Wednesday, 11 August 2021
Like, I suspect, many people in this place, over the last 18 months I have received countless emails from members of my electorate needing help—and the member for Eden-Monaro has just outlined some of the impacts on people in her community. Their fear, their sadness, their pain and helplessness have been palpable, and I'm very conscious of the fact that while my wonderful staff and I have been able to help some we have not been able to help all. There are many in Australia who have been, and will continue to be, separated from loved ones, or they didn't get to attend funerals or their livelihoods have been impacted. There are young people in their last years of schooling and starting uni whose experience has not been what any of us would want.
Nobody in this place wants this for anybody—our health experts, our bureaucrats or our senior political officers across the land. It's awful and it's devastating. To use an expression which is perhaps the strongest I can use in this place, it absolutely sucks! But I have to say that these decisions are not taken lightly by any government in Australia. Leaving aside the daily criticism which is thrown across this chamber and in political chambers across the country, I dare say that there would be a uniform acknowledgement that even when we don't agree with the decisions being made by a particular government we know that they're doing it in good faith for the interests of the whole. There is no grand conspiracy.
I have also received emails from people expressing their frustration, their anger, their suspicion and their concern. Some of the recent ones include people asking: 'Where have our freedoms gone? Where are our liberties?' They are from those who are anti vaccine passports and anti mandatory vaccination for aged-care workers. They are from those who are against lockdowns and those against border closures. It is true that some of these are petition based and based on misinformation and conspiracy theories. I'll leave those to one side. But there are many people with legitimate concerns. Indeed, I've spoken in this place a couple of times about my own concerns about the range of laws we are enacting quickly which take away rights. My fear is that they will become the new norm. My fear is that in dealing with this challenge we will lose something about ourselves as a nation.
But as I've also said before in this place, it would be the height of conceit to think that we have never faced challenges before and that we've never overcome them before. We often talk about this being unprecedented but, while it is unprecedented for anybody in this country born in the last 50 or 60 years, there are two periods in our nation's history from which we can draw parallels, from which we can learn and from which we can take hope and some comfort. The first of those is when the Spanish flu started ravaging the world in 1918. Australia remained free of the disease throughout 1918 but it did arrive in Melbourne in the early part of 1919. Within 10 days there were 50 to 100 cases.
It moved to New South Wales and soon the New South Wales government was ordering the wearing of masks; the closure of libraries, schools, churches and theatres; and restrictions on travel. Soon different states were doing different things, including—and I say this with a wry smile, looking at my colleague the member for Perth—the WA government, which took an uncompromising approach to its borders, shutting down the transcontinental railway that connected WA with the rest of the country. Other states shut their borders as well and, dare I say it, Queensland was one of them. There were battles between the states and there was criticism of the measures taken about what seemed like inconsistencies. Australia actually did quite well throughout the first wave, but then the second wave came and the states—some of the governments—decided they were just going to let it rip. Forty per cent of the Australian population got the disease and between 12,000 and 15,000 people died.
The other time period we can look at is World War II. When I get concerned about the laws that we have been putting in place in this country, I look at the ones we put in place in World War II—unbelievable! The National Security Act 1939 basically overrode the Constitution, and it overrode parliament as well. There were all sorts of laws passed about the restriction of weekday sporting events, blackouts and brownouts, issuing personal identity cards, regulations allowing strikers to be drafted into the Army—which I'm not opposed to!—and fixing of profit margins in industry. There were all sorts of laws imposed. What I would say is: in both cases, we bounced back as a nation. So, of course, we need to be vigilant about what governments are doing, but let's actually know that we can do this and we will come back.