Peter Gutwein

Premier of Tasmania

PRESS CONFERENCE - 1 APRIL 2020

Premier Peter Gutwein

Yesterday was the first day in almost two weeks that we did not record a positive case. That is good news. And, as I’ve said on many occasions, some days will be harder and others will be better. It appears that we could potentially be seeing the end of the cruise ship passenger and overseas passenger spikes.

But again, I want to stress very clearly that this is not the time for complacency. We are in the battle of our lives, and we need to take every precaution, take every step and, importantly, stay home and follow the rules and keep your family, keep yourself, keep your community safe.

Importantly, we are aggressively tracing and tracking those cases that we have in our community to ensure that we do everything that we possibly can to ensure that people are isolated to protect themselves and others.

We’ve moved to implement tough measures that go above and beyond most other jurisdictions. I make no apologies for that. We want to stay ahead of the curve. I understand that there are some frustrations from some people who are currently undergoing the 14-day mandatory isolation on Government facilities, and I want to say, I make no apologies for that. I want them to know that we have put these measures in place, as it gives me no joy to see the challenges that we are facing in our state, and these restrictions are important, because they will keep people safe, they will protect our families, they will protect our communities.

If we are to return to normal as soon as possible once this passes in the months ahead, we must all do whatever it takes to protect our state, to stop the risk of spread. And so, once again, I want to thank those Tasmanians that are doing the right thing, that are following the rules, that are doing everything that they can to keep their family safe and to keep their community safe. We only need to look at what has occurred and what is occurring in other parts of the world and in other parts of this country in terms of the damage that this virus can inflict, the deaths that this virus can inflict, and we need to make ensure that we do everything we can.

There has never been a more important time right now than to be disciplined, to be patient, to do the right thing and, importantly, to be kind to each other.

I want to touch on a couple of things this morning in respect to other steps that we’re taking.

Last week, the COVID-19 Emergency Bill passed the Parliament. It allows the Government to take steps to support the Tasmanian community in terms of our emergency response. Under this Bill, the Government can offer a range of support to Tasmanians suffering financial hardship as a result of the emergency and, importantly, we can also take other steps to ensure that we can manage the emergency appropriately.

An order will be issued shortly in terms of the prevention of eviction of tenants under the Residential Tenancy Act. That will cover them for a period of 90 days and can be extended. This will prevent any termination during the period the notice is in effect, with some obvious exceptions in terms of criminal activity or criminal damage. But I also want to say that if you are in a residential tenancy and you can pay your rent, then you should. This is not a licence not to pay rent. If you can pay your rent, you should. That is the very clear expectation. This Bill will not provide you with support if you are in a position where financial hardship is not being felt. But if it is and if you are in a difficult situation, then this bill will provide the projections that are necessary.

At the Treasurer’s meeting that I’ll be attending both later this morning and then this evening, we will be looking at the issue of commercial tenancies and, again, how we can find a way to ensure we provide the opportunity for landlords and tenants to work together to get an outcome that enables businesses to hibernate and to see this through and be ready to emerge on the other side.

In terms of the orders, one that is being progressed quickly is to allow for council meetings that would otherwise be required by law to be taken or conducted in person and/or in public in their council chamber to be dealt with electronically by other means. This will include conditions relating to quorums and public attendance at meetings and ensuring that we can continue the work of councils via electronic means. And, obviously, one of the challenges there is being able to conduct and work as a planning authority. And we need to ensure that councils can continue their work.

An order will be issued shortly in terms of the waiver or referral of fees and charges announced to support the stimulus economic support package going forward.

Another order will also deal with certain shop trading hour restrictions in terms of supermarkets being able to open on Good Friday to ensure that people have access to essential supplies that they need. We’re also looking at an order to ensure that in terms of the restrictions that apply to when goods can be delivered to a supermarket and to ensure that, if need be, that our freight groups can operate 24-7. And that will be dealt with as well in the coming days.

I also want to this morning send absolute clarity to the business community. I’ve had some businesses, some small businesses especially, contact me to say that they would like to close, but they can’t because they believe that they won’t be able to access Government support. Well, that is not the case. And I want to be absolutely clear about that. State-based support is available to businesses that have been either forcibly shut down or which are severely impacted by this crisis or have had to close as a result of this crisis. The Federal Government Jobkeeper package is available to businesses if they have been forcibly shut down or have closed because of the crisis, a decisions that they made themselves or if they are continuing to trade on, but their turnover has been significantly impacted.

In terms of the State Govt support, the payroll tax exemptions that we provided, payroll tax waivers that we have provided for small business that have payrolls up to under $5 million will mean that businesses will receive all of the payroll tax that they have paid this year, this financial year, regardless of whether they are closed or trading on. We want to support our businesses. And, likewise, in the seafood, tourism and hospitality sector, that sector that has been most impacted as a result of the forced closures, they will receive their payroll tax back for this year. That will be paid back to them to ensure that they can 1) restructure, hibernate or if they are trading on, continue to trade on.

I do want to touch on schools this morning. And, look, I’ll come back to this, and circle back to the businesses, so that every small business understands very clearly where we are. Both the State and Federal Government support is available to help you, whether or not you have been forcibly closed or not, or if you need to close or if you have changed and made the decision to close yourself. We will support you. It’s important that you make decisions that are in the best interest of your business and your staff and that you know that the Government has your back. The packages that have been announced are available there under those circumstances.

I want to just touch on schools. On Monday this week we had around only 10% of our students attending schools. Today, I expect that will be even less. In terms of students that are learning from home, I want to make this position really clear. The Principal is still the Principal, your teacher is still the teacher. We’re not excepting parents to have to educate their children at home under these circumstances. They need to engage either online or through the at-home support that is being provided, and we will support families through this.

But I do want to make the point about supervision. There have been reports of children at shopping centres in groups. This is not on. This is not on. Follow the rules, ensure that if your children are at home that they are supervised, that you know where they are and what they are doing and, importantly, that they are engaged in their learning. This is not an opportunity to set this generation back by not providing them with an education. It just means that we’ve got to be more disciplined, that we’ve got to take the steps that we need to to ensure that we can support our children and students through this difficult period, and schools are doing everything that they possibly can to ensure that they do.

Now, as I’ve said continually, this will be a marathon, not a sprint. We cannot afford to be complacent. What I do know is that we all have something in common here in Tasmania, and that is that we have wildlife that we want to protect, that we’re a small state that has some of the most fantastic and beautiful scenery, that has some of the most fantastic opportunities available to us as a state. It is important though that we do what we can to limit the spread of this virus, that we take every necessary step that we can, we follow the rules, we stay home, apart from under those reason that we have allowed for you to go out and, importantly, we save lives.

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