Covid restrictions

8 September 2020

Mr DULUK (Waite) (12:43): Thank you, sir. And sir, can I congratulate you on your election this position of Speaker of the house, and I look forward to your deliberations in a fair and even-handed manner. So congratulations.

As indicated, I also rise to make a few remarks in relation to this bill and to provide an update to the house about some of the concerns that have been expressed to me via my community. And of course, we all know that COVID has had a profound impact on our lives, from the most basic gesture of the shaking of a hand to the bridal waltz, to the more complicated social and economic ramifications that have been imposed upon us by this virus.

I think we can all agree that the people of South Australia have been model citizens in the way that they have gone about dealing with this crisis. As both the Attorney and the lead speaker for the opposition, I indicate my thanks to those frontline workers and to the people in SA Health who are going above and beyond what they expect in their normal roles in the way they are doing so well in community contact tracing—which I think is why we are doing so well here in South Australia—and of course in the way they are doing their community testing as well.

My thanks go to SAPOL, which has had considerable resources diverted from their day-to-day role in policing in South Australia to spending time on borders and ensuring that South Australians comply with many of the measures and directions that are given to them, which are quite often changing across a matter of days or weeks. We saw that around the hard border lockdown between South Australia and Victoria a couple of weeks ago and the way that affected many of those border communities.

Of course, businesses as well have had to comply with ever-changing regulations. I thank them for doing their very best, especially our small businesses in suburban communities, in our cafes and restaurants and retail shops.

It is very hard to keep abreast of the changing regulations and rules and they are doing their very best to comply. Obviously, we saw reports from the weekend, when the Glenelg Footy Club received a fine for failing to comply with some of the COVID restrictions. That is a real shame, because I have no doubt they had best endeavours to do the right thing, but it is the nature of the beast that we are dealing with.

I think for us as lawmakers we have a difficult challenge in ensuring that the legislation that we debate and ultimately that we pass, to give powers—or extraordinary powers, as we have under the Emergency Management Act—protects both our citizens' health and, of equal importance, civil liberties. Of course, the state also plays a role in underpinning our economy at this time. I think significant thanks have to go to the federal Morrison government for JobKeeper and JobSeeker, for ensuring that there is continuity and calmness, especially in the jobs market.

This virus has no foreseeable end in sight, which means our laws must marry up, I believe, with unforeseen implications. In recent days, we have seen and heard much commentary in relation to the Victorian hard lockdown and the Andrews government's desire to eliminate COVID, and what many would regard as the erosion of civil liberties in the state of Victoria. I think that is a concern to many people across the country.

For me, of most concern recently was the arrest of a pregnant lady in Ballarat for allegedly planning a protest. The right to assemble and freedom of expression are core human rights and essential freedoms that all sides of politics rely on to ensure we can work on improving the quality of life for all.

Indeed, in The Australian today there was a very good opinion piece by a Melburnian who fled to Australia in 1981 from Poland, which of course at the time was going through martial law.

I seek leave to continue my remarks.

 

Mr DULUK (Waite) (16:03):

Before the suspension of the house, I was talking about rights and freedoms and referring to an article in The Australian today by Jack Mordes, who talks about how martial law restrictions were enacted by General Jaruzelski in 1981 in Poland. He goes on to say that the restrictions: are oddly similar to those in Victoria living under Daniel Andrews's rule four decades on.

There was a 10pm curfew with police patrols enforcing zero tolerance. Borders were closed. Movement between cities and regions was prohibited unless you carried a special permit. Classes in schools and universities were suspended. Telephone communications were monitored. Opposition activists were arrested, many without charge. The police (called the militia) became an arm of the government.

To many Victorians, this is certainly what they are feeling at the moment. I think it is really important for all members of parliament across our beautiful country to really think about what is happening in our society at the moment as we grapple with this health pandemic and economic crisis we now have. Of course, as a nation we are now in recession, and for so many Australians it is the first time they have ever experienced that in their lifetime.

I seriously struggle to understand how a government in this nation can allow protests on one issue during the middle of a pandemic but now arrest citizens for planning protests organised in protection of our most basic civil rights, as they are in Victoria.

South Australians, and indeed all Australians, want to do the right thing during this pandemic. Unfortunately, we too often see a double standard in terms of rights and privileges. Most recently, the AFL elite flew to Queensland to announce that the AFL grand final would be played at the Gabba, but a pregnant woman from Ballina could not travel 100 kilometres to Queensland for medical attention and because of that she lost her unborn child.

Undoubtedly, we have all received a considerable amount of correspondence from our constituents with stories of their struggles coping with COVID-19, especially those who are stuck in Victoria. I know this is the case for many of our border communities and MPs. My office is no different, and I would like to share with the house some of the frustrations of my constituents as they try to go about sensibly navigating the COVID world.

I would like to begin with the example of Mr and Mrs Pollard of Hawthorndene, who are constituents aged in their 70s. They travelled interstate from South Australia to Victoria to attend a funeral.

As regulations changed, returning home became quite the ordeal. When attempting to return home, SA Health offered the couple an ultimatum: either continue their indefinite self-funded stay in Victoria or accept the price of their self-funded hotel quarantine in South Australia. Mr and Mrs Pollard certainly did not feel that they had a choice, and there are a number of issues I want to raise in relation to that.

Firstly, this law-abiding couple could easily have self-quarantined at home, and the question from many is: why the need to quarantine in a hotel, especially at a cost of $4,000? They felt they would be at greater risk to the virus was upon them when being forced to quarantine at a hotel, where potential COVID cases were isolated with numerous different people and staff visiting on a daily basis. We have certainly seen the failure of hotel quarantine in Victoria. After this couple indeed saw that saga and felt that it would make more sense for them to isolate at home.

For three months, these residents and their family were under immense stress, as they were in Victoria. On a daily basis, they were not sleeping and were concerned about the impact of their physical and mental health, to the point where they thought they were a high chance of becoming infected and dying because they were in Victoria.

To their avail themselves of testing on multiple occasions, and results returned as negative. Unfortunately, their story gets worse. After finally receiving an exemption from South Australia and deciding to inherit the costs of that return, they embarked on the journey back to South Australia. When they left Melbourne, instead of a simple direct drive home (prepared to not need to refuel in South Australia and return directly to quarantine) that would not involve contact with anyone in South Australia, the following prevailed. I will now read the story from the Pollards, and I quote:

 

“We booked to cross at Penola (the nearest approved crossing to Torquay) at 2.00pm on Saturday. Unfortunately, we received no contact details or confirmation email.

We left Torquay around 9.15am on Saturday in plenty of time to be at the Penola Crossing by 2.00pm.

Just out of Hamilton at 11.15am we received a call checking on our progress. We said we were doing well and would be at Penola well before 2.00pm.

Then the bombshell dropped. We could not cross at Penola and would have to be at Bordertown by 2.00pm or be in the next convoy leaving at 10.00am on Sunday. We said we didn't know if we could make it and could we call back.

Panic! After a hectic check on Google Maps we got an ETA of around 2.45pm [to Bordertown].

Then followed a hectic and stressful drive through Western Victoria. We arrived at the border just before 2.30pm Adelaide time after driving without a break, apart from toilet stops, for nearly 6 hours.

When we arrived in Tailem Bend our escort changed. Due to our advanced age both Cris and I were in desperate need of a toilet stop.

We were told we couldn't use public facilities and could we hang on for another hour.

We were opposite the golf course and I asked if we could find a tree there. We were escorted across the road by a female officer! A great way to treat a 75 year old lady!

When we arrived at [the Adelaide] hotel they tried to get us to the room as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, we were escorted to the wrong car park. After unloading the car we had to re-pack and had to pay $8 to get out of the carpark. Eventually we made it to our room.

Unbelievably we received a phone call from a SAPOL Officer the next morning. He was at our home and we weren't there as required! We told him we were in quarantine in the Pullman.”

 

Ms Pollard made some recommendations and I believe they might be simple, but they of course require resourcing by the government: all returning travellers be given a single SA Health contact person and all arrangements are confirmed by email; appropriate arrangements are in place and I think she is referring to the toilet needs of travellers; and stops are made at least once every two hours.

I would take this further to say we do not even need to have such strict measures. I think there are plenty of sensible individuals who are able to isolate.

Of course, there is a lot of paperwork and I know there is a lot of stress placed on SA Health workers and SAPOL in monitoring the restrictions we have in place, but quite often we need to allow common sense to prevail and allow those who are making decisions on the ground to have common sense prevail as well.

The simple ability to allow any person to be able to relieve themselves when driving back from Melbourne to South Australia seems like a very logical one. Once again, I think we forget that and get caught up in bureaucracy.

Another story I would like to share is of my constituent Mr Jurkovic and his wife, who applied to move to South Australia permanently on 10 July 2020. Mr Jurkovic is originally from South Australia and many of their family and friends still live here. Based on the rulings at the time, they had to accept a new lease for a property in Kingswood and gave notice to their home in Richmond, Victoria to prove the legitimacy of their intentions.

Mr Jurkovic also registered for his first semester of CPA Australia and booked exams in Adelaide whilst his wife was transferred to the Telstra Adelaide team. It is great to see some Victorians choosing to live in South Australia. Indeed, why would you not want to live in South Australia? After lengthy administrative ordeals jumping through all the hoops and with days between correspondence from SA Health, they received approval at 10pm on 30 July.

Then, after making significant plans and booking a removalist, they surprisingly somehow received a decline for their application on 31 July at 12pm. Despite best efforts and contacting many departments, no-one could verify which notice was correct. Mr Jurkovic and his wife, who had packed up and planned for their whole life to move here, were now in disarray. Mr Jurkovic and his wife had both been cleared of COVID, ticked every box in the application and had emphasised measures to strictly social distance and to self-quarantine.

Why was this family denied entry into our state? I am not sure. What message does this send to other families considering moving to South Australia? For a state that needs significant population growth, this is not a good look, in my opinion. We should be encouraging population growth, not limiting it. I say we should be opening up the door to many, especially South Australians who have sought to create a life in Victoria and other parts of Australia, to indeed come back to this wonderful state.

There are multitudes of other stories in terms of what I have received from my community, such as that of Heidi Riessen, a mother of four who has lived, worked and volunteered in Australia for 40 years, who now has her daughter stuck in Germany and unable to come to Australia.

There is also Mr Kym Driesener, who is trying to maintain his business, JK Race Trailers, during these times and of course is one of those businesses that quite regularly needs to travel to Victoria to collect stock for his trailer business. Unfortunately, because of the difficulty with so many of the exemptions and permits, his business has been shut since April.

The questions that many of us ask, and I think they are legitimate questions, are: with very few active cases of COVID in South Australia—we have done a magnificent job in flattening the curve—what is the endgame and what are we trying to achieve?

We have very strong restrictions, but at some point I think we need to start having a debate about what life looks like if COVID is here to stay.

We do not know when a vaccine is going to come. There were discussions on the news on ABC last night about how successful vaccine trials take many, many years. There is debate happening all around the world about what a vaccine will look like if it comes in the next 12 months. I think we need to have a conversation as a parliament and as a state about what does living with COVID in the long term look like for our society.

I think we can see that the Victorian approach of trying to eliminate the cases to zero is not working. The way the New South Wales government has been doing their tracing seems to be a much better model to adopt.

We have seen stress on businesses, we have seen stress on individuals and we are seeing plenty of stress on families.

The way we are dealing with COVID is leading to the cancellation of events that us bring such joy—sports, theatre, the arts, the Christmas Pageant—and this is happening at a time when there are little to no cases in South Australia. The question we always need to ask is: what are the costs of these restrictions?

We have seen the scourge of isolation and loneliness, with calls to Lifeline increasing by 20 per cent during the first lockdown. Unemployment and underemployment are at an all-time high, with over 70,000 South Australian's reportedly being unemployed. What is that going to look like when JobKeeper and JobSeeker eventually run out?

We have sent the worst quarterly reduction in GDP on record and an expected $1.85 billion projected fall in South Australia's GST revenue over the next two years. As the Library of Economics and Liberty has recently stated:

…the costs of this national shutdown are growing by the hour, and we don’t mean federal spending. We mean a tsunami of economic destruction that will cause tens of millions to lose their jobs as commerce and production simply cease. Many large companies can withstand a few weeks without revenue but that isn’t true of millions of small and mid-sized firms.

Indeed, that is exactly what South Australia is: a small and medium-sized economy. While the road to recovery is not an easy task, we need to carefully consider both individuals and businesses when we are planning the new normal. We need to consider how this pandemic has impacted a number of policy areas, from operating a small business to reductions in public transport and, very seriously, the basic protection of our privacy.

On this note, another constituent, Dr Moxham, raised with me the issue of the need to trace and the way our COVID registration sheets are held and what security measures are around them.

When people enter venues they have to write down their names for contact tracing purposes. At the end of the day, who actually protects that data? Are all organisations complying with the federal government's Australian privacy provisions?

I believe South Australia should lead an effort with other states in terms of focusing on strategies of treatment rather than suppression and containment of COVID, which is so important.

According to University of Oxford's stringency index, Victorians have been under some of the harshest and long-lasting restrictions since mid-March, with grim prospects of success due to a staged reopening pinned to daily cases falling between fortnightly figures.

South Australia must not get caught in this trap, and I am quite grateful that I do not think we are, but businesses and people in South Australia are signalling a desire for the state to get back to new normal.

As Professor Fisher, chairman of the WHO Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, says, targets as road maps are 'incredibly community-empowering'. It is really up to the community; the government cannot do everything in terms of a road back.

That is why I will be foreshadowing that I will be supporting the member for Frome's amendment to see in this legislation the deadline for these measures expire at 31 December as opposed to the flagged date of 28 March 2021, because I think it is really important that the public are constantly given a road map and an expectation setting about what is needed.

As I said in this contribution, the primacy of parliament is most important, and I do not think it hurts for the parliament to come back regularly and reflect on the laws that it passes and the powers that it gives.

For the parliament to extend the Emergency Management Act for a further three months, I believe, is prudent, more so than six months. We can come back to this house in December and reflect on where we are and, by all means, if an additional three months are required in terms of the extension of the Emergency Management Act, we should be doing that, but parliament should be, as always, given the opportunity to provide scrutiny on all actions of the executive, because that is what we are here for.

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