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Pandemic powers law reaches Vic parliament


By Benita Kolovos in Melbourne
Source: AAP

The Victorian government is set to introduce new laws to parliament that would allow the health minister to make public health orders for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several MPs have confirmed to AAP the Public Health and Wellbeing (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021 will be introduced to the lower house when parliament resumes on Tuesday.

The bill is expected to permanently replace the current state of emergency, which has been in place for more than 18 months and expires on December 15.

“The bill establishes several mechanisms designed to improve the transparency of pandemic decision-making and accountability of decision-makers to parliament and the community,” a summary of the bill reads.

According to the summary, sent to MPs on Monday night, the bill will provide the health minister with “broad powers to make pandemic orders” on the advice of the chief health officer.

Currently, only Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton can issue such orders.

The laws will bring Victoria in line with jurisdictions such as NSW and New Zealand, where the health minister is directly accountable to parliament.

Public health orders will be able to “differentiate between people in a range of settings according to public health risk: for example, vaccination status”, while the premier will have the power to “declare” a pandemic and extend it in three-month blocks for as long as considered necessary.

An aggravated offence will be created to “deter … the most egregious pandemic-related behaviours”, while court-imposed penalties will be introduced to stop businesses from receiving “any commercial benefit resulting from a breach of a pandemic order”.

An independent oversight committee will review public orders and their impact on human rights, while public health advice will need to be made public.

The government said it has consulted with community groups, health and human rights experts and legal stakeholders on the proposed laws.

The bill is expected to pass the lower house, where Labor has a commanding majority, but in the upper house the government will require the backing of three of the 11 crossbenchers.

Greens leader Samantha Ratnam said she’s been negotiating with the government on the proposed laws, which she described as “a big improvement and much fairer for the whole Victorian community”.

Tuesday’s sitting is also the first since a vaccine mandate came into effect banning MPs from parliament if they refuse to provide proof of their vaccination status.

All members and staff are required to prove they’ve had one dose to continue working on-site, or have an appointment booked before October 22. They will also need to have their second dose by November 26.

It comes as Victoria recorded 1461 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases and seven deaths on Monday, including a woman in her 20s who had the virus but died of an unrelated cause. The deaths take the toll from the current outbreak to 230.

More than 74 per cent of Victorians aged over 16 are fully vaccinated and the state is tipped to hit its 80 per cent target some time this weekend, with restrictions to ease further at 6pm on Friday.

Almost all coronavirus restrictions will end once 90 per cent of the population aged over 12 are fully vaccinated, forecast to occur about November 24. But restrictions will remain for the unvaccinated.

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