The Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021 (“the Bill”) introduced by the Victorian state government into the Legislative Assembly on 26 October is a demand for power that is unprecedented in Australia’s peacetime history.
The purpose of the Bill is to insert into the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 provisions which would confer additional, extraordinary, and permanent powers to the state government to enable it to respond to pandemics.
In effect, the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021 gives Daniel Andrews dictatorial powers. It would allow the Premier and his officials to:
- Impose indefinite lockdowns even if there were no cases of the virus in the country (new sections 165AE & 165AI)
- Imprison people without trial (new section 165BA(1)(b)
- Arrest people because of their religion, political beliefs, or ethnic background (new section 165AK(4)).
All these powers would be exercised without the control or scrutiny of the Parliament or the courts (new sections 165AG(6), 165AQ(2), 165AT(3) & 165BI).
Analysis of the proposed legislation by the Institute of Public Affairs reveals the Bill
is fundamentally antithetical to parliamentary democracy. Specifically the proposed legislation would violate fundamental democratic principles in the following six ways:
- The Bill gives the Premier and the health minister the power to rule by decree indefinitely
- The Bill allows the health minister to use draconian powers against people based on their religion, political beliefs, or ethnic background
- The Bill grants sweeping powers to authorised officers and abrogates the privilege against self-incrimination
- The Bill grants authorised officers the power to detain people without trial indefinitely which abrogates the ancient right of habeas corpus
- The Bill allows the health minister and authorised officers to exercise draconian powers which could not be challenged in the courts
- The Bill allows the government to exercise draconian powers without the scrutiny of parliament.
It is during an emergency in which the government is exercising extraordinary powers that checks and balances on the use of that power is more important, as there is a greater capacity for power to be abused. It is not an excuse to indefinitely suspend parliamentary democracy, which will be the case if the Bill is passed by the Legislative Council.