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Covid-19 Disease Emergency (Miscellaneous Provisions) Amendment (Quarantine Debt Recovery) Bill 2020

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 20 August 2020

Tags: Legislation, COVID-19

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, the Greens will be supporting the COVID-19 Disease Emergency (Miscellaneous Provisions) Amendment (Quarantine Debt Recovery) Bill 2020, just as we have supported every piece of COVID-19-related legislation that has come through this parliament.

It is entirely reasonable for government, on behalf of taxpayers, to recoup some of the costs of quarantine measures that are necessary to keep Tasmanians safe. I am certain that the cost recovery program will provide some pause for thought for people who might have wanted to come to Tasmania for anything other an essential or necessary purpose, so there is a disincentive involved in this temporary legislation. I am very comforted by the fact that discretion will be given to the secretary of the Department of Police, Fire and Emergency Management or delegated to an Assistant Commissioner to provide for fee waiver or for staged payments. That is very reasonable.

This issue brings home to us that as an island we probably need to consider having a dedicated quarantine facility. This has been a feature in the past of managing disease outbreaks right across Australia -

Ms Ogilvie - Could use Pontville, if you haven't got rid of it.

Ms O’CONNOR - Pontville is one place where you could have quite a comfortable Tasmanian-based quarantine facility

When I was a kid on Stradbroke Island, Peel Island, which is a little island in Moreton Bay just near Dunwich on Stradbroke Island, was the leper colony. It has a long and sorry history. It became a typhus quarantine facility as well. The Dunwich Cemetery has numerous sad stories and the gravestones of whole families, wiped out by typhus.

We need to be mindful of the very realistic possibility that this will not be the last we hear of a viral global pandemic. While there is positive news coming out about a potential vaccine for COVID-19, nothing has yet been confirmed. The temporary measures we have had in place have worked for hotel quarantine, but we should be able to quarantine people for a period of time, where necessary, in one place, where we can have a wraparound management of people, making sure that needs are met; that dedicated health professionals are working with people who are in quarantine. In the medium- to long-term, it would provide not only comfort to the people of Tasmania, but it would provide savings to government to have a dedicated quarantine facility. I hope the Government thinks about it, because we cannot keep sticking people into hotels.

I wanted to reflect briefly on the debate in this place yesterday, on Labor's private member's time motion, and their attempts to make politics out of the way the debate went.

There is no question that Tasmanians are in a state of high alert about the possibility of the virus entering Tasmania, either by air or sea. I am always guided internally in the Greens, by our inhouse epidemiologist, Dr Rosalie Woodruff. Our point is, that you either back Public Health advice or you do do not. There have been some really difficult decisions that have had to be made by government and endorsed by this parliament on the basis on Public Health advice, not politics. We need to be really careful in a time of pandemic, when people are understandably distressed and scared and grateful to be Tasmanians that we do not politic and play to that fear, and only heed Public Health advice when it suits us.

This is an area that the Greens will be watching closely. Dr Woodruff is going to write to the Health minister, urging that Public Health has another look at how to deal with people who come from mainland, but particularly those people who are given exemptions under essential traveller and essential worker arrangements.

In the debate yesterday, the amendment moved by the Premier informed the House that from 31 August, all entries to Tasmania would undergo a comprehensive health check; that health-related questions would be asked that could help us understand whether there were symptoms of coronavirus and temperatures would be taken. At the moment, Public Health tells us that is adequate. We need to listen to the experts but it is an area that we should be able to be flexible with and change our approach, should the advice change.

It is important for members to understand that COVID-19 testing is not the panacea. In fact, Dr Norman Swan from the ABC's Health Report was really clear and concerned about the high rate of false negatives that are coming back from the tests. We do not want to give ourselves a false sense of security by thinking that testing will provide all the answers and keep us safe. Testing is but one part of the arsenal to keep Tasmanians safe and the most important thing anyone can do when they come to Tasmania - and this goes for Tasmanians as well but we know it well and we are doing a pretty good job of it - is to keep our distance.

We have Public Health advice on the distance between people at the moment and my 20 year-old daughter is lobbying me frantically to lobby the Premier to allow young people to dance, but the Public Health advice is that that is not safe. Young people want to mix and go out to nightclubs and dance but the advice is really clear.

I say that to place on the record how disappointed we are that Labor is playing politics with this and how disappointing it is to seem Labor wax and wane on Public Health advice. I have been a bit jaded towards Labor ever since the racing industry questions were asked by Mr O'Byrne to undermine a decision that was made on Public Health advice to shut down the Racing Industry for a period. That decision was made by the Premier on Public Health advice and shared with the Leader of the Opposition and me when we were still talking on Friday mornings and the Leader of the Opposition told the Premier she supported that decision. It was about a fortnight later that Mr O'Byrne was on his feet bleating on behalf of the racing industry and undermining the unity that was required to make that decision hold and have public support. It also undermined Public Health advice which was that the industry needed for a time not to hold training and racing meets because of the risk to industry participants and people who come to watch.

I do not think anything I say here will make any difference to the way Labor deals with this issue, but you have to be very careful in this space. We must be guided by the experts because the people in Public Health are the experts. There is only one actual expert in epidemiology in this House and that is my colleague, Dr Woodruff. It can be hard when you are a politician to hold the line, but we have to be able to rise above politicking when it is a matter of life and death.

I do not have any specific questions related to this bill but I take the opportunity while the Minister for Housing is taking this bill through to seek an update on the protections that have been put in place by order to ensure there is no increase in rents during the emergency period.

Mr Jaensch - Social housing or Residential Tenancy Commissioner issues?

Ms O'CONNOR - I think you should be able to answer that question because it also applies to Housing Tasmania not being able to increase rents and not to evict people during this time of pandemic. The Greens worked very hard to secure and amended the principle COVID-19 Disease Emergency (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020 to ensure that those protections were put in place. Those protections expire on 1 October. That coincides in a potentially cataclysmic way with the end of the JobSeeker and JobKeeper coronavirus supplements. I believe that the Government will have no choice but to extend those protections but some clarity on that would be helpful for residential tenants.

I am sure people in commercial tenancies are going to require extended protections as well. I have already heard of tenants who are being told by their landlords, 'Yes, it is nearly 1 October. We would like you to sign a new lease and we are going to jack up the rent'. We need to be sending a message that is very clear to landlords not to capitalise on the difficult social and economic conditions created by the pandemic.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Not entirely relevant to this debate, Ms O'Connor, but I am sure the minister will take the question in good faith.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is entirely relevant to this debate because the protections that have been put in place came about as a result of an amendment to the principal act that we are amending today. So, I would argue that it is entirely relevant but thank you for your guidance. It is also something that is of significant public interest and concern. I have raised it in parliament this week already and have not had a response. I am just doing my job, Mr Street.

Ms Standen - Especially as this Government will not act on regulating short-stay accommodation.

Ms O’CONNOR - This is true and that is an ongoing battle that we have on behalf of young people who are shut out of the housing market, Ms Standen. I take this opportunity to commend you again on your work on the housing inquiry and having that established. I am quite disappointed that the Government has not treated the inquiry report with the seriousness that it deserves, particularly given all the people and organisations who came along gave evidence in good faith.

Mr Jaensch - We had already sought their advice and acted on it.

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay, well.

Mr Deputy Speaker, with those few words I am quite happy to sit down but it would be great to have an update on what is happening with the residential tenancy protections.