The Daniel Andrews Labor Government in Victoria has proposed two years in jail or a $90,000 fine for anyone who ‘intentionally and recklessly’ violates a public health order related to the Covid pandemic. Businesses face crippling fines of $455,000 for the same offence.
“We need specific [Covid pandemic] laws [...] that will protect us and keep us safe. That was our commitment, and that’s what we have delivered,” said Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.
The introduction of jail sentences and ruinous fines is, according to the Bill’s supporting documentation, intended to:
- Deter and support a proportionate response to the most egregious pandemic-related behaviours by providing for an aggravated offence.
- Deter body corporate entities from non-compliance with pandemic orders by providing court-imposed penalties based on a multiple of any commercial benefit resulting from a breach of a pandemic order.
In other words, if a businesses refused to discriminate against the unvaccinated and made a profit for doing so, they would be severely punished by the state.
There are a range of Bills related to the state of emergency and pandemic response tabled by the government, all of which dramatically change the powers of the Minister and Chief Health Officer.
These bills nearly double the length of time an emergency can be put in place while allowing the Minister to extend the emergency in three-month blocks.
This is an urgent issue for the government, as the original 6 month limit has already been in place for 21 months and is due to expire on 15 December, 2021. If the emergency powers finish, the government would no longer be able to enforce health orders on the public.
A state of emergency for a pandemic can also so be declared even if there are zero local cases in the state. They also include provisions for detaining or discriminating against ‘classes of people’, which is believed to provide the state room to apply penalties to unvaccinated citizens.
Specifically, the Bill seeks to distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated citizens ‘in a range of settings according to public health risk’.
The Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021 is attracting particular criticism for its creation of extensive powers for Premier Daniel Andrews. The Minister for Health will also receive broad powers that can be exercised by the Chief Health Officer described as a ‘non-exhaustive list of powers’.
While the Health Minister Martin Foley expressed support, explaining that transparent decision-making lay at the heart of the Bill – the Liberal Party and social media have accused Labor or drafting an ‘incredible attack on democracy’.
“That part of the discussion is but what 1% of the government’s proposal. No one talked about imposing the ability of the Premier to shut down a protest or individuals on the basis of their characteristics,” said Leader of the Opposition, Matthew Guy.
The Daniel Andrews government admits that ‘because of the short timeframe and the complexity involved in developing this Bill, consultation has not been as extensive as it would normally be’.
This is despite the permanent and dramatic change to Victorian law proposed, which is expected to impact every citizen in the state.