As Winston Churchill famously said when working to form the United Nations after WWII, the WA Government continues to "Never let a good crisis go to waste". On 11 September 2020 the WA Government approved new legislation to support swift Government decision-making in a COVID-19 environment and to modernise legislation to permit online meetings and witnessing of certain documents by video link.
There are three key features of the new COVID-19 Response and Economic Recovery Omnibus Act 2020:
- to ensure that if there is a "second wave" in WA, Government will continue to be able to function effectively;
- to waive a range of business and licensing fees to ensure business continuity and to support the economic recovery from the current crisis; and
- to validate actions taken by the WA Government since 16 March 2020 which were not in strict compliance with the law.
The Act amends 79 Acts and Regulations that presented legislative obstacles to the public sector from carrying out its roles and responsibilities during the pandemic. The amendments include:
- waiving, varying or refunding fees, charges, dues and late penalties or extending the time in which a fee is to be paid;
- allowing meetings to occur online or by telephone, rather than in person;
- allowing witnessing of documents by video link,
- extending or freezing statutory deadlines or timeframes for permits, licences and other similar instruments;
- allowing telehealth consultations under the Mental Health Act 2014;
- extending provisions of the Courts and Tribunals (Electronic Process Facilitation) Act 2013 to other acts within the Attorney General and Police portfolios to facilitate the drafting of subsidiary legislation to allow electronic processing; and
- increasing courts' ability to use audio-visual technology in specified circumstances under the Evidence Act 1906.
The Act also validates many workaround actions that were taken to enable business or Government processes to continue in circumstances arising from of the pandemic (such as travel restrictions, social distancing and self-isolation requirements), which were not in strict compliance with statutory requirements.
The changes to the electronic automation of processes are permanent. Most of the other amendments will cease on 31 December 2021 however there is capacity for some provisions to be extended, with a long-stop date of 30 June 2025.
These changes are part of the raft of new legislation introduced by the WA Government in the wake of the pandemic. They allow Government to ensure business continuity under pandemic conditions. At the same time, they also bring a significant number of Acts into the 21st century by allowing government departments and agencies to use digital technology to keep the machinery of government moving.