31 August 2020

COVID Committee calls for more transparency, funding during pandemic

| Dominic Giannini
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Alistair Coe

Committee Chair and Opposition Leader Alistair Coe tabled a fourth interim report on Thursday (27 August). Photo: Region Media.

Permanent telehealth services, additional financial assistance to returning students, more transparency on border closures and more stimulus in social and public housing have been recommended as part of the fourth COVID-19 response interim report.

The report, tabled in the Assembly on Thursday (27 August), made 40 recommendations to the Government about its handling of the pandemic, including a rental assistance scheme for low-income residents and more accessible programs and services for young people, particularly in the areas of education, mental health, employment, rental affordability and homelessness.

“Many of the witnesses appearing before the committee spoke highly of the crisis supports that have been put in place to support those who are, or are at risk of, homelessness,” the report said.

“Whilst it was acknowledged that the additional funds provided to the sector have enabled them to appropriately house and support those in need, there were concerns about where [people] would end up if there were no safe and secure longer-term options.”

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The Committee also recommended the adoption of virtual meetings, such as Webex and Zoom, as standard practice in the Assembly.

“Virtual public hearings, in particular, can be very useful for witnesses as they do not have to travel to attend the Assembly building and it allows flexibility for all participants,” the report said.

Further, the Committee called for more transparency regarding health advice from the Government, asking ACT Health to upload on the COVID-19 website rationale as to why masks are not mandatory and what would trigger any such move.

Information pertaining to regional border closures and the circumstances under which they would become necessary should be uploaded as well, according to the report.

Funding increases year on year for mental health, and for community organisations to facilitate mental health care programs, were also recommended.

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The Select Committee on the COVID-19 pandemic response was established at the start of April to scrutinise the ACT Government’s response to the pandemic and received evidence from both the community sector and Government agencies and ministers.

It provided unprecedented access to Government officials with both Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith appearing six times each in four months.

The full report is available at www.parliament.act.gov.au/parliamentary-business/in-committees/recent-reports.

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