ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

Recommendations for improved oversight of public health measures welcomed

28 February 2022

ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has welcomed recommendations by the ACT Legislative Assembly Standing Committee on Health and Community Wellbeing following the release of its Inquiry into the Public Health Amendment Bill 2021 (No 2) report.

The aim of the Bill is to allow the ACT Government to issue public health directions in response to COVID-19 while ensuring oversight and proportionality given the changed public health risk.

In its submission to the Inquiry, ACTCOSS broadly supported the introduction of the Public Health Amendment Bill saying that a legislative foundation for public health measures helped to avoid overreach of government powers, and improved accountability and transparency. However, ACTCOSS also emphasised the importance of protections for vulnerable community members and the community sector that supports them.

In its report, the Committee responded to concerns raised by ACTCOSS and others including the ACT Human Rights Commission through recommendations including that:

  • there be minimum entitlements and supports which must be provided to community service providers and individuals (particularly vulnerable and disadvantaged persons), subject to quarantine and isolation directions
  • the ACT Government establish clear communications channels for community groups and service providers to include provision of guidance, information and materials in formats relevant to the specific needs of those recipients and their clients
  • express provision in the Bill should be made for internal and external review rights in relation to vaccine directions
  • if directions are given to individuals involving detention, they be notified to an appropriate oversight entity; and
  • the Bill should expressly specify that oversight agencies must be able to conduct visits to places of detention in a COVID-safe manner.

ACTCOSS CEO, Dr Emma Campbell said: “As COVID-19 becomes endemic, we need to ensure that our responses are sound, just and continue to protect the most vulnerable members of our communities.

“It is important to formalise avenues for people to seek internal reviews about exemption applications and to introduce the capacity for external reviews of decisions around quarantining, isolating or entry into the ACT for health or compassionate reasons.

“ACTCOSS supports the principle of mandating public health measures, such as vaccination in targeted areas, as well as mechanisms to enable test, trace, isolate and quarantine orders.

“However, we must safeguard the community sector and the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our community through this process.

“It is also vital that there are communication channels in place to ensure community service providers are given adequate time for planning and implementation of mandates and have clear mechanisms to raise questions and feedback where necessary.

“We encourage the ACT Government to take note of these key report recommendations,” Dr Campbell concluded.

ACTCOSS’s submission to the Inquiry into the Public Health Amendment Bill 2021 is available on the ACTCOSS website.

The Standing Committee on Health and Community Wellbeing’s report is available on the ACT Legislative Assembly website.

ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations. Follow us @ACTCOSS on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

For more information or comment, please contact
Dr Emma Campbell, CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0424 910 617 or 02 6202 7200.