QLD Public Health Emergency Legislation Receives Assent

Tuesday 24 March 2020 @ 4.11 p.m. | Legal Research

On 18 March 2020, the Public Health and Other Legislation (Public Health Emergency) Amendment Act 2020 (Qld) (‘the Act’) was introduced by the Minister for Health and Minister for Ambulance Services, Hon Dr Steven Miles and was subsequently passed by the Queensland Parliament. The Act received assent the following day.

Amendments to Public Health Act 

The Act makes amendments existing legislation to introduce and enforce special powers for the COVID-19 emergency. These amendments include:

  1. The powers of the Chief Health Officer and appointed emergency officers under the Public Health Act 2005 (Qld) (the Public Health Act) will be strengthened so that they will be able to give published directions on the department’s website or in the gazette regarding implement social distancing measures. These include regulating mass gatherings, isolating or quarantining people suspected or known to have been exposed to COVID-19 and protecting vulnerable populations such as the elderly.
  2.  The Act introduces an offence in the Public Health Act for failure to comply with public health directions without reasonable excuse which will incur a penalty of 100 penalty units. The Act enables an appointed emergency officer to take action to enforce directions with necessary and reasonable force.
  3. Section 366 of the Public Health Act entitles a person who suffers loss or damage due to the exercise of powers of emergency officers to just and reasonable compensation. The Act amends section 366 to expressly exclude conduct relating to the COVID-19 emergency from the scope of application of this provision.
  4. The Act also amends the State Penalties Enforcement Regulation 2014 to allow penalty infringement notices to be issued for failure to comply with directions relating to the COVID-19 emergency.

Amendments relating to Planning and Economic Development 

The Act makes a two-limb amendment to the Economic Development Act 2012 (Qld):

  1. The Act will allow for situations where land may be needed to operate under altered circumstances to provide an essential good or service within a Priority Development Area. The Act allows landowners or operators to apply for a Temporary Use Licence so they can exceed the parameters of land use established in the development approval. This provision is invoked in an “applicable event” which is defined by the Planning Act 2016 (Qld) and the Disaster Management Act 2003 (Qld) as a non-exhaustive list that includes natural disasters, explosions, fires, oil spills, epidemics, disruption of essential services and infrastructure and attacks against the State.
  2. The Act enables the Minister for Planning and minister responsible for Economic Development to suspend or extend any of the statutory timeframes across the planning framework during an applicable event.

Unlike other provisions within the Act, the amendments relating to economic development are not exclusive to the current COVID-19 emergency.

The Act also makes amendments to the Planning Act 2016 (Qld) to allow a greater number of facilities to be used for public health purposes and to enable certain classes of businesses to extend their operating rights in order to provide essential goods and services to communities. Businesses will be allowed to apply for temporary use licences to change a condition of the development approval or alter the intensity of scale of existing lawful use of the premises. A licence is granted by the chief executive provided they are satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for the licence to be applicable for a specified period during an applicable event.

Amendments relating to Local Government and Elections 

The Act makes comprehensive amendments to a wide range of legislation concerning local government administration and elections. The amended legislation includes the City of Brisbane Act 2010, the Local Government Act 2009, the Local Government (Dissolution of Ipswich City Council) Act 2018, the Local Government Electoral Act 2011 and the Local Government Regulation 2012 (Qld).The most notable of these amendments is that the Act enables the Minister, in consultation with the electoral commission, to withdraw the notice of the 2020 quadrennial local government election published in February. The election will only be suspended in this manner if it is determined that proceeding with the election will be against the public interest. The other amendments are predominantly concerned with increasing the flexibility of electoral processes, these include:

  • increasing the flexibility of postal voting processes,
  • enabling the electoral commission to allow a new class of electors to vote electronically,
  •  requiring practicable, alternative arrangements for electoral visitor voting where the commission is satisfied of a present risk to the health and safety of an issuing officer in physically visiting the elector’s address,
  • accommodating for the possibility that the election will not occur and 
  • introducing regulation-making powers of local governments relating to electoral processes.

Constitutional Amendment

The Act makes one amendment to the Constitution of Queensland 2001 (Qld) which enables meetings of the Executive Council to be held using any technology that “enables reasonably continuous and contemporaneous communication between participants” for instance, through teleconferencing or video conferencing.


The Act was introduced as an “urgent Bill” and was introduced, passed and assented over the time period of one day. Due to its urgent nature, the Act was debated in 2 hours and passed with a 41-30 majority. There was a multitude of diverse and conflicting responses to the Act. Much of the criticism was directed towards the minimal notice given for the Bill. For instance, Liberal MP, Mr Bleijie, criticised the Bill stating, “Ten people out of 93 will get a chance to speak on this, the biggest issue in 100 years (…) and this parliament gives it the disrespect of only two hours debate.” However, others while disapproving of the processes in bringing the Bill to Parliament  but still supported its provisions. For instance, another Liberal MP, Mr Mander, referred to the fact that these are “extraordinary times and they require extraordinary measures.”

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Public Health and Other Legislation (Public Health Emergency) Amendment Act 2020, Bill and supporting information available from TimeBase LawOne Service.

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