House debates

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Matters of Public Importance

COVID-19: Employment

3:42 pm

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I have to say I find it absolutely unbelievable that we live in a time where we're comparing our economic circumstances and our economic challenges to the Great Depression. The fact is that if you turn on the news or read a newspaper people will say this is the greatest whatever-it-might-be since the Great Depression—the greatest drop in economic activity and the greatest drop in people's confidence and outlook. Merely two months ago we could never have possibly imagined that two months later we would be in this circumstance.

This coming Monday, on 18 May, is the one-year anniversary of the 2019 election. I never could have imagined as a new member of this parliament that, within the first year of serving in this parliament, we would have a challenge of the scale that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to this country and particularly this government. It is almost impossible to imagine how the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the cabinet have been able to mount an unbelievable health response of the scale that was required to deal with the health challenges and an economic response of the scale that was required to deal with the economic challenges.

My electorate has the highest number of people of Italian heritage in the country. I remember looking a few months ago at the awful situation in Italy, a country much like others in Western Europe and North America that we compare our own country to as being a similarly advanced economy with an excellent health system and all that goes with that.

What could have come to this country, from a health point of view, was there to be seen, as we saw some of the other First World countries across the planet having this unbelievable health challenge come upon them. In many cases the response, from a health point of view, that they had to undertake was the complete lockdown of the economy. Thankfully, in this country, we were able to avoid having to go that far. Next door in New Zealand, they made the decision to go into full lockdown. There was a lot of gratuitous advice from all kinds of people saying we needed to go all the way to lockdown, to stage 4, as well. We were able to contain the health challenges that would have been brought about on our system without having to undertake complete economic shutdown of our economy. And when the history is written of this coronavirus and the way in which Australia rose to the challenge—the way we dealt with the health challenges but equally ensured that we put our economy in the best spot possible to recover—I think you'll find, when you compare us to our peers, that history will be very, very kind to Scott Morrison and the Liberal government for the leadership that we've provided.

The minister outlined the extent of the economic response of the government and how rapid it was. At the centre of that was the JobKeeper payment scheme. In my time in politics—not just as a member of parliament; in many ways I've been involved in politics my entire adult life—I've never had an experience where a government policy position has been so ubiquitously welcomed across the ideological divide, frankly. In my own electorate, and many other members would have had similar experiences talking to people in their communities, the number of people who were just so grateful for that policy decision and the certainty that it provided them, their livelihood, their business, was something that I've never experienced in public policy in my adult life. Again, when you compare that policy measure to the way in which other nations and our peers have made their economic decisions and responses, I think JobKeeper will be seen by history as one of the great economic responses to one of the greatest economic challenges in my life time, in our life time.

As I said when I commenced my remarks, it is phenomenal to live in a time when we're talking about comparing our current circumstance to the Great Depression. When I was a young boy and I talked to my grandparents, they'd talk about the Second World War. You'd think about these major events as if they were never going to occur in your life time—far from it. We have had an enormous challenge health wise, an enormous challenge economically. Our response has been exactly what was needed to provide confidence to the private sector and the economy of this country, and I'm very proud to be part of a government that's made those important decisions for our future.

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