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Estimates Reply – Palmer

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 21 June 2023

Tags: Water Quality, Primary Industries, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - Mr Chair, for some years now, the Greens have been undertaking deep research, talking to experts in water management and quality, and other stakeholders who use water in this state to try to get a deeper understanding of water management in Tasmania. Some of the things we have uncovered we have brought to the Table here in parliament but they do point to a very casual regard on the part of Government to the health of our rivers and to equitable water use.

We do effectively give away our water in Tasmania. We charge a pittance relative to the rest of the country - a fact I established and confirmed with the minister. For example, we have Van Dairy for the Wey River: 21 billion litres of water cost them about $6000 a year. In other states that same allocation would cost $172 000 in Victoria, $132 000 in South Australia, $96 000 in Queensland and $68 000 in New South Wales.

We are giving away public water and we are publicly subsidising public water. We did not get satisfactory answers from the minister about the glacial pace of reform in this area and the sluggishness in rolling out water metering in a way that is equitable. We are very concerned that the excellent work undertaken in the Temporal and Spacial Patterns Report on River Health has sort of been allowed to slide away. Some of that really deep science that is needed not only to understand what is happening in our rivers but how to make sure that they are healthy and that they provide water to our children and our primary producers into the future, we think is happening far too slowly. It is happening in a way that is overtly political. We did get an answer from Ms Wilson, deputy secretary of the agency, who said, 'In relation to what is charged for water, there is a public good test'. I asked what is the metric that we are using to give away water? Ms Wilson talked about a regulatory impact statement, but the fact is that 70 per cent of the benefit of public funds and subsidies spent on water goes into private enterprise.

We also got a commitment, surprisingly, from the minister but we will see how that actually plays out, that the Government will not rewriting the rules in relation to salmon farming off the back of one of the Batista brothers trying to bully the Tasmanian Government into weakening regulations around salmon farms in our marine waters.

I want to talk about Disability Services and one of the most disturbing encounters I have ever had across the Estimates table. I just had to listen to them. I know it is not the Attorney-General's fault because the speech was written for her but the Attorney-General, on behalf of the Minister for Disability Services, talked about the importance of the inclusion of people with disability in the Tasmanian community, the best outcomes for Tasmanians living with a disability.

It is very clear, and we established that at the Estimates table, that this Minister for Disability Services expects people with disability; people with cognitive, psychosocial or intellectual impairment, to make personal choices to wear a mask. She had an incredibly casual attitude towards disability service providers turning up at the homes of people with disability unmasked. She said, 'It is a personal choice of a person with a disability or a disability service provider to wear a mask'. She insisted and kept saying, 'It is not mandatory'. We would argue that in health care settings, aged settings and other disability settings, the wearing of masks should be mandatory. At a bare minimum, we should be protecting those vulnerable people by requiring mask wearing.

I note that the University of New South Wales had a forum called 'A forgotten population? Australia's COVID response for people with disability'. A statement to the event was:

People with a disability are more at risk with COVID-19 for a range of clinical and social reasons. People with disability and disability support workers have largely been forgotten in Australia's response and even when identified as a priority group, critical implementation capabilities are lacked.

What we are talking about here is ableism. There is self-absorbed levels of abled entitlement about the approach to clinically-vulnerable and disabled people in a global pandemic with a virus that the World Health Organisation has confirmed is leading the world towards a mass disabling event.

I said to the minister, the World Health Organisation reports that people living with disability are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19. I asked her what steps as minister she had taken to provide some protections for people with disability. What we got was:

Well, it would be good. We know that the vaccine is the best protection against severe illness.

Again, it is a vaccine-only approach to a highly vulnerable population who cannot always make informed decisions about how to protect themselves from a virus such as this. The aversion to any kind of mitigations, anything, even if you do not support masks to protect vulnerable people, as the Minister for Disability Services you should be lobbying in Cabinet to have some mask rules in place for this highly vulnerable population.

Why would this minister not be lobbying to make sure that disability service providers actually do have COVID-19 safety plans in place? What we established at the table with the Minister for Workplace Health and Safety is that there is an expectation that employers have COVID-19 safety plans in place, but they have no idea whether any do or not.

I was disgusted by that exchange across the table. A minister who has responsibility for some of the most marginalised and vulnerable people in our community telling those people that they need to take personal responsibility for protecting themselves from a disabling and potentially lethal virus that hammers the immune system and worsens the outcomes for people upon each infection.

I tried to get in touch with the new interim Disability Services Commissioner following Estimates to say I want to have a chat with you, Ms Mallet, about the arrangements that should be in place to protect people with disabilities and disability support workers. I have not heard back. I emailed Ms Mary Mallet more than a week ago and I still have not heard back from the interim Disability Services Commissioner.

You cannot have the Attorney-General getting up in here on behalf of the Minister for Disability Services and talking about the importance of including people with disabilities in our society when you have set up a let-it-rip approach to a lethal virus which is frightening, and rightly so, people with a disability who are shielding at home. People with a disability are being excluded from our society right now. Apparently this Government is okay with that. Shame on them.

I have been criticised before for using the term the eugenicist in relation to the Australian and all state and territory governments' responses to vulnerable people in a pandemic. It is eugenicist because what you are saying to those clinically vulnerable people, to disabled people is, 'You take care of yourself'. As we know from the World Health Organisation and the University of New South Wales this is a particularly vulnerable population to COVID-19. To expect someone with cognitive impairment or an intellectual disability or a psychosocial condition to make informed decisions about how to protect themselves is frankly disgraceful.

We will not let this go because someone in this House has to be a voice for people with disabilities. I am telling you right now, Chair, that our Minister for Disability Services is not that voice. Our Minister for Disability Services does not understand the circumstances that people with disability in a pandemic are experiencing in our community right now. They are being excluded from our society. They are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

We can do so much better by our fellow Tasmanians. We can at the very least have some proper mitigations in place, filtration, ventilation and masks in settings with vulnerable people.