Peter Gutwein

Premier of Tasmania

Ministerial Statement - COVID-19 Response Measures

 

Madam Speaker,

Today I will be providing Members an update on the Tasmanian Government’s ongoing response to addressing the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, how we are supporting Tasmanians during this challenging time, our phased recovery approach and the first steps of our plan to rebuild a stronger Tasmania.

The efforts of Tasmanians have been extraordinary, in what have been the most dreadful circumstances.

Many of our businesses are closed and in hibernation, and thousands of Tasmanians have lost their jobs.

We have, for just a moment in time, lost our much treasured way of life.

And unfortunately some, tragically have lost their lives, whilst others have lost people they love.

This has been, and remains very difficult for many people, however the efforts made by all Tasmanians have made a positive difference. Our communities have not been decimated by the virus to the devastating degree we have seen in many other countries.

And because we have an older and more vulnerable population, we went hard and we went early with our response to coronavirus, leading the nation on cruise ship bans, border controls and other measures to limit physical distancing to protect Tasmanians.

We have not shied away from making tough decisions to keep the community safe, and while some degree of social distancing is going to be a part of our way of life, at least until a vaccine or effective treatment is found, I am hopeful that in coming weeks we will be able to move, in gradual steps, back toward the Tasmania we know and love.

Madam Speaker, we are facing both a health crisis and an economic crisis.

First and foremost, I would like to take a moment to talk about the North West outbreak.

We have tragically lost 12 lives to coronavirus in Tasmania, with 11 of those deaths in the North West. Unfortunately I expect that there will be more deaths announced and we should ready ourselves for that.

I extend my heartfelt sympathies on behalf of the Tasmanian Government to the loved ones of those who have died as a result of the virus.

We know now that, most likely, ground zero for the outbreak was the Ruby Princess.

However, I want to be clear that no Tasmanian passenger is to blame, and no Tasmanian healthcare worker is to blame.

People were just going about their lives and their jobs, when this dreadful set of circumstances has ensued, wreaking havoc and misery on so many people.

I won’t presume to predict the outcome of the investigation underway into the Ruby Princess, but answers are needed and I hope answers are found.

We know that our state is not immune to the virus, and unfortunately, like the rest of the country, we are not immune to outbreaks. It is how we respond that matters, and in this instance I would like to acknowledge the tremendous efforts of Public Health, the Tasmanian Health Service and our emergency personnel for conducting an effective rapid response.

Our response to the outbreak was unprecedented, both in a Tasmanian context and a national context.

Closing both the North West Regional and North West Private hospitals enabled a deep environmental clean to occur.  Staff, their families and households, were required to undertake a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Further restrictions were put in place to limit the physical movement of people.

These additional restrictions are being reviewed constantly and an update will be provided to Tasmanians on when they might be lifted tomorrow.

We have massively ramped up testing efforts across the North West, and healthcare workers must return a negative test before resuming their work.

I extend my sincere thanks to all of the residents of the North West required to complete quarantine. I know you would much rather have been working and helping to save lives, but please know that you have each played a part in helping us to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the region.

What we have done, at every step, is to act early and to act hard.

We are very grateful to the Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) and the ADF, which answered our call for help, and we are so grateful for that.

Following a deep clean of the hospital, 50 members of the ADF and seven AUSMAT health professionals worked to ensure the Emergency Department remained open, providing essential health services to more than 400 patients.

For more than two weeks, they have provided support to the people of North West Tasmania, including enhanced infection control, primary care, acute resuscitation, minor procedures and consulting care.

The handover process to the North West Regional Hospital staff began online earlier this week, and was followed by a physical induction on 28 April and the final handover took place yesterday.

ADF and AUSMAT personnel are departing our State today.

And I am sure every Tasmanian, particularly those in the North West, thank them for their efforts.

Throughout this pandemic, our first priority has been to keep Tasmanians safe and to keep them secure.

The State Control Centre, which was activated following the State of Emergency declaration, continues to lead the whole-of-government response to COVID-19, with the State Controller, the Commissioner of Police, Darren Hine, working closely with the Director of Public Health, Mark Veitch.

I would like to acknowledge their hard work, and the work of their teams.  It has been exceptional.

When it comes to protecting the health and safety of Tasmanians, we moved quickly and introduced strong measures to limit the movement of people into and around Tasmania.

This included:

  • suspending all cruise ship arrivals in Tasmania;
  • requiring arrivals to our state by sea or air to Tasmania to quarantine for 14-days in government managed accommodation;
  • introducing strict “stay at home” directions so that Tasmanians stay local and do not travel unnecessarily;
  • restricting travel to vulnerable Tasmanian communities, including the Bass Strait islands and holiday townships; and
  • increasing enforcement of these measures to ensure the safety of our community.

These measures have limited the spread of the virus and whilst 12 deaths is 12 too many, I know that with our ageing and vulnerable community the outcome would have been far worse and possibly unimaginable, if we hadn’t taken the steps we took.

I want to especially thank my Cabinet and the members of my team for their support regarding the measures we put in place.

I also want to acknowledge and thank all other members of Parliament for their support as well.

As I have said, this is a health crisis firstly but it is also an economic crisis.

Many Tasmanians are facing hardships they’ve never faced.

As a Government we have put in place unprecedented levels of support for our community and our businesses, until our state can gradually come to life once more.

The Australian and Tasmanian Governments are implementing a range of measures to assist the response to this pandemic.

The Tasmanian Government’s Social and Economic Support Package, totalling almost $1 billion, complementing the Federal Government’s multi-billion dollar response, is of a scale not seen in the history of our State in both the amount of funding and the breadth of measures.

The Package comprises initiatives to support our health, our businesses and jobs, households and individuals, and our community.

Madam Speaker, there is strong demand from Tasmanians and Tasmanian business for help, and next week in Parliament I will provide a report on the Government’s Social and Economic Support Package.

These are exceptional circumstances that we are in and we have sought to cushion the blow wherever possible for Tasmanians.

Initially $20 million was made available for Small Business Emergency Support Grants and another $20 million was allocated to support those businesses under severe hardship with grants of up to $15,000.

I can announce today that due to significant demand we are allocating an additional $10 million to each of the programs to support more applications being approved with both programs to close to new applications shortly. We will keep this under review and if necessary respond accordingly.

There has also been an unprecedented response from businesses applying for the Government’s Business Support Loan Scheme, and the Department of State Growth is presently well underway in assessing applications in accordance with the guidelines.

In regard to Local Government $150 million interest free loans, nine Local Government Authorities have, to date, applied for assistance.  These loans are important to enable staff to be paid and to allow infrastructure projects to continue, to help underpin our economy.

These loan requests represent in the order of some 80 projects.

In addition, as part of the Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, $50 million has been allocated to fund critical maintenance on public buildings and other publically owned assets, in an effort to support regional employment and trades.

Projects expected to be delivered across a range of service delivery areas around the State include:

  • the refurbishment and renovation of classrooms and school grounds;
  • upgrades to hospitals, health centres and ambulance stations;
  • maintenance to walking huts, bathrooms, and other public amenities in Tasmania’s national parks and reserves;
  • heritage works on several of Tasmania’s historic public assets, including Government House, the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, Parliament House and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery;
  • cladding replacement and general refurbishments (including kitchen and bathroom replacements) of community and social housing across the State;
  • repairs to Tasmania’s Supreme and Magistrates Courts; and
  • repairs to a number of jetties.

The projects will benefit a range of industries and trades, including electrical, carpentry, plumbing, engineering, construction, flooring trades, earthworks contracting, air conditioning and heating services, roofing services, stonemasonry, and painting services, as well as building materials and equipment providers.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact globally, nationally and locally. While it is still too early to understand the full impacts, it is clear that there will be significant impacts on the State’s economy and on our Budget.

To ensure that this House, and the Tasmanian public, have a clear understanding of these impacts I have requested the Secretary of Treasury prepare and publish an Economic and Fiscal Update.

It will include revised General Government Sector financial statements for the 2019-20 and 2020‑21 financial years, updated economic forecasts for 2020-21, commentary on the economic and fiscal position and the 2019-20 March Quarterly Report.

It will be very important for all concerned to understand the context in which the information has been prepared.

In particular, the Economic and Fiscal Update is being prepared in a highly uncertain economic and fiscal environment, and it is too early to accurately forecast the full impacts of COVID-19 on the economy or budget position.

Impacts on both State and Australian government revenues are particularly uncertain at this time. In addition, some information is not yet available and, in other instances, assumptions will have to be made in order to be able to present some estimates.

The publication of the Economic and Fiscal Update by the Secretary of Treasury will provide important information that will assist in understanding both our current economic and fiscal position and the future challenges and opportunities that may arise.

The report will be provided by the 15th May 2020 in line with the statutory reporting period for the March Quarterly Report.

Madam Speaker,

The COVID-19 pandemic and associated health measures have had a significant impact across the world, with restrictions leading to widespread closures of businesses and community isolation globally. The scale of the economic and consequent social impacts is considerable.

In response to this, both the Australian and Tasmanian Governments have announced unprecedented  support packages to underpin the health and well-being of Tasmanians and to support businesses, community groups and the economy in the immediate short term wherever possible.

The Tasmanian Government, in concert with the Australian Government, is also looking at strategies to minimise the medium and longer term impact on our social fabric and the economy, to ensure that the Tasmanian community is well placed to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead.

There continues to be significant uncertainty, and the road to recovery will depend on a range of inter-related social and economic factors. These will include the need to live and work with the coronavirus pandemic until such time as a vaccine or treatment is available. Ongoing containment measures will impact the way our community interacts and how our businesses operate. These are uncertain times, with changing financial market conditions, international and domestic supply disruptions, and significant personal impacts on all Tasmanians.

We need to acknowledge that things will be very different and factor this in as we plan for the future, and as we work together to rebuild a stronger Tasmania.

As I mentioned this morning, I am establishing the Premier’s Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council to provide advice to the Government on strategies and initiatives to support the short to medium, and the longer term recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Recovery Council will provide advice and recommendations on how to best mitigate the economic and social impacts of the pandemic. It will also identify opportunities for economic and social renewal.

It will focus on immediate practical initiatives in the short term, whilst considering big picture opportunities for future.

The Recovery Council will be made up of individuals from across the business and community sectors, and will leverage the experience, knowledge and resourcefulness of these business and community leaders to provide advice on the opportunities for economic and social initiatives to build a stronger and more resilient Tasmanian community and to strengthen and resurrect the Tasmanian economy.

The Recovery Council will help develop the roadmap to rebuild a stronger Tasmania.

Madam Speaker, the Recovery Council will make recommendations to:

  • identify additional immediate short term actions, as well as the medium and longer term issues to be addressed by government, the community and the private sector to facilitate sustainable economic growth and mitigate the social impacts of COVID19;
  • target sectors in which Tasmania has, or can develop a competitive and brand advantage;
  • capture opportunities for, or identify impediments to employment growth;
  • support and enable Tasmanians to take advantage of a different way of life and work and business, or to reinvent themselves in new and emerging industries; and
  • identify opportunities to address the impacts of COVID-19 on the community through sustainable social initiatives.

The Recovery Council will engage directly with industry and community groups, as well as Members of Parliament who will also have the opportunity to provide submissions to directly inform the development of the Recovery Council’s work.

All industry associations and community groups, as well as those individuals who want to contribute their thoughts, will be able to do so.

Madam Speaker, I have tasked the Recovery Council with providing advice on immediate actions and initiatives to the Government by July 2020 and an interim report containing findings and recommendations by September 2020 so that it can inform the development of the 2020-21 Budget later this year.

The timing of other reporting stages will be determined following consideration of the status of the pandemic, towards the end of 2020.

However the final report will be timed to inform the 2021-22 Budget.

Today, I am pleased to announce that the Recovery Council will be chaired by Mr Don Challen AM, an individual that Tasmanians know and trust.

He is recognised as one of Tasmania’s leading business and community figures, and has been widely recognised for his outstanding contributions in the corporate, community, charitable and philanthropic areas.

He was Secretary of the Tasmanian Department of Treasury and Finance from 1993 to 2010 and has held a raft of significant Board roles across prominent Tasmanian businesses.

Mr Challen was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2013 for his significant work to economics and public administration in Tasmania in the treasury and finance sector.

I am very grateful to Mr Challen for providing his expertise during this most significant time for our state.

I am also very pleased that a number of highly engaged and experienced individuals have also agreed to be a part of this council, from across a broad spectrum of our community, including:

  • Kym Goodes – former CEO of TasCOSS, whose advocacy work to help those most vulnerable is widely admired across Tasmania.
  • Dale Elphinstone – Executive Chairman and Founder of Elphinstone, Mr Elphinstone started his career as a 15 year old apprentice before building one of Australia’s most successful businesses.
  • Professor Rufus Black – Vice Chancellor of the University of Tasmania, Professor Black’s private sector experience includes almost a decade with McKinsey & Company, and as a law firm director.
  • Samantha Hogg – brings significant executive management experience across the resources and infrastructure sectors, and has national and international experience in finance, marketing and strategic projects.
  • Paul Ranson – Chief Executive of the Bank of Us, Mr Ranson also has 25 years’ experience in local government and is a Director of the TCCI.
  • Brett Torossi – who is an acclaimed business woman and tourism operator in her own right, with extensive executive leadership experience and board roles across a suite of businesses and industries.
  • Tim Gardner – Executive Chairman of Stornoway and Chair of Metro Tasmania, Mr Gardner has significant experience in organisational leadership and culture, with a particular focus on infrastructure services.
  • Leanne McLean – The Commissioner for Children, Ms McLean has a wealth of experience as a leader in social policy development, and working for the benefit of and in support of young Tasmanians.

A secretariat will be established in the Department of Treasury and Finance supported by DPAC and State Growth to provide support for the Recovery Council, and will draw on resources from across Government as required.

Looking to the future, there are two distinct areas of recovery required to ensure our plan to rebuild a stronger Tasmania is effective.

Economic Recovery; and

Social Support during Recovery

To balance the health risks, our recovery will need to be a measured and gradual process, and to start with we have to be sure we are on top of any broader community spread.

In order to begin easing restrictions, we are putting in place four Safeguards:

More testing; more tracing; enhanced rapid response capabilities; and COVID-Safe workplace, public space and meeting place Plans.

Firstly, expanded testing is one of the crucial precedent conditions the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has set for the National Cabinet to achieve before further easing social distancing and economic restrictions, and one of the key safeguards we are putting in place here in Tasmania.

We welcome the critically important partnership between the Australian Government, Minderoo Foundation and private pathology providers, which has successfully secured an additional 10 million COVID-19 test kits and more pathology equipment for use around the country.

Tasmania will use the additional resourcing to ramp up testing capability and expand the testing criteria, particularly as we work to get on top of the current COVID-19 outbreak in the North West of the state.

We currently have capacity to process around 500 tests a day, with surge capacity up to around 1000.  This enhanced technology will effectively more than double our testing capacity.

The diversification of COVID-19 testing ensures adequate testing capability across Tasmania as we ramp up our testing efforts state-wide over the next few weeks.

Secondly our manual tracing efforts over the past weeks have worked well, particularly in fighting the North-West outbreak, but we need help from all Tasmanians to improve our tracing capacity even more.

This is what the COVIDSafe Tracing App is all about. It is a tool that will help us to trace the virus more effectively.

Importantly, the tracing app doesn’t monitor your geographic movements, unlike many popular apps already on your phone which access its GPS locator.

What it does, via Bluetooth, is record the contact details of any other phones with the tracing app that you are within close proximity of for more than 15 minutes at a time.

So, if you spend time with someone who is later found to have the coronavirus, with their approval public health officials can access the tracing app contact data from their phone for the last 21 days only, and if necessary, contact you to let you know you might be at risk.

The data will only be used by public health officials with your consent and the data is protected by strong privacy laws.

It is an important tool to help keep you, your family and your friends safe against coronavirus.

Thirdly, we are also putting in place localised rapid response capabilities that could be implemented in regions or industry specific sites if required. This is to enhance current public health capabilities in the response to an outbreak.

Rapid response teams will help trace, track and quarantine the virus wherever our enhanced testing finds it. Teams will be recruited from across the health and public sector and will be able to be stood up quickly whenever an outbreak occurs.

And finally, we are working to develop COVID-19 Safe Plans, which will help make our workplaces, public spaces and meeting places as safe as they can be.

National principles have already been released and relevant Ministers have been engaged at a national level with Safework, and locally with Worksafe, on the necessary framework to provide Covid safe working environments.

As restrictions ease, these plans will help to ensure there are rules and policies in place so that they can operate safely, helping to limit the risk of coronavirus infection to staff and customers.

It will not be a one size fits all approach, and the plans will depend on the nature of the business and the sector it operates in.

We will engage with all appropriate industry business and organisational sectors to inform the development of COVID-19 Safe plans.

The plans will be established under regulation, and audits will occur to ensure safety and compliance standards are adhered to.

However it is important to note that any easing of restrictions will be made on Public Health advice, and would be a carefully phased approach to ensure risks are managed.

We will take a risk-informed approach to any relaxation, which may, for example, start with our Green spaces – parks, reserves and recreation spaces, as well as public gathering numbers in particular circumstances.

The health risk of lifting restrictions will be assessed taking into account COVID-Safe business planning as well as the number of cases and the infection rate across the State.

With increased testing, tracing, rapid response teams and Covid safe business plans we will be well placed to begin stepping out of our current state and decisions will be able to be made with more confidence around the reopening of activities and businesses.

Our border restrictions will most likely remain as our strongest defence against the virus for some time.

Opening our borders again to interstate travel will be a game changer, however, this will not occur for some time and not until we have real confidence that we can do so safely.

Excepting for the additional North West restrictions, which are due to expire on the 3rd of May at 11:59pm, the current state-wide restrictions in place will be reviewed in the lead up to the 15th of May, and I am hopeful that in coming weeks the advice from Public Health will be that we can begin loosening some restrictions, however this will only occur if the health risk is low.

We all want a return to normality.

Once our safeguards are in place, we can gradually ease the current restrictions as much as we can, without risking a disastrous outbreak of the virus this winter.

Madam Speaker,

the Tasmanian Government understands that these unprecedented circumstances are creating difficulties for communities across Tasmania, and specific groups within our community are being affected in many different ways.

I again wish to send my sincere thanks to all Tasmanians who continue to go to work each day during the pandemic.

All staff across government are also working hard to manage Tasmania’s response to the pandemic and I would like to acknowledge their dedication and hard work.

Our health and medical professionals across the state continue to do incredible work every day to deliver frontline health services in challenging circumstances.

And Tasmanian teachers, support staff and early childhood educators, have done an amazing job at adapting and delivering education in different ways to ensure our children continue to receive high quality education, even in these very difficult circumstances.

The sole focus for the Government during the coming weeks and months will be on supporting the Tasmanian community, businesses and industry to get through these difficult times, as we all respond and adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As such, our work will focus on tasks that are essential to responding to this unprecedented public health emergency, and continuing the delivery of essential government services.

Madam Speaker, in closing, I would like to say that while the impact of coronavirus is unlike anything we have ever dealt with, it is encouraging to look into our history and to see that so much of what we love most about Tasmania was forged in times of hardship and struggle.

Our determination, our ingenuity and our strong support for one another, will help us prepare for tomorrow in Tasmania.

These have been dark times.  But there is light at the end of the tunnel.

As I said this morning, I have never been prouder to be Tasmanian and I have never been prouder of Tasmanians.

That is why I know we will get through this together.

If we put in place the safeguards, if we continue to work together, we will get our way of life back and we will rebuild a stronger Tasmania.