Covid-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020
24th March 2020
These are extraordinary times and that has been noted. While the times weigh heavily on us, it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to rise and support our communities. I acknowledge all Government members who have been doing so, but I also acknowledge Opposition members who have come together to work as I think people would like to see the Parliament work. I thank the Attorney General for his personal briefing this morning on the COVID?19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020.
I acknowledge that it is a wide-ranging bill that covers many areas. One area that is particularly controversial and perhaps normally would be contested is changes around the criminal justice system. But I note once again that it is considered, and I agree, that these are extraordinary circumstances in which they should be taken in good faith. I know that is how they are offered up and have been crafted by the Government. There are two matters I make particular reference to, which perhaps the Attorney General can address specifically in his reply. The first relates to changes to provisions of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act:
10.17COVID-19 pandemic—Ministerial orders
(1)During the prescribed period, the Minister may, by order published in the Gazette, authorise development to be carried out on land without the need for any approval under the Act or consent from any person.
This would seem to be an extraordinary provision unless you read down to part (5) (b):
(5)The Minister may make an order under this section only if the Minister—
(b)is reasonably satisfied that the making of the order is necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of members of the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If it is applied as I understand it should be, and I would like the Attorney General to address that, this cannot be used for any purpose other than the direct provision of facilities to address the COVID pandemic—not for economic stimulus or some such. I believe that that is the case and I thank the Attorney General for speaking to that earlier. I also want to touch on the Local Government Act 1993 amendment No. 30 and section 318B Postponement of elections. We all understand those amendments are obviously intended to provide flexibility for the Minister to set aside the requirement for an election in September this year if that is required for a particular period. I would ask that once these provisions are passed, the Minister act quickly on this to give some certainty to councils and prospective candidates who would be preparing for it. Councils do not need that distraction if elections are going to be postponed. I would like that to be done quickly.
On other matters the bill provides sensible measures to provide for remote attendance of council meetings by way of audiovisual means or other ways approved by the Minister. However, there is no specific provision for or discussion of how we ensure the participation of the public in those roles, because they will be largely set aside from those mechanisms. That should be addressed perhaps by the Attorney General, but probably more by the Minister soon after these measures are passed. This should be the case in all areas in which there is an approval process—that we continue to make sure that members of the public are part and parcel of the process. We are making big provisions, but we should not be setting all of those aside. That is all I wish to speak on today. I once again thank the Government for the opportunity.
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