Right now, in several overseas countries, there are fleets of drones monitoring neighbourhoods to check the compliance of citizens with their social distancing restrictions. It sounds like a scene out of a Sci-Fi movie but sadly is the world we live in 2020.
There is no denying the importance of containing the spread of COVID-19. It is a very dangerous disease that has now caused the death of more than 200,000 people worldwide – and these numbers will continue to rise.
Restrictions on people’s liberties have been applied across the world to contain the spread of the virus. The International Center for Not-For-Profit Law has launched the COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker to track what measures are being imposed by countries around the world. As of today (27 April): 82 countries have emergency declarations in place; 25 countries have measures which affect expression; and 94 countries have imposed measures that affect assembly.
Balancing human rights is always a difficult task. There is a legitimate need to contain our movements to stop the virus spreading. It is important to ensure that everyone is given accurate information. And measures to keep people safe should always be seriously considered. However, history has taught us that often when governments gain new powers they are often reluctant to give them back.
A robust democracy is more important in times of crisis than at any other time. The Opposition should not be condemned for questioning the Coalition Government about any measures they impose. It is our job. It is more important than ever that we continue to question, to call out inconsistencies, and to demand explanations about how our human rights will be protected after this crisis is over.
As Deputy Chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, it is my job to scrutinise all legislative instruments put forward by the Government through the human rights lens. All measures to combat COVID-19 will come before that Committee to be scrutinised. Our analysis will then be included in a report to Parliament. I take my role on that Committee very seriously and will make sure that proper scrutiny of all measures to combat COVID-19 occurs and is appropriately reported.
A good and robust democracy requires parliament to sit. Parliament continued to sit during World War II and during the Spanish Flu. Australians need parliament to scrutinise and evaluate the Government’s actions in response to COVID-19. While we might need to make some health adjustments to how we sit in Canberra for the time being, recommencing parliamentary sitting should be a priority.