Published: 26 March 2020

Legislative Council Wednesday 25 March, 2020

Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, we do indeed live in unprecedented times at the moment.  I commend the Government for acting promptly to seek to assist businesses in whatever way it can, when effectively, not only is COVID-19 causing chaos for our state and the world, but it is also forcing the Government to make decisions they would rather not make.

We are seeing the Government being forced to make decisions to close down businesses, to stop the operations of businesses, and it has been hard for the Premier to make a decision to effectively put hundreds of people out of work and have no job.

As a state we have an obligation to assist businesses to stay afloat where we can, to be able to continue to function as best they can and to remain in business long enough to be able to get through this period, however long it is - with 12 to 18 months the most likely scenario before we can get back to any semblance of what normal may look like, the new normal that it will be.

I commend the Government for bringing forward a number of these measures as a result of the actions the Government has had to take to close down certain businesses.  It is important to remember, particularly with payroll tax, there are some businesses that are not being impacted, some that are doing very well at the moment - food businesses and toilet roll manufacturers, for example.  This may change in the future.  I do not know how much you can stockpile before you stop buying.  There are businesses that have been positively impacted in a perverse way by this whole experience we are now undergoing with COVID-19.

The question I was keen to have some clarity on and received was eligibility, how a business demonstrates it has been impacted by COVID-19 and why it should get assistance.  I appreciate the briefing yesterday and further discussions with the Treasury secretary regarding this.

You may want to confirm that when a request is made for relief from payroll tax, the minister will consider it, and in the order the minister will issue criteria for the business to be eligible for this exemption or rebate, however it is going to be applied.  The Leader can come back to this in a minute.

I was concerned the ministerial orders were not going to be subject to scrutiny by the Subordinate Legislation Committee.  The bill we will be dealing with sometime today or tomorrow the notices in that all go through the Subordinate Legislation Committee under an emergency power provision that already exists in the Subordinate Legislation Act, but particularly facilitated in that bill.

The ministerial orders do not normally come through the Subordinate Legislative Committee, which is a matter I have often raised.  People think I go on and on about this - I do because it is important to have adequate scrutiny when we are using emergency powers, when we are taking extraordinary measures, even though these measures are to keep Tasmanian businesses in business, so they are able to continue to keep young people in employment with the youth rebate or the youth payroll tax rebate. 

It is important there is proper scrutiny of these measures.  If these orders do not go through Subordinate Legislation Committee but are limited by the time frame the power exists, which is during the power of the state of emergency we are currently in, which will continue to - I assume - be renewed until the Director of Public Health declares otherwise.  It says that the onus falls to the Director of Public Health to notify the Treasurer or the minister, but I assume in this case it is the Treasurer when the public health emergency has ended, before any of these provisions to stop these orders actually takes effect and then there is a transition period to allow business to adjust and those sorts of measures.

Again, I commend the Office of Parliamentary Counsel and Treasury officials who have been working in a way we cannot imagine.  Imagine the pressure they have been under to try to get these measures in place to support and protect our businesses as best we can.  In spite of this, there will be businesses that just do not survive and that is a really sad thing to contemplate.  We know these people; they are in our communities - some of them are small businesses, some not so small, and they will not survive. 

I heard on Radio National this morning that the unemployment rate is predicted to be upwards of 11 to 12 per cent.  Thankfully, we have not seen these sort of circumstances in my lifetime, but we could well see ourselves back there . 

These measures go some way to try to avoid as much of that as we can, to try to support businesses to continue, but we need also to face reality and be prepared to step up and look at other ways we can support the unemployed, of whom there will be many right now and in future.

With the First Home Owner Grant, get on the front foot, extend that, that is fine.  That is for building of new properties.  I will not speak about the intent of all of that.  It is important to try to help keep our skilled tradespersons employed in Tasmania, because we will come out of this.  We will be living in the new normal, but we need these people to be able to pick up and keep going once we get out of it.  I hope we are all here to see that.  Some of us may not be, some of those we love may not be.  It will be interesting to observe over the next 12 months to two years how many people have the confidence to build a house, particularly first home owners.

Mrs Hiscutt - Providing they can get the goods to do it with -

Ms FORREST - Yes.  It is okay to give them 20 grand to help towards the cost of that, but confidence is shattered at the moment.  Good on the Government for making it possible to assist them to do that.  I will be interested to see whether the numbers drop off.  I have seen the number of people who have accessed that First Home Owner Grant to build a new property in recent years and it has been pretty good.  It has been pretty significant and it certainly has helped a lot of first home owners into the market.  Confidence is going to take such a hit and it will be very difficult, but at least it will help those it can.

I support the legislation.  I would like the Leader to clarify those couple of matters and the process of the orders, acknowledging they limited to the duration for which the state of emergency continues and that the Director of Public Health has not indicated that it has ceased.  It is time limited around that.

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