Ms O'CONNOR - I'm interested in finding out, minister, or through you minister, what impact COVID-19 has had on the ship's operation and staffing?
Mr FERGUSON - Do you mean during or since the pandemic peak?
Ms O'CONNOR - How about since your Government opened the borders to Omicron on 15 December last year?
Mr FERGUSON - I'm happy to pass to the chief executive to respond. COVID-19 has had a significant operational impact on this business.
Ms O'CONNOR - Sure it has.
Mr FERGUSON - I will say, to its great credit, the team continues to function as an essential service for our state, as effectively the state carrier across Bass Strait for the movement - including during the peak of the pandemic - not so much for people other than essential workers, but for freight. It was an invaluable link during that time. The fact that the conduct of the business demonstrated continuity of service and continuity of that link across Bass Strait, despite taking heavy losses financially during that time, it's to the great credit of the company. I'm happy to pass to the chief executive. Bernard, you might outline how operationally the business is different today than what it was prior to the pandemic. I think that would assist.
Mr DWYER - Thank you, minister. It had a really large impact on our business, to the point now where all of our crew still wear masks on the ship. All of our cabins are cleaned and fogged at the end of every sailing and a sticker put over the door so passengers know that that cabin has been fogged as well.
Ms O'CONNOR - What does 'fogged' mean? Is that an antiseptic sort of -
Mr DWYER -That's right, yes.
Ms O'CONNOR - Okay.
Mr DWYER - A fog that's actually put through the bathroom as well as the cabin itself. We strive for passengers to wear masks if possible. All the way through the pandemic we've always taken the most stringent health advice, whether it's Victorian or Tasmanian, so whoever had the most stringent is what we implemented on the ships as well.
Ms O'CONNOR - That is very sensible and good.
Mr DWYER - We are still very flexible with our COVID procedures. Recently we had a tour group in Tasmania. Some of them were diagnosed with COVID, so the group was confined to their cabins. Their tour bus was taken on last.
Ms O'CONNOR - On the way back?
Mr DWYER - On the way back. The group was escorted from the bus through the ship to their cabins, provided food in their cabins, so they didn’t walk around our ship or around our crew. Then they were escorted straight from their rooms to their coach in Geelong and taken off the bus there. The response we had from that particular tour company is it was perfect, all of our passengers felt very safe. Our passenger satisfaction rating from our surveys is still up in the 94s, 95s, which is amazing. Our passengers feel very safe on the ships and with the way we do it. In fact, from a crew perspective - we do worry about the crew a lot. The comments we've had back from about our crew through the pandemic was people felt safer on the ship than they did in their own homes and in their home communities because of the measures we had in place, or still have in place.
Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr Dwyer. On what basis was the decision made by management to require staff to wear masks? Is it a requirement or a strong recommendation, or is it something you'd like them to do?
Mr DWYER - It is a requirement for us that they do wear masks in public areas. They don't need to wear masks in their own private areas, but in their public areas we prefer that they do. We've done that. Likewise, they need to be fully vaccinated to work on the vessels as well.
Ms O'CONNOR - Have you had feedback from passengers about the robustness of your COVID safety protocols? Passenger surveys, that sort of thing? Is there good feedback about that?
Mr DWYER - The fact we're still up in the 94 95 per cent satisfaction rating really does indicate that it's good. There's no specific question about COVID. If passengers weren't comfortable with it, rest assured they would have told us. The only feedback we have on the ships is some passengers, certainly through COVID when we were insisting on passengers wearing masks, some didn't want to do it. That really has been the only feedback - that we've been too stringent, but we've mandated that. The only way we got through it is if passengers had a medical reason that they didn't need to wear or couldn't wear a mask, we gave them a bracelet so that as they were moving around the vessel, every time they bumped into a person they weren't told to put a mask on. There was an identification for those who actually didn't need to or couldn't wear a mask.
Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr Dwyer, I don't think you can be too stringent with a brain-invading bat virus that has long term consequences for your brain and heart. I hope the minister is listening. I am interested to understand if there's been impacts on your operations because staff have been sick or because of these protocols have you been able to minimise that?
Mr DWYER - Certainly. Throughout COVID our crew are required to COVID tests as they join. If they are identified they either leave immediately, or if they're in the wrong port they're confined to their cabin and then they're taken off the vessels as well. Someone has a sniffle, they're RAT tested straight away on the vessel. The beauty we have is that the majority of our crew work four weeks, on four weeks off, so once they're on they're in a very good environment for at least four weeks where we've got more control, rather than having crew coming on and off all the time.
Ms O'CONNOR - You have more robust COVID safety procedures in place than Tasmania's parliament, thank you.