Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 13 Hansard (Thursday, 2 December 2021) . . Page.. 4041 ..
indicated that the ACT COVID-19 hardship fund would be extended for a further 12 months, to 30 June 2022, in recognition of the ongoing public health emergency and the need for financial support as we continue to respond to COVID-19 in the new year.
In drafting this bill, the government has considered the approach taken by the New Zealand government in introducing special legislation to support the ongoing management of COVID-19 and looked closely at Victoria’s Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021.
Key differences between this bill and the proposed Victorian bill relate to the scale and scope of orders. The Victorian bill replaces the emergency powers of the Chief Health Officer and enables a broader scope of powers, allowing the minister to make any order to respond to a pandemic, including a state-wide lockdown. This is in a context where the emergency declaration is expiring and cannot be extended. In contrast, this bill provides a “step down” from the measures available under a public health emergency declaration, enabling the ACT government to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in the medium term as we transition to living with COVID-19 and a more normal way of life.
In addition to a COVID-19 management declaration and any vaccination direction being disallowable, the bill includes a requirement that ministerial and Chief Health Officer directions are referred to the Assembly committee responsible for the consideration of legal issues to undertake a scrutiny role.
This bill reflects the central role of the Chief Health Officer in the provision of public health advice. Indeed, the Chief Health Officer retains the responsibility for making directions in relation to TTIQ and guiding the government’s public health response, no doubt also continuing to consider advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee and its advisory bodies.
It is important also to note that the bill does not alter the arrangements set out under section 119 of the Public Health Act 1997 in the event that circumstances call for the declaration of a public health emergency in response to COVID-19 or any other serious threat to the health and safety of Canberrans. While creating new offences relating to the new forms of public health direction, this bill retains a maximum penalty of up to 50 penalty units, consistent with the current maximum penalties for breaching public health emergency directions.
Our government’s priority through the introduction of this legislation is to enable a proportionate public health response to COVID-19 which has the least restrictive impact on the lives of Canberrans and businesses necessary to adequately address the serious and ongoing public health risk of COVID-19.
The government acknowledges that this is a complex piece of legislation that is of significant interest and potential concern for the community. That is why I will be referring the bill to the health and community wellbeing committee for its consideration and report back to the Assembly. This will provide members and the community with the opportunity to review the bill as a whole and provide feedback to