26 September 2023

Human Rights warns on pandemic changes

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The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner has issued a warning that limitations on human rights resulting from managing the COVID-19 pandemic are still subject to scrutiny and has called for a committee to be appointed to scrutinise the changes.

The Commissioner, Kristen Hilton (pictured) said the Parliament of Victoria had passed the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 which included a wide-ranging package of reforms targeted toward justice and corrections, rental relief and financial support.

“The Victorian Government has acted decisively to safeguard public health since the early days of the pandemic,” Commissioner Hilton said.

“Many of the emergency measures just passed are necessary to protect the right to health and life of all Victorians,” she said.

“During a state of emergency, some limitations on human rights may be unavoidable – and these are not decisions we can take lightly.”

“Any restriction on human rights must be necessary, justifiable, proportionate and time-bound.”

The Commissioner said the breadth of the new powers in the Act required independent oversight and called for greater scrutiny of the legislation and the Government’s overall response to the pandemic.

“The Statement of Compatibility the Government has provided with the Act shows that it has given careful consideration to balancing human rights and any necessary limitations during this period,” she said.

“The Government should establish an independent committee to scrutinise the response that is informed by human rights expertise and can hear directly from the public.”

Commissioner Hilton said the establishment of the committee was critical to maintaining public confidence and transparency.

She said that in the months ahead the Commission would play a role in monitoring the human rights impacts of the laws and the effects of the laws and policies on those who were most vulnerable.

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