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Estimates Reply – Rockliff

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 14 June 2022

Tags: Commission of Inquiry, COVID-19

Ms O'CONNOR - Premier, I hope you have survived that solid beating with a bit of wet lettuce from Ms White.

Seriously, not one mention of the Government's woeful COVID 19 response, passing mention of the commission of inquiry. A terrible disappointment. If we had an Opposition that was doing their job in this place, we would have a better COVID 19 response. We would have more action on the commission of inquiry. We might even get some real action on climate change.

The Greens started off our Estimates session with the Premier talking about the commission of inquiry, and the Government's response to evidence that has come before the commission of inquiry. We had a much less combative, and I think more, at face value, honest Premier sitting across the table from us than we have had in previous years. We asked a straightforward question, 'How many state servants have stood down as a result of historic or contemporary allegations of the abuse of children?' We got something approaching a straight answer. We were told that 31 state servants have been stood down.

We were offered information on the departments which we put on notice. We went into Mr Jaensch's Estimates the next day and he refused to detail how many state servants had been stood down out of the Department of Education, or from Ashley Detention Centre, or from Child Safety Services. The memo about transparency and accountability clearly had not been passed on to Mr Jaensch.

We heard that as a result of evidence that has come before the commission of inquiry, there will be accelerated work, as I interpreted it, on delivering a child-safe organisational framework for Tasmania, and legislation to go with it.

The commission of inquiry heard from the secretary of Communities Tasmania, that this work could take three more years. This is the result of a royal commission recommendation from four years ago. It certainly needs to be accelerated. We also heard that work is likely to be accelerated on a reportable conduct scheme.

I asked the Premier about his response to testimony from two journalists, Camille Bianchi and Emily Baker, which pointed to a cultural transparency issue inside government, where when journalists go to government and ask for information that is in the public interest, they are fobbed off or told that it is 5.00 p.m., it is too late. As the commission of inquiry evidence shows, when Camille Bianchi sought information on the notorious paedophile nurse at the LGH, she was fobbed off through right to information by the Department of Health, and she finally received the information 22 months later, after a story went to air on Seven News.

I was glad to hear the new Premier say that was not good enough. Sorry if I am paraphrasing you, and correct me if I am wrong, but you did say 22 months was not good enough and that you wanted to have a government that was transparent and accountable. That means, of course, dealing with cultural and structural issues which for decades have led to the cover up and therefore the enablement of the abuse of children in state care or state institutions.

We were pleased to hear those answers, and also a commitment on the Premier's part to make sure that the Right to Information Act is adhered to by government. When I put it to him that active disclosure is surely the best default position, which is what the act was designed for, the Premier was inclined to agree.

Dr Woodruff and I also asked a number of questions relating to the Government's pathetic and dangerous response to SARS-CoV-2. This year so far there have been 7000 deaths nationwide. Today, another death was reported in Tasmania - 81 deaths in Tasmania since the start of the pandemic. We know 50 000 children and young people under the age of 18 have been infected with the novel coronavirus, yet we still have this minimising from our Public Health officials which enables politicians to downplay the seriousness of this virus and its long-term health impacts.

Scientists in Israel have made the link between COVID-19 infection and the cases of severe hepatitis that are now being identified in children. In Japan, scientists have warned that there is a rise in the number of children with acute encephalopathy - which is a swollen brain due to bacterial or viral infection.

We now have 658 new reported cases overnight, and more than 173 000 Tasmanians have been infected with a virus which has known long term consequences.

We read out the excerpt from Scientific American magazine for the Premier to reinforce the information. The Scientific American released a study of 13 million people which found that vaccination lowers the risk of long-COVID-19 by only 15 per cent, which points to a flawed policy on the part of governments to rely on vaccinations only. I reminded the Premier that he did not answer my earlier question, which was:

What is the plan here? Is the plan for rolling waves of repeat infection of the Tasmanian population with a novel coronavirus?

I did not get a straight answer out of that. I do hope the Premier and health minister is now having a good conversation with Public Health about the fact that we are seeing new subvariants of Omicron BA4 and BA5 increasing in places like the UK, the US, Canada and in Portugal, where hospitalisations and deaths are starting to spike again.

The status quo is simply not good enough, but we could not get an answer out of the Government about what the plan is. It seems to us that the plan is only to make people sick over and over again. No matter how hard we tried, we could not get the Premier - or the Director of Public Health from my reading of it - to acknowledge that these protections are important and the Government could be doing a lot more to better inform Tasmanians about how serious this virus is, and the things they can do to protect themselves.

If you go to the Public Health website and look at the information for people with disabilities, for example, there is almost nothing in there about how to prevent infection. What people with disabilities have assistance with is what to do if, and when, they get infected. This is a terrible disservice to our people.

I asked the Premier about life living with COVID-19 for people who are immunocompromised or living with a disability. Again, a vague acknowledgement of the fact that a lot of people are now living a half-life, or afraid to go outside, but nothing from this Premier and health minister about how we might reset COVID policy to better protect vulnerable people, but better protect Tasmanians at a population level, given that we are approaching one in three Tasmanians who have been infected.

It has been two and a half years now. We now have hundreds of peer-reviewed studies in journals confirming that SARS-COV-2 can cause those who are infected - whether they are vaccinated or not - permanent brain, organ, tissue, vascular and neural damage. It is not even debated any more by anyone serious and independent in the field, there are just so many studies. It is just what this virus does. We are letting our children, young people and Tasmanians more broadly down if we do not reset our COVID policy.

In closing, I acknowledge that the Premier answered a question about restoration of the House, and that he has asked the Tasmanian Electoral Commission for advice. I hope he has asked the Electoral Commission for advice on both models for restoring to 35, because if it is his intention to reset electoral boundaries - seven seats with five members - we will name up publicly what we believe is to again be an attempt to shut out the Greens and independent voices, to cost the Tasmanian Electoral Commission a lot of time and money, and to rewrite the boundaries of seats without any good reason.

We also remind the Premier that we have a bill on the table which is a straight fix to undo the damage that was done in 1998. We are in all likelihood going to bring that on for debate.