Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 09 Hansard (Thursday, 16 September 2021) . . Page.. 2589 ..
Since that first lockdown on 12 August 2021, the Chief Health Officer has remade her lockdown direction seven times, with the Public Health (Lockdown Restrictions) Emergency Direction 2021 (No 8) commencing at 7 pm on 10 September 2021. There will inevitably be more lockdown restrictions. The measures being imposed by the government are sweeping, vast and unprecedented in the history of the ACT. It is my and the opposition’s view that they have been warranted. However, they impose a huge personal cost on many individuals and households who have been forced into a way of living that is quite different to the freedoms that we are used to.
Since the start of the lockdown, I, as the shadow minister for health, mental health and wellbeing, the shadow minister for multicultural affairs and the Deputy Leader of the Canberra Liberals, have worked with the government in a constructive way to solve problems that have been brought to the opposition’s attention. All Canberra Liberal MLAs have been busy troubleshooting the problems that have been brought to the opposition’s attention.
Initially, it was hoped that the lockdown would be short-lived but, as the weeks have gone on, it has become clear and apparent that the Delta strain of COVID-19 is certainly much harder to contain than previous variants. The ACT community is slowly getting used to the idea that the disease will be an endemic part of living in this nation from now onwards.
The questions which arose at the start of the lockdown were predominantly practical in nature and I will say that the Minister for Health, Rachel Stephen-Smith, and her office have been indeed responsive in working at resolving issues raised. I thank her staff, in particular Catherine Bergin, who have taken many emails, letters and calls from me and my staff and found and implemented many solutions to problems that have been identified. Many issues have been resolved, but some questions remain about how the government has responded. They go to the health and safety of staff, as well as the preparation for this lockdown over the 18 months leading up to it.
We knew that there was a possibility, if not an inevitability, that we would end up in this situation and there are questions to be answered regarding the government’s preparation. We are also reaching a place where, as an island in New South Wales, some Canberrans are beginning, rightly so, to worry about their future freedoms and the possible need for proof of vaccination. It is one thing to be asked to declare a health condition or suspected health condition upon entry into or interaction with a health service, but people start to wonder whether the unvaccinated—whether that will be a personal choice for health or religious reasons—may be expected to live as second-class citizens.
Ms Stephen-Smith interjecting—
MRS JONES: I am giving voice to their concerns, Rachel. The reassurance of the Chief Minister that he does not intend to go down that path is welcome. However, as the Human Rights Commissioner has outlined, these questions do warrant constructive and engaging public debate so that everybody can hear the message loud and clear.