The McGowan Government has introduced a new Bill to State Parliament to support critical Government decision-making, reduce costs and deliver financial relief to businesses and individuals, as part of the COVID-19 economic recovery measures.
The COVID-19 Response and Economic Recovery Omnibus Bill 2020 will allow State Government agencies to continue to operate in a COVID-19 environment by amending 79 current Acts of Parliament. It also validates actions taken by agencies to maintain operations and service delivery during the COVID-19 restrictions.
An operational review by all public sector bodies identified legislative impediments that prevented agencies from carrying out certain roles and responsibilities during the pandemic.
Without change, decision-making boards or authorities could struggle to fully carry out their functions, potentially threatening the State’s major development, construction and mining approval processes, particularly in the event of a second wave.
Legal requirements, put in place when online options did not exist, do not have flexibility, and could also affect environmental regulation, transport and the administration of justice.
As well, regulations that require public meetings to be held, fees paid within set timeframes or making applications in person mean agencies currently have limited or no capacity to continue with their previous practices during a pandemic.
A working group of 11 State Government agencies has helped draft the Bill, which includes:
- waiving, varying or refunding fees, charges, dues and late penalties or extend the time in which a fee is to be paid;
- meetings can occur online rather than in person and can be observed by the public if required;
- allowing witnessing of documents by video link;
- documents lodged and/or provided online for public inspection;
- extending or freezing statutory deadlines or timeframes for permits, licences and other similar instruments;
- telehealth consultations under the Mental Health Act 2014;
- extending provisions of the Courts and Tribunals (Electronic Process Facilitation Act) 2013 to other acts within the Attorney General and Police portfolios to facilitate the drafting of subsidiary legislation to allow electronic processing;
- audio links can be used for sentencing in certain limited circumstances under the Sentencing Act 1995; and
- sureties can be entered into over video link where the surety is unable to appear in person, allowing certain electronic notices to be issued under the Bail Act 1982, facilitating electronic lodgement of prosecution notices under the Criminal Procedure Act 2004, and increasing courts’ ability to use audio-visual technology in specified circumstances under the Evidence Act 1906.
As stated by Premier Mark McGowan:
“This legislation is critical to support our State’s economic recovery and inflexible requirements will simply hinder crucial decision-making processes that have an adverse impact on the WA community.
“We need to ensure agencies can continue to operate as many of the laws that guide these processes were not drafted with a pandemic or the current information technology in mind.
“Unless we act now, agencies could be severely limited operationally, particularly in the event of COVID-19 slipping through and re-emerging as we have seen in other jurisdictions.
“Most of these new powers are temporary with a 12 to 18-month life-span but will give us the flexibility we need to respond to this emergency and prevent any further damage to the State’s economy.”
As stated by Transport and Planning Minister Rita Saffioti:
“The COVID-19 pandemic was unprecedented and we need to ensure that the State can continue to operate essential services and approvals and validate past decisions.
“This legislation will ensure we can keep Government and the economy moving, and start getting more people back to work.
“Many of the provisions of the Bill will also ensure that normal community order can continue unabated to ensure the health and security of all Western Australians is protected.”