As I raised in Parliament yesterday, I remain deeply concerned about the imposition of unreasonable and disproportionate COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the Victorian Government.
Whether it’s the 25 kilometre ring of steel which cost regional Victoria’s visitor economy $150 million over the long weekend or testing requirements imposed on all visitors to Victorian ski resorts, we are continuing to see haphazard and inconsistent restrictions imposed on Victorians.
These latest ski resort restrictions, which will cause further pain to Victoria’s visitor economy and waste testing resources, are another massive blow to regional Victoria.
I call on the Victorian Government to urgently adopt nationally consistent COVID-19 hotspot, testing and lockdown protocols so that Victorians do not continue to suffer such severe financial and mental health pain.
As I said in my speech (below), the state government must get its act together.
SPEECH IN PARLIAMENT: It’s my pleasure to rise and speak in this matter of public importance debate about the need to apologise to all Victorians. I have to say I am incredibly disappointed to hear Senator Walsh’s contribution, about which I can only say was highly irresponsible. To misrepresent, in particular, the advice of the federal health minister in relation to the vaccination is a disgrace, and that’s what Senator Walsh has just done. We all have a responsibility in this chamber, no matter which side of politics we are on, to make sure that Australians have accurate information. For Senator Walsh to get up with that ridiculous spray and say what she did, she should be totally ashamed.
This is an MPI about the requirements of an apology. Yes, an apology is required, and Victorians have worked it out: an apology is required by the Victorian state government and by federal Labor Victorian MPs and senators, who have stood in silence through four lockdowns as Victorian residents, including Victorian families, businesses, seniors and students, have been brought to their knees as a result of the mismanagement of the pandemic in Victoria by the state Labor government. The fact that Victoria has suffered four debilitating lockdowns, unlike what we have seen in any other state or territory, is no coincidence. To Labor senators in this chamber I say please perhaps consider apologising to Victorians for the hotel quarantine fiasco, including the engagement of security guards who had no proper infection control training or expertise which allowed coronavirus to spread into the community, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of senior Victorians. That was the finding of the COAT inquiry.
They should apologise to Victorians for not accepting the offer of help from the Commonwealth, such as the provision of ADF personnel to support the state’s quarantine responsibilities. They should apologise to Melburnians for the curfew, which effectively locked them in their homes and which was, without doubt, in breach of the Victorian government’s charter of human rights. They should apologise to the people who lived in the public housing towers in Melbourne, who were locked down with no warning whatsoever, leaving parents without food for their children and older residents frightened, which the Victorian ombudsman found was a clear breach of human rights. They should apologise for the Victorian state government’s incompetent contact tracing system. There have been some big improvements, and I’m pleased to say that, but it’s still a far cry from the gold standard in New South Wales, and it meant that for many months the government ignored the advice of the experts to adopt a unified QR code and check-in system, to adopt proper IT systems and to publish exposure sites so that people could immediately, if they’d visited those sites, isolate and get tested. Perhaps they should also consider apologising to school students for missing so many weeks of school and to families for not being able to see their loved ones. Even now families in regional Victoria can’t visit their loved ones in residential aged care unless they are at end of life.
So I say: apologise to Victorians for four state-wide lockdowns, including the most recent lockdown in regional Victoria, where there has been no community transmission. They have resulted in insurmountable financial and mental health pain and left so many businesses broke and/or closed when there was no basis to do so, including the IGA supermarket in Anglesea, which was forced to close as a result of a false positive case and which has now suffered losses in excess of $100,000. Perhaps also they should apologise to our regional tourism and hospitality sector and to regional chambers of commerce and to regional committees, including the Committee for Mornington Peninsula, which are pleading for the state government to put in place a proper COVID-safe response plan so that whenever a positive case arises it can be dealt with locally whilst allowing the rest of the city and the state to function, as happens in New South Wales. The facts are that this latest lockdown has caused a loss of faith and confidence, because it demonstrates that the Victorian government still doesn’t have the capacity to control the virus and the outbreaks locally in any sort of proportionate manner as occurs in other states.
Last weekend, the long weekend, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry estimated that lost visitation and cancelled trips cost regional Victorian businesses and the visitor economy around $150 million just over three days. And that, of course, was due to unreasonable density caps. Major tourism businesses, such as Sovereign Hill, could not open and many major businesses were closed, such as Heathcote on Show and the Castlemaine Jazz Festival. Wineries, restaurants, hotels, cafes, accommodation providers and other tourist operators were left high and dry. It is time that the state government worked out how to keep our state’s economy open whilst protecting lives and livelihoods. None of these issues were addressed by Senator Walsh in her contribution.
I want to move now to the facts in relation to the Commonwealth’s quarantine responsibilities. They are very clear. Again, these are facts not acknowledged or even referenced in Senator Walsh’s contribution. Mandatory quarantine with COVID-19 testing is currently considered the best strategy for incoming travellers and it is a key pillar of our nation’s response. Hotel quarantine was mandated by national cabinet on 27 March 2020. These requirements have been implemented under state and territory legislation with the support of the ADF and the Australian Border Force, where necessary. Since the implementation of hotel quarantine there have been 372,000 international air arrivals, with some 4,000 COVID-positive cases—most of which have been in hotel quarantine. Apart from the major failures which occurred in Victoria there have been very few other outbreaks.
In accordance with the resolution of national cabinet, the Commonwealth is supporting the states and territories. It’s supporting Northern Territory at the Howard Springs quarantine facility. The investment is in excess of half a billion dollars and that is also supporting our national effort to repatriate Australians flying in to Australia. That is a major incoming port for all Australians. There is the agreement with Tasmania to support Australians returning there. Then there is the memorandum of understanding for a quarantine facility in Victoria, and I welcome that. It is a pity, though—again, Senator Walsh did not reference this—that the state Labor government has proposed an animal quarantine facility at Mickleham as its preferred option. From where I sit, as a regional senator based in Geelong, that is absurd because that presents a whole range of biosecurity and logistical issues which the state government have not even considered. That’s why I have been such a big supporter of placing this quarantine facility at Avalon Airport, where incoming travellers can fly directly into Avalon—to an international terminal, a first-class terminal—and then travel a very short distance to their accommodation facility. Even on this issue it does not seem that the Victorian government has done its basic homework.
I do welcome the fact that the Victorian government is open to Avalon. I’m very confident, and I hope, that that will be the decision as negotiations continue between the Commonwealth and the state. This makes great sense for Victoria. It makes great sense for the Geelong region. It would be a huge boost for jobs in our local economy and would utilise Avalon Airport, which has endured such financial pain over the last 18 months or so.
I say to Labor senators: there’s a lot to apologise for in relation to what has happened in Victoria. It has been a very torrid time and, as I say, it’s no coincidence that there have been these rolling lockdowns in Victoria—unlike in any other state. I am really proud of the Morrison government’s management of this pandemic. To a large degree the Morrison government has worked very successfully with the states and territories. Just think of this: more than 12 months ago it was hard to envisage that we would have a vaccination. That vaccination rollout is happening at a very, very fast pace. We are at total vaccinations of almost six million. That is a great achievement. Yes, there is more hard work to be done. We urge all Australians to get vaccinated. We can be very proud of our efforts together. I say to the state government in Victoria: please get your act together in relation to the issues for which you are responsible, and I hope and trust that the new quarantine facility in Victoria will be at the wonderful Avalon Airport.