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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 11 Hansard (Wednesday, 10 November 2021) . . Page.. 3232 ..

During the recent ACT lockdown, compliance agencies combined their inspection efforts into a single team. Resources were deployed geographically, focusing on high-density areas. Following each change in the Public Health Emergency Directions, the regulatory focus shifted to businesses impacted by the changes. Proactive inspections were undertaken with a range of different industries, including hospitality, real estate, personal services and retail. Agencies shared intelligence and conducted joint compliance activities to ensure businesses understood and were complying with the requirements.

Due to the strong stakeholder relationships developed through this work, when restrictions were eased on 15 October 2021 many businesses were pleased to see our COVID compliance inspectors out and about. Again, they were engaging with businesses to ensure they understood the public health requirements and allowing businesses the opportunity to clarify any issues.

A total of 9,739 inspections were undertaken during the lockdown. Of these, 1,380 were direct engagements, and 8,359 were observational. The engage-and-educate compliance approach adopted during the lockdown has proven to be effective, as there was, understandably, some confusion about some requirements for businesses. Generally, there was no need to take enforcement action, as most of the issues identified were resolved through follow-up engagement in person or by phone.

Through this judicious approach, we have been able to avoid the level of enforcement action that has been seen in other jurisdictions. By comparison, New South Wales is reported to have issued more than 47,000 infringement notices during its most recent lockdown.

The collaborative efforts of ACT government compliance agencies and ACT Policing have seen strong support and cooperation from the whole community, including the business community. This support, together with our high vaccination rates, has allowed the ACT to ease restrictions out of lockdown and on our pathway to a COVID-19 normal environment.

That said, we must be prepared to continue to respond to the public health risks of COVID-19, especially as the ACT and Australia open up to the rest of the world. To that end, the bill makes important changes to the operation of the offence of failing to follow a COVID-19 direction under section 120 of the Public Health Act. Essentially, the bill inserts new sections 120A to 120D to enable some different conditions to apply to COVID-19 public health directions than are enabled in the existing section 120.

The bill creates a new temporary offence in section 120B(1). It is an offence to fail to comply with a direction that has been given under section 120 while a COVID-19 declaration is in force. However, a person may rely on a reasonable excuse for not following a direction. In keeping with the existing offence in section 120, subsection 4, a maximum penalty of 50 penalty units will apply. Under the Legislation Act 2001, section 133, this represents a maximum penalty of $8,000 for a natural person and $40,500 for a corporation. So the maximum penalties are the same.

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