Legislative Council Wednesday 26 August, 2020
Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I watched with great interest when the National Cabinet was putting this suggestion forward. Many in my electorate struggle financially at the best of times. Unemployment is high, it is getting higher under the impact of COVID-19. It frightens the pants off people who may need to travel. I raised this in the briefing. I thank the Leader for the briefing. It was helpful to clarify some points about any person who needs to access specialised cancer treatment that can only be provided at a facility like the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne.
The thought of going to Melbourne at the moment is frightening enough, to access care in a hospital. There have been COVID-19 cases at Peter Mac, for example, as there have in most hospitals. This has been an example of how difficult it is to control the spread of COVID-19 in a healthcare setting.
I hope those people who were pointing fingers at the north-west reflect on that, as I asked them to some time ago. People pointed fingers, criticised and at times abused others because there were healthcare workers who may have seemed to be getting infected, then potentially spreading the disease into their own families. This is nothing any health worker wants to do. It just shows how difficult it is to control this in a healthcare setting.
When we have people who are reluctant to travel, but they need to in order to survive, in order to receive the treatment that they need, we need to make it as easy as possible for those people. We are one country. I raised these in the briefings, but I would like the Leader to address the timing around the application for an exemption more fully in her response.
A constituent who could not afford to travel to Melbourne for treatment was eligible for Patient Travel Assistance Scheme travel - PTAS. That covers the cost of the airfares, accommodation if it is needed outside the hospital in Melbourne and incidentals. It is a really great program. It has been in place for a long time. There are good people running that, who are very responsive to my frequent requests for assistance for constituents in this area. If that person has to come home and pay $2800 or more, and it will be more because the person would need to travel with their carer, that becomes an impossible choice. The choice was that they did not have the treatment. I discouraged that choice, but suggested they talk to their medical treating doctors in Melbourne, which they did.
The treatment has now been delayed, and hopefully will still proceed. This person is quite frightened about going to Melbourne. Most thinking people are at the moment. My heart goes out to Victorians at the moment. This has been going on for them for a long time now.
My heart goes out to Dan Andrews and his team, and Brett Sutton. They have an extraordinarily difficult task. There will always be naysayers. There will always be people who say they could have done better. I do not think anyone would want to be in their shoes.
That was a little aside, but it is important that we acknowledge the hard work, as I did our own Premier. I continue to commend him on his efforts and the work of the Government in keeping Tasmanians as safe as we can be in this. For a person to make a decision for treatment, they need to have surety that their exemption will be granted on financial hardship grounds, not medical grounds. The Leader indicated in her slightly modified second reading contribution that the eligibility criteria relate to the hardship payments that were paid under the COVID-19 pandemic response. I would like her to outline what those requirements are in her reply.
I know they are in a fact sheet that is given to returning residents or others who come into the state so they are aware, and it is on the website. But I think it would be really good if the Government - assuming this bill passes - were to proactively put some more information out to the public to let people know that if they have to travel for medical treatment and that sort of thing, they should apply early so they can get a response and know whether they are going to be granted an exemption or not.
The last thing I want to see is Tasmanians electing not to go and receive potentially life-preserving treatment because they cannot afford it when they get back. If the Leader could clarify some of those points and also make a commitment, if she is able to, in regard to that kind of approach that would be taken to enable people to understand.
I am happy to tell any constituent who contacts my office. But it was definitely a clear barrier; it does frighten people.
I appreciate this is implementing a National Cabinet agreement to provide some uniform model for charging for hotel quarantine. I know before this was agreed at the National Cabinet level, some people were strongly suggesting that people should be required to pay. At the time I was a bit ambivalent about that because I thought if we make it difficult for people, they are more likely to try to avoid it or try to find a way to get around it and find a way to sneak into the state.
It was interesting. I heard on the news this morning that a luxury yacht arrived in Brisbane, or somewhere in Queensland, from Victoria. They had spent 14 days at sea doing their quarantine on this luxury yacht. There were a good number of them - I think there were 11 or 12 or something like that. They were then 'banged up' into hotel quarantine when they arrived. I am not sure how the authorities discovered this, but they had stopped over in New South Wales on the way at a hotspot and thought it would not matter.
It is not too hard to hop on a luxury yacht, if you are lucky enough to have access to one, and pop down to Tasmania. You could pop down into Port Davey, if you like. Not much quarantine down there. Mind you, it would be a fair walk in from there. You would probably reach 14 days quarantine by the time you got through. But there are ways that people try to sneak in to avoid it. We do not want to make it so restrictive that people look for ways of avoiding this. There are people who will do this. I do not know what the people on the luxury yacht that went from Victoria to Queensland via New South Wales were thinking, whether that was an intentional breach, if you like, or whether they did not think it would really matter. They thought 14 days at sea would be enough. I am not sure for how long they are banged up in the hotel, but they will be there for a little time while they sort that out, I imagine.
I also know that it is not a full debt recovery. You know how much it is to stay in hotels, even some of the highest star ranking hotels. In terms of management of the bed linen and towels after check-out, you cannot wash them in a normal laundry. I imagine they have to be laundered effectively because of the risk, particularly if a COVID-19 case had come in. We have had the odd COVID-19 case come into hotel quarantine. We did not know they were positive when they arrived. There was a young woman down here, and there was a person who was transported by individual air ambulance back to Tasmania after having treatment. I understand from the media that person was still negative on discharge from Victoria.
We need to be sure that people understand that although it sounds like a lot of money in one hit, it is two weeks; it is food; it is a birthday cake on occasions, apparently, so we were told. It must be hard for families being locked down for 14 days in a fairly small hotel room with children. It is not my idea of a holiday even though I love my children to bits, but I think 14 days in a not very big hotel room would be a challenge for most.
Those exemptions are important. Can the Leader clarify that eligibility to receive Patient Travel Assistance Scheme support does not automatically qualify you for an exemption on the cost of the hotel quarantine, but it would probably be favourable? I would like you to clarify that point made in the briefing.
Overall, it probably strikes a balance here that there is some cost recovery. It does have a deterrent effect. People will think twice about whether they really want to spend potentially $4000 for a family in hotel quarantine, not of your choice, and perhaps not with the best food from some photos I have seen, with no opportunity to exercise and very little access to fresh air. That would be extremely challenging for some and it has been extremely challenging for some who are not even paying for it in the past. I have had a number of quite distressed calls from family members who are in hotel quarantine, struggling with that very concept.
I believe it will act as an additional deterrent, encouraging people not to travel unless the need to do so is essential. I look forward to the time when we can.