The state government has been forced to make significant changes to its controversial pandemic management bill ahead of its debate in the Victorian parliament.
Crossbench MPs on Monday night put pressure on the Andrews government to wind back some aspects of the proposed laws as politicians prepare to debate and vote on the bill in parliament’s upper house this week.
The new laws – which would give the premier the power to declare a pandemic on the advice of the chief health officer and health minister – were pushed through the lower house two weeks ago.
The bill has triggered widespread community backlash, with protesters camping out at Parliament House overnight and promising to continue rallying against the government’s “heavy-handed” approach.
Changes to the proposed laws will include halving financial penalties for breaching pandemic orders and releasing public health advice sooner than originally planned.
The government will also reduce the reporting period for documents associated with pandemic orders from 14 days to seven days.
There will also be an oversight committee to be able to consider pandemic orders once they are made, not only when they are tabled in parliament.
A clause in the bill that would have allowed pandemic orders to be made against classes of persons based on attributes as defined in the Equal Opportunity Act would also be scrapped.
Victoria’s ongoing state of emergency will expire on December 15.
Government officials can only make certain decisions such as lockdown, limits on movement and mandatory mask-wearing rules under the state of emergency.
It has therefore introduced the bill so it can continue to wield pandemic powers after the state of emergency expires.
The Andrews government needs the support of the three crossbench MPs in order for the bill to pass.
It has previously said the proposed legislation will create “purpose-built” laws for a pandemic that were no broader than other states and territories.
While the Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy described the proposed laws as “an incredible attack on democracy”.
The bill will be debated in parliament on Tuesday, with a final vote due later in the week.