Concerns over Victoria’s new pandemic Bill

Member for Morwell Russell Northe opposed a new pandemic Bill that passed through the legislative assembly last week. photograph michelle slater

Michelle Slater

Member for Morwell Russell Northe has slammed potential pandemic legislation before parliament that could give the state government “unfettered powers”.

Mr Northe was responding to the Public Health and Wellbeing Bill that passed the legislative assembly (lower house) last week, but is yet to be voted upon in the legislative council (upper house).

If passed, these pandemic-specific laws would replace the current State of Emergency which expires on December 15.

“This will give health officials and government ministers unfettered powers for extended periods without any proper parliamentary oversight,” Mr Northe said.

“On principle, I could not support this, the way the government tried to bulldoze this thing through, it was simply undemocratic and unfair.”

The new legislation could allow the Premier to declare a pandemic for three months with no outer limit on the total duration of a declaration.

The new laws would allow the Health Minister to approve public health orders on the advice of the Chief Health Officer.

It would also include an independent oversight committee made up of public health and human rights experts to review any public health orders.

But Mr Northe believed the Bill had been rushed through the lower house on Thursday, giving MPs less than three days to consider the details before voting on it.

He said MPs were given little time to consider “hundreds and hundreds” of pages of legislation, instead of the usual fortnight to allow for deliberation.

“There are some decisions that should be tested in the parliamentary sense, but they are not,” Mr Northe said.

“Whilst I understand the government needs some powers to enact the State of Emergency – I’m not opposed to that- but what I am opposed to is such broad powers and seemingly no end date with these new laws.”

However, some crossbenchers including The Greens have supported the Bill, stating the changes would protect QR code data and introduce concessional fines for vulnerable people.

The state government said the Bill incorporates best practice public health administration from other jurisdictions like New Zealand, and introduces greater transparency and accountability.

Health Minister Martin Foley said the framework took the best components from Australia and overseas and “adds them to our already robust response”.

“At the core to this framework is accountability and transparency in decision-making, while ensuring public health advice is central to any pandemic response,” Mr Foley said.