Peter Gutwein

Premier of Tasmania

PRESS CONFERENCE - 18 SEPTEMBER 2020

Premier Peter Gutwein

Look, I’d firstly like to start by once again acknowledging the hard work of all Tasmanians.

This year certainly hasn’t been the year that any of us were expecting, and as a Government we work very hard to keep people safe and ensure that their health and safety is looked after.

There’s no doubt restrictions in place have been difficult for many people. They have and will continue though to keep our community safe and to save lives, and it’s i

Important that we continue with those restrictions.

We’re in a good place, and no doubt, as I’ve said before, Tasmania is one of the safest places on the planet.

As a result, we continue our glide path approach to easing restrictions, based on Public Health advice.

One of the things I want to speak about first of all today, and I’m sure it’ll be welcome news for many outdoors events, including outdoor sporting events, the crowd capacity, venue capacity, will increase from 500 to 1,000 people from next Friday, the 25th of September, as long as COVID safety plans are in place.

Now, I think this’ll be welcomed by local footie fans with the finals coming up, but also in terms of a whole range of sports that will be over the next month having their final series. But it will be important that they have COVID safety plans in place for these events.

Today, at National Cabinet we continued to discuss borders and a nationally consistent approach to the safe border management, noting that the Prime Minister has an aspiration to have the country broadly open by Christmas, and our 1st of December date obviously fits in that in terms of safe jurisdictions, and I’ll have more to say on that in a moment.

A topical area that we did discuss though was bringing Australians back from overseas. And I have to say that I support the Prime Minister fully on that in terms of bringing back those Australians that want to or need to come back to this country.

Now, we’ve done what we can in this state in terms of ensuring that we’ve supported people that have not been able to go back to their country. In fact, we were the first state to actually take steps in that regard.

And I’ve made it very clear that, obviously, in terms of Tasmania’s position in this, we don’t have an international airport, we’re not in a position where we will receive flights into Tasmania as a result of any increase in the caps.

Sydney, Brisbane obviously, Western Australia, they will increase their caps initially, but in terms of Tasmania being ready and able to support Australians, should we need to, I’ve made it clear that as we can’t take flights, that if we we’re able to or if we’re required, we would make a financial contribution on the basis that around two percent of the people that are coming back are Tasmanian or, conversely, if there were a need for an emergency flight and a bespoke option had to be looked at,  then we would obviously work with the Commonwealth in those matters.

But I want to be very clear, you know, I absolutely support Australians coming home, in the same way that I made it clear in this room that as we set our border arrangements in place some six months ago, that we would ensure that Tasmanians could return to Tasmania. I think it’s important that as a country we allow those Australians that need to or want to come home come home.

In terms of the border restrictions that we have in place. Obviously, those border restrictions have stood us in very good stead. Importantly, when we put these in place and I announced the date of 1st of December some almost months ago now, I announced that on the basis of a couple of factors.

Firstly was that what we needed to understand exactly what was going to occur in Victoria and what the contagion may have been to another state or territory as a result of what was occurring in Victoria.

Secondly was to ensure that we had our health system as prepared as we possibly could be and, thirdly, our aged care preparedness.

And finally, and importantly, we need to ensure that we don’t have a second wave. The economic consequences, as advised by Treasury, would have been almost catastrophic. Around $500-$600 million wiped off our state’s economy.

So, it’s important that we continue to work on those factors and to ensure that we are as well prepared as we possibly can.

In terms of health preparedness, the Tasmanian Health Service has comprehensive escalation plans in place for hospitals in each region, and I’m assured sufficient supplies of PPE, and we’ll continue to work with our hospital system, bearing in mind that one of the key concerns that we had, and it still remains, is that in terms of Victoria, they had around 2,000, I think it was more than 2,000 health professionals that were removed from their system and quarantined, either because they were ill or because they were a close contact, and therefore the country had to put [inaudible] if its extra resources in and it still is to support the Victorian situation, but that is obviously starting to abate and getting better.

Planning for aged care continues to be a very strong part of our preparedness plans, and in terms of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, the Commonwealth audits are being conducted.

By next week, audits will have been conducted, by early next week, will have been conducted in all of our aged care facilities in this state.

And further than that, as a state we’re providing health support visits to each residential aged care facility as well to assist with preparedness, outbreak management plans and any further assistance that may be required.

I can confidently say that my understanding from the audit is that our sector is well prepared.

There is obviously a need though to work with the sector.

As I’ve said in this room on a number of occasions, what the Victorian experience taught us is that you can lose your entire kitchen staff out of an aged care sector, if that’s where the virus hits first. Or you can lose our administration staff, or it can hit your aged care residents and other support staff.

And so it’s important that we work with the sector to ensure that they are well prepared.

In terms of what’s been occurring in Victoria, obviously cases are steadily declining, and I continue to wish all Victorians and their Government well in terms of the steps that they are taking.

I understand there was 45 new cases today and obviously we’re not seeing the impact of the Victorian spread on South Australia, as was originally contemplated, and up and down the eastern seaboard.

New South Wales and Queensland are also getting on top of their circumstances.

Importantly, here in Tasmania all visitors to our state now have a health check at the border.

Essential workers from Victoria or other hotpots are tested on arrival, and freight drivers are tested on a rolling seven-day basis as well.

Now, as a result of the current situation that we’re seeing that’s occurring outside of the state and a lessening risk to our state, we’re implementing on advice some steps forward a part of our glide path, and in fact we’ll have a 3-step plan.

Step 1 will be to allow from midnight this Sunday the 20th, Tasmanian fly in fly out workers who are away for extended periods of time working in low-risk jurisdictions the opportunity to come home without quarantine, as long as they return directly from their safe state without spending time in a hotspot area such as Victoria or in one of the other nominated hotspots.

The other part of our glide path will be from next week we’ll also allow seasonal workers to enter our state under COVID safe conditions for the upcoming season.

Now, obviously, our priority will remain on Tasmanians being first in line for these jobs, and I understand that the campaigns that have been run have had a significant number of Tasmanians that put their hand up for work, in fact, in some businesses I know they’ve been able to fill their entire cohort, but we will need seasonal workers in the state.

And, importantly, the industry needs the certainty to know that they will have a workforce when they need them.

There are, however, going to strict conditions in place to limit movement for seasonal workers for 14 days, in line with the current quarantine period to keep Tasmanians safe, including that they will need to stay on the farm property, if that’s where they are staying and work on that property in that period, or in their primary place of residence, unless attending work.

They’ll be able to seek medical care or obtain essential supplies, be able to leave either their residence or their farm if there is an emergency situation or if they are departing the state.

Importantly, people coming in and out of our air and seaports, as I have said, will continue to be health-screened.

I know the sector has been working hard with the relevant authorities to develop the COVID safe plans for our seasonal workers, and the COVID safe work plans are very well advanced and in fact are in place in those businesses that will have workers coming in to them. And, again, they will need to ensure that those plans are checked off with Worksafe, as we work our way through it.

So, that begins the sensible glide path.

As Step 2 in the process, and as we continue to strengthen our health and aged care preparedness, the State Controller, on the advice from Public Health, is looking at the possibility of bringing forward the date for easing our border restrictions with COVID-safe and low-risk states by the end of October, such as South Australia, WA and the Northern Territory, Queensland, the ACT and possibly New South Wales as well.

But we’ll continue to work through that and, again, obviously the circumstances of each of those jurisdictions will be what will inform our decision, as well as, importantly, our health preparedness, our aged care preparedness as well.

Now, this will over this period as we move forward enable us the adequate time we need to ensure the transmission risk from Victoria and other states is as low as it can be and ensure the systems are in place and processes are in place for travellers when entering from these lower risk areas as part of the Step 1 transition piece.

As we move to Step 3, Step 3 will be for Public Health with the State Controller to continue the ongoing advice that we’ve been receiving in terms of the circumstances in Victoria or other hotspot areas, as we move toward the 1 December date.

Now, the national aspiration is for the country to be open by Christmas.

We will share that aspiration but, again, we won’t put Tasmanians at risk, and we will only open to those jurisdictions that we have advice from the State Controller, supported by Public Health, that we are able to open to in a safe way.

As I’ve said consistently, this is a pandemic, and we must remain cautious, we must remain responsive and agile, and we must look at what we can do in terms of ensuring we keep Tasmanians as safe as we possibly can.

We’ll continue to take advice from Public Health, the State Controller, State Health Commander as well as Treasury advice as well to ensure that we balance what is both a health and economic crisis.

Importantly, we must keep following the rules and behaviours that have helped us to keep on top of COVID.

You’ll start to see some of these messages that are behind me in coming days and weeks as a reminder of the importance to keep on top of COVID, so that we can keep living our lives without the serious restrictions we’re seeing in other jurisdictions.

Today, we’re launching the Keep on Top of COVID campaign.

It will include messages of what the Government is doing to keep Tasmanians safe, as well as what Tasmanians can do to keep themselves safe and their communities safe.

As we’ve all gone about our daily lives over the past few months, it’s fair to say that some of us may have been complacent around some of the important behaviours that were so important to us all in those early days of COVID-19.

However, as we start on our journey to the glide path approach that we’ve laid out to relaxing our orders, these reminders are going to be absolutely critical for our preparation.

To keep on top of COVID, to keep doing what we all enjoy, we all have a role to play.

This work responds to key recommendations out of PESRAC which stressed the importance of keeping Tasmanians informed, so I will say to all Tasmanians, please keep on top of COVID by washing your hands, maintaining appropriate distance, stay home if you are unwell and get a test, even with mild symptoms.

If we keep on top of COVID, we will be able to sensibly open up our state, as we have consistently said that we want to, but importantly, all Tasmanians need to do their bit, and if we can all keep on top of COVID, we’ll ensure that we can return to a more normal life as soon as possible.

I’ll hand over to Dr Veitch to make some comments.