Daniel Andrews is set to pass new laws to manage pandemics which allow him to lock down anti-vaxxers and more harshly punish people that break the rules.
The Victorian Labor Government introduced the Public Health and Wellbeing (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021 in the state Parliament on Tuesday.
The Opposition, which has seen the bill in advance, say the maximum fines for breaking pandemic orders are increasing to $21,909 for individuals and $109,044 for businesses.
The bill has been drafted after consultation with three crossbench MPs to guarantee it will pass this week or next month despite opposition from the Liberals and Nationals.
The new laws will replace the state of emergency powers which expire on December 15 when they will have been in place for 21 months.
So what do the new powers do?
Under the new laws the premier would be able to declare a pandemic for an unlimited time, with an extension required every three months.
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.
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: Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday
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.
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 protestor is arrested by police at a protest in St Kilda on Saturday
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.
A summary of the bill says it will ‘clarify that pandemic orders can differentiate between people in a range of settings according to public health risk: for example, vaccination status.
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 employment status.
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.
During Victoria’s latest lockdown police could issue on-the-spot fines of up to $1,817 for adults and up to $10,904 for businesses for breaking lockdown rules.
A summary of the new bill says it will provide for an ‘aggravated offence’ which can come with a bigger punishment.
There will also be even bigger fines for businesses who break the rules which will be based on a multiple of the profit they make while breaching the lockdown order.
The maximum fine for an individual is increased to $21,909 and a businesses could face a $109,044 fine.
Tiered fines system
In a small win for disadvantaged people, the bill will make fines for breaching rules smaller or larger depending on income.
The summary says the bill will ‘create a concessional infringement penalty scheme for infringements issued… for those experiencing financial hardship.’
Barista Maelys is seen at work at Cafe Chez Mademoiselle in Prahran, Melbourne, last week. Under the new laws people who attended
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.’
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.
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 earlier this month
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.
Reaction to the law
Opposition leader Matthew Guy said he would throw out the laws if he won the November 2022 election.
‘I’ve never seen such an attack on Australian democracy as rules like this’ where ‘one man can rule by decree,’ he told 3AW radio.
Frontbencher Tim Smith has fears Mr Andrews is passing the law in preparation for more lockdowns.
The existing power of Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton (left) to make special public health orders would be passed over to health minister Martin Foley (right) under the new laws
‘Daniel Andrews wouldn’t be taking more powers for himself unless he plans to lock us all down again,’ he said.
The Opposition will propose a 60 per cent majority in both houses of parliament be required before a pandemic or an extended state of emergency can be declared.
Under the proposed alternative, the state of emergency powers and the need for them would have to be re-examined and voted on every 30 days.
But Greens leader Samantha Ratnam backs the laws because she says they are better than the current state of emergency powers.
‘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,’ she said.
Opposition leader Matthew Guy slams the new laws
Victorians are today witnessing the most extreme, dangerous and excessive laws ever brought before our state.
In one Bill, Daniel Andrews is attempting to sideline the Victorian Chief Health Officer and grant himself unchecked power to declare a State of Emergency and decree health orders based on an individual’s age, gender, sexual orientation and political belief or activity.
This legislation would remove any consideration of the impact of lockdowns, restrictions or penalties on equal opportunity or human rights laws, bypass Cabinet and Parliamentary approvals and place enormous power in the hands of one person.
Under these laws Victorians face a $21,909 fine for failing to wear a face mask and business a $109,044 fine if a customer fails to check-in properly.
These new laws aren’t about streamlining State of Emergency powers but about making it easier for the State Government to control people’s lives.
Daniel Andrews wouldn’t be passing these laws unless he planned on using them. The thought of handing even more power to the person who got us into this mess is simply unacceptable.
This extreme legislation is a threat to every Victorian family, small business and local community. It must be stopped.
The Victorian Liberal Nationals will stand up for Victorians and oppose this dangerous legislation.
Victoria’s path to freedom: All the changes for the fully-vaccinated from 11.59pm on October 21
‘Because of everything Victorians have done, tomorrow we can start getting back to the things we love. Thank you Victoria – I’m so proud,’ Daniel Andrews (pictured) tweeted on Thursday
- No restrictions on leaving home and 9pm-5am curfew scrapped with Melburnians allowed to travel freely within the metropolitan region
- Travel between regional Victoria and Melbourne is still off the cards – unless for a permitted reason
Gatherings in the home and public spaces
- Up to ten visitors (including dependents) will be allowed in a home per day
- Up to 15 people can gather outdoors
Venues including hospitality, retail stores and personal services
- Hospitality venues including pubs and clubs will reopen for seated and outdoor service only, with a capacity limit of 20 fully-vaccinated patrons indoors and 50 outdoors
- General retail will reopen for outdoor service only with click and collect services to remain available
- Entertainment venues, including cinemas and physical recreation, will be reopened for 20 fully-vaccinated people indoors and 50 outdoors
- Hairdressers and beauty salons can open with a limit of five patrons
Weddings, funerals, an places of worship
- Religious gatherings, weddings, and funerals will be allowed to take place with 50 fully-vaccinated people outdoors and 20 indoors
Schools and childcare
- Students in Year 3 to Year 11 will start the staggered return to school
- Early childcare will reopen for children of fully vaccinated parents
- Masks will remain mandatory both indoors and outdoors