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Wednesday, 16 February 2022
Page: 946


Ms RYAN (LalorOpposition Whip) (10:45): As I remove my mask this morning, I'm reminded that we have entered the third year of a global pandemic and that, no matter how much we wish it away, it is not yet over. I want to take some time to thank the magnificent residents of my community. As the very proud member for Lalor, I stand here to thank every person who lives in my community for their commitment, for their patience, for their resilience and for the way that they have worked together across what has been an incredibly difficult time, and we're now into the third year.

It has been a difficult time for the local people that I represent in this place, but they have shown enormous Australian spirit in the way that they have approached this pandemic. Like most Australians, they heard their Prime Minister giving the bad news that this pandemic would reach our shores, that things would change. They were assured that our government would take charge, take control, that there would be tough decisions but this government would make them. And, like most Australians, they buckled up, they dug in, and they looked after themselves and their neighbours when they were asked to learn how to wash their hands all over again, like they hadn't learnt it before in their life; as they sang little ditties over bathroom sinks and taught their children to wash their hands; as they donned masks when they were asked to to protect not just themselves but other people in the room with them; when they stayed home, even when they desperately needed to go to work to pay the rent or to pay the mortgage.

It has been a really, really tough time for the people in my electorate. We had two winters with high infection rates. We lost people in our aged-care centres. We had disruptions to family life through childcare difficulties. We had schools close, schools open, schools open for the children of essential workers or for disadvantaged children. We had schools scrambling to ensure that every family had the equipment, the curriculum and the support they needed. We had support staff in schools and teachers ringing families every week, touching base with families that they knew or identified where children might not have had the support they needed; those families were contacted every day. That's what we've been living.

I can only imagine how the people in my electorate felt yesterday, if they tuned into question time, to hear the Prime Minister tick off his list of accomplishments in this pandemic. Sitting opposite, I was appalled. One of the most disappointing things about this pandemic has been this Prime Minister's failure to take the reins, failure to plan, failure to actually become the leader that crises create an opportunity for people to become. And our history speaks long about those opportunities. We don't have to look very far. In question time yesterday the Treasurer failed to mention the global financial crisis that a Labor government led this country through. He failed to acknowledge that leadership means standing up, making decisions, accepting responsibility. The Australian public will always forgive a leader who makes an error, as long as they know they're on the journey with them. This Prime Minister has failed at that. The juxtaposition between him and state premiers has been written large in our history.

From the very first, this Prime Minister failed to define his role. He acted politically at every turn. He watched the news cycle rather than listen to the feedback he was getting. As a member of this parliament and someone who cares deeply about their community, I know that, because I spoke to many of my colleagues in electorates across this country, from both sides of the House and from the crossbench, about what was happening in their communities. I'll tell you what good members of parliament did: they opened their ears and listened. They found new ways to receive feedback from their community. We helped thousands of people with Centrelink in those early days when people couldn't go to work. We fed information back to government about what was happening on the ground. We tried to assist government to fix the small things that we knew were creeping in.

I'll give you an example, Mr Deputy Speaker. In my community we knew that the government had not included many of our residents who happen to be New Zealand citizens. What did Labor do in response? We raised this with government. We said, 'There must be a way you can support this community.' We gave them ideas. Some ideas were taken up by government, but not enough—time and time again. When childcare situations became terrible we were on the phone talking to ministers. We were talking to our shadow ministers, who were also talking to ministers to say, 'We need to change this right now, because the impact is adding pressure to families on the ground.' But every time there was hesitation.

There was reluctance to take up good ideas. JobKeeper: how long did it take for the government to finally land that, to say it was a good idea? There are those on our benches who, having led Australia through a global financial crisis, are very experienced, and they deserved respect—but, no. We got baulking; we got failure to see that we needed economic stimulus and we needed it right away. They failed to see that families, like those in my community, needed that support, and that without it the economy was going to fall apart. They were always too slow.

They were too slow in aged care. Local members were on the phone to aged-care centres. I know that I was. I had community members ringing me to say, 'There's a problem in our aged-care centre, Jo.' Their mum or their dad was there. What do you do? You ring the aged-care centre and find out what they need. You ring the minister and say what is happening there. But, time and time again, the systemic changes that needed to be made were not made. That led to a lack of infection control. No-one is denying that aged care was pretty much in crisis before the pandemic hit. This government, in its 10th year, still has not quite acknowledged that, despite the royal commission.

I think the saddest thing about the pandemic has actually been the failure to understand that the Australian people would come on board, that they would do what was necessary. They've now proven that they are up to the challenge and have lived through the challenge, as we go into our third year. But it wasn't just the politics of the day that seemed to get in this Prime Minister's way. It wasn't just fixing the minor details when something large was changing. It was the failure to do the big things. It was the failure in quarantine and the failure in vaccination that meant that in Melbourne we had a second winter when we didn't need to. We could have reached those 95 per cent plus vaccination rates if we'd had vaccines here in 2020. The failure in quarantine meant that we had further lockdowns. There's the failure most recently in testing, in the failure to provide free rapid antigen tests to every Australian family.

All of those things were very clear, and yet yesterday we got a list of accomplishments rather than any acknowledgement that we had learnt something. In child care, every time we knew what measures needed to be put in place, there was a delay. Every time, there was a delay which actually meant that, on the ground, families were scrambling and childcare centres were scrambling. These are things that this government had clear responsibility for.

In contrast, we on this side dug in in our electorates, we opened our ears, we listened and we worked as hard as we could to help the residents make the adjustments that they needed to make. And you know what else we did? We thought about what the world would look like post this. We identified the systemic problems; we identified what the pandemic had shone a light on. Take aged care, for example. There can be no clearer example than in aged care that a casualised workforce, people in insecure work working in more than one facility, is a problem. It highlighted the problem of insecure work across the country because it put pressure on people to not go to work when they really needed to go to work, and we asked them not to. They had to wait and wait and wait for other things to be put in place to support them.

What Labor did was focus on those systemic issues, and what Labor have come up with is a clear focus where a better life for every Australian family is just over the horizon, with more affordable child care, and safer and more affordable housing, because those two things were highlighted during the pandemic; secure, well-paid jobs so that Australian families can plan for their future with real job security; investment in skills and training; and a commitment to closing the gender pay gap, because that was highlighted so strongly in the pandemic, where we saw feminised workforces on the front lines every day, taking all the risks. As I've said before, and I tell everyone in my electorate, when you're driving down the street and you see an aged-care worker changing out of the boot of their car in a public street so they do not take any infection home to their family, you know we've got some issues in this country.

Labor will commit to a future made in Australia because the pandemic shone a light on where we are in the global chain and where we are in terms of when a disaster strikes. Labor will invest in renewable energy. Labor will make buying Australian easier because we will make Australian things here. We'll rewire the nation. Labor took time during the pandemic—we dug into our electorates, we supported the residents as much as we could and then we focused our minds on how to create a better way back from this pandemic.

In a few months from now, the Australian people will go to the polls. In the weeks leading up to that, there is going to be a lot said. There are going to be a lot of lists of accomplishments. I want to say to the Australian people, when you're watching a minister of this government with their tick-flick list of accomplishments, ask yourself what question they are answering. What question are they answering? Because, if you're choosing now, Prime Minister, to do a list of accomplishments, there are obviously questions being asked. The questions being asked are the same ones that have been asked throughout the pandemic. Why didn't you trust that the Australian people would get on board? Why did you think you needed to be focused on the politics of the day? Why did you think that you had to win the news cycle, when all you needed to do was lead? All you needed to do was apply your intellect to the problems at hand to get across the large things, like ordering vaccines and building quarantine facilities, and get across the small details; and to focus on the learnings so that errors were only made once, so that, when communities went into lockdown for a second time, things became automatic. We didn't need to change childcare regulations every time and put things in place for short bursts of time. When the government are listing how much they're spending on aged care, ask yourselves: what question are they trying to answer? Well, they're trying not to take responsibility for the errors that were made—for the lack of PPE on the ground, in aged-care centres. That's the question they're trying to answer.

I finish by saying I'll be back in my electorate tomorrow, with leave from the parliament, to attend the funeral of a very, very dear friend. I've spoken about Harry van Morst before, and he's been mentioned in Hansard on several occasions over many decades. He was a man who always had his eye on the big picture, but he knew how to look for the details in the smaller pictures that made up the big picture. He was a great leader in my community, and I wish wholeheartedly that we had a Prime Minister who understood leadership. I wish the Prime Minister understood that what you have to do is bring people together, not choose to try to divide people to win a political news cycle.