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Overview of the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 (Vic) – from a planning perspective

06 May 2020

#Planning, Environment & Sustainability, #COVID-19

Dr Joseph Monaghan

Published by Dr Joseph Monaghan

Overview of the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 (Vic) – from a planning perspective

The COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020 passed both houses of parliament on 23 April 2020. The COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 (Omnibus Act) seeks to amend legislation to allow for the making of regulations in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In doing so, several Acts will be affected. The Omnibus Act came into operation on 25 April.

Effects on the planning industry

The amendments to existing legislation effectively allows for the planning industry to continue its operations remotely to ensure the continuation of projects. Specifically, the Omnibus Act temporarily amends the following Acts:

Planning and Environment Act 1987 (Vic)

  • sections 205 and 205A allow for documents and notices to be available for inspection electronically and free of charge. Decision makers fulfil their notice requirements by specifying their website as the platform for document inspection (s 205A)
  • planning panels may now conduct hearings electronically. The hearings are now taken to be conducted in public if the panel makes the hearing electronically available to the public free of charge either whilst it is being conducted live or as soon as reasonably practicable afterwards (s 205B).

Local Government Act 2020 (Vic)

  • the addition of section 395 allows for council meetings to be conducted electronically. This section also allows council meetings to be deemed open to the public if it is streamed live on the council’s website.

Open Courts Act 2013 (Vic)

  • determination of Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) hearings can now be facilitated with or without physical appearance of the parties or can be conducted by audio-visual link (ss 33D and 33F).

VCAT Act 1998 (Vic)

  • Rules Committee can meet remotely for the purposes of making rules about the practice and procedure of VCAT hearings, which includes the procedure for filing appeals, inspection of documents and expert evidence (s 158B).

Supreme Court Act 1986 (Vic)

  • courts now have the power to determine and make decisions on issues in any proceeding entirely based on written submissions and without the parties being present if the court is satisfied it is appropriate to do so with regard to the interests of justice.

Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018 pushed back

The current proclamation of the Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018 (EPA Act) has been revoked. At the start of March, the remaining provisions of the EPA Act were proclaimed to commence on 1 July 2020. However, the Omnibus Act formally revokes the proclamation made in March and pushes back the default commencement date to 1 December 2021. The Victorian Government has indicated that it intends to proclaim a commencement date of 1 July 2021. This has been done to allow businesses and the industry to instead concentrate its focus on the immediate impacts of coronavirus.

Development and planning taskforce

In addition to the Omnibus Act, the Victorian Government established a dedicated taskforce on 24 April to aid in the continual running of the building and development industry during the coronavirus pandemic.

Building Victoria’s Recovery Taskforce will run for an initial period of three months and will be overseen by the Minister for Planning Richard Wynne and Treasurer Tim Pallas. The Taskforce will investigate planning and investment opportunities over the short, medium and long-term period. Its goal is to provide real-time recommendations to the Victorian Government on issues that impact the industry and assist in removing barriers that may adversely affect building and development works.

With the aid of Ministerial powers, the Taskforce will initially focus on overseeing the fast-tracking of planning approvals that have been delayed by the coronavirus. The Taskforce will also provide recommendations on long-term projects that are currently in the pipeline, including initiatives to expand social housing options.

Author: Joseph Monaghan

Disclaimer
The information in this publication is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavour to provide accurate and timely information, we do not guarantee that the information in this newsletter is accurate at the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future.

Dr Joseph Monaghan

Published by Dr Joseph Monaghan

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