COVID-19: Can the government make me wear a mask?

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in Australia in March 2020, there has been much speculation about whether the government can make people wear a mask or isolate at home if they are unwell.

All states and territories are afforded certain additional powers during a public health emergency, which includes a global pandemic. These powers include the ability to issue Public Health Orders that affect both individuals and the State. Most states have their own version of laws, for example New South Wales has implemented the Public Health Act (2010), which outlines how to appropriately deal with the various health crisis that may occur.

The law is written in a way that allows broad interpretation so that it can assist with the current circumstances. If further clarity is needed, Parliament can enact amendments, for example changes that only apply to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The mask mandate and stay at home Orders came into force very quickly which had many people questioning whether these rules were actually lawful and enforceable. It sounds dramatic to compare a global pandemic to war, however, in war times, such as WW1, the government is equipped with specific powers that they can swiftly use to ensure that Australian citizens are protected. This is because changes to the law involve Parliamentary debates which can sometimes take years to finalise. Therefore, when Australia is in times of immediate emergency, the government must be able to take action immediately to limit the risk the crisis.

It’s hard to wrap your head around government powers, including when they can and can’t use them, we understand! However, don’t fret too much about the new laws that have been brought in. They are continuously under review by legal practitioners and government officials. We promise that mandatory mask wearing isn’t infringing on your right to live, breathe and think freely, but rather a snap decision backed by research in order to help curb the rampant spread of COVID-19 so we can all get back to doing the things we love.

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