Peter Gutwein

Premier of Tasmania

PRESS CONFERENCE - 4 SEPTEMBER 2020

Premier Peter Gutwein

With the death toll from coronavirus continuing to grow in Victoria and case numbers continuing, our absolute priority here remains the health, safety and wellbeing of Tasmanians.

We have no active cases in our state, and test numbers continue to be strong now, with more than 90,000 Tasmanians having had a test so far.

I know these are challenging times and that there continues to be pressure to open our borders sooner.

However, I want to again reiterate why we have earmarked 1 December as a border reopening date, and to make it perfectly clear that of course if the situation in Victoria, or elsewhere, in terms of the flow-on cases that we’re seeing in other jurisdictions come under control sooner then, obviously, as I’ve said, we will take Public Health advice in terms of our borders.

But I want to make the point very clearly, if circumstances change for the worse, then we will obviously act on Public Health advice. You know, that’s just common sense

We must not forget our population here in Tasmania is older. It is more vulnerable, and we simply can’t jeopardise that or put them at risk.

A Victorian-style situation in our state would be catastrophic, and I think it’s worthwhile pointing out that across the country the death rate in terms of the virus is around 2.4% of those that have a positive case. In terms of aged care sector in Victoria at the moment, that’s running close to 26%, you know, which is just extraordinary.

And to those people that have lost loved one, you know, I offer my sympathies and the sympathies of the Tasmanian Government and, obviously, I’m certain there are many Tasmanians with friends and family in Victoria that likewise would wish them both sympathy but also the very best as they work their way through this.

In terms of aged care, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner continuing spot checks in facilities here in Tasmania.

We’re advised that at the close of business yesterday, 30 spot checks have been undertaken and the remaining business will be conducted over the next two to three weeks.

We’ve also established the Aged Care Emergency Operations Centre which is being led by the Department of Health chief nurse.

Priority actions include undertaking health support visits at each facility in Tasmania. We have 77 of them around the state.

Over the coming weeks, 15 experienced nurses will be deployed in groups of two to three to visit a facility to discuss their planning and preparedness.

The visits will be a key element of collaboration with the sector and with the Commonwealth to ensure that the appropriate support is available to strengthen their ability to respond to a COVID-19 outbreak.

There are 11 visits scheduled for next week, six in the South, four in the North and one in the North West Coast.

Now, today at National Cabinet, noting that Tasmania has a plan to open our borders to safe jurisdictions on 1st December, we in the main, and not every state has agreed to this, we in the main agreed to an aspiration to work towards the opening up of borders across the country, including a national approach of travel in terms of protocols, testing and data-sharing by Christmas.

I pointed out today, as a state we have already outlined our steps and it fits broadly within that national aspiration. But, again, I make the point, if circumstance change, we will not do anything to risk the health of Tasmanians.

It was agreed that this plan will be developed, as the Prime Minister has previously indicated, as I’ve said, in time for Christmas.

States and territories will obviously continue to make decisions regarding their own borders and their view of the risks that other jurisdictions face, I think, regardless of any aspiration to open up, certainly, we won’t be ceding our responsibility in terms of our borders to anyone.

There will continue to be until a vaccine is found, cases and outbreaks, and we will need to continue to be agile and responsive to ensure the safety of Tasmanians.

And I want at this point again, to make the point that, you know, we should fully expect to see a case in Tasmania. You know, at the end of the day this virus is highly contagious, and we have constantly said, you know, what our aim is is to ensure that we have an appropriately resourced hospital sector, that we have an aged care sector that is well protected, importantly, that we have contact tracing and tracking in place to ensure that should that occur that we can wrap around that very quickly, isolate it, protect people, their families and our community.

Now, last week I accepted the recommendations of the State Controller to extend Tasmania’s state of emergency until the 26th of October to protect against the threat of a COVID-19 emergency occurring in Tasmania.

Now, we have to balance this against our usual business as we go forward and, importantly, our emergency response needs.

And as we approach the warmer months, there is always the additional threat of more emergency situations, particularly the risk of bushfire.

I want to reassure Tasmanians this is being appropriately resourced from an overarching management perspective, and there has been under construction the plans to ensure that not only can we deal with a health crisis and an economic crisis, but also the risks that we face from other challenges such as bushfire or indeed floods.

Therefore, from next week, as our plan develops, the Deputy State Controller who is also our Deputy Police Commissioner, Mr Scott Tilyard, will be joining State Control Centre, taking on more coronavirus-related management activities in relation to our directions to enable our Commissioner Darren Hine, the State Controller, to appropriately focus on our response to coronavirus but also the impending bushfire season ahead.

Now, obviously, all states and territories share the combined risk of having to deal with an emergency in terms of COVID, but also a bushfire emergency as well.

And we want to ensure that we are well placed in terms of the State Control Centre and our resources to be able to respond.

In bushfire season, there are obviously a range of COVID risks this year that we will need to manage, especially if we need to look at importing resources from other states to assist us.

In terms of the state broadly, obviously, multiple challenges that we face and I just outlined that we’re taking steps in terms of a number there. It’s one of the reasons why as a state we have already announced the single largest support and stimulus package of any state or territory, proportionate to the size of our economy, and the Attorney-General will announce further support to assist residential and commercial tenancy arrangements today.

The Attorney will outline the details of the support shortly, but in summary, we’ll be extending the support we provided to assist tenants and landlords in residential and commercial settings.

Now, today at National Cabinet there were also discussions that centred on seasonal workers and ensuring that our very important agricultural industry in Tasmania has the appropriate workforce it needs to harvest our fresh produce which feeds our state and our nation and indeed is sent to many international destinations as well.

At a time when jobs in our state have been impacted, there is an opportunity, an opportunity for Tasmanians, and I’m calling on Tasmanians today, whether you are a student looking for work over the coming summer months or a Tasmanian in need of work, get on board and help our agricultural industry and gain some skills in the process and, importantly, earn some money.

We want to ensure that Tasmanians have the first opportunity at these jobs, and I know that the industry is actively recruiting now.

You can log on to the harvest trail which is, in fact I have a website listed here which is extensive, I will say. Google Harvest Trail Tasmania, and the appropriate website will come up.

Currently, there are more than 1,150 jobs available for the coming season, and jobs are also being advertised through platforms like Gumtree and social media.

At a time when university students aren’t traveling abroad, in fact when Tasmanians aren’t travelling abroad, there’s a great opportunity to earn some money and save for when travel opportunities again arise.

We’re also working with the industry and Public Health to ensure that there are contingency plans in place for a harvest-ready workforce to allow in essential workers when we need to to meet demand.

This would be achieved under COVID-safe processes between states and, importantly, public health officials are working through details of this to ensure our industry has the appropriate supports it needs during the season.

There was a plan that was put to National Cabinet today. Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and the ACT, along with the Northern Territory, adopting some of the protocols in that plan.

At this stage we haven’t signed up to it.

We’ll continue to manage the entry to our state whilst our borders are closed through the essential worker arrangements, but very clearly, what we want to see are as many Tasmanians as possible put their hand up for those jobs that are available, and there are significant numbers of jobs available, and we would hope that they will take that opportunity.

In terms of other matters, I also took the opportunity to press our case for the Hobart Airport to become an international airport, especially with the intention of receiving international visitors from New Zealand.

And we had some discussion today about the potential for when New Zealand may be open to Australians travelling but, importantly, for New Zealanders travelling to Australia, and obviously the circumstance in Victoria has changed some matters, as has the situation in Auckland.

But those discussions are ongoing and, obviously, in terms of the Hobart Airport, we’d like to see that as the Hobart International Airport.

There is already a commitment for Border Force resources there but, importantly, we need to do some work to ensure that we have the appropriate quarantining arrangements for visitors as they come through the facility.

The other matter I wanted to raise was to remind Tasmanians the Make Yourself at Home voucher scheme officially goes live at nine AM this coming Monday.

Accommodation vouchers will be able to be used for stays from Sunday night through to Thursday nights, whilst the tourism experience vouchers will be able to be used for activities seven days a week.

To say we have received a lot of feedback, positive feedback and, importantly, lots of interest in terms of this program, and I note that there are many in the industry actually tailoring packages to help Tasmanians make the most of their vouchers.

We are preparing for what we believe will be a busy first day of the voucher scheme.

We’ve increased resources, so that software teams managing the Make Yourself a Home website and he voucher registration system can prepare for a high level of traffic on Monday, whilst also focussing on protecting the security of sites and users as well.

I expect that this site is going to get hit very hard at nine AM on Monday morning.

We have increased the capacity. If the site stalls or falls for whatever reason, we will get it back up as quickly as we possibly can, but it is set for significant traffic, and I’d encourage Tasmanians to get on it and get their vouchers.

Our tourism industry needs the support, and as Tasmanians we can support them.

So, grab your voucher. Importantly, remember, it’s first in, best dressed. There is $7.5 million set aside in this scheme. Once that’s gone, it’s gone. But, importantly, I would encourage you to get a voucher and get out and see our wonderful state.

Meanwhile, we’ve also had very positive discussions, as I’ve previously announced, with Cricket Tasmania and Cricket Australia about the potential for Tasmania to be the venue for the first block of the new BBL season.

Games would look to be played at a number of venues in December 2020 prior to Christmas, providing significant and massive television coverage opportunities for our state.

Importantly, the timing of our reopening of our borders to safe jurisdictions fits well with the discussions that we’re having at the moment but, obviously, as I have said, we’ll be guided by Public Health advice every step of the way in terms of this.

Finally, I’d like to finish with some welcome news for students, regarding their end of year celebrations and school formals.

Following discussions with Public Health, dancing will be happening at end of year celebrations held on school grounds in accordance with the current directions relating to schools, and in relation to other venues, schools will need to adhere to that venue’s COVID safety plan, and that can include dancing as well.

This has certainly been a tough year, and I’m hoping that our students as they come to the end of their school year can really enjoy the socials that they attend.

But, again, COVID safety rules are in place.

I want to make this point, because I’m certain that some will say well, if you can dance at a school social, why can’t you dance in a nightclub? You know, they are completely different things.

I would once again reiterate that across the world and across this country, nightclubs are seen as a very high-risk activity, and I would encourage people to do the right thing when they are out in our pubs and our clubs. Be seated whilst they drink, ensure that they provide their details when they enter, because tracking and tracing will be so important, should a case of the virus emerge.

Finally, to everyone, maintain good personal hygiene, wash your hands regularly, cover your mouth and nose if you’re going to sneeze or cough, ensure that you socially distance appropriately and please, continue to follow the rules.

I’ll hand over to the Attorney-General.