State of emergency vs state of disaster — why does Victoria have both?

For the past six months, Victorians have watched the State Government use a broad range of powers to control the coronavirus pandemic.

On Sunday, Premier Daniel Andrews announced Victoria’s state of emergency would be extended for four more weeks.

But Victoria is also under a state of disaster and while it sounds like that would trump a state of emergency, the two terms operate under different legislation and state mechanisms.

Here’s why both are being enforced at the same time.

Three police officers at a coronavirus checkpoint on a highway.
Police officers set up a “ring of steel” around Melbourne a few weeks ago to enforce lockdown restrictions.(ABC News: Simon Winter)

What is a state of emergency?

A state of emergency first came into effect on March 16 to give the Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton wide-ranging powers to enforce coronavirus restrictions.

The declaration is made under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 when there is a serious risk to public health.

Among the powers it provides, it allows Professor Sutton to direct health officials to detain people, search premises without a warrant and force people or areas into lockdown if it is considered necessary to protect public health.

A state of emergency was initially declared to give Victorian authorities the power to enforce two essential rules: physical distancing and quarantine requirements.

Why has the state of emergency been extended?

With cases of the virus still emerging in Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews says it is necessary to extend the state of emergency for another four weeks so there is “no doubt as to the authority and the effectiveness of all of the measures that we’ve put in place”.

He said the Government took no joy in having to enforce the rules.

“But they are critically important and as you can see from these numbers, and although it is only early signs, and we do know that there’s that lag effect, but these are encouraging numbers,” he said.

How long can we be under a state of emergency?

A state of emergency can be imposed for six months before it must be revoked.

So it can be in effect until midnight on September 13 unless an amendment is made to the legislation to extend it past six months.

Mr Andrews has already flagged this as a possibility.

How is a state of disaster different?

A state of disaster came into effect on August 2 for one month so stricter, stage 4 restrictions could be enforced.

It is due to end at 6:00pm on September 2.

Under the emergency management act, a state of disaster can be declared if the Premier is satisfied an emergency “constitutes or is likely to constitute a significant and widespread danger to life or property in Victoria”, which includes a plague or epidemic.

Lisa Neville speaking at a press conference outside.
A state of disaster gives Minister for Police and Emergency Services Lisa Neville broader powers to enforce restrictions.(AAP: James Ross)

It allows police to enforce rules such as the nightly 8:00pm to 5:00am curfew and restrict people’s movement such as the ban on people travelling beyond the 5 kilometre radius around their home.

It also gives authorities the ability to suspend acts of parliament and take possession of properties.

A state of disaster can be declared for the whole of Victoria, or any part of it.

It currently applies to the whole of the state.

While the state of disaster is due to end in just over two weeks, a declaration can be made to continue if the Premier decides it is necessary based on advice from the Minister for Police and Emergency Services and Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp.

Why do we need both at the same time?

Daniel Andrews speaks to media at a press conferences with microphones in front of him
State of emergency and state of disaster declarations work best in combination, Premier Daniel Andrews says.(AAP: Daniel Pockett)

Mr Andrews says both declarations are needed so authorities have the full range of powers they require to enforce restrictions on movement and keep people safe.

While the state of emergency grants powers to the Chief Health Officer to do “whatever is necessary to contain the spread of the virus and reduce the risk to the health of Victorians”, the state of disaster grants powers to Minister for Police and Emergency Services Lisa Neville to respond to the disaster.

Mr Andrews has previously said while states of disaster and emergency can operate independently, they work best together, and he has been advised the conditions needed to trigger them are present.

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