Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Melbourne to protest new lockdown laws just hours after the city began enjoying its extra liberties.
A large crowd of protesters met outside the parliament building with a series of messages to Daniel Andrews and state leaders.
But one got taller than most at the first legal protest in a long time.
“Kill the bill,” protesters shouted.
It is a reference to the controversial pandemic laws currently being considered by MPs.
Victoria’s proposed pandemic laws
The Victorian government has introduced new laws into parliament that will allow the health minister to issue public health orders for the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Public Health and Wellness (Pandemic Control) Bill 2021 aims to give state prime ministers the power to declare a pandemic and extend it for three-month blocks for as long as deemed necessary.
Earlier this week, Andrews said the government had indicated that this would happen and that this framework goes further in terms of “control and transparency”.
“We said when the state of emergency and legislative arrangements expired, we would introduce pandemic-specific laws,” he said.
“We wanted a set of goals that were not written with a hypothetical in mind, but which were a product of learning and the experiences that we have all been through the last 20 months.
“That is exactly the framework we have put in place in Parliament.”
The declaration will give the Minister of Health “wide powers to issue pandemic orders” on the advice of the Chief of Health and will replace the current state of emergency, which expires on 15 December.
A similar process is in place in NSW and New Zealand, where the Minister of Health is directly accountable to Parliament.
But the proposed Victorian laws go further, with an independent oversight committee to review public orders and their impact on human rights, while public health advice needs to be made public.
The laws also introduce security measures around the protection of contact tracking and QR code information, while an aggravated offense will be created to “deter … the most violent pandemic-related behavior”.
Court-imposed sanctions will be imposed to stop companies receiving commercial advantage by breaking a pandemic order.
Victoria’s Liberal leader Matthew Guy described the law as an “extreme power” and asked why it would be necessary if lockdowns were a thing of the past.
“Given the extreme nature of the government’s proposed pandemic law, the Liberal and National Parties decided this morning to stand up for Victorians and oppose it,” he tweeted.
“The state government has said they ‘never lock us in again’ – so why such extreme legislation?”
The opposition says the government is “full of power”, describing the proposed laws as “the most extreme, dangerous and exaggerated laws ever presented to our state”.
“Daniel Andrews is trying to equate the Victorian health chief and give himself uncontrolled power to declare a state of emergency,” said opposition leader Matthew Guy.
If passed, pandemic-specific laws will replace the current state of emergency, which expires on December 15.
Relief of restrictions in Melbourne
The regions of Melbourne and Victoria were reunited after coronavirus restrictions were eased at. 6 p.m. Friday before the state reached its 80 percent full vaccination target over the weekend.
The border between Melbourne and the regions has now fallen, masks no longer have to be worn outdoors, and capacity limits were increased for restaurants, pubs and cafes, and indoor eateries, gyms and retailers reopened for fully vaccinated patrons.
There were long queues outside the stores in Bourke Street Mall and Chadstone Mall before the doors were thrown open for customers.
As travel to and from the city is no longer prohibited, tourism-starved regional operators are preparing for a wave of pent-up demand over the unofficial Melbourne Cup long weekend.
Vic COVID update
The state registered an additional 1,355 locally acquired COVID-19 infections on Saturday with 21,095 active cases across the state.
Eleven Victorians aged between 65 and 85 have died from the virus, bringing the number from the most recent outbreak to 293.
Covid-19 commander Jeroen Weimar said 18 percent of new infections were in children under 10, while two-thirds of cases were under 40 and about a third were under 20.
“This remains a predominantly case in our unvaccinated society and affects predominantly younger Victorians,” he told reporters.
“So please, especially for those people in their 20s, go out and get vaccinated.”
– With AAP