News State Victoria News Vic govt agrees to pandemic bill changes

Vic govt agrees to pandemic bill changes

victoria pandemic legislation
Protesters have rallied at the steps of the Victorian parliament against the proposed legislation. Photo: Getty
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The Victorian government has made significant changes to its pandemic legislation to secure the extra vote it needs to pass parliament.

The Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill is on the top of the upper house’s agenda when parliament resumes on Tuesday for the last scheduled sitting week of the year.

The legislation, which gives the premier and health minister the power to declare a pandemic and the ability to enforce restrictions, is set to replace the state of emergency which expires on December 15.

It came as Victoria confirmed another 918 local COVID cases on Tuesday. The results came from 45,658 tests in the previous 24 hours.

There were also six more fatalities.

Of Victorians 12 and over, 91 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Voting on the pandemic bill was delayed by the attorney-general to allow for negotiations with key crossbenchers – Transport Matters MP Rod Barton and Sustainable Australia’s Clifford Hayes – in an effort to break a deadlock.

Overnight, the state government agreed to six amendments after securing a vote on the bill from Mr Barton.

The amendments include the creation of a cross-parliamentary committee as soon as practicable after a pandemic declaration is made, with the committee given the power to recommend the disallowance of pandemic orders.

Parliament will also be able to disallow pandemic orders by an absolute majority in a joint sitting of both houses, under the changes.

Additionally, a two-year review, carried out by independent legal and health experts, will commence within 18 months of a pandemic declaration.

A new independent merits review scheme for detention orders will replace the current Detention Review Officer Panel, and the amendments will remove the aggravated offence clause.

The changes will also clarify that complaints about detention can be made to the Victorian Ombudsman and parliament or a committee can refer a matter for investigation.

A government spokeswoman said the negotiations were “rigorous” and thanked Mr Barton for coming to the table “in good faith”.

“The emergence of the Omicron variant highlights that the pandemic isn’t over, and that Victoria needs the powers that all other jurisdictions across Australia have to keep our community safe,” she said.

“Over the past fortnight, we offered negotiations to the entire crossbench, giving them the opportunity to work with us on changes to this bill that would ensure Victoria has such a framework in place.

“If this bill passes, we will have strengthened parliamentary oversight, with an independent joint investigatory committee and the ability for the parliament to revoke pandemic orders.”

The bill had been expected to pass parliament in the previous sitting week with the support of three crossbench MPs, but former Labor minister Adem Somyurek announced he would return from a self-imposed absence to vote against it in its current form.

His return meant the government needed the support of one additional crossbencher to pass the legislation.

-with AAP