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‘He’s a megalomaniac!’ Dan Andrews is accused of trying to ‘grab dictatorial power’

An enraged former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett has accused Daniel Andrews of seizing ‘dictatorial powers’ after he moved to extend Victoria’s state of emergency into next year. 

Premier Andrews declared on Monday he wanted the state of emergency prolonged by at least 12 months to combat the coronavirus crisis, but parliament must first approve the change. 

Mr Kennett, who was Liberal premier between 1992 and 1999 and is widely credited with transforming the state’s economy, issued a blistering attack on the Labor incumbent and accused him of ‘destroying’ Victoria.

‘The premier said today he may keep the state of emergency until we have a vaccine – we may never have a vaccine,’ Mr Kennett told Sky News. 

‘Are we all going to be locked up at the whim of the premier? Without any checks and balances?

‘This is an act of a megalomaniac.’

Mr Kennett called on left-wing construction union boss John Setka – the Victorian secretary of the militant Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union – to rein in the state’s Socialist Left faction premier, arguing the CFMEU power broker was the ‘only person with any influence’ over the Labor Party. 

‘If he (Daniel Andrews) goes ahead with this there won’t be one of the CFMEU members who has a job next year,’ he said. 

‘There will be no major construction sites.

‘Those people will be joining the unemployment line.’   

Mr Andrews argued his proposal was not an ‘unlimited extension’ but was ‘nothing more than a recognition that this virus won’t be over on September 30’. 

‘I would love nothing more for there to be no need for any rules on September 14, but I don’t think that is the reality,’ he said.

‘That is the legal instrument that allows rules about face masks, about COVID safe work plans in workplaces large and small, that is the legal instrument that sits behind density limits in pubs and cafes and restaurants,’ he said.

‘Things like a positive person, someone who has got this virus, and required to isolate at home.

‘We will extend the state of emergency provisions within the public health and well-being act for a maximum of a further 12 months.’

Mr Andrews said the decision to ask parliament to extend the restrictions was about ‘protecting everyone’ in Victoria. 

He later tweeted: ‘Extending the State of Emergency is about ensuring that we can legally make the changes our health experts need to keep us safe. This does not change how long our current lockdown will last, or increase the restrictions we face.

‘Getting back to normal won’t ever be an option if we can’t protect what we’ve already achieved. These changes are about saving lives and keeping Victorians safe – nothing more, nothing less.’

Mr Andrews wants the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 amended so a state of emergency could operate for more than six months. 

Mr Andrews even referenced the Kath and Kim character of Sharon Strzelecki played by comedian Magda Szubanski – who has appeared in Victorian government public health announcements on COVID-19.

‘Sharon can’t do it all on her own,’ he tweeted. 

Michael Danby, a former Labor MP from Melbourne, said the prospect of a year-long state of emergency had sent a ‘collective groan’ across Victoria.

‘I’m not willing to say he’s power mad but I do think he and the government have got themselves with failures in hotel quarantine where the public is beyond frustrated,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.

‘There is a collective groan that went all across Victoria – you could be shut in your homes and you’d still hear it. There’s a lot of angst in the public.’

Mr Danby said Daniel Andrews was even muzzling criticism of him from within the Victorian ALP.

‘Why would people give any feedback when all of their rights have been taken away?,’ he said.

He said the Victorian Premier had used a June episode of 60 Minutes, revealing cabinet minister Adem Somyurek’s alleged branch stacking, to restrict party activities and place the state branch into administration.

‘Unfortunately, because of the 60 Minutes intervention with Somyurek, no one in the Labor Party has any rights at the moment,’ he said.

Australian Council for Civil Liberties president Terry O’Gorman said the 2008 laws being used to justify the pandemic state of emergency needed to be amended to stop police abusing their power, adding there also needed to be proper avenues for lockdown opponents to challenge their penalties in court.

‘Parliament has to amend the 2008 Act to ensure that there are very strong protections against abuse of police powers,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.

‘If there is going to be the potential, under the extended state of emergency, for extended police powers whereby police are permitted to enter premises to see whether people are complying, then there should be court access.’

Since the World Health Organisation in March declared a pandemic, Australian court hearings have been disrupted – making it harder for people to appeal their fines and penalties before a magistrate.

‘The whole problem with the pandemic powers that have been exercised by all states since March is that there is no effective recourse to the courts by those who disagree with what’s being done,’ Mr O’Gorman said. 

Someone in Victoria, issued with a fine for contravening a COVID-19 order under a state of emergency, can technically appeal their penalty before a magistrate within 21 days. 

Restrictions on movement, however, make appealing a penalty harder.

The existing public health law doesn’t allow someone to legally challenge a state of emergency on the grounds of economic loss and Mr O’Gorman wants that changed.

‘If the emergency is to be extended for 12 months, there must be the ability of those who disagree with what’s being done and/or who say that they’re being significantly, adversely affected, to go to court to get some court supervision of the situation,’ he said.

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Someone in Victoria, issued with a fine for contravening a COVID-19 order under a state of emergency, can technically appeal their penalty before a magistrate within 21 days.

Restrictions on movement, however, make appealing a penalty harder.

Mr O’Gorman acknowledged the worst global health crisis in a century required ‘an unusual response because the pandemic is unusual’.

‘But those who criticise the current state of emergency have an entitlement to their views,’ he said.

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien has said he would oppose the state of emergency extension, making the plan dependent on the support of at least four upper house crossbenchers.

‘Victorians don’t deserve to be locked up in their homes for another 12 months. We don’t deserve to be locked away from our jobs, away from our businesses for another year,’ Mr O’Brien said. 

David Limbrick, a Liberal Democrats MP for Victoria’s South East Metropolitan region, said the government’s ‘time was up’ and said he’d lead a cross-bench effort to block the extension.

‘Victorians can be trusted to take sensible precautions without being treated like criminals. This pandemic can be managed by voluntary action,’ he said.

Mr Kennett went on to tell Melbourne radio station 3AW that the Victorian government’s attempt to change legislation to enable the state of emergency extension was a ‘grab for dictatorial power’.

‘We are already facing a tsunami of economic and social woes you cannot even imagine,’ he said. 

‘And the premier – instead of offering hope … he’s now telling Victorians: ‘forget this year, we’re going to kill you next year as well’.

‘It’s not only the wrong message it’s diabolical, it’s absolutely diabolical for Victoria.’

Mr Kennett called on Victoria’s state upper house MPs to join forces with the Liberal-National opposition to reject the ‘power grab’.

‘This just cannot be allowed to happen,’ Mr Kennett said.

‘I have never heard anything so outrageous in my life.

‘We have got to appeal to the Opposition and all the independent members in the upper house to reject, absolutely, this grab for dictatorial power because that is what it is.’

Victoria’s new infection numbers have been steadily dropping since the introduction of new lockdown restrictions.

On Monday Victoria recorded 116 new cases of coronavirus, and the state now has 3731 active cases, the Department of Health and Human Services said.

The number is well below the 723 new cases the state suffered on July 30.  

Medical experts have warned that pursuing a suppression strategy in Victoria and NSW while the rest of Australia eliminates the virus would split the nation.

‘The rest of Australia are hoping to retain their elimination status. That means we will essentially be living in a country that’s split in two,’ said University of Melbourne epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely earlier this month.

State and Territory leaders have said their borders would remain closed to New South Wales and Victoria until their community transmission is wiped out completely.

Professor Blakely told Nine News that if Victoria wanted to eliminate the virus it had locked down a month too late – and would now have to keep up its tough restrictions for several more weeks.

The Federal and New South Wales Coalition governments are keen for the states to relax their borders and have encouraged virus suppression instead of elimination.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro has called for a relaxation in the border restrictions between NSW, Queensland and Victoria.

In an opinion piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald, University of NSW economics professor Richard Holden and law professor Rosalind Dixon said relaxing restrictions too soon would undermine the progress made in NSW and Queensland.

‘Let us not forget that only a few weeks ago, with case numbers rising, there was the very real possibility of NSW going back into lockdown,’ they wrote last Tuesday.

‘The fantasy that businesses can just bounce back, when restrictions are lifted, ignores the overwhelming evidence from overseas – that it is the virus, not lockdowns or border closures, that kills business and consumer confidence, and with it economic growth.’

‘Protecting people and the economy therefore requires keeping restrictions in place for as long as is necessary to meaningfully suppress or eliminate the virus – not to get halfway there.’

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