PUBLISHED: 02:50 EDT, 22 September 2020 | UPDATED: 04:09 EDT, 22 September 2020
- The Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Bill would let government authorise various officials to make arrests
- Would also allow officials to arrest people they suspect may spread coronavirus such as lockdown protesters
- A group of 14 retired judges and barristers have written a letter slamming the drastic plan as ‘open to abuse’
- Critics say Mr Andrews wants to create his own version of the Stasi, the East German secret police force
Victorians could be arrested and detained by public servants, union officials or anyone else the government authorises under an extraordinary new law that Premier Daniel Andrews wants to pass.
The new law would allow the government to let protective services officers and WorkSafe inspectors enforce public health directions such as Melbourne‘s 9pm curfew and strict gathering limits.
The unprecedented plan would also allow officials to arrest people they suspect may spread coronavirus even if they have done nothing wrong.
Victorians could be arrested and detained by public servants, union officials or anyone else the government authorises under an extraordinary new law that Daniel Andrews wants to pass.
The bill would allow the government to let protective services officers and WorkSafe inspectors enforce public health directions such as Melbourne’s 9pm curfew and gathering limits. Pictured: Anti-lockdown protesters in Melbourne on Suday
The unprecedented plan, which is being debated in the Victorian parliament, would also allow officials to arrest people they suspect may spread coronavirus even if they have done nothing wrong. Pictured: Police at a protest in Melbourne on Sunday
Those who could be arrested include positive patients or close contacts who officials suspect may refuse to self-isolate, such as protesters or people with mental health difficulties.
An esteemed group of 14 retired judges and barristers on Tuesday wrote a letter slamming the plan as ‘unprecedented, excessive and open to abuse’ and begged the Victorian parliament to vote it down.
Critics say Mr Andrews wants to create his own version of the Stasi, the East German secret police force which spied on citizens through a network of informants and arrested more than 250,000 people between 1950 and 1990.
The measures are outlined in the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2020, which has passed the lower house and will be debated in the upper house.
Liberty Victoria president Julian Burnside has raised concerns that government workers authorised to make arrests may not be able to accurately determine whether someone poses a risk of spreading Covid-19.
‘The bill introduces a preventative detention regime which appears to have little protections or oversight, and provides far too much discretion to people who may lack the necessary expertise to determine risk, including police officers,’ he said.
Victoria’s state of emergency and disaster powers, extended until October 11, give police the power to detain someone ‘for the period reasonably necessary to eliminate or reduce a serious risk to public health’.
Police officers can also search people’s homes without a warrant and restrict movement between locations such as between regional Victoria and Melbourne.
In their letter the group of retired judges and prominent QCs said they were ‘deeply concerned’ about how the bill would expand the power of the state.
They said the bill would allow anyone to be authorised to exercise emergency powers.
‘There would be no requirement that persons authorised be police officers, or even public servants,’ the letter read.
Allowing citizens to make arrests ‘on the basis of a belief that the detained person is unlikely to comply with emergency directions’ is ‘unprecedented, excessive and open to abuse,’ the lawyers said.
Gideon Rozner, Director of Policy at free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs told Daily Mail Australia the legislation was ‘extremely dangerous’ and would create the ‘Daniel Andrews Stasi’.
‘It will allow Dan Andrews to effectively appoint anyone he wants as an authorised officer, with extraordinarily broad discretion to enforce Victoria’s emergency powers,’ he said.
‘Union leaders could be appointed to unleash retribution on small business owners who speak out against lockdowns.
‘Labor Party officials could be appointed to intimidate political opponents. ‘I Stand With Dan’ types could be appointed to spy on their friends and neighbours.
‘Not since East Germany have we seen such a monstrous web of government surveillance. The Victorian Parliament must vote down this bill and say no to the Dan Andrews Stasi.’
Mr Andrews said he did not agree the proposed legislation was excessive or open to abuse.
A group of 14 retired judges and barristers have written a letter slamming the plan as ‘unprecedented, excessive and open to abuse’ and begged the Victorian parliament to vote it down. Pictured: Protesters in Melbourne on Sunday
Victoria’s state of emergency and disaster powers already give police the power to detain someone ‘for the period reasonably necessary to eliminate or reduce a serious risk to public health’. Pictured: Police at a protest in Melbourne on Sunday
Critics say Mr Andrews wants to create his own version of the Stasi, the secret police force tasked with stopping East Germans from jumping the Berlin Wall (pictured) and escaping communism
‘In terms of recruitment, process, oversight – all that can be managed,’ Mr Andrews said on Tuesday in response to the lawyers’ letter.
‘In terms of the first point, though, the notion it is unprecedented, yes, it is. Because we’re in a one-in-100-year event. This is not in any way business as usual.’
Mr Andrews justified the new law by saying it would help keep case numbers low, even though no other state in Australia has required such a drastic measure.
‘We jealously guard the low (case) numbers that we are in the process of delivering, then you need to have a bigger enforcement team,’ he said.
‘They will play many different roles, but I think we have struck the right balance there.’
Victoria’s Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said the laws would ‘allow us to continue responding to the challenges the pandemic presents, so we can keep protecting Victorians and delivering the services they rely on.’
The labor government has a majority in the lower house but needs the support of the cross bench to get the bill through the upper house.
‘Excessive and open to abuse’: The lawyers’ letter in full
‘We are deeply concerned by the passage of the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2020 (Bill) through the Legislative Assembly.
Emergency powers already allow authorised officers under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (Vic) to detain people and to restrict movement.
The Bill would expand the emergency powers to allow an authorised officer to detain:
• any person that the authorised officer reasonably believes is likely to fail to comply with an emergency direction and is a close contact of a person diagnosed with COVID-19 (or a person diagnosed with COVID-19) not given clearance from self-isolation;
• for so long as the authorised officer reasonably believes the person in detention is likely to fail to comply with an emergency direction.
The Bill would also allow any person the Secretary considered appropriate to be authorised to exercise emergency powers. There would be no requirement that persons authorised be police officers, or even public servants.
Authorising citizens to detain their fellow citizens on the basis of a belief that the detained person is unlikely to comply with emergency directions by the ‘authorised’ citizens is unprecedented, excessive and open to abuse.
We call on the Legislative Council to amend the Bill, or to vote against it.
MICHAEL MCHUGH AC QC
PETER HEEREY AM QC
NEIL YOUNG QC
JAMES PETERS AM QC
PETER COLLINSON QC
MARYANNE LOUGHNAN QC
MARY ANNE HARTLEY QC
PHILIP CRUTCHFIELD QC
GEORGINA SCHOFF QC
PHILIP SOLOMON QC
DAVID BATT QC
STUART WOOD AM QC
FELICITY GERRY QC
MICHAEL BORSKY QC
The letter was first published in The Australian
On Tuesday Victoria reported three coronavirus deaths, while new cases jumped on Tuesday to 28.
The latest fatalities take the state toll to 766 and the national figure to 854. The news cases are a significant spike on Monday’s 11, the lowest Victorian figure since June 16.
But the crucial 14-day rolling average of new cases for Melbourne continues to fall to 32.8, while it is holding at 1.6 for regional areas.
Cases with an unknown source from September 6-19 are 45 for Melbourne and none for regional Victoria.
There was some good news for Premier Daniel Andrews on Tuesday, with a Newspoll showing a majority of Victorian voters back his handling of the state’s second wave.
Mr Andrews (pictured) justified the new law by saying it would help keep case numbers low, even though no other state in Australia has required such a drastic measure
Some 62 per cent said they were satisfied with his performance even though the virus escaped from hotel quarantine in late May and caused a deadly second wave.
The Newspoll also found that 61 per cent of Victorians thought the state’s lockdown restrictions were ‘about right’.
A quarter of people said they were too strict and 10 per cent said they were too lenient.
Asked how Mr Andrews was handling his job, 62 per cent of voters were satisfied and 35 per cent were dissatisfied for a net satisfaction score of 27 per cent.
The September net score was up from 20 per cent in July when the state’s second wave of infections began to emerge. In April, it was 58 per cent.
Mr Andrews has been under constant criticism since he plunged Victoria back into lockdown on 8 July. The state’s second wave has caused more than 700 deaths, mostly in aged care homes.
It began when hotel security guards and staff failed to adhere to social distancing requirements, caught the virus and spread it around Melbourne.
Mr Andrews encouraged anyone with a scratchy throat, runny nose or headache to get tested for the virus. Pictured: Melbourne residents on Saturday (Click to Source)
What would the new law do?
Allow any person the government considered appropriate to be authorised to exercise emergency powers including make arrests.
There would be no requirement for them to be police officers, or even public servants.
Allow an authorised officer to detain any person they believe is likely to fail to comply with an emergency direction and is a close contact or a Covid-19 patient not given clearance from self-isolation.
The suspect can be detained for so long as the authorised officer reasonably believes the person in detention is likely to fail to comply with an emergency direction.
Read the bill here
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