Concerned citizen “Hang on, I thought the vaccination was going to stop the spread of the disease? And now you are saying the government needs sweeping power to control the disease… which is it?”
Fiona Patten’s auto-email response
Thank you for contacting my office.
I apologise for the impersonal reply. Given the number of emails we are receiving on this subject, we do not have the capacity to respond individually.
Sadly, misinformation about Victoria’s proposed pandemic laws is rife.
No one likes lockdowns, no one likes restrictions on our freedoms. I don’t. Lockdowns affect people’s livelihoods, our wider economy and our mental health. We feel lonely and isolated. They weigh heavily. We all want it to go back to the way it used to be before the pandemic. But we cannot forget for a second, that state of emergency and pandemic rules only exist to save our lives and protect public health.
The alternate of blindly ending restrictions does not lead us back to the way it used to be, or where we want to be in the future.
All states across Australia have declared a state of emergency (or equivalent), giving governments and health officials broad powers to limit individual rights and freedoms to protect public health. These laws only exist to protect life. They exist for situations where carrying on as normal puts us all at risk.
State of emergency (SOE) laws, under which we have been operating during Covid-19, are designed for a short-term health crisis. They are not fit for purpose when it comes to managing an enduring pandemic. That is why I have been calling for pandemic specific legislation since March. Our SOE framework lacks transparency and vests power in health officials to make decisions outside their remit, that affect whole of state matters such as the economy.
What is the alternative?
If we had no legislation of this type, there is no way to control the spread of disease in our community and many more Victorians would die. We need a legislative framework for pandemics. But any new pandemic framework must improve on the laws currently in place that govern a SOE.
The pandemic legislation proposed makes welcome improvements. As compared to a state of emergency, the pandemic legislation provides for greater separation of power in the decision making process, makes important transparency improvements including full publication of CHO advice, improves parliamentary oversight via the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee, provides for an independent advisory committee, and allows Parliament to disallow health orders in certain circumstances. It is a marked improvement on our current framework.
Some limitations on human rights are unavoidable in circumstances like these. Like a state of emergency, pandemic legislation will necessarily limit some human rights in order for it to function. If it does not limit rights to some extent, it cannot work to curtail the spread of disease.
My touchstone has been this quote from Kristen Hilton in 2020, Victoria’s then Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commissioner:
“During a state of emergency, some limitations on human rights may be unavoidable – and these are not decisions we can take lightly. Any restriction on human rights must be necessary, justifiable, proportionate and time-bound.”
No one, including me, like’s their rights being limited – but if the purpose of those limitation is to protect and save life, then it is necessary.
Our choice as Parliamentarians, is not whether we limit human rights or not. It is whether we limit human rights in a responsible way, to save lives, or not limit rights at all and let disease run wild – there is no middle ground. That is why I will ensure, to the full extent of my ability, that the pandemic legislation before the Parliament is necessary, justifiable, proportionate and time bound.
I have addressed these and other matters in greater detail here:
If you are seeking further information, I encourage you to read this balanced analysis from Liberty Victoria.
Thank you once again for contacting me.
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