- Premier will be able to call state of emergency at will without doctors signing off
- Pandemic restrictions can be imposed even if there are no cases in Victoria
- Anyone protesting against lockdowns or breaching mask rules faces huge fines
- Individuals can be jailed for two years or fined $90,500 for breaking new laws
Published: 20:16 AEDT, 26 October 2021 | Updated: 22:29 AEDT, 26 October 2021
New powers will allow Premier Dan Andrews to impose a state of emergency any time he likes – and Victorians face $90,000 fines or two years in jail if they protest.
Under the legislation, opposition MPs fear the premier could use public health orders to target individuals on age, gender, sexual orientation, political belief, or activity.
Health minister Martin Foley insisted the new legislation was designed to be transparent, but it was savaged by the opposition as ‘an attack on democracy’.
Under the new bill, the premier will be able to declare a pandemic even if there are no cases, and can extend the state of emergency for three months at a time.
The sweeping new pandemic laws which were tabled in parliament on Tuesday free the premier from having to get doctors to sign off on public health orders.
And the premier would be able to declare a state of emergency and bring in new restrictions on public life whether or not his chief health officer agrees.
The premier would also make the final call on implementing lockdowns, mask mandates and quarantine requirements.
Victorians could be fined up to $90,000 or jailed for two years if they breach health orders and knew – ‘or should have known’ – they were putting others at serious health risk, while companies face fines of up to $455,000.
Legal experts have warned the new bill does not have a sliding scale of crimes and treats all breaches with the same seriousness, raising concerns some could face a jail term for minor breaches like not wearing a mask.
But Mr Foley insisted every incident would be judged for its own seriousness.
‘Each case would have to be determined on its merits by an appropriate judicial officer,’ he said.
‘It is a very high benchmark and it’s for the most egregious and deliberate offences that cause significant public harm.’
The dramatic escalation of the premier’s powers came under fire from the state opposition, which branded Mr Andrews ‘drunk on power’.
‘Victorians are today witnessing the most extreme, dangerous and excessive laws ever brought before our state,’ Liberal leader Matthew Guy said.
‘Daniel Andrews is attempting to sideline the Victorian chief health officer and grant himself unchecked power.
‘Why would the government pass such extreme legislation if they didn’t intend to lock us down again?
‘This is the most extreme law of its kind anywhere in Australia.
‘Placing so much power in the hands of one person, not the cabinet, not the parliament, but in the hands of the premier alone would be unprecedented.
‘We see these laws as an incredible attack on democracy.’