Vic COVID-19 bill powers worry QCs, judges

Premier Daniel Andrews says the proposed emergency legislation has enough oversight.
Premier Daniel Andrews says the proposed emergency legislation has enough oversight.

Prominent legal figures want the Victorian government to change its controversial COVID-19 Omnibus bill, calling some of the provisions "unprecedented, excessive and open to abuse".

Reason Party MP Fiona Patten also will not vote for the bill unless there are amendments.

The 14 retired judges and QC's have published an open letter, saying they are "deeply concerned" that the bill went through state parliament's lower house last week.

The bill is due to go before the upper house next month.

The list of QCs putting their names to the letter include retired High Court judge Michael McHugh and former Federal Court judges Peter Heerey and Neil Young.

There are growing concerns about a section of the bill that gives more powers to authorised officers to detain people, as part of the state government's coronavirus restrictions..

"Authorising citizens to detain their fellow citizens on the basis of a belief that the detained person is unlikely to comply with emergency directions by the 'authorised' citizens is unprecedented, excessive and open to abuse," the letter reads.

"We call on the Legislative Council to amend the bill or vote against it."

They said emergency powers already allow authorised officers to detain people and restrict movement.

"The bill would also allow any person the secretary considered appropriate to be authorised to exercise emergency powers," the letter adds.

"There would be no requirement that persons authorised be police officers, or even public servants."

Ms Patten said she would not vote for the bill in its current form.

"This will be something that I would probably want voted on clause by clause and I will not support these amendments to create these new powers because they're just not needed," she told 3AW on Tuesday.

Earlier this month, Ms Patten voted for the government's six-month extension of emergency powers.

The legislation was watered down from 12 months and only passed after negotiations with Ms Patten and other crossbenchers.

Premier Daniel Andrews said he disagreed with the legal figures' claim that parts of the COVID-19 Omnibus bill were excessive and open to abuse.

"You can put in a process in, in terms of the recruitment, frameworks, oversight of all of that, it can be managed," he said on Tuesday.

"It is (unprecedented), because we're in a one-in-100 year event.

"If you're going to have COVID-safe plans enforced, if you're going to have people doing the right thing, so that we jealously guard the low numbers we are in the process of actually delivering, then you need to have a bigger enforcement team."

Australian Associated Press