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PESRAC Future COVID 19 Management Strategy

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Tags: COVID-19

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Deputy Speaker, no-one on the planet could have looked into a crystal ball and understood where those early cases being reported from Wuhan in China last year were going to lead us. Every country in the world has been unutterably altered. Australia and our little state of Tasmania has also felt the changes that have come to societies around the world and to communities as we have attempted to deal with this very infectious and sometimes lethal virus.

The Greens were on the front foot early in the pandemic, recognising the risk to Australia from cruise ships that were disembarking passengers with coronavirus infection. Already in March hundreds of people had disembarked in Sydney and Western Australia, including from the Diamond Princess. Eventually some of those people made their way to Tasmania and infections were transmitted as the result of those people coming into Tasmania. Tasmanians coming back to Tasmania, whether it was known to them or not, were infected.

We understood the risk. The Greens were on the front foot calling for a ban on cruise ships in the waters of Tasmania. We supported the Premier's response to that; I think it was the next day. Since then there has been a steady process of looking at this pandemic on a day-by-day process, understanding what is happening in countries around the world. We are looking at the scientific evidence of the transmission of the virus and the epidemiology of how it moves through communities depending on people's age, availability of health services, and availability of preventive equipment and practices.

All of these things we have learnt from. It has been a journey that has brought Tasmania to a graver place than we were earlier in the year. Hundreds of businesses have closed in Tasmania. There are still thousands of Tasmanians without a job and with the prospect of JobKeeper and JobSeeker ending in the current levels within days. There are tens of thousands of Tasmanians who are deeply concerned about their prospects. We have a level of insecurity and anxiety in Tasmania that we have not experienced in living memory.

I thank the Premier for his comments earlier about the role the Greens have taken in this pandemic. We have been critical of the lack of scrutiny available to members of parliament through the normal functioning of parliament. We did not support the fact that there were no other opportunities for scrutiny that the Government could have taken up through a COVID 19 committee or through continuing parliament's sitting. When we rose for winter we thought that was premature. We have continued to call for more scrutiny. Nonetheless, as a party, and Ms O'Connor and I have continued to support the importance of listening to our public health experts in setting the advice for the Government to respond to and to establish the restrictions that are needed to keep people safe, and to keep institutions functioning in a safe fashion. We have continued to say throughout this process that the model the Government has adopted in responding to the coronavirus pandemic is one they should adopt everywhere.

Our governments have lost the ability or the desire to listen to expertise outside their own government officers on almost all issues. This pandemic has been an exception for the Liberals in Tasmania. Not all governments in Australia or around the world have put the advice of public health experts at the forefront of their decision making in responding to the pandemic. We are fortunate in this country that that is what most governments have done. It shows that when we work together, by putting the people with expertise and scientific evidence first, we can make decisions that are in the best interests of the majority of people, rather than a few people. What we do not understand is why the Government and the Premier refuse to listen to climate health experts.

When we heard that the Premier's Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council was going to be established, Ms O'Connor and I could see the importance of looking at the things Tasmania needs to be able to respond to in the short- and the mid-term in quickly re establishing jobs and economic activity within Tasmania, and making decisions that will be in the best interests of the majority of Tasmanians, not the few.

We wrote to Mr Don Challen, the chair of the committee, in June and proffered our thoughts on the frame that we hoped the PESRAC would take when looking at the decision-making about an economic recovery.

Our interim submission presented three potential areas where we believed immediate measures could be made to stimulate the economy and these were through a housing-led recovery, the development of green skills and an industry around green skills, measures to rewild and restore our island's degraded landscape and the diversification of investment into renewable energy. Those measures can deliver sustained employment and social benefit at the same time as well as strengthening Tasmania's brand to make sure our state remains competitive in increasingly uncertain global markets.

The economic recovery from the pandemic has to shift a focus for our economy onto a more socially, economically and environmentally sustainable path. We certainly cannot go back to normal and the report makes the point that we cannot go back to normal because normal was not working.

We proposed to the council that their threshold consideration should be what will deliver the maximum public benefit and we urged the council members to avoid recommending allocating public funds in a large part to private entities that were simply looking for bailouts, but that the money should be directed to public expenditure for sustaining the economy for the public good. The obvious co-benefit for public good is the benefit to society as well as to the natural environment because it is the natural environment that sustains us.

We propose a housing-led recovery ought to have a minimum of $600 million which would buy 2000 new houses and three new facilities for young people and an opportunity for first home buyers to buy their own property, which would be an extraordinary opportunity for many people who have no prospect at the moment of being able to afford a house with the prices that exist in Tasmania.

We were disappointed at the interim report released in July. The PESRAC report mentions many things and has 64 recommendations, but in the 66-page report there is not a single word for climate. In a climate crisis staring into our children's future in such a short amount of time, to talk seriously about a large investment in economic recovery in Tasmania without looking through the climate lens is not only a missed opportunity, it shows a frightening lack of judgement and understanding about the reality we are facing. For a whole report to not have the word 'climate' in there in any fashion is deeply concerning.

The other word which is utterly missing from this report is 'environment', unless it is in the context of the economic environment, where it is mentioned in that capacity seven times. That has nothing to do with the natural world and the systems we depend upon for food production, for storing carbon, for biodiversity that provides intrinsic beauty and spiritual wellbeing for every person who lives in Tasmania, and also to people on the rest of the planet for whom we are custodians of the glorious places we have under our care such as the Wilderness World Heritage Area and the marine areas around the state.

We are extremely concerned at these missing elements for the framing of this work. However, and we are disappointed to see, it includes recommendations for the Government to facilitate private sector major projects and the removal of barriers. It is troubling in that context. We have seen the Liberal and Labor parties both kowtow to the building industry and big developers by throwing community interests under the bus with nary a concern for the rights of the community to be able to have a meaningful say, to be able to appeal major projects, often controversial projects, in their area. The Labor and Liberal parties have both capitulated together to the demands of big corporations that want what is already an easy glide path for them through the planning system to be made even easier. That is an utter disgrace. It is despicable that the regulations that ought to be in place to safeguard the health and safety of the environment and the people of Tasmania have been eaten away a bit more by the major projects legislation.

It is very concerning that there is no account in the PESRAC of the role we will be playing throughout this economic recovery in relation to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report on global warming of 1.5 degrees. That found that in order to mitigate the worst impacts of climate emergency we have to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. That means we have to make substantial changes in every sector of the economy, every part of the state we manage - the land, the energy, the industries, the buildings, the transport and the cities. In all of these different sectors we have to be limiting our emissions so that the total for the planet remains at 1.5 degrees Celsius. Despite the warnings of the IPCC and despite our submission, the PESRAC interim report does not make any attempt to argue for any substantial adaptation to the way we are doing business in Tasmania.

The principal message that comes out of the PESRAC report is to escalate development and that is a single-minded focus of thinking about what our economy is and what it can be and it lacks vision. It is very disappointing to see a collection of what should have been some great minds in Tasmania coming up with a report which has such little vision in such an important area.

At the moment the Environment Protection Authority has been eroded to such an extraordinary level that its capacity to protect the environment is throttled. It is functionally all about facilitating development and productivity of business. It has lost the public's trust. I could not count the number of times I have had conversations with people in their community especially over the last two years, where people said, 'I thought the EPA was going to come in and look at this development fairly. I thought the EPA was going to come in and call to order the fact that Huon Aquaculture, for example, was wanting to put fish farms in areas where they never should be', fish farms just down near the Peninsula, the Storm Bay expansion. People expected the EPA to be able to do an independent job. It is not a problem with the EPA, it is a problem with the Liberal Government that sets the rules under which the EPA must work. The EPA's job and the job of the director and the board is constrained by having to be in accord with Liberal Government policies and sit within the directive of the minister which requires the EPA to put the productivity of businesses first.

The Labor Party makes a good point in their comments regarding recommendation No. 2 in the PESRAC report that the state Government should explain to the community its future COVID-19 management strategy, including how outbreaks would be handled.

I sent letters to the Minister for Health and we have made public comment that we think it is important for the Premier to change the form of communication on the restrictions in place to provide more variety. Premier, you have done a great job of delivering media conferences, but people need to hear communication in different ways as things unfold. We are really concerned with the health hotline. We are concerned with the comments that we hear back from that, the advice that people are getting. We are hearing that the application form people have to use for Tasmanians to come into Tasmania is robotic. It is cold. It is bureaucratic. It does not make sense. It is producing irrational responses to people. It is asking repeatedly for information to be provided when it has previously been provided, or when it has never been asked for in the first place. People's applications are being rejected purely on the basis that information that has never been asked for was not provided. We are consistently hearing this message.

For each of the constituents we have advocated for, their stories are heartbreaking because they are Tasmanians who want to return to live in Tasmania. We expect to have many hoops for people who are coming to the state as seasonal workers. We expect to have many hoops for people who are coming to stay as essential workers. It is a very different matter when people who want to come back to Tasmania are having their applications rejected on a website, are not able to talk to a human on the end of the phone, and the Government refuses to make available a member of the Health department. The Health minister's office has refused to make itself available for constituents to speak to. The minister for Mental Health's office refused to take on an extremely serious and concerning issue for a mother whose daughter was in mental health distress and had been hospitalised in Melbourne. It refused to take that phone call from that woman. It is terrible.

People are getting an application response instead of a human voice. It is not good enough. I challenge you, Premier, to put more effort into having humans on the end of the phone. Tasmanians do not want to get a cold hard app response that said, 'application rejected, try again' when they have tried four or five times and they have never been given the information the first time. I put you on notice that I will be in contact with your office and the State Controller about another matter that came to me this morning. I thought that we might have got to the end of this but no-one is listening to the fact that people should not be dealt with by a computer when it is a matter of life or death. That includes having a child in hospital for a psychiatric illness and needing to get them back to Tasmania only to be rejected again.

It is not good enough that listening to health experts, which has been undertaken in this pandemic, does not extend to listening to the health experts who know that climate change is such a critical issue for us to attend to. You have listened to the Director of Public Health on the COVID-19 pandemic. Premier, listen to the doctors who are calling for action on climate change and have a conversation with the PESRAC committee about the fact that they failed to put any climate change thinking into this economic recovery report.

How can you possibly be the Minister for Climate Change and put your signature on an economic recovery plan that has nothing to do with climate change and the challenge of a lifetime of all the children in this state? I cannot believe it. I hope you think again before you do.