Wednesday, 8 April 2020
Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Bill 2020, Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus (Measures No. 2) Bill 2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 5) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 6) 2019-2020; Second Reading
I rise in this place on a day that will be remembered for generations to come. Today, if passed, the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Bill will provide support for six million Australian workers affected by the pandemic that is currently sweeping the world. It will provide an economic bridge to the other side of this health crisis for thousands of businesses and it will enable us to recover more quickly when this crisis passes, which it will. It will pass, and we will recover.
We in this place have the enormous privilege of making critical decisions on behalf of all Australians. The decisions that we make in this House together and in the other place affect the lives of millions of Australians each and every day, and today is one of those very critical days, for saving lives and for saving livelihoods. Tackling coronavirus has meant tackling a war on two fronts. We must ensure that every Australian is kept safe from the potentially devastating effects of the coronavirus. We have put in place public health measures to protect our vulnerable, our elderly, our immunocompromised. We've put in place public health measures to protect all Australians.
Prior to being a parliamentarian, I was a population health researcher involved in preventing health epidemics over years. By contrast, the Prime Minister, and, with him, the premiers and state and territory leaders, through the national cabinet, are leading this country through the most profound public health changes ever enacted—not over years, nor months, but over days. The Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, ably supported by the Chief Health Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, has enacted public health changes that might have taken 10 years at another time but have been rolled out in just two weeks. The speed and efficiency of our public health response is breathtaking. More than that, we've prepared the healthcare system for the worst, should that happen. PPE—personal protective equipment: we have 30 million sets here and 500 million are on their way. ICU capacity has been doubled and will be swiftly increased from 2,200 to 7,500. Telehealth: more than 2½ million visits have already been undertaken, helping keep both doctors and patients safe from coronavirus.
At this point in time, it seems we are beating the virus, and the curve is flattening, but we can't be complacent. We must continue to carve our own curve while facing this threat head on. We are not Italy, we are not the UK and we are not the US. But, if we had not taken the steps we have as Australians, we may well have been on those same trajectories. That is why, coming into Easter, it is so important that people stay home. We've had to make sacrifices—all of us—some more than others. People have already lost their lives. People have lost their jobs. People have lost their businesses. People have had to defer weddings and funerals. But staying safe, healthy and well means working together and remaining at home over Easter.
Whilst the health of Australians is the government's first priority, following close on its heels is the economic prosperity of our nation. That is why we are here today: to ensure no Australians are left behind; to make sure that small businesses that fuel Australia's economy and that Australia's economy is built on are still here when the crisis is over; to ensure that no worker is left behind as a result of this extraordinarily difficult choice made by the national cabinet to close businesses where we gather—cafes, cinemas, restaurants, pubs. So much of our daily life is changed. So much of our interactions as a society have changed.
That is why the JobKeeper wage subsidy is so important. We are helping Aussies keep Aussies in jobs so we can weather the storm together. Through the JobKeeper payment, Australian small and medium businesses will be able to keep their employees in their job while earning an income. By maintaining connection with their employees, businesses will be able to get back to work sooner once this crisis has passed.
In conclusion, the decision we make on this day is one of the most important decisions that we will ever make collectively. That is because the decision to support the JobSeeker payment will amount to $130 billion. It's the largest economic support plan this country has ever seen. I thank those opposite for their support of the government and the bipartisan way they have worked with the Prime Minister and cabinet through this time. I commend this bill to the House.