Amidst the flurry of COVID-19 activity, we receive new announcements each day at both a Federal and State/Territory level in relation to new requirements aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.
In this article, we look at what the laws are in NSW and the ACT as at 1 April 2020. We also take a look at whether we have enforceable obligations to each other, and what may happen if we breach them.
What are the laws in NSW?
The NSW government is empowered to enact laws relating to COVID-19 under the Public Health Act 2010. At this stage, there are 6 Public Health Orders that have been made under the Public Health Act 2010 that apply to NSW residents. The orders relate to the following areas:
- Lord Howe Island
- Aged care facilities
- Self-isolation upon return from travel
- Maritime quarantine
- Air transportation quarantine
- Restrictions on gathering and movement
The most recent order, the Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order 2020 commenced 31 March 2020. This piece of legislation is informative in relation to restrictions imposed by the NSW government pertaining to movement, gatherings of more than 2 persons and closure of certain premises in NSW.
The legislation provides helpful clarification in relation to certain measures. We note some below:
What is the law in the ACT?
The main law in the ACT which gives the Government power to make laws about Covid-19 is called the Public Health Act 1997. Under this law, the Government can make other laws about specific measures to deal with Covid-19. So far, it has made 12 laws specifically relating to Covid-19, which have done things such as:
- Declaring a public health emergency
- Requiring self isolation for those infected
- Restricting non-essential business
- Quarantining overseas travellers
- Restricting access to residential aged care facilities
- Limiting the size of indoor and outdoor gatherings
The Public Health Act 1997 creates offences for breaching of these laws, with large fines applying. A person will be guilty of an offence is they breach a provision without a reasonable excuse for the breach. The ACT laws have similar requires to the NSW laws.
For more information on the ACT requirements, please see the ACT Health Covid-19 page.
Are all measures made by law?
The short answer is no.
While a lot of the health advice has been enshrined in legislation, there are a range of measures that most of us are practising on a daily basis that are not included in the ACT and NSW laws. For example, residents of the ACT and NSW are not compelled by law to maintain a distance of 1.5m between each other, nor are they required to wash their hands regularly.
How are the NSW laws being enforced?
The NSW and Victorian governments have led the movement towards enforcement of the newly introduced restrictions. The NSW police commissioner, Mick Fuller, has advised that police will actively enforce the rules. However, he has also noted that the imposition of a fine for a breach of the laws will be at the discretion of the police officer. At this stage, the NSW Police Commissioner has confirmed that “no infringements have been issued anywhere in the state of New South Wales in connection with” the new order relating to social gatherings and movement, and that only one infringement has been issued at all, and it related to a breach of self-isolation.
The ACT has taken a similar, arguably less strict approach, focussing firstly on educating and warning people who breach the restrictions, and turning to fines as a secondary resort.
Do I have obligations to others?
With this unprecedented health crisis comes a changing legal landscape. For many, it has become relevant to ask the question “what are my obligations to others?”
As you can see, we each may have enforceable obligations to one another about our conduct.
We wish everyone good health at this time!
This article is not intended to provide health advice. For further information on the Covid-19 laws, see: