According to legal experts, the eleventh-hour amendments to the Public Health and Wellbeing (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021 are a Trojan Horse for the people of Victoria.
The changes were predominately organised by cross-benchers in exchange for their support after an outpouring of public criticism. The legislation is being discussed in the Upper House this week.
Though the Bill has been ‘watered down’, it remains a dictatorial mandate which maintains the key points objected to by the 60 QCs who signed an open letter to Daniel Andrews.
One lawyer has pointed out several red flags, such as the Labor government rushing the Bill through parliament without giving sufficient time for anyone to review the amendments. These changes cannot be properly scrutinised by legal minds, especially as the amended Bill is not yet public.
Of the information released, the amendments do not change the crux of the legislation.
The three month extension block has been lowered to one month.
Stronger threshold for declaring a pandemic – however it still relies on the Premier’s opinion.
The maximum fines for aggravated offences against health orders have been halved.
Parliament will have some input into validating and dissolving pandemic extensions.
Strengthened human rights protections which now includes the application of the Charter of Human Rights to all orders and actions.
The ‘discrimination based on personal attributes’ section has been modified to only include a health status – in other words, the Premier will still be able to make laws that actively discriminate against the unvaccinated.
A right of appeal has been added so that citizens have some way of defending themselves against health orders.
Guaranteed resourcing for the independent oversight committee.
Stronger powers for the parliamentary Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee.
Authorised officers can no longer enter residential premises without a warrant.
All the issues which have caused serious concern among legal authorities remain in place.
For example, the halving of the fines and penalties for breaching public health orders has taken the maximum penalty from $90,000 to $45,000. Both fines present the same ruinous threat to the ordinary citizen. The problem of pandemic fines being outrageously severe has not been resolved.
The ‘stronger threshold for declaring a pandemic’ is not clearly defined or quantified. Adding ‘reasonable grounds’ to the Premier’s decision to declare a pandemic is a subjective assessment which still rests with the Premier. How does parliamentary oversight ensure that the threshold for triggering emergency pandemic powers has been reached if there are no definitive guidelines?
This means that the premier can still declare a pandemic without the presence of active cases – or even a virus – so long as the premier believes that the potential exists and constitutes ‘reasonable grounds’.
SIGN THE PETITION TO KILL THE BILL.
Have the issues surrounding human rights really been resolved with the inclusion of ‘must be relevant to a public health risk’? Not only does this clarify the Premier’s intention to actively discriminated against the unvaccinated – there is nothing to prevent him declaring political affiliation ‘relevant to public health’. On these grounds, those Victorians who do not agree with public health orders could be targeted with discriminatory health orders that severely impact their ordinary lives.
Further to this, the right to protest is not enshrined. Daniel Andrews could, if this Bill is passed, decide to ban all public protests against his government in the interest of ‘public health’.
Legal experts are gravely concerned that the announced amendments are merely window dressing designed to quieten criticism against the Bill while essentially passing it in its original form.
In a statement today, the Victorian Bar president Bar Róisín Annesley QC said the Victorian Government’s proposed amendments to the Pandemic Management Bill do not go far enough to protect the rule of law.
“The proposed amendments largely address low priority issues and not the most fundamental problems with the Bill,” she said.