COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020

A. Introduction

  1. We are standing here today because of the extraordinary circumstances we face.
  2. The impact of coronavirus is like nothing we have seen in our lifetimes. It is a challenge that the whole world is facing.
  3. The impact of coronavirus has been substantial, to say the least.
  4. Victorians have well and truly risen to the challenge of fighting this invisible enemy. We have honoured the stage 3 restrictions, and through our sacrifice we are beginning to see a flattening of the curve.
  5. Luckily, Victoria was well prepared coming into this crisis. We are doing what we must to slow the spread of the virus, and we will continue to support Victorian businesses and households through this crisis and beyond.
  6. The social, health, and economic impacts of this crisis are extensive. We do not know how it will unfold over time, but we are prepared to do what it takes to keep our state functioning and to keep Victorians safe.
  7. This bill includes urgent measures across a range of portfolios. The aim of every measure in this bill is to make sure that our state keeps responding and recovers from coronavirus.
  8. The coronavirus emergency is rapidly changing, making it unpredictable. The Victorian government needs to change laws to ensure that we can continue to support and give effective response to the emergency.
  9. The majority of reforms will be sunsetting six months after their commencement. Besides some reforms, most cannot be extended. The commencement of provisions in the Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018 and the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2018 will be delayed, and registration periods for infringement fines and extensions of teacher and education training provider registrations, as well as the additional Youth Parole Board appointments, will be extended.

B. Our record on managing coronavirus

  1. To manage the coronavirus pandemic, we have already taken major actions. We have set aside an additional $24.5 billion in emergency funding to fight coronavirus and to support jobs and households. This funding will also be crucial Victoria’s recovery over the next two years.
  2. We have spent $1.9 billion in making sure that our health system is ready to tackle the crisis.
  3. This boost has allowed the state’s hospitals to build more bed capacity and recommission buildings no longer used for health care.
  4. The Victorian health system is prepared to manage the risks of coronavirus, and this $1.9 billion injection means that the patients get the care they need.
  5. The small businesses are Victoria’s backbone, and we are making sure that we help the workers and businesses survive the havoc created by the coronavirus. We have delivered a $1.7 billion economic survival and jobs package.
  6. We are helping the businesses and workers with payroll tax refunds and deferral and rent relief for all tenants in government buildings and moving to pay supplier invoices within five days.
  7. We have also created a $500 million Business Support Fund to help the hardest hit sectors. I have received numerous inquiries from local businesses in Western Metropolitan Region regarding this fund.
  8. This fund will help businesses in meeting business costs, including utilities; salaries; rent; seeking financial, legal or other advice to support business continuity planning; and developing the business through marketing and communications activities, among others.
  9. We have also established a $500 million Working for Victoria Fund to help workers who have lost their jobs to retrain and find new employment opportunities.
  10. As of the beginning of April, almost 1300 people were working for Victoria thanks to the Victorian government.
  11. These packages were able to support Victorians and aid them in keeping their businesses and jobs going. However, through this bill we want to continue to support Victoria.

C. Keeping women and children safe

  1. In these uncertain times prevention of family violence remains a critical priority for our government.
  2. We are investing a total of $43.2 million for women and children escaping family violence. We have a responsibility to give the victims of family violence a safe place and the support they need during the pandemic.
  3. The Victorian government has invested $20 million in short-term accommodation for family violence victims. These women and children do not have a safe space for isolation during this crisis.
  4. This short-term accommodation will serve as a safe place, away from perpetrators. There will be support provided to make them feel safe and help them during isolation and to recover.
  5. $20.2 million will help Victorian family violence services meet increased demand during the crisis. Another $3 million has also been provided for 12 women’s health services across the state. Of the 12, nine are regionally based and three operate statewide.
  6. This bill bring some reforms in the justice system in relation to family violence. The bill will allow courts to extend interim extension orders made under the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 beyond the usual 28-day period. Currently the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 allows the courts to make an interim extension order extending a final order for 28 days to ensure there is no gap in protection before the respondent is located for service and a hearing date is set.
  7. This will help to ensure that there is no gap in protection for applicants who are granted an interim extension order if there is a delay in service or court listing due to the coronavirus crisis. This will also alleviate the need for affected family members to return to court frequently if the order has not yet been served.

D. Mental health surge funding

  1. We have provided a $59.4 million funding boost to support Victoria’s mental health system and ensure Victorians get the care they need, as demand for services spikes during this crisis.
  2. People are facing limited physical interactions, they are isolating and staying at home. It can be difficult for people’s mental health and wellbeing. This becomes even more difficult for people who are already experiencing mental health conditions.
  3. Almost a quarter of people calling Lifeline in the last few weeks have been seeking support due to the coronavirus, and Beyond Blue predict demand for their services to increase by nearly 30 per cent by June.
  4. We need to make sure that the people who are seeking help can rely on key services.

E. Reforms to support residential tenants and landlords

  1. Only with a partnership between landlords and tenants can we get through this crisis.
  2. The bill will implement a broad moratorium on residential tenancy evictions, subject to specified exceptions.
  3. We expect that the tenants will continue to meet their rental obligations; a tenant may not be evicted for non-payment of rent where they are experiencing financial distress during the moratorium.
  4. The moratorium acknowledges the importance of sustaining tenancies. It also recognises that the tenants and landlords have the ability to manage the impacts of coronavirus.
  5. The moratorium on residential tenancy evictions is for a period of six months, from 29 March 2020 to 26 September 2020.
  6. This bill also implements a freeze on rent increases during this period.
  7. A residential tenancy dispute resolution process will also be implemented that can make binding determinations, where required, when mediating tenant-landlord rental negotiations.
  8. We expect that the landlords and tenants will negotiate in good faith. However, if a landlord wishes to evict a tenant on the grounds that are specified in the bill, they will have to apply to Consumer Affairs Victoria. After that Consumer Affairs Victoria will refer all applications relating to eviction to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) for hearing and determination through its usual processes. The government will monitor the demand for dispute resolution to ensure that Consumer Affairs Victoria and VCAT are appropriately resourced.

F. Reforms to support commercial tenants and landlords

  1. The small businesses are facing a huge impact of coronavirus. The Victorian government understands the vital role small businesses play for Victorian jobs and economy.
  2. Many businesses have been forced to close—to maintain public health and safety. Many have seen significant decline in customers.
  3. The legislation will provide significant support to small businesses who have a turnover of below $50 million and have seen a minimum 30 percent decline in turnover due to coronavirus.
  4. There is a freeze on rent increases for eligible leases, with some exceptions. Tenants should be provided with an opportunity to extend their leases. We are expecting the landlords and tenants will negotiate in good faith and come to a rational arrangement. Where either party cannot come to an arrangement, they can refer the matter for mediation by the Victorian Small Business Commission.
  5. Small business owners take immense risk and they make huge contributions our economy. It is important for us to make sure that we help these businesses with their economic wellbeing.
  6. Many small business owners have contacted me, and the common theme across the board is that even though their businesses are not required to shut down they have seen major decline in consumer patronage.
  7. Victoria will see a V-shaped recovery when this crisis ends, and for that this legislation plays a major part.

G. Closing remarks

  1. I thank all Victorians for following the stage 3 restrictions. It is the Victorian government’s duty to play their role in making sure that Victorian people are healthy and the Victorian economy recovers.
  2. This bill is like no other before. The many reforms outlined in this bill will be critical when it comes to responding to the coronavirus crisis. This bill will also help us slow the spread of the virus and save lives.
  3. It is a huge responsibility we are facing. The weight of these decisions is on our shoulders and we must do whatever it takes to make sure that Victorians are safe, and this bill is the most important piece in that.