I am pleased to have received the call today to address in substance the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2020. I commend to those listening at home and those reading this speech at a point in the future the contributions of the Liberal leader, the member for Malvern; the member for Brighton; the member for Murray Plains; and those of other colleagues who will speak after me. They have addressed this bill in substance, and they have drawn this house’s attention to the fact that this bill seeks to undermine once again the very foundation of our state’s democracy. This bill seeks to restrict the very freedoms that we in this state hold so dear. Every single one of those government members opposite—every single one of them—is complicit in not stopping the Premier, his COVID cabinet cabal and those very few unelected bureaucrats from doing anything more than restricting our freedoms in this state. Every single member opposite, every single government member, is complicit either by what they have done to enable the Premier and his cabinet to undertake these restrictions on our fellow Victorians or by the fact that they have actively engaged, cooperated and agreed to restrict the freedoms of Victorians.
I want today in addressing this bill to draw the house’s attention and to draw every member’s attention to some of the stories coming out of my own electoral district of Sandringham that I have the great privilege and the great honour to represent in this place. Recently I received an email from a local school principal. He said to me:
I hope you are doing well and surviving another week of lockdown.
With the announcement of the continuation of remote learning I like many people was very hopeful that our Year 6 students would return to school at the start of next term as this will be their final term of Primary School. I have been contacted by many families who have had a similar feeling …
I was hoping you would be able to support us to push to allow these students to return to school from week 2 (October 12) so that we can help them for as long as possible onsite for term 4.
He then goes on to draw attention to the health and wellbeing concerns that he has for his year 6 students. I received an email from a group of year 12 students who are in a performance ensemble, Raven, Juliet, Lalli, Tamalyn and Isabelle, who I met with yesterday, virtually, to understand their circumstances directly. They wrote to me and they said:
… we are concerned about our opportunity to fulfil our potential and to demonstrate our very best performance as a group as we cannot adequately prepare for our performance exam. Currently, as of the 8th of September, we have 33 days until our exam, 30 of which we are due to spend in lockdown …
This performance exam, they wrote, is worth 50 per cent of their study score. They then went on to write:
We’re wondering if there is some way that you could suggest that would allow us to rehearse. We do not want to fly in the face of the restrictions, we want to ensure that the safety of everyone is still upheld. So we’re asking if you could help us find a solution or an alternative please.
These year 12 students are 17- to 18-year-old girls in a music ensemble with their lives at their feet, their lives ahead of them. They are pleading with me as their local member, they are pleading with the government to find a solution.
I received another note from a Mentone general practitioner and local mother, who said to me:
Since term 3 I have seen many parents and teachers as a GP. Without exception, everyone is upset about how damaging remote learning is to students of all ages. Parents see the low morale and reduced motivation; teachers just want to get back in the classroom.
She went on to say:
Since the roadmap announcement there is a noticeable drop in mood and morale of students. I’ve seen this as a GP and parent. My children and their friends now know that they probably won’t go back until 2021. They know that aiming for average cases of five/day before ‘step 3’ occurs is simply too unlikely …
Remote learning reflections my grade 6 son wrote for a school task …
And then she went on to quote her grade 6 son, and her grade 6 son wrote:
‘I’m sleeping more than usual because I don’t feel good’. ‘I have trouble getting up in the mornings now. I used to get up really early and look forward to the day’. ‘I want to go back to school. I miss my friends’.
His mother then went on to write—she is not only his mother but also a local GP:
He gets stomach aches and headaches now—this is new.
She went on:
I know of at least one teenage suicide in our local area. Key factors were the increased family pressures during lockdown.
Helen, a local Mentone mum, wrote that she is a mum doing her best, but she is not a trained educator. She emailed me very recently, saying:
I had to take 3 days off to recalibrate this week. Other parents are suffering as well. Please help!
I had a note yesterday from Kathy, a Hampton resident. She said to me:
I have 4 children.
2 are suffering depression
I can get to one but not the other.
I am spending time on the phone now as a direct result of this ridiculous total lock down, trying to talk my daughter up because she says she “is over it” and wants out of here. I can’t go to see her because getting some letter to go there would put her through more trauma than the current position …
she is in. She went on to say:
I can see my son now and again but he is suffering too after being lock up for months. He lives with his father who suffers with schizophrenia and who also needs visits but doesn’t have a technical carer. If they didn’t have the odd visit from me, it would be harder for them.
I can’t possibly be the only person with these stories.
In the Herald Sun today a letter was published, from Tony. He wrote directly to the Premier:
DEAR Mr Andrews
Do you realise the impact your harsh measures are having on all of us older Victorians? We have virtually lost a year of our lives which, at our age, is critical as we don’t have that many remaining.
We can’t play golf with our friends, we sit on a park bench in fear of being fined, we can’t have a beer with our mates at the RSL, we can’t join other grey nomads on our annual caravan journey, we can’t see our children and grandchildren, we sit alone on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, we hear you pontificate every day but the clock is slowly ticking for us.
And there are the stories coming out of local businesses. Just yesterday I heard from Jacques, a local Cheltenham trader, who said to me:
I just want to express how unfair the recent business support package announced by the Vic Labor Govt is—my business (and thousands of others imagine) is not eligible for support as it is not registered with Workcare—the business is essentially a one man band (with some assistance from a contractor periodically) and I feel is too small to register …
A grant of $5000 to $10 000 is very meaningful for these small business operators.
Another story of a local business: in Southland, in Cheltenham, at the local Schnitz restaurant, the business was told that in fact because they were located in a food court they needed to close, but only after seeking legal advice and searching through Government Gazettes and stay-at-home directives it was clarified that in fact they could run a takeaway service. Now, I have written to the chief health officer about this. I have written to the health minister about this. This was weeks ago, and we still have not heard a response.
I have got 27 seconds left, and I have got many more examples of the effect, the real effect, that the decisions by the Andrews Labor government, by their cabinet and by the small group of unelected departmental bureaucrats is having on the day-to-day lives of residents of the Sandringham district. And what this bill seeks to do is give them more power. Well, we will not give them more power, and we will certainly be voting against this bill.