Senate debates

Monday, 23 March 2020

Statement by the President

Coronavirus

10:11 am

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

by leave—Before I begin, I'd like to acknowledge to the chamber that Senator Wong has issued a public statement that, this morning, she woke feeling unwell and, consistent with advice to all Australians and recognising that her parliamentary colleagues will soon return home to their own communities, she has—as a responsible precaution—sought to self-isolate, pending medical advice, and will not be attending the Senate today.

You only have to watch the news for a handful of minutes to hear one word to describe the times we're currently living in: unprecedented. You only have to look at this chamber to know that this is not a normal parliamentary sitting. People across Australia are adapting to new routines, new ways of life and new rules. We thank the Australians who have chosen to stay home, who have avoided shaking hands or hugging, or who have had to cancel weddings, birthdays or even miss out on spending time with grandparents and other loved ones. We acknowledge this is not normal. And because it isn't normal, it's understandable that Australians are feeling anxious right now. At times, I have—and I'm sure we all have—felt concern, worry or even fear for our communities and for our families.

Parents are waking up this morning concerned about whether they should be sending their children to school—whether it is safe to do so. We understand this fear. Australians are concerned for their health and the health of their families, especially their mothers and fathers, their grandparents, their children, and those who are particularly vulnerable. People who are self-isolating right now are concerned about whether essentials like food will be able to be delivered to their home. Organisations like Foodbank are concerned about running out of staples. Australians across the country are worried about their jobs and what it means for their way of life. This is exactly why we, as the parliament, are here today, even in this slightly different-looking fashion. We acknowledge the government's stimulus package, its support package. In many ways, we need to move beyond the idea of 'stimulus'. We are moving into basic support for one another.

Labor will support the government's package because Australians need help, and they need it right now. The government does talk about building a bridge to the other side of this crisis, but the construction of that bridge should not wait, and it definitely shouldn't be delayed by politics or grandstanding. All along, Labor has been supportive of the government's measures that have been announced during this crisis—decisions made on best available medical advice. We have worked in the spirit of bipartisanship because we're only going to get through this crisis as Australians by working together. However, bipartisanship does not mean the government has been given a blank cheque. We have raised concerns with the government. Many of those discussions have happened between shadow ministers and ministers. Many have happened in good faith, and we acknowledge that. Shadow ministers have called or written to their counterparts. The government has heard them out and has acted, knowing that we all have the same purpose: to keep Australians safe, protect their health, safeguard the economy and save our society from coronavirus. I thank the government for picking up the phone and for listening when they've done so. In fact, I encourage all Australians to do the same—that is, to reach out to your colleagues, to your families, to your neighbours. Self-isolation does not need to mean social isolation. Send a Facebook message or a text to your mate who you think might have lost their job. The people in our lives need support now more than ever, just like the Australians need the support of their government and the parliament. This is exactly why we are here today.

Labor will raise our concerns about this stimulus package, this economic support package. It isn't perfect, and we acknowledge it may not ever be. It may not be as Labor would have implemented it had we been in government. We will look at additional methods of accountability and scrutiny to ensure this stimulus is getting into people's pockets as quickly as possible. When it comes to both our health response and our economic response, we need to be asking ourselves as a parliament: if we know we are going to need to do something in a week or two weeks time, wouldn't it be better to do it as soon as possible? Wouldn't it be better to take action as soon as possible to save lives and livelihoods? We will do what all of us have been elected to do to protect Australians and our Australian way of life: we will be constructive as we work through this evolving and complex crisis. Australia now, more than ever, needs leadership and clear messaging. We need to support Australian families and we need to support one another, because we're only going to get through this health and economic crisis together.

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