New Victorian Liberal MP Renee Heath has railed against the Labor government, claiming it needed to “get out of classrooms, get out of churches”, while her party colleague Evan Mulholland has used his first speech in parliament to call for the scrapping of prison sentences for some drug offences.
The pair were among the first newly elected MPs to address parliament for the first time on Tuesday evening, following the November election that delivered the Andrews government a third term.
Mulholland – a former Institute of Public Affairs staffer now representing the northern metropolitan region – told parliament the Liberal party should explore “innovative ways to combat the root causes of crime” to bring down the state’s growing incarceration and recidivism rates.
“In our criminal justice system, it is time to take a different approach and differentiate between the people we are afraid of and the people that we are just mad at,” Mulholland told the upper house.
“We can and must prioritise community safety and also find alternative punishments for people that shouldn’t be in prison.”
He said scrapping prison sentences for “low-level drug possession, defaulting on fines and even some white collar crime” could both “provide Victorians a second chance in life and also save taxpayers millions of dollars”.
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Mulholland also called for the construction of new homes, railed against “cancel culture” and criticised changes to Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act.
“Safe spaces and trigger warnings seemed a laughable campus fad a decade ago. Now they have wormed their way into boardrooms, institutions and, most concerningly, our laws,” he said.
During the election campaign the then opposition leader Matthew Guy said Heath would be excluded after claims were made that she was a lifelong member of the City Builders church and that it had been directed by its global leader to infiltrate the Coalition. The church, which is led by Heath’s parents, is opposed to gay, transgender and reproductive rights.
Heath has denied having the same views as her parents. On Tuesday night, she defended her faith in her speech.
“My faith does not hold anybody else to account, my faith holds me to account,” the upper house MP said.
Heath said she will represent all constituents regardless of religion or sexuality, while accusing the government of “dividing Victorians”.
“Victorians should not be told what to think, what to say, how to worship, how to raise their children. This is symptomatic of a failed socialist experiment which has reinvented itself as a cultural movement in our time,” Heath said.
“It is time for the government to get out of families, get out of homes, get out of doctors’ rooms and get out of classrooms, get out of churches and temples and businesses and get back to the areas that we’re responsible for, which we are failing at dismally.”
The first of the newly elected MPs to deliver their speeches was Labor’s Michael Galea, who praised his mother for raising him single-handedly and putting “my needs first”, despite living “week-to-week”.
Liberal MP and former professional tennis player Sam Groth, who was elected to represent the seat of Nepean, urged his party to focus on reflecting the state’s “diverse and modern community”, following its crushing defeat at last month’s election.
The Greens used the sitting day to reintroduce a bill to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 and the opposition has created a shadow cabinet position to tackle the issue.
The premier, Daniel Andrews, suggested his government could go it alone on raising the age if his preferred approach – a national process – is not working.
The opposition leader, John Pesutto, said the Coalition would consider “all angles” in justice reform.
One Nation’s leader, Pauline Hanson, attended the swearing-in of the party’s first Victorian MP, Rikkie-Lee Tyrrell, and took aim at the Victorian Liberal party, saying it had drifted too far to the left of politics.
Hanson referred to Guy as “Guy Matthews”, later saying: “That’s how big of an impression he made on me.”
Parliament will resume in February.