Hanson Young Coronavirus medical experts in Australia are saying 150,000 people may die from this
BILLS – Assistance for Severely Affected Regions (Special Appropriation) (Coronavirus Economic Response Package) Bill 2020, Structured Finance Support (Coronavirus Economic Response Package) Bill 2020, Appropriation (Coronavirus Economic Response Package) Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020, Appropriation (Coronavirus Economic Response Package) Bill (No. 2) 2019-2020, Boosting Cash Flow for Employers (Coronavirus Economic Response Package) Bill 2020
Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) : I rise tonight to add my contribution to this extraordinary debate that we’re having today in this place and the other place on what is an unprecedented package of bills for the parliament to pass, put forward by the government of the day to deal with what are clearly unprecedented times. We are in the midst of a health crisis, we’re in the midst of the economic crisis and we’re in the midst of a community and social crisis. But, as we go through this process, as we do everything we can to flatten that curve, to save lives and to deal with the economic ramifications, I fear that the community and social crisis is the one that’s going to be with us the longest. It is that crisis that many of us in this place have already referenced today—how we help those who are most vulnerable; those who have lost their jobs, literally overnight; and the people on the front lines, working to keep all of us safe and healthy.
These are indeed unprecedented times, reflected in the extraordinary scenes we are seeing across the world. All you need to do is look at the images and reports coming out of Italy right now—not something we would wish on any community, on any group of people, on any country. Here in Australia, there are extraordinary events that are unfolding, like businesses closing and collapsing overnight; and schools closing in some areas, with more to close as the days and weeks go by. And, of course, there are the extraordinary, heartbreaking scenes that we saw today of thousands of people, Australians who have lost their jobs, whether it was overnight or in the last week or two, lining up around the block for Centrelink offices, right around the country. I must say that the footage of people lined up, desperate to get in to speak to Centrelink about what help they could get—how Centrelink could help pay their rent, put food on the table and support their families—is absolutely heartbreaking. There was footage from Bondi where police were called to tell people lined up outside the local Centrelink office to go away and come back tomorrow with maybe a hope that they’d get in the door. One woman outside that office reported that she had $10 to her name today, and the police told her to turn around and go home. I fear that these types of scenes, sadly, are going to be seen more and more as we deal with this unfolding crisis.
That, of course, is why the government has put forward this extraordinary package of legislation. It is a huge amount of money to be putting on the table. But even then, when we look around at what’s going on and listen to the experts, we know more is going to be needed. People are anxious, they’re scared, they’re fearful and they’re really confused. It’s been really difficult for people to understand what is going to happen. What is expected of them? How can they help prepare themselves and their families? How do they answer those questions that their kids have about what is going on? Children are very good at asking those terrible questions that we as adults dare not utter: How many people are going to die? What’s going to happen to grandma and grandpa? When do I get to go back to school? Why can’t I have a birthday party with my friends? The questions that children ask us in times of crisis like this are the most illuminating.
As leaders from right across the community and the country here, gathered in this place, we have to steel ourselves to be prepared to be honest and truthful about what these consequences mean. Thousands of people will die. Some medical experts here in Australia are saying it could that 150,000 people may die from this. Hundreds of thousands of people are going to lose their jobs. The Treasurer himself today said that a million people are expected to become unemployed because of the coronavirus. Hundreds of thousands of people are already losing their jobs. What happens when we get sick? We have to be honest about this to the Australian people. Our hospitals are, at this point, going to become overcrowded and overloaded. It’s up to us to be honest about that and say what it is that we’re going to do to fix it, which is why the Greens today are calling for a doubling of those critical care beds in hospitals. We know they’re going to be needed.
Politics has taken quite a battering over the last few years. Trust has been eroded. Trust in public institutions is as low as it’s ever been. At a time like this, it’s really difficult to ask people or to expect people to all of a sudden trust that we’ve got this in hand, that the government has a plan and can deliver it. We have to make sure we work bloody hard to rebuild that trust, and that means being honest, that means being clear, that means being able to give advice that is understandable—without contradiction.
Yes, we need to listen to those medical experts who are telling us we need to go hard and we need to go now. I want to thank all of those health professionals and medicos who right now are on the frontline and will be expected and needed to be on the frontline for weeks and months to come. As a community, and as a society, we are going to be indebted to you forevermore. The teachers who are dealing with the questions, anxiety and confusion of students across the country today, the childcare workers and the aged-care workers who know that their skills are critical at this moment—many of whom aren’t paid enough, many of whom are not on good wages, many of whom are employed casually and if they get sick themselves are unsure how they are going to be able to pay the rent or the mortgage—for them we must step up and make sure no-one is left behind.
Businesses right across the country are closing their doors, standing down staff. From the biggest companies like Qantas—even the AFL today is standing down 80 per cent of their staff and the remaining 20 per cent are going to take a pay cut—to the smallest businesses that are the heartbeat of our nation’s economy. And it’s those people who within an instant of the announcements being rolled out by the government over the last two weeks lost business, had to stand down staff and had to close their doors. For those people this is a terrifying time. Many of those businesses will never recover. Whole families have invested in these operations. Their staff are like family to them. The casual workers and the gig economy workers have no idea what they’re going to do now. And thankfully there is some support in this package to make sure people have access to Newstart and the coronavirus supplement. Once you fall out of that particular work field it’s often very hard, in some sectors, to get back in. While we talk about hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people being unemployed for the next six months, that time, that uncertainty and that lack of employment is going to stretch for many, many of them for months and years to come.
We know that the industries that have been hit the hardest thus far include tourism. After all of the efforts and the heartache that the tourism industry faced, and those small family operators in towns right across the country—who battled the bushfires—today they are having a double whammy. Australia’s tourism industry, and all of the businesses and small communities that rely on them, have been decimated all over again. They need their own support package. I’m sad to say that what we have been given by the government thus far is not enough. It is not enough for our tourism industries.
Hospitality, arts, entertainment—these industries two weeks ago had the rug pulled out from underneath them and instantly lost hundreds of millions, billions of dollars. Half a million people in the arts and entertainment industry have already lost their jobs over the last two weeks. Billions of dollars are going to be wiped out of our economy because we haven’t been able to cushion the blow to our arts, creative and entertainment industries enough. Of course, in the midst of the bushfires, who was it that stepped up to give us hope, to raise money, to support their local community without asking for anything in return? It was our artists, our creatives, our entertainers. And when we finally get through this, who is going to be there to help us rebuild and heal? Our arts community is essential to helping us as a community rebuild, regather and redefine ourselves after these challenges. Our arts and entertainment sector desperately needs much more support than what’s being put on the table. I implore the government: you have $20-odd billion left in your kitty over the next couple of months as a result of the supply measures. Please use it. The arts and entertainment industry needs its own package to survive.
The world is changing very, very quickly. We need to make sure we guarantee wages and guarantee jobs, which is why I’m foreshadowing a second reading amendment that does this. Passing this amount of money and not ensuring that people get to keep their jobs is crazy. In the UK, Boris Johnson of all people gets this. I implore the government to think very carefully about these amendments and to consider what can be done to guarantee people’s jobs are kept when businesses are handed public money.
Finally, I just want to say that in the midst of all of this and the desire for truth, clarity and information, our public broadcasters are essential. The ABC has been doing a brilliant job of trying to keep the Australian people informed with facts and informed analysis, and trying to deal with those tricky questions that no-one seems to have an answer to. Thank heaven for Dr Swan being able to answer those questions that the government can’t. I implore the minister today: reverse the cuts to the ABC and lift the indexation freeze so that every Australian knows what is actually going on.
Source Parliament of Australia Website 2020