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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2020 Week 05 Hansard (Thursday, 18 June 2020) . . Page.. 1380 ..

Public Health Amendment Bill 2020

Debate resumed from 4 June 2020, on motion by Ms Stephen-Smith:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MRS DUNNE (Ginninderra) (5.11): The opposition will oppose the Public Health Amendment Bill 2020. However, I intend to propose an amendment in the detail stage, if the bill passes to that stage, which would improve this measure.

Let me begin by thanking the health minister for taking the opposition along on the journey to where we are today with this bill. It is indicative of the approach that she has taken throughout the whole of the COVID-19 emergency, by facilitating briefings on the emergency from the Chief Health Officer, the CEO of Canberra Health Services and other health officials. There were times when these briefings were not quite as transparent as I would have liked, but over all they have been informative, important and appreciated. There were times, in the early stages, when I expressed to the minster my frustration that there was not a sense of urgency, but luckily we have not been put in a situation where I could test my thesis about whether or not that sense of urgency was being fully developed.

I thank the minister for the consultative way in which she has dealt with changes to the Public Health Amendment Bill over the last few sitting periods, when we debated them. Sometimes the issues have been taken off the table in order that the government could come back and consult later. I note that something that was considered extraordinarily urgent two sittings ago has fallen entirely silent since then, so I wonder about the urgency of some of these things. I am pleased that we are now out of the phase where there is an insistence on introducing and passing this legislation all on the same day.

I have deep concerns about the way that this bill has been developed. Part 7 of the Public Health Act 1997 deals with health emergencies, including the rights of certain affected people, called “eligible persons” to apply to the minister for compensation. This bill seeks to remove that right, almost completely, for the life of the COVID emergency. The current bill provides that compensation will not be payable to anyone in relation to any loss or damage suffered as a result of anything done in the exercise of a function under the declared COVID-19 health emergency except in the case of an occupier of land or property that the Chief Health Officer has, in effect, commandeered.

This exception is proper, but it arose because in an early discussion about this bill I raised the point that we had already changed the legislation, back in March, to allow for the Chief Health Officer to commandeer property. It is important for all of us to note that in the ACT the territory must pay just compensation for the acquisition of property.

In getting to this bill today there was a process of considerable discussion and, as I said, the first intention was that it would be introduced and debated in the last sitting.

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