NSW Parliament must extend COVID provisions

Urban Taskforce calls on all political Parties to come together to support the extension of the COVID-19 provisions in the EP&A Act which allow the Minister to make orders related to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 is not over.  Social distancing guidelines remain on construction work sites and the circumstances can change very quickly (just look at what happened in Avalon, Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne).

The NSW Government took bold and decisive early action to establish a mechanism through which “Orders” could be made to assist those impacted by the practical consequences of the health and related social distancing restrictions associated with COVID-19.  These powers to make such Orders are due to expire on March 25, 2021 under the current legislation.  These powers must be extended for a further twelve months.

These Orders were critical to allow supermarkets to stock up with essential supplies at night to prevent shortages on the shelves.  The orders also allowed for an extension to hours for construction to include weekends and public holidays.  This order was significant in keeping the construction industry going during COVID-19.  Tens of thousands of jobs were saved.

While social distancing guidelines continue to be recommended (as they are expected to be for some time), construction activity is significantly impacted.  The social distancing guidelines had a big impact on the productivity of the construction sector.  However, the NSW Government took early steps to deal with this by extending hours of construction activity.

Any high-rise construction work is highly restricted by access through limitations of occupancy of the hoists (construction lifts) as well as the need for separation once you get to the floor. But the additional hours made available by the Orders have allowed for floors to be stocked during weekends so trade staff can get to work as soon as they arrive.  They have allowed for non-construction inspections to take place without having to clear the flow of trades people.

There has also been a mini-boom in greenfields construction activity due to various tax concessions, low interest rates and Homebuilder grants.  In these locations, there are no nearby residents so why have the restrictions on hours of construction activity?

Most importantly, the social distancing provisions can be enforced or relaxed at any time – depending on what happens with the virus.  The Orders can be made quickly by the Minister for Planning to deal with changes in circumstances.  The power to make these orders needs to be extended for at least the next twelve months. As the virus mutates and we learn to deal with each strain different control scenarios will develop, along with associated vaccine development and distribution.

Circumstances are not predictable, and the economy is both precious and in a potentially parlous position.

While ever there are social distancing guidelines, the extension of construction hours must be maintained.

The power to issue COVID related Orders under the EP&A Act should be extended with the unanimous support of all parties in the NSW Parliament.  Those powers have been used judiciously and responsibly.  They are essential to supporting jobs and helping us deal with the challenges of the year ahead.

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