The COVID-19 powers used to control the pandemic “are no longer fit for purpose” and their extension should not go ahead without change, Queensland’s Human Rights Commissioner says.
A bill to extend “essential public health measures” from April 30 to October 31 has been introduced to the state’s parliament and will come under scrutiny at a committee hearing on Monday.
Under the bill, the special powers can also be ended sooner if the Health Minister declares an end to the public health emergency.
But the state’s Human Rights Commission does not support the extension, telling the committee the laws “must be replaced with more transparent, accountable and human rights compatible legislation”.
Legislative changes made in urgent circumstances have been in place without major change for more than two and a half years, it said in a submission to the committee.
“Such urgent measures have now served their purpose and should be replaced with legislation that provides sufficient safeguards for human rights,” it states.
“As a community, we have learnt about the impacts of quarantining conditions on people’s mental health, the human rights limitations arising from public health directions that confine people to their homes and the mandating of vaccines.”
The Bill seeks to extend temporary amendments to the Public Health Act that allow Chief Health Officer John Gerrard to issue directions on restrictions of movement and gatherings, quarantine requirements and physical distancing.
The Human Rights Commission has “generally supported” the state government’s pandemic approach and noted it has an obligation to protect the right to life.
But without direct access to relevant evidence and expertise, commenting on whether restrictions imposed at any given time are justified is outside of it’s capacity.
“The Commission has therefore been very careful throughout the pandemic not to undermine public health responses.”
As Queensland enters a “living with COVID-19” phase, the bill notes “some restrictions may still need to be maintained or activated” including masks and vaccination requirements in high risk settings.
“Ongoing COVID-19 responses are likely to be driven by local epidemiological conditions, vaccination rates and health system capacity, as well as any measures needed to respond to the emergence of vaccine resistant variants or other unforeseen circumstances,” explanatory notes state.
The committee is due to table its report on 25 March 2022