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ACT government to introduce new COVID-19 powers | The Canberra Times


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ACT government ministers would have the power to make decisions around certain public health directions to respond to COVID-19 under proposed laws, with the government making preparations to lift the territory’s public health emergency. Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith will introduce an amendment to the Public Health Act in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday. The bill would seek to allow the government and health authorities to make public health directions related to COVID-19 outside of a public health emergency, with some responsibility shifting from the chief health officer to the health minister. It would introduce a new COVID-19 management direction to the Public Health Act, which would have three tiers. It would give government ministers the power to impose certain restrictions, the power to create vaccine mandates and the chief health officer would retain control of test, trace, isolate and quarantine measures. The health minister, in consultation with the chief minister, would be able to regulate business activity and impose restrictions on gathering numbers, household visitors and density limits in hospitality and retail venues. But in order to impose the restrictions advice would have to be sought from the chief health officer and there must be consultation with the human rights commissioner. The chief health officer would be able to continue to make directions for quarantine and testing arrangements. Two ministers could make a decision to impose a vaccination mandate but only when this has been explicitly recommended by the chief health officer to the ACT’s cabinet. The Human Rights Commission would also need to be consulted about this. The commission has previously called for human rights compatibility statements with mandates. Ms Stephen-Smith said the decision to split the powers in this way was was made because the government needed to take responsibility for measures which affected the territory’s economy. “We considered it was appropriate for the minister, in consultation with the chief minister, to be the one who’s taking into account not just the public health advice from the chief health officer, which is required under the under this bill, but also those economy-wide effects and any other advice that might come to the government around what the other impacts of those will be,” she said. “We’ve obviously seen a level of fatigue in the community but we are also seeing an ongoing pandemic. “At this point in the pandemic, is appropriate that politicians take the responsibility for making some of those decisions.” All public health directions currently in place could only be made because the ACT is under a public health emergency. The ACT has been in a state of emergency since the start of the pandemic, but this has needed to be extended every 90 days. MORE COVID-19 NEWS: The current declaration is set to expire in February. “What we’re fundamentally trying to achieve is the capacity to step down from the declaration of a public health emergency but to continue to manage the impact of the COVID 19 pandemic, which we know is not over,” Ms Stephen-Smith said. Contentious laws in Victoria, which give the premier and health minster power to declare a pandemic and enforce restrictions, have been the subject of mass protests and lengthy parliamentary debates. The laws proposed by the ACT would not allow the government to impose a lockdown. A public health emergency would need to be declared in order to impose another lockdown. “I think we do need to take into account that the Victorian legislation is in the context where they’re not able to extend their emergency declaration, we will still retain the capacity to step up into a public health emergency if we need to do so,” Ms Stephen-Smith said. The ACT’s laws would expire with a sunset clause after 18 months. However, this clause could be amended in the Assembly should the government continued to need restrictions to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:

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