STATUTES AMENDMENT (COVID-19 PERMANENT MEASURES) BILL

I am pleased to introduce the Statutes Amendment (COVID-19 Permanent Measures) Bill 2021. Measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are fundamental to our ongoing response in keeping the community safe. The declaration of a major emergency, in place since 22 March 2020 (that is, 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, which I will refer to as the COVID act, was enacted to temporarily adjust some legislative requirements that were difficult to satisfy during the pandemic. However, the COVID act will expire on 31 May 2021.

This bill proposes to permanently enact some of the provisions of the COVID act so that they will not need to be extended again. The provisions in the bill that are to be permanently enacted have assisted in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic and will be useful for other emergencies in the future. They will also modernise some practices in South Australia. This bill also makes some other amendments not reflected in the COVID act to promote social distancing.

I will now deal with each of the provisions of the bill. Clauses 4 and 14 of the bill amend the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee Act 2003 and the Parliamentary Committees Act 1991 respectively to allow those standing committees to meet via AVL or audio means.

Clause 5 of the bill amends the Acts Interpretation Act to provide that, despite a provision of any other act or law, a requirement that a meeting occur with two or more persons physically present can take place via audiovisual or audio means. This clause clarifies that this does not apply to requirements that a person be physically present to witness the signing, execution, certification or stamping of a document or to take any oath, affirmation or declaration.

Part 4 of the bill amends the Emergency Management Act 2004 to assist the State Coordinator and authorised officers in the exercise of powers and functions. Clause 6 of the bill amends section 17 of the Emergency Management Act 2004 to enable authorised officers to be issued with their identity cards as soon as practicable and to produce such other proof of their appointment when they exercise their powers if they do not yet have an identity card.

New section 26B makes it clear that if the State Coordinator requires the disclosure of information by a direction or requirement under section 25, then that person is under no obligation to maintain secrecy or other restriction on the disclosure of the information except an obligation or restriction designed to keep the identity of an informant secret.

Under section 28(1) of the Emergency Management Act 2004, it is an offence to refuse or fail to comply with a requirement or direction of the State Coordinator or authorised officer without reasonable excuse. Clause 9 of the bill amends this section so that the offence is now expiable with a fine of $1,000 for a natural person or $5,000 for a body corporate. These provisions have been and will continue to be essential in supporting the State Coordinator in managing the COVID-19 pandemic in this state. These provisions will also be helpful in other emergency situations that arise in the future.

Clause 9 of the bill amends the Emergency Management Act 2004 to provide that no civil liability attaches to the Crown with no civil or criminal liability attached to any person acting in good faith in respect of any acts or omissions in relation to a power or function under the COVID act, the South Australian Public Health Act 2011 or other prescribed act in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important to have these provisions in place to ensure appropriate decisions can be made to manage the COVID-19 pandemic without fear of liability arising in the future.

Clause 10 of the bill amends section 19 of the Environment Protection Act 1993 to provide that the roundtable conference may occur at intervals determined by the Environment Protection Authority instead of annually. This amendment is not currently contained in the COVID act but is necessary to enable the meeting to be deferred in order to promote social distancing. In the event the roundtable conference does not occur, there are other means of wider community and stakeholder engagement that can be undertaken. Clause 11 of the bill amends section 71A of the Environment Protection Act 1993 to allow container deposit refunds to be refunded electronically.

Part 6 of the bill amends the Mental Health Act 2009 to allow community visitors and the Chief Psychiatrist to undertake inspections and visits via audiovisual means if it is not reasonably practicable to physically visit or enter the relevant premises, having regard to factors such as the availability of community visitors, the remoteness of the relevant premises or the need to prevent contagious diseases. Details of such visits must be made available on a publicly accessible website.

Part 8 of the bill amends the Real Property Act 1886 to reflect the modifications that are currently made under the COVID-19 Emergency Response (Section 16) Regulations 2020. Under section 128 of the Real Property Act 1886, a mortgage must be executed by the mortgagor and the mortgagee if land is to be charged or made security in favour of a mortgagee. Section 128 provides that the Registrar-General may register a mortgage that is executed solely by the mortgagee if a mortgage on the same terms as the mortgage lodged for registration, called the corresponding mortgage, has been executed by the mortgagor and the mortgagee. Clause 16 of the bill amends this section so there is no need for the corresponding mortgage to be executed by the mortgagee. This allows for corresponding mortgages to be executed remotely by the mortgagor.

Clause 17 of the bill amends section 153A of the Real Property Act 1886. This amendment is not currently in the COVID act or regulations but is consistent with the amendment in clause 17. Section 153A of the Real Property Act 1886 provides that the Registrar-General may register an instrument renewing or extending a mortgage that is executed solely by the mortgagee if the Registrar-General is satisfied that a document on the same terms as the instrument lodged for registration, called the corresponding document, has been executed by the mortgagor and the mortgagee.

This section is amended to remove the requirement for a mortgagee to execute a corresponding document. This will allow for the remote execution of a corresponding document by mortgagors. These amendments will be welcomed by the banking industry, including the Australian Banking Association and the financial institutions, to reduce barriers to the electronic execution of these documents and remove a duplication of work.

Clauses 16 and 17 also amend sections 128 and 153A respectively to clarify that there are no witnessing requirements for the execution of a mortgage, a corresponding mortgage, an instrument renewing or extending a mortgage or a corresponding document. These amendments are not contained in the COVID act or its regulations but are important to clarify for the banking industry that there are no witnessing requirements for these documents to promote social distancing.

Part 9 of the bill amends the South Australian Public Health Act 2011, hereafter referred to as the Public Health Act, and replicates the amendments that are in the COVID act. These amendments have enabled timely and responsive actions to take place in dealing with the pandemic and will be important tools to adequately manage any future outbreaks.

Clause 18 inserts new section 66(2a) of the Public Health Act to enable directions to be made by telephone, fax or other electronic means. Clauses 19 to 22 amend sections 73, 74, 75 and 77 of the public health act to extend the time frame in which written confirmation is provided about a verbal order or direction from 48 hours to 72 hours. These provisions are in relation to directions for people to undergo a test, undertake counselling and remain in isolation.

Clause 23 amends section 99(2) of the Public Health Act to allow the Chief Public Health Officer to authorise the appropriate disclosure of information for medical research or for statistical purposes. Under section 77 of the Public Health Act, the Chief Public Health Officer may make an order detaining people who have, or are suspected of having, a notifiable disease. Clause 22 of the bill amends this provision to allow the Chief Public Health Officer or an authorised officer to apprehend or restrain a person if necessary in order to comply with the detention order. The provision also allows for assistance to be provided by other persons, such as security staff, as necessary.

May I confirm to the house that what this bill does not include is provision for a continuation of what we have described as clarification laws as to the powers of the police. That issue has been raised. It has been considered. I think there is some merit to continue it, but some concerns were raised about it, so this bill does not include those provisions.

As members know, there will be a comprehensive review as required under the act at the conclusion of this particular declaration period relating to COVID-19, and they are all matters that we can consider at a later date. I just reassert that each of these measures are measures that, unless otherwise expressed, have existed over the last 12 months. They have been without incident or moment, and they are matters that need to be continued to expedite the efficient operation of the directions.

Sometimes, it is simply a matter where we just find that the situation cannot be dealt with. I do not think any one of us understood at the time the declarations were made that there was going to be a problem with people getting their cash back for the bottles when they went to the bottle-o. There was no power under the law for money to be received and refunded electronically. This is what fixes that. Sometimes they are not even identified, but we have to come into the 21st century to be able to deal with those issues. I assure the house that there is no mischief in this and it will be a continuation of a continuing process, and certainly one to make sure that we are all kept safe.

I commend the bill to the house and seek leave to have the explanation of clauses inserted in Hansard without my reading it.

Leave granted.

Explanation of Clauses

Part 1—Preliminary

1—Short title

2—Commencement

3—Amendment provisions

These clauses are formal.

Part 2—Amendment of Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee Act 2003

4—Insertion of section 12A

This clause inserts new section 12A into the principal Act to make permanent the measure referred to in Schedule 2 clause AA1 of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020.

Part 3—Amendment of Acts Interpretation Act 1915

5—Insertion of section 53

This clause inserts new section 53 into the principal Act to make permanent the measure referred to in section 17 of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020.

Part 4—Amendment of Emergency Management Act 2004

6—Amendment of section 17—Authorised officers

This clause amends section 17 of the principal Act to make permanent the measure referred to in Schedule 2 clause 1 of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020.

7—Insertion of section 26B

This clause inserts new section 26B into the principal Act to make permanent the measure referred to in Schedule 2 clause 1(f) of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020.

8—Amendment of section 28—Failure to comply with directions

This clause amends section 28 of the principal Act to make permanent the measure referred to in Schedule 2 clause 1(g) of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020.

9—Amendment of section 32A—Protection from liability—COVID-19

This clause amends section 32A of the principal Act to make permanent the measure referred to in section 22 of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020.

Part 5—Amendment of Environment Protection Act 1993

10—Amendment of section 19—Round-table conference

This clause amends section 19 of the principal Act to modify the frequency with which round-table conferences occur under the section.

11—Amendment of section 71A—Manner of payment of refund amounts

This clause amends section 71A of the principal Act to make permanent the measure referred to in Schedule 2 clause 2 of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020.

Part 6—Amendment of Mental Health Act 2009

12—Amendment of section 52—Visits to and inspections of treatment centres

This clause makes a consequential amendment to section 52(1) of the principal Act.

13—Amendment of section 52A—Visits to and inspection of authorised community mental health facilities

This clause makes a consequential amendment to section 52A(1) of the principal Act.

14—Insertion of section 52B

This clause inserts new section 52B into the principal Act to make permanent the measure referred to in section 10A of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020 to the extent that it relates to the principal Act.

Part 7—Amendment of Parliamentary Committees Act 1991

15—Insertion of section 24A

This clause inserts new section 24A into the principal Act to make permanent the measure referred to in Schedule 2 clause 3(b) of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020.

Part 8—Amendment of Real Property Act 1886

16—Amendment of section 128—Mortgage of land

This clause amends section 128 of the principal Act to allow certain documents to be executed by a single party.

17—Amendment of section 153A—Requirements for renewal or extension of mortgage

This clause amends section 128 of the principal Act to allow certain documents to be executed by a single party.

Part 9—South Australian Public Health Act 2011

18—Amendment of section 66—Action to prevent spread of infection

This clause inserts new section 66(2a) into the principal Act to make permanent the measure referred to in Schedule 2 clause 5(a) of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020.

19—Amendment of section 73—Power to require a person to undergo an examination or test

This clause amends section 73(8a) of the principal Act to make permanent the measure referred to in Schedule 2 clause 5(b) of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020.

20—Amendment of section 74—Power to require counselling

This clause amends section 74(3a) of the principal Act to make permanent the measure referred to in Schedule 2 clause 5(c) of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020.

21—Amendment of section 75—Power to give directions

This clause amends section 75(3a) of the principal Act to make permanent the measure referred to in Schedule 2 clause 5(d) of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020.

22—Amendment of section 77—Power to require detention

This clause amends section 77 of the principal Act to make permanent the measures referred to in Schedule 2 clause 5(f) to (j) of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020.

23—Amendment of section 99—Confidentiality

This clause amends section 99(2) of the principal Act to make permanent the measure referred to in Schedule 2 clause 5(k) of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020.

Schedule 1—Related amendments

Part 1—Amendment of COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020

1—Repeal of section 17

This clause repeals section 17 of the principal Act, the effect of that section now to be dealt with by new section 53 of the Acts Interpretation Act 1915

2—Amendment of Schedule 2—Temporary modification of particular State laws

This clause amends Schedule 2 of the principal Act to reflect the permanent changes made by this measure.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. Z.L. Bettison.