Victoria’s Covid omnibus bill unlikely to pass upper house as one MP slams it as ‘arrogant’ | Australia news

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Daniel Andrews’ contentious Covid-19 omnibus bill to expand powers of public servants looks set to fail unless significantly amended in the upper house, with one independent MP slamming the government’s move as “arrogant” and “bloody-minded”.

The Covid-19 omnibus (emergency measures) and other acts amendment bill 2020, which passed Victoria’s lower house last week, would grant the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services power to appoint anybody considered “appropriate” to the role of an authorised officer.

The proposed laws would mirror existing powers in New South Wales and Queensland, where health departments in those states can already appoint public servants with broad powers to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Authorised officers can detain someone who has tested positive for Covid-19, or is the close contact of a positive case, for a period “reasonably necessary to eliminate a serious risk to public health” if it is “reasonably believed” they will fail to comply with a direction to self-quarantine.

The detention powers are similar to those already allowed, but the proposal to increase the number and scope of people who can unilaterally apply them was criticised by legal and human rights groups as an overreach, and lacking appropriate oversight.

The laws have largely been written to bring Victoria in line with NSW and Queensland, according to briefings provided to upper house MPs by the departments of premier and cabinet, health and justice.

The public health acts in both states specify that the head of the health departments can appoint authorised officers in a similar way to that proposed in Victoria.

Neither the Queensland or NSW acts specify detention powers as clearly as those in Victoria, despite authorised officers in those states wielding considerable clout; such as being able to apply for warrants to search properties in Queensland, or being able to impose the functions of any other act in NSW.

It appears the reforms are unlikely to pass Victoria’s upper house, with eight of the 11 crossbench MPs representing independents, Greens and seven minor parties planning to vote down the bill in its current form.

Independent MP Adem Somyurek, a former Labor MP who was expelled from the party earlier this year after a Nine media expose into branch stacking, said he will abstain from voting. Coalition MPs will vote against the bill in its current form.

A spokeswoman for Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick said he was still considering his position.

Jeff Bourman from the Shooters and Fishers Party and Clifford Hayes from Sustainable Australia did not respond to a request for comment, but neither are expected to support the bill, according to others who serve with them in the legislative council.

The Andrews government would need three crossbench MPs to vote with it to pass the bill, or four in the unlikely event that it cannot confirm a replacement for outgoing health minister and upper house MP Jenny Mikakos before parliament returns on 13 October.

According to crossbench MPs who spoke to Guardian Australia, government briefings regarding the bill have outlined a series of scenarios where the powers could be valuable.

These scenarios included requiring culturally and linguistically diverse people to act as authorised officers to avoid a repeat of the logistical difficulties involved when public housing towers were locked down in July, or to deal with a cluster in the Afghan community which emerged in September.

Other scenarios were detaining people who were unlikely to abide by isolation requirements because of an ideological view or a mental impairment; allowing WorkSafe inspectors to more efficiently crackdown on rogue workplaces; and requiring a wider range of people such as firefighters to work as authorised officers in regional Victoria.

Reason Party MP Fiona Patten said that despite the scenarios outlined during her briefing, a compelling case was not made to support the bill in its current form.

“As I said to them: ‘It seems to be a solution looking for a problem’,” she said.

Similarly, independent Catherine Cumming said it was unclear what the bill was trying to achieve, and savaged the government for a lack of meaningful consultation.

“They haven’t obviously got infection control … in order yet.

“We’re six months into a pandemic and it would seem they still haven’t got that right, the whole community is locked down, so we’re all detained at the moment. How is that going to make anything better?

“They’re very arrogant and bloody-minded around this.”

Tim Read, a lower house MP and the Greens’ justice spokesman, said upper house MP Samantha Ratnam would back the bill if it was amended to specifically prevent police, protective services officers, and private security guards from being appointed authorised officers.

He said issues regarding the failure of the independent broad-based anti-corruption commission to be properly resourced or legislated to investigate police, and concerns about how police had enforced Covid-related laws during the pandemic, meant they should not be handed broader powers.

Liberal Democrats Tim Quilty and David Limbrick, Derryn Hinch Justice Party MPs Stuart Grimley and Tania Maxwell, and Transport Matters Party MP Rodney Barton confirmed they were all set to vote down the bill.

All crossbenchers agreed that the majority of the bill which did not deal with authorised officers should be passed, as it simply allowed the government to continue to operate vital services such as courts until April.

The premier said when the laws were introduced that he believed they struck a balance between enforcement and personal freedoms.

Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Victoria’s Covid omnibus bill unlikely to pass upper house as one MP slams it as ‘arrogant’ | Australia news

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