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Joint Select Committee on Tasmania's COVID-19 Response and Recovery

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 4 June 2020

Tags: COVID-19, Political Leadership

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Premier, your stubborn, combative nature has let you down. I know it has got you this far but it is not always a strength. This is one of those situations where it is no skin off your nose, no skin off your Government's nose, to accept that the upper House, by majority vote, has expressed a view. I have read today's reports of the vote last night and my understanding is that a joint select inquiry with a specific reference is supported not only by a majority of members in the other place, it is supported by Labor, the Greens and Ms Ogilvie.

Ms Ogilvie - Hang on, I haven't spoken yet.

Ms O'CONNOR - Ms Ogilvie, I can only go on the reports I have read in the paper that say you support an independent inquiry.

Ms Ogilvie - Who also actually did not speak to me. I will speak after you.

Ms O'CONNOR - So you do not support a specific inquiry.

Ms Ogilvie - I will speak after you.

Ms O'CONNOR - So you are going to vote for the Liberals one more time, just for something completely different?

Madam Speaker, I digress, but the media reports are that an inquiry with a specific reference into the pandemic response is supported by a majority of members across both Houses, but we will see when the vote comes because Ms Ogilvie obviously has form in consistently backing the Government with every single vote unless it has no consequence whatsoever.

This has come down to the Premier's stubbornness. We are about to enter the winter break and it is an excellent opportunity for a joint select committee with a specific reference to call for public submissions. It is disingenuous to say the Public Accounts Committee can call for submissions, or the Subordinate Legislation Committee because they have not been asked to. The Premier has not written to the PAC saying they should probably hear from Tasmanians. The point of a joint select inquiry with a specific reference is that it gives an opportunity for people to submit.

What really baffles me - and it troubles me to say this - is you have done a really good job, so what is the problem with having a parliamentary inquiry? We have had 19 days straight of zero cases and we have three active cases. It is widely acknowledged that Public Health did an outstanding job containing the outbreak in the north-west. It is widely acknowledged that you, as Premier, have done a good job, and the Health minister. I would have thought that the showman in you might think, 'Actually, a joint select inquiry where we can present what a terrific job we did might not be a bad idea; we don't even need to write Dorothy Dix questions, we'll have our members on there'. I thought you would have said, 'Yes, why not?'. To me it just comes down to stubbornness and the reason that it is -

Mr Ferguson - You're trying to hypnotise people.

Ms O'CONNOR - Who, me? I cannot see, I do not have my glasses on, so if you're hypnotised I am going beautifully.

The issue here is that, in all seriousness, there is a risk - and we are all concerned about it - of a devastating second and third wave and parliament should have the capacity, with a specific reference into the COVID response, to seek submissions, speak to health professionals and medical experts and make sure we have an absolutely rock-solid preparedness in the event of a second or third wave of coronavirus on this island. A parliamentary inquiry can be a positive process of pulling together all the information that relates to the response, hearing from people who otherwise would not be given an opportunity to feed in, hearing from families who have been affected, hearing from health experts, and preparing almost a template of recommendations for the parliament and the Government, drawing on the work that was done to nearly eradicate the virus from this island and ensuring we do very well should there be a second or third wave.

I point out to the Premier - and I know he thinks this is just us bleating - that the Greens are not on the Subordinate Legislation Committee or the Public Accounts Committee, yet I look around this Chamber and see only one epidemiologist in here and that is Dr Woodruff. What a skill set that would be to have on a parliamentary committee working in a constructive and collaborative way to help the Government make sure it is extra ready should there be a second or third wave, none of which we want to see.

Premier, if you are so certain that Public Accounts or Subordinate Legislation has the capacity to do this I encourage you to write to the Public Accounts Committee with a specific reference and ask them to seek public submissions -

Mr Gutwein - They are about to advertise.

Ms O'CONNOR - The problem is, Premier, and you know this, that the job of the Public Accounts Committee is to examine public expenditure; that is what they are set up for. The Subordinate Legislation Committee has the role, albeit nobbled in the emergency, of looking at government audits or notices. There is no reference to either of those standing committees that specifically deals with the COVID response. I do not understand what you are worried about. It would take very little time away from Public Health officials. I cannot recall what the reporting date is on the motion but, for example, the notice of motion we tabled to establish a committee on 30 April this year, without fanfare, had a reporting date of 30 June next year - plenty of time.

I still remain vaguely hopeful that the votes will fall the right way in this place this morning because it is just the work of the parliament. This is the single biggest event that has happened in Tasmania since the Second World War. We have handed more power to government as a parliament, and entrusted government with that power, than any parliament since the Second World War, so parliament should have a role here, working together across both Houses in good faith on behalf of the people of Tasmania to examine the COVID response and make recommendations.

Premier, I believe you have let yourself down this time because you just dug in. You have to know when to hold them and know when to fold them, and I would have thought with this one you would just say, 'Actually it might be a positive exercise, I can appear before that committee and look pretty damn good', but no. You have let yourself down and I think it is a rare blunder on your part politically.

We will not be supporting the motion to not agree. I have not been in this place where we have had a motion where the upper House expressed a view by majority vote for there to be a joint select committee and the lower House said no. I have not experienced that before and it is regrettable.

Let us see how the vote goes and let us see if we can make sure that there is an inquiry with a specific reference where the people of Tasmania are asked if they want to submit, and medical professionals and health experts can feel safe in coming along and presenting to that inquiry. At the moment we have closed inquiries. They are not even specific inquiries; they are just standing committees that have some work to do. This process is happening largely beyond public view and out of the public's sight and mind.

Good on you, Premier, for fronting up to 70 press conferences since the emergency was declared. There have been some mornings when I have wondered how you have done it. It is not the same as giving people a voice. Given the sacrifices that the people of Tasmania have made over the past few months, and are making, providing that open opportunity to examine the COVID-19 response and to hear from people is the very least we can do.