WA Introduces Bill for COVID-19 Response and Economic Recovery

Monday 17 August 2020 @ 9.07 a.m. | Legal Research

The COVID-19 Response and Economic Recovery Omnibus Bill 2020 (the Bill) was introduced into the WA Parliament on 11 August 2020 by Ms R. Saffioti, the Minister for Transport (the Minister). According to the Minister's second reading speech, the purpose of the Bill is to:

  • provide for the amelioration of problems and impediments arising from the emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic; 
  • facilitate aspects of the economic recovery from the emergency response to the pandemic; and to make related amendments to various Acts;
  • validate certain actions taken immediately before, during or following the state of emergency declared in relation to the pandemic on 16 March 2020; and
  • for related purposes.

Describing the Bill in her second reading speech the Minister said:

"The COVID-19 Response and Economic Recovery Omnibus Bill 2020 will allow specific new options for government agencies to continue to operate in a COVID-19 environment. In doing so it will help to maintain Western Australia as open for business and mitigate damage to the economy that flows from the government not being able to function effectively due to pandemic restrictions. . . . The Bill will also ensure decisions taken since 16 March 2020 while the business of government continued during the pandemic, for example, by holding audiovisual meetings or waiving certain types of fees, are validated."

The proposed Bill is comparable to legislation enacted by the governments of Tasmania, Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales and the Commonwealth with respect to COVID-19, to assist governments to continue to function effectively during the pandemic. As well the Bill is said, by the Minister, to indicate that the "government is taking every possible measure to protect the Western Australian community" and that it "remain[s] aware of the potential for a so-called second wave".

Overview What The Bill Provides

The Bill as described in the Explanatory Memorandum, provides for:

  • Standard provisions, that will apply, for a limited time, to classes of problems common to various WA Acts or processes. These provisions are designed to provide economic relief and make the processes contemplated by these Acts possible in the COVID-19 environment. An example of this is the Bill's provisions that relate to:
    •  the waiving of fees, 
    •  the holding of meetings or addressing processes incompatible with social distancing requirements.
  • Specific provisions that modify, for a limited time, certain obligations or authorisations under WA Acts, enabling the business or administrative processes contemplated by those Acts to be conducted in a manner reflective of the COVID-19 environment, consistent with purposes in the Bill.
  • Other specific provisions that modify, for a limited time, certain Acts relating to mental health or the administration of justice.
  • Provisions, which apply permanently, relating to the administration of justice or environmental matters, allowing many manual court and related processes to be automated electronically. Permitting certain applications and processes under environmental legislation to be done by electronic means.
  • Other permanent amendments are made to miscellaneous WA Acts to permit Executive Council meetings to occur by teleconference or remote communication; facilitate the administration of justice by electronic processes in relation to specific matters (for example, the issue of certain notices, lodgement of these or the giving of evidence); and
  • Amendment of the Interpretation Act 1984 (WA) to support the provisions in the Bill.

The Bill also proposes the validation of many actions taken, which may not have been in strict compliance with statutory requirements, but which the Government feels were necessary to enable business or Government processes to continue in an environment that was suddenly affected by disruptive measures such as travel restrictions, social distancing or self-isolation requirements.

Examples of some of the options that Bill proposes for WA's administrative agencies are: 

  • waiving, varying or refunding fees, charges, dues and late penalties;
  • extending time frame in which fees, charges or dues can be paid;
  • meetings via telephone or audiovisual means, rather than in person, as well as for decisions to be made out of session; and audiovisual meetings that can be observed by the public as required by legislation;
  • flexibility across a number of portfolios to permit witnessing by video link;
  • expanding the list of authorised witnesses for affidavits under the Oaths, Affidavits and Statutory Declarations Act 2005;
  • lodgement, transfer, distribution and serving of documents, applications and decisions via electronic means;
  • documents available for public inspection online;
  • extending or freezing statutory deadlines or time frames that apply to permits, licences and other similar instruments;
  • exempting, and exempting with conditions, the need for a licence, permit or approval or existing conditions of approval;
  • providing for tele-health consultations under the Mental Health Act 2014;
  • extending provisions of the Courts and Tribunals (Electronic Process Facilitation) Act 2013 (WA) to other Acts within the Attorney General and police portfolios to facilitate drafting subsidiary legislation to allow electronic processing;
  • providing audio links to be used for sentencing in certain limited circumstances under the Sentencing Act 1995 (WA); and
  • providing for sureties to be entered into over video link where the surety may be intrastate, but unable to appear in person, allowing certain electronic notices to be issued under the Bail Act 1982 (WA), facilitating electronic lodgement of prosecution notices under the Criminal Procedure Act 2004 (WA), and increasing courts ability to use audiovisual technology in specified circumstances under the Evidence Act 1906 (WA).

Justifying the need for the Bill, the Minister in her second reading, said:

"This pandemic required immediate and decisive responses from the government. We must now do whatever we can to support economic recovery while remaining prepared to meet the genuine and realistic risk of a further outbreak of COVID-19. This bill will help the government meet the challenges that have been
identified so far in undertaking government business during this pandemic."

At the time of writing the Bill had passed through the WA Assembly on 13 August 2020 and was awaiting debate in the Council.

TimeBase is an independent, privately owned Australian legal publisher specialising in the online delivery of accurate, comprehensive and innovative legislation research tools including LawOne and unique Point-in-Time Products. Nothing on this website should be construed as legal advice and does not substitute for the advice of competent legal counsel.

Sources:

COVID-19 Response and Economic Recovery Omnibus Bill 2020 (199 of 2020) [WA], explanatory memorandum and second reading speech as reported in TimeBase's LawOne service

Media Release: Special COVID-19 Bill to keep Government moving (Hon Mark McGowan BA LLB MLA - Premier and Hon Rita Saffioti BBus MLA Minister for Transport; Planning, 12 August 2020)

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