The Victorian government will move to extend its state of emergency powers until December 15, as more workers will be able to return to offices within days.
With Victoria recording no locally acquired coronavirus cases for 27 days, Premier Daniel Andrews said it was safe for the public and private sector to return to 75 per cent capacity from February 8.
“If we can get one more day (with no cases) that will be two lots of 28 that we’ve had over recent months,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
“That’s something that no other jurisdiction in the world has done, particularly after a second wave, and should be a point of pride for every single Victorian.”
Currently, the private sector is permitted to have 50 per cent of staff in offices, while the public sector is restricted to 25 per cent.
Mr Andrews said the move would support jobs and stimulate economic activity for Melbourne’s CBD.
The premier also announced the government will introduce a bill to parliament to extend Victoria’s state of emergency for another nine months.
Victoria is the only state that caps the maximum length of time a state of emergency can remain in force. The current state of emergency is due to expire on March 15.
Mr Andrews said the extension was about “locking in and having legal certainty” for public health measures such as hotel quarantine, mask-wearing and the state’s travel permit system.
“There is a clear need for us to have rules. I would very much hope that no one sought to play politics with this,” he said.
“This is not about new rules, this is just about keeping the current rules in place and potentially easing them off as conditions continue to get better.”
The opposition will vote against the proposed extension, with their leader in the upper house David Davis describing the bid as a “power grab” by Mr Andrews.
“He is drunk on power. He is determined to take huge power for himself and his government,” he said.
Mr Davis said month-to-month or three-monthly extensions, accompanied by relevant public health advice, was appropriate.
In September last year, the government sought to extend its state of emergency powers by 12 months.
Instead, a six-month extension was passed with the support of Andy Meddick from the Animal Justice Party, Reason Party MP Fiona Patten and Samantha Ratnam of the Greens, who returned early from maternity leave to cast her vote.
Mr Andrews said he was “very confident” the government would come to an agreement with crossbenchers again.
Ms Patten, however, has indicated she will not support the bill in its current form.
“We understand the government needs to have powers to provide some restrictions, but to do it in a heightened state of emergency is not the answer,” she said, suggesting the introduction of COVID-specific laws instead.
The Greens have also raised concerns about the policing of restrictions and the tough border restrictions that left many Victorians stranded over the new year period.
“We will be entering discussions and negotiations with the Andrews Labor government about these issues before we make any decision on whether to support an extension,” Ms Ratnam said.
Victoria has 22 active COVID-19 cases, all confined to hotel quarantine.
The Health Department is also investigating a case of a woman in her 60s who flew from Victoria to the Philippines and returned a positive coronavirus result on January 31.
The woman is asymptomatic and her family and close contacts in Victoria have tested negative.
Authorities believe it is a false positive result.
Meanwhile, viral fragments of coronavirus have been detected in wastewater samples in Warrnambool. Anyone in the region with symptoms is urged to get tested.