Bar Association labels Victoria’s new pandemic legislation ‘appalling’

Bar Association labels Victoria’s new pandemic legislation ‘appalling’

28 October 2021 By Naomi Neilson
Victorian Bar president Christopher Blanden QC

New Victorian legislation that will grant Premier Dan Andrews the final say in public health order decisions, including declaring pandemics, has been criticised by the state’s Bar Association for being an “unlimited interference” in residents’ liberties.

Under the new legislation, Mr Andrews will have the sweeping powers to not only declare pandemics but to enforce public health orders for three months at a time. Although he defended this legislation due to its similarities in New Zealand and other states, the Victorian Bar Association said it was an “appalling” decision.

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Victorian Bar president Christopher Blanden QC said the primary concern is that the bill confers effectively unlimited powers on the Health Minister to rule by decree, for an indefinite period and without effective juridical or parliamentary oversight. Mr Blanden said it is the “greatest challenge to the rule of law” in decades.

“The bill also contains many other problematic provisions, including conferring very broad power on authorised officers without effective review or oversight, gathering police power to enter premises without a warrant and abrogating privilege against self-incrimination,” Mr Blanden said, adding: “The bill lacks the appropriate checks and balances to ensure the proper exercise of these powers.”

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The bill is due to be debated in the Legislative Council, with Mr Blanden cautioning that this period of discussion and debate should be reasonable because there is “simply no excuse for pushing it through the way it has been”.

Mr Blanden said he was offended that the Minister of Heath’s Bill Summary states that an “expert reference group” discussed the bill and named the Victorian Bar as one of its external stakeholders. This, he said, was not true.

Instead, Mr Blanden said he took part in a 45-minute online meeting organised by the Department of Health in June 2021. Although the broad issue of declaration of pandemics was raised, “there was no further contact”.

“The Victorian Bar was never provided with a draft bill. Two members of the Victorian Bar Council were registered to attend a one-hour ‘consultation workshop’ in September 2021. This workshop was cancelled at short notice and was never rescheduled.”

Bar Association labels Victoria’s new pandemic legislation ‘appalling’
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