By the ABC, originally posted on the 27th of August.

A key crossbench MP says the State Government has approached her with a compromise proposal which would allow the state of emergency to be extended by a further six months, rather than a year as originally proposed.

Key points:

  • Reason Party leader Fiona Patten said Government politicians and crossbenchers had told her a 12-month extension would fail in the Parliament
  • Crossbenchers have indicated they will support a shorter extension on the condition Parliament sits at least every six months
  • There are calls for MPs to be allowed to vote online when Parliament meets next week

The ABC has confirmed the Government approached the leader of the Reason Party Fiona Patten with the new proposal.

Under current laws, a state of emergency must be renewed each month and can last for a maximum of six consecutive months.

State Parliament is due to consider the changes next week.

The State Government needs the legislative change to go ahead so it can legally enforce the Chief Health Officer’s directions such as mandatory face masks and social distancing after September 13 when the current state of emergency ends.

Ms Patten told ABC News Breakfast she had been told by the Health Minister Jenny Mikakos and crossbenchers “that the 12-month extension just won’t pass the Parliament”.

“They’re looking for a modified version, and that would hopefully include a maximum of six months before it came back to the Parliament,” she said.

Ms Patten said she had not heard from any crossbenchers who supported a 12-month extension.

She said her main concern was a 12-month extension would allow future governments “to instil a state of emergency into this state for 18 months, without going back to the Parliament”.

“Without … adequate scrutiny and oversight, that is too far,” she said.

“As much as we might trust the Premier and the current Government, this is setting in stone something for not just this one, for future governments. I don’t think it’s too much to ask, to put in for three months or six months, and then come back to the Parliament.”

Ms Patten said bringing the extension back to Parliament would “provide that transparency and oversight so the public knows that we’re moving forward, that there is a light or a glimmer of a light at the end of this tunnel”.

At his daily coronavirus briefing, the Premier declined to confirm the details of his negotiations with the crossbench but said he was “very confident” the Government would find a solution to extend the state of emergency.

Crossbenchers say extension every few months ‘reasonable’

Crossbenchers have indicated they will support a shorter extension on the condition Parliament sits at least every six months.

Justice Party MP Stuart Grimley told the ABC he thought ending the state of emergency in September was “too soon”.

He said an extension between “one to three months” was “reasonable”.

Other crossbench MPs said they understood the need for the powers but were against the lengthy extension without oversight.

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said earlier this week he was open to the idea of granting extensions to the state of emergency in four-week blocks, as long as the case was made to Parliament.

Calls for online voting when Parliament sits

Independent think tank The Centre for Public Integrity published new research today which found Victoria’s Legislative Assembly had sat for only seven days since the pandemic began, but ministers had approved 108 directives and had nearly $70 billion of public money at their disposal.

The centre’s board member and retired Victorian judge, Stephen Charles QC, said Victoria should follow the model of the United Kingdom, which had developed a hybrid model of online and in-person attendance and allowed for voting on legislation online.

“The public has a right to know that the COVID response is being conducted in the public interest, and MPs, both regional and metropolitan, must provide this scrutiny,” Mr Charles said.

The centre said there was nothing in the Victorian Constitution that prevented Parliament from using online technologies to carry out its duties.

A parliamentary committee has been developing a COVID-safe plan for Parliament when it sits next week and Mr Andrews said decisions on voting arrangements rested with this committee.

“I think that we have seen arrangements in different parliaments across the country, different parliaments across the world, where they have used tech to try and facilitate the safest operation of those settings,” Mr Andrews said.

“I’m certainly comfortable with that. But ultimately, that’s a decision that’s made by the presiding officers.”

Full article link here.