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Victorian upper house MPs debate premier’s pandemic bill through night

Victorian upper house MPs have debated the state government’s pandemic legislation through the night, after some last-minute changes were made to the bill to secure the support of an additional MP.

Members of the Legislative Council continued to debate the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill on Wednesday morning.

The bill, which gives the premier and health minister the power to declare a pandemic and enforce restrictions, is set to replace the state of emergency that expires on December 15.

The government has secured the support of crossbenchers Transport Matters MP Rod Barton, Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick, Reason Party MP Fiona Patten and Greens leader Samantha Ratnam to pass the bill.

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Victorian upper house MPs debated the pandemic legislation through the night into Wednesday. Credit: AAP

It had initially thought the bill would pass last sitting week with the support of Mr Meddick, Ms Patten and Ms Ratnam but needed an additional vote after former Labor minister Adem Somyurek declared he would return from a self-imposed absence to vote against it.

“It is 5.03am. There have been a lot of questions on clause 12 so 2 hours later we have got to the first amendment to this clause. 60+ to go,” Ms Ratnam tweeted on Wednesday.

In exchange for Mr Barton’s support, the government made six amendments to the bill including the creation of a joint parliamentary committee that can review public health orders and recommend they be overruled by a majority of both houses of parliament.

A proposed aggravated offence, under which egregious restriction breaches could have been punishable by up to two years’ jail, was also removed.

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“This is a far better bill than what we had and we have curbed the powers of this government,” Mr Barton told reporters outside parliament on Tuesday.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews speaks during Question Time in the Legislative Assembly at the Victoria State Parliament in Melbourne.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews speaks during Question Time in the Legislative Assembly at the Victoria State Parliament in Melbourne. Credit: JOEL CARRETT/AAPIMAGE

He said with the December 15 deadline fast approaching, a decision had to be made.

“We had two choices to think about: one, the government reintroduce a state of emergency – and I don’t think that’s palatable for anybody – or we go to a situation where we have no pandemic powers at all,” Mr Barton said.

“Just think about the ramifications of what that would be for this state. You can imagine how quickly the borders would be shut to us from other states.”

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Several groups who initially held concerns about the bill, including the Centre for Public Integrity, the Human Rights Law Centre, the Law Institute of Victoria and Liberty Victoria have welcomed the amendments.

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