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Covid-19 Omnibus (emergency Measures) And Other Acts Amendment Bill 2020

The government has amended the bill, removing the detention powers entirely, limiting the powers of police and tightening the definition of who can become an authorised officer. These amendments are welcomed by the Greens 

Speech on the Covid-19 Omnibus (emergency Measures) And Other Acts Amendment Bill 2020, 14th October 2020. 

Dr READ (Brunswick) (12:00): The controversial part of this bill contained the much discussed powers of detention of individuals defined as being at high risk of non-compliance with health directions and therefore presumably likely to spread the coronavirus. Like many I was both puzzled and concerned by the inclusion of these provisions in the omnibus legislation—puzzled because the powers already exist in two parts of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008, in the emergency powers in section 200 of that act and in the public health order powers in section 117, specifically (5)(k), of that act. So it was puzzling as to why they would be included again in this omnibus bill—perhaps, and this was the concerning part, to allow more extensive use of these powers, which could put the vulnerable at risk, in particular people of colour, the homeless and the mentally ill.

We were also very concerned that police and PSOs may have these powers, so we proposed amendments to prevent this. The government has amended the bill, removing the detention powers entirely, limiting the powers of police and tightening the definition of who can become an authorised officer. These amendments are welcomed by the Greens and other crossbenchers and show the importance of Parliament at this time.

Let us just go back now to what the bill currently does in the amended form. It extends until late April provisions that already apply under state-of-emergency legislation, allowing workers compensation payments to continue, allowing courts and other parts of the justice system to operate safely and allowing local councils to meet online. There are new provisions which assist with reuniting children with their families, with assisting domestic violence survivors in court and with allowing WorkSafe inspectors to issue orders regarding workplaces—and workplaces have proven to be very important in the transmission of the novel coronavirus in Victoria. When it first appeared in this chamber, we supported the bill, provided it was amended. We proposed amendments. Different amendments have been made that resolve our concerns and those of civil liberties advocates, and so we will support the bill.

It is interesting to hear from the Leader of the Opposition concerns about powers of detention. The Leader of the Opposition has probably read the Public Health and Wellbeing Act, but what is very concerning is his opposition to these powers, it would appear, in all forms and presumably in the Public Health and Wellbeing Act. It does not inspire confidence in the opposition that they might seek to remove these powers entirely. I would sincerely hope that the opposition is not planning to amend the existing powers in the Public Health and Wellbeing Act.

Like most crossbenchers—I am not sure about members of the Labor and Liberal parties—I have been on the receiving end of a storm of emails from people, real and possibly fictitious, residing in all parts of Victoria, conflating this omnibus bill with the public health policy decisions which have shut down so much of Victoria’s economy and have affected all of us in one way or another, restrictions which are uncomfortable for most and very painful for many.

This bill has very little to do with any of that. The bill which I have summarised has nothing to do with the making of those public health decisions and has something to do with helping parts of our government cope under these restrictions. So why would people—thousands of people—send emails believing that a bill that says one thing actually does another? What could possibly have generated that? I just hope that this is not a sign of a shift in politics towards what we identify more with a narcissistic buffoon who runs the United States at the moment—

A member: Are you casting aspersions on the Victorian Premier?

Dr READ: I am casting aspersions on President Trump. But I am particularly interested in how when words say one thing thousands of people email us claiming they say another. How could that happen? It is extraordinary in fact that thousands of people could send us emails with very little variation in the bulk of their text. The main thing that changes is their name, but they all seem to think even after the amendments removed the powers of detention that somehow people can be locked up. So it is a curious matter, and it is very concerning, and it is fortunate that enough members of the upper house were capable of reading the bill in its amended form and passing it.

Mr Wells: Why didn’t you read the bill when it was in the Legislative Assembly and you voted for it?

Dr READ: I will take up the interjection from the member for Rowville and just reiterate that we were concerned about police and PSOs having these powers. We proposed amendments that police and PSOs be removed from the bill, and we otherwise voted for the bill. It is indeed tricky when you get an omnibus bill, which is a little bit like a fruit salad containing broccoli. Do you support the fruit salad or do you vote against it because of the broccoli? We asked to have the broccoli removed.

Ms Staley: Oh, preventative detention—you voted for it.

Dr READ: I am going to take up the interjection from the member for Ripon, which is—

Mr M O’Brien interjected.

Dr READ: Look, I will leave the interjection because the debate has moved on. I am pleased the Leader of the Opposition did like the fruit salad.

Members interjecting.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Blandthorn): Order! Could you allow the member to continue.

Dr READ: I will take up one more interjection, which is that I completely own voting for the legislation and proposing an amendment which addressed our concerns. An amendment has been made which has addressed our concerns, and so we will support the bill.

Moving on, because I think it is time to move on, I think that the organisation or several organisations which have generated so much misinformation and which have misled a lot of people have served to mislead people who are suffering under this lockdown. The people who are suffering under this lockdown will at some point learn that they have been misled, and the concern is that when they realise that they have been misled by the opposition they too may not have confidence in the opposition. So on that note I will reiterate that we will support the bill and we will vote for it again.

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Dr Tim Read
Greens MP for Brunswick
15 October 2020



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