Victoria is reportedly set to give Premier Dan Andrews sweeping new powers to declare pandemics and enforce public health orders for months at a time.
The proposed laws, which have been seen by ABC News, are designed to replace Victoria’s state of emergency powers and give the premier the ability to make “pandemic declarations” that can be extended for three months at a time with unlimited duration.
The new powers will also give Victoria’s health minister the ability to sign off on public health orders instead of the chief health officer.
Andrews told ABC News the new laws reflected the state governments learnings throughout the pandemic so far.
“When you’re in this stage of this pandemic, you need to have a broader focus, and that’s exactly what these new arrangements will underpin,” he said.
“They also set us up, having learnt many things along the journey, for whatever that next pandemic might look like, whenever that might be into the future.”
State opposition leader Matthew Guy said the legislation is “the most extreme” in any state or territory and places “unprecedented” power in the hands of one person.
“We see these laws as an incredible attack on democracy, usurping the parliament, usurping the cabinet process, which is what exists in New South Wales, and then allowing the premier to effectively rule by decree, for months on end,” Guy told ABC News.
“In short, this bill is the most extreme of its kinds that we’ve seen in Australia. While a pandemic requires different approaches, it doesn’t require a law as extreme as this.”
However, Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley told Sky News the new legislation was modelled on New Zealand and NSW and would position the state government to become the “most accountable, transparent, and public health-focused system” in the country.
“Under the updated pandemic management framework, the chief health officer’s public health advice will, in fact, be more central, more transparent and more present in the public debate than ever,” he said.
According to Foley, the declaration of a pandemic can be made for four weeks initially, but can be extended “for a three month period until the pandemic no longer represents a serious risk to the community”.
The new laws will include an independent committee of public health and human rights experts to review public health orders, which must be made public and tabled in parliament so the reasons behind the decisions can be understood by the public.
Featured image source: YouTube/ABC News (Australia)