Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP speaks on COVID-19 Stimulus Package

23 March, 2020


I commend the government for the measures being taken in such haste that are before the House today. There is no blueprint on how to deal with a crisis of this scale. We must all work together in finding solutions. I urge the government to consult broadly and be inclusive in its decision-making. This is not a time for party partisanship, but a time to come together to find the solutions. Many are worried about the health risk to themselves and to their loved ones. They fear losing their jobs, having hours scaled back, seeing family businesses fold. The measures in this package of bills will assist in alleviating some of the financial hardship. However, I urge the government: if there are further measures being considered, please do not delay.

Regarding sole traders and casuals, in Warringah we have 22.8 per cent of the workforce as casual. That's approximately 22,500 people. In Australia as a whole, non-employing businesses, or sole traders, account for 62.8 per cent of all businesses. Many of these will be in dire circumstances well before 28 April, when they will receive government assistance under these bills. I urge the government to accelerate delivery of support, where possible, to these individuals.

I'm concerned about those in the arts and entertainment industry—those musicians, actors, artists and performers who have brought so much joy to our communities: the drama, the delight and the unity over the years. During the recent bushfires, it was the arts and entertainment community that were leaders in stepping forward to contribute their time and skills to help those in need. They now need us, and I encourage the government to implement policy and programs to assist this group. Other areas are also going to be decimated, like the fitness industry, who play a huge part in the ultimate health outcomes of our nation, and professional sports, all the way down to grassroots-level sports. They will also need help.

Most of the measures introduced are dependent upon businesses being open and trading, therefore keeping workers employed. I ask the government to consider additional measures, like direct capped wage subsidies for employees in businesses that are closed, as currently endorsed by the UK, Germany and New Zealand. Healthcare and all essential service workers need special consideration—and the rest of the community—as they continue to keep Australia running.

Those with disabilities need more support too. NDIS participants need services to ensure that food is delivered to them, that their plans are enhanced to accommodate the additional expenditure and that they are prioritised for personal protective equipment. As more and more Australians are physically isolated, there will be a growing demand upon community services, charities and mental health services. Please ensure these vital services receive additional resources and funding.

I also wish to raise the issue of travellers, of Australians stranded overseas. My office has been approached by numerous families and friends extremely concerned for their loved ones that are stranded on ships. They're stuck in Peru, in Singapore, in Spain, all trying to get home. DFAT staff are working incredibly hard in unbelievable circumstances trying to make sure this happens. I ask the government to get our fellow Australians home safely by whatever means necessary.

With regard to messaging and communication, it's concerning that there are still some in the media who are not reflecting the urgency and seriousness of this crisis. This is negligent and unacceptable and should be called out by the government. The government needs to be clearer with its messaging. This crisis is moving rapidly. Australians are confused and anxious. Clarity and consistency are needed. Australians want the facts. We need to do better on communication.

The most important thing to say is thank you to the teachers, the scientists, the cleaners, the people on production lines and delivery services, the bus drivers, the Centrelink staff, the mental health workers and, of course, all the health professionals and everyone who is working diligently to keep Australia going. Thank you for putting yourselves at risk but continuing on. But I do urge the government to encourage everyone else, if they are able to, to work from home or permit their staff to work from home, please. It's time for the government to encourage and urge everyone who can to work from home. The more we minimise how many people are out and about, the more chance we have to flatten the curve.

We were warned weeks ago that this threat was coming. We saw what happened in other countries. So many are horrified to see the escalation of the health crisis in Italy and Spain. We must do everything possible to avoid that path here in Australia. These are complicated and confusing times. No-one has all the answers, but it is incumbent upon us in this place to do our very best to ensure that all Australians are taken care of. Every life lost to coronavirus will be one too many.

Finally, I call on everyone. Each and every one of you has a role to play. You can impact the outcome of this crisis by being informed and by following the hygiene recommendations—and, please, please, stay home unless absolutely necessary. Thank you.