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COVID-19 - Definition of Essential Worker

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Tags: COVID-19, Health

COVID-19 - Definition of Essential Worker, Cassy O'Connor MP, 18 August 2020



Can you explain to Tasmanians who have sacrificed so much since this pandemic hit the difference between an essential worker, an essential traveller, and someone who is subject to two weeks' mandatory quarantine?

Before you say that this is a matter for the State Controller, will you accept this is a matter of Government COVID-19 policy and explain how people wanting to come to Tasmania to attend a family funeral can have their applications rejected but in an age of video connectivity and electronic signatures a hospitality industry executive can get a quarantine exemption to attend the Crowne Plaza launch? This came after your party's backer at the last election, the Tasmanian Hospitality Association's Steve Old asked your Government for help to secure the exemption.



Madam Speaker, I thank Ms O'Connor, the Leader of the Greens, for that question and her interest in this particular matter. Some difficult decisions are made. I understand that. I understand it more than anyone because I have actually picked up the phone and spoken to people when they have asked for exemptions for young children to come back for a funeral. Some of the hardest calls that I made were back in March when we put the first border controls in. Obviously there were funerals planned for that coming week and some very difficult discussions and conversations had to be had with people. I recall one parent wanting a child to come back so they could bury one of their other children. As I explained to that parent, the rules we put in place were based on Public Health advice to protect people. There was evidence in New South Wales, shortly before we put our border controls in, of transmission that occurred, one at a wedding and I think another at a funeral. Unfortunately these settings are conducive to the spread of the disease.

Regarding the exemptions that are provided, I will be saying more about them later today in the ministerial statement and of our broader plan going forward. The people we have tasked with doing this job are doing their very best to get the balance right. On one hand, they need to balance the continuity of what has been a very fragile economic situation. They make decisions that they feel, based on advice and information provided by employers, is going to stand our economy and the jobs of Tasmanians in a good place.

This is a very difficult issue for the people who are making those decisions. Anybody can argue that a compassionate exemption for certain circumstances is much more worthy than keeping Tasmanians in work. That is an easy argument to make, but unfortunately these decisions have to be made, and I know that the people who make them wrestle with them.

I want to make it absolutely clear that there is a process that is undertaken. Biosecurity Tasmania, in the first instance, receives the applications. They then assess them and then they go to the State Control Centre. There is then a further assessment undertaken and a final decision is made by the State Controller, at arm's length from the Government. The rules underpinning these exemptions are put in place by Public Health.

Dr Woodruff - The question is whether they are being bent.

Madam SPEAKER - Order, Dr Woodruff.

Mr Gutwein - I know it can be an easy political point to make -

Ms O'Connor - We're not trying to make a political point. You need to explain -

Madam SPEAKER - Ms O'Connor, through the Chair, please.

Mr Gutwein - Forgive me, but I think you might be trying to make a political point.

Ms O'Connor - No. There are people talking about how come you let an executive in for a Crowne Plaza launch but people are having funeral requests rejected.

Madam SPEAKER - Ms O'Connor, you've made that point.

Mr GUTWEIN - I think she is continuing to make that political point.

Ms O'Connor - It is actually an important point.

Mr GUTWEIN - We are in the midst of a pandemic, and there are people who are tasked at arm's length, under the State Emergency Act and the Public Health Act, with ensuring that they protect Tasmanians. In the main, they have got those decisions right.

Ms O'Connor - Do you think they got this one right?

Mr GUTWEIN - I am not going to second-guess those decisions because they are based on the advice that is provided to them at that particular point in time in terms of the tasks that are being required to be done. I have confidence in the people making those decisions and I will continue to have confidence in them. It is easy to make the political point, but we are in the midst of a pandemic -

Ms O'Connor - Exactly, which is why we ask the question.

Mr GUTWEIN - I make this point: we are not Victoria, we are not New South Wales, we are not Queensland, or South Australia, or New Zealand. We are Tasmania, and at the moment we are in a pretty good place.

Ms O'Connor - We say no to people who want to attend funerals but yes to executives who are connected to the THA.

Madam SPEAKER - Order, Ms O'Connor.

Mr GUTWEIN - We are in a pretty good place. We will continue to act on the advice that is provided to us by the experts and they will continue to act, as they do, under the acts of parliament that guide their actions to deliver the best outcomes we can for Tasmanians.

Madam SPEAKER - I think Mr Tucker was out of his chair first.