The Assistant Attorney General warns that the Commonwealth may “legislate on” Daniel Andrews’ “shocking” new pandemic powers, but has instead called for caution.
Assistant Attorney General Amanda Stoker has hinted that the Commonwealth could potentially overturn Daniel Andrews’ new pandemic powers, but said the “best way” to deal with it was through the ballot box.
Ms Stoker said the new laws, which would allow the prime minister to declare a pandemic and extend it for three months, were “shocking”, but stressed that the role of the Morrison government was a “bit of an annoyed one”.
“The Commonwealth could, if it wanted to, rely on power over external affairs to try to … cover the field to legislate on this,” Ms Stoker told Sky News Australia.
“But I want to warn about caution before I suggest it’s a good call.”
The bill, which was passed in the lower house on Thursday, will also give the health minister jurisdiction to issue “pandemic killers” as well as give them far-reaching legislative power.
These pandemic powers were broadly defined as “any order” with the legislation, including extensive examples that a group of prominent lawyers said were designed not to limit the scope of the minister.
The examples in the bill include detention of persons, restriction of movements and regulation of public or private gatherings.
“This list is expressly stated not to limit the generality of the power to give ‘any order’,” reads an open letter from 14 senior lawyers.
Ms Stoker said trusting the Commonwealth to intervene in a state’s home affairs gives “greater mediocrity”.
She said states had to “step forward and be good and be accountable and accountable” to their respective voters.
“Further and further centralization of power in Canberra is not necessarily the best long-term decision for Australia as a whole,” the Deputy Attorney General said.
Ms Stoker said the “best way to deal with it” was through elections where Victoria was to go to the polls next November.
“The reason for that is because it would drive better government at all levels if we had people to hold state governments accountable,” she said.
“Every time we ask more and more to be done by the federal government, we put an awful lot of eggs in a basket.
“And we exclude the underperformance of state governments in a way that we really should not.”
Victorian opposition leader Matthew Guy has strongly opposed the bill, declaring that he would immediately repeal it if he were to be elected next November.
“I give an absolute guarantee: when we return to the government of this state, we will repeal this law because it is fundamentally right to do so,” Guy told parliament Thursday.
The bill will now go to the Victorian upper house, where it must have 21 votes to be passed.
The Andrews government has 17 seats in the House and is believed to have the support of the Greens, the Animal Justice Party and the Reason Party – all of which have one seat each.