Monday, 23 March 2020
Statement by the President
by leave—We come together in this place as our nation faces one of the greatest challenges in its history. The COVID-19 coronavirus crisis is evolving so quickly, on so many fronts, that the people of our great nation are quite shell-shocked. Not only are they fearful for their own, their family's and their friends' health but they are uncertain about their very existence in life as they have long known it. And, of course, as active participants in our communities, as family members and as individual Australians with family and friends who are particularly vulnerable to the health threat of coronavirus, we also are not immune from those feelings. Our nation has faced many challenges and, history tells us, Australians have a unique grit, determination, strength and resilience, which allows us to rise to great challenges.
Mr President, I know that I speak for all of us when I say that we can assure the Australian people that we come here today with a steely resolve to do everything humanly possible to help lead this country through this challenging period. Our health mission is very clear. It is to slow down the spread of the virus, to save lives. We will not be able to stop the spread of the virus, but to slow it down will ensure that our health system has the best possible chance to appropriately prioritise treatment and support for our most vulnerable fellow Australians, while providing world-class health treatment to all affected. Our economic mission is to provide support to the economy and to business, to save jobs and to provide appropriate levels of support to those Australians who lose their job through no fault of their own or lose income as a result of the economic impact of the coronavirus. This enemy, in the form of a fast-moving and highly contagious virus, will be defeated but we need all Australians enlisted in the battle.
This is, first and foremost, a health crisis, and the government is dealing with the health battle as its highest priority. But it is, of course, a health crisis with very, very serious economic consequences. I can inform the Senate that as of this morning 1,316 Australians have tested positive to COVID-19. Those people are spread right across our nation in all of our states and territories. So far, seven Australians have died from this virus. Sadly, it will spread to a large proportion of our population in coming weeks and months, and the number of deaths will grow. It is so important that all Australians heed the advice of our country's top medical officials and strictly follow the laws, regulations, protocols and advice the federal government and state and territory governments have put in place to slow the spread of this virus. I say it again—we can't say it often enough—that by slowing the spread of this virus we will save lives.
It is up to all of us to play our part. By doing the right thing you might be able to save a life. It could be the life of a total stranger or it could be the life of someone close to you, a grandparent or elderly neighbour. If you fall into the category of someone who has to go into self-isolation, then follow those rules to the letter. All Australians must follow the rules regarding social distancing, non-essential travel and hygiene. Regretfully, we have had to move to more widespread restrictions on social gatherings, restricting the operation of facilities like restaurants, cafes, pubs, clubs, gyms, cinemas and a range of other places where Australians gather. Those latest restrictions announced after a national cabinet meeting late yesterday add to measures that were already in place and will change the way we live for some time to come. Unfortunately, there will likely be more restrictions to come.
By working together we can pull through to the other side of this. This challenge has also hit hard at the foundations of our economy. That is why this government has put in place an unprecedented package to support the businesses and workers of our nation. Yesterday we announced the second part of that package, bringing total support to the economy to $189 billion or almost 10 per cent of GDP.
Mr President, may I say that we are very grateful for the support from the opposition and other parties represented in the parliament for the package that we're putting forward, because Australians really are relying on us working as a united team to defeat the challenge in front of us. We're here today to deliver the support to the nation that will build a bridge to the other side of this crisis, which will allow us to come out stronger and ready for the recovery that will follow. The further economic response to coronavirus announced yesterday delivers $66 billion in support to the Australian economy. I'm not going to hold up the Senate by going through the details of it; it has been widely circulated.
The latest economic measures we're putting in place to help our country through this unprecedented crisis will not be the last. We will have to make further decisions in the weeks and months to come. We want to keep as many businesses in business, and as many workers in jobs, as possible. For those who we can't save or whose job we can't save, we want to ensure that the appropriate levels of support and a safety net are in place. We stand ready to add to those measures as necessary as this crisis unfolds. We want to ensure Australia can bounce back strongly when this crisis has passed. That is why we return to this place today. It is so that the government's economic stimulus measures pass the parliament and reach those affected as soon as possible.
Our government is committed to ensuring that, through this coronavirus crisis, we not only protect Australians' health and save lives but secure their jobs and livelihoods for the period beyond this crisis. This crisis will get worse before it gets better. But it will get better. Together, we will come through this.