The Victorian government is set to implement a range of temporary emergency measures, some of which will aim to protect tenants within the state.
The COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020 is on track to be introduced to Parliament on Thursday, setting out “a range of temporary changes to protect tenants and injured workers and allow vital government functions to continue operating in line with social distancing and other requirements advised by the Chief Health Officer”.
“Primarily, the bill will implement the national cabinet tenancy reforms announced last week – enshrining the temporary ban on rental evictions and rent increases in law, and boosting mediation support to help landlords and tenants negotiate new, fair rental agreements,” a statement sent from Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said.
“The related land tax relief for landlords will be implemented through a separate Appropriation Bill.”
“With this bill, we’ll enact the tenancy reforms announced last week – and give landlords and tenants the support they deserve,” Minister for Consumer Affairs Marlene Kairouz said.
Other measures set to be rolled out will impact hospitals and related staff. They will include giving hospitals more flexibility with nurse-to-patient ratios where coronavirus places extraordinary demand on their services.
“This bill takes a common-sense approach to the challenges physical distancing measures present, such as allowing planning permits to be displayed and sent electronically, and enabling planning panels to conduct hearings by video conference or in other remote ways," the A-G’s statement said.
“The legislation also amends the Local Government Act 2020 to allow virtual meetings for local councils and amends the Parliamentary Committees Act to allow joint standing committees of the Parliament, including the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC), to carry out their work remotely.”
Further, the bill will provide up to six additional months of weekly WorkCover payments for long-term injured workers who are due to transition off WorkCover weekly payments – backdated to apply to anyone who received notice from 1 December 2019 about the termination of their payments at 130 weeks.
In addition, the A-G noted that the bill “also makes procedural and process changes to enable the courts, corrections and wider legal system to continue to deliver vital justice services while complying with coronavirus-related restrictions”.
“This includes a temporary power to make further procedural changes by regulation, so that justice processes can be quickly adapted to changing public health requirements.
“The bill does not relax the thresholds for bail or for sentencing offenders, but does change how courts, corrections and other legal systems work so our justice system continues to operate throughout the crisis.
“Judge-only trials will be permitted where the defendant has agreed and the prosecution have been consulted, and courts will get greater flexibility to change their processes to reduce person-to-person interaction, including electronic filing and execution of affidavits and increased use of audio-video links, telephone and other technology to conduct proceedings,” the A-G’s statement read.
Ms Hennessy added: “Almost all the provisions in the bill will sunset after six months with two exceptions. The majority of the provisions of the Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018 will now be pushed back to commence on 1 July 2021 – or earlier by proclamation – to allow business and industry to focus on the immediate impacts of coronavirus.
“Some of the government’s earlier rental reforms will also be delayed until 1 January 2021 to accommodate disruptions due to the pandemic.”