Daniel Andrews backs down on controversial detention powers bill
The Andrews government will abandon measures of detention powers and tightened restrictions in a controversial bill seen as vital to Victoria’s second wave response.
Controversial changes allowing the appointment of unspecified authorised officers with powers to detain people on a “reasonable belief” they will not comply with public health directions were seen as a major overreach by several MPs, legal bodies, and civil liberties groups.
Legal and civil rights groups had raised concerns over the proposed laws, saying the bill appeared to lack oversight and represented an unreasonable increase in powers to police the pandemic.
The bill had passed the Labor-controlled lower house, but the government failed to win over enough crossbench MPs in the upper house.
Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said that the government had agreed to remove the proposed new detention provision from the Omnibus Bill currently before the Parliament.
“We have always said we would negotiate in good faith,” Ms Hennessy said.
“These changes address concerns raised throughout those negotiations while continuing to deliver the temporary, necessary changes we need to respond to the challenges the pandemic presents.”
The amended bill specifies who can be appointed as an authorised officer and sets out the powers that Victoria Police and WorkSafe officers can exercise.
New authorised officers will only be given the specific powers relevant to their role, which they are suitably trained or qualified to use.
Shadow attorney-general Ed O'Donohue welcomed the backdown, describing the original bill as a “massive overreach”.
“There’s the risk it’s open to abuse, there’s potential for it to play into a concerning trend of citizens in Victoria being turned on each other,” he said
“I also congratulate the legal experts and the thousands of everyday Victorians who have reached out to members of parliament, many for the first time, to express their alarm at this power grab by the Andrews government.”
Mr O'Donohue said it was “pathetic” that Premier Daniel Andrews did not release the decision to withdraw part of the bill before his daily media briefing.
“Make no mistake, this has only come about because of the Liberal-Nationals, together with the crossbench members, standing up to Daniel Andrews and telling him this is wrong,” he told reporters.
Last month, lawyer Michael Borsky QC said allowing someone to be detained based on what they might do in the future was a “very unusual legal construct”.
The Victorian Bar, as well as a group of 14 retired judges and leading QCs, had written to the government warning against the emergency measure.