Senate debates

Tuesday, 12 May 2020


Moranbah Mine Disaster, COVID-19: Aged Care, Australian Bushfires

7:40 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President Gallacher, I join with Senator Scarr in welcoming you back to the chamber. I'm sure you're glad to be back as well.

There are a couple of things I'd like to touch on tonight. First, I'd like to touch on the devastating scenes in Moranbah in Central Queensland through the week, where we saw yet another mine safety disaster. I'm talking about the explosion at the Anglo American's Grosvenor mine, just outside Moranbah, which saw five mining workers injured. Unfortunately, even today—days later—we see that four of those workers are still in hospital in a critical condition. I send my very best wishes to the mining workers, their families and everyone in the Moranbah community. Having spent a bit of time in Moranbah, I know what a close-knit community it is. When these kinds of accidents occur, they have an impact on the entire community.

Unfortunately, we've seen too many accidents like this in the mining industry in Queensland, even just in the last couple of years. It was very concerning to see a number of reports emerge that there had been gas leaks reported at this particular mine in the weeks and months leading up to this accident. I commend the Queensland government for commissioning a full inquiry and I hope we get to the bottom of it, but I do think we need to call on all mining companies to really lift their game when it comes to workers' safety. It's not good enough to see people continually injured and killed at work in Queensland mines.

Speaking of workers, yesterday, the federal Labor leader, Mr Albanese, made a fantastic speech in which he noted that we need to thank the working people of Australia, who have really led the way in helping all of us respond. Tonight, I want to particularly focus on aged-care workers. Aged-care workers are literally on the front line, caring for some of the most vulnerable people when it comes to coronavirus. We all know that one of the worst things that could have happened with this coronavirus in Australia would have been to see mass outbreaks in aged-care homes among elderly people who are particularly at risk. It's aged-care workers who've been on the front line caring for and protecting older Australians from this coronavirus. Aged-care workers have a particular issue when it comes to the amount of sick leave that they have. Naturally, because of the kind of work that they do and the at-risk group that they work with, they have to be particularly vigilant about not going to work when they experience symptoms which may indicate coronavirus. What that means is that, unlike most groups in the community, they have to draw on their sick leave and other forms of leave to stay away from work in order to put the residents of aged-care facilities and the elderly people that they care for first.

We've seen from the government the directive, essentially, that people should stay home from work if they're showing symptoms. That is a natural thing for governments to be saying; it's an important way to contain the virus. But it's not so simple for everyone in the workforce to stay home from work. If you don't qualify for sick leave because you're a casual worker, or if you're in an occupation like aged care, which means that you're going to have to draw on your leave entitlements more than most because you need to stay home at the merest sign of symptoms, then your sick leave and your other forms of leave may not be enough to cover you. So that's why I'm calling on the government to step up and help fund additional leave for aged-care workers to ensure that they are able to pay their bills while they stay home and look after their own health and the health of the residents that they care for.

Finally, I just want to mention where we're at in terms of the bushfires that we saw this summer. All of us remember the horrifying scenes that we saw through this summer, the bushfires that hit so much of Australia and the devastation that they wreaked. But, unfortunately, for too many bushfire victims across the country this horror continues. Too many people are still waiting for debris to be removed and their burnt down houses to be removed so that they can get on with rebuilding. As winter approaches, there are too many people who are living in tents, living in caravans and living in temporary accommodation in very cold parts of this country. And, of course, we have seen too many businesses destroyed as a result of the bushfires.

Bushfire victims expected action from the Prime Minister, especially when, in January, he established the $2 billion Bushfire Recovery Fund and promised that that money would be spent immediately. But now, five months on, we have seen that promise broken. In answers to questions on notice tabled yesterday we learnt that only $250 million of the Prime Minister's $2 billion fund has actually been spent. That's only one in every eight dollars that he promised. Enough of the marketing; we need action from the Prime Minister.