By: Tiffanie Turnbull and Maureen Dettre
The NSW premier has put off a call on extending the state’s emergency pandemic powers until next year, as protesters in Victoria rally over similar laws being considered by its parliament.
The NSW government this week considered a proposal for some emergency powers to be extended until the next election in March 2023, according to reports by The Australian.
The laws have allowed the Health Minister Brad Hazzard to make broad Public Health Orders, like those used to restrict gatherings, limit travel or mandate masks or vaccination in some settings.
Hazzard, on behalf of Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant, reportedly argued some of the powers would be essential if the state experienced more significant outbreaks.
It is understood he particularly wanted the power to require quarantine or self-isolation for people exposed to COVID-19 to be extended.
Hazzard on Tuesday night rejected suggestions he was seeking to expand the powers given to the health minister.
“Far from granting additional powers, the powers are exactly the same as exist now and are simply tweaks on timing for two provisions in the massive Public Health Act,” he said in a statement.
Premier Dominic Perrottet said he’d defer the decision on extending the powers – or any amendments to them – until 2022.
“Only the health provisions that need to be extended will be extended,” Perrottet said in a statement.
“I will be carefully considering this matter over the summer break.”
It comes as protesters in Victoria again camped outside that state’s parliament, which is currently considering a bill that would extend emergency powers.
The Victorian bill has become a lightning rod for anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination groups, with hundreds of protesters planning to occupy the steps of parliament for the duration of the debate.
Video posted on social media shows the protesters gathered around a wooden gallows chanting “Kill Dan Andrews” and “Hang Dan Andrews” while attempting to place the head of an inflatable doll of the premier through the noose.
Meanwhile, unions are fighting the NSW government’s plan to scrap automatic COVID workers’ compensation coverage for exposed workers.
Perrottet this week announced his intention to remove a provision in the Workers Compensation Act allowing for the presumption that frontline workers who test positive caught the virus while on duty.
Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey urged the government to abandon its repeal of the provision, arguing it would be almost impossible for workers to prove they contracted the virus at work.
Failing that, he’s calling on crossbench MPs to “block the attack on workers’ rights”.
“This is a mean and nasty piece of legislation that is saying to every worker that kept the economy going: ‘You are on your own’,” he said.
The government estimates keeping the protection could invite 25,000 extra claims over the next 12 months, forcing insurance premiums up by an average of $950.
COVID-19 claims could cost the workers compensation system as much as $638 million in the coming year.
On the other hand, Business NSW supports the repeal of the legislation, saying small businesses will be unable to defend unsubstantiated claims made against them.
There were 212 new cases of COVID-19 reported in NSW on Tuesday, along with two more deaths.
The state is creeping closer to its target of 95 per cent double dose vaccination, with 94.2 per cent of people over 16 having had one jab.
Just over 91 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated.