Question from Dr. WOODRUFF to the FIRST, Mr. GUTWEIN
The number of COVID-19 cases for yesterday was over 1,000 and at least 50,000 Tasmanians have been infected since December 15, and 40% of Tasmanians over the age of 16 have not had a booster. No child under the age of 12 is fully immunized and the effectiveness of the vaccine drops rapidly. Knowing this, you began to remove the wearing of the mask, the only and best simple protection against an airborne virus.
The Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Liberal Senator Eric Abetz are pushing to go further and remove all masks except in nursing homes. People with disabilities have not made their shortlist of people deserving of protection. So many vulnerable Tasmanians lack adequate protection against the risk of infection and long deactivation from COVID. We must maintain universal mask wearing during the endemic transmission of COVID-19. Will you give in to the whims of industry and political interest or revert to the health and safety of Tasmanians?
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Franklin for that question. I see that the leader of the Greens, Ms. O’Connor, does not ask these questions. I believe she put herself in such a difficult position after the creeping scaremongering she engaged in –
Dr. Woodruff- Point of order, Mr President. I am an epidemiologist. There is every reason, with health responsibility, for me to ask this question.
Mr SPEAKER – Excuse me, your point of order?
Dr. WOODRUFF- This is a point of clarification. The Prime Minister seems to have forgotten that I am responsible for the health portfolio.
Mr SPEAKER – I’m not quite sure what you’re saying, but the Prime Minister has been up for less than 15 seconds. So we should at least allow him to answer the question, or attempt to answer the question, for a little over 15 seconds before interrupting him.
Mr GUTWEIN – Thank you, Mr President. This is an issue they are very sensitive to because some of the Greens leader’s comments about this period from December 15, the Christmas period and the start of January, were just plain shameful.
Mrs. O’Connor – The truth, every word I said.
Mr SPEAKER – Ordered.
Mr GUTWEIN – “Leading to a mass disabling event” is what you think. And that we were doing eugenics. It’s disgusting and shameful, the language that’s been used, and it’s all designed to scare people, to scare people. Yesterday I explained that unlike other prime ministers and prime ministers across the country, I have not strayed from public health. Every –
Mrs. O’Connor – No, you are hiding behind. Weak advice.
Mr SPEAKER – Mrs. O’Connor, order.
Mr GUTWEIN – At every media event where we have discussed changes to our progress in terms of COVID-19, where we have announced plans, where there have been material changes, Public Health has stood with me and those other ministers. They explained their reasoning behind the changes we made. Claiming that we are under pressure from the tourism sector or the business sector is simply not true. Regarding the reopening of our border on December 15, we have slowed down the national process. We have deviated from the national plan. We have seen other states open at 80%. We saw New South Wales remove all restrictions on December 15.
Mrs. O’CONNOR – Point of order, Mr. Speaker, Standing Order 45, relevance. Maybe to people living with disabilities the Prime Minister could simply answer the question on what he will do about masks following pressure from the TCCR?
Mr SPEAKER – I do not accept the point of order. There was an important preamble in the question. It is the practice and precedent of this place that, in addition to the preamble not being too long, Speakers have granted Ministers some leniency as to length and their approach to answering the question. If there is a long preamble, I will give the Prime Minister the opportunity to answer this question.
Mr GUTWEIN – Mr President, I can understand the embarrassment of the leader of the Greens –
Mrs. O’Connor – I certainly am not.
Mr SPEAKER – Ordered.
Mr GUTWEIN – You can defend yourself however you see fit, but it’s abundantly clear from the statements you made over the Christmas period that you were determined to scare and scare people –
Mrs. O’CONNOR – Point of order, Mr President. On several occasions, you have asked the Prime Minister to address his comments to the Chair so that he does not incite interjection. It now invites interjection.
Mr SPEAKER – Whoever a minister is looking at when making his comments, I hope we all have the maturity and the respect to be able to listen to the response.
Mr GUTWEIN – As I said, I can understand the leader of the Greens being embarrassed.
Mrs. O’Connor – I am not at all.
Mr GUTWEIN – The extremely long list –
Dr. Woodruff- Don’t put words in his mouth. You should be embarrassed.
Mr SPEAKER – Ordered.
Mr GUTWEIN – chilling and outrageous claims she made. The attack on Dr. Veitch during this time.
Regarding the masks, we acted on the advice of Public Health at each stage of the process. When we made the mask announcement on Friday, the assistant director, Dr. Scott McKeown, was there with me and answered questions about the advice he had provided.
We will have another press conference on Friday and we will talk about what the next steps will or will not be regarding mask wearing. We will again rely on public health advice on what action we will take, just as we did at the start of the pandemic when we were the first state to close our borders, when we were the first state to deviate from the national plan to look for a higher level of vaccination to slow our reopening. Throughout this, we have relied on public health advice and will continue to do so.