The Victorian Bar – the professional association of barristers – has urged the state government to reconsider its controversial new pandemic laws which would grant the Andrews Government “unlimited, unreviewable power”.
Amongst other things, it has expressed concern that the Department of Health could exercise its new powers under the legislation without sufficient oversight by parliament.
Sixty barristers have in turn signed an open letter in which they warn that the legislation would enable the government to effectively rule the state by decree for the foreseeable future.
The bill was passed by the lower house in October and will require the support of at least three crossbenchers in the upper house.
From The Australian:
Some of Melbourne’s most prominent legal figures are among 60 QCs who have now signed an open letter expressing concern that the Andrews government’s pandemic legislation could allow the Premier to “rule the state of Victoria by decree”.
Signatories of the letter, first circulated late last month, now include Black Saturday bushfires royal commissioner Jack Rush QC, former chief crown prosecutor Gavin Silbert SC and former IBAC deputy commissioner Andrew Kirkham QC.
The new signatures come as the Victorian Bar renewed its calls for the Andrews government to reconsider the controversial legislation, warning the bill would provide “grossly insufficient parliamentary supervision” over the power it will grant the health minister to exercise…
The Bar’s 12-page submission to the health department’s expert reference group on the bill comes after the legislation passed the Lower House last month, 51 votes to 26.
While Labor holds 55 of 88 Lower House seats, it is expected to gain the required support of at least three crossbenchers to pass the legislation in the Upper House later this month.
The open letter expresses grave concern that the bill, if passed, “may allow the Victorian government effectively to rule the State of Victoria by decree for the foreseeable future, without proper parliamentary oversight or the usual checks and balances on executive power.”
The QCs state in their letter that the bill would effectively confer “an unlimited and practically unreviewable power” on the state’s health minister.
“The minister can make a pandemic order while a “pandemic declaration” made by the Premier is in force. Given the low threshold for the making of this declaration (s 165AB) and the fact that COVID-19 is unlikely to be going away any time soon, we can expect a pandemic declaration to be in force for the foreseeable future,” the QCs argued.
Earlier this week, the Victorian Bar released a summary of its submission to the Victorian Government, which labels the laws grossly undemocratic and calls for fundamental reform:
The essence of the Victorian Bar’s concern is that the Bill seeks to take powers that were intended to be used for a very limited period of up to six months in an unforeseen emergency, and to entrench them as the ordinary method of dealing with pandemic diseases over extended periods.
The Victorian Bar emphasises that the rule of law, the sovereignty of Parliament and the checks and balances of our democratic Westminster system of government must be respected, even in times of emergency or crisis. While broad emergency powers that circumscribe ordinary checks and balances of our democracy may be justified to deal with an unforeseen crisis in the short term, they are not appropriate for the management of risks over extended periods…
The Victorian Bar believes that the Bill provides grossly insufficient Parliamentary supervision over the Minister’s exercise of that power…
The Victorian Bar recommends that the Bill be amended so that:
- The power of Parliament to disallow a pandemic order, in whole or part, is not conditional on the recommendation of SARC or any other body;
- Disallowance be by passing a motion in either House of Parliament, in accordance with the ordinary process under the Subordinate Legislation Act 1994; and
- There is protection for persons who are alleged to have failed to comply with a pandemic order that is subsequently disallowed…
[The Bill] authorises extreme limitations of basic liberties of all Victorians and confers enormous powers on the executive. It is among the most important pieces of legislation to come before the Victorian Parliament in decades.
Serious concerns about the Bill have been raised publicly by a number of legal organisations, including the Victorian Bar.
The Victorian Bar urges the government to delay the introduction of the Bill into the upper house, so as to seriously consider the issues that have been raised, and make amendments to the Bill.
The Victorian Bar is ready to provide further assistance to ensure that this Bill better upholds rule of law.
Victoria is the closest thing in Australia to a ‘one party state’. One party states breed authoritarian leaders like Daniel Andrews, who also happens to be in bed with the CCP (as evidenced by his ‘Belt & Road’ deal).
The situation will only change when Victorians wake up and vote this guy out. Sadly, despite the world’s longest lockdown, Australia’s worst COVID outcomes, and heavy-handed tactics by the police, Victorians seem to be afflicted with a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome.
The fact that the Victorian Liberal Party is utterly useless is also not helping the situation. Victoria desperately needs a strong opposition.