The powers available to the state in the name of advancing or protecting the public’s health are extensive and highly elastic. Drawing on the findings of an empirical project on the use of public health law in Australia, this article provides an account of their use by Australian state and territory governments. The research reported here reveals some serious concerns about the use of these powers. This includes evidence of the indefinite detention of multiple individuals by public health authorities, including those detained until their death, and public health orders made without time limits and never rescinded. 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. 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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