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17 November 2021

Statement attributable to Maurice Blackburn Lawyers CEO Jacob Varghese.

Since March 2020 we have all seen that even in a global pandemic, some privileged individuals will try to suit themselves and some powerful employers will try to do the wrong thing, putting everybody at risk.

So everyday people deserve protection from serious illness and death at work, on the roads and in the community generally – and they rightly look to the Government, the Parliament and the Courts to provide that protection. That requires strong laws and it requires that those laws be updated for the era of pandemic disease.

Many millions of people around the world have died of COVID-19. Australia has been spared the worst by the action of Governments who through a terrible trial have on the whole earned our trust and got the balance right. Ultimately the people will judge their leaders.

The amended Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021 will make Victoria’s pandemic legislation better than it was before March 2020 and better than it is in many comparable jurisdictions.

The Bill provides much more accountability and transparency than has been the case over the past two years. And it rightly makes elected officials, acting on independent advice, the decision-makers over public safety. That is how a democracy should work.

The parliamentary process being adopted by the Government is the right one. It includes widespread public comment, thorough parliamentary debate, detailed scrutiny, and consideration of amendments. Victoria’s cross-bench members have a responsible record of considering this kind of matter. Undoubtedly the Bill will be the stronger for a strong process.

However, we should be very clear: if the Bill doesn’t pass, Victorians will have fewer freedoms and be less safe.

If the Bill is blocked this week, next week Victoria will need a new State of Emergency under the old laws, which give less protection against the pandemic and less protection of individual rights – or face the complete collapse of powers over vaccines and quarantine.

That is why I hope Victoria’s Parliament will pass the Bill in a workable form very soon.

Since March 2020 the Victorian community has shown great courage and common sense – and the Victorian Government has shown very determined leadership in the face of often unreasonable and sometimes opportunistic criticism throughout the pandemic. I welcome that determination.

The legal community includes professionals with a wide variety of views on the Bill. No one should suggest the profession has a single position much less that the profession as a whole opposes these measures.

Where the legal community certainly should speak as one is in our absolute commitment to a truthful public debate. Comparisons to totalitarian regimes are utterly ridiculous.

And we should be united in our absolute commitment to the rule of law and a political process completely free of violence or the threat of violence. That is how we can be safe and free.


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