The Victorian government will spend the next week negotiating with crossbenchers to pass its pandemic legislation, but Adem Somyurek says his opposition to the bill won’t change.
The former minister on Friday returned to parliament for the first time since throwing the government’s plans into disarray by announcing he would vote against the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill.
The bill was set to narrowly pass parliament this week with the support of three key crossbenchers but Mr Somyurek’s vote will result in a tie.
Mr Somyurek has largely been absent from parliament since he was forced out of the Labor Party in June 2020 for leading a branch-stacking operation, which is currently being investigated by the anti-corruption watchdog.
He made the unsubstantiated claim that he has been cleared of the most serious allegations of wrongdoing.
“I’m here to reclaim my vote,” Mr Somyurek told reporters.
He said his position on the bill – that it gives too much power to the state government and lacks independent oversight and scrutiny – won’t change.
“I’m probably the only MP in this place that cannot be bought off. I’m not going to stand again, so no one can buy me off,” Mr Somyurek said.
Asked if he thought other crossbench MPs would be bought off to support the legislation, he replied: “I don’t know. That’s up to each individual MP.”
During question time, opposition leader in the upper house David Davis also accused the government of making “targeted preference deals with selected crossbenchers” in exchange for their support of the bill.
“That is an outrageous accusation,” Attorney-General Jacyln Symes replied.
The government has been scrambling for the support of another crossbench MP so it can pass the bill next sitting week, which begins on November 30.
Without the legislation, the government will not be able to impose many of its COVID-19 restrictions after the state of emergency expires on December 15.
Sustainable Australia MP Clifford Hayes has been negotiating with the government, and says they have been “receptive” to his calls for tougher oversight powers.
“I’ve made clear the issues that I want to see addressed to the bill,” he told reporters on Friday.
“I’m going to be quite firm about that because important civil rights are involved and we’ve got to make sure we protect those essentials of democracy.”
Mr Hayes has called for a non-government led parliamentary committee to oversee the exercise of the pandemic orders and for both houses of parliament to be given the power to overturn them.
“I think that’s definitely on the table,” he said.
Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes said negotiations with the crossbench have been “productive”.
“(Mr Hayes) suggested some amendments, I think that there’s room to move on what he has suggested,” she said.
“What is fair to say is that everyone knows that from the 15th of December we are left without a framework. That is an unacceptable situation.”
Independent MP Catherine Cumming said she would vote in favour of the bill if the government scrapped vaccine mandates.
Asked if it was something the government would consider, Ms Symes replied a definitive “no”.
Several other crossbenchers including Jeff Bourman from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers are firmly opposed to the bill in its current form.
“They have to more or less rewrite the bill,” he said.
The bill gives the premier and health minister the power to declare a pandemic and the ability to enforce restrictions such as lockdowns, mask-wearing and vaccination mandates.
It has become a lightning rod for anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination groups, who have occupied the steps of state parliament this week in protest.
Animal Justice MP Andy Meddick has said he has reason to believe an attack on his daughter overnight was related to his support of the bill.