24 September 2021

UPDATED: Barr defends the speed and scale of business support, would have preferred alternate mechanism

| Lottie Twyford and Genevieve Jacobs
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Andrew BArr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr defended the speed of the business grant program but said it wouldn’t have been his preferred payment mechanism. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

UPDATED 2:30 pm: The Chief Minister has once again defended both the speed and scale of the ACT Government’s business support grants rollout.

Mr Barr responded to criticisms about the payments taking too long to be processed by comparing the speed of the rollout to that of a similar program in NSW.

While he says the ACT has been quicker to respond than its neighbouring state, he reiterated his comments from a few weeks ago, saying the current grants program would not have been his first choice.

“A business grants scheme like this – the largest ever in the ACT’s history – is not the most administratively efficient to deliver support to businesses because it requires an application and assessment process and the provision of an ABN and bank details,” Mr Barr explained.

He went on to say that because the Commonwealth already has that information, they would have been better placed to roll out a scheme similar to last year’s JobKeeper.

“My issue with what’s been forced upon us is not that that we are paying 50 per cent, but that they forced this payment mechanism on us,” he said.

“We would’ve happily funded 50-50, but it would have been much more efficient to deliver it through existing Commonwealth mechanisms.”

Mr Barr noted that he’s not alone in identifying the inefficiencies of the grant program, saying Liberal NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet thought the same thing.

Providing a comprehensive overview of the two states’ programs, Mr Barr noted that while in NSW it took 24 days for grant applications to open after their lockdown was first announced, it took only 14 in the ACT.

With today marking one month since the program opened for applications, Mr Barr was pressed for an update on the rollout.

By the end of today, he said more than 4,000 payments will be approved and the value will exceed $60 million.

Furthermore, of the 1,600 applications submitted on the first day, 75 per cent of these have already been paid while less than one per cent of these have been declined because the businesses were not eligible.

A little over 1,200 of the applications still require further information to be provided, although Mr Barr did say this number was half what it had been previously.

The Chief Minister has come under fire from business owners who claim they have yet to see a cent of the support package despite applying several weeks ago.

However, according to Mr Barr, the biggest hold-up to the system remains incomplete applications, not because there is insufficient staff to process them.

“There are about 400 applications lodged on the first day that haven’t been paid, and that is mostly because we don’t have the information we need,” he said.

According to Mr Barr, these businesses have been contacted in order to let them know, “repeatedly by email and often by phone call”.

He did acknowledge that an issue had arisen wherein emails from the government were going into spam folders, but said an additional team had been stood up to make phone calls to those businesses implicated by the error.

Incorrect bank details, unrelated ABNs or ABNs related to insolvent businesses continued to be the main issue hampering payments.

READ ALSO On-the-spot fines for COVID-19 non-compliance from next week

As foreshadowed by today’s announcement of a pop-up testing clinic in Watson this week, several new casual and monitor for symptoms contact sites in the suburb have been added to the ACT Government’s COVID-19 exposure site list this afternoon.

Dr Coleman confirmed in her midday remarks that there are around 30 cases in the suburb, almost half of which have occurred in the last two weeks and a number don’t have confirmed sources of transmission.

On Monday, 20 September, the Watson Pharmacy and Australia Post were listed as casual contact sites between 1:45 pm and 2:40 pm. On the same day, SupaBarn Express Watson is a venue of concern between 2 pm 2:50 pm and 5:50 pm and 6:40 pm.

Anyone who visited SupaBarn Express Watson on Saturday, 18 September between 11:30 am and 12:30 pm, and the Watson Takeaway on Monday, 20 September between 10 am and 10:30 am must monitor for symptoms.

READ ALSO Canberra Hospital ICU, emergency department to benefit from $90 million boost

Other casual sites include Coles Amaroo on Monday, 20 September between 2:35 pm and 3:20 pm; Coles Woden on Monday, 20 September between 6:35 and 7:35 pm; Woolworths Charnwood on Monday, 20 September between 8 pm and 9 pm; Woolworths Metro Franklin on Sunday, 19 September between 6:45 pm and 7:50 pm; and Canberra Imaging Gungahlin (Waiting Room and Reception Area only) on Friday, 17 September between 10:45 am and 12:05 pm.

Bakers Delight Tuggeranong appears multiple times as a casual contact site. The times of concern are between 6 am and 9 am on Friday, 17 September, Saturday, 18 September and Sunday, 19 September.

New ‘monitor for symptoms’ locations have been listed in the suburbs of Gungahlin, Mitchell, Weston, Calwell, Phillip, Holt, Spence, Parkes and Belconnen, as well as those in Watson.

Check the ACT Government’s COVID-19 exposure site list for more details, including specific times and the contact declaration forms.

More to come.

Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr at this morning’s COVID-19 update. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

UPDATED 12:30 pm: The ACT has 19 new cases of COVID-19 overnight, 12 are linked, mostly close household contacts.

Only four were in quarantine for the entirety of their infectious period but at least 13 spent time in the community while infectious.

Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman has confirmed that several more cases are emerging at the Calvary Hayden retirement facility after two positive diagnoses were linked to the site yesterday.

Several additional cases have been notified overnight and will be added to tomorrow’s numbers because they came in after 8 pm last night. In-reach testing at the facility was activated yesterday.

She was unable to disclose specific details until all relevant people, including household members, had been notified but Dr Coleman said both staff members had been fully vaccinated and were wearing full PPE.

“I understand this may be distressing news for families and residents at the facility,” Dr Coleman said. “We are working closely with Calvary and keeping families up to date with the actions Calvary is taking to keep residents safe.”

The facility is closed and a full risk assessment is taking place.

A pop-up testing facility will be set up in Watson this weekend after health authorities noticed 30 cases in the suburb, almost half of which have occurred in the last two weeks and a number of which don’t have confirmed sources of transmission.

“I don’t know that there is a problem there, we don’t know there is a concerning level of transmission … but we do know that we have to move very quickly”, Dr Coleman said.

Lessons had been learned from the NSW and Victorian outbreaks and focussed, targeted testing teams could provide clearer insights into why cases may have occurred in a geographic cluster.

Dr Coleman asked anyone in Watson with the mildest of symptoms to come forward for testing. The site will assist people who have not been able to access testing at EPIC and will include testing for children under five.

Twelve people are hospitalised including three in intensive care and two people require ventilation. Two of these are NSW patients, six are unvaccinated, three have received one dose of vaccine and one patient is fully vaccinated. The total outbreak now totals 217 active cases and 450 active exposure locations.

Yesterday, 3455 tests were carried out. The ACT reached 83.5 per cent of first dose vaccinations in the 12-plus population and is approaching 57.5 per cent of that population with two doses.

“When compared to other states and territories, the ACT is among the national leaders,” Chief Minister Andrew Barr said. “Canberrans are getting vaccinated in high numbers.” Mr Barr said there was “exceptionally strong demand” in the 20,000-member 12 to 15-year-old cohort.

Many people in this age group had received the Moderna vaccine, which became available in pharmacies this week.

Mr Barr said the Moderna supply would increase in coming weeks, and this may be the quickest pathway to vaccination for people aged 12 to 59. People should also continue to check for earlier Pfizer vaccination appointments opening up.

The government has announced what Mr Barr described as a significant investment in the public health system over the short and longer-term to support the pandemic response.

Work on the Canberra Hospital Intensive Care Unit has been taking place for eight months and is scheduled for completion in December. The Chief Minister said this is a permanent expansion but would also provide increased access to lifesaving care as demand from ACT and Southern NSW COVID-19 patients is expected to grow in the first quarter of 2022.

UPDATED 11:55 am: The ACT has recorded 19 new cases of COVID-19.

Yesterday there were 16 new cases.

Twelve are linked, the remainder are under investigation and the majority are household contacts.

Four were in quarantine for the entirety of their infection period, but at least 13 spent some of their infectious period in the community.

There are currently 12 people hospitalised with COVID. Three people are in intensive care and two require ventilation. Of the hospitalised people, two are residents of NSW.

Yesterday, 3455 tests were conducted, which Chief Minister Andrew Barr said was a “very solid number”.

NSW recorded 1043 new cases and 11 deaths. Ten of the deceased were unvaccinated and one person had received both doses of the vaccine. All had underlying medical conditions.

Yesterday, NSW recorded 1063 new COVID cases and six deaths.

Victoria recorded 733 new cases and one death. Yesterday, Victoria recorded 766 cases.

Calvary Haydon

A fully vaccinated aged care staff member at a Calvary aged care facility has tested positive to COVID-19. Photo: Screenshot.

An inner south plastic surgery clinic has been named the only new close contact exposure site overnight.

The CAPS offices on level one of the CAPS Clinic in Deakin are listed as a close contact site between 8 am and 5:10 pm on Monday, 20 September.

Other areas in the building, including the 360UV Skin Cancer clinic on the same day and times, and the Sole’vita Hospital on the ground level on the same day between 4:20 pm and 5:10 pm are listed as casual contact exposure sites.

Medical centres were also listed among the new casual sites. The Phillip Medical & Dental Centre (General Practice and Pharmacy only) is a casual exposure location for Thursday, 16 September between 1:48 pm and 2:42 pm, and the Florey Medical Centre has been listed as an exposure site on Monday, 13 September between 10:30 am and 12:10 pm.

Several supermarkets across the Territory are also named casual exposure locations. These include Coles in Amaroo on Monday, 20 September between 2:35 pm and 3:20 pm; Coles Woden on Monday, 20 September between 6:35 pm and 7:35 pm; Woolworths Metro Franklin on Sunday, 19 September between 6:45 pm and 7:50 pm; Madina Market Greenway on Saturday, 18 September between 5:30 pm and 6 pm; and Woolworths Weston Creek on Saturday, 18 September between 3:30 pm and 4:30 pm.

Also listed is Subway Conder on Monday, 20 September between 10:30 am and 2:30 pm.

Twelve monitor for symptoms locations have been added in the suburbs of Fyshwick, Woden, Parkes, Weston, Amaroo, Gowrie, Phillip, Calwell, Casey, Weston and Conder.

Check the ACT’s COVID-19 website for more details, including specific dates and times.

READ ALSO Vaccine passports raise potential for human rights breaches: Commissioner

The Calvary Haydon Retirement Community in Bruce has been locked down after a Calvary aged care staff member tested positive to the virus.

In a statement released by Calvary, the facility confirmed that the staff member did all the right things, did not work while symptomatic and got tested as soon as they developed symptoms.

“This member of staff, like all staff, has been wearing facemasks and shields at all times while on-site,” it read.

The staff member was fully vaccinated.

Full PPE including gloves, face masks, face shields and gowns will be worn by staff and visiting doctors at all times.

Residents have now been asked to stay in their rooms, although they will continue to receive food, hydration, medical supplies, exercise and contact with their families via video and phone.

In the statement, Calvary acknowledged that the news would be distressing to families with residents in their care. The facility will remain closed until the Public Health Unit deems it safe to reopen.

Residents’ families have been called and will continue to receive regular situation updates directly from the team at the facility.

“Our staff have thoroughly prepared for a COVID-19 outbreak. They are trained in strict infection prevention and control protocols, and are focusing all of their attention on the individual care needs of our residents,” the statement read.

“To this end, we have strictly adhered to the advice of ACT Health and the Commonwealth Department of Health on our response to COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic and will continue to work closely with them.”

The case will be included in today’s tally.

Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith yesterday moved to quell concerns around the preparedness of the ACT’s healthcare system to deal with an outbreak of COVID-19.

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This morning, the ACT Government announced a $90 million budget commitment towards increasing the capacity of the Canberra Hospital intensive care unit and emergency department.

In a statement, the government noted that “the physical expansion of the ICU also provides further surge capacity, and we will not hesitate to open further beds should this be required as part of our response to COVID-19”.

The ACT yesterday recorded 16 new cases of COVID-19.

The Chief Minister, Chief Health Officer and Minister for Health will give an update at 11:45 am.

More to come.

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The ACT Government’s recent proven mismanagement and incompetence with delivery of the CBR voucher scheme means that taxpayers should be anxious about inefficiency and unaccountability from involvement in a grants scheme. It has a proven history of overspending and waste in other areas too numerous and tedious to list, just think Cotter Dam and Rattenbury’s Tram.

Capital Retro10:23 pm 24 Sep 21

Where does CBR get its income from?

Predominantly Commonwealth grants (mainly from income taxes), land-related taxes and consumption (GST) tax share, it seems.


Capital Retro9:43 am 25 Sep 21

No, not the ACT Government, I mean the brand name CBR (Confident Bold Ready) that was set up 9 years ago to “sell” Canberra.

They used to have a website about all the grand things they were doing but like most other pet taxpayer funded lightbulbs it seems to have disappeared.

I can see the comments from chewy and the blue glasses brigade.

Andrew Barr, Labor/Greens don’t care for business, taking too long incompetent.

But if they just paid and then fraud was found or suspected Andrew Barr, Labor/Greens incompetent couldn’t even check the basics yadda yadda yadda. You get the idea.

There’s 4 comments, who’s this mythical blue glasses brigade whatever that’s supposed to mean?

And I can’t see where anyone said that responsible use of public funds isn’t important but that doesn’t mean providing support in a timely manner isn’t critical.

Particularly when the government is the reason those businesses currently can’t operate. If significant amounts of businesses are making mistakes, the government doesn’t just get to abrogate its responsibility from providing an accessible, user friendly system.

But even ignoring that, my comment below was a clearly tongue in cheek response to Whatwik’s plainly ridiculous commentary.

“Incorrect bank details, unrelated ABNs or ABNs related to insolvent businesses continued to be the main issue hampering payments.”

Very revealing, and to be kept in mind next time we are lectured about the superior efficiency of the glorious business sector.

And if they can’t get that right, what chance they’ll comply with tax obligations, paying staff correctly, and WH&S requirements, let alone public health orders?

I agree Whatwik.

It’s lucky they’ll all be bankrupt due to the lockdown shortly anyway.

Well done ACT Government, who needs SME’s when you can just have more public servants.

I’m inclined to think that a business which can’t provide simple details like its bank account and ABN doesn’t deserve to exist, let alone get support.

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