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Public Health Bill: COVID-19 Direction Accountability and Oversight

19 May 2022

 

ROBERT SIMMS MLC: This is the amendment to establish the SA public health COVID-19 Direction Accountability and Oversight Committee. The intention behind this amendment is to ensure that there is maximum accountability and transparency in this bill. Like the Hon. Connie Bonaros, we had very clear feedback in the Greens that, were a bill like this to be legislated, it was really vital that the parliament have the opportunity to disallow new health directions, and that is what this committee does. It is a powerful committee in that it has all of the powers that a usual parliamentary committee has, but it will be able to review any new health directions relating to close contacts relating to COVID-positive people and be able to make recommendations to the houses of parliament for disallowance.

This, we believe, is a much more effective way of managing the pandemic directions in the long term. It provides an opportunity for parliament to really consider the impacts that these restrictions have on the health and wellbeing of South Australians. It has been based on the Victorian model, which is widely regarded as best practice. We understand there are, of course, some distinctions based on our different jurisdictions.

It is important to know that South Australia does not have a human rights charter to protect human rights, which is something the Victorian legislation has protected. Obviously, for us in the Greens we would love to see a human rights charter being put in place; that would be a very good accompaniment to the other legislation we are dealing with.

This committee will be made up of five members, two from the House of Assembly and three from the Legislative Council. The amendment would ensure there is a majority of non-government members. That is a really important inclusion worth highlighting, because it means the government is not in a position to dominate this committee. It means the committee will be able to provide frank, fearless advice, genuinely independent advice, direct to the parliament for its consideration.

The committee will be in place only for the duration of the bill. We agreed earlier today that would be six months. It will provide reports to each house of parliament, it will make recommendations to parliament. There is also a requirement that the minister will table a copy of any directions within two sitting days in each house, and that any such direction is then referred to the committee. As I stated, this allows for disallowance in both houses.

We think this is a really important addition. It is one that will provide better outcomes in terms of directions but also give the South Australian people a level of confidence that the parliament is having oversight over these important directions.

We talked a little bit about the evolving space of this pandemic. We have come out of the phase where these decisions were being made by health experts alone, and are now moving into another phase of the pandemic where politicians and the parliament need to be more actively involved. It is only appropriate that if the health minister is being charged with making these directions, the parliament has a role to play and that there is an independent oversight that operates outside of the government. We think this is a really important step in that regard.