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Liberty Victoria calls for limit on State of Emergency extension

Liberty Victoria is concerned by reports that the Government is considering changing the law so that Victoria’s current state of emergency can be extended for a further 12 months.

At present, Victorian law ensures that a state of emergency cannot last more than 6 months. The current state of emergency, declared on 16 March 2020, is therefore due to expire in mid-September.

The current 6-month limit exists for a good reason. The declaration of a state of emergency imposes extraordinary limits on Victorians’ human rights.

The current declaration enables the Chief Health Officer to make directions that limit our capacity to move around, leave our homes, and go to work.

Liberty Victoria acknowledges that limits on rights and freedoms are sometimes necessary in order to preserve public health.

Given the huge imposition on the rights of Victorians, however, the use of emergency powers should be strictly limited to what is necessary and, if required, extended on an as-needs basis.

The Government’s approach of writing itself a blank cheque and then reviewing the situation later is inconsistent with the preservation of Victorians’ human rights.

We call on the Victorian Government to limit any extension of the state of emergency to a maximum of six months, and to commit to four-weekly reviews within that period to ensure that limits on human rights and freedoms will only continue where necessary.

Further, the Victorian Government should ensure that Parliament resumes sitting as soon as it is possible to do so safely. The pattern of suspending Parliament is not healthy for our democracy. To ensure human rights are not eroded over time by the exercise of emergency powers, accountability and transparency are critical. Unfortunately, no plans as to how sittings will be facilitated have been announced to date.

A standing Committee should be appointed by Parliament, so the public voice can be heard. It should have a non-Government Chair and act as a flexible ongoing public inquiry which can accept submissions and testimony on the use and abuse of emergency powers. Transparency is essential if trust in the Government’s response to the pandemic is to be maintained.

We also urge Victorians who have had negative experiences of policing the COVID-19 restrictions to report their experiences to covidpolicing.org.au

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