The COVID-19 Emergency Response (Further Measures) (No. 2) Amendment Bill 2020 continues the Marshall Liberal government's approach of constantly strengthening the legislative framework underpinning the COVID-19 response.
This bill focuses on building on the strong contribution that pharmacists have made to the pandemic response thus far and supporting their contribution to the ongoing response. The amendments only operate for the COVID-19 emergency period and will expire in the same way as any other provisions of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020, that being either when the emergency is no longer declared or six months after the act commenced on 9 October 2020. The bill provides an opportunity to strengthen the protection of front-line workers in pharmacies and general practices, as well as strengthen our approach to pharmacy services.
Firstly, the amendment bill seeks to include pharmacists, pharmacy assistants and persons performing duties in a pharmacy, as well as medical practitioners, nurses or otherwise performing duties at a place where medical treatment is provided or medical testing is undertaken, including a general practice, medical centre or place at which people are screened for COVID-19 or other diseases within the scope of a prescribed emergency worker under the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 to provide them with the same additional protection as other front-line health workers.
Medical practitioners, pharmacists and those performing duties in a pharmacy, or at a place where medical treatment is provided or medical testing is undertaken, make a significant contribution to supporting the community, and this has been especially evident throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This change recognises that they need to have the same protections as other health workers operating in our community and seeks to make sure that anyone who assaults or causes harm to those front-line workers is subject to the same increased penalties.
This change is particularly relevant for pharmacists and those performing duties in a pharmacy who are required to limit dispensing and sales of certain prescription and over-the-counter medicines in response to the increased demand due to COVID-19.
Secondly, the amendment bill also seeks to amend the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (South Australia) Act 2010 to provide the Pharmacy Regulation Authority SA with the express power to authorise certain pharmacy premises to operate without a pharmacist physically in attendance, provided they are in attendance through the use of computer, video or audio links. This will allow the pharmacist to communicate with patients and appropriately trained pharmacy staff remotely. The changes provide clarity in the operation of the law to allow for the remote attendance of a pharmacist by telepharmacy.
Telepharmacy services are a key strategy to support provision and access to health care during the COVID-19 pandemic. They also allow essential pharmacy services to be maintained and are especially important in rural and regional areas of South Australia, where the pharmacy workforce is limited. Telepharmacy has previously been authorised in our state before the commencement of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (South Australia) Act 2010.
In 2004, telepharmacy was provided as part of a national trial to enable provision of care to rural and remote communities. More recently, telepharmacy has been provided on the understanding that it is not prohibited under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (South Australia) Act 2010. These amendments have been sought to clarify the powers of the regulatory authority and provide assurance to the communities that may rely on the services during the pandemic. The Pharmacy Regulation Authority SA will only authorise remote attendance of pharmacists where there is a demonstrable need for the service.
COVID-19 pandemic preparedness and continuity planning for community pharmacies have highlighted the risk to continuity of services should there be an outbreak of COVID-19 in rural and remote areas of our state. The amendment bill will ensure continuity of service through this emergency period. The Pharmacy Regulation Authority of SA, supported by the Chief Pharmacist, will ensure the establishment of a strict regulatory regime for the provision of telepharmacy to ensure continued high standards in the operation of any pharmacy utilising telepharmacy.
These changes also give the Pharmacy Regulation Authority SA the power to limit the kinds of communication that may be utilised in the provision of telepharmacy. Telepharmacy by remote attendance of pharmacists is also aligned with the commonwealth government's move to provide medication review services through telehealth systems to ensure vulnerable patients can receive pharmacist-delivered support while remaining isolated from COVID-19.
Community pharmacists play an important role in our community. They provide critical access to medicines, and the services they provide lead to improved patient compliance, reduced inappropriate medication use, fewer preventable adverse drug effects and interactions, reduced hospitalisations and GP visitation, and a better quality of life for the community. Enabling continued access to the services through the COVID-19 pandemic is essential. I would like to acknowledge the opposition's interest in ensuring general practitioners and persons performing duties in a pharmacy or general practice are also prescribed emergency workers.
In summary, I indicate to the house again that this is a proposal that would automatically lapse at the expiration of a declared period or in October, as I have indicated, at the expiration of the six months. The parliament will have an opportunity to review this matter again should it be necessary, or indeed desirable, to continue to make provision for these important initiatives and protections as outlined in the bill. I commend the bill to members and seek leave to have the explanation of clauses inserted in Hansard without my reading it.
Explanation of Clauses
These clauses are formal.
Part 2—Amendment of COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020
3—Amendment of Schedule 2—Temporary modification of particular State laws
This clause amends Schedule 2 of the principal Act to insert 2 new Parts.
The first, Part A2, modifies the operation of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 to include pharmacists and other pharmacy workers in the scope of what is a prescribed emergency worker for the purposes of that section. Similarly, it extends paragraph (e) of the definition of 'prescribed emergency worker' to include medical professionals and others working in GP clinics and other places at which medical treatment or testing is undertaken, in addition to those people working in hospitals.
The second, Part 2AA, modifies the operation of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (South Australia) Act 2010 such that the requirement under section 43 of that Act that a pharmacist be physically on premises while a pharmacy is operating is modified to permit the pharmacist to be on the premises via the internet or by other electronic means, and customers are able to consult the pharmacist using those means. The Authority, however, can limit the kinds of communications that may be utilised in such circumstances.
Mr PICTON (Kaurna) (12:08): I rise to speak in relation to the COVID-19 Emergency Response (Further Measures) (No. 2) Amendment Bill 2020, which is something yet again that the government has introduced legislation on as part of the COVID-19 pandemic emergency. Once again, the opposition is providing its support to enable the speedy passage of this legislation to ensure that the powers and protections the government seeks and what needs to be put in place can be put in place. We are doing that on a bipartisan basis.
This is a piece of legislation that the opposition was advised the government intended to introduce on Tuesday, and we were advised of that fact late on Monday afternoon and provided a copy of the bill. We were then given the opportunity to be briefed on the bill on Tuesday morning, a few hours before it was introduced into the other place.
The bill that we are debating now, the bill that was introduced in the Legislative Council, is actually different from the bill that was originally proposed. It was originally circulated both to stakeholders and to the opposition on Monday afternoon. It differs in a very particular way in relation to the emergency worker protections to be provided under this legislation. What the government proposed on Monday afternoon, what they had briefed us about on Tuesday morning, was that they intended to provide protections as emergency workers for pharmacists.
What they are now seeking to do is provide emergency worker protections to pharmacists, pharmacy workers, GPs and nurses in GP clinics. We do not want to be too big-headed about these things, but that is entirely because this is what we had proposed to the government, and they have taken it on board. We welcome the fact that that has happened. This has happened on a number of occasions throughout this pandemic process.
Our approach from the beginning has been to offer support for measures to protect our state and, where there are areas that have been missed or could be added to further, we will constructively provide suggestions to make sure that we can go as far as possible. We welcome the fact that between Tuesday morning and Tuesday afternoon there was a change of heart from the government, in that they would protect those workers they originally had ignored in relation to pharmacy workers, GPs and nurses.
This is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, if you look at the legislation in which emergency worker protections are in place, this obviously creates a higher level of penalty for threats and attacks, particularly involving spitting and the like, against those front-line workers. Currently, it involves people who work in hospitals—obviously emergency workers in the portfolio of the member for Elizabeth—but also people who are in the healthcare industry. It particularly relates to hospitals, it particularly relates to GPs who might be providing after-hours care and it particularly relates to people who might be providing retrieval services.
The government raised a suggestion that they wanted to cover pharmacists, and that is a very good suggestion and one that we support. However, it seemed to deny the reality of how a community pharmacy works by the fact that it is not just pharmacists who work in pharmacies. It is not just pharmacists who are potentially threatened by an attack on them in their workplace. Through this pandemic, we collectively have really seen the fact that the front-line workers are not just the people who might be in ambulances or fire trucks or hospitals, but more and more we are seeing that front-line workers are people in your local chemist, are people in your local supermarket and are your cleaners. These are the people who, throughout the shutdown we had previously—and potentially is further to come, just looking across the border at what is going on in Victoria—have to go to work no matter what. These people are essential workers in our community. They are also some of the lowest paid workers.
A community pharmacy needs to have a pharmacist present as part of the legislation. That is part of the clear healthcare role a community pharmacy provides—that is, having that trained expert advice from a pharmacist who is registered with the Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, but they are not the only people there. There are other people who work in pharmacies. They are not paid as much, and they are often even more exposed to people than those who work in those pharmacies as the pharmacists.
I am sure many of us know, certainly in my electorate and local neighbourhood, that when you go to pharmacies the pharmacist—it is a weird, historical thing that has been in place (and I notice more and more pharmacies are removing this)—is often at this elevated level behind a big counter. A lot of the time, you are interacting with the pharmacy workers, who are not behind a big counter at an elevated level but behind the counter and very exposed to people.
I think one of the key issues that pharmacies have had to work through is that they are not going to be able to close. We saw a lot of GP clinics through March and even April closing their doors, converting to online or converting to drive-through. Pharmacies cannot do that: they have to keep the doors open. How you protect those people in that situation in a pandemic is quite difficult, particularly when we are talking about the threat of being attacked.
I think it was quite a glaring oversight in what was being proposed that the pharmacy workers were not going to be protected in the same way that the pharmacists would be. This was something about which the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (the SDA), which represents those pharmacy workers, raised a lot of concerns with the government from early on.
The Hon. D.G. Pisoni interjecting:
Mr PICTON: I think you only have to listen to the ignorant and petulant behaviour of the Minister for Innovation and Skills in his interjections just then to see that they do not actually care about these concerns that are raised by the representatives of these workers. Representatives of these workers have been raising issues on behalf of these front-line workers for months and months now and the government has continued to ignore them. The government just wants to play politics with unions. They do not actually want to listen to these suggestions in the middle of this pandemic.
Here we have a situation where there have been requests to provide additional protection for essential workers, including pharmacy workers, for some time. They have been ignored. We had this bill and they were ignored in it. We had a situation where, on Tuesday, the SDA put out a media release and raised concerns. They had, in fact, coincidentally written to the Attorney-General on the matter of the protection of their members, these workers, just the day before. We then had a rapid turnaround in the response from the government, and we welcome that.
Another issue we raised in the briefing on Tuesday morning was that if we are going to protect pharmacists, which we absolutely support—of course, they had at that stage ignored pharmacy workers but, following our advice and lobbying and SDA's lobbying, they are now doing that—what about GPs? What about the practice nurses who are in GP clinics? What about them? This is something I also raised with the AMA, and I believe they have raised it with the government, as well.
We welcome the fact that they have now changed the legislation to include those people as well. Clearly, GPs, practice nurses and GP staff are at the front line. They are potentially exposed to threats, intimidation and attacks and they should be given protection as essential emergency workers under this legislation.
I think there is a question that remains, though, in that these protections are being given in light of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act. This is a temporary piece of legislation. We all recall the very hurried way in which we passed this legislation to make sure that the government had the power that it needed, but it is obviously a piece of legislation that has an end date—as I recall, it is either six months or at the end of the emergency declaration period.
What the government is proposing in introducing this legislation right now is to say, 'We will support protections for these workers until the State Controller, via the Governor, decides that the emergency period is over.' Then, after that, they are going to go back to not having these protections, which I think is an odd scenario. It is an odd decision-making period for the government to think that the threats to these workers are only going to be temporary. It is certainly something I am keen to explore with the Attorney-General in the debate, as to why these are temporary measures and why the government did not consider whether these could be more permanent.
I think there is a question in terms of what the future of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act is generally. From what I can see, our latest emergency declaration, which the State Controller had advised the government to extend, expires on Saturday. So we might be passing a piece of legislation that only lasts for 2½ days. I presume that there will be another extension to that; however, to date there has been no notice of that occurring.
It will be interesting to know from the Attorney-General what future she sees in this act and what planning and consideration she is undertaking. Clearly, there are some parts of this legislation that are temporary and would need to expire, and clearly there are other parts where we should be considering whether we should be making them more permanent. We should be doing that as a parliament.
This has been a very stretched form of response under the Emergency Management Act, more than I think anybody had probably envisaged when that act was originally passed—that we would be dealing with an emergency declaration, effectively a state of emergency, lasting for so long. Previously, such declarations had only lasted for a few days. We will certainly be asking the Attorney about her intention to legislate some of these measures into more permanent ones. We clearly need to have a more lengthy consideration than we did.
This is a bit like the Chief Public Health Officer, who has said that these things come in very fast but that you need to be careful in how you retract them. I think the same is true for the emergency legislation: as a parliament, we brought it in very quickly, but we need to be very careful in considering what bits we are going to remove and what bits are going to stay. That is the proper consideration people would expect from their democratically elected representatives, going through that period.
Having these protections in place certainly has our support, but I think that there are questions in terms of what the process is going to be after the declaration because, as far as the statute book goes, we are about to embark upon a winter break. If the declaration were to end during the winter break, the protection for workers would end during the winter break, as I said, through this legislation. There is another part of this legislation, and it covers telepharmacy.
We have been advised that six pharmacies have been given special permission, special approvals, through the Pharmacy Regulation Authority in South Australia, to provide telepharmacy services. These are predominantly pharmacies that provide care, support and the filling of prescriptions in areas of regional and remote South Australia, where workforce issues are difficult and the sustainability of having more permanent pharmacy arrangements are difficult. I think that most people would agree that that is reasonably appropriate.
Apparently, there is some legal advice that the arrangement that has been in place for some time under the regulation authority is potentially coming up against the law, which states that attendance is required by pharmacists. Once again, the fix to this is in a temporary piece of legislation but appears to be in relation to a permanent problem.
If we have a legal question about the practice of providing that telepharmacy in those six locations, that legal issue is not going to disappear at the exhaustion of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, which will exhaust either within six months or at the end of the emergency declaration. That legal question will still be there afterwards. Hence, we ask: why are we bringing this in as a temporary measure if there is a permanent fix to be sought here?
The government's response is that they are considering a permanent fix to this, and hopefully we will see that soon. I would encourage the government in that permanent fix to this issue to consider some further safeguards that could be put around how this is enacted. I think clearly there is a risk if we allow this sort of practice to take place. We know at the moment that it is very limited circumstances in which it is taking place.
However, whenever there is a market manipulation in terms of the rules, there will be people who will try to take advantage of that. Clearly, this is a regulated market in terms of pharmacy, and this has been something that has been debated in this country for a long time. One of the reason it is important that this is regulated is that this is the provision of healthcare services.
Pharmacists are trained, registered and well-qualified healthcare professionals, and the public needs to be able to get the benefit of their advice. It is not very hard to imagine that there could be a scenario in which people might try to take advantage of a telepharmacy situation and provide a lot of pharmacy services out of a big box somewhere in Adelaide across regional South Australia by couriering out drugs.
That might be very convenient for some people who might have to travel some distance to get to their nearest pharmacy. It might be convenient for some people who have a regular script that they need to fill, but there is the potential that that could be quite detrimental in other ways, in that it would question the sustainability of many regional pharmacies. Deputy Speaker, I am sure in your community there are a lot of small towns that would have a pharmacy, but the throughput is not massive and the viability of those businesses sometimes would be teetering.
If you have a situation where people are trying to undercut them from Adelaide, that potentially threatens the viability of those services. It is not just a business question then; it becomes a question of the services and the health advice provision in that town or that regional area. I do not think any of us want to see a situation in which that occurs. That is why I would encourage the government to make sure, when this is properly legislated in the future, that we do have more protections in place. I indicate that I am the lead speaker for the opposition.
What we have been told by the government is that there is a code of conduct in place that provides some certainty around this, but we do need to make sure, because codes of conduct can change. I think we were provided on Tuesday or maybe even Wednesday morning a copy of that code of conduct, and certainly we will be taking a close look at it and consulting with people on it before we get to the point of any permanent measures here.
I think the more protections we can have in law the better we safeguard this area. Clearly, there is a need for people in small areas to have access to these services, but we do not want to see that exploited in the future. We do not want to rush through something that is going to make the situation worse for others.
The last point I will make is in relation to consultation. I think all of us acknowledge that when it comes to emergency measures you cannot undertake the consultation you would normally undertake. These two particular measures are not necessarily what you would describe as 'emergency measures'; they have been under consideration for some time. As I said, they are two things that we should be legislating for in a permanent way, not just in a temporary way.
I think it was a bit disappointing that the government only provided copies of their legislation to some of the key stakeholders, including the Pharmacy Guild, on Monday afternoon. I understand some of the other stakeholders did not receive it until even later than that. I think if there had been a bit of discussion earlier, then some of these things, particularly around the protection of workers, could have been resolved earlier and a better legislative result could have come about.
I think the pharmacy stakeholders in particular have concerns around how those pharmacy provisions for telepharmacy are going to be enacted. It would have been good to work through those provisions with the stakeholders, rather than only giving them notice the night before it was due to be introduced into parliament. I would encourage the government to talk to those stakeholders.
One example of this we have seen in the past few days was an announcement the minister rushed out over the weekend in relation to testing taking place in pharmacies. This was certainly news to the Pharmacy Guild, which had not had any previous discussions with the government in relation to this. They have some serious concerns about what is being proposed, and I understand this project has now been put on hold so that consultation in working through those issues can be resolved.
I think it would have been much better if that discussion could have happened in the days leading up to the announcement so that we do not have uncertainty hanging over that measure. We know that testing is so important. Unfortunately, while we had an amazing testing rate in South Australia—great work led by SA Pathology, which, thank goodness, has saved them from privatisation, but in the past six weeks—
The Hon. V.A. Chapman interjecting:
Mr PICTON: I think you were going to privatise this body.
The Hon. V.A. Chapman interjecting:
Mr PICTON: The Deputy Premier was about to privatise SA Pathology. Thank goodness that is not happening now. If that had happened before this pandemic struck, we would have been in a much worse situation in South Australia. We would have been in a much more perilous situation if we were relying upon interstate testing laboratories rather than having that capacity here. We saw their ability to stand up quickly. It is a testament to why that service should be in public hands and should remain in public hands forever and a day.
The fact that this government contemplated—and put in the budget papers of their first budget—privatising SA Pathology is an absolute blight upon their judgement. There were many, many warnings before the pandemic struck that if you privatised this body, you would weaken our ability to respond to a pandemic. Then a pandemic struck. Luckily, the pandemic struck before SA Pathology had been privatised. I hate to think what would have happened if you had got around to privatising it before the pandemic hit. We would have been in a much worse situation in South Australia.
In relation to the testing issue in pharmacies, we saw this announcement made before the work had been done with the Pharmacy Guild. We know that it is important that testing rates improve. Even though we saw that great work early on in South Australia, over the past six weeks our testing rates have now fallen behind almost every other state. We were ahead of the pack but we are now at the bottom of the pack, unfortunately. We do need to increase that testing rate. We do need to make sure that rate continues to increase.
We have a situation here that, if you are in any other state and want to get access to drive-through clinics, certainly in the vast majority of states you do not need a doctor's referral to do that. Here in South Australia, the government has set a policy whereby a doctor's referral is needed to get access to a drive-through clinic. That is no doubt making it harder for many people to get access to a COVID test.
Sadly, that might be leading some people to think that it is all too hard because you need to phone around to get a doctor's appointments, get a doctor's appointment, go to the doctor's appointment and get a referral. They fax off the referral to SA Pathology. They book in a time with you. All of that process can take a few days, whereas in other states you are able to just go to a drive-through clinic. Why would you put this situation in place, you might ask?
One of the reasons is that, under the commonwealth Medical Benefits Scheme, if you have a pathology test with a doctor's referral the commonwealth will give you money for it. Off the top of my head, I think it is about $70 the commonwealth will reimburse the state government for that test. If there is not a doctor's referral, they will not get the money. I would hate to think we are in a situation where it is harder for people to get a test here in South Australia because we are trying to get the commonwealth to pay for our testing rather than just trying to make it as easy as possible.
Hopefully, this testing issue can be resolved. Hopefully, what has now been put on hold can be restarted and we can work with the Pharmacy Guild and other stakeholders to resolve what I think are important safety issues in relation to the provision of those tests within a pharmacy because we do need to make sure that testing is as readily available as possible. We do need to have some safeguards to make sure that, if people are not getting tested—they are going to the pharmacy to get some cold and flu tablets, say—we have some ability to pick up any background issues that might be around in the community.
I hope that issue can be resolved. I hope the government can work with those pharmacy stakeholders, particularly the Pharmacy Guild and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, to resolve these issues beforehand. Certainly, this legislation has the opposition's support. We support increased penalties and increased protections for those front-line workers. We appreciate and thank the government for listening to the advice of the opposition and putting these in place.
We are happy to provide support on the basis of these temporary measures in relation to telepharmacy; however, we look forward to more detail as we get to a more permanent piece of legislation, which will hopefully be coming down the track.
Mr ODENWALDER (Elizabeth) (12:37): I rise to make a couple of brief observations regarding the COVID-19 Emergency Response (Further Measures) (No 2) Amendment Bill 2020. The shadow minister for health, the member for Kaurna, has more than adequately stated the position of the opposition to this bill, and that is unequivocal support for these measures, as indeed we have supported every measure coming into this place in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, as indeed we have supported every sensible measure the government has brought into this place.
But what this bill does demonstrate, as has been demonstrated by the member for Kaurna, is that this government is so often brought kicking and screaming to arrive at the position that the rest of the community and the opposition arrived at some time ago. It is leading from behind. It is leading from behind the opposition, and that is no way to govern. I want to go over some of the history of this bill because the measures in this bill essentially predate COVID.
The measures in this bill amend section 20AA of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act. Section 20AA was a measure inserted into the Criminal Law Consolidation Act by the opposition and against the wishes of the government of the day and against the wishes of the Attorney, the Premier and the Minister for Police. It was only inserted due to the insistence of members in the other place. The government eventually capitulated and accepted the measures in section 20AA and this bill builds on the measures that were brought in by section 20AA.
It is worth reflecting on how that happened because it demonstrates again that this government is often brought kicking and screaming to protect workers. The Police Association and others came to the government very early in its term and said, 'In light of recent court cases, we've had a look at the legislation governing particularly police assaults but also assaults on other emergency workers, and they are sadly lacking,' particularly, in their case, the assault provisions in the Summary Offences Act regarding police officers.
They wrote to the Attorney and they wrote to the opposition. The Attorney refused to support the measures the Police Association was suggesting. Admittedly, that changed over time. There was some discussion, certainly between me and the Police Association and, I assume, between the Attorney and the Police Association, about what those protections could look like. Eventually we landed on measures which we thought were thoroughly acceptable.
They increased penalties for assaults on certain emergency workers, assaults recklessly causing harm—all those sorts of assaults. Penalties were increased, but not just that: the offence was created as a separate offence. It was carved out from the rest of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act but, more importantly, from the Summary Offences Act, and created a whole new provision which protected emergency workers rather than having it as an aggravating factor in certain offences.
It created a whole new class of offences, and at the time the Attorney-General, the Minister for Police and the Premier voted against those measures in this place. Of course, it got to the upper house, and more sensible, cooler heads prevailed in the upper house—
The Hon. V.A. CHAPMAN: Point of order: I note that there is a slight relevance to this issue, I suppose, to this aspect, but he is now reflecting on a vote in the house and I just ask him not to do that.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Thank you for the point of order, deputy.
Mr ODENWALDER: That bill has long gone.
The Hon. V.A. Chapman: Yes, I know, but you reflected on a vote of the parliament.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Keep that in mind, member for Elizabeth, but continue.
Mr ODENWALDER: I withdraw my observation that the Premier and the Attorney-General voted against 20AA when it was first put to the house.
The Hon. V.A. Chapman interjecting:
Mr ODENWALDER: I do apologise. I do not mean to remind you of these things. However, it does show, as indeed the shadow minister for health demonstrated, this government's attitude towards workers—workers generally but emergency workers, and 'front-line workers' I guess is the term we use in terms of the COVID emergency. Again, we support the measures in this bill. Pharmacists and pharmacy workers should indeed be protected. There are classes of workers who should be protected, and it is a very sensible measure to include them albeit on a temporary basis.
There is, of course, another bill in the house, which I will not reflect on. I will try not to reflect on it too specifically. Perhaps I will say that there are things the Attorney-General could have done on 8 April this year to protect pharmacy workers in light of the COVID response. I am trying very hard not to reflect on a bill which is currently before the house. The Attorney is looking at me quizzically.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: No, forget all about that. Just continue on with your contribution.
Mr ODENWALDER: I'm just trying to help, sir. There have been measures available to the since 8 April to the Attorney-General, and indeed the Premier and the rest of the government, to protect pharmacy workers and indeed all retail workers from assaults related to COVID-19—so related to assaults that involve threats to transmit COVID-19 or actually transmitting COVID-19.
It extends to pharmacy workers, and it extends to all of the class of workers we have been talking about who are covered in 20AA and in the aggravated provisions of 5AA, but it also extends to a whole case of workers including pharmacy workers. There are things that the Attorney-General could have done back in April.
I will try not to reflect on the final vote of the house, but we tried to suspend standing orders in order for that bill to pass through all stages very quickly so that by presumably 10 April it could be the law of the land, going on how quickly these emergency measures have been put in place. The government decided not to do that, and now we are here on the last sitting day before the winter break talking about how we might protect pharmacists and pharmacy workers. Again, they are very good measures, but at least some of this could have been done in April.
I want to echo the sentiments of the member for Kaurna. We do support this bill. We have supported every measure that has come into this place, every sensible measure certainly on protecting workers, and every measure designed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and protect workers in such an instance. However, it is worth remembering that on almost every occasion the government has been the last to act.
The community has spoken. The opposition comes to the government with suggestions. Days, weeks, months later we see action. I hope that over the winter break the government will reflect on the way it conducts itself in terms of the COVID-19 epidemic because this is about the government. This is in no way a reflection on the public health response that Nicola Spurrier is guiding, nor indeed on the actions of the police commissioner acting as the State Coordinator. They have behaved in an exemplary way. They have both suggested and put into place the measures that the government has implemented, so it is no criticism of them.
I hope that the government will reflect over the break on the time it takes for them to respond to community standards in protecting front-line workers particularly, but in all aspects of the COVID-19 response. I hope that after the break we see swifter responses to genuine emergencies. Having said that, I commend the bill to the house.
The Hon. V.A. CHAPMAN (Bragg—Deputy Premier, Attorney-General) (12:47): I do thank the members of the opposition for indicating their support for the bill. In respect of one matter raised in relation to the continuation of the operation of this bill in relation to the expiration of the six-month COVID-19 provision on 9 October, I think it is, or at the end of the declaration, the lead speaker for the opposition raised the spectre of it expiring this weekend. I just want to indicate to him that His Excellency has signed the approval for the declaration to extend it this morning for another 28 days. As he knows, that is the procedure under the act. I just want to let him know that. Who knows for how long that will be.
We will rely on the Coordinator indicating to the Premier whether he thinks an extension is required. There is a 28-day provision, and that has been extended on a number of occasions. It might go to the end of the year for all we know, but let's hope that we can extend all the legislative support that is necessary during that time.
Secondly, he indicated that it was news to the Pharmacy Guild in relation to the proposed utilisation of pharmacists to dispense testing in this way. I do not know the answer to that. I have assumed that our Minister for Health, the Hon. Stephen Wade, has had a number of consultations. There has certainly been some discussion publicly about it. In fact, even on the weekend I attended my own local pharmacy and asked them, 'How do you feel about this? You will be called upon to provide this service,' and they were looking forward to it. So I am assuming the pharmacy world know about it. They have probably been—
Mr Picton: Because they read it in the paper.
The Hon. V.A. CHAPMAN: I am talking about before. We are dealing with it, so I am assuming that their representative body has kept them informed and/or the minister. In any event, I do not know that. I know that minister Wade is a very diligent minister, and he has identified a preparedness for pharmacists to undertake this role, a willingness for them to assist in this regard, a need for it, and here we are with the legislation. I commend him for that.
If there are any examples of people in the pharmacy world who feel they are not able to provide this service, this is not a mandated obligation. Pharmacists do not have to do this; they do not have to provide this service, but I am sure that many who are available to do it will do it because it will provide a service to their clients. In respect of the remote areas, the six who have already been approved to do telepharmacy understand the significance of providing this service to our remote and regional communities, and I thank them in advance for doing it.
On the question of the extension of who this is to apply to, it is correct that pharmacists were identified to undertake this role. The discussion in the other place has led to the bill that we are presenting today, expanding to some extra health service professionals. That is a worthy contribution. I would not be presenting it here today if the government were not accommodating of that.
I place on the record in relation to the protection component of this that this is an additional group in that category, beyond what we argued in opposition for the protection in relation to biting and spitting and people who are front-line workers. When the previous government introduced that for police, we said, 'We need it for health professionals and we need it for people who assist at the side of the road, for doctors who come to assist, and we need it for emergency workers.' So, sure, we introduced that. It was accepted eventually, the parliament presented it and we have better laws for it.
Somehow or other the relevance of the request of the SDA for their support for retail workers is now being pursued. I received a copy of correspondence that the SDA sent to the Premier. I had correspondence with them on this issue. I have invited them to present any examples of where people have been assaulted or spat on in that environment. I did receive a collage of, 'Dear Premier, it's unacceptable that people in retail should be treated badly, etc.' I do not disagree with that. I have not been sent any examples. I am very happy to act on them.
I have advised the SDA to ensure that they let their members know that if they are in any way assaulted or treated in that way they should report it to the police—certainly if they are working in a supermarket or a store where there is some fight in the aisles over who gets the toilet paper or some abusive comment to some poor person who is standing at the till trying to take the heat out of a situation where someone is aggrieved at not being able to buy a certain quantity of a product. Of course, as to rudeness across to an assault, if it is in the former category I think it is the responsibility of the employer to act to ensure their staff are in a safe workplace. If there has been a crossing of the line, there has been a criminal offence and there has been an assault, then it should be referred to the police.
I am advised that during the course of this there has been a very significant increase in security in a number of premises that are operated for food and supply outlets. In the early days of there being a run on the buying of product, with almost rationing going on that was self-imposed by some of the food and supermarket outlets, they also introduced extra security. Good on them for doing that because we do not want a situation where either another customer is at risk or someone who is going about their lawful business in their workplace is at risk. Again, I invite the member, if he has examples of this situation in a retail outlet situation, to please let us know. We are happy to provide some assistance to support.
In relation to higher penalties and new offences for police officers, it is tangentially responsible to this, I suppose. Can I suggest that the member have some discussions in respect of how effective that legislation has been. We are supportive of it. Obviously the parliament has made a decision in relation to an increased offence, the removing of summary offences, the increasing penalties in relation to people who assault police officers, which is a very important matter. Can I put on the record that I am not sure that it has really helped the police, in the sense of higher penalties being achieved, because all that still relates to what the police refer for charging, and that is a matter for them. As a parliament or a government we do not have any control over that, for obvious reasons: it is an independent matter.
We sent a message to the courts, I think, by that type of legislation, but it is really going to rely on what happens at the police level when they are progressing a charge and a referral of that matter and ultimately, if it gets to the DPP, as to where it goes. We will keep an eye on that because the parliament sent a message, but it is really going to require a strength of will to prosecute matters by the police prosecutions in relation to what they do.
I do not think there is anything else I can add, other than to say that I found some arguments a little bit inconsistent. We are trying to move legislative reforms as we are advised by the health professionals and the Coordinator. Clearly, the situation in Victoria has deteriorated and, increasingly so it seems, in New South Wales. We have some very significant at present risk circumstances, and we have to deal with them within that envelope.
We thank the pharmacists for stepping up to become part of the management of this serious situation and for the work they will do with the passage of this bill. I confirm our appreciation of the opposition in supporting it being dealt with quickly. I think it has some merit, particularly in relation to remote telepharmacy, as we have said with telemedicine. I invite the member for Kaurna, if he would like to, to send us a list of things—out of the COVID-19 laws that we have passed to date—that he thinks have merit in continuing. We are already receiving that from other stakeholders.
We think a number do have merit, but I remind him that it was his side that supported a cancellation of all these laws as at the six-month time, as an alternate to the end of a declaration period. We have a hard-edge time anyway, so clearly in September, when we resume parliament, before we get to 9 October we will have an opportunity to identify areas we might need to continue and, secondly, whether we look at the permanent initiatives that are of merit.
There will be, as I have indicated to parliament before, a comprehensive review of the entire utilisation of the Emergency Management Act through this because it has been the first time that it has really been exercised for any extended period of time for a very significant emergency. Last time we used it was for 24 or 48 hours when we had the blackout. You might remember the parliament shut down at the request of the premier and they went off to try to deal with that matter, but it was a very temporary matter.
This is the first time this piece of legislation has really been put to the test, and we will need to identify how it can be better improved. Again, we welcome the opposition's indication of areas of reform that they think might be helpful to be included in a new approach to that legislation, and as to what we might then consider as a parliament. With that, I commend the bill to the house.
Bill read a second time.