Media release 27th October The Centre for Public Integrity
The Victorian Government’s new pandemic bill makes important Parliamentary scrutiny improvements to pandemic orders, though lacks independent accountability by a statutory agency, according to new analysis by the Centre for Public Integrity.
The Bill enables the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee (SARC) to report on pandemic orders and, critically, to recommend suspension and disallowance. In contrast, none of the public health directions issued to date have been scrutinised by the Parliament or the SARC, and they have been exempt from disallowance processes since 22 December 2020. The fact that pandemic orders will be disallowable by the Parliament is a significant improvement on the current legislative framework.
The analysis recommends:
(1) Failure to comply with the sections of the Bill requiring provision of information to the Parliament and the public should carry consequences.
(2) The SARC’s jurisdiction in respect of suspension should not be dependent upon the government’s compliance with procedural matters (similarly to its jurisdiction in respect of disallowance).
(3) The SARC’s jurisdiction to report should not be limited to specified matters and should be widened to include any matters it considers appropriate (including but not limited to those set out at s 165AS).
(4) Timeframes for the exercise of the SARC’s powers should be further expedited
(5) The Independent Pandemic Management Advisory Committee should be guaranteed the necessary resources and powers to perform a meaningful role, and there should be greater transparency around committee appointments and advice.
(6) An independent statutory agency, such as the Ombudsman, should be granted the jurisdiction and investigative powers to review the exercise of executive emergency powers.
“To date major decisions affecting the lives of millions of Victorians have been made without any accountability mechanisms in place,” said Dr Catherine Williams, Research Director of the Centre for Public Integrity.
“This new pandemic bill improves Parliamentary scrutiny of health orders, including the requirement that they be tabled in Parliament, be scrutinised by committee and subject to disallowance. These are welcome changes.”
“Accountability of these extensive pandemic powers could be further improved by an independent statutory authority, such as the Ombudsman, having an oversight and investigative function,” said Dr Williams.
For comment – Contact Dr Catherine Williams (firstname.lastname@example.org)