What The State Of Emergency Extension Actually Means For Victoria
The state of emergency has been extended in Victoria for six months.
The decision has been seriously controversial, because tensions about the state’s lockdown are still really high.
I want to understand what this extension actually means, and if there are legitimate worries about keeping it going.
That was Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews back in March.
The State of Emergency gave Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, some wide-ranging powers to deal with the spread of Covid-19.
Those powers include detaining people to eliminate serious risks to public health, restricting people’s movements and giving any other directions that are ‘reasonably necessary’, like wearing face masks in this case.
But extending these powers has been contended in parliament as criticism against Premier Daniel Andrews has mounted, and people are losing patience with restrictions.
The Vote In Parliament To Keep The State Of Emergency Only Just Scraped Past
Samantha Ratnam: “I have to say that this is one of the most important pieces of legislation that I’ve voted on in my time in the parliament because we’re in unprecedented times. The parliament hasn’t made as extraordinary decisions as we’ve seen them having to make, over the last few months.”
That’s the leader of the Victorian Greens Samantha Ratnam.
She told me that she only voted for keeping those powers in place, as long as there’s a lot of transparency from the Andrews government about their plans for the state, which can be inspected by MPs regularly.
Ratnam’s received a lot of criticism and some pretty hideous threats for voting to keep the state of emergency.
She responded on Facebook, after she received a death threat against her newborn daughter.
SR: “We’ve received some really nasty and often violent messages in voicemails, emails and comments on social media, on all the platforms and they seem to kind of target you. They’ve targeted not just me but also other cross benchers who voted on this and that’s pretty concerning.”
So, Why Are People So Fired Up About Keeping These Powers In Place?
For a start, there’s been a lot of misinformation about the state of emergency legislation floating around.
SR: “Unfortunately we saw a lot of people conflating state of emergency with the lockdown … by granting a possible extension of six months … it doesn’t mean that they’ll use it for six months, it just means that they can if they need to.”
That fear about a long, extended lockdown has rolled into conspiracy theory groups online.
In the run-up to the vote an Excel spreadsheet of MPs was shared on anti-vaxxer, 5G protest and QAnon conspiracy groups, encouraging people to spam the politicians.
Days after the vote was passed, anti-lockdown protests scaled up and around 200 people gathered in central Melbourne, in an angry demonstration against the government’s decision.
Ratnam acknowledged that a lot of people are just looking for clarification on what the state of emergency means and how their lives will be affected.
SR: “We’ve also heard from people, for example, in the business community. Because their livelihoods depend on everything that’s decided on a daily basis … it’s a really important job that we have as MPs, to make sure that we keep listening and take that information back to the government.”
There are other legitimate reasons to be worried about the decision making from the Victorian government.
Ratnam told me, it’s important that Victorians hold the course of lockdown and keep working together, but that doesn’t mean that the Andrews Government shouldn’t also be held to account for the decisions they’re making, and the way they’re enforcing rules.
SR: “We’ve had a number of concerns over how the measures have been implemented. So for example, we saw public housing towers locked down without much notice at all, really worrying the residents. We know some of these measures disproportionately affect minority communities … it’s really important to keep asking the government to explain why they’re doing these things, [and to] ensure that they’re open to improving what they’re doing.”
The state of emergency is a really important component of the Victorian government’s public health response to Covid-19 but a lot of the information around it, has been misused by conspiracy groups and politicians to stir up anger at the Andrews Government.
At a time where public cooperation is more important than ever, these kind of misinformation campaigns can be really dangerous weapons to throw around.