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Victoria COVID-19 rules were misunderstood

Victoria COVID-19
The inquiry found complicated pandemic orders resulted in a high incidence of non-compliance. Photo: AAP
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Complicated legal language has made it hard for Victorians to understand and follow the state’s COVID-19 pandemic orders, a parliamentary inquiry has found.

The Pandemic Declaration Accountability and Oversight Committee has spent months speaking to community leaders and organisations about Victoria’s response to the pandemic.

The committee on Friday tabled two reports to parliament and recommended the health department publish summaries of the orders in language equivalent to a year 7 level.

“Using complex language risks pandemic orders being misunderstood, increasing the likelihood of non-compliance,” the report said.

“Given the consistent and rapid changes to orders to date, it is important that workforces, individuals and the Victorian community can quickly understand changes to the orders.”

Hospitals and care facilities were often left in the dark about major changes to COVID-19 restrictions before they were publicly announced, the committee found.

“This was compounded by conflicting or unclear advice in the media which led to community expectations which did not align with the reality,” the report said.

The state’s pandemic orders did not breach Victorians’ human rights, but the health minister was not always clear when explaining why, the committee found.

They recommended the minister provide a written explanation in the Human Rights Statement so the public can better understand why the pandemic orders do not limit a person’s right to privacy.

The report also noted successive lockdowns and restrictions had a “concerning” impact on Victorians’ mental health, but it was beyond the scope of the committee to make recommendations on mental health responses.

The government will consider the recommendations, Premier Daniel Andrews said.

“If there are things that need to be acted on quickly, then I think our record is one where we do get on and get things done,” he said on Friday.

The committee’s Coalition MPs tabled a separate minority report on Friday, citing concerns around mental health and the “inconsistent” response from the state government.

The report also called for chief health officer Brett Sutton to provide further evidence to the committee, as there have been more rule changes since he last appeared in January.

The minority report listed 26 recommendations to the government, including a call for the health department to undertake a special inquiry into suicides during the COVID pandemic.

Only the minority report properly addressed the issues arising from the pandemic orders, Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said.

“The pandemic committee’s report is a complete sham,” he said on Friday.

“Like everything in Victoria under this Labor government it’s all a stitch up.”

– AAP