Police will be able arrest people suspected of breaching COVID-19 public health orders while certain offenders could be granted early parole under new legislation to tackle the spread of the coronavirus in NSW.
A NSW government bill which passed parliament on Tuesday night includes urgent and temporary changes to a range of existing laws in response to the pandemic.
Attorney-General Mark Speakman says the government is acting swiftly to ensure the state is as prepared as possible to respond to the COVID-19 threat and to reduce the risk of further transmission.
He told parliament before the bill's passing that some amendments were "extraordinary", which was why they generally had sunset clauses of between six and 12 months.
"The threat posed by COVID-19 is rapidly evolving, and the needs of families, businesses, workers and governments are changing every day," Mr Speakman said in a statement on Tuesday.
"These temporary measures will help ensure we are ready for any development."
Under the legislation, police will be able to arrest people reasonably suspected of breaching COVID-19 public health orders and return them home or to their place of detention.
The Corrective Services commissioner could grant conditional parole to certain offenders before their non-parole period if the pandemic makes it necessary.
"The bill seeks to provide us with powers we hope we will never have to use but the evolution of the pandemic may require it," Mr Speakman told parliament.
The commissioner would have to consider risks to public safety, the impact on any victim, and protection of domestic violence victims.
"This flexibility is necessary to give the commissioner the capacity to protect the health of inmates and correctional services staff, and ensure the good order and security of correctional premises," Mr Speakman said.
"The government contemplates that if the power were used, it would be in relation to lower risk or vulnerable inmates to be prioritised for potential release, such as older inmates nearing completion of their sentence."
Inmates not eligible include those serving life terms and those jailed for murder, a serious sexual offence or a terrorism offence.
Planning laws will also be amended under the legislation so a development that protects health, welfare and safety during the pandemic can proceed without normal development approvals.
"If we need to construct a COVID-19 clinic, we need for the period of this crisis to have the unfettered ability to be able to do that," Mr Speakman said.
Courts could order a judge-alone trial if the accused consents after receiving legal advice, even if the prosecution objects, if the court considers it in the interest of justice.
Other changes allow greater use of recordings in court proceedings, and appearances and evidence via video link.
The legislation will allow supermarkets to stock their shelves and trade throughout the Easter long weekend and on Anzac Day following widespread stockpiling and panic buying.
It was one of three government bills that passed parliament on Tuesday, with another making changes to long service leave to give greater flexibility for employers and staff to access leave during the pandemic.
Australian Associated Press