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Primary Industries – Ruby Princess

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 26 November 2020

Tags: Cruise Ships, COVID-19, Biosecurity

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, can you confirm that your secretary was the State Controller before Mr Hine was declared the State Controller? I think the secretary was making decisions at that time. Who was the State Controller when the passengers from the Ruby Princess arrived?

Mr BARNETT - I will pass to the secretary, but I am pretty sure the secretary has never been the State Controller and I can put that on the record. Let's see if the secretary can confirm that?

Mr BAKER - That is correct, I have never been the State Controller at any time.

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay. My understanding is that the secretary was in charge of border controls at the time that the Ruby Princess passengers arrived in Tasmania. The question is then coming full circle. What role did the secretary of DPIPWE play following the arrival of Ruby Princess passengers in Tasmania?

Mr BARNETT - I will pass to the secretary.

Mr BAKER - For a brief period of time, prior to the declaration of a state of emergency, I was, I think it was about two weeks, approving essential travellers only. When the state of emergency was called, the State Controller exercised his delegation. I had no involvement whatsoever in approving passengers off the Ruby Princess, because they weren't essential travellers.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr Baker. Minister, I agree with you about the great work Biosecurity Tasmania has done in keeping us safe. This is not about Biosecurity Tasmania workers. What we are trying to understand here is the chain of command that allowed infected people to arrive in Tasmania without quarantine. What recent history tells us is that that contributed to the outbreak in the north west. Are you able to explain the chain of command and where Biosecurity Tasmania and the secretary of DPIPWE fitted in that chain of command? We are looking for the hierarchy, just to explain the mechanics.

Mr BARNETT - Thank you for the question. Secretary or the acting director.

Ms BURROWS - The passenger completes a form. In the initial stages it was called an Arriving Traveller Form. It is a hard copy form. You could either do it on line or you could do it when you got to the border. That would say what your level of risk was, so where you had been for the last 14 days. That is then sent to the State Control Centre for assessment. In the beginning, the State Control Centre assessed these to say, 'That person is a high level of risk, they need to go into government accommodation'. That would be passed back to us at the border and we would transfer that decision into reality by saying, 'You are going into government accommodation, off you go'.

As things developed with the G2G, which is an all online system, they do the same thing. The assessment goes through the G2G assessment group. Usually they'll go through a preliminary decision making process, the G2G group. Then they will go through State Growth. They will go through Police for clarification, and then to the State Controller for a final decision, and more recently, the Deputy State Controller. So, the State Controller didn't make those final decisions in this last month or so.

Ms O'CONNOR - I still don't understand how that process that was just outlined, and thank you for that, relates to the decision making matrix when passengers from the Ruby Princess arrived in Tasmania and did not go into quarantine.

Mr BARNETT - I am happy to provide a clarification through our acting director.

Ms O'CONNOR - I want to know what happened at the Ruby Princess point.

Ms BURROWS - The process is the same, no matter what. The assessment of the level of risk the passenger is actually posing is going through that process. The higher the level of risk the more stages they go through. State Growth, Police and then straight up to the State Control Centre and the State Controller or the Deputy State Controller.

Ms O'CONNOR - That happened with the Ruby Princess?

Ms BURROWS - State Growth was not involved at that stage. They only came in in the last month or so. But generally, yes, the same sort of process. It is a more online process at this stage, with G2G. At the beginning it wasn't an online process, but generally the process was exactly the same.

There is a recommendation which is then passed to that link, and up to the final decision maker, which is at that stage the State Controller. The State Controller says to us, 'This person has to go into government accommodation for 14 days'. It is passed back to my staff at the border. That is what happens.


Ms O'CONNOR - Tasmania closed its borders on 18 March. The media statement from the Director of Public Health that you referred to earlier I believe was issued two days later. What we would like to understand is the final decision on how the disembarking or arriving in Tasmania passengers from the Ruby Princess were dealt with. Was that made by the State Controller at the time?

Mr BARNETT - Keep going, I am listening to your question.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is my question for starters, and supplementary to that, to clarify absolutely and then I will move on from the subject. What role did the secretary of DPIPWE play in that decision at that point?

Mr BARNETT - There are two things I would say and that is that the safety of all Tasmanians has been our top priority right through this. The Premier has made that very clear. That includes Biosecurity Tasmania staff. In terms of Biosecurity Tasmania staff, they are clearly operational matters with respect to those decisions at the border and it is a for matter Biosecurity Tasmania based on the best advice. You have asked a question and I have indicated the importance of the north-west coast inquiry led by Greg Melick and his response is not complete and we look forward to receiving that. We are not apportioning blame but as a Government there are a lot of matters that need to be looked into and the final decision is a matter for the State Controller.

With respect to other parts of that question, I will see if the secretary or acting director would like to respond.

Mr BAKER - The answer to your specific question is that the State Controller, advised by the SCC who at that time was the Police Commissioner, made the decision and I as secretary had no involvement in determining how passengers would come in. Other than the general management of the team or managing at the port, I was not the decision-maker and I had no involvement in the decision.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, following the huge fallout in human terms from the arrival of the Ruby Princess passengers in Tasmania, did you seek advice from the department on their role in the decision-making matrix to satisfy yourself that everything it was possible to do to make the right decision had been done?

Mr BARNETT - It is fair to say that as minister I receive regular updates from time to time from the secretary and the department.

Ms O'CONNOR - I am talking about a specific update.

Mr BARNETT - I am proving an answer to your question. Those updates were provided from time to time, and further, the command of authority was very clear that the State Controller has that particular role in terms of decision-making, but as minister I was kept up to date from time to time.

Ms O'CONNOR - I could not quite discern from that answer, which was quite opaque. As minister responsible for Biosecurity, did you request a briefing and information from the agency in order to satisfy yourself that everything that could have been done was done from Biosecurity Tasmania's point of view?

Mr BARNETT - I have made very clear the important role of the State Controller as the ultimate decision-maker.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is not an answer.

Mr BARNETT - I am trying to answer the question. There is a certain process in place that I have outlined this morning and on many occasions and that is important to note. Of course I receive regular updates from my secretary and the department from time to time on a whole range of matters, particularly important matters.

Ms O'CONNOR - Did you on this?

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor.

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Chair. Just be clear on why I feel compelled to interject. This is now the third time I have tried to ask the same question. What has happened here is my allocation of questions is being eaten into because the minister is not being clear and frank.

CHAIR - The minister has not finished his response yet, so I ask that you let the minister finish his response.

Mr BARNETT - I have made it very clear, Madam Chair.

Ms O'CONNOR - Who did you make it clear to?

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor.

Mr BARNETT - There is a process in place. The State Controller is the ultimate decision-maker and there is also a very important role for the Director of Public Health. I receive advice from my secretary of the department from time to time and I respond to that advice.

Ms O'CONNOR - Specific to the Ruby Princess.

Mr BARNETT - We have regular meetings from time to time on a whole range of issues including these important Biosecurity Tasmania issues.