Page 1709 - Week 06 - Tuesday, 7 June 2022
way forward on pandemic management that sits between business as usual and a public health emergency. The pandemic is still present, even though for a lot of us life feels like it is getting back to normal. However, it is my view that the proposed bill and amendments introduced by the minister do not quite get the balance right between ensuring public safety and safeguarding individual rights and freedoms.
The amendments that I am proposing today are necessary to improve oversight of and accountability for the powers that would be granted to the executive, the ministers and the Chief Health Officer through this bill. If I may, I will address all my amendments together. I know that we have more coming. My proposed amendments would achieve three things: (1) adding an external review mechanism for vaccine exemption decisions; (2) removing the ability of the Chief Health Officer to make a direction to an individual; and (3) making all instruments disallowable rather than notifiable.
These are the three areas where the bill is lacking. It is not just the Canberra Liberals who believe this is the case. It was also reflected in the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Health and Community Wellbeing, following its inquiry into the bill. The committee took into account the comments of various community organisations and stakeholders when compiling its findings and making recommendations on the bill. The recommendations are also very much in line with the views of Canberra’s community advocates. The Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety, in its scrutiny role, has also raised a significant concern about oversight, particularly around notifiable and disallowable instruments. In its most recent report, it notes that the government’s response regarding those instruments was unsatisfactory.
My proposed amendments address the key shortcomings that remain in the government’s proposed legislation and amendments. First, on the external review mechanism for vaccine exemption decisions, although the government is proposing an amendment to its original bill to include an internal review mechanism, it has not included a provision for external review. Having recourse to external review is a critical aspect of government accountability and is much more accessible for most of the community than judicial review under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act. The same oversight principle applies to my amendments proposing to make decisions disallowable rather than notifiable. The powers conferred by this legislation are significant and must be subject to sufficient, appropriate and justifiable scrutiny and oversight. It is in the interests of all Canberrans that we retain the ability to disallow a direction in the Assembly if a majority of us believe it to be unreasonable. This is not a duty that we take lightly.
Finally, I am proposing an amendment that negates the power available to the Chief Health Officer under this legislation to provide directions to individuals. The government has provided no adequate justification for the inclusion of this provision and has ignored community feedback on it. My amendment will address this issue by removing the power of the Chief Health Officer to make a direction in relation to a particular individual.
I believe that my proposed amendments significantly strengthen this legislation. Given that the Minister for Health has already indicated that the government will not