When it comes to the new pandemic laws proposed by Victoria, there are very different views.
Victoria’s Health Minister Martin Foley insists the legislation “consolidates this Victorian Parliament and public health response as the most accountable, transparent and public health-driven system in the Commonwealth”.
Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy describes the proposed laws as “an incredible attack on democracy”.
So what exactly is the Victorian government’s pandemic bill presented to parliament today?
And why are critics of the state government so worried?
Here are the details.
What powers does the bill give and who gets them?
The proposed laws are designed to replace the state of emergency, which was used during this pandemic, but had to be renewed every four weeks. The Victorian government has said its proposed law will create laws “specially designed” for a pandemic.
The main proposals include:
- Give the Prime Minister the power to declare a pandemic
- Allow this pandemic status to be extended for up to three months at a time without a maximum period
- Give the Minister of Health the power to make prescriptions in the event of a pandemic
- Allow jail terms of up to two years for people who knowingly violate a health order and cause serious risk to another person’s health
- A person who does not comply with a health ordinance and knows it could pose a risk to the health of others can be fined up to $ 90,500, while companies face fines of up to $ 90,500. ‘to $ 452,500 for breaking the rules.
- Create an independent pandemic management advisory committee
- Allow people in financial difficulty to ask for lower fines.
How exactly will it work?
Mr. Foley is adamant that this bill seeks to create “an even more transparent and accountable system” for dealing with pandemics.
He says that after a prime minister declared a pandemic under planning laws, “a report setting out the reasons for the declaration of the pandemic and both the opinion of the [Health] The Minister and the Chief Medical Officer must then be tabled in both Houses of Parliament. “
Once a pandemic is declared under these proposed rules, Mr Foley said the Minister of Health would then issue pandemic orders that would replace current health guidelines given by the Chief Medical Officer of Health.
Mr Foley says any advice provided by the proposed independent pandemic management advisory committee must also be tabled in Parliament.
He says the group will be made up of “experts in public health, human rights and others and representatives of the wider community who will be created to give specific advice on the response to the pandemic and management powers ”.
Mr Foley says this legislation will create a system that takes into account the wide impact of these pandemic powers.
“It will be the intention of this bill to ensure that all of these voices are heard in a transparent manner.”
What are others saying?
Well it depends who you talk to.
The Victorian opposition is particularly concerned about the power these proposed laws would give a prime minister to declare a pandemic.
Opposition Leader Mathew Guy said it would be “unprecedented” to put so much power in the hands of one person.
“In short, this bill is the most extreme of its kind we’ve seen in Australia. While a pandemic requires different approaches, it does not require a law as extreme as this one.”
However, the Human Rights Law Center tentatively approved the bill.
HRLC chief legal officer Daniel Webb said he was eager to read the details of the bill, but “it looks like a significant improvement over the laws we currently have.”
“These things are important because at the end of the day, that’s what helps the government make better decisions. And it’s what helps the public have confidence in those decisions.”
Mr Webb says the legislation appears to have responded to calls from the center to provide an expert advisory committee and provide stronger guarantees regarding police detention and powers.
However, he agrees with critics who say there should be an outer limit to the state of emergency, as exists in current laws, and he looks forward to further discussions on how to do so. improve legislation.
Associate Professor Maria O’Sullivan of Monash University says the creation of a new independent advisory committee is an improvement, as stay-at-home orders have not received normal parliamentary scrutiny and Prescriptions of public health workers are exempt from the Victorian Bill of Human Rights. Rights.
However, Dr O’Sullivan would have preferred parliamentary oversight in renewing declarations.
She is also concerned that there will be no outer limit on renewals of the Prime Minister’s pandemic declaration.
“So apparently the public health emergency could go on indefinitely… that would concern me,” she said.
Dr O’Sullivan says she is also concerned about proposed new penalties for people who “intentionally and recklessly” violate public health orders, saying she is unaware of any precedent in Australia for one. such order.
What happens next?
First reading of the bill was scheduled for today and second reading for Wednesday.
He will have to pass the Legislative Assembly (the lower house) before going to the Legislative Council (the upper house).
The last sitting day of the Victorian Parliament is Thursday, November 4, which means the bill will need to be passed by then to be introduced before the current state of emergency powers expire on December 15.