Peter Khalil: We have all heard that COVID-19 is an unprecedented health crisis—that’s certainly true. We’ve heard and are now seeing on our TV screens, in our streets and in the supermarkets and feel that this is something that has already affected and will affect all of us right across this country. Here in this place we have our political leaders who tell Australians that we can only get through it by working together, by working for each other. I think that’s a truth that’s been told in this place: we can only defeat this by working together. That is why we’re here. We’re here to work with each other, across the political divide, despite our political differences, to serve the people of Australia, the people who we represent, in their hour of need, in this time of need for all of us.
As we know, in any national emergency or health crisis, the key is to move fast, move hard and respond quickly. Even if it’s not perfect, we know that having a quick response saves lives. That is the key—that is critical—not just as the health response but also for the economic stimulus that is so important to save peoples’ livelihoods. That’s why we supported the earlier package of bills and Supply Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021 and related bills, which I rise to speak on this evening.
We want solutions to make sure that the response and the solution is the best it can be. Australians are now, and have been for a while, seeking leadership and clear, consistent information from their leaders, from the government. People’s lives and jobs depend on it. That’s why we have to act together and without delay. We’ve been very constructive in supporting this package. We’ve supported the whole package. We’ve put forward some amendments that we believe make improvements to the package. That’s part of our role and part of our responsibility to make this solution, this response, the best it can be. While it’s not perfect, it is urgently needed and that is why we have not stood in its way. We have part passed this package, and that’s important to note.
We’ve suggested bringing forward some of the pension payments, the business assistance, more help for students and more help for the arts sector, for teachers and health workers. We welcome the government expanding telehealth, which is a good step forward. We know that all of these things need to be done. We know that Australians are looking at us to make these things happen.
Last night we heard about the range of measures to help flatten the curve. These are measures that will restrict the Australian way of life in many respects, but that’s what we mean by working together. That’s what we mean by sacrificing for others—sacrificing some of the comforts of our standard of living and our lifestyle just for a few months which we hope will help slow the spread of this virus. We want that to happen because it is critical that we don’t have the peak of infections that we have seen in other countries around the world which would overwhelm our health system. That’s why we have pushed for these improvements: some pathologists working on tests; increasing the testing; expanding telehealth as I mentioned—and we thank the government for taking that step; making sure fever clinics are put up now and not in six weeks time; and of course more support for mental health services. As you would know, many Australians, many families and their children, are feeling great levels of distress and stress. It’s hard to explain this to kids, and parents are also struggling with this. An important element that we need to address is the mental health support that is needed. I’m here for the people of Wills. We have kept our office open. We’re not doing face-to-face meetings—I think we have all stopped those—but we are taking phone calls and we’re responding to people and providing the basic information that they need. We’re assisting them in any way possible. People can call my office on 93505777 or email me directly at email@example.com, whoever they are, whether they are a small business owner facing an uncertain future; or a parent or carer; or a casual worker who has seen their work dry up for the next six months, or if people are struggling with their rent or their mortgage or don’t have a home; or older Australians—the vulnerable elderly Australians that we have seen disadvantaged with all of this and who are also at the greatest risk with all these threats—or someone with a disability or a carer; and also artists—there are many artists in my community, musicians and performers whose livelihoods have come to a halt because of the hit on public places of gathering and the arts sector.
All these people are affected. We’re all affected. As I said at the start, we’re all in this together. That means we have to work for all the people in our communities and across this country to get through this. That is a truth of what’s being said today on all sides of politics: that we must be kind to each other, support each other and work together to get through this. I am here and my office are here and ready to help all the people that I represent in my community and any Australian who needs assistance. That’s something we will all be doing for the next few months.