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The Victorian government has brokered a deal to secure an extra vote for its pandemic bill, on the final sitting week of the year.

Upper house MP Rod Barton – from the Transport Matters Party – has pushed the Andrews government to make significant concessions, with new amendments that will provide more oversight and appeal provisions.

Victorian Transport Matters MP Rod Barton.

Victorian Transport Matters MP Rod Barton.Credit:Joe Armao

The proposed Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021 will be brought before Victoria’s upper house today now that a majority appears secured.

Under the deal with Mr Barton, a new independent panel would be established to review detention orders during a pandemic.

The Victorian Ombudsman would also be able to receive complaints and there will no longer be aggravated offences under the draft legislation.

Also among the amendments is the establishment of a joint parliamentary committee and health directions could be reversed by a majority of both the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council (Victoria’s lower and upper houses of Parliament).

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Labor has been negotiating with crossbench MPs previously cut out of consultations to ensure its bill can pass before the existing state of emergency powers expire on December 15, with just one week of Parliament, this week, left to do so.

Under existing laws, the chief health officer makes binding health orders under a state of emergency, but this power would be transferred to the premier and health minister during a pandemic under the draft legislation (as is currently the case in other jurisdictions, such as NSW).

Without either framework, the government would have no mechanism to enforce health orders such as quarantine, mask and vaccination mandates.

Labor believed it had a working majority in the upper house, with the support of Fiona Patten from the Reason Party, Animal Justice MP Andy Meddick and Greens leader Samantha Ratnam, but this was scuttled by the re-emergence of ousted Labor MP Adem Somyurek who vowed to tip the vote against his former party.

His return forced the government to begin eleventh-hour negotiations with the rest of the crossbench, including Sustainable Australia MP Clifford Hayes and independent Catherine Cumming.

Some are worried that the new laws would give politicians too much power. Others say it is better for elected officials to make health orders (rather than unelected bureaucrats) because politicians can be held accountable at the ballot box.



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