Pandemics, Public Health Emergencies and Government Powers
Authors: Belinda Bennett and Ian Freckelton
Publisher: The Federation Press
Reviewer: Matthew Coe
After two years of lockdowns, restrictions and near inescapable media coverage, many people have developed an intolerance for stories about pandemics.
But, for those inoculated to such things, the high dose of COVID-19 related information contained in the recent book, Pandemics, Public Health Emergencies and Government Powers, might be useful.
The book is a collection of 21 essays relating to Australia’s Federal and State government response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The editors, Belinda Bennett and Ian Freckelton, note in the acknowledgements that the purpose of the book was to prepare a work that analysed the diverse legal issues of the pandemic from an Australian perspective.
The collection includes contributions from 36 authors, all well credentialed in their fields.
The editors are both lawyers. This, along with the public sector focus, means the book will probably make most sense to lawyers and those familiar with the inner workings of Federal or State governments.
To anyone who has so much as walked past a news source since March 2020, much of the recent history will be familiar. But the essays go into more detail about COVID-19 events and decisions than most news reports. In this way, readers will get a sense of deja vu, while also learning a few new things.
The collection is broken into four main Parts. Part A – COVID-19 in Context; Part B – The Role of Government; Part C – Legal Responses to the Impact of the Pandemic; and Part D – Health Care.
Each essay can be read, alone, but grouping them by theme creates a nice continuity.
Part A considers rights and powers during a pandemic, management of the COVID-19 pandemic and the legal and regulatory response to previous pandemics in Australia. The essay on the development of public and administrative law relating to pandemics provides a helpful history of the regulation of major outbreaks in the past as well as today.
Part B considers Federal and State Government powers during pandemics, government inquiries and reports, the government response to accessing vaccines, human rights and other issues.
The discussion of the reasons the Prime Minister’s National Cabinet was unable to function like an ordinary Cabinet will be informative for anyone unfamiliar with government, the relationships between the States and the Commonwealth and the formalities surrounding Cabinet.
Part B also includes a discussion of practical matters like the use of face masks and the Federal Government’s COVID safe app and the related privacy issues.
Part C discusses matters of economic hardship payments during COVID, COVID related workplace health and safety issues, contract issues during COVID, parenting and the administration of justice.
Part D focuses on health care issues, considering patient rights, gender related issues, first nations health, aged care, health research and end of life decision making.
With contributions from lawyers and academics in both science and the humanities, this is not a legal text book. Notwithstanding this, it includes helpful tables of cases and legislation and a few specific discussions of the law. Readers investigating some of the questions considered by the book may be in luck.
Pandemics, Public Health Emergencies and Government Powers is an early attempt to understand some of the policy and legal issues that have emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic. It surveys a wide range of issues that have been identified and considered by government, lawyers, academics and others since March 2020.
If you have not already overdosed on COVID-19 and are still interested in gaining more insight into Australia’s public and legal response, this collection may be worth your time.
26 April 2022