Last week, the Victorian Bar – the professional association of barristers – urged the state government to reconsider its controversial new pandemic laws which would grant the Andrews Government “unlimited, unreviewable power” that “authorises extreme limitations of basic liberties of all Victorians and confers enormous powers on the executive”.
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.
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The Victorian Bar was later joined by solicitors and human rights activists in opposing the bill, as summarised below:
Yesterday, the Victorian Government was forced to water down the bill and Premier Daniel Andrews said the Government will not back down on its controversial pandemic laws, despite the growing opposition. Andrews is also confident that the bill will be passed by parliament’s upper house with the support of three crossbenchers and with no further amendments.
However, Victorian Bar president Roisn Annesley has hit back, claiming the amendments that have been accepted by the government do not go far enough in protecting the rule of law, and contends that they do not address the most fundamental problems with the bill. Other groups have also joined the fight against the bill:
The Victorian Bar, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Liberty Victoria, the state Ombudsman and most crossbench MPs have doubled down on their opposition to the controversial pandemic management Bill, set to be voted on Wednesday…
“The proposed amendments largely address low-priority issues and not the most fundamental problems with the Bill,” [Roisn Annesley] said.
“The major issues include the lack of effective parliamentary control over the minister’s pandemic orders and the lack of provision for an independent review of authorised officers’ exercise of power.”Ms Annesley’s views were echoed by Law Institute of Victoria president Tania Wolff, who urged MPs to keep working on the Bill and to resist rushing it through parliament.
“The LIV continues to have concerns over some aspects of the Bill and urges members of parliament to continue working through amendments to the legislation to ensure it is fit for the purpose of protecting our democracy and safeguarding members of the community,” she said.
Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief Paul Guerra said there were still too many unresolved issues with the proposed laws.
“It is crucial that our legislators get it right, particularly with the lens of how a future, and unknown, government may apply it,” Mr Guerra said…
Ombudsman Deborah Glass raised similar concerns, warning the proposed changes still failed to provide a “greater level of independent oversight”.
Below is a summary of concerns after the amendments:
Interestingly, the NSW Government has abandoned plans to extend its COVID-19 emergency powers. Health Minister Brad Hazzard had proposed legislation to extend these powers until March 2023, but Premier Dominic Perrottet moved to drop the bill amid opposition within the Coalition partyroom.
Amongst other things, some government MPs are believed to have feared a similar backlash to the Victorian Labor government’s controversial pandemic bill.
The bigger question is why implement such draconian laws given Victoria is about to hit the 90% full vaccination target? The bill is a massive overreach.
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