The Use of coercive Public Health and Human Biosecurity Law in Australia: An Empirical Analysis

University of New South Wales
Publication Type:
Journal Article
University of New South Wales Law Journal, 2020, 43, (1), pp. 117-154
Issue Date:
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The powers available to the state in the name of advancing or protecting the public’s health or human biosecurity are extensive and highly elastic. These powers include disease surveillance; the power to compel provision of information; the monitoring, prohibiting or compelling of particular behaviours; involuntary social distancing measures including detention, isolation and quarantine; and, finally involuntary medical testing and treatment. Drawing on the findings of an empirical project on the use of public health and human biosecurity law in Australia, this article provides the first account of their use by each Australian state and territory government. The research reported here reveals some serious concerns about the use of these powers. This includes, amongst other things, evidence of the indefinite detention of multiple individuals by public health authorities, including those detained until their death, public health orders made without time limits and never rescinded, alongside serious due process and procedure issues, like the issuing of warrants for the arrest and detention of individuals ‘pre-emptively’. The overarching claim made by this article is that the use of coercive public health and biosecurity legal powers in Australia is active but not currently accompanied by sufficient transparency or public accountability for their use. This lack of publicly available information must be rebalanced in light of the strong public interest arguments for transparency and accountability.
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