The Victorian Government will implement a range of temporary emergency measures to support Victorians and continue delivering the services we all rely on through the unprecedented challenges of the coronavirus crisis.
The COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020 will be introduced to Parliament on Thursday and sets out a range of temporary changes to protect tenants and injured workers and allow vital government functions to continue operating in line with social distancing and other requirements advised by the Chief Health Officer.
Primarily, the Bill will implement the National Cabinet tenancy reforms announced last week – enshrining the temporary ban on rental evictions and rent increases in law, and boosting mediation support to help landlords and tenants negotiate new, fair rental agreements. The related land tax relief for landlords will be implemented through a separate Appropriation Bill.
Recognising the unprecedented circumstances that our health system is facing, the Bill allows the Minister for Health, after consulting with the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, to give hospitals more flexibility with nurse-to-patient ratios where coronavirus places extraordinary demand on their services.
This Bill takes a common-sense approach to the challenges physical distancing measures present such as allowing planning permits to be displayed and sent electronically, and enabling planning panels to conduct hearings by video-conference or in other remote ways.
The legislation also amends the Local Government Act 2020 to allow virtual meetings for local councils and amends the Parliamentary Committees Act to allow joint standing committees of the Parliament, including the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC), to carry out their work remotely.
To ensure we continue to support people injured at work and are unable to return or find employment due to the impacts of their injury and coronavirus, the Bill will provide up to six additional months of weekly WorkCover payments for long term injured workers who are due to transition off WorkCover weekly payments.
This will be backdated to apply to anyone who has received notice from 1 December 2019 about the termination of their payments at 130 weeks.
The Bill also makes procedural and process changes to enable the courts, corrections and wider legal system to continue to deliver vital justice services while complying with coronavirus related restrictions. This includes a temporary power to make further procedural changes by regulation, so that justice processes can be quickly adapted to changing public health requirements.
The Bill does not relax the thresholds for bail, or for sentencing offenders – but does change how courts, corrections and other legal systems work so our justice system continues to operate throughout the crisis.
Judge-only trials will be permitted where the defendant has agreed and the prosecution have been consulted, and Courts will get greater flexibility change their processes to reduce person-to-person interaction, including electronic filing and execution of affidavits and increased use of audio-video links, telephone and other technology to conduct proceedings.
To boost community safety, the Bill gives the Magistrates Court the power to impose electronic monitoring conditions on Community Corrections Orders – a power currently only held by the County Court and the Supreme Court.
The Bill will also extend the time before which interim Family Violence Intervention Orders and Personal Safety Intervention Orders lapse, from 28 days to three months, to ensure the person in need of the order remains protected.
Quarantine orders will be allowed in prisons and youth justice facilities – helping to manage the risk the virus poses to staff and inmates in these facilities.
Eligibility for the Youth Parole Board chair and alternative chair will be expanded to allow more flexibility in hearing cases, and children and parents will be allowed to attend conciliation conferences and counselling remotely – to reduce the risk of the virus spreading. The Bill also allows for emergency care hearings to be heard by the Children’s Court on the next working day.
Almost all the provisions in the Bill will sunset after six months with two exceptions. The majority of the provisions of the Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018 will now be pushed back to commence on 1 July 2021 – or earlier by proclamation – to allow business and industry to focus on the immediate impacts of coronavirus.
Some of the Government’s earlier rental reforms will also be delayed until 1 January 2021 to accommodate disruptions due to the pandemic.