Biosecurity Act gives health minister power “only found in a dictatorship”
When parliament passed the 700-page Biosecurity Act in 2015, its all-encompassing powers passed under the radar.
The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, is, in this pandemic moment, the most powerful person in the land.
According to George Williams, dean of law at the University of NSW, once the governor-general declares a human biosecurity emergency “the federal health minister is vested with unfettered personal power of a kind normally only found in a dictatorship”.
“The minister may determine ‘any requirement’ and make ‘any direction’ needed to prevent or control the disease. These cannot be disallowed by parliament and override any other law. Failure to comply is liable to five years’ imprisonment.”
Writing in The Australian Williams describes this as the “whatever-it-takes” clause.
“It establishes the health minister as the most powerful figure in the nation with the discretion to do whatever he or she thinks necessary to protect the community from the spread of a disease.
“The emergency power does away with niceties such as checks and balances, as well as the notion of personal liberty. It amounts to the community putting its complete faith and trust in the health minister to use their powers wisely.”