Covid-19 Victoria Police Fine
(Image: AAP/James Ross)

While they hail from very different sides of the political spectrum, Donald Trump and Daniel Andrews certainly have a few things in common. Their ability to master the media cycle and distract attention is one.

While Andrews deals with the ongoing dumpster fires of hotel quarantine, masks and a captain’s curfew call, hidden in plain sight is something far worse.

That is, the innocuously named COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) and Other Acts Amendment Bill, which sailed through the Victorian Legislative Assembly and is currently awaiting approval by the upper house (where the Labor party doesn’t have a majority).

While much of the proposed legislation largely extends the current (themselves onerous) provisions, Andrews has buried a couple of landmines in there, too.

First, the bill would allow the government to appoint anyone (they don’t need to be a police officer subject to very strict regulation, or even a public servant) to be an “authorised officer”. This could potentially create a government-sanctioned militia.

Authorised officers are then given extraordinary powers, including the ability to arrest someone who has COVID-19, or someone who happens to be a close contact of someone with COVID-19 if the authorised officer simply believes that someone is likely to breach an emergency direction.

These powers are far stricter than any currently possessed by any other police force in Australia.

But it gets worse. Not only can an authorised officer arrest someone, they can also detain them indefinitely if they think that person is high risk. The legislation also removes the existing requirement to review the continued detention every 24 hours. This appears to be a complete trampling over the centuries-old principle of habeas corpus.

The proposed legislation was slammed by a cross section of the judiciary, led by one of Australia’s longest serving High Court judges Michael McHugh, claiming that it is “unprecedented, excessive and open to abuse”.

The bill was also criticised by Julian Burnside QC, who seems to have re-discovered his libertarian concerns in recent weeks, noting “the idea that the law will allow any citizen to detain any other citizen, summarily and indefinitely, is alarming”.

Greens MP Tim Reed was also critical, stating that “if they put all the power in one person, they become the expert witness, judge and jailer”.

Bear in mind, the legislation is being proposed by a government which thought it apt to lock up hundreds of the poorest Victorians for a week in tiny housing commission apartments without warning. For their own good, of course.

Andrews defended the legislation, claiming it was “unprecedented because we’re in unprecedented times”.

Yesterday, Victoria had zero cases of COVID-19 from unknown sources.