GEPP (Northern Victoria) (10:37): I rise to speak on Mr Davis’s motion today. I must admit I am not quite certain where to start. I will of course talk about the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee and some of the things that have been going on over recent weeks or maybe the mistruths that have been put out by Mr Davis and other members of the opposition about the role that body fulfils for this place. The suggestion that he continually makes is that it is somehow some sort of quasi policy body that has a role in ruling in and ruling out legislation. That is predominantly what he argues; he puts forward the notion that SARC should rule legislation in and out.
Mr Davis: Draw attention to it.
Mr GEPP: No, no, no, no, no, Mr Davis; you’ve had your crack. Now we will just peel back a little bit some of the nonsense that you have been spreading around the place. You just said then, ‘Draw attention to’; that is not what your motion here today says. But in fact that is the role of SARC. The role of SARC is to identify where a piece of legislation trespasses on the human rights charter. That is what it is to do. Then its role is to report to—
Mr Davis: And more than that. And more than just the charter.
Mr GEPP: Mr Davis, I am happy for us just to bounce along for the next 30 minutes with you interjecting, but we all sat quietly and listened to you, so perhaps you will do us the courtesy. We identify, with the assistance of the pre-eminent expert in this state, where a piece of legislation does in fact intersect with the human rights charter and to what extent it intersects with the human rights charter. And where it does, if there is not enough information available through the second-reading speech, or indeed through the statement of compatibility, we may choose to write to the minister or the person who has introduced the legislation, seeking more information. And then what we do is we publish that response.
In terms of whether or not the intersection with the human rights charter—or the trespass, if you like—is proportionate and reasonable is a matter for this place. It is not a matter for the SARC. Mr Davis would have us believe that it is an appropriate thing for a committee of seven people to reach a conclusion and effectively rule out a piece of legislation based on whether or not they think it is proportionate and reasonable. Now let us imagine a circumstance where we do that, where we come back into this place with a report and we say, ‘Well, actually, we don’t think that this piece of legislation is proportionate and reasonable in terms of its response to the circumstances insofar as it trespasses on the rights of an individual or a group of people and their human rights’. What is the Parliament to do then if they have got a committee report that says that? Are they going to debate that? We would come to that conclusion based on the evidence and the advice of experts, the pre-eminent human rights charter expert in this state. So what does that mean? It would render the Parliament impotent on the matter. So it is a nonsense, what is being proposed.
What this is designed to do is simply funnel these things into a place where, I have got to say, the logjam in the SARC would become so enormous that I cannot imagine when we would not be sitting on non-sitting days as a committee. So forget any other work that you have got as an MP. Forget any of that. Mrs McArthur is a member of the committee and Ms Taylor was until this morning—and I was very sad to hear the Leader of the Government’s recommendation to the Parliament that Ms Taylor would no longer be on the SARC. She has been a fine contributor to that committee, very diligent in terms of reading the information, and she will be sorely missed on the SARC but a great addition to the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC). And gee, if you are going to try a stunt like that, you want to make sure you have got the numbers, don’t you? There was a reason Evel Knievel practised and practised and practised before he pulled a stunt in public.
Mr Leane: Make sure they are even in the building.
Mr GEPP: That is right. You would not want to fall flat on your face in front of everybody when it all goes pear-shaped, would you? I was surprised actually—I was very surprised—that it took two years for Mr Davis to get some of the crossies down into the weeds with him. But I guess the other thing that really surprised me this morning was that the third stringers in here, and you know they do not even have the numbers to be number two anymore because they are the third string, the third 11—surprise, surprise—enticed people into trashing more conventions in this place and trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes. But I digress, and I would not want to go—
Mr Leane: They are not even VFL.
Mr GEPP: That is right. I would not want to go down into those weeds myself. My word of advice for those opposite is: if you are going to pull a stunt, then you have got to make sure you can pull it off because otherwise you look a bit silly—and then when you call a division, that sort of highlights your silliness, I think, because, you know, it has got to be written down. I have still got some more things to say about the SARC, and I will come back to that.
I do want to talk just a little bit about a trend that I have noticed in the last few sitting weeks we have been in here. It is Mr Davis’s wont to get on his feet and give a critique of all and sundry. It is as if he has decided that he is the headmaster and he is going to assess everybody’s report card. He is going to review all their homework. Of course he particularly has been coming off the long run at some of our public health officials, and I think that is a disgrace. I think it is an absolute disgrace that in the middle of a pandemic he gets up here and he talks with his dulcet tones and he talks about gaining the confidence of people, and in the very next breath he starts potting some of our public health officials—’Not all of them, mind,’ he says, ‘Not all of them. Some of them are good’, the inference being that some of them are bad and they do not know what they are doing. Then he proposes a motion of course that says, ‘Well, let’s bring some of those decisions of our public health officials into this place. Let’s bring them in here and let the luminaries in this place assess them and determine’—I think his words earlier this morning were—‘whether or not the scientific bases of the directions are to the fore’. That is what he wants to do.
Mr Leane interjected.
Mr GEPP: Well, apparently, Mr Leane. Apparently, we are all scientists.
Mr Leane: Apart from Dr Kieu.
Mr GEPP: Well, I know that Dr Kieu is, and I think Mr Davis has a medical degree. I am not sure who else in this place has a medical degree. I do not know who else could—
Mr Davis: Ms Crozier is a nurse by background.
Mr GEPP: I thought that the only thing she did, according to her inaugural speech, was cross a picket line. That is what she did: she crossed a picket line. That is her contribution: she crossed a picket line. But guess what: in crossing the picket line, guess what she did next? She took the pay rise that was on offer. She did. No, no, she did. She took the pay rise. She took it and put it in the bank. So I apologise. I beg your pardon, Ms Crozier. I did not realise that there were other strings to your nursing bow there.
But on what basis would people in this chamber be qualified to second-guess the science and the decisions of our public health officials in relation to a pandemic? On what basis would we sit in judgement on those things? Mr Davis stands here and he says that this is a simple motion. But of course anything that looks too good to be true probably is, and when you get the snake oil salesman saying, ‘This is just very, very simple’, then it is cause for concern. People should be rightly concerned in this place about this motion and what is really being proposed here. What is being proposed here is that those public health directions would be brought into this place and we would then sit in judgement on them—people in this place who are not qualified, who will not have access to all of the science and who do not have the background, the training or education to be able to sit in judgement on those things—which could have significant and disastrous consequences for the people of Victoria.
Mr Hayes said as much yesterday, didn’t he, when he said that there are processes. You have got to put trust and responsibility in the government of the day. We cannot sit here doing all of this. You cannot micromanage a pandemic from the Legislative Council of the Victorian state Parliament; you simply cannot do that. But of course that is exactly what Mr Davis wants to do. We know that if were we to adopt this motion today, were we to adopt these practices, we would have people sitting in judgement on decisions that have been made by experts based on scientific evidence and education—their best assessment based on their extensive education and extensive training. Unlike Mr Davis, I actually have full confidence in our public health officials. I have full confidence that they are sitting down with the right people and getting all of the information they require to be able to then put together the directions and the overarching plan to navigate their way through.
Mr Davis interjected.
Mr GEPP: Mr Davis interjects. What he does is try to create fear out in the community that there is something else going on. I think there is some sort of bunker that exists, maybe about 40 metres below state Parliament, and in there we have got lead walls. It is a fortress, and in it we have got all of these mad scientists. It is like a cartoon. They are the ones who are teleporting all of these things into the brains of our public health officials and into the minds of the people in the government. Of course it is a nonsense, and it is a nonsense because what is really being proposed here is not something simple; it is far more than that. It is designed for people who are simply not qualified to sit in judgement on decisions that are being made by experts, by properly qualified people based on science, based on evidence, and they then exercise their judgement about the best way to respond.
What are we going to do instead? Mr Erdogan is a fine fellow. I have known him for a long time—
Mr Finn interjected.
Mr GEPP: He is a fine fellow—one of the finest individuals I have met. But do I think that Mr Erdogan is qualified to actually review the decisions of Mr Sutton and the public health team? No.
Mr Finn interjected.
Mr GEPP: I tell you what: if he is not, then—
Mr Finn interjected.
Mr GEPP: Mr Finn, my goodness. Is the Victorian public ready? I have heard a lot, Mr Finn. Is the Victorian public ready for you to run the ruler over these public health decisions? I am just not sure that we are quite there. I think we have got a little way to go on that.
And whilst I jest, of course the pandemic is not a laughing matter. It is a very, very serious matter, and it is afflicting the global community. It is having dire consequences right across the world, and it is something that most of us have never ever seen before, except what we have read in our history books, and we hope that we never ever see it again. I just want to remind the house of some of the statistics up until 13 October: 37 724 073 cases have been recorded worldwide and 1 078 446 deaths worldwide. Let me repeat that number: 1 078 446 deaths worldwide. In one of our biggest allies, the United States, there have been almost 8 million cases recorded and over 214 000 deaths. In the UK, another significant ally of Australia, 620 000 cases recorded and almost 43 000 deaths. Here in Australia, we have had in excess of 27 000 cases and some 899 deaths. It is disturbing that we have any deaths here or abroad. That is the nature of this pandemic, and that is why in responding to the pandemic it is so important that we leave it to the experts—we allow the public health experts to consider all of the evidence, all of the data, that comes before them and they then make their decisions.
Ms Crozier interjected.
Mr GEPP: Ms Crozier has come in and said, ‘Why don’t we put that on the table’. We discussed, prior to your re-entry into the chamber, who is qualified in this place and their history with the medical profession. I will take the opportunity to apologise. I did apologise earlier. I was unaware that there was anything you did other than cross a picket line and take a pay rise, but apparently you have done some more.
We have established in fact that there are people in this chamber who are not qualified to review those decisions, and we are not sure that we would be in a much better place if certain people were given the opportunity to review those decisions. We have got a very challenging environment that we are navigating. It is very difficult, it is very complex, and the decisions that are being made are evidence-based decisions. The World Health Organization, and the messages that they send out—you know, we are criticised for adopting them. There was a chorus line about, ‘Why aren’t we wearing masks?’. And of course now that we are, guess what they are doing in my electorate of Northern Victoria? They are all lining up, one after the other: ‘Let’s get rid of the masks. Let’s dump the masks. Let’s take them off. Let’s rip them off’. This mob over here, what they do is they just change their position like they are changing a single-use mask. Whatever suits them at any moment of the day they change, and they want to walk in here and they want to say, ‘You’re not transparent’.
Yesterday Mr Limbrick—I see Mr Limbrick has joined us in the chamber—jumped to his feet and was talking about the SARC and other matters. I think he spoke on the committee’s report. Some of you will not recall Mr Young, a former colleague of Mr Bourman’s in this place and in fact a fellow member for Northern Victoria with me. The running joke whenever Mr Young got to his feet was ‘Who wrote his speech?’. The fingers would point at Mr Rich-Phillips and the rest of the Liberal Party. It was so true. Guess what? Mr Young has been replaced, I think, by Mr Limbrick. Because, you know, whatever Mr Davis says, within days, there he is.
Mr Limbrick: On a point of order, Acting President, Mr Gepp is implying that someone from the Liberal Party writes some of my speeches, which is absolute nonsense. I do not know where he gets this idea. I would ask him to withdraw that please.
Mr Gepp interjected.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Bourman): One moment, Mr Gepp. Mr Limbrick, are you asking for a withdrawal?
Mr Limbrick: Yes.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Bourman): Mr Gepp, if you would like to withdraw that—
Mr GEPP: It was nothing unparliamentary, Acting President.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Bourman): Mr Gepp, would you like to withdraw that, please.
Mr GEPP: I withdraw.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Bourman): In silence, please. Order! Mr Gepp has the call. Let us get on with it.
Mr GEPP: Thank you. So we have Mr Limbrick who comes in here and starts throwing around the word ‘transparency’ and saying that this is what it is about—
Mr GEPP: Freedom—oh yes, we cannot forget freedom. But of course when you look at integrity, he talks often about that. I think he mentioned it yesterday in his contribution on the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee, however brief, because when he was pulled up he sat down very quickly. He talks about freedom, integrity, transparency and honesty and that that is what is missing from our current political system. Well, I went back and had a look at the results of the 2018 election, and Mr Limbrick was elected with 0.84 per cent of the vote—not 1 per cent. So perhaps he could tell the chamber and the Victorian people, in terms of political openness and transparency, how it is that he finds himself in this place with less than 1 per cent of the vote.
Mr Limbrick: On a point of order, Acting President, how is this relevant to anything to do with the motion? This is just a personal attack with no relevance to the motion whatsoever.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Bourman): Thank you, Mr Limbrick. Mr Gepp, he has got you on that. If you can come back to the motion, that would be good.
Mr GEPP: Thank you, Acting President. Of course it is relevant to the bill because what is said by those opposite is that these things—honesty, integrity, transparency—are missing, apparently. They are missing.
Dr Bach: Freedom is missing.
Mr GEPP: Freedom. Let us not forget freedom. That is right—freedom. Thank you, Dr Bach—freedom, freedom, freedom. Let us not forget our freedom.
Mr GEPP: I could be embarrassing, Ms Crozier, but when you bring these sorts of motions into the place it is laughable that these things are brought in. And then you try to use trickery and sleight of hand to suggest that the motion is a very simple proposition, that it is not designed to do anything more than the very, very basics, but of course it is designed to do a whole lot more than that. Mr Davis wants this place to sit in judgement on every public health decision that is made by our public health officials, who act on the best scientific evidence and advice. It is shameful that he tries to pretend that there is not something more to this than meets the eye.
This pandemic has been extraordinarily difficult for people not just here in Victoria but of course right around the globe. It has been a pandemic that has been very, very challenging, and of course we are all desperately waiting for a vaccine—a vaccine that can be released to the global population so that we can put an end to that. But until that happens we have got to make sure that we are managing this worldwide pandemic in the best way that we possibly can, and that is to give our public health officials the confidence that they have the resources and the scientific data available that will assist them in making the best possible decisions to keep Victorians as safe as we possibly can.
In terms of accountability, Mr Davis, what did he say—that the chamber and public are not being made aware of the chief health officer’s (CHO) decisions? I mean, really? There has been a press conference every day—
Ms Crozier: Saying nothing.
Mr GEPP: taking between an hour and an hour and a half. You can do better than parrot Peta Credlin, surely. It is an hour, an hour and a half, with the Premier, with the minister, with the chief health officer, with the deputy chief health officers every day, explaining all of the decisions that are being taken and taken to the nth degree. Indeed we have also referred the management of the COVID-19 pandemic in Victoria to the PAEC, the most powerful oversight body in the Victorian Parliament, and of course it must be. It must have that status, otherwise we would not have seen the little stunt that we saw this morning, where Mr Davis tried to engineer an ambush for the takeover of the PAEC but fell flat on his face because he could not count. I would suggest to this place if Mr Davis cannot even count to 20, then I do not know about anybody else, but I am not prepared to put the decisions of our public health officials into his hands to be stripped back and to be judged by him. If he cannot do the basic counting to 20, then goodness knows what he would do with these public health directions.
In case there is any doubt, I will be voting against the motion on the books this morning, and I would urge everybody in this chamber to do the same and to recognise this motion for what it really is.