Last week saw the amendment of the Local Government Act 2020 (LG Act), the Planning and Environment Act 1987 (P&E Act), the Oaths & Affirmations Act 2018 (O&A Act) and Victoria’s Planning Provisions (VPP) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The legislative amendments respond to various in person requirements and allow for electronic substitutions in regards to council meeting procedures, access to documents, and the witnessing of affidavits, jurats and other documents.
The change to the VPPs aims to facilitate the delivery of food and other essential goods during and following the state of emergency declared in relation to COVID-19 by removing limits on dispatch, delivery, loading or unloading of certain goods.
These changes will affect landowners, councils, developers and certain manufacturers.
Victoria’s Planning Provisions
Amendment VC181 changes the VPPs and all planning schemes by implementing Clause 52.18, the State of Emergency Exemption. This clause applies when a state of emergency declaration is in force, and for three months after.
This amendment aims to facilitate the delivery of food and other essential goods during and following the state of emergency declared in relation to COVID-19 by removing limits on dispatch, delivery, loading or unloading of:
- Food, drink, groceries, medicine, or cleaning, sanitising, health, hygiene, medical or personal protection equipment, supplies, or products, or the like; and/or
- Any goods to a supermarket, market, hospital, medical centre, pharmacy, residential aged care facility or retirement village.
COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020
Last Friday, the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020 (Bill) passed both houses and received Royal Assent.
This Bill makes amendments to the LG Act, the P&E Act and the O&A Act in order to provide for temporary measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Local Government Act 2020
Part 5.3 of the Bill inserts a new Part 12 into the LG Act. These measures commence on 1 May 2020 and end on 1 November 2020.
The amendment provides an alternative way for members of a Council, and other persons, to attend meetings under the LG Act.
New section 394 provides that certain people can attend the below meetings by electronic means of communication. This applies to a:
- Joint meeting of Councils;
- Meeting of a delegated committee or joint delegated committee;
- Meeting of a governing body of a regional library; and
- Meeting of special committee.
New section 395 provides that a meeting, required to be open to the public, does so if:
- In the case of a Council meeting or a joint meeting of Councils, the meeting is streamed live on the internet site of the Council; or
- In the case of a meeting of a delegated committee, joint delegated committee or special committee, the meeting is streamed lived on the internet site of the Council or the meeting is recorded and made available on the internet site of the Council as soon as practicable after the meeting.
If a Council or delegated committee considers it necessary to close the meeting to the public pursuant to the current s 66(2) of the LG Act, then there is no requirement to stream the meeting on the internet site of the Council or make a recording available on that site.
Further s 89 of the LG Act will continue to provide that a special committee can close a meeting in specified circumstances without the requirement to stream the meeting on the internet site of the Council or make a recording available on that site.
Lastly, a Council, delegated committee or special committee is not required to allow the public to attend a Council meeting, a joint meeting of Councils, a meeting of a delegated committee or joint delegated committee or a meeting of a special committee, from 1 May 2020 until 1 November 2020.
Planning and Environment Act 1987
Part 5.5 of the Bill inserts a Part 10A into the P&E Act. The measures provided for in this Part will be repealed 6 months from the commencement of the Bill.
Section 205 responds to the requirement to make documents available for inspection at the Designated Entity’s office. This is taken to be satisfied if the document is made available free of charge to the general public on the Designated Entity’s internet site, subject to requirements around personal information.
For the purposes of this Part a Designated Entity is:
- A planning authority;
- A responsible authority;
- A referral authority;
- A municipal council; and
- Any other person or entity.
Section 205A of this Part responds to notice requirements. It is sufficient for a notice to specify the Designated Entity’s internet site where a notice issued by a designated entity must specify the place(s) at which a document may be inspected.
Lastly, section 205B modifies rules about Planning Panels Victoria hearings and allows these hearings to be carried out through electronic means, subject to certain requirements.
Oath and Affirmations Act 2018
Part 3.13 of the Bill inserts a new part 5A into the O&A Act. The measures provided for in this Part will be repealed 6 months from the commencement of the Bill.
Sections 49A-49F respond to in person requirements associated with witnessing and signing particular court documents.
- Section 49B allows for affidavits, jurats or other documents to be signed and initialled by a deponent or authorised affidavit taker via electronic means;
- Section 49C allows for a deponent or authorised affidavit taker to do a thing in relation to an affidavit, jurat or other document, normally required to be done in each other’s presence, via audio link or audio visual link;
- Section 49D responds to the requirements relating to original documents and allows the authorised affidavit taker to sign or initial a scanned hard copy or an electronic copy of the affidavit, jurat or other document; and
- Section 49E sets outs that certain matters must be stated in the jurat where a thing is done electronically or by means of audio link or audio visual link.
Lastly section 49F provides that the Court may admit an affidavit in evidence where particular requirements have not been fulfilled if:
- The Court considers it is in the interests of justice to do so;
- The Court considers that compliance with the requirements was not reasonably practicable; and
- The affidavit state the reason why compliance with those requirements was not reasonably practicable.
Are your meeting protocols up to date?
Councils should ensure the proper incorporation of the amendments to the LG Act into their meeting protocols.
What should developers and landowners be aware of?
Developers and landowners should be aware of the new procedures that are in place for Council meetings and access to documents.
This article was written by James Lofting, Partner, Sonia Turnbull, Senior Associate & Rebecca Richards, Law Graduate.