7 December, 2021
Premier Daniel Andrews will likely declared a pandemic under the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021, as the State of Emergency powers expire on December 15.
Victoria will be the first state in Australia to have pandemic-specific legislation, giving the government in power the legal framework it needs to manage health emergencies, including vaccine mandates and face mask rules.
The bill gives Victoria’s Premier and Health Minister power to declare a pandemic three months at a time and enforce restrictions.
The legislation was passed in state parliament after months of debate over amendments and clauses to the bill in hopes of finding more support to get it across the line.
Four crossbenchers – Greens’ Samantha Ratnam, Reason Party Fiona Patten, Animal Justice Party Andy Meddick and Transport Matters MP Rod Barton – helped the bill pass 20 votes to 18 after a marathon 21-hour debate in in the upper house on Tuesday.
A deal was finally struck after the Andrews government agreed to make a number of amendments to the legislation to “curb the powers” of Mr Andrews.
The most significant amendment to the new powers was the establishment of an independent panel which would review all detention orders.
The amendments also included the provision of a new Parliamentary joint committee to review pandemic orders which will be given the authority to make disallowance motions, but these would need to be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament.
The six new changes agreed to by Mr Barton include:
- Establish a new joint committee, the Pandemic Declaration Accountability and Oversight Committee (PDAOC), which would be chaired by a non-government MP and would have a majority of members who are not from the government, to make recommendations about health
- Health directions could be disallowed on the advice of the PDAOC if supported by a majority joint sitting of both the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council’
- The pandemic-specified legislation would need to be reviewed independently by health and law experts, beginning 18 months after the laws commence and reporting after two years
- A detention appeal panel makes binding decisions within 72 hours of an appeal application, after taking advice from the chief health officer
- Clarifies complaints about detention orders can be investigated by the Ombudsman. Parliament or a committee can also refer matters to the Ombudsman
- Aggravated offences have been removed from the bill. Breaches of the bill can no longer carry a prison term, however, fines for failing to comply can still attract a $10,904 fine
Mr Andrews and Health Minister Martin Foley spruiked the bill will protect accountability and transparency with clearer framework to help manage the next phase of the coronavirus and future pandemics.
Further protests against the pandemic bill and vaccine mandates are expected in coming weeks with organisers vowing to rally “every day” to cause disruption across Victoria.
Thousands have been protesting the last couple of months calling for the sacking of Mr Andrews and to “kill” the pandemic bill.
The Opposition vowed in October they will ditch the legislation if they were voted in at the next election.
“I give an absolute guarantee: when we come back to government in this state, we will repeal this law because it is fundamentally right to do so,” he said.
“This is a democracy. People fought and died for this democracy. The separation of the judiciary and this parliament is so important.”
He took aim at the worsening mental health crisis, growing hospital waitlists, unemployment rate, the state’s reported record debt and over-spending on the government’s infrastructure projects at the Liberal Party State Council on Sunday.
“The most OVID cases, the most COVID deaths, and of course as the tag comes with sadly, the city with the world’s longest lockdowns,” he said.
Despite growing frustration with Mr Andrews, he remains on track for a third term based on Newspoll data from late November.
The Labor Party lead the Coalition 58 per cent to 42 per cent on a two-party preferred basis with under just one year till the next state election.