A political stoush is brewing over a proposed 12-month extension to Victoria’s state of emergency to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
As virus cases hit their lowest point in seven weeks on Monday, Premier Daniel Andrews flagged plans to re-write the Public Health and Wellbeing Act to allow a state of emergency to last for up to 18 months.
At present, the declaration can run for only six months and will expire on September 13, along with Melbourne’s Stage 4 lockdown and regional Victoria’s Stage 3 rules.
Mr Andrews said that meant his government would no longer be able to dictate guidelines on mandatory mask use, isolation rules and business density limits without an extension.
“We’ve got to protect public health, there can be no economic rebuilding until we fix this problem,” he said.
Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said the state Coalition would vehemently oppose a long-term extension, which would allow the Premier to unilaterally keep Victoria locked down.
It means the Labor government will have to win the support of four upper-house crossbenchers to pass it into law, if and when parliament next sits.
Reason Party MP Fiona Patten and Liberal Democrats MPs David Limbrick and Tim Quilty have all indicated they’ll block the current proposal.
“An extra 12 months in a state of emergency is an overreach,” Ms Patten said.
“These powers should not go unchecked. The government should re-work their proposal and come back to the crossbench with a three or six-month extension.”
The backlash prompted Mr Andrews to take to Twitter overnight to tell Victorians the proposal was about keeping people safe and did not mean the current lockdown would be extended.
Extending the State of Emergency is about ensuring that we can legally make the changes our health experts need to keep us safe.
This does not change how long our current lockdown will last, or increase the restrictions we face.
— Dan Andrews (@DanielAndrewsMP) August 24, 2020
“Extending the state of emergency is about ensuring that we can legally make the changes our health experts need to keep us safe,” he said.
“This does not change how long our current lockdown will last, or increase the restrictions we face.”
The political debate came as new cases in Victoria plummeted to 116 on Monday – the lowest figure since 74 on July 5.
Mr Andrews said the lower daily case numbers and a general decline in coronavirus indicators were great news for the state.
A further 15 deaths, all connected to aged care, took the state toll to 430 and the national figure to 517.
There remain 3701 active cases in Victoria, with 1568 of those linked to the aged-care sector.
So-called mystery cases were up 108 to 4028 on Monday.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Jenny Mikakos also unveiled an online dashboard to allow people to monitor outbreaks and active cases in their local communities.
The dashboard went live on the state Department of Health and Human Services website on Monday.