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COVID-19 Disease Emergency (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill (No 2) 2020

[9.05 p.m.] Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Madam Deputy President, this is serious legislation I certainly support. I appreciate and thank you, Leader, for the briefings yesterday and today.

The current bill regarding the election, enables the incumbents to remain the members of their electorates until the winner of the Huon and Rosevears elections are declared. This will ensure all Tasmanian communities have access to the assistance and leadership mandated by our parliamentary system. I note the comments by some members with regard to postal voting, but also note the letter tabled by the member for Murchison. I too had that put to me; it made complete sense of why it really was not the way to go with a full postal vote. I certainly understood the comments made.

By the time of the 2026 election, the Huon and Rosevears electorates will return to their usual six-year terms meaning the members who are elected at the upcoming elections will serve less than the usual six years this time. These are highly unusual and extraordinary circumstances and we hope we will never see them again. Many would agree this is probably the fairest way to go about it while ensuring we will return to normality of the council elections are soon as possible. As has been said we really do not know in these difficult times when it will end or whether it will ever come again. We need to realise, as other members have said we are really fortunate in all we had to do was stay home. In years gone past how many of our families have had to go to war and to far flung countries. Realistically it is difficult times, but we are very fortunate compared to what many others have been in the past.

A few brief comments with regards to a couple of sections of the bill. The freezing of motor vehicle registrations for nominated periods. This is a sensible and fair measure to assist people who are not driving now to take this up again once the free lease period on their vehicle ceases.

Leader, it might be worth considering extending the period of free or subsidised public transport on Metro beyond 31 May - I notice that was going until 31 May - to avoid people using vehicles with frozen registration just that once and to minimise the possibility of accidents occurring without cars being registered. Even if you freeze it there is always the possibility there might be a time you actually need to use that vehicle.

In a similar vein amending the Taxi Hire and Vehicle Industries Act and Taxi Industry Regulations to allow approval of vehicles to operate as an ordinary taxi or wheelchair accessible taxi provides a greater range of options for essential travel for those who cannot or do not drive.

Allowing leeway for specific maximum vehicle age and odometer readings to make operation of these taxis more flexible is a reasonable measure to take for these and other hardship purposes.

I am also pleased to see the bill does not affect or compromise other requirements for ordinary and wheelchair taxis, including the necessity for compliance with the disability standards for accessible public transport rules and the Disability Discrimination Act.

As the member for Windermere said over more than 12 months we have been working with the taxi industry, particularly in the north and how difficult it is for many of them particularly when they have set areas they cannot go outside and they have been fined. It has not been easy for them with Uber. It was not easy for them before but Uber has made it extremely difficult and I am sure now it has become even harder.

The personal observations I have made especially with school resuming this week is more people are leaving their homes for the purposes of these essential reasons. I do not know how many people here go walking, or walk the streets, or go for a ride on their bike. Personally, I prefer the walking machine, but my husband likes to go for walks and I have never seen so many people on the street. I actually hate being out there going for a walk. I know you are supposed to go out and exercise, but there are so many people out there doing this it actually feels quite dangerous as if there really are too many. I am going back to my walking machine and exercise bike. It is much safer to stay at home than walk around streets and go down to the parks for exercise. It is important to remember that the coronavirus emergency is not over and we cannot become complacent now. Avoiding a second wave of transmission and illnesses here in Tasmania is of paramount importance.

While I hope it is not necessary to be used, it is probably prudent to amend the Public Health Act to allow for extension of the public health emergency declaration to be made for up to 12 weeks, but relating to the COVID-19 disease emergency only is an important caveat to this and glad this is also being included in the wording of the amendment. It is additionally prudent to amend section 42(2) of the Public Health Act, to increase the penalty for non-compliance with the directions of the Public Health Director, from a fine not exceeding 50 penalty units to 100 penalty units, or imprisonment not exceeding six months or both, and I accept that this is for consistency. However, I question the amendment of section 194 of the Public Health Act, which provides - (2) In the absence of evidence to the contrary, in any proceedings for an offence of failing to comply with a direction under this Act, it is sufficient evidence that a person knew of the requirements of the direction if it is established that - (a) a document specifying the direction was served on him or her; or (b) where the direction is a direction given by the Director, the direction was given to the person orally or the substance of the direction was conveyed to the person by an authorised person within the meaning of section 17.

This section also does not expressly provide any defences for non-compliance with the direction. All that needs to be established is that the direction was served in writing, or delivered orally by an authorised person in an authorised way. It then falls to the person to rebut that with evidence to the contrary. This is ostensibly a reversal of the onus of proof - for a person to prove themselves innocent, rather than the Crown proving them guilty. I understand the seriousness and severity of this offence. I am aware that other offences operate in this fashion, and sincerely hope that this has been properly thought through by the Government.

Honourable Leader, I would also like some assurance, if you could, that typical defences to this will apply, and that people functioning involuntarily - for example, under duress, or unintentionally, such as operating under a mental disorder - will have these defences available to them in proceedings for non-compliance of a directive.

Also, I am happy to support the infringement notice by Tasmania Police. I agree with other members. I believe this should be available to the police long after COVID-19. Realistically, anything that saves on court time, and saves on police time, has to be a good option. To be able to give an infringement notice, whether someone realises or not, or whether the police have the time to actually explain to them that it could cost them less, realistically, I cannot see any detriment to it. If they are not happy with it, they can still choose to go to court, they can still choose not to pay the infringement and let it go to summons, but at least in this case, if they wish to, they can pay. It does not take up court time, it does not take up police time with police having to go to court.

I see that as a very sensible move, and one that should have been made quite a long time ago, so I accept the bill that we have before us. I also acknowledge the Premier, and the Health minister particularly, for the work they have done. As the member for Murchison also said, all our frontline staff - whether they be nurses, doctors, cleaners, anyone in our hospitals, also the people in our supermarkets - sometimes we forget that they are at as much risk as everyone else. They are at their place of work, whether they want to be or not, and they are doing this for us; we all have to eat. Whether we go to the doctor, or the hospital, or to a pharmacy it is really important that we acknowledge all our frontline workers, and thank them for the work they are doing. Without them we certainly would not be able to exist.

I certainly support the legislation before us.

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