Page 2584 - Week 09 - Thursday, 16 September 2021

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(a) all efforts are made to minimise the time witnesses are required to be present;

(b) where a public hearing is scheduled, requiring government ministers, hearings are not held at the same time as National Cabinet or a meeting of the ACT Government Cabinet; and

(c) the above provisions only apply during the Public Health Emergency declaration;

(5) for the purposes of this committee’s operation, standing order 254D does not apply; and

(6) the committee to report to the Assembly by the last sitting day of 2021.

The ACT is in the midst of what could be the greatest health and economic risk we have ever faced as a city. Small businesses have closed their doors, Canberrans have lost their jobs, thousands have faced weeks in quarantine, and hundreds have contracted the virus.

At the outset I thank all of the ACT’s frontline healthcare workers, our teachers, our early childhood educators, our emergency staff and our volunteers who have been involved in the COVID response over the last five weeks and, indeed, over the last two years. We are all incredibly grateful for the work they have done and are continuing to do to keep our community safe.

This once-in-a-generation global pandemic has required government to act quickly and decisively to save lives. We have now lived with this virus for 18 months and know how scary things can and did get. In response to these complex and serious challenges, Australians have empowered their governments with unprecedented powers and bestowed an enormous sense of trust and goodwill on their political leaders to protect them and their livelihoods.

Here in Canberra, we did enormously well in beating down the infection numbers last year, through a combination of good management, good compliance and good luck. Even throughout a time when we saw outbreaks around the country, we found ourselves with the supreme good fortune of keeping the virus at bay, despite our very porous borders. But there was no holding back Delta and, in August this year, our lives changed within a matter of hours. The news hit Canberra hard and, with the announcement of a further four weeks of lockdown only two days ago, many Canberrans who were holding it together have been sent to the brink.

These are extraordinary times, Madam Speaker, and extraordinary times require extraordinary government decisions, and extraordinary government decisions require extraordinary power. Whilst we acknowledge the need for governments to make decisions that significantly impact the freedoms that we fiercely protect, most Australians recognise the need to do so to keep our community safe. But it is in these extraordinary circumstances, where extraordinary powers are being exercised, that governments should be holding themselves to the highest standard in their duty of care to its citizens. Now is not the time to diminish government scrutiny.

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