Victorian barristers have urged the state government to halt the progression of its revamped pandemic laws through parliament, as protests over the controversial new bill continue.
In a bill which has already passed through the state’s Lower House, the state’s premier would be able to place Victoria under a state of pandemic for three months at a time with no maximum time period.
The health minister would be able to make wide-ranging and enforceable pandemic orders they believed were reasonably necessary to protect public health.
This would be a shift from the current laws, where the chief health officer of the day is responsible for signing off on public health orders.
That change has been welcomed by many observers as a move that delivers more accountability, along with changes to protect QR code data from being used by police, concessional fines for vulnerable Victorians and the creation of an independent pandemic management advisory committee.
When the bill was introduced, the government said the powers created were not dissimilar to other jurisdictions such as NSW and New Zealand, and Health Minister Martin Foley said it would make an “even more transparent and accountable system” to manage future pandemics.
But in its submission to the government on the laws published on Tuesday, the Victorian Bar called on the government to delay the introduction of the Public Health and Wellbeing (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021 to the Upper House so it could consider a range of concerns.
The professional association for more than 2,200 Victorian barristers sounded its concern over the “extraordinarily broad” powers granted to the minister and the lack of an overall time limit on the pandemic declarations.
Its formal submission has come a couple of weeks after its president Christopher Blanden QC accused the government of seeking to legislate “extreme” powers which would have pleased the totalitarian Stasi regime of East Germany.
It is calling for the bill to be amended so that the minister’s pandemic orders are limited to specific actions such as restricting movement or mandating the wearing of protective equipment.