The recent outbreak of COVID-19 in South Australia has exposed the deficiencies in our state’s public health system.
As cases continue to surge, it’s clear that the Marshall Government needs to invest in public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and support those who have tested positive to the virus as an urgent priority. Additionally, legislative reform is needed to ensure workers exposed to the virus aren’t getting a raw deal.
The Greens have a plan for a world-class response to COVID-19, funded by imposing a state-based Big Bank Levy.
If the Greens secure the balance of power in the state’s Upper House at the March election, we will be pushing Labor and the Liberals to implement this plan.
Free rapid antigen tests
Rapid antigen tests are proving the latest frontier of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pharmacies are sold out of rapid antigen tests while sick and symptomatic people search high and low to secure one, putting themselves and the community at risk.
Rapid antigen tests are too expensive and subject to price gouging – that’s if you can even find one. This is a public health emergency - not a free market situation. The Greens believe that rapid antigen tests should be free, equitably distributed and universally accessible. In countries around the world, like the UK and Singapore, governments have made rapid antigen tests free and readily available to their citizens. We know it can be done.
The Greens will ensure that for the duration of the pandemic, everyone should have access to free and readily available Rapid Antigen Tests. This is essential for protecting our community and also for reducing the strain on health workers in our state who are working around the clock under difficult conditions to process PCR tests. This would ensure that the PCR test system could be used for people who are symptomatic, reducing wait times for testing - not to mention, providing free RATs to people is cheaper than large-scale PCR testing.
The Greens would ensure that the State Government purchases and distributes RATs to each household, as has been done in the UK and in other countries.
Supporting people with covid-19
We’re supposed to be “living with COVID-19” right now, but even after two years of the pandemic our State Government still hasn’t come up with appropriate measures to ensure that people who have COVID-19 have the support and care they need. The Greens want to fix this. We will ensure that:
- Health services checking in with people who have COVID-19 will do so over the phone, rather than just sending a text, to ensure proper welfare checks are done
- People have the resources and support to look after themselves while isolating with Covid. This includes support with getting food/groceries, filling prescriptions, and providing support to care for pets as well. As part of this we would provide funding and resources for not-for-profits that currently assist the community with food and essentials packages and their volunteers to distribute food and other essentials to people having to isolate because they have tested positive for Covid
- More health professionals are employed to answer questions via telehealth appointments and offer readily available medical advice to people with Covid
- At-home testing is available for people with Covid, and for people who are unable to travel to take a Covid test
- Establish three dedicated clinics for COVID-19 patients (one in the North, one in the South, and one in the CBD) that are open seven days a week to provide health care for people who have tested positive but need treatment for other non-life threatening illnesses or injuries like cuts, strains, stings, and wounds. They will also offer in-person support and advice as patients manage their Covid symptoms, particularly in the long-term for people affected by Long Covid. The clinics will be open from 7.30am to 10pm, won’t require appointments and will be free of charge.
Let's clear the air
We already know that there are many classrooms where windows can’t be opened and there are other issues with air-conditioning. We also know that having good ventilation reduces the viral load of COVID in the air, helping to stop the spread. Ventilation audits are important and necessary, but they take time - so in the interim, the Greens want to ensure that South Australian schools are safe by funding Cori-Rosenthal Boxes - air filters - for all schools in South Australia.
The Corsi-Rosenthal Box (sometimes called a Comparetto Cube) is an inexpensive, do-it-yourself air cleaner that can be easily constructed out of a box fan and MERV-13 furnace filters. A Corsi-Rosenthal Box can give whole-room air cleaning performance comparable to commercial HEPA air cleaners that cost at least 10 times as much. The materials cost roughly $120, and such a box should last an entire school year. They can also provide an educational opportunity for students, who can be – and in some places have been – involved in putting these boxes together. Already in the US parents, students and teachers are coming together to build hundreds of these homemade air purifiers to protect their kids at school. The Greens want to support our community to do the same.
We know that schools aren’t the only places potentially affected by poor ventilation. We will therefore establish a grants scheme to enable small businesses, community centres, and clubs to receive funding so that they can also have Corsi-Rosenthal Boxes in their buildings, as well as apply for funding/assistance with undertaking ventilation audits.
We know that ensuring South Australians remain protected from COVID-19 and its variants takes more than just a vaccination program. For this reason, the Greens will ensure South Australians can access presumptive COVID-19 Cover under the Return to Work Act.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Greens have been fighting to secure paid pandemic leave for workers – and we were the first to introduce a Bill to do so. It is worth noting that a similar Greens Bill to the one introduced here in South Australia was passed in New South Wales in the early days of the pandemic.
Too many workers do not have the leave entitlements and job security to allow them to economically survive a diagnosis of COVID-19, or even take the time off work while awaiting test results. Front-line staff in people-facing industries are among the most vulnerable, given the required interactions with hundreds of people a day, but they often have very few legal protections. Should one of those interactions make them sick, they need the protection and surety provided by such legislation. It would extend workers compensation coverage to workers who contract or are suspected to have contracted COVID-19. The Greens want to make sure that workers who are affected by coronavirus are supported through this public health emergency in an appropriate way. We want to ensure that people in South Australia have the economic security to actually adhere to the public health advice.
The Greens will extend workers’ compensation rights to:
- Workers who are off work having been diagnosed with COVID-19
- Workers who are self-isolated and awaiting COVID-19 test results
- Casual workers who are tested for, or diagnosed with, COVID-19 within 21 days of last working, and
- Workers who die from COVID-19
We want - and have prepared - legislation that takes a presumptive approach, meaning that it is presumed that the worker contracted COVID-19 at their job, rather than having to prove it before they can access workers’ compensation. Similar provisions already exist within the legislation, e.g. should a firefighter get cancer it is presumed that their cancer was caused by their work when applying for workers’ compensation.
We will provide protection to workers in the following industries where they have face to face contact with members of the public:
- The hospitality industry
- Health care
- Disability care
- Aged care
- Education (including child care, pre-school, school, and tertiary education)
- Provision of refuges, halfway houses or homeless shelters
- The retail industry
- Passenger transport services
- Library services
- Freight transport
- Emergency services (including SAMFS, SACFS, and the South Australian State Emergency Service)
The proposed legislation also applies to members of the police force, those employed by a court or tribunal, or those employed in a correctional institution, where their work requires face to face interaction with the public. More industries and occupations can also be added in the regulations, should that become necessary.
how would we pay for it?
Back in August 2021, the SA Greens announced our ambitious plan to reverse privatisations, axe public transport fees, bring back ETSA and the Housing Trust and fund a record investment in publicly owned housing and renewable electricity. The plan would be bankrolled by imposing a range of new taxes on developers, big banks and mining corporations – raising more than $6.9billion over four years.
In funding our response to the pandemic, the South Australian Greens would use the revenue raised from the State-based Big Bank Levy, similar to the one proposed by Labor in 2017, to invest in crucial public health services to adequately respond to the pandemic.
The Big Bank Levy would impose a 0.05% of total liabilities per quarter on the five biggest banks operating in South Australia to raise over $1.3 billion over four years, or $340 million every year.