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Masks in Parliament


Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 24 March 2022

Tags: COVID-19

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, in the spirit of reconciliation I rise tonight to make a sincere and unreserved apology to anyone who has felt offended or intimidated by my expressions of unease over not wearing masks. I hope that the people who felt upset at my frank expressions of disappointment understand that it comes from a place of great stress. It is not just stress for me, it is stress for everyone in this building.

Those of us who are wearing masks all the time, we just do not want to catch COVID 19. In some ways what we want to do is buy enough time without catching COVID-19 for the medical treatments to catch up. There is so much about this illness that we do not understand. It has only been around for a couple of years. But there is enough that we do understand that we should all be worried and we should all be doing everything we can to avoid catching it.

My frustration, Mr Speaker, which I expressed in here the other night, when a member of your staff was in the Chamber unmasked, which I have expressed outside this Chamber - and I am not afraid to admit it - comes from fear. Fear of being infected, fear of brain shrinkage caused by COVID-19, fear of heart enlargement, fear of it getting into every organ in my body, fear of infecting my brother, fear of infecting my staff, fear of infecting my colleagues.

I remind people in this building who are not wearing masks that even being triple vaccinated will not prevent infection. It will not prevent reinfection. Even if the variant that you are infected by - if you have been - was the Omicron BA.1, the evidence points to that not delivering immunity against infection from BA.2. So being triple vaccinated, while it might make us feel a bit safer, is not going to necessarily stop us from being infected or reinfected or infecting others or enduring long COVID-19 or infecting others so that they suffer from long COVID-19.

This is a genuine apology. Mr Jaensch said something earlier to me and it made me think, okay, my behaviour has not been perfect. But it comes from a place of knowledge of this virus, and the deepest concern for the Tasmanian people and the people I work with. I implore other people in this building to wear masks.

In our office, for example, one of our staff does not have a spleen because of a childhood accident. So, if he gets infected, he is in big trouble. There are many people like that in the building. There are a lot of older workers in Hansard and all through the building. There are people who have chronic conditions, who are immunocompromised. Then there are those of us who do not want to catch this virus because we have read enough to be really concerned about what it can do to the human brain, the heart and the body.

So, to Mr Boutchard, I am sorry. To other Liberal staff members whom I have had a crack at on the way past, I am sorry. That came from not feeling safe around unmasked people.

I will end with a plea to everyone in this building to think about the other people in this building. I think you should wear your mask when you are in other indoor spaces that are not your home. Remember, Dr Veitch strongly recommended that we continue to wear masks. But if even if you do not wear a mask outside this building, I ask that you do inside this space, because it is a large workplace. There are people here from all demographics, on the full spectrum of good health to average health, so let us look after each other.

In this building, at the very least, given how many people are in here and what close quarters we are in, let us just keep our masks on; it is not a big ask. They are uncomfortable, sure. They are annoying, yes. But, they do provide some protection against infection from a virus we are just beginning to understand, and which is mutating faster than we can develop vaccines to combat it. I will leave it at that.

Mr Speaker, I am genuinely sorry. I also genuinely want to see people in this building wear their masks in this building.