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Public Health (COVID-19) Amendment Bill

17 May 2022

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise to speak on the South Australian Public Health (COVID-19) Amendment Bill on behalf of the Greens. The Greens are supportive of this legislation, but with some very important caveats. My colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks MLC has certainly prosecuted this case for the Greens in the previous parliament, that is, advocated in the long term for these provisions to move out of the emergency management declaration into legislation so that the parliament can have appropriate oversight.

We recognise that in a democracy like South Australia it is not appropriate to have a regime in place where the parliament is not having a say and where we have unelected officials making significant decisions about our health, our wellbeing and, of course, our civil liberties.

One of the things I think we all recognise in this place is the leadership of the public health experts who have informed our response to the pandemic over the last two years. One of the things that I think set South Australia apart from many other places around the world was the willingness of the previous government to follow the health advice, and I want to recognise the leadership of the health minister at that time, who is here in this chamber, the Hon. Stephen Wade, for his leadership in dealing with what I can imagine would have been one of the most challenging periods that any government would face, and that is a global pandemic. I do want to acknowledge that.

Now that we are moving into another phase of this pandemic, the time has come for the parliament to play a much more active role, and so from the Greens' perspective we welcome these provisions being now codified in legislation. As I say, we also want to ensure that there are safeguards in place.

One of the key concerns for us in the Greens has been putting in place a parliamentary committee. We have, I am pleased to say, been negotiating and discussing the prospect of that with the government and with the crossbench. What the committee that we are proposing will achieve is ensure that there is parliamentary oversight. That committee will have the power to make recommendations for directions to be disallowed, and I think that is going to be an important step in terms of how we manage this pandemic going forward. It also means that, from the perspective of the Greens, we will not be pursuing some of the other amendments that I have flagged previously, because we will have this important safeguard in place.

The other thing for us that is vitally important is around ensuring that there is the opportunity for appeal. One of the issues that we will be talking about a bit more during the committee stage is amendments that look at ensuring that there is a right of appeal for people who are being detained, that is, people who are being held under the Public Health Act in hotel quarantine, for instance, that they have the opportunity to make an appeal and to make the case for their personal circumstances.

With those important caveats—the right for this parliament to disallow ministerial directions, the minister giving updates on those directions to this parliament and the oversight of a parliamentary committee that is not dominated by the government—on the basis of those important safeguards, or with those important safeguards in place, the Greens will be supporting this bill.