Herald Sun - Pandemic Power Play Nasty or Necessary?

My Opinion Pieces
October 27, 2021

The Premier is asking parliament for powers that would enable him to rule by decree throughout 2022.

Victorians know that Covid is here to stay. Community transmission of Covid will provide Andrews with the trigger to declare a pandemic. These provisions are virtually identical powers that enabled the government to lock us down for 263 days during the current state of emergency declaration.

The pandemic declaration replaces the state of emergency and will give Andrews, personally, after consulting with Brett Sutton and the Health Minister, the power to lock Victorians down, impose curfews and ongoing restrictions at the flick of his pen for three months in duration without parliamentary approval.

To get a further three months, no vote of parliament is required. He can continue with restrictions throughout 2022, bysimply renewing his pandemic declaration.

The government has argued there won’t be any lockdowns when we reach over ninety per cent fully vaccinated. The government has argued that when Victoria reaches ninety per cent the only restrictions they will enforce will be to lockout unvaccinated Victorians from virtually the entire economy, and for the purposes of managing quarantine for returning unvaccinated Australians and non-Australian residents.

Why then doesn’t this pandemic legislation only relate to quarantine and vaccination status, if it’s not the government’s intention to enforce further restrictions on Victorians next year? I don’tagree with locking unvaccinated Victorians out of the economy for next year, the distinction is important for the moment, but certainly not next year. But why is Andrews attempting to give himself virtually permanent emergency powers if his intention isn’t to enforce lockdowns, and ongoing restrictions in 2022?

There are some very nasty aspects to this legislation. The government is explicitly asking parliament to give itself the power to target ‘specified classes’ and ‘specified persons’ with pandemic orders.

These orders may be applied to an individual’s participation or presence at an event, undertaking an activity, but most worrying of all, their attributes, characteristics or circumstances.

Under the Equal Opportunity Act these attributes include age, gender, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, political belief or physical features. Inadvertent breaches of pandemic orders could result in an individual being fined $22,000 or a corporation being fined $108,000. This is extreme.

Do Victorians want this sort of extreme power at Mr Andrews’ fingertips? Given Mr Andrews' ongoing tussle with the truth and his government’s propensity to cover up, obfuscate and be less than accountable, I find this power grab particularly worrying.

The Liberal Nationals will oppose this draconian pandemic legislation because it’s wrong and the Premier can’t be trusted with these extreme powers. We have introduced an amendment to the Victorian Constitution that would stop the government giving itself ongoing emergency powers. The amendment limits the ability of the Victorian Government to declare an emergency or pandemic for no more than 30 days unless it secures a special majority vote in both Houses of Parliament.