SPEAKING ON A MOTION | PRODUCTION OF DOCUMENTS

Mr Melhem: Obviously I will be speaking in opposition to the motion moved by Mr Davis.

Mr Finn interjected.

Mr Melhem: No, actually, I do not. I think it is a great idea. I tell you what, since stage 4 was implemented with the curfew, the brains of my 18-year-old and 21-year-old are now programmed: ‘We cannot leave home, and we stay home’. I do not have to worry, like we had in stage 3, that they could be sneaking out, and that is what happened.

Mr Davis went on about ‘Who came up with the idea?’, ‘Why are we having this?’, ‘We don’t know the logic’ and ‘We don’t know the reasons’. The reason is very simple, Mr Davis. The reason is very, very simple, and the Premier made that clear. The purpose of the curfew is to reduce people’s movement. That is the purpose of it. Mr Davis’s idea is, ‘Let’s open supermarkets 24 hours a day, seven days a week’. What that would not reduce is people’s movement. People will keep moving. We have still got—thankfully the numbers are going down—80 unknown cases. Community transmission is still happening. But this lot here have suddenly become experts. One day we are going too hard, one day we are going too soft. It is sort of, ‘Let’s find out what’s some popular idea here and there and someone opposing something, let’s grab that so we can get some traction, hopefully’.

On the curfew, I get it. If someone declared a curfew or a state of disaster or an emergency and was sort of forcing people to stay at home for political reasons—I get that. I will not stand for that. Maybe in some other countries sometimes people try to use it. The word ‘curfew’ is probably not the right word because this one is only used in response to COVID-19 in trying to address the pandemic we have, in trying to arrest the numbers, reduce the infection—which has worked. Unfortunately it has taken six to seven weeks. But today, having the curfew now between 9.00 pm and 5.00 am has helped. It is one of the tools which has helped reduce the numbers and is part of the road map announced by the Premier to basically ease restrictions, so that we have been able to go below 50 cases per day on average for the last 14 days. Guess what? We achieved that today. We are down to less than 50 on average, and hopefully that will go down further. Hopefully we can reach the target that has been reached in regional Victoria. Then there will be no need for a curfew between the hours of 9.00 pm and 5.00 am.

I speak to a lot of people and, look, it has been hard. It has been a hard slog for the last few months. People are suffering. There is no question about that. But the overwhelming majority of people understand some of these measures had to be put in place so we can save lives. Over 700 people lost their lives, and we do not want that number to continue growing. We want that number to slow down. We want to be able to get to zero cases of people dying from COVID-19. We see second waves and third waves in places around the world. We have been the unlucky one to experience a second wave in Australia, and hopefully we will be the last one. I do not wish what we have been through on any other state. But it is all a learning thing. The other states are learning from what we are doing and we are learning from them, so it is a collective approach.

But on this theory about turning on this response which we have put in place, I think Mr Davis was quoting the chief health officer about how it was not his advice or it was his advice. I do not think anyone—the Minister for Health, the Premier or the Minister for Police and Emergency Services—has basically said we relied on that advice. When the state of disaster was declared, it was used as one of the tools to actually achieve the aim which was set by the chief health officer, and all the other measures were put in place to reduce people’s movement so we were able to reduce the number of infections going forward. So that was enacted under the state-of-disaster legislation, which then gave the police minister certain powers to basically assist in the process of fighting this virus. So the Premier never said, ‘I rely on the chief health officer’s advice in relation to this’. That was a separate exercise, but that is one of the tools that is being used, like in the bushfires, when a state of disaster was declared not long ago. That was used as well to reduce people’s movement and give the police certain powers—so they can start acting on enforcing the regulations or enforcing the directions of the chief health officer in order to fight this virus. So that is another tool that was used.

I speak to people about this, and I have heard some of the issues raised this morning about getting heaps of emails from landscapers and them saying they would like to open up soon. When I have asked them the question, ‘What do you think about the curfew of 9 to 5?’, I have not had a single person saying that is a problem. They have said, ‘We don’t care about that. In fact it’s a good idea. I’m more interested in: how can I reactivate and start working and do landscaping?’. The councils and a number of people spoke about that. I am actually advocating within government, and the Premier and the government are working on that, trying to find a way of how we can get these people back to some sort of normality and be able to work. These are the issues the government is working on: trying to get businesses reopening and people back to work. But the trigger for that is to reduce the numbers. So when people pull a stunt here about curfews and say, ‘Let’s open up’, I do not think that is the most important issue Victorians are worrying about. They are worried about their jobs. They are worried about their income. I do not see many people complaining about that issue. Let us get on with the real issues.

Members interjecting.

Mr Melhem: Well, let us agree to disagree. You are entitled to your opinion and you had your say, and that is fair enough. We are living in a democracy; you have that right. We can agree to disagree. But I am telling you what I am hearing. Because when I was talking to that landscaping business from Essendon yesterday—and I specifically asked him questions about the curfew—his response was, ‘Keep it on. It’s a good thing; it’s not a bad thing. I’m more interested in: when can I go and restart work?’. And that is what the government is focusing on. But in order to achieve that target, we need to reduce the case numbers, and that is happening. We are not far away. We are just getting so close. Today we broke the record. We are down to an average of 49-point-something per cent for cases under 50—which are good numbers. Now, we have to keep that going. I think the trigger from the chief health officer and the Premier, as they announced at their press conference in the last few days, was that if we are able to sustain, I think, the numbers from memory were somewhere between 30 and 50 on average in a fortnight then we will be able to go to the next step and the easing of restrictions. And as the numbers improve further—I think five and five, over a period of 14 days—step 3 will come into operation, and we will be like regional Victoria.

The pleasing thing is I know the numbers are tracking in the right direction. We cannot afford to be too emotional and basically listening to the vocal minority and turning that into a political argument, a political football, by trying to paint a picture that, ‘It’s a military curfew. It’s a military regime. It’s trying to suppress political debate’ and stuff. That is what they are trying to paint a picture of—that we are restricting people’s movements. ‘It’s like we’re in dictatorship. We’re in a place where—well, the next thing will be North Korea’.

Dr Bach: They don’t have curfews.

Mr Melhem: Well, let us call it what it is. If someone wants to go to work, you can go to work any time of the day. That is not subject to curfew. If you need medical help, that is not subject to any curfew. If there is an emergency, there is no issue. If it is escaping family violence, there is no issue. Shopping has been extended to 9.00 pm, so most people will be able to do their shopping during that time. A lot of it is common sense. Someone said, I think it was tweeted yesterday by one of the Liberal members, ‘If I’m driving home from work, I won’t be able to stop at the petrol station to pick up milk’. I mean, that is nonsense. It is common sense. But actually, the prime thing is that you are going to work and you are going home. But it is fair to say that at 10 at night I cannot go to the supermarket—well, the supermarket will be shut—or go to get a bottle of milk. I should do that during the day. Those are the rules. But it is about what the reason is that this curfew has been implemented. That is what we need to focus on, instead of just playing politics.

Members interjecting.

Mr Melhem: You guys must be so thick. I have been talking for the last 10 minutes about this. It is to reduce people’s movements. I am telling you that is the reason. The Premier said it. I do not know in how many press conferences he actually said it: it is to reduce the movement of people. Does it really matter who actually gave him the advice? Maybe he came up with it—and good on him. Good on him, all right?

Members interjecting.

Mr Melhem: It is the right decision. Stop calling yourselves experts. You guys know everything. It is a bit like, ‘Let’s not worry about the principals and teachers and the chief health officer. One minute we want to accept the advice of the chief health officer; the next minute we’re going to go and criticise him’. Two hours ago, during debate on the previous motion—‘What is the advice of the chief health officer in relation to schools?’—a motion was debated in this house criticising the advice of the chief health officer in relation to schools. ‘Oh, we don’t care about that; open schools’. That was the motion; we actually debated that motion. And the Liberal Party and a number of crossbenchers voted for that. That is fine. That is your right. That is democracy. You will be all right. But do you know what? Do not come in and lecture everyone that is saying—

A member interjected.

Mr Melhem: It does not mean you are right, though. It does not mean you are right. You have the right to debate an issue, but it does not mean that you are right and the other side is wrong. Let me tell you, you were wrong in your approach to that issue earlier in relation to schools, and you are wrong about this one. This one has just been a cheap political stunt: ‘We just want to know; we’re looking for answers’. I have given you the answer and the Premier has given you the answer, but nonetheless you are seeking some documents. Like any other documents motion, it will be dealt with, and I think this government has a very good track record in dealing with documents—

Members interjecting.

Mr Melhem: unlike your lot. You are laughing and heckling and sort of smiling. And Mr Finn, you were around when you were in government between—what was it, Mr Leane?—I think 2010 and 2014—

Mr Leane: It was awful.

Mr Melhem: From memory I think there were about six motions made that somehow—

Members interjecting.

Mr Melhem: Six motions, I think, were carried in the house in relation to documents, and every other motion that was moved by the opposition back then—there were not many crossbenchers around; I do not think there were any except the Greens—got defeated and squashed by the Liberal-Nationals, because you did have the numbers, 21 to 19. Every time the Greens party or the Labor Party moved a motion requesting documents you voted that down.

I remember one of the motions that I think was somehow successful. I do not know how you agreed to it, because we did not give consent to it. It was the—and I think Mr Leane would remember that very well because I still remember his contribution on it—east–west documents motion, and they gave us a six-page colour photos thing. It was about six pages, wasn’t it?

Mr Leane: Counting the covers.

Mr Melhem: Yes, I remember that.

Mr Leane: And there was a picture of a tram.

Mr Melhem: That is right, and there is no tram on the EastLink. There was no tram on the EastLink. So do not come here lecturing me about—

Mr Finn: On a point of order, Acting President—I know you have been waiting for this—Mr Melhem seems to have been straying from the motion significantly. I do not recall anything about trams, the Eastern Freeway or anything in this motion at all to which he is now referring, and I would ask you to ask him to come back to the motion.

Mr Melhem: On the point of order, Acting President, the EastLink matter I have referred to was actually a documents motion that was moved in this house. That is what I was making reference to, so it is relevant. But I am moving on anyway. I was just giving an example.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Bourman): Thank you, Mr Melhem. It is relatively narrow, so if you could at least stay within the ballpark of where we are meant to be, that would be fabulous.

Mr Melhem: Thank you, Acting President. I will try my best. I was going to go through how many—well, that is where I was—documents motions we had under their stewardship. Well, look, there is no point going there. I think we have covered that.

A member interjected.

Mr Melhem: No, no. I think I just find it outrageous. I think doing a bit of comparison does not hurt, but I suppose sometimes the truth—when the other side do not like to hear the truth and reality—hurts a bit.

But going back to this specific issue in relation to the motion, it basically does two things. One is demanding all these so-called documents. Obviously if this motion gets voted up, then the government, in accordance with what we have done in the past, will comply and provide all the necessary documents which we can provide. Some documents might be subject to cabinet in confidence and so forth. I think Mr Leane is speaking on that. He is now a part of cabinet. He is an expert on that. He will probably touch on that and what can be released and what cannot be released.

But the fundamental issue, in my understanding, is Mr Davis wants to know why and who. That is my understanding. It is the why and who. The why we have already addressed. It is to basically use it as another tool to assist in driving the numbers down, and it has worked. I gave the example of my own two children. They have not been using their cars the last few weeks, so I am really happy about that. That has actually applied to a lot of people under the age of 30. Remember, they are the superspreaders. They are the ones who think they are invincible. They do not care—well, most of them do, but some of them do not. And they do not do it because they have got a bad intention. I think we have all been there. We have all been in our late teens and early 20s. The world is our oyster, and we can do whatever we like. To me, if that curfew made these people think twice, then it is a good thing. I talk as a father. I am now more confident, since that happened, that my two kids—they do not leave the home much even during the day, apart from going for a walk, but that sort of made them focus. A bit of a confession: when we had the first wave a lot of them and their friends were still out, and the disease, or the virus, had more of an environment for it to spread.

So it is actually working, because for most people, 99 per cent of people, if you are not working, you are not attending to an emergency or caring for someone, or if there is a problem, or you are escaping family violence, you tend to be at home anyway. Go to restaurants? The restaurants are shut. Go to the pub? The pub is shut. Go for a drive? You cannot drive anyway because it is 5-kilometre thing and it is not one of the four reasons to leave home. So really even if we did not have a declared curfew under the state of disaster, no-one should be out anyway.

If you look at the main four reasons which are implemented under the state of emergency, which seems to me is not a problem, we have the four reasons you can leave home; therefore there is no reason for anyone in any case to leave home anyway. If you are not going to work, you should be at home. If you are not going to the supermarket, you should be home. Mr Davis talked about supermarkets being a problem because some people are struggling to shop between the hours of 5.00 am and 8.00 pm—now it is 5.00 am to 9.00 pm. I find that hard to believe as a real problem. Therefore by default no-one should be out during these hours anyway, apart from for these four reasons which are stated under the state of emergency anyhow. And there is the 5-kilometre rule, so you cannot even go for a drive, because it is 5 kilometres. For the other reasons, there is not a problem. I think it is more psychological to remind people of where you should be and to do the right thing.

And with our police force, it has given them another tool to be able to take some load off themselves. That is one thing they do not have to worry about at night—basically roaming the streets to make sure people are only out for the four reasons—and that would take some load off them as well, and I believe it has. I am sure it has because 99 per cent of people are respecting these rules; 99 per cent of people are staying home after 8 o’clock—now it is 9.00 pm—and doing the right thing, unless they are going out for these reasons, and that is taking a load off the police so they can do other things.

The second part of the motion is basically saying, ‘No, scrap it’. Probably if it was only asking for the documentation on how the decision was made and what was the basis of it and so forth, you could say, ‘Okay, that’s fair enough—a fair enough request. There’s no harm in that. That is your right as members of Parliament. You can ask the executive government on what basis they made a particular decision in relation to this’, and you would get the information. That is fair enough. But then you go one step further and say, ‘We’re now the experts, we’re now the executive government, we’re now in charge and we’re basically saying, “You need to scrap that rule”’. Well, I am sorry. I think if you do and you are successful in doing this, then you could be undermining the effort of the public health system and everyone to basically get the numbers under control, because the numbers are under control and they are getting better, and I hope next time we meet we will not be in stage 4, we will not be in stage 3; hopefully we will be in stage 2—or hopefully stage zero! If we keep tracking the way we are tracking, then we are going to look back and say, ‘Thank you, Victoria. Thank you, everyone. Let’s move on and let’s put this virus behind us’. With these words, I will be voting against the motion.

Sitting suspended 4.02 pm until 4.21 pm.