“People entering and leaving those zones could be subject to requirements that are compulsive.”
He said that shopping centres and football matches could be declared “human health response zones” by chief medical officers in each state, barring people from attending them.
Mr Porter confirmed that people who fail to self-isolate after falling ill could be reported by their neighbours. “They could be subject to a control order,” he said.
“You may have a major sporting event where people are in close proximity to each other and that may be occurring during a high point of presentations into the medical system. It might be determined that the risk of transmission at that event was too high.”
The laws were developed before the Spanish Flu in 1919, which killed up to 50 million people world-wide and largely focused on quarantining travellers who had come to Australia by ship.
They were updated in 2015 to include enforcement options such as civil penalties, infringement notices, enforceable undertakings and injunctions.
The number of coronavirus cases in Australia has risen from 15 to 34 over the past fortnight. Perth man James Kwan became the first Australian to die from the disease on Monday.
South Australia on Tuesday said it would legislate to give police powers to detain people suspected of having coronavirus after verbal direction from the Chief Public Health Officer.
Victorian Police Minister Lisa Neville said Victoria was a long way from having to use federal laws to detain coronavirus patients.
“I think we don’t want to see a situation where we are forcibly detaining people. I don’t think we’ll get there,” she said.
NSW Police Minister David Elliot has been contacted for comment.
Mr Porter said the detention powers were “very much a last resort scenario” and a dedicated team in his office was now looking across all of the laws that the Commonwealth will activate.
“These are likely to be activated for the first time on a scale in Australia that will affect many people,” he said.
“They will be in some instances strange and foreign to many Australians but they will become very important I would suspect over the next couple of months.”
With Benjamin Preiss
Eryk Bagshaw is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra