Thursday, 14 May 2020
It's a great pleasure to rise in the chamber today to commend the efforts of the government on the COVID-19 pandemic response and to commend and thank all Australians, and particularly the residents of my electorate of Ryan, for all the sacrifices and work that they have put in to ensure that Australia has been a success in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a lot of work still to be done, by any measure, but I don't think it is inappropriate to take the opportunity to take stock of just how well Australians have rallied together and helped us achieve a flattening of the curve after the initial health crisis.
I'd particularly like to thank our frontline workers and all residents of the Ryan electorate. If you're not a frontline worker—if you're not working in the supermarket or in the respiratory clinic, or whatever it may be—your job is probably being affected and, to keep your fellow Australians safe, you are probably making incredible sacrifices in terms of your employment prospects, your work and your financial situation. So thank you to all Australians.
I very strongly support the approach that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health, Minister Hunt, took to set the priority for our nation when COVID first started to really bite. The priority was that we were going to make sure that the health response came first. We were going to prioritise the health of every Australian. We were going to work together as a community to make sure that we protected the health and lives of our fellow Australians. Every death that has occurred because of COVID-19 is horrible, and we grieve with those families who have lost loved ones as we would grieve for members of our own family.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Proceedings suspended from 11:00 to 11:11
As I was saying, I'd like to thank all the residents of the Ryan electorate for the work that they have put into banding together with their fellow Australians to help us tackle this COVID-19 crisis. The government stands firmly with them, with over $300 billion in support—an unprecedented level of support—to help Australians rally together and make sure that we tackle the health crisis, as we have done, keep the virus suppressed, and also now get our economy up and going again. I think it's fair to take the opportunity to take stock of the results we have achieved. They are simply the envy of the world. Our preparedness and our comprehensive, swift and decisive action early on have seen a flattened curve and a health system, as Minister Hunt outlined in his ministerial statement, that now has the capability to deal with future outbreaks and, most importantly, to save lives, as we need to. The response has led to the ultimate goal: saving lives and saving livelihoods. When we look around the world at the terrible impact that the virus has wrought on nations that are close to our heart, like the US and the UK, we realise how truly lucky we are to have achieved what we have. Minister Hunt and his team, along with the Prime Minister, have led us through this unprecedented crisis and achieved results that many thought impossible just a few months ago. I thank them, as I have thanked all Australians and members of the Ryan electorate.
They didn't act alone. We have all had to make huge sacrifices. It's had a huge impact on people's lives. They've stayed at home; they've followed advice from government and medical experts; they've taken up hygiene practices; they've downloaded the app; and they continue to live in a COVID-safe way. We are also well ahead when it comes to testing. This is an incredibly important element for keeping our nation safe. It's through our hardworking health professionals across the country that we have been able to enhance and increase our testing regime to the extent that we have and the extent that is needed. We are relying on them now more than ever, and they have truly stepped up to the task. This week we opened our 100th respiratory clinic across Australia, funded by the federal government. These clinics now allow for anyone experiencing respiratory symptoms that are mild to moderate—these are a sore throat, a cough, as you saw with our Treasurer earlier in the week, a runny nose—to go and get tested. Being on top of testing means that we are on top of the virus, which we are, and we can keep it suppressed.
I'd particularly like to acknowledge the respiratory clinic in my own electorate of Ryan, which opened up a few weeks ago. It's led by Kenmore Clinics and the fantastic team there of Dr Nick Bourke and others, who are doing a great job of getting it up and running so fast for our community. I had the opportunity to tour through the clinic with them before they opened to patients. They took me through all the requirements, systems and processes that they had in place to keep their patients safe and to keep the medical team safe as well. They're doing a fantastic job. As I said, they're truly at the front line, but they do it willingly, and they do it because they are as keen as we all are to make sure that they support the health of their local community.
I'd now like to turn my focus to an area of health that will no doubt be an ongoing focus—I know it's an ongoing focus for myself, but I am certain it will now be an ongoing focus for this government—and that is mental health and our mental health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, I reached out to every resident of the Ryan electorate via their letterboxes to let them know about the mental health support that is available to them, both from the government and also from some fantastic private and community not-for-profits that are doing great work. It's something that I'm particularly passionate about, in particular at this time when so many Australians are doing it tough. So many of them are anxious about the future. But, as Minister Hunt said yesterday:
Just as the Government is modelling the spread of COVID-19 infection to continue flattening the curve, we are also closely monitoring mental health service usage so that we can respond quickly and thus lessen the mental health impacts of the pandemic …
As Australians know, this means that we are not out of the woods yet. We also know that the impacts of COVID-19 will be felt for many months and many years ahead. So it is vital that we have a plan for the mental health of Australians and their wellbeing as we continue on the road out.
On Friday, at the national cabinet, some more detail around this will be presented. We'll be working in conjunction with state governments, using all the resources that the Commonwealth and our national federation has available to it to make sure that all Australians know that there is help available for them. Just as we did with the health aspects of this crisis, we are getting ahead of the curve when it comes to tackling the mental health impacts that this pandemic is having and will continue to have. We are lucky to have incredible support agencies in this country: headspace, Beyond Blue, Lifeline, Kids Helpline and the Black Dog Institute, to name just a few. They are doing a brilliant job in these heightened conditions, and this government will continue to make sure that they are well resourced so they are up to the task.
Not long ago in my electorate of Ryan, prior to the coronavirus, I visited the local headspace centre at Taringa as they celebrated their fifth birthday. It was really a moving occasion. Several past patients of the centre spoke about their stories, which was incredibly courageous of them—talking about their journey from day one, when they decided to take the step to seek help. They sought that help with headspace. They found a home and a place where they felt comfortable to talk about their anxieties and their concerns for the future, and they found that support and that confidence that they needed. For some of them, it has truly transformed their lives. So, in a time when many of us are facing uncertainty—whether it be through a concern for our health or the health of our family, our financial security or our job security—it is so important that each and every Australian knows that whatever their concern is, they do not have to face it alone.
There has been much talk of a simple phrase used throughout the world during this pandemic: 'Isolation does not mean you're alone.' We understand that Australians who are staying at home and doing their part are feeling removed from their friends, their families and their support networks, and that is why we are quick to put in place a range of additional resources to better connect Australians. At the end of March, we announced a $74 million commitment to support the mental health and wellbeing of Australians. We established Head to Health, a digital portal for all Australians, a single source of information and an important online tool to seek help. It has some key focuses for Australians: maintain a healthy lifestyle, stay positive, stay informed and access support. I encourage all residents of the Ryan electorate and all Australians who need that support to go to Head to Health, our digital portal. We are all here to support you.