Unions back Vic bill ahead of negotiations

·2-min read

Health worker unions have urged Victorian crossbenchers to put politics aside as they commence negotiations with the government on its proposed pandemic legislation.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation Victorian branch, the Australian Medical Association Victoria, the Australian Salaried Medical Officers' Federation and the Victorian Ambulance Union - together representing almost 110,000 members - issued a statement on Thursday backing the bill.

The Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill gives the premier and health minister the power to declare a pandemic and the ability to enforce restrictions such as lockdowns, mask-wearing, vaccination mandates, and quarantine for returned travellers and positive COVID-19 cases.

Under the existing state of emergency framework, which is due to expire on December 15, those powers lie with the chief health officer.

The bill was expected to pass parliament last week with the support of three crossbenchers but former Labor minister Adem Somyurek announced he would return from a self-imposed absence to vote against it in its current form.

Mr Somyurek's return means the government needs the support of one additional crossbencher to pass the legislation before the state of emergency expires.

Health Minister Martin Foley and Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes will meet with a group of crossbenchers, including Sustainable Australia MP Clifford Hayes and Transport Matters MP Rod Barton, on Thursday night to negotiate changes to the bill.

Ahead of the meeting, the unions urged the crossbenchers to put politics aside and "remember the pandemic bill is about keeping the community safe and healthy and saving lives".

"The debate pendulum has swung into at times toxic political territory focusing on personalities and revenge rather than on protecting Victorians and our health workforce," Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation Victorian branch Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said in a statement.

"Meanwhile beyond exhausted nurses and midwives feel taken for granted while the critics pretend the pandemic is over. We are furious at this self-indulgence."

Victorian Ambulance Union General Secretary Danny Hill agreed.

"Politicians need to put vulnerable patients, health workers and the health system before their own bruised egos," he said.

Australian Medical Association Victoria President Roderick McRae said now was not the time for an "idealistic, preferable legal argument" about the bill.

The unions said they were confident the bill provides appropriate transparency and accountability measures, and addresses concerns in Victoria raised over the last 18 months that too much power lies in the hands of an unelected official.

Premier Daniel Andrews said conversations with the crossbench were continuing in "good faith".

"We don't have a majority in the upper house. That's the upper house that the Victorian community gave us and we just do our best to get things done," he told reporters on Thursday.

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