Evidence given at the Hotel Quarantine Inquiry gives no confidence that the government would be able to manage the implementation of its draconian COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Bill without severe risk to the public.
During the hearings, it was revealed that not one person; not a minister; not a bureaucrat; or, even a policeman was prepared to accept any knowledge of or responsibility for the hiring of untrained security guards that has resulted in the deaths of more than 750 people.
The former health minister and her Departmental Secretary denied responsibility even though DHHS was the lead agency, the Minister for Jobs denied responsibility, the former and current Commissioner of Police denied responsibility, the secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet denied responsibility and so the list goes on.
On Friday, the Premier, who is meant to be running the state government also denied responsibility.
It seems that the mysterious “no one” was in charge of this fiasco.
“No one” was in charge of the training of these security guards except “someone” did acknowledge that the guards got training in “social inclusion” though.
Yet the Premier says it these same people and organisations that will be responsible for the implementation of the measure in the COVID-19 Bill.
That is with the exception of the former health minister, Jenny Mikakos, who resigned on Saturday, not because she accepted responsibility, no, it was because she could no longer serve with Premier Daniel Andrews.
Her replacement as Minister for Health, Martin Foley, says he has complete confidence in the Department of Health and Human Services and its secretary, Kym Peake.
This is the same Ms Peake who told the Inquiry she was not responsible and did not know who hired the security guards that lead to the disastrous spread of COVID-19 through the community.
Mr Andrews last week in attempting the justify the Bill said: “They [people detained] would be the subject of a chain of command, a structure, authority, oversight, and a very detailed and thorough analysis of the risk that that person posed….”
Yet that is not stated anywhere in the open-ended and sweeping Bill that does away with civil rights.
Remember, this Bill allows for people to be detained by an “authorised officer” if that officer has a “reasonable belief” that a person is likely to refuse or fail to comply with a direction.
Under international human rights laws and the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities “reasonable belief” is not a safe or sufficient basis for detention lasting up to or longer than 14 days.
And there is no provision for review of such detention. It is unreviewable by the courts, but for the Supreme Courts capacity to grant an order in the nature of habeas corpus.
Also recall who would appoint these “authorised officers” who, under the Bill, could be anyone from a council by-laws officer through to a union official or any other person as deemed necessary.
It is none other than the secretary of the DHHS, the hapless Kym Peake, who apparently knew nothing about the appointment of the security guards even though the DHHS was the lead agency in the implementation of the Hotel Quarantine Scheme.
The Premier was also unable to say whether police had asked for the more “authorised officers”.
He stated: “There’s been a long discussion over quite some time about the number of authorised officers we have. The fact that different powers sit with different people and some improvements to that whole compliance arrangement.
“As to detailed correspondence and all of that, I’d need to come back to you on that, but its been an ongoing that I know the Department of Justice and Community Safety and all their stakeholders have been an important part of that.”
Mr Andrews was very vague of the specifics. “Many have been involved in that (discussion), but on the specifics, I’ll come back to you.”
This is not cause for confidence. The government will be backfilling the operation of the Bill as there is not one piece of specificity in the Bill as to how it will operate and who will be responsible for the authorised officers.
Who will train them; who will pay them, who will equip them, who will they be responsible to and how will they operate?
None of this is answered.
Mr Andrews did mention in passing that perhaps Protective Services Officers could become authorised officers with the ability to raid workplaces and so on.
This is far from reassuring as last week it was revealed that PSOs have been operating outside the law for more than a decade because they were not authorised to carry or use pepper spray. The government is now scrambling to fix this while officers are open to civil actions from people who have suffered from the illegal use of the pepper spray.
Of even greater concern is that the Premier could not say why this draconian attack on civil liberties was necessary.
He is unable to point to one instance where it would have been necessary to use these new powers since the start of the pandemic, nor can he tell you of the specifics of how it will operate.
On the weekend the Chief Health Officer, Prof Brett Sutton, said of the lifting of the curfew that the “curfew is not a proportionate matter going forward.”
The curfew was never necessary and was not advocated for by the CHO or the police, but it did attack a fundamental human right – that is our freedom of movement.
So bizarrely, while some civil rights are being restored the government is tightening the noose on others that are far more draconian such as arrest and detention without access to the courts, the appointment of untrained “authorised officers also with the powers of arrest and detention; and, further limitations of the right to move freely within Victoria.
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity website states that Covid-19 laws must be “necessary, proportionate and time limited”
The Omnibus bill fails on the first two points and thus the third point is redundant.
This Bill has all the hallmarks of gross undermining of civil liberties and rights that is only seen in third world banana republics.
It lacks any specificity as to its operations, details of which are being developed in an ad hoc manner in exactly the same manner as the Hotel Quarantine Scheme.
There is no mention of who would be ultimately responsible for the administration of the Bill – except that the disgraced DHHS would be responsible for the appointment of authorised officers and the CHO would set out their powers under the state of emergency laws.
Given that the Premier cannot tell you who is responsible for the Hotel Quarantine fiasco and that he will not know until the Board of Inquiry hands down its report in November how can there be any confidence that this scheme can be run competently?
The answer is that there cannot be.
This Bill is due to be debated in the Legislative Assembly mid-October. At the very least the Bill should not be considered until after the Coates report is considered and actions taken to reform the operations of ministries and the bureaucracy.
If it is passed the same people responsible for the quarantine failures that lead to deaths of 750 people will still be in charge at least in part.
The Coates Inquiry has revealed a dysfunctional government where no one is in charge or takes responsibility.
Yet the government wants to introduce an unprecedented attack on civil liberties which should send shivers of concerns up the back of every person in Victoria.
This issue is not a matter of politics.
It doesn’t matter where you sit on the political spectrum if you are concerned about your fellow citizen and civil rights you should reject this attack on our liberties.
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