VICTORIA'S PROPOSED PANDEMIC LAWS
WHY DOES VICTORIA NEED THE LAWS?
* Victoria has been in a continuous state of emergency, which gives the chief health officer power to issue public health directions such as lockdowns, mask-wearing and quarantine, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
* Victoria is the only state that caps the length of a state of emergency, with the current order expiring on December 15. These laws would replace the state of emergency.
* The Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021 passed the lower house last month and debate in the upper house resumed on Tuesday.
HOW DO THE PANDEMIC LAWS WORK?
* The laws give the premier the power to declare a pandemic "on reasonable grounds" after consulting the CHO and extend it for three months at a time.
* Once declared, the health minister can make pandemic orders after consulting with the CHO.
* The orders can differentiate between classes of people based on characteristics such as age and vaccination status, relevant to the public health risk.
* Reasons behind the orders and the CHO's advice must be published. If orders differ from health advice, the reasons must be published.
* An expert Independent Pandemic Management Advisory Committee will review orders and provide advice to the health minister, which will also be published.
* The bill also introduces safeguards for the collection and use of QR code and contact tracing data, and a reduction in fines for those who meet eligibility and hardship criteria.
DOES THE GOVERNMENT HAVE SUPPORT TO PASS THE BILL?
* The government consulted with three crossbenchers - Animal Justice MP Andy Meddick, Fiona Patten and Samantha Ratnam - on the bill and was confident it would pass last sitting week.
* But the return of former Labor minister Adem Somyurek, who says he will vote against the bill, means the government needed the support of an additional crossbencher.
* The government paused debate on the bill and negotiated with Transport Matters MP Rod Barton and Sustainable Australia MP Clifford Hayes.
SO, DID THEY BROKER A DEAL?
* They did. The government made six changes to the bill to secure the support of Mr Barton:
- Creation of a cross-parliamentary 'Pandemic Declaration Accountability and Oversight committee' led by a non-government MP, which can recommend orders be disallowed.
- Ability for orders to be blocked by a majority of both houses of parliament if recommended by the committee and/or the panel of experts.
- A two-year review by legal and health experts.
- A new independent merits review scheme for appeals against detention orders.
- Victorian Ombudsman empowered to receive complaints about detention orders. Confirms the parliament or a committee can refer matters to the Ombudsman for investigation.
- Removal of an aggravated, jailable offence for intentionally or recklessly breaching health orders.
WHAT DO PEOPLE MAKE OF THE CHANGES?
* Human Rights Law Centre says the bill "isn't perfect but it is a big improvement". "Overall the new bill ensures much greater transparency, oversight and human rights protections than the current law and the laws in other parts of the country. We think it should be passed," it said.
* Liberty Victoria said the new amendments "sound positive and are some of the changes that we have been advocating for".
* The Law Institute of Victoria said it would support the amended bill as "there are notable changes in important areas of independent oversight, scrutiny and review proposed".
* The opposition will vote against the bill and describe the changes as "Mickey Mouse amendments".
* Conservative think tank the Institute of Public Affairs said they are "marginal improvements at best, which fail to address the main problem - the plenary power given to the premier and the health minister to rule the state by arbitrary decree".
Australian Associated Press
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