Thousands of Victorians have taken to the streets of Melbourne to oppose the Victorian Labor governments controversial pandemic legislation.
The protest, which occurred on Oct. 30, met with a heavy police presence as protesters rallied out on the steps of state parliament to voice their concerns over new legislation—the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021 (pdf)—which has been described by Matthew Guy, leader of the opposition, as “draconian.”
Banners and handwritten signs that read “Stop the Bill,” “No Pandemic Legislation,” and “SackDan: Make Victorian Great Again,” as well as anti-vaccination messaging could be seen, according to a video by citizen journalist Real Rukshan.
Chants of “Sack Dan Andrews” and “Free Victoria” were also echoed among the protesters, with Independent MP Catherine Cumming leading the march to Parliament House.
“Everyone knows that the government is introducing new legislation to get more power. But who would trust the government with more power?” Liberal Democrats MP David Limbrick said, reported Rebel news.
“We must respect the rights of Victorians. If this Bill passes, they will have a permanent emergency in the hands of the premier. We cannot let this Bill pass.”
Craig Backman, a former police officer who quit the force due to his concerns that Victoria police “unfairly breached the Human Rights of Victorian citizens,” told the crowd that he came to speak out against the Chief Health Officer’s directives.
“This is not just about a ‘jab or no jab’, and the ridicule that you have all faced in the media from the government,” Backman said. “I came out because I could see the divide that was coming, the divide that was caused, and it was caused because I could see my colleagues who were trapped by a pay-cheque following unjust orders.”
Backman’s comments follow those of former Acting Senior Sergeant Krystle Mitchell, who resigned publicly during an interview with media studio Discernable after she expressed her objection to the way directions from the state’s chief health officer were being enforced.
New Fines and Sentencing for Noncompliance Under Proposed Legislation
The protest in Melbourne comes after the passing of legislation in the lower house of state parliament that would give Premier Daniel Andrews new pandemic powers—such as the power to declare a pandemic for three months at a time and allow the health minister to approve the public health orders.
Currently, the state’s Chief Health Officer must sign off on the public health orders before they take effect.
Under the proposed Bill, Victorians could also face up to 2 years of prison or a fine of over $90,000 if they are deemed to have “intentionally or recklessly” failed to comply with government-mandated health orders or pose a risk to the health of others.
A corporate body could be fined over $450,000 for similar breaches.
Victoria’s peak legal body, the Victorian Bar, has criticised the Bill, saying that if passed, the Bill gives the health minister “effectively unlimited power to rule the state by decree, for an effectively indefinite period, and without effective judicial or parliamentary oversight.”
“The bill confers powers that can be appropriately described as draconian in authorising virtually unlimited interference with the liberties of Victorian citizens,” Christopher Blanden Q.C. said in an internal email.
According to a government statement, new public health orders issued under the new bill “can include orders to restrict or limit movement, detain or quarantine infectious people or groups of people, as well as regulate activities.”
“The (Health) Minister will also be able to issue a pandemic order to a specific classification of person or group depending on their location, participation at an event or activity, or a particular characteristic such as age, vaccination status, residence, occupation or living arrangements.”
Health Minister Martin Foley said that under the proposed Bill, accountability and transparency were central to any decisions made “while ensuring public health advice is central to any pandemic response.”
Reason Party leader Fiona Patten told 3AW host Neil Mitchell on Oct. 26 that she supports the transparency and accountability components of the legislation.
“We’ll have to publish the health advice, we’ll have to have an assessment against human rights, we’ll have to publish the reasons for their decisions,” she said.
When asked whether she thought this legislation would give the premier “extraordinary power,” Patten disagreed.
“Who’s going to make that decision if it’s not the premier? I don’t actually think it is extraordinary power; right now, we gave that extraordinary power to the CHO [Chief Hedical Officer].”
The Andrews Labor government has 17 seats in the state parliament and is reported to have the support of the Greens, the Animal Justice Party, and the Reason Party—each having one seat.
The Bill will now head to the upper house, the Victorian Legislative Council, where it needs 21 votes to pass.