Peter Gutwein

Premier of Tasmania

PRESS CONFERENCE - 12 MAY 2020

Our first priority has always been to keep Tasmanians safe and secure.

Staying home has helped to save lives, and I want to thank all Tasmanians for their efforts.

I also want to reach out today to our nurses. It’s International Nurses Day today. I want to thank them for their efforts, and I also want to especially thank our public health nurses who have been one of the key parts of our approach by Public Health in terms of tracing and tracking, and the work that they do has been fantastic.

Since last Friday, we’ve had zero cases of the virus, with 185 people now recovered and 27 active cases in the state. And the Health Minister will make some comment about that in a moment.

I do also at this stage just want to make the very clear point to Tasmanians, with the activities that are occurring in other states and some of the national media. This is not over. Tasmanians need to remain vigilant, they need to remain disciplined, they need to follow the rules. The last thing that we want is a second wave.

On Friday, we announced our plan to rebuild a strong Tasmania, we announced the road map. The road map is informed by our expert Public Health officials, and I want to thank them for the work that they do. This will enable a gradual easing of restrictions in a way that will allow us to have a safe and responsive approach to rebooting our economy.

Yesterday saw the easing of some restrictions, allowing exercise in national parks and reserves within 30 km of your home. Aged care facilities will now be able to be visited by two people once per week under the guidance of the aged care facility. And funerals have gone up from 10 to 20 people. I know that this was an area that was a real concern to a lot of families. Many people had raised how challenging this was with us. And also TasTAFE will be open for small groups to attend practical learning.

Next Monday, the 18th, we’ll see the next step, which would be the Stage One easing of restrictions, which is the first step to gradually increasing gathering numbers, and we will go from two up to 10. In households, from Monday, the maximum number of visitors will now be five. That is an exception to that rule.

In the first stage, restaurants and cafes and all settings including pubs and clubs will also be allowed to reopen and seat up to 10 patrons at a time. This will not suit everyone, I understand that, but it will enable some small businesses to take a step back as we work through the stages.

But I do want to be absolutely clear with this, in terms of moving from Stage One to Stage Two in June, that will be based on Public Health advice and will be based on how well we are on top of the virus at that particular time.

In terms of COVID safety plans, to ensure the safety of workers and customers, workplaces will be required to comply with minimum COVID-19 safety standards. Businesses currently operating will for the period up until the 15th of June need to continue to comply with public notices and guidance from Public Health, and then from the 15th of June the minimum standards will be established and a set of new regulations.

For businesses such as funeral parlours, that are open this week, details on the requirements for COVID safety plans are available on the WorkSafe website, and as workplaces reopen, they will need to demonstrate their compliance w minimum standards, and we will be providing COVID-ready safety stickers that businesses will be able to display in their business to demonstrate that they are ready to restart and take patrons.

For customer confidence, for business confidence and public confidence, it is going to be important that both customers and staff feel safe in those environments, and it’s important that we all work together to ensure that we can bring that about.

Advice on how to make workplaces safe is available from WorkSafe Tasmania. This will help businesses to ensure that they can comply. Importantly, WorkSafe inspectors and environmental health officers will have a role to play as we work our way through this to ensure that compliance occurs, and this will be done by conducting random audits and also responding to any concerns that are raised, whether from the community or from employees about a workspace.

The past weeks have been incredibly challenging for our businesses and many industries. Thousands of Tasmanians have lost their job as a result of the virus and the restrictions that we put in place.

It’s been important though to put those restrictions in place to ensure that we were able to get on top of the virus to ensure that we could get to a place where we could start to gradually lift the restrictions and move back to a more normal society.

But it’s important that Tasmanians don’t lose sight of the fact that in other parts of the world there have been tens of thousands of people that have lost their jobs. There are economies that are still shut down. It is important that Tasmanians follow the rules. I cannot stress that more.

Now, in terms of the steps that we’re going to take. We will need to work together, we’ll need to follow the rules moving forward and we need to have our COVID safety plans in place to ensure that we can step through this and recover together.

I want to acknowledge industries that have been at the forefront of this. Our hotel and club industry which will step back into this steadily over time. And, as I’ve said, the first steps that we take may not suit every business. 10 people in a facility may not be economic, it may not be the right first step.

But for some businesses it will but, importantly, based on Public Health advice, what we need to do is to take those steps cautiously, sensibly and responsibly. We do not want to have a second wave, and no business would want to recapitalise, only to be shut down at a later date.

I think the challenges that businesses have faced, if they can bear with us and work through this sensibly and cautiously, we should be in a position where we can gradually open up our economy to where we have a COVID economy operating at some stage in July.

In terms of other industries that have been impacted, obviously the racing industry has been one of the industries that has been impacted. It has had to, well, I think it’s fair to say, look over the fence and see racing occurring in other parts of the country, and it’s raised questions as to why that industry has had to close here.

Importantly, based on Public Health advice, one of the key things that we’ve had to do is to ensure that this virus doesn’t travel. It doesn’t travel by itself, it travels with people, and racing, the nature of the industry would bring people together at one location and then disperse them back into the regions.

But I do want to specifically acknowledge the industry today. They’ve been working hard on their business safety plans and, importantly, they will be meeting again, I understand, with Public Health and officials today to talk about the restart and for the ability to conduct trials before the 13 June restart.

That plan is being worked through by the industry and by Public Health, and after discussions this morning with Public Health, I’m confident, quite positive, that we will be able to find a way to make that work and that it will be a good outcome for both the industry and, importantly, support a glide path approach back to the proposed date for a resumption of racing in June.

And there will be a number of industries, I expect, that we will need to take a similar approach as we move to the lifting of Stage Two restrictions. Businesses will need to ensure that their staff are ready to begin resumption of their duties. When Stage Two occurs, they will need to ensure that their business has sufficient stock, whether that be a business that serves food and beverages or a business that is a retailer opening, for example. And so, we will need to work through this sensibly and responsibly to ensure that businesses, when they can, are in a position to restart effectively.

Now, after only a few short months, we have a very different-looking Tasmania.

When we went into this, we were leading the country on most economic indicators. We had a very robust, strongly growing economy, and in fact we were the envy of the nation when we look to the number of our economic stats.

This Friday, I’ll be releasing Treasury’s economic and fiscal update, a report that I asked to be prepared. It will include the March quarterly statement on Tasmania’s financial position, but will also provide a forecast both for the remainder of this financial year, but also the coming financial year in terms of our financial position.

As I mentioned last week, the deficit this financial year will be significantly north of half a billion dollars.

In terms of unemployment, we expect that by the end of the June quarter, more than 27,000 Tasmanians will have lost their job and our unemployment rate will be around 12%.

The slowing national economy in fact and the impact on GST has had a massive impact, along with the impact on our own economy here in terms of our own source revenues and state taxes.

When you combine that with our efforts to protect Tasmanians and to support Tasmanians through this period, I expect that net debt at the end of the next financial year will be around two billion dollars. It will be a significant impact. It will be something that we’re going to have to work through very sensibly and responsibly to ensure that we can both rebuild our economy and our state’s finances.

But I want to make this point. Our fight against the coronavirus has not been about money. Our fight has been to save people’s lives, and that will continue to be at the forefront of our thinking as we work our way through this.

We are in a good space at the moment, but we need to get to a better space.

And as we work through that and gradually reopen our economy, we will ensure that we can bring jobs back in a sensible and responsible way, that we can strengthen our revenues and, importantly, strengthen our economy. It will be important that Tasmanians work with us.

In terms of the steps that we will take, we’ll be guided by the Economic and Social Recovery Council that we put in place. And in coming weeks and months, we’ll lay out in greater detail the steps and actions that we will adopt.

However, right now, and I cannot stress this enough, we need to focus on keeping Tasmanians safe and we need to very carefully balance the opening of our economy with that.

One thing that we will not do as a Government is to put people’s lives at risk, and I want to stress very clearly to Tasmanians that we need to continue to follow the rules. Everyone has a job to play, everyone has a role to play.

Make certain that you don’t expose yourself to the risk of catching the virus, make certain that you don’t bring that virus home to the people that you love, make certain that you don’t infect your friends or your community. You need to follow the rules, and the rules are there to be followed.

A number of people have raised with me that we’re seeing a lot more traffic on the road. That may be true. We might be seeing people travelling to their national parks, but at the moment, very clearly, the rules remain the same. Unless you need to leave your home for essential reasons, unless you need to go out for essential supplies, unless you need to go out for medical services or to go to work, to volunteer or to go to schools or for exercise, stay home, protect yourself and protect the community. It’s important that we do that.

The relaxation of some of the restrictions that started yesterday and as we move into Stage One next week are not a green light to begin partying. They are not a green light to forget that what we have done is worked hard through a period to get on top of a virus that at the end of the day has killed many more Tasmanians than I ever wanted it to.

We need to ensure that we take every step that we possibly can. This is not over yet. There is still lots of work to be done, and the most important thing that Tasmanians can do is to ensure that we all follow the rules, that we all do our bit to ensure that we’re not caught in a queue when we don’t need to be, that we’re not shopping for things that aren’t essential, that we’re not out there taking or having an opportunity for retail therapy.

This virus is deadly. It kills people, and we need to remember that.

We are in a good place, but we need to get to a better place, and by following the rules we will be able to do that.

It will be a gradual process, but it’s one that we need to go through.

And in terms of our economy and in terms of jobs, we have rebuilt our economy before. We will rebuild it again. I’ve not doubt at all in my mind that we can do that.

But the only way that we will be able to take the steps that are necessary, is if people are sensible, if they are responsible, if we all work together, and we all follow the rules.

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