While you’re here… help us stay here.

Are you enjoying open access to policy and research published by a broad range of organisations? Please donate today so that we can continue to provide this service.

Position paper

The Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021 (Vic) proposes significant changes to the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (Vic), in order to provide for the management of pandemic emergencies.

In respect of transparency and accountability, the Bill proposes welcome changes to the framework provided for by the current legislation, which is, in many key respects, non-existent. However, a number of amendments are essential to achieve appropriate levels of transparency and accountability for these emergency powers. These amendments, first, relate to the way in which parliamentary oversight and possible disallowance is proposed to function, the function and role of the proposed Independent Pandemic Management Advisory Committee, and the consequences for failure to comply with the Bill’s information provision requirements. Second, the addition of a cross-parliamentary committee would reflect emerging practice in parliamentary scrutiny of the executive’s management of pandemics. Finally, powers conferred on the executive by the Bill are of such significance that we consider an independent merits review process to be an essential element of the framework providing for their exercise.

In respect of human rights considerations, essential amendments to the Bill include the protection of the internationally and domestically-protected right to peaceful protest, the inclusion of appropriate safeguards on the exercise of the proposed executive detention powers, the elimination or amendment of the proposed aggravated offence, and the elimination of the Bill’s proposed exemption from equal opportunity legislation.

Amendments to address each of these concerns would mean that Victorians can be confident there are sufficient safeguards in place upon the exercise of the significant powers provided for by the Bill.

Finally, in the authors' view, there are strong grounds for considering the inclusion of a sunset clause in the legislation. The Bill’s regrettably hasty introduction has meant that there was insufficient time for expert stakeholders, the media and the wider community to understand the implications of the significant powers for which it provides before it was passed by the Legislative Assembly: it is clear that this has contributed to the discontent with which the Bill has been met, and there is a manifest need for genuine consultation and refinement of the Bill’s provisions before its passage through the Legislative Council.

Publication Details
Access Rights Type: