Assistant Attorney General: Commonwealth could “legislate” on Daniel Andrews’ pandemic powers

The Commonwealth could use Australia’s international human rights obligations to “exclude” Daniel Andrews’ tough pandemic powers, but the Assistant Attorney General says Victorians should instead demand better government.

The Assistant Attorney General has lashed Premier Daniel Andrews’ “unprecedented” pandemic powers, declaring that the proposed new bill would allow the government to “deprive people of liberty” at will.

The Andrews Government’s Pandemic Management Bill would give the Premier the power to declare a pandemic and extend it in three-month blocks, while bestowing upon the Health Minister unparalleled scope to enforce controversial public health orders.

Queensland Senator and Assistant Attorney General Amanda Stoker said the Premier had “doubled down on draconian powers” after nearly two years of widespread lockdowns and COVID-19 restrictions.

“You’d hope that governments would be stepping back and saying, ‘how can we learn from this so that in similar situations we don’t unnecessarily confine the ability of individuals to live their lives’,” Ms Stoker told Sky News Australia’s Catherine McGregor.

“Instead in Victoria, the Andrews Government has doubled down on draconian pandemic powers and has put forward a bill that has gone through their lower house.

“It would give that government the power to confine the liberties of any individual or any group based on any attribute.”

Victoria’s new proposed pandemic laws should not allow the premier to extend emergency declarations beyond three months without going to parliament, says former Labor MP Michael Danby. “I can understand how people want to take away from

The Bill would strip the Chief Health Officer of the power to declare a pandemic, but would mandate that any health advice be published with 14-days.

However, Ms Stoker said the powers could be invoked “whether or not you’re dealing with an actual pandemic” and warned of the vast and potentially dangerous consequences.

“It essentially allows all protections against discrimination to be thrown out the window insofar as it relates to the Victorian government,” she said.

“And allows them to discriminate at will, to deprive people of liberty, to restrict their movement and to impose medical treatments upon them.

“This stuff is unprecedented in Australian history and should be deeply scary for Victorians.”

While not explicitly condoning Commonwealth intervention, Ms Stoker outlined how the Morrison Government could use the external affairs powers under Section 51 of the Constitution to render the pandemic management bill redundant.

A new proposed bill to divert pandemic powers to the Premier of Victoria will give Daniel Andrews and the state health minister “pretty much unbridled power to do as they wish”, according to Barrister Paul Hayes QC. “It's very important that

The Commonwealth can use the external affairs powers to legislate in areas which fall under Australia’s international obligations but are also typically governed by the states.

“It is theoretically possible to rely on Australia’s international human rights treaty obligations in relation to the health powers,” Ms Stoker said.

“(And) to use the external affairs section of the Constitution as a head of power for which to try and legislate at a Commonwealth level and cover the field in a way that would exclude this legislation (pandemic powers).

“I don’t actually think we should, I think what Victorians should do is demand a better government.”

These pandemic powers were broadly defined as “any order” with the legislation including wide-ranging examples which a group of eminent barristers said was designed to not limit the Health Minister’s scope.

The examples given in the bill include the detention of people, restricting movement and regulating public or private gatherings.