The COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) and Other Acts Amendments Bill 2020 has been described as “one of the most horrific attacks on democratic freedoms introduced by a Western Government”.
The Bill has already passed the Legislative Assembly (lower house) and is headed for debate in the Legislative Council (upper house) in mid October....
The Bill gives the Department of Health & Human Services power to appoint "Authorised Officers" who can exercise these emergency powers to arrest and indefinitely detain anyone they deem to be a high risk or anyone they "reasonably" believe is "likely" to refuse to follow a directive.
A high-risk person is described as someone that has been “diagnosed with COVID-19 and has not been given clearance from self-isolation OR they have been notified that they are in close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19.” (emphasis added).
That means individuals who are not Covid-19 positive could be detained on a whim. As no definition of “reasonable” is given, an individual could also be detained for an unspecified period of time for simply posting about a protest on Facebook.
There is no reason or justification given for the introduction of such extreme powers that are being proposed. There is also no provision for a review of the detention which means a person may need to apply to the Supreme Court to grant an order for release.
The definition of Authorised officer is so broad that anyone, whether having any formal qualification or training, could be appointed for the role.
For clarity, an Omnibus Bill is a legislative tool used to amend lots of acts at the same time. There are many harmless aspects of this Bill such as giving the courts the ability to conduct proceedings via Zoom. However, the additions giving unprecedented powers to untrained people is where the problem lies. These are found in Clause 16, which makes several additions to the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008.
The passage of this Bill will likely rest on just a few crossbenchers. Please do not be complacent. We must let MPs know of our concerns - time is of the essence.
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