Peter Gutwein

Premier of Tasmania

PRESS CONFERENCE - 22 APRIL 2020

Premier Peter Gutwein

It was pleasing last night that we only had the one case of coronavirus, but obviously, and I do want to stress this, you know, we will have good days and we will have bad days, and we need to ensure that we continue to work through this sensibly and responsibly and, importantly, once again I would ask people to work with us.

The message is very simple and is very clear. Please stay home, help us to save lives and don’t leave unless you’ve got a reason to be out, whether it’s going to work or essential supplies or medial services or to exercise or, in coming weeks, to go to school but, importantly, follow the rules. That way we will keep more people safe and we will save more lives.

And it’s so very important that the other two parts of the state, the North and the South, which aren’t having the challenge of the outbreak of the North West Coast, do not become complacent. I cannot stress that enough. The rules that we put in place are designed to save people’s lives, and we need you to work with us, we need you to remain disciplined, we need you to do the right thing.

And in the main, the vast majority of Tasmanians are doing that, and I thank you for that. It is difficult, I understand that, but if we can work together, we will get through this.

I want to just touch on today on a couple of things that are important for people that at the moment don’t have a high degree of support out of either the State or Federal Government packages.

We know that in terms of visa holders in the state, there are a significant number of temporary visa holders that we have in Tasmania who have lost their jobs due to the restrictions that have been put in place to ensure that we can protect pubic health. We know that in many cases they are experiencing hardship, and in many cases they’ve experienced income loss.

We have an estimated 26,000 temporary visa holders that come to Tasmania. Many of these are students, many of these work in the fruit picking industry, many of them are skilled workers that work in our hospitality industry, such as chefs, and in other industry sectors as well, health workers for example.

In many cases, due to business closures and the restrictions that we have in place, their incomes have now been stopped or been severely curtailed. Now, not all temporary visa holders are in this position, I want to stress that, but a number are, and therefore to ensure temporary visa holders are also supported at this time, today I’m going to announce a four-step process and package that will support our temporary visa holders.

Firstly, we’re going to immediately extend the eligibility for the pandemic isolation assistance grants which we designed to provide support for people that were being placed in to temporary self-isolation or quarantine. If a temporary visa holder can demonstrate genuine financial hardship, they will be provided with an immediate payment of $200 and up $1,000 for their family.

Secondly, we’ll also be increasing the funding available to non-Government organisations to provide additional emergency relief and assistance targeted at this cohort in our community.

Thirdly, whilst many of these visa holders will be unable to return to their home country due to border restrictions, and I want to make that point. There are many people that have been living and working in Tasmania that are not in a position where they can return to Italy or to Spain or to New York or to other parts of Europe or to the UK because of the travel restrictions, and therefore we need to ensure that we can provide some support. But for those that can return, the third part of our step will be that we will work with them to provide travel advice but also, if necessary, some financial support to help them get home.

Fourthly, we’ll work with industry sectors or employers who want to retain their employees because of their specialist skills in the state. Importantly, for when their business is able to start up again in coming months and be able to ensure that we have those skills that we need here in the state for when that start-up may occur. You know, it’s important that we support those people that have been working within our community, supporting our community, some earning an income here in Tasmania, and this package will take the steps necessary to do that.

I want to say that, you know, I don’t agree with the very simple message that temporary visa holders should just go home. As I’ve said, in many cases they can’t, and we need to ensure that we provide support for them. And the Government will be providing up to $3 million in financial support to both provide immediate relief, to support the non-Government sector in terms of providing relief and emergency support, but also in terms of ensuring that we can work with employer groups, who are also prepared to partner and to provide support for these workers on the basis that they believe that when they do start up on the other side of this that those skills will still be required.

I want to make the point, and make it very clearly, that we know that Tasmanian businesses, we know that our community, have benefited from these skilled visa holders and those on other types of temporary visa holders, that they do make a significant and have made a significant contribution to our economy, particularly to agriculture, to tourism and the education sectors, and that these visitors from overseas have helped build a stronger Tasmania, a more diverse Tasmania and a more skilled Tasmania.

And I want to very clearly remind everyone that they are a part of our community, and that this is a time for kindness, this is a time for our collective humanity to be displayed. We are all in this together and there is no room, no room in Tasmania for racism or abuse.

When I was thinking about and working through this package and thinking about the challenges that some of our temporary visa holders would face at the moment, and I spared a thought, if my children at the moment were in a country across on the other side of the world and 1) either they couldn’t get home or 2) they were in a position with no financial support, you know, I think it’s only fair and reasonable that for those who have contributed to our society that we provide some support in their hour of need. And so, that package will be rolled out from today.

I also want to note in terms of residential rents, we know that many Tasmanians are doing it tough at the moment. The State and Federal Governments have announced significant support packages. I want to provide some clarity in terms of commercial and residential tenancies today.

Firstly and importantly, if you are able to, because your financial circumstances have not been significantly impacted by the pandemic in a significant way, then you should be paying your rent. I want to be absolute clear about that. If your financial circumstances have not been impacted by the pandemic in a significant way, then you should be paying your rent, whether it’s a residential property that you’re renting or it’s a commercial property that you’re renting.

However, well, actually I just finish on that, because the pandemic is not a passport not to pay rent. If you can and you haven’t been impacted, then you should be continuing to pay your rent.

However, we know that the financial circumstances of many individuals and many businesses have been severely impacted, and many people have lost their jobs. We’ve already announced that for both commercial and residential tenancies until 30 June when it will be reviewed, up to that point, there can be no evictions as a result of the financial impact of COVID-19.

To be clear, if you breach your lease for other reasons, such as you commit damage to the property or you use the premises for an unlawful use, your lease can still be terminated. That is fair and it is reasonable. But if it’s as a result of the financial impact of COVID-19, then you cannot be evicted.

We’ve also already ensured that rent increases cannot be applied to commercial rents during this period up to 30 June. Our residential tenants have the protection of the Residential Tenancy Commissioner. However, for clarity, today we’ll also be issuing a notice to freeze residential rent increases as well for this period through to June 30, and this will mean that rent increases through that period can’t occur.

The orders will be reviewed prior to 30th June and will be extended in line with the emergency period, if required at that time. But I want to again remind all tenants, both commercial and residential, that rents should be paid, rents should be paid, unless your financial circumstances have been severely impacted by COVID-19. This is not a passport not to pay rent. And I’d also again remind you that your lease can still be terminated for criminal damage or other breaches of the lease.

I want to just spend just a couple of moments in terms of where we are at the moment. Obviously, we are moving towards the end of the two-week period of increased restrictions on the North West Coast. They are due.., or the two-week timeframe ends on Sunday.

Whether they are lifted or not will be dependent upon the advice from Public Health in terms of, importantly, the number of new cases that we are seeing, but also, importantly, the snapshot that we have of what’s occurring on the North West Coast at the moment.

So, I would encourage people on the North West Coast, if you have a sniffle, if you have a cold, if you have any sign whatsoever of a flu-like symptoms or a cold or respiratory illness, get tested. Get tested. Turn up and get tested.

And when I say turn up, turn up at your GP, make an appointment to get tested, don’t just flood to a respiratory clinic and seek a test. You’ll need to get a referral either through the Public Health hotline or through your GP. But do it. Take the opportunity to get tested. The best way that we can assess what’s going on in the North West Coast is if we have more people being tested, and we can then understand more clearly what’s going on in the community.

We will continue to review on a day by day basis whether or not the restrictions will be lifted on Sunday. You know, my hope is that they will be able to, ‘cause that will mean that the snapshot that we’ve got and the number of positive tests, cases, that we’re seeing has flattened. But I’ll make, and I want to be absolutely clear about this, if the Public Health advice is that we can’t lift those restrictions, then we will leave them in place. But we will continue to review these on a day by day basis.

In terms of the North and the South and, again, I do want to make this point. This is not a time to become complacent. The measures that we have put in place, the early steps that we took in terms of banning cruise ships, locking down our borders, ensuring that we put in place the restrictions that we discussed at a national level across all businesses and unfortunately caused severe disruption to our economy are working.

But, importantly, what we need to do is remain disciplined, we need to continue to do the right thing, we need to be disciplined, we need to stay at home, only go out for essential purposes, importantly, we need to save lives.

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