I know some people have strong feelings about the State of Emergency legislation that passed the Upper House last night.
Debate is healthy. Differing opinions are what our democracy is built on.
But there’s also been a lot of misinformation flying around – so I just wanted to clarify a few things.
Some people have asked whether extending the State of Emergency by six months means we also extend our current level of restrictions for that period. The answer is a clear no. That’s absolutely not the case.
The State of Emergency is the legal framework that allows the Chief Health Officer to set directions to keep us all safe, and for those directions to be enforced.
That includes the measures we’ll need to safely reopen. Precautions such as requiring workplaces to have a COVIDSafe plan, mandatory isolation for positive cases, and wearing face coverings.
The CHO’s directions are based on the data and the health advice at any given time – and our current restrictions will change when it’s safe to do so.
But without the State of Emergency, everything becomes voluntary – and we essentially just have to take our chances and hope for the best.
People who are infectious could be out and about, with no way of ensuring they self-isolate. Workplaces couldn’t be held to any sort of standard or required to keep employees safe.
And we’d risk throwing away everything we’ve worked so hard for.
Others have questioned why we can’t simply extend the legislation on a month-by-month basis – sort of like a rolling lease.
Well, the short answer is that it just isn’t practical.
The only reason we sought this extension is because Victoria’s current State of Emergency has a hard cap at six months. No other state has this limit – in fact, most of their emergency laws can be extended indefinitely without parliamentary approval. Ours are the most conservative in the country – even after this change.
We’ve already extended the State of Emergency six times, at four-week intervals, and we’ve reached the limit of the current law.
Having to pass new legislation every month through Parliament could result in gaps – days, even weeks – with nothing in place to keep Victorians safe.
To use the lease analogy, having a six-month extension gives our state the security we need to continue fighting this pandemic – but means we can still give notice and move out at any time.
If we don’t need the emergency powers, we won’t use them – but they’re available so we can respond quickly if and when we do.
During a pandemic, that speed is absolutely critical.
Under the updated legislation, the Minister will still be able to review the State of Emergency at any time, and will only be able to renew it on the advice of the CHO and after consultation with the Emergency Management Commissioner – as has been the case for the past six months.
We all want this to be over. I get that. I do too.
But this is about ensuring our health officials have the tools they need to get us to the other side of this pandemic – and to ensure we preserve the hard-won gains of the past couple of months.
We cannot afford a third wave. We just can’t.
But chucking everything aside now would almost certainly guarantee that.
We have to stay the course – and I’m so grateful to every single one of you for sticking this out.
I know it’s not easy. But it is necessary. And it will be worth it.