Thursday, 14 May 2020
Our lives are defined not by the challenges that come our way but by how we deal with them. Certainly on the Sunshine Coast these have been dark times for many. Ninety-four individuals have contracted COVID-19 and one person has tragically lost their life. The Sunshine Coast Chamber Alliance tells us that 120 local businesses have closed their doors permanently. Hundreds more are temporarily shut. Thousands of people have lost their jobs. I've received more than 2,500 coronavirus inquiries from proud Sunshine Coast residents needing help, often for the first time, in the face of this devastating crisis. It has been a privilege to step in and help so many people find the support that they need—people like Craig, who was trapped in the Philippines and suffering complex and deteriorating health. He's now safely home with his family. Young Ebony from Buddina needed support to return to her loved ones. She was in South America.
Amid these dark times we've seen amazing resilience and adaptability. The Sunshine Coast has not given up. Heidi and Pavo Walker from Walker Seafoods generated more than three-quarters of their income from exports prior to the pandemic. With overseas markets drying up, Walker Seafoods has started selling their high-quality seafood direct from the car park to local residents. I'm told that they sell out regularly. I've also been assisting Walker Seafoods to get their fresh tuna to the US by using the International Freight Assistance Mechanism that was announced by the tourism minister just 16 days ago.
Last week I met Jono, who owns newsagencies in Kawana and Birtinya. Though sales have plummeted, he has used our JobKeeper payment to stay open, keep employing his staff and keep supplying the news to local people when they need it the most. Jono tells me that business is starting to pick up and he hopes to be fully back on track in June. I'm hearing the same story from others, like Ken Jeffreys, who owns Caloundra Jet Ski. Ken proactively used his time and the government's investment incentives to build a new trailer while the company couldn't operate. Now his terrific business is seeing bookings grow so fast that, to maintain the required social distancing, he has had to turn people away.
Our Sunshine Coast community should be very proud of how we have responded to the hardships of COVID-19. Now we can begin to look forward, resolute and optimistic of what the future holds for our region. I know that some in my community want to know what their federal member intends to do to help. First, I will redouble my efforts to get shovels in the ground on the billions of dollars worth of infrastructure projects in my community which have already been funded by the federal government—stage 1 of the north coast rail duplication, the next phase of Bruce Highway upgrades between Caboolture and the Steve Irwin Way turn-off, and further upgrades between Steve Irwin Way and Caloundra Road. Most of these projects are funded and ready to go. These would deliver hundreds of jobs and help create economic growth through better connectivity for the region and an improved experience for tourists for many years to come.
Second, I'll be working with local chambers of commerce and business groups to remind us all that now is the time to shop local, stay local and play local. We have some of the finest cafes, restaurants, boutique shops, luxury accommodation and unique leisure experiences in the country, and now is the perfect time for Sunshine Coast locals to enjoy them and to support our regions' businesses.
Third, I will build on my efforts to help diversify the Sunshine Coast economy by attracting new industries like defence, professional services and high-tech manufacturing to our region. As businesses and entrepreneurs nationwide rethink and rebuild after COVID-19, we have a perfect opportunity to show them just what the Sunshine Coast has to offer.
The Morrison government should be congratulated for their world-leading efforts in managing the health and economic impacts of COVID-19, but this challenge is far from over. Now it is up to all of us to build the Australia we want to see in the months and years ahead. I know that my region and the fantastic people who live there will step up and, together, we will create a stronger Sunshine Coast.