South Australia has ended its Covid state of emergency after 793 days – only to immediately enshrine permanent ‘emergency’ powers into the Public Health Act amid a roar of complaints.
‘It is an historic day,’ announced Malinauskas, on May 24.
Historic, yes, but not because the fear of pandemic life is coming to an end. That happened a long time ago when the daily press conferences stopped and neighbouring states began dropping restrictions. Covid hasn’t gone anywhere, but its PR has been exhausted.
Former Liberal South Australian Premier Steven Marshall got a bad rap for his heartless and often over-zealous handling of Covid. Unfortunately, his Labor replacement, Peter Malinauskas, is revealing himself to be much much worse.
Malinauskas was marketed to South Australia as harmless piece of eye-candy during the state election, with shirtless photos from a local pool doing the rounds on Twitter (although to be fair, he didn’t release a Climate Change calendar like Victorian
Chief Swoon Chief Health Officer McHunt Scruff McHunk Brett Sutton for his adoring self-titled ‘Suttonettes’).
The one thing he didn’t tell the people of South Australia during his election campaign was that he intended to compete with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews for the most ridiculous and disproportionate Covid punishments.
Malinauskas has proposed that anyone who breaks a Covid health order could face two years in jail or fines of $20,000. Businesses will be hit with fines of $75,000.
Health orders include vaccine mandates, mask-wearing, and isolation requirements. Changes to the Public Health Act (which essentially make permanent the powers of the emergency health orders) will come into force on June 30, 2022 giving South Australia the most severe set of punishments for Covid-related rules in Australia. Even stranger, Malinauskas is bringing this in when most of the country has dropped restrictions.
What is the justification for these punishments? If anything, Covid called into question the validity of expansive government power that appears, by some metrics, to have done more harm than good.
The deal received cross-bench support from the Greens and SA Best, but has sent the Liberals and civil liberties groups into an outrage.
Opposition to the proposal has come from the Law Society of South Australia, who asked for clarity and assurances that the extraordinary powers come with ‘guarantees of proportionality’ and respect for the basic rights and liberties of the individual.
An open letter penned by the organisation has already aired concerns that terms like ‘close contact’ have not been properly defined. This is especially important, as the definition has changed repeatedly (and wildly) from thousands of attendees at a major event all the way down to people who live with a Covid-positive person.
‘This is not democratic, this is not ‘living with’ Covid, and this is not what South Australians voted for,’ said freshly elected One Nation Senator Sarah Game.
Malinauskas did not seem concerned.
‘I continue to acknowledge and absolutely thank the work of both the Police Commissioner and Professor Nicola Spurrier in seeing the state through the events of Covid using that emergency management declaration. But clearly we are coming to a period where that time is over and we start to restore the ordinary functioning of government in a traditional way.’
If the time is ‘over’ one may ask why Malinauskas is taking a radical and ‘unprecedented’ step to make permanent the unpopular and – many would argue – excessive government powers…
‘The most appropriate way we can do this is to amend the Public Health Act to include protections for patients and residents in aged care, hospitals, and disability care, and the ability for rules to be set for Covid-positive people and close contacts.’
At the close of the emergency powers, the Premier spoke fondly of the police commissioner.
‘Those [emergency] powers are extraordinary. They give the police commissioner the ability to do things that would otherwise be somewhat incomprehensible.’
It is that kind of doe-eyed fawning over authoritarian power that has the electorate worried, particularly as the World Health Organisation appears desperate to find itself another pandemic. Monkeypox seems like a bit of a stretch, but it’s possible a worse than normal flu season may be enough to plunge South Australia back into the Dark Ages of 2021.
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