Our previous Local Government Update explored the potential designation of emergency powers to local government health officers and we now provide an update on significant amendments to the Local Government Act 1995, introduced to Parliament yesterday. These amendments will give local governments the flexibility to meet the COVID-19 challenges faced by their communities and also are intended to help local governments respond to both the public health and economic consequences of Covid-19.
The Local Government Amendment (COVID-19 Response) Bill 2020, will allow the Minister to:
- issue an order to modify or suspend provisions in the Local Government Act or in the regulations; and
- gives local government Councils the power to suspend, either in part or fully, all local laws (including standing orders) an absolute majority vote.
What type of Powers could the Minister potentially have?
The Minister’s new powers could potentially be used to:
- defer local government elections;
- remove the requirement to have in-person elections;
- suspend the need for public council meetings;
- defer action against people for unpaid rates or charges and amend;
- make orders regarding access to information for members of the public when council offices are closed or
- extend time periods specified in the act. The Minister could also make orders regarding access to information for members of the public when council offices are closed.
What type of Powers could Local Governments potentially have?
This proposed Bill also provides greater powers to Local Governments to suspend local laws, which could potentially:
- enable the removal of all parking restrictions;
- allow previously prohibited activities on footpaths and in thoroughfares; and
- remove restrictions which affect the operation of local businesses.
The suspension of standing orders could also enable local governments to conduct council and committee meetings by way of an electronic platform rather than in person. Even before the introduction of this Bill the City of Perth had brought in a blanket ‘$10 a day fee’ for its car parks and free street parking to support workers still coming into the city.
Are there any exceptions?
The planning local laws which are made under the Planning and Development Act 2005, will remain the same.
If the Bill gets passed, how long will these powers be in place?
These powers can only be used by the Minister and by local governments while the current “COVID emergency declaration” under the Emergency Management Act 2005 remains in place. Ministerial orders made under these new provisions will be treated as regulations and can be disallowed by Parliament.
However, the Bill includes sunset clauses enabling measures to stay in longer than the state of emergency. This means that:
- any order made by the Minister under the new legislation will expire within three months of the revocation of the COVID emergency declaration; and
- any suspension of local laws by a local government will expire within six months of the revocation of the COVID emergency declaration.
How can HHG Legal Group assist?
For over 100 years HHG Legal Group has been proudly serving Western Australian families, businesses, governments and individuals and never before has the State seen such a crippling time and we are committed to supporting the communities in which we operate.
Our Local Government team will continue to monitor this situation and to provide updates as they come to hand, however, should you require any advice relating to the potential effect of any orders made by the Minister or measures that can be taken by Local Governments, under this proposed legislation, to meet the COVID-19 challenges please FILL IN THE CONTACT FORM or call 1800 609 945 and we’ll call you back.