Wednesday, 10 June 2020
We all, not only in this Chamber, this House, this building, the state of New South Wales, the country of Australia but, indeed, around the whole globe, are going to remember 2020. We have defining moments in our lives, we have defining moments as a nation and, indeed, the globe has defining moments in its history as well. For us all as individuals, this is a defining moment; as a country, this is a defining moment; and, as a globe, this is a defining moment. Who could have foreseen at the start of 2020 how this was all going to play out? Just in my region, last year we had fires and we had drought, and they were tough. They certainly tested the resilience of my community, which was ravaged by both. But this is taking us to a whole new level of resilience, perseverance and strength of character because this is not just a local, community based thing or, indeed, a national thing; it's a global challenge that we're facing.
There's been a lot of anxiety in my community, as I'm sure there has been in all the communities we live in. We will all remember when we started to become more aware and educated about this virus and the decisions that we were going to have to make, as well as the consequences those decisions were going to have on people's lives and livelihoods. We will all remember how the partial shutdown started. There were unprecedented things, in the sense that people were questioned when they went to work, where they were going and whether they were really required to go to work. We've had things like internal and international border closures and we shut down our country to international students—things that we really could never have imagined.
I want to acknowledge a whole lot of people today. I want to acknowledge them across governments. There are frontline health and service workers, and just Australians themselves, who have saved us because of the type of people they are. They have saved us a lot of pain. Let's start with the PM. We're talking a lot about economics at the moment and the consequences the lockdown has had on jobs and people's livelihoods. The PM 'got' this. A lot of countries went to a harsher lockdown. The PM and the government were under a lot of pressure at one stage to lock down more than we did. If we had, the economic consequences we're talking about now would be worse. You can't walk away from that.
Very early on, in one of the addresses he gave, he said that every job is essential. He said we were going to shut down organisations or businesses where contagion was a higher risk. We would do that because of the health risks, but we were not going to do what some countries did, where only the supermarkets and the pharmacies were open. He said that went too far, that the economic consequences would be too great, and we didn't need to do that. He was under much pressure to do more, but he held the line on that. I think that was a great decision and it showed that he got it right at the start. We're still dealing with two things, but the health crisis that we faced was at least managed, and the management of the economic crisis will be as great, if not greater. The 'every job is essential' line was very important for us to understand that.
I want to thank the Australian public. The national cabinet has done a great job. I acknowledge Greg Hunt as the federal health minister. I acknowledge all the health ministers from every state in this country, as well as all the health panels and experts that have been advising governments every step of the way. They've done a great job and should be congratulated. I want to thank Australians. In my community, when we all saw Bondi packed that Sunday, we said: 'Maybe this isn't where we should be. From what we're told, that increases the risk of the virus being spread.' I noticed that the behaviour changed in my community. We as Australians 'got' that. Australians 'got' the importance of social distancing, 'got' the importance of hygiene and made this better for us. As a collective, Australians 'got' it and reacted. They reacted as a community, and there was a health benefit for fellow Australians. Because of that, there is also an economic benefit.
I want to thank the national cabinet. I think it was a great initiative of the Prime Minister. It crossed party boundaries, which was very important. The Australian people certainly didn't want to see partisan politics, and they didn't. They wanted to see the states acting, they wanted to see messages that they understood and they wanted to see that we were acting on those messages. As part of the national cabinet, the state premiers and the chief ministers were involved. No-one's ever going to agree on everything all the time—I get that—but I think they had a solidarity about them and they knew that partisan politics wasn't part of this. At such a very crucial time, it was a great effort by everyone involved.
During our heaviest shutdown, we were very aware of the important people in our community. They are the people that we talk about: the frontline health workers; the people at the check-outs; the truck drivers who were delivering things around this country—sometimes the only things on the road were the trucks; the supply chains; the farmers; everyone producing our food; and everyone producing the essential goods and services that we need. Those people were there, they didn't miss a beat, and they deserve our great thanks as a nation. We all know individuals in our communities who did that. As a nation, we are thankful to all those people.
Touch wood, but we aren't out of this health crisis yet. My learned colleague over there, the member for Macarthur, would know this better than I. This doesn't disappear. This will be around a long time. We have managed it to a degree. 'Flatten the curve' was the mantra—and we did. So I think we've done a great job there. But there is also the economic impact. We are dealing with a double crisis now. We have lost significant numbers of jobs. The unemployment rate, the number of jobs and the underemployment rate that have been mentioned are all true. This is now an ongoing thing that we will need to manage for many, many years.
I don't mean to be alarmist but, if you look at the history of the world, whenever there is a massive economic contraction such as we've seen around the world—it compares to economic depressions et cetera in the thirties—it sometimes leads to a world that is less safe and where you get, for example, nationalist movements and people are fearful. Weird things happen when people lose livelihoods and jobs. So the decisions that we make as a country, as the Prime Minister said earlier today, over the next two months and over the next three years, four years or five years, are important for not only our country and our people but also the globe. Lots of decisions are being made all around the globe right now. The decisions that we make as a country and the decisions made by other world leaders for the next little while are going to map out the future for our planet and everyone on it. So it is a very important time. I know everyone in this chamber has good intentions. Even though we will disagree on some things, I know that we all want to get people back to their jobs, to their livelihoods and to where they were as best we can—and we want that for the globe.
I was reading about this the other day, and it is quite amazing when you think how quickly things have moved. On 21 January, we heard—and for a lot of Australians it would have been the first time that they had ever heard these words—that the human coronavirus with pandemic potential was added to a list of human diseases. That's not that long ago, really. We know that, as Australians, we did very well. We were ahead of the curve. We listed it before the World Health Organization really treated it in the same way we did. That put us on the front foot. Blocking international students and some other international travel gave us some breathing space to get our act together in different ways.
I won't be able to get through all of this list, but I will mention some of the entries. On 11 March, we announced a $2.4 billion health package which covered a whole lot of areas. The next day, we announced a $17.6 billion economic response to the crisis. We were here; we came back to parliament to pass it. I think 'Harry Hindsight' is smart, but at the time that was perceived to be a pretty good response. It was targeted to small business. It was targeted to help the economic response to this. Then, on 13 March, we established the national cabinet, which was a very important part of our response. On 22 March, nine days later, we announced—because, obviously, everyone was becoming much more aware of what this was really going to be—the $66 billion economic response. That was about income support for individuals, a supplement, and boosting cash flows for business. On 29 March, which was just a week later, there was money announced for telehealth and for domestic violence, mental health and community support packages. Then, on 30 March, the day after, we announced the JobKeeper payment—and I have a list of other things we did post that with different industry health packages and the HomeBuilder scheme. This is an important time in our history. We have a big job to do, and we will do it.
Firstly, I would like to concur with the member for Page in saying that the real heroes in this situation that we are facing are the Australian people. Australia has done remarkably well, because the Australian people did what they knew they had to do. I think there are very few countries in the world that would have responded in the way that our people have responded—for example, in taking up the COVIDSafe app, which, in spite of people's misgivings, many millions of Australians have done; complying with the health regulations; complying with social distancing; not going into work but working from home; and putting up with the difficulties of homeschooling their children. All of these things have helped us have a response that is hardly matched throughout the world. New Zealand is perhaps the only other country that's been able to match our response overall. So the Australian people are the heroes, and I concur with the member for Page and I thank him.
I also want to thank the Minister for Health, the member for Flinders, and the shadow health minister, Chris Bowen, for their contribution to this debate. I want to also thank and note the minister for his response to and his handling of the entire COVID-19 pandemic. I also want to thank him for appointing me to the NHMRC COVID-19 health and research group. I am very grateful to him for allowing me to take part in the management of this crisis. I also want to acknowledge and congratulate Professor Brendan Murphy, the Chief Health Officer of the Commonwealth, who has done an absolutely remarkable and outstanding job; our Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Michael Kidd, who's been coordinating the scientific and research response; and those in their team who have worked so tirelessly in recent months to form our response to this pandemic.
It seems like a very short time ago that we were hearing about this pandemic. I remember being at a dinner party in January with some legal friends of mine who were asking me whether we should be concerned about this arising of the virus from the Wuhan in China and what we should be concerned about. I said that we should be concerned, but it was an evolving situation and it was still unclear what was happening. Now, six months later, it is still an evolving situation. We are by no means out of this. This pandemic is the greatest health crisis of my career. I was working as a paediatrician at the beginnings of the HIV epidemic in the early 1980s. I remember those times. People were talking about this as being the greatest medical crisis of our generation of health workers. Well, this has surpassed it by far. It is still evolving.
There are many people we have to congratulate. First of all, as I've said, I think the Australian people are the real heroes in this situation. As a health worker myself, I'm very proud of all of my colleagues—nursing colleagues, laboratory staff, doctors, intensivists. At my local hospitals the unity of purpose has been really overwhelming. Thank God, so far we haven't needed all the health resources that we were preparing. We are very grateful for that. But I know how hard everyone has worked to try and put together a response and prepare us for what could have been much, much worse than we've seen. We're very lucky. So far, because of our national response, we have been able to avoid some of the disasters that I've heard of from my colleagues who have worked in other countries. My daughter Amelia works for Medecins Sans Frontieres. She's based in Germany, but she deals with teams throughout the world. She describes to me some of the terrors that have faced and are facing their teams in countries like Italy and Spain and in Asia and South-East Asia. Amelia's worked with teams and been to Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. They are facing an absolute disaster with the Rohingya refugees in the refugee camps there. It's an evolving tragedy, as it is evolving around the world. In Africa, in South America and in some of the disadvantaged countries of South-East Asia we are really facing continuing disasters, day after day. We can be very thankful in Australia for our response. Our response has been a bipartisan one, and I think people on both sides need to be congratulated for all this, not only in the federal government but in state governments.
We should be very pleased with our response, but we need to be vigilant. The pandemic is unfortunately far from over. Our society will still be required to adapt to cope with this crisis for many months, probably years. In particular, we have evolving situations with how we are going to deal with some of the unusual behaviours of this virus. We know that a significant number of people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic. That is a big challenge for what we are going to do with our international trade and whether we are going to open our borders. If we are going to have asymptomatic people and presymptomatic people—in other words, people who carry the virus before they develop symptoms—are we going to be able to open or borders? It is virtually impossible to detect those people unless we screen everyone. That is going to be a major difficulty that our country must face, as indeed other countries with closed borders will need to face.
In Australia, we have done very well. Our state borders will hopefully all be opened up very soon. What we do with our international borders is a much, much bigger dilemma. The information about that is still coming forward and needs to be investigated much further before we can open our international borders. That is a major issue, not just for our trade, but also for our universities and for our population who were born overseas, with things like family reunions et cetera. This is a major issue that is still to be resolved.
As I have said, we are very, very lucky. We've had fantastic health responses. I would also like to single out the ABC and the coverage they have given to this crisis, and in particular my good friend Norman Swan, who is the foremost medical communicator in our country and probably one of the best in the world. He has a reputation that extends far beyond Australia. Norman has done a fantastic job. As Norman has said, we have done very well. The fact we have done very well and we haven't faced the disasters of Italy, Spain, England and the United States is really a tribute to everyone in Australia, not just the health system.
Of course there are naysayers who are saying that this is a minor epidemic and it would have been coped with anyway. That is certainly not true. It is still evolving, and we must be forever vigilant. I would like to thank the ABC and Norman Swan for their continuing coverage of this. I thank every day every Australian, and particularly those in my electorate, who are doing their best to continue with the policies that are enabling us to stay virtually free of community spread. We have done very well. I'm not an alarmist. I'm generally an optimist, but I think it is essential for all Australians to understand the gravity of the health situation that is still there. I realise the enormous economic effects of this pandemic. I'm not belittling them. This predominantly remains a health crisis, and the solutions will come through health policy, not through economic policy. We owe it to each of the people in Australia that have died and those who have developed the illness to make sure that we maintain our health vigilance. I will continue to encourage each and every Australian to download the COVIDSafe app. This is a technological way of speeding up contact tracing and helping us manage any outbreaks that occur in our community. Hopefully they will be few, but everything we can do to reduce them will increase the chances of opening up our society.
I would also like to say that, economically, I think we need to make sure that we take care of the disadvantaged. They will be the people that will suffer the most, as they do in most health outbreaks. I acknowledge that some in our society express concerns about the lockdown and the necessity for it. It was important. We have done very well. Let's not drop the ball now. Let's continue with our vigilance.
I will end my contribution to this debate by saying that I believe all that needs to be said already has been said, but I will stress the following: everyone listening should continue practising social distancing, keep maintaining good hygiene practices and think selflessly about the health of our nation.
Only a couple of hours ago we heard some absolutely fantastic news of the finding of that young autistic and non-verbal boy, Will Callaghan, on the thankfully not aptly named Mount Disappointment. I have some understanding of what those parents went through. My son is also autistic and non-verbal. There are times I have lost him, but only for 20 minutes or so. I know the fear that would run through your heart. To hear that that young boy spent 47 hours lost in the wilderness of the Victorian mountains and has been found by the police is a tremendous credit to all those involved in the search and a tremendous credit to our police who coordinated and organised it.
That is so important at this time in our Australian history. We've seen during the coronavirus the police having to enforce draconian laws that simply have no medical logic behind them and no common sense behind them. We saw police arresting lone swimmers in the ocean; a guy on a paddle board out by himself being chased down by a police boat; golfers by themselves, alone on entire golf courses, being rounded up and chased; someone going to put flowers on his wife's grave being harassed by the police. Police having to enforce this petty totalitarianism has damaged the police's reputation in the eyes of many. We need to have a police force that is respected in our society. We need the rule of law respected and the police's authority respected. We see enough of people trying to undermine our police's authority. We saw on ABC TV, only earlier this week, the ABC allowing to go to air unchallenged the accusation that the police have murdered 400 Indigenous Australians over recent years. The ABC allowed that to go to air unchallenged. This is what our police are up for.
So today I am so proud of our police forces and all those volunteers that helped search for that young boy. The things they did, like going out and playing Thomas the Tank Enginethat is exactly the sort of thing I know my son would be attracted to, if you play music like that. The idea that he would take his shoes off is something I can associate with. Also that he has a love of food is exactly the thing that I understand as a father of an autistic and non-verbal child. So that's a wonderful thing that we should celebrate today.
When it comes to the coronavirus and our nation's response, one of the most important decisions that I think was ever made in this parliament was when the Prime Minister made the statement, 'every job is essential'. At that time, there was a lot of pressure on the Prime Minister to close everything down. There were people running around the place saying: 'Lock everything down! Close everything down!' The Prime Minister said, 'No.' He said, 'Every job is essential.' So we kept our construction industry firing. We allowed takeaway food businesses to keep operating. We saved millions of jobs, and billions—perhaps hundreds of billions—of dollars of debt that future generations would have to pay off, all by that one decision of our Prime Minister. He got that decision right.
He also said, 'We are fighting two wars.' We are fighting the war against the virus and we are fighting the economic damage that is being done by that war. Every time the Prime Minister has gone and made a decision he has looked at: what benefits will we get from this step in fighting the virus, and what is the economic cost? What will the cost be? Not just the economic cost; what will that do to the health of people like small-business people who have had their livelihoods and their lives ruined? What will those decisions do to rates of suicide and depression and mental health problems? This idea I have heard some people say, 'We are all in it together,' is complete and utter rubbish. The weight of the government's response, both state and federal, has fallen on the shoulders of a very small number of people, mainly in small business and also in our tourist sector.
That is the decision that we made, but unfortunately that is not what we have seen from some of our state premiers. We have seen a complete dismissal of even a consideration of what the economic costs are both in dollar terms and in terms of, as I said, the mental health, welfare, livelihoods and lives of people. The idea that today, when there has not been a single community infection in New South Wales now for—what is it? Two weeks? There are 7.5 million people in New South Wales, and not one single community infection in two weeks, and yet we still have the border between New South Wales and Queensland closed. This is beyond ridiculous! And if you people on the other side of the chamber don't stand up, you are just as guilty of the harm and the suffering that you are causing to all those people in small business.
Yes, exactly. I say yes, the Liberal Party in South Australia are doing it wrong as well. But there is a difference in Queensland. At this time of the year, Queensland relies on its tourism sector so much more in winter to get tourists from southern Australia, so the economic effect on small business in Queensland is far, far, far greater. Let's not make an excuse about what's happening in South Australia—which is wrong—to try and excuse the appalling conduct of the Queensland Premier.
We have heard that they have filed documents in the High Court of Australia denying that there are any harmful economic effects of this lockdown. Is this a joke? Is this seriously a joke? Do they have any idea of what it would be like to have a small retail shop or a restaurant on the Gold Coast, with your home mortgaged and everything on the line for that business, and hear these people saying, 'Oh, no, there's no economic harm'? What an absolute disgrace! Our Constitution is explicit. Section 92 and section 117 in our Constitution are explicit. They provide for free trade and free movement of people across the borders, and only in the most extraordinarily exceptional circumstances can that be overridden. Given that there has not been a single community case in New South Wales in two weeks, that exception is not there. Those restrictions must be lifted immediately. Instead of the Queensland Premier saying, 'I am going to monitor this on an hour-by-hour basis because I don't want to see that border closed for one second longer than is needed'—that is what you would expect from a leader: 'I'm monitoring it day and night, and the very minute I think I can lift those borders I'm going to do it'—we have the Queensland Premier saying, 'Oh, I might look at it at the end of the month.' This is appalling conduct!
That case is being heard before the High Court. If the High Court finds that the Queensland Premier has violated the Australian Constitution, there is no alternative: she must resign. That is why our forefathers wrote the Constitution as it was. They didn't want to see pettifogging state premiers abusing their power and closing down their state borders to try and get some type of artificial electoral advantage. If the High Court comes back and says that there is no reason to close down the borders and that it is in violation of either section 92 or 117 then there is no alternative: the Queensland Premier must resign, if that is the case. There are too many people in small business that are suffering unduly. Let's have concern for those people. Let's have concern for what it's doing to their mental health. There is simply no longer an argument for closing those borders down on health grounds.
Deputy Speaker Gillespie, I thank you for your indulgence on this, but it is most important. We've got to get this economy going again. We are going to have hundreds of billions of dollars of debt that none of us are going to repay. All of us are going to be gone from this place long before we repay it. We owe it to every Australian to get the borders open and the economy moving as soon as possible.
I'm pleased to be able to respond to the statement provided to the House by the Minister for Health and the shadow health minister when we last met during what has been an extraordinary challenge for all of us through this pandemic situation. I'll just update the House with the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District numbers released this morning. There have been a total of 117 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the region. Currently, thank heavens, none are hospitalised. One hundred and fifteen have recovered, and the total number of people tested is 25,152. I commend all of our health services, from the health minister and the shadow health minister, who made statements, right through to all of the authorities and the service providers that have been involved in that outcome. There is no doubt that a number of months ago we were all very concerned that we would see very different numbers to those, not only in my own region but across the country, as we saw the impacts that this pandemic was having in other countries evolving internationally.
When we last met, I had a brief 90-second opportunity to thank many of the amazing locals who had been working day in and day out to support our community at this time. I acknowledge the doctors, nurses and medical staff, and educators right across the board—early education, schools, TAFE, our universities. Then there are the retail workers. Of course, many shops were shut, but many others were under enormous pressure, as we saw from the panic buying but also in general. They remained open to deal with all that was needed to keep the shops safe while providing essential goods to people. Cleaners across workplaces, public transport and all those places were quietly going about their job, ensuring that we were safe. Transport workers were still out on the road, making sure deliveries got through, particularly as more and more people were relying on things being delivered to their home as they self-isolated.
Mental health workers, homeless service workers, disability care workers—as my colleague the member for Macarthur said, these times hit those who are the most vulnerable the hardest, and they have had an even greater need for the services that those workers provide. The same goes for family and domestic violence workers. Sadly, we know that there is much more pressure on those services at such times.
There are also our public servants, including the obvious frontline public service workers such as our police and emergency service workers. But there are also people like those who work in our embassies and Foreign Affairs, who, we would all know, were putting in extraordinary hours as they interacted with our offices, our staff and the general public to help people who were trapped overseas or were trapped here trying to get home—all of those circumstances. The public servants have had to roll out government programs that were announced with very short lead times and yet had to get out there and make sure that those services, under those new programs, were delivered. It has been an extraordinary effort.
I would also acknowledge union representatives. Many in my area had to immediately start to help people work out what the situation was as work conditions changed and how the JobKeeper program would operate, and make sure that things were actually facilitated—as we saw at the top level between the minister and the ACTU—at the local level and that we could all work together to make sure these things operated well. I want to acknowledge those representatives, as well as other organisations in our area that worked in that space. I particularly think of the Illawarra Business Chamber, who did a lot of work getting information out to their members about how those programs would operate.
I want to report to the House a particular incident. We had the Ruby Princess docked at Port Kembla in my electorate. Of course it is still at the centre of some significant questions under current investigation. Given the deep concerns of many in our community about the pandemic at the time, when the state government decided to direct the ship to Port Kembla it would not have been surprising if people had expressed anger at this. Quite rightly, our local community were concerned and deeply sceptical about the decision. Despite that, they rallied in common human concern for the crew, who were still aboard that ship. Messages of support were sent to them. Friendship packages were sourced, packed and supplied to the crew. I and my colleagues the state members for Wollongong and Keira, supported by my federal colleague the member for Whitlam and my state colleague the member for Shellharbour, all worked together to get those packages to the crew.
I want to particularly acknowledge John Kewa, who leads the amazing team at our local Mission to Seafarers, who work tirelessly to provide support to the seafarers in our port. I also acknowledge Nicole Dillon and family, who suggested the idea of reaching out to the crew and encouraging community participation; Peter Ernst, GM of the Port Authority of New South Wales, for his excellent role in liaising between the New South Wales Police Force, NSW Health and Princess Cruises Australia, ultimately to get clearance for the delivery of the friendship care packages; Mark Sleigh, the CEO of Destination Wollongong, for his brilliant ability to make sure we had extensive media coverage, especially in sharing good-news stories to the wider community and the world in a time when communities were gripped with fear and uncertainty; and Richard Mohr for his support and especially for the lovely postcards, which people were able to sign. They were laminated and delivered prior to the Ruby Princess's departure. We will never forget the scene of that huge cruise ship sailing out of Port Kembla with one of our local tugs giving it a farewell with the hoses. They put a huge sign on the back saying 'Thank you, Illawarra.' I think it just shows the great humanity that sometimes we see, and may we see more of it during such difficult times. For the care packages I want to acknowledge Jill Crossley, Nicole Dillon and family, Paul Scully MP and Alison Byrnes-Scully; Ryan Park MP, Susan Wallis, David Bosanquet, Louise Del Rio, Steven Krinks, Colin and Annette Booth, Lenah Kewa and family, Paul Loemker, Kiley Martin and Llewelyn Hinder and many others whose names I don't have, who gave up their long weekend at Easter to assist in that mammoth task.
We were joined by an organisation called Good360 Australia. It was an extraordinary contribution by them: $70,000 worth of goods that they sourced. Thank you to Alison Covington, the founder and managing director of Good360, and her team, and also the Port Authority of New South Wales. As you can imagine, with that much of a contribution it was a huge effort to pack those onto the crates that needed to go onto ships to be delivered, and they helped with that. We also acknowledge and thank the Australian Mariners Welfare Society for contributing $12,000 towards the project, and our sincere thanks go to the Mission to Seafarers Sydney for contributing $500. I also want to acknowledge Kollaras & Co, who helped with us transporting the goods to the ship. There were obviously many, many stories of people doing important things at the time.
In the time that's left to me I just want to indicate to the House that I'll be looking for some other opportunities to talk about how the government's initiatives that I've outlined—in particular, JobKeeper—are working in our area. There are some concerns. I genuinely welcome the JobKeeper program and I think it's a good initiative, but there are some anomalies that are causing real concern. I really ask the government to listen and take the concerns on board. The Treasurer has the power under the legislation to sign off and make changes.
For me, the dnata workers who work at our airports are a particular case. I have a number of them living in my electorate; they work at Sydney Airport. Some of them have contacted me. Basically, they've worked in this job for many, many years and, beyond their power, the ownership has gone from Australian ownership to a foreign ownership, yet they've continued doing the same job in ensuring that our aircraft are supplied and food is provided, all the things that all of us enjoy as we travel—not so much recently. But those workers, because of that ownership change, have been locked out of accessing the JobKeeper, and many of them are not eligible for jobseeker either. That's the case for my constituents. So I ask the government to have another look at that, because these workers do need that support.
COVID-19 has been a battle fought on many fronts. Firstly, this is of course a health issue—probably the greatest health issue many of us will see in our lifetimes. The COVID-19 health crisis has elicited a response from government which has been unprecedented, and the Minister for Health should be commended for his work. Second, we are fighting an economic battle. We have endured unseen demand shocks, the full effects of which I'm sure we have not fully seen. The Treasurer has coordinated a world-leading response, and his tireless efforts have helped save the livelihoods of millions of Australians. Our focus is now on building confidence and momentum in our economy and resetting to help grow the economy for the years ahead. The government's jobseeker, JobKeeper, JobMaker and HomeBuilder programs are all steps in the right direction.
As a health issue, COVID-19 is set to permanently reshape our society. Australians have not experienced anything like this before and, unfortunately, we will all be left with the fear of something like this happening again. The Australian government's response has been world-class, and we are lucky to be seeing the easing of restrictions across all states in Australia. This is a wonderful thing and should be celebrated; however, it is worth remembering there was no silver bullet to solving this health crisis. The Prime Minister and his team led a multifaceted response, always in consultation with experts and state leaders. Every action taken by the government was timely and carefully measured. The Minister for Health has outlined the progressive way in which the borders were closed, ensuring that as many Australians as possible could come home.
Closing the borders was integral to limiting the spread of COVID-19 in Australia; however, other measures at home have been just as crucial. We have all come to learn the new phrase 'social distancing'. It might have sounded odd at first, but these measures had a huge impact on flattening the curve. Every decision made was not made lightly. We are winning, but the fight is not over. I urge all my constituents in Chisholm to continue their good work and to download the COVIDSafe app if they haven't done so already.
We are in the good position we are in thanks to the good work of Australians in following social-distancing restrictions and the sacrifices that they have made, and we all deserve a pat on the back. However, like many others, I am concerned about the protests over the weekend. While all of us in this House condemn racism, I am deeply aware that we cannot ease up just as we are beginning to stem the spread of the virus. I would urge all Australians not to be complacent. Let's avoid further outbreaks and beat the pandemic together.
With the curve now flattening, it might be convenient to think the war has been won. Sure, we have some successes to celebrate on the health front, but our economic battles have just begun. It's easy to focus on the fact that in Victoria we can now have gatherings of up to 20 people at home, and restaurants are now able to gradually reopen for dining for up to 20 people at a time. However, what isn't so easy to focus on is the debt now upon us. This debt may have helped millions of Australians. I am proud to have supported it, but it must be repaid. In the last sitting week of parliament I spoke in the House of the love I have for my children and how I missed seeing them on Mother's Day. As a parent, every decision I have ever made has been made with my children and Australia's next generation front of mind. My decision to support the economic stimulus, which has helped many Australians, was no different. I thought of how, as younger Australians, they might one day become responsible for that debt. It wasn't a decision I made lightly. As the Treasurer rightfully said, what we borrow today we must repay in the future.
This support helped many businesses and individuals in my electorate. Let me briefly inform the Chamber of Salon First in Burwood. This is a small business which has updated me that, thanks to JobKeeper, they will be able to come out of the COVID-19 crisis with all their staff still on board. This is exactly what JobKeeper was for. Salon First's owners, Beth and George, know that a coalition government is on their side.
While we have been focusing on tackling problems at home, we are now facing challenges from abroad as well. Like many others, I am concerned by calls from the Chinese government over the past week telling tourists and students not to come to Australia. We have a strong and proud multicultural community here in Australia, especially in my electorate of Chisholm. Over 50 per cent of people in the electorate were born overseas. Australia is one of the safest and most welcoming destinations for tourists and international students, and I'm proud of my country's strong record of welcoming people into our country. The idea that Australia is in any way an unsafe destination does not stand up to scrutiny. As the first Chinese Australian woman in the House of Representatives, I am very much aware of increased concern about race based attacks in migrant communities. While there may have been increased attacks against Australians of Asian background during COVID-19 simply because of how they looked, these have come from a rogue minority of people in Australia. They do not represent the majority of Australians, who in my 35 years in Australia I have found to be overwhelmingly generous, welcoming and kind.
Chinese Australians have been some of the first to respond to COVID-19, and they should be commended and celebrated for this act. Chinese Australian organisations like the Asian Business Association of Whitehorse, a group which I have spoken about many times, were some of the first organisations to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. They took the voluntary step of cancelling their lunar new year celebrations—a tough decision to make in January but, with the benefit of hindsight, the right call. This group, like many other Chinese-Australian organisations, called upon their members to give back to Australian communities, and they raised $50,000. This money was used by Box Hill Hospital to purchase much-needed medical equipment which I'm sure has helped save many lives. I have a quote from Mr Jason Smith, the director of the Eastern Health Foundation, which supports Box Hill Hospital. He said in relation to the ABAW:
The association has made a donation as an organisation and has also been encouraging its members to donate individually, with many cash injections coming from donors with Chinese surnames.
Finally, I want to echo the Minister for Health in thanking the Prime Minister. His leadership has been exceptional and the key to Australia getting an upper hand on COVID-19. To the Prime Minister and to my good friend the Minister for Health: thank you for what you have done for this country. The Minister for Health has rightfully said that the job is not yet done. Our work is not finished. The virus is not yet defeated. So let's all stay united and do it together.
As we meet here in parliament, already halfway through 2020, it's hard to really come to terms with what a difficult year it has been so far and how much our community has been through. So much the same in my community of Canberra; it has been a really difficult year for our businesses, our community organisations, our environment and our people.
Of course the year began with the unprecedented bushfires around Australia. For Canberra, a big part of that was a really significant health crisis in its own right: the smoke haze. We had many days where it was the worst air quality in the world, and also many days that were classified as hazardous and people were advised not to leave their homes. After that, we had a freak hailstorm which caused really widespread damage across Canberra. It damaged thousands of cars and buildings, including priceless long-term research which was housed in glasshouses at the CSIRO, which was another devastating loss as part of that. And then, obviously, after that, we've had COVID-19 and our response to that and the restrictions there.
Canberra has dealt with this relatively well. Obviously, as a nation, we've done well at flattening the curve. I want to again take this opportunity to thank the healthcare workers in Canberra for everything that they've done to get us through this crisis; also the ACT government for the things that they have done locally to get our community through; and all the other workers I will again take the opportunity to thank, from our supermarket workers to cleaners and public transport and everyone that has kept us going through this crisis.
Last week I hosted a business forum with our shadow minister assisting for small and family business, Matt Keogh, who is the member for Burt. I want to thank the Canberra businesses that attended that forum and our Canberra Business Chamber for helping to facilitate that forum. Obviously the main focus was how businesses are coping with COVID-19 and looking towards coming out of restrictions in coming weeks. Something that was really clear from that meeting and the concerns is that Canberra businesses have really gone through an extremely difficult time. I'm not sure that people around the country realise just how hard Canberra has been hit by the cumulative impacts of these crises this year. It's something that, as the member for Canberra, I feel a responsibility to make known in this place. Whilst Canberra is often viewed as a bubble and a wealthy community, we have struggles like other parts of the community as well and, with that, an impact on our businesses. Whilst we thankfully, of course, didn't have the fires in Canberra that communities in our region had, that smoke did really have a huge impact, because people were not leaving their homes for weeks. People weren't going out, places were closed, our airport was closed several times. Unlike other communities that had the fires, Canberra businesses were unable to receive any assistance. So they really are in need of support at this time. Whilst JobKeeper has been a huge help to businesses, there are obviously gaps in that, and many people have been left out of the assistance package. We've been talking about that a lot on this side of the House today and in the last few weeks.
Now is certainly a time to maintain and grow jobs, not to cut jobs and destroy jobs. I want to talk about two examples of that now, as we come out of this pandemic, or as we begin to adjust. Throughout 2020—first of all, the bushfires and then, of course, COVID-19—the ABC has been a critical source of information for so many Australians, yet the government will force the ABC to cut 250 jobs to meet a $41 million annual budget shortfall. The ABC has lost $783 million in funding since the coalition came to power in 2014. During the fires, 81 per cent of Australians used the ABC as their main source of information, and 60 per cent of people in bushfire affected areas said the information helped ensure their safety. There is no doubt that the ABC's work to disseminate information about COVID-19 and the restrictions in place have helped ensure our safety during this pandemic too, and some of our success in where we've got to now. So why the government would continue to cut the budget of the ABC now is not clear to me. This is a critical information source and an independent media that should be supported and is vital to Australia—not just to our health and safety but to our democracy.
Another example is Australia Post. So many Canberrans are writing to me about this at the moment. Many Canberrans are very concerned about the government's proposed regulatory changes to Australia Post, which could see services scaled back and the post delivered less regularly with, no doubt, jobs and wages cut in the process. The government has halved the frequency of postal delivery rounds, leaving the jobs of up to one in four posties, and many other indirect jobs already, in limbo. Labor is concerned these measures, although apparently temporary during the pandemic, will remain in place. I'm proud to say that Labor is going to oppose these changes, and we'll do our best to disallow them through the parliament.
As we do come out of this unprecedented crisis, it really is a time for big ideas and there are opportunities. Our leader, Anthony Albanese, has talked about this—that we actually have a really special moment in history now where we can take this opportunity to review and rethink and rebuild an economy that is stronger, more sustainable and more inclusive. But, unfortunately, we're seeing some of these opportunities completely missed by this government. One example is on climate change; this is another issue close to the hearts of so many Canberrans who write to me about it. Ross Garnaut has written in his book Superpower not only about how Australia can embrace a low-carbon future but also about how a low-carbon future will transform our economy and bring in the equivalent of a second mining boom. Exporting clean energy and producing green steel using hydrogen are some of the opportunities that are presented. Transforming our electricity grid to run on renewables is also something that is happening despite this government's inaction. So imagine if we got behind those things as a nation and invested in a recovery from this crisis that transformed our economy and our future as a planet.
Another opportunity that's being missed is on housing. The government's HomeBuilder scheme is devoid of funding to improve public housing, reduce homelessness and respond to the massive strain on remote housing for First Nations communities. HomeBuilder has had zero applications a week after it was announced. Clearly there aren't many Australians earning less than $125,000 per year who have $150,000 lying around to spend on a renovation during a pandemic. It is a long way off the 7,000 anticipated to take it up, so Labor has called on the government to put this money into social housing or affordable housing. We've called on the government to build more affordable housing stock for our essential workers and to expand the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme. It's really a question of priorities, because all these measures will stimulate the economy, but we should be investing in those who need it most and in those who don't have somewhere to live or can't invest in their own home without some of this help, rather than in renovations for people who can afford it anyway.
Lastly, the pandemic has again really demonstrated the critical importance of a strong social safety net. In doubling the jobseeker—formerly Newstart—amount, the government has acknowledged that people cannot live on the $40-a-day amount that it was previously, and we cannot return to that. I wish that the government would accept that. We on this side have been calling on the government to take this opportunity to reset that rate. But it's also an opportunity to look at the whole system. We have an excellent structure there to deliver a highly targeted and strong social safety net, but it has been neglected and cut over many years. At the moment, we have one-in-six Australian children living in poverty. So it is time to look at our social security system, which is one of the most powerful tools governments have to lift people out of poverty. I would urge the government to do that and take that opportunity, as we come out of this pandemic, to look at the positives and to think about the type of economy and society we could be building as we return to normal.
The COVID-19 pandemic crisis is obviously an event that will go down in history and is even much more devastating than the pandemic of 100-and-so years ago. But the response that Australia has made so far will also go down in the record books as one of the most successful managements thus far of a viral pandemic, when you see the tragedy unfolding around the world in countries with very large health systems, very mature health systems, and with all the medicine and technology that money can buy and yet the disease has gone through the population, literally with fatal consequences. Because the virus is new and it's come from animals and it may have had a bit of designer engineering added—we are not to know for sure, but there's a lot of suspicion in scientific circles that that is, indeed, the case—it has had a particular predilection to have a higher mortality in the elderly, but obviously it can be fatal in young people. And that's what has happened in other pandemics as opposed to the regular flu, where young people don't get the severe illness. With this, young people can get it. That's why it's such a serious condition.
I'd just like to run through and document some of the incredibly effective manoeuvres. We were right out of the blocks, first of all, as a nation, calling it a listed human disease of pandemic potential on 21 January. That's weeks ahead of the WHO. We announced our emergency response plan for both the health and the non-health sectors on 27 February, and our national biosecurity coordination plan on 5 March. And then there was the declaration of a biosecurity event on 18 March.
I would like to compliment, from the top down, Minister Hunt, the Chief Medical Officer, all the other medical officers around the state, all those on the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee and all our health workers. Across the Lyne electorate we had quite a cluster of cases because a lot of our retirees are big travellers and they love going on cruises. So we imported quite a lot of people into the Lyne electorate. At the bottom end, down in John Hunter, through to Manning Base Hospital, through to Port Macquarie Base Hospital, we had a huge mobilisation of health resources. We've set up respiratory clinics. We've got GP respiratory clinics. We've got drive-by testing. Fortunately, because of all the social isolation principles that the nation embraced and contact tracing by our community and public health officers, we have flattened the curve. But the unfortunate thing about this new virus that we humans aren't used to is that it will behave like every other viral pandemic. It will bounce around the world until we get to 60 per cent or 70 per cent of people who have been exposed and become immune, or we get a vaccine, or we get a treatment or both, or all three. So this is with us for a while to come. And, even though we've had an outstanding response so far, there will be other waves.
We negotiated with the states in a way that we haven't negotiated before. We negotiated with private hospitals to get all their equipment, staff and everything ready for a wave that would have happened if we hadn't acted early. Some people said we have overreacted, but we haven't. Just look at what has happened in America, Europe and England—the NHS is overwhelmed. We would have been in the same situation. I worked in the NHS. It's a massive employer. There are hospitals everywhere and they've got thousands of people, and they were overwhelmed. Look at what has happened in Europe—the same thing.
We have got control of it now, but we have the other crisis—that is, the economic crisis. We've done amazing things with JobKeeper and jobseeker. We've put money into the bond markets to keep interest rates, bonds and credit flowing. We've mobilised superfund money. We've got jobseeker and JobKeeper. We've had plans for mental health. We've had plans for industry—keeping minimum transport networks around the Asia-Pacific and looking after our Asia-Pacific neighbours. We've expanded viral testing. We've expanded our treatment. We've got ventilators. We've got all the bases covered.
Now we have to lift the restrictions in a COVID-safe way. That's why the COVIDSafe app is so important—it speeds up and industrialises the tracing that is otherwise done manually. Having gone to a few restaurants and a few clubs and pubs over the last week, I know that what we are doing in New South Wales, at least, is manually having to register and give your details. But, if you've got the app, they have said: 'Don't worry. You've got the app turned on; just come in.' It is really part of our response. We have to lift the restrictions in a sensible way. I'd like Queensland to open their borders and for the other states to open their borders, because we need Australian business happening again. We can't keep paying and supporting businesses forever. We will be in a huge debt situation that we'll never quite recover from. We will be continually managing it, rather than extinguishing it, and I don't want that remaining for my children and their children. If we don't get the economy back working, we will have a massive problem for generations.
The other thing that I would like to talk about is the idea that has been floated of a travel bubble to similar nations like New Zealand and maybe Taiwan, who have had an exceptional response. It's a great idea. In our Pacific neighbourhood, there are a lot of smaller nations that depend on us. As I said, we've kept the transport links open for them when other people have vanished. We should be really proud of what we have done for our Pacific neighbours. But some of them are reluctant to engage, because they're scared. But, if they're happy to have it, we should include them in our tourism bubble to get things going again.
On the testing, other people have said, 'If we've got a low-risk country, why don't we open it to them, if we've got rapid testing, before they get on a plane?' If we set up a system whereby, if people do want to come to Australia and they get tested the day before, they can go into a pre-flying quarantine—they can go into a 24-hour or a shortened quarantine here and get retested after the trip—and if they are free, well, away we go; we've got a person doing business and/or having a holiday in Australia safely. We could use it to our advantage.
The thing is: we will have second waves. But, as I said, if we have our contact tracing and our isolation and quarantine in place, hopefully it will bubble around at lower numbers. But we can't remain a hermit nation forever. I'm not sure what the big-picture plan is for when we will lift our travel restrictions. Whilst there's exponential growth in these other surrounding countries, I can't see it happening in the immediate future. But, for the safer countries, I think it's a matter of some great national import to get our tourism businesses going again. The poor people in Queensland are crying out for tourism. In New South Wales, the only cases are usually imports from overseas that are isolated in quarantine. But there's this Queensland phenomenon where, I think, they think they're going to eradicate this disease. We can suppress it, but it's not going to be eradicated around the world any time soon. As long as we don't have aspirations to stay an isolated country, like North Korea, and stop everyone from coming here, we are going to have to manage it. We've got to learn to live with it and get our economy going again, because, as I said, it's not sustainable.
What we have done is great. Be proud of what we've done. We've saved thousands and thousands of lives. We would have had what other countries are going through now if we hadn't done what we've done. But now that we've got it under control—and that's the important thing—I, like most Australians, will be hanging on national cabinet decisions. I would like to encourage premiers like Annastacia Palaszczuk to use the data and apply common sense, rather than support irrational fears, and get the economy going again.
I rise to speak on Australia's COVID-19 health response, following the minister's statement on the response taken to this global pandemic. We are very fortunate to live on an island where we really can shut ourselves off from the rest of the world physically. As a nation, we've done well to practise physical distancing from one another, and I commend all Australians on their responsiveness to the health challenge and their compliance with the guidance.
While we've done so well to date, we need to keep up the good practices developed already. To this effect, I urge everyone to stay focused on the measures we all must ensure we take responsibility for: these are the 1.5 metres of distancing; hand-washing; staying home; getting tested if there are any concerns; and downloading the app or, if you have uncertainties, keeping a clear record of your movements. We all have a part to play to maintain this outcome, in terms of this health crisis. Of course, we can't talk about this health crisis and how well Australia has done without saying thank you to all our health and frontline professionals who have played such a massive part in the outcome. They have kept Australia going and kept Australia safe through the pandemic.
This is also an opportunity to speak about the issues that have come up as a result of this pandemic: one that pertains to the current crisis and one that reflects where the government should go in the future in relation to health crises. Some of the stories that we've received—and I'm sure my fellow MPs have received many as well—have been about the personal impact and challenges that so many in our community have gone through with this pandemic. It has tested so many aspects of our systems, and, whilst the response has often had to be in haste, there have been issues where there is an opportunity to look at whether our response have been adequate and whether we have left some of our more vulnerable in the community exposed and with insufficient assistance.
One such story that I received from a constituent in Warringah was incredibly moving and highlighted a real difficulty. It was about a family of four who face a wide range of challenges in their everyday life and who in the era of COVID-19 have suffered even more and continue to do so. The mother, father and one son all manage multiple comorbidities, and all require psychological assistance. Their youngest son has cerebral palsy and a hearing impairment and is also in need of psychiatric help. The family are paying for their various medical costs on one wage. They were not eligible for the coronavirus supplement, as were so many others in their situation. This is an example of how many families have struggled with the conditions created by the crisis, which exacerbated an already difficult situation.
From a policy point of view, I urge the government to consider further measures to assist these families. A particular area that comes up a lot in constituent correspondence is the limit of 10 psychology visits per year, which is not enough for people in this situation, with or without a pandemic. It has been made worse and it is insufficient. I urge the government to raise the limit on psychology visits per year for people who have a mental health diagnosis in addition to other disabilities. Their carers, too, need further support. As we emerge from the COVID-19 health crisis, we need to be vigilant in its aftermath and about the impact on the mental health of so many Australians. We know that there is a much greater risk of domestic violence and we know that there is a much greater risk of poor mental health outcomes. We need to ensure that services are adequately funded and that specific packages are put in place to make sure that those more vulnerable in the community are assisted.
One of the things that have been interesting has been the government's ability and willingness to act on health and scientific advice. In fighting this pandemic, we cannot escape the obvious parallel with other crises that we face, the most obvious being the health impacts of a hotter world. We must shift our focus to the long-term health challenges this will present. In September last year, the Australian Medical Association declared that climate change is real and will have the earliest and most severe health consequences on vulnerable populations around the world, including in Australia and the Pacific region. The AMA further stated that climate change will affect health and wellbeing by increasing the situations in which infectious diseases can be transmitted, through more extreme weather events, particularly heatwaves. In doing so, the AMA were joined by the American Medical Association, the British Medical Association and a chorus of other associations like the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Australian Medical Students Association. The government must listen to our peak bodies for all health risks.
Last year, the world's pre-eminent medical journal, The Lancet, established that Australia is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change on health and that policy inaction in this regard threatens Australian lives. It stated that the increased prevalence of heatwaves will lead to more instances of acute kidney injury, congestive heart failure, heat stress and heatstroke, interpersonal and collective violence and impacts on mental health. Children will be more at risk than the general population and will have a greater risk of electrolyte imbalance, fever, respiratory disease and kidney disease. There's also evidence that a hotter world will make infectious diseases like COVID-19 more common. Andrew MacDonald of Stanford University found:
… the sorts of large environmental changes we are seeing today, including climate and land use change, have a high potential to lead to changes in health outcomes, including the transmission of infectious diseases.
The health impacts of our changing environment should have been made clear to all Australians during the 2019-20 'black summer'. We learnt from the recent bushfires royal commission that 445 people died of smoke inhalation and over 3,000 people were admitted to hospital with respiratory issues.
We have shown great regard for science and the advice of our experts to chart our way out of this crisis, and I commend the government for that. We must also do that on climate change. With COVID-19 we accepted that we had to act early and decisively to avoid our systems being overrun. The same applies to our emissions and the environment. If we fail to reduce our emissions decisively, our systems and environment will be irreversibly impacted and will be overrun. The government knows that we must flatten the curve on our emissions as a matter of urgency. We can use this recovery as an opportunity for significant economic reform and to put us in an immediate trajectory to achieve the best health outcomes.
This parliament has a duty of care to the country and particularly to its children and future generations. The health emergency we are facing now has revealed the importance of being prepared and taking early action. Changes to our lifestyle that we would have thought impossible to accept were overwhelmingly accepted by so many Australians. We all pulled together for a common good to ensure we could defeat the health crisis of the pandemic. It's now time to do the same for the impacts of climate change. We were not prepared when the coronavirus first hit our shores, but we did take early action, and that has served us well. Now we need to take urgent action on the biggest long-term health risk we face.
I rise today to commend the leadership shown by the national cabinet in the COVID-19 health response to date. I speak for many of us in this place and many in my community when I thank the incredible work of our Chief Medical Officer, Dr Brendan Murphy, our Minister for Health, Minister Greg Hunt, the Australian Health Protection Principle Committee and the many medical experts who have been working around the clock since the start of the year. Australia moved swiftly on 21 January to identify COVID-19 as a human coronavirus with pandemic potential, under the Biosecurity Act. This action was taken ahead of the World Health Organization, which met on 30 January to declare the novel coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. We moved early and quickly to enhance border measures, put in place quarantine structures for returning Australians and eventually shut all borders to foreign nationals. Around two-thirds of our total cases of the coronavirus were acquired overseas, so it is clear how necessary it was to take these measures.
From the outset, our health response has been comprehensive. The Morrison government delivered a $1.1 billion community health package, and this included a $669 million whole-of-population telehealth primary care program through the Medical Benefits Scheme. This has helped to keep GPs open for face-to-face services for patients with conditions that can't be treated via telehealth. It has also meant that patients can get the assistance they need while remaining at home to social distance. When announcing the expansion of telehealth, Minister Hunt said that changes that were expected to take many years had been undertaken in 10 days, which speaks to the cohesive work of our healthcare workers and leaders during the pandemic. Our ventilator stockpile has gone from 2,200 to 7,500. Forty million masks from the National Medical Stockpile are available now, on top of the over 34 million masks to date made available to our healthcare and aged-care workers. This funding has also seen 436 respiratory clinics operating nationally, including over 100 GP-led clinics established more than two weeks ahead of schedule. I recently visited Concord hospital's COVID-19 clinic in my electorate of Reid. The staff there have been working tirelessly to test exhibiting symptoms and help stop the spread of the coronavirus. I want to commend the work of the doctors and nurses, the people in the emergency department, the paramedics, and everyone in the COVID-19 clinic for their hard work during this time. I also want to commend the work of those who have been working tirelessly at the Five Dock drive-through clinic, those now working at the Homebush Bay drive-through clinic, and also the healthcare workers across the Sydney local district more broadly.
In relation to testing, we have now passed 1.6 million tests across Australia. Of those tests, only 0.4 per cent have been positive. Australia is leading the way in the scale and accuracy of testing. Our record testing is reinforced by the contact tracing being carried out rapidly across the states and territories. This process has been made more efficient through the COVIDSafe app, which is speeding up our tracing and allowing state health officials to contain potential outbreaks before they spread. The app has been downloaded by more than 6.2 million Australians, and we thank everybody who is participating and doing their bit to help stop the spread of the virus. Our government encourages as many people as possible to participate in downloading the app and, if this is not possible, to keep a daily record of the places that they have been and the people that they have been in contact with. Health officials across our states have used the app to successfully contact-trace those who were in proximity to a coronavirus patient.
I also want to acknowledge the significant focus the Morrison government has placed on mental health during this period. As a psychologist, I'm particularly passionate about mental health policy. I think it's wonderful that I'm part of a government that has invested so much into mental health. Mental health is really the priority. The Australian people were confronted by the coronavirus pandemic when they were already vulnerable from bushfires and drought. The pandemic's isolating and anxiety-inducing effects have, no doubt, added to the collective stress and trauma. As the restrictions ease, the government's preparedness for a COVID-safe environment has assisted in reducing this anxiety and restoring confidence to many Australians, knowing that potential outbreaks can be detected and contained quickly. For others, their mental health may be impacted by the financial pressures or loss of employment caused by the pandemic, which is why the government's economic support package is so important in protecting people's wellbeing and livelihood.
For most of us, the act of social distancing, isolation and the loss of our usual routine have been enough to impact our mental wellbeing. That is why I'm proud that our government has so significantly invested in our mental healthcare response. Since January this year, we have provided $500 million for mental health services and support. It is an important and necessary component to our road to recovery. The Morrison government committed a $74 million package in the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak for preventative mental health services. As a result, we have seen 50 per cent of healthcare consultations being conducted through telehealth. Over one million telehealth mental health consultations have taken place since mid-March. The government's digital mental health portal, Head to Health, has become a single source of information and guidance on how to maintain good mental health during the coronavirus pandemic. The portal outlines simple self-care behaviours that can benefit everybody, from simply eating well to regular exercise, having regular breaks, not watching the 24-hour news cycle, and having good sleep hygiene practices.
The government has supported the important work of beyondblue by providing $10 million of federal funding for a dedicated coronavirus wellbeing support line. This is helping people experiencing a coronavirus diagnosis or experiencing anxiety due to employment changes, financial difficulties, family pressures or other challenges associated with coronavirus. A further $40 million of federal funding has bolstered the capacity of mental health providers such as Lifeline and Kids Helpline. To make sure that our younger Australians stay on track in their education and feel prepared for the workforce post-pandemic, $6.75 million will be provided to deliver the headspace digital work and studies service and eheadspace.
Of course our doctors and nurses and frontline healthcare workers have gone above and beyond during this time and could be at risk of burnout themselves. The Black Dog Institute is now providing digital access to mental health support for our frontline healthcare workers. It is our priority that they have the resources they need to take care of their own mental health in what has been an incredibly stressful and at times traumatising public health crisis.
I also want to commend the Morrison government for appointing the country's first Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health, and I congratulate Dr Ruth Vine on this role. I advocated to the Minister for Health that a mental health professional should be integral to the work of our Chief Medical Officer, and I am so pleased that Dr Vine will take up this position. I am confident that she will continue to strengthen the government's coordinated medical and mental health response to the pandemic and beyond.
While Australia is tracking exceptionally well, we know that there will be further outbreaks or spikes of the virus in the months ahead. We know that our hard work is by no means over. Let's not forget the success we've seen, and let's keep building on it as our nation recovers from the crisis. The Commonwealth government's health response has been robust. Our nation is once again proving its resilience. I am confident that the government will continue to steer Australia in the right direction on the road to recovery.
It's great to be able to acknowledge all the great Territorians and all the great Australians who have contributed to what's so far been a world-leading response. As the previous speaker said, we can't let our guard down. We know there is a risk of a return in strength of COVID, so we must keep our discipline up and follow the health advice, and we'll continue to do well.
Restrictions are easing around the country. We shouldn't stop to forget, and it's important to remember and honour, the work of our health professionals: doctors, nurses, pharmacists, allied health workers, carers, aged-care workers, disability workers—all the frontline workers that kept us safe, fed and connected to each other and to essential services during the pandemic. But Australians themselves, everywhere, have made sacrifices to help flatten the curve. Many have distanced themselves from their families, which I know has been difficult. Some have shut down their businesses, paused their livelihoods and been forced to give up work. People have been forced to cancel weddings, and family members have been unable to attend funerals. These are not small things.
According to the reported stats this morning, Australia had 7,267 reported cases, of which 6,720 have recovered, and, unfortunately, we've had 102 deaths. In the last 24 hours, we've had two new cases nationwide. So we have fared better than most countries, but we need to be careful not to get too cocky, I suppose, and we need to be careful not to quantify the effects of COVID on these figures alone. Each of those 102 people we lost represents a life, a soul, a grieving family and community, and a reminder of how devastating COVID can be.
We should acknowledge the work done by the Department of Health, the Chief Medical Officer, the Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer and their deputies and staff, and, in addition, the work done by the government and state and territory governments, and the constructive role and the constructive work of the federal opposition. While we cannot doubt the fact the government's response, both at the territory and state level and at the federal level, has saved lives, we should reflect on where the collective response could've been quicker and where it could've been better. Had we moved the Ruby Princess out of the question, the conversation about recovery and what the new normal would look like would be more advanced.
We should also reflect on the adequacy of the support provided by the government. We know that JobKeeper isn't perfect, and unfortunately the government's announcement of free child care has equated to no child care for many. The government's changes have meant that many Australians who need to access that child care are not able to access it. Let's keep working at it and get these policies right. Many of those providers who need funding are not able to tap into the additional funding allocated, putting the future of their centres in jeopardy. I held a briefing last week with the shadow minister for early education, Amanda Rishworth, the member for Kingston. I thank her for that. There were so many childcare operators that are really unhappy. I again encourage the minister to get it right.
The Northern Territory performed a vital role during COVID-19 for our nation. As it has always done, the Territory has been willing to do whatever is required to keep our nation safe and secure. In what now seems like an age ago, in early February, when borders and pubs were open and we were looking forward to the footy season starting, the Manigurr-ma Village at Howard Springs, just outside of Darwin, was utilised as a quarantining hub for Australian citizens and permanent residents who were evacuated from overseas, many of whom were in Wuhan and mainland China during the worst of the pandemic. It later held many people who needed to be evacuated from the Diamond Princess. That facility at Howard Springs, the old Inpex workers camp, is still being utilised to isolate people who do not live in Darwin or who do not have a home where they can self-isolate, including those who are homeless or live with other vulnerable people.
The Northern Territory has fared better than most. It would not be a stretch to say that because of the efforts of Territorians and the Northern Territory government the Northern Territory may just be the safest place in the world. As the NT Chief Minister, Michael Gunner, says, we are the safest and the freest right now in Australia. There has been no community transmission in the Northern Territory to date. There are no active cases in the Northern Territory. The last two active cases we had were soldiers. They got COVID overseas, they returned to Australia, they were treated and they recovered. I thank them for their service. To date, all positive cases in the NT have been connected to international or interstate travel. The Northern Territory government has released its road map to our new normal, which outlines the plan for easing restrictions in the coming weeks and months, provided, of course, that there's no surge in cases.
So at this point I think it is right to make some acknowledgments. I want to congratulate the Chief Minister, Michael Gunner; his deputy, Nicole Manison; the Minister for Health, Natasha Fyles; and all of the cabinet ministers, all the other ministers and all the members of that great NT government united team. Of course, the Department of Health workers and the Chief Health Officer have also been a great team. I want to acknowledge the work done by our police officers—in particular, the NT police commander, Jamie Chalker. Our police officers have been at every point of entry into the Territory. The officers have been patrolling with members of the ADF. I want to acknowledge some of those ADF members. The Operation COVID-19 Assist team, led by Brigadier Ash Collingburn, Commander, 1st Brigade, has done a sterling job. The team is now led by Colonel John Papalitsas, from the Regional Force Surveillance Group. I've had great feedback from the NT government on how good that assistance from the ADF has been, whether it has been in logistics, communications, planning or manning the biosecurity checkpoints. The internal biosecurity checkpoints in the Northern Territory have been stood down, but there are still seven border posts, as our border remains closed. There are four ADF members at these checkpoints working with NT police and NT health officials.
So I just want to acknowledge and congratulate them all. This Defence assistance to the civil community is essential and is appreciated by the people of the Northern Territory. They've all done a sterling job. But most of all I want to thank every Territorian. Keep doing the right thing, as we've done so far, and we'll continue to reap the rewards.
One of my two best friends on the planet, Ron Purse, rang me the other night. He's lived most of his life nearly 300 kilometres from the nearest town. He and I owned half a million acres together at one stage, and he owned many hundreds of thousands quite separately in some good country. He said, 'Mate, I'm doing the right thing—staying at home, not doing anything wrong.' I think he was quite proud of that when he told me that. The only thing that really has beaten this has been moral suasion. The governments have said, 'It's the wrong thing to do, so stay at home, please,' and people have stayed at home.
In North Queensland, where I come from and the honourable member for Dawson comes from, we are 400 kilometres away from any other part of Australia. We're like Tasmania; we're a separate island. As the honourable member for Dawson will tell you, Mackay and surrounds are 350 or 400 kilometres from Rockhampton. Longreach is 300 kilometres from Hughenden or Mount Isa. We have never had coronavirus. The only cases we've had are those where someone's come up from Brisbane or come in on a cruise ship that came up to North Queensland. There's not been a case of anyone actually getting the disease in North Queensland. We've been nearly three months without the disease, yet the honourable member for Dawson and the honourable member for Kennedy have watched their entire tourism industry be completely destroyed.
The Premier of Queensland is still sitting there saying, 'No, no; you can't have any tourists.' It's alright for the Gold Coast; they get tourists from Brisbane. We don't; we get our tourists from outside of North Queensland. You're not allowed to travel any further than—I don't know what it is at the present moment—and the consequences have been disastrous for us. Yes, we have the coal industry, as the member for Dawson and I are both well aware. Yes, we have the magnificent mining region, the north-west minerals province. Yes, we do have those things. We have the sugar industry, we have a cattle industry—it's not really big by the standards of the coal industry or the sugar industry—and we have the tourism industry, which may be our second- or third-biggest employer, and it's being completely destroyed as we talk.
We have not had a case of coronavirus in something like three months now, and the only cases we've had—I see the honourable member for Dawson is nodding—have been in people who've come up from down south. The last case we had—and it bears mentioning—was a state government employee who was ordered to go from Brisbane to the Cairns base hospital. The greatest fortress of protection in North Queensland, in northern Australia, is the Cairns base hospital. They sent a person completely untested, with no testing whatsoever—our football team has got to be tested, but they can send their employees up—and she lights up the Cairns base hospital. So there is one set of rules for the rest of us in Queensland and another set of rules for the state government. They play by their own rules.
But for this to go on now is most serious. I don't know how many deaths we've had in Queensland—10, 15 or whatever it is. I know of one death that is directly attributable to the lockdown; I have had another death reported to me. I know of two attempted suicides as a result of the lockdown. Now, if I know that, there have got to be 20 or 30, or maybe 50, out there. So, every day that you continue, you are costing lives. It's the other way around now: with the continuation of this lockdown, you are costing lives. I'm quite happy to stand up anywhere and describe it in detail. I think I've got permission; I'll just have to confirm that in writing from the family of the person that died as a result of the lockdown.
I want to switch to my First Australian cousin brothers. They are locked up. They're not locked down; they're locked up. Yarrabah is the biggest First Australian community in Australia. There are nearly 4,000 people; arguably there are over 4,000 people. They're completely surrounded by a very high mountain range with dense jungle. The only way out is a road that has been cut over the top of the mountain. Since very few of them have cars and all communications have been stopped, even if they attempted to walk through the jungle over the mountain, which is maybe 2,000 feet high—they could get out by boat, but the state government is patrolling the waters with police boats, so they are locked up.
A lot of them are old enough to remember that when the Country Party took government in Queensland there was the infamous Aborigines Act—and it was infamous. It was notorious in Australia. You could not go into a community or out of a community without the permission of the superintendent, which was exactly the same title used by the head of a prison at the time. He could apply corporal punishment to you at his discretion. He could put you on bread and water for nine days. But let me go to probably the most pernicious aspect of the act: you weren't allowed to leave. You were locked up.
It's exactly the same situation now at Yarrabah. You are locked up. These communities don't have a shopping centre. A normal town of 4,000 people would have quite a substantial shopping centre. I think little Julia Creek has about 30 shops. In Yarrabah, sometimes a shop opens up and closes, but the last time I was there, yes, there was a little coffee shop and there was a supermarket. There were two shops. So they've got nothing there, unless you want a coffee or something from a tiny supermarket, which we'd call a corner store anywhere else. They do all their shopping in Gordonvale, which is only 20 minutes away by motor car, or in Cairns, which is about 25 or 30 minutes away. But now they're locked up.
Because they've been locked up, there has been rioting at Aurukun. There have been continuous demonstrations at Yarrabah. There has been a death in one of the western communities. There are three boys, according to the newspapers, that have been locked up in jail because they snuck into Doomadgee, into their homes—they wanted to get home—and they were fined $1,300. They couldn't pay the fine, so they went to jail. People are being locked up, people are dying, people are rioting, people are demonstrating, and the state government continues to have them locked up.
Many of you will know that I often identify as a First Australian. I'm not going to go into why, how or wherefore, but I will often speak in the first person. When I heard that we First Australians were going to be locked up—everyone else is locked down, but we're being locked up—I have to tell you my emotional reaction was to say: 'What are we? Some sort of monkey species or something, are we? Everyone else can get to do something, but we're locked up. We're not even allowed to go down to the shop. We're locked up.' I just felt that this was totally racial discrimination.
If you want the specifics of it, I went down to the last demonstration at Yarrabah, which was on the national news. There was a whitefella driving a truck in. He's got a contract to supply goods to the supermarket, I think. There was a black bloke standing behind me and he said: 'See that whitefella in the truck? I have exactly the same contract as he's got, but, because I'm black, I'm not allowed to drive my truck in there. But the whitefella is allowed to drive his truck in there.' I let it go for six weeks, and then I started to question it. They said: 'Don't you understand diabetes? Don't you understand the dangers of overcrowding?' I said, politely at first, 'No, you don't understand the dangers of diabetes, because if you did you would have given us back the market gardens which you, the Labor government, took off every single community when you came into power in 1990! All 28 of the communities had market gardens so that we could overcome the malnutrition that causes diabetes, but you couldn't care less.' Look, the Prime Minister has promised me, or his office has promised me, that something will happen on the issue of market gardens. But, with all due respect to the government, 15 months ago I was promised the money for market gardens and there has not even been a discussion with a nutritionist or an agrostologist or a farming contractor—not even that. So don't tell me you're worried about diabetes!
As to the second issue—that is, overcrowding—well, the federal government has called off the housing program. So that's a nice piece of hypocrisy here! (Time expired.)
Wendy Saclier remembers meeting Mike, the man she would go on to marry, more than 50 years ago at a Tanzanian Independence Day function. She was a speech therapist, and he was an archivist—a passion that continued right through his life. Mike Saclier worked, successively, at the Tasmanian state archives and headed up the Butlin archive on business and labour at the Australian National University for many decades. He was somebody who was serious about history, serious about labour history and serious about civil war history. He was a loving father to Rod and Ele, and to Leigh Hubbard, his adopted son, who re-entered his life some 15 years ago. When Leigh Hubbard came back into his father's life, he said that he wished he had re-engaged with his father sooner. He was fascinated by the fact that they both shared a passion for labour history and for the civil war, and it made him think about the role that genetics plays in one's life. As Leigh Hubbard told me, 'What Mike didn't know about civil war battles, generals and politics wasn't worth knowing.'
When Mike contracted COVID-19, his family thought he would be okay. He had some underlying health conditions, but they hoped he would pull through. Wendy was uplifted when she sent him a text saying, 'Amazing company you keep—Prince Charles and now Boris,' and Mike replied, 'But I'm holding out for the one that Trumps all others.' But, unfortunately, just days later, he passed away—one of the Australian victims of COVID-19. We think about statistics when we think of coronavirus. Johns Hopkins tells us that, as of this moment, there have been 7,241,079 cases globally and 411,320 deaths. But it's important that we put faces to those names, and Mike Saclier was one of the faces.
One of the earliest victims was Li Wenliang, a Chinese doctor who died aged just 33, almost a full half century younger than Mike. Li Wenliang is known in China for being one of those who, early on, spoke out about the dangers of COVID-19.
Amidst the pandemic, there have been so many wonderful stories of people pulling together. Here in the ACT, I have compiled an ACT support services map, which illustrates more than 100 social services available to people during the lockdown. I want to acknowledge all of those who went above and beyond to assist their neighbours, including: the Early Morning Centre in Braddon; the Blue Door drop-in centre in Campbell; the Griffin Centre's Friday lunch in the city; the St Vincent de Paul night patrol van; Orange Sky, which provided laundry services around Canberra; the many mutual aid organisations, including those in Charnwood, Dunlop, Fraser, Palmerston, Gungahlin, Crace, Bonner, Harrison and throughout Canberra; the group Turbans 4 Australia, in Gungahlin; the Evatt, Melba and McKellar community building group; the Ngunnawal community food pantry; Gungahlin Mosque volunteers; the Buy Nothing groups in Gungahlin, Crace, Nicholls, Ngunnawal, Casey, Moncrieff, Forde, Franklin, Harrison, Florey, Scullin, Page, Belconnen and beyond; the Adventist Development and Relief Agency; Anglicare emergency relief; Companion House in Cook, which continued its vital work supporting refugees; the Salvos Assessment Line in Canberra; St John's Care in Reid; Communities@Work in Gungahlin; the Holy Cross Tuckerbox in Hackett; the Mustard Seed Uniting Food Pantry in Gungahlin; The Pantry in Watson; HandUp Food Care in Charnwood; Helping Hand Food Pantry in Spence, the Food Co-op in Belconnen; the Lyons Food Corner; the one Pantry in Woden; GIVIT, which worked as a donations hub throughout Canberra, ensuring that people who wanted to make in-kind donations could get them to where they were needed; the mutual aid groups in Cook, Aranda, Macquarie, Evatt, Melba, McKellar, Dickson, Downer, Reid, City, Braddon, Turner, Ainslie, O'Connor, Watson, Hackett, the inner south, and Weston Creek and Woden regions; Youth With A Mission in Watson; and EveryMan in the Canberra city. These are just some of the extraordinary Canberra community organisations that supported their fellow citizens at the time of the pandemic.
There are others who did much to lift our spirits. If you are ever feeling down, I can guarantee an uplift from going to Catherine Barrett's 'Kindness Pandemic' Facebook page, which hundreds of thousands of people have joined and on which thousands of stories have been reported. There are tales of people who stepped in to share their scarce supplies of toilet paper, to pay for groceries for neighbours, to assist those who are in trouble on the street, to put up murals and simple stories, to provide coffee to neighbours who are homeschooling and to be there to mow the lawn and assist in buying groceries for elderly neighbours. Astrid Jorgensen's Pub Choir could no longer carry out its in-person events, so it moved to a couch-choir model in which Astrid crowdsourced extraordinary videos of thousands of Australians singing together—songs like David Bowie's Heroesand demonstrated the very best of Australia in a time of need.
Australia's charities have been there for Australians like never before, but they've suffered challenges at this time. Two-thirds of volunteers said they have had to cut back on their volunteering work. Seventy-eight per cent of charities reported a downturn in revenue, largely because of a drop in donations. People were tapped out after the fires, and the squeeze on household budgets has meant that people aren't able to donate. A report by Social Ventures Australia and the Centre for Social Impact suggests that just a one-fifth fall in revenue for the sector could see as many as a sixth of charities collapse and a quarter of a million charity workers out of a job. We have a sector which has done so much to support Australia, and yet only one in 13 charities are covered by the government's JobKeeper program. Across Australia, we have vital charities that are struggling right now. The FSHD foundation, which funds medical research into muscular dystrophy, lost a potential $1.2 million in donations after its annual Sydney charity ball was postponed.