Transport chief defends exemptions for interstate workers
In a parliamentary committee hearing this morning, the Director General of the Department for Infrastructure and Transport, Tony Braxton-Smith, confirmed that three signal technicians from New South Wales had been authorized by SA Health earlier this month to enter the state as essential travelers.
Workers were brought in to work on the Gawler Rail Electrification Project – a $ 715 million state and federal funded project that is behind schedule due to COVID-19-related delays.
The decision to approve their travel exemptions has come under heavy criticism from state opposition, which last week accused the government of prioritizing interstate workers over the roughly 7,000 South Australians who are stuck in the states. people affected by the coronavirus and who are desperate to return home.
But Braxton-Smith said today it was necessary to bring the technicians to South Australia to ensure that work on the railway electrification project, which currently employs around 200 people, can continue.
He said the three workers had “skills and certification for highly specialized tasks,” including testing signals along the tracks – skills only about five people in Australia have.
The head of the department said the travel exemption requests for the workers were originally filed in July and “suffered repeated delays and repeated requests for additional information.”
He said he wrote to Dr Emily Kirkpatrick, deputy chief public health officer, on August 29 to seek clarification as the delay “was starting to have a substantial potential impact on the entire workforce.” .
Braxton-Smith said he heard from SA Health “a few days” after writing to Kirkpatrick.
“There are obviously, I think, 200 South Australian employees working on the site and… there is critical path work,” he told the committee.
“The project cannot go any further until some work is completed.
“We needed these people in the state.”
Braxton-Smith said that while technicians are in South Australia they are required to remain in quarantine when not at work, follow a strict testing regime, wear a surgical mask when entering contact with the public and monitor COVID-19 symptoms.
Asked by committee chairman and Labor MLC Kyam Maher if he understood why South Australians stuck between states might feel “upset” by the decision to grant travel exemptions to workers, Braxton-Smith said ‘he respected the decision of the authorities.
“I appreciate that the current travel restrictions create a number of issues for people in both directions, including myself – I cannot travel to Victoria to see my mother who is particularly ill, but we are working all together to protect us from COVID, ”he said.
“I appreciate the issues because I experience them firsthand, but I have my respect for the authorities and I do my best to make sure we meet our goals to keep our workers and our workplaces COVID- safe, by keeping the essential and important services provided to the community and ensuring that we continue the vital economic stimulation that is needed.
Gawler’s rail electrification project was originally slated for completion this year, but is now slated for completion early next year.
This is to modernize the Gawler rail line to provide a faster electrified network across Adelaide from Gawler to Seaford.
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