Page 1703 - Week 06 - Tuesday, 7 June 2022
action or give any direction which is considered necessary or desirable to relieve the emergency.
This emergency mechanism has been vital to the ACT’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and has protected the ACT population. Since the declaration of the public health emergency on 16 March 2020, more than two years ago, the Chief Health Officer has implemented a range of public health directions in the ACT which, at the height of the emergency, required significant restrictions on the community, individuals and businesses. The ACT is now transitioning to a COVID-19 normal state in step with the rest of Australia. This process must, however, continue to recognise the need to protect those who are most vulnerable to the serious health consequences of COVID-19 and mitigate the burden on the public health and hospital systems.
This bill makes important amendments to enable the ACT government to continue to protect the public through a regulatory framework with a continued focus on human rights. The making of a COVID-19 management declaration and the making of directions and exemption guidelines will deliver more transparency for the Assembly and the community. It will do this by requiring consultation with the Human Rights Commissioner on the making of directions and requiring the ACT government to publish the public health advice and human rights considerations. The proposed framework is underpinned by existing objectives under the Public Health Act 1997, including that the provisions will be administered to provide rapid responses to public health risks while avoiding any undue infringement of individual liberty and privacy.
The proposed amendments support public health while enabling individuals and businesses to live and operate in a COVID normal environment. I will talk a bit about our amendments and the opposition’s, in advance of the debate on the detail stage. As I said, the bill amends the Public Health Act, primarily by inserting a new part C, to provide for three types of COVID-19 management directions, which appropriately distribute accountability between the executive, the Minister for Health and the Chief Health Officer.
The objectives of this new part include to protect the public from the risks of COVID-19 and strengthen the focus on recognition and respect for the rights of people affected by COVID-19 management directions. The bill enables the executive to make a COVID-19 management declaration if the executive has reasonable grounds for believing that COVID-19 presents a serious risk to public health. The bill, as introduced, would allow for this declaration to be made for a period of up to six months; however, the government will propose to amend the duration of the declaration to three months, following consideration of the committee recommendations and consultation with the Human Rights Commission. A COVID-19 management declaration would take effect immediately after it is made, or at a later date, if this is stated in the direction.
Section 118Q of the bill outlines the requirements for consultation and public notice for a declaration and any direction made under the declaration. The executive must, in making a declaration, ask for advice from the Chief Health Officer about the proposed