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Supply Bill (No.3) 2021

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Tags: State Budget, Treasury, Legislation, COVID-19

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, the Leader of the Tasmanian Greens, Ms O'Connor, has already indicated that we will be supporting these bills today.

I want to make a point about the overarching reason for these bills being debated today, and that is preparation for a potential Delta variant outbreak in Tasmania. Although we hope and wish and do everything in our powers to prevent that happening, the statistics are really against us. The chances are there will be a case of Delta in Tasmania. It is a question of how we respond and how quickly we act. I am pleased the Government has demonstrated the forethought to bring these bills and to prepare for that possibility.

I also wanted to mention the Health department's responses. It is a small matter, but I think it is indicative of planning for the Delta variant. It comes from an announcement by Susan Gannon, the chief executive for Hospitals South, about the fact that Royal Hobart Hospital has shut down its acute respiratory illness area, called the ARIA - a section that has been set aside in the emergency department as a dedicated respiratory area for people who come in with respiratory symptoms.

This is not a non-standard practice. It has been happening in other health departments around the country. I am not criticising or making any comment on the practice of closing the ARIA, but it is fortunate that the Minister for Health is in the Chamber to hear my comments. I have been speaking to paramedics and nurses and other health professionals. They have voiced some questions about the fact that the ARIA has closed, and it is not an interim measure. It has been repurposed to provide more emergency department beds, which is fine and seems entirely reasonable. It does have an impact on how patients are received and ramped. What happens when they are ramped and what happens if they have respiratory illnesses? Ms Gannon has said, 'One thing we have learnt over the past year and a half is that in a time of COVID-19 it is necessary to be flexible and adaptable. It might be necessary in the future to restart the Acute Respiratory Illness Area and, if that is the case, then we are able to do this with minimal lead time.'

The staff that have been in contact with our office have made the point that personally, as nurses and paramedics working in this area, they have had no communications about this process and they feel they do not know what the protocols and the planning approach would be for restarting an ARIA. They are concerned that if there is a Delta outbreak in Tasmania, hospitals, particularly emergency departments, want to be able to be started immediately, on hour one of day one, with absolutely the correct protocols in place for moving patients around.

You can imagine that hospital emergency departments, paramedics who are picking people up, and ramping and caring for patients on the ramp, are critical places and high-risk places where Delta can be transmitted much more broadly and seed an outbreak widely into the community.

I put to the minister that I have no doubt from Ms Gannon's comments that there has been some great thinking and planning done at the higher levels. It is not clear to me from comments I have heard that the staff on the ground, in the wards, our paramedics in the ambulances are aware of exactly what they would do, how they would change the transition of patients in order to protect paramedics, protect nurses so that they can go home to their families and continue to work in communities and protect patients from inadvertently being infected and transmitting COVID-19 to somebody else in their family and then into the community.

It is highly complicated. Paramedics working in ambulances must have a person who can sit in the cab and the cab is an infection-free space. They cannot be wearing PPE in the cab, they have to doff PPE in order to get into the cab to drive an ambulance.

This is small stuff but it is actually important big stuff. It is about making sure throughout hospitals, the education system, all our emergency response agencies, all front-facing services, that it is not just at the executive, upper-management and middle-management level where these plans are made. It is the staff on the ground being very clear and asking the questions now; pretending, doing a mock 'if we have Delta in the state' conversation, so that people can be absolutely clear. Roleplay what would happen, find out unintended consequences that might be a problem.

I ask ministers responsible to do what you can to make sure that this filters down right to the critical people who are acting and doing everything to keep us safe.

I also want, on behalf of the Greens, to thank all the people who have been involved, the doctors, the nurses, the contact tracers, the epidemiologists, the people on the end of the helpline, the people who are administering vaccines, the people who are writing comms and keeping website information up to date. All the people in Public Health who are working very hard to protect Tasmanians today and to plan for the unwanted but probable possibility of a Delta outbreak in Tasmania, thank you so much. Your work is recognised, acknowledged, respected. We are incredibly grateful and people I speak to in Tasmania by and large are so grateful that we live where we do and we will all do everything we can to make sure it stays that way into the future.

The other comment I wanted to make about this bill was the appropriation under the Department of Premier and Cabinet for the Minister for Climate Change. I cannot say how distressed I am on behalf of Tasmanians, young children, young adults in the school Strike for Climate, all people in this state who are concerned about the state of the climate, who have read the media reports about the IPCC, who understand we are in a code red, we are an emergency situation on the planet. To see such a pathetically small, continuingly small amount of money allocated to the Department of Climate Change is frightening.

The Greens have tabled a safe climate bill. We have done the work and we know what sort of expenditure needs to be allocated in this area. There is clearly nothing in this allocation that is going to be putting the money where it needs to be, into adaptation plans.

Local governments must be supported to adapt to climate change and develop comprehensive plans. We must have large amounts of funding into landscape restorations and soil carbon capture. We must have funding to do some updated modelling of coastal inundation and we must adapt the planning scheme and take the position on where people build and live in Tasmania in our coastal areas. We cannot keep dodging the reality: sea levels are rising, tidal inundation and coastal erosion is a major issue in so many coastlines around the state, especially in Franklin.

We see serious erosion everywhere. Houses will fall off the cliff, they will fall into the sea in the next few years in some places. Crown Land is putting its hand up and refusing to act. It leaves councils and property owners completely in the dark. Councils cannot make decisions about big expenditure because Crown Land is refusing to make decisions about ownership and responsibility and funding. There has to be a conversation. There are probably bits that are the most problematic. It is a disgrace the way this Liberal Government is refusing to deal with the reality of coastal inundation around this state.

It is only going to get worse. Where is the money to end native forest logging in Tasmania? Where is the money to transition workers into new forms of employment, especially into those areas where we desperately need people with the skills of forestry workers, protecting us from bushfires, preparing us for changing climate and the impacts on forests, looking after landscapes, retaining carbon in the soil and retaining carbon in the trees in the forest. We need those skills.

Instead of logging and removing biodiversity and emitting carbon into the atmosphere and getting rid of carbon stores which are hundreds of years old, we should be using the opportunity, using the necessity to end those practices and find employment for people, meaningful, sustainable long-term employment in industries which will grow and grow into the future. Real industries so people can say with pride to their children, this is a job for life. It is not just a job for life, it is a socially meaningful environmentally sustainable incredibly important job that you can do in your life. It is something that will give you great pride because your community, everyone, will thank you for that work. We need to make a career for people with the skills that people in forestry have that is respected across the whole community. It is an opportunity that the Liberals in government could take up, but there is no indication at all, that a single person in Cabinet has read the IPCC report, or if there is, that person has been outvoted by everyone else.

It is pretty clear that this Premier in no way stands for action on climate change. That is deeply concerning. We will not stop talking about this because it is the most important issue for our future, near-term future. We are not talking 30 years or 50 years. We are talking right now. We have to make choices today that will affect us over this term of government.

There is not time to have a pathetically small allocation to climate change. It must be increased and we will do everything we can to make sure that happens.