Protests at the foot of Victorian Parliament have taken a turn, with hundreds of demonstrators camping outside the building to oppose a divisive pandemic bill. The protests began as a public display of dissent against proposed legislation granting the premier and health minister new powers under pandemic conditions. Now, one man has been charged by counter-terrorism officials after threatening the life of Premier Daniel Andrews and his family.
Demonstrations began on Tuesday afternoon when debates on the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill began in the upper house. Much of the contention revolves around the new powers the legislation would grant to both the premier and health minister in the event of a pandemic.
Under the proposed bill, the premier would have the power to declare a pandemic. Additionally, officials could impose public health orders based on personal characteristics such as an individual’s age, vaccination status, and occupation.
After outcry, the bill was amended to require “reasonable grounds” to declare a pandemic. Personal characteristics would now only be considered in the context of imposing public health orders when it is “relevant to the public health risk”.
Opposition Leader Mathew Guy called the legislation “an incredible attack on democracy”.
The Victorian Bar Association also chimed in with their review earlier this month, saying it had concerns with the “extraordinarily broad” powers granted to the health minister. The legislation also does not specify for how long a pandemic may be declared.
“The essence of the Victoria Bar’s concern is that the Bill seeks to take powers that were intended to be used for a very limited period of up to six months in an unforeseen emergency, and to entrench them as the ordinary method of dealing with pandemic diseases over extended periods,” The Bar wrote in their statement.
To learn more about the legislation, read our article from earlier this week.
Busloads of protesters have since descended on Parliament, some of whom chanted “Kill Dan Andrews”. The presence of makeshift gallows at the protests have also raised concerns. One protester was seen throwing an blow-up doll of the premier printed with the words “punching bag Dan” at the gallows.
Daniel Andrews has condemned the behaviour.
“Debate is fine, disagreement is fine – that is a part of our system,” said the premier.
“What we have seen in recent days and weeks is not fine, it is awful.”
Counter-terrorism officials have now charged one man after he allegedly encouraged fellow demonstrators to bring firearms to the protest.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has condemned incidences of violence at the protests.
“Those threats and intimidation have no place in Australia,” he said.
“We’re a civil peaceful society. [When] we have disagreements, we don’t handle them with violence.”
The Prime Minister said he understood the protesters’ concerns with governments “telling Australians what to do” and encouraged state governments to “step back” with regards to restrictive public health measures.
Investigations into the conduct of several other protesters are ongoing.
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