Monday, 23 March 2020
Supply Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021, Supply Bill (No. 2) 2020-2021, Supply (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021; Second Reading
I'm pleased to rise today to avail myself of an opportunity to speak on the supply bills but, as the member for Rankin has just outlined, to take that opportunity to make some points around the COVID-19 bills that preceded it in the chamber today. As we have heard many times today, the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Treasurer have said the opposition will continue to work constructively with the government to ensure passage of this legislation and other bills to keep Australians in work. Labor's priority is to protect lives and jobs, to help Australian workers, businesses, families and communities through this difficult time and to ensure vulnerable Australians are supported and their health is protected. We understand that people are anxious at the moment, which is why Labor will continue to be supportive, responsible and constructive—and that means injecting a sense of urgency where we see it lacking or absent. In my contribution today, I want to take some time out to speak specifically about the aged-care sector and some of the government's initiatives in the aged-care sector. I want to put on the record our thanks and our concerns for actions taken and actions that we see need to be taken.
I'll begin by putting on the record our thanks and gratitude to many of our aged-care workforce. This period of time has been tough and will continue to be so, but the work you're doing to help those with this virus poses the biggest risk and is remarkable and invaluable. We also know that the work you're doing is demanding and challenging. Be assured we are thinking of you all at this time and Labor will continue to support aged-care workers through these challenging times. We welcome the government's announcement regarding COVID-19 support for aged care and older Australians. We appreciate that the government has taken up some of Labor's proposals to support the aged-care industry and to assist and protect older Australians. It is vitally important that aged-care workers are supported at this time. They are on the front line of our nation's efforts to flatten the curve and to save lives.
In saying this, we still have a number of concerns. I spoke last night to the member for Newcastle, who had spoken to aged-care facilities in her electorate; I spoke today to the member for Franklin, the shadow minister, who had similarly phoned residential aged care in her electorate; and my office this morning spoke to one of our local residential aged-care providers. The news from them was not fabulous, particularly around the stimulus package. This particular local provider made the decision to go into total lockdown last night. Whilst they've been diligent, they feel that they are unable to control people who visit who may have had contact with the virus, and so they have taken that action. They have had some people tested during this process because people had shown symptoms, and they'd had a visitor whose partner was isolating. They've set up FaceTime and Skype for residents to maintain contact with loved ones. I would urge the government, at this point in time, to do more to support other aged-care providers to ensure that they can similarly keep family members in contact with aged-care residents while they're in isolation. They've also set up one room, accessible without entering any other room in the facility, for end-of-life situations.
They are experiencing big problems with supplies. Prices have soared, they're saying, on everything, and deliveries have gone from 24 hours to 48 hours to two weeks. They have no face masks at all. They've contacted the government medical supply and got an email back saying that they've been inundated with orders—and there's nothing since. Their food portions have had to be reduced due to the delivery situation, and they've had to change to a basic menu as many items are not available. They order through a wholesaler. Stocks of required items such as incontinence pads, toilet paper and bath sheets are extremely low, so they have had to change their practices around that.
As far as the stimulus is concerned, they think they might be eligible but they have no idea how much they would get, because they'd have to wait until their next BAS to get any real indication. I would urge the government to show much more urgency in this space. As comforting as it is for the families of these residents in this particular facility, other family members need to know that they're going to be able to Skype to talk to residents in aged care. We urge the government to do more to assist in that area. Having looked at the package of support for aged-care workers, we urge you to do more to give reassurance that all aged-care workers will have the protective personal equipment that they need and, if they get sick, they will be paid. These are the assurances that we need to see from government immediately. We welcome other measures that the government has taken, one of which is the expansion of Meals on Wheels. We welcome this inclusion. We've always acknowledged the important work they do, and we welcome what the government's doing in that space.
However, we heard in Senate question time today from aged-care minister Richard Colbeck that 10 aged-care residents and seven workers have tested positive for COVID-19. This is the news I have been dreading since this emergency began because it signals what we all know, and that is that the spread of COVID-19 will be very difficult to slow once it reaches aged-care residents. It is incredibly sad that that milestone has occurred today, but it adds to the urgency the government needs to take. Aged-care residences like my local one have only had negative test results. They know they're safe now. They need to know they can continue to be safe, and they need government support to ensure that.
I'd like to make a few comments about what's going on in my electorate and about the government's general stimulus response and the plans. I want to put on the record that I have concerns that the coronavirus supplement may not be available for some Australian families struggling to put food on the table, particularly given there's been no change to the income test. That is of critical concern. I've said from the outset that this health crisis and necessary government action to limit its spread will mean an economic downturn which will shed a light on the fundamental changes that have occurred across our society in work—the insecure nature and the casualisation. My electorate is ground zero for those changes that have occurred across the last decade of our industrial relations environment, and the Centrelink queues today are part of that realisation. I know that Australians will be shocked tonight when they sit down to watch the news and see those Centrelink queues around the country. This is another part we have all been dreading but knew was coming.
I'm grateful that the government has put some things in place, but I want to highlight a few of the things I'd like to see more action taken on. One of those in an electorate like mine is around New Zealand citizens who've been paying taxes in this country for many years but who, at the moment, don't have access to Centrelink the way Australian citizens do if and when they lose their jobs when things slow down, they have no shifts and workplaces close. I also want to highlight that I have 50 asylum seekers in my electorate who are currently not eligible for any benefits because they haven't managed to get onto the safe haven visa. These 50 individuals will need support. I'd also like to highlight the number of international students I have in my electorate and the fact that they will find work much more difficult to get as they go online for their studies. I'd like to highlight that for the government to consider. I would also highlight, of course, the number of sole traders I have in my electorate. They are feeling abandoned. They want me to say so in this place, so I take the opportunity to do so today. Many have said they don't want to access their superannuation. They want real government support so that, at the end of this bridge that the government is talking about, their business can be re-ignited.
I want to talk to the young people in my electorate and electorates across the country. One of the things that schools spend countless hours on is the things that are never tested. Schools teach socialisation well beyond the preparatory years. We work with young people helping them develop impulse control, we work with them developing pro-social behaviours, we work with them on their creativity and we work with them on their mental health. I want to send a message to the young people who will be finishing school in Victoria and going on holidays tomorrow. Remember to self-monitor your impulse control and your mental wellbeing. Continue to talk to your friends and to trusted adults. You need to think carefully and clearly about those you love and help us minimise the spread of this virus. Think about your grandparents, think about the vulnerable people who live near you or attend school with you, think about the people who are already in hospital needing support, and stay home. When you want to go out, remember them and instead Skype a friend or organise an online group chat. You are incredibly creative individuals. Find ways to connect. You are the most tech-savvy generation we have seen. We know you can do this. Please reach out to one another, look after one another's mental health and continue to find ways to connect.
I want to thank all of the teachers in my local community, who've been working so tirelessly to support our students. Particularly in Victoria, I know how hard they've been working to get the online environment ready for students beyond this school holiday break so that their students' learning can continue. I want to thank them for the time they've spent.
I want to stress to the government that the banks and the mortgage suspension of payments is very, very welcome but, please, banks, don't create caveats that lock out the vulnerable. I'd ask the government to look at people in communities like mine that might be with the smaller credit unions and therefore won't have access to the big four banks and their notions of mortgage suspension. I suppose what I'm asking for is: look at the margins, to the people who are living in those margins, many of whom live in electorates like mine.
When I tell stories of our electorate, I often reference the important roles schools, sporting teams, clubs and associations and community organisations have in building community, of them being the glue that binds us. Without these, over the next few weeks and months, being in our daily lives, things will be difficult. I encourage all to find ways, like I did with the young people, to stay connected to your sporting teams, your concert band, your schoolteachers—the things that bind us together.
I want to alert my community to the great work being done by Wyndham City Council in preparation. They are leading in Victoria in some of the things they are putting in place. If you don't already, 'like' the Wyndham City Council Facebook page so you know what's going on in our local community. 'Like' my social pages and my Facebook page so you can keep up. 'Like' our state members' Facebook pages so that you can keep up. We promise that we will continue to put out information that we hope will be helpful.
Finally, I want to say: we're encouraging everybody to be online, kids included—I am actively doing that—but, please, don't share things that are not real. We've seen in the last 48 hours a terrible story being shared that the Victoria Police have said is absolutely not true. We need to look after one another at this time. We need to reach out to one another—without touching of course. We need to reach out virtually to one another to ensure that what binds us together keeps us together through this. The queues at Centrelink need to be calm. People can use myGov. We'll get through these processes, I'm sure. If you haven't already registered for myGov, then across the next 48 hours, please do. Even if you don't think you need it yet, you may need it in the coming weeks. Being able to do it online and not lining up at Centrelink will certainly be easier.
My office is there to help the people in our community. As we push through, particularly around Centrelink issues, we'll be there to assist. Please don't hesitate to ring the office. We are still answering the phone and we will continue to do so. I think that's it, other than to suggest to this government: we have a pattern of making announcements but the implementation is what matters. Please, don't make announcements that confuse, that promise but won't deliver in a timely way. Resource your commitments. Back up the announcements with action. Don't suggest one thing without guaranteeing it, like the business support that is based on staff but gives no guarantees it will be spent on staff. Please don't create that division between worker and employer. Don't create a scenario where a worker will blame their employer if they don't manage to get that money to them. The government needs to think seriously. Please: the last thing we need from this government is a sense that we are pitching one Australian against another. It is not what we need; we need exactly the opposite. I hope today we've demonstrated our ability to do that in this place and that that's transferred to my community and communicated to communities across the country. Thank you.
Australia, along with the rest of the world, is facing a global health crisis. It's a deadly pandemic that has already taken several thousand lives. Our first priority of course should be, and must be, to save lives. There will be an economic fallout, because of it. This package that's been brought to the parliament attempts to deal with that. The most effective economic action we can take is to control and eliminate COVID-19.
If Australia ever needed leadership, it is now. Across the world and here in Australia, people are facing uncertainty, turmoil and life-threatening risks which create fear and panic—and we have seen that and spoken about it in debates today. Most people have never experienced anything like this or close to it in their lifetime. Without warning, normality as we have come to know it—simple things we took for granted—has abruptly come to an end at least for now, and in some cases possibly forever.
COVID-19 will change how we live and how we think into the future. Very few, if any, parts of society will not be affected in one way or another. In some cases it will be drastically affected. Some sectors will fare better than others. However, in a globalised world, the fallout will indeed be far and wide. People are therefore looking to governments for leadership. This should be a time when political differences are set aside and we work for the betterment of the people that we all represent. This should be a time when opinions, regardless of where they come from, are respectfully debated and new ideas are candidly and openly considered; when, for example, work and study for home may become a way of life for people into the future; when Australia's reliance on overseas countries for basic needs is no longer acceptable and greater effort is made to rebuild our manufacturing sector; and when identified gaps in our health system are rectified.
This should also be a time that as a nation we reassess our strengths, our vulnerabilities and our place in a global future. The stimulus package before us and other government COVID-19 response measures should not solely be measures to minimise the damage, care for the immediate needs and restore normality. The package should simultaneously better prepare Australia for a more secure future. While for years the spotlight and the public debate has been on climate change, the rising influence of China or perhaps another global financial recession, the world ignored the obvious and profound global risks of a world overly connected and overly interdependent. COVID-19 has exposed the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of globalisation and open borders that the global free market advocates and power hungry transnationals have relentlessly pursued for decades.
COVID-19 has made a difference to the thinking of people right around the world. I note that, in the midst of COVID-19, many of the big corporates are now showing compassion and social responsibility that was previously unseen. I welcome that. However, the rich and powerful also know that their own survival depends on the survival of the masses from whom their wealth is generated. Self-interest is a powerful force.
COVID-19 brings home many realities, now acknowledged in the stimulus package and other government response measures. It's also an opportunity to rethink longstanding societal norms and open doorways to innovation. The financial stimulus measures acknowledge that economies are indeed much stronger when poorer or low-income people have more to spend; that governments and, in Australia's case, the Reserve Bank, should rightfully be in the banking business; and that Newstart is and has been inaccurate and it makes economic sense to increase it. The kinds of measures that the government has brought forward in all of its packages are measures that some of us in this place have been calling for for a long time because it's in the national interest to do so. It's good and heartening to see that the government has embraced those ideas for the very same reason that it now understands that it is good and it is in the national interest and it is in the economic interest of the nation to do all those things. It always has been, but, for reasons I could never fathom, the government chose to do differently.
This issue also exposes that we, as a nation, need to stop continuing to be reliant on overseas countries for basic, everyday needs. The loss of manufacturing in this country is a great example, where, here and now, we have short supplies of many things that are essential to our needs but which we have to rely on overseas countries for and which should otherwise have been produced here in Australia. We need to get back to being a country that makes things so that at times like this we can indeed do that, just as we did in the World War II years with our manufacturing sector. It applies right across the board, to everything we need. It doesn't make sense to leave yourself vulnerable to other countries when, for one reason or another, you can't get those products immediately you need them.
This is the time when, had we the capacity, we might have been able to innovate. In respect of that, I certainly commend the health researchers we have in this country. They have always shown leadership and continue to do so with respect to the work that is going on to look for some solutions and perhaps some medicines that will assist with the COVID-19 problem, not just here but across the world. But, again, that's the kind of thing that every country should be getting prepared to do.
In the course of the last few weeks, my office has been contacted by many, many people with all kinds of suggestions and, in some cases, problems. I want to touch briefly on some of those issues, because they haven't all been addressed within this package. The first relates to one of the ironies of this package—that is, the very businesses and enterprises we are trying to assist by way of a stimulus package will not be assisted because, on the other hand, we have set in place regulations which close them down. The very small businesses that would otherwise have looked forward to a stimulus package—and that were very much supported by the stimulus package of the Rudd-Gillard years—will not be able to benefit from it because they are no longer able to trade, because of the restrictions, across the country, of people's movements. That happens to be something that concerns me. I would have thought one of the things we're trying to do is keep those businesses afloat, yet at the same time we're telling them they have to close down. It's for good reason, I understand that, but they will miss out on the benefits of the stimulus package. Amongst them are sole traders and many small and family business operators, particularly in the tourism and hospitality sectors. We've seen, through the announcement last night, that many of them will have to close their doors. Many of those small business operators will be hit extremely hard. And, as I say, whilst they might be able to access other government support—and I'm not sure just who will be and who won't be, because there are obviously qualifications with respect to that—the fact is the stimulus won't help them, because their doors are shut.
Along with that, I've also had representation made to me by several people with respect to heartless landlords who will not show any compassion at a time when they should and who continue to charge full rental rates. The reality is it's in their own long-term interest to show a little bit of goodwill at this time and perhaps lower their rental charges. I urge landlords across Australia who haven't—and I know that many have, and I commend them for doing so—to rethink their position and assist their tenants by doing so.
I've been contacted by several people, who are either overseas or have family members overseas, who are trying desperately to get back home. Those people are stuck in countries where the borders, even within those countries, particularly some of the South American countries, have been closed, and they cannot get out. I urge the government to do what it can to assist them and facilitate their return to Australia. I'm sure that if they were family members of any one of us in this parliament we would want to see them brought home as quickly as possible. I realise it's a big task. I realise that at any one time there are hundreds of thousands of people overseas. But, for those who are caught in a country where they can't get out and who have asked for consular and government assistance, I urge the government to do whatever it can.
Along with that, one of the issues that truly concerns me—and I know it concerns everyone else in this place—is the panic buying that we have seen. Whilst it's unnecessary, the reality is that fear causes people to do it. When people walk into grocery stores and see the shelves empty, if they can buy something they think they will need the following week and the week after then of course they will do so. The problem, however, is that people who are not panic buying, who need essential goods and items, then go into the grocery stores. I had one case where, on four different occasions, a person went into all the stores in his locality and wasn't able to buy essential supplies for his household. I am talking about an elderly couple. So my request to the government is to look at what other measures it can bring in to try to ensure that panic buying is controlled. It will be in everyone's interest if we are able to do that.
In respect of the issues that could be looked at even further, my view is that local governments across the country could do a little more as well. Local government is one level of government that has a very secure income stream. At times like this, when they can borrow at very low interest rates, local governments should be doing that and bringing forward their capital works to keep people employed. With the interest rates at which they can borrow, it makes sense for them to do works that they know have to be done down the track at any event, even if it means they have to borrow the money. If they're borrowing at literally no interest, there's no reason they shouldn't be doing it, and I urge local governments to do so. I also urge local governments to consider how they might provide rate relief to some of the businesses that are going to find things difficult in the weeks and months ahead.
Lastly, I too want to thank the many people out there who over the last few weeks have worked tirelessly to assist the community to get through this. I'm referring to the health workers, wherever they might be; the pharmacists, who I know have been put under incredible pressure to provide assistance; the retail grocery workers, who in some cases are dealing every day with unhappy customers and the like but are doing their best to provide services; the aged-care workers, who others have spoken about; and of course the teachers, who have been working through this in a way that perhaps others haven't. Sometimes, it seems to me, we take teachers for granted. We treat them as nothing more than babysitters or child minders, when the truth is that they are educators. Their first and foremost responsibility is to be educators. They have been working, in many cases, with uncertainty hanging over their head but also in conditions in which others might have said, 'I don't want to work in those conditions.'
Labor have made it clear: we will support this package. Regardless of any criticisms I and others have made about its shortfalls and regardless of whether we could do more, the fact is that we need to provide support as soon as possible, and we will be supporting these measures.
Like all Australians right now, I feel scared and anxious about what's happening in our country. It's okay to feel scared. I'm not afraid to say I'm worried about my community of Perth, including my family, my friends and my neighbours, and what the world will look like for my son and thousands of local kids once this is all over. But it's how we act on those feelings that matters most. We should act out of hope that we can get through this, not fear, which drives selfishness and meaningless panic. You don't need to be a vaccine scientist to know that you can turn fear, very effectively, into purpose and compassion. Australians are reminded afresh that we are citizens of the world and we are all in this together.
At the very heart of my electorate of Perth stands block C of Royal Perth Hospital, built in response to the Spanish flu. Today, Royal Perth Hospital is the heart of the testing for WA's response to the coronavirus. I want to say thank you to every health worker, from the catering staff, who work in the basement of that beast of a hospital, to the cleaners, who keep it clean and healthy, to every medical professional.
I also want to thank everyone for turning up to work to support their fellow Australians: community and personal service workers, some 7,996 in the Perth electorate; retail and sales staff, some 6,096 in the Perth electorate; and health workers, 3,183 in the Perth electorate. At the last census there were 3,147 hospitality workers, and I know that today there are not that many hospitality workers. It is a very tough day for those who work in some of those industries.
I want to acknowledge the leadership of the WA Premier, Mark McGowan, and the Deputy Premier, Roger Cook, and commend them for opening new coronavirus clinics in Armadale, Rockingham, Joondalup and Midland this week. They have been clear and compassionate in their communication and they have put the interests of Western Australians and, therefore, the interests of all Australians first. I am proud to be a Western Australian voice in this parliament, but I acknowledge that there are fewer Western Australian voices in this parliament this week because of the limitations that we have had to go through. I thank the whips and I thank everyone who has made arrangements so that we can have some voices, but this is not a parliament of all voices as it normally is.
Yesterday, before flying to Canberra, I got coffee from Miller and Baker, one of hundreds of great cafes in Perth. They only opened their business in December. I said to the owners that we would be passing some legislation to help their cash flow. Without missing a beat, they responded, 'What about our casual staff?' That sort of compassion is what we need from every employer in the country right now. Today, businesses across my electorate and across every electorate in the country are closing. For me, it is the Court Hotel, Picabar, the Inglewood Hotel and our local, the Rosemount, to name a few. But, unlike Blockbuster Video, they are not closed forever; they will reopen. But for these businesses and their staff these are going to be the longest months of their life.
Just a month ago, Perth was buzzing with the fringe festival. I am now being flooded by emails from people who are asking, 'What's next?', and even saying, 'I've lost my job but what can I do to help?' This is the most uncertain of times for so many people. I want particularly to mention those in the creative and performing arts. I got an email from Paul in Mt Lawley, who works in the arts industry. He said has been watching very closely, and the I Lost My Gig counter is now noting some $280 million of lost work—that is, 255,000 gig event cancellations and counting.
These are incredibly tough times but we need everyone in this parliament to do their job and to do it well. In that spirit, every Australian needs the Prime Minister to do well now. I want him and his team to be incredibly successful in battling this virus. Peoples' lives do rest on them making the right decision day after day after day. If we think about the lessons of our recent history of the global financial crisis, this parliament saw too much immature behaviour from too many members too often, and some of that carried on for too long, in my view. The government should reflect on the fortune they have to have someone like Anthony Albanese, the Leader of the Opposition, as the opposition leader at a time like this. He is a decent person and a true parliamentarian, someone who was Leader of the House during that global financial crisis and who has shown today that Labor and he have learnt those lessons. He is someone who knows that our work ultimately in this place is in the service of all Australians.
A friend said to me this morning—I will steal his quote and half-reference it—'We don't have a cure for this virus but we do have the medicine of kindness, compassion and hope.' I think that is a really smart way of summing up what we can and what we can't do right now. We have kindness and, in that spirit, I'd like to thank some of those who teach kindness at the earliest years, the early-childhood educators, who work just as hard and are in just as difficult a position as our teachers and teachers' assistants. We have compassion. We know that racism will never be a sustainable economic strategy. We have hope, because so many people in this place and, indeed, Australians, all 25 million of them, have at some time in their lives overcome great personal crisis and come out stronger the other side.
We are experiencing, as many have said, a health and an economic crisis. Sadly, natural disasters will not take a break while we battle the coronavirus. We have heard briefings that domestic violence will get worse, as will homelessness. As the Leader of the Opposition said, it is pretty hard to self-isolate if you're homeless. I note that the MAYOR of London has today coordinated with an international hotels group to provide homes for some 300 people in London. I think that was a very smart move and something that we should look at here in Australia. We think that globally there are thousands who cannot apply the social distancing and isolation that is required to contain this virus. My fear is that over time, over this year, we have a risk that this health and economic crisis becomes a democratic and international security crisis. We must maintain our belief in democracy. We must continue to practise democracy. If for just one day Australia sends a message to our neighbours across the world that democracy is optional, we will encourage a security crisis.
We've also seen warnings on cybersecurity with these rapidly changing work arrangements. These are serious warnings too. We need to keep our international institutions talking. It was the G20 that helped us through the global financial crisis. We now need the World Health Organization to be more successful than it has ever been in its history. When we return to a normal sitting schedule, I hope that some of the constructive tone of today remains. The members of this parliament must also come with a comprehensive plan for the recovery phase. We are going to be given a bit of time to think about that with some of our other duties being lightened. So it's important that we actually have that comprehensive plan in place on how we rebuild—to have thriving small businesses and return to a world full of joy, performing arts and culture, with a normal education system. We will have no excuse. The hard thinking and long-term planning must be done now. That involves new ideas, new ways of thinking and new ways of working together. We should do it, because that's the only way that we can rebuild a fairer and stronger community than the one we had before this horrible virus.
I rise to speak on Supply Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021 and related bills and to address the challenging times that we now face. There is no better indication of the desperation that people are feeling in my electorate than the queues that have formed outside Centrelink offices today and the emails and messages that I'm getting from people who need financial support now. It is our job here in this place—in fact it's our obligation—to pass legislation that provides the necessary supports so that people's immediate financial needs are met, so that they can focus on what really matters right now, which is protecting themselves and their families from the health risk that this virus presents.
Coronavirus is first and foremost a health risk, so let's make sure that people are not forced to choose between their health and their finances. We need to do this swiftly. We will continue to ask the government to consider the extra steps that we recommend to protect people's financial situations as we go through these very challenging months ahead. For my community it comes on top of bushfires. We were barely able to start the recovery before this double financial whammy happened. Our economy was sluggish before the fires, shattered by the fires, and now it's even tougher for businesses to withstand the current situation. The $10,000 bushfire grants that we fought for are proving useful for many businesses, but there are others still waiting to see if they're eligible. I'd encourage all businesses in the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury who were affected by fires and smoke to investigate that grant.
So to the new measures that have been passed. We welcome the significant increase in jobseeker allowance through the $550-a-fortnight coronavirus supplement, the waiving of the assets test and waiving of waiting times. But 27 April is too far away. The queues and crashing of the myGov website show just how great the need is right now. The second one-off $750 payment to many social security, veteran and other income support recipients, including pensioners, is also welcome but it is being paid in July. That is too far away. The further reduction of the deeming rates to 0.25 per cent at the lower rate and 2.25 as the upper rate is also welcome, but I'm not sure why it has to wait until May.
It's concerning that there are no changes to the jobseeker payment income test. I've been answering many questions about this this afternoon. It means that singles with an income above $542 a week and couples with an income above $993.50 per week will not be eligible for any payments, even if a member of that couple has lost their job, lost their business or had hours substantially reduced. In two-income families, when one person loses their job, they are going to be at risk of missing out because the threshold is low. While I welcome the fact that it's been extended to people who've been stood down on no pay, to contractors and to sole traders, the failure to change that requirement is going to mean many people miss out on support, as will students and disability pension holders.
For sole traders, who make up a huge number of businesses in my electorate, there are enormous uncertainties. Not only do they need to replace the income that they generate for themselves through their business but they may have to keep paying rent and keep their premises ready to reopen when that is eventually allowed. Businesses who are franchised wonder if they can get relief from those payments. What access will these organisations have to loans? Will they qualify for any extra payments? So for sole traders this is still a time of great uncertainty, and there is definitely more that can be done to support them.
The arts sector—the musicians, the actors, the set designers, the directors, the roadies, the dancers, the singers, the painters, the sculptors and the filmmakers—have had the rug pulled from under them. Their existence was already precarious. Now their income is non-existent. This industry needs something extra to give these amazing people some hope that their sector will be viable when this whole thing is over, that theatres will reopen and that venues will function again.
Travel agents—the ones who've been frantically fielding calls from their customers to ask questions, to cancel bookings, to seek help in getting back to Australia and to deal with the disappointment of people not getting all their money back, and the agents who are watching commissions that were in the door go out the door—need more help. Hotel operators, operators of all the organisations now closed—the gyms, the bars and the nightclubs—and the massage therapists and hairdressers who have already, after assessing the risks, stopped their work all need more.
I think what's really frustrating is that, based on the announcements on Friday, a lot of businesses, like the Archibald Hotel in Kurrajong Heights, went to enormous lengths to quickly meet those requirements and educate customers, only to be told yesterday, two days later, that a large part of their business actually had to close. Small businesses who were doing the right thing are now looking at a very different future. They're adapting fast to takeaway and deliveries, suggesting that EFTPOS fees be dropped so people switch to only tapping, and being creative with how they minimise contact with customers. We must continue to find ways to help these businesses survive.
I also want to talk about teachers. My electorate of Macquarie has a greater number of teachers than any other electorate—schoolteachers in all sectors, TAFE teachers, early childhood teachers and university lecturers. We are bound with them. Teachers at school, in childcare centres and in TAFE are being asked to shoulder an enormous responsibility right now and make invidious choices. Many are older. They're grandparents themselves and in the category considered at higher risk of being more profoundly affected by the coronavirus. Others have their own children and, while they're teaching, they must send their own kids to school or preschool. None of this is ideal, and the confusion of the messages about who should and shouldn't go to school is causing huge anxiety for teachers and parents. I want to thank schools in my electorate—schools like Richmond North Public School and Warrimoo Public School, who have sent parents clear letters saying things like: 'The advice from the New South Wales government is to keep children at home where it is possible to do so. If you can do this, you're encouraged to do so.' That sort of message to parents will make their choices easier.
If we feel it's a good idea for schools in one state to close or for another state to encourage parents to keep their children at home if they can, it's hard to understand why collectively we haven't gone further. If it's a good thing to do next week, it's a very good thing to do this week. Health should come first, and what heroes our health workers are—the thousands of them in the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury. Every single one of them deserves a medal for the work they're doing now and the work we know we are going to ask them to do over the next few months.
Just to finish, I am pleased to see many of our suggestions about aged-care workers and the aged-care sector have been adopted. This is a sector that is going to have a really tough time, and it will need all the help it can get.
On older people, the changes to deeming rates for pensions was another very welcome thing. But I have to say that I am concerned about encouraging younger people to access their super and sell it down at a low point in the market yet, at the same time, we're not allowing retirees to do that because we don't want them selling down at the low point in the market. So I see a contradiction there, and I'm disappointed that we haven't been able to refine that.
We have supported the package. We have not supported the package because it's perfect. We haven't supported it because it is enough. We haven't supported it because there aren't more things that we can do—because there are. We're supporting it because we're a responsible opposition. We do need to work together, and we are willing to compromise and work together. We're supporting it because it's urgent and it's needed. But I hope the government puts actions to its words that there is more to do, because there is, and I hope that everyone, as we proceed through the next few months, shows kindness and compassion and does everything they can to be a good neighbour.
I rise to speak on the Supply Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021 and related bills. The coronavirus poses an unprecedented challenge for Australians, for local communities and for our nation, but we will get through this if we all work together and we all do our bit to stop the spread of the virus. This is an enormous challenge to our healthcare system and those who work in it. And I want to give a very big thank you to all of those, every single person, working in the Australian healthcare sector at the moment—in particular, those who are working at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Randwick, in my community, which has a coronavirus testing centre. Thank you for your courage and for your commitment to helping others and saving lives. I want to particularly pay tribute to those on the front line, especially our doctors and our nurses who are triaging, testing and treating patients for coronavirus. Thank you to the cleaners who are making sure that our hospitals and our GP centres are clean and are saving lives as well. All of those who are risking their health to save others are true heroes, and we thank you.
I want to call on the government to ensure that all healthcare professionals have the resources they need to do their job, particularly testing kits, telehealth measures—and I know the government announced something on that today, which is welcomed—adequate thermometers for testing of temperatures, particularly in hospitals and, of course, personal protective equipment.
Many Australians are confused by the government's response to this pandemic because of the situation with schools. This morning there was mass confusion amongst parents and teachers about the situation relating to Australian schools, because there is no consistent position from Australian government on the issue at the moment—and it's simply not good enough. Last night, in his press conference, the Prime Minister said that schools would remain open. This morning, the Victorian Premier came out and said that Victorian schools would close from tomorrow. Then, literally half an hour after that press conference, the New South Wales Premier did a press conference indicating that, if you could, you should keep your kids at home but schools would be open and students would be able to go there but they won't be taught; they'll just be supervised in online activities.
Our teachers are not babysitters. They deserve better. Parents deserve better from this government in a time of crisis. They deserve a consistent message, and I call on the Prime Minister and the state and territory leaders and those advising them to work together on a unified, consistent message when it comes to schools. The same goes for childcare centres. Many childcare centres are confused about whether or not they should close or whether or not they should remain open and, indeed, what that means for payments into the future. Many parents are wondering whether or not they should voluntarily keep their kids out of childcare centres, and there is uncertainty about payments in respect of support that goes to parents for child care as well. We need to sort these issues out, and sort them out quickly in respect of schools and childcare centres.
This virus will, of course, have a dramatic affect on the Australian economy—on workers and their families and on businesses, particularly small businesses and sole traders. I've spoken to many workers who have been stood down or sacked and to small businesses who are finding it almost impossible to keep staff on and to keep the doors open. To them: I know that you are deeply worried and concerned, I know that you are hurting and I want you to know that my office, my staff and I are here to help you. If you have any issues relating to the economic package that's been announced by the government, please feel free to call my office.
The government has announced a series of stimulus measures aimed at supporting workers, businesses and welfare recipients. In the interests of the nation, to ensure that these measures pass the parliament, Labor will immediately work to ensure that the funds flow to Australians as quickly as possible by voting to support these bills. So Labor will be supporting these bills. Are they adequate? No, they are not. Do they start soon enough? No, they do not. Would Labor have done things differently? Absolutely, yes, we would. But, in the interests of getting this money out the door and ensuring that Australian workers and businesses get the support they need, we will support these bills.
We have concerns with some of the elements of these bills. For instance, they don't start early enough. The $550-per-fortnight coronavirus supplement that was announced yesterday doesn't begin until 27 April—next month! That is too late. It is not soon enough for people who need support immediately. The income test for the jobseeker allowance is still in place, meaning that many Australian workers, sole traders and contractors who are stood down or have lost their jobs will not be eligible, particularly if their partner maintains an income. This will leave millions of Australian households struggling to pay their bills and to make ends meet.
These are unique circumstances. This is not a situation that Australia has ever found itself in before. The government should be relaxing such tests that restrict Australians whose jobs and family incomes are at risk and who will suffer because of coronavirus. Labor did a similar thing in relaxing those restrictions during the global financial crisis, and it worked. We call on the government to do a similar thing now.
Today we are seeing, as a result of the mass layoffs and standdown of employees, queues outside Centrelink offices. Unfortunately, many of those queuing are going to be disappointed because of some of those restrictions that have been put in place by this government and that remain, the lifting of which should be looked at. I want to thank all of the Centrelink workers who are doing an amazing job today, who have been under very difficult circumstances, working through and ensuring that people get the support they need. But we should be supporting them, and the government should be providing personal protective equipment for those workers as well.
As a result of many workers being stood down or losing their jobs, there will be many who will be unable to pay their mortgage or their rent. I note that the Australian Banking Association made some announcements last week about mortgages, particularly on the major banks offering mortgage deferrals and hardship arrangements. I welcome those announcements. But the critical issue with respect to mortgage deferrals will be whether or not the banks continue to charge interest during that deferral period. If they do, and a person who gets back to making repayments at some stage, when this virus passes, faces the prospect of increases in their repayments, they are again going to struggle to get back on their feet. I call on the banks to clarify this position for many Australian workers and those with mortgages into the future.
The same goes for renters. Many people who are renting who are stood down or lose their jobs will be unable to pay the rent and will face eviction. No-one should be evicted or potentially homeless because of coronavirus. The state and territory governments, I believe, should look at doing what the United Kingdom government has done, and ensure that tenants are protected and that landlords cannot evict tenants during a period into the future until coronavirus passes.
In conclusion, these are challenging times for our nation but we must all work together to ensure that we all do our bit, to make sure that we minimise the spread of this virus. But the government must come up with a consistent message that reflects leadership to ensure that the Australian people can do their bit, to make sure that this virus does not spread.
We have all heard that COVID-19 is an unprecedented health crisis—that's certainly true. We've heard and are now seeing on our TV screens, in our streets and in the supermarkets and feel that this is something that has already affected and will affect all of us right across this country. Here in this place we have our political leaders who tell Australians that we can only get through it by working together, by working for each other. I think that's a truth that's been told in this place: we can only defeat this by working together. That is why we're here. We're here to work with each other, across the political divide, despite our political differences, to serve the people of Australia, the people who we represent, in their hour of need, in this time of need for all of us.
As we know, in any national emergency or health crisis, the key is to move fast, move hard and respond quickly. Even if it's not perfect, we know that having a quick response saves lives. That is the key—that is critical—not just as the health response but also for the economic stimulus that is so important to save peoples' livelihoods. That's why we supported the earlier package of bills and this supply bill that I rise to speak on this evening.
We want solutions to make sure that the response and the solution is the best it can be. Australians are now, and have been for a while, seeking leadership and clear, consistent information from their leaders, from the government. People's lives and jobs depend on it. That's why we have to act together and without delay. We've been very constructive in supporting this package. We've supported the whole package. We've put forward some amendments that we believe make improvements to the package. That's part of our role and part of our responsibility to make this solution, this response, the best it can be. While it's not perfect, it is urgently needed and that is why we have not stood in its way. We have part passed this package, and that's important to note.
We've suggested bringing forward some of the pension payments, the business assistance, more help for students and more help for the arts sector, for teachers and health workers. We welcome the government expanding telehealth, which is a good step forward. We know that all of these things need to be done. We know that Australians are looking at us to make these things happen.
Last night we heard about the range of measures to help flatten the curve. These are measures that will restrict the Australian way of life in many respects, but that's what we mean by working together. That's what we mean by sacrificing for others—sacrificing some of the comforts of our standard of living and our lifestyle just for a few months which we hope will help slow the spread of this virus. We want that to happen because it is critical that we don't have the peak of infections that we have seen in other countries around the world which would overwhelm our health system. That's why we have pushed for these improvements: some pathologists working on tests; increasing the testing; expanding telehealth as I mentioned—and we thank the government for taking that step; making sure fever clinics are put up now and not in six weeks time; and of course more support for mental health services. As you would know, many Australians, many families and their children, are feeling great levels of distress and stress. It's hard to explain this to kids, and parents are also struggling with this. An important element that we need to address is the mental health support that is needed. I'm here for the people of Wills. We have kept our office open. We're not doing face-to-face meetings—I think we have all stopped those—but we are taking phone calls and we're responding to people and providing the basic information that they need. We're assisting them in any way possible. People can call my office on 93505777 or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, whoever they are, whether they are a small business owner facing an uncertain future; or a parent or carer; or a casual worker who has seen their work dry up for the next six months, or if people are struggling with their rent or their mortgage or don't have a home; or older Australians—the vulnerable elderly Australians that we have seen disadvantaged with all of this and who are also at the greatest risk with all these threats—or someone with a disability or a carer; and also artists—there are many artists in my community, musicians and performers whose livelihoods have come to a halt because of the hit on public places of gathering and the arts sector.
All these people are affected. We're all affected. As I said at the start, we're all in this together. That means we have to work for all the people in our communities and across this country to get through this. That is a truth of what's being said today on all sides of politics: that we must be kind to each other, support each other and work together to get through this. I am here and my office are here and ready to help all the people that I represent in my community and any Australian who needs assistance. That's something we will all be doing for the next few months.
We join here in this home of democracy as parliamentarians and representatives of our communities at the most unprecedented of times. We're not standing here as Labor people or Liberals or members of the government or opposition. Each of us is simply standing here as one of 151 people wanting to do the very best in the most desperate of times for our nation. Just by looking around the House and in this building, in the nation's capital, we can see the impact this pandemic is having here on every Australian. It's in the businesses, the schools and the communities across our great country that the devastating effects of this virus are being felt by all Australians, many of whom are facing the most challenging times in their lives. I rise to speak in favour of the Supply Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021 and related bills tonight, and as one of the last speakers in the House of Representatives I do so with great honour and privilege and recognise those members of this place that aren't able to be here for this historic moment, including many of my friends.
I want to bring to attention aspects of the challenges faced by Australians due to the coronavirus and acknowledge particularly those working in our community, particularly in the mighty electorate of Oxley, which I proudly serve. The coronavirus is reminding Australians that we are all connected and we all rely on each other. Australia is built on looking after each other. We may be physically isolated but we are not alone. I want to remind every Australian to be safe and to call a friend, a family member or a neighbour, and let them know you are standing with them.
There are a number of people working on the front line that we heard about in many speeches today. I want to place on record my thanks and acknowledge them. They are heroes: doctors, nurses, paramedics, teachers, childcare workers, shop assistants and particularly those in aged care, who are still heading to work every single day to sacrifice and look after vulnerable Australians.
In my remarks I want to place on record my thanks to members of the Queensland government who are leading the fight against this pandemic, particularly my friend Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and her government, who have done an outstanding job with their commitment to keep Queenslanders safe during this time. I have known Annastacia for 30 years. I know her compassion, her dedication and her complete resolution to making sure that every single Queenslander remains safe. Queensland is leading the nation. I was so proud to see an outstanding announcement yesterday of $17 million to the University of Queensland School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences to fast-track vaccination research for COVID-19 as an urgent public health priority.
I want to acknowledge members of the government working day and night and the public servants in every office that are fighting this pandemic, particularly the Minister for Health, Steven Miles, and the Minister for State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning, my brother, Cameron Dick, who I know is doing an outstanding job in trying to keep the supply chain going. I want to place on record that I know how proud our parents would be of the work that he's doing.
We're also reminded of how important our fellow trade unions are for the workers. They're the people doing everything to protect our jobs, to provide jobs and to ensure businesses around Australia have the essential groceries and products Australians need at this time. I want to personally thank them for all their extra efforts at this time, going beyond the call of duty to make sure Australia keeps on going.
By talking to local residents, I know how afraid they are. When it comes to the bills we are speaking of today, I want to first acknowledge the work the government has done so far, but, like my colleagues, I want to emphasise that much more needs to be done much more quickly. It's absolutely imperative we do whatever we can as soon as we can to cushion the blow that the virus will have on the health of Australians and the nation's economy. As our Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, said multiple times over the past week: 'If we know we're going to make a decision in a week's time, why wait? We must make that decision now.' This can be seen in the amendments passed today that we have moved, alongside the legislation we're dealing with tonight. Make no mistake; Labor will be supporting these measures put forward by the government, but we would be neglecting our duty if we did not emphasise where these can be improved to protect more Australians. Currently, there is nothing, that we know of, that ensures employers will use the money provided by the government to keep Australians employed. Right now, as we speak, hundreds if not potentially thousands of Australians are losing their jobs and many are facing mental health issues as a result of this decision. As such, there must be measures we can make that stipulate that, as part of the contribution made by the government to businesses, they will in turn keep people in their jobs. The more businesses who are able to do this, the more jobs we can save and the more we help Australian families who are doing it tough.
I know the 3,334 traders in the electorate of Oxley and the 6,436 small businesses with turnovers of less than $200,000 are counting on all of us to do the right thing by them. We know some of these measures will not come in until it's too late. This is not good enough, and I will continue to speak on it. The sooner we can get the money to the people who need it, the better. We've seen the long lines of people outside Centrelink today. This shows the urgency and the need for people to access money now. We know that pensioners, the elderly, are worried they won't receive their payments until it's too late. There are around 12,000 people in my electorate who are aged over 70, with many of them living at one of the 17 aged-care facilities in the electorate. I want to make sure that they're protected and looked after as well.
I'm proud to see our local temples, mosques and non-profit support groups come together at this very difficult time and offer support to the community, including many of the hospitality workers—the people who've lost their jobs as of lunchtime today. I pay tribute to the work of the peak bodies. I spoke with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the hotels industry, particularly those leaders. I know they're turning themselves inside out about their workforce and the hundreds if not thousands of workers that are scared about their future.
I want to particularly offer my support to all of our wonderful churches and places of spiritual worship. I want to acknowledge John Redfern at the Salvation Army in Inala. I want to acknowledge Liza Dykstra of the St Vincent de Paul Society and the Australian Red Cross, who are doing amazing work. I acknowledge Pastor Mark Edwards, at Cityhope Church; Pastors John and Robyn Robertson, at Riverlife Baptist Church; Pastors Phil Cutcliffe, at the Springfield Christian Family church; and those in the Vietnamese Catholic community at St Mark's Catholic Church in my own community of Inala. They're just a sprinkle of the people doing amazing work, such as delivering food hampers, giving assistance, offering a strong message of hope and showing ways to connect in our community.
In closing, I want to ensure that we come to this in the greatest spirit of bipartisanship. I hope our concerns are taken on board, so that we can work together so that we can have no regrets when we look back—that we should have done more. We know and believe as a nation that there is a God looking over all of us. In the Bible, 2 Timothy 1:7 says:
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
Myself, my office and my staff are here to serve the community and our nation throughout this difficult time so that we can continue to build this beautiful country of Australia, which we call home.
I take this opportunity to thank all the members who have contributed to the debate on Supply Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021, Supply Bill (No. 2) 2020-2021 and the Supply (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021. Again, these supply bills seek authority from the parliament for the appropriation of money for the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the first seven months of 2021. The total of the appropriations sought through these three supply bills is just under $83.2 billion. The bills must be passed in this session to ensure funding is available to all entities from 1 July 2020, thereby ensuring the continuity of program and service delivery. The appropriations proposed in these bills are broadly based on seven-twelfths of the estimated 2020-21 annual appropriation, as presented at the 2019-20 budget. They are adjusted for economic and program-specific parameters and the effect of decisions announced as part of MYEFO or included in the 2019-20 additional estimates appropriations bills, plus of course the COVID-19 related measures. This funding is, therefore, expected to last through until the end of January 2021.
Again, I wish to emphasise that these bills seek provision only to appropriate money to fund government expenditure on an interim basis, until budget appropriation bills have passed. Accordingly, no new measures for the 2020-21 budget are included in these bills. This arrangement allows for the budget appropriation bills to be passed in 2020-21, following the October budget.
Again, I take this opportunity to thank all members for their contribution, and, obviously, those from the opposition for their cooperation and contribution on this debate, and I commend these bills to the House.
Question agreed to.
Bills read a second time.