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Friday, January 21, 2022

Canberra introduces new public health bill

Life in Canberra is set to take another step towards COVID-normal under the ACT Government’s Public Health Amendment Bill 2021 (No 2), introduced in the Legislative Assembly yesterday.

The Bill proposes to enable the Executive, Minister for Health and Chief Health Officer to issue public health directions to protect the community from COVID-19 once the ACT steps out of the Public Health Emergency.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said public health emergencies are declared in response to extreme situations, and the ACT Government was keen to keep its interventions in proportion to the public health risk to our community.

“This Bill provides Government with the ability to step down from the public health emergency while continuing to protect Canberrans as we learn to live in a COVID-normal world,” Chief Minister Barr said.

“It’s essential that we maintain the ability in the short to medium term to respond quickly to changing circumstances, such as fresh outbreaks or any emerging variants of concern. That’s why the public health direction powers proposed in this Bill would continue to allow the ACT Government to implement test, trace, isolate and quarantine measures, as well as requirements for people to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in some circumstances.

“The ACT Government has learnt from the experiences of other jurisdictions around Australia in the development of our legislation. The Bill doesn’t give Government the power to impose lockdowns or curfews as part of the proposed public health directions. It wouldn’t allow the ACT Government to prohibit businesses, events or activities from running. A declared state of emergency would need to be in place for these restrictions to be re-introduced.

“Importantly, this Bill is COVID-19 specific, each type of public health direction under this Bill would have a set time limit, and the Bill itself has a sunset clause that gives it an 18-month lifespan,” the Chief Minster said.

Minister for Health, Rachel Stephen-Smith said the Government has worked closely with the Human Rights Commission during the drafting of the Bill.

“We feel confident that we have got safeguards in place to ensure the Bill is compatible with human rights and the expectations of our community,” Minister Stephen-Smith said.

“The Bill formalises the ability for people to seek an internal review if they are unhappy with decisions about their exemption applications and introduces the capacity for external review of decisions around quarantining, isolating or entry into the ACT for health or compassionate reasons.

“This Bill will enable us to move out of the public health emergency that was declared in March 2020, and safely and cautiously move toward living in a COVID-normal world.”

Minister Stephen-Smith has referred the Bill to the Standing Committee on Health and Community Wellbeing to inquire into the provisions and hear from the public about how we can continue to manage this ongoing pandemic.

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