Senate debates

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Ministerial Statements


2:24 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise on behalf of the Australian Greens in reply to the ministerial statement. COVID-19 is transforming the world and our country. It's exposing a lot about how we've structured our societies and about what's really important when it really matters. It's exposed that many of the jobs that have long been undervalued will in fact be essential to get us through this crisis and to help the country recover. On behalf of the Australian Greens I acknowledge and commend the immense efforts of our nurses, doctors, paramedics, cleaners, pharmacists, aged-care workers, teachers, early childhood educators and supermarket staff, many of whom are putting themselves at personal risk to save others and to support our community during this crisis. My heart goes out to all of those who have lost loved ones; to people who have the virus or whose family members or friends are unwell; to the families and friends who are separated by isolation; to parents struggling with work from home, homeschooling and caring for elderly relatives; and to those struggling without the social networks that usually sustain them. What you are doing is saving lives. It's been said repeatedly, but we are indeed in this together, and we need to make sure that no-one is left behind.

The Greens will be supporting the bills and helping to pass them today, but we owe it to those who will miss out to propose amendments to make this package better and to make sure that no-one is left behind. We owe it to the one million casual workers who will miss out on the JobKeeper payment, those for whom an arbitrary cut-off date means the difference between keeping their job and being left out. We owe it to those in the arts and entertainment sector, to whom we turned to raise funds during the bushfire crisis and whose films, books, games and shows we are now relying on to keep us sane during isolation. We owe it to the renters, who have been hit hard by this crisis but still have no national plan in place to protect them. Keeping a roof over people's heads during this crisis is surely one of the most fundamental things that this parliament should do. We owe it to those receiving disability support and carers pension, who are currently excluded from the COVID-19 supplement despite the significant additional costs that isolation is imposing upon them. We owe it to the million international workers currently here working under a visa, those who've been contributing—some for many years—in our communities but who this government is now telling to go home. We owe it to the more than 500,000 international students that we wooed to our country, whose university fees we accepted, but that we now ask to fend for themselves.

The Greens will not give up on these people. We will propose a suite of amendments today to plug the gaps in the government's safety net and make sure no-one is left behind. We'll also push to ensure that there is appropriate oversight throughout this crisis. The scale of this crisis and the response that's required mean we need more transparency, more democracy, not less. We're giving away extraordinary powers under this legislation—quite possibly the most powers conferred on an executive since World War II. It is necessary, but we shouldn't be abdicating our constitutional role as a house of review and of scrutiny. We will ultimately be supporting the proposed Senate select committee to oversee the COVID-19 response, and we will be ably represented by our whip, Senator Siewert, but we will also push for parliament to continue sitting to provide those checks and balances that this situation demands.

This crisis has exposed the extent to which Australia's safety net has been picked away at for 30 years, but it's also showing the potential to rebuild it. It's my hope that the structures that we're rapidly rebuilding in this crisis will be retained. It's a chance to think about how we want this country to go forward and to dare to dream of a fairer, happier and more ecologically sustainable future.


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