Of all national jurisdictions, Tasmania's COVID-19 response has been subjected to the least amount of democratic oversight, new research has found.
Tasmania Law Reform Institute director Brendan Gogarty has co-authored an article appearing in the Alternative Law Journal, based on a longer study carried out by himself and University of New South Wales law professor Gabrielle Appleby.
The study, which analyses the role of the State Parliament's Subordinate Legislation Committee in holding the government to account for its decisions during the crisis, underwent a robust peer review process.
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The Subordinate Legislation Committee meets periodically to interrogate the government's use of emergency powers amid the pandemic.
Dr Gogarty said he and Professor Appleby had concluded that the Tasmanian Constitution needed to be "reviewed and modernised" to ensure that proper scrutiny of executive government could be exercised during times of crisis.
"The government has ... resisted setting up a COVID-19-specific committee, [which] means that all the public health rules, involving the most significant and widespread mass restrictions on civil liberties outside of wartime aren't being subject to review by elected community representatives," Dr Gogarty said.
"This makes Tasmania the outlier in terms of democratic oversight of the crisis, with the least direct involvement of any of the Australian jurisdictions."
Dr Gogarty stressed that he and Professor Appleby agreed that lockdown restrictions were necessary and that the government needed to be able to use emergency powers to "effectively and efficiently" react to crises.
But he said the Subordinate Legislation Committee should have been given greater scope to scrutinise the utilisation of such powers.
"What this situation has shown is just how far outside the norm Tasmania has fallen when it comes to parliamentary democracy," he said.
Tasmania [is] the outlier in terms of democratic oversight of the crisis, with the least direct involvement of any of the Australian jurisdictions.Dr Brendan Gogarty, Tasmania Law Reform Institute director
A state government spokesperson said the government had "no plans" to make changes to the Constitution and that it was satisfied that there had been "significant scrutiny and accountability measures put in place" during the pandemic.
"The government has been fully transparent with the Tasmanian community throughout the coronavirus challenge, including the Premier fronting around 70 press conferences," they said.
"Parliament was reconvened earlier than planned to enable full scrutiny of government. The Subordinate Legislation Committee is meeting regularly, scrutinising all notices made under COVID-19 emergency legislation and is conducting regular public inquiries where the Premier and other ministers and departmental officials have already appeared."