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Fact sheet

Fact Check Fact File: Victoria's state of emergency extension has received a lot of attention, but that could be due to parliamentary scrutiny

COVID-19 Disaster planning Pandemics Disease management Emergency services Public health Australia

The use of emergency powers during the COVID-19 pandemic — allowing governments to restrict individual freedoms, suspend constitutional norms and bypass normal parliamentary scrutiny —prompted intense public debate across Australia.

A focus of debate in Victoria was the State Government's push to extend, from six months to 18 months, the maximum period a state of emergency can remain in force.

The debate was marked by confusion, with some thinking the change would mean Victorians would remain in lockdown for another year, and it highlighted the tension between emergency powers and normal democratic processes.

In the end, the Government compromised, with legislation passed to extend the period from six months to 12 months, during which it can opt to roll over its state of emergency every four weeks without requiring parliamentary approval.

Often lost in the debate was the fact that Victoria is the only state that caps the maximum length of time a state of emergency can remain in force.

Public health acts provide states and territories with base-level powers to manage community health. The declaration of a state of emergency activates stronger powers for a certain period of time to address serious public health threats, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

The period of time that a state of emergency may remain in force varies across states and territories, but it can be extended as long as a health minister considers it necessary.

As mentioned, Victoria can extend an initial state of emergency, but unlike other jurisdictions, the maximum period is capped at 12 months. 

RMIT ABC Fact Check takes a look at what the law says in each of the states and territories, and at the federal level.


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