Will lockdowns continue in this new Bill?
The Premier and Health Minister will have absolute, unreviewable power to indefinitely keep Victorians in lockdown.
This can be done even if there are zero cases in Victoria and can be for an indefinite period of time.
The good news is, the Premier will give you the reasons as to why he believes it is an emergency- but sadly you (or anyone else in Parliament) cannot disagree with his reasoning as long as he is satisfied there is a serious risk to public health from the (potential) pandemic.
Will there still be rules limiting what I can and cannot do?
The Health Minister can make rules (called Pandemic Orders) to protect everyone from the (potential) pandemic. The primary consideration in making the rule will be whether they are reasonably necessary to protect public health. The Chief Health Officer will provide advice and this advice will be made available to the public.
The rules have not been limited in any way and will continue to be broad reaching and can restrict movement, require masks, or require persons to be subject to detention or quarantine requirements.
If I have a disability, can I be discriminated against?
A Pandemic Order can be directed to specific groups or class of persons. This means it can discriminate against those at most risk of getting the virus such as those in aged card facilities, people in detention facilities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and people with a disability and can specifically cancel or restrict their rights in order to protect the health of the wider community.
Who else will have new powers?
The new rules also allow Authorised Officers such as police officers, Worksafe inspectors and health service providers to take actions and give directions that they believe are reasonably necessary to protect public health.
This will give an individual Authorised Officer the power to restrict movement, detain a person for a period, provide information or even shut down a political protest- so long as they believe it is reasonably necessary to protect public health.
Individuals must provide information to an Authorised Officer, regardless of whether it would implicate them in a wrongdoing.
Their power is unreviewable.
Who will check the rules (Pandemic Orders) are fair and reasonable?
When Pandemic Orders are made, the Health Minister will provide a statement of reasons as to why human rights such as right to movement, right to privacy, right to peaceful assembly and been limited.
Rather than the usual cross party parliamentary committee (ie MP’s from different political parties) to oversee and provide parliamentary oversight of the Pandemic Orders, there will also be an internal government body, controlled by the Premier, that will review the Pandemic Orders, recommend disallowance on narrow grounds, and make recommendations regarding any human rights that are unduly impacted.
A second body, called an Independent Pandemic Management Advisory Committee, made up of human rights, public health and community representatives will also consider the impact of the pandemic orders and table a report in parliament. The committee can only make recommendations.
What if I get caught breaking a Pandemic Order?
Maximum fines: $21,909 (previously $1,817) for an individual breaking Pandemic Order, $109,044 (previously $10,904) for a business
However if you are caught deliberately breaching a quarantine order that has the potential to result in serious risk to health, then you could be fined up to $90,500 or two years imprisonment. Businesses could be fined up to $452,500 .
If I am unhappy with a Pandemic Order how can I complain?
Pandemic Orders will be lawful so long as the Health Minister believes they are reasonably necessary to protect public health. It will be very difficult to prove in a court case that the Pandemic Orders are unlawful so long as the Minster believes they are reasonably necessary to protect public health.
Petitions and letters to MP’s will have some value but as the decisions of the Premier and Health Minister are not open to debate or scrutiny, your voice may not be heard.
Protests have not been expressly disallowed but can still be stopped by the Health Minister or Authorised Officer if they believe it is reasonably necessary to protect public health.
Why is this bill needed?
Under the current law, the state of emergency cannot be extended beyond 15 December 2021. To continue to protect the public health of Victorians a new bill is required.
It is questionable why a bill with such broad reaching powers for an unknown threat in the future is needed right now, when a new specific bill could be introduced that reasonably and proportionally deals with the current pandemic based on the lessons learnt in the last 18 months. If in the future, new powers are needed for a new threat, a new law with backing from both house of parliament can be made to provide appropriate powers relevant to the threat.