House debates

Thursday, 14 May 2020


Dobell Electorate: COVID-19

4:30 pm

Photo of Emma McBrideEmma McBride (Dobell, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Mental Health) Share this | | Hansard source

Today I want to talk about the social and economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic—a pandemic that the United Nations refers to as one that is attacking societies at their core—and its impact on everyday Australians. In just a few days in March, the closure of non-essential services led to hundreds of thousands of Australians losing their jobs. According to ABS reports, 800,000 people, or six per cent of the workforce, lost their jobs in the first three weeks of restrictions. Heartbreaking images of men and women waiting in never-ending Centrelink queues, alongside shuttered shops and empty business districts, are now so frequent that they've become our new normal. They're on TV every night, a standard part of the evening news bulletin. This new reality we live in would almost feel unreal if not for the pain that we feel, a pain that is magnified in communities and people who were already vulnerable—those in insecure or casual work, older Australians, the sick, and those living with mental ill health. So much more than a health crisis, this pandemic is a far-reaching social and economic crisis, a crisis that is drawing our attention to an uncomfortable truth that not everyone quarantines equally; that the social and economic fallout of the pandemic is not shared equally.

The local economy on the Central Coast is built on the shoulders of industries typical of our coastal region, like tourism, hospitality, retail, food manufacturing and construction. When non-essential services were shut down, the coast felt it. As a proud, hardworking community, when people are doing it tough we pull together. But, unlike in some other regions, this pandemic isn't a pause for us, a brief stop or a reset; it's a crisis, with a long and bumpy road to recovery. Many people in my community will struggle to get back on their feet by the last week of September, when JobKeeper ends and jobseeker payments drop back to just $40 a day. The COVID-19 health crisis has exposed economic fault lines in our society. Socially, the impact of insecure work and unemployment is already showing its effects, with mental ill health rising.

Our life circumstances have a profound and enduring impact on our mental health and wellbeing. In my former role as a specialist mental health pharmacist, I saw otherwise healthy individuals deteriorate rapidly as a result of unemployment, housing stress and debt. That is why I believe that with different policy settings it is possible that we can go a long way towards reducing or minimising the social and economic fallout of this pandemic.

Emma Mulder's father, Graham, is only 63, too young to be in aged care, but treatment for his brain tumour led to a stroke. That left his family little choice but for him to enter residential care. Last month, the family were allowed visits by appointment, with strict supervision and hygiene protocols, like other families—that was, until Emma requested a temporary fee reduction; then the visits stopped. Emma's mum has dyslexia and, having had no explanation of the costs, was confused and distressed when $4,000 was taken from Graham's bank account and a 20-page contract arrived in the mail. It was an enormous relief when the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission intervened. Emma can visit her dad again. The most distressing part of this was that Graham thought his family didn't want to see him. It shouldn't be like this!

Carers often feel invisible and forgotten. Kylie Croker is the carer for her daughter Ella, who lives with congenital heart disease and autism. Kylie home schools Ella while her husband waits for yet another back surgery after an injury. Kylie can't understand why the government isn't listening to her or other parents of children with disabilities, when service providers' fees have gone up and her family is finding it even harder to get by on just under $400 a week.

During the first few weeks of the restrictions, my office received separate calls from two mums, both of whom had young sons who were casual workers in hospitality and had lost their jobs. They were worried about their sons' mental health and feared for their lives. Byron is now okay. He's been working for over 12 months and qualified for JobKeeper. But many other casuals won't.

As I said, I come from a proud and hardworking community: when people are doing it tough, we pull together. I'd like to thank the frontline workers who've gone to work to keep us safe at home. To the nurses, supermarket workers, truck drivers and cleaners, I am proud of the way we've worked together, but there comes a time when proud people need help. My condolences to the families of the 98 Australians who have lost their lives to COVID-19 and to the families who couldn't say their goodbyes; to the patients in ICU, in quarantine and self-isolating while anxiously waiting for test results. Finally, to Kath and Kenny Watson from Toukley: I'm looking forward to you arriving safely home on the coast tomorrow. Travel safe.