More information needed on new detainment laws

September 18, 2020 |

The Federation of Community Legal Centres is concerned about the extraordinary new powers of Authorised Officers to forcibly detain people who have tested positive or been in contact with a person with COVID-19, without a right to review.

The COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2020, introduced into Parliament yesterday, broadens the types of government employees who can act as Authorised Officers and gives authorities greater powers to forcibly detain people suspected of being likely to spread the virus if they have tested positive or been in close contact with an infected person.

Director of Policy and Engagement at the Federation, Shorna Moore, said there were still a number of questions that needed to be addressed to ensure the basic rights and safety of Victorians were upheld and not unintentionally impacted under the changes.

“These are extraordinary powers given to Authorised Officers that have the potential to have detrimental impacts on those people in our community who are already adversely affected by injustice and discrimination,” she said.

“We agree that Victorians need to be kept safe during this pandemic and that the government needs to act to maintain the safety of the community. However we also need to ensure implementation of these laws does not unfairly and adversely affect people already facing disadvantage, such as people with mental health issues.”

Ms Moore said the Federation was seeking further advice from the government into how the laws will be implemented and how the rights of the community will be retained.  

“There is no detail as to where or how individuals will be detained and whether they will have access to basic human rights, such as water, food or medicine,” she said.

“We also need a greater understanding of the qualifications of Authorised Officers, and what information they will have in relation to any individuals being detained.  

“Authorised Officers will have extraordinary powers within the community and it is imperative that those powers are used correctly and that there are rights of review and arrangements for ensuring people detained under the scheme have access to legal advice and assistance and other necessary support systems.” 

Ms Moore said the government had shown great leadership and community responsibility in extending the Family Violence Intervention Orders and Personal Safety Orders.

She said continuing the use of technology for court proceedings was also welcome as was the extension of the moratorium on evictions and other measures that protect the rights of tenants which were announced recently.

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