New legislation for new times: Passing of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act

April 24, 2020

On 23 April 2020, Queensland Parliament passed the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020 (the “C19 Act”) granting the power for Regulations to be made (but not the actual laws/regulations at this point) to deal with a range of issues, including signing of documents (including Wills, Powers of Attorney, Deeds, Statutory Declarations) via audio visual technology.

The C19 Act also deals with managing Court and Tribunal proceedings, where initiating or taking steps in certain proceedings amid the pandemic.

If the Queensland Government introduces Regulations under the C19 Act, these can take retrospective effect from “not earlier than” 19 March 2020 and will only have effect to 31 December 2020 at this stage.  

Are there enforceable regulations in Queensland yet?

The C19 Act merely creates the ability for the Queensland Government to create Regulations to deal with the issues outlined. As at 24 April 2020, the are no such Regulations in place. We will continue to monitor this.

Key provisions – What Regulations can be created?

Part 3 – Reducing physical contact between individuals

To align with social distancing requirements, Part 3 of the C19 Act allows Regulations to be made for alternative arrangements for creating, signing, and witnessing documents, as well as physically making attendances/meetings, undertaking inspections, a doctor making a physical examination of a person and so on. Future Regulations may:

  • Limit or modify the way that documents are created and validated – for example, witnessing of Wills and Enduring Power of Attorneys through electronic means; and
  • Permit attendances and meetings to occur through electronic means, and/or remove mandatory ‘in person’ requirements.

Part 4 – Modifying statutory time limits

Part 4 allows for strict timeframes under various Acts to be modified. This includes but is not limited to making applications, complying with notices, paying amounts due and giving documents.

Part 5 – Proceedings

Part 5 specifically relates to Court and Tribunal proceedings, granting power to:

  • Modify statutory time limits;
  • Create alternate methods for making, signing, filing, giving or verifying documents;
  • Restrict public access to proceedings; and
  • Limit personal service.

Part 6 – Small Business Commissioner

Part 6 allows for the appointment and authority for a Small Business Commissioner to:

  • Provide information and advisory services regarding small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Assist small businesses where there are disputes regarding leases; and
  • Administer a mediation process where disputes occur.

Part 7 – Retail Leases and Other Prescribed Leases

Part 7 allows for Regulations to be made relating to “retail leases and other prescribed leases”. The Regulations may include:

  • Preventing recovery of possession of the premises by the landlord;
  • Prohibiting termination of the lease by the landlord;
  • Prevention or regulation of lease enforcement rights;
  • Exempting a tenant from the operation of a provision of an Act, a relevant lease or other agreement relating to the leasing of premises;
  • Requiring lease parties to have regard to particular matters or principles, or a prescribed standard, code* or other document, in negotiating or disputing a matter under or in relation to the relevant lease;

[*Note – the Federal Government “Code of Conduct for Commercial Tenancies” seems likely here.]

  • Requiring a mediator, conciliator, arbitrator, tribunal, court or other decision-maker to have regard to particular matters or principles, or a prescribed standard, code* or other document, in mediating, conciliating, hearing or deciding a matter or proceeding relating to a lease; and
  • Provide for a dispute resolution process for disputes relating to leases.

Part 8 – Residential tenancies and rooming accommodation

For residential tenancies, part 8 allows for Regulations to be made for:

  • A moratorium on evicting tenants during the COVID-19 period;
  • Altering the grounds for notices of leave;
  • Enable unpaid rent disputes to be conciliated;
  • Altering, suspending rights or obligations under the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act 2008 (Qld); and
  • Amending the residential tenancy agreement or rooming accommodation agreement for:
    • Extending terms of agreements;
    • Terminating agreements; or
    • Where there is more than 1 tenant, ending the interest of the tenant.

We are constantly reviewing and staying tuned-in to all developments we can about how our legal system in adapting to these necessary changes. If you need some advice or guidance, please contact us to see how we can help.

Important Notice: The information in this article is current as at 24 April 2020. It is for general purposes only and reflects a rapidly changing situation. Consequently, this article is not intended to constitute legal advice.

If you require assistance any assistance with your legal matters, please contact us on 07 3392 0099.

Written by Sam Rose, Graduate and  Julian Creagh, Associate, Wilson Lawyers.