PREMIER, Daniel Andrews has been accused of a “power grab” after announcing this week he would seek to alter legislation to allow the current state of emergency to be extended for up to 12 months.
Mr Andrews announced Monday the government would attempt to pass legislation through parliament to extend state of emergency provisions within the Public Health and Wellbeing Act, which had allowed the state to make face coverings mandatory, force businesses to have COVID-safe plans and impose restrictions on public gatherings without having to pass through parliament.
The current state of emergency has been in effect for almost six months – which is the maximum currently allowed under the legislation, meaning it must end on September 16 if the legislation is not changed.
However opposition leader, Michael O’Brien said the state of emergency provided the government with enormous power and little oversight, and labelled Mr Andrews’ move to extend the provision as a “power grab”.
“This is the act of a premier whose power has gone to his head,” he said.
“We will stand with Victorians whose rights and freedoms are threatened by this extraordinary power grab.
“Daniel Andrews caused this second wave by his government’s incompetence managing hotel quarantine and now he wants to extend his power without being accountable for it.
“Victorians deserve democracy, they deserve accountability, they deserve transparency but instead what we get from Daniel Andrews is another attempt to extend his power over the lives of Victorians.”
On Monday, Mr Andrews said there needed to be change because the pandemic was “not over yet”.
“(The state of emergency) is the legal instrument that allows government to enforce rules about face masks, about COVID-safe work plans in workplaces large and small, density limits in pubs and cafés and restaurants, (and) requiring (COVID) positive people to isolate at home,” he said.
“We simply can't have those important roles and the legal framework that sits behind them end on September 13, because this virus won’t have ended by the 13th of next month.
“No one is asking for (the state of emergency) to run forever – 12 months we think is appropriate.
“I hope we are wrong in predicting this will still need rules in 12 months, hopefully we have got a vaccine by then.”
Taking to Twitter on Monday night, Mr Andrews said the legislative change didn’t mean restrictions would be in place any longer than necessary.
“Extending the state of emergency is about ensuring that we can legally make the changes our health experts need to keep us safe,” he wrote.
“This does not change how long our current lockdown will last or increase the restrictions we face.
“Getting back to normal won't ever be an option if we can't protect what we’ve already achieved.
“These changes are about saving lives and keeping Victorians safe – nothing more, nothing less.”
Nationals leader, Peter Walsh said an extension to the state of emergency provision was a “draconian” move that “should send a shiver down the spine of every Victorian”.
“The state of emergency hands enormous power to the premier and a small number of unelected officials with very little oversight and accountability,” he said.
“There’s a reason it’s strictly limited to a maximum of six months – because no government should be able to write itself a blank cheque for extraordinary powers over Victorians’ lives and livelihoods.”
Mr Andrews said he hoped parliament would work together to pass the “logical and absolutely proportionate response to the challenge we face”, but Lowan MP, Emma Kealy said the Nationals would not support the legislation over concerns how the powers would be used.
“There's no argument that public health must be the priority, but Daniel Andrews has used these powers to force our local businesses to close indefinitely,” she said.
“He's stopped us getting out boating, hunting, camping, fishing, hiking, horse-riding, prospecting and four-wheel driving.
“He’s stopped community sport and stopped our kids going to school.
“The Nationals won't support the Andrews Labor Government writing itself a blank cheque for this type of extraordinary powers over Victorians.”