Government invokes emergency, granting Greg Hunt extraordinary powers

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The federal government invoked the human health provisions under the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Act) yesterday granting health minister Greg Hunt an extraordinary range of powers to exercise in response to COVID-19.

The human health powers have been invoked and the Act could not be clearer when it comes to the extent of the power Mr Hunt is now able to exercise.

In a statement, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, "The National Cabinet noted that Commonwealth, States and Territories were implementing emergency powers under respective legislation in order to be able to deal with the spread of COVID-19 as quickly and flexibly as possible.

"The Governor-General has accepted the Commonwealth Government’s recommendation that he declare a 'human biosecurity emergency' under the Biosecurity Act 2015 given the risks COVID-19 poses to human health and the need to control its spread in Australia."

The Act could have been invoked last week to enforce the first restrictions on mass gatherings. However, the states and territories are currently using their own laws to enforce the restrictions.

Mr Morrison said the first emergency requirement to be made under the declaration will be to reinforce the prohibition on international cruise ships from entering Australian ports for an initial 30 days.

Section 51 of the Act is very clear in that Mr Hunt can now make a 'determination' that bans, restricts or requires specified behaviours. He can even make that determination verbally.

Mr Hunt could clearly deploy these powers broadly, including against the hoarding of consumer items such as medicines, or in relation to other aspects of the health system.