House debates

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Questions without Notice

COVID-19: Regional Australia

2:07 pm

Photo of Ken O'DowdKen O'Dowd (Flynn, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development. Will the Deputy Prime Minister please inform the House how the McCormack-Morrison government is supporting regional Australia through the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of the restrictions placed on regional communities, particularly in Victoria and Queensland?

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

I do thank the member for Flynn for his question. I know the issue of domestic borders is very important to him and to many others in this place who are seeing their regional communities grapple with these restrictions. Indeed, for our aviation sector and for all of those employed in that sector, state border closures are very much holding back recovery. I note the announcement by Qantas just before question time about further job losses. I empathise with those people who are now finding themselves out of work. We have put in place support measures for those people, and we will continue to support the sector—very much so.

When there are issues in Melbourne, local communities around Mildura or Bairnsdale shouldn't have to cop the consequences. Swan Hill is not Swanston Street. When there is a spike in Brisbane, is it fair for businesses in Blackwater or Biloela to face restrictions to their trade? I would argue that it is not. Imposing stage 4 lockdown in a hotspot such as Melbourne is imperative to the containment of the virus. No-one disputes that; we all know that. However, imposing stage 3 restrictions on a blanket basis is, I would argue, unjustifiable. I think we can all agree that you do not fix a health issue in Melbourne by creating an economic downturn in Mildura. Due to stage 4 restrictions in Melbourne, where daily COVID-19 cases reached as high as 730—and that is very, very sad, and we acknowledge that—all of regional Victoria was placed on stage 3 restrictions. These non-targeted restrictions are crippling country communities and regional small businesses, particularly in hospitality and tourism. Many rural communities have not had a COVID case in months—many not at all—yet every business in regional Victoria is hurting because of the cluster based outbreaks of the virus. It doesn't make sense. It doesn't stack up. One city, one state, but affecting all of the nation, particularly hurting regional Victoria and regional Australia in general.

Just last week we had the ridiculous situation where Chris Taylor, a farmer from Warracknabeal in Victoria, wanted to take a load of hay to his 1,500 sheep in Euston, just 240 kilometres away across the border in New South Wales. The flock needs crutching and needs attention right now. However, Chris says he was told he would have to truck the 43 tonnes of hay to Melbourne, 340 kilometres away, then fly to Sydney, 880 kilometres, then isolate in Sydney for a fortnight and then truck the hay to his sheep in Euston, 930 kilometres away. That is just ridiculous, and I call on the states to act practically, to act pragmatically, to act with some common sense. This is the type of action that colleagues have been advocating for many weeks, especially the member for Maranoa, the member for Flynn—

Mr Thistlethwaite interjecting

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Kingsford-Smith is warned.

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

and particularly the member for Mallee. I know we have long urged the states to provide the common-sense action our communities in regional Australia are relying on and need right now.