Dr WOODRUFF question to PREMIER, Mr GUTWEIN
The COVID-19 case numbers for yesterday were over 1000 and at least 50 000 Tasmanians have been infected since 15 December, and 40 per cent of Tasmanians over 16 have not had a booster. No child under 12 is fully vaccinated and vaccine efficacy drops fast. Knowing this, you have started removing mask wearing, the single, best simple protection against an airborne virus.
The Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Liberal Senator Eric Abetz are out pushing to go harder and remove all masks, except in aged care homes. People with disabilities did not make their shortlist of those deserving protection. So many vulnerable Tasmanians have no adequate protection against the risk of infection and disabling long COVID. We need to retain universal mask wearing during rampant COVID-19 transmission. Are you going to cave to industry whims and political interest or go back to putting the health and safety of Tasmanians first?
Mr Speaker, I thank the member for Franklin for that question. I note that the Leader of the Greens, Ms O'Connor, is not asking these questions. I believe that she has put herself into such a difficult position after the rampant scaremongering that she engaged in -
Dr Woodruff - Point of order, Mr Speaker. I am an epidemiologist. There is every reason, with responsibility for health, that I would ask this question.
Mr SPEAKER - Sorry, your point of order?
Dr WOODRUFF - It is a point of clarification. The Premier seems to have forgotten that I have responsibility for the health portfolio.
Mr SPEAKER - I am not completely sure of what you are saying but the Premier has been on his feet for less than 15 seconds. So, we should allow him to at least answer the question, or attempt to answer the question, for a little bit longer than 15 seconds before we interrupt him.
Mr GUTWEIN - Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is a matter that they are very sensitive about because some of the comments from the Leader of the Greens over that period from 15 December onwards, the Christmas period and earlier January, were simply disgraceful.
Ms O'Connor - The truth, every word I said.
Mr SPEAKER - Order.
Mr GUTWEIN - 'Lead to a mass disabling event', that is what you think. And that we were engaging in eugenics. It is disgusting and disgraceful, the language that was used, and all designed to frighten people, to scare people. Yesterday I explained that unlike other premiers and first ministers across the country I have not dislocated myself from Public Health. At every -
Ms O'Connor - No, you are hiding behind it. Weak advice.
Mr SPEAKER - Ms O'Connor, order.
Mr GUTWEIN - At every media event where we have discussed changes to our progress in terms of COVID-19, where we have announced plans, where there have been significant changes, Public Health has stood with me and other ministers. They have explained their reasoning behind the changes that we have taken. To make the claim that we are being pressured by the tourism sector or the business sector is simply untrue. Regarding the re opening of our border on 15 December, we slowed the national process. We departed from the national plan. We saw other states opening at 80 per cent. We saw New South Wales removing all restrictions on the 15 December.
Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Mr Speaker, standing order 45, relevance. Perhaps to people living with disabilities the Premier could just answer the question about what he is going to do about masks following the pressure from the TCCR?
Mr SPEAKER - I do not accept the point of order. There was significant preamble in the question. It is practice and precedent of this place that along with the preamble not being too long, Speakers have allowed the ministers some leniency in the length and their approach to answering the question. If there is a long preamble I will allow the Premier the opportunity to answer that question.
Mr GUTWEIN - Mr Speaker, I can understand the Leader of the Greens' embarrassment -
Ms O'Connor - I am certainly not.
Mr SPEAKER - Order.
Mr GUTWEIN - You can defend yourself however you like but it is quite clear, based on the statements that you made over the Christmas period, that you were determined to frighten and scare people -
Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Mr Speaker. On a number of occasions you have asked the Premier to direct his comments through the Chair so he does not incite interjection. He is now inciting interjection.
Mr SPEAKER - Whoever a minister is looking at when they are making their comments, I hope we all have the maturity and respect needed to be able to listen to what the answer is.
Mr GUTWEIN - As I said, I can understand the Leader of the Greens being embarrassed.
Ms O'Connor - I am not in the slightest.
Mr GUTWEIN - The extremely long list -
Dr Woodruff - Do not put words in her mouth. You are the one who should be embarrassed.
Mr SPEAKER - Order.
Mr GUTWEIN - of frightening and outrageous claims that she made. The attack on Dr Veitch through that period.
Regarding masks, we have acted on Public Health advice every step of the way. When we made the announcement regarding masks on Friday, the deputy director, Dr Scott McKeown, was there with me and took questions on the advice that he had provided.
We will have another press conference on Friday and we will talk about what the next steps may or may not be regarding mask wearing. We will again rely on Public Health advice on what steps we take, exactly as we did it at the start of the pandemic when we were the first state to close our borders, when we were the first state to depart from the national plan to look for a higher level of vaccination to slow down our reopening. Right through this we have relied on Public Health advice and we will continue to do so.