Part 12 Public health emergencies

Part 12 of the Act provides the Minister with the power to declare a public health state of emergency and to authorise the exercise of emergency powers.

What is the purpose of Part 12?

Similar to Part 11, Part 12 will be used in those rare situations where due to the nature or degree of risk there is an overwhelming need to take action to protect public health.

Part 12 provides a higher level of response than Part 11 to ensure action can be taken to prevent, control or abate a public health emergency.

Why are public health emergency powers needed?

During a state of emergency, the Emergency Management Act 2005 is activated. This provides for a whole of government response to an emergency.

In circumstances which are uniquely health related and may not require a whole of government response, Part 12 complements the State emergency management powers by providing detailed provisions in relation to drugs, vaccines, quarantine and other medical matters. This Part allows for effective planning and response to public health emergencies such as an Ebola issue, a massive flu outbreak or food or water contamination following a natural disaster.

When will Public Health Emergency powers be used?

The Chief Health Officer may only authorise the exercising of emergency powers when a public health state of emergency declaration is in force. This declaration is made by the Minister for Health. Such powers will only be authorised in those rare emergencies, such as a rapidly spreading epidemics of serious infectious diseases, where there is an overwhelming need to take action to protect public health. 

Emergency powers in the Public Health Act 2016 are in addition to and supplement the powers available in the Emergency Management Act 2005.

How often is it anticipated that the public health emergency powers will be used? And require local government support?

It is anticipated that Public health states of emergencies will rarely be declared and therefore the powers will rarely be available. In addition to this, not all emergencies will require the exercising of all powers and not all emergencies will involve local government support.

How will a public health emergency be declared?

In writing by the WA Minister for Health.

When a Public Health Emergency is declared, who will manage the emergency?

The Chief Health Officer will lead the response.

How does Part 12 apply to local governments?       

Part 12 provides that the Chief Health Officer must prepare a public health emergency management plan. A local government may be given roles or responsibilities under that plan and may be directed to assist the Chief Health Officer in relation to those roles and responsibilities during the preparation or review, amendment or testing of the plan.

As part of a declared public health state of emergency, the Chief Health Officer may also authorise any local government authorised officer to exercise any of the emergency powers while the declaration in is force. These officers are considered emergency officers as a result of being authorised by the Chief Health Officer under this Part. Within Local Government, persons with Environmental Health qualifications are most likely to be authorised as emergency officers, along with Police and State Departmental health professionals.

Each enforcement agency is required to prepare and maintain a list of those authorised officers designated by the agency who are emergency officers as a result of being authorised by the Chief Health Officer (section 174(5)).

Emergency officers may be requested to undertake a number of duties including, but not limited to:

  • Entering property to control or eradicate a public health risk, such as disease vectors or harmful substances.
  • In collaboration with police, direct the movement of persons, animals and vehicles around a designated emergency area
  • Enter a premises to search for, open and seize anything deemed to be a public health risk, such as foodstuffs, pesticides or dangerous chemicals.
  • Assist in the implementation of quarantine measures

It is unlikely that local government emergency officers would be required to undertake enforcement powers under Part 12, and would work with Police if this was required.

Further information will be made available to local government on their responsibilities.

Who will be authorised as emergency officers?

Emergency officers will be authorised according to the type of emergency, the skills and qualifications required, and the powers the Chief Health Officer determines are required. Emergency officers may include existing authorised officers and health professionals.

What skills or qualifications are required for emergency officers?

Depending on the emergency, the Chief Health Officer will determine skills and qualifications required. Individuals who do not possess the appropriate skills, qualifications and experience will not be designated as emergency officers.

What are the conditions on an authorisation?

Where the Chief Health Officer has authorised the use of emergency powers, the authorisation must:

  • state it has been given under Division 4 of Part 12,
  • describe the public health state of emergency to which it relates 
  • name or describe the place the emergency has arisen
  • specify the time the authorisation was given
  • specify the emergency powers that may be exercised; and
  • specify the duration of the authorisation (section 175)

Emergency officers should also note the requirements of sections 185, 186 and 191 in respect of the carrying out of specific powers.

Providing emergency officers are acting with authorisation from the Chief Health Officer, and their actions remain within the specific powers authorised, they will not be liable for these actions.

How is authorisation given?

Authorisation may be given orally or in writing but if given orally, it must be confirmed in writing as soon as possible (section 176). 

What powers does an emergency officer have?      

Sections 179 to 184 provide a list of emergency powers. These include powers in relation to:

  • obtaining identifying particulars
  • movement and evacuation
  • use of vehicles
  • taking control or use of premises or property
  • taking control of drugs and vaccines or
  • directing persons to remain quarantined, undergo medical observation, testing or treatment, vaccination, decontamination or other procedures.

Section 190 also provides a list of other powers of an emergency officer.

Will training be provided to emergency officers?

While it is highly unlikely that individuals will be designated as emergency officers unless they possess the skills required, training may be provided in relation to exercising of the powers and the administration of the Act. Any such training will be provided as part of the emergency response.

If a local government or its officers have a concern or query during a public health emergency, who will be the point of contact?

Contact points will depend on the location and type of emergency as well as the nature of the enquiry. Local government will be informed of contact points during the emergency.

What will happen if a local government doesn’t have enough resources to deal with a serious public health incident or public health emergency?

The overall responsibility for the response to these events lies with the Chief Health Officer. In a public health emergency, the Chief Health Officer can direct public authorities to assist, if required.  Local government will be supported should they have insufficient resources.

Can a person seek a review of a direction or decision of an emergency officer?

A person may apply to the SAT for a review of:

  • a direction by an emergency officer under section 184(1)(a) to remain at any premises;
  • a direction by an emergency officer under section 184(1)(b) to remain quarantined; or
  • a decision by an emergency person to detain a person under section 185(1) or 190(1)(o).

Only the person to whom the reviewable decision applies may apply for the review.

What happens if a person fails to comply with the direction of an emergency officer?

If a person does not comply with a direction given by an emergency officer, the emergency officer may do all things that are reasonably necessary to ensure compliance with the direction, using any force that is reasonable in the circumstances. A failure to comply with a direction given by an emergency officer exercising an emergency power is an offence with a penalty of a fine of $20,000. For the offence to apply, the emergency officer or police officer giving the direction must inform the person that a failure to comply with the direction may constitute an offence