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COVID-19 - Assistance for Vulnerable People

Parliamentary Activity - Wednesday, 18 March 2020, Cassy O'Connor MP


COVID-19 Assistance for Vulnerable People: Cassy O'Connor: 18 March, 2020

 

Ms O'CONNOR question to PREMIER, Mr GUTWEIN

If they are not filling out those access cards it is very hard to monitor them in the population.

Now to my question. Yesterday you announced a $420 million stimulus package but only $6 million of that will go to supporting Tasmanians experiencing hardship. We agree the economy will need help as a result of this pandemic but, like many Tasmanians, we are worried about what happens to the most vulnerable in our community in the event of a wider outbreak and shutdown.

Have you put as much energy into planning for the elderly living alone in the community, who are dependent on outside supports? What about people with disability, wholly dependent on carers who may fall sick? St Francis Flexible Learning Centre, for example, has put out a call for essential grocery items for the low-income families they support. This pandemic is already biting the poor and disadvantaged, and the economic impacts will spread to every part-time and casual worker, every low-income family in Tasmania.

The Western Australian government has frozen all household fees and charges, including water, electricity, public transport fares and vehicle registration. Do you acknowledge that your Government will have to do the same to ensure Tasmanians are not driven to the wall, go hungry, or are made homeless in the months ahead?

 

ANSWER

Madam Speaker, I thank Ms O'Connor, the Leader of the Greens, for that question and her interest in this matter. She is absolutely right, we did announce a stimulus package yesterday of a total $420 million. It was a stimulus and support package. A considerable part of that was to ensure that our public service has all of the necessary resources over coming years and it can be completely focused on what it is doing, so I removed the efficiency dividend which provides around $260 million worth of additional spending directly into our community to support agencies to go about their work.

Regarding the support package we have announced for those individuals who require additional support in the community, the member would be aware that yesterday I made $1 million available.

Ms O'Connor - That's $1 million out of $420 million.

Mr GUTWEIN - I make the point that I have always said our response would be proportionate and scalable, and I think most Tasmanians understand this. At the moment, we have seven positive cases and we are providing a proportionate and scaleable response.

We have made available an initial $1 million to organisations such as the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and Rural Business Tas -

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Madam Speaker. I am really resisting taking points of order at the moment because we want to hear the Premier's answer, but the issue is we do not need a restatement of the ministerial statement from yesterday. The question is how will the Government cope with, deal with, respond to, vulnerable people in the community, including people living alone with disability and who are elderly, and is the Government considering measures like the Western Australian Government has taken to ease the financial pressure on low-income Tasmanians?

Madam SPEAKER - As you appreciate, that is not a point of order and I do think the Premier is trying to get to it.

Mr GUTWEIN - Thank you, Madam Speaker. Your question was what are you doing for vulnerable people. I am outlining what I announced yesterday which will go to supporting the very people and groups you were talking about, which you ignored in respect of that response a moment ago. It is reasonable to explain that we are taking steps that are proportionate and scalable. There is $1 million available to organisations to support vulnerable people with food, medical supplies, counselling, and a further $1 million to ensure we can support people in emergency accommodation, or those who have been forced to stay away from their normal residence as a result of somebody being in self-quarantine or for other purposes. We are providing one-off emergency payments of $250 for individuals and up to $1000 for families who are required to self-isolate.

Members interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Order.

Mr GUTWEIN - We will work with those people who are affected in our community and, as I indicated yesterday regarding the emergency payments, it is uncapped. We will spend and invest what we need to in those areas.

There will be more that the Government will need to do. This situation is not going to get better for a while. I have seen some comments in the press and on Facebook about four weeks, or do this for two weeks. We need to be sensible and we need to be calm because this will be with us for some time, longer than six months. In terms of the social distancing measures that we have been talking about and things that individuals can do, it is important that they heed the message and do what they can. They must ensure they wash their hands often, take on board the information about social distancing, and ensure that they are mindful when they are in public settings.

All Tasmanians will need work with us and work together as we work our way through this. I said yesterday that the package we announced yesterday was the first step. We have a budget coming up in a couple of months and we will make decisions as we move towards that as to what level of response is required at the time, but it will be proportionate, it will be scalable and, importantly, it will support those people who need support.