We all heard the news yesterday. It was impossible to escape the malaise that descended onto the State of Victoria with the reality that by the end of this week, we may well be living under permanent dictatorship.
Under the Public Health and Wellbeing (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021 (‘the Bill’), the power is vested in the Premier to ‘make a pandemic declaration’ if there is ‘a disease of pandemic potential’ and, get this – there doesn’t even have to be any cases in Victoria for him to do so (S165AB).
There are a myriad of other concerns in this 121-page document, which was released only yesterday and apparently constructed in private consultations with Dan’s favourite three – Fiona Patten, Andy Meddick and Samantha Ratnam.
S165AI allows a pandemic order to be made that can restrict movement, stop people from working, require the production of ID papers, require one to undergo medical examination/testing, or even destroy animals (if they are considered to be a ‘vector of transmission’).
S165AK allows targeting of a group of people according to their ‘characteristics, attributes or circumstances’ (can anyone say ‘the unvaccinated’?). Refusal to comply with a pandemic order without a reasonable excuse is an offence (S165AM) and these orders may be extended at any time (S165A0). Sure, the Minister has to ensure that reasons are tabled in Parliament within 6 days (S165AQ), but we all know that if there is one thing this government is good at, it’s smooth-talking.
There are pandemic management orders (S165B) that allow for detention (just go and try your luck with the Chief Health Officer if you don’t like it – S165BK) and a person can be fined up to $90,000 or face two years in jail if they refuse to comply (S165BO).
In short, it’s horrific.
And, by cleverly excluding the most principled Members of Parliament (David Limbrick, Tim Quilty, Catherine Cumming and Neil Angus) and ensuring they are stripped of their right to vote on our behalf, Dan Andrews has basically ensured victory for himself. A clear path to passing the Bill.
Or has he?
Enter the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (the Charter). It is a requirement that any new Bill that is presented to Parliament must include a statement of compatibility that contemplates how the legislation will impact upon our human rights.
Last year, we were saved in part by the involvement of the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee (SARC), which assessed the proposed COVID-19 laws (the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2020) and put in place amendments that limited the extension of the State of Emergency, removed proposed powers to pre-emptively detain people, and reduced the proposed pool of people who could exercise emergency powers.
S165AS contemplates the role of the SARC and allows it to disallow or amend orders or instruments that contravene our human rights. It also has the power to suspend unjust orders (S165AT). The only problem is, how much injustice will be allowed to prevail before this committee can strike it down? How many people will simply comply due to the reality that their circumstances do not allow them to fight back in a complicated legal system?
If the Bill does pass, the SARC might just be our only hope left.