COVID-19 - Economic Impact on Tasmania

[Text of original motion at the bottom of this page]

[5.06 p.m.]

Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, I thank the member for Murchison for moving this motion. The coronavirus pandemic has left in its wake a trail of economic destruction and, tied in with that, emotional, mental and social destruction and the lives lost that no amount of money can ever bring back. In the stage we have reached here and now in Tasmania we begin to ask ourselves why. It is a natural human compulsion to try as best we can to link cause with effect, to ask what we can do to understand what happened in terms that we can comprehend.

The sheer scale of the damage and destruction the coronavirus has wreaked will not be fully understood for years and years to come. Not until we can understand the complex factors that have led to this event's occurrence can we have any meaningful appreciation of the entire event, an event which is yet to be over. What we do know, however, is that it has been devastating. Entire workforces and the livelihoods they support have been decimated. The support provided to those who have lost their jobs, their livelihoods, their means to place meals on the table has racked up a bill that will be placed on the shoulders of the youngest and most vulnerable generations to pay.

Our banking system, interest rates, superannuation legislation and tax policy all concede to the magnitude of the issue. Our international borders, the means by which we bring people to our country, particularly our international higher education students, are shut for the foreseeable future, probably until 2021. Our domestic borders are only now in the formative stages of reopening with a great number of caveats attached. To say that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy has been significant is verging on understatement. This has been a once-in-a-century event, whose effects will be felt for the next century. I acknowledge that while there is much left to be investigated and understood, it is absolutely apparent now that the economic impact has indeed been significant.

I support the need for a nonpartisan, inclusive approach to economic recovery in this state. A nonpartisan and inclusive approach, analysing economic impacts, outcomes and policies, is something which should be done as a matter of course by any parliament. This is why I believe the approach currently being taken is the most appropriate course of action - that is, the Joint Standing Public Accounts Committee and the subordinate legislation committees, the forthcoming inquiry to be undertaken by the Auditor-General and the Premier's Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council are the most appropriate vehicles for examining the Government's response to the coronavirus pandemic at this time.

The proactive outreach now being made to the community by these bodies is a very positive development and emphasises how nonpartisan inquiries have the power to cut through the noise and get through to the real issues people are experiencing. The Premier's Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council is up and running with its own website, with set dates and plans for analysis and consultation with the community. The Public Accounts Committee is currently open for submissions to its inquiry, one which is analysing the timing and efficacy of the Government's economic response to the pandemic and the progress and outcome of the Government's economic recovery plan for the state. In this sense, it is arguable that the PAC is itself a check and balance on PESRAC.

At this time I acknowledge the need for a nonpartisan, inclusive approach to economic recovery in the state, and I am also conscious of the efforts already in place to this end. Rethinking how the state budget and economy is managed is an ever-continuing task. It changes almost from week to week and it is so intricately intertwined with national policy and international events that it is virtually impossible to rethink it all the time as it is. Nothing has highlighted this entire process more than the advent of the coronavirus pandemic; I see, understand and appreciate the sentiment but I also believe it is already happening all the time.

If nothing else, the advent of the coronavirus pandemic has emphasised how plans, even the most detailed and carefully laid out ones, can be made redundant in an instant. This is not to say we should avoid making plans for the economy and devising budgetary priorities. However, I feel that this, too, is being done on a continuous basis. Indeed, the budget each year is as much of a policy priority document for the government of the day as it is an allocation for fiscal resources.

With regard to the death of 13 Tasmanians to COVID-19 - even one death to this virus is too many. To those who have lost someone to this terrible virus, and throughout this terrible event, I offer my deepest and sincerest condolences. Please know that your whole community is behind you and with you, and we will be here to support you in the weeks, months and years ahead. There are few worse things in life than grief and the loss of one who is dearly loved. There are no words anyone can say nor really anything to be done that can magically alleviate the pain. For anyone experiencing this grief, I encourage them to lean on their families, friends and communities. While this pandemic has stretched some parts of our communities to its limits, it has also revealed all that is positive and benevolent when we pull together and look after one another.

The social distancing and isolation requirements that were rightly implemented in response to flattening the curve have meant that we had to approach the way we usually do things in a much different way. This has had a domino effect on the way we interact with our colleagues, families, neighbours and essential workers. The way we conduct our own daily routines needed to be done more mindfully and from an entirely different perspective. Naturally, this has fed into the way we look at flexible working arrangements including child care, the impact of crime - both public and domestic - and the way we should support the more vulnerable people in our society.

Some of these things may change permanently. For instance, it would certainly be a positive outcome should the advent of this pandemic improve the way we understand domestic or elder abuse and identify and implement better ways of detecting, reporting and preventing it. Other aspects as they relate to how we work and how we manage working arrangements, I believe, are best left to each individual and organisation to manage. As each person's personal circumstances and work requirements differ, it is impossible to take a cookie-cutter approach to mandating certain working arrangements.

As far as telehealth arrangements, I will support any means that provide us with better health outcomes. However, I also believe that in order to get better health outcomes, telehealth services ought to be managed properly. I understand the pain felt by our Tasmanian doctors in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic as it has been reported that general practices have seen a drop in revenue of 15 to 30 per cent.

A national survey recently conducted by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners of around 980 practices across Australia further indicates that 43 per cent of these practices experienced a drop in revenue of between 10 and 30 per cent, 27 per cent of these practices experienced a drop of 30 to 60 per cent, and 4 per cent of these practices experienced a loss of between 60 and 90 per cent of revenue since May last year. It is not unfair to say that factors in addition to the impact of coronavirus may have influenced these drops in revenue. However, it also cannot be discounted. My point is that no-one benefits when general practice surgeries are forced to close their doors. It limits access to quality health care and preventative medicine.

In addition to these losses in revenue, I also note the experiences of endorsements for telehealth services that matches patrons with doctors who are not their regular primary care providers. While I support greater use of telehealth facilities in principle, I do not believe the positive outcomes that we can hope for can be best reached if patients are not able to properly connect with a practitioner who knows them and their medical background has a good history of proper care. To this end, I believe that the good of telehealth facilities comes from filling the gaps that arise when people cannot, as a first resort, get to see their usual general practitioner in person because there is no substitute for the kind of quality care that they provide. I thank the member for the opportunity to speak on this motion and I certainly note it.

[MOTION - THURSDAY 25 JUNE 2020]

Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I move -

That with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on Tasmania, the Legislative Council acknowledges -

(1) The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the people of Tasmania with many losing their jobs and curtailed the personal freedoms of all;

(2) The Government’s response has reduced the spread and impact of the virus;

(3) The death of 13 Tasmanians and offers our sincere condolences to the families and friends of these Tasmanians; and

(4) Recognises changes in response to the pandemic in the following areas -

(a) opportunities to work from home;

(b) flexible work hours and places;

(c) free childcare;

(d) greater focus on housing those who are homeless;

(e) developing different ways to identify and respond to domestic abuse and violence;

(f) greater use of telehealth services; and

(g) community support and connection with vulnerable and elderly members of the community.

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