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COVID-19 - Inquiry into Response

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Tags: COVID-19, Parliament

COVID-19 - Inquiry into Response: Cassy O'Connor, 3 June, 2020


Ms O'CONNOR question to PREMIER

We are now in the eighteenth straight day with zero new cases of coronavirus. There are now only three active cases. Thanks to the incredible efforts of public health and Tasmanians doing the right thing, the north-west outbreak has been contained, and restrictions have been eased early. You will agree that the immediate threat has passed but the danger of a devastating second and third wave is real. It is critical that we examine Tasmania's COVID-19 response to ensure that we are better than ready if that happens.

You have said there will be time for an inquiry to do this. With restrictions easing and the parliamentary break coming up, why isn't that time now? A motion to establish a joint parliamentary inquiry to examine the COVID-19 response was tabled in this place by the Greens on 30 April and another will be tabled upstairs by the member for Nelson.

Despite a solid response to the pandemic from your Government and no evidence that you have anything to hide, you are dismissive of this parliamentary process. What are you afraid of?



Madam Speaker, I thank the Leader of the Greens for that question. In terms of scrutiny, we are not afraid of anything. We are partaking in significant scrutiny at the moment. It is a point you understand. You might have a view of a role you might play in it but it is worthwhile pointing out to the parliament -

Ms O'Connor - The scope of the Subordinate Legislation Committee and PAC is not to examine the COVID-19 response. It is to examine bits you put forward.

Madam SPEAKER - Order please.

Mr GUTWEIN - and to those people who are watching this morning, in terms of scrutiny, I have attended almost 70 press conferences, almost on a daily basis, explaining our response.

Ms O'Connor - It is not a parliamentary process.

Mr GUTWEIN - You don't think that journalists can ask questions?

Ms O'Connor - It is not a parliamentary process. You are not the font of all knowledge about the COVID-19 response.

Madam SPEAKER - Order, please. Could we have a little respect. I liked the way the parliament was going in this new world.

Mr GUTWEIN - Madam Speaker, the point I am attempting to make, first, is that as far as scrutiny is concerned, this Government has been the most transparent government in history in the way that we have approached explaining to people on a daily basis and being prepared to answer questions on a daily basis from journalists. Many, I suspect, were fed to them by members in this place and I take the member at her word that she was not denigrating journalists who ask difficult questions. I can assure you they were asking some difficult questions and they were going to the heart of matters.

In terms of other scrutiny, both you and the Leader of the Opposition, and some in the other place, when parliament was suspended called for additional scrutiny because parliament was not sitting, so what did I do? We brought parliament back. We put in place the building block that you said was not there in terms of scrutiny, so we did that.

Ms O'Connor - That is terrific but it is not an inquiry with a specific reference to examine the response. It would help you -

Madam SPEAKER - Order, Ms O'Connor, remember the Chair, remember the manners.

Mr GUTWEIN - We did that. We listened and we brought back parliament so that scrutiny could occur. It is happening. Second, and without going back again through the 70-odd press conferences, on a daily basis we have been scrutinised. On top of that we have the Subordinate Legislation Committee, which has wide-ranging powers and has met very regularly. In fact, both myself and ministers have appeared in front of it and ministers are going to be appearing in front of it again this week. Third, on top of that, most jurisdictions around the country have utilised their standing public expenditure or parliamentary public accounts committees to scrutinise activities. One of those inquiries has been established as well. I am certain that the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee will not mind me saying this: I rang him and offered myself up for that Public Accounts Committee. I have briefed them already and I understand that there is now an inquiry in front of us at which I will be appearing later this month.

I have made myself available through the parliamentary recess as well if the Public Accounts Committee wants to sit. Importantly, because the Public Accounts Committee follows the government dollar, they can inquire into just about anything, in fact, everything. The health response: they can inquire into where we have spent money in supporting the community, they can inquire into every aspect of what we have done and the decisions that we have made.

On top of that, Madam Speaker, we get calls for another inquiry and I will go back to the immediate start of my answer to the first question this morning in hoping that some goodwill could remain in this place. You are calling for an inquiry. I am suggesting from this side of the House that not only do we have an inquiry underway, we have two: the Subordinate Legislation Committee, the Public Accounts Committee. Also, through this period I made myself available on around 70 occasions to actually front the press and to answer questions on any particular matter. We have been very, very transparent.

The other point I make is that we have already had an interim report provided from public health in relation to the north-west, and I have announced there will be an independent inquiry that will be conducted. I expect to have the terms of reference very shortly. I believe that consultation has occurred with the AMA and when I can - I would think in coming weeks - announce the time frame for that, I will do so.

We have a premier who has fronted the media on 70 occasions. We have a Subordinate Legislation Committee inquiring into matters related to our response and the premier and ministers are appearing. We have the Public Accounts Committee, which has laid out terms of reference and is able to range far and wide in our response, and that inquiry is underway. We have an independent inquiry that has been set up and the member wants another one -

Ms O'Connor - It is not just us. A joint select inquiry with a specific scope.

Mr GUTWEIN - I say again, I wish there could be some goodwill because I do not know what else -

Ms O'Connor - There was a lot of kindness in that question.

Mr GUTWEIN - I am not sensing that, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER - Premier, I can assure you she was smiling when she said it.

Mr GUTWEIN - Kindness, gratitude and respect - all of us follow that mantra.

Ms O'Connor - That is why I gave you credit in the question.

Mr GUTWEIN - I am explaining why I do not believe there is a need for another inquiry over the top of all the current inquiries and scrutiny that is occurring.