The COVID-19 pandemic - and the extraordinary restrictions placed on citizens in a bid to stop the spread of the virus — understandably has a lot of people on edge. Many are finding the social isolation measures difficult — particularly the travel restrictions placed on Tasmanians over a holiday period where many would normally be enjoying a break at a shack in their favourite part of the state. Premier Peter Gutwein had been very clear about stopping the movement of people into coastal communities, and gave police powers to turn back and even arrest and charge Tasmanians who did not comply with the rules. Over the Easter long weekend officers have been doing just that. More than 40 people have been charged for allegedly breaching movement boundaries, and another 79 sent back to their primary residence with a warning. It’s not surprising, then, that concerned members of the Bicheno community contacted the Sunday Tasmanian on Saturday with photos of Senator Peter Whish-Wilson at his holiday home in the small seaside community.
The Sunday Tasmanian contacted Mr Whish-Wilson, who explained that he had been living at his East Coast home for the past four weeks “with the exception of a brief visit to Canberra for parliament”, and had checked with police that he was complying with rules. We reported his comments in an article which also contained criticism from unnamed Bicheno residents and Labor MP Brian Mitchell. In fact, Mr Whish-Wilson has broken no rules. Greens leader Cassy O’Connor pointed out on social media yesterday that Mr Whish-Wilson had nominated his holiday home as his principle place of residence, under the new rules which allow someone to declare “the location in Tasmania where the person intends to reside until the declaration of the public health emergency in respect of the disease is revoked under the Act”.
However, Mr Whish-Wilson’s actions have been both widely criticised (and supported) on social media. The self-declared senator surfer has been quite prickly about those who have challenged him. Critical comments have been deleted from his Facebook page and yesterday he defended his position, describing our article as “a pathetic hatchet piece” from the “Murdoch Press”. Mr Whish-Wilson may have done nothing wrong, but local Bicheno residents are well within their rights to ask questions. Yes, he played it by the book, but it would be naive not to think his appearance at his East Coast holiday home would have the potential to be misunderstood. As a politician, he is considered an essential worker, and exempt from the compulsory 14-day selfisolation rule which applies to others. But the fact that he travelled to and from Canberra during the medical emergency must have placed coastal communities at greater risk than if he had stayed put. Already at least two politicians have tested positive to the virus — Peter Dutton and Senator Susan McDonald — and Mr Whish-Wilson also travelled through airports to get to and from his East Coast property. Other senators have chosen to stay home during the crisis. Politicians are looked upon as leaders in their communities and should set a clear example for others to follow. As leaders, they should sometimes go above and beyond the rules to drive home the message.