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Covid Victoria: Dan Andrews’ pandemic power grab bill is set to FAIL

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Disgraced former Victorian Labor MP Adem Somyurek says he will vote against the state government’s pandemic bill, after his parliamentary suspension was lifted allowing him to take part in the vote.

Debate on the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill is set to resume on Thursday but a final vote may come as late as Friday, with MPs advised parliament could sit an extra day.

The Victorian government had been confident the bill would pass after delivering amendments to secure the support of upper house crossbenchers – the Greens’ Samantha Ratnam, Reason Party MP Fiona Patten and Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews wants the controversial bill to pass before December 15 when current emergency powers expire

Adem Somyurek is seen outside his home in Melbourne after explosive allegations he stacked Labor branches with supporters for the gain of his political faction against Labor rules

Adem Somyurek is seen outside his home in Melbourne after explosive allegations he stacked Labor branches with supporters for the gain of his political faction against Labor rules

But the return of Mr Somyurek – who quit the party before he was expelled for leading a widespread branch-stacking operation – opens the door for him to cast the deciding vote.

In an opinion piece published in the Herald Sun on Thursday, Mr Somyurek said he planned to vote against the bill due to its ‘coercive powers’

The current bill gives too much power to the government, lacks independent oversight and ‘appropriate mechanisms’ to scrutinise the new powers, he argued.

‘I will not support this bill in its current form, and I would encourage the government to go back to the drawing board and consult more broadly,’ the MP wrote.

A no vote by Mr Somyurek would result in a tie, meaning the bill would have to be reintroduced in parliament’s lower house.

Victoria’s current state of emergency expires on December 15 and cannot be extended.

The bill has become a lightning rod for anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination groups, who have occupied the steps of state parliament this week.

On Monday, they gathered around a wooden gallows on ‘freedom’, ‘traitor’, ‘kill Dan Andrews’ and ‘hang Dan Andrews’, as an inflatable doll depicting the premier was thrown onto the structure.

On Wednesday night, Victoria Police confirmed the driver of the black Toyota Landcruiser which had been towing the gallows had been spoken to by officers.

The man, a 48-year-old from Badger Creek, was issued a warning for traffic offences.

Some protesters held three nooses, in possible reference to the three crossbench MPs who decide whether the bill passes

Some protesters held three nooses, in possible reference to the three crossbench MPs who decide whether the bill passes

The laws, which have passed Victoria’s lower house and are being debated in the upper house this week, would give the premier the power to declare a pandemic for an unlimited period of time even if there are no cases of a virus.

The move would let the health minister make ‘any order’ he deems reasonably necessary’ which could include lockdowns, vaccine mandates, enforced mask-wearing and much more, with fines of up to $454,350 for rule-breakers.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the premier’s bid to secure more power was ‘confusing’ when Australia is finally opening up after 18 months of Covid-19 restrictions – and said Aussies want governments to stop interfering in their lives. 

‘Victorians have gone through the worst of the pandemic… I can understand their frustration where governments are seeking to have more involvement in their lives,’ he told radio 3AW on Friday.

Premier Dan Andrews was depicted as a rat in another placard held by protesters

Premier Dan Andrews was depicted as a rat in another placard held by protesters

Last week Victoria’s top barristers called for Mr Andrews to delay and wind back the proposed laws. 

Victorian Bar president Christopher Blanden QC previously called the proposed laws ‘extreme’ and said the Stasi, the secret police in communist East Germany from 1950 to 1990, would be happy with the powers.  

What are the main concerns with the Bill? 

No definition of a pandemic

Broad powers to the Health Minister to make ‘any order’

Reasons for detaining someone not defined

‘Breathtakingly broad’ powers to public officials to enforce laws

Allows orders such as lockdowns to apply to people based on political views or association

Health advice does not have to be published until 14 days after decision

Rules that breach human rights laws may not be invalidated and overturned

Source: Victorian Bar    

On Wednesday the Bar – made up of hundreds of top barristers – published a submission to the Department of Health which listed several problems with the laws and demanded changes.  

In its submission, the Bar said it wants a definition of a ‘pandemic disease’ to be spelled out and the health minister’s power to be limited to specific actions.

The lawyers want the minister to have to consider the ‘harm and inconvenience’ his orders may cause before he makes them.

The Bar said the law gives ‘breathtakingly broad’ powers to public officials who would be able to ‘take any action or give any direction’ – except detain someone – to enforce pandemic orders and wants these powers to have a time limit.

The laws would also allow the health minister to order someone be detained. The lawyers want the reasons for possible detention spelled out and an independent review process to oversee this.

The Bar has also raised concerns the laws allow orders such as lockdowns to be applied to people based on attributes protected by the Equal Opportunity Act such as race, gender and political association.

‘The Victorian Bar is particularly concerned about the inclusion of an express power to make pandemic orders that apply to a person by reference to their political belief, industrial activity or personal association with others,’ the submissions said.

‘The Victorian Bar recommends that the Bill be amended to exclude differentiation based on attributes that are of no obvious relevance to a person’s health risk profile.’

The lawyers said ‘serious concerns’ had been raised and want the Bill to be delayed. 

Mr Andrews relies on three crossbenchers to get the laws through. Reason Party MP Fiona Patten has said ‘there will be amendments’ after listening to concerns of lawyers and human rights advocates.  

Mr Andrews (pictured) relies on three crossbenchers to get the laws through parliament

Mr Andrews (pictured) relies on three crossbenchers to get the laws through parliament

Huge fines and jail

The new laws state a person can be fined up to $21,909 for breaching a pandemic order.

This could include not wearing a mask, breaking a movement limit, attending an illegal protest or a gathering, refusing to get tested or failing to show ID. 

Businesses can be fined up to $109,044 for breaking rules which may include failing to make sure customers check-in or show proof of vaccine status.

The new law will allow the health minister to make 'any order' he deems 'reasonably necessary' including lockdowns, vaccine mandates and enforced mask-wearing. Pictured: Melbourne in lockdown in October

The new law will allow the health minister to make ‘any order’ he deems ‘reasonably necessary’ including lockdowns, vaccine mandates and enforced mask-wearing. Pictured: Melbourne in lockdown in October

In addition, there is a new aggravated offence for breaches that ’cause a serious risk to the health of another individual’.

These can be punished with a $90,870 fine and two years in jail. An example given in the bill is someone going to work when they are infectious and should be isolating.  

Businesses can also be guilty of an aggravated offence, with a maximum fine of $454,350 if, for example, they refuse to obey a lockdown and encourage customers to also flout the rules.

What are the fines in Daniel Andrews’ new law? 

 $21,909: This fine is for breaching a pandemic order such as not wearing a mask, breaking a movement limit, attending an illegal protest or a gathering, refusing to get tested or failing to show ID.

$90,870: This fine is for an aggravated offence for breaches that ’cause a serious risk to the health of another individual’ such as going to work when  infectious.

$109,044: This fine is for businesses breaking rules which may include failing to make sure customers check-in or show proof of vaccine status.

$454,350: This fine is for an ‘aggravated’ offence by a business such as encouraging customers to flout lockdown rules .

Power to the premier 

Under the new laws the premier would be able to declare a pandemic for three months an unlimited number of times.

The current state of emergency laws require a parliamentary vote to extend them every 12 months – but the new laws have no time limit. 

The health minister will be able to sign off on public health orders instead of the Chief Health Officer, a role currently held by Brett Sutton. 

This gives the health minister the power to enforce lockdowns, shut down businesses, restrict movement, require masks, ban public gatherings, and enforce quarantine and isolation – powers currently held by the unelected CHO.

These powers can be implemented regardless of the number of disease cases or severity. 

The bill will also extend the mandatory payment for hotel quarantine beyond 31 December.  

Vaccine mandates and lockdowns for anti-vaxxers

The bill states that a pandemic order such as a lockdown or a vaccine mandate ‘may apply to, differentiate between or vary in its application to persons or classes of person’.

This allows the Government to select who it wants to apply the order to, including people who have been at a certain event, who live in a certain area or who have a certain type of job. 

The Government can discriminate based on ‘presence in a pandemic management area; participation at an event; an activity they have undertaken; their characteristics, attributes or circumstances,’ the bill says. 

It also allows the Government to lockdown unvaccinated people only. 

Under the new laws the premier would be able to shut down businesses, restrict movement and ban public gatherings even if there were no disease cases in Victoria. Pictured: A protester is arrested by police at a protest in St Kilda in October

Under the new laws the premier would be able to shut down businesses, restrict movement and ban public gatherings even if there were no disease cases in Victoria. Pictured: A protester is arrested by police at a protest in St Kilda in October

The bill says the Government can discriminate based on attributes defined in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 which include race, religion, sexual orientation, marital status and political views.

The group of lawyers against the bill warned a future health minister could target people based on their ‘political beliefs or activities that involve questioning or opposing the government public health measures.’ 

But Health Minister Martin Foley said those factors would not be taken into account.

‘Any suggestion that those other considerations of the public health processes, that is just really mischief making. These are recommendations that come forward on clinical and epidemiological grounds. Not those kinds of characteristics,’ he said.

Professor Brett Sutton said attributes and characteristics could refer to ‘intimate partners having the opportunity to see other individuals… people normally resident in regional Victoria… children under 16 years of age because they haven’t had a vaccination opportunity… vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals in a vaccinated economy.

‘You need the agility to spread to those characteristics and attributes that might exclude someone from a public health order and that might be directed at someone,’ he said.

Tiered fines system

In a small win for disadvantaged people, the bill will allow disadvantaged people to apply for a ‘concessional’ fine. 

Greens leader Samantha Ratnam negotiated this in discussions with the Government.

She said: ‘I’m pleased that the Greens have been able to make sure these new laws have more transparency and are fairer for all Victorians, especially those facing disadvantage.’ 

Barista Maelys is seen at work at Cafe Chez Mademoiselle in Prahran, Melbourne, in October

Barista Maelys is seen at work at Cafe Chez Mademoiselle in Prahran, Melbourne, in October

Make health advice public 

The Victorian Government has faced constant criticism for not releasing the health advice that its lockdown decisions are based on.

The bill will require the publication of the reasons for the Chief Health Officer recommending a pandemic order.

It will also establish an Independent Pandemic Management Advisory Committee to scrutinise Government decisions and health advice.   

QR safeguards

The new laws will ensure stronger safeguards to stop unlawful access to QR code check-in or contact tracing data, with a new offence in place. 

It means police can only get hold of the data if there is an ‘imminent threat’ to someone’s life.

Officers must acquire a Supreme Court order to access the data.

This comes after it was revealed in June that police failed three times to get access to QR code data. 

Under the new laws the premier would be able to declare a pandemic for an unlimited time, with an extension required every three months. Pictured: Victoria Police in October

Under the new laws the premier would be able to declare a pandemic for an unlimited time, with an extension required every three months. Pictured: Victoria Police in October

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