The Western Australian government has introduced a new bill to ensure state government agencies can continue to operate in the event of a second wave of COVID-19.
The WA government on Wednesday said an operational review conducted by all public sector bodies had found legislative barriers that prevented agencies from carrying out certain duties during the pandemic.
“Without change, decision-making boards or authorities could struggle to fully carry out their functions, potentially threatening the state’s major development, construction and mining approval processes, particularly in the event of a second wave,” it said.
“Legal requirements, put in place when online options did not exist, do not have flexibility, and could also affect environmental regulation, transport and the administration of justice.”
Other regulations require things like meetings and applications to be carried out in person, which, during the pandemic, currently prevent agencies from doing their jobs.
To tackle these barriers, the COVID-19 Response and Economic Recovery Omnibus Bill 2020 was introduced to state parliament this week, seeking to amend 79 current acts of parliament.
A working group of 11 state government agencies helped draft the bill, which includes a number of changes such as allowing meetings, witnessing of documents, and the lodging of documents for public inspection to occur online or via video link.
Other amendments include waiving, varying, refunding or extending the deadline of fees and late penalties, allowing audio links to be used for sentencing in some circumstances, and adding telehealth consultations under the Mental Health Act 2014.
Premier Mark McGowan said most of the new powers have a 12 to 18 month life span, and would allow the state to respond to the impacts of the pandemic.
“This legislation is critical to support our state’s economic recovery and inflexible requirements will simply hinder crucial decision-making processes that have an adverse impact on the WA community,” he said.
“We need to ensure agencies can continue to operate as many of the laws that guide these processes were not drafted with a pandemic or the current information technology in mind. Unless we act now, agencies could be severely limited operationally, particularly in the event of COVID-19 slipping through and re-emerging as we have seen in other jurisdictions.”
The state currently only has one active case of COVID-19, and has not recorded any community transmission of the virus in months, largely due to its hard border closure.