ADJOUNMENT DEBATE - Federation Chamber - COVID-19

13 May 2020

I'm lucky and privileged to represent the wonderful people of the Illawarra and Southern Highlands in this parliament. I want to start by thanking them for their community spirit and their endurance during these very difficult times. I want to give a special thank you to our healthcare professionals—the nurses, the doctors and the hospital staff—who have endured so much in this difficult time. Also I want to give a shout-out to our teachers, our educators, who, either remotely or in classrooms, have been looking after our children, providing them with education through very difficult circumstances. Thank you to the businesses who are struggling to do the right thing by their customers and by their staff, whether they managed to stay open, whether they've had to reinvent themselves or whether they're thinking about and struggling with how they are going to persevere until the other end of this crisis. I also want to thank our local media outlets—I particularly want to reflect on the situation of our local commercial radio, television and newspapers, many of whom have seen their advertising revenue all but dry up because, as businesses face difficult circumstances, advertising is one of the first things that slows down—and the local ABC. Together our commercial and our publicly funded broadcasters have told the news and the stories that we need to hear. We thank them for that. I want to thank our local community, our unions, our business representatives, who have always been looking for solutions to local challenges.

Of course, the health challenges are paramount. We saw the very real impact of this early on in the crisis, where a relatively small wedding led to a significant cluster of COVID-19 cases in the north of the Illawarra. Forty-two of the guests at that wedding were diagnosed with COVID-19.

Whilst the health challenge has been massive, and we have a responsibility to maintain the social distancing arrangements, we also know the economic challenge is manifest. It is estimated that as many as 12½ thousand people could lose their jobs throughout the Illawarra and Southern Highlands as a result of this crisis. The areas that are going to be most hard hit will be in hospitality, in retail, in entertainment, in accommodation and in all of those services which by their nature require close human contact.

To prepare us and to assist us through this, we called for an increase to Newstart, and that has been agreed by the government, albeit on a temporary basis. We called for a wage subsidy, and we welcome the fact that JobKeeper has been introduced, albeit with some problems. I want to focus on a couple of problems with the JobKeeper program, which I call on the government to address. It has been welcomed by local workers and local businesses, but it strikes us as strange that, when so many people are out of work and so many are unable to get access to the JobKeeper program, other workers have experienced an increase in their income. This, simply put, is not fair. It could be better designed and it should be better designed.

I would also like to say something about the need for workers to do the right thing. At a time when so many within our community are volunteering their time to assist community organisations, to do their bit to ensure the community meets its needs, I think it's also important that, if we are providing from the government a JobKeeper allowance, workers do the right thing by their employers. If there is to be some redesign of this program, there must be some obligations to attend work, where it is safe to do so, and to contribute to the business where the business is doing its best to try and maintain an employment connection with those workers.

It's going to take more than good hope and more than slogans to ensure that we find our way out of this crisis economically. We've proposed some arrangements that need to be put in place. Further fiscal stimulus, further capital works programs, probably more small-scale capital works programs and diversified public works programs are what is needed, as is social housing, small local government infrastructure programs and programs which are going to enable us to pick up those workers who have been displaced from the services sector and find them redeployment in other areas. Local land care programs or pest eradication programs lend themselves exactly to this task.