Overview of Recent Events
Victoria has been the Australian State most affected by the coronavirus pandemic during 2020. Early on in the pandemic, the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews invoked both the State of Emergency and State of Disaster, granting special power to both himself and his cabinet to ensure that certain bills and/or laws could be swiftly enacted to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The State of Emergency’s initial official duration was 6 months, a period that was supposed to end during September 2020. However, the Premier requested a 12-month extension of the State of Emergency due to concerns over the number of COVID-19 cases. After significant debate, and some public concerns over the potential for abuse of power, this extension was limited instead to a 6-month period (to cease in March 2021). Post-extension, Daniel Andrews was involved in an inquiry that involved negligence surrounding ‘Hotel Quarantine’ – whose mismanagement was the catalyst for the second wave of coronavirus case – where he provided statements that contradicted those he gave to the public in March 2020 involving the availability of ADF personnel. During the inquiry he also stated Jenny Mikakos, the State Health Minister, as “accountable for the program”. Soon after his statement the State Health Minister officially resigned her position stating:
“…I have always put everything into my Ministerial responsibilities. I have never wanted to leave a job unfinished but in light of the Premier’s statement to the Board of Inquiry and the fact that there are elements of it that I strongly disagree with, I believe that I cannot continue to serve in his Cabinet…”
– Jenny Mikakos
The Omnibus Bill
Prior to his official statements at the ‘Hotel Quarantine’ inquiry, Premier Daniel Andrews introduced an ‘Omnibus Act’, a bill that contains matters independent of each other, but which all may not be completely advantageous to the Victorian public. This bill, titled ‘COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2020‘, passed the Parliament of Victoria’s lower house on Friday, 18th September, 2020. This Bill is of particular interest, largely for its statement in Part 3, Section 252, Subsection 200A. This subsection gives authority to unspecified ‘authorised officers’ to detain individuals if the officer:
“….reasonably believes that the person –
(i) is a high risk person; and
(ii) is likely to refuse or fail to comply with the direction;
A number of high profile judges have found issue with the implications of these statements due to the amount of power that would be given to yet unidentified individuals. Concerns include the potential for abuse of power, especially given recent police activities, and the detaining of persons for reasons other than those related to COVID-19. The Bill, which has been passed in the lower house, will be debated and either accepted or refused on Tuesday, 13th October, 2020.
UPDATE: The above “Covid-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) and Other Acts Amendments Bill” has been amended after review by SARC (Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee). The above subsection is one of the statements that have been amended due to need for clarification and the openness for abuse.