Temporary powers to prevent tenants being evicted from their homes, ensure support for community clubs and restrict firearms are part of a wide-ranging Bill to go before the Legislative Assembly today to deal with the fallout from the coronavirus public health emergency.
Flagged earlier this week by Chief Minister Andrew Barr, the COVID-19 Emergency Response Bill 2020 will amend nearly 20 pieces of ACT legislation and include sunset clauses so they no longer have effect once the crisis has passed.
Mr Barr said further amendments would be necessary in coming weeks as National Cabinet decided on other actions to contain the virus’s spread and address the implications of physical distancing and closing down sections of the economy.
“The COVID-19 emergency is changing many aspects of how we go about our daily lives and it is necessarily changing how we carry out the business of government,” he said.
“This Bill amends nearly 20 pieces of legislation to create the flexibility that our justice system and our government agencies need to be able to function effectively in a world of physical distancing and working from home.”
An amendment to the Residential Tenancies Act will give the government the ability to implement National Cabinet decisions about protecting renters whose incomes have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 emergency, and stop landlords from evicting them if they cannot pay their rent.
The National Cabinet is due on Friday to consider a framework of minimum standards on rental arrangements during the crisis.
Community clubs will be pleased that an amendment to the Gaming Machine Act will suspend clubs’ contributions to the Diversification and Sustainability Support Fund, allow payment of award wages to staff to be counted as community contributions, and create incentives for clubs to prepare food for vulnerable people.
Affected workers will be able to access portable long service leave entitlements through a hardship provision.
As part of maintaining public order, an amendment will enable the control of the supply of firearms and ammunition, and restrict new gun licences and the ability to acquire new firearms, with exceptions for essential activities.
To deal with the extra spending required by COVID-19 response, there will also be a change to the amount and criteria for access to the Treasurer’s Advance, an annual appropriation to the Treasurer to meet urgent expenditure claims that were unforeseen at the time of the Budget.
There are also a range of measures covering the functions of the courts and criminal justice system including allowing judge-alone trials, electronic service of documents and the use of pre-recorded evidence, as well as extending interim family violence orders and limiting the need for people to attend court.
Various amendments will affect the corrections system including the Alexander Maconochie Centre, so an emergency can be declared if required.
The Bill will list hydroxychloroquine as a poison in response to reported and misguided use of this drug as a treatment for COVID-19.
It will also ensure that Working With Vulnerable People registrations held by critical workers, including health workers, social workers, teachers and NDIS workers can remain in force during a public health emergency and for up to six months after it ends, and to provide discretion in re-activating those that may have expired.
The Canberra Liberals say they will push for transparency measures to ensure that government decisions throughout this period are proportionate and can be appropriately examined.
”Strengthening transparency measures will be fundamental for continued community confidence,” Opposition Leader Alistair Coe said.
”The Canberra Liberals are very interested to work closely and constructively with the ACT Government during this period.”