HON TJORN SIBMA (North Metropolitan) [10.18 am] — without notice: I move —
That this house urges the McGowan government to —
(a) justify why and on what grounds it has abandoned a COVID-19 suppression strategy in favour of an elimination strategy;
(b) regularly publish official information, including public health information, underpinning all of its major COVID-19 decisions;
(c) permit key officials, including the Chief Health Officer and the Commissioner of Police, to regularly brief the public on COVID-19 matters;
(d) explain apparent inconsistencies with quarantine exemptions granted over the course of the pandemic;
(e) table its plan for, and advise its preparedness to manage, a potential second wave outbreak; and
(f) respect Western Australians suffering isolation from their loved ones located throughout Australia and overseas.
Comments and speeches by various members
HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [11.01 am]: I rise because I am keen to speak to this motion on behalf of the Greens. Since the beginning of this pandemic, the Greens have been very clear that we support the public health advice, and we have been clear that we are particularly concerned to make sure that vulnerable Australians, and vulnerable Western Australians in particular, are able to be best protected from this virus. We know, of course, that that is people with disability as well as older people and people with a range of underlying health issues. That has been the starting point that the Greens have brought to how we believe we should best respond to this pandemic.
I note that we have been dealing with this for six months now and that things are shifting. One of the things that has shifted is that we seem to have gone from having a lot of transparency about what was happening and being regularly informed, to what we are dealing with now, which is that it is very unclear what exactly is motivating a lot of the government’s decisions. We do not have the same level of bipartisan transparency that I believe we started off with early in the pandemic. That is what I want to focus on. Looking at the wording of this particularly measured motion, it is hard to see how anyone could realistically be opposed to it unless they are opposed to making sure that everybody gets exactly the same information so that we are all on the same page and we all understand what needs to get done in order to best respond to this pandemic.
Looking at the wording that is in front of us, it would seem that the only reason the government would object to this is if it feels that it does not want to be fully publicly accountable for its decisions. I think the community is at the point at which people are demanding answers. We are demanding answers because we still have far too many people trying to get back into Western Australia who are facing unfathomable hardship and trauma, and because even when they arrive here, their treatment is inconsistent. I have stood in this place three times already over the course of the last sitting and spoken about the experiences of my best friend and of other people whom I am aware of, as well as people who have contacted my office. I have spoken at length on my concerns about the cap and the way that the quarantine arrangement is being managed. There is no question at all that it could be done better. It is interesting that since there has been some quite adverse media publicity about this, the feedback I am getting is that the situation is marginally improving. But of course it is marginally improving, because there was always heaps of scope for it to improve; it never needed to be as harsh as it was in the first place.
Getting back to the motion in front of us now, it urges the McGowan government to justify why, and on what grounds, it has abandoned a COVID-19 suppression strategy in favour of an elimination strategy. That is a reasonable request. As has already been articulated, it is quite clear that an elimination strategy has been pursued. Along with Hon Martin Aldridge and Zak Kirkup, the member for Dawesville, I have had semi-regular phone meetings with the Chief Health Officer. One of the questions I asked early in the piece was whether the state had decided to pursue an elimination strategy rather than a suppression strategy, and even then I was unable to get a clear answer. This is important information for people to have. If that is the public health advice that is coming out, it needs to be shared widely and unequivocally. We all need to know whether that is the advice that is being pursued and what the rationale is for withholding that advice if that is what is happening. The motion urges the government to regularly publish official information, including the public health information underpinning all of the government’s major COVID-19 decisions. Why on earth would anyone be opposed to that? If the government is absolutely convinced that it is doing the right thing, it should put the rationale for that out there so that everyone can be on the same page as the government. The only reason that the government would not want to do that is if it is not following the public health advice. I want to hear what the government’s rationale is for not being transparent about these decisions by not ensuring that the entire community understands what is going on and is on the same page.
Paragraph (c) urges the McGowan government to permit key officials, including the Chief Health Officer and the police commissioner, to regularly brief the public on COVID-19 matters. I note the difference between what is happening here and what is happening in the other states. The media in the other states are able to ask questions directly of those people in a way that is not happening here. I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with the Chief Health Officer. Firstly, face to face would be good—apparently, we do not have any COVID in this state, so we can do that now; we are face to face here in this chamber—and without a whole range of minders, because I feel as though we are not able to have a full and frank discussion. The problem also is that the discussions are truncated. During the last one we had, I had many questions but was cut short. I was not even able to put the questions that I had, so I was unable to get the full range of answers. I would appreciate that level of transparency.
I want to know about the inconsistencies with quarantine exemptions that have been granted over the course of the pandemic. There is no clear rationale for why some people who come into the state have to go through the hotel quarantining arrangements while others are able to quarantine at home. There is much more that I could say about that and about what has been brought to my attention. I know of people who, even in the last week, have arrived from other states and have been granted permission to quarantine at home, which is great, but there has been no further follow-up at all. Police have not gone to their homes. Those people have had ample opportunity to breach the arrangements if they wanted to. I happen to know they have not, because they are my friends and they are committed to this, but they are telling me about their experience. It is completely inconsistent because other families who have come from places in which there have not been COVID outbreaks have been put into tiny rooms without any windows for 14 days and are expected to pay for the privilege. The quarantining arrangements that are being applied are completely inconsistent.
The motion urges the McGowan government to table its plan for, and advise its preparedness to manage, a potential second-wave outbreak. Why on earth would the government not want to do that? Surely, if the work has been done, the government would want to make sure that everyone can be confident that the work has been done. If there are gaps in those plans, we need to address them and ensure that we are prepared for what everyone seems to deem is an inevitable second wave. The only reason the government would oppose that part of the motion is if the work has not been done or something else is going on. Just table it. I have been led to believe that a range of plans have been developed for a range of circumstances, and I am pleased to hear that, so table them and make them publicly available. Let other people assess them. I want our public health professionals to examine the plans and I want to hear their advice on whether they feel the plans are sufficient. If they are sufficient, well done—we will know that we are ready—but make it transparent and let everyone have that information.
Paragraph (f) of the motion urges the government to respect Western Australians suffering isolation from their loved ones located throughout Australia and overseas. Why would the government not support that? Is it because it ultimately thinks that our fellow citizens who are trapped and who cannot get back should not be respected? Is that why the government would oppose this provision? I, too, was disgusted by the language such as “dumping ground” being used to describe our fellow citizens trying to get back home. These people are not rubbish. These families are not rubbish. They are our citizens. They are our constituents, and they want to get home. We need to ensure that people can come back home in a way that is both compassionate and expedited. I believe we can do that in a way that is respectful of the public health advice, but that can be done only if the government has the political will to make sure that that occurs. I have not been convinced to date that that is really the case. The Greens will support this motion because I cannot see the argument for why we would not. If the government is saying that fellow Western Australians are rubbish, it does not want to be transparent, it is not actually prepared, and it is making decisions contrary to the public health advice, I could see why the government will oppose this motion. I could understand that; it would make perfect sense to me. Otherwise, we have all been in this together. This chamber has bent over backwards to assist with legislation. We have been trying to make sure we are keeping together as a community. But transparency is an absolute key part of that and that is what this motion is calling for.
Comments and speeches by various members
Motion lapsed, pursuant to standing orders.