Victorian government secures crossbencher to help pass amended pandemic legislation

By Jackson Graham

Tuesday November 30, 2021

Rod Barton
Transport Matters MP Rod Barton says he will vote for the legislation. (AAP Image/James Ross)

Victoria’s controversial pandemic legislation has the support of a key crossbencher and looks likely to pass with six amendments to give greater oversight of decisions. 

Earlier versions of the legislation were delayed, attracted protests outside the Victorian parliament for a number of weeks, and faced criticism from lawyers and the state’s ombud — who claimed it lacked oversight.

The earlier bill faced defeat in the upper house after Adem Somyurek declared he would vote against it, but now Transport Matters MP Rod Barton says he will vote for the legislation with key changes. 

“There is no doubt in my mind we have made it better,” Barton told ABC radio on Tuesday morning. 

The amendments include the establishment of a nine-member cross-parliamentary committee with the power to recommend disallowance of pandemic orders, and the capacity for a joint sitting of both houses of parliament to disallow pandemic orders if committees advise. 

The new bill also requires independent legal and health experts to undertake a two-year review within 18 months of the pandemic declaration; a new independent merits review scheme for detention orders; and clarification that complaints about detention can be made to the ombud.

The legislation will make clear the parliament or a committee can refer matters about detention to Victoria’s ombud for investigation, and an aggravated offence clause has been removed from the new bill. 

A Victorian government spokesperson told The Mandarin negotiations had occurred with all crossbenchers, who had the opportunity to work on changes to the bill.

“These were rigorous negotiations – and we thank Rod Barton who came to the table in good faith,” the spokesperson said. 

“If this bill passes, we will have strengthened parliamentary oversight, with an independent joint investigatory committee and the ability for the parliament to revoke pandemic orders.” 

The government’s spokesperson emphasised: “The emergence of the Omicron variant highlights that the pandemic isn’t over”. 

“Victoria needs the powers that all other jurisdictions across Australia have to keep our community safe.” 

The proposed laws shift central powers away from the public service, and have the support of chief health officer Brett Sutton. The bill gives the premier power to declare a pandemic and the health minister power to issue health orders after seeking advice from the chief health officer. 

The government’s current state of emergency orders giving it pandemic powers are set to expire on December 15. 

Barton said the changed legislation was a “sensible compromise” that had “curbed the powers of the government”. 

He said parliament was due to vote on the new legislation on Tuesday.


READ MORE:

Overreach: Victoria’s pandemic management bill

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