Legal Community Objects to Andrews Emergency Measures Bill

Legal Community Objects to Andrews Emergency Measures Bill
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews speaks to the media at the daily briefing in Melbourne, Australia on Sept. 11, 2020. (Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)
Alex Joseph
A cohort of retired judges and prominent senior lawyers, including former high court judge Michael McHugh, former federal court judge Peter Heerey, and leading barristers Stuart Wood, and Neil Young, have published a letter to the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews objecting to the proposed Emergency Measures Bill. 
In the letter, the group stated that they were “deeply concerned” by the expansion of the powers of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (pdf) that are involved in the Omnibus bill .

The COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) bill entitles authorities with additional powers to carry out arrests on people who are deemed as a COVID-19 health direction risk.

“The Bill would expand the emergency powers to allow an authorised officer to detain; any person that the authorised officer reasonably believes is likely to fail to comply with an emergency direction and is a close contact of anyone diagnosed with COVID-19,” they noted.

Other issues raised were that authorised officers would be given the power to detain an individual who may be a risk without defining a sentencing length. Third parties who are not police or public servants can also be permitted by the government to operate as authorities.

“Authorising citizens to detain their fellow citizens on the basis of a belief that the detained person is unlikely to comply with emergency directions by the authorised citizens is unprecedented, excessive and open to abuse,” they said.

The bill also states that the government could also be given the power to allow anyone they deem appropriate to exercise authoritative powers, even if they are not police or public servants.

“We call on the Legislative Council to amend the Bill, or to vote against it,” the group said.

Premier Andrews on Sept. 22, in a daily press conference, objected that the Emergency Measures bill is open to being abused.

He justified the bill by stating that if the policies are implemented correctly, it can be managed.

“If you’re going to have COVID site plans enforced if you’re going to have people doing the right thing so that we jealously guard the low numbers that we are in the process of actually delivering, then you need to have a bigger enforcement team, and not play many different roles,”

Victoria’s enforcement of CCP virus restrictions have raised human rights concerns, with protests against the lockdown lasting weeks. Several class actions have also been submitted to Melbourne Supreme court.

The Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Bill was voted through a Labor dominant lower house on Sept. 18 and is due to be debated in the upper house of the Victorian parliament next month.