Mr GEPP (Northern Victoria) (10:07): I rise to speak on this motion. It is a bit of a groundhog day, isn’t it, really? Another non-government business motion from Mr Davis, and it is yet another documents motion. It is not lost on me that Groundhog Day of course starred Bill Murray, and perhaps that is what Mr Davis was doing yesterday: auditioning for a new career as a comedian. We remember his attempt at humour in question time yesterday.
I think Mr Davis must be the only one in this place who does not read newspapers, who does not keep up with the news. Because if he did, he would have seen the public’s response to the way the opposition have handled themselves during this pandemic. He would have seen it.
Mr Melhem interjected.
Mr GEPP: Fifteen per cent, Mr Melhem, you are quite right—15 per cent. I mean the view of the public has been quite overwhelming in response. You know, I have got to say that I have got to give Mr Davis points. He does not give up. He does not give up, but it is the same record that gets played each and every week—each and every week—again and again and again. That bit of vinyl has got a big scratch in it. We just keep going around in the same place, and the speech is the same. The speech is always, ‘Government bad. Transparency. Openness. But you’ve got nothing to fear with this motion; it’s a matter of just laying on the table some documents. And gee, if you’re not doing it, what are you hiding? What are you hiding?’.
Mr Davis said in his contribution that the public deserves to know what is behind these decisions. I have watched my TV screen like most other Victorians, and somewhere between 10.30 and midday most days for the past three and a half to four months we have had the Premier of this state, generally with the chief health officer or, if not the chief health officer, the deputy chief health officer, stand in front of the TV cameras and tell the Victorian public the decisions that have been made on that day, if there are any new decisions, and the reasons behind them. They have put forward on every occasion the rationale, the logic behind each of those decisions. Now, you can argue with them if you want to, but to stand in this place and give the impression that there is something else going on here is just quite unbelievable. And when you think about it, it is probably the reason why they got a number 15 last week in the Ipsos poll for their positions during the pandemic.
You know, the conspiracy theories that run amok on that side of the chamber are just quite extraordinary. I do not know whether they have woken up to the fact that we are dealing with a global pandemic. This is affecting every nation in the world. Every nation in the world is touched by this, but if you listened to Mr Davis you would think that this is just contained to the state of Victoria in the country of Australia and that no-one else is affected. I think we are going to have to do a bit of a whip around and get a subscription to cable TV for Mr Davis, because if he had that cable TV subscription, he would be able to turn on the international news and he would find that across the globe countries are battling this pandemic, dealing with second waves. Europe is going through a hellish time right now. I do not think the numbers have ever been bigger in the United States. So this is not an issue, this is not a problem that is quarantined to Victoria. Rather, we are dealing with a global set of circumstances and any suggestion to the contrary, or any inference or any implication, is completely wrong.
Of course we dealt with this earlier in the week in terms of the inquiry that will be now conducted by the Legal and Social Issues Committee in relation to contact tracing, and we moved to amend the date on which that inquiry will be done and reported back to the house—and that is important. It is important because the point was made about taking very precious resources away from the task at hand. Even though the numbers were terrific this morning—I think I heard there were four new cases overnight—
Mr Melhem: Some of the cases aren’t new.
Mr GEPP: That is right, some of the cases are not new, but four cases overnight and no deaths, as I understand it. I think that mystery cases are also down to two. Is that right?
Mr Melhem interjected.
Mr GEPP: Two, Mr Melhem. Thank you.
Mr Melhem: The average is 2.6.
Mr GEPP: The average is 2.6. Nonetheless, what we are seeing around the globe is that if you do not stay at on top of this thing, if you do not dedicate your resources to the containment and management of this pandemic, then it will quickly get away from you. We have all heard the modelling numbers that have been put out by experts for many, many months now and how one mystery case can quickly multiply to exhaustive numbers and put an enormous burden on the health system, particularly here in Victoria. Indeed some of the modelling shows that if we do not keep on top of this pandemic it could crush the health system.
You only have to talk to health workers that have been involved—I am not just talking about nurses and doctors; I am talking about orderlies, I am talking about administration staff, I am talking about cleaners, I am talking about the whole gamut of allied health workers—to know, when the second wave of this pandemic was at its peak, the enormous pressure that was brought to bear on our health system and those individuals who strapped on the masks to walk into those places, the people with their PPE gear, and did a mighty job, and the stress and strain that they were placed under during that particular time.
That is why it is so important that we remember those times. Now that we seem to have been able to contain it and rein this pandemic, this horrible virus, this terrible virus, back in, it is so important while it is still out and about that we channel all of our efforts into containment, into ensuring that it is reined in, into ensuring that it does not get away from us again, because if it does, we all understand the implications of that sort of environment. It can do enormous damage to us, and that is why it is so key that we ensure, with the resources that we have, whether it be contact tracing, whether it be testing, whether it be the people working on the front line in our hospitals, that we stay on top of that for those people, not to mention the rest of the state and the economic challenges that this pandemic has presented.
But as the Premier has said time and time and time and time again in relation to the economic challenges that this thing throws up, our first response must be the public health of all Victorians. If you do not get those settings right, if you do not get those things correct, then the impacts on society are far greater than anything that we can imagine. You cannot do a job if you have got COVID-19—you cannot do it very well—and if it is spreading to other workers in the workplace, and we are all trying our very, very best to ensure against that when we are at work, as we all know. I mean, you only have to look at this chamber and the things that we have done over the past few months to try and modify our behaviours and ensure that anybody who may have contracted the virus did not share it with anybody else in this Parliament. And it has been a credit to you, President, to the Speaker in the other place and to all of the staff that you work with in this place that we have been able to function so well over the past few months, continuing to do important work for all of Victoria but at the same time maintaining those very, very strict and necessary public health arrangements in this place so that nobody here contracts this awful, awful disease.
And of course we know that the insidious nature of this virus is that you could have it and not know. You might not actually know. You can be completely asymptomatic and not have a clue at all that you are carrying the virus and indeed spreading it. That is why these things are so important in terms of the directions of the chief health officer. The chief health officer is presented with all of the data, all of the information available to him and the public health team. They then put in place a series of measures to try as far as possible to limit and rein in any spread of this virus.
For this motion to come forward to this house, where the onus—it is a bit of a flippant proposition that Mr Davis puts, ‘Oh, it shouldn’t take too much effort to gather the information—gather the detail’. He always harks back to the days when he was health minister. Gee, weren’t they the glory days of the health system in the state of Victoria? I can hear Bruce Springsteen singing in the background about glory days. You know, I could just hear that music pumping during the reign. When there is a video produced of Mr Davis’s time as the health minister in this state, that will be the background music. It will be Bruce Springsteen belting out Glory Days. I cannot wait for that top 500 hit to come out. I am sure he has got it; he just has not released it yet. I am not sure when he is going to release it. I suggest he release it online because the queues would snake all the way down Bourke Street or down to Spencer Street and probably back up Collins. It will remind me of one of the WorkChoices marches that I was involved in—and you probably were too, Mr Melhem, back in the day—that occupied the streets of Melbourne.
Any suggestion that this motion will not take away valuable resources from the task at hand is just a nonsense. The requests in this motion are onerous, they are extensive and they will take up departmental time that should be spent on important work, and that should be the important work of actually preventing the spread of this virus throughout our community rather than satisfying the political appetite of Mr Davis. I would love for those opposite to come into this chamber and tell us how many of them were involved in the strategy for putting this motion together. I suspect it was a one-man band. I suspect that there are many opposite who did not have any input into this motion.
Mr Finn interjected.
Mr GEPP: And I have hit a nerve, because Mr Finn is awake. I have hit a nerve. Mr Finn is up and about, so I think I have uncovered something. I think we are down in the weeds now. We have just peeled a few back, and I think we know.
This is a shameful political tactic, and they are more interested in taking up the valuable time of the Department of Health and Human Services and the public health team in providing documentation, when they stand there every day in front of the people of the Victoria and give the numbers, give the information, give the detail, give the logic, give the rationale behind every decision—every time. And of course we hear from people who would purport to know better but in fact do not know any better. They come in here, ‘Let’s make a point because it is different from another point that’s been made. So let’s be a little bit different. Let’s take a different position, a position of opposition’. But it is a reckless approach, and it is reckless because at its core it requires departmental resources to be taken away from the very challenging task they have every single day of ensuring that this virus does not spread through our community, and to suggest that there has not been any explanation to the Victorian people is just a nonsense. I do not know how many days it has been—is it 120-something or thereabouts, Mr Melhem?
Mr Melhem interjected.
Mr GEPP: Thereabouts, Mr Melhem, thank you. Every day, at least for an hour. I do not think that any of these press conferences have gone for less than an hour. I think most of the press conferences have been going for an hour and a half, so we are probably up somewhere around 200 hours. They are not in Parliament; they are actually out there being quizzed by the media every day for an hour and a half on the latest set of numbers, the latest data, the latest intelligence, the learnings that we have from the rest of the country, the learnings that we are getting from the rest of the world, and putting out there the proposals and the directions about how best to manage this thing.
It has been well received by Victorians. I think they are very appreciative that they are getting real-time information from the experts about their decisions, why they are making them, when they are making them and what they hope to achieve. I do not think the chief health officer could have been any more transparent if he tried. I do not think he could explain it in any more detail than he has up until now. And the point that he has made again and again is that this virus does not discriminate—this virus just does not discriminate.
I heard colleagues from regional Victoria say early on, ‘Keep the place open’, and then of course when there was an outbreak in regional Victoria, the catchcry from them was, ‘Shut it down. Shut it down. Close it up. Don’t let them in. Don’t let them in.’ Of course the insidious nature of this invisible disease is that you just do not know, and you have got to put in place the systems, the processes and the decisions that best contain it.
When it comes to Mr Davis, what you can rely on is that whatever decision is taken by the chief health officer in dealing with this pandemic, if the CHO zigs, then Mr Davis wants to zag. If the CHO turns right, then Mr Davis wants to turn left—although I am not sure that he would ever do that; I think he would instead go around in a right-hand circle until he could be bumped off rather than turn left. I do not think he would ever go left if he had a choice.
The decisions that have been put in place by the chief health officer over the past few months in particular have been difficult. No-one is resiling from the fact that they have been difficult—they have had an enormous effect. Nobody in this place should think that the government and those that have been charged with making these decisions are not acutely aware of the mental health impacts, the impact on children and their schooling, the economic impact on people who have not got a livelihood or who have had their livelihoods suspended, and the emotional impact.
Ms Bath talked about—a couple of days ago—the fact that she had not seen her son, I think she said, since December last year. I think it was his birthday, she said, a day or so ago. We understand that. There is not a person on this side of the chamber who has not been experiencing exactly the same thing, but it is not about the people inside this chamber. It is not about the people inside this chamber, because the decision has been made for Victorians. We are acutely aware—we feel it, we touch it, we are a part of these communities. We live in the communities. We understand. You know, it was difficult when the CHO decided that the wearing of masks was going to be a necessary strategy in combating the spread of this virus. How difficult it was for everyone. For the first couple of weeks we were all moaning and groaning about ‘Gee, isn’t it hard to breathe in these masks?’. But we are starting to get used to it. It will never feel—
Mr Finn: No, we’re not. It’s driving me nuts.
Mr GEPP: Well, it may well. I am glad you raised that, Mr Finn, and I’m sure it does drive you nuts. Can you imagine the healthcare workers who every day do not get a choice—
Mr Finn: Like my wife?
Mr GEPP: indeed—who go into these places—
Dr Cumming interjected.
Mr GEPP: I can hear Dr Cumming chipping away, chipping away.
Dr Cumming interjected.
Mr GEPP: I am actually a regional Victorian, so I know precisely. You want to walk into this place, and you want to give us a lecture about what we experience in our communities. You seem to know it all. You have been contained by the steel ring, as it has been called for the past few months, but suddenly you are an expert on what is going on in regional Victoria. There is not much—I have heard you over the past week—that gets by you. You are pretty good.
But going back to these masks, I am very glad, Mr Finn, that you raised these, because our healthcare workers do not get a choice. They do not get a choice. It is part of—
Mr Finn: Nor do we. Nobody gets a choice anymore in Victoria.
Mr GEPP: That is right, and the price that we pay for wearing masks is public safety. That is the price. That is the price that we pay for the wearing of masks—public safety. And it is happening all around the world. Turn on your TV sets and have a look at what is going on all around the world. It is a strategy that the world has adopted to try and combat the spread of this insidious disease, and it is something that we should continue to do for as long as the public health experts tell us to do it. They tell us. We do not think a doctor or a nurse or an orderly or anybody else walking into one of the COVID-19 infectious control units has any choice. They do not have a choice. Can you imagine what would happen if they went into one of those places not wearing a mask? Can you imagine? So what I am more than happy to do is listen to the public health experts—those who have been to the university, got their degree, been trained in these things and have extensive medical and public health expertise. They come up with these strategies, and I am more than happy as a layperson to accept that advice and follow that advice—because we can already see that the wearing of masks both here and around the globe is having an enormous impact on the spread of this insidious disease.
We have asked Victorians to do an enormous amount during the past few months to stop the spread of coronavirus. No-one takes any pleasure in restricting the movements of citizens. In my communities up in Northern Victoria, Melbourne Cup weekend would be a hive of activity where people are getting away up into the river systems in northern Victoria, enjoying the warmth, enjoying the sunshine and enjoying those waterways and just the clean air in northern Victoria, and we will not have that same level of patronage this year. It will be sorely missed, but we understand that that is a price that we need to pay in order to continue to keep this disease suppressed and reined in.
We have conducted more than 3 million tests in this state, and that is amongst the highest in the world on a per capita basis. We understand the need for testing and putting measures in place to ensure that coronavirus is contained as best we possibly can. We are all hoping and wishing and wanting a vaccine as quickly as we can get it. I think the world is so anxious to get that. I know that there have been some theories that have been espoused about some of the things that might suppress coronavirus—
Mr Finn interjected.
Mr GEPP: And a tie that is on display in this place—I think there was a theory that emanated from the luminary on that tie. I will wait for the science to come out on that, and if it works—
Mr Finn: He’s still alive.
Mr GEPP: Well, yes. Perhaps he could try it for the rest of us. In closing, I am concerned about the motion before the house. I want our resources to stay focused on the containment of this disease.