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Statement: Changes to the Omnibus Amendment Bill will better balance human rights and public health measures

The Commission welcomes news this week that the Victorian Government will amend the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Amendment Bill to remove pre-emptive detention powers and clarify the enforcement powers to be given to authorised officers. The changes will help ensure that critical public health measures do not unnecessarily encroach on Victorians’ human rights.

8 October 2020

The proposed changes to the Omnibus Amendment Bill are expected to address key concerns we raised with the initial version of the Bill – namely, the pre-emptive detention of ‘high-risk’ individuals (those infected with COVID-19 and close contacts) and the unclear and expanded powers proposed to be given to a broader group of authorised officers.

The proposed revisions will remove the pre-emptive detention powers from the Bill.

The revised Bill will also provide greater precision on who can be named an authorised officer under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act and the specific limits on the powers of authorised officers. The revised Bill is expected to specify classes of people who can be appointed to the role of authorised officer. It will also specify the limits on the particular powers that each of those classes of authorised officers can exercise under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act.

Importantly, it is expected that the new classes of authorised officers will not have emergency powers (including the ability to issue detention notices). Only appropriately trained DHHS staff will have the power to detain, which is offset by existing legislative safeguards.

Throughout the pandemic, we have seen that it is critical for the government to keep human rights at the centre of its decision-making. Any limitation on human rights must be necessary, justifiable and proportionate – and we are pleased that the government has responded to community concern to adopt a less restrictive measure in this instance, while still responding to a serious public health risk.

The revised Omnibus Amendment Bill is due to be debated by the Legislative Council on 13 October. The Commission will continue to look carefully at the new measures proposed.

Media contact

Peter Davies
Mobile: 0447 526 642
Email: peter.davies@veohrc.vic.gov.au

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Address
Level 3, 204 Lygon Street Carlton Victoria 3053

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enquiries@veohrc.vic.gov.au

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The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as First Australians and recognises their culture, history, diversity and deep connection to the land.

We acknowledge that the Commission is on the land of the Kulin Nation and pay our respects to Elders past and present.