Peter Gutwein

Premier of Tasmania

PRESS CONFERENCE - 29 APRIL 2020

I start where I have started on so many occasions before, to reiterate our message: stay home, save lives, don’t leave your home if you don’t have to go out for essential purposes or exercise or to go to school.

Overnight we’ve had four more confirmed cases of coronavirus, three in the North West and one in the North, all related to the North West Regional Hospital outbreak. The Health Minister will provide further update along with Dr Veitch in a moment.

But I do want to say that our testing is increasing. Now, more than 10,500 tests have been conducted. And it’s important that we continue to test and, as we have said on so many occasions, if you have even a sniffle, get tested, ensure that you do what you can to find out where this virus is in the community. Importantly, if you do have a positive case to ensure that you can protect both yourself and your family and your loved ones.

Because we have one of the oldest and most vulnerable populations in the country, at every step, we have acted early and taken difficult decisions.

When our North West Regional Hospital was impacted, we moved to quarantine around 4,000 health workers and their families along with their households to keep them safe and to keep their communities safe.

The AUSMAT team and the ADF answered our call for help, and following a deep clean of the hospital, 50 members of the ADF and seven AUSMAT health professionals worked to ensure that the Emergency Department was able to be stood up and remain open, providing essential health services, I understand, to more than 400 patients in the period that they have been open. They’ve supported the North West and they came at our hour of need.

Today, however, the handover process to the North West Regional Hospital staff is finalised and from today the final handover will take place. And so, our AUSMAT and ADF personnel will be leaving the state. I just wanted, on behalf of the state, to especially thank Bronte Martin who is the Leader of the AUSMAT team and the ADF personnel that worked here with us. Thank you so much for your support.

I met with Major General Paul Kenny early in the week and expressed from the Tasmanian Parliament, from my Government and, importantly, from the Tasmanian people, how pleased and thankful we were for the way that they stood up. They helped, they came when we needed them and, importantly, they’ve done the job that we needed them to do so professionally.  So, thank you.

I know that a few of that team are from Darwin, and I’m certain that they are looking perhaps to going back to a warmer climate. But we certainly thank them for their time here and for their efforts.

These are incredibly challenging times. As a Government we’ve been putting in place safety and security measures to help people wherever we can, and we provided around $1 billion worth of support to date to support individuals, businesses, provide relief to cost of living pressures, to support sporting organisations, we’ve provided a range of measures, including payroll tax relief and support for both small businesses, the tourism and the hospitality sector, seafood, fisheries, taxis.

We have done what we can where we can to ensure that we provide a level of support to ensure where businesses need to hibernate they can and, importantly, for those who’ve been able to trade on, to provide them some level of support as well, should they have been impacted by COVID-19.

Last week, we provided a level of support to our temporary visa holders. And as I said last week, they’ve been important contributors to our economy and in many cases they simply cannot just go home. So we provided a level of support, and we continue to work with industry associations and industry sectors to look at other levels of support that we might be able to put in place to enable them to keep the skilled workers that they want here in Tasmania.

Our first social and economic support package included a number of measures to help our most vulnerable as well, and the additional funding of around $5 million which provided for immediate relief, support for people that needed to be in isolation, as well as increased funding to combat the stresses that many people are under at this difficult time. But we know that more is needed.

And I know many people at home are very worried about this virus. However, many people, young and old, don’t have the benefit of a home to sleep in, and so it’s important that we do what we can to support all Tasmanians. For those who are on the street, sleeping rough and worried about the virus, they have a different set of challenges that we need to deal with.

So, today we’re announcing further support for homelessness and housing to compliment the measures that we previously announced. It includes expanding our current Safe Night Space pilot which provides a safe overnight space for those sleeping rough around the state. More than $2.5 million will be provided to extend the program to cover our three main urban centres and to form an overnight service with 24-7 wraparound support services.

The sites in Hobart, Launceston and Burnie will provide essential services, including the provision of food, showers, laundry, lockers even, as well as some charging stations and access to Wi-Fi or to a network.

We’ll also expand Housing Connect’s capacity to provide brokered accommodation statewide for people who require a roof over their head, who may be in shelters or couch surfing or living in their cars, they may be in insecure or unaffordable housing, and what we want to do is to ensure that we can support them to be in accommodation that is safe and secure and, importantly, affordable.

There will also be additional funding provided in terms of mental health support. We’ve set aside an additional $1.1 million for this purpose, and there will be a further $500,000 that we’re going to set aside to support young people who are presenting as homeless. And I understand from speaking with my Minister that there has been an increasing number of young people that have been looking for support. In total, around $4.1 million worth of additional support.

We want to ensure that those people that are in difficult and challenging circumstances, are at their time of greatest need, can receive the support that they require, and I want to thank Minister Jaensch for the work that he has done on this particular program. I believe it will be well received and it will certainly support many Tasmanians who require that assistance.

Minister Jaensch will provide more detail on the package later today, and he’ll be able to explain the services that have been wrapped around as well to provide support.

In terms of the return to Parliament. We’ll be back in the Parliament tomorrow, and this will allow the opportunity to work through COVID-related legislation, will allow the opportunity for Question Time and obviously for scrutiny in terms of the decisions that we’ve been making.

We’ll be introducing the second COVID-19 Disease Emergency Bill tomorrow. This bill will contain a range of provisions that need to be dealt with, including settling the Legislative Council Membership terms. There’ll be a range of Public Health and Tasmanian Health Service matters that will be dealt with in the bill as well, as well as the provision for on the spot fines for compliance with COVID-19 directions.

There is a second part to this bill which we will introduce next week and that will be in relation to the national code for commercial landlords and tenants. We moved first across the country to put protections in place for commercial tenants that were included in the very first bill when Parliament last sat that enabled for there to be no evictions as a result of COVID-related impacts, as well as no rent increases during the emergency period.

However, the national code, which has been adopted by all states, goes further, and along with other states we’re attempting to have a uniform approach across the country, especially on the eastern seaboard where there are a lot of larger landlords that are involved up and down the eastern seaboard, it’s important that we ensure we have a consistency across jurisdictions. So, we’re engaged with other states, and the Attorney-General Elise Archer has been doing a significant amount of work on this, and we will be bringing that part of the bill back to Parliament next week.

Tomorrow in Parliament, we’ll also be providing an update on our pathway to recovery and outlining the steps that we will take in terms of the plan to rebuild a strong Tasmania, and I’ll have more to say on that tomorrow.

But I want to make the very clear point again. In terms of this state, we don’t want to get in front of ourselves and, importantly, because of the older, more vulnerable population that we have, we moved quickly early, and it’s important that as we work through this that we step out of it in a sensible and responsible way, guided by Public Health. We need to ensure that our first and foremost thought is for the safety of Tasmanians, and that’s where our focus has been from Day One and will continue to be as we move forward through this.

But it’s importantly that we look at the next steps and what we can do, and by next steps, and I want to be clear, tomorrow I will not be announcing the lifting of any restrictions. There is a period that we need to work through in terms of the North West. We will have more to say on Friday in terms of what occurs there with the extra restrictions, and then, obviously, May 15 is when at a national level the current level of agreed restrictions is in place to, but, tomorrow, what I want to do is outline the steps that we’re going to take to ensure that we can rebuild both economically and socially as a result of COVID.

Tomorrow morning as well, in terms of the health report. Prior to Parliament, we will be releasing publicly the findings of the North West Regional Hospital outbreak. Tomorrow morning, we will therefore have an earlier press conference - it will be 0830 am - to allow adequate time for Public Health and the THS to outline the findings and to explain the report and the response.

The important thing, and one thing that I have always stressed through this is that we will be accountable, we will be responsible and, importantly, we will be transparent, and I think it’s important that this release is provided publicly for those people that have an interest in these briefings but, importantly, is provide publicly before Parliament, so that if there are matters that need to be raised during the Parliament that those matters can be raised. We’ll have more to say on that tomorrow morning.

In finishing, I want to say, again, and I keep reiterating this, please follow the rules. Now is not the time to become complacent. Stay home and save lives. Protect those people that you love, protect your friends, protect your community.

I know that our way of life is not easy at the moment. It is difficult, and difficult for me. But now is the time that we need to have patience. Now is the time that we can’t get in front of ourselves. Too many other jurisdictions around the world are having a second wave of the virus. We need to ensure that what we do and how we exit and step out of the current level of restrictions is done in such a way that first and foremost it always protects and looks after the health of Tasmanians.

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