House debates

Tuesday, 27 October 2020


COVID-19: Victoria

2:00 pm

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave, I move:

That the House:

(1) commends the people of Victoria for the sacrifices they have made in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic;

(2) congratulates the people of Victoria for their achievement in overcoming the second wave;

(3) notes the people of Victoria have succeeded because, despite the hardship it has entailed, they have heeded the advice of dedicated public health officials;

(4) expresses its gratitude to the people of Victoria on behalf of a grateful nation; and

(5) resolves that this message be conveyed to the Premier of Victoria.

As our fellow Australians in Victoria emerge from lockdown, we should join together in this place to acknowledge the magnitude of their efforts. We express, through this motion, our admiration of Victorians for their bravery, their fortitude and, not least, their sheer stamina. Victorians have demonstrated the true meaning of 'We are all in this together.' Victorian businesses have been doing it tough. Victorian families have been doing it tough. Members of parliament, of course, have had to quarantine in order to attend the parliament, but it's their families that have done it tough through this process. While the rest of the country came out of the harshest lockdowns, silence fell across the great city of Melbourne. We watched the rest of the nation returning to some semblance of normal life while Victorians endured—but understood—the necessity for restrictions on activity, with curfews and the five-kilometres radius.

During this second wave, Victorians were under strict stay-at-home rules for some 110 days. That has an impact on people's mental health. It has an impact on the way that they live their everyday lives. No issue could be more important for this parliament to deal with than the motion that I've just moved. On the weekend, Victorians even had to endure watching an AFL grand final being played at the Gabba. Victorians showed their resilience by the fact that two Victorian teams, Richmond and Geelong, fought out such a fantastic game on Saturday night, but it was tough for the supporters and for the normal activity that takes place. I'm a proud Sydneysider, but I recognise that the Melbourne Cricket Ground is the greatest stadium in Australia. There is no question that that is the case.

Victorians have indeed paid a price, but now they reap the benefit, the dividend. Consider the numbers. We only need to go back to 30 July. On that day, Victoria had 723 new cases. This was just behind the United Kingdom, which had 846 cases, and uncomfortably close to France, which on that day had 1,377 cases. Let's have a look at yesterday. France, from 1,377, was up to 26,768 new cases. In the United Kingdom numbers were about the same as Victoria just back in July. Yesterday it had 20,890 new cases. It's a nation going back into lockdown. That's why the sacrifice of Victorians should be acknowledged by our national parliament—because the whole of Australia has benefited from their sacrifice. The whole of Australia has benefited from the fact that the Victorian government listened to the health advice, took action and ensured that those numbers were turned around so that, instead of an increase such as in the UK from 846 to 20,000, they went from 723 new cases to zero cases.

There was some criticism on Sunday of the fact that the Premier of Victoria took the sensible position of waiting until the tests that had been taken in the northern suburbs of Melbourne came through. They came through with a beautiful figure—zero, a big doughnut. And, today, that's turned into a bagel—double zero. For two days in a row there have been no new cases in Victoria. Because of that, tonight at 11.59 pm, Victoria opens back up. That's good news for all Victorians. It's good news for Victorian businesses, particularly in hospitality and in other activities. It's a return to normal.

The fact is that Victoria has done it tough. There are 817 people who have died from COVID-19 in Victoria, overwhelmingly in aged care, and aged care is something that this parliament is responsible for. So in this moment, as Victoria emerges, we want to be in a position, though, of passing on condolences to all of those who have been impacted. We also remember the fact that it has been difficult in terms of people being unable to visit loved ones as well.

This motion is a good one and I am pleased that the government has allowed for this debate. In terms of the motion that is before the parliament, it will be seconded by the deputy leader. I commend the motion to the parliament where we wish all Victorians well going forward. We ask that this be conveyed on our behalf to the Victorian Premier and the Victorian people, and we say, 'Well done.'

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

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Richard MarlesRichard Marles (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

2:08 pm

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I, indeed, would have been happy to second the motion. I join with the Leader of the Opposition. I believe it is very important that this parliament come together today and express its thanks and gratitude to the people of Victoria for their extraordinary resilience, their determination, their patience and the care that they have shown for each other through what has been an exhausting, difficult and overwhelming time for so many.

There have been many things asked of Australians over the course of what has been probably, in most people's living memory, one of the most difficult times they have ever experienced. Certainly as a nation and in our collective experience it has been many generations since Australians have had to go through a time such as this. But, for Victorians, this has been a time that no other Australians have really had to endure. So it is right for our parliament to congratulate and to thank Victorians for the way that they have conducted themselves over these many, many difficult months. Indeed, yesterday I was pleased to hear of the decision of the Premier and the Victorian government to take this next important step forward. I said at the outset of the Victorian lockdown that Australia will not win unless Victoria wins, and we are now starting to see Victoria win again, and I welcome that. This is a good thing for Australia. It's a good thing for all Australians, and we all welcome it, I am sure, from every corner of this country.

When the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic hit this country, we brought together all state premiers and chief ministers in what was an innovation in the national cabinet, which has now met on 30 occasions. It is unprecedented in our federation history for premiers and chief ministers to come together with the Prime Minister and work in the way that we have. There have been critics of the national cabinet and there have been disagreements amongst the national cabinet from time to time, but I can assure Australians, as I do—

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I don't know why there are interjections, Mr Speaker—this is a bipartisan motion.

Honourable members interjecting

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

Members on both sides!

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

In that national cabinet, as we worked together to deal with that first wave and the many challenges it presented, it was, indeed, the Victorian Premier, the New South Wales Premier—all of the premiers and chief ministers—who supported that national effort. What we sought to do in that first wave was to build our national resilience, to build up our health response, to ensure the respirators were in place and the testing and tracing kits were in place, and to ensure the COVID-safe practices could be established.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr Speaker, the interjections continue, but I will endure over them—

Honourable members interjecting

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

Members on both sides!

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

because it is important that Australians know that this parliament has come together on this issue today, and I would urge those opposite to cease the interjections, because we are at one on this. And this is the truth of Australia's success—that, well outside of this place, Australians have supported each other, each and every day, through this pandemic. Outside of this place, governments have worked together, each and every day—each and every day—and the national cabinet has been an important part of that process.

As we built up that national resilience as a country, as a people, as governments, all across the country, we looked forward to that time where we had agreed as a national cabinet that we would be open again in July. We looked forward to that day and we were moving well towards that day. In seven states and territories, that progress continued. But, sadly, in July we saw the case numbers begin to rise in Victoria, and we saw the failure of the quarantine, which is understood and well known and has been documented. We saw the issues of contact tracing and we saw Victoria descend into what was a cataclysmic second wave of this virus. And it was the right decision of the Victorian Premier and the Victorian government to impose the lockdown measures, which I welcomed at the time, and I urged all encouragement to Victorians to endure those measures, because they had become necessary. That lockdown had become necessary, as borders between New South Wales and Victoria had become necessary.

But I say this: borders and lockdowns are not demonstration or evidence of success. They are not evidence of success. They are evidence of outbreaks that have got out of control. They are evidence of things that have not gone as they should. So, now, with the opening of Victoria and the endurance and the sacrifice of Victorians and the way they were able to work through this issue, I welcome that; I think it's tremendous. And I think it's great that Tasmania is opening up again. I think it's fantastic that South Australia has opened up again. And I'm encouraged by the words of former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, who believes things should open up again. I'm encouraged by that. People in this place know that I've always wanted Australia to work their way through this crisis and not get stuck in a rut, and that's what we must do. So I welcome the fact that Victoria is opening.

As Victorians went through this crisis, I can assure you of this: this government stood by them. This government stood by them: 28 Commonwealth GP-led respiratory clinics assessed over 175,200 people in Victoria; 1,400 interviews assigned to Commonwealth teams on contact tracing; 27.8 million masks from the National Medical Stockpile; some $1.3 billion in funding for specific COVID-safe health costs in Victoria; testing for aged-care workers, interstate truck drivers and train drivers; support through communications; tailored mental health programs; 15 mental health clinics; $200 million every day of support to see Victorians through this crisis. Our government has stood by Victorians every single day of the lockdown that became necessary as a result of the outbreak that got out of control.

As we look to the future and we look to the new three-step process that has been agreed by national cabinet—and I thank in particular the Premier of Victoria who was one of the first to sign up to open by Christmas when we agreed this in September—we cannot look to a future of lockdowns as a way of managing this virus. What we must do is ensure we have the testing, the tracing, the isolation, the quarantine options and all of these things which national cabinet and my cabinet are working to deliver for Australians. Because we are going to open safely, and we are going to safely remain open, under the policies of our government, working hand in glove with the state and territory premiers and chief ministers around this country.

I join with the Leader of the Opposition in commending Victorians. I thank the many public health workers in Victoria. I thank the tram drivers. I thank all of those who have worked, whether in aged care, child care, distribution centres, schools, hospitals—wherever they have been they have been champions of this country in their time of crisis. I thank them for every single sacrifice, because the cost of the lockdown has been significant. It has been a heavy blow. There are so many Victorians who will carry the scars of this lockdown for years to come. That is the advice we have received from Christine Morgan, my National Suicide Prevention Adviser, and the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health, Ruth Vine. There will be scars that will be carried by Victorians. I assure those Victorians that just as we've stood by you throughout this terrible lockdown, we will stand by you through the recovery. We will continue to support you in the economic needs that you have and get you back into jobs, to open your businesses again and to rebuild your lives.

This Christmas I want Australians to come around their tables and talk about 2021 with positivity, with hope, with aspiration, looking forward to what they're going to do, the schools their kids are going the go to, the training courses they're going to do, the jobs they're going to get into, the health that they will be able to enjoy, because in this country we have one of the best records, if not the best, of managing the health and economic impacts of this pandemic of any country in the world. God bless Australia.

2:18 pm

Photo of Richard MarlesRichard Marles (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I start by thanking the Leader of the Opposition for moving this motion and I thank the Prime Minister for his words in support of those in Victoria. In the story of this year the significance of Victoria having just recorded two consecutive days with zero cases is hugely important. On 30 July, just 12 weeks ago, Victoria recorded 723 new cases of coronavirus. On that same day in Great Britain there were 846 new cases. Today with zero cases in Victoria, we saw yesterday in Great Britain 20,890 new cases of coronavirus recorded. It speaks to how contagious this virus is. It speaks to how easily this virus can spread if it is not checked. But it also speaks to the incredible achievement of bringing under control the outbreak of this virus which has occurred in Victoria over the last few months. Around the world there is hardly a precedent for it. The credit for that first and for most goes to the people of Victoria.

In regional Victoria over the last few months we have been living under stage three restrictions. For many people in this chamber, indeed for many people around the country beyond Victoria, that is an experience that was lived earlier in the year. But in Melbourne, over the last few months, people have been living under stage 4 restrictions, and from speaking with colleagues, with friends, with family, I can tell you that enduring the stage 4 restrictions in Melbourne saw as big a difference between that and stage 3 as there is between stage 3 and nothing.

In my lifetime, I have never witnessed up close such an experience of stress within our society—p eople making a decision every night about how they were going to spend that precious single hour outdoors the next day; p eople in Melbourne living under a curfew in a way which I would never have imagined. It has changed life in every way, including in this place . The members of parliament who you see on the screen behind me speak to that, and I want to acknowledge every one of the Victorians who is not here today.

There were m onths on end of not seeing loved ones in aged - care facilities —and, as COVID-19 started to work its way through aged - care facilities, an utter sense of terror on behalf of grandparents, on behalf of a father, on behalf of a mother. The families of 653 aged - care residents have had the heartbreaking experience of saying goodbye to their loved one in a way that they would never have wished to, in a way that was characterised by loneliness.

In the journey from the dark days of July to where we are now, there has been a story of leadership. Yes, t here have been mistakes, and t he Victorian government immediately established a judicial inquiry which is working through those issues as we speak. But the Victorian government has also been a source of crystal - clear decisions , at the heart of which has been the very best medical advice, which has guided us from where we were back in July to where we are right now.

The rhythm of life for Victorians and for Melburnians is defined by great cultural and sporting events , and the significance of what has occurred in the last 48 hours is that Melburnians can now look forward to the Comedy Festival in March, having a beer at the Espy over summer , visiting the Vic Market on a Saturday morning once again , going to the tennis — the Australian Open at Melbourne Park—and seeing the Boxing Day Test at the MCG with a renewed sense of confidence, of hope and of optimism.

2:23 pm

Photo of Josh FrydenbergJosh Frydenberg (Kooyong, Liberal Party, Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

The Victorian people have been magnificent. The Victorian people 's dedication and their commitment to adhering to the rules have seen the number of daily cases reduced to zero yesterday and today , and it is their victory and no-on e else's victory . The Victorian people have suffered so much — the pain, the cost, and the loss of Victorian people. It should never ever have come to this. With the greatest respect to those opposite, the comparison is not with the United Kingdom, the comparison is not with the United States; the comparison is with New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia.

My children are the same as the children of everyone else from Victoria in this place—s ix months lost from schooling; s ix months that they will never ever get back. The children of the Northern Territory lost one week in school. The children of South Australia lost just two weeks of school. The children of Victoria lost more than six months. Those in year 12 will never, ever get that opportunity back. With the more than 800 Victorians who have lost their lives, their families will never get them back. And it all comes back to the failures in hotel quarantine, for which we still do not have any answers.

Honourable Member:

An honourable member interjecting

Photo of Josh FrydenbergJosh Frydenberg (Kooyong, Liberal Party, Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

The honourable member is right: there is an inquiry. But unless that inquiry asks everybody who has questions to answer to provide evidence, we won't get the answers and the Victorian people will be left in the dark. The fact of the matter is our state—I'm from Victoria and I am for Victoria. The fact of the matter is the member for Wannon is from Victoria and he is for Victoria. The member from Flinders is from Victoria and he is for Victoria. And this Prime Minister has stood by Victorians every stop of the way. More than $200 million per day is going from this government to the people of Victoria. There is JobKeeper, JobSeeker, the cashflow boost—$750 payments have been going into the pockets of Victorians and Victorian businesses. That's been going to support them through this crisis.

My thanks today are to the people of Victoria, because we know this lockdown has not come without a cost: a 31 per cent increase in Medicare subsidised mental health visits in Victoria, a 77 per cent increase on people going to headspace in Victoria compared to those other states, and there is Lifeline and Kids Helpline. I got a text message from a friend of mine the other day who said that a friend of his had taken his own life because he had lost his job in Victoria. In the same message, he said that friends of friends had started to self-harm. These aren't unique cases. This is across the state. This is the price that has been paid during this lockdown.

I have spoken up as the Treasurer of Australia and as a proud Victorian, and the facts are that Victoria makes up 26 per cent of the national population but today 40 per cent of those effectively unemployed across our country. On every day of the lockdown, on average, 1,200 jobs have been lost. In the same period, for every day of that lockdown across the rest of the country, 2,000 jobs have been created.

An opposition member interjecting

'So what?' is the interjection—an interjection from someone from another state outside Victoria. I tell you what, the small businesses of Australia—their owners and their employees—don't say, 'so what?' They say that they have paid a very, very heavy price. The Leader of the Opposition said in his statement that the decision that was taken not to open up on Sunday—well, the businesses of Australia spoke very loudly about their disappointment, and we, as a government, spoke very loudly.

My thoughts today in supporting this position are with those Victorians who were kept in their homes 23 hours a day. My thoughts today are with those Victorians who weren't able to move more than five kilometres from their home. My thoughts today are with those Victorian who weren't allowed out at night because of a curfew that we didn't see in other parts of this country. My thoughts today are with those Victorians who've been fined $10,000 for opening their business and trying to put food on their table and keep their staff employed. My thoughts today are with the families of those people who have suffered with mental health concerns as a result of the lockdown.

I am so happy to join with all those in this place in celebrating the fact that the numbers have come down. But don't pretend there hasn't been a price. And the price has been immense, and the cost couldn't have been higher for more than six million Victorians. So today we give thanks for those numbers coming down. We give thanks to those Victorians who have paid the ultimate price and to their families. We say thanks to those health workers who have been working so hard, together with our Defence Force personnel who have been working with the Victorian government. We, on this side of the House, have stood with Victorians since the start of this crisis, we have stood with Victorians through this crisis and we will stand with Victorians to the end of this crisis.

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

The question is that the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition be agreed to.

Question agreed to.