On behalf of the Marshall Liberal government, I am pleased to introduce the COVID-19 Emergency Response (Expiry and Rent) Amendment Bill 2020. As the COVID-19 public health emergency unfolded, it quickly became clear that many everyday practices needed to be adapted so that we could continue doing business while maintaining physical distancing and reduced movement.
Measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, such as conducting more of our business online, are fundamental to our ongoing response and keeping the community safe. We must also manage the effects on our economy and, wherever reasonable, we should remove the barriers to commercial activities and processes citizens need to engage in, and help South Australians who have suffered loss of income at this time.
The declaration of major emergency, in place since 22 March this year, provides the authorising context for the important physical distancing and public health measures issued by the State Coordinator through directions. I must thank all South Australians for their ongoing cooperation with these directions which have helped keep South Australia safe and strong.
Given the course of COVID-19 in Australia so far, including the recent resurgence interstate, we need to be prepared and able to continue managing the health, social and economic risks and impacts of the pandemic in South Australia for some time. A crucial part of this preparedness is the extension of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020. The COVID act amends other South Australian legislation to temporarily adjust such legislative requirements that are difficult to satisfy during a pandemic. The act came into effect in April this year and will expire in October, noting that section 7, relating to commercial leasing provisions, expires on 30 September 2020.
This bill proposes to extend the operation of the act to 28 days after the day on which all relevant declarations relating to the outbreak of COVID-19 within South Australia have ceased or 31 March 2021, whichever is the earlier. This 28-day transition period will allow ministers and agencies to make necessary arrangements. Extending the COVID act is crucial to continuing our business while maintaining physical distancing. It contains provisions that are necessary for the ongoing management of the risk of COVID-19 in South Australia. Those provisions that are no longer necessary for the purposes of the COVID-19 pandemic have already been expired by me under section 6(1) of the COVID act.
I will now deal with each of the provisions of the act that are to be extended. Section 7 is the head power for the COVID-19 Emergency Response (Commercial Leases No 2) Regulations 2020 that contain principles for providing rent relief to tenants suffering financial hardship, and encourage landlords and tenants to negotiate agreements relating to rent relief.
The regulations are South Australia's response to the Mandatory Code of Conduct: SME Commercial Leasing Principles During COVID-19 published by national cabinet on 7 April 2020. The operation of section 7 is to be extended to 28 March 2021 to align with the commonwealth JobKeeper scheme which has been extended over two periods, from 28 September to 3 January 2021 and 4 January 2021 to 28 March 2021.
Members of parliament have been provided with a copy of the draft COVID-19 Emergency Response (Commercial Leases No 2) (Prescribed Period) Variation Regulations 2020 which will be made upon the passing of this bill through the parliament. It is intended that the variation regulations will commence on 1 October 2020 and expire on 3 January 2021, which aligns with the next period of JobKeeper.
The variation regulations will continue the protections for affected lessees and will enable lessees who are suffering financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic on 1 October to renegotiate certain agreements made under the previous regulations or negotiate new agreements or seek court determinations as necessary.
I move now to other provisions in the COVID act that will be extended. Sections 8 and 9 that deal with residential tenancies, residential parks and rooming house agreements will be extended. These provisions inter alia provide a temporary moratorium on eviction for non-payment of rent applied across tenancies impacted by severe rental distress due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Clause 5 of the bill also amends these provisions to provide that there can be no rental increase if the tenant is suffering financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was previously a general prohibition on any rental increase.
The following other provisions will also be extended: section 10, which contains protections for residents of supported residential facilities; section 10A, which allows certain community visitors to visit by audiovisual or other electronic means; section 14, which allows the Governor, by regulation, to extend any time limit or term of appointment by up to six months; section 16, which allows the Governor, by regulation, to suspend or modify requirements relating to the preparation, signing, witnessing and other treatment of documents; and section 17, which allows meetings to take place by audiovisual or other means.
Also to be extended are sections 18, 19 and 21, which provide for service of documents, regulations and transitional provisions; section 22, which deals with Crown immunity from civil or criminal liability; and schedule 1, which contains special provisions relating to the detention of certain protected persons during the COVID-19 pandemic. Schedule 2 of the COVID act, which modifies the operation of a number of acts, will also be extended.
The Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee Act 2003 and the Parliamentary Committees Act 1991 are amended to allow standing committees to meet via audiovisual or audio means. The Bail Act 1985 is amended to reverse the presumption of bail for certain offences related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 is amended to expand the offences against prescribed emergency workers to include people working in pharmacies and providing pharmacy services.
The Development Act 1993 and the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act 2016 are amended by reducing to 15 business days the time for councils to respond to applications for Crown development and, in the case of the Development Act 1993, Crown development and public infrastructure. The act also amends the Development Act to increase the threshold from $4 million to $10 million for referral of Crown development and public infrastructure to public consultation.
The Emergency Management Act 2004 is amended to clarify the scope of directions given under section 25 and provides that expiations can be issued for failing to comply with these directions. The power to remove children to ensure compliance with any direction is clarified, and compliance with the direction is required despite any obligation to maintain secrecy or other restriction on disclosure. The Emergency Management Act 2004 is also amended to allow for directions in relation to the transmission or distribution of electricity when an electricity supply emergency has been declared. It also clarifies the directions that can be given to market participants.
The Environment Protection Act 1993 is amended to allow container deposit refunds to be refunded electronically. The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (South Australia) Act 2010 is amended to allow pharmacists to attend by the internet or other electronic communication in certain circumstances.
The Governor is empowered to make regulations to modify the National Electricity Law to protect the reliability and security of the South Australian power system. The Public Works Committee processes under the Parliamentary Committees Act 1991 are modified. The Public Finance and Audit Act 2016 is amended to increase from 3 per cent to 10 per cent, the maximum amount that can be appropriated under the Consolidated Account.
The South Australian Public Health Act 2011 is amended to clarify how an order made by the Chief Public Health Officer is to be given effect to provide how orders requiring detention are made and enforced to allow the Chief Public Health Officer to authorise the disclosure of personal information.
By extending the operation of the COVID act the regulations that have been made under it will also be extended. There is also a new provision to be inserted into the COVID act to amend section 3 to provide that a relevant declaration includes a direction under part 4, division 3 of the Emergency Management Act 2004, as well as a direction under section 87 of the South Australian Public Health Act 2011. This ensures that the provisions of the COVID act transition seamlessly from an emergency under the Emergency Management Act to the public health emergency should that be needed.
The Marshall Liberal government's emergency response to date has kept South Australia strong and safe. I wish to place on the record my appreciation to the opposition to date in their facilitating the prompt passage of legislation to deal with COVID-19 generally, both the principal act and subsequent matters associated thereto, and, as I understand it, their indication that they will support the extension of these important measures for the protection of the public.
I have an explanation of clauses that is even briefer than what I have just read out. If it assists the opposition or anyone following this debate as to the specific particulars of the explanation of clauses, then I seek to table the same without reading it.
Explanation of Clauses
These clauses are formal. The measure will commence on assent.
Part 2—Amendment of COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020
3—Amendment of section 3—Interpretation
This clause includes public health emergency declarations in the definition of 'relevant declaration' for the purposes of section 6.
4—Amendment of section 6—Expiry of Act
This clause extends the expiry provision in the Act to provide for expiry of most of the provisions of the Act either 28 days after the cessation of all relevant declarations relating to COVID-19 or on 28 March 2021, whichever occurs first. The expiry of section 7 is separately extended to a fixed date of 28 March 2021.
5—Amendment of section 8—Provisions applying to residential tenancies
This clause amends section 8 so that the provision barring rent increases for residential tenancies will only apply if the tenant is suffering financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr PICTON (Kaurna) (12:01): I indicate that I am the lead speaker for the opposition and rise to speak on the COVID-19 Emergency Response (Expiry and Rent) Amendment Bill 2020. As members would know, and as the Attorney-General indicated in her speech, in relation to the legislative framework to deal with this pandemic the opposition has been offering bipartisan support to ensure that our state is as best prepared as possible to deal with the health and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We have done that through our votes in this parliament to make sure that a very significant amount of legislation has been passed that involves what some would perhaps regard as quite extraordinary powers put in place through the Public Health Act, through the Coroners Act and through this COVID-19 act, which is essentially a miscellaneous piece of legislation that covers a whole range of different fields of law in a number of areas.
Quite simply, it means that things can be done electronically that previously required face-to-face contact, which is obviously not preferable in the face of a pandemic. Obviously, this involves a very significant area of reform in relation to commercial rents and tenancies and some other areas we have had questions about, including issues where the Auditor-General would delay things and where appointments to government boards, etc., could be made without the necessary usual processes.
We were provided a copy of this piece of legislation on Friday. Neither the shadow attorney-general nor I have had the opportunity yet to be briefed by the government on this legislation. We will obviously be seeking to do that before it reaches its final stage in the Legislative Council. Of course, it is our general intention to support these matters; however, we believe it is important that we get a full briefing and hear from people before this is put in place.
Obviously, in relation to many of the COVID matters we have dealt with as a parliament, we have put them in place very rapidly—within hours sometimes or at least within a day or two. This is a matter of extension, where we do have a little bit more time to consider this measure. We will be doing that this week and during the next sitting week before the Legislative Council.
Essentially, there are two elements to how the legislative and legal structure has been responded to in South Australia: we have this COVID act and other amendments to acts that have been provided and then we also have the Emergency Management Act, which has been used during the course of this pandemic, except for a brief period at the beginning.
As members will recall, when we first faced this pandemic—the first cases starting in January and February—there was no declaration made and there were no particular powers that were enforced. We did strengthen the legislation in relation to the Public Health Act, but it was later that a declaration was made—I believe under section 87 of the Public Health Act—that enabled certain powers to come into force under that act. Those powers are exercisable by the chief executive of the Department for Health and Wellbeing, Chris McGowan.
That lasted, I believe, for a couple of weeks and then the State Coordinator—who is the police commissioner, Grant Stevens—essentially took over with a declaration under the Emergency Management Act that escalated it in relation to our emergency management framework. This meant that the State Coordinator was effectively in control and had in his power a huge number of abilities to make declarations and to make, essentially, laws that he would decide had the weight of law.
That has been the power used throughout the course of this pandemic to set requirements and restrictions in relation to businesses, in relation to households, in relation to personal conduct and movement and, of course, in relation to borders as well. So the Emergency Management Act has been the general framework under which those decisions have been made.
In South Australia, under the Emergency Management Act that was passed through parliament under the previous Labor government, it is not the Premier who signs off on those declarations, it is not the cabinet that does it, or the minister for health or the minister for emergency management; it is the State Coordinator. The State Coordinator, Grant Stevens, has that responsibility and that power under the legislation to make what can be quite extraordinary decisions.
I have to say that if you look at our performance as a state that has worked remarkably well, and full credit to Grant Stevens for the way he has exercised what are quite significant powers. I have talked to colleagues of mine interstate who were shocked that, essentially, a police officer has such power under our legislative framework. Perhaps in other states the police have a different reputation for exercising their powers, but in South Australia I think all of us on both sides of parliament, and across the community generally, have a lot of faith in the police commissioner and the way he has gone about exercising the significant powers delegated to him by this parliament in the event of an emergency.
I have to note that I suspect when the Emergency Management Act was being debated and passed through the parliament that people probably did not expect those powers would be used for such a significant amount of time, even though we did have in place in the legislation the ability for it to be continued on for some time. In our legislation there is no time limit for when those powers expire, there is no time limit for when an emergency declaration or what you might call a 'state of emergency' expires.
People may have seen that in Victoria recently there has been significant debate in their parliament—putting aside the other issues, which I will get to in a moment—that in their legislative framework a state of emergency had a deadline of a six months' expiry. We do not have that in South Australia so this state of emergency, or major emergency declaration under the Emergency Management Act, could continue on for some time; it could continue on well past the six months we are currently at and continue into next year.
I note that in the legislation before us the Attorney-General is seeking to change the COVID act to allow the powers under that act to be connected to a declaration under the Public Health Act and not under the Emergency Management Act. These powers under the COVID act relate to other areas that are not being dealt with by the State Coordinator or are not being decided by the State Coordinator in relation to rents, etc., as I said before. Perhaps this signals an intention by the government to switch from a declaration of the Emergency Management Act to a declaration under the Public Health Act.
If that were to be put in place, we would not have the State Coordinator, Grant Stevens, being in charge of emergency management anymore, and I think many people would be surprised to know that that would not mean that Professor Nicola Spurrier would necessarily be in charge, from a legal perspective, in making those decisions under the Public Health Act. For whatever reason, back in the day it was decided that it would be the Chief Executive of the Department for Health who would exercise those powers under the Public Health Act. I would like to hope, and I would expect, that the Chief Executive of the Department for Health would listen to the Chief Public Health Officer, Professor Spurrier. Obviously, that decision from a legal perspective would be made by the Chief Executive of the Department for Health and Wellbeing, Chris McGowan.
I should note at this point that I think all South Australians have profound respect and admiration and gratitude for the role that Professor Spurrier has played during the course of this pandemic in keeping our state safe and providing expert public health advice to the State Coordinator, the government and, broadly, to the community. We are not out of the woods. We cannot be complacent. To date, that advice has served South Australia very well, and I hope that that advice would continue to be listened to in the future. That point does bear attention in debating this piece of legislation.
It seems that the government is thinking through how its transition is going to work out of that state of emergency, or what is legally defined as a major emergency declaration, and is now looking at a declaration under the Public Health Act. Essentially, a lot of the same powers apply. In fact, under the Public Health Act there is a direct reference to the Emergency Management Act, so the chief executive would have the ability to put in place a lot of those very significant frameworks that none of us probably would have contemplated before 2020. I would presume, and obviously I would seek the advice of the Attorney-General in her view, if that were to be put in place then Chris McGowan would then be able to decide to put border restrictions in place.
Chris McGowan would be able to decide to limit businesses opening or the number of people, or the square metreage or any other restrictions. Chris McGowan would be able to decide how many people could come into your home and other restrictions that would be put in place because, as I understand it, those powers under the Emergency Management Act would transfer to the Chief Executive of the Department for Health to manage during the course of a declaration under that act.
Obviously, if that were to happen, and the Attorney's bill were to pass, that would mean that the COVID act would continue on through that period that Chris McGowan was managing that emergency from a public health perspective. I would also seek the advice of the Attorney-General on why that is being considered when we have done so well under the Emergency Management Act, and the State Coordinator has done such a good job of managing what I think all South Australians would regard as a major emergency, and why a decision would be taken to change that arrangement to the Public Health Act.
I do note that there were some comments a few months ago by the State Coordinator, police commissioner Grant Stevens. He was asked, 'How long do you want to be in this role where you are deciding all these very significant things?' and I think he expressed some reluctance to be in this position forever. Obviously, it is quite a personally taxing job to be involved in for a long period of time. Most of these emergency declarations in the past have lasted for a day or so—
The Hon. V.A. Chapman: Four hours.
Mr PICTON: —four hours, as the Attorney says—and here we have a situation where we are past six months now or we are about to be. I know from having been the police minister that it is a massive job being the police commissioner, let alone managing and making these decisions on behalf of the state. My recollection of this interview is that he suggested that this is a bit taxing, but the decision to continue with the major emergency declaration is somehow connected to the powers in the COVID act that has been passed, which connects it to that major emergency.
I think many of us were expecting perhaps a more detailed piece of legislation to be brought by the Attorney to this sitting week that would create a framework for how this would be managed if this were going to be the case for the next three months, six months or 12 months in relation to managing a pandemic before a vaccine is available and the population has herd immunity from that vaccine that would enable life to really return to normal without worrying about the effects of COVID-19.
However, we do not have a detailed framework. There has not been a decision to change the establishment of how the COVID act works but just to continue it on for another six months. I would be interested in what the decision-making was around that. There does seem to be this decision that opens up the door for it to be moved to the Public Health Act and managed under that process, relieving the police commissioner of his role and moving the police commissioner's role to the chief executive, Chris McGowan. I would be interested in what the rationale for that is and the decision-making behind that.
I think it is clear that, even though we obviously have had great success in South Australia from a health perspective, there is still the significant risk to our state of a further outbreak. I think we all have to be absolutely alive to that possibility. It was only a few weeks ago that we had a cluster emerge in South Australia. It had been our first cluster for some time. There was concern that part of that was some community transmission, which would obviously be of great concern if that were to take hold.
That is why there are going to have to be powers in place for some period of time. Even if we continue these great results, even if we continue the great rates of testing and contact tracing that Professor Spurrier and the public health team have been able to manage, there is going to need to be a framework by which, if something were to happen, decisions could be made rapidly.
More than that, there also needs to be a framework in relation to the borders. I would like to speak a bit about borders. Obviously, none of us could have countenanced that this year we would have a situation where we could not move freely between states, but I think that the closure of borders is absolutely a bedrock situation that has kept South Australia safe. There is no doubt, certainly in my mind, that if we had had an open border with Victoria as they suffered their outbreak then that would have spilled across the border to South Australia.
The decision by Grant Stevens to keep the borders closed, and the decision to enhance the border closure into a hard border, has been very essential to keeping that outbreak in Victoria and not here in South Australia. This is obviously something that we have been supportive of for a long period of time. It is consistent with the approach that we have had from the beginning, which is to offer our support for public health measures that are taken but to make sure we provide a role as a constructive opposition to put forward suggestions to the government to improve our response.
The member for Croydon, as the Leader of the Opposition, put forward to the Premier in I believe late March or early April that we should close the borders of South Australia. This was at the same time that other states and territories were doing the same. This was then followed up by the government and police commissioner Grant Stevens, the State Coordinator, putting in place border restrictions.
We then called for a hard border to be put in place to make sure, effectively, that you needed to have a permit to come to South Australia. Obviously, this has been put in place now with Victoria, which has done us very well in terms of keeping South Australia safe. The outbreak that happened a few weeks ago was caused by somebody coming from Victoria. I think that if that had continued to happen with other people, if we continued to have significant movement of people across the border, no doubt there would have been other cases. When you have a state that is largely opened up and is largely COVID-normal, even if it is just a small number of people doing the wrong thing it means that the virus can reproduce at a much higher rate and obviously that is a significant risk.
We strongly urge caution in relation to borders. We strongly urge the government—the decision-maker is the State Coordinator, Grant Stevens, but obviously the broader government as well—to be cautious about the situation and make sure that we keep those who are essentially our first line of defence for our state in place as long as we need to to make sure that we are in a very safe position. When you look around the country, obviously Victoria is in a very significant state. They have had a massive outbreak. There have been multiple outbreaks—perhaps hundreds—and they have had mass community transmission.
New South Wales has had a continual load of cases at a lower level. There has been community transmission in New South Wales for a period of time, but largely all the other states have had border restrictions in place and have been able to keep that transmission at bay. Obviously, Queensland opened up a lot of its borders, particularly to New South Wales, and now they have closed them again. They are dealing with some hotspots and outbreaks that they are managing now as well that have largely come, as I understand, from people from Victoria who have seeded it within Queensland.
That is why those powers are so important and that is why, whatever we do, we must make sure there is a legislative ability for the government to have those in place. Obviously, it is the government's desire to keep that as emergency declarations that would be made. They could well have considered another legislative path to have those restrictions in place and a decision-making framework around that. It is their prerogative, and this is what they have brought to the parliament.
It is important that South Australians have communication from the government in terms of the strategy. We have obviously done very well to date, but I think there is confusion around suppression and elimination. There is confusion around what that means. We hear this a lot from businesses, so I would encourage the government to be open in terms of their decision-making.
They have created this bureaucratic committee called the Transition Committee, which does not have any legal standing. It is not a legislative committee. Essentially, this is a committee that advises the State Coordinator, who makes the decisions in relation to restrictions. I would encourage that committee to make sure there is communication with the public around what the strategy is, where we see this going in the future, what the trigger points would be for restrictions to be increased, and what the likelihood would be of various types of restrictions being put in place.
Something we do hear from business is that they would like some more information in terms of what the government is thinking if there were to be further cases, what they would likely see and, correspondingly, what the steps would be as things reduce as well. Obviously, people hang on the word of press conferences at the moment to hear what those decisions are, but if there were an ability, six months into this or even more, to more communicate where we believe some of those trigger points are, I think that would be hugely welcomed by the business community and also the community at large in South Australia.
This is a piece of legislation that does not necessarily deal with all the key matters of managing the pandemic because of the fact that the Emergency Management Act is in place and does not have a deadline and can continue on, but it is obviously connected to it. It was connected by way of the expiry date. The government has now set an expiry date of six months for that legislation, or the expiry of the emergency itself, which is perhaps largely consistent with what the Parliament of Victoria recently decided in relation to its new expiry date for its state of emergency: a six-month extension of that, which I note was vigorously opposed by the Liberal Party in Victoria, who wanted a month-by-month extension of that in Victoria.
This is a six-month extension. I understand that there is an amendment being moved for a three-month extension. We will not be supporting that at this stage; we will obviously continue to talk to people across the week and form our final position. However, our inclination is to take the position that we have taken from the beginning, which is to give the government the power that it needs to make the decisions to put in place measures to keep our state safe.
Having said that, and having said all those very welcoming things about the response being made, I think that there is another key side of this, which is the economic response. Even though we are in a good position and businesses largely have opened up, there is still significant economic pain in this state. The economic response is not being led by Commissioner Grant Stevens or Chief Public Health Officer Professor Spurrier; the economic response is being led by the cabinet, and I think that we can see that the economic response has been failing dismally in comparison to the health response. The economic response has in fact been lagging behind the nation.
We have had the federal Treasurer come out and release the figures, comparing the per capita rate of stimulus across all states and territories. The per capita spending on stimulus in South Australia is the lowest of any state, yet we have a very significant economic problem ahead of us, one which is here right now. We have 170,000 people in South Australia who are unemployed or underemployed. We have businesses that are calling out for more support, and we have some significant cliffs coming in terms of federal support.
There have been a number of pillars of federal support that have been available for the economy: the JobSeeker and JobKeeper schemes; the rent deadlines, which are obviously part of dealing with that; mortgage deferrals; utilities deferrals; and a whole range of ways in which the federal government have made decisions and put in place measures that will defer a lot of the pain coming towards businesses.
However, there is the potential that these are going to ease off very soon and that this would cause significant damage to South Australian businesses at the same time that they are already telling us that they are struggling. In particular, there are many businesses that are staying open at the moment because of the support of JobKeeper. Those JobKeeper payments are set to reduce very soon and to continue to reduce over the next few months before they are eliminated entirely.
Similarly, there is a lot of extra demand in the economy because of additional payments that people will be receiving through JobSeeker. That is also obviously supporting a lot of people to live above the poverty line in South Australia. However, there is, similarly, a staggered path to removing those supports for people on JobSeeker payments, and that will leave a lot of people in an even more difficult situation than they are in at the moment. If we do not have the state government coming in with a range of stimulus measures, it will cause significant concern and even more economic pain.
What we see is that our economic response has lagged behind every single other state. The figures released by the federal Treasurer do not even factor in the fact that—and I believe it was yesterday—the Queensland government announced an $11 billion package of support in Queensland, so even more support than the package of measures already in place in that state, which was already well ahead of our spending on stimulus in South Australia.
Even if you look at the stimulus in South Australia, which is of course at the lowest rate of all the states in Australia, you can see that a lot of that stimulus is not going to happen for some time. A lot of it sounds good in a press release, but the reality is quite different. For instance, in my general area of responsibility, in shadow health, we hear what they have said about stimulus for hospitals.
One stimulus is to bring forward country hospital maintenance. On the face of it, you might think that it could be good to get a whole lot of people in to do painting, plumbing and electrical work, but a lot of what is being spent is on things such as generators or sterilising machines, which are very important, but they are not manufactured in South Australia and would be bought from other states or overseas and installed. There is no economic stimulus associated with their purchase.
Even with that, the government has not yet released the tenders for these. It is five or six months down the track since these projects were announced and they have not yet even asked anyone to do the work. If that is the definition of bringing things forward, if that is their definition of emergency stimulus for the economy, then I think it is very lacking and I would hate to think how that is being applied across the whole government and their whole economic response.
Essentially, these things were in the books; they were planned to happen anyway. They were, as I understand it, part of the measures that came from the 10-year funding commitment made by the member for Croydon when he was the health minister that this government has continued with and rebadged as their own, as they like to do, but there is no additional expenditure, there is no significant stimulus that those communities will face. That is typical of what we are seeing across the stimulus program, which is lacking compared with every other state.
We have had a great health response managed under the Emergency Management Act and led by Commissioner Grant Stevens, making those decisions under that act. Obviously, the Premier has played his role in communicating those decisions. Very ably and very expertly—full credit—advice has been provided by the Chief Public Health Officer in the lead-up to those decisions. On the other hand, the economic decisions being led by Steven Marshall and Rob Lucas are very lacking. If you are a South Australian business at the moment, you would be desperate to see more from this government and a stronger and better response than we have had.
When this bill came to the parliament, you might have expected further measures included in this; however, there are not. There are no further economic measures at the moment. Presumably, things are being left to the budget, which is still some months away, but that could be too late for many people who need that assistance urgently, particularly as we are see those payments start to reduce over the coming weeks and months.
In relation to the exact clauses of this bill, clause 3 of the bill expands the definition of 'relevant declaration' to include declarations under the South Australian Public Health Act 2011 in addition to the current definition that covers those under the Emergency Management Act 2004. As I said, this is the clause that is going to enable Chris McGowan, potentially, to be in charge of our COVID response—not the Premier, not the State Coordinator, police commissioner Grant Stevens, not the Chief Public Health Officer, Nicola Spurrier, but the Chief Executive of SA Health, Chris McGowan. Clause 4 amends section 6, and details expiry provisions, so that emergency measures will continue until 28 days after the day on which all declarations cease or on 28 March next year.
In regard to regulations that deal with commercial tenancies that are currently due to expire on 30 September 2020, under section 7 of the act, these are proposed to be extended up until 28 March 2021. Clause 5 adds a qualifying statement to section 8(1)(b) of the act that prevents rent increases for residential tenancies only to those who are suffering financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The current act provided a blanket ban on any increase during the declaration.
Labor has supported all the government's legislative responses to the COVID-19 emergency, and we stand ready to do so again. We supported the government on changes to the Coroners Act, the South Australian Public Health Act, the Emergency Management Act, bail provisions, a supply bill and others. In offering its ongoing support, the opposition has asked the government for additional information about measures that we passed in April. Despite knowing that these provisions were due to expire after six months, the government only provided a copy of the bill last Friday and no briefing has been provided.
I think this is an important point. What we have is a letter sent last week from the shadow attorney-general, the Hon. Kyam Maher, to the Attorney-General regarding the legislation, knowing that this deadline was looming and that presumably there was going to be legislation put in place, and asking that we have some reporting in place.
This is an important, extreme and extraordinary set of scenarios and situations in which it is important that the government provides the parliament with information on what it has actually done, what powers it has used and how those powers are being used. None of that has been provided to date. The letter of 3 September from the shadow attorney-general to the Attorney-General states:
Dear [Attorney], I am writing to you regarding the extension or variation of legislation related to the Covid-19 emergency.
I understand that a number of emergency measures have been expired by you via Gazette notices whilst others are due to expire in coming weeks unless new legislation is passed. My office has previously sought advice about, and copies of, Covid-19 legislation from your office prior to the legislation being debated in Parliament. These requests have usually been responded to by the provision of information less than a day before it comes before the Parliament.
At a meeting with members of your office and department yesterday, we were provided [with] a list of six measures that have been expired by you and 28 others that remain in force.
The expiration date for these measures has been known for nearly six months and I am concerned that no one has yet spoken to the Opposition. Notwithstanding this, the Opposition remains willing to support the government, as we have in the past, in its legislative response to Covid-19. To assist the Opposition in considering any proposals to extend or vary emergency measures, I ask that any draft legislation be immediately forwarded to the Opposition. I also ask that you provide a report to the Opposition and crossbench that details the use of each individual emergency measure that was passed by the Parliament in early 2020, including measures that have already [been] expired.
I would think that most South Australians of all persuasions would regard that as a perfectly reasonable request, that parliament would want to see some evidence of how those measures that parliament granted in a very emergency-expedited fashion have actually been used, how they have been exercised by the government and if they have been exercised at all.
Everybody was obviously working from the best information at the time, and I suspect there are provisions that were countenanced and suggested that have not actually been required. There were others that may have been used quite often. I recall the Attorney, during our last sitting of parliament, talking about how we might actually want to make some of these provisions permanent. We do not have that here.
We would certainly welcome a discussion about whether any of these provisions—I believe there was some discussion around some of the electronic court processes that have made court matters easier. We would certainly welcome a discussion about whether any of those should become permanent, but that has not happened. We have not seen any of those being put into longer term reforms., and we have not seen any information in relation to how these measures have been used, despite asking for them.
As I said, no briefing has been provided in relation to this bill. We are hoping that, over the coming days, we will receive a briefing before it is debated in the Legislative Council, which is likely to occur next week. I guess the benefit of this situation is that we do have more time to debate this and more time to get into the detail of it than we did when the original provisions were being put in place.
A draft copy of regulations for commercial tenancies was only provided on Monday of this week. As I said, last week the shadow attorney-general asked for a report on the use of measures. It is important to know how they have been used, when they have been used, how often they have been used and whether each of those provisions are needed. This has not been provided. Unfortunately, The Advertiser this morning had more detail about the use of measures than we have received.
It has been reported that provisions relating to commercial tenancies have been used more than 1,500 times. That still leaves dozens of measures about which we know almost nothing. I understand that the crossbench has also sought additional information to assist in their consideration of the bill. We trust that this information will also be provided in the near future.
As I said, given that we have another sitting week before these measures expire, we have time to properly consider this legislation. The Labor Party will not be moving amendments in this house but will carefully consider proposals; however, as I said, it is our inclination at this stage not to support reducing that provision from six months to three months. We will support the bill in this place and we will reserve our final position in the other place, subject to the government's response to our request for additional information.
We will be absolutely consistent in our approach: we are supporting measures that the government is putting in place, but we will fulfil the opposition's role in asking questions, receiving information and putting forward constructive recommendations to improve our response. There have been countless examples of that over the course of the pandemic, where we have put forward suggestions that have later been adopted by the government, and we welcome that.
I do not think, on any one of those occasions, that they have ever welcomed the suggestions from the opposition; however, we do welcome the fact that many of our suggestions have been put in place by the government over the course of the pandemic. With those words, we will be supporting the bill through this house but reserving our final position in the other place, subject to the provision of information that we have requested from the Attorney-General.
The SPEAKER: I note the member for Waite.
Mr DULUK (Waite) (12:43): Thank you, sir. And, sir, can I congratulate you on your election this position of Speaker of the house, and I look forward to your deliberations in a fair and even-handed manner. So congratulations.
As indicated, I also rise to make a few remarks in relation to this bill and to provide an update to the house about some of the concerns that have been expressed to me via my community. And of course we all know that COVID has had a profound impact on our lives, from the most basic gesture of the shaking of a hand to the bridal waltz, to the more complicated social and economic ramifications that have been imposed upon us by this virus.
I think we can all agree that the people of South Australia have been model citizens in the way that they have gone about dealing with this crisis. As with both the Attorney and the lead speaker for the opposition, I indicate my thanks to those frontline workers and to the people in SA Health who are going above and beyond what they expect in their normal roles in the way they are doing so well in community contact tracing—which I think is why we are doing so well here in South Australia—and of course in the way they are doing their community testing as well.
My thanks go to SAPOL, which has had considerable resources diverted from their day-to-day role in policing in South Australia to spending time on borders and ensuring that South Australians comply with many of the measures and directions that are given to them, which are quite often changing across a matter of days or weeks. We saw that around the hard border lockdown between South Australia and Victoria a couple of weeks ago and the way that affected many of those border communities.
Of course, businesses as well have had to comply with ever-changing regulations. I thank them for doing their very best, especially our small businesses in suburban communities, in our cafes and restaurants and retail shops. It is very hard to keep abreast of the changing regulations and rules and they are doing their very best to comply. Obviously, we saw reports from the weekend, when the Glenelg Footy Club received a fine for failing to comply with some of the COVID restrictions. That is a real shame, because I have no doubt they had best endeavours to do the right thing, but it is the nature of the beast that we are dealing with.
I think for us as lawmakers we have a difficult challenge in ensuring that the legislation that we debate and ultimately that we pass, to give powers—or extraordinary powers, as we have under the Emergency Management Act—protects both our citizens' health and, of equal importance, civil liberties. Of course, the state also plays a role in underpinning our economy at this time. I think significant thanks have to go to the federal Morrison government for JobKeeper and JobSeeker, for ensuring that there is continuity and calmness, especially in the jobs market.
This virus has no foreseeable end in sight, which means our laws must marry up, I believe, with unforeseen implications. In recent days, we have seen and heard much commentary in relation to the Victorian hard lockdown and the Andrews government's desire to eliminate COVID, and what many would regard as the erosion of civil liberties in the state of Victoria. I think that is a concern to many people across the country.
For me, of most concern recently was the arrest of a pregnant lady in Ballarat for allegedly planning a protest. The right to assemble and freedom of expression are core human rights and essential freedoms that all sides of politics rely on to ensure we can work on improving the quality of life for all. Indeed, in The Australian today there was a very good opinion piece by a Melburnian who fled to Australia in 1981 from Poland, which of course at the time was going through martial law. I seek leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Dr HARVEY: Mr Speaker, I draw your attention to the state of the house.
A quorum having been formed:
Sitting extended beyond 13:00 on motion of Hon. D.C. van Holst Pellekaan.