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Public Health Bill

public healthAfter many years in development, the Public Health Bill 2014 (“the Bill”) has been introduced into Parliament.

The development of the Bill is a major public health initiative and regulatory reform project for Western Australia. The Bill proposes to replace much of the existing Health Act 1911 (External link), and aims to provide the community with modern legislation to:

  • promote public health and wellbeing
  • help prevent disease, injury, disability and premature death
  • inform individuals and communities about public health risks
  • encourage individuals and their communities to plan for, create and maintain a healthy environment
  • support programs and campaigns intended to improve public health
  • collect information about the incidence and prevalence of diseases and other public health risks for research purposes
  • reduce the health inequalities in public health of disadvantaged communities.

The Bill is supported by the Public Health (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2014, which provides for the consequential amendment of the Health Act 1911 and a range of other Acts.

Copies of the Bills and further explanatory materials can be downloaded from the WA Parliament website (External link).

Why is Western Australia’s public health legislation being changed?

New and modern law is needed to protect the health of Western Australians. The current Health Act 1911 is limited in that it:

  • makes reference to out-dated public health risks and issues
  • deals with issues that have since been captured by other legislation
  • does not address emerging public health issues such as bio-terrorism, new industries and epidemic chronic diseases
  • is prescriptive and reactive

When will the Bill become law?

The Bill will only become law after it is debated and passed by both Houses of Parliament. It is not known when this will be.

The Bill may also be amended during the Parliamentary process.

Once passed, the Bill and the Public Health (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2014 will be implemented in conjunction with each other and with relevant subsidiary legislation, in a staged manner over the course of a 3 to 5 year period following Royal Assent.

What are some of the key provisions of the Bill?

The Bill contains a number of new provisions and health initiatives including:

Emergency management

There will be enhanced powers to take immediate and effective action during a public health emergency such as a pandemic influenza and to manage the risks of impending and unfolding health events. This ensures that there is necessary authority to take action that will prevent the spread of disease or other health hazards. This could include quarantine and isolation measures, closures of public places and seizure or destruction of hazardous materials.

Infectious diseases

Comprehensive powers are established to deal with infectious diseases, allowing appropriate action to be taken to prevent and manage such risks in WA.

Public Health Assessments

The introduction of Public Health Assessments ensures that the public health risks arising from particular development proposals are identified and considered as part of existing approvals processes, to encourage and support strategic and proactive planning for public health.

Public Health Assessments will complement current planning, development, and environmental protection processes, and will only apply to proposals that are prescribed under subsidiary legislation made under the Bill. Prior to creating any subsidiary legislation the Department of Health will consult closely with all relevant agencies.

Public Health Planning

State and Local Governments will be required to prepare public health plans that identify the public health needs of people within local government districts and across the State and identify strategies to meet those needs.

In order to minimise the number of separate planning processes required of local government, the Local Public Health Plans will be integrated with existing planning processes under the Local Government Act 1995.

Increased penalties

The penalties provided by the Health Act 1911 are inadequate, and this is of particular concern when managing environmental health risks (such as asbestos contamination) and the management of persons with serious infectious diseases.

The Bill provides for appropriate penalties that can be applied to people who create public health risks.

Risk based approach

The content of the Health Act 1911 reflects the public health risks from the early 20th Century. It is prescriptive in nature and provides regulation in respect of specific known and often historical risks to public health.

In contrast, the Bill provides a flexible and generic framework that includes a set of regulatory tools to regulate any given risk to public health. This ensures that the Bill can support public health risks that exist today, as well as those risks that are not yet known but may emerge in the future.

Streamlined and coordinated framework of regulation

The out-dated regulatory framework provided by the Health Act 1911 includes 47 separate Health Regulations. The volume of subsidiary legislation makes it difficult for the Department of Health and local government to administer and for business and the wider community to observe.

The transition to the new framework provided by the Bill will involve the review and reform of the subsidiary legislation under the Health Act 1911. All regulations relating to broad policy areas will be consolidated and streamlined into single regulatory instruments. For example, the 14 Health Regulations that presently relate to aspects of the built environment will be consolidated into one

Binding the Crown

The Health Act 1911 does not bind the Crown, and as a result that Act cannot be enforced on land that is owned or managed by the Crown. The Bill takes an important step towards addressing these inequalities by requiring the Crown to comply with the Bill.

However, it is recognised that some parts of the Crown may not be capable of achieving immediate compliance with the Bill. This is because improvements to infrastructure (such as housing) and service delivery may require extra time and additional funding before compliance can be achieved.

The Bill recognises that a staged approached may be required, and in appropriate circumstances the Minister for Health may exercise his or her power to exempt the Crown and Crown authorities from compliance with the Bill. Such an exemption may require the Crown or Crown authority to develop a compliance plan outlining the schedule of works to be completed within a specified period. Details of any exemptions and copies of applicable compliance plans will be publically available.

It is also noted that the Bill does not authorise enforcement action to be taken in respect of the Crown. This means that the Crown cannot be prosecuted or issued with an enforcement order under Part 13 of the Bill. Equivalent public health legislation in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia also excludes the Crown from prosecution.

Authorised officers

The Public Health Bill 2014 provides for a range of functions to be exercised by authorised officers. Unlike the Health Act 1911, the Bill provides local government with the autonomy to designate persons with a range of qualifications and experience to perform functions as authorised officers under the Bill.

Will the Health Act 1911 be immediately repealed if the Bill is passed?

No. Implementation will occur in a staged manner over a 3 to 5 year period following Royal Assent.

Further information

Any queries regarding the Bill should be emailed to PublicHealthAct@health.wa.gov.au

Please note that a response to your query may take up to 5-7 business days. It is anticipated that the Department will receive a vast number of queries regarding the new Bill. Your patience during this time is appreciated.

Presentations

State and Local Government, and Non-Government Organisations

The Department will host a series of presentations in early 2015 at Grace Vaughan House, 227 Stubbs Terrace, Shenton Park. Details of these presentations will be circulated to key stakeholders including State and Local Government, and non-government organisations.

Metropolitan and regional groups that would like the Department to present at selected venues should register their interest by emailing PublicHealthAct@health.wa.gov.au with the proposed venue details. Please note venue and refreshment costs would be the responsibility of the hosting group. The Department will fund accommodation and transportation requirements.

Industry and Associations

Industries and Association groups may request the Department to present at industry/association organised functions. However, the event organisation, venue and refreshments must be covered by the event organiser.

If you wish to request a presentation please email PublicHealthAct@health.wa.gov.au

 

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