Centralization hampers Victoria pandemic response

By on September 26, 2021 0

As incisive as this comment is, what struck me about this remark is that a key player in the industry would generally only respond in this way to such an announcement if it had not been properly consulted. .

When other stakeholder groups like the Australian Retailers Association and the Australian Hotels Association raised similar grievances, it became clear that the government did not consult very widely.

Melbourne in confinement.Credit:Luis Ascui

Just why not is difficult to understand but easy to explain. You feel that the government simply gave in to intensifying criticism of the lack of a stimulus package that it decided it had to rush something, anything.

Clearly, however, the centralizing tendencies of government during this recent phase of the pandemic are now sparking a much more intense fire, just when its focus should be to work closely with every organization and stakeholder group that it needs. ‘he can engage.

Getting people involved and giving them a place around the table could militate against all the political instincts of government, but it is essential if it is to build or save broad public trust and consensus around its pandemic strategy.

But contestability is not just about broader consultation, important as it is. Its benefits are also realized when the checks and balances in our system work as they should.

Take, for example, the judicial branch of our government. It is constitutionally independent but has widely accepted the impositions that public health ordinances have imposed, even on its own operations.

But testing public health advice is not necessarily in doubt. This is to ensure that the government and authorized health workers exercise their power in a proportionate, consistent and robust manner based on the best data and information available.

This is also the role of Parliament. But it has been largely muzzled and the reports that the government has tabled on the impact of public health measures on fundamental rights and freedoms are so general that they hardly shed light on the faithful application of the principles that I have. evoked.

Our judiciary, as a separate branch of government, can and should ensure that public health measures that affect its own independent operations fulfill these principles.

Ro Allen, head of the Victorian Equal Opportunities and Human Rights Commission.

Ro Allen, head of the Victorian Equal Opportunities and Human Rights Commission.Credit:Justin mcmanus

When the respected head of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, Ro Allen, was recently asked on ABC Radio about the impact of public health measures on human rights, the Commissioner’s response was, in general terms, that a balance must be struck in these situations.

This, of course, is very true. But the Commission has an important opportunity here. It can take a close look at who makes important decisions to infringe fundamental rights and freedoms and whether those decisions are directly based on health advice while being proportionate and consistently applied.

Increasingly, mainstream acceptance of current restrictions is giving way to criticism, and not just because of the length of ongoing impositions that separate loved ones, home students, and closed businesses.


It is the many disparities and the selectivity of the restrictions that can no longer be rationalized, if ever they can be.

Consultation and contestability are two essential ways of tempering the government’s instinctive orientation towards centralization. And it will give the government the best chance to turn the tides of recent weeks and build on that unity of purpose that our comprehensive response needs.

John Pesutto is a Senior Fellow at the School of Government at the University of Melbourne and was the Shadow Attorney General of Victoria from 2014 to 2018.

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