Exactly what is the Queensland government proposing, read on to see.
The bill achieves the policy objectives by extending essential public health measures required to support Queensland’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic until the COVID-19 public health legislation expiry day, which is defined as the day on which the COVID-19 emergency is ended by the Minister 31st October 2022. In particular, the Bill will extend all temporary amendments to the Public Health Act, including to: increase powers for emergency officers and the Chief Health Officer to limit, or respond to, the spread of COVID-19 in Queensland. Increase the period for which a regulation may extend a declared public health emergency from seven to 90 days.
Extending the temporary legislative framework in the Public Health Act until the COVID-19 public health legislation expiry day will ensure the CHO can continue to apply any of the existing public health measures that may be necessary beyond 30th April 2022. This may include measures in response to new variants that emerge and management of the health system capacity. The discretionary nature of the CHO powers under the Public Health Act provides significant flexibility in relation to the public health responses appropriate to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, including not using the powers if the risk does not warrant a response. The Bill also amends the Acts Interpretation Act 1954 to include the new defined term COVID-19 public health legislation expiry day. The COVID-19 public health legislation expiry day is defined by reference to section 315 of the Public Health Act, that is, to mean the day the COVID-19 emergency ends under section 324(1) of the Public Health Act or 31st October 2022, whichever is earlier. Under section 324(1) of the Public Health Act, the Minister must end the declared public health emergency if the Minister is satisfied the declaration is no longer necessary to prevent or minimise serious adverse effects on human health. The Bill also extends amendments to the Corrective Services Act 2006, Disaster Management Act 2003, and Mental Health Act 2016 to support the public health response.
Corrective Services Act 2006
The Bill will amend the Corrective Services Act to extend temporary legislative provisions to provide for an emergency declaration under section 268 to be made about any corrective services facility, not just a prison. So that a declaration will apply to the Helana Jones Centre (a community corrections centre) and work camps. An emergency declaration to be made for up to 90 days, instead of three days. Authorise QCS to temperature check and refuse entry to any person exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. The Bill extends these amendments until the COVID-19 public health legislation expiry day.
Disaster Management Act.
The Disaster Management Act provides for a range of powers (declared disaster powers) that may be exercised for a disaster situation by persons authorised under the Act, including police officers. Accordingly, the Bill extends the expiry of the Disaster Management Act to provide that the declared COVID-19 disaster situation may be extended by regulation for up to 90 days, instead of 14 days. Set aside the entitlement to compensation for loss or damage suffered as a result of powers. The Bill extends these amendments until the COVID-19 public health legislation expiry day.
Mental Health Act.
While the public health emergency continues, the approval of absence of certain patients may be required where, for example, a person who is already in the community on a temporary absence from a mental health facility contracts COVID-19 and is then required to isolate. The Bill extends amendments in the mental Health Act, which allow patients subject to the Mental Health Act to be granted leave where it may be necessary to comply with public health directions. The Bill extends these amendments until the COVID-19 public health legislation expiry day.
The measures in the Corrective Services Act, Disaster Management Act and Mental Health Act are all dependent on the COVID-19 public health emergency declared under the Public Health Act and cannot be used if that declaration ceases.
The effect of the Bill is that all temporary legislation that is being extended to respond to COVID-19, except for the transitional provisions, will automatically expire if the Minister ends the declared public health emergency before 31st October 2022.
Expiry of associated COVID-19 related measures.
The effect of the Bill is that most of the associated COVID-19 measures that were put in place as part of the temporary COVID-19 legislative framework, will expire on 30th April 2022, with the exception of the Retail Shop Leases and Other Commercial Leases (COVID-19 Emergency Response) Regulation 2020, which has already been extended for two years after the COVID-19 legislation expiry day (meaning it will operate until 30 April 2024 unless repealed earlier). As noted above, some associated COVID-19 measures have had a different expiry day enacted in primary legislation through the modification framework. The Bill does not extend or change these different expiry days.
The extension of this regulation will ensure retail leasing disputes currently underway or that emerge during the COVID-19 emergency period can continue to be processed and resolved under the modification framework.
A transitional regulation-making power will facilitate the return to normal operations once associated COVID-19 measures expire. This will ensure there is an appropriate head of power to authorise the making and validity of regulations which may be necessary to address transitional issues, minimise any unforeseen risk and provide clarity for the public and stakeholders who are affected by the temporary associated COVID-19 measures. A transitional regulation for a COVID-19 law will expire two years after the relevant COVID-19 law expires or the day the COVID-19 ER Act expires, whichever is earlier; and the COVID-19 ER Act expires two years after the COVID-19 public health legislation expiry day.
Consultation was undertaken with key stakeholders on the policy proposal to further extend those aspects of the COVID-19 legislative framework directly related to the public health response to 31st October 2022. Stakeholders consulted included key representative bodies from the health, tourism, business, legal, hospitality, entertainment, gaming, aged care, and disability sectors. Stakeholders were generally supportive of extending the public health COVID-19 measures proposed in the Bill. Only one stakeholder provided feedback that was not supportive of the proposed extensions beyond 30th April 2022, on the basis there was insufficient justification for the restrictions on the community’s freedoms.
Consistency with legislation of other jurisdictions, the Bill is specific to the State of Queensland and is not uniform with legislation of the Commonwealth or another state or territory. However, in developing the Bill, consideration has been given to legislative responses to the COVID-19 emergency in other jurisdictions and measures that have been taken by other jurisdictions to extend their legislative response. Each state and territory across Australia have taken a different approach to managing and extending their respective emergency legislation in response to COVID-19. The extension of the measures to support Queensland’s COVID-19 response is consistent with the approach of other jurisdictions in Australia to continue to exercise their emergency powers in some form in 2022.