NT opposition warns new COVID legislation will give Chief Health Officer ‘extraordinary power’
23 Mar 2022
The opposition has previously criticised the NT government for lacking transparency in its management of the pandemic.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)
The Northern Territory opposition is sounding the alarm over the government’s new transitional COVID laws, claiming it will give “extraordinary power” to the Chief Health Officer (CHO) for the next two years.
The legislation is intended to transition the territory into the next stage of the pandemic and will remain in place until June 2024.
It extends the current powers available to
the CHO — which are due to expire in three months — including directing people to test and isolate, enforcing vaccine mandates and ordering lockdowns and lockouts where necessary.
Introducing the bill to parliament today, Health Minister Natasha Fyles said it was necessary as the territory moved out of the emergency phase of the pandemic.
“The proposed amendments will ensure that the CHO can retain refined powers in an adjustment period transitioning out of the pandemic to an endemic,” she said.
“The powers are necessary to protect our community and to manage the risk of the health system potentially becoming overwhelmed.
“While the COVID-19 situation is currently improving, it can be expected from time to time that there may be outbreaks of COVID-19 in the community that present emergency-like scenarios in specific geographic locations or in groups of people that require a public health response.”
Ms Fyles said the temporary powers would also require the CHO to take social and economic considerations into account before issuing health directions.
They will also be required to consult with certain ministers before issuing directions.
The bill was flagged last week but the opposition has claimed it only received the details today.
Shadow Health Minister Bill Yan said the powers would normally only be provided to police.
“The entire emergency management of COVID by this government since 2020 has been managed by Parliament and the ministers,” he said.
“We’re now going to give the exact same powers that would normally be reserved for ministers to the CHO for two years with effectively no reporting requirements.”
Opposition pushing for more transparency
The opposition has been lobbying for more transparency on health advice provided to the government, and will today introduce a bill requiring reporting every three months.
But Mr Yan said the government’s legislation could delay any reporting until three months after the transition phase ends in June 2024.
“What’s quite pertinent here is that this will be after the 2024 election in August,” he said.
“It’s like the government is actually trying to hide the decisions that they’ve made for territorians for over four years by changing these reporting requirements.”
The bill is expected to pass NT Parliament, where the Labor government holds a firm majority, in May.
More Articles on this subject – Mick Raven