Frequently asked questions about the Public Health Act 2016

Read the frequently asked questions to learn more about the key features of the Public Health Act 2016 and what the new legislation will mean for West Australians.

Further enquiries about the Act should be emailed to publichealthact@health.wa.gov.au.

What is the purpose of the new Act?

The Public Health Act 2016 provides a flexible and proactive framework for the regulation of public health, with key features including:

  • promoting public health and well-being in the community
  • helping to prevent disease, injury, disability and premature death
  • informing individuals and communities about public health risks
  • encouraging individuals and their communities to plan for, create and maintain a healthy environment
  • supporting programs and campaigns intended to improve public health
  • collecting information about the incidence and prevalence of diseases and other public health risks for research purposes
  • reducing the health inequalities in public health of disadvantaged communities.
Why is WAs public health legislation being changed?

New and modern law is needed to protect the health of Western Australians. The 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.

The Public Health Act 2016 provides a modern, flexible and proactive risk based framework for the regulation of public health. 

What are the key features of the new Act?

The key features are as follows:

  • a risk based framework which provides a set of regulatory tools which can be applied to regulate any given risk to public health
  • the binding of the Crown which gives effect to the principle that all persons are entitled to the same public health standards
  • a modern framework for infectious diseases that uses four public health tools to aid in the prevention and control of the spread of infectious diseases and related conditions
  • a modern framework for public health emergencies which provides for the exercise of wide scale where there is an overwhelming need to take action to protect public health
  • public health planning that requires government to take a strategic and forward thinking approach to protecting and promoting public health
  • public health assessments that provide for an assessment of the public health risks and benefits arising from particular proposals to be undertaken in conjunction with existing approval processes
  • a coordinated and streamlined approach to regulation that provides that all regulation relating to broad policy areas will be consolidated and streamlined into single regulatory instruments
  • appropriate penalties that will deter unlawful conduct thereby preventing or minimising harm to public health
When does the new Act take effect?

As there is a significant amount of work required to transition to the new regulatory framework, the Public Health Act 2016 will be implemented in a staged manner over the next 3 to 5 years. 

This means that the old Health Act 1911 (which will be known as the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1911), and all regulations made under the Health Act 1911, will continue to be the main enforcement tool, until the new provisions of the Public Health Act 2016 are proclaimed over the coming years.

What is meant by the general public health duty

The centrepiece of the Act is the legal duty on all persons to conduct their activities in a way that does not cause harm to the health of others.

In essence, we all have a legal responsibility to protect another person from harm.

If a person is found to breach the general duty by putting another person’s health at risk, further enforcement action can be taken under the Act.

Who enforces the new Act?

Local governments are the recognised enforcement agency for public health matters within their jurisdiction.

Local governments delegate the power to enforce the Act to “authorised officers” (previously known as environmental health officers). Authorised officers are responsible for investigating any public health related matter.

Will the Health Act 1911 be retained?

Yes. The Health Act 1911 will be retained in an amended format and re-named the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1911. It will contain various matters relating to public health such as community health centres, child health and Mortality Committees.

What will happen to the regulations under the old Act?

There are 45 regulations made under the Health Act.

The following regulations will be retained under the Health Act (re-named the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1911:

  • Health (Notifications by Midwives) Regulations 1994
  • Health (Rottnest Island) By-Laws
  • Health (Section 335(5)(d) Abortion Notice) Regulations 1998
  • Notification of Stillbirth and Neo-Natal Death Regulations
  • Registration, Enforcement and Discharge of Local Authority Charges on Land, Regulations.

The following regulations will be repealed in stage 3 of implementation:

  • Annual Report Form (Local Authorities) Regulations
  • Form for Result of Sample Analysis Regulations
  • Health Act (Local Authorities Sewerage Undertakings) Model By-Laws
  • Local Health Boards (Annual Statement of Accounts) Regulations 1961
  • Model By-laws - Handling Dead Bodies
  • Model By-laws – Series “A”.

The following regulations will be transitioned under the Public Health Act during stage 4 of implementation:

  • Blood and Tissue (Transmissible Diseases) Regulations 1985
  • Health (Cervical Screening Register) Regulations 1991
  • Health (Notification of Lead Poisoning) Regulations 1985
  • Health (Notification of Stimulant Induced Psychosis) Regulations 2010
  • Health (Western Australian Cancer Register) Regulations 2011
  • Health (Western Australian Register of Developmental Anomalies) Regulations 2010.

The remaining regulations will be repealed. Where required, new regulations will made in accordance with the regulatory framework provided by the Public Health Act.

The timeline for implementation provides further details of the staged approach to implementing the Act.

How will the Act be enforced?

A graduated process of enforcement action is provided in the new legislation to give people the opportunity to discuss compliance issues with a local government authorised officer and take the necessary steps to comply.

Where a person does not comply, the Public Health Act 2016 provides four main types of enforcement options:

Enforcement option
 

Infringement notice

An infringement notice is a notice that the person to whom it is directed has committed an offence under a regulation, and requires payment of a specified monetary amount for the offence within a specified time. 
 

Improvement notice

An improvement notice is a written legal notice that either requires or prohibits a person from taking specified action. There are no penalties associated with a failure to comply with an improvement notice.
 

Enforcement order

An enforcement order is a written legal order that orders specific action to be taken or prohibits action to be taken by a person. Non-compliance with an enforcement order gives rise for prosecution. 
 Prosecution
 In cases that warrant prosecution in a court of law.

Changes in penalties

The new legislation prescribes significantly higher penalties that can be applied to people who create public health risks. The aim is to deter unlawful conduct and prevent or minimise harm to public health.

It is the responsibility of the Courts to determine the appropriate punishment and penalties that apply.

Fees

Local government have an important role in enforcing public health legislation within their local jurisdiction.

In order to fund the cost of administration, inspection regimes and other service provision, local government are now able to charge a fee for service in accordance with s. 6.16(2) the Local Government Act 1995 (external link).

Stay tuned and more information

The Department of Health will provide support to the various agencies that have a role in administering and enforcing the new legislation. Support will also be provided to industry and the general public. 

Local government should refer to resources on the local government enforcement agencies webpage. 

More information

Any enquiries regarding the Act should be emailed to publichealthact@health.wa.gov.au