Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Quarantine Fees) Bill 2020 - Legislation

08 December 2020

I too join my colleagues today to rise to speak in favour of the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Quarantine Fee) Bill 2020. This bill does provide for the establishment of a fee structure for returned travellers, and it is consistent with the national cabinet decision earlier this year and with schemes already operating around the country. But before I talk about the strengthened hotel quarantine program that we have set up I do want to take this opportunity to again give a heartfelt shout-out and say a tremendous thankyou to all Victorians right across this state for their hard work and their sacrifice to beat this virus. We have risen to the challenge of battling this global pandemic across the suburbs that make up this great state of ours. We have fought hard to get the virus under control, and slowly but surely we have driven it out of our neighbourhoods street by street, house by house. The strategy is working, and it is going to continue to work if we all pull together and continue to do the right thing. We deserve our COVID-normal Christmas, and I for one cannot wait to see my family, my mum and dad, my in-laws, my brothers and sisters and even my newest little nephew, Huxley, in coming weeks—who I have to say, by the looks of that kid, is one very cute child indeed.

Victorians have done an outstanding job combating this global pandemic, and I do not know if it is just me, but I cannot say that I remember one single contribution from those opposite to come in here and thank Victorians for their sacrifice, their hard work and their sheer determination to beat this virus. As a government it is certainly our responsibility to ensure that essential government services continue in a way that is COVID safe. We all know that this global pandemic is not yet over and it most certainly will not be without a vaccine, and Victoria along with the rest of the world must continue to rise to the challenge of fighting and beating this virus. Indeed these past couple of months I have watched many friends who are currently living overseas in cities like Paris and London, and they are now facing a very dark Christmas like no other as the virus continues to ravage the global community.

My electorate of Tarneit is an incredibly vibrant and multicultural community, and over the last eight to nine months and, shockingly, still as recently as this week I have received emails and phone calls from countless Victorians in my community that are absolutely desperate to get home and to get on with their lives. They continue to be stuck overseas in countries like India and Pakistan, just to name a few. In one case I received an email from a man whose wife had been stranded in India for over eight months, and I for one cannot begin to understand the financial, mental and emotional stress that he and his wife must be feeling, not knowing when she can get home. She is just one of the 39 000 Australians who are still stranded overseas, and these people deserve to get home. They deserve to get home to suburbs like Tarneit, Truganina, Hoppers Crossing and Williams Landing, and as a government we want to help them do just that. But it needs to be in a COVID-safe way that not only protects them but is also going to protect the rest of our community.

I am very pleased to say that the hotel quarantine program and the single entity set up to run it are ready and waiting. What people in our communities need to know is that we have established a much stronger quarantine program with strengthened leadership, oversight and training; embedded health and enforcement expertise; and importantly, clear obligations for both staff and residents, and this is designed to keep returned travellers and the community safe. There are clear lines of responsibility and accountability, and we have hundreds of police, ADF personnel, health workers and other staff ready to accommodate our returned travellers. It will be led by corrections commissioner Emma Cassar, who has been appointed as commissioner of COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria and will report directly to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services. What I would like my community of Wyndham to know is this: health and enforcement operational expertise are embedded in the executive structure of CQV.

Victoria Police will have a highly visible and significant presence across the program, carrying out supervision, enforcement and compliance duties at all locations. They will be supported by ADF personnel and highly trained resident support officers. Additional infection controls have been introduced, including the daily testing of staff and voluntary regular testing of their families and household members. There will be a centralised contact-tracing team, proactive contact mapping for all staff, a ban on secondary face-to-face employment for all staff and strengthened PPE protocols. Importantly, the frontline staff are going to work in bubbles, and not only will this ensure that they have contact with a limited number of other staff during their shift but it will also allow for that bubble to be taken offline with minimal impact if one staff member becomes unwell.

So much work has been undertaken to make sure that we have the best possible quarantine program. We know we cannot eliminate the risk entirely, but we have established infection prevention controls that have been tested, and they are ready to go. In fact the first travellers began arriving yesterday. They are already in quarantine and more are arriving today, which is why this bill is so important, as it is going to set out the fee structure for these returned travellers.

Now, for adults the cost is going to be $3000 plus $1000 for every additional adult and $500 for each child over three years of age. These costs are consistent with the fee structures employed by other state governments and their hotel quarantine programs and schemes. For families experiencing financial hardship—and this is really important—there will be an option to apply for a fee reduction or waiver, and payment plans will also be available for all residents who return home. Of course our government will continue to fund the majority of the program—accommodation costs, security, transport and logistics as well as essential items and services such as meals and medical care. And returning travellers are not going to be invoiced for the cost of quarantine until after their stay has finished. We want this to be a system that is fair. It needs to be as equitable as it can be, and that is exactly what this bill tries to achieve.

More importantly this hotel quarantine structure will be much stronger than it was before. We know—we openly talk about it here—how easily mistakes have been made in each and every jurisdiction, and we know it better than most do. And if we have learned anything, it is how insidious a role insecure work played in the spread of this virus throughout our community—and yes, including hotel quarantine. This structure ensures that those mistakes will not happen again. This hotel quarantine structure will have an exclusive workforce that is employed or contracted directly by COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria. With the exception of cleaning staff, who are going to be employed by Alfred Health, the entirety of that workforce will be employed directly with CQV. We can be confident that these cleaners will apply the same standards that they use in keeping hospitals safe and sanitary.

Now, we also know that all of these cleaning staff will have a fixed, secure contract that deploys them exclusively at that one site. As a result of this structure, all staff involved in hotel quarantine will have the same terms in their contracts and will not be allowed to work at more than one job without the permission of CQV. This will not be granted if it involves face-to-face contact of course and involves high-risk settings. Only a limited number of people will be required to visit multiple sites, including general managers who oversee a small number of hotels and their individual site managers. We know that a poor workplace structure led to failures last time. We know this from the public inquiry, and our government has received and is ready to implement 52 of the inquiry’s recommendations, with another 13 relating to in-home quarantine dependent on the approval of national cabinet. Make no mistake, our government will create a stronger, safer hotel quarantine system that keeps our community safe as we continue to thrive in a COVID-normal setting. This bill sets out the fee structure for the program, allowing it to function as we begin to bring people back home to Melbourne. I commend it to the house.