Controversial pandemic laws are being debated in the Victorian parliament as protesters maintain their presence outside, after several conducted a mock execution of the premier overnight.
Debate on the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill began in the upper house on Tuesday afternoon and is expected to continue until the end of the week.
The bill, which gives the premier and health minister the power to declare a pandemic and make public health orders, is all but guaranteed to pass after the government made amendments to secure the support of three crossbench MPs.
But it has become a lightning rod for anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination groups, with hundreds of protesters planning to camp out on the steps of parliament for the duration of the debate.
A video posted on social media on Tuesday morning shows the protesters gathered around a wooden gallows chanting “Freedom”, “Traitor”, “Kill Dan Andrews” and “Hang Dan Andrews” while attempting to place the head of an inflatable doll of the premier through the noose.
A Victoria Police spokesman told AAP they were yet to receive a complaint about the incident. If the premier or another person made a complaint to police and felt it was a legitimate threat, police would investigate it in line with the Crimes Act, he said
Thousands also gathered in Melbourne’s CBD against the bill on Saturday, including a man carrying homemade gallows with three nooses in an apparent reference to crossbenchers Andy Meddick of the Animal Justice Party, Fiona Patten of the Reason Party and Greens leader Samantha Ratnam, who are supporting the bill.
The amendments clarify that the premier needs “reasonable grounds” to declare a pandemic, and the application of orders based on characteristics such as age, location, vaccination status and occupation “must be relevant to the public health risk”.
The health minister will be required to confirm the role the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities has played in their decisions, and the time limit has been tightened for when advice behind orders should be published and when parliament’s Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee can consider them.
Maximum fines for people breaching public health orders were also halved.
“There will be no other parliament that has the transparency, accountability and the reporting to parliament that this bill provides,” Health Minister Martin Foley said.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the scenes outside parliament were not a reflection of the Victorian community, given the overwhelming majority had been vaccinated against COVID-19, and he accused detractors of playing “political games”.
“The thing about these laws and our management of this pandemic is it’s not a game. It’s very much about keeping people safe,” he told reporters, noting the opposition had called for the measures “just a few weeks ago”.
Mr Meddick said he, his fellow crossbenchers and their families had been subject to “threats of violence, of rape and death” for supporting the government.
He called on Opposition Leader Matthew Guy to unequivocally condemn members of his party who had attended rallies and “legitimised the noose-wielding maniacs”.
While labelling some of the protester’s behaviour as “ridiculous” and “stupid”, Mr Guy stopped short of rebuking Liberal MPs, including David Davis and Bernie Finn, for attending the events.
“That’s a dangerous place in democracy to say we’re going to pick and choose who can’t be addressed at a rally,” he said.
Mr Meddick also criticised the government for not addressing concerns about the laws earlier.
“They should have been on the front foot, they should have been getting out positive messages because if they had, perhaps we would not have seen a full-size, functioning gallows towed past the front of parliament last night,” he said.
Meanwhile, the NSW government is also considering plans to extend the state’s emergency powers until March 2023.
“Only the health provisions that need to be extended will be extended,” NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said.
“I will be carefully considering this matter over the summer break.”