This is a very important piece of legislation. Let me show it to you. This is the principal act, the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008. It is about 285 pages. These are the amendments. This is the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021. It is about 110 pages. Let me tell you the chronology of this. On Monday night I was telephoned to say that this bill was going to be introduced into Parliament this week and that I could have a briefing that night, together with the other Independents. I was told that the bill would be introduced the following morning and first read, and what we have seen happen is that. Then it was second read on Wednesday morning, and here we are on Thursday morning debating very important legislation. It is important because we are still in a pandemic. It is important because Victorians throughout the last 20 months have obeyed the rules and they have gone and gotten vaccinated. They understand a lot about what is happening. More than anything else they want to be safe, and they want their families to be safe. But they also trust in us to do the work that we need to do. When I consider that chronology of providing this legislation to the Parliament and bringing it on in this way, it really concerns me.
The work we do in this place is really important work. The work we produce here in this house should be the result of very careful and thoughtful consideration. It should be followed by intelligent debate. Everything we do in this chamber is premised on the notion that we know what we are doing. When we come to vote on this bill, we should ask ourselves: do we know what we are voting on? I do not understand this bill. I have not had time to come to understand or to know this bill. I have just outlined the chronology of access I have had to this bill. I doubt anyone in this house has had the time to read this bill, given that it only became publicly available yesterday. Everyone in this house needs the opportunity to have time to come to understand such an important piece of legislation as this, and we have not. There may be those who have been involved in consultations and discussions while this bill has been drafted. We know that this has been a process going on since March this year.
When I stood in this place—the only person on this side of the house—and supported this government’s COVID legislation, I supported it because we needed it, because there was not a vaccine being rolled out in great quantities then. We were in a very fearful state about our futures, so we needed legislation. We all know we need a framework to deal with a pandemic such as this—something that has not happened in our country for over 100 years. So if I do not understand this legislation, I dare say very few other members in this place do.
I reflect back on the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 in the previous Parliament, where that legislation was released early to the public. It was released to all of us. We all had the opportunity to consider it in great detail, and we spent day and night without a break in this place debating an important piece of legislation, which really went very much to the importance of life-and-death issues, not for a huge number of people but for quite a number of people—hundreds of people every year for whom that legislation now enables some relief. Here we have a piece of legislation that also affects people’s health. It can be a matter of life and death. It is for that reason important that we know and understand what is going on.
I would have liked the opportunity to take this back to my electorate, as I am sure many other members would. The proper operation of this Parliament is important. Every Tuesday morning when this house is sitting I stand up and I read out a motion seeking to bring back to this house a non-government business program to give members on this side of the house the opportunity to raise matters of importance to their electorates, to bring on a private members bill, to maybe look at the regulations and disallow some or at least debate these things. We do not have that opportunity in this house—the only legislative assembly in Australia that does not provide members on this side of the house the opportunity to do those things.
In a pandemic I think it goes without saying that the government must rely on the trust of the people in the government, and if you do not have that, you develop a highly charged and dangerous situation. Consultation is so important. It has been said here that there has been wide consultation. I am not satisfied that that has happened. People who allegedly were consulted are now saying that they were not sufficiently consulted. We need more time to consider this legislation. There are oversight provisions in this legislation, and it quite significantly changes the method of dealing with a pandemic that is contained in the existing legislation. These things are really important. What will the Parliament be able to call for? What will it be able to examine? What will it be able to look at? I have not had time to find all that out yet, but I am very interested. I am very interested in knowing how this bill will impact on Parliament’s ability to scrutinise legislation, and I am not yet satisfied that it does that.
What I am saying is not written in the standing orders or in the constitution, because it is so obvious that it ought to go unsaid, and yet here we are having this debate. I call on the government to adjourn this debate for two weeks, to consult much more broadly, to brief the people who should be briefed and to let us help our communities understand what this is about. They will not be reading the legislation, but they rely on me to represent them and to at least make an informed decision.