Keeping in Front of COVID-19

Governments everywhere are dealing with the crisis that is COVID 19 and taking extraordinary steps to protect individuals and business so they survive this crisis. In Queensland, a public health emergency was declared under the Public Health Act 2005 in January 2020 which has been and will continue to be extended as the crisis evolves.  

There have also been a number of legislative amendments in the last couple of weeks which impact on local governments and their operations. These amendments are designed to increase the flexibility of local governments to deal with the fallout from the crisis. In addition, the Public Health and Other Legislation (Public Emergency) Amendment Act 2020 was passed by Parliament on 19 March 2020.

Local Government Act 2009 

The Local Government Act 2009 (LGA) is amended to allow a Council to hold local government meetings and committee meetings by teleconference. While this has been the case previously, a local government may also close a meeting to the public if in its view there is a risk to health and safety of the public and/or Councillors because of the current COVID 19 crisis. 

A local government is required to have at least one platform where the public can access the meeting by live stream unless there is a resolution to close a meeting which can still occur for the usual reasons. Notice has to be given if a local government meeting is to be closed to the public in the usual way and the notice must be published on the Council website. 

These latest provisions would be in force until 30 June 2021. 

There were a number of proposed amendments dealing with the Local Government elections which are largely moot now. 

Penalty Units 

As a small bonus, pursuant to section 5A of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992, a penalty unit which is currently $113.55, will not increase for the next financial year. Having said that, a new offence for failing to comply with a direction made by the Chief Health Officer or an emergency officer in relation to COVID 19 is introduced, i.e. failure to comply with social distancing, isolation and quarantine measures. The proposed penalty for an individual is 10 penalty units ($1,334.50) and for a corporation 50 penalty units ($6,672.50).

At this stage, authorised persons are public health officers, emergency services officers and police.

Court Proceedings 

All new jury trials in the Supreme and District Courts are suspended from 30 March 2020 and all Magistrates Court proceedings will be by teleconference or video conferencing. 

Similarly, the Land Court will continue to operate with all matters dealt with by teleconference, videoconferences or on the papers. 

The Planning and Environment Court has taken steps to avoid congregations of attendees in the courtroom including where possible, appearances by telephone or video conference. In matters which this is not possible, attendees are required to adhere strictly to the social distancing rules within the courtrooms. 

Planning Matters 

The Act has introduced the concept of an “applicable event” and by introducing a temporary use licence to allow operators to change a lawful existing use right.  In addition, changes will allow supply chains for business to operate 24 hours, 7 days a week through the concept of a declared use. 

The “applicable event” is the declared public health emergency that is COVID-19 but can include other events which could be declared an applicable event. 

A temporary use licence is a licence which will change the condition of a development approval; allow an increase in the intensity or scale of an existing licence; add a new or replace the existing lawful use with new use.  The temporary use licence can only be applied for where an applicable event has been declared and if approved, will remain in effect until the end of the applicable event. 

Extensions will also be permitted for statutory time frames under the Planning Act and time frames can be suspended if the Minister is satisfied it is necessary to do so during the applicable event. The Minister may also make a declaration in relation to use or class of use during the applicable event. 

The Economic Development Act will be similarly amended to ensure that priority development areas (PDA) development approvals and time frames under this Act are consistent with the amendments in the Planning Act. 

The world as we know is changing rapidly and the Preston Law team are here to help our clients keep abreast of the ever-changing environment in which our local government clients operate. If you require any assistance on any of the latest legislative changes please contact us.

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