VIC legislation gives Premier sweeping COVID powers
New legislation that gives Victorian Premier Dan Andrews the power to have the final say on COVID-19 public health orders – rather than the chief health officer – has been slammed as being “unprecedented” and the “most extreme of its kind”.
In responding to news that Mr Andrews will hold sweeping powers to declare pandemics and enforce public health orders for three months at a time, Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy accused the government of overreaching and creating the “most extreme” pandemic legislation in Australia.
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“Placing so much power in the hands of one person … would be unprecedented,” he said. “This bill is the most extreme of its kind that we’ve seen in Australia. While a pandemic requires different approaches, it doesn’t require a law as extreme as this.”
Mr Andrews has defended the legislation, which was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, 26 October, and said the laws were based on New Zealand legislation. He said the legislation would come with an independent oversight committee that consists of public health and human rights experts to review any future public health orders.
In addition to being modelled after New Zealand, Mr Andrews added some parts of the legislation mirrors some elements in NSW and across other states.
“We made a commitment some time ago that we will introduce pandemic specific laws, that we will have set of measures that were not written with a hypothetical in mind,” Mr Andrews said. “That is exactly the framework we have introduced.”
The Victorian government will continue to talk with the crossbench, Mr Andrews said, and negotiate “in good faith” having the arrangements in place well before the current ones expire. He added that making this change was justified as Victoria makes the move to living with the virus but safeguarding against future pandemics.
“They also set us up, having learnt many different things across the journey, for whatever the next pandemic might look like, whenever that might be in the future.”
Chief health officer Brett Sutton told media that he did not feel cut out from the process and instead admitted that having the powers was a “heavy burden”.
“I think there are expectations that the elected representatives in Parliament, the Minister, in particular, the Premier, should have accountability for the final form that public health directions take,” Mr Sutton commented.