Last updated: 29 April 2020

Education – schools and universities

Given the newly updated recommendations to keep schools open until the Easter holidays, but with an encouragement that, where possible, students are kept at home to ensure one unit of study, schools need to ensure that they are providing guidance to its pupils and their parents/carers/guardians to ensure compliance and avoid further confusion. Universities are being encouraged to ensure that all education, where possible, be conducted online.

Additional measures to be put in place include:

  • staggering student breaks throughout the day to help with social distancing; 
  • move desks further apart in each class room;
  • avoid the need for students to queue;
  • encourage students and staff who are unwell (with anything) to stay at home but if they do come to school/university with symptoms not associated with COVID-19, identify a space that can be used to isolate them to avoid the spreading of other illnesses at this time. This isolation area should also be used for students and staff who become ill while at school or university and are waiting to be collected; 
  • promote and, if possible, make available the annual influenza vaccine for staff, children and their families; and
  • reminds parents/carers/guardians of the current advice put in place by the Government which includes the restriction on all forms of social interaction, especially during the upcoming Easter Holidays.

Policies and guidance

In addition, both schools and universities should continue to update any policies and guidance on a regular, if not daily, basis in order to try to implement recommendations and requirements as they are updated and help prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 amongst its students and staff in advance of any suspected cases. In order to implement these updates, schools and universities should put in place appropriate methods for communicating the updated information to the relevant people (including casual staff) as quickly as possible. In addition, during these uncertain times, schools and universities should be encouraged to keep in contact with its staff, students and their carers as often as possible, even if there are no updates to guidance and policies.

Guidance and policies should still include:

  • Travel: all travel should now be discouraged unless absolutely necessary. However, there should be requirements that students or staff that have returned from any overseas country self-isolate themselves for 14 days after they left these countries. Students or staff who show no signs or symptoms of COVID-19 at the end of this 14 day period are able to return to school or university without the need for a medical certificate. Given these requirements, NSW Education have cancelled all overseas excursions. 
  • Contact: requirements that students or staff who have been in close contact with a confirmed (and ideally suspected) case of COVID-19 should also self-isolate for a period of 14 days from the last contact with that person. Government guidance about close contact states that close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 includes 15 minutes face to face contact or being in an enclosed space for two hours or more with them. If at the end of this 14 day period, students or staff who show no signs or symptoms of COVID-19 can return to school or university.
  • Infected: requirements that students or staff who have a confirmed case of COVID-19 exclude themselves from the school or university until they are medically cleared to return. The policy will also need to contain notification requirements for those affected (please see below).
  • Unwell: if staff or students feel unwell, especially with any respiratory illness, they should stay at home until they recover even if they have not been travelling or in contact with confirmed cases of COVID-19. While it is unlikely that these people have contracted COVID-19, such self-isolation measures are put in place to avoid other staff or students becoming immunocompromised and therefore being more susceptible to picking up illnesses.
  • Self-isolation: information for the students or staff about what self-isolation means and should include the need not to attend public places or see any visitors in their own place of residence (other than people they live with). It is preferable that anyone in self-isolation arrange for friends or family members that are not required to self-isolate to shop for food and necessities. For schools in particular, guidance should also include a requirement that parents or carers also self-isolate if any of the requirements above apply to them.
  • Social distancing: policies and guidance from schools and universities will differ due to the nature of the facilities available to each educational establishment but all guidance should include the establishment's rules for social distancing. NSW Health has suggested guidance of what should be included in this regard.
  • Alternative methods of learning: given the importance of self-isolation and the fact that the majority of people who are self-isolating may not actually be unwell and the possibility that schools might be asked to close for short additional periods over the Easter Holidays, it is very important that schools and universities arrange for their students to be able to access the necessary educational material that they would have been able to obtain if they were able to go to school or university (eg. online lecture recordings, soft copies of lecture materials, lectures or lessons available to be accessed by video or audio conferencing facilities, holiday school work in an accessible form ready for students to take home with them if schools are required to close at short notice). Similar to the recent testing by some businesses that all of its staff can work remotely if required to do so, schools and universities should consider testing remote learning environments as a trial run to ensure capacity works and all staff and students know what to do before any requirements are imposed on them to do so.
  • Closure: Current government guidance is that schools should not be closed at this stage as closing schools is understood to have a wider detrimental economic impact than the benefit it would have at this time. It is felt that the advice given above will have a much better impact in preventing the increased spread of COVID-19. However, universities and schools need to be at a high state of readiness as if they are requested to close for whatever reason at short notice, guidance, policies and resources should be put in place now including as to what skeleton staff will remain on site and what cleaning will done during the closure, especially if such closure has resulted from a confirmed case of COVID-19 amongst one of its students or staff. These policies and guidance should include how quickly the institution expects to be up and running for remote learning. Also, schools should be flexible in their absenteeism policies especially in situations where parents voluntarily remove their children from school. In these cases, alternative methods of learning should still be available for those children.
  • Technological assistance: given that students, staff and parents / carers / guardians will not be used to the students receiving their teaching via online resources, schools and universities should consider writing a frequently asked questions section on their website. This section could detail not only queries about what to do if the online system doesn’t work but also set out a list of expectations that the school or universities expect during the online lessons or lectures. These expectations could include that all school student are to be dressed in uniform and must not be accessing other digital devices during the lessons. Schools need to be understanding and set reasonable and appropriate expectations as to how much work their students will be able to do from home. It is likely the parents, carers or guardians will also be working from home and not able to encourage or supervise the students to work all day.
  • Notification: guidance from the school or university about what the preferred means of notification of self-isolation to the relevant person at the school or university should be and timeframes for that notification. Also, schools should recommend that parents notify the school of all of the contact details for not just the parents but also carers, guardians or grandparents so that the school can provide all relevant parties with the information at the same time. If schools or universities do have to close, this notification will be vital to ensure continued contact throughout any closure and for notification as to when they will re-open.
  • Deadlines: universities and schools should act reasonably when receiving requests for submission deadlines to be extended by anyone in self-isolation.
  • Assessments: universities and schools should start thinking of alternative methods of holding assessments (eg. exams) to avoid the need for lots of students and staff to gather in the same place.
  • Prevention: any guidance from schools and universities should also contain the standard information about preventing the spread of COVID-19 by practising good hygiene. Such information should also be displayed around the buildings which make up the schools and universities. These requirements should include the need to wash your hands regularly, cough or sneeze into your elbow, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and avoid coming into contact with anyone who is unwell. In order to prevent further spread, schools and universities should postpone or cancel any events, school assemblies and any activities where lots of students or staff gather in the same place.
  • Support: it is recommended that schools and universities set up a contact number or email address to provide support to the friends and families of people affected by the virus and also for those who are self-isolating. Schools and universities should also commit to being in contact with its staff and students on a regular basis, such contact could be by emails or on updated website announcements. This support is especially important for people who are living on their own or away from their families in self-isolation at this time.

In addition, to the above requirements, schools and universities should also remember that its staff and students might be parents or carers of children themselves. Therefore, if schools and universities are asked to close, the requirements of their staff to continue to provide educational resources for the students or for university students to submit assignments should be balanced with the fact that those staff or students might have to look after their own children. Flexible requirements will be key to achieving a successful approach to continuing education at this time.

Schools and universities are required to notify NSW Health and Education if they have a confirmed case of COVID-19 amongst their staff or students.

Similar guidance (where relevant) also applies to early childhood centres.

 

Airports

As with all ports, airports are obviously a key risk point in relation to the spread of the COVID-19 – through the virus' initial transmission via international services, through its further spread via domestic services and simply because a significant number of people pass through and use airport facilities each day.

In addition to clear issues around border control at airports (including what sort of screening should be implemented at border control points and the interaction with relevant Commonwealth border control agencies), other matters to consider in an airport context include, amongst others:

  • what obligations arise, and what practical arrangements can be put in place, in relation to public-facing employees and contractors engaged in work at the airport (including security screening authorities, ground handlers and agents);
  • whether there is a need to discuss arrangements and proposed measures with relevant airlines, and if so where responsibilities sit as between airlines and the airport in these circumstances;
  • how the ban on certain flights, and the reduction in passenger numbers, can affect airline pricing arrangements and future impacts on capital investment in airports;
  • what rights, liabilities and obligations arise in relation to the various commercial, retail and other tenants of the airport;
  • what is the scope of any liability the airport may have to third parties (if any) who use airport facilities, and perhaps more importantly what proactive steps should the airport take to advise the public on risks associated with potential transmission;
  • whether are there heightened obligations on airport operators to maintain various facilities within the terminal or to provide additional facilities (such as hand sanitising facilities or additional health facilities);
  • the impact on airport operations as a result of key staff being potentially increasingly absent from workplaces as a result of the virus or as a precautionary measure;
  • the effect that business disruption may have on current and proposed airport developments;
  • the application of State Work Health and Safety laws, requirements and enforcement agencies in relation to airports on Commonwealth land;
  • the role of, and the co-ordination of, the Department of Home Affairs, CASA, the AFP and other relevant agencies at airports during this period; and
  • the effectiveness of previous border control measures at ports during both the bird flu and SARS epidemics and the key lessons learned from these events.

Energy and resources

Western Australia

WA travel restrictions

Currently, Western Australia is in a State of Emergency with a number of State and Federal Government restrictions in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Interstate and international travel

The WA State border is now closed, and entry into Western Australia from all interstate and international destinations is now prohibited in the absence of an exemption.

One relevant exemption for the resources industry is the exemption for fly-in-fly out (FIFO) workers and their families who wish to return to Western Australia. This exemption must be applied for and shall be granted on the condition that the worker and their family complete a mandatory 14-day quarantine at the expense of the worker's employer. FIFO workers who wish to apply for the exemption are required to complete the "WA Entry – Request for Approval as an Exempt Traveller" Form.

Intrastate travel

The State has been divided into nine regions, with any movement between regions strictly prohibited, unless there is an exemption. Currently one exemption applies for persons who ordinarily travel from one region to another for work purposes, such as FIFO workers, people transporting freight and other workers in the mineral exploration sector. A person taking advantage of the exemption must carry:

  • photo identification;
  • a letter or email from an employer supporting the travel; and
  • a health declaration stating the person has not travelled overseas in the past 14 days,

and have no symptoms of COVID-19, nor have come into any close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

Additionally, the Federal Government has implemented further regional restrictions within Western Australia; those restrictions prevail over inconsistent State restrictions.

The State and Federal Governments have also jointly restricted travel to remote Aboriginal communities, with even stricter restrictions in place for the Kimberly and Pilbara regions. The only exemptions are for the delivery of essential services or cultural or family reasons.

There are also local government authority restrictions in the Esperance and Kimberley regions.

Despite the exemptions, they obviously will not totally ameliorate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on proposed exploration activities. That is where the new exemptions for expenditure and rent relief come into play.

Mining tenements' minimum expenditure: exemptions

The Mining Act 1978 (WA) requires holders of certain mining tenements to meet minimum expenditure requirements in relation to their exploration and mining activities. Where a holder of a mining tenement is unable to meet their expenditure requirements, the holder may apply for an exemption, either in whole or in part.

The exemptions available under the Mining Act can be granted for a number of reasons, including but not limited to, where:

  • the ground the subject of the mining tenement is for any sufficient reason unworkable; or
  • political, environmental or other difficulties in obtaining requisite approvals prevent mining or restrict it in a manner that is, or subject to conditions that are, for the time being impracticable (section 102(2)).

COVID-19 expenditure exemption

In addition to the reasons expressly set out in the Mining Act, an exemption may be granted under the Mining Act "for any other reason which may be prescribed or which in the opinion of the Minister is sufficient to justify such exemption" (section 102(3)).

By way of Government Gazette dated 3 April, the WA Minister for Mines prescribed, for the purposes of section 102(3) of the Mining Act, an additional reason for granting an exemption from expenditure conditions: that the holder was unable to meet the expenditure requirements relating to the tenement as the direct result of COVID-19 or restrictions imposed by governments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This decision is set to remain valid until 31 March 2021, unless rescinded earlier.

How to apply for an expenditure exemption

The application process for applying for an exemption remains unchanged. Applicants are required to lodge a Form 18 accompanied by a statutory declaration setting out the reasons for the application.

The application should be lodged electronically with the WA Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) during the relevant expenditure year, or within 60 days of the end of the year to which it relates.

In the Government Gazette, the Minister for Mines stated that the applicants must include a statement demonstrating that exploration expenditure conditions have not been met because of the direct effects of COVID-19 and/or the government restrictions as a result of the pandemic.  

Therefore, when applying for an exemption, the applicant should clearly detail all relevant evidence in support of the application. To reduce the risk of a challenge by a third party, any statement contained in the statutory declaration should have a reasonable level of detail.

The Government is yet to release the criteria applied when considering the exemption, however some examples for how to demonstrate the effect of COVID-19 or the Government's restrictions may include situations where:

  • travel restrictions have caused exploration operations to be suspended;
  • travel restrictions have impacted access to required sites;
  • social distancing practices have impacted miners' ability to work in close proximity and carry out their role effectively;
  • the importance of protecting Aboriginal communities within the Kimberley region has suspended activities; and
  • travel restrictions have prevented access to necessary areas for conducting activities such as clearing, geophysical surveys, heritage surveys, sampling, drilling etc.

DMIRS has reiterated the intention of the Mining Act is to ensure effective exploration and development, and that compelling reasons should be given by the tenement holder where ground remains unexplored.

At this stage, it does not appear that the expenditure exemption announcement extends to relief from mining expenditure under mining leases. However, in the State Government's media announcement, it was stated that it is considering other initiatives that may assist the mining industry during the pandemic.

Rent relief

In addition to expenditure relief, affected tenement holders should also consider applying for an extension of time to pay tenement rents.

For mining and exploration licences, an application for an extension of time should take the form of an email or letter to DMIRS. The application should detail the reasons why the extension should be granted, seek a specific date for the rent to become payable. The reasons provided would likely be consistent with those included in application for the expenditure exemption, that is, the direct impact of COVID-19 or the government restrictions implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given the speed at which the COVID-19 landscape is changing, those within the mining industry should stay alert and up to date with respect to any Government updates and publications, which may offer additional support or relief in these challenging times.

Small business

$15 Billion Structured Finance Support (COVID-19 Economic Response) Fund (SFSF)

The Structured Finance Support Fund's aim is to ensure continued access to funding markets impacted by the economic effects of COVID-19, and mitigate its impacts on competition in consumer and business lending markets. It will be in place for 12 months.

While ADIs and non-ADIs may receive investment, the intention is to support small lenders. To access the SFSF, smaller lenders need to access their finance through securitisation.

The focus will be to invest in securitised loans written by smaller lenders to support their ability to continue to issue new loans and obtain funding from markets at a competitive price. It is intended to support those lenders who don’t have access to the RBA's $90 billion fund – small ADIs who can't provide acceptable collateral required by the fund and non-ADIs.

Initial capacity of the fund will be $15 billion, which however may be increased, and it will be managed by the Australian Office of Financial Management (AOFM).

It will apply to all asset classes, not just RMBS, but the debt securities cannot be first loss securities. The AOFM will be able to purchase authorised debt securities that support a range of small business and consumer lending activities including credit cards, automobiles and personal loans.

More information

 

$90 Billion RBA Term Funding Facility

The RBA is establishing a $90 billion facility to ADIs, with the objectives of:

  • reducing funding costs of ADIs, helping to reduce interest rates for borrowers;
  • encouraging ADIs to support businesses by providing access to low cost funding. Whilst the scheme encourages lending to all business, the incentives are stronger for SMEs.
More information

 

Australian Business Securitisation Fund (ABSF)

The ABSF was established on 6 April 2019 and is administered by the AOFM. Originally it was to invest up to $2 billion in warehousing and the securitisation market, providing significant additional funding to smaller Banks and non-Bank lenders to on-lend to small business on low competitive terms.

Through the ABFS, the AOFM:

  • funds new and existing warehouse facilities for SME loans alongside the private sector;
  • buys and holds securitised SME loans in order to support segments of the market where there are identifiable gaps.
More information

 

Small Business Loan Guarantee Support Scheme

The Small Business Loan Guarantee Support Scheme is designed to support up to $40 billion of lending to SMEs. Under the Scheme, the Government will guarantee 50% of new loans issued by eligible lenders.

It is available for new loans to eligible lenders until 30 September 2020. The product can't be a credit card and a borrower can only access the Scheme via one lender.

Eligibility criteria include SMEs with a turnover of up to $50 million in the previous and likely in the current financial year, unsecured loans up to maximum of $250,000 per borrower (although can be a personal/director guarantee), up to 3 year term with 6 month repayment holiday to support up to $40 billion of lending to SMEs.

While a lender can submit an expression of interest at any time, the initial allocation may be made having regard to expressions of interest received by 1 April 2020.

It is open to bank and non-bank lenders but it is unlikely to be granted to lenders with less than $50 million in assets and/or limited SME lending experience.

More information

 

Responsible lending relief for consumer loans used partly for small business

The National Consumer Credit Protection Amendment (COVID-19 Economic Response Package) Regulations 2020 temporarily exempt Australian credit licensees from certain responsible lending obligations in order to facilitate the flow of credit to small businesses.

The regulations provides relief in relation to loans predominantly for personal, domestic or household purposes, or to buy or refinance residential investment property (ie. a consumer loan) but where the loan is also partly to be used for business purposes. This is primarily an issue for smaller business (e.g. sole traders) where funds under a facility may be used for personal and business purposes. It effectively suspends the obligation to do a responsible lending assessment on the consumer loan (ie. incomings verses outgoings to check the loan is suitable), which would otherwise be required if the credit limit was increased or a new credit contract entered into. It also applies in relation to consumer leases.

More information

Australian Bankers Association (ABA) Package for Small Business Relief

Under the package, certain Australian banks will defer loan repayments for small businesses affected by COVID-19 for 6 months.

Threshold for total business loan facilities that could be deferred is up to $10 million.

Borrowers such as commercial landlords can access financial support provided they agree not to terminate leases or evict current tenants for rent arrears due to COVID-19.

The banks have also agreed not to enforce business loans for non-financial breaches of loan contract.

The conditions are:

  • borrowers must advise that their businesses have been affected by COVID-19;
  • borrower must be current in terms of existing facilities in the 90 days prior;
  • commercial property landlords must not terminate leases or evict current tenants for rent arrears as a result of COVID-19 during the 6 months repayment deferral period;
  • interest is capitalised.

There is also relief for consumer borrowers (for home loans, consisting of repayment deferral between 3-6 months).

This has had wide publicity and borrowers are approaching other lenders not covered by it seeking same/similar relief. 

The consequences for lenders (including whether the loans are in arrears and the impact, for example under any third part agreements) need to be considered.

For banks there is also the impact on capital – APRA (the prudential regulator) has indicated that for loans that were in order but where the borrower takes the deferral offer, these loans do not need to be treated as in arrears as a result of the deferral and do not need to be regarded as restructured.

More information

 

Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme

The Coronavirus Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Guarantee Scheme is designed to support up to $40 billion of lending to SMEs. Under the Scheme, the Government will guarantee 50% of new loans issued by eligible lenders.

It is available for new loans to eligible lenders until 30 September 2020 (in addition to other eligibility criteria). The product can't be a credit card and a borrower must be a SME (which is an entity as prescribed by the legislative rules made by the Minister) and each borrower can only access the Scheme via one lender.

Eligibility criteria for loans include that the loans are unsecured and up to maximum of $250,000 per borrower (although can be a personal/director guarantee), with an up to 3 year term.

While a lender can submit an expression of interest at any time, the initial allocation may be made having regard to expressions of interest received by 1 April 2020.

It is open to bank and non-bank lenders but it is unlikely to be granted to lenders with less than $50 million in assets and/or limited SME lending experience.

Reporting standard ARS 920.0 Australian Government Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Guarantee Scheme must be completed weekly by all lenders that are approved under the scheme. APRA’s new reporting standard will support the scheme by providing data to Government on key metrics including number of loans approved, number of loans impaired, and number of guarantee claims made and paid. The first data collection is due on 1 May for information as at 17 April 2020.

A reporting form prepared by APRA is required to be provided by each participating lender in respect of each Scheme-backed loan (as set out in Schedules 1 and 2 of the Scheme Rules).

More information

 

JobKeeper Payment

Under the JobKeeper Payment, businesses impacted by COVID-19 will be able to access a subsidy from the Government to continue paying their employees. Relevantly, a business will be eligible if it has a turnover of less than $1 billion and its turnover will be reduced by more than 30 per cent relative to a comparable period a year ago (of at least a month).

The JobKeeper Payment will support employers to maintain their connection to their employees. These connections will enable businesses to reactivate their operations quickly – without having to hire new staff – when the crisis is over.

More information

Cashflow boost payments for employers

Small businesses with a turnover under $50 million and that meet other conditions will receive a tax-free cash payment in an amount up to $100,000 to help them retain staff and continue operating. The payment will be delivered through credits in the activity statement system when eligible businesses lodge their activity statements.

The initial payments will be available from 28 April 2020. All eligible entities that received initial payments may be entitled to an additional payment.

An employer does not need to apply for the cash flow boosts. If an employer is eligible, the cash flow boosts will be automatically applied to that employer’s account when the employer lodges their activity statement for the relevant periods.

The enabling legislation, the Boosting Cash Flow for Employers (Coronavirus Economic Response Package) Act 2020 (Cth), commenced on 24 March 2020.

Instant asset write-off threshold

The instant asset write-off threshold has been increased from $30,000 to $150,000 and expanded access to include businesses with aggregated annual turnover of less than $500 million (up from $50 million). The higher threshold provides cash flow benefits for businesses that will be able to immediately deduct purchases of eligible assets each costing less than $150,000.

This applies from 12 March 2020 until 30 June 2020, for new or second-hand assets first used or installed ready for use in this timeframe.

More information

Backing Business Investment

A time-limited 15 month investment incentive has been introduced to support business investment and economic growth over the short term, by accelerating depreciation deductions. Businesses with a turnover of less than $500 million will be able to deduct 50 per cent of the cost of an eligible asset on installation, with existing depreciation rules applying to the balance of the asset cost.

Temporary relief for financially distressed businesses

The threshold at which creditors can issue a statutory demand on a company and the time companies have to respond to statutory demands they receive have been increased. Temporary relief for directors from any personal liability for trading while insolvent has been introduced, as well as flexibility in the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) to provide temporary and targeted relief from provisions of the Corporations Act to deal with unforeseen events that arise as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis.

National Cabinet Mandatory Code of Conduct

The Government has announced a range of measures to help renters in commercial and retail leases. This includes a temporary hold on evictions and a mandatory code of conduct for commercial tenancies to support small and medium sized enterprises affected by COVID-19.

The mandatory code of conduct outlines a set of good faith leasing principles for commercial tenancies including retail, office and industrial between:

  • owners
  • operators
  • other landlords
  • tenants.

This code applies to tenants that are:

  • a small to medium sized business with an annual turnover of up to $50 million; and
  • eligible for the JobKeeper Payment.

More information