Andrews backs down from 12 month plan
The criticism over Dan Andrews' 'undemocratic' plan to extend Victoria's state of emergency for 12 months has reportedly forced the Premier to agree to a shorter time period.
Mr Andrews' announcement this week that the Government would ask for an 12-month extension sparked fear and confusion among the community that the stage 4 lockdown could continue for a year.
It's now being reported that Mr Andrews will accept a shorter six-month extension, among other concessions, according to The Age.
It comes after an angry backlash from residents saw MPs including Prime Minister Scott Morrison and former Opposition Leader Bill Shorten inundated with calls.
On Wednesday, Mr Morrison said he had raised concerns with Mr Andrews about the announcement and the uncertainty around it.
"I did that directly. I know others have, I know other Labor figures have," Mr Morrison said.
"I think people are concerned that lockdowns would extend for another 12 months.
"Now, we've received many calls through offices right across Victoria, including in my office as well. There was great concern that that would occur.
"I don't think that's what the Premier was suggesting at all. But in these times, we've got to be very careful about the announcements that are made. And I welcome the fact that he was clarifying that yesterday."
Premier Daniel Andrews has said the 12-month extension did not cement lockdowns in place but would simply allow the government to continue making rules necessary to keep the coronavirus under control.
He also noted that unlike Victoria, other states were not required to get extensions.
For example, the NSW Health Minister has very broad powers to take any action to deal with a health emergency and this does not require a state of emergency to be declared.
However, there was still concern around Victoria's plan with Education Minister Dan Tehan describing the request for a 12 month extension as "extraordinary".
"The powers it gives to the government, I think, are extraordinary, and the will of the parliament is taken away by these laws," Mr Tehan told ABC's Fran Kelly on Wednesday.
He said the laws took away "liberties".
"They take away the functioning of democracy in the state of Victoria. It needs to be explained why," he said.
Asked why the laws took away liberties, Mr Tehan explained: "If you put in place measures, then you can restrict or limit, through those health measures, the ability of people to be able to attend the Parliament".
Kelly pointed out that parliament was sitting but Mr Tehan said: "Not all members are able to go and get access to it".
"These laws need to be explained … the 12-month extension of them needs to be explained.
"Victorians need to be given good reasons as to why they're doing this."
It comes as the Victorian Opposition Leader Michael O'Brien said the Liberals and Nationals would be opposing the bill "with everything we've got" and described it as a "power grab".
He said Mr Andrews wanted a "blank cheque" for extraordinary powers for 12 months but he believes they should only be extended on a month-by-month basis, with the agreement of the parliament.
"The more extreme the powers, the more accountability you need, the shorter the lease," Mr O'Brien said.
So what powers does the state of emergency give the Victorian Government and is it really necessary to extend this for 12 months?
WHAT DOES THE STATE OF EMERGENCY DO?
Put simply the state of emergency gives the Victorian chief health officer (CHO) wide-ranging powers to do what's necessary to address a public health emergency such as the coronavirus pandemic.
This includes detaining people and restricting their movement.
Victoria's current chief health officer Professor Brett Sutton told reporters on Tuesday that there were certain measures that wouldn't be available to the government if a state of emergency wasn't in place.
This includes the power to isolate unwell people, quarantine their close contacts and quarantine maritime crew or international arrivals who enter the state.
A state of emergency is different to a state of disaster, which has also been declared in Victoria, but which gives the Police Minister broad powers to co-ordinate government agencies and allocate resources.
Premier Andrews said of the state of emergency: "Is simply the ability to make rules".
It does not mean that a stage 4 lockdown or the curfew would be in place for 12 months.
"No rules will be if place for a moment longer than they need to be," Mr Andrews said.
However, he said it was likely some rules would need to stay in place for the longer-term such mandatory face coverings and requirements for workplaces to have COVIDSafe plans.
"Ultimately we are going to have to have some COVID-19 rules until we get a vaccine," Mr Andrews said.
He said he hoped the rules would be "very light touch" but emphasised they would need to be in place for while.
"I can never see a time when someone who gets this (coronavirus) won't be required to moderate their own personal behaviour," he told reporters on Wednesday.
"I can't guarantee that at the end of 12 months, you wouldn't still need some rules.
"That's not designed to frighten people, that's just a statement of fact."
WHY DOES EXTENSION NEED TO BE FOR 12 MONTHS?
The current laws allow Victoria's state of emergency to be extended in four week blocks for a maximum of six months.
Amendments to the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 were expected to be introduced next Tuesday, September 1, to allow the state of emergency to be in place for a total of up to 18 months, which includes six months that have already passed plus an extra 12 months.
The requirement for the chief health officer to explain to a government minister every four weeks why an extension is necessary would remain in place, Mr Andrews said.
"There would need to be fresh advice and a fresh case mounted," Mr Andrews said on Tuesday of each four-week block. "We would have to continue to reaffirm that that was the appropriate thing to do."
When asked whether the CHO could make the case to a parliamentary committee instead of a minister, Prof Sutton told reporters on Tuesday: "I think that's for parliament to speak to, it's not for me to chime in".
During a press conference on Wednesday Mr Andrews was asked how the period of 12 months was decided on and whether there was medical or scientific advice behind this.
"It's a proposal that I've announced as the Premier, it is supported by public health advice and it will be before the parliament next week," he said.
When asked whether the state of emergency could be allowed to lapse for a period of 24 hours for example and then a new order put in place, Mr Andrews said: "We don't think that would be the best way to go. We want to be able to continue to apply rules that are needed beyond the six months".
While he acknowledged that other laws could still be used to provide the powers that the Government needed to enforce certain rules, the "easiest and cleanest thing" was for them to be provided under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act.
RELATED: Victoria's lockdown rules explained
IS IT UNDEMOCRATIC?
A research paper on the Victorian parliament website noted that emergency powers enabled the state to "act outside the constitutional norms".
"By their nature, then, emergency powers raise vexing questions about balancing security with individual freedom," the paper noted.
"As has been the case with COVID-19, the exercise of emergency powers also often raises questions about ministerial accountability and decision-making."
However, the paper noted that constitutional law experts had observed that while the powers provided the potential for authoritarian rule "such powers are terminated with the restoration of normalcy".
Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission head Kristen Hilton said the use of any extraordinary power needed to be lawful, proportionate, and justified.
"We would be very keen to see a stronger justification as to why legislation needs to be changed to extend the state of emergency for 12 months rather than the current six," she told ABC Radio Melbourne.
While there was no doubt serious measures needed to be taken, Ms Hilton said they should be constantly reviewed.
"They need to be time-bound and they need to be the least restrictive measures that the Government can introduce even in extraordinary circumstances," she said.
Since the pandemic began parliament has been largely suspended and the last time the lower house sat was in early June.
The building has been closed to the public since March but there is a live broadcast and transcripts are available. Journalists are also still able to attend.
Next week's sitting week is also expected to be very different with Prof Sutton recommending that regional MPs don't attend.
Mr Andrews has confirmed that regional Labor MPs won't be travelling to Melbourne for the sitting but virtual arrangements were currently being developed with a crossbench party group.
Asked whether the suspension of parliament had led to the perception that he was not being held accountable, Mr Andrews said "that's a matter for others".
"When the parliament has and has not sat, that's been a function of advice from the chief health officer," he said.
WILL IT BE PASSED?
The Victorian Opposition has said it is opposed to a 12-month extension of the state of emergency so the Government will have to negotiate with crossbenchers in the upper house to pass the laws required.
Premier Andrews told reporters on Wednesday the Government was "deeply engaged in constructive and positive discussions with the crossbench".
He said he was "very hopeful" they would get to an outcome that allowed the state to keep driving numbers down and open up the economy.
The Government needs four non-Labor votes in the upper house to pass the legislation once it's introduced on Tuesday.
Justice Party founder Derryn Hinch posted on Twitter that his party, which has two MPs in the upper house, supported the plan. However, the MPs said they wanted to see the draft of the bill and get feedback from their communities before committing.
Other MPs were not as eager to sign up, although some appeared open to a compromise solution, perhaps for a shorter three or six-month extension. This includes independent MP Catherine Cumming, Reason Party's Fiona Patten, Transport Matters MP Rod Barton and Sustainable Australia Party MP Clifford Hayes.
Mr Hayes said in a post on Twitter that 12 months was "an extraordinary amount of time to be making unchecked decisions without parliament review".
"In a functioning democracy, the house of review is required to scrutinise decisions and ensure they are made in the best interest of all Victorians," he wrote.
Others have already come out against the bill including Liberal Democrats MPs Tim Quilty and David Limbrick, as well as Shooters, Farmers and Fishers MP Jeff Bourman.
It's unclear whether Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick and former Labor MP Adem Somyurek are supportive. Greens MP Samantha Ratnam is on maternity leave.
Originally published as Andrews backs down from 12 month plan