Wednesday, 11 August 2021
Eden-Monaro Electorate: COVID-19
I stand here today a little sad, angry and frustrated, like many Australians across the country. I'm sad I won't get to celebrate my niece's 18th birthday with her. Like many families who are missing special occasions at the moment, I'm angry that the Morrison government's failure to understand that this was a race has left us well behind in getting vaccines out to people. That failure to secure enough vaccine deals and secure them early enough has led to continued lockdowns in 2021. It's an anger that is growing in our communities because, even though we are outside the lockdown areas, the flow-on impacts to our businesses and to our communities are just as damaging. I'm frustrated that all the hard work done by Australians last year to keep the virus transmission as low as possible, in following new health orders not seen in our lifetimes, has been squandered by this failure to plan. The government's failures on vaccines and quarantine are costing our economy $300 million each day. The economy is bleeding billions of dollars each week because the Prime Minister hasn't done the two most important jobs he had this year—a national quarantine system and a speedy vaccine rollout.
Put simply, these failures are causing my communities to lose hope. I spoke in the chambers of commerce in Jindabyne, Tathra, Bega, Merimbula, Eden, Pambula, Cobargo and Tumut. Some business owners said they worried about what's going to hit them next, how they can adapt, how they can keep workers on, why JobKeeper hasn't been brought back and, most frustratingly, why the government won't lead. Get the vaccine rollout done, implement a timetable for reopening, and knuckle down and get on with your job! These are communities that have battled through years of drought. They stood united in the face of terrifying bushfires and, once the fires were out, they had to deal with the floods. These are communities that have supported each other. They have shopped local. They have fundraised to help those who are struggling. They have done everything they could to get through this pandemic in the hope that things will get better soon.
People living in the Snowies, on the far South Coast and across the electorate have survived on hope. But hope doesn't pay the bills, hope doesn't put food on the table and hope doesn't keep families in homes. Right now, our communities need more than hope. Last week I was contacted by a business owner in Bungendore named Tim. He said, 'Given the choice between politics or poking myself in the eye, I would gleefully start sharpening a stick!' I'm sure there are lots of people who would agree. The devastating impact the severe lockdown has had on regional New South Wales and in Tim's community compelled him to email many politicians—in particular, those opposite—explaining his struggle. Bungendore is usually bustling at this time of year. People from Sydney are heading to the snow while people from Canberra and surrounding districts chase the sun and a few extra degrees of warmth on the coast. Tim said: 'Bungendore is dead. Some shops have given up and closed until conditions improve. Cafes are running on a skeleton staff.' He opens his shop every day. He lights the fire and he cranks up the music. But every day it's the same thing: there are no people in town; there are no customers. Accessing support from government has been difficult, confusing and drawn out.
Unfortunately, Tim is not alone. Numerous business owners have contacted me wondering how they can keep their previously successful businesses afloat. Businesses in the Snowy Mountains typically make 80 per cent of their annual income during the winter months. Last year, restrictions meant the snowfields were only able to operate at 50 per cent capacity. This year, it is half of that. That's 25 per cent of what they would normally make. The July school holidays was a real gut-punch. One operator said that, in one week alone, he had just under $2 million in accommodation cancellations.
The flow-on effect across the community is enormous. When these lockdowns end and people can travel, the snow will be gone. Lockdowns and border closures may only last months, but in regional communities like mine livelihoods rely on income that they can earn right now. The money is gone, some businesses don't know how they will make it to next winter, and families don't know how they're going to pay their mortgages between now and the next snow season.
The cost of the Morrison government failing to do its job is enormous. This is the cost of a failed vaccine rollout and 27 leaks from hotel quarantine. Right now, businesses on the coast don't know how they'll survive to summer because potentially this will be the third summer where they don't have any traffic. Only 18 per cent of Eden-Monaro is vaccinated, and we have an older population. This vaccine is a race; it's a race to save our communities and it's a race to save our businesses. (Time expired)