extended declaration but usually have an end date and would be remade.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Thank you, Minister. What period of time have the existing detention review officers been appointed for?

Ms SYMES: In terms of every individual one of the eight, I do not know when they all started, but they were appointed in April.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Are you aware, is it a six-month appointment, a 12-month appointment? What was the basis of the appointment and what would be the government’s intention with the new detention appeals officers?

Ms SYMES: One year.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Thank you, Minister. The reason I ask about the appointment period of the detention appeals officers is that it goes to the question of independence. Dr Bach earlier I think referred to some concerns raised by the bar association with respect to the minister making appointments under this provision. You indicated that in your view it was not a concern. You appoint judges. You said you appoint Supreme Court judges, magistrates et cetera, which is of course correct. However, you do not reappoint those people. Once you have appointed them, they hold office until they reach retirement age, and the capacity to remove those people—judges—is extremely limited. These officers, you have indicated, are only going to be appointed for 12 months, and then a new GIC appointment would be made, assuming an ongoing pandemic.

Ms SYMES: Just in terms of responding to that, I would say that most of the advocacy suggested that VCAT is the preferred jurisdiction for appeals of detention orders to be made. VCAT members do not have tenure, and in that sense their appointments are identical to the appointments that we are making in relation to DROs. So I guess on the flip side we do not want to appoint detention review officers for life because we do not want the pandemic to be here for life.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Thank you, Minister. I take the point that you do not want to appoint them for life, but equally their period of tenure will go to their perceived or actual independence. And while you can put a paragraph in the bill saying they are independent, the reality is if they are relying on reappointment every 12 months, they may not be as independent as the government suggests. With VCAT members, if VCAT was the appeal body, they would be dealing with a broader suite of matters than simply the discrete issues of detention review officers. They are part of the tribunal, the bigger organisation. If the government decided to not reappoint VCAT members because they did not like the way they had operated as detention appeals officers, that would be quite visible. With these officers, a discrete appointment—one purpose, not part of a bigger tribunal and the ability for the government to not reappoint officers because they did not like the way they had operated and the way they had made decisions in the previous 12 months—certainly has the potential to undermine their independent actions as officers given they need to rely on reappointment, if it is ongoing, every 12 months.

Ms SYMES: I would probably draw the house’s attention to the reality, the experience, since April, since we have had the detention review officers. From the experience of people that have gone through the system who have sought a review, we do not have a myriad of complaints. We do not have concern from people that the current DROs are not acting independently. That is not an issue that has been raised. It is more about the fact that because they are appointed by the secretary there was the perception that they could be, so this is fixing a problem that does not exist, Mr Rich-Phillips.

However, after intensive negotiations with Mr Barton and Mr Hayes, who in conjunction with some stakeholders were very keen to see the independence enshrined and the independence enhanced, this is a model that has been endorsed by the Ombudsman, who is indeed very focused on the independence and oversight of these matters. Whether it is isolation, lockdowns or indeed youth justice and the prison system, the Ombudsman has shown a keen interest in the rights of people that are subject to detention or subject to having their liberty constrained. And so I would respectfully suggest that this model is the right model and the independence is being supported by what we are proposing today, notwithstanding that we cannot guarantee an appointment for life for a detention appeals officer.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Thank you, Minister. Minister, is it the government’s intention to roll over the appointments of the existing detention review officers to become detention appeals officers, given that mechanism is there?

Ms SYMES: Yes.

Ms BATH: Just a couple of questions on your new clause. It is in relation to new section 32A, and it goes to the appointment of a detention appeals officer in times of a pandemic declaration and also a state of emergency. A state of emergency—just looking at the main bill—talks about risks to public health. I am interested to understand what state of emergency would exist—so an example of that—that is not a pandemic declaration, so it is not a pandemic, that you would use to enact these detention appeals officers. What would be an example of a state of emergency that is not a pandemic declaration emergency?

Ms SYMES: Fire, flood.

Ms BATH: Thanks, Attorney. So if there was a fire or a flood, what would be the role of the detention appeals officer? What would be the infringement that someone would commit in the case of fire, a fire in East Gippsland, that would cause them to be incarcerated and that would trigger this detention appeals officer? Why would someone in a fire, with whatever the health risk, be triggered to have committed an offence that therefore needed to have this detention appeals officer used?

Ms SYMES: I do not have an example for you in relation to this. But in relation to any other sort of public health emergency, there may be limited examples. We did not want to confine it. The detention review officer process that we introduced in April was under the state-of-emergency framework. We wanted to make sure that in introducing the new model, which is an enhanced model which is supported by stakeholders and indeed members of this Parliament, we would transfer the ability to the state of emergency as well. But as we know, our experience in the past is the need to detain someone, the need to ask someone to isolate, has only, in my experience, come about as a result of the pandemic, so I do not have an exhaustive list of examples for you. But we wanted to make sure that if there was a state of emergency for a number of reasons under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act that meant that somebody had to perhaps be detained, they were afforded the right of review. But I cannot envisage a situation where that would be required in the public health context.

Ms BATH: Thank you, eternity—Attorney! It just feels like we have been here for an eternity. I am interested to understand, if there is a state of disaster triggered—so, again, East Gippsland, eastern Victorian fires, massive bushfires, 1.5 million hectares—why a detention appeals officer would not be triggered in that case when there still could be health impacts from that.

Ms SYMES: I do not understand the question.

Ms BATH: Well, the detention appeals officer is triggered when there is a pandemic declaration, a virus in the landscape, or there is a state of emergency when there has been a public health risk, but what happens if there is a state of disaster, which could be a fire? You have just said that fire is in the state of emergency, yes, so why are those appeals officers not triggered for a state of disaster?

Ms SYMES: Well, it is a completely different act. A state of disaster is under the emergency management framework. This is the Public Health and Wellbeing Act, so in terms of just ensuring that if there is a fire and there is a hell of a lot of toxic smoke, for example, there might be—

I do not know, I am delving into real hypotheticals that I should probably avoid doing, but I am trying to create a situation where there may be a state of emergency that is not a pandemic and that requires someone to be detained. There are limited examples that I can think of, but if there is an example, we want to make sure that those people have got access to appropriate review under the scheme that we are proposing for the pandemic.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, just to follow on from Ms Bath’s point, here is a hypothetical: if a volunteer firefighter who is not double vaccinated actually sees the need to get in a truck and go and save people’s lives or whatever in a fire, which you have said can be declared a state of emergency, they cannot under the rules currently—and I imagine they will continue. They actually cannot go in a truck and fight a fire, because they are not allowed to go into the truck to complete their testing regimes that are required to ensure that they are appropriately licensed, qualified or whatever, every year or however often they have to do it, to be able to go in a truck and fight a fire. So that might be a situation where somebody has used the fire truck to help put out the fire in an emergency, but they have to be detained. That would be when your appeals officer could be triggered. Wouldn’t that be a case?

Ms SYMES: Mrs McArthur, there is a lot wrong with your example. First of all, emergency response is an exemption to the health orders and the vaccination requirements, and I really cannot see where there would be the requirement to detain someone in that instance. But what I would probably come back to is that probably my first answer should have been there is nothing in how you describe that situation that is relevant to the review of detention orders.

Dr RATNAM: Thank you, Attorney, for your explanation of this new clause. The clause is a welcome amendment to the bill. Regarding the independence of detention appeal officers, 32D states that they must not be under the direction or control of the minister or secretary. Can I confirm that this independence is meant to apply to all ministers and secretaries of governments and departments?

Ms SYMES: Yes, I can confirm that.

Suggested new clause agreed to; new clause postponed.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Mr Hayes, I ask you to circulate your amendments now, please.

Mr HAYES: I have some amendments, and I am working under the guidance of the clerks here and you, Deputy President. I have brought these amendments to change the provision that any revocation recommended by the committee of any order, instead of going to a joint sitting—and I will speak to it later—can go to either house of Parliament. It is an amendment I think it is important to move, but I will speak to it later, if you could guide me to the appropriate place when we get there. Could those amendments be circulated, please.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Just to inform the house, it is very unusual that we would have amendments circulated this late, but it is not Mr Hayes’s fault. It is just due to the backlog in getting all of the amendments drafted that they have come in a bit later.

Clause 11 agreed to.

Clause 12 (01:05)

Mr MEDDICK: Attorney, proposed section 165AB(1) specifically deals with the Premier making a pandemic declaration. Now, other than to declare or revoke a pandemic, what powers does a Premier have under this particular piece?

Ms SYMES: That is it. Let us flesh out a bit your line of questioning, Mr Meddick. You have drawn the committee’s attention to section 165AB(1) in relation to the Premier’s ability to make a pandemic declaration and what other powers the Premier has under this legislation. Under the new part the Premier can make a pandemic declaration where there is a serious risk to public health arising from a pandemic or disease with pandemic potential. The Premier must seek and consider the advice of the Minister for Health and the chief health officer prior to making any pandemic declaration. The declaration will enliven the new part in the act, which will then enable the Minister for Health to make a pandemic order. The Premier must table in Parliament a statement of reasons for making a pandemic declaration. The minister will forward the chief health officer’s advice underpinning the declaration and a summary of the declaration orders made and powers to be executed while the declaration is in force. As I said at the outset, that is it. That is all the Premier has. That is the extent of it.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, clause 12 inserts proposed section 165AB(2), which lowers the threshold of required consultation for state-of-emergency declarations from only declaring states of emergency on the advice of the chief health officer and after consultation with the minister and the emergency management commissioner to ‘The Premier must consult with, and consider the advice of, the Minister and the Chief Health Officer’. So the existing provision requires the minister to act ‘on the advice of’ while the proposed provision only requires the Premier to consult and consider the advice. Why should the Premier be able to make pandemic declarations even if not on the advice of the chief health officer, given how much the government has berated the public over the past 18 months about how they were acting only on the chief health officer’s advice?

Ms SYMES: Mrs McArthur, I think you inserted me in there. There is no requirement for the Premier to consult with the Minister for Emergency Services, which is what I thought you said.

Mrs McArthur interjected.

Ms SYMES: Oh, in relation to a state of emergency?

Mrs McARTHUR: That is how it is now.

Ms SYMES: Yes. This is ensuring that in a health response the appropriate people have been consulted. There is no material difference in the consultation with the chief health officer. It is a similar requirement that has always existed to consult with the CHO.

Mrs McARTHUR: But it was required consultation, now it is ‘consult’.

Ms SYMES: Same, same.

Ms BATH: Attorney, earlier we spoke about the triggers for the pandemic in terms of being on ground in Victoria et cetera. I am interested to understand what is a trigger point for declaring a pandemic in terms of actual infection numbers or projected infection numbers.

Ms SYMES: That is a relevant consideration, but not prescribed.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, on that provision I referred to before, what degree of consideration must the Premier give to the chief health officer’s advice?

Ms SYMES: He is required to give consideration to it.

Mrs McARTHUR: Sorry, could you repeat that?

Ms SYMES: As it is set out in the legislation, due consideration.

Mrs McARTHUR: Just due consideration. So, Attorney, could the Premier conceivably make a pandemic declaration under this provision even if both the minister and the chief health officer advise against it?

Ms SYMES: It would be difficult for the Premier to form the view that there are reasonable grounds without that supporting advice.

Mrs McARTHUR: So, Attorney, it would be difficult, but you are not ruling it out. He could make a declaration without their advice?

Ms SYMES: In theory, yes, but the Premier has to provide a statement of reasons for the decision. So if the Premier were to go against that advice, then an explanation of why would need to be provided by the Premier, who has to table his or her reasons for the declaration.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, has that occurred in the last 18 months where the Premier might have rejected the chief health officer’s advice or the commissioner’s advice?

Ms SYMES: The Premier is not required to make any declarations at the moment.

Members interjecting.

Ms SYMES: This is a pandemic; it is not a competition. It would be very unlikely that the Premier would be able to be satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to make a pandemic declaration and there are reasonable grounds to suspect that there is significant risk to the health and safety of Victorians without expert advice to back up that claim.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, given that under this provision the Premier can technically act contrary to the advice of the chief health officer—you have actually confirmed that—how can this be reconciled with the purported objectives of this part of the bill which, under the proposed section 165A(1)(c), provides that it is:

… ensuring that decisions made and actions taken under this Part are informed by public health advice …

Ms SYMES: It does exactly that. The Premier is required to consult with the CHO. And as I have indicated, the Premier has to provide a statement of reasons for the declaration and the CHO advice is tabled, so any diversion from the advice of the CHO has to be explained. I just cannot see how that is going to happen without a whole heap of other experts saying that the CHO is wrong. Like, this is based on health advice. We have an independent panel to provide advice. The measures and the steps that the Premier has got to take I outlined in detail to Mr Meddick in his question in relation to the limited role that the Premier has under this legislation. But one of them is to form a reasonable view that the pandemic declaration is necessary to protect Victorians, and that would be based on health advice.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, then why should the advice of the emergency management commissioner not be considered by the Premier when making a pandemic declaration?

Ms SYMES: Because this is pandemic-specific legislation that has been informed by our experience and by our experts and crafted to ensure that he has to take advice from the CHO in relation to pandemic matters, which are very squarely health issues.

Ms BATH: Attorney, in terms of a risk to public health, are the symptoms of the physical ailment of a virus, of a pandemic, the only consideration that the Premier and the health minister consider when they make a decision? I put that in the context that there have been thousands of mental health presentations of people attending hospitals. With the consideration of the lockdowns and the mental health of those Victorians, is the only thing that the health minister and the Premier consider the physical ailments—the fever and the respiratory ailments—or do the Premier and the health minister have to consider mental health in this statement of public health?

Ms SYMES: You might have to re-ask your question, Ms Bath. There is nothing in the bill that refers to symptoms of a virus as a consideration of a serious public health risk, and it is the Premier’s role under this legislation to declare a pandemic declaration where there is a serious risk to public health arising from a pandemic or disease of pandemic potential. So the construction of your question does not really fit within the parameters of the bill.

Ms BATH: Well, I am just seeking some clarity around the reason why you would need to hold or have a pandemic declaration. I am assuming the reason why the Premier would do it is that you have a serious risk to your health. So I am asking: is it a holistic definition of ‘health’, or is it just a physical definition of ‘health’?

Ms SYMES: We have had a big discussion about the definition of ‘pandemic’. This is not about an individual sniffle; this is about a pandemic that is posing a risk to the health and safety of our state.

Dr CUMMING: I have other questions, but just in line with Ms Bath’s question, I guess, Attorney, there have been many conversations about the shadow pandemic, which is poor mental health from the lockdowns. That is a symptom of the lockdowns that this government has imposed on the community through this pandemic. The question that I can hear is: is it a disease, is it a communicable disease or are there considerations around mental health when we are declaring a pandemic? And does a mental disease fall within those parameters?

Ms SYMES: I am not a health expert, so I do not know if there is a pandemic that exists where the symptom is that everybody has a mental health issue and that results in a pandemic, but that does not seem particularly within a pandemic definition. But as I said, we have not defined ‘pandemic’. But I would just return the house to the conversation we have had again and again: a pandemic declaration can only be made when the Premier is satisfied that there is a serious risk to public health arising from a pandemic disease or a disease of pandemic potential. ‘Pandemic’ means communicable disease. As I said, I am not a health expert; I am not going to rule out the fact that there might be something. There is nothing that I know of, and I think it is really unlikely, but I am not here to give health advice on the symptoms of a particular virus. But in the way the question is being asked—not you—I think it is quite a stretch and a little bit disingenuous to try and come up with these weird and unlikely events that are going to have some rogue Premier declaring a pandemic because he or she wants to.

The legislation is pretty clear. There are lots of steps to follow. There has to be transparency in the decisions that are made, and that has to be presented here in the Parliament of Victoria. It can be subject to scrutiny by a joint parliamentary committee, and indeed the application of it could be subject to court review or could be subject to the Ombudsman’s interference. The bill is really about enhancing the ability to consider the proportionality of decisions and balancing those against issues such as mental health. But in relation to the declaration of a pandemic, it is pretty clear: there are the steps that have got to be followed. I do not think I can apply this to some really far-fetched scenarios, except to bring people back to the steps in the bill in relation to the limited powers that the Premier has, what he or she must consider, who they must consult with and what they must provide to the public.

Mr LIMBRICK: On that note on the declaration of a pandemic, with regard to what I think the Attorney said around communicable diseases, I note that we discussed earlier how there has been some consideration of other vectors—I know everyone is focused on COVID at the moment—and other non-human communication of diseases, so things like malaria, Ross River virus and that sort of thing. Is it possible to declare a pandemic when there is no human-to-human communication of a disease, like when it is from, say, insect to human? Is that something that could still be considered a pandemic? I know Ross River virus is something that people have been concerned about spreading. Could that be deemed a pandemic due to insects spreading it, for example?

Ms SYMES: Like zoonotic diseases, transferrable from animals to humans? If it poses a risk to humans, it could enliven the provisions of this bill, because that is what is important, that is what has to be taken into consideration, the serious risk to public health arising from diseases of pandemic potential.

Dr CUMMING: My question is around the wording of the clauses and just some clarification. On page 8 it says:

ensuring that decisions made and actions taken under this Part are informed by public health advice and other relevant information including, but not limited to, advice given by the Chief Health Officer …

In that, is there a provision in here to be able to have the advice given by the independent panel? That is in the section. Is that there?

Ms SYMES: Yes. The independent panel can provide advice, and indeed, as we have indicated, we want that panel to consist of relevant experts, so we would value the advice that they would provide to government.

Dr CUMMING: Just to understand some of the government’s additional house amendments, do I understand correctly:

6. Clause 12, page 8, lines 19 to 25, omit all words and expressions on these lines and insert—

“(2) The Parliament—

(a) recognises the importance of protecting human rights in managing the serious risk to life, public health and wellbeing presented by the outbreak or spread of pandemics and diseases of pandemic potential; and

(b) intends that nothing in this Part displaces the operation of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities; and

(c) intends that the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities therefore applies to the following—

(i) the interpretation of this Part and subordinate instruments made under this Part;

(ii) acts done, and decisions made, under this Part by public authorities.”.

Is that right? Is it the new insertion and deletion by amendment 2? Is that correct?

Ms SYMES: Dr Cumming, yes. In terms of my amendment 6, would it be an appropriate time to move that?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Dr Cumming has not moved her amendment, which comes before yours. They are just doing their questions.

Ms SYMES: Okay.

Dr CUMMING: I am just checking that they were inserts.

Ms SYMES: Yes, the clarifying of the role of the charter in the operation of powers under the bill is certainly important, and we want to adequately reflect that in the provisions of the bill. We did receive feedback from stakeholders to the bill that was circulated on 16 November and therefore are proposing a number of amendments which really expressly highlight the role of the charter in the bill. This involves two main changes. The first is the objective in the new part being reworded to omit the reference to the administration of the new part and section 7(2) of the charter. This will be replaced with wording clarifying that the Parliament recognises the importance of protecting human rights in managing the serious risk to life, public health and wellbeing presented by the outbreak or spread of pandemics and diseases of pandemic potential. It intends that nothing in the new part will displace the operation of the charter and intends that the charter applies to the interpretation of the new part, the interpretation of subordinate instruments under the new part and acts done and decisions made under the new part by public authorities. Secondly, there are consequential amendments to the requirement on the minister to publish charter considerations in relation to making, varying or extending a pandemic order. The amendment clarifies and specifies the nature of the information the minister must publish in relation to the charter. So, Dr Cumming, that was always the intention of the bill, but there were a series of questions around that, so through an abundance of caution we wanted to clarify that and put it in the bill.

Dr CUMMING: Thank you, Attorney, for clarifying that that has been removed and that your intention is to replace it. I appreciate the better wording that is being offered, but how is this actually going to be put into the chamber? Will it be reported? How will it be acted upon, seeing that so far throughout this pandemic we have requested this information—Mr Limbrick especially—but we have not seen the human rights or any of the work that the government has done on the back end of all the directions? It is great that it is being worded in that way in this pandemic bill, but I cannot see how it actually shows when it is going to be placed in the chamber, how often it is going to be presented or how it is going to be attached, because all I have heard so far is possible summaries. How does this information actually get out to the community?

Ms SYMES: For every pandemic order there is a requirement on the minister to table an explanation of the charter statement, so that will be tabled in Parliament and therefore become public. Amendment 20 is the consequential amendment that I was referring to before. It is very specific and requires that. In the unlikely event that a minister does not comply with that, then the parliamentary joint committee could interrogate the reasons for that.

Mr HAYES: Attorney, I just wanted to ask about a rather surprising restriction in amendment 28—clause 12, page 28, after line 9. It says that the Pandemic Declaration Accountability and Oversight Committee has to consult with the independent pandemic management advisory committee before it can make a disallowance recommendation. Now, I thought the way we talked about such a thing earlier was that they would be able to ask any experts they saw fit for advice on this, including members as a whole, but I did not see it as becoming a mandatory requirement to consult with the independent pandemic advisory committee. I just think that maybe that would be another thing that would slow down action to move towards a disallowance, which I think is a right of the Parliament. I would have wanted it to be an unconditional disallowance, but I am happy for that disallowance to be on the advice of the oversight committee. But to have limitations placed on the actions of that committee such that it first has to get advice from another committee in whole before it can make a decision is, to me, an unacceptable impediment. I just wonder if you would like to talk to that.

Ms SYMES: I can confirm, Mr Hayes, that there is nothing to limit the power of the committee to ask for information from other experts, but the expert panel is being established to support the advice. It goes alongside the declaration of a pandemic. The expert panel is going to have the most up-to-date information in relation to the pandemic that the state is dealing with. It is only appropriate that if a joint committee is considering some serious consequences in relation to the recommendations, they take the opportunity to consult with the body that is established by this legislation to be the experts on the pandemic that is the subject of the declaration.

Mr HAYES: Further to that, then, you would have to call the independent pandemic management advisory committee as a whole to give this advice. What sort of time delay would you see occurring if the oversight committee wanted to take urgent action on a pandemic ruling by the minister?

Ms SYMES: I do not see any reason for any time delay.

Dr CUMMING: I have now moved from page 8; I am going to page 9, Attorney. It was raised a little earlier:

The Premier may make a pandemic declaration whether or not, at the time the declaration is made—

(a) the pandemic disease is present in Victoria; or

(b) the disease is a disease of pandemic potential that is present in Victoria—

as the case requires.

Why a pandemic declaration when there are no cases or even if it is not a pandemic? When you read it, that is what it sounds like: even if it is not a pandemic. Why can’t a state of emergency be declared to allow for preparation before declaring a pandemic, if you can understand my line of questioning? And then I see obviously you continue on under proposed section 165AB(4):

The validity of a pandemic declaration is not affected by either of the following …

and then you are inserting ‘on reasonable grounds’. That is correct, yes?

Ms SYMES: I think we have covered this reasonably extensively. I think probably if you look at the likes of the WA experience, for example, they enacted their powers to bring in public health orders when there were no cases in WA. The risk of harm to the citizens of WA as a result of the pandemic was the reason that they acted in relation to that. I think we have seen similar action from South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania. It is about the risk that it poses to Victorians that would start the process of seeking advice about the pandemic or the pandemic potential and its impact on the health of this state.

Dr CUMMING: Just sticking on that then, on page 9, lines 5 to 29, one of my amendments goes to omitting words in the bill as it currently stands—that the Premier can make a pandemic declaration even if the disease is not present in Victoria, as I said before; if the disease is not at the time declared as a disease and is not present in Victoria; if the disease is not at the time being declared as a pandemic; or if he or she, being the Premier, believes that there is a serious risk to public health. My amendment ensures that the Premier can only make a pandemic declaration if the disease is present in Victoria at the time of making the declaration. This does not restrict the government from commencing any planning for the possibility of a disease spreading to Victoria.

I struggle to understand, Attorney, seeing as the example you have given, which is Western Australia, is a fine example of when people hit the panic button and what the effects are when you lock down a state for a couple of cases. Obviously what we have seen when we are chasing doughnuts or elimination is the damage that that does, more than the actual disease spreading through the community.

Ms SYMES: I think, Dr Cumming, just the existence of the ability to make orders or to instil restrictions does not mean that the full suite that is available is utilised. For instance, it might be that Australia wants to make sure that people coming from high-risk countries go into quarantine. That can exist in isolation with no other restrictions applying to the citizens of the country but ensuring that there is a framework to enable a legal order to require somebody to isolate upon entry into the state so they do not spread the virus.

Dr CUMMING: Thank you, Attorney. I am glad that you have raised that, because I think that has been my sticking point to all of this. Yes, any normal pandemic response or quarantining or isolation is about the potential of the disease, as you said, and normally quarantine or isolating is for a specific amount of time—normally 14 days or 21 days. Then you are normally free to go, because you are healthy. But what we actually saw throughout this pandemic response and the lockdowns was healthy people being locked up.

Ms SYMES: Because they were close contacts.

Dr CUMMING: Not even. The whole state was locked down. Whole areas were locked down, and there was no disease present. And not for 14 days or 21 days, you know, to make sure that you have eliminated the disease or if anyone had it and it was being incubated that it would be shown. We were doing this for months on end. Healthy people were locked up rather than potentially people who were isolating because they had the disease or quarantining because they had the disease or had the potential of having the disease. We were locking down healthy people for no reason.

Mr MEDDICK: Thank you, Attorney. I think what we are talking about here is—if you can just make some clarification for me, it would be greatly appreciated—new section 165AB(3), which talks about the Premier being able to make a pandemic declaration when a disease is not present in Victoria. The way that I read this—if you could clarify this for me, please—is that this new section is inserted to enable the state to close its own borders to other states or another country, similar to the way that Western Australia did, whilst being able to let the citizenry of the state, in this instance Victoria, to move about with relative freedom, provided there is no disease prevalent in the state at that time. We could potentially have no cases, be absolutely free to move wherever we want to go within the state, but we have ostensibly created an island state at that time to prevent disease from coming in from overseas or interstate. Is that, for clarification, what this particular section does?

Ms SYMES: That certainly could be an accurate construction of the intention. You want to be able to protect your state and hopefully preserve what you have got. At the centre of the bill is the ability for governments to respond effectively to any serious risk posed to the public health of Victorians by a pandemic disease or disease of pandemic potential—that is going to roll off the tongue shortly without me struggling. Orders may be on the grounds of a potential risk, as you have identified—for example, of coming from another country. However, any orders placed on Victorian residents obviously need to be proportionate to the risk to the public health of Victorians.

At the start of the current pandemic we saw the commonwealth government take early measures to respond to the evolving global pandemic by restricting international arrivals into Australia. We have seen other jurisdictions, as you have indicated, have relatively no restrictions on anybody that lives in that state, but they had pretty strict rules about people that wanted to enter and the requirements on them. By all accounts the citizens of those states were pretty happy about the way that that was conducted to ensure that their health and safety was protected, while at the same time none of the restrictions actually applied to them.

Dr CUMMING: But the problem here is it is without having the disease present, so there is no disease possibly being circulated. We were locked down in large areas across Victoria knowing that there were not cases or disease in those areas. So I have a struggle with that one. On the next page, new section 165AC(1)(c) says that the state of emergency could be enforced before making a pandemic declaration:

the period for which the declaration continues in force, which must not exceed a period of 4 weeks but may be extended under section 165AE.

Then under (2) it says:

If, on the coming into force of a pandemic declaration, a declaration of a state of emergency will cease to be in force under section 165CH(3), the pandemic declaration must include a statement to that effect.

So how does the state of emergency get declared before making the pandemic declaration?

Ms SYMES: My advice, Dr Cumming, is that that is a transitional provision because we have a state of emergency now.

Ms BATH: Attorney, in section 165AE(4), I would like to just go back to something that is really relevant to regional Victoria, and that is the potential for a state of emergency and a pandemic declaration to occur simultaneously—that is, when there could be a bushfire or a flood, and we will stick with bushfire. I am interested to understand with the bill in that section, which could insert the need to consult with the Emergency Management Victoria commissioner, the emergency minister and/or even with the federal government, to be holistically in line with what they are doing potentially as well—but I will let that sit for a minute—why the government has not prescribed to have consultation in the advent of a concurrent state of emergency and pandemic, to give a more effective response for both of those two events.

Ms SYMES: Ms Bath, a state of disaster picks up the emergency management framework. This is the Public Health and Wellbeing Act, so a state of emergency under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act in relation to a fire or a flood would not necessarily be as a result of the immediate emergency—as in hot flames, wet water—it would be about disease being brought in by the water or toxic smoke from an ongoing fire that was causing health issues. So this is a health response state of emergency under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act. Some of the examples you are giving may be more appropriate for me as the Minister for Emergency Services to make a declaration of a state of disaster, which is a different framework but both are suited for their purposes, and then this is effectively a third arm, being a pandemic response. So this is about ensuring that government have the appropriate tools to respond to the appropriate emergencies, and the one we are referring to today is in relation to pandemics.

Ms BATH: I do appreciate that, Minister. I guess you can wear your emergency management minister hat when there are people out in the regions who are quite concerned about the interface between these sorts of large issues, major issues, and how there needs to be very much, in an ideal situation, good management for the protection of people, health and environment. So I am just inquiring as to why it could not have been inserted into the pandemic bill to consult with the EMV commissioner and minister, that is all.

Ms SYMES: I guess I would just say that in practice the collaboration of government would ordinarily involve those conversations anyway—that is how it works.

Ms Bath interjected.

Ms SYMES: Yes. I guess I am just giving you assurances that, for instance, all of the heads of our agencies throughout the pandemic have got together on a weekly if not daily basis at the real peak of things to ensure that the emergency response matched the health response and matched the industry support. All of our partners would get together—they had a name—where all the bods sat around and talked about the different impacts of the pandemic. So the secretary of the department, Andrew Crisp, was on it, and all the emergency agencies as well. I can get you some more information about the operational stuff, if you like, because that will exist under the framework of a government irrespective of the legislation.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, just to clarify the effect of proposed section 165AB(3), will the Premier be able to make a pandemic declaration even if there is not a disease of pandemic potential in the whole of Australia?

Ms SYMES: It comes down to the advice that the Premier is provided. The making of a pandemic declaration has to be formed on the basis that there is serious risk to public health arising from a pandemic or disease of pandemic potential. It is not required to be in Australia, but you still have to form that reasonable belief about this risk. I think I referred to an example some 8 hours ago about an obscure disease in the middle of the Amazon; just the pure knowledge that it exists does not mean that it poses a serious risk to the state of Victoria and would enliven the attention of the Premier to enact a declaration of a pandemic.

Mrs McARTHUR: We take it from that that he can lock us down even if there is no case anywhere in Australia.

Ms SYMES: No, no, no. This is the misinformation that I am a little bit sick of being peddled around. This is not a lockdown bill. This is a bill that is designed to give the government the tools it needs to respond to a pandemic or threat of pandemic, and indeed it has to satisfy the requirements that it poses a risk to the safety and wellbeing of Victorians. To make a statement that there could be a pandemic in a faraway land and that the Premier is going to go, ‘You know what? Smell it: pandemic, all the way over there in some other country that half of us haven’t heard of. I’m going to declare a pandemic so I can lock Victorians down’—that is ludicrous, and it is the reason that people are so scared, when you have members of Parliament that present these false statements in relation to what the bill is intended to do. Mrs McArthur, it is really inappropriate for you to make those statements, and I would ask you to refrain from doing so because you are causing harm to Victorians.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, anyway, we have just confirmed that the Premier can make such a declaration.

Ms SYMES: Can you just clarify your comments? What do you believe I have qualified—that the Premier can do what?

Mrs McARTHUR: The Premier can make a declaration of pandemic potential even if there is not a case in Australia.

Ms SYMES: Yes.

Mrs McARTHUR: Yes—right, good. Is the intention of the proposed section 165AB(4) to restrict the availability of a judicial review?

Ms SYMES: I have just read every word of that clause. No.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, just to clarify the wording of the proposed section 165AB(4)(b), would a pandemic declaration that has been made on the basis that the Premier was satisfied that there was a serious risk to public health arising from a pandemic disease but the disease was a disease of pandemic potential at that time, even if there was no serious risk to public health at the time, still be valid? In other words, Attorney, for the purposes of clarification, the intention of this proposed provision is obviously to allow the pandemic declaration to still be valid even if the Premier thought the disease was a pandemic disease but it was actually just a disease of pandemic potential. However, in the proposed section 165AB(1) the Premier may only make a pandemic declaration if there is a serious risk to public health arising from a pandemic disease. The wording of subsection (4)(b) is therefore a little confusing. If the Premier thought there was a serious risk to public health arising from a pandemic disease, but in reality the disease was only a disease of pandemic potential and at that time there was no risk to public health, would the declaration still be valid?

Ms SYMES: Mrs McArthur, it must be on reasonable grounds that there is a belief of serious risk, so the Premier has to be satisfied at the time of making the declaration that there is a serious risk. I draw your attention to ‘serious risk to public health’. The whole clause has to be read as one. You have got to be satisfied there is a serious risk to public health as a result of a pandemic or pandemic potential. So I would just bring you back to: has to be satisfied there is serious risk. If that does not eventuate, great, but it does not invalidate the declaration at the time.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, the proposed section 165AC(2) requires pandemic declarations to include a statement that any state of emergency subsequently ceases to be enforced; however, the proposed section 165AC(3) states that failure to do so does not invalidate the declaration. So Attorney, what then would be the penalty for the Premier if he breached this procedural condition?

Ms SYMES: Mrs McArthur, we went through this clause with Dr Cumming. It is a transitional clause to ensure that it picks up the fact that we are currently under a state of emergency and we would transition to a pandemic declaration. It has no substantive effect.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, again in reference to the proposed section 165AC(3), what is the point in procedural conditions in statutes if they can be breached with no consequence to the decision?

Ms SYMES: I just explained. It is a transitional provisional with no substantive effect. It is to enable the transition.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, under the proposed section 165AE(3)(a):

The Premier—

must revoke a pandemic declaration if the Premier is satisfied that there is no longer a serious risk to public health …

Are there any provisions in this bill or the principal act which require the Premier to turn his mind to a consideration of whether this serious risk to public health continues to exist?

Ms SYMES: Yes. It is outlined in the bill. It has to be every extension, and the time lines are set out in the bill. It has to go through the same processes of consulting with the CHO, getting health advice and tabling the reasons, and I can confirm that the Premier is obliged to revoke the pandemic declaration if there is no longer any risk to the community.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, ‘oblige’ is very nice but it does not prescribe anything on the Premier. In other words, the Premier’s satisfaction as to the existence of a serious risk to public health appears to be a test of the Premier’s subjective belief. But if there is no requirement for the Premier to continuously consider whether that risk still exists, could the Premier be therefore not required to revoke any pandemic declaration, even if there is no longer a risk? Surely, given the extremity of available measures, the operation of this proposed provision should be to ensure that such a declaration is not in place any longer than is justifiable.

Ms SYMES: I agree with you, but with each extension the CHO has to provide advice on whether the declaration is still required, and the requirements under the bill provide for the transparency of those decisions to be tabled in the Parliament. It would be the intention to revoke a pandemic declaration as soon as there is no risk posed to Victoria. That is the intention of the framework that has been established.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, under the same provisions, new section 165AE(3)(b) allows the Premier to revoke a pandemic declaration if the Premier considers it appropriate to do so. Why is the word ‘may’ used and not ‘must’? Surely if even the Premier thinks that it is appropriate to revoke a pandemic declaration which he unilaterally declares, he must do so, not ‘may’.

Ms SYMES: We are happy with that clause as drafted.

Mr MEDDICK: Attorney, at the risk of making this a little bit disjointed, I would like to jump ahead a little bit if I can. I am prompted by a question that Mr Limbrick asked about zoonotic diseases before. Under new section 165AI(2)(j), the minister may make a pandemic order under section 3(1) of the principal act—clause 4 of this bill. The clause inserts under this section a definition of ‘disease vector’ and provides for actions to manage those, which is essentially the destruction or killing of non-human animals infected with and potentially spreading a zoonotic disease. Now, there are countless examples of the killing of animals in this fashion around the world and recently during the current pandemic in my own electorate. I speak of the destruction of chickens that were carrying avian flu. Given that all pandemics over the last 50 years have been zoonotic—some bloodborne but mostly airborne—should a zoonotic outbreak occur, does this measure include a pre-emptive measure of immediately ceasing the movement of all animals between states, within the state and to export?

Ms SYMES: Mr Meddick, as with all orders, the risk to public health would depend on the epidemiological and public health advice, and the actions that you identify would need to be demonstrated to be necessary to respond to the public health risk to justify any orders that are made.

Mr MEDDICK: Just as a bit of a clarifier, given the movement of potentially infected animals would be a major risk vector in the transmission of a zoonotic disease, why not try to eliminate the primary source of that infection and stop transportation?

Ms SYMES: Mr Meddick, it is difficult to anticipate or speculate on hypotheticals, but there is provision to ensure that in situations such as that you can prevent the movement of animals under the Livestock Disease Control Act 1984. You alluded to the pretty harrowing experience of the avian influenza cases that we had in Victoria. I was Minister for Agriculture at the time, and I can tell you if we were not in the middle of a human pandemic, it would have been front-page news. It was pretty devastating to speak to the people who were responsible for containing that contagious disease amongst not only chickens but ducks, turkeys and—heartbreakingly—an emu farm. That is going to stay with me for a very, very long time. I went and visited the people that had to deal with the destruction of those animals to ensure that the disease did not spread to other farms, which protected our export credentials around the world and the like, and it was heartbreaking for the people that had to do that. I digress because I have not had the opportunity to talk about that very often, but it was an amazing feat that the agricultural department really got on top of. They have won awards for what they have done, but that does not mean that it was not really devastating work. But I can confirm that that is an example of when they not only locked down identified cases in farms but they identified a broader area which was locked down and then there was the inability to come and go from those designated areas. That is a long way of saying we have in place the ability to lock down animals for the protection of other animals and for the protection of humans.

Mr LIMBRICK: I have a question about new section 165AH(2), which refers to the publication and tabling of documents. I am just curious as to why the term ‘absolutely privileged’ is used there as opposed to just ‘privileged’. I am sure it is some important reason that I am not aware of.

Ms SYMES: Arguably it is standard drafting. We say it is an Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel thing.

Dr CUMMING: I am almost on that same page. The opposite page, page 14, says that:

the Premier must, within 3 … days of the coming into force of the pandemic declaration or the variation, extension or revocation …

What would be seen as ‘not reasonably practical’? Just above that, section 165AG(3)(b) says:

for another reason it is not reasonably practicable for the report to be laid before that House on that day …

Why three days when the report can be tabled if the Parliament is sitting? There does not seem to be any oversight or approval by the Parliament in this way.

Ms SYMES: As the proposed section sets out, Dr Cumming, it is the intention for the Premier to cause a report to be laid before the house on that day, but there may be instances I guess—just to repeat what is in the legislation—where it is not reasonably practicable to be on that day, and therefore the outer limit would be within three business days. So it is to provide the intent but to ensure that there are allowances for, I do not know, an IT system breakdown or something like that. But that is why it is only a very short window of reprieve if there is incomplete drafting or the like. It is just a catch-all window. I think the last thing you want is to table something and go, ‘Oh, hang on. There’s errors and we need to have a look at that’, so it is just to give adequate time to ensure that the documentation is appropriate and accurate and reflects the intention of the act.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, I would like to ask essentially the same question I asked about proposed section 165AB(4)(b) about proposed section 165AE(8). If the Premier was satisfied at the time of the variation or extension of the pandemic order that there was a serious risk to public health but the nature of the pandemic was different to the Premier’s understanding, is the variation or extension still valid even if there was no serious risk to public health?

Ms SYMES: Yes. There still has to be the reasonable belief, but if it turns out to be false or there is other information that it is not as bad as what the health experts provided and the like, it would not invalidate it but it would be a good thing.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, proposed section 165AG(1)(a) requires any making, extension, revocation or variation of a pandemic order to be accompanied by a statement of reasons. The government are trying to sell this legislation by claiming that this provision ensures that the justification for decisions that affect the lives of millions of Victorians is made public. So, Attorney, what laws and rules would apply to the content and form of these reasons? Is there anything stopping the Premier from just reproducing previous reasons or providing erroneous or vague reasons? What criteria surround the making of these public decisions?

Ms SYMES: The information that will be tabled is intended to provide a clear indication, a clear statement, of the reasons and therefore would have to be fulsome. In the event that there were questions over the adequacy of the material, the joint standing committee would be able to make inquiries and determine whether it was appropriate or not.

Mr LIMBRICK: I am going to go straight to the big one: 165AI(1). This is the general pandemic order power. My reading of this proposed section is that it is saying—and please feel free to correct me if I am wrong—that we have this general power which can do pretty much anything, and then subsection (2) below it is a range of examples that this order could be used for, but it is certainly not limited to that. Is that correct?

Ms SYMES: Yes.

Mr LIMBRICK: Okay. I thank the Attorney for her succinct answer. One of the examples of these powers, which is one that there has been much discussion about, is the detention power that is in subsection (3):

A period of detention specified in a pandemic order must not exceed the period that the Minister believes is reasonably necessary to eliminate or reduce a serious risk to public health.

My question to the Attorney is: how will that reasonable period be communicated and justified? Because I know that during the state of emergency we have had a number of different types of people’s liberty being taken away, either through quarantine or home isolation, and there has been much confusion about what the justification was for those periods of time. I note that recently some of those periods have changed. How is that going to be communicated? Will that be communicated in the reports that come out? There is a lot of confusion now about the justification for these periods of time.

Ms SYMES: Yes. It would be based on the advice of the health officer. The advice would be tabled and, as I was going through earlier in relation to the provision of advice to people that are subject to a detention order, would make sure that that is really clearly articulating the duration of the detention.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her answer. More broadly, with regard to this very broad power in section 165AI(1), what are the limits on that power?

Ms SYMES: Well, it is still conditioned on public health risk and has to be reasonably necessary.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her answer. I suppose what I am getting at is that the range of potential pandemic order responses, given the examples given in subsection (2), is by no means exhaustive, as it states here. So this is giving freedom to the government, I suppose, to take any other course of action that it might think of at the time that might not have been considered in this legislation. I am old enough to have lived through—I was very young at the time—many pandemics. We had the HIV pandemic, and I know that there were lots of frankly hideous responses that people were proposing at the time—also the swine flu and the avian flu and all these ones. What I am getting at is one of my serious concerns here is, because these powers are not designated, people are going to dream up horrible things in the future—some future government—when HIV-2 comes out or something like this. How can we limit that in the future? I am very concerned about this sort of thing.

Ms SYMES: I have thought about these issues that you have raised as well, and I have actually reflected on the experience of the 1980s as well in relation to HIV, because I have particularly thought about some of the proposals that people did put forward at the time. It is one of the examples, I think, of why it is really important to have the checks and balances, to have the accountability, to have the tabling of the health advice, to have a statement of reasons, to provide evidence and material about why a minister may deviate from the advice that has been given, so that the rationale for the decisions is really clear and can be tested, whether that is in the public arena in terms of public debate or indeed subject to the joint parliamentary committee or indeed an order that impacts somebody, who has the right to complain to the Ombudsman. There is nothing in this legislation that stops legal challenge to some of these decisions as well.

It is a good point that you make, and that is why we have tried to bring in as many accountability measures as possible, because of course I want to stand here and say, ‘Of course all of the responses would be proportionate, consider the charter and be appropriate’, and all the information will be presented in that way to hopefully protect against any arbitrary inappropriate restrictions on individuals that may find themselves caught up in a pandemic.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her response. You actually provided me with a convenient segue into what I was going to ask about as well, with regard to remedies for people that feel that these orders are not proportionate—which is through the courts. I would put to the Attorney, indeed as the Attorney would be well aware, that there are currently challenges against existing directions, such as the vaccine mandates. And I would note that there are delays in the courts at the moment, so that is not going to be heard until March or something like that, on my understanding. And the fact that we are in a situation where we have something that is being imposed on the somewhere in the order of 100 000 workers that is going to affect and we cannot find a legal remedy until March concerns me greatly. If we have got other things in the future that people think may not be proportionate, how are we going to ensure that there is a timely remedy to something that may be questionable legally?

Ms SYMES: I guess in addition to all of the points that I just made, any actions of a minister would have to be about responding to and managing the serious risk of the pandemic disease, and we went through all of the accountability measures. The new committee—as we have identified, with a non-government majority—can meet when Parliament is not sitting. No doubt, if there were people that considered themselves adversely affected by any particular orders, they would call for a committee to look into such matters. Obviously we know that that committee can not only review orders but can recommend the Parliament disallow an order or a part of an order. We think that that is an appropriate mechanism to go alongside some of the other remedies that may be available to people who wish to exercise that right.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her answer. I would just like to put on the record that I think that this is a very significant issue, because there are many people, including me, who believe that many of the directions under the current state of emergency are not proportionate and that they are not the least restrictive of rights, and the mandates are one that we have talked a lot about. One of the reasons I have said many times is that there are other risk mitigation measures, such as rapid antigen testing, such as acknowledging prior immunity—all of these sorts of things. I would say that this is a serious issue that we have now and I do not see that this new legislation is going to solve that at all.

Ms CROZIER: I have a follow-up question from Mr Limbrick’s. As we are getting new treatments and new measures that are able to manage the current pandemic—I know this legislation will apply to future pandemics—in the current situation, if we have got a very high proportion of the community vaccinated, if we have got new treatments coming on board all the time, then to go to Mr Limbrick’s point about that proportionality element, has the government considered those new treatments coming on board to weigh up the impacts on people, as described by Mr Limbrick just now?

Ms SYMES: That forms part of the health advice that not only does the government rely on now but under a new framework the health minister would rely on in relation to the orders that he makes, ensuring that they are proportionate and taking into account the latest contemporary advice in relation to treatments or indeed other ways of managing a pandemic in the least restrictive way. The minister’s statement needs to outline any alternative options available to respond to the health risks. That is a requirement.

Ms CROZIER: Thank you, Attorney. I say that because in your amendments you talk about:

A pandemic order might—

(a) differentiate between persons or classes of persons on the basis of their vaccination status in relation to a pandemic disease or a disease of pandemic potential, by restricting persons who are unvaccinated from engaging in specified activities unless they are exempt from vaccination.

To go to an earlier discussion around elections and how that might apply to people who are unvaccinated and their participation in that activity, I think it is significant when you are talking about ‘unvaccinated’ but you have not taken into consideration all of those other treatments that might be available. I am interested in that balance of how the government has come to that. I know you have just said, ‘Well, we take that into consideration, the current health advice’, but in framing this legislation or putting this legislation together it is talking about unvaccinated individuals putting people at risk, but there is no talk about evolving treatments or technologies that might assist in management.

Ms SYMES: I just confirm that that would absolutely form part of the health advice, but as you have identified, it is outside the contents of the bill.

Dr CUMMING: This falls under the same line of questioning, which is obviously the example—which is an unusual example to put into a bill, a very specific and unusual example—that the pandemic order might differentiate between persons or classes of persons on the basis of their vaccination status in relation to a pandemic disease or a disease of pandemic potential by restricting persons who are unvaccinated from engaging in specified activities unless they are exempt from vaccinations. This gets me to bring up the point that I raised earlier.

The Attorney earlier in this committee stage brought up ATAGI and was talking about ATAGI’s expanded guidance. For me it was easy to grab the ATAGI expanded guidance on acute major medical conditions that warrant a temporary medical exemption relevant for COVID-19 vaccines. This was updated on 26 November 2021, so only last week. I might even just give you part of this, otherwise I will read it all out. But it is quite interesting. Within the ATAGI advice it talks about people who have had the disease, who have had a PCR test, who have had the COVID infection. It says here that they should be deemed to be given an exemption, as it says here, ‘if the vaccinee is a risk to themselves’. It talks about the possibility of giving an exemption. But then when you look at the Medicare form that the doctors would actually fill out to be able to give someone an exemption because they have the possibility of natural immunity—in other words they have actually contracted the disease; they have got the immunity—there is no ‘tick a box’ under the Medicare form for the doctors. It just talks about:

Antigens exempt due to natural immunity

Natural immunity to a disease is a valid exemption to vaccination for the antigens listed below. Exemption to a combination of vaccine(s) on the basis of natural immunity is only valid if immunity is confirmed for all vaccine antigens. Advice on what constitutes acceptable evidence of natural immunity is provided on page 3 of this form.

The individual has a natural immunity to …

And it has only got hepatitis B, mumps, rubella, measles; it does not actually talk about COVID. But in the rest of the actual form that the doctors would have to fill out to give someone an exemption, there is a whole section, a big section, section 17. It is almost like it has been written and added for COVID, because it says here—

Ms Symes: On a point of order, Deputy President, with your approval, Dr Cumming, can I butt in here? What you are articulating is a Medicare form. It is a commonwealth form. I cannot really give a lot of commentary in relation to that. You have delved into areas that I know are of interest to you, in relation to vaccination exemptions. I would bring you back to the offer to facilitate a conversation with a medical expert in relation to that, but if we could come back to the bill, that would be most appreciated.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Dr Cumming, could you finish your question, because we are going to have a break.

Dr CUMMING: That is fine. I am happy to just finish off this line of questioning, and I will make it nice and succinct. You can laugh, but you were just chatting for half an hour behind me. For me, we have touched on this, and it is within this bill. It talks about vaccination and the unvaccinated and how we have actually created this divided community. But there are people who have had the disease who should get an exemption, and it would seem that there is not any potential for doctors to fill out or tick a box. ATAGI gives different advice. This is the problem where you have actually given this as an example within this pandemic legislation of how the government actually can restrict people’s movement due to either being vaccinated or not vaccinated. I really struggle with this, seeing that the lived experience is not being seen.

Ms SYMES: What you are getting at, Dr Cumming, are the types of differentiation that may be required, and you have identified, for example, vaccination status. We know that COVID vaccines reduce the risk of severe disease, the risk of transmission and the risk of death. Now we have been able to secure supply and it is readily available, there are orders that are in place that distinguish between those that are vaccinated and those that are not; therefore it was a relevant example to include in the bill. But it is not the only example that might be relevant. The differentiation also occurs in hospital settings and aged-care settings where additional protections are required to keep vulnerable people safe. Certain high-risk industries have faced additional workplace obligations, such as abattoirs and other meat-processing facilities, particularly in 2020. These have been determined based upon health advice. They are essential measures to keep Victorians safe and healthy. So although it is important to recognise that the bill provides that the minister is only permitted to make pandemic orders if the minister believes they are reasonably necessary to protect public health, in making that determination the minister still does have to consult with the chief health officer before making that pandemic order so that they have—I think drawing to the points that Ms Crozier was raising—up-to-date information in relation to treatments, current practices, vaccination effectiveness, new strains, boosters and all of that, so that appropriate decisions can be made. And those decisions are subject to scrutiny by the Parliament and a range of other mechanisms through the bill.

Sitting suspended 2.33 am until 2.52 am.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, the proposed section 165AG(1)(b) requires the advice of the minister and chief health officer to also be made publicly available. Obviously this means that the advice cannot be verbal and must be written. Has this been the convention throughout the entirety of the pandemic—that the advice of the chief health officer has been in written form?

Ms SYMES: No, Mrs McArthur. There has been a combination of written advice and verbal advice, and as you might appreciate, when the chief health officer provides information to government there is an opportunity to ask questions and to put scenarios and different experiences and the advice might alter as a result of some of those conversations. That is envisaged or captured in this framework to enable there to be adequate time to convert any of that verbal advice or those verbal conversations into adequate advice that can form a document that could be tabled.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, new section 165AG(6) states that a failure to comply with the requirements of this section does not invalidate the declaration. So what are the consequences—or what is the consequence—of a Premier breaching the procedural conditions of this section?

Ms SYMES: Mrs McArthur, the intention of this section is to ensure that an important health order designed to be in place for a purpose to protect health and safety is not invalidated or does not fall over by virtue of a misplaced document or something, for example. I am advised that you have already asked me this question—in the last session.

Mrs McARTHUR: With great respect, Attorney, this is a different clause. Anyway, if the declaration does not become invalidated by the Premier’s failure to adhere to the requirements in this section, what compels him to abide by them?

Ms SYMES: Well, it sets out the clear expectations. It specifically says the Premier must cause the report to be laid before the house, but in instances where there might be a very good reason that there is non-compliance, it will not be invalidated but there would be other mechanisms to ensure that compliance was addressed, particularly through the joint committee.

Mrs McARTHUR: Thank you, Attorney. So he is not compelled to abide by them and there are no consequences. So, Attorney, the proposed—

Ms SYMES: That is not what I said. Why do you keep doing that, you guys? I did not say that.

Mrs McARTHUR: We will see what the record says. The proposed section 165AI(1) allows the minister to make pandemic orders which he believes are reasonably necessary to protect public health. Representatives from your department told me in an earlier briefing we had some time ago, I think it was, that the choice of the phrase ‘believes is reasonably necessary’ over the more common in statute ‘reasonably believes is necessary’ was not deliberate. Attorney, do you share this view that this rare choice of phrasing was not deliberate?

Ms SYMES: You are asking for an opinion on a bill that is not an Attorney bill, but I am very confident that they mean exactly the same thing.

Mrs McARTHUR: So you share that view? It was not deliberate?

Ms SYMES: I am not the drafter, and nor am I—

Mrs McARTHUR: But you are the manager of the bill.

Ms SYMES: Yes. I did not write it. The question—

Mrs McARTHUR: But you are responsible for it.

Ms SYMES: And I just gave you the answer. It means the exact same thing.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Can we just avoid conversations, please. Sorry, Mrs McArthur. I need to avoid conversations too, because we are allowing it to happen.

Mr Finn interjected.

Mrs McARTHUR: Thank you, Mr Finn, for your advice. Most helpful. Attorney, in many of your answers you seem to focus on how the Andrews Labor government intends to use the various provisions rather than how they could be used lawfully by this or future governments. So can you please confirm that the effect of the proposed section 165AK is that the current or a future Victorian government could make a pandemic order that applies to individuals of a specific religious or political belief?

Ms SYMES: Mrs McArthur, I would draw your attention to the amendments and my comments in relation to the summing up in the second-reading debate. That is not the intention of the legislation, and for avoidance of doubt we are taking that out so we can avoid this being used as a vessel for misinformation. So all of those attributes under the Equal Opportunity Act in these provisions will be removed by virtue of the amendment that the chamber will be considering imminently.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, the proposed section 165AL(2) states that the minister must have regard to the advice of the chief health officer—must have regard—when making a pandemic order. Can the Attorney confirm the minister can make pandemic orders that are directly contrary to the advice of the chief health officer?

Ms SYMES: My answer is the same as what I gave you in relation to the making of a declaration of a pandemic, but they would need to be explained if they were at odds or varied in any way in relation to that advice.

Mr MEDDICK: Attorney, I thank you for your forbearance; this is my last question. New section 165B(1), under ‘Pandemic management order powers’, addresses a rather non-exhaustive list of directions an authorised officer can give, but it also deals with the regulation and prohibition of public and private gatherings in a management area. The ability to have a public protest, regardless of whether certain groups of people agree with the reasons for those people protesting, has been a wonderful feature of Victorian society for an exceedingly long time. Indeed it has enabled public discourse and a way to bring a particular issue to a wider audience. Whilst we can all appreciate that measures need to be taken to protect the population during a pandemic, will the right to public protest, regardless of political, religious or any other affiliation, be allowed to continue provided it is done peacefully, it is well organised and may necessarily have a restriction on numbers dependent on circumstances and taking into account the risk factors? And given that this may require what would otherwise be construed potentially as the breaking of an order, will those attending in the above fashion be exempt from fines or detention provided they adhere to those rules and restrictions that allow that particular protest to take place?

Ms SYMES: Thank you, Mr Meddick. I know that you have expressed a keen interest to ensure that the government is considerate of these issues and the right to public protest in a safe manner. I can confirm that the new COVID-19 compliance and enforcement policy will make it clear that the right to protest safely and in a way consistent with health orders is protected.

Ms CROZIER: Attorney, if I can just follow up from where Mrs McArthur was in one of her questions. You made reference to amending the bill to take out a lot of the aspects in relation to the Equal Opportunity Act—those issues that were causing a lot of concern for many people around various elements—but characteristics and attributes still remain, it is my understanding. I would like to ask: if the government’s intention is to discriminate based only on vaccination status and age, why has it included the ability to discriminate on such a broad number of activities, characteristics, attributes and circumstances?

Ms SYMES: Thank you, Ms Crozier. I would draw your attention to my comments in summing up the second-reading debate where I really wanted to make clear the reference to the Equal Opportunity Act in setting out how differentiated orders might be made. We definitely heard feedback that this approach led to concerns, which were certainly advanced by people for personal gains—people that were opposed to the bill succeeding used this provision as an opportunity to spread misinformation that there would be pandemic orders applying to people based on their religious observation or indeed their sexuality. That was certainly not the intention so that amendment was removed from there. But in relation to relevant characteristics that could potentially contribute or be relevant to a pandemic and a risk to somebody’s health, there may be instances where there is a particular virus that impacts only the elderly or impacts only babies or is particularly dangerous only for pregnant women. There are pandemics that may target particular attributes.

Ms CROZIER: Can you name some?

Ms SYMES: Well, I just did. Elderly, pregnant women—

Ms Crozier interjected.

Ms SYMES: No, I do not. I did not know COVID-19 existed two years ago either. I cannot tell you the names of viruses that particularly impact or cause harm to particular people. I am almost certain that a health professional would be able to give you the name of a virus that impacts unborn babies in pregnant women. I am sure they exist. I do not know what they are.

Ms CROZIER: They’re not pandemics.

Ms SYMES: Well, there could conceivably be a pandemic that is harmless to everybody else except for unborn children. I do not know the answer to that, but—

Mr FINN: I can think of one.

Ms SYMES: Can you? The zika virus apparently is something that has been envisaged that would be of particular concern to pregnant women and may indeed amount to a pandemic that might require a response that applies to people of a particular attribute, that being pregnancy.

Ms CROZIER: I absolutely concur that the zika virus will be potentially very dangerous to pregnant women, but I think it is a bit broader than that. The point is that you took it out and you made reference to somebody’s religion or sexuality. The way the bill was written, the way the government presented the bill, it had those elements in the bill, so it is no wonder that people that were looking at the bill took that into consideration. So I do not think you can blame individuals or people for the way the government wrote the bill, when it had those characteristics and attributes attributed to the Equal Opportunity Act. I think, with all due respect—

Mrs McArthur interjected.

Ms CROZIER: Yes. It is actually one of the reasons why the bill was so flawed, because it had these very serious implications, if you read the bill—

Ms Symes interjected.

Ms CROZIER: But the way the bill was written—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: We are getting into conversations. Can we have one person on their feet. Ms Crozier has the call.

Ms CROZIER: So you did mention religion and sexuality. What about political beliefs? Is that included in that subgroup as well?

Ms SYMES: No. It is removed. I would refer you to—

Ms Crozier interjected.

Ms SYMES: The reason I asked for more time, the reason I sought leave for more time, was so that I could address these issues in the summing up, and I ask people to refer to those because they address the issues that I knew people would raise in the committee. So that is why I wanted to put it on the record, and I would refer you to my comments.

Mr LIMBRICK: On that note, though, aren’t the attributes that were outlined from the Equal Opportunity Act sort of redundant anyway, because they could be captured by section 165AK(1), where they talk about specified classes of persons? That is the same thing, isn’t it? It is just not referring to the Equal Opportunity Act.

Ms SYMES: This is in relation to ‘all persons, specified classes of persons or specified persons’, not in relation to attributes as per the Equal Opportunity Act. But I would bring you back to the fact that an order must be responding to a serious health risk.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her answer. What is envisaged here then when we are talking about specified classes of persons? Could the Attorney give examples of what is envisaged to be a class?

Ms SYMES: I will do it in the negative, in the first instance. A pandemic order to apply to a specified class of people who follow a particular religious order would not be captured, because it would not be responding to a health risk. However, a specified class of persons, such as workers at an aged-care facility, may.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her answer. However, we spoke before about previous pandemics and the HIV pandemic. I mean, surely, as we discussed before, some of the proposals that people were putting forward at the time and may indeed put forward in the future—can we rule out that sexuality would be one of these classes?

Ms SYMES: That is the exact reason that I was pretty keen to remove the attributes under the Equal Opportunity Act, because that was the example that I considered potentially problematic to explain and I wanted to make sure that we put that beyond doubt.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for that answer. So just for the sake of clarity and for the record, for someone who is reading this in the future, can we say categorically that the specified class will not include sexuality as a class?

Ms SYMES: Yes.

Mr LIMBRICK: Excellent. I thank the Attorney for her answer. The other class that many people have concerns about in particular is political. Now, it may seem unusual to put that forward as a serious thing, but I would bring your attention to the act of when people choose whether or not to be vaccinated. The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has said that is likely not a political act. However, I would argue that the act of refusing to disclose one’s status, as I engaged in and many other people have engaged in, is actually very much a political act, not a medical status act, and I would argue that that is actually a political class.

Ms SYMES: I get where you are going, but I would respectfully disagree with that. The class that you are referring to would be based on vaccination status, not their political class.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her answer. Whether or not that is the intent, it may be the effect, because, as we have discussed before, these people who choose not to take the vaccine are excluded politically in many ways. I have already had reports to me that people cannot attend branch meetings of political parties. We have the situation within Parliament itself where advisers are not able to work for MPs. We have had this situation in New South Wales with local government elections with people not being able to enter a polling booth. Clearly a secondary effect of this is political.

Ms SYMES: I will take that as a statement.

Dr CUMMING: Just on that line of questioning—through the Deputy President to the Attorney—I have had many constituents come to me who have deep religious beliefs and have wanted exemptions for vaccines for their religious beliefs. Either they do not want to use animal products—people who do not like beef or pork or what have you—or for whatever reason they do not want to use vaccines because they have been tested on animals. It is not necessarily a religious belief, but it is a belief system that they have or do not want to be part of. Normally they would have the opportunity to have a conscientious objection. There is obviously no provision in here for conscientious objections to vaccines. I know that this bill does not talk specifically about vaccines, but within the health and wellbeing act there is talk of vaccines or when you talk under the Local Government Act 2020, and you have given examples in this clause about the unvaccinated and the vaccinated. So yes, is there any room to actually take into consideration people’s religious beliefs or other belief systems?

Ms SYMES: Dr Cumming, I think it is almost impossible to see how a political or religious belief would be relevant to a health risk.

Dr CUMMING: For me, Attorney, in being respectful to other people’s belief systems, there are people who are deeply religious and will not take a vaccine because of their deep religious views. They are the minority, they are a small group, but regardless they should be considered under equal opportunity, under religious beliefs and under our charter of human rights. Yes, they are a very small percentage, but they are out there, and normally what they would have is a conscientious objection in having those deep-seated belief systems.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Attorney, I draw your attention to new section 165AL, specifically subsection (2), where it talks about:

(2) In making a pandemic order, the Minister—

(a) must have regard to the advice of the Chief Health Officer (which may be given orally or in writing) …

We have had the incredible situation in Victoria where directions have been given that affected the lives of many, many people where people actually cannot recall who made the decision. And under oath a number of people, including the Premier of this state, said they cannot recall who made the decision to put private security guards into hotel quarantine, when over 800 people died. Also we have a government who declare often, incredibly, that they are all about transparency and accountability. Why then would you put into this bill an element that avoids anything other than in writing?

Ms SYMES: Mr Ondarchie, I think you may have gone off for a little break. We have covered this. Please refer to Hansard—half an hour ago, with Mrs McArthur.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Did you get a satisfactory answer, Mrs McArthur, by the way?

Mrs McARTHUR: No.

Mr ONDARCHIE: No, you did not. That does not surprise me. In 165AL(3) the minister may consult with any other person. Could you give us some examples of who those other persons could be?

Ms SYMES: Sure. It is people that the minister considers appropriate before making a pandemic order. I have referred to examples such as mental health experts and people with paediatric expertise but importantly also the independent pandemic advisory committee that is being set up with expertise to provide advice in relation to the measures that we envisage may be required under this framework.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Thank you, Attorney. Could an ‘other person’ the minister could consult be a trade union leader?

Ms SYMES: It could be. It could be another minister. It could be anybody that is deemed appropriate before making a pandemic order. It could be the chamber. It could be small business organisations. It could be a local government authority. The list is not prescriptive, nor is it exhaustive.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Could it be a political party state secretary, for example, that the minister could see as another person to consult?

Ms SYMES: I have answered that.

Mr ONDARCHIE: I do not recall explicitly asking that question before.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I think you were not listening to the answer that it could be anyone that they felt appropriate.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Thanks for your editorial. If I can ask you, Minister: could other persons that a minister could seek to consult with be selected MPs from the crossbench and not others?

Ms SYMES: Yes.

Mr ONDARCHIE: It could?

Ms SYMES: Whoever they think is relevant. Somebody that might add value I reckon is probably the first port of call.

Mr ONDARCHIE: I take ‘add value’ to mean ‘Those who’ll vote with us’. I think that is what you mean.

Ms CROZIER: Attorney, just in relation to this very section 165AL, ‘Minister must consult before making a pandemic order’, if the Minister for Health consults with the chief health officer and others considered appropriate before they make that order and then ignores that advice—and I think you did go partly to this a while ago in terms of a challenge—could you just explain that again? Can that be a challenge from the committee? Can that be a challenge from the Parliament? Can that be a challenge from a citizen? Can that be a challenge from anyone if the minister does not take that advice?

Ms SYMES: Ms Crozier, I have answered this question.

Ms CROZIER: So is it yes?

Ms SYMES: I have gone through it extensively. I would ask you to refer to Hansard.

Ms BATH: My question relates to section 165AM, which is on page 21, and specifically subsection 3(d). The bill does seem to provide some flexibility on how pandemic orders, particularly in this clause, can be operational and would enable authorised officers or other persons to determine pandemic orders. What is not clear to me are the exemptions from those orders. That part of the bill says:

a specified case or class of case for the exemption of persons or things from any of the provisions of the pandemic order, whether unconditionally or … specified … wholly …

or to the extent that it is specified. So I am interested to understand, Minister, what some examples are of the exemptions that will be made under this section 165AM.

Ms SYMES: I will get the advisers in the box to correct me if I am wrong, but my experience in the work that I undertook with the New South Wales agriculture minister was to get the ag worker code established to ensure that all workers in relation to agricultural pursuits were not caught by all of the orders and had an exemption to be able to go about their work, cross borders and indeed deal with animal welfare issues and the like. And it has been confirmed from the box that that is not a bad example to provide.

Ms BATH: Thanks, Attorney. Let me just sort of walk down that path, then. So other examples: would emergency services personnel be exempt as well because they are conducting naturally in an emergency situation? What about, for example, timber harvesters, who would also be seen as essential? Is it anybody who is on the essential worker list currently, or would there be some removals from that list?

Ms SYMES: At the moment there is not an essential workers list, but I guess the examples and our common knowledge of how that worked during restrictions are good examples of what could be envisaged under the exemption. I think another good example is flight attendants, who were exempted from the extent of the quarantine arrangement so that they were not spending 14 days here and the like. So it would depend on the orders that were in place, and the exemptions that could be considered would be similar to the ones that we can envisage. I think it gives you a pretty clear picture of what may be enabled by that section of the bill.

Ms BATH: Thanks, Attorney. And they would all be specified in CHO orders—well, it is now health minister orders in this bill. Would that be correct? So would they be specified quite clearly, or would there be a bit of a moving interpretation?

Ms SYMES: No, they would be specified.

Mrs McARTHUR: Minister, in Hindi v. Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs the Federal Court held that decision-makers must give proper, realistic and genuine consideration to relevant considerations in statutes. Clearly proposed section 165AL(2) creates a relevant consideration for the making of pandemic orders. Can you therefore categorically confirm that as long as the minister gives proper, realistic and genuine consideration to the chief health officer’s advice he can unilaterally make pandemic orders that are completely contrary to that advice?

Ms SYMES: First of all, yes, that legal standard would apply. We have gone through, Mrs McArthur, more than twice now the requirements of the minister or the Premier in relation to a pandemic declaration. They have to table their reasons for their decision, and if they are at odds with the health advice, they have to set out why.

Mrs McARTHUR: Thank you, Attorney. So they have to table the advice, but you are therefore confirming that they can make decisions contrary to the advice.

Ms SYMES: For the fourth time, yes.

Mr LIMBRICK: I would like to explore a little more with the Attorney this idea of class, because I think the Attorney said before that many people’s concerns about this were that the government was dismissing it as misinformation. But I think we have established here that many of these concerns—whether or not they thought that this government was going to use these sorts of powers inappropriately—were that they feared that some future government may use these powers inappropriately. With that in mind, I would like to bring up another class which has been brought to my attention by people that may be possible, and that is of genetic information—so DNA. It has been brought to my attention by a number of constituents that they are concerned about the possibility of DNA tests being used as a way to segregate people through these powers. Would it be possible to rule out genetic information being used for those purposes?

Ms SYMES: I think what you have articulated is why we want to have as many checks and balances throughout this bill as possible about transparency and about accountability, and we want to ensure that the powers are used proportionately. I am not in a position to rule out the example that you gave, but that is why the bill has been crafted in a way to ensure that all decisions that are made are transparent. I do not envisage what you have articulated happening in a future pandemic, but as I have articulated a couple of times in this debate, I am not a medical expert. So I would not want to give too much commentary on the specifics that you have outlined, but I think the checks and balances are designed to give the public confidence that any measures are proportionate, appropriate and transparent.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her answer. With regard to DNA, there is a lot of research in this area at the moment, and people with certain genetic characteristics can be more or less susceptible to certain diseases. I do not think we need to be health experts to understand that reality. Therefore it is quite possible, one would think, that if people with certain genetic characteristics were susceptible to a certain disease, they might be targeted by this type of power. This is my concern, and this is what I would be interested in the possibility of ruling out.

Ms SYMES: I think I have answered.

Dr CUMMING: Attorney, on page 25, at the bottom, proposed section 165AP(6) states:

A failure to comply with the requirements of this section does not affect the validity of the pandemic order or the variation, extension or revocation, as the case requires.

Could this just be clarified in a little bit more detail? If the health order is not published or produced, the order or declaration still stands. Is that the case?

Ms SYMES: I have answered this in great detail several times, Dr Cumming. It is designed to ensure that an important health order does not fall over because of a small failure, an inadvertent failure. Indeed if the joint committee or a member of Parliament or the public is concerned about a serious failure to comply with the act as required, particularly in relation to the provision of information et cetera, there are avenues to have that examined.

Dr CUMMING: Proposed section 165B, page 35, which is the ‘Pandemic management order powers’ and the fact—

Members interjecting.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Dr Cumming, you are still on your feet. Are you asking a question?

Dr CUMMING: Just to clarify, from what I understand with page 27, most of that is deleted—28, 29, 30, 31, 32, and then we go straight into 33. Is that correct, Attorney? Those are the sections that—

Ms SYMES: Yes, it is the scrutiny of acts. You are right. That is my understanding.

Dr CUMMING: Proposed section 165B says:

(1) The pandemic management order powers are as follows—

(a) to take any action or give any direction, other than to detain a person, that the authorised officer believes is reasonably necessary to implement or give effect to a pandemic order;

(b) to detain a person in a pandemic management area in accordance with a pandemic order that requires the detention of the person (including a pandemic order that requires that the detention of a person be extended).

Attorney, could you give me some further information around that? There is no time frame attached to it, as in it is not like 21 days or 28 days. Within the health and wellbeing act even when you detain someone if they are having a mental health episode it talks about 28 days. But within this detention aspect of the pandemic management order powers, specifically under detaining a person, there are no limits in the way of 14 days, 21 days, 28 days—it seems the detention could be endless.

Ms SYMES: It is a good discussion to have. It is based on public health advice and based on the nature of the pandemic. I think if you take our recent experience, for example, isolation times have come down from 14 to 10 days for vaccinated persons, and indeed less days equivalent to respond to the risk of exposure to the virus. In terms of the definitions of ‘close contact’ and ‘secondary close contact’ and the like, we have tried to seek health advice and question the health advice to ensure that the detention requirements are as short as they have to be. Of course we have been asking for that advice the whole way along; we do not want people detained for any longer than they need to be to protect the public health of our state. There is deliberately no time line in here because it would be based on the health advice, and I think the experience shows that we want to make sure that it is proportionate and informed by the latest advice. But there is a 24-day limit in relation to a review—the detention has to be reviewed by an authorised officer—so that would give you an indication of the outer limits of what would be realistically conceived under this legislation.

Dr CUMMING: Just on that, I can understand the need for a bit of flexibility, Attorney, but there should be an end limit. It should be 28 days. There is not a virus currently on this planet that normally goes that long through incubation and the disease. Normally it is seven days, 10 days, 14 days—21 if you are lucky—but you should have it totally under control by 28 days. Or even have a maximum, like no more than 28 days. I really do not understand why it is so open-ended. I think that has been one of the community’s fears: that detention seems limitless.

Ms SYMES: I think the word ‘detention’ is problematic, and I would love to be able to avoid it if we could, because it is not necessarily reflective of reality in terms of asking people to stay home, whether it is in their apartment or at their farm. It is being asked to stay isolated from others. Experience would show that we have tried to reduce the time based on health advice as much as possible. I do not think it is possible to anticipate what may be required in the future, but that is why it was really important to introduce the new detention appeals panel. They are required to review someone’s detention every 24 hours—authorised officers are required to do that—and of course there is an ability to request a review through that appeals process, which would keep a check on the appropriateness of the length. I get what you are saying—it would be great to give people an indication of how long—but I also would not want to say to people that it could be 21 days when it is likely to be three. That might cause just as much concern for people—if you have got an outer limit, that might indicate that that is what the expectation is. It would be the intention of government to not have people detained for any longer than is absolutely necessary based on the health advice.

Mr LIMBRICK: I draw the Attorney’s attention to page 22, proposed section 165AM(3)(f) at the top of the page. I wonder if the Attorney could explain what the phrase ‘may confer powers or impose duties in connection with’ means. What is the actual meaning of that, especially ‘impose duties’, and what could be some examples of what is envisaged by this conferring of powers and imposing of duties?

Ms SYMES: I will have a look and see what the explanatory mem says. A good example would be requiring businesses and facilities to require people to check in.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her answer. So that is an example of imposing a duty on a business. Could you maybe also provide an example of conferring power on one of these classes?

Ms SYMES: Power is provided to Service Victoria to collect the information that is collected through the check-in process, for example.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for her answer. So this conferring power, it would appear, is I suppose the legal framework through which it is provided to collect some of this information, because I know that some of the information, such as immunisation records, is actually protected under commonwealth law. You cannot use those records under the Australian Immunisation Register Act 2015 without authority, and I think I have brought to your attention some of the problems that businesses may have exposed themselves to with that. Would this be the legal mechanism through which that commonwealth law would not be breached? I know that there are severe penalties for breaching that commonwealth law and using this immunisation data without authority, but if there is a legal framework at a state level then it is fine with commonwealth law, is my understanding. Is this the legal mechanism through which that power would be conferred to a business to collect that type of information legally?

Ms SYMES: Mr Limbrick, I guess there are a couple of responses. We cannot override commonwealth law. I do not need to tell you that. I might take on notice your specific question so we can get you really detailed advice. The answer is yes. But there will be some caveats, and I want to get you a bit more of a detailed explanation in relation to that.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for that. I look forward to reading that. Also in this part at subsection (g) it talks about:

… make provision for and in relation to requiring a specified person or specified class of persons …

However, doesn’t this conflict with the general power, which prohibits naming individuals? I think I recall that the general pandemic order power prohibits naming individuals. So doesn’t that sort of conflict with that, because we are talking about a person here?

Ms SYMES: My advice is that this is just about being able to make an order about one specific person. But I am not sure if I misunderstood your question.

Mr LIMBRICK: Yes, okay. New section 165AK(2)—this is the section ‘To whom a pandemic order may apply’—states that:

A pandemic order must not be expressed to apply to a single named individual.

Doesn’t that conflict with what we just spoke about when we were talking about ‘person’, because a person must be a named individual? This seems like a conflict to me.

Ms SYMES: No, a ‘person’ just means a legal person.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, I am going to new section 165BI. The proposed section 165BI enables the review of decisions relating to detention by detention review officers. Now, detention is obviously a very extreme measure, denying individuals their entire physical liberties to freely move and live. In the common-law tradition integral to Victoria’s legal system, for which you are responsible, Attorney, the right to not be arbitrarily detained is over 800 years old. So, Attorney, is an internal review conducted by a departmental official rather than a court really the appropriate mechanism for assessing the fairness of detention?

Ms SYMES: With respect, Mrs McArthur, we have gone through this. It is not an internal review. It was the subject of my amendment 5, which inserts new clause 10A, which sets up a whole new detention review scheme. This part of the bill is not even relevant now.

Mrs McARTHUR: Well, my apologies. I missed the new amendment.

Dr CUMMING: I am jumping ahead a couple of pages to page 49. This is under division 6, ‘Offences, penalties and related matters’. Under the penalty units, I know that the government has halved what they originally planned. Could you just explain what that actually means in dollar terms today, so 60 penalty units or 300 penalty units or 250 penalty units or 1250?

Ms SYMES: Sorry, Dr Cumming, I should have actually got this around to members previously. There have been a couple of members that have asked for a table, and we have got that to disseminate. I will get that to you.

Dr CUMMING: Thank you. And when do you think I could have that information?

Ms SYMES: I will ask them to email it to you now.

Dr CUMMING: Well, it will be flooded in my other emails, but that is all good. That is nice. I have got another question. I am not quite sure if I am jumping ahead. I am just waiting for others flicking around the room. I go to pages 52 to 53, and I have questions around the information sharing. Obviously the government currently has a piece of legislation that was read into this house, which is the Health Legislation Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2021. But within this bill—the pandemic management bill—we talk about information sharing. Could you tell me the difference between what you have proposed in the way of this pandemic information sharing and what is going to be sitting outside it in the new Health Legislation Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2021?

Ms SYMES: I am not familiar with the detail of the health information sharing bill, but in relation to this bill the information-sharing protections are specifically in relation to contact-tracing information. So I do not think they are particularly related with the health information sharing bill, although I have not gone through that in detail—I suppose I will at some point when it is my responsibility here. It is more about people’s individual health records and how they can be shared. This is contact-tracing information, so it is very, very different.

Dr CUMMING: Just understanding that, Attorney—and I do understand it is 4 o’clock in the morning and, yes, you did read in the statement of compatibility for the Health Legislation Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2021 and, yes, we have not debated it in this house yet—I was just curious on the information-sharing section within the pandemic bill and if there was any relationship to this potential bill.

Ms SYMES: No.

Dr CUMMING: And what I am understanding from you here—and just clarify if I am right, if this is correct—is that the information-sharing sections within here are for contact tracing.

Ms SYMES: Yes.

Dr CUMMING: Correct. In relation to the safeguards for contact-tracing information, which goes on within these proposed sections—so I am flipping through those pages—what I understand you are saying, Attorney, is that all of these proposed sections are included to be able to safeguard people’s information through the contact-tracing process and that there are penalties attached to people misusing the tracing information. Am I correct?

Ms SYMES: Yes, you are correct.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, given that you said you will circulate that list of fines—the penalty for failing to comply with pandemic orders under proposed section 165BN is X, Y, Z—is it the government’s view that a lack of adequate deterrence is responsible for breaches of public health directions over the past 18 months?

Ms SYMES: You are asking me for an opinion, and it is difficult to give you an answer. Would it be one relevant factor? Sure. Would it be the only factor? No.

Mrs McARTHUR: Thank you, Attorney. In relation to the aggravated offence, in the proposed section 165BO could you please outline some examples of offences where a person breaches a pandemic order and they know or ought to know that the failure to comply is likely to cause a serious risk to the health of another individual?

Ms SYMES: I can confirm, Mrs McArthur, but with my amendment number something or other we are proposing to remove aggravated offences. That was something that was discussed with Mr Barton and Mr Hayes and was agreed to by the government—to remove that provision in the bill.

Mr LIMBRICK: Back to close to where we were before, on page 22—

Ms SYMES: Back to page 22? Come on. I am on page 49.

Mr LIMBRICK: Well, people are jumping ahead of me. I am not as quick as Mrs McArthur. Section 165AM(3)(i) looks like it has been put in there in order to cater for the move away from a state of emergency and into these new pandemic powers. There is a line in there, ‘to matters of a transitional or saving nature’. It seems like the government clearly envisaged some sort of scenario where this would be necessary. Could the Attorney please outline what was in the government’s mind when they were thinking about transitional or saving nature type things?

Ms SYMES: I will seek some advice from the box in relation to that, but I would point out that as you would appreciate, section 165AM(1), (2) and particularly part (3) in relation to the pandemic order is designed to try and cover the field. In terms of the drafters’ advice on transitional provisions, this is a somewhat standard drafting technique to make sure that you do not leave things behind. But I will just seek advice as to whether there was any particular example that facilitated the need for that or if it was just more general.

My advice from the box confirms that it is a standard way to draft a transitional provision that would capture a change in framework in this instance, but one of the examples would be if you have got a permit that exists, you would not get a new permit—your vaccination certificate, for example, on your app. You do not have to get a new one; it just carries through.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, under the proposed section 165CE(4) there is a list of various experts that the minister must ensure as far as reasonably practical are included in the independent management advisory committee. Attorney, why is the independent pandemic management committee not required to have any expertise in economics, finance or agricultural food production given the enormous impact that pandemic orders have on the economy and even the food production of Victorians and their livelihoods?

Ms SYMES: Mrs McArthur, this is not an exhaustive list; this is the required list, and I have gone through this in some detail. The membership of that committee could extend to others as is required in a case-by-case situation in relation to the specific pandemic, and I would refer you to the second-reading speech, which specifically called out economic expertise as a relevant consideration.

Mrs McARTHUR: Thank you, Attorney, but if it is important, why is it not listed here so it is prescribed for not only this government but future governments?

Ms SYMES: Because it may not be relevant to every pandemic, whereas this is a health bill that potentially causes an impact on people’s human rights by virtue of what the orders may do. Most pandemics we would envisage would require public health, infectious diseases, primary care, emergency care, critical care, law and human rights expertise. There may not be an impact on any business, and therefore you would not want to force an accountant to be sitting on a committee where her or his advice is not relevant. But as has been outlined on numerous occasions, including in the second-reading speech, this committee is designed to have the core people—that is, not necessarily specific people; as a group they have to acquit that, which is relevant, because that is very much a feature of the bill—but that does not rule out other people as required, particularly if there are orders that would impact business or agriculture, for example. I think supply chains were something that Ms Bath brought to our attention, and the relevant experts would be invited as appropriate.

Mrs McARTHUR: Well, Attorney, that is most disappointing, because you have managed to tick the box with traditional owners and Aboriginal Victorians and vulnerable communities, but probably one of the greatest impacts we have noticed in governments applying orders in this pandemic has been to people’s lives and livelihoods by taking away their opportunity to trade and do business and by locking them down. Small businesses, as you know, have been most adversely affected, and taxpayers of course have been most adversely affected because of the amount of money that governments have poured into this operation. Future generations will be in debt for goodness knows how long. The adverse effects of all this are clearly understood and felt by business, and the economy has been most adversely affected. So you would think if you could prescribe some of these special interest groups, you would include the ones that have been most adversely affected. But anyway, you clearly do not see them as important.

Ms Symes: On a point of order, Deputy President: Mrs McArthur, again, of course I consider small business, the business community and Victorians as—

Mr Ondarchie: What is the point of order?

Ms Symes: It is misleading the house.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: There is no point of order.

Ms Symes: When you finish your contribution I will respond.

Mrs McARTHUR: Thank you, Deputy President, and thank you, Attorney. If it is important, then why are they not included? Perhaps you would like to include them now.

Ms SYMES: I would draw your attention to the second-reading speech, which specifically goes through this in detail. This is a pandemic framework to be enduring and for the future. There may be pandemics in the future that do not impact businesses, but they are a very important cohort in relation to the current pandemic. If you would like to suggest some people with that expertise for membership of the inaugural panel, I would welcome your feedback.

Mrs McARTHUR: Thank you, Attorney. It is not a matter of my suggesting experts for you to have on a committee that is going to be the pandemic management advisory committee. It is supposed to be all powerful, giving you or any government the most fundamental advice as to how they manage such a pandemic. The fact that you have not specified as important the health and mental health experts on this is, I think, deficient in the extreme. Maybe you want to comment or—

Ms SYMES: Just that you fundamentally missed the point of the legislation, and that is that it is not just to respond to the current pandemic but future pandemics, and there is nothing in this bill that excludes the important members of our society that you have identified.

Ms CROZIER: To take up that matter, I asked for the stakeholder list at the commencement of this session and it was provided to me sometime later—I have not got it here; I would read from it otherwise. It is amongst my papers somewhere, but in it it has a group of organisations that the government said they consulted prior to the introduction of this legislation into the Parliament, the first iteration of the bill. After the bill stalled a few weeks ago they went back and consulted with the business community, and there are a number of business organisations on that stakeholder list. I think it is a good point that Mrs McArthur raises because it goes to this very point that many people have been concerned about. This is an oversight and it is now so blatant what has gone on. It is not in this proposed section, which says:

For the purposes of appointing members to an Independent Pandemic Management Advisory Committee, the Minister must ensure as far as reasonably practicable that members of the committee, taken as a group, have skills, knowledge and experience that encompass all of the following matters—

(a) public health;

(b) infectious diseases;

(c) primary care;

(d) emergency care;

(e) critical care;

(f) law;

(g) human rights;

(h) the interests and needs of traditional owners and Aboriginal Victorians;

(i) the interests and needs of vulnerable communities.

But it does not go to the point that Mrs McArthur was talking about: the business community and the economic impacts. You are saying that lessons have been learned. The lessons learned from this pandemic have been enormous as to the economic impacts and costs, the business impacts and closures and mental health. Now, mental health would obviously be covered in this through the primary care and public health components, but not those very important elements. So I just want to put on the record that I think this is a very good point that Mrs McArthur has raised. Clearly it is an oversight by the government, and it is a pity that they have not made an amendment to include those necessary groups when they have made these other amendments.

Dr CUMMING: Thank you, Attorney. I am on this clause too. I am wondering if you can predict which category I would like to attach to this? It is councils or community health.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Catherine, I know it is 10 past 4 in the morning and we are all a little bit troppo, but I do not think that we are into guessing games at this point in time.

Dr CUMMING: So:

For the purposes of appointing members to an Independent Pandemic Management Advisory Committee, the Minister must ensure as far as reasonably practicable that members of the committee, taken as a group, have skills, knowledge and experience that encompass all of the following matters …

Why haven’t local councils or community health been taken into consideration, because you have hit almost everything else—public health, primary care, emergency care, critical care—and you just did not touch on the one thing that is within the Public Health and Wellbeing Act that you have not used enough during this pandemic and that you should enshrine in this legislation so future governments realise they should use their community health or councils.

Ms SYMES: These are minimum requirements. The points that you make I am not arguing with. The members of the advisory panel per pandemic—hopefully there are not too many that we have to do. But this is a bill that is designed to be enduring for the future. That is the minimum requirement. The bodies that you have mentioned may very well be relevant to the composition of the inaugural expert panel and, as I have indicated, an expression of interest will be opened on the condition that this bill passes.

Dr CUMMING: I have got just one more, just a follow-up. Reading proposed section 165CE(4) and talking about having that knowledge and experience, you almost have to hit all those markers. I can assure you that I have tried to sit on committees. Having some kind of knowledge about traditional owners and Aboriginal Victorians, it is really hard if you are not a traditional owner or an Aboriginal person to have that knowledge. It is almost the lack. If you read it, it says that you have to have the skills and knowledge in these areas—you have to hit all of those.

Ms SYMES: No, you are not required to as an individual. The committee members taken as a group have to.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Minister, I also wish to pursue the commentary of Mrs McArthur and Ms Crozier associated with proposed section 165CE(4). I reflect on your comments just now to Dr Cumming where you said that these were a minimum requirement, these skills. I find it somewhat disappointing that financial, commercial or economic skills are not a core component of the independent pandemic management advisory committee. We have a situation in Victoria where we have seen the worst state debt ever. We have project after project after project—now, I could name them all but I choose not to at this hour of the morning—that has blown out by project by project by project, adding up to something like $25.4 billion in cost blowouts alone. I find it somewhat surprising, substitute Minister, that this has become an afterthought for the government and is not embedded in the make-up of this committee. You would have thought as a first pass of any compilation of an important committee such as this that having prudent financial management skills would have been core to the make-up of this group. So I am asking you, Minister, in support of the minister who is not right here at the moment: why would you have left that out deliberately in the make-up of this bill?

Ms STITT: I thank Mr Ondarchie for that question. I am advised that the Attorney has already answered that question. Here she comes now.

Mr ONDARCHIE: In fact, that is not correct, Minister who was substituting for the minister who was not here at the time.

Ms Symes interjected.

Mr ONDARCHIE: With respect, Minister, how could you know you definitely answered it when you were not here for the question? How could you know that?

Members interjecting.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: No conversations across the chamber, please. Through the Chair. Mr Ondarchie, ask your next question, please.

Mr ONDARCHIE: I put to you, Minister, in fact you have not answered this question, and the reason I say that is that you were not—

Ms Symes interjected.

Mr ONDARCHIE: I haven’t finished asking it yet. With respect, I know we are tired, and I accept that, but you cannot really say you can answer the question when you have not heard it yet. What I did say in your absence was that I find it almost compelling for the government to include—

Members interjecting.

Mr ONDARCHIE: How many spokespeople do the government have tonight? I am asking the question: why would you not have included prudent financial management skills as a core element of the make-up of this committee? Why did you deliberately leave it out?

Ms SYMES: I have answered this question, Mr Ondarchie. This is about the current pandemic and future pandemics, and in relation to this pandemic I agree with you. The opinions of people with the skills that you have outlined would be appropriate for this particular panel but not necessarily for future pandemics. We are not arguing here.

Mr ONDARCHIE: No, I am just wondering why you left it out. That is all.

Ms SYMES: It is just not necessarily relevant to every pandemic.

Mr ONDARCHIE: I am going to be very careful here that I do not inappropriately represent your comments. Can I just pick up the point then, Minister, that you said that not having financial management, particularly in this case, is not relevant to the make-up of the committee. Is that what you are telling me?

Ms SYMES: No, that is not what I said at all. I refer Mr Ondarchie to my previous answers. I stand by them.

Mr LIMBRICK: I would like to just clarify with the Attorney something that we discussed, now many hours ago, around time lines. In section 165CE(1) it talks about:

Within 30 days of the first extension of a pandemic declaration …

I was trying to get some idea of time lines of when the independent pandemic management advisory committee—I am sure someone has already given it the acronym of IPMAC or something like that—

Ms SYMES: They have.

Mr LIMBRICK: They have, yes. So according to my calculations, if this legislation takes effect on 16 December, then four weeks after that would be the initial period and then 30 days after that this committee would have to be established. By my calculations that is in February. Is that correct—sometime in February?

Ms SYMES: You are correct, and thank you for that clarification. It would not necessarily have to wait till February, but within that time frame, yes. I must admit that on first reading of the section you have to register that it is the end of the first declaration before it kicks in. So your calculations are correct, and thank you for bringing it to the attention of the house.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for clarifying that. So we could go through potentially almost two months with this committee not there. That is totally possible, is it not?

Ms SYMES: Yes, it is. But as we discussed earlier in this debate, upon the passage of this legislation we would be seeking expressions of interest to get the process started.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney. If we are considering the expressions of interest, how many people is the government considering appointing to this committee? What is the envisaged number of experts on this panel?

Ms SYMES: There is no set number, Mr Limbrick. Coming back to the previous conversation that I had with other members, one member may acquit the minimum requirements five at a time, for example. You need to hit the minimum requirements—as I indicated to Mr Ondarchie, in this instance you would be seeking people with business expertise, industry expertise and the like—so there is not a set number. It would depend on expressions of the applicants.

Mr LIMBRICK: Thank you, Attorney, for that answer. Let us say there are a dozen people on this committee—I do not know that that is the number, but let us say that there are a number of people on the committee—and over time there are going to be people resigning from that committee or being removed from that committee and then reappointed. I can foresee situations where you are going to have knowledge transfer issues. How does the government envisage that the collective knowledge of this collective committee is carried forward throughout the pandemic period and not lost? I imagine that people with particular areas of expertise, if taken away from the committee, can no longer provide that expertise and it may not be easily replaceable. How are you going to manage that sort of transition?

Ms SYMES: That is not particularly relevant to the bill necessarily, Mr Limbrick, but there would be a secretariat that is provided and there would be resources that are provided. Of course it is an important advisory committee, but government is full of advisory committees that potentially face the same problem—not necessarily, I guess, under the spotlight that this pandemic management advisory committee is under right now. We are hoping they will not be under a heap of scrutiny next year either—that would mean we are in a pretty good place in terms of COVID-19—but I guess the requirements under the bill need to have those minimum requirements set. You would seek to replace people with equivalent expertise, bearing in mind—you make a good point—a lot of our health experts are very much focused on the management of the pandemic and a lot of people have been working really hard over the last 20 months. We will have to ensure that we can get adequate skills and expertise onto the committee. It is generally people that want to help. If you go into the health sector, if you go into the legal sector, it is usually because you are driven by an aspiration to help people, so I am confident that we will be able to attract some good candidates for this panel.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the minister for that clarification. Also, with the functions of the committee—there are three functions that are listed under proposed section 165CF. Is it envisaged that this committee would play some sort of public role? I mean, it talks here about them making recommendations to the government and providing reports to the minister that could be tabled. They can review things. But I suppose what I am getting at is: are these people going to be public figures similar to what we have at the moment where we have the chief health officer or other officials come out and talk at pressers and things like this? The members of this committee, are they going to be public figures or are they going to be away in a back room writing reports?

Ms SYMES: It is not provided for in the bill—it is not prevented, it is not a requirement. But I guess I would draw on the fact that it would be expected and anticipated that this committee would provide evidence to the joint standing committee that is also being established. In that instance you would have to have people that are happy to provide public submissions and be questioned in an inquiry sense. That is something that would be discussed with the panel members, and there might be one person who they choose as a spokesperson or a chair for the purposes of appearing before committees and potentially addressing public forums. But that is not necessarily something that is prescribed by the bill.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Minister, on page 63, new section 165CE(5), you indicate that the person appointed to represent the traditional owners and Aboriginal Victorians needs to be an Aboriginal Victorian.

Ms SYMES: Are you referring to (5)?

Mr ONDARCHIE: Yes. I am acknowledging that that person has to be an Aboriginal Victorian.

Ms SYMES: Oh, right. Sorry, there was no question; it was a statement.

Mr ONDARCHIE: I was just waiting for you to catch up. So we are certainly on this side of the house very keen to make sure there are jobs for Victorians and Victorians get the opportunity. Would you envisage, given subsection (5) talks about having an Aboriginal Victorian represent the needs of traditional owners and Aboriginal Victorians, that the rest of the committee would be Victorians as well?

Ms SYMES: I do not think we would necessarily have to confine that, Mr Ondarchie. I guess in public health it would be good if you had a good knowledge of the Victorian system. In human rights obviously we have the only human rights charter in Australia in our state here. So it is not required. You would not want to potentially limit yourself, but you would also want to make sure people are very familiar with our state.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Yes, Minister. Naturally enough we would want people to have the right skills to join the independent pandemic management advisory committee.

Mr LIMBRICK: IPMAC.

Mr ONDARCHIE: IPMAC is what we are calling it? Okay. In saying that, the government have talked for some time about local content in projects in Victoria. Why wouldn’t you put as one of the key criteria that in the first instance these people with the requisite skills would need to be Victorians?

Ms SYMES: I do not think that excluding a global expert on pandemic viruses would be wise.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Minister, just to make sure we are not confusing each other’s words here, I said, ‘Why wouldn’t you do it in the first instance that the preference is, should they have the requisite skills, they be Victorians?’.

Ms BATH: Again on this same topic, Attorney, I am interested in the last dot point, ‘interests and needs of vulnerable communities’. ‘Vulnerable communities’ can have a broad range of definitions. You could call regional Victoria and remote areas in Victoria quite vulnerable. You could also say vulnerable communities could be the disabled sector—multicultural, again. So I would like you to expand on that definition from, we will say, the government’s interpretation of it, please.

Ms SYMES: Ms Bath, it would depend on the applicants and the nature of the pandemic.

Ms BATH: Indeed, and I guess that is going to my next point about applicants. And if we again look to regional Victoria and the need for representation from regional Victoria, how widely and how will these positions be advertised, noting that not everyone reads whatever Melbourne papers or the like? So how are you going to ensure that there is a good cross-representation of the communities within Victoria and/or regional Victoria? How is it going to be advertised?

Ms SYMES: I have confirmed that there will be an expression of interest, but the mechanism of appointment is outside the scope of the bill and it is also outside my ministerial responsibilities.

Ms BATH: You are the minister at the table, but thank you.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, under the proposed section 165CW, pandemic orders or directions are not invalidated by an invalidated declaration. So, Attorney, could you please explain the purpose of this section?

Ms SYMES: Mrs McArthur, new section 165CW reads pretty straightforwardly to me.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, I would like a bit of a further explanation. The pandemic orders or directions are not invalidated by an invalidated declaration?

Ms SYMES: Yes. If you read the entire clause, it kind of explains the intent. Everything that is done prior to the invalidation is valid if it was done in good faith. Like, it is written there. I am not quite sure what else I can add. It is a pretty straightforward clause.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, in this same provision could you please confirm that even if a pandemic declaration is made invalidly, such as if no such pandemic disease existed or was present, any orders made by the minister would still be valid?

Ms SYMES: If it was made in good faith, yes.

Mrs McARTHUR: Terrific. Wonderful. Attorney, under the proposed section 165CU the chief health officer, his delegates, authorised officers and detention review officers—or have they been ditched?—are immune from any personal liability for their bona fide actions or omissions. Does this clause also apply to judicial review proceedings or only criminal and civil liability?

Ms SYMES: Personal liability, Mrs McArthur.

Mrs McARTHUR: So, Attorney, why do these officials need to be immune from any liability? Surely they should be able to be prosecuted if they commit a crime, even in good faith.

Ms SYMES: Mrs McArthur, this is consistent with every other jurisdiction in Australia and is not an out-of-the-ordinary provision.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, what is the effect of the phrase ‘done in good faith’? Would this be construed to mean ‘done in the pursuit of public health’?

Ms SYMES: Which clause are you referring to now?

Mr ONDARCHIE: 165CU(2), page 73, halfway down the page.

Ms SYMES: The usual construction or understanding of terminology such as this in legal circles, Mrs McArthur, is that it excludes anything that is done in bad faith or malicious. So it is its ordinary meaning.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney-General, for instance, would employing private security officers in hotel quarantine be done in good faith and immune from liability?

Dr CUMMING: I would like further information about the immunity clause. Is that normal?

Ms SYMES: It is standard.

Dr CUMMING: It is standard, a get-out-of-jail-free card clause? Is that it? Okay.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, would an authorised officer likely be immune from criminal liability if they physically assaulted someone in an attempt to detain them?

Ms SYMES: Mrs McArthur, that is at odds with the answer that I gave you before, that this does not extend to exclude people from criminal liability. You just asked that.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Dr Cumming, I invite you to move your amendment 6, which is a test for your amendments 10, 13, 16 to 20, 22 to 26, 37 to 38 and 41.

Dr CUMMING: I move:

6. Clause 12, page 8, line 11, omit “Chief Health Officer” and insert “Independent Pandemic Management Advisory Committee”.

This is the first of a number of similar amendments. Following normal emergency management protocols, I propose that the membership of the independent pandemic management advisory committee is expanded to form an independent panel of experts, including the chief health officer. Rather than the minister basing decisions on advice provided by the chief health officer, the committee would provide recommendations and advice to the minister, and this would ensure the ramifications of any of the advice, such as the effects on business, are considered before making any recommendations. Attorney, would you rather me just talk to all the clauses at the same time? Or I will just read them in, seeing as this first one is going to be a test.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Yes, you can talk to your amendments as a group, but you do not need to read them in. You can just talk to them, about what they do as a group, because the first one tests the whole lot.

Dr CUMMING: Well, what I might do for ease, it being almost 5 o’clock in the morning, is just read them all in because I have got a little statement on each of them, and then that will be it. Is that okay, everybody? Sit back and relax. Amendment 7 is:

7. Clause 12, page 9, lines 5 to 29, omit all words and expressions on those lines and insert—

“(3) The Premier may only make a pandemic declaration if the pandemic disease is present in Victoria at the time of making the declaration.”.

In the bill as it currently stands the Premier can make a pandemic declaration even if the disease is not present in Victoria, if the disease has not at the time been declared as a pandemic or if he or she believes that there is a serious risk to public health. This amendment ensures that the Premier can only make a pandemic declaration if the disease is present in Victoria at the time of making the declaration. This does not restrict the government from commencing any planning for the possibility of a disease spreading through Victoria. Amendments 8 and 9 are:

8. Clause 12, page 11, line 16, omit “from—” and insert “from a pandemic disease.”.

9. Clause 12, page 11, lines 17 to 31, omit all words and expressions on those lines.

As the bill stands, the Premier may extend the pandemic declaration even if the disease is no longer a pandemic and even if the disease is no longer present in Victoria. Now, these amendments ensure that the extension can only occur if the disease is still considered a pandemic. Amendment 10 is:

10. Clause 12, page 12, lines 7 to 8, omit “Chief Health Officer” and insert “Independent Pandemic Management Advisory Committee”.

As in amendment 6, this reflects the change of roles of the independent pandemic management advisory committee to provide the advice to the minister. Amendment 11 is:

11. Clause 12, page 12, lines 10 to 13, omit all words and expressions on those lines and insert—

“(5) A pandemic declaration may be extended under subsection (1) for a period of no longer than—

(a) 3 months at a time, until the date that is 12 months since the pandemic declaration came into force; or

(b) one month at a time for any later extension.

(5A) An extension referred to in subsection (5)(a) or (b) does not take effect unless it is approved by a motion passed by a majority of members present and voting in each House of the Parliament.”.

In the current wording there is no limit on the number of times the pandemic declaration may be extended under section 165AE(1), but the period of each extension must be no longer than three months. The amendments ensure that the extension can only be for a maximum of three months at a time up to 12 months after the date of the declaration and then only month by month, and all extensions must be approved by voting in both houses—the Council and the Assembly. But I do like the proposed amendments from Mr Hayes. Amendment 12 is:

12. Clause 12, page 12, lines 22 to 36 and page 13, lines 1 to 3, omit all words and expressions on those lines.

This would no longer apply if approval is required by the Parliament. Amendment 14 is:

14. Clause 12, page 14, line 27, omit “within 3 business days” and insert “on the day”.

That little bitty amendment is taking it down from ‘three days’ to ‘on the day’. Now, when the pandemic is declared, made, extended or revoked, the Premier must produce a report which includes the reasons and advice of the minister and the chief health officer. If Parliament is not sitting, it says if it is reasonably practical the Premier is to provide a copy to the Clerk within three days. This amendment provides for the report to be provided on the day of making, extending or revoking the declaration.

The vast majority of the next amendments are all just changing the words from ‘chief health officer’ to ‘independent pandemic management advisory committee’, so I will not go into any of those. Amendment 27 is:

27. Clause 12, page 25, line 26, omit “14 days” and insert “one day”.

The bill currently states that:

… the Minister must ensure that within 14 days after the variation comes into force, a statement certifying that the variation is only for that purpose is published on an Internet site maintained by the Department.

These include advice, reasons and the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities assessment. This amendment ensures that the information will be published within one day.

Ms SYMES: Dr Cumming, you have got to be commended on the attention that you have brought to this bill. You know that we have different views on whether this bill should pass or not, but you have given a lot of thought to these amendments. Some of your amendments are not dissimilar to some of the amendments that we are making. We will preference ours over yours, and we will not be supporting any of your amendments. But for an Independent member without a big team behind her, I think that you have brought a sense of professionalism to the way you have approached this, and I really appreciate your considered debate and contribution to the committee stage. I am not in a position to support your amendments, but I thank you for bringing them to the house.

Mr DAVIS: I can indicate that the opposition will support this amendment from Dr Cumming. Whilst we have serious reservations about aspects of the pandemic management advisory committee, if it is in existence, it might as well do a little bit more work. In that sense I think that Dr Cumming has come forward with a sensible suggestion here, and we can support that on this occasion.

Mr LIMBRICK: I have a similar view to Mr Davis. The Liberal Democrats will also be supporting this amendment.

Dr CUMMING: I thank the government for acknowledging the work that I have actually put into this. It would have been nice to have spent more time with you over the last 18 months to discuss the health and wellbeing act and state of emergency as well as this bill, because obviously I would have loved to have had those improvements throughout this pandemic, with the local government and other things. But I thank the government for acknowledging the work, and I thank the opposition and the other crossbenchers that will support these amendments. I am very pleased to hear that you have absorbed some of them, knowing that I am going to vote against the bill at the end, so I do appreciate that in turn.

Committee divided on amendment:

Ayes, 16
Bach, Dr Finn, Mr Maxwell, Ms
Bath, Ms Grimley, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bourman, Mr Hayes, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Crozier, Ms Limbrick, Mr Quilty, Mr
Cumming, Dr Lovell, Ms Rich-Phillips, Mr
Davis, Mr
Noes, 18
Barton, Mr Patten, Ms Tarlamis, Mr
Erdogan, Mr Pulford, Ms Taylor, Ms
Kieu, Dr Ratnam, Dr Terpstra, Ms
Leane, Mr Shing, Ms Tierney, Ms
Meddick, Mr Stitt, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Melhem, Mr Symes, Ms Watt, Ms

Amendment negatived.

Ms SYMES: This is a straightforward amendment clarifying the role of the human rights charter. I think I have already read this in. I move:

6. Clause 12, page 8, lines 19 to 25, omit all words and expressions on these lines and insert—

“(2) The Parliament—

(a) recognises the importance of protecting human rights in managing the serious risk to life, public health and wellbeing presented by the outbreak or spread of pandemics and diseases of pandemic potential; and

(b) intends that nothing in this Part displaces the operation of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities; and

(c) intends that the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities therefore applies to the following—

(i) the interpretation of this Part and subordinate instruments made under this Part;

(ii) acts done, and decisions made, under this Part by public authorities.”.

Mr DAVIS: I am just trying to understand these amendments here. So we omit the words and insert that the Parliament recognises the importance of protecting human rights in managing the serious risk to life, public health and wellbeing presented by the outbreak or spread of pandemics; intends that nothing in the part displaces the operation of the charter; and intends that the charter therefore applies to the interpretation of this part and acts done and decisions made. Why was this not drafted in this way in the first instance? The original version is:

The Parliament intends that in the administration of this Part any limitations … are protected by the Charter of Human Rights …

What is the distinction between those two versions? How does it confer greater benefits, for example?

Ms SYMES: It is just clarifying. There were a lot of questions from stakeholders that wanted assurances that the sections expressly highlight the role of the charter. So it is to put it beyond doubt that it is being provided as an amendment to give that further clarification and assurance that that is the intention.

Mr DAVIS: Is there some legal case that shows that this form of words provides greater clarity? I am just trying to understand it. The other words seem to say that they were protected in any event.

Ms SYMES: Mr Davis, I agree with you, but some stakeholders did not, so we added it in there to ensure that our intentions were accepted.

Mr DAVIS: And how was this exact form of words arrived at? How did you arrive at that form of words?

Ms SYMES: Just in the normal way—getting advice on how to best reflect it. That is what has been formulated based on the drafters’ advice on how you would do that.

Mr DAVIS: Just to understand, the charter assessments that might be undertaken as part of this process—will they be made public?

Ms SYMES: Yes. I have explained the requirements to table advice such as charter assessments, and I can confirm just in relation to the wording that in addition to drafters’ advice we sought legal advice, including from the solicitor-general.

Mr DAVIS: Just so that on the record the community understands this, FOIs that we have put in to seek charter assessments have been routinely refused despite them clearly being policy documents. Is it now the government’s intention that the actual charter assessments will be released?

Ms SYMES: Yes.

Mr DAVIS: So, for example, you wrote to the chamber in response to a documents motion on 3 May 2021 with respect to the curfew. In that correspondence documents 7, 8 and 9 related to charter assessment restricted activity—at the document dated 2 August, direction 16, restricted areas, and directions 4 and 9 on the charter—and in each case government claimed executive privilege over the document on the basis that disclosure would reveal high-level confidential deliberative processes of the executive government or otherwise genuinely jeopardise the necessary relationship of trust and confidence between public officials and a minister and would reveal confidential legal advice from the government’s advisers. Is it now the government’s position that such charter assessments would not attract executive privilege, would not jeopardise the advice and would not jeopardise the relationship? Is that the government’s position?

Ms SYMES: Mr Davis, this question has been asked, it has been answered and we are talking about the bill. As I have articulated, material in relation to the charter assessment—a summary of all of that consideration—will be tabled in the Parliament in accordance with this bill if indeed it passes the Parliament.

Mr DAVIS: I am troubled by that answer because what that shows is that the government intends to publish a summary. The chamber should hear that—a summary. It is not the actual charter assessment. The community should understand that this is another cover-up, it is another sleight of hand and the government is intending to close this down and not actually release the charter assessments.

Ms Symes: On a point of order, Deputy President: Mr Davis, it might be the case that you have had a nap and you have got a bit more energy, but can you please refrain from yelling at me. I do not like being yelled at and pointed to.

Mr DAVIS: Well, it is unfortunately quite a concern that in fact charter assessments will not be released. These are policy documents. They are documents that make assessments of different weightings, and they are inherent to balancing the rights and privileges in this regard. For us to discover that you are not going to release these charter assessments now and you are going to stick with your secretive approach of trying to close down information—

Mr Melhem interjected.

Mr DAVIS: I have been following this very closely, I can tell you, Mr Melhem. I have been following every step of it. You may not have, but I have. Indeed I am very clear about this. These charter assessments should be made public. I make another point, on freedom of information. The government is also fighting the release of charter assessments. Is it the government’s intention that it would in that forum fight the release of charter assessments under this new act—that, despite these grand, high-sounding words, all we are going to see is a summary?

Ms SYMES: That is a statement.

Mr DAVIS: That is a question.

Ms SYMES: No, it was not. It was a statement.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I cannot force the Attorney to answer.

Mr DAVIS: I understand, Deputy President, that you cannot force the Attorney to answer, but let it be recorded in Hansard that it is a simple question. And has it been answered? No.

Ms SYMES: Can I just point out that that is the job of Hansard. They do report what you say. You do not have to tell them to report it.

Mr LIMBRICK: I think that Mr Davis raises some valid concerns. We have seen during previous negotiations on the state-of-emergency extension, for example, when we had the state-of-emergency extension report, that one of the concessions granted by the government at the time was to release a summary of health advice. I have already stated this once today: we were very much looking forward to reading that, and when we finally got it, it was a series of dot points.

Mr DAVIS: Deeply disappointing.

Mr LIMBRICK: Deeply disappointing is a very accurate summary of my reaction to it. I would like some sort of assurance that we are not going to get here, instead of human rights charter assessments, just a list of dot points saying, ‘Here are the rights that we infringed, and we did it to save people’. I am hoping that it will be more detailed than what we got in the state-of-emergency extension report.

Ms SYMES: Mr Limbrick, you and I have had some discussions during the debate about the level of transparency that this bill requires. It requires a variety of documentation, whether it is in relation to reasons, health advice or charter assessments, to be provided in good faith in accordance with the provisions of the bill. It is intended to bring about public confidence and enable people to understand the reasons that the government have formed the decisions that they have and that the joint committee will be able to look at what is documented and seek an explanation if they do not think that is adequate. What must be included in the statement is in accordance with amendment 20.

Mr DAVIS: So in respect of the proposed committee, will the committee be able to look at the full charter assessments?

Ms SYMES: What will be required to be tabled if in the opinion of the minister the orders that are made, varied or extended do not limit human rights as set out in the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities is an explanation of the nature of the human rights limited and the importance of the purpose of the limitation and the nature and extent of the limitation and the relationship between the limitation and its purpose and any less restrictive means reasonably available to achieve the purpose that the limitations seek to achieve. There is quite a bit of detail that is prescribed to be tabled, and the joint committee would have the ability to request documents just like any other joint committee in the Parliament.

Mr DAVIS: An explanation is what the Attorney says will be provided—an explanation, not the actual documents. Then we are told by the Attorney just now that the committee would have the ability to seek documents, just like any other committee in any other way. I have that correspondence from the Attorney herself dated 3 May 2021 about the curfew, where the chamber sought by order exactly those documents and they were not provided—executive privilege was claimed. I would wager, as they say, London to a brick that the government is going to claim executive privilege again and that these words that the government is saying here about charter assessments being provided are not worth the paper they are written on.

The government has no intention of providing those at all. The government in fact will continue the blocking of the charter assessments. It will continue to hide them under a claim of executive privilege. Everything the minister has said just now leads to the same conclusion: the behaviour of the government with FOI, the behaviour in terms of the document requests that have been made by this chamber indicates that the government will table summaries and explanations but not the actual documents, not the actual charter assessments. That is what should be in the public domain, that is the cover up, that is the secrecy and that is the outright blocking of information. The community can have absolutely no trust.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr DAVIS: I move:

1. Clause 12, page 8, after line 25 insert—

“(3) In the administration of this Part and in seeking to achieve the objective of this Part, regard is to be given to the guiding principles set out in sections 5 to 10.”.

This amendment seeks to make it absolutely crystal clear that the full objectives of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 apply. For the chamber’s understanding, they are in part 2 of the act, and sections 5 to 10 relate to the principle of evidence-based decision-making, the precautionary principle, the principle of primacy of prevention, the principle of accountability, the principle of proportionality and the principle of collaboration.

The framework of this act is quite well designed, and the balancing of those different points is a relatively sensible way for decisions to be made. Of course the government has never released its assessments in this regard. When an order is made currently by the chief health officer, there is a brief provided behind that which balances out exactly these points, as they are required to by law. Indeed those briefings provide a sensible weighting and balancing of each of these different principles. But the government has never released those either, so I make the point on the way through that the release of these briefings would be very helpful. The community would be in a position to judge the evidence that is behind each of the orders that have been made to date. Going forward with the new act and the new pandemic approach, these principles ought to be explicitly required to be taken into account and those balancing points ought to be made.

The precautionary principle:

If a public health risk poses a serious threat, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent or control the public health risk.

The principle of primacy of prevention:

The prevention of disease, illness, injury, disability or premature death is preferable to remedial measures.

And:

For that purpose, capacity building and other health-promotion activities are central to reducing differences in health status …

The principle of proportionality:

Decisions made and actions taken in the administration of this Act—

(a) should be proportionate to the public health risk sought to be prevented, minimised or controlled; and

(b) should not be made or taken in an arbitrary manner.

The principle of collaboration:

Public health and wellbeing, in Victoria and at a national and international level, can be enhanced through collaboration …

with different levels of government. We have not always observed that principle in the relations within the commonwealth, I think it is probably fair to say. The principle of accountability—

A member: Has your battery run out?

Mr DAVIS: No, it is the size of the font. I think the chamber and the community understand the point that I am trying to make here. The guiding principles in the act ought to be explicitly supported in this new approach that the government is proposing. That would strengthen the scientific basis, and it would strengthen the sensible, balanced and consistent approach across the two types of approach that are outlined both in this act and in the previous approaches.

Ms SYMES: The government will not be supporting Mr Davis’s amendment on the grounds that it is unnecessary and already provided for. The new pandemic part is already subject to the principles of the act, meaning there is no additional benefit in restating them in the new part. For absolute clarity, the act’s principles that already apply—and nothing in this bill changes that—are evidence-based decision-making, accountability, proportionality, collaboration, prevention and precaution.

Committee divided on amendment:

Ayes, 16
Bach, Dr Finn, Mr Maxwell, Ms
Bath, Ms Grimley, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bourman, Mr Hayes, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Crozier, Ms Limbrick, Mr Quilty, Mr
Cumming, Dr Lovell, Ms Rich-Phillips, Mr
Davis, Mr
Noes, 19
Barton, Mr Patten, Ms Tarlamis, Mr
Elasmar, Mr Pulford, Ms Taylor, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Ratnam, Dr Terpstra, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms Tierney, Ms
Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Meddick, Mr Symes, Ms Watt, Ms
Melhem, Mr

Amendment negatived.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I invite the minister to move her amendment 7, which is a test for her amendments 8 to 13.

Ms SYMES: I move:

7. Clause 12, page 8, line 31, after “satisfied” insert “on reasonable grounds”.

The bill enables the Premier to make a pandemic declaration if the Premier is satisfied that there is a serious risk to public health arising from a pandemic disease or a disease of pandemic potential. Having considered and listened to the range of stakeholder views and the views of the Victorian community and given the pandemic declaration enlivens very substantial powers, consistent with what was previously circulated on 16 November the government is proposing to make a small but important house amendment to clarify the basis upon which a pandemic declaration can be made. The proposed house amendment to new section 165AB in the bill will introduce an objective component to the Premier’s considerations when making a pandemic declaration. It introduces a reference to the Premier needing to be satisfied on reasonable grounds that there is a serious risk to public health arising from a pandemic disease or disease of pandemic potential.

Mr DAVIS: I just seek some explanation from the minister on two grounds. The first is why this was not in the original bill. The second is ‘reasonable grounds’. I take that to mean the common English words there, and I ask if there is legal precedent that she would point to that is intended to be a basis for this.

Ms SYMES: Yes, Mr Davis, ordinary meaning and clarifying the existing intention.

Mr DAVIS: Is there legal precedent for those words that you would intend to apply here?

Ms SYMES: These are not unusual terms: ‘on reasonable grounds’.

Amendment agreed to.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Dr Cumming, I invite you to move your amendment 7, which is a test for your amendments 8 and 9.

Dr CUMMING: I move:

7. Clause 12, page 9, lines 5 to 29, omit all words and expressions on those lines and insert—

“(3) The Premier may only make a pandemic declaration if the pandemic disease is present in Victoria at the time of making the declaration.”.

My amendment 7 limits the grounds on which the Premier can make a pandemic declaration to only when a disease is present in Victoria. And this is obviously a test for my amendments 8 and 9.

Ms SYMES: I just say thanks to Dr Cumming for the conversation that we had on this previously, and, as indicated, the government is not in a position to support this amendment.

Mr LIMBRICK: Whilst the Liberal Democrats appreciate what Dr Cumming is trying to do in limiting the mechanisms through which a pandemic can be declared, we have concerns about cross-border issues and things outside the state being taken into account, so we will not be supporting this amendment.

Mr DAVIS: Our position is similar on this matter. We understand precisely what Dr Cumming is trying to do to more sharply circumscribe the powers they would be exercised here. But if there were an outbreak in Wentworth, it could clearly cross the Murray. If there were an outbreak in Albury, the twin cities of Albury and Wodonga would, as the Deputy President understands, representing that area, most likely both be involved. So we think that it is too narrow, although the deeper objective of Dr Cumming is something we understand.

Amendment negatived.

Ms SYMES: I move:

8. Clause 12, page 9, line 17, after “satisfied” insert “on reasonable grounds”.

9. Clause 12, page 9, line 24, after “satisfied” insert “on reasonable grounds”.

Mr DAVIS: I have further questions on this. I understand that this was tested by Ms Symes’s amendment 7, but ‘reasonable grounds’—and I understand the common English words, as you have outlined. How would this be documented? How would the reasonable grounds be documented? Would the Premier, in making this decision, be required to document these grounds and to undertake weighting in some way? Would a brief be provided to the Premier? How would this operate, Minister?

Ms SYMES: Mr Davis, we have gone through extensively what is required to be tabled in this place in relation to the information that would be provided and that would underpin the Premier’s decision.

Mr DAVIS: No, no, that is not the actual question I am asking. I am asking: how would the Premier go about it or the Premier’s staff? How would they go about establishing reasonable grounds? What steps would they take and what documentation would there be? Because reasonable grounds in this regard, as I see it, has a very significant legal meaning and it does actually in theory circumscribe somewhat what the Premier could do. How would the Premier actually go about that? Is there an intention that the Premier would have a written document on every occasion that would establish reasonable grounds? And what would the exact weightings be for that establishment?

Ms SYMES: Mr Davis, I am not sure, but I do not think you have been in the chamber when we have gone through this extensively. The Premier’s decision is on the advice of the CHO and the minister and there is a requirement to table a lot of the explanation for the decision that he or she arrives at, and there is a capacity for the joint committee to interrogate those documents and to ask questions such as, ‘On what reasonable grounds did you form that view?’.

Mr DAVIS: And I understand all that and I heard all that before, but the question that was not asked is: how would the Premier document that? Is there going to be a formal document which he would sign to do that, an order? And what would be behind that document? Would there be a formal brief, a formal document that would actually make out the case for reasonable grounds, perhaps including commentary from the CHO, perhaps including other similar commentary? Is that what is intended?

Ms SYMES: Mr Davis, I have answered this question.

Mr DAVIS: Actually, to be honest, I do not believe, Attorney, that you have. I do not actually think you have answered on the exact form of documentation that the Premier will go through. You have talked about what might be tabled and what might not be tabled, and we have established there are likely to be deficiencies in that, but leaving that aside, I am actually asking specifically about what the Premier and his support staff will actually do in terms of documenting reasonable grounds.

Ms SYMES: The requirements in the bill are quite clear in what needs to be tabled, and what you are referring to is outside of the scope of the bill clearly.

Mr DAVIS: No, it is actually not outside the scope of the bill. It is actually squarely within the scope of the bill. The Premier is making a decision on ‘reasonable grounds’. You outlined earlier in the proceedings that he would consult the CHO, and there are a number of other aspects that you have laid out, and I accept that. You have talked about how tabling would happen of certain documents or certain summaries—‘explanations’ I think was one of the phrases and ‘summaries’ is another one of the phrases that have been used. But my question is actually a different one—it is actually about what steps the Premier will go to to document and to establish reasonable grounds. Will there be a document trail that somebody who wishes to challenge in court is able to challenge ‘reasonable grounds’? Is there a document that can be accessed by a discovery process, for example, in court? Is the Attorney not intending to answer that?

Ms SYMES: I have answered it three times, Mr Davis.

Mr DAVIS: No, you actually have not answered it directly; you have actually skated around it. So again let it be recorded here that the Attorney will not answer the question directly about what document there will be and what is intended for the Premier to have as a record-keeping practice for the documentation of reasonable grounds. I think it is important to note that I think reasonable people would expect that in assessing reasonable grounds the Premier would have a document trail that would actually outline that, likely a brief of some kind that is provided, and that those documents ought to be accessible in the case of legal challenge. If that is not the intention of the government, I think that that is quite concerning. If the government’s intention is to use perhaps a verbal-only approach, that would be concerning. If the government’s approach is to not provide all of the documents behind that sort of brief, that would also be concerning.

Amendments agreed to.

Ms SYMES: I move:

10. Clause 12, page 11, line 14, after “satisfied” insert “on reasonable grounds”.

11. Clause 12, page 11, line 34, after “satisfied” insert “on reasonable grounds”.

Mr DAVIS: I make the same points on these. I note that they have been tested already, and I accept that, but I make the point on amendments 10 and 11 that the Attorney has not answered these questions satisfactorily.

Ms SYMES: I said it was outside the scope of the bill. That was your answer.

Mr DAVIS: No, it is not.

Ms SYMES: The briefing practices and machinations inside the Premier’s office are—

Mr DAVIS: It is actually a legal matter as well.

Ms SYMES: It is not.

Amendments agreed to.

Mr DAVIS: I move:

2. Clause 12, page 12, lines 12 and 13, omit “but the period of each extension must not be longer than 3 months” and insert “but an extension does not come into force unless the extension is approved by a resolution of both Houses of the Parliament passed by a special majority within the meaning of section 18(1A) of the Constitution Act 1975”.

Just to be clear to people what that means, it means that the special majority is 60 per cent of both chambers. It is our intention that the preferable way of seeing any extension is a one-month approach, with both chambers needing to provide that support and that that should be by special majority.

The reason we have persisted with this approach is because we think that where great power is being exercised there needs to be great oversight, great checks in place, and in this case we think that this is an appropriate set of checks and balances that actually provides a much stronger oversight over government activity because the government has to come back to Parliament more regularly and because the Parliament thereby sitting has the oversight capacity that comes with that. The existence of the special majority also ensures that there is genuine bipartisanship in the extension of these special pandemic powers. The special pandemic powers can only be exercised thereby when there is a deeper consensus across the Parliament.

Where you are locking people down, where you are controlling people and whole sections of the economy repeatedly, as has occurred over the recent period, the truth is that a 50 per cent plus one majority is a very poor basis to do it from. It should be a special majority. We think that provides a better check, a better balance. But it also provides a clear position for all parties in the chamber to scrutinise and to make their views known. We think it is a very reasonable way forward, and we think it provides that greater scrutiny.

The truth of course is that this government has got a great propensity to use these powers, and we think they will use them extensively with this new set of powers that come in this bill. We think there will be further lockdowns, and this is a check or a balance on the exercise of that great power.

Ms SYMES: Mr Davis, I am genuinely interested in why you would hold the position that even if this amendment was successful, you would vote against the bill.

Mr DAVIS: Well, there are many other problems in the bill, which we have expounded as we have gone through, that do not relate to this exact clause.

Ms SYMES: You tried to mount such a convincing argument. It just did not really make sense to me that you do not actually want to see it come to fruition. But it is not the government’s intention to support your amendment. I will be up-front with you about that. The requirement that both houses of Parliament endorse any extensions of a pandemic declaration relating to COVID, or any other pandemic, for that matter, in any emergency would require a state of emergency or a state of disaster effectively every four weeks. That is just impractical, and anybody that is in this chamber knows that. It provides no flexibility to proactively and appropriately manage and respond to emerging circumstances. It would tie up the resources of people that should be focused on dealing with a pandemic. It is an irresponsible amendment that you do not even seem to have a lot of support for, so we might as well just vote against it.

Mr LIMBRICK: Can I just clarify that the Attorney just said it would be every four weeks, but my understanding is that extensions under this bill would be every three months. Can I just clarify that?

Members interjecting.

Mr LIMBRICK: So this would be every four weeks? Okay.

Mr LEANE: I have a question to Mr Davis, around his amendment and his series of amendments that get tested from this one and future amendments, on consultation that Mr Davis has taken in forming these provisions that he wants to put in place into a framework of a state of emergency, particularly around a pandemic, as we have been talking about. I just wonder if he had consultations with his Liberal colleagues, the MPs that have formed the government in New South Wales, and what sorts of provisions they may have that maybe inspired Mr Davis to go down this track. Also, if they have not got these similar provisions, would he be encouraging that jurisdiction to follow his lead in what he is stating should be in place?

Mr DAVIS: There are a number of differences. If you want to get into interjurisdictional comparisons, I am happy to begin, and we could be here for quite some time. We would, for example, begin with a proper oversight committee that is chaired by someone from a non-government party. We would also begin, Mr Leane, with our history of the pandemic in the different states. I would look, for example, at the longest lockdown in the world, which is what our experience has been, as the government has botched the management of the pandemic here. You might laugh, but we have seen the highest death rate in the country. That is not a laughing matter, nor are the longest lockdown and the worst economic outcomes. You may not have caught up with the economic figures from a week or so ago, which show the state’s economy contracting for the last two years, the GSP per head falling and the highest unemployment in the country, Mr Leane. Let me record in Hansard you are smirking and laughing at the fact that we have got the highest unemployment in the country and that we have had the highest death rate through COVID and massive impacts on small businesses. Well, I can tell you what, I do not think we stand up very well in a comparison to New South Wales. Their contact tracing is a great deal better—

Mr Leane interjected.

Mr DAVIS: Well, you are asking about interjurisdictional comparisons, and I am saying to you the background of the experience of the two states is quite different. We have had a very bad experience. New South Wales has managed the COVID pandemic much more effectively than Victoria. The economic damage is less, the number of deaths is far lower and certainly by head of population and with the number of days of lockdown, Mr Leane, we actually hit a world record, which is a terrible record, not a record that anyone would want to achieve. If I go further on the consultation—

Ms Pulford: I can’t believe you used to be health minister.

Mr DAVIS: Well, I did. I was very happy to have been health minister. You may be unconcerned about the death rate that has occurred in Victoria, but I am very concerned about the death rate that has occurred in Victoria and the mismanagement of COVID in this state. You might be laughing, and I will just record that you are laughing at the death rate as well and the mental ill health that has occurred and the huge lockdown period.

Ms Pulford: On a point of order, President, Mr Davis is behaving in a deranged manner. Perhaps he needs some sleep, but to suggest—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Ms Pulford, that is not a point of order.

Ms Pulford: I would like him to withdraw his claim that I am laughing at the fact that anyone has died during this pandemic.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: It is not a point of order. If members on the government benches were not baiting Mr Davis, it might be a lot easier.

Dr Ratnam: On a point of order, President, to relevance, I do not understand how Mr Davis’s arguments go to the amendment he has moved or the question he was asked. Could he please be brought back to the amendment that he has moved. It is 5.40 in the morning; is that right? It is very late.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Dr Ratnam, Mr Leane asked Mr Davis a question. Mr Davis is answering that question. So, Dr Ratnam, the relevance is to the question that was asked, not necessarily to the amendment, because the question was not relevant to the amendment.

Mr DAVIS: I was asked a question about interjurisdictional comparisons and I responded with interjurisdictional comparisons. They may have been unpleasant comparisons for some who are slavish supporters of the government. They may be unpleasant comparisons, that is right, but nonetheless they are still interjurisdictional comparisons in exactly the way raised by Mr Leane.

Ms PATTEN: The Liberal Party opposed the committee being set up in New South Wales.

Mr DAVIS: We support oversight committees. In fact one of our amendments does exactly that.

Members interjecting.

Mr DAVIS: Well, I believe there is. So the interjurisdictional comparison you sought: there you are. You have had quite a lot of it.

Mr LEANE: Let Hansard record that Mr Davis did not answer my question.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: The question is that Mr Davis’s amendment 2, which is a test for his amendments 3 and 4, be agreed to.

Committee divided on amendment:

Ayes, 15
Bach, Dr Davis, Mr Maxwell, Ms
Bath, Ms Finn, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bourman, Mr Grimley, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Crozier, Ms Limbrick, Mr Quilty, Mr
Cumming, Dr Lovell, Ms Rich-Phillips, Mr
Noes, 20
Barton, Mr Melhem, Mr Tarlamis, Mr
Elasmar, Mr Patten, Ms Taylor, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Pulford, Ms Terpstra, Ms
Hayes, Mr Ratnam, Dr Tierney, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms Watt, Ms
Meddick, Mr Symes, Ms

Amendment negatived.

Dr CUMMING: I move:

11. Clause 12, page 12, lines 10 to 13, omit all words and expressions on those lines and insert—

“(5) A pandemic declaration may be extended under subsection (1) for a period of no longer than—

(a) 3 months at a time, until the date that is 12 months since the pandemic declaration came into force; or

(b) one month at a time for any later extension.

(5A) An extension referred to in subsection (5)(a) or (b) does not take effect unless it is approved by a motion passed by a majority of members present and voting in each House of the Parliament.”.

It is just a change of the requirements and time periods for the extension of the pandemic declaration, because currently the government’s one virtually has no limit.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Can I ask the minister, in respect of the government’s current structure of the bill, section 165AC allows the declaration of a pandemic to be made for no more than four weeks, but section 165AE allows an extension for up to three months at a time. Why is there a different time period between the initial declaration and subsequent declarations?

Ms SYMES: Mr Rich-Phillips, I am advised that it is consistent with many other jurisdictions. It enables the intensive initial consideration of the situation before settling into more of a predicted pattern. Things move fast in the initial period, so ensuring that you have got the right information and the declaration is something that needs to continue should be able inform that first period, which explains the shorter period followed by the longer durations.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Thank you, Minister. I guess that might be convenient for the department, that longer period, but it does not necessarily accord with proper accountability and oversight of the subsequent remaking of the declarations. Is there any reason—and this goes obviously to where we go with Dr Cumming’s amendment—subsequent extensions could not be done on a month-by-month basis given, as we have heard, even with the pandemic over the last two years, things have at times been stable and at other times they have evolved rapidly. It might be administratively convenient for subsequent amendments to be for three months, but it does not provide oversight. Is there any reason it could not be done on a month-by-month basis with the extensions?

Ms SYMES: As I have indicated, the bill has been crafted on the experience of the past 20 months. The nature of pandemics is that they are longer lasting, and the periods that have been set in the bill have been informed by that experience to create the best operational model. As I said, it is quite consistent with other jurisdictions.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Thank you, Minister. Could I ask Dr Cumming about her amendment. Dr Cumming, in your amendment you are proposing to allow for initial extensions of three months, but only for the first 12 months, and then reducing the maximum extension to a single month beyond the 12 months. What is your rationale for stepping down the maximum period of extension after the expiration of the first 12 months?

Dr CUMMING: I thank Mr Rich-Phillips for his question. My rationale was this: the three months the government is proposing could just keep going—three months, three months—so I decided to have an end date which was 12 months. But then after that 12 months I laid down a month-by-month time frame because you would think, after the experience we have had so far, that there should be more checks in place after the 12-month period.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Thank you, Dr Cumming. It is also the case with your amendment the government could still seek to extend beyond 12 months. There is no overall cap, so there is still flexibility with your amendment, but the extension would be required to be done on a month-by-month basis and with the endorsement of Parliament after that first year.

Dr CUMMING: Correct. All extensions must be approved by voting in both the Council and the Assembly. That is where the check and balance is in place.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Thank you, Dr Cumming. The coalition will support this amendment from Dr Cumming. Obviously the amendments from Mr Davis are similar in nature, and we would prefer those amendments. We have already tested one of them, which the house did not adopt, and therefore we are happy to support this amendment of Dr Cumming’s to seek to put a constraint around extensions, particularly longer term extensions, and to require Parliament to endorse those extensions. So while we will continue to prosecute Mr Davis’s amendments, we are happy to support Dr Cumming’s amendments at this point.

Mr LIMBRICK: I would like to thank Dr Cumming for putting forward this amendment. This addresses one of the key concerns around the government powers, in that, as we spoke about earlier, in order to respect human rights, limitations on rights have to be proportionate and necessary but they also have to be time bound. This sets a time boundary—initially in three-month blocks up to a year and then after that month by month and they need to be approved by Parliament. I think that having Parliament accountable for these three-month extensions puts a check on the power that the government is using. As we have already seen, the government itself has said that increasing the number of people that collaborate with them on things like legislation can improve that legislation. We have seen a number of amendments here. I think that if the government was using powers in a way that was not considered reasonable, they would have to tone it down a bit in order to get their next extension if they in fact required it. We will wholeheartedly support this amendment.

Mr HAYES: I would like to say it may not be the ideal time frame, but I think three months is reasonable. I am not so sure about the 12 months, but it seems the only way of getting a parliamentary review at the moment. And I do think it is a good idea to seek an extension of powers in Parliament on a regular basis.

Committee divided on amendment:

Ayes, 16
Bach, Dr Finn, Mr Maxwell, Ms
Bath, Ms Grimley, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bourman, Mr Hayes, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Crozier, Ms Limbrick, Mr Quilty, Mr
Cumming, Dr Lovell, Ms Rich-Phillips, Mr
Davis, Mr
Noes, 19
Barton, Mr Patten, Ms Tarlamis, Mr
Elasmar, Mr Pulford, Ms Taylor, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Ratnam, Dr Terpstra, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms Tierney, Ms
Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Meddick, Mr Symes, Ms Watt, Ms
Melhem, Mr

Amendment negatived.

Mr DAVIS: Amendment 3 is not perfectly tested by the earlier amendment 2. I move:

3. Clause 12, page 12, after line 13 insert—

“(5A) A resolution passed by a special majority of both Houses of the Parliament that approves an extension of a pandemic declaration—

(a) must specify the period of the extension, which must not exceed one month; and

(b) must not be moved until—

(i) there has been laid before the House a statement of the basis for, and objectives of, the extension, including as to how these objectives relate to the objective of this Part, the objective of the Act and the guiding principles set out in sections 5 to 10; and

(ii) all members of Parliament who so request have received appropriate briefings and appropriate information on the circumstances causing a serious risk to public health to which the pandemic declaration and the extension of the pandemic declaration relate.”.

This does make a number of other points, including, importantly, the point about the provision of information to MPs to inform them on these decisions. We think month to month is right, and obviously we think a special majority—

Mr Rich-Phillips: It is uncapped.

Mr DAVIS: It is uncapped; that is correct. But there is also a requirement that information is provided to the house and that information is provided to individual MPs too. It is a balanced and sensible approach, and I would urge the house to support it.

Ms CROZIER: Mr Davis has spelt out to the house why this is being moved and tested again, but it really is about that increase in transparency. If we are talking about transparency and giving the ability for members of Parliament to have the information, then this is what this clause will do. It is requiring that and, as Mr Davis said, an uncapped special majority of both houses of Parliament that approves an extension of a pandemic declaration, which must not exceed one month. I mean, we have spoken for 20 months now about why we want the house to be coming back and meeting—to be able to have that greater transparency for people to be able to understand the reasons behind the government’s decisions and the advice that has been provided—and this amendment will part way go to that but will also give members a thorough understanding about what orders are being made, why they have been made and the advice that has been provided.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: I would just urge support for Mr Davis’s amendment 3 as well. This is fundamentally about accountability. It is fundamentally about a mechanism by which this house can oversight the way in which this government or a future government exercises its use of these pandemic powers. We have seen throughout the course of the last 18 months, time and time again, the government fail to provide accountability and fail to provide transparency in the use of its powers. We have seen that where this house has had the opportunity to vote in support of transparency measures and in support of accountability measures it has not done so. It has not taken the opportunities it has had to hold the government to account through the mechanisms available to it, whether it is motions in the house, whether it is document motions or even whether it is through questions and through sittings of the house. This amendment from Mr Davis would put in place in legislation a mechanism which would provide for ongoing accountability. It does not limit the capacity of the government to seek an extension of a pandemic declaration. It provides complete flexibility on the extension of a pandemic declaration.

It also, however, requires of and imposes on the government obligations to provide information to members of the house who request it and to provide a recurring mechanism by which the government can be held to account for the use of its pandemic powers. We do not accept that having Parliament meet once a month is onerous. That is what this institution exists for. In times of pandemic or other crises members need to be available to meet as required to discharge the business of the house, so we do not regard this as onerous in any way, and it provides a mechanism for oversight which has been sadly lacking for the last 18 months. I urge members of this house to support Mr Davis’s amendment.

Mr HAYES: While I am all for parliamentary oversight and I was happy to support Dr Cumming’s amendment, I think every month is a bit hectic.

Committee divided on amendment:

Ayes, 15
Bach, Dr Davis, Mr Maxwell, Ms
Bath, Ms Finn, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bourman, Mr Grimley, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Crozier, Ms Limbrick, Mr Quilty, Mr
Cumming, Dr Lovell, Ms Rich-Phillips, Mr
Noes, 20
Barton, Mr Melhem, Mr Tarlamis, Mr
Elasmar, Mr Patten, Ms Taylor, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Pulford, Ms Terpstra, Ms
Hayes, Mr Ratnam, Dr Tierney, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms Watt, Ms
Meddick, Mr Symes, Ms

Amendment negatived.

Ms SYMES: Again we are inserting ‘on reasonable grounds’. I move:

12. Clause 12, page 12, line 27, after “satisfied” insert “on reasonable grounds”.

13. Clause 12, page 12, line 34, after “satisfied” insert “on reasonable grounds”.

Mr DAVIS: Whilst I accept this has been tested, I ask the Attorney again about reasonable grounds and how that will be established, how the Premier will establish reasonable grounds.

Ms SYMES: Mr Davis, it is the ordinary meaning, and the information that you are requesting is outside the scope of the bill in relation to how the workings of the Premier’s office might seek to address this. The bill requires a lot of things to be tabled. The information that you have sought is not something that I am in a position to provide you any information on.

Mr DAVIS: I just again urge the Attorney to think about this, because if the Premier is required to defend their position in court, his or her position in court, they will need a document trail that actually explains how they arrived at a position—

Ms SYMES: Or evidence of some other sort. It might be different in different cases.

Mr DAVIS: Or evidence, yes.

Ms SYMES: Do you want me to have a template? Tick a box—‘reasonable grounds’? What are you asking for?

Mr DAVIS: Well, I am asking for a process that would operate here that would actually establish reasonable grounds and document it.

Ms SYMES: You do not understand what you are talking about.

Mr DAVIS: I actually do, and in fact the curfew documents are a case in point, where in court the actual briefs behind the chief health officer’s decisions were sought by the court and there was a discovery process and they were examined by the court. So it is not an esoteric point I am making, it is a very direct point, and if the Premier is not intending to have a—

Ms SYMES: No, that is not right. You are asking me—

Mr DAVIS: You could actually put the house’s view at rest on this by explaining exactly what documentation trail is intended to enable the Premier to support their position of reasonable grounds.

Amendments agreed to.

Dr CUMMING: I move:

14. Clause 12, page 14, line 27, omit “within 3 business days” and insert “on the day”.

Mr DAVIS: Dr Cumming might just wish to step us through why it is three days.

Dr CUMMING: Thank you, Mr Davis. It reduces the time frame for providing a report on the pandemic declaration or its variations when the house is not sitting from three days to the day of the variation. In other words, this just makes the information available a lot quicker, from three days to when it is actually made.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: The coalition will support Dr Cumming’s amendment. We think the provision of information in a timely fashion is important. Too often through this debate and indeed through the debates we have had over the last 18 months about the current pandemic the government’s attitude has been that accountability is secondary, providing information to the house is secondary: ‘We’re fighting a pandemic. We’re very important. We don’t have to be accountable. We’ll tell you about what we’re doing later on’. So the amendment, which seeks to shorten the time frame to provide an emphasis that provision of information to this house and therefore to the public is important, is a good principle. It is one that reflects that Parliament should be kept informed, the public should be kept informed, and accordingly we will support Dr Cumming’s amendment to shorten the time frame to ensure that there is more timely provision of information and thereby recognition that accountability should be one of the underpinning factors in the use of these pandemic laws.

Ms CROZIER: Again, can I just reiterate what Mr Rich-Phillips has just said. I think in some of these orders that have come out over the last 20 months there has been a degree of confusion around them.

Mr DAVIS: Chaos.

Ms CROZIER: Well, it has been chaotic, Mr Davis. You are dead right. Very often the information has not been there; it has not been provided. Again, if we are talking about what has been learned over the last 20 months and you are saying that this bill is correct on a lot of those issues, then I think this goes to the heart of why we need to have that information very accurately and very quickly: so that the community can understand fully what is intended. So, again, I support what Mr Rich-Phillips has said in supporting Dr Cumming’s amendment.

Ms SYMES: I just thank Dr Cumming for the conversation that we had on this topic some time ago in relation to of course the intention to make the material available as soon as possible. On the day would be preferable, but allowing three days for any contingencies, to ensure that the appropriate paperwork can be prepared, is not pushing out things unreasonably. It would just be to allow that accurate and fulsome material is able to be provided.

Mr DAVIS: There is absolutely no reason why government cannot provide this documentation in short order, and they should. We have seen the chaotic situations with orders made under the state-of-emergency arrangements that have been—

Ms CROZIER: The state border closure.

Mr DAVIS: The state border closure was chaotic, even the high-rise flats on 4 July 2020. The Ombudsman’s report there shows the chaotic approach, where this was concocted in the Premier’s office, concocted in such a way that the then deputy chief health officer was confronted with the briefs 15 minutes before the press conference. This would help enforce a faster and more sensible approach. She was presented with those documents, arranged in the Premier’s office, and signed them just 15 minutes before the press conference. She indicated under oath to the Ombudsman that she was agitated about it and thought there was a better way forward—

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Yet still did it.

Mr DAVIS: She still did it, but nonetheless I am just really pointing to the poor process that is operated with this government. We still do not have the full details of that set of decisions. They have still never released the background briefs that were signed. How outrageous that they are kept secret. Why, why, why? What do they have to hide, and why can’t this stuff be made public and made public contemporaneously with the actual decisions?

Committee divided on amendment:

Ayes, 16
Bach, Dr Finn, Mr Maxwell, Ms
Bath, Ms Grimley, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bourman, Mr Hayes, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Crozier, Ms Limbrick, Mr Quilty, Mr
Cumming, Dr Lovell, Ms Rich-Phillips, Mr
Davis, Mr
Noes, 19
Barton, Mr Patten, Ms Tarlamis, Mr
Elasmar, Mr Pulford, Ms Taylor, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Ratnam, Dr Terpstra, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms Tierney, Ms
Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Meddick, Mr Symes, Ms Watt, Ms
Melhem, Mr

Amendment negatived.

Ms SYMES: I move:

14. Clause 12, page 16, lines 9 to 12, omit all words and expressions on these lines.

Members, this amendment is on the advice of the clerks as it is not the way things are done now. If I could draw your attention to page 16 of the bill, the amendment is effectively removing proposed section 165AH(3), which is just in relation to the definition of when a house of Parliament is not sitting.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: The coalition will support this amendment, but can the minister explain how this came to be in the bill in the first place? This is an extraordinary definition of the house not sitting. I am not aware of a construction like that being used elsewhere in statute where reports are required to be presented to Parliament on a sitting day or non-sitting day, so can the minister explain how we came to have this provision in the bill?

Ms SYMES: Thank you, Mr Rich-Phillips. I am not in a position to provide that information, sorry. I do not know. But we are removing it on the advice of the clerks.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Well, I mean, the minister’s explanation stands, but I will just make the point that this is a bill we were told two weeks ago was perfect and important and ready to go—

A member: Urgent.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Urgent. And now the government is removing this clause. We support them removing this clause, but it just highlights the sorts of errors that are in this bill. The Attorney-General cannot explain where this drafting came from, yet this was presented two weeks ago as urgent, as something that we should have rushed through, apparently, on the government’s say-so two weeks ago. And yet here we are removing something that is completely absurd.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr DAVIS: I move:

5. Clause 12, page 16, after line 12 insert—

“165AHA Measures to enhance transparency during pandemic

(1) This section applies during any period when a pandemic declaration is in force.

(2) The Leader of the Opposition, the leader of any other political party represented in the Parliament or an independent elected member may request that the Premier provide briefings or specified information in relation to the circumstances causing a serious risk to public health in relation to which the pandemic declaration was made or any other matter relating to the pandemic declaration.

(3) The Premier must, as soon as practicable, provide the requested briefings or information to the person who requested it.”.

This provides a series of entitlements to have proper briefings and material provided. This is very reasonable because the opposition and some of the non-government parties have learned over the period that there will be selective provision of information. We think that where any member is voting on these matters, they should have access to the fullest range of information, and this would insist that that information and those briefings are provided.

Ms CROZIER: Again I rise in support of Mr Davis’s motion, because, as he said, this is about information to be provided to the house, to MPs, to the public. It is about greater transparency, which we have been asking for, and again the government—

A member interjected.

Ms CROZIER: Well, you know, you laugh, but we have been asking for transparency for the last 20 months. We have never, ever had it—never had it. As we have just discussed, the bill that has come in here is full of errors, it is flawed and it has been amended to within an inch of its life, and this is again going to those aspects about transparency and providing the house with what is required in that manner.

Mr FINN: I rise to support the concept of transparency as well—it is easy for me to say at this hour of the morning. It is something that the government I think owes the people of Victoria. We have been asking and asking and asking for the CHO advice that has led to more lockdowns than anywhere else on the face of the earth. We have been asking for the advice that has led to the misery that millions of Victorians have suffered over the last two years, and I think it is about time that the government came up with the information. Indeed it is about time that the government is prepared to come up with the information that will justify future lockdowns if this legislation is passed. Because we all know what this legislation is about: this legislation is about lockdowns. Those of you who want lockdowns will vote for this bill; it is as simple as that. But what we want on this side of the house is transparency. We want to know what the hell is going on behind the scenes to justify some of the appalling antics that the Premier and the government have been involved in over the past two years.

Ms SYMES: There are no arguments in relation to the requirement for transparency, and this bill has a range of measures to ensure that information is provided to not only the public but also to members of this place. The bill provides sufficient additional reporting requirements and accountability mechanisms, which we have gone through in some detail. But to remind the house, the Minister for Health must publish a statement of reasons for making a pandemic order and the CHO’s advice underpinning the order, and an explanation of the impacts of the order on human rights protected under the charter has to be provided. The Premier must table a statement of reasons for making a pandemic declaration, the minister’s and CHO’s advice underpinning that declaration, a summary of the pandemic orders made and powers exercised while the declarations are in force must be provided, and of course the new Pandemic Declaration Accountability and Oversight Committee can review pandemic orders and report to Parliament and can recommend that an order be disallowed by a joint sitting of both houses of Parliament.

We will get to the make-up of that committee in due course, but this is a non-government-majority committee whose job it will be to seek such information. So we think it is inappropriate for the opposition to be proposing that effectively that oversight committee, which would be adequately resourced and provided for as per the Parliamentary Committees Act 2003 in terms of its powers, should be sidelined in order to have a framework where any member at any time can ask for information on a continual basis. That is open to political frustration, and we believe that the aims of transparency are best met through the measures that I have outlined.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Just to respond to the comments made by the minister, the minister outlined a number of reports that she indicated governments would be required to table under the provisions of this bill. But as we have seen over the last 18 months, notwithstanding requirements of the government to table certain documents, the content of those documents has consistently been lacking. Either documents have been refused on the grounds of claims of privilege or documents have been tabled in dot point form. Fulsome information has not been provided to this house, notwithstanding either statutory requirements or resolutions by this house.

The value of Mr Davis’s amendment is that it would require the Premier, acting as soon as practicable, to provide information when requested by leaders of parties in this place. So if, as we have seen over the last 18 months, the documents provided under statute are inadequate and documents otherwise provided are inadequate, there is still a mechanism that would be available for party leaders in this place, or indeed either house, to seek from the Premier further information and for the Premier to have an obligation to provide that.

I would also take up the point the Attorney made about creating an oversight committee. This house and members of this house providing scrutiny does not undermine the work of a committee. As we know, this house operates in parallel to our committees—in parallel to the joint committees, in parallel to the upper house committees. It is not contradictory for there to be a capacity of the house and members of the house to require documents. As Mr Davis says, the committees are a creature of the house, they are subordinate to the house. The suggestion that because there is a committee the house cannot seek information and party leaders cannot seek information is one we absolutely reject. Having information come directly to the house in no way undermines the proposed committee. It is an additional safeguard. The last 18 months have demonstrated that it is needed, and I would urge members to support this amendment.

Committee divided on amendment:

Ayes, 16
Bach, Dr Finn, Mr Maxwell, Ms
Bath, Ms Grimley, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bourman, Mr Hayes, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Crozier, Ms Limbrick, Mr Quilty, Mr
Cumming, Dr Lovell, Ms Rich-Phillips, Mr
Davis, Mr
Noes, 19
Barton, Mr Patten, Ms Tarlamis, Mr
Elasmar, Mr Pulford, Ms Taylor, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Ratnam, Dr Terpstra, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms Tierney, Ms
Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Meddick, Mr Symes, Ms Watt, Ms
Melhem, Mr

Amendment negatived.

Dr CUMMING: I move:

15. Clause 12, page 16, after line 12 insert—

“165AHA Parliament sitting when pandemic declaration is in force

The Premier must make the Premier’s best endeavours to ensure that, during the period when a pandemic declaration is in force, each House of the Parliament continues to sit as if the pandemic declaration were not in force.”.

This amendment actually ensures that Parliament continues to sit throughout a pandemic and ensures that the oversight and the democratic rights of Victorians are upheld. So as we have seen during this COVID pandemic for the last two years, there have been times when we have not sat. There have been times when I have felt and the community has felt that during a pandemic is the most important time for a Parliament to sit, so that their democratic voices are actually heard. So for me this amendment is something that the community wants. Any time that the Parliament has not sat, they have not been happy. I know that the government have said they have been too busy to sit. The Premier has made—

Mr Melhem interjected.

Dr CUMMING: I am just saying the Premier has said at times that they are so busy through the pandemic that he does not understand why we would want to sit, because obviously members in Parliament are just here to make members statements and adjournments and constituency questions and ask questions of the government and just wanting our 3 minutes on the video. But we are not here for those reasons; we are actually here to bring up our community’s concerns, the problems that they have faced throughout this pandemic, and it is extremely important throughout this process. So this amendment goes to the heart of making sure that this Parliament forever will sit when a pandemic is actually called—that it is not going to be removed, that right to hear the people’s voices.

Ms CROZIER: I rise to support Dr Cumming’s amendment. I think it is really important, as we were arguing last year, that the Parliament sit. At times there was a display in this house of—

Mr DAVIS: They tried to close it down.

Ms CROZIER: Well, they did try to close it down. They did not answer questions through question time for an entire question time and refused to answer questions, and I think it just demonstrated the way the government was treating the Victorian public. We are here on behalf of Victorians. We are here to scrutinise the government of the day; it does not matter who the government of the day is. And as this bill will come in this applies to not only this government but the next government and future governments. That is why it is terribly important that the Parliament sit throughout a pandemic, because as we are sitting now—we have been sitting here in the chamber, 40 of us, for 20-odd hours—there is still a pandemic raging out there. We are safe. We are vaccinated. There is no reason why the Parliament should not be sitting, and I think it has been demonstrated that the Premier in the other place has treated the Assembly quite differently to how we have been treated in this house. I want to acknowledge all members in regard to that and how we have really pushed through and done our job, and I think it is terribly important. So the opposition will be supporting Dr Cumming’s amendment on those grounds.

Ms SYMES: Dr Cumming, can you just take me through how you envisage this working and in particular the reason for your suggested words of:

The Premier must make the Premier’s best endeavours—

I think there might be a typo in this, by the way—

to ensure that, during the period when a pandemic declaration is in force, each House of the Parliament continues to sit as if the pandemic declaration were not in force.

The reason I would like you to just articulate what you mean by that is that I guess in a general sense I do not disagree with what you are trying to achieve. What does slightly bother me are the words:

… Parliament continues to sit as if the pandemic declaration were not in force.

It is the language that bothers me, not the intention. Do you want to just talk me through that and just see whether you can convince me that that is not a problem? I think it is sort of saying, ‘It doesn’t exist for the purposes of Parliament’, and I just think the language creates a problem for me to agree, but—

Mr Davis: On a point of order, Deputy President, I am just observing here, and Dr Bach is observing, that one of the advisers is taking photos. Now, I do not know whether that is what is occurring or not. That is what it looked like to me.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: You need to delete it and show us that you have deleted it.

Dr CUMMING: Just to explain, it might sound a little wordy:

Parliament sitting when pandemic declaration is in force

The Premier must make the Premier’s best endeavours to ensure that, during the period when a pandemic declaration is in force—

in other words, active—

each House of the Parliament continues to sit as if the pandemic declaration were not in force.

In other words, you should not skip a beat. It should be just normal.

Members interjecting.

Dr CUMMING: I could delete that last line. It is a little bit wordy: ‘each House of the Parliament continues to sit’. Parliament sits in wartime. Do you know what I mean? They are meant to continue on, upward and onward, rather than—

Members interjecting.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I think we are trying to draft motions by committee here, and it is not always a good idea.

Ms SYMES: I get that. I think what I would propose, Dr Cumming, is that I provide the government’s assurance that the spirit of your amendment is something that we would seek to comply with. I am on the public record time and again that it is always my intention, as Leader of the Government in the upper house, to sit if we can. There are a few problems with the words you are proposing. One, our chamber does not necessarily have to rely on the Premier because of the Parliament, and I am just really uncomfortable with the words ‘as if the pandemic declaration were not in force’ when in fact it actually is. So I am going to vote against your amendment, but I do give you a commitment that the intention of it is something that the government would indeed be prepared to commit to.

Mr FINN: One of the great things that has disturbed me for the last couple of years in particular is the impression that the Premier gives that this Parliament to him is somewhat of a nuisance, that we are nothing but nuisance value and that he is much better on his own in a room with a couple of people running the show without having to consult with anyone and without having to worry about the nuisance members of Parliament—the elected members of Parliament. In fact you have got to remember he did not even want to put up with his own cabinet; he cut it down to eight.

What hope would the rest of us, as mere members of Parliament, have to have any impact on the thought processes of the Premier if indeed he would not even listen to his cabinet? I think it is absolutely crucial that the Parliament sits during a pandemic—indeed during any crisis I think it is important that the Parliament sits—because we are on the ground. A good member of Parliament is on the ground, is talking to his or her constituents and is bringing the information that they get from those constituents here to Spring Street. A good government would listen, but of course the Andrews government is not really good at that at all. The Premier certainly is not.

I think it is absolutely crucial that we support Dr Cumming’s amendment. I think it is absolutely important that the Parliament sits. I think it is absolutely important that we as members of Parliament do our job at a time when the people of Victoria need us more than ever. I am sure that every member of this house has had, over the last two years, more representations than ever before about the pain, about the suffering, about the difficulties—

A member interjected.

Mr FINN: The confusion indeed—that people have been through. In regional Victoria, in suburban Melbourne, wherever, people are feeling much the same way. The levels of anxiety are through the roof, and they contact us as a way of alleviating some of that anxiety. So I think it is vitally important that we as a Parliament sit, and I certainly support Dr Cumming’s amendment.

Mrs McARTHUR: I too rise to support Dr Cumming’s amendment. There can be no greater committee of scrutiny than the Parliament. This is the chamber of scrutiny. This is where scrutiny should occur on the government. The most amount of scrutiny takes place by the elected representatives of the people of Victoria, and it is an abhorrent idea that the Parliament should not sit. I thought it was outrageous that the lower house members of Parliament were not all sitting in the Parliament—

Mr DAVIS: They were closed down last year.

Mrs McARTHUR: They were absolutely closed down. There are some people in this chamber that think they have had a win in getting some sort of committee of scrutiny in this legislation.

Dr Ratnam: On a point of order, Deputy President, I just seek your clarification and your guidance around the procedure of this committee. Earlier in this debate, many, many hours ago, you did make a remark I recall suggesting that Ms Patten’s contribution, in making a statement on an aspect of this bill, was wrong. I heard you remark on that. I have heard subsequent to that members making statements. My understanding was that you could make a statement on your support for or against amendments and therefore make a statement. Given that we have now got a sequence of statements being made, I just want your clarification for the benefit of the chamber to know what we are allowed to say, given that you said that Ms Patten’s contribution was wrong for some reason.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: You can make a statement if you are speaking to that clause or that amendment. Mrs McArthur is now making a statement on the amendment. Ms Patten said that what she was not hearing in the committee stage was people talking about what they wanted, which is speaking like you do in your second-reading speeches about the things that you see as a problem and the way you might propose a solution to it. We had not even got to the point where people were moving their amendments, which is where people would have spoken about what they wanted, so I was just worried about it being opened up to more second-reading speeches of people giving their visions for how they would have implemented the legislation. That is what that ruling was about.

Mrs McARTHUR: Thank you, Deputy President. I am sorry, Dr Ratnam, that you do not want to hear about the real chamber of scrutiny, because this is it. The Parliament should be sitting at every opportunity. And, as Mr Finn said, it perhaps should be even more diligent when there is a so-called crisis occurring in the community. No committee that is set up with government-appointed members is ever going to be a proper committee of scrutiny, and the real chamber of scrutiny is this place. That is where we all should be, and that is the major oversight committee of any government legislation or any government action, especially at a time of crisis. I support Dr Cumming’s amendment and so should everybody else, particularly those people who have decided that some committee of scrutiny is being set up and so all is well with this piece of legislation. I urge everybody to support scrutiny and certainly that the Parliament provide it.

Mr LIMBRICK: The Liberal Democrats will be supporting this amendment, and I thank Dr Cumming for putting forward yet another excellent suggestion for improving this bill. Early on in the pandemic we shut down Parliament for a bit, but then we had to change the way that we worked and we learned how to deal with the pandemic and with the disease and run Parliament at the same time. We have seen many, many changes around Parliament, including how we operate within the chamber, how we operate going in and out and how the staff work, and I think we have done an excellent job. Now that we are all fully vaccinated—some of us went through more drama with that than others, but we are all fully vaccinated—and we have got all of these procedures I see no reason why we cannot continue running throughout a pandemic. I congratulate all the parliamentary staff and everyone for coming up with all these procedures that have improved the safety of the Parliament. Thank you.

Ms CROZIER: I move an amendment to Dr Cumming’s amendment:

In proposed clause 165AHA, omit “as if the pandemic declaration were not in force.”.

Dr CUMMING: I support that, seeing that through the debate Ms Patten as well as the Attorney have both mentioned the possible improvement to the wording of my amendment.

Ms SYMES: Look, that was my suggestion, so of course I will support Ms Crozier’s amendment, but in turn it would not enable me to support Dr Cumming’s amendment. As I have indicated, I give an undertaking that it is the government’s intention to sit, but I am concerned—and I am surprised that Mr Davis does not share these concerns, because he regularly tells me about the individuality of our chamber—that we would be proposing to insert an amendment that allows the Premier to use his best endeavours to ensure that during a pandemic each house of Parliament can continue to sit. It is kind of at odds with the way that we operate as an independent chamber. It would be more appropriate for this to read ‘the President’. I am not inviting more amendments; I think it is getting a bit messy. I think it is well accepted by all members of the chamber that we support what you are trying to do, and I do give that commitment. We will support the amendment to the amendment but will not support Dr Cumming’s amendment.

Mr LIMBRICK: The Liberal Democrats will also support the amendment to the amendment.

Amendment to amendment agreed to.

Committee divided on amended amendment:

Ayes, 16
Bach, Dr Finn, Mr Maxwell, Ms
Bath, Ms Grimley, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bourman, Mr Hayes, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Crozier, Ms Limbrick, Mr Quilty, Mr
Cumming, Dr Lovell, Ms Rich-Phillips, Mr
Davis, Mr
Noes, 19
Barton, Mr Patten, Ms Tarlamis, Mr
Elasmar, Mr Pulford, Ms Taylor, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Ratnam, Dr Terpstra, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms Tierney, Ms
Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Meddick, Mr Symes, Ms Watt, Ms
Melhem, Mr

Amended amendment negatived.

Ms SYMES: I move:

15. Suggested amendment to the Legislative Assembly—

Clause 12, page 18, lines 3 and 4, after “: see sections 165B(1)(b) and 165BA(1)(b).” insert “Special protections apply to detention under this Part, including the right of a detained person to apply for review by a Detention Appeals Officer of the detention: see Division 6.”.

We have gone through this in quite some detail. I know it was quite some time ago, but this is in relation to protections for detention under this part, including the right of appeal by a detention appeals officer. Just to remind members, this is introducing a new, more independent model, ensuring that detention appeal officers are independent of government and cannot be directed by the minister or the secretary, to ensure that there is public confidence and the ability for anybody that is subject to detention to access an appropriate appeal and review of that decision.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Minister, can you just clarify? The wording of the note is:

Special protections apply to detention under this Part, including the right of a detained person to apply for review …

What other special protections apply besides the right to apply for a review to one of the appeal officers?

Ms SYMES: This is in relation to the notice provision, the 24-hour daily review, as set out in division 6.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Just for the avoidance of doubt, Minister, which division 6 are we referring to? Obviously when these amendments are consolidated into the principal act, the new section 165AI, it is actually not clear following the table of contents for the principal act which division 6 this will be referring to. There are several division 6s in the principal act, and this actually does not seem to fit. I am wondering if you can clarify which division 6, when the bill is consolidated into the act, this will be referring to.

Ms SYMES: Page 41 of the bill. It starts on page 40, actually—notices.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: So it is the new division 6 being inserted.

Ms SYMES: Yes.

Mr LIMBRICK: I have just got a quick question on this one. Why was the decision made for the detention appeals officer to be not employed under the Public Administration Act 2004?

Ms SYMES: It is a question you might want to refer to your colleagues sitting behind you. This was one of the amendments that was the result of a lot of conversations with Mr Barton, with Mr Hayes, with the Ombudsman, with the LIV and with the Human Rights Law Centre. There was a lot of interest in this provision in particular. And I think, as I articulated earlier, there were not necessarily faults or existing problems that people were encountering but the perception that a review officer being employed under the Public Administration Act did not bring with it the independence that perhaps a VCAT member would, for example. Some of the suggestions included that there should be a separate VCAT list; talking through it all and coming up with a model that effectively appoints detention appeals officers as gig appointments; and clarifying, making it clear, that they are not subject to the direction of the secretary of health, nor the secretary of justice—or any secretary for that matter—nor any minister to really ensure that the public has confidence and anybody that receives a detention notice has the confidence that if they seek a review then it will be independent.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for that explanation. That does make some sense. Because they are not employed under the Public Administration Act, does that affect the ability of the Ombudsman to review anything that the appeals officer does?

Ms SYMES: No. I can give you an exchange of letters. I think I have got some material from the Ombudsman where she clarified her role in relation to detention, and I have confirmed her jurisdiction. We have agreed on her jurisdiction in relation to receiving complaints from people that receive detention notices whether or not they instigate a review, and also the review process is subject to a complaint that she can investigate.

Mrs McARTHUR: Attorney, I am interested in the independence of this whole operation because in new section 32D it does say that a detention appeals officer ‘must act independently, impartially and in the public interest in the performance of their functions’ et cetera and is not ‘subject to the direction or control of the secretary’ et cetera. But, correct me if I am wrong here, the government appoints the secretary of the department, the secretary appoints the detention appeals registrar and the appeals registrar determines the functions, duties and powers under the act and regulations to which the appointments relate. Is that independent?

Ms SYMES: Yes.

Suggested amendment agreed to.

Sitting suspended 7.24 am until 8.02 am.

Ms SYMES: I move:

16. Clause 12, page 19, line 2, after “following” insert “, if such application, differentiation or variation is relevant to the serious risk to public health posed by the disease specified in the pandemic declaration to which the pandemic order relates”.

Members would be familiar with this amendment. I went through it in some detail in my summing-up speech at the end of the second-reading debate some weeks ago. This is effectively removing the Equal Opportunity Act references to ensure that we are still achieving our intended purpose whilst removing any clauses that may be of concern to the public.

The bill in its current form permits the Minister for Health to make pandemic orders that differentiate between persons on the basis of their characteristics, attributes or circumstances. The policy objective of this provision was to apply only to narrow circumstances where those characteristics, attributes or circumstances reflect a serious risk to public health. The provision is not intended or able to be used to differentiate on the basis of characteristics, attributes or circumstances in the absence of a direct serious risk to public health. However, despite that, the government does appreciate this aspect of the bill has attracted considerable debate and many stakeholders have expressed a concern that a pandemic order may discriminate in relation to attributes that are protected under the Equal Opportunity Act in a way that is baseless or unfounded. This was, of course, never the intention. The characteristics, attributes or circumstances are only relevant insofar as they relate to public health risk.

Given the broad range of concerns that have been raised about the provision as it stood, the government considered it is important to put beyond doubt that the power to differentiate cannot be used except where relevant to public health risk. To clarify this, four key house amendments to new section 165AK have been proposed, and they were circulated some couple of weeks ago.

First, new section 165AK should expressly provide that the characteristics, attributes and circumstances in the context of differentiating pandemic orders are only relevant insofar as they relate to serious public health risk posed by disease specified in the pandemic declaration. Second, examples are proposed to be included in new section 165AK(3)(d)—I am also referring to the consequential amendments obviously—about when differentiation of a pandemic order may occur, such as a pandemic order differentiating on the basis of vaccination status or age. Third, a note will be added following new section 165AK(3) to reiterate the safeguards that already apply to the making of a pandemic order, such as the requirement for the Minister for Health to provide an explanation regarding any limitations on the human rights protected by the charter and that the operation of the charter is not intended to be displaced. Finally, subsection (4) of new section 165AK, which specifically referred to a pandemic order differentiating on the basis of attributes within the meaning of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, will be deleted and replaced with an avoidance of doubt provision that a pandemic order is an enactment for the purposes of section 75(1)(b) of the Equal Opportunity Act. Another important safeguard is that the bill will include a note in new section 165AK stating that charter obligations are not displaced by these provisions.

Combined, the proposed house amendments provide for targeted and nuanced protections focusing upon differentiation on the basis of characteristics, attributes and circumstances where those factors are only relevant to the serious risk to public health. I commend the amendments to the house.

Mr DAVIS: We will not oppose these amendments. They go some distance, and that is helpful. This is one of the amendments we agree with.

Mr LIMBRICK: The Liberal Democrats will also support this amendment. I would like to respond to something that the Attorney said about this not being the government’s intent. I think always when we are looking at legislation we do not just want to look at this government’s intent but at every future government’s intent, and I think a lot of people—

Mr DAVIS: With legislation, once it is there—

Mr LIMBRICK: Once it is there, it is there. I think lots of people, including the Liberal Democrats and I am sure many other people in the community, looked at the possibilities of this type of power and were quite alarmed at some of the possibilities, and I am glad that the government has seen reason and removed it.

Dr CUMMING: I am very happy that the government has seen the error of its ways and is making this amendment. It is great that the government has listened to the concerns of the community on this occasion, and I too will be supporting this amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr DAVIS: I move:

6. Clause 12, page 19, line 11, omit “, attributes”.

This simply omits the word ‘attributes’ from clause 12, page 19, line 11. That line reads in relation to that clause:

Without limiting subsection (1), a pandemic order may apply to, differentiate between or vary in its application to persons or classes …

and there was a lot of discussion early in the debate about persons and classes and what that might mean. Without entering that specific fray in this moment, proposed section 165AK(3)(d) says:

their characteristics, attributes or circumstances.

We think ‘attributes’ should be removed. Whilst the government seek in their amendments to remove the next clause, and we do not oppose that step at all, we support the removal of that word ‘attributes’ there, and we have a similar amendment to that effect. The word ‘attributes’ in paragraph (d) we think will be read as relating to the Equal Opportunity Act very likely, and the government has responded to the concerns that this could lead to unsatisfactory discrimination.

As I say, we picked up that vibe as we moved around the community too. We could see that this was a problem, but we seek to remove that additional word ‘attributes’ above and would urge the government in a cautious way to support us on that—and the chamber as well.

Mr LIMBRICK: I wonder if I could maybe ask the Attorney a question here. I realise it is Mr Davis’s amendment, but if the reference to the Equal Opportunity Act is removed as per the government’s proposed amendment, what is the meaning of ‘attributes’ then?

Ms SYMES: The ordinary meaning, is the advice that I have, Mr Limbrick.

Mr LIMBRICK: I am sorry, I did not quite understand the Attorney. Was the Attorney looking for advice?

Ms SYMES: Yes, sorry. I am just looking for some paperwork in relation to this, but in relation to the word ‘attributes’ there is no intention in the bill to give it any meaning other than its ordinary meaning.

Mr DAVIS: We think that there is a significant risk that it opens up those matters around the Equal Opportunity Act, and in a cautious move we think it should go.

Ms SYMES: The government has proposed a house amendment, as I have outlined, which puts beyond doubt that the power to differentiate cannot be used except where relevant to the serious risk to public health posed by the disease specified in a pandemic declaration. We do not see the need to make further amendments to that clause.

Mr LIMBRICK: I still share Mr Davis’s concern that, regardless of whether the reference to the Equal Opportunity Act is in there or not, the word ‘attributes’ still has the same sort of meaning as it would in the Equal Opportunity Act. Therefore the Liberal Democrats will support the opposition’s amendment.

Committee divided on amendment:

Ayes, 16
Bach, Dr Finn, Mr Maxwell, Ms
Bath, Ms Grimley, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bourman, Mr Hayes, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Crozier, Ms Limbrick, Mr Quilty, Mr
Cumming, Dr Lovell, Ms Rich-Phillips, Mr
Davis, Mr
Noes, 19
Barton, Mr Melhem, Mr Tarlamis, Mr
Elasmar, Mr Patten, Ms Taylor, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Pulford, Ms Terpstra, Ms
Gepp, Mr Ratnam, Dr Tierney, Ms
Kieu, Dr Stitt, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Leane, Mr Symes, Ms Watt, Ms
Meddick, Mr

Amendment negatived.

Ms SYMES: I move:

17. Clause 12, page 19, after line 12 insert—

“Examples

A pandemic order might—

(a) differentiate between persons or classes of person on the basis of their vaccination status in relation to a pandemic disease or a disease of pandemic potential, by restricting persons who are unvaccinated from engaging in specified activities unless they are exempt from vaccination;

(b) differentiate between persons or classes of person on the basis of age, if age is relevant to the risks to health posed by a pandemic disease or a disease of pandemic potential. For example, a pandemic order might limit the ability of persons or classes of person to receive visitors at, or to move within, residential care facilities.

Note

The Minister may only make a pandemic order that the Minister believes is reasonably necessary to protect public health—see section 165AI.

Further, the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities applies to subordinate instruments under this Part. Section 165AP(2)(c) and (d) have the effect that when the Minister makes, varies or extends a pandemic order that applies to, differentiates between or varies in its application to persons or classes of person identified by reference to a matter specified in this subsection, the Minister must publish an explanation of whether, in the Minister’s opinion, the order does, or does not, limit any human right set out in the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, and an explanation of any limitations identified.”.

Members, we have had discussions about this amendment. It is as a direct result of removing the equal opportunity references that we just voted on in the one before last and provides further clarification by way of examples about the types of differentiation between persons or classes of persons that may be appropriate for different orders to apply in different ways.

I would point members to the further explanatory note that will be inserted into the bill, which says that the minister may only make a pandemic order that the minister believes is reasonably necessary to protect public health. Further, the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities applies to subordinate instruments under this part. Sections 165AP(2)(c) and (d) have the effect that when the minister makes, varies or extends a pandemic order that applies to, differentiates between or varies in its application to persons or classes of person identified by reference to a matter specified in this subsection, the minister must publish an explanation of whether, in the minister’s opinion, the order does or does not limit any human right set out in the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities and an explanation of any limitations identified. So it is just some further information that does not really have any effect in terms of its application. It is just a guidance provision.

Dr CUMMING: I thank the Attorney for clarifying why the example has actually been put into the bill, especially the note. The note is a wonderful addition, but the example I have deep concerns around. They are almost a contradiction in terms, the example and the actual note. The note speaks about the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, but in the same breath the example actually shows a breach of human rights—one of autonomy, one of personal choice. In the example given by the government as part of this pandemic bill there is a differentiation between persons or classes of persons on the basis of their vaccination status in relation to a pandemic disease or a disease of pandemic potential by restricting persons who are unvaccinated from engaging in specified activities unless they are exempt from vaccination.

For me—and I know that no-one has wanted me to draw upon the point and give this specific example—it is really hard. They have made it extremely difficult to get a vaccination exemption. The only vaccination exemption that is given at the moment is to be allergic to the vaccine. Others will pull faces and not understand, but it is clear, and I have here what ATAGI’s advice is and then what the Medicare form is that doctors actually have to fill out for an exemption. It goes into great detail, the Medicare form for an exemption that doctors fill out, about the COVID vaccines, but then when it comes to actually the exemption part it only talks about measles and other points. So there is a distinct problem here that what would normally apply with the normal vaccines that are out there is not applying to COVID. It is being pretty specific that what doctors have been doing for many years in the way of exemptions has not been allowed and applied here.

One of the problems has been—Mr Leane, please do not smile—that there are no long-term studies to actually understand the effects of these vaccines. All we actually have is, when you stick the vaccine into somebody, we are collecting the data of the side effects of the vaccine. You can shake your head, but there is not any data on fertility. There is no data on the heart problems that are the side effects. There is no data. I am really sorry; there is no 10-year study on this. All you are seeing is the amount of vaccine being put into people at this point in time and the side effects, and they are collecting the data from that. That is all you are seeing at the present time—no 5- or 10-year study. I am sorry; there is not.

A member: It’s the same technology as all the other vaccines.

Dr CUMMING: No, it is not. You can continually try to justify your mandates and this example of removing people’s personal choice and what normally occurs in the way of recommendations and go as far as actually doing this and removing the parental rights for consent for children under 16 by mandating children. That is okay. I will continue to understand that there is no long-term data on children. There is not. There absolutely is not. This example is a poor example, and it actually just shows how you are actually removing in the same breath human rights.

Ms SYMES: I thank Dr Cumming for her comments in relation to vaccines and the information that she has talked about throughout this debate. As we have said, facilitation of a conversation with a medical expert so that you can have a discussion with a qualified person about these topics will certainly be provided to you should you wish to take up that opportunity. In relation to the differentiation which you have identified as an example here and which you have expressed some concerns around, I would put on record that it is important to say that the current directions made by the CHO already distinguish between different settings and public health risk attributes, and we have seen these types of restrictions over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. All this bill does is clarify what has already been in practice under the state of emergency in respect of the COVID-19 pandemic management and provide for what may be required in the response to the management of any pandemic. Again, these are the same powers, and the ability to differentiate is not unique. Victoria is not on its own in using emergency powers for these exact measures. The same can be seen around Australia and the world. To protect their citizens governments have put in place measures that differentiate based on the risk profile of activities, settings and things like vaccination status. For example, countries such as the US, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Indonesia and Italy have all put in place different forms of vaccination requirements for particular groups of people or people wanting to engage in particular activities.

Dr Cumming, I know there are people that are unhappy with this, but this is based on public health advice. I have taken you through the Premier’s comments in relation to the ongoing monitoring of the vaccination economy, acknowledging that we want people to be participating in society of course but we want that to be done in a safe way. At the moment the health advice is that the more people that are vaccinated the safer it is for everyone, and if you are not vaccinated, you are more likely to contract COVID and you are more likely to pass it on to someone else.

Mr LIMBRICK: The Liberal Democrats will be supporting this amendment, but I also share concerns with the example given, especially when it is in conjunction with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. If we look at section 10(c) of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, it clearly states that a person must not be:

subjected to medical or scientific experimentation or treatment without his or her full, free and informed consent.

Under national immunisation handbook guidelines it states that consent is only legally valid when free from pressure or coercion. It is my position and indeed it is our party’s position that mandates, especially when they apply to people’s jobs or participation in society, clearly add pressure and coercion and invalidate the consent process, which is why we opposed the mandates in the first place.

Mr FINN: I wish to speak very quietly and very softly and very gently, but I also wish to say that I believe that human rights should be for all humans. And I think that to ditch the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities for one section of the community is appalling. I think that is just horrifying, and coming from a party which allegedly is based on human rights and respect for all and all that sort of thing makes it even worse. I just find it appalling that the people who either will not or cannot—and many cannot—be vaccinated will be treated the way the government is proposing. I find that despicable, I find that appalling and I find that a breach of everything that this government is supposed to stand for. As I say, human rights are for all; you cannot pick and choose.

Ms SYMES: Mr Finn, what you have just said is incorrect. The orders will need to be compatible with the charter.

Mr DAVIS: Just very briefly, whilst this makes some people uneasy—and I understand the reasons for that—public health sometimes does demand measures, and this is one of them. Clearly we see the need for vaccination of key groups like nurses and disability workers and teachers and so forth, and we understand the importance of a number of these. But we also understand that it does cause issues for some people, and I am not diminishing that.

Dr KIEU: I did not want to speak at first, but on the arguments put forward which give direct support to the anti-vaxxers I have to say something. This is not experimentation. The vaccine is safe and has been proven. We cannot wait. Look at the 500 000 people and rising to more in the US and elsewhere. If we wait for the vaccine for 10 years or five years, not many human beings will be left. People hide behind their human rights. Human rights go with responsibilities. Human rights do not mean that they are selfish rights. Human rights mean that we have to take care of people. We are a society. We have responsibility for people. There is a direct argument seemingly supporting the anti-vaxxers. If we do not say something, it would seem that we do not have a rational mind or the very scientific evidence to do so. We do have that.

Dr CUMMING: Just to clarify, Attorney, I want to make it very clear on this record that I have always been pro-choice. I have not at any stage talked about anti-vaxxers. To be very clear, this government mandating children under the age of 16 and removing parental rights rather than recommending is where I have an issue. It is no health advice whatsoever, right? There is no understanding of fertility of children, their heart conditions—nothing. You have nothing. There is nothing, when you are putting these vaccines into children, on what their long-term effects are. You do not know. I take real umbrage at this, because what we actually have here is ATAGI advice talking about people who currently have got COVID and should have a natural immunity because they have actually got the disease. Then we have got a contradiction in the way that the exemptions are actually written. There is no ‘tick the box’ for when you have already had COVID. You still have to get the vaccine, and that is not right. Anyone who understands knows that when you actually get the disease you get natural immunity, and there is no exemption here, even though in one breath ATAGI says there should be and in the next the doctors do not have the ability to give it. Then the doctors do not have the ability to actually give an exemption to children. I do not mind recommending, but it should not be mandated for children, especially when we all know it is going to be a mild disease in a child.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Attorney, did you wish to say anything more?

Ms SYMES: I think we have addressed this between us.

Amendment agreed to.

Ms SYMES: I move:

18. Clause 12, page 19, lines 13 to 23, omit all words and expressions on these lines.

Mr DAVIS: The opposition will obviously support this. Our amendment is identical. We note that the word ‘attribute’ should not have been in there, and we think it should have been removed from the other proposed section too.

Mr LIMBRICK: The Liberal Democrats will also support this amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: We move to Mr Davis’s amendment 8, which is a test for his amendment 9.

Mr DAVIS: I move:

8. Clause 12, page 20, after line 17 insert—

“165ALA Requirement to obtain advice in relation to the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities before making, varying or extending a pandemic order

Before making a pandemic order, or varying or extending a pandemic order under section 165AO, the Minister must obtain written advice in relation to the impact that the proposed pandemic order, or variation or extension of the pandemic order, (as the case requires) may have on the human rights protected by the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.”.

This amendment requires the minister to seek advice on human rights before making or varying or extending a pandemic order. We think this is a basic step, and it should be required.

Ms SYMES: The government will not be supporting this amendment. The bill already provides that the minister must publish an explanation of the impacts of making, varying or extending a pandemic order on human rights protected under the charter and how any such limitations are reasonable and justified. The government, as you know, has proposed a house amendment to shorten the time frames for publication, meaning an explanation will be published within seven days of an order being made, varied or extended, which is just another accountability and transparency measure that is delivered through this bill.

Mr LIMBRICK: I have a quick question for the Attorney, if I may, related to this. Under the bill the minister will receive human rights advice on this sort of thing, as we discussed earlier. Under the current state of emergency, correct me if I am wrong but it is my understanding that the minister does not receive those human rights charter assessments, that they are just assessed by the public health team. That advice is provided to the minister, but the human rights charter assessments are not something that the ministers look at. Is that correct?

Ms SYMES: Let me get clarification on that. Mr Limbrick, under the proposed model and under the new framework it will be a more active role of the minister to satisfy themselves that the charter of human rights has been complied with, or where it has not, be very clear in why that has been limited and provide that advice to be tabled in the Parliament.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for that explanation. If I may summarise, the improvement in this bill—please correct me if I am wrong—is that at the moment it is just the chief health officer that has to satisfy himself that he is compliant with the charter, but under this new arrangement it will be the minister that has to be satisfied that the actions being proposed are compliant with the charter.

Ms SYMES: That is accurate, Mr Limbrick.

Committee divided on amendment:

Ayes, 16
Bach, Dr Finn, Mr Maxwell, Ms
Bath, Ms Grimley, Mr McArthur, Mrs
Bourman, Mr Hayes, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Crozier, Ms Limbrick, Mr Quilty, Mr
Cumming, Dr Lovell, Ms Rich-Phillips, Mr
Davis, Mr
Noes, 19
Barton, Mr Patten, Ms Tarlamis, Mr
Elasmar, Mr Pulford, Ms Taylor, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Ratnam, Dr Terpstra, Ms
Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms Tierney, Ms
Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms Vaghela, Ms
Meddick, Mr Symes, Ms Watt, Ms
Melhem, Mr

Amendment negatived.

Dr CUMMING: I move:

21. Clause 12, page 24, line 6, omit “14 days” and insert “one day”.

My amendment reduces the time line for reporting and publishing pandemic orders and associated documents from 14 days to one. And why I have said this is that there has been many a time through this pandemic where the Premier has made an announcement and on the actual website the orders or directions are not there. In other words, if there was some care in the way of making sure that the directions are there for people—they are all written, they are there—people could actually go through the directions so that they can follow the directions.

It has been very difficult when the Premier during this pandemic has made announcements. People have gone to the website, and there has been nothing there; they have been chasing their tails. There has been many a time where there has been verbal help or advice—or making it up as you go along, as the community has said—and when they actually look to find it on the Department of Health website they cannot find it and it takes a long time for that to come up. I am wanting it to be more immediate.

Ms SYMES: In responding to Dr Cumming’s amendment I will address the government’s amendment, because we are both seeking to do the same thing, and that is to reduce the time for the tabling of information associated with the pandemic orders. Although it would be great to agree to Dr Cumming’s amendment of one day, I can assure you, Dr Cumming, that that is impossible to meet. First of all, health orders are informed by health advice, but they are very legalistic documents. They have to withstand scrutiny and challenge, and they have to be crafted correctly, and I think the Department of Health were under a lot of pressure to get the orders done quickly every time. I certainly know that one day would just not be possible, given the experience of the last 20 months. In fact seven days is pushing it for people if they are making lots at a time. Sometimes there were hundreds of orders that could be made at once. So although the intention of your amendment is to make orders available as soon as possible, our amendment proposes seven days, and we think that that is a realistic time frame.

Mr LIMBRICK: I wonder if the Attorney could clarify something for me in relation to this amendment. It seems a bit strange to me that these orders would not be drawn up when the actual mandate is announced. I think what the Attorney seems to be implying is that they are drawn up after they are announced. Could you confirm? Because I would have thought at the time that they are announced that the human rights assessments and the advice and whatever other things are necessary would all be done, and therefore it would not require much time to publish that.

Ms SYMES: The experience is that they are drawn up after they are agreed to by the government. So recommendations under the current system are made by the CHO, endorsed by the Crisis Council of Cabinet or the Coordinating Ministers Council, and then, upon that acceptance of the CHO’s advice, he goes forward, and they start the drafting for health orders. So they are prepared as efficiently as possible, and I have lived the experience: it is a lot of work that is involved in this, and they do not pre-empt decisions of the CHO or the endorsement of or the discussion and teasing out with cabinet committees. And I do not think we would be in a position where they are going to craft up orders in anticipation of the minister actually agreeing to them or making them.

Mr LIMBRICK: I thank the Attorney for that clarification. Would that include the human rights charter assessments as well?

Ms SYMES: Well, yes, because you do not do a human rights charter assessment until you know what you are going to do that charter assessment on. You could do some preliminary work of course but, until a decision is made, you would have to complete it after you know what the order looks like.

Mr LIMBRICK: This is quite surprising to me, because my understanding of the charter assessment process is that it is used to help form the decision before the decision is made, not after the decision is made, to justify a decision that you have already made.

Ms SYMES: Well, it is both. What is being proposed would be considered by virtue of the charter, but then if there were changes to an order, it would then have to revisit the charter. So it is an evolving process. You do not apply a charter assessment then tweak an order and then go, ‘The draft charter applied’. You have to continually update it. The final orders need to be reviewed to make sure that they remain compatible, for example.

Dr CUMMING: Attorney, so would you use the human rights charter as a lens when you are doing this, so it is actually used as a lens, so it is actually used at the same time, in conjunction? That is what I would have been expecting when they are being written up, that that is the lens that you actually use.

Ms SYMES: You have to meet the charter, so it is a consideration at the development. But you would also then have to ensure at the end that it remains compatible.

Dr CUMMING: So to be clear, it would be used as a lens, but also once they are written up it would be a tick-the-box exercise, or you could consider it at the start, in the middle and at the end.

Ms SYMES: Yes, if it did not change, it would still apply.

Ms CROZIER: Minister, you made some comments, responding to Mr Limbrick’s question, about the charter and the sequence of how the chief health officer undertakes his role, and I think you were saying that he provides the advice and then makes recommendations to the government, rather than getting that advice and doing the orders himself. It seems like you had it around the wrong way. Could you just clarify the order with the chief health officer, because he is providing the advice?

Ms SYMES: I was explaining the current situation as an example of why it is impossible to commit to tabling all of the documents in one day, because of the potential backwards and forwards and charter assessments, and there could be tweaks. There is a process, so the one day to ensure that all of that is written up in an order has not been the experience, particularly when you have got multiple, multiple orders being made. Being able to do that in one day from the point of a decision of a minister is not feasible. That is what I am explaining to Dr Cumming.

Ms CROZIER: The decision-maker is the chief health officer. He is providing that advice, making the decisions that the government then is implementing through to the community. So he is the one who is writing the orders and signing off on them after he has provided that advice. Surely that is what happens here. If they are tweaking and going back and forward, why is that happening when he is meant to be the decision-maker?

Ms SYMES: Well, he is. The cabinet committee is not part of any approval process, but that does not mean that you cannot have discussions.

Ms CROZIER: I am not going to labour the point, because we have all been here far too long. But I will say that the opposition will be supporting Dr Cumming’s amendment. We do believe that there have been many occasions when orders have gone up, decisions have been made, decisions have been announced by the Premier and people have wanted to see those orders. They have not been able to see them. It has been absolutely so confusing and chaotic for people, and clearly a