As foreshadowed by The Spectator Australia yesterday union officials could be appointed as authorised officers under Victoria’s draconian Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Bill.
Premier Daniel Andrews made his intention clear yesterday when responding to an open letter by 18 eminent jurists who criticised the Bill.
He said the Bill:
[E]xtends some arrangements, it deals with some other gaps that have become evident over the course of the last six or seven months…
There are things like giving to additional authorised officers powers, so we can have more of them doing more work, so not just police, trying to spread the enforcement role which takes many different forms, everything from workplace inspections all the way through to some of the public enforcement issues.
This is not in any way business-as-usual, and if you’re going to have COVID-safe plans enforced, if you’re going to have people doing the right thing so that we jealously guard the low numbers that we are in the process of actually delivering, then you need to have a bigger enforcement team.
The Bill allows for this stating
The Secretary by instrument may appoint any of the following to be an authorised officer for the purposes of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008—
* a person the Secretary considers appropriate for appointment based on the person’s skills, attributes, experience or otherwise
It is under the “or otherwise” provision that union officials could be made “authorised officers” with powers including those of arrest and detention.
The Bill would allow a unionist operating as an “authorised officer” to access businesses, building sites, office buildings and so on.
Under Daniel Andrews’ proposals a union official who is an “authorised officer” could enter a workplace to investigate so-called COVID-safe plans, noting they would have the powers of arrest and detention without review.
The Omnibus Bill lacks specificity which raises genuine concerns about how these proposals would be implemented.
The Bill is silent on:
- Who would pay the authorised officers, the Secretary that appoints them or their current employer? Or would they be volunteers?
- What equipment would be issued to them?
- What training would they receive?
- Would they be uniformed?
- Would they have identification or could they remain anonymous?
- Who would they be accountable to?
Not one of these issues is addressed.
Yesterday the Premier cavalierly dismissed concerns saying “I think you can put a process in, in terms of recruitment frameworks, all of that can be managed”.
Given the fiasco being uncovered by the Commission of Inquiry into the management of the hotel quarantine scheme where it has been revealed that no one was in charge — and where not one bureaucrat or politicians has taken any responsibility — how can there faith in the Premier’s assertions that a process can be put in place.
The evidence before the inquiry should give concern to Victorians about any attempt to put a process in place as suggested by the Premier.
The similarities between the haste in setting up the quarantine scheme and the proposals in the Omnibus Bill are extraordinary.
The Premier says the proposals “are not excessive and open to abuse” yet the precedents set disavow this claim.
If you think the hotel quarantine scheme was a shambles, then this proposal is the same scheme on steroids.
The Premier still cannot justify the scheme even though he says it is “unprecedented”.
Not one other state or jurisdiction has introduced such a scheme. Not one. Yet they have effectively managed Covid-19 outbreaks.
Chief of Police, Shane Patton, said he has asked Mr Andrews for more police in the form of retired officers becoming “authorised officers” and Mr Andrews had previously indicated that to be the case.
We have heard this song before and we know how it ends. It is starting to sound a bit like a “he said/no he said” trope with which we are so familiar with.
And this is because the CoP already has a process to recruit ex-police which can be streamlined without recourse to this draconian attack on civil rights and liberties.
And from the Premier’s comments yesterday it seems that his intention is far broader ranging than simply recruiting former police.
His intention now is to send “authorised officers” into workplaces and who knows where else.
The fact is that Victoria has 21,500 people in the police force. We do not need more and we certainly do not need extra “authorised officers” to police workplaces as Mr Andrews is proposing.
This Bill, along with measures already introduced by the government, is the most serious assault on liberty we have seen in Australia in war or peacetime.
Not a wonder 18 eminent jurist have written to the Premier raising their concerns – concerns the Premier blithely dismisses.
The letter is damning. It says in part:
Authorising citizens to detain their fellow citizens on the basis of a belief that the detained person is unlikely to comply with emergency directions by the “authorised” citizens is unprecedented, excessive and open to abuse.
We call on the Legislative Council to amend the Bill, or to vote against it.
Today the Victorian Bar Association has raised concerns with the Bill and has written to the government setting out its concerns.
It part the latter states “potentially untrained and unprofessional” people appointed authorised officers could be enforcing rules that “cannot be justified” under the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act.
It goes on to note: “Unconstrained and undefined subjective powers naturally invite the tendency to exercise them to the fullest, and in breach of human rights”.
The Australian Bar Association has also echoed these concerns.
Coupled with this the Law Institute of Victoria, the body representing solicitors in the state, also wrote to the Attorney General on 17 September expressing concerns about extending powers to detain to “authorised officers” and who can be appointed as “authorised officers:
Crossbenchers in the Legislative Council should take note.
This Bill is an egregious attack on civil liberties. People can be detained indefinitely without any recourse to review; newly minted “authorised officers” with no training can arrest and detain people without any recourse to review.
It can be assumed the only training these “authorised officers” will be the same “social inclusion” training delivered to guards overseeing the bungled Hotel Quarantine Scheme.
Not a wonder that the main legal professional bodies in the state of Victoria and the main professional body in Australia representing barristers and other eminent jurists have taken such a stance.
This law is unjustifiable particularly as infections and hospitalisations are at such a low level in Victoria and dropping.
And there is one thing you can be sure of: These proposals once legislated will not be repealed will in 12 months when the legislation is meant to expire. Elements of it will be integrated into other legislation.
This bill is repugnant. It is an attack on civil liberties and rights even as the virus is increasingly under control with existing measures.
It is unnecessary and unjustified.
It should never become law.
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