Protesters target MP’s home as government weighs up bill changes

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The Andrews government is considering substantial amendments to its controversial pandemic legislation that has sparked weeks of animated debate and led to protesters turning up at a key crossbench MP’s home.

Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick, one of three upper house MPs whose support the government needs to pass the bill, told The Age “abusive” protesters arrived at his house on Friday evening to demonstrate against the proposed law.

Andy Meddick outside Parliament last month.Credit:Getty

“It shouldn’t come to this, it just shouldn’t,” Mr Meddick said. “I understand why people disagree. People disagree in a vibrant democracy. But you don’t have the right to come to someone’s house and make their family feel physically in danger.”

Some of the marchers who gathered in their thousands in Melbourne’s CBD on Saturday to protest against the bill and coronavirus vaccine mandates carried nooses, while others waved placards calling for Mr Meddick and his crossbench colleagues to be hanged.

“MPs have been killed in the UK,” Mr Meddick, who represents the region of Western Victoria, said. “We can’t work on the assumption it won’t happen here until it does.”

Following weeks of pressure to amend the bill – which most legal and human rights groups say is an improvement on the law it is replacing, but still has flaws – The Age has confirmed the government is considering at least four substantive changes to the legislation including boosting parliamentary oversight and making it easier to appeal detention orders.

Mr Meddick along with crossbench colleagues, Greens leader Samantha Ratnam and Reason Party MP Fiona Patten, are in talks with the government on improvements to the bill.

Two parliamentary sources, speaking anonymously because the negotiations are confidential, said crossbenchers wanted to give Victorians the right to appeal detention orders in VCAT rather than through a government detention review officer or the Supreme Court.

The government is considering boosting the resources of a new independent expert group to ensure it can thoroughly investigate government health orders. It is also mulling an amendment to guarantee the scrutiny of acts and regulations committee, which could recommend public health orders be disallowed, would review each health order.

The crossbenchers are also pushing for a change that would force the government to publish public health advice underpinning measures such as lockdowns sooner than two weeks after the decision is made, which is the timeframe stipulated under the proposed law. The government has kept public health advice secret for each of its stay-at-home directions because the current emergency laws do not require their publication.

The Victorian crossbenchers (from left): Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick, Greens leader Samantha Ratnam and Reason Party leader Fiona Patten were involved in the negotiations for the bill. Credit:The Age

The proposed laws, which the government admitted it rushed the consultation process for, will replace existing state of emergency powers, empowering the premier and health minister of the day to declare pandemics and enforce health directions. Under the current system, the state’s chief health officer has these powers. This change was called for by the opposition who disapproved of wide-ranging powers handed to an unelected bureaucrat.

The sensitive negotiations come at a precarious political moment for Premier Daniel Andrews, who abandoned a media event in Bendigo due to protesters last week and whose government is being challenged by regular heavily-attended demonstrations and an opposition keen to harness community anger.

On Saturday, shadow treasurer David Davis said the proposed law was “shocking” and “stripped rights away from Victorians”. He said he would assess crossbench amendments on their merit. An Andrews government spokesman said the government “continued to negotiate in good faith to deliver this vital legislation”.

Mr Davis spoke at a CBD demonstration against the pandemic legislation attended partly by far-right, anti-vaccination groups on Tuesday. Police arrested a man with a crossbow at a protest outside Parliament last week and a person at Saturday’s protest held up a frame with three nooses.

The number of nooses may have been a reference to the three crossbench MPs, who have been the focus of right-wing attacks and newspaper ads featuring their silhouettes. The Age saw four placards referencing the three MPs at Saturday’s demonstration, two of which called for them to be hanged.

Opposition Leader Matthew Guy with shadow treasurer David Davis.Credit:Eddie Jim

Hard-right Liberal MP Bernie Finn took out an advertisement in the Herald Sun supporting Saturday’s protest. Mr Finn also spoke to the rally on Saturday, saying “we must kill this bill”.

Mr Meddick, Ms Patten and Ms Ratnam have received swathes of correspondence from concerned Victorians about the bill, some of which have included death threats.

The escalation in political rhetoric, the increasingly vocal calls for violence against politicians and the association of Liberal MPs with the protesters has led Mr Meddick to claim the opposition is giving fringe groups mainstream legitimacy and fanning the flames of division.

“This is the rise of the far right, Trumpism and everything that comes with it,” Mr Meddick said.

Mr Meddick and his family are being assisted by police to ensure their safety after a group gathered at his front step while he was at a work event at a wildlife shelter about an hour from his home.

He rushed back after receiving distressed messages from his son. Mr Meddick said the protesters verbally abused his wife when she confronted them before leaving when police arrived.

“I usually come up to Melbourne on a Sunday to get ready for Parliament,” he said. “But I’m not sure I want to leave my family.”

Mr Meddick, Ms Patten and Ms Ratnam are left-leaning MPs who vote regularly with the government on progressive social policies that animate the conservative side of politics, but they also use their powerful positions to secure improvements to bills.

The opposition tend to be less interested in seeking outcomes on bills and often trenchantly oppose legislation in the knowledge the government has the numbers to pass laws by negotiating with a handful of crossbenchers.

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