Bar Associations raise concern over new COVID-19 bill
Concerns about the criteria for appointment and power of an “authorised officer” under the Omnibus Bill have been raised by the Australian Bar Association and Victorian Bar.
The Victorian Bar, with support from the Australian Bar Association, has expressed its concerns to the Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy about criteria of appointment and powers of “authorised officers” as part of proposed amendments to Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 made by the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Bill.
The concerns about provisions of the bill refer to the “broad and generic” criteria which authorised officer appointments may be made. The Victorian Bar has warned that the criteria could open the door to those who are not trained health professionals.
President Wendy Harris QC said: “It is vital that, as government crafts powers to assist in enforcement of public health and safety regulations, individuals who are empowered to enforce the powers meet appropriate standards of the professional knowledge and training, and enforcement meets the common and well-tested standards of objectivity.”
The Victorian Bar has also expressed concern with the proposal that people may have to be detained by authorised officers for failure to abide by a public health direction on the basis of the authorised officer’s “reasonable belief”.
In a statement, the bar said the power to detain should be reviewed against objective standards. Public interest would also be best served if the decisions made by officers were reviewed by the state’s chief health officer within a short time frame.
In the bar’s view, the power of detention would be expressly based on a test of a least restrictive means reasonably available in the circumstances to achieve public safety.
Australian Bar Association president Matthew Howard SC said that it fully supports the Victorian Bar’s position on this matter: “Whilst the Victorian government needs to take appropriate measures to manage this extraordinary health crisis, these should not be implemented without appropriate oversight and protections.”