Hot topics close

Victorian government's pandemic bill passes upper and lower house after weeks of negotiation

After weeks of negotiations and substantial amendments, the Victorian government's controversial pandemic legislation has cleared its last hurdle.

The Victorian government's controversial pandemic laws have officially passed the through the state parliament.

Key points:
  • Victoria's pandemic bill passed through both houses of parliament after weeks of debate
  • Dozens of amendments were made to the bill to garner support from crossbench MPs
  • The legislation must now be approved by the governor before becoming law

The laws, which replace the state of emergency powers, passed 20 votes to 18, with the support of four crossbenchers. 

It comes after days of debate and a marathon sitting that lasted 21 hours in order to pass several amendments. 

The legislation will now be passed to the governor for royal assent to become law.

Health Minister Martin Foley said the government did not expect to use the new powers before December 15 when the state of emergency expires.

Catch up on the main COVID-19 news from DATE with a look back at our blog

Victoria will be the first state in Australia to have pandemic-specific legislation, giving the government of the day the legal framework it needs to manage health emergencies, including vaccine mandates and mask rules.

The legislation will give Victoria's premier and health minister the power to declare a pandemic and enforce restrictions.

The proposal first came to light in late October, and in its original form, it elicited criticism from legal groups, the state's ombudsman, the opposition and others concerned about potential human rights breaches.

The state government spruiked the bill as one that would increase transparency, but its opponents raised concerns about powers granted to the premier and health minister and called for greater oversight and checks to be included.

Large protests that were held in opposition to the change on the steps of Parliament House attracted many thousands of people, and violent imagery was used by some protesters.

Dozens of amendments were made to the original proposal as a result of negotiations between the state government and crossbench MPs such as the Reason Party's Fiona Patton, Animal Justice Party's Andy Meddick and the Greens' leader Samantha Ratnam.

In recent days, Transport Matters MP Rod Barton agreed to back the bill after securing further changes, and his support ultimately led to its passage through the upper house on Thursday.

A headshot of a man against an outdoor background. He is speaking to the mediaA headshot of a man against an outdoor background. He is speaking to the media
Member for Eastern Metropolitan Rodney Barton said skeptics of the bill can be confident that amendments have curbed the government's powers.(AAP: Joel Carrett)

Mr Barton said the wide-sweeping changes to the legislation made the bill a "very different beast" from the one initially proposed by the Victorian government.

"We couldn't and we didn't support it originally. But with an enormous amount of work, we've turned this sort of dog's breakfast bill into a framework to keep the people of Victoria safe," Mr Barton said.

Mr Barton said the legislation was important in allowing the state government to handle the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and bring its powers in line with other states.

"If the bill didn't get up, I believe the government would have found a way of reintroducing the state of emergency powers, and I don't think anybody would want to see that again."

He urged Victorians unsure of the new bill to take confidence in the recent support from former opponents such as Ombudsman Deborah Glass, the Law Institute of Victoria and Liberty Victoria.

The state opposition was highly critical of the bill, and while the Victorian Bar backed the safeguards introduced to the bill via the negotiations, president Róisín Annesley said concerns remained about some of the powers it outlined.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.
Watch
Duration: 4 minutes 58 seconds4m 58s
Play Video. Duration: 4 minutes 58 secondsPlay Video. Duration: 4 minutes 58 seconds
Heavily mutated Omicron variant puts scientist on alert
What you need to know about coronavirus:

Loading form...

Similar news
This week's most popular news