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Russel Northe MLA:
Parliament Decision - State of Emergency Legislation
State of Emergency legislation
By Portal Admin - 28th September 2020 - Back to News
This week, the Victorian Parliament debated the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (State of Emergency Extension and Other Matters) Bill 2020. Initially the State Government through its exposure draft of the Bill had proposed that a State of Emergency be extended for a further 12 month period; however this was reduced to 6 months once the legislation was introduced into the Legislative Council on Tuesday of this week.
With the support of some of the minor parties the Government passed its legislation in the Legislative Council on Wednesday morning. This same Bill was subsequently introduced and debated in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday and today. In my contribution and in response to the legislation I raised a number of issues that I had also flagged last week in a media statement.
Whilst understanding the legislation doesn’t necessarily compel Victorians to an extra 6 months of restrictions it does provide the Government with the capacity to enforce measures for that period of time if they believe they are required. Whilst I am not against Governments having the ability to declare a State of Emergency because they are absolutely necessary; I do remain concerned at the length of time for such strong powers to be wielded particularly without adequate oversight and accountability.
Subsequently I raised in debate that I believe the maximum period that a State of Emergency be declared should be for 3 months; that certain clauses be removed from the Bill that note; that a State of Emergency can be declared whereby there are no new cases of COVID-19 or the rate of transmission is low; and finally that an oversight Committee of the Parliament be established to regularly review and monitor decisions made in response to COVID-19.
Ultimately the Government did not accept those provisions and therefore the Bill passed the Parliament late today as initially introduced, and that being a State of Emergency can be declared for a further period of 6 months and additional powers afforded to the Chief Health Officer and subsequently the State Government.
As stated last week and in my opinion, there needs to be a balance of the impacts of the virus alongside the consideration of the heath, mental health and economic impacts to individuals, businesses and families. The direct impacts from the COVID-19 virus have been horrendous and our thoughts are with those families and their loved ones, who have had to contend with the virus these past months.
This includes those working in the healthcare and aged care sectors, whose amazing dedication and commitment has been unwavering. In addition, there are indirect impacts and health impacts that need to be fully understood within the context of a State of Emergency declaration and indeed State of Disaster provisions.
Trying to fight the spread of this virus against the harm created by restrictions imposed is a vexed issue for all our leaders – including at both a State and Federal Government level. I understand that and I don’t suggest that any level of Government intentionally and deliberately seeks to create harm to any person, business, community or enterprise. But unfortunately through poor decision-making and basic errors that is our unintended reality.
Subsequently, I opposed the State Government’s Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (State of Emergency Extension and Other Matters) Bill 2020 legislation in part to ensure that future decisions made in response to COVID-19 could be tested vigorously and regularly by the Parliament, and that a State of Emergency declaration be reviewed every 3 months and not every 6 months.
In my speech to Parliament I raised the point that should we have to continue to live with COVID-19 into the future then we need a plan that demonstrates how the basics around testing, quarantine, contact tracing, surveillance and protecting the vulnerable are going to be enhanced. Because ultimately this will not only assist in reducing future outbreaks it will allow for the easing of the stringent restrictions confronting Victorian communities. In my view you just can’t keep locking communities and businesses down to the depths that have occurred these past months as the impacts will be far too great. If we are to live with the virus then we need a balanced and common-sense plan.
We eagerly await the Premiers announcement on Sunday, who suggests that a comprehensive roadmap will be delivered. There needs to be a clear understanding of the pathway forward and that is constantly being reinforced by numerous individuals, families and business owners that I have regularly spoken to over recent weeks. People are looking for a plan that gives direction and hope and let’s trust this is precisely what is handed down on Sunday.
To view my speech on the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (State of Emergency Extension and Other Matters) Bill 2020 please see:
Hansard Legislative Assembly 4 September 2020
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