SUBJECT | Biosecurity | 27 September 2022
CHRIS KENNY: Thanks for joining us, Dan. You reckon politicians must have been asleep at the wheel, yourself included when these laws were passed?
DAN TEHAN: That's right, Chris. They were passed in 2015, and they were passed under the Biosecurity Act, which dealt with both animal health and then human health. And once we became aware of the human health laws in this Act, I think all of us became concerned. Now, obviously, we were dealing with the pandemic at the time, but now we're through the pandemic, I think it is necessary that we review these laws and, in particular, review the oversight that the Parliament has of these laws, which is minimal at the moment—and potentially look to see whether there is additional oversight beyond the Parliament that's needed for them.
KENNY: I think there's no argument that change is needed, and I think the whole Scott Morrison secret ministries affair bears that out because the one secret ministry he had that I thought he had a good justification for was when he said when he signed into law this act or activated this act, it gave so much power to the health minister that he thought he should be signed in as health minister to so that you could share that power. Now, should there have been more publicly said about that? Should it have been talked about in Cabinet and all the rest of it? But that kind of demonstrates just how powerful these laws were, doesn't it?
TEHAN: It does. And Greg Hunt, at the time, expressed his concern as to how much power it gave him as the minister and the minister alone. And that's why we do need to look at it. We need to look at it whether you need the executive or the cabinet administering these laws and what sort of oversight you need as well because they do give extraordinary power to the minister at the moment, including the power to force people to be vaccinated, to force people to quarantine in a medical facility, to force people to wear clothing. All these things may or may not be necessary, but not to have any oversight of these powers at the moment just shows that this legislation, at the time it went through the Parliament, I think, didn't get the proper scrutiny that it deserved.
KENNY: Yeah, well, good on you for raising this because, clearly, it's about oversight. We all understand governments need power during all sorts of emergencies, but you've got to have transparency, that power has got to be understood, and there's got to be oversight of that power. Now, this surely applies to the state governments as well. The state governments had even more impact on people's lives, and we had a similar situation down there where there are just decisions being made based on this never seen medical advice, and there was no reference to Parliament, to the cabinet, to the much less the public.
TEHAN: Absolutely. I think one of the things that all of us should do now is take stock, and we need to do so at the federal level but also at the state level. They need to do exactly the same.
KENNY: Does this mean a Royal Commission as well? Sorry to interrupt, Dan, does this mean a national Royal Commission into this?
TEHAN: Well, I don't know whether you need a Royal Commission or not, but I think definitely what we do need is a proper review of the Biosecurity Act here at the federal level. We absolutely need that, and it needs to be done, I think, by a select committee of both members of the House and the Senate across all sides of the Parliament, so that it can be properly looked at like we look at national security laws with the Intelligence and Security Committee. We should follow the exact same process that's used there for examining the Biosecurity Act. Now, I would think they need to do exactly the same for the laws that were introduced or the powers that were used at the state and territory levels. How they do that, I'd leave it up to those state and territory governments and here to obviously the federal government. But what they need to be looked at and, I think, quickly, they need to be looked at in a way that's bipartisan, and that examines the powers that are given. And in some, those powers are quite extreme. And that's why you need oversight.
KENNY: Good on you. Now, speaking of powers, Labor has outlined its proposed federal ICACs now and what you've seen so far, do you have misgivings?
TEHAN: Well, we obviously haven't seen the bill, so until we see the bill, it's very hard to tell. But my view is we should be looking at the South Australian model because the last thing we need is justice in this place politically weaponized—and if we go down that path, it's going to trash the institution that is our Parliament. So, I think South Australia. You've seen what damage can be done and the huge implications it can have on people; people are so, so upset with the lack of justice that they've taken their own lives. There are proper gates that you have to go through, for instance, to get hearings in place; there's procedural fairness.
KENNY: It seems to be a lot better than the NSW model, I will follow up on some of that detail tomorrow. Thanks so much for joining us, Dan.