Legislative Council Wednesday 25 March, 2020
Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I thank the Leader for arranging the briefing for us. It is a bit frustrating at times that we spend a lot of time on these things, but this is an important bill. We have had very limited time to look at it and it has some quite technical aspects to it that I needed to be confident with before we move forward. I will make some overarching comments before I comment specifically on the bill, but my contribution may be a bit disjointed because of the nature of the way we have been trying to glean information during the day. We all heard from the Police Commissioner, now State Controller, Darren Hine, who reiterated the seriousness of the situation we are facing, and that cannot be understated. I acknowledge the leadership shown by our Premier in dealing with this incredibly challenging circumstance we find ourselves in.
I also acknowledge the incredible amount of work the Office of Parliamentary Counsel has had to produce to see us debating this bill as well as all the others they have been working on, the emergency bills as well as other work that does not necessarily stop. This bill is complex and it needs to be scrutinised to ensure we have covered the key issues to ensure the state and the Government can continue to operate. Robyn Webb made it clear this may not be the only legislation we need to deal with to ensure all the powers necessary are in place. We may have to come back to deal with some other aspects, but this is an important step which is necessary right now.
There have been some very difficult days this week for so many workers in Tasmania and throughout Australia. The decisions taken to close so many businesses will be devastating to so many people and support will be needed. There is a great deal of information on government websites about this, and we need to be sure we personally share and distribute only credible and accurate information with the public and on social media, and take down anything that is not right. Take it off your site, if it is on your site. We should also call out inaccurate information and when people share it, tell them it is wrong. Post the right information and direct people to where accurate information can be found. That is the only way we can stop rumour spreading. Rumours spread as quickly, if not more quickly, than the COVID 19 virus does, and can also be dangerous and damaging if they cause people not to act according to the rules and requirements we now have in place to protect us all.
Very difficult decisions are not easy to make in such circumstances, and the pain and hardship that will follow is very hard for all of us to witness because we are still getting paid. I appreciate the efforts of the Premier, Mr Gutwein, and I will continue to support him and his Government as they work to contain this awful virus. I thank him for being so available to me and to others, and for being so responsive when he is so busy.
The decision to close so many businesses, combined with so many workers being required to work from home, has meant many job losses. You only had to watch the Premier's daily updates, which have been excellent, informative and calm and are such an important way to communicate broadly with the public through social media, to see the impact it is having on him. Those who watched on Tuesday and again today would be aware of the anguish these decisions are causing the Premier. If you have not already started watching the 9.15 a.m. updates and shared the feed on your Facebook feed, do that and get it out there as much as you can.
Going to the bill specifically, I want to touch on a number of its aspects. The matter of amendment to planning and other permits is often one that causes concern because planning is a bit fraught at the best of times. To have a power to alter a permit that is in place, basically for any reason provided it fits in within the scope of the bill and is related to the emergency situation we are in, raises my concern to get it clear that this is not an open ticket to do anything you like in planning. I am confident that is not the case.
These changes will need to be managed by notice and all notices included in this bill will need to go through the Subordinate Legislation Committee. While most members here are not on that committee and may not be doing as much, for a short period members of that will be doing a hell of a lot and their responsibilities are very significant. I have been on the Subordinate Legislation Committee for about 12 years, a long time. I chaired it for a long time but stepped down from the chair a little while ago to give others a chance to take that role on. It is a very important committee. I always said the Subordinate Legislation Committee was the most powerful and important committee. People used to laugh at me but not anymore.
It is important to support the Subordinate Legislation Committee in doing its job. It will not be easy. It will be a lot of pressure to ensure that the notices made fit within the requirements of the legislation, are related to this emergency we are facing and that no person or group of people are negatively impacted in unforeseen ways. The minister is not going to bring forward notices that are unnecessary. I am confident of that, but as a committee we still have an important job to make sure that those things proceed smoothly, are done with the best of intentions and achieve the outcomes sought.
Many people find the Subordinate Legislation Committee an unusual beast, mainly because of its name. What is subordinate legislation? That sort of thing, and I always said I did not want to be subordinate to anything, so there you go.
Those matters are important. The introduction of what is colloquially known as a Henry VIII clause, which basically takes away the role of parliament, should only ever be considered in such an emergency and in such drastic circumstances. That is what we are dealing with, and that is why they are there, but they need to be limited, scrutinised and only in force for as long as is necessary.
There was a question about whether there needs to be a sunset clause. My understanding of that from the briefing this evening is that if you had a sunset provision, it could remove the legal status of some of the notices made during that period. The proposed act will be limited by the period in which the emergency situation continues, and there is a process for that, and no more notices can be made once that time has passed. Parliament can come back and repeal this legislation if it wants to, but it gives validity to all actions taken under this proposed act. I would appreciate the Leader clarifying that in her response,.
No other members will talk about the tenancy issues. I raised clause 19, Public exhibition of certain documents, in the briefing. Documents are normally put up for public exhibition but you have to go somewhere to look at them - for example, for development applications, you have to go to the council. You cannot take them with you and you are not supposed to take photographs of them either. That will not be possible under the circumstances we are now living in. I asked a question about documents held by the Legislative Council Clerk, and, I am sure, the House of Assembly Clerk as well, that have been tabled or are part of committee proceedings. The definition of 'public exhibition' is not in the bill. It might be useful to clarify to what extent our Clerks are able to send documents electronically that a person may be seeking to view. Not a private document - public documents only. Can the Leader clarify that will include documents held by the Clerks if a person sought to access those.
I will not go into the measures other members will speak about. The second reading speech provides a lot of clarity about other matters. I appreciated the opportunity to have some of those issues fleshed out in the briefing. I do not need to rehash them all. Essentially, we are on the right path.
I note that we may be away from this place for some time, so I want to make some closing comments with relation to that.
The COVID-19 crisis we are facing is serious. We do not know what the future holds and we must be united in this fight. We must do all we can personally and collectively to limit the spread of the disease.
As I said in my State of the State response, other community leaders mocked me for refusing to shake hands less than two weeks ago, and for urging physical distancing and avoiding large groups. They mocked me. I am sure those views are well and truly put to bed. Some members in this Chamber believed I was being overzealous last week, making fun of my focus on good personal hygiene and physical distancing. Being ridiculed for taking my health and health of my family and my community seriously is worth accepting such ridicule. As student nurses, we learned about serious infectious diseases, what was necessary to protect our patients and ourselves, and these lessons stay with you forever.
Over the weekend and this week, it has become patently clear the measures I was taking, despite some snide remarks, were and remain necessary. We must all pull together to get through this. It does not matter where people have tested positive are in Tasmania, we should all be behaving in ways that would assume we have COVID-19 because if we act that way, we will act to prevent the spread. We will stay at home, we will do the right thing. It is only if we do this that we will have some hope of containing this virus, and it will be disastrous if we do not.
We must be community leaders and role models in this, so please stay home unless you absolutely have to go out. This is not only for us - this is for everybody who might be listening or might watch this parliamentary debate at a later time. Only go out when you really need to; only go out at all if you have not been told to be in quarantine or self-isolation, in which case you need to arrange for others to ensure you have what you need. The Government has implemented measures to support this for those who do not have family or friends who can assist. That was a bit of a missing link, and I am really pleased to see that is happening now. My husband and I were only talking about this last night. That is the missing link. You have to make it easy for people to do the right thing and thank you to the Government for recognising that and doing the right thing.
Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly and do not get any closer than 1.5 metres from others, or more if possible. Only cough or sneeze into your elbow and if you need to wipe or blow your nose, use a tissue and discard it immediately into the bin, then wash and sanitise your hands again thoroughly. Do not use handkerchiefs - they are not hygienic - use tissues and throw them in the bin. Stay at home and away from others, and only go out for essential reasons. If you have any flu-like symptoms, do not go anywhere - just stay at home.
I want to read this emergency alert issued in New Zealand this afternoon. This is where we do not want to get to, but we are pretty close and we might be there before we know it -
NATIONAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY ALERT: From 11.59 p.m. tonight, the whole of New Zealand moved to COVID-19 Alert Level 4.
This message is for all of New Zealand.
We are depending on you. Follow the rules and STAY HOME. Act as if you have Covid-19. This will save lives.
• Where you stay tonight is where YOU MUST stay from now on
• You must only be in physical contact with those you are living with
It is likely level 4 measures will stay in place for a number of weeks.
Let's all do our bit to unite against Covid-19.
We could be there tomorrow or the next day. Where the New Zealanders stay for the night, that is it. That is where they are. That is how serious this is.
Mr President, we need to be serious and sensible about this. These emergency measures can only support the actions we all need to take to protect our health and wellbeing and seek to protect our economy. Do not forget the mental health and wellbeing of our family and friends, neighbours and community broadly. Keep in touch with them through non-physical means. Social isolation can be extremely damaging and challenging for almost everyone. My greatest hope and wish at this time is that in three, six or 12 months, we as a parliament, as a collective, and the Government will be accused of being too cautious, of acting too soon and of going too hard. I sincerely hope we are accused of that, because if we are not accused of that, we will be accused of letting too many people die in this state - too many of our family and friends and community members.
If we are accused of going too hard, too fast, it will mean we have done our job and contained the virus. We will have had fewer deaths and will be able to ease the restrictions we are all facing on our movements. I want to be accused of that. I do not want to be in a position in which harsher measures are needed. We do not have a whole lot more levers to pull, but I know our Premier will pull them if he needs to and he has my support to do it.
I want to finish with reading a post on Facebook yesterday. I will alter one word, for obvious reasons. Your grandparents were called to fight in world wars. You are being called to wash your hands and sit on the couch. Don't muck this up.