Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has dismissed criticism of new laws that will strip the state's chief health officer of the power to enforce pandemic restrictions as "political games".
The Public Health and Wellbeing (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021, tabled in parliament on Tuesday, will give the premier the power to declare a pandemic and extend it for three months at a time, for as long as considered necessary.
During a pandemic, the health minister, rather than the chief health officer, will be given "broad powers" to introduce public health measures such as lockdowns, mask mandates and quarantine requirements.
A similar process is in place in NSW and New Zealand, where the health minister is directly accountable to parliament.
The opposition, however, says the government is "drunk on power", describing the proposed laws as "the most extreme, dangerous and excessive laws ever brought before our state".
"Daniel Andrews is attempting to sideline the Victorian chief health officer and grant himself unchecked power to declare a state of emergency," Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said.
Mr Andrews said Mr Guy has repeatedly called for the public health orders to be made by elected officials rather than bureaucrats. As recently as October 5, Mr Guy said the orders should be "ticked off by a minister or the premier".
"This is exactly what the opposition leader asked for. Now apparently it's not the right thing," Mr Andrews told reporters on Tuesday.
"There's some political game being played here and I just won't get involved in that."
Health Minister Martin Foley said the laws would allow him to issue health orders based on characteristics such as age, location, vaccination status and occupation.
But he said it was "conspiratorial nonsense" for the opposition to suggest rules could be enforced based on gender, sexual orientation or political belief.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton also maintained he was not being "sidelined" by the laws.
"There are expectations that the elected representatives in parliament, the minister in particular and the premier, should have accountability for the final form that public health directions take," he said.
Professor Sutton will continue to provide health advice to the minister, which under the new laws must be tabled in parliament then made public.
An independent oversight committee will be established to review the public orders and their impact on human rights.
The laws also introduce safeguards around protecting contact tracing and QR code information, while an aggravated offence will be created for people or businesses who "intentionally or recklessly breach" the rules.
The bill is expected to pass the lower house but in the upper house it will require the backing of three of the 11 crossbenchers.
Animal Justice MP Andy Meddick and Greens leader Samantha Ratnam have indicated they will support the bill, while Reason Party MP Fiona Patten wants to see the "devil in the detail" before giving it a final "thumbs up".
If passed, pandemic-specific laws will replace the current state of emergency, which expires on December 15.
Victoria recorded 1510 new COVID-19 cases and four deaths on Tuesday, bringing the toll from the state's latest outbreak to 234.
There are 24,715 active cases in the state, including 817 in hospital, of which 147 are in intensive care and 88 on a ventilator.
About 90.8 per cent of Victorians aged over 16 have had one COVID-19 vaccine dose while almost 76 per cent are fully vaccinated, paving the way for restrictions to ease further at 6pm on Friday.
Australian Associated Press