Establishment of Select Committee on Tasmania's COVID-19 Response & Recovery measures

[6.12 p.m.]

Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, I thank the member for Nelson for all the information she has provided to us; she certainly has done a power of work.

While I acknowledge the right of any member to bring a motion forward - and a general committee with plenary oversight of the Tasmanian Government's response to the coronavirus pandemic may sound on the face of it a beneficial and worthwhile endeavour - however, for a number of reasons, I question its utility, given the existence of a number of other independent organisations, committees and bodies that are undertaking their own investigations into the coronavirus response. I do not believe we are post-COVID-19 at this stage.

My concern is that this committee could become a vehicle for duplication of efforts, confusion for those wanting to make submissions and a costly use of public resources to conduct. I, like many others, wish to focus on what the proposed role and functions of the parliamentary committee are ‑ and its first role is to ensure focused and rigorous scrutiny of COVID-19-related regulatory decisions are undertaken as efficiently and effectively as possible.

This is a laudable function; however, at this stage I am unconvinced this particular function is not already being adequately examined by other means. Aside from the regular scrutiny applied to bills, both in this Chamber and the lower House, the Joint Standing Committee on Subordinate Legislation is already empowered to look into issues and has been doing so as part of its regular business before and during the coronavirus crisis.

It is quite self-evident the Tasmanian Parliament dealt with emergency legislation during the crisis period efficiently based on the medical and epidemiological evidence that came through hour by hour; the time taken from the drafting of bills to royal assent was, in my opinion, almost as quick as it could have been.

The debate that occurred both in the House of Assembly and here also ensured that comments and questions regarding those pieces of legislation would remained enshrined in Hansard and on the record in light of regular parliamentary processes and the work being done by the Subordinate Legislation Committee. I am therefore a bit unsure of what is hoped to be achieved by the function of the proposed inquiry.

Ms Webb - Can I just clarify - this function you read out, where were you reading that from?

Ms ARMITAGE - From documents I actually had. I do not have them with me now.

Ms Webb - Sorry. You were not reading the terms of reference?

Ms ARMITAGE - No.

Ms Webb - No, okay.

Ms ARMITAGE - No, sorry.

Without labouring the point too much, I believe pre-existing bodies have better expertise and capabilities to undertake this task. This is exactly what the Premier's Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council is tasked to do. PESRAC is a fundamentally independent and apolitical committee comprising experts in their fields.

I appreciate there is some apprehension as to the nature of the recommendations that will be made by the council. Whether its investigations and findings will be made public and how likely it is for the Government to actually implement its recommendations. These questions are worth asking, and I look forward to hearing what answers the Government will provide in response to these concerns.

However, I do not believe that this is now the time to implement the nuclear option of instigating an inquiry, the nature of which is being proposed, if it should become necessary and if the investigations are allowed to be made by the Public Accounts Committee, the Subordinate Legislation Committee and the Auditor-General. I understand the Auditor General will be looking into these matters and if the Premier's Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council in any way falls short of the high standard expected of it. That when an inquiry of this nature could be contemplated.

To be clear, an inquiry like this is no replacement for the expertise offered by the aforementioned bodies and its members, but inquiries, by their very nature, are mechanisms by which to keep public administration accountable and responsible.

Consequently, I am not sure if I see the sense in having a joint parliamentary inquiry while we are simultaneously moving out of this crisis, albeit quite slowly and still in the formative stages of determining recovery plans.

I understand our community has expressed its grief throughout this crisis in varying ways and providing a platform where this grief can be expressed is a valuable thing. Parliamentary inquiries have been used to this end before, such as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

Inquiries like these are broad in nature and are a vehicle for witnesses to tell their stories. However, what is being proposed here is a compilation for an ongoing recovery plan and posterity.

As regards to an ongoing recovery plan, yet again I believe there are bodies already using qualitative individual experiences to inform recovery plans, such as the Premier's advisory council, which can more meaningfully collect and analysis these experiences to inform tangible recommendations that can be converted into actual policy.

As for the collection of stories for posterity, again I understand this has formed a part of some broad inquiries, but collecting stories and experiences relating to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, is another thing entirely. Let me very clear: this is not to say any experience or story any person has to share about this experience is any more or less valuable than anyone else's. I just do not believe this should be the function of the proposed inquiry.

The mind boggles at the resources we will be required to give everybody who wants to make a submission the time and space to adequately express themselves. I would anticipate significant revisions to this, given the vast amount of time and resources that would be required to provide this proposed platform. In that event, the inquiry committee would then be forced to deal with a serious legitimacy issue.

In summing up, I believe this proposed inquiry has been made with the very best of intentions and with the best interests of the Tasmanian community in mind. I am not convinced, however, of its practical value and I am unsure about the roles and functions it seeks to undertake. To my mind, they are far too broad in scope and are drafted in such a way as to confuse the manner of its investigation.

I am not ruling out supporting an inquiry like this. However, I do not believe now is the best time to commence an inquiry like this, particularly when we are still actually coming out of this crisis and when our existing bodies and organisations are still assessing the scope of its damage. At this time, I am content with allowing the existing bodies and organisations continue with the work they are mandated to do and to consider a committee, such as the one that has been proposed, in the future if their work should fall short of the high standard Tasmanians expect of them.

The Council divided -

AYES

Mr Finch

Ms Forrest

Mr Gaffney (T)

Ms Lovell

Mr Valentine

Ms Webb

Mr Willie

NOES

Ms Armitage

Mr Armstrong

Mr Dean

Ms Hiscutt

Ms Rattray (T)

PAIRS

Ms Siejka

Ms Howlett

Motion agreed to.

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