Tuesday, 12 May 2020

ACT Raises Concerns With Level 2 Legislation

ACT Leader David Seymour has welcomed the Government’s move to set down a legal framework for Alert Level 2, but says the Public Health Response Bill raises a number of issues that must be addressed by Parliament.

“While the Government has made the right call to introduce a legal framework through Parliament, a number of questions remain,” says Mr Seymour.

“Powers are given to the Minister of Health to issue enforceable orders. This is important, major powers should be held by people the public can vote for, or against. However, an overlap remains between the powers of the Director-General and the Minister of Health. It effectively allows the Director-General to do the Minister’s job without the safeguards placed around the Minister.

“The Director-General does not have to consult the Prime Minister or Minister of Justice as the Minister of Health can, but can put in place sweeping directives that are infinitely renewable. If the objective is for increased Ministerial responsibility and accountability, then only the Minister should have the power to issue and extend orders greater than 48 hours in length. I suggest limiting the power of the Director-General to issue enforceable orders for urgent matters up to 48 hours only. A Ministerial order can take over after 48 hours, that is the notification period for a Ministerial order.

“Most concerning is the lack of accountability for Enforcement Officers selected by the Director-General. I question why the Director-General has been given the power to raise an army of undefined volunteers to enter premises, shut down businesses, and issue fines at all, but to leave this power unchecked would be a gross misstep. It should be clear how the public can go about raising complaints about Enforcement Officers.

“The Bill establishes a legal framework for 2 years. If the reason for rushed law making is due to the urgency of the public health system, it should only be in place long enough for a proper Parliamentary process to take place. It’s not obvious why this law lasts 2 years when Parliament will have the time to consider a bill fully within 1 year.

“I have sent my concerns to the Attorney-General including suggestions for improving the bill and hope he will consider it and introduce amendments at the Committee Stage."