The Victorian parliament will be recalled for an emergency sitting next week to pass legislation related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The state government on Wednesday announced parliament would meet two weeks early — on April 23 — to pass a $500 million package to assist landlords and tenants during COVID-19, as well as urgent appropriation bills to ensure key public sector staff, including healthcare workers, continue to be paid.
All members of parliament will receive detailed briefings on the legislation before it is introduced, and Question Time will take place in both houses.
A reduced number of MPs will be present in each chamber and a skeleton staff will be present to ensure both houses can function. Leader of the House Jacinta Allan said there would also be “appropriate physical distancing and safety measures in place in the parliament”.
The government will move motions in each house to amend the arrangements for the day, to allow for urgent passage of these bills, and to allow MPs to table members statements rather than read them out.
The Public Accounts and Estimates Committee will also conduct an inquiry into the management of the pandemic in Victoria.
As part of the $500m rent relief package — also announced on Wednesday — the government will provide $420m in land tax relief. Landlords who give rent relief to pandemic-affected tenants will be eligible for a 25% discount on their land tax. Any remaining land tax can be deferred until March 2021.
The remaining $80m will go to a new rental assistance fund for struggling renters. To be eligible, renters will need to have registered their revised agreement with Consumer Affairs Victoria or gone through mediation, have less than $5000 in savings, and be paying at least 30% of their income in rent.
The state government will also introduce a temporary ban on evictions, and a pause on rental increases for six months.
Tenants and landlords who cannot make a deal over rent reductions will be given access to a fast-tracked dispute resolution service with Consumer Affairs Victoria or the Victorian Small Business Commission.
A new coronavirus relief deputy commissioner will also be established at the State Revenue Office to manage land tax relief claims, and the government will “urgently legislate” so that eligible small and medium sized businesses can be granted rental waivers or deferrals.