I am pleased to introduce the COVID-19 Emergency Response (Expiry) (No 3) Amendment Bill 2021. Laws aimed at ensuring the state can take all necessary measures to protect South Australians have been fundamental to this state's ongoing successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The declaration of major emergency, in place since 22 March 2020 last year, provides the authorising context for the important social distancing and public health measures issued by the State Coordinator through directions.
The COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020 amended South Australia's legislation to temporarily adjust some legislative requirements that are difficult to satisfy during a pandemic. The COVID act came into effect in April 2020 last year and will expire on 17 September this year. This bill proposes to extend the operation of the COVID act to 28 days after the date on which all relevant declarations relating to the outbreak of COVID-19 within South Australia have ceased or 30 April 2022, whichever is the earlier.
While it is essential that the COVID act be extended, there were a number of measures that were implemented in the early days of the pandemic that are no longer necessary. Those provisions have either been expired or will be expired. Some of the provisions of the COVID act have also been made permanent by the Statutes Amendment (COVID-19 Permanent Measures) Act 2021, which will come into operation on 9 September. Upon commencement, the respective provisions of the COVID act will be expired.
Once the provisions that are no longer necessary are expired, the only provisions that will be left in the COVID act are those amendments to the Emergency Management Act 2004 that clarify the scope of powers given to the State Coordinator and authorised officers to issue directions under section 25, such as for quarantine, contact tracing and border closures. Extending these provisions is necessary for the ongoing management of the risk of COVID-19 in South Australia. By extending these provisions, we will ensure that the State Coordinator has the power he needs to issue the directions required to keep South Australians safe.
In addition to extending the COVID act, the bill also includes an amendment to remove section 302B(8) of the Local Government Act 1999. Section 302B was inserted into the Local Government Act in March 2020 through the Local Government (Public Health Emergency) Amendment Act 2020. This section enables the minister, by notice in the Gazette, to vary or suspend the operation of specified provisions of the Local Government Act in circumstances where a public health emergency exists, and the minister is satisfied that a variation or suspension is reasonably necessary as a result of the public health emergency.
The minister has made four such notices under section 302B, all of which relate to critical aspects of council's operations: council meetings, public consultation, public access and public information, and the adoption of annual business plans and budgets. The notices have enabled these functions to continue effectively within any requirement that may need to be in place to protect public health.
Section 302B(8) states that the section will expire on 31 December 2021. It is now clear that there is a high probability of the need to continue the operation of existing notices and have continuing capacity to make future notices, given the ongoing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic. This amendment therefore proposes the removal of section 302B(8).
Given the importance of the notices to the continuing operation of our local councils in the public health emergency, the Local Government Association has expressed support for the removal of section 302B(8), subject to the retention within the Local Government Act of the limitations to the minister's power to make notices under the section. These include an automatic expiration of notices 28 days after the cessation of the relevant emergency and the application of section 10 of the Acts Interpretation Act 1915 to make the notices disallowable.
The minister must also consult with the LGA before making a notice and may not make a notice that imposes restrictions or limitations on the power of a council to impose rates and charges in its area. There is no proposal to remove or amend these safeguards.
The amendment also makes consequential amendments to section 302B(9). This section requires the minister to cause a review of the operation of section 302B to be commenced at least six months before the day specified in subsection (8) and completed by 31 December 2021. The consequential amendment will require the minister to table a report on this review in both houses of parliament by 31 December 2021 to ensure that the intent of parliament to have this section reviewed within this time frame remains. I therefore commend the bill to the members and seek leave to insert a copy of the explanation of clauses.
Explanation of Clauses
These clauses are formal.
Part 2—Amendment of COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020
3—Amendment of section 6—Expiry of Act
This clause extends the expiry date in section 6(2)(b) to 30 April 2022.
Schedule 1—Related amendment of Local Government Act 1999
1—Amendment of section 302B—Public health emergency
This clause removes the current sunset provision (of 31 December 2021) but still requires the report on the operation of the section to be tabled in Parliament before 31 December 2021.
Debate adjourned on motion of Mr Brown.