The Victorian parliament is expected to pass a raft of measures to combat the economic downturn brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, including a billion-dollar financial package
The emergency sitting of parliament on Thursday began with a minute of silence for four police officers killed in an accident on the Eastern Freeway on Wednesday, and will likely go into the night.
In accordance with social distancing rules, only about 25 people were allowed in the lower house, with speaker Colin Brooks thanking some MPs for staying at home.
“I know lots of members wanted to be here but have put their hand up to stay away so that we are able to maintain the appropriate distancing,” he said.
The government is seeking to borrow $24.5 billion to help the state combat the economic carnage from the virus, as well as pass the COVID-19 omnibus bill.
The legislation is hundreds of pages long and outlines temporary changes including the introduction of judge-alone criminal trials, virtual meetings for state and council politicians, WorkCover extensions and a ban on evictions and rent increases, with a sunset clause of six months.
The bill passed the Legislative Assembly with the support of the coalition, despite Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien’s concerns it grants unprecedented powers to the justice system.
“It’s almost an anathema to find a bill such as this before the house that we will not be opposing, but these are extraordinary times,” he said.
Mr O’Brien called for greater scrutiny of the government’s response to the pandemic, which is being overseen by the Labor- chaired Public Accounts and Estimates Committee.
Premier Daniel Andrews said he was confident in the committee, which will have equal numbers of government and non-government members following the appointment of Liberal Democrats MP David Limbrick on Thursday.
“It is the pre-eminent committee in our parliament and it ought to given the opportunity to review the performance of the government and I am confident it will do that without fear or favour,” Mr Andrews told question time.
The bill is now being debated in the Legislative Council, where a bid to form a select committee was defeated.
Victoria’s coronavirus death toll has increased to 16 after a man aged in his 60s died in hospital overnight.
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said the man likely contracted COVID-19 in the community.
But in a promising sign, only one new case of coronavirus was recorded overnight.
“We have seen a stabilisation of the numbers in recent days and, in fact, there have been no further cases of community transmission,” Ms Mikakos said.
Twenty-seven people are in hospital with the virus, including 10 in intensive care.
So far, 1251 people have recovered and more than 93,000 Victorians have been tested.
Parliament is expected to return on June 2.