23 Mar 2020
Chief Minister of the Northern Territory
My fellow Territorians,
When the coronavirus – this silent, invisible killer – first started to threaten our country and our community, I promised you I would do whatever it takes to protect you.
It’s a promise I intend to keep.
The threat we are facing is deadly serious.
The evidence presented to us at the National Cabinet meeting last night was crystal clear.
The spread of this highly contagious disease down south has made this an unprecedented health emergency for our entire country.
While the Territory remains the safest place in the country, things are getting worse, not better down south. This is out of control down there. It is spreading and we must control it.
The evidence elsewhere in Australia has shown us that voluntary social-distancing has not worked.
Half-measures are not helping.
We must act so we do not become another Italy, or another America or another UK – where the spread is getting wider, and the list of the sick and dead is getting longer.
The Territory has been ahead of the game so far. And instead of playing catch-up like others, we can stay ahead of the game.
That means making tough, gut-wrenching decisions to save lives.
Across the nation, this means temporary closure of licenced clubs, nightclubs, pubs, bars, and the licenced sections of hotels.
It includes entertainment venues, casinos and cinemas.
Gyms and indoor sporting venues.
Religious gatherings and places of worship.
Weddings and funerals are exempt – but only for small groups which comply with the existing space requirements.
These measures also apply to outdoor spaces associated with these venues.
Restaurants and cafes will be restricted to take-away and delivery services only.
Bottle-os, still open. You can still get a beer – god knows we all might need one.
For everything else – there are no changes right now.
Retail stores – still open, but with the existing restrictions that already apply to indoor venues.
Shopping centres are open – but do not sit at food courts.
And of course – supermarkets will always stay open. Always.
New directions will be issued under the Public Environmental and Health Act to enact and enforce these new rules.
As a starting point, these measures will be in place for one month, when they will be reviewed –and only relaxed if the threat has subsided.
Remote communities are not included in these restrictions, given the strong protections we are already implementing for them.
The advice from the nation’s top health experts continues to be that it is safe for schools to stay open.
But, from tomorrow and for the rest of this term, the decision to send kids to school will be a choice for parents.
I know a lot of parents are feeling anxious right now, during these times.
I trust parents to know what is best for them and their kids.
If you want to keep kids at home for the remainder of this term – that is okay.
But they have to be at home. If they can’t be at home or with you, please send them to school.
From term two – it is my expectation that education will be compulsory again.
The Education Department will use this time until then to make sure there can be flexible arrangements for students to receive their education – whether that’s at school or at home.
There are a lot of changes happening, and not everyone will agree. But let’s all agree that our kids should keep learning.
Speaking directly to our teachers: thank you. You are on the front line. Your health is as important to me as our kids. I have asked that your welfare be paramount through all this. We need you, and we need you healthy and well.
COVID19 is doing more damage to our Territory economy than any natural disaster ever has.
I talk to business owners every day and I know how much you’re hurting.
These new rules are going to hurt. They are going to hurt some people more.
I’ll talk soon about why we have to do this, why we have no choice.
But please know, I am going to do everything I possibly can to help you survive in these unprecedented times.
We’ve released a tourism rescue package, we’ve released the Jobs Rescue and Recovery package.
And through the night we have been working on more support.
The $50 million Small Business Survival Fund.
The Fund will deliver grants to help keep businesses alive, even when they have to shut.
An Advisory Board of business leaders will oversee the Fund, chaired by Dick Guit.
We will release more detail on the Fund this afternoon and in coming days and I have directed it be open for applications from Friday.
But it has three clear goals:
First, and most importantly: just keeping businesses alive. Helping you survive this period so you’re still here when things go back to normal.
Second, helping businesses adjust and adapt to this new environment – like setting you up online, or helping you expand takeaway and delivery services.
And just on that – if Territorians want to help, but you’re not sure how, order some takeaway.
I am serious – at least a meal a day from a local joint. If you’ve got the dough for it, being the best Territorian you can be right now does mean eating takeaway.
The third goal is to prepare businesses for the rebound that will come when this crisis ends. So you can come back strong. We will come out the other side of this.
And our hospitality and tourism businesses will be at the front of the line to get money from this fund.
The Federal Government’s stimulus package, announced yesterday, will also help Territorians.
Small businesses who keep their workers on will get at least $20,000 back in the bank, and as much as $100,000.
Territorians who lose their job will be able to access income support that is double the usual rate – with no assets test and no waiting period.
It will help. But just like we are doing more and more, the Feds need to do the same.
We’ll keep scaling up to save jobs – the Feds need to as well.
Even with all of this, I know there will be some businesses that will close. I know jobs will be lost.
And I feel sick about that.
I have agonised over these decisions.
And I know a lot of people will be asking, why is all of this needed up here, when the problem isn’t as bad up here?
I think that is a fair question, and let me give you a thorough answer.
My big fear – the thing that is keeping me up at night – is that the coronavirus wave is coming to the Territory.
I hoped that securing our borders would be enough to stop it. And it will help, but it won’t be enough.
It’s clear extreme action is needed to keep us safe.
And we know the coronavirus is already here.
We don’t have community spread.
But neither did anywhere else in Australia – until they suddenly did.
In every part of Australia, in every part of the world – it all started somewhere, with one case.
So please do not think the Territory is immune from the worst effects of the coronavirus.
We are not. If this hits us hard, it will be devastating.
If you’re asking if these measures go too far, I’d like you to do something for me, if you can.
Google “coronavirus” and “Italy”. And spend five minutes looking through the pictures and the videos.
See the sick and the dying lined up in hospitals hallways.
And then think –
That could be mum, that could be dad.
That could be your brother, your sister, your colleague, your mate.
It could be your son or your daughter.
It could be you, it could be me.
Til now, we have been the safest place in Australia.
And I am going to keep it that way.
The states down south might be able let the virus get out of control before acting.
Up here, we do not have the luxury of waiting for it to get worse.
Our size is too small, our population too vulnerable.
The risk too great, the cost too high.
Maybe this hits home more for me than most.
A few months ago, I was the one lying on a hospital bed in the ED. Extraordinary doctors and nurses saved my life.
I thank god for them, I thank god for the Royal Darwin Hospital and I thank god for everyone that works there.
I was lucky. Great Territory health care workers were there for me, to care for me, and to save me.
If I had presented in the middle of a coronavirus outbreak, it might have been a different story.
So everything we are doing, every one of these hard decisions, is to prevent that outbreak – that nightmare from happening here.
We do not know everything about this virus, but we know this.
The only thing that’s been properly effective anywhere in the world is partly shutting down the sections of society where the risk is greatest.
It’s the only thing that’s really saved lives.
No government has regretted going full-bore to stop this virus.
Almost every government has regretted doing too little, and waiting too long.
I don’t want us to have those same regrets.
I know this is a lot to take in.
I know these decisions will cause pain for people.
I expect there will be Territorians who will not support this, and who will never forgive me for it.
But if I didn’t make these hard choices to save lives, I could never forgive myself.
People’s lives are on the line. That’s what has to come first.
This is not the end – in coming days, I’ll have to ask even more of you.
Things will get harder before they get easier. But eventually, they will get easier.
And this crisis will not break us. We will not let it break us.
We are all in this together – we are all on Team Territory.