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New protections for South Australians during the COVID-19 pandemic

12 May 2020

Speeding up infrastructure projects, ensuring clarity in disputes between commercial landlords and tenants, better supports for mental health and disability clients and moves to better ensure the electricity supply are among the latest legislative measures aimed at keeping South Australians safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attorney-General Vickie Chapman will today introduce the latest legislative measures to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"These are measures that will address various aspects of the operation of both Government and the Parliament during the declared emergency period," Attorney-General Chapman said. 

Ms Chapman said that measures included in the new Bill include: 

  • reducing red tape to ensure major infrastructure projects can get started sooner, creating more jobs and economic activity across the State. Measures include removing the requirement for the State Commission Assessment Panel to consult with councils on Crown developments
  • ensuring that community visitors and the Chief Psychiatrist can visit and inspect mental health and disability services remotely, through audio-visual or other electronic means
  • confirming that Standing Committees of State Parliament can meet and hold hearings by audio-visual or teleconferencing
  • legislative measures to ensure continued electricity supply to South Australians. 

The Bill also includes regulations that seek to protect both commercial landlords and tenants impacted by COVID-19 and the necessary restrictions imposed to help limit its spread. 

The regulations cover the six-month period from March 30 to September 30 this year and implement key elements of the National Mandatory Code of Conduct. They will ensure no affected commercial tenant can be evicted for non-payment of rent or outgoings, or for reducing their hours of business during this period. 

While landlords and tenants are required to negotiate leasing arrangements in good faith, where there is a dispute, a party may seek mediation by the Small Business Commissioner. If this fails, the matter may then proceed to the Magistrates Court for a determination. 

The Government has also provided approximately $50m in emergency land tax relief this financial year to assist landlords and thousands of small businesses and tenants. This $50m relief package is in addition to another $70m in land tax cuts which will commence from 1 July this year. 

Among the other key elements of the Bill and regulations: 

  • Landlords should negotiate with affected* tenants rent relief, on a case by case basis, having regard to factors including: 
    • the reduction in the turnover of the tenant
    • the tenant's ability to pay rent, and
    • the ability of the landlord to provide rent relief, with a condition that at least 50% of the rent relief must be in the form of a waiver and the remainder able to be deferred for at least 2 years. 
  • A landlord must not increase a commercial tenant's rent during this period, unless otherwise agreed to by the parties
  • If a landlord received land tax relief under the Government's emergency $50m land tax relief scheme, then they must pass on the full benefit of that relief to their affected tenant
  • The Magistrates Court has broad powers to resolve a dispute, including making an order granting rent relief to the affected tenant, extending a tenant's lease for the period which rent is deferred, as well as modifying the terms and conditions of a lease. 

"These provisions seek to strike a necessary balance between the interests of both landlords and their commercial SME tenants affected by COVID-19 restrictions, to ensure they have every opportunity to get through the greatest economic challenge of our time.

"We are continuing to monitor the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and will update our legislative response and introduce new measures as appropriate," Attorney-General Chapman said. 

*Affected tenants are those with an annual turnover of up to $50m, and eligible for or receiving the JobKeeper wage subsidy.