Labor Playing Politics with Religious Freedom

Legislative Assembly 17 November 2021

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (11:27): It is a pleasure to join this debate on the Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendment Bill 2021.

I will have been in this place for 15 years at the end of the month, and we have dealt with many, many controversial issues during that time. Some of them have been of great significance to individuals; some of them have been more about social reforms, the evolution of societal attitudes and so on.

When I was a relatively new member we dealt with the Relationships Bill, which became the Relationships Act 2008, and I strongly supported that bill.

At the time it was seen as a vehicle for formalising same-sex relationships—relationships particularly for gay and lesbian couples—in the absence of changes to the Marriage Act 1958, which was, of course, a federal statute.

Marriage equality at that time was a far-off dream for many, but I think it is fair to say that it was also a very long way from being accepted by the community. In fact I commented during that debate that the passage of the Relationships Bill would not lead to a change in the Marriage Act. I think I effectively said,

‘It’s not marriage, and if it was I wouldn’t support it’.

Now, I have reflected on those views. It was 2008; it was a while ago. I have reflected on that statement and I think I can honestly say that it was more about the way the community was thinking at the time than about any personal views I may have held. Certainly had the opportunity to vote for it come up at that stage—outside the Parliament, as an individual at the ballot box—I know what my vote would have been, and it would have been positive.

But the community was not there yet; the community was a long way from it.

The reality is if you want to undertake these reforms, you really cannot get too far ahead of where the community is at. Public opinion does change, and it changes sometimes very, very quickly. We have seen that on a range of issues.

That bill, as I said, was debated in 2008. Nine years later the nation voted overwhelmingly in favour of marriage equality—overwhelmingly in support. Every state and every territory in the nation voted in favour of it. In my own patch, in the electorates of Dunkley and Flinders, there was a slight variation but it was around 70 per cent across the board.

We will not, of course—and God forbid that we do—but if views were reassessed now, I think that that number would be significantly higher even than 70 per cent.

By December of that year of course the amendments had become law, with 128 votes in support in the House of Representatives. So things move relatively quickly.

Can I say, though, I recognise the impatience of those in 2008 who said, ‘Look, the Relationships Act is nice, but it’s not what we want. It’s not what we need. It doesn’t go far enough’.

The fact is—setting aside the constitutional niceties—had this Parliament voted in 2008 to amend the Marriage Act in the way that was being suggested, we would have been doing it without widespread support, and it would have effectively been change imposed on the community.

When you impose that change you do not have the sort of debate—you would not have had the issue being embraced the way it has been subsequently by the community. When you impose that change you create division. People resent things being imposed on them and their positions become entrenched; they do not have open minds.

Of course we had that debate, and I should say I understand how uncomfortable that was for many members of the GTBTILQ+ community, because had it been about straight people, it would have made me bloody uncomfortable, I can tell you—very, very uncomfortable—but it was not.

So there was a cost to that debate, and I recognise that. But there was a benefit too, and that was that it had an educative role for the whole community.

It got people talking about it. It got people thinking about it. It gave people an opportunity to reflect on their own positions and how they came to their own positions—had they ever thought about it before? To the great credit I think of the Victorian community, to the great credit of the Australian community, when they did reflect their views evolved; the culture evolved.

If you want to have lasting change to societal attitudes, if you really want to get that cultural evolution and not just have political correctness, which is effectively forcing a segment of the community to keep their views to themselves, then you have got to have that cultural change, you have got to have that cultural evolution.

Without it the opposing views do not go away. They just go underground, but they keep up the fight; they keep up the resistance. They are still there. The society does not get to evolve. The opposition is invisible, but it still exists. I think the bill before us is unfortunately a perfect example of how not to handle a debate like this.

Now, I have spoken before in this chamber about the differences in approach between that of Steve Bracks and John Brumby and the current Premier. Premier Bracks and Premier Brumby were committed to outcomes. They were not above using the issue for politics—why wouldn’t they, as politicians?—but they were committed to the outcome, and they did not let the politics get in the way of the outcome. They wanted to genuinely bring the community forward, as did Ted Baillieu.

We have seen significant change in the last four parliaments. We have seen support across the chamber on a range of difficult issues, support that was both deserved and then received, but often that has been after a significant inquiry, whether it is a Victorian Law Reform Commission inquiry or whether it is perhaps a parliamentary inquiry of a joint standing committee—whatever.

That gives people the opportunity to provide input. It gives people the opportunity to be heard, to have their concerns addressed. Of course, as we all know, being heard does not mean your views are automatically taken on board, but it gives the decision-makers—in this case the legislators—the opportunity to test those views and come to a conclusion.

And if you do not accept the view that is being put to you, at least the risk is on the record; you know that it has been considered.

That is not the case with this bill. The government claims that this is overwhelmingly supported. The government claims there has been extensive consultation. We know that is not the case.

We know that a particular and considerable section of the community feels their rights are being overridden with this bill. It is clear from the ad that was in the paper yesterday and from all the emails and all the communication that I am sure we have all received on this issue that there is considerable concern, but certainly the Anglican community, the Catholic community, the Hindu community, the Coptic and Orthodox community, the Jewish community, the Sikh community, the Islamic community and a range of other faith communities do not believe they have been consulted meaningfully.

And as the ad said yesterday:

We … urge the Government to conduct meaningful consultation with faith groups and other stakeholders which will be in the interests of all Victorians.

I could not agree more. As I think my colleague the Leader of the Opposition said, no-one deserves to lose their job because of their sexuality. That is above and well beyond this discussion.

What this discussion is about is a legislative instrument that the government is bringing into this house to achieve a political outcome, and I think it is regrettable that politics has been allowed to dominate this discussion when this is an important issue and we do really need to bring the community with us.

The Peninsula has suffered under Labor, Time for Balance

Legislative Assembly 17 November 2021

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (09:51): I have raised the issue of the metropolitan status of the Mornington Peninsula in this place on numerous occasions.

I have tabled petitions with more than 3000 signatures on them in the last 12 months.

The pandemic has heightened the visibility of the metropolitan status, and it has certainly brought it to the attention of many more residents. Many residents are asking, ‘Why is that the case?’.

It is a basic matter of fairness.

Geelong is considered to be regional; the Mornington Peninsula is not. Geelong is eligible for a range of support measures—the Regional Jobs Fund, the Regional Jobs and Infrastructure Fund, the Investment Fast-Track Fund and a range of others.

But significantly, Geelong businesses are eligible to pay half the payroll tax rate that businesses on the Mornington Peninsula pay.

Ms Britnell: That is not fair.

Mr MORRIS: That is not fair in any way, exactly as the member for South-West Coast says.

We have also seen disgraceful scare tactics where members of the Labor Party and their fellow travellers are running around saying that if we go to regional Victoria, we will not have the green wedge protections.

That is complete and utter rubbish—absolute rubbish. The only reason that would occur is that the government allowed it to occur. It is in the hands of the government of the day. The scare tactic is a complete and utter furphy.

The peninsula has suffered enough at the hands of this government. It is time we had some balance.

Volunteer Emergency Services Grants in Mornington

Member for Mornington David Morris MP has welcomed support for two local lifesaving clubs.  Mornington Life Saving Club will receive $2,270 and Mount Martha Life Saving Club will receive $24,156 in funding, as part of the latest round of Volunteer Emergency Services Equipment Program (VESEP) Grants. 

The grants will assist the clubs in buying lifesaving equipment. 

“Our lifesaving clubs provide vital safety and educational services to the local community,” Mr Morris said.  “The $26,426 in combined grants will help the two clubs to deliver on Life Saving Victoria’s vision of educating the community about water safety, resuscitation and swimming, while providing safe aquatic environments and venues for all.”

The VESEP is an annual Victorian Government grants program which provides funding to Victorian emergency services volunteer groups to purchase essential operational equipment, vehicles and appliances and minor facility improvements.  Eligible volunteer emergency service groups can apply for a grant up to a maximum of $150,000 excluding GST.  The VESEP provides $2 for every $1 of funding contributed by the local volunteer group. 

“Volunteerism is very important to our community in the Mornington electorate and I’m delighted to see the work of two long-standing volunteer groups acknowledged in this way,” Mr Morris said. 

Time to Back up Green Wedge Rhetoric with Action

Legislative Assembly 28 October 2021

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (18:19): (6124) I raise a matter this evening for the Minister for Planning. It relates to a property at 60–70 Kunyung Road, Mount Eliza, and the action I am seeking from the minister is that he immediately agree to the exhibition of amendment C270 to the Mornington Peninsula planning scheme.

Speaker, you may be aware, and certainly I am sure many others are, that this is not the first time I have raised this issue in the house. I think the first time I raised the specific matter of amendment C270 was in fact in February 2020, so it is a while back. There have been a number of other contributions and amendment requests related to this property over the journey, and most recently I raised the issue by way of adjournment in August of this year.

The issue with this particular site is it is a large piece of land outside the urban growth boundary but it is not protected by the green wedge provisions that protect 99 per cent or more of the Mornington Peninsula that is outside the urban growth boundary.

It is a historical anomaly. It goes back to the days when the site was occupied by the Melbourne Business School, so it is a special-use zone. The shire quite rightly saw that there was a difficulty not only with this site but with a number of other sites which amendment C270 also covers, and in February last year it resolved to request the minister to agree to the amendment.

At the time the minister responded and said, ‘I’ll look out for that amendment’, and I am sure he did. He is certainly aware of it.

In fact I should say that when I raised the issue again in August of this year the minister was of great assistance and immediately, because he was in the chamber, offered a briefing.

That briefing was conducted within a matter of days—very, very quickly—and I certainly appreciated the speed at which the minister moved and the information that was provided to me. I do not intend to go into the details of that, that shall remain confidential, but I did appreciate the information that was provided.

We are now another couple of months down the track. We are still waiting for something to happen.

The question is whether this government is actually going to back up its rhetoric of protecting green wedges, and particularly protecting the green wedges on the Mornington Peninsula, or whether it is not.

The council support this amendment. I certainly support this amendment. My colleague in the other place Edward O’Donohue strongly supports the amendment. It is time this happened.

The minister has an opportunity to back up his rhetoric with action, and that is what I am seeking from him today.

Small Business COVID Hardship Fund

Legislative Assembly 26 October 2021

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (14:44): (6094) My question is for the Minister for Industry Support and Recovery.

Minister, the government has repeatedly trumpeted the financial support it is offering to businesses and particularly to small business.

Despite those claims, rarely a day passes when I do not receive communication from multiple businesses that their applications have been rejected for no obvious reason, or that they have been accepted and then apparently disappeared down a black hole.

The mental health impact right across the community, as we know, has been huge, but the government is simply adding to the anguish of small business owners by leaving them waiting for weeks and months to have their applications for financial support processed.

Minister, as of today’s date how many applications under the Small Business COVID Hardship Fund initiative are yet to be finalised?

UFU Tactics Patently Dishonest

Legislative Assembly 12 October 2021

Mr MORRIS (Mornington): (6060) My question is for the Minister for Emergency Services.

Minister, the UFU is currently engaged in a campaign apparently intended to drive CFA volunteers out of Victoria’s fire services.

It is patently and dishonestly intended to convince the community that they are not safe unless they are located within a Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) coverage area.

On-the-ground tactics include bypassing CFA stations for incidents, including some in their own area, and not recognising CFA trucks as a primary vehicle.

I understand that if FRV is committed for more than 30 minutes a truck will be moved to Mornington Peninsula locations from as far away as Patterson River or Dandenong, despite CFA trucks being immediately available.

Minister, why are FRV vehicles travelling long distances while CFA vehicles which are almost immediately available are being overlooked?

Business support – not fair for all

Legislative Assembly 7 October 2021

Mr MORRIS (Mornington): (6049) My question is to the Minister for Industry Support and Recovery.

Minister, I recently received an email from a constituent, who wrote:

As a business owner in Mornington of Remedial Massage and Myotherapy we have been forced to fully close during lockdowns. I have received the round two and extension grants however we are not part of a category that receives the extra $5000 continuity fund which we are in desperate need for.

When looking at the list I am completely confused as to why we are not on this list?

Our association has been advocating on our behalf to be allowed to offer our service like all other Allied Health to allow for those in real chronic pain to attend even if this is still rest practice.

Unfortunately, we keep getting told NO …

Minister, why is support provided to allied health providers, hospitality providers et cetera but not to a business like that operated by my constituent?

Andrews Govt stands condemned for Covid Inaction

Legislative Assembly 6 October 2021

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (12:53): I am delighted to join this debate on this matter of public importance proposed by the Member for Caulfield because we are rapidly becoming the most locked down city in the world, as the motion notes.

By the end of this week, we will have been locked down for more than 250 days, and that is certainly a record that we have never aspired to in this state. We are record breaking in many ways, but we did not wish to break this record.

On this government’s watch, as the Member for Eildon and I am sure others have said, we have gone from the world’s most livable city to the world’s most locked down city. For 248 days as of today we have been locked down. By the end of the month, if the road map holds—and given the record of the Premier, given the record of the cabinet, that is a big ‘if’— we will have been locked down for 267 days.

Now, that is a denial of basic human rights, but it is not just a denial of basic human rights. It has come at a huge cost to this state and to this community—the cost in terms of lives destroyed, the cost in terms of businesses that have been trashed, the avalanche of mental health problems that I have seen through my electorate office and I know every member of this house will have seen through their electorate office, and the tail on that, the cost on that, is just going to be enormous.

We have also seen, anecdotally at least, an avalanche of family violence, and the cost of that, again, is going to be huge.

We know the cost in terms of lives is currently 888, but we do not know what the true cost, the total cost, is, because of this government’s determination to keep the community locked down, to keep us locked up.

The mental health costs, the lives destroyed, the businesses crashed—the cost is going to be absolutely huge.

Now, we have heard constant comparisons throughout the period of the pandemic with overseas constituencies. I am not going to go through that list today. We have heard themagain and again and again.

But the fact is the only true figures that are relevant are the comparisons with other states of this commonwealth, and the fact is that of the 1378 deaths we have had in Australia 888 so far have occurred in Victoria—almost two-thirds of the deaths from this pandemic have occurred in Victoria.

Now, the Premier says he does not want us to be New South Wales, but frankly, from where I am standing, that comparison is looking pretty damn good.

If you look at it, yes, they have had more cases—66 000 against 45 500—but beyond that they have 9165 active cases, against 14 410, less than half the days of lockdown and about half the deaths.

So why do we not want to be New South Wales, because they are doing a damn sight better job than the government is in Victoria.

Others have talked about transparency. The Member for Mount Waverley talked about the health advice. The fact is we have asked again and again and again and again for transparency on the health advice. You do not get it.

Why? Because there is clearly political interference in terms of the translation of the health advice to the manner in which the lockdown has been conducted, and there can be no better indicator of that than looking at who is locked down and who is not, relative to the rate of infection.

As of yesterday’s figures, the Mornington Peninsula had an infection rate of 41.2. We are locked down.

Latrobe city, now open, has an infection rate of 88.7, more than twice the rate; Macedon Ranges, 81.6; Warrnambool, 59.7; Gannawarra has few cases, okay, but 57.3; Colac Otway, 55.6; Ararat, 50.7—none of those municipalities are locked down, but the Mornington Peninsula is.

Do not tell me the restrictions are based on health advice, because they clearly are not, and if they are, then the health advice is completely off base. I prefer the former explanation.

I did want to just refer to a couple of emails that I have had from constituents, people who run businesses.

The first is from a builder, and he says:

I currently directly employ 13 people and many more indirectly … And this is before the last construction halt. We are about to sign a contract for a project on Phillip Island that represents 25% of our turnover for the next 12 months … Me or my employees will not be able to attend the site as it is regional.

So it is a big slice of his business for the next 12 months. He and his employees at the moment cannot attend that site. He goes on to say:

… how are we meant to plan for the future or even operate our businesses with such ridiculous restrictions. When will this madness end …

Another small business person who runs a remedial massage and myotherapy business says:

… we are not part of a category that receives the extra $5000 continuity fund

In other words, they are on their own.

The last 2 lockdowns have cost me personally $14,000 after government grants … I … have told my landlord I just do not have any money left in my account. I am not sure how I will pay the upcoming bills at all.

That is a terrible situation. We have a government that has refused to recognise the human costs of its actions. We have a government that has refused to recognise the genuine impact on the Victorian community.

We have got a government that has refused to recognise and consider alternative approaches. And why would you not consider an alternative approach when this one has so clearly failed?

So they stand condemned, in my view, for the price that all Victorians have been caused to pay, they stand condemned for their gross negligence in administering and “looking after” Victoria throughout this pandemic, they stand condemned for their total failure to deal with this pandemic appropriately and they certainly should be condemned as is suggested in this motion.

Business interrupted under resolution of house of 5 October.

Stop Hiding Behind Status Quo – Make the Peninsula Regional

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (09:57): In June this year I raised by way of adjournment, again, the metropolitan status of the Mornington Peninsula. That was the fifth time I have raised the issue in the Parliament; this time will be the sixth.

The adjournment asked the Premier to take all actions necessary to reclassify the peninsula to regional. On Monday, only three weeks late, the Premier responded.

Did he address the request? No. Did he indicate whether he would consider taking action? No, he did not.

I got an explanation that the chief health officer has responsibility for providing public health advice, which we know.

I got an explanation that the definition of Melbourne is based on the Planning and Environment Act 1987, which I know.

I asked him to take action to reclassify the peninsula to regional; I did not ask the Premier to explain why the Mornington Peninsula is part of the metropolitan area.

The fact that the Premier was not prepared to address the issue directly makes it clear that there is absolutely no justification for the current situation. The response confirms that this is nothing more than a bureaucratic convenience. 

The peninsula is not an extension of the metropolitan area. The standard of government services on the Mornington Peninsula is not up to metropolitan standards. It is not now, and it never has been.

The interests of the peninsula are complementary to the metropolitan area, but there are significant differences. It is time those differences were recognised, and it is time the government stopped hiding behind the status quo and started addressing the need for change.