Currently across Australia, governments are using a broad range of existing laws and powers to combat the spread of COVID-19. On 16 March 2020, the Western Australian Health Minister declared a “Public Health Emergency” under the Public Health Act 2016 in response to COVID-19.
It is likely that in the coming weeks local governments, as enforcement agencies under the Public Health Act, will have an important role to play in responding to COVID-19.
One of the central aims of the Act is the protection of individuals and communities from diseases and other public health risks. Local governments are empowered to administer and enforce the Act within their districts. Local governments also have the power to certify employees as public health authorised officers to carry out the functions of the Act.
During a ‘Public Health State of Emergency,’ the Chief Health Officer may designate authorised officers and health professionals as “emergency officers” for the purposes of emergency management. Designated emergency officers have significant powers under the Act.
At this point, it is unclear whether local government public health authorised officers have been (or will be) designated as emergency officers under the Act. If this does happen local governments and their public health authorised officers will have significant powers to enforce public health. These powers include:
- Directing people to remain in quarantine;
- Taking control of, or making use of, any premises or property;
- Directing the owner or occupier or the person in charge of any place to close that place to the public; and
- To enter any premises or vehicle without a warrant or the consent of the occupier or owner.
If you have any queries relating to the Public Health Act 2016 or these potential emergency powers, please contact HHG Legal Group’s team on 1800 609 945 or send us an email here.