SOE Safeguards

Emergency Powers Safeguards Legislation Amendment Bill 2021

The Andrews Government response during the pandemic lockdowns has lacked proportionality and common sense, and restricted human rights of Victorians . Tim Quilty is putting forward a bill that will curb excesses of government power by returning democratic decision-making to the management of states of emergency.

The Emergency Powers Safeguards Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 intends to promote democratic decision-making during an emergency without compromising the ability of the state to response quickly to an immediate risk.

The bill clarifies that the purpose of emergency powers is not to grant extraordinary power to the state, but to allow an immediate response where it would take too long to consult the parliament. The bill requires the government to seek approval from the parliament before declaring a state of emergency or issuing a health order – except in situations where it’s not possible to do so.

The bill requires parliamentary approval for all extensions to a state of emergency and clarifies that the purpose of an extension is to allow the government more time to draft legislation that would deal with ongoing circumstances.

The bill also creates new offences for lawmakers that break the law regarding use of emergency powers. This offence is intended to capture the Minister, the CHO, the Premier, and any other lawmakers who issue declarations or health orders.

There are also some clauses that prevent governments from circumventing state of emergency restrictions by repeating or ‘chaining’ declarations and which prevent government using emergency powers to alter the offence provisions.

The bill applies similar rules to a state of disaster under the Emergency Management Act.

 

 

Rationale:

The bill does not affect the duration of the current state of emergency. We’re not looking to rehash what the Parliament has already decided on. This bill is about setting an expectation that democratic principles continue through future emergencies.

  1. Emergencies are emergent – not ongoing.

In the initial weeks of the pandemic, the government determined that severe lockdowns were necessary and that it did not have the time or information to draft legislation to facilitate them. This bill recognises the occasional need for such immediate actions to and continues to allow that kind of response.

However, we have been in a state of emergency for more than a year and the government has anticipated a continued state of emergency nine months into the future. Our current situation is no longer an emergency

  1. We don’t suspend democracy during a crisis – we deal with crises democratically.

Over the last year, the parliament has been able to meet frequently and the Government has had little trouble drafting new legislation. Democratic consultation is available and representative democracy is more than capable of handling the ongoing situation.

Instead of drafting legislation and putting it before the parliament, the government used Victorians as hostages. They delivered an ultimatum to the crossbench – either we grant unilateral power to the Premier or we let Victorians suffer an unmitigated pandemic.

It’s understandable then, that crossbench members who have supported SOE extensions and enabled the continued use of these powers have since criticised specific uses of these powers. This bill would allow crossbenchers and opposition members to undo the use of emergency powers in cases where it’s not democratically supported.

  1. Politicians are not above the law. Abuse of power is a serious offence that ought to carry a legal consequence.

This new offence ensures government compliance. At present, there is little incentive to avoid abusing emergency powers. When government issues health orders that exceed the scope of their power it’s up to citizens to sue the government and prove wrongdoing. This is an expensive and risky process and the state is powerful, well-funded, and able to defend itself. Even when wrongdoing is demonstrated there are no legal consequences and therefore no incentives to ensure this extraordinary power is used appropriately.

 

If you have any questions or concerns about this legislation please contact me at [email protected]

 

Further Information

Bill Link

A single link to the bill, as introduced in its first reading to the Legislative Council can be found here

Bill Info-Links

Further information that is made publicly available on the Parliament of Victoria's Website. 

This includes the bill and statement of compatibility

Emergency Powers Safeguards Legislation Amendment Bill 2021

 

Taking Action

Contact Cross-benchers

Given we have a current Labor government with very little in its way its a priority that Victorians who support this bill contact crossbench members of the Legislative Council. 

Click here for the full list of cross bench MP's.

(Note: If you would like to contact all members of the Legislative Council you can find the full list here.)

 

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