In the Sydney Morning Herald today, 2 April 2020 Peter Hartcher writes, ‘Calls for greater scrutiny of government during shutdown‘:
‘A group of former judges is urging Australia’s parliament to set up a bipartisan committee to scrutinise the government’s epidemic responses as it faces one of the longest shutdowns on record.’
For 125 days!!
In comments provided for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, Ms Gaudron said:
“We have a national cabinet with no statutory or constitutional foundation, making decisions affecting us all now, and it seems, for many months and perhaps years into the future.
In the present circumstances that body is fulfilling a vital national role.
But the circumstances are not such as to require that its decisions are free of oversight, particularly as new and wide discretionary powers have been conferred on ministers of the Commonwealth.”
The group of judges includes two former judges of the Victorian Court of Appeal, David Harper and Stephen Charles, a former judge of the NSW Court of Appeal, Anthony Whealy, and a former judge of the Queensland Court of Appeal, Margaret White.
The executive director of the Australia Institute, Ben Oquist, who convened the judges’ group, said that Australia was already in a health crisis and an economic crisis “and we’d like to see if we can avoid a crisis of democracy as well”.
The president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, former NSW director of public prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, made a similar call on Wednesday: “Even the darkest days of the World Wars did not force parliament to close for extended periods.”
He called on the federal and NSW parliaments to make use of their committee processes for “more democracy and accountability in these difficult months, not less”.
An Australian Senate committee on Wednesday came to a bipartisan agreement to continue to meet by video link to exercise its powers to oversee the government.
The Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation said that it would monitor laws delegated to it to screen them for any infringements of personal liberty. This committee has a relatively narrow remit that excludes spending matters, for instance.