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COVID-19 - Wearing of Masks


Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 22 March 2022

Tags: COVID-19

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, I do not think it is any exaggeration to say that this Chamber and this parliament is the least safe it has been in its history. We are in here now in an environment where an increasing number of people have been told by the Government that it is okay not to wear masks. I note that your advisor, Mr Ed Bouchard, is in the Chamber unmasked. I feel less safe because there is a person in here who is unmasked. I feel it is difficult for me as an employer to keep my staff safe when there are people walking through this building with apparently a very casual regard for the health of each other as they walk around without masks on.

I just went and had a look at the Legislative Council to see who was wearing masks. The Clerk of the House, Mr Pearce, unmasked. The President, unmasked despite his letter with you Mr Speaker, strongly encouraging people to wear their masks when they are in the Chamber at the very least. Ms Armitage was unmasked.

Mr Speaker, it is a fact that if Tasmania was a country as at today we would be in the top 10 per capita of COVID-19 cases. We have more than 1800 reported overnight, 10 000 active cases, and a government that caved in to the business community and the Morrison Government, removed mask protections and made us less safe. I am an asthmatic. If I get COVID-19 I get really sick. If I pass COVID-19 onto my disabled brother I am not sure he will make it. I am disgusted by the behaviour of some people in this place. I do think that the removal of the mask mandate has separated the ignorant from the informed. It has, in some cases, separated the selfish from those who are more community minded.

I simply say this to people who are walking around this building without masks on, you do not have the right to infect others. You do not have the right to make my staff sick. This is about looking after each other. It is about respect for each other's health. It is about following the evidence, and the evidence is even if you are triple vaccinated you are not safe from infection and you are not safe from potential long COVID-19. That is what all the independent experts are telling us. Yet, we are in a working environment now where there is nothing we can do to 100 per cent keep ourselves and the people we care about safe because there has been a failure to make this a safe workplace.

Dr Woodruff has written to all members this afternoon urging them to heed the evidence, show respect for each other and keep our masks on. I note every sitting member in this place has had enough respect, including you Mr Speaker, to wear a mask in here. I see Mr Bouchard is still sitting there unmasked, that makes us less safe, that is the evidence. Listen to Professor Nancy Baxter, listen Professor Raina MacIntyre, Professor Brendan Crabb, the independent health care experts who are saying keep your masks on to keep yourself safe and keep the people you care about safe.

Then we have the factor of waning vaccine immunity. You have four months after your booster before efficacy starts dropping off by 20 per cent in the first instance. For most of my life I have been able to keep myself safe by keeping my wits about me. Now I cannot. I cannot keep myself safe, I cannot keep my disabled brother safe, or my family. I cannot keep my staff safe because this Government bowed to the business sector and removed the mask mandate while we have 10 000 active cases. If we were a country we would be in the top 10 nations in the world for per capita infections.

What has happened to us? We are being gas lit. This is not Public Health advice that says it is safe to remove masks. If there was advice in writing that said that, the Premier would have tabled it. I note that Dr Woodruff and I wrote to both Presiding Officers in this place expressing our extreme concern about how unsafe this workplace had become and urging Mr Speaker and Mr President to reinstate some robust mask rules in this place. We have not received a response.

Every employer has an obligation under workplace health and safety laws to provide a safe workplace. This place is not safe now. It is not safe for members, for members of the Legislative Council or for staff, for parliamentary staff or ministerial staff or MP staff. It is objectively not safe. It is breathtaking how negligent this has all become. It is breathtaking how little care for others some of my colleagues in this building and some of the staff in this building have. I had a member of the parliamentary staff walk into our offices this morning with a mask half off his face. No one comes into our office without a mask because in our office we take the evidence seriously, we listen to the independent experts and we want to keep each other and our staff safe.