Page 1707 - Week 06 - Tuesday, 7 June 2022

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government response to the committee inquiry report. Human rights protections in the bill include the requirement for all public health directions to be consistent with human rights and are subject only to reasonable limits that are demonstrably justified in accordance with the Human Rights Act.

The bill requires statements to be publicly released by the Minister for Health, Chief Health Officer and the executive, outlining how the measures within each direction are consistent with the Human Rights Act. Consultation must also occur with the Human Rights Commissioner before making a new direction or as soon as practicable after the making of the direction in urgent circumstances. Additionally, the Chief Health Officer is to provide advice on the public health risks which justify the COVID-19 management declaration and the particular measures which are being proposed in any direction.

The ACT government recognises the importance of proper consideration of the impact of public health directions on human rights. For this reason, the government has ensured that this legislation enshrines obligations for consultation and transparency in the ongoing management of COVID-19. The government will move an amendment to make it clear that proposed new part 6C is not intended to interfere with an oversight agency’s functions by an entity that involves visiting a place of detention under a territory law. The amendment will provide that a person must meet the requirements under any Chief Health Officer, ministerial or executive vaccination direction—including, for example, wearing a face mask where that is required or isolating because the person has tested positive for COVID-19.

In my ministerial statement on the ACT government response to COVID-19 on 1 June I advised members that, following advice from the Chief Health Officer, I had extended the existing public health emergency for a further declaration for a further period of 90 days until 11 August. This extension reflects the uncertainty and increased risk associated with the upcoming winter season and anticipated increase in case numbers and pressure on our health system. (Extension of time granted.)

There will continue to be consideration of the status of the emergency every 30 days, as has been the case throughout the pandemic response. The passage of this bill will provide a framework for the Chief Health Officer to be able to consider making a recommendation to government as to whether a step-down approach is justifiable, noting, however, that any recommendation will be subject to the risk that is being managed at the time of the recommendation. I will continue to have ongoing discussions with the Chief Health Officer in relation to the potential timing of a transition to a COVID-19 management declaration.

On behalf of the government, I would like to thank the Standing Committee on Health and Community Wellbeing for its inquiry into the bill, following the government’s referral in December last year. I also thank the scrutiny committee for its comments on the bill. I was pleased to table the government’s response to the findings of the health and community wellbeing committee inquiry in the March sitting, and I have provided the scrutiny committee with a formal response to address comments raised in Scrutiny Report 12.

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