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Put places-without-cases on COVID road-map

Adjournment speech

September 16, 2021

My adjournment is to the Premier, and the action I seek is for the government to share with regional Victorians the new plan for a localised approach instead of blanket COVID-19 lockdowns. 

Regional Victorians were relieved to hear the Premier’s commitment last week – and yesterday – of a more localised approach to future public health measures.  I have been advocating this for a year, with calls to adapt the traffic-light system for our regions to define the COVID risk and restrictions.

In this situation, ‘places-without-cases’ would be designated green and have the least intrusive restrictions that could see children back in classrooms, venues with lower density limits, a more open local economy and greater social freedoms. Orange zones, of moderate risk, would have tighter measures, leaving the tightest of restrictions – for those with outbreaks – designated red.

I think our regional communities might have more resilience if such a system had been implemented in Victoria a year ago.

The Health Minister last week noted regional communities’ deeper sense of ownership and engagement with their health services and public health efforts.  This has been well-demonstrated by the people of Shepparton in recent times.

Regional restrictions eased last week, providing hope and uncertainty. Each time restrictions shift, without consistency, business is further disrupted.

The new, inflexible limit of 10 people seated inside a hospitality venue has proved unviable for most cafes, clubs and pubs.  It is unclear why, in places without cases, this can’t be adjusted to a density limit of one person every 4 square metres.  I reached out to the Premier’s office immediately with this feedback from my electorate. 

Regional communities are baffled by inconsistencies in restrictions. For example, if horse-racing meets can happen freely during the strictest of lockdowns, why can’t places without cases remain open for business?

In the border bubble, health advice appears to be different depending on what side of the river you are on. Our regional communities have some of the highest vaccination rates in Victoria, well ahead of most Melbourne local government areas, and the border zone worked very well before Victoria designated NSW as a place of extreme risk.

Yet, in the past two weeks we have seen local government areas like Buloke evicted without notice or explanation and residents still unable to cross the border for daily life. Border brokers don’t offer much confidence for the times ahead.

Premier, in releasing the roadmap on Sunday, please provide clarity for our regions that are ‘places without cases’.

Border communities need business, not brokers

Wangaratta’s Cafe Pre Vue is usually brim with customers on a warm spring morning – but not today (Sep 14) because of unviable patron limits at regional hospitality venues.

STATEMENT

Comments by Tania Maxwell MP, Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria, in response to the Victorian government’s September 13 statement: ‘On-the-ground support for Victoria’s border communities’ –

September 14, 2021

I find it appalling that this is being done now when it would be plain common sense to allow border zone residents to travel both sides of the Murray, and for our many twin communities to operate, as usual, as one.

Our small businesses and cafes, clubs and pubs in places without cases just want to open for normal trade while observing COVID-safe settings. Similarly, skilled farm workers should be able to travel across the zone as seasonal work demands, heeding common rules.

No amount of money put up to activate on-ground ‘border broker’ support will bring small and sole trader business that depend on cross-border commerce back from the brink of bankruptcy, or re-open those which have closed. Nor nor will it provide revenue to fund staff wages.

Today, pub, club and cafe operators indicate they have floorspace capacity for more patrons and yet last week’s new rules say they can seat just 10 people indoors, regardless of venue size. With miserable weather forecast this weekend, how can these businesses remain viable?

Let’s use our respected Cross Border Commissioners to reinstate commerce and common rules in the border zone so places without cases can get back to work.

Justice Party MPs oppose Parliament shutdown

Statement

August 18, 2021

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party parliamentarians today opposed the Victorian government’s shutdown of the Legislative Council following yesterday’s announcement by the Premier that Melbourne’s COVID lockdown would be extended to September 2.

Member for Northern Victoria Tania Maxwell MP and Member for Western Victoria Stuart Grimley MP said the communities they represent rightly expect them to be in Parliament:

We did not support the government’s adjournment motion.

Parliament is safe. We are socially-distanced. Except when speaking we wear masks, we keep to our offices, we avoid contact with others, we’re not allowed visitors, and we have minimum staff to help us with our work.

Yes, COVID presents very serious risks. But Parliament is an authorised provider and can open under restrictions. We have COVID-safe plans, a check-in system and extensive security. If there was an outbreak, we’d be in a very good place to trace contacts.

It’s very frustrating to be told that by doing our job and coming to Parliament we would be breaching health advice.

What health advice are they talking about? We don’t know. We’ve not seen it. Instead, we received late yesterday a three-paragraph letter from the Chief Health Officer’s delegate telling us “all parliamentary business… should not be conducted in person”.

On this day, last year, we had a seven-day average of 257 active COVID cases. Yet we sat in Parliament. We sat on August 4, too. On that day, last year, Victoria recorded 700 new cases. So why can’t we do our jobs now?

The health advice in relation to ‘authorised workers’ currently states: “If you can work from home, you must”. But the reality is that we cannot.

We’re here because we’re elected law-makers.

Our constituents expect us to be here, as do the people of Victoria. They expect their elected representatives to be in Parliament, speaking for them, representing their views, debating issues, and passing laws.

They also expect us to be here to hold this government to account. There has never been a more important time for us to do this.