It seemed that Australia had reached the pinnacle of becoming a dystopian phantasmagoria when it implemented state-wide surveillance apps to track citizens in order to assure "compliance" with draconian lockdowns. In proving that tyranny has no bounds, the initiative which many viewed as the apex of authoritarianism in Australia should have been seen as a preface instead of a climax. The next phase of Victoria Premier Dan Andrew's totalitarian takeover begins when his state's parliament resumes today and the Public Health and Wellbeing (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021 is introduced into the lower house of its legislature.
With Victoria's current state of emergency set to expire on December 15th, the new legislation would make its conclusion a moot point by permanently replacing it in effect. The bill would consolidate power into the hands of Andrews by giving him and his health minister unilateral power in declaring pandemic-related states of emergency in the state and issuing new health orders without them being brought to a vote by parliament. Under the proposed law, all that is necessary for the authorization of any new emergency declaration is that the Victorian Premier must offer a report to the parliament that includes the advise offered by the Victoria Health Minister and Chief Health Officer. These declarations can apply to the whole of Victoria that Andrews has jurisdiction over or specified areas of the state on a more limited basis.
While declarations are limited to an initial period of 4 weeks, the law also states that there is no limit on the number of times they can be extended. All that is necessary for implementing a 3-month extension of any declaration is that the Premier's Office consults with its Chief Health Officer before authorization. Though the expansion of powers that would be granted to Andrews would also establish a prerequisite for his office to consult with a public health committee as well, critics view that measure as little-more than ceremonial.
Once any pandemic declaration is introduced by the Premier, the Health Minister of Victoria would have the express authority to issue a pandemic order under their belief that it is necessary to protect public health. Pandemic orders made by the Health Minister would allow them to order the detention of citizens as well as forced medical examinations and testing.
The punitive measures designed to enforce pandemic health orders are unlike any Australia has seen. Clause 29 of the proposed legislation designates failing to comply with any pandemic order as "an activity that involves an immediate risk to the health and safety of a person." If the law passes then individuals who violate any public health orders face fines of up to $90,000. Businesses found to be non-compliant would risk being fined as much as $450,000. Part 2 of the bill perhaps best represents the authoritarian measures it would allow by enabling the Victorian government to imprison individuals for 2 years if they have been deemed to knowingly violate a pandemic order which puts others at "serious risk."
While the bill has been viewed as another instance of Andrews taking advantage the coronavirus pandemic to increase his power, the proposed legislation does not limit his would-be authority to public health considerations regarding COVID-19 alone. The language of the bill also would codify that health orders issued by Andrews' office could be made under the ambiguous terms of being in the interest of stopping "a disease of pandemic potential."
It's clear that Andrews' support of the severe measures included in the Public Health and Wellbeing (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021 are not something he would be held accountable to. Earlier this month, the Victoria Premier was caught on video violating existing pandemic orders by walking around without wearing a mask. Despite this infraction, Andrews was fined just $400 ASD after being found to have not worn a mask on two separate occasions during the same week. If an expansion of his pandemic powers is approved, it's doubtful that he will be among the Australian citizens who could forced into detained in a quarantine camp anytime soon.