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  • Jason Regan

Vic govt strikes deal to pass pandemic law

The Victorian government has made significant changes to its pandemic legislation to secure the extra vote it needs to pass parliament.

The Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill is on the top of the upper house's agenda when parliament resumes on Tuesday for the last scheduled sitting week of the year. 

Rod Barton MP speaks to media during a press conference outside of the Victorian State Parliament in Melbourne, Thursday, November 18, 2021. (AAP Image/James Ross)

The legislation, which gives the premier and health minister the power to declare a pandemic and the ability to enforce restrictions, is set to replace the state of emergency which expires on December 15.

Voting on the bill was delayed by the attorney-general to allow for negotiations with key crossbenchers - Transport Matters MP Rod Barton and Sustainable Australia's Clifford Hayes - in an effort to break a deadlock. 

Overnight, the state government agreed to six amendments after securing a vote on the bill from Mr Barton. The amendments include the creation of a cross-parliamentary committee as soon as practicable after a pandemic declaration is made, with the committee given the power to recommend the disallowance of pandemic orders.

Catherine Cummings MP participates in protest against mandatory vaccination in Melbourne, Saturday, November 27, 2021. (AAP Image/James Ross)

Parliament will also be able to disallow pandemic orders by an absolute majority in a joint sitting of both houses, under the changes. Additionally, a two-year review, carried out by independent legal and health experts, will commence within 18 months of a pandemic declaration.

A new independent merits review scheme for detention orders will replace the current Detention Review Officer Panel, and the amendments will remove the aggravated offence clause.

The changes will also clarify that complaints about detention can be made to the Victorian Ombudsman and parliament or a committee can refer a matter for investigation.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews speaks during Question Time at the Victoria State Parliament in Melbourne, Tuesday, November 16, 2021. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett)

A government spokeswoman said the negotiations were "rigorous" and thanked Mr Barton for coming to the table "in good faith".

"The emergence of the Omicron variant highlights that the pandemic isn't over, and that Victoria needs the powers that all other jurisdictions across Australia have to keep our community safe," she said.
"Over the past fortnight, we offered negotiations to the entire crossbench, giving them the opportunity to work with us on changes to this bill that would ensure Victoria has such a framework in place.
"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 other key crossbencher, Mr Hayes, told reporters at parliament on Tuesday he would not be supporting the amended bill. 

Leader of the Opposition Matthew Guy during question time in the Legislative Assembly at the Victoria State Parliament in Melbourne, Wednesday, October 27, 2021. (AAP Image/James Ross)

Opposition leader Matthew Guy has responded to the news by saying these "Mickey Mouse" amendments

"Some weeks ago the Liberal and National parties offered a constructive, common sense hand of negotiation to the government should they want it," Guy said.
"The government never picked up the phone, we never had an offer of negotiation and we were never given an in-depth briefing".

Mr Guy said the government is playing pandemic politics again and is looking to ram through legislation to suit itself.

"The government plays politics with the pandemic every day," said Guy.
"What kind of government would treat this as a partisan political game rather than the chance to get the legislation right?"


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