Monday, 15 June 2020
Herbert Electorate: COVID-19
Just under a year ago, I had the privilege of standing in this place and delivering my first speech. That was just after a once-in-500-years flood event in Townsville. We had been tested, we had been tried but we were optimistic about the future. When coronavirus hit, the impact on our economy and our livelihoods was something we couldn't comprehend. We saw businesses close and we saw people feeling very uncertain about their future. Once again, we were tested. We can't be anything but grateful that no lives were lost in Townsville, but I want to take this moment to acknowledge, and pay my deepest sympathies and respects to, everyone around the country who lost a loved one—a family member or a friend—during this pandemic. I also, acknowledge the member for Cooper in this place, Ged Kearney, whose father-in-law passed. This isn't something we should kick around like a political football, nor should we be debating with knives; this is a time when we should put the Australian people and our economy first.
I need to acknowledge that the Herbert community, like so many others, is doing it incredibly tough. For nearly three months, businesses have been sitting empty. Pubs, clubs, restaurants, shops and tourist attractions have been closed or have limits on the number of people allowed to go there. We know that these restrictions had to happen. We know that people and their health had to come first. In Townsville, we were so optimistic. I remember throwing a bit of chat towards the Speaker in this place because we had just opened our state-of-the-art football stadium. I still owe the Speaker a Cowboys tie; I will bring that down for you, Mr Speaker. Within days of our first game, it was over. We played one game with the stadium at full capacity; now the stadium is empty. The closures were important for saving lives, and things could have been much worse if we hadn't taken the necessary steps to protect ourselves, especially our most vulnerable. But it became very clear very quickly that we would have to do a lot of work on our economy to keep it going and to continue to keep it going into the future. Let's not forget the rotten run we've endured for the last five years: the closure of QNI, the flood, the drought, out-of-control crime and now the coronavirus.
As many in this place would have experienced, once the extent of the restrictions became clear, what followed was an avalanche of phone calls, emails and messages from individuals and businesses crying out for information and assistance. We've worked quickly and effectively to reinforce the safety nets we already had in place in our community to enable us to stand up to the weight of demand that we were about to face. First there was the job seeker payment and then JobKeeper. It was important to have an answer to give people and to be able to talk to people about what was available. We know that it wasn't all smooth sailing, particularly with regard to JobKeeper. Only through working constructively with many business owners in the community were we able to make a number of improvements to the program to ensure that businesses in my community, in the north, were properly looked after. You had to look back 12 months and demonstrate a downturn for the purposes of JobKeeper, but 12 months previously, we had had a flood. Business was not thriving. So, with the community's support and their advocacy, and me talking to the ministers down here, we were then a year past that, and so in 2018 we had a 30 per cent downturn. That's what we got to achieve because of the strong support within the community.
I want to let the people of Townsville know: I will not stop advocating for you. I'll never give up putting your needs before political convenience. There's never been a more important time for us to work together. I'm your voice in Canberra.