Lack of transparency around emergency coronavirus powers is concerning, rights commission says

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The impact of emergency powers on human rights must be given more attention, senators have been told.

Australian Human Rights Commission President Rosalind Croucher is keeping a close eye on coronavirus restrictions imposed by governments.

She’s concerned about the way some of the measures are made legal, particularly when processes are used that reduce transparency and allow rules to be changed after parliament has agreed to them.

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“The checks and balances that ordinarily exist are integral to our democracy,” she told a Senate inquiry on Thursday.

“I am concerned of the lack of transparency explaining the continued justification for some emergency response measures, and even for identifying precisely which level of government is responsible for them.”

The effect on human rights of proposed federal laws usually has to be considered when a bill is developed.

But that hasn’t been the case with some of the changes passed during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have a long way to go before it is over,” Ms Croucher said of the health crisis.

“We need to embed a human rights scrutiny process better into all emergency responses, to ensure any intrusion on our rights is always fully justified and the debate is had at the time the restrictions are considered, not afterwards.”

Ms Croucher said doing so would help the public trust measures and comply with them.

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