Former Victorian government minister Adem Somyurek says he won’t be “bought” by the government as it tries to secure enough votes for its pandemic legislation to pass.
Mr Somyurek, who was forced out of the Labor Party in June 2020 for leading a branch-stacking operation, returned to parliament on Friday for the first time in almost a year.
“I’m here to reclaim my vote,” he said.
The government’s Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill was expected to pass with the support of three crossbench MPs this week but Mr Somyurek has vowed to vote against it.
He has said the proposed laws give too much power to the state government and its leader and lack independent oversight and scrutiny.
Mr Somyurek’s vote would result in a tie, meaning the bill would have to be reintroduced in parliament’s lower house.
The government is scrambling for the support of another crossbench MP so it can pass next sitting week.
Mr Somyurek said he was unlikely to change his position on the bill.
“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,” he said.
Asked if others had been bought off, Mr Somyurek said: “I don’t know. That’s up to each individual MP.”
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.
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 said it had 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 said 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 had 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 this was something the government would consider, Ms Symes replied a definitive “no”.
Transport Matters MP Rod Barton told ABC Radio Melbourne he was a part of a group of crossbenchers working to “get a united position and we’re very, very close”.
Reason Party MP Fiona Patten said the legislation must pass or Victoria could become the “only jurisdiction in the world without regulations to help us control this pandemic”.
Several other crossbenchers – including the Liberal Democrats, Justice Party MPs and Jeff Bourman from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers – are firmly opposed to the bill.
“They have to more or less rewrite the bill,” Mr Bourman said.