The Victorian Government has proposed new laws to tighten its pandemic powers. 

A new bill to be tabled in state parliament strips the state’s chief health officer of the power to have the final say on restrictions in a pandemic.

Instead, the Premier would have the power to declare a pandemic, based on the advice of the Chief Health Officer and Health Minister. The new bill also requires that advice be tabled in parliament.

In fact, a statement of reasons for decisions to make pandemic orders, the Chief Health Officer’s advice, and how each order affects human rights under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, will have to be published within 14 days of making of those orders.

The laws are designed to replace ongoing state-of-emergency powers when they expire in December.

Among the changes is a provision for an independent committee that scrutinises crucial government decisions and health advice. That independent committee would be made up of public health and human rights experts, and while it would not have veto powers, it will review any government decisions.

Any advice that the new independent pandemic management advisory committee provides would also be tabled in parliament.

The new laws also contain stronger safeguards to protect data obtained through check-in apps from law enforcement. 

The changes would see police access QR-code check-in data, which is being widely collected as the state reopens, only if there is an imminent threat to someone’s life and if they acquire a Supreme Court order.

Importantly, the bill lays out a tiered fines system to lessen the burden on disadvantaged people.

The bill, dubbed the ‘Public Health and Wellbeing (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021’, could pass Parliament within a month. If so, they will be active from December and apply to all future pandemics.

The laws are reportedly based on those implemented in New Zealand and New South Wales.