Tuesday, 12 May 2020
I rise to speak to the Senate and to take the opportunity to say thank you to the people of the Northern Territory, to say thank you to those who've worked so diligently right across our country to keep all Australians safe, and to say thank you to the national cabinet, to the Prime Minister and to all the premiers and territory chief ministers involved in coordinating our response and looking at how we are going to come out of this. This is a moment to just say thanks. Thank you to the Chief Minister and his team, his staff, for guiding Territorians and, in particular, our remote and regional communities, to a safe point, to where we are. We know that we haven't beaten this COVID-19, but we do know that the incredible, united effort by so many to ensure that we kept the virus at bay has helped us to get to where we are today. We also know that we still have to remain vigilant.
Thank you to the Aboriginal community health organisations, to Congress, to Donna Ah Chee and to Dr John Boffa in Alice Springs, to Barb Shaw at Anyinginyi Congress in Tennant Creek, to Sunrise in Katherine West, to Wurli-Wurlinjang in Katherine, to Miwatj, over in Arnhem Land and to Danila Dilba in Darwin. These Aboriginal community health organisations are absolutely outstanding. They knew straightaway how and when to act and called for the closure of the borders and for the immediate translation of so many languages in order to provide the health expertise and advice to our communities, who were very concerned and trying to understand what was going on.
Thank you to the land councils—to the Central Land Council, the Northern Land Council, the Tiwi Land Council, the Central Land Council, the Northern Land Council, the Tiwi Land Council and the Anindilyakwa Land Council—and their boards, chairmanship and leadership in guiding through this whole process not only the Northern Territory government but also the federal government in what was needed for First Nations people across the Northern Territory. This is an opportunity in the Senate to be filled with gratitude that all of these groups have come together to ensure the safety not only of Territorians but of all Australians. We pay our respects to the many people who lost loved ones throughout this COVID-19 crisis, which we are still going through.
The Territory was called on at the outset to step up very, very early in this crisis, in January. Christmas Island, which comes under the federal seat of Lingiari in the Northern Territory, housed Australians evacuated from Wuhan. At short notice, a team of Australians from the NT was dispatched to set up a field hospital on Christmas Island in case of a COVID-19 outbreak. This included AUSMAT staff sent from the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre in Darwin. Again, it was AUSMAT staff from that trauma response centre who looked after the 200 or so evacuees sent to the Howard Springs facility outside Darwin for 14 days of quarantine. I want to put that on the parliamentary record that all of these staff, all of these personnel, have done the Northern Territory and Australia proud in a great time of uncertainty for all Australians, particularly those in our regional and remote areas of Australia.
I especially pay tribute today, on International Nurses Day, not only to the nurses of the Northern Territory but to the nurses around Australia and around the globe. When we look at our fellow human beings in other countries around the world who are still struggling to get on top of this crisis, we know that we are incredibly fortunate here in our country. We must never lose sight of our ability to reach out to others in some way to provide any kind of expertise that we can. It is always good when we can see that, no matter how difficult Australians find their particular situation, we are still generous enough as a country to remember those who require a great deal of support in some way, shape or form.
Many of us have learnt how to use Zoom—something that I probably didn't do too much of, but now I am kind of an expert; I'm still learning though. There have been so many teleconferences. I have been speaking to our communities in the Territory and speaking to the many councils. I do want to pay tribute to our local government councils, the shires across the Northern Territory, who did and are doing everything they can to get our people safely through this, in particular to make sure the food supplies got through. Food security was a real concern, second to people's health. We had to ensure that the issue of food security was getting through to the First Nations caucus of the federal Labor Party. I would like to thank each and every member of the First Nations caucus, who have diligently worked long days and hours on the phone as we've tried to make sure, not only in the Northern Territory but right across Australia, that particular policies were being implemented on the ground and that the concerns people were raising were being channelled back to Minister Ken Wyatt. I do commend Ken Wyatt and the staff of his agency. With the briefings that we received, we were able to provide direct information on disparity and on concerns that were impacting communities that could be worked on immediately. There were concerns around Centrelink and families desperately needing support, particularly in Central Australia, when hundreds and hundreds of jobs were lost at Yulara. I do commend Minister Ruston for her efforts. In many of those conversations, we were able to provide information to try and get support for people.
This is the sort of thing that we look at in terms of the values we hold as a country. We must never diminish the values of stepping up and stepping strong together. I also think one of the best things about our country is that we can constructively criticise where it is necessary to do so, from the point of view not of pointscoring but of wanting to see things improve for the better in the quite serious circumstances that have been occurring over the last couple of months.
I commend the Northern Territory Chief Minister, Michael Gunner, and the health minister, Natasha Fyles. We've seen a relaxation of many of the restrictions on people. But we know that we are not 100 per cent out of this. I say to the people of the Northern Territory in particular that we've got to continue to walk together, to work together and to ensure that each other's safety is paramount. We also need to ensure job security for all people, particularly in remote regions of Australia, so that, going forward, post-COVID-19, we do not go back to the way things were, where harsh penalties impact Australians on welfare. I encourage this Senate and fellow senators to take the view that, as we move forward, we move towards a new paradigm, a new shift, where our fellow Australians can live with dignity and know and trust that the policies we provide through this Senate are always about ensuring that every Australian has an opportunity to be the best they can be and has the choice to do the things they wish to do with their lives with respect to raising their families and with respect to their homes, equally.