COVID-19

Andrews govt may allow more scrutiny of pandemic orders

It comes as the Premier faced the prospect of personally negotiating with nine hostile crossbenchers and the opposition to get his controversial laws over the line.The embarrassed state government was on Thursday night put on notice to properly consult so the proposed laws could be thrashed out ahead of a delayed vote in the upper house.The government had expected to secure a majority in an upper house vote scheduled for Thursday, after doing a deal with three crossbenchers.But that plan was scuppered when former minister Adem Somyurek revealed to the Herald Sun he would return from a long absence from parliament and oppose the Bill. Mr Somyurek and eight other concerned crossbenchers then dug in, forcing the government to put off the vote rather than see it fail. Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes on Friday said discussions to break the deadlock caused by the return of Adem Somyurek to the upper house were productive.But she said it was unlikely debate would resume this week.“It would be a disservice to the community to commence this Bill until we know we’ve got the numbers,” Ms Symes“We will continue to talk to the crossbench and members of the opposition until we get an outcome.“I don’t want to speak for members who will have to form their own view.“Everyone knows from December 15 we are left without a framework.“It is an unacceptable situation.”After the proposed legislation’s dramatic derailing on Thursday, Daniel Andrews was also expected to have to make a host of concessions, which could include scrapping vaccine mandates and increasing independent scrutiny of pandemic powers.Independent Catherine Cumming has called for the premier to meet with crossbench and opposition MPs in an attempt to find amendments that would get the laws over the line.They could include tougher independent scrutiny of pandemic powers, improved detention laws and time limits on how long pandemics could be declared for without parliamentary approval.But she has also flagged she does not want the powers to enforce vaccine mandates, which the Andrews government will not back down on.Crossbenchers say the concerns of “many Victorians” must be heard as the state’s peak legal body has told MPs they now have the chance to “make the Bill fit for purpose”.Ms Symes flagged the government could make further changes suggested by Sustainable Australia MP Clifford Hayes, who has called for better independent scrutiny of pandemic orders.“If you look at Mr Hayes’ second reading speech he fundamentally acknowledges that we need a framework,” he said.“He suggested an amendment, I think there’s room to move on what he’s suggesting.”Ms Symes said she was prepared to talk to the opposition but was concerned they did not want the legislation to pass in any way.“The opposition have put up a range of amendments,” she said.“What they have said is even if the amendments get up theyre not going to support the Bill“It’s fair to say our time would be best spent with the crossbench to secure the numbers for this Bill.“I would note Matthew Guy has indicated he is willing to sit down and negotiate.“However I was faced with a situation yesterday in the upper house where the members of the opposition wanted to defeat the Bill. That’s not a productive outcomeMs Symes said she was still waiting to hear back from Mr Somyurek after offering a briefing.“Adem is an independent MP and I treat him the same as I do the other independent members and members of the crossbench,” she said.“I’ve reached out to him for a conversation on his concerns on the Bill, more than happy to sit down with him, as well.”The ongoing vaccine passport requirements were also emerging as a key issue for several crossbenchers.Ms Cumming sided with the government to delay the Bill, so she could engage in initial consultations.“I have requested that the government consults with all of the crossbench and the opposition,” she said. “This will allow for the concerns that many Victorians have expressed with the pandemic Bill to be heard.“I raised the concerns around oversight, detention and the powers of authorised officers and asked that they are addressed, as well as those raised by QCs and the Law Institute. I want to assure you that the Bill will not be debated this week to allow for changes to be made. I also requested the government reconsider vaccine mandates.”Law Institute of Victoria president Tania Wolff said the delayed vote was a chance for the government to get the Bill right. “As the LIV has said from the outset, there needs to be independent oversight and scrutiny of the powers conferred in the Bill,” she said.“There also needs to be provision for accessible merits review of detention orders. “We encourage members of parliament to use this opportunity to make the Bill fit for purpose, not just for now, but the future, for the benefit of all Victorians.”The government is facing a race against time to pass the legislation, with Victoria’s state of emergency set to expire on December 15. The upper house will sit again on Friday with the last scheduled sitting week of the year due from November 30.Mr Somyurek, kicked out of the party last year amid branch-stacking allegations, has said privately there is no chance he will do any deals, but he is open to proper consultation.Sustainable Australia MP Clifford Hayes and Transport Matters Party MP Rod Barton were initially considered obvious targets for turning by the government, but they will not back the Bill as is.WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?“The current Bill is severely flawed and I cannot support it,” Mr Hayes said. “We need to listen to the community and the experts who have criticised this Bill. It desperately needs to go back to the drawing board. I want to see a new Bill that has a time limit or sunset clause.”Mr Hayes said current fines for breaching Covid restrictions were too severe and Victorians needed to be able to review or appeal detention ­orders. “It can’t simply be the government’s prerogative to impose these unchallenged,” he said. “Further, the parliamentary scrutiny in the current Bill is woefully inadequate. We cannot rely on a government-controlled committee to scrutinise government decisions and we cannot rely on a government-controlled lower house to disallow bad decisions.”Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said he was open to working with the government to produce a “sensible piece of legislation”. “I am perplexed the government negotiated with just three of 23 (upper house) MPs for the best part of nine months – it was always going to end in tears,” Mr Guy said.Mr Andrews said the government would “do our normal thing, which is to work with everybody and try and get an outcome that keeps us safe”.WHAT MPs SAY

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