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Community Services and Development - COVID-19


Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Monday, 6 September 2021

Tags: COVID-19, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, I'm sure you're very proud of the work that Communities Tasmania has done throughout the pandemic as part of our emergency response and I know that a significant amount of the agency's resources has been dedicated to that emergency response.

I understand that the procurement of quarantine hotels and quarantine facilities sits with Communities Tasmania. I am sure every member of this committee and those of us who are visiting would have heard from people who are stuck on the mainland, families, expats, women, single parents, young people in camper vans, people who have lost their job here because they can't secure a quarantine room. What is the planning around extra quarantine capacity and are you able to explain so we can pass on to the distressed people who we are trying to help, what the triage or prioritisation process is for people who need a G2G pass to come home?

Mr ROCKLIFF - Certainly, and I might seek advice from Mr Pervan around people waiting in that sense and the process there. You would have had contact and correspondence with people waiting to get into Tasmania. The most recent series of interstate outbreaks have resulted, as you said, in a significant and increasing number of domestic travellers requiring quarantine in government-designated hotel accommodation in Tasmania, putting pressure on existing facilities.

The Government has secured the Travelodge in Hobart and the Edgewater in Devonport. I understand all staff have been trained and have been offered vaccination which is part of tightened measures in response to Delta. I am pleased to say that we were able to bring the Edgewater online over the weekend and arrangements are progressing for the Travelodge Hobart to receive travellers. Such arrangements take time, given the enhanced transmissibility of the Delta strain and the increased precautions required to ensure we put safety of all Tasmanians first.

The department of Communities in consultation with the department of Health has developed an operational plan to manage high risk travellers returning to Tasmania, utilising the suite of quarantine hotels across the state. It is important to note that all decisions made in relation to quarantine hotel accommodation are assessed for the appropriate infection prevention and control measures, ensuring our priority to ensure the safety of Tasmanians. It means that people returning from high-risk areas must go into hotel quarantine, given the Delta strain and contagious nature of it. We have recently secured that extra hotel capacity. The utilisation of additional quarantine rooms will start to ease the pressure on the number of travellers wishing to return from high-risk level one areas, including New South Wales. It is unfortunate when people have to wait to return to Tasmania but we will always put safety first and for anyone who is considering travelling interstate I would urge them to stay up-to-date with restrictions which can change very quickly.

Before I throw to Mike, I want to thank very much my team, Fiona and others, the hotel quarantine staff, who have done such a fantastic job. I recently had some communication with the hotel quarantine team expressing my gratitude, on behalf of all Tasmanians for the work they do.

Ms O'CONNOR - By interjection, if Mr Pervan's answering a question, could the Committee please understand what would be the total quarantine bed capacity once the Travelodge and the Edgewater have come online? Going back to the original question, could he also outline the triage process for people are applying because we have some stressed people up there?

Mr PERVAN - We have. I will answer for and on behalf of the State Controller, or the Deputy State Controller, because that's where the decision on who is allowed in and who gets to wait is made. I understand there is work underway at the moment to better triage to assess the needs of people coming in. Up until this point it has been as a room becomes available and someone is at the front of the queue, they get the room.

We also, up until the weekend just passed, had the challenge of not having anywhere that we could quarantine people in Devonport. With the Edgewater, we took eight people as they came off the ferry. We will be able to do more of that with the Edgewater coming online.

The minister's point about the recent spike in New South Wales taking us by surprise is absolutely spot on. It seems like forever ago but it was only 18 months that we were able to very quickly expand the quarantine hotels to 900 rooms and accommodate just under 1000 people at one time; but that was because almost every hotel in Tasmania was closed. At the moment they have a lot of internal and Western Australian tourists travelling through them; and it's a voluntary program.

Hotels contract with us, they're not compulsorily acquired through the Emergency Management Act. On this occasion, a lot of the hotels we used last time have not wanted to participate on a second round, because they are hoping for restrictions to be lifted and those commercial travellers to start coming through. With the numbers coming online, and I will ask Ms Lieutier to confirm that total number we are currently pursuing, we've gone to the extent that we can within the fleet of hotels available in Tasmania.

The other challenge we have this time, and why we haven't opened more quickly, is because, with Delta, the infection prevention and control requirements on the hotels have gone up. We have had to support the hotels making modifications to door seals and our own operational procedures to make sure that the risk of contagion is very low. I am glad we have this beautiful wooden table that I can touch. Up to date, we are the only quarantine service in the country that hasn't had a breach. Where we have had COVID-19 positive people in the hotels, we have kept them within the quarantine chain throughout, so there has been no leakage to date and we are very determined to keep it that way.

Ms O'CONNOR - How many rooms?

Mr PERVAN - Ms Lieutier is the commander of the emergency operation centre in Communities Tasmania and I will ask her to respond.

Ms LIEUTIER - We currently have 164 rooms across our hotels, and with the Travelodge coming online we will have approximately an additional 108 rooms. That is just for domestic cohorts. Some of those rooms can occupy family groups, some can occupy couples and some singles, obviously. That is our room capacity in domestic and we also have a further 340 in international quarantine.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, it is our understanding all hotel staff who work in quarantine facilities receive a wage supplement. Can you confirm whether that is in the domestic or the international quarantine hotels? Mr Pervan is nodding, I am happy with that.

The circumstances that led to the commission of inquiry reached all agencies. Are you able to tell the committee what change there was in Community Tasmania's processes to ensure the agency itself is doing everything can to keep children safe, to prevent harassment in the workplace, for example?

Mr ROCKLIFF - A similar question came to me this morning with respect to my Minister for Health responsibility of which we answered comprehensively and certainly Ms Morgan-Wicks answered that on behalf of the department. The responsibilities of Communities Tasmania pertaining to the area you are talking about probably falls to Ms Courtney's direct responsibility.

Ms O'CONNOR - In part, but not completely because Communities Tasmania is working with a range of vulnerable cohorts.

Mr ROCKLIFF - I accept that. Mr Pervan would you mind detailing.

Mr PERVAN - Certainly, minister, over the past couple of years and prior to any consideration of the commission of inquiry we have been undertaking a number of initiatives internally around ensuring that everyone, not just frontline staff, but everyone in the agency has a working with vulnerable people check up to and including myself even though I do not have any direct contact with children at risk. There have been a number of initiatives around raising staff capability and capacity regarding bullying and of internal value setting process for respect and the values of - as he says reaching for his tag lanyard - being kind, committed, respectful and connected.

There have been a number of issues that go to it being a very new agency in its need to identify itself as being there to support and protect members of the community who are most vulnerable and at highest risk. There has also been a number of educative sessions particularly, with staff at institutions within the department on the code of conduct and around the therapeutic model we have been trying to get up and running at that institution for many years. They have been very successful and have received acknowledgement of the improvement from both the Commissioner for Children and the Custodial Inspector.

There has independent acknowledgement of improvements in our development and management of staff and our systems and processes there to protect people in the community, particularly children.