Experts warn on Vic’s emergency laws

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Premier Daniel Andrews. Photo: Nickm57/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0
Premier Daniel Andrews. Photo: Nickm57/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Two legal academics have revealed their concerns over Victoria’s state of emergency laws, saying unchecked power given to health department bureaucrats risk “unforetold” consequences.

Iain Benson, professor of law at the University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney, said there is evidence of government overreach in the state as well as jurisdictions overseas in their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In most proper emergency scenarios there has to be prior scrutiny of these executive decisions,” Professor Benson said.

“You can’t just have someone operating as a lone ranger, and there are some very disquieting things happening in Victoria in relation particularly to the curfew.”

Premier Daniel Andrews admitted this week that a crippling overnight curfew was his decision, and not a recommendation of either health or police authorities.

A ban last week on priests visiting the dying to offer their final sacraments was only reversed after Archbishop Peter Comensoli intervened.

Dr Rocque Reynolds, dean of the St Thomas More School of Law at ACU, said that “just about anyone” at certain levels within the Department of Health and Human Services could be responsible for making public health directives which “are not subject to any scrutiny”.

She said “there are no limits, really to what they can do … When this first started we were all understanding that we had to take some actions that we didn’t like and were very supportive.

“I think many people these days think that things have gone too far, that there isn’t a balance being considered between the rights of people.

“I’m not sure the right people are making these decisions and taking into account the appropriate checks and balances that are normally taken into account.”