07 Jul A Snapshot of Australia’s Response to Covid-19
Health and public safety Public gatherings:
Australia went into lockdown on 23 March 2020. Australia has been slowly emerging from its lockdown since the Commonwealth (National) Government announced its three stage plan in May to ease restrictions. It is up to each State and Territory, however, to decide when and how far they will relax restrictions. In New South Wales (Australia’s most populous state), the key restrictions have been progressively eased and now include:
- a limit of 20 people from different households for all gatherings;
- all visitors to aged care homes must have a flu shot and be able to produce medical evidence of that. Aged care residents are restricted to having one visit per day with a maximum of two visitors;
- up to 50 people may dine in at cafes and restaurants provided there is four square metres of space per person. All patrons must provide their name and contact details for tracing purposes;
- up to 20 people may attend a wedding. All attendees must provide their name and contact details for tracing purposes;
- an unlimited number of people may attend funerals provided they observe the four per square metre rule;
- and up to 50 people may attend religious services
Internal travel bans:
There are no restrictions travelling within states. However, some states, such as Queensland, have kept their borders with other states closed.
Overseas travel bans:
Australian citizens and permanent residents are banned from travelling overseas unless they obtain an exemption from the Department of Home Affairs.
All people travelling to Australia are subject to 14 days quarantine upon arrival.
Protection of PPE stocks:
Export bans have been placed on certain PPE equipment, such as disposable face masks, gowns and hand sanitizer. Certain exceptions apply for individual use.
A wide range of stimulus packages have been introduced including:
- a AUD$130 billion wage subsidy package by the Commonwealth Government called “JobKeeper” (later revised to AUD$70 billion);
- a AUD$750 million small business grants and support program by the New South Wales government;
- a AUD$680 million HomeBuilder program by the Commonwealth Government for eligible home renovation projects;
- and significant infrastructure spending.
The laws have been temporarily changed to:
- require all foreign investors, who cannot rely on a pre-existing exemption, to seek Commonwealth Government approval for their proposed investment;
- increase the screening times for proposed investments from 30 days to 6 months;
- and priority given to applications that protect and support Australian businesses and jobs.
Businesses may be entitled to:
- deferral of payments of income tax, fringe benefits tax and excise tax by up to 6 months upon application to the Australian Taxation Office;
- changes in Goods and Services Tax reporting obligations;
- and immediate tax deductions for certain assets if a business’ annual turnover is below AUD$500 million.
A mandatory code of conduct has been introduced for commercial tenancies in each State to:
- prevent landlords evicting tenants, terminating leases and drawing upon an eligible tenant’s security deposit;
- require landlords to offer eligible tenants proportionate rent reductions;
- and set out a framework within which landlords and tenants must work with each other.
The laws in some States have been temporarily amended to provide protection against eviction for tenants who are financially disadvantaged by Covid-19.
Individuals in financial stress are able to withdraw up to AUD$10,000 from their superannuation fund in 2019-20 and a further AUD$10,000 in 2020-21 year.
“JobKeeper” wage subsidies:
Eligible small to medium sized businesses can receive AUD$1,500 per fortnight for all full-time, part-time and long-term casual employees employed as of 1 March 2020. The scheme currently runs from 30 March to 27 September.
103 workplace awards, which set out minimum pay rates and conditions by industry or occupation, have been temporarily changed to provide for:
- two weeks’ unpaid pandemic leave;
- and twice the amount of annual leave at half-pay.
Company specific measures
These laws have been temporarily changed to:
- protect directors from insolvent trading;
- and make it more difficult for creditors to bankrupting individuals or wind-up companies.
Capital raising relief:
The capital raising laws have been temporarily relaxed to allow emergency capital raisings for ASX-listed entities.
Continuous disclosure relief:
The continuous disclosure laws and regulations have been temporarily relaxed to reduce the likelihood of public companies being sued for inaccurate forecasts or other forward-looking estimates.
The laws and regulations have been temporarily relaxed so that all companies can:
- hold annual general meetings online;
- and sign documents electronically.
Legal Practitioner Director