COVID-19 Emergency Response Bill 2020

Last night the Queensland Parliament passed the COVID-19 Emergency Response Bill 2020 (the “Bill”).

The Bill gives the Queensland Government a broad range of powers to make a number of extraordinary regulations with respect to;

  • Parliament of Queensland Act 2001 (the “Parliament Act”); 
  • residential, retail and other leases; 
  • attendance at places or meetings; 
  • making and associated use of documents and physical presence requirements; 
  • statutory timeframes; and 
  • proceedings of courts and tribunals. 

As outlined in the explanatory memorandum, the purpose of modifying the legislative framework is to ensure: 

“clear legal authority to make the interventions necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of Queenslanders, mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the community, facilitate continued functioning of Queensland institutions and economy to the extent possible in the circumstances of the pandemic, and to allow for timely and flexible responses in managing disruptions caused by the COVID-19 emergency and social distancing measures.”

Notably, it allows the creation of regulations with a retrospective operation to 19 March 2020. Moreover, any regulations created pursuant to the Bill only have effect until on or before 31 December 2020.  

This article will discuss the following Parts of the Bill: 

Part 3 – Reducing Physical Contact Between People

Part 4 – Modifying Statutory Time Limits:

Part 5 – Proceedings

Part 6 – Small Business Commissioner 

Part 7 – Retail and Other Prescribed Leases 

Part 8 – Residential Tenancies 

Reducing Physical Contact Between People

Part 3 of the Bill provides that a regulation may be made to provide alternative arrangements for the creation of documents, and dictate how attendances are conducted and meetings are held in order to comply with social distancing recommendations.

Such powers are necessarily expansive, and include, but are not limited to, the ability to;

  • provide that a person may attend a place or meeting in a way that does not involve physical attendance; 
  • suspend a requirement for an entity to hold or call a meeting; and
  • suspend or prescribe modified requirements in relation to: 
    • Signing, witnessing, certifying, attesting, producing, making, filing and publicly displaying documents.   

By virtue of these expansive powers, Part 3 of the Bill has significant implications. Examples of the way such regulations may affect the legal sector include:

  • the production of wills, advance health directive and enduring powers of attorney electronically, and witnessed using audio visual technology; 
  • conducting an inspection of a premise utilising audio visual technology; and 
  • the use of audio-visual technology in circumstances where individuals are required to give evidence.

Modifying Statutory Time Limits

Part 4 of the Bill provides for modification of timeframes and periods under an Act for the doing or expiry of a thing. This includes, 

  • a period in which an individual or entity can make an application, pay an amount, comply with a notice or direction, ask for a document or perform a function; or 
  • a period in which, for example, a document, licence or authority expires. 

Where an entity is not expressly granted a power to modify a statutory time limit, the Act grants power to make a regulation providing for the period to be modified. 

Such power must be necessary for the purposes of the Bill.

Proceedings

Part 5 of the Bill provides regulation-making powers to modify legislative requirements and provide for alternative arrangements in relation to judicial proceedings including, but not limited to;

  • alternative processes or methods for making, signing, filing, giving or verifying documents; 
  • use of audio-visual technology to make appearances, give evidence or take an oath or affirmation; 
  • restrictions on public access to proceedings; and 
  • alternative methods of service where personal service is typically required.

Small Business Commissioner 

Part 6 of the Bill indicates the appointment of a small business commissioner by the recommendation of the Minister for small business. 

The functions and powers of the commissioner will particularly be in relation to the COVID-19 response measure, and will be to: 

  • provide information and advise the public about matters which are relevant to small businesses; 
  • to assist small businesses in reaching an informal resolution for disputes relating to small business leases; and
  • to administer a mediation process prescribed by regulation in relation to small business tenancy disputes. 

The commissioner is also to report the performance of its functions to the Minister for small business. 

Retail and Other Prescribed Leases 

Part 7 of the Bill also provides power for the Queensland Government to make a number of extraordinary regulations with respect to the Retail Shop Leases Act 1994. In particular, the Bill prohibits landlords from: 

  • Recovery of possession of premises; 
  • Termination of the lease; 
  • Prevention or regulation of the exercising of another right of a landlord under a relevant lease or agreement relating to the premises; and 
  • Exempting a tenant from the operation of a lease or other agreement relating to the leasing of premises. 

The Bill may also: 

  • Require parties to a lease to have regard to particular matters or principles, or a prescribed standard, code or other document, in negotiating or disputing a matter under or in relation to the relevant lease; or 
  • Require a mediator, conciliator, arbitrator, tribunal, court or other decision-maker to have regard to particular matters or principles, or a prescribed standard, code or other document, in mediating, conciliating, hearing or deciding a matter or proceeding relating to a relevant lease; or 
  • Provide for a dispute resolution process for disputes relating to leases, including matters such as who may apply for the resolution, how it is to start, appointment of mediators, how it may be conducted, conferral of jurisdiction on a tribunal, referral of disputes to a court or tribunal; or
  • Prescribe any other matter necessary. 

A lease includes a lease, sub-lease, licence or other agreements pertaining to the occupying of a premises. A relevant lease is given the meaning of a retail shop lease under the Retail Shop Leases Act 1994 or aa lease prescribed by regulation for this definition. 

Residential Tenancies 

Part 8 of the Bill contains comparable provisions in relation to residential tenancies and rooming accommodation. The Bill permits legislation to make provision for any matter necessary for responding to the COVID-19 emergency, including but not limited to: 

  • Imposing a moratorium on evictions of tenants and residents during the COVID-19 emergency period; 
  • Alter grounds for notices of leave; 
  • Enable conciliation for unpaid rent; 
  • Alter, suspend rights or obligations under the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act 2008
  • Amend the residential tenancy agreement on various terms. 

The Bill provides for retrospective operation, and permits inconsistency with any act or law to the extent necessary to achieve its purpose, other than the Human Rights Act 2019, and exempts persons from civil or criminal liability for compliance with an Act or law under its regulation. 

Corney & Lind will continue to the monitor the actions of the Queensland Parliament and report any futures regulations passed pursuant to this Bill. Given the unprecedented urgency at which legislation is being drafted in response to the COVID-19 emergency, it can be crucial to your situation to obtain legal advice as well as assistance during such times of uncertainty. Please contact us for a consultation.

Article by Courtney Linton & Hongi Han

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