5 May 2021

Tim Quilty introduces bill to limit Government's abuse of emergency powers

Liberal Democrats Member for Northern Victoria Tim Quilty has put the Victorian Government on notice after introducing a bill to limit the use of emergency powers.

The Emergency Powers Safeguard Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 would place limits on how the Government uses the extraordinary powers it calls on during a crisis.

According to Mr Quilty, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated “Governments cannot be trusted with emergency powers”.

“The aim of this bill is to limit what the Victorian Government can do to restrict our freedoms in an emergency, because politicians are not above the law,” Mr Quilty said.

“We need penalties to make sure political figures do not harm people, just as we have penalties for the general public.

“While it is important for the Government and its experts to be able react quickly in an emergency, it is just as important to ensure we do not have a repeat of the appalling incidents we have seen over the past year.”

Mr Quilty told Parliament how the Andrews Government initially overreacted to COVID, for which the public gave them the benefit of the doubt.

As time went on, however, and more was learned about handling the virus, the Government failed to rein in its implementation of emergency powers.

“At the six-month mark the declaration was set to lapse,” Mr Quilty told the Legislative Council today.

“The Parliament eagerly awaited legislation that would allow the Government appropriate and limited powers that would manage the ongoing COVID situation without allowing the disproportionate and extreme responses we had seen so far.

“The Government failed to present any legislation. Instead of using State of Emergency powers to address the short-term crisis while it developed a long-term solution, the Government revealed that it instead planned to rely on emergency powers indefinitely.

“The public expectation is that emergency powers will only be used to address an immediate problem; and only until proper legislation can be drafted and the parliament convened. These powers are not intended to give unilateral and indefinite authority to the Government.”

Parliament heard Mr Quilty give an example of the fear which the Andrews Government had created with its abuse of emergency powers.

“We were contacted by thousands of concerned citizens,” Mr Quilty said. “Most striking were the immigrants who had fled authoritarian regimes and who now were once again afraid of the police and worried about their own government taking their rights away.”

Mr Quilty’s bill would carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison for politicians or bureaucrats recklessly or knowingly issuing an unlawful authorisation under the emergency provisions.

“We cannot throw out democracy during a crisis, and we cannot give government figures open slather to do as they see fit without considering the wider cost,” Mr Quilty said.

“Government unlawful over-reach, including unnecessary lockdowns, has caused widespread social and economic damage and it is vital to limit this in future so that decisions are made democratically via the Parliament.”