Legislation will replace WA’s state of emergency with ‘lesser level of alert’, Mark McGowan says

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WA’s opposition has opened fire on the government’s approach to new laws which will end more than a two-year-long state of emergency, describing it as “contemptuous and arrogant”.

It comes after Premier Mark McGowan this morning revealed what the legislation will look like.

The state of emergency, which has been in place since March 15, 2020, has given the government extraordinary powers to impose rules and restrictions with the stroke of a pen.

That has included closing borders, ordering positive COVID-19 cases into isolation and enforcing mask-wearing.

But after sustained pushback, the government has drafted amendments to the state’s Emergency Management Act to create a new, time-limited scheme with wound-back powers that will not include the ability to close borders.

It will be introduced to, and almost certainly passed through, the state’s lower house tomorrow – sparking criticism from the opposition which only last night was told the bill would be coming, and will not be briefed until 6pm tonight.

“It is an absolute contemptuous and arrogant government that brings legislation of such significance to Parliament and expects it can be dealt with in a day,” opposition leader Mia Davies said.

Mia Davies looks upwards while speaking
WA opposition leader Mia Davies pulled no punches in her assessment of the government’s time frame for the proposal. (ABC News: Andrew O’Connor)

“That is a dreadful way to treat such a serious issue and if they had any respect for the process or the Opposition and the role that we are supposed to play, they would be giving us more opportunity to ask questions and test this with stakeholder groups and other interested parties.”

Powers more limited: McGowan

Speaking on ABC Radio Perth, Mr McGowan said the short time frame was necessary to avoid further renewing the state of emergency.

“It’s been tricky to draft which is why it’s taken some time, but we need to pass it through the Parliament quickly so that when the existing state of emergency expires these new measures can take effect,” he said.

The state of emergency is renewed every two weeks by the signature of Emergency Services Minister, Stephen Dawson, and is due to expire on Friday.

The opposition questioned the rush, given the state of emergency can be extended without issue until January, and that the state’s upper house will also have to pass the legislation before it takes effect.

Parliament House, WA.
Labor will use its overwhelming majority to push the legislation through the Legislative Assembly.(ABC News)

He explained the power to impose legal directions would remain with the Police Commissioner, who would act on the advice of the Chief Health Officer (CHO) and other officials.

That will prove contentious, with the opposition repeatedly questioning why the Public Health Act, which gives power to the CHO, cannot be used.

“When you’ve got the police commissioner in charge of a response to a health issue, we would ultimately still be in a state of emergency,” Ms Davies said.

“We’ve argued that there are powers under the Public Health Act, perhaps with slight amendment depending on what the government’s trying to achieve, that could be used just as effectively.”

Mr McGowan said the powers under the new legislation would be more limited than what was currently in place.

“It’s a lesser level of alert if you like than the existing legislation in place, which a lot of people have called for,” he said.

“That’s why we’ve done it. It removes some of the rule-making capacity the government has, and it’s in light of the fact the COVID situation is nowhere near as serious as it once was.”

Speaking to reporters later in the day, he explained what powers would remain.

“It will allow us to enforce mask wearing in health facilities, in disability and aged care [facilities], stay-at-home rules for people who are COVID positive as required,” he said.

In a statement, the government said the new scheme would be limited to situations where the police commissioner, as state emergency coordinator, believed COVID-19 “poses a risk to the safety of the community, such that it requires a coordinated response to prevent loss of life or harm to the health of the community”.

The scheme will automatically expire in two years’ time, with the ‘temporary COVID-19 declaration’, which enables the government’s powers, renewed every three months.

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