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A key supporter of the Victorian government’s pandemic legislation says she will not vote to extend the current state of emergency powers if the proposed law changes are blocked by her fellow crossbench MPs.
The comments by Reason Party MP Fiona Patten raise the prospect that, unless the government can find another vote in support of its proposed pandemic regime, it could be left powerless to enforce its mandatory vaccination rules and other coercive measures to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Reason Party MP Fiona Patten.Credit:Justin McManus
Ms Patten is one of three crossbench MPs who voted in March to extend the state of emergency until 15 December in exchange for the government developing a fit-for-purpose legislative regime to replace it with.
Under the existing state of emergency powers, the chief health officer has been issuing health orders but under the proposed Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021, the premier and health minister of the day would instead be empowered to make the declarations.
Ms Patten said on Friday, shortly before all cross bench MPs were due to meet with government officials to discuss the contentious pandemic legislation, that she wouldn’t support another extension.
“The state of emergency legislation is a blunt instrument that provides us with no transparency and no scrutiny and I committed in March to saying I would not support another state of emergency,” she said. “If that is the path that other crossbenchers want to go down, they will need to stump up.
Daniel Andrews on Thursday morning.Credit:Justin McManus
“We cannot have this state being the only jurisdiction in Australia that has no control over this pandemic. I am very worried that we will be in that situation. I implore the crossbenchers to fix this. I have done as much as I can.”
The latest meeting was called by the government after lengthy discussions on Thursday night between Clifford Hayes from Sustainable Australia and Rod Barton from Transport Matters Party and Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes failed to break the deadlock.
Mr Barton said the negotiations were productive and would likely continue over the weekend. Next week is the final sitting week of parliament for the year.
“None of us have thrown our toys out of the crib,” Mr Barton said. “The government is acting in good-faith, we’re acting in good-faith.”
Mr Hayes said the sooner the issue was resolved, the better.
The government last week delayed debate on the bill after the surprise reappearance of ex-minister Adem Somyurek, who vowed to tip the vote against his former party.
Labor has listed the pandemic bill as its first order of business when the upper house next sits on Tuesday.
Jeff Bourman, a Shooters, Fishes and Farmers Party MP who is firmly opposed to the pandemic legislation, said continuing the state of emergency appeared to be the government’s only fall-back option.
“I get the feeling they will have to work on extending the state of emergency,” he said. “The government has to have something.”
Ms Patten said that lifting the state of emergency without the passage of new pandemic laws would leave Victoria in a dangerous situation.
The government has less than a week to shore up support to ensure it can enforce health orders that have underpinned the state’s pandemic response. Without it, it may not be able to enforce vaccine mandates; no jab, no access rules for restaurants and retail; isolation requirements for COVID-19 positive cases; and quarantine rules for the unvaccinated.
Roads Minister Ben Carroll on Friday said Ms Symes and Health Minister Martin Foley were “working very hard on this”.
“I know how important this legislation is. It’s vital that it passes, and I know we’re working very much towards that,” Mr Carroll said.
“I’ll leave that to the negotiators that are meeting in good-faith. Things are constructive, and we’ll deal with Parliament when it comes around next Tuesday.”
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