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Monday, 23 March 2020
Page: 2874


Ms RYAN (LalorOpposition Whip) (17:28): I'm pleased to rise today to avail myself of an opportunity to speak on the supply bills but, as the member for Rankin has just outlined, to take that opportunity to make some points around the COVID-19 bills that preceded it in the chamber today. As we have heard many times today, the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Treasurer have said the opposition will continue to work constructively with the government to ensure passage of this legislation and other bills to keep Australians in work. Labor's priority is to protect lives and jobs, to help Australian workers, businesses, families and communities through this difficult time and to ensure vulnerable Australians are supported and their health is protected. We understand that people are anxious at the moment, which is why Labor will continue to be supportive, responsible and constructive—and that means injecting a sense of urgency where we see it lacking or absent. In my contribution today, I want to take some time out to speak specifically about the aged-care sector and some of the government's initiatives in the aged-care sector. I want to put on the record our thanks and our concerns for actions taken and actions that we see need to be taken.

I'll begin by putting on the record our thanks and gratitude to many of our aged-care workforce. This period of time has been tough and will continue to be so, but the work you're doing to help those with this virus poses the biggest risk and is remarkable and invaluable. We also know that the work you're doing is demanding and challenging. Be assured we are thinking of you all at this time and Labor will continue to support aged-care workers through these challenging times. We welcome the government's announcement regarding COVID-19 support for aged care and older Australians. We appreciate that the government has taken up some of Labor's proposals to support the aged-care industry and to assist and protect older Australians. It is vitally important that aged-care workers are supported at this time. They are on the front line of our nation's efforts to flatten the curve and to save lives.

In saying this, we still have a number of concerns. I spoke last night to the member for Newcastle, who had spoken to aged-care facilities in her electorate; I spoke today to the member for Franklin, the shadow minister, who had similarly phoned residential aged care in her electorate; and my office this morning spoke to one of our local residential aged-care providers. The news from them was not fabulous, particularly around the stimulus package. This particular local provider made the decision to go into total lockdown last night. Whilst they've been diligent, they feel that they are unable to control people who visit who may have had contact with the virus, and so they have taken that action. They have had some people tested during this process because people had shown symptoms, and they'd had a visitor whose partner was isolating. They've set up FaceTime and Skype for residents to maintain contact with loved ones. I would urge the government, at this point in time, to do more to support other aged-care providers to ensure that they can similarly keep family members in contact with aged-care residents while they're in isolation. They've also set up one room, accessible without entering any other room in the facility, for end-of-life situations.

They are experiencing big problems with supplies. Prices have soared, they're saying, on everything, and deliveries have gone from 24 hours to 48 hours to two weeks. They have no face masks at all. They've contacted the government medical supply and got an email back saying that they've been inundated with orders—and there's nothing since. Their food portions have had to be reduced due to the delivery situation, and they've had to change to a basic menu as many items are not available. They order through a wholesaler. Stocks of required items such as incontinence pads, toilet paper and bath sheets are extremely low, so they have had to change their practices around that.

As far as the stimulus is concerned, they think they might be eligible but they have no idea how much they would get, because they'd have to wait until their next BAS to get any real indication. I would urge the government to show much more urgency in this space. As comforting as it is for the families of these residents in this particular facility, other family members need to know that they're going to be able to Skype to talk to residents in aged care. We urge the government to do more to assist in that area. Having looked at the package of support for aged-care workers, we urge you to do more to give reassurance that all aged-care workers will have the protective personal equipment that they need and, if they get sick, they will be paid. These are the assurances that we need to see from government immediately. We welcome other measures that the government has taken, one of which is the expansion of Meals on Wheels. We welcome this inclusion. We've always acknowledged the important work they do, and we welcome what the government's doing in that space.

However, we heard in Senate question time today from aged-care minister Richard Colbeck that 10 aged-care residents and seven workers have tested positive for COVID-19. This is the news I have been dreading since this emergency began because it signals what we all know, and that is that the spread of COVID-19 will be very difficult to slow once it reaches aged-care residents. It is incredibly sad that that milestone has occurred today, but it adds to the urgency the government needs to take. Aged-care residences like my local one have only had negative test results. They know they're safe now. They need to know they can continue to be safe, and they need government support to ensure that.

I'd like to make a few comments about what's going on in my electorate and about the government's general stimulus response and the plans. I want to put on the record that I have concerns that the coronavirus supplement may not be available for some Australian families struggling to put food on the table, particularly given there's been no change to the income test. That is of critical concern. I've said from the outset that this health crisis and necessary government action to limit its spread will mean an economic downturn which will shed a light on the fundamental changes that have occurred across our society in work—the insecure nature and the casualisation. My electorate is ground zero for those changes that have occurred across the last decade of our industrial relations environment, and the Centrelink queues today are part of that realisation. I know that Australians will be shocked tonight when they sit down to watch the news and see those Centrelink queues around the country. This is another part we have all been dreading but knew was coming.

I'm grateful that the government has put some things in place, but I want to highlight a few of the things I'd like to see more action taken on. One of those in an electorate like mine is around New Zealand citizens who've been paying taxes in this country for many years but who, at the moment, don't have access to Centrelink the way Australian citizens do if and when they lose their jobs when things slow down, they have no shifts and workplaces close. I also want to highlight that I have 50 asylum seekers in my electorate who are currently not eligible for any benefits because they haven't managed to get onto the safe haven visa. These 50 individuals will need support. I'd also like to highlight the number of international students I have in my electorate and the fact that they will find work much more difficult to get as they go online for their studies. I'd like to highlight that for the government to consider. I would also highlight, of course, the number of sole traders I have in my electorate. They are feeling abandoned. They want me to say so in this place, so I take the opportunity to do so today. Many have said they don't want to access their superannuation. They want real government support so that, at the end of this bridge that the government is talking about, their business can be re-ignited.

I want to talk to the young people in my electorate and electorates across the country. One of the things that schools spend countless hours on is the things that are never tested. Schools teach socialisation well beyond the preparatory years. We work with young people helping them develop impulse control, we work with them developing pro-social behaviours, we work with them on their creativity and we work with them on their mental health. I want to send a message to the young people who will be finishing school in Victoria and going on holidays tomorrow. Remember to self-monitor your impulse control and your mental wellbeing. Continue to talk to your friends and to trusted adults. You need to think carefully and clearly about those you love and help us minimise the spread of this virus. Think about your grandparents, think about the vulnerable people who live near you or attend school with you, think about the people who are already in hospital needing support, and stay home. When you want to go out, remember them and instead Skype a friend or organise an online group chat. You are incredibly creative individuals. Find ways to connect. You are the most tech-savvy generation we have seen. We know you can do this. Please reach out to one another, look after one another's mental health and continue to find ways to connect.

I want to thank all of the teachers in my local community, who've been working so tirelessly to support our students. Particularly in Victoria, I know how hard they've been working to get the online environment ready for students beyond this school holiday break so that their students' learning can continue. I want to thank them for the time they've spent.

I want to stress to the government that the banks and the mortgage suspension of payments is very, very welcome but, please, banks, don't create caveats that lock out the vulnerable. I'd ask the government to look at people in communities like mine that might be with the smaller credit unions and therefore won't have access to the big four banks and their notions of mortgage suspension. I suppose what I'm asking for is: look at the margins, to the people who are living in those margins, many of whom live in electorates like mine.

When I tell stories of our electorate, I often reference the important roles schools, sporting teams, clubs and associations and community organisations have in building community, of them being the glue that binds us. Without these, over the next few weeks and months, being in our daily lives, things will be difficult. I encourage all to find ways, like I did with the young people, to stay connected to your sporting teams, your concert band, your schoolteachers—the things that bind us together.

I want to alert my community to the great work being done by Wyndham City Council in preparation. They are leading in Victoria in some of the things they are putting in place. If you don't already, 'like' the Wyndham City Council Facebook page so you know what's going on in our local community. 'Like' my social pages and my Facebook page so you can keep up. 'Like' our state members' Facebook pages so that you can keep up. We promise that we will continue to put out information that we hope will be helpful.

Finally, I want to say: we're encouraging everybody to be online, kids included—I am actively doing that—but, please, don't share things that are not real. We've seen in the last 48 hours a terrible story being shared that the Victoria Police have said is absolutely not true. We need to look after one another at this time. We need to reach out to one another—without touching of course. We need to reach out virtually to one another to ensure that what binds us together keeps us together through this. The queues at Centrelink need to be calm. People can use myGov. We'll get through these processes, I'm sure. If you haven't already registered for myGov, then across the next 48 hours, please do. Even if you don't think you need it yet, you may need it in the coming weeks. Being able to do it online and not lining up at Centrelink will certainly be easier.

My office is there to help the people in our community. As we push through, particularly around Centrelink issues, we'll be there to assist. Please don't hesitate to ring the office. We are still answering the phone and we will continue to do so. I think that's it, other than to suggest to this government: we have a pattern of making announcements but the implementation is what matters. Please, don't make announcements that confuse, that promise but won't deliver in a timely way. Resource your commitments. Back up the announcements with action. Don't suggest one thing without guaranteeing it, like the business support that is based on staff but gives no guarantees it will be spent on staff. Please don't create that division between worker and employer. Don't create a scenario where a worker will blame their employer if they don't manage to get that money to them. The government needs to think seriously. Please: the last thing we need from this government is a sense that we are pitching one Australian against another. It is not what we need; we need exactly the opposite. I hope today we've demonstrated our ability to do that in this place and that that's transferred to my community and communicated to communities across the country. Thank you.