Parliament – COVID-19

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (10:40):  Australians’ sense of mateship is at its clearest in difficult times, and throughout this once-in-a-century pandemic we have again proven that we are the Lucky Country. However, I believe there is a clear difference between sheer luck and being extremely fortunate. I do not regard Australia’s ability to weather this crisis as pure luck. It has been the result of hard work by every Australian, with everyone working together to ensure that we are in the good position we are in.

One of the lovely things coming out of this crisis has been the attention and care that individual Australians have given to their neighbours. There have been spontaneous groups set up around my community to ensure that their next-door neighbours are okay. Obviously, you can’t see them and you can’t talk to them, but you can drop off food and you can contact them by telephone. That outreach of support and kindness was something that I was really touched by when I myself received a card in the mail from someone down my street saying, ‘Look, I’m here to help if you need it.’ Now, we didn’t need help, but there could well have been someone in that street who did, and that thoughtfulness and kindness is something I wanted to put on record. I know that it wasn’t just happening in my street; I know it was happening all around Australia. People were lending a hand to people that perhaps they’d never met before; they were letting them know that they cared and they were there. I think that is incredibly important.

Now, while I say we’ve done well to come out of this crisis relatively unscathed in terms of our health, I still acknowledge that tragically, at the time I give this speech, we’ve lost 102 Australians. We have 102 Australians who have lost their lives, and there are family members, loved ones and friends of these 102 Australians who are grieving and who are sad. We need to show them our support, love and kindness as well and to let them know that we are with them. In my home state of South Australia, four South Australian families are grieving.

Sadly, around one-third of the deaths across Australia are among the dire consequences of the Ruby Princess controversy. This is a grave reminder of how important coordinated efforts are to ensure the safety of our community. Of the four South Australians to have died, half were directly linked to that ill-fated cruise ship. So, of course, we do need to make sure that we learn lessons from the things that might not have gone to plan and might not have been perfect. We need to ensure that we learn those lessons so that in the future, if we face something like this again, we know what to do.

Of course there has been a big impact on a lot of people’s lives—on those who have contracted the virus and have had to have medical support, or those that have been impacted by not being able to celebrate with their loved ones or to attend funerals. Not being able to attend funerals has been one of the hardest things, as has not being able to visit an elderly relative in a nursing home. I know that has caused a lot of anguish and distress for many Australians, and so to them I say: I would like to acknowledge your sacrifice.

There have also been very anxious people in our community, particularly vulnerable people in our community, people with a disability or chronic conditions, who have been really anxious during this time and really worried about whether they will catch the virus and what that means for them. I recognise that this has been a particularly stressful time. Such uncertainty and difficult times do have an impact on Australians’ mental health, and I think we need to really acknowledge that.

There’s been the economic impact that will be lasting and that is yet to be fully determined. We know that we’re in the midst of a recession, and how we come out of this will be critically important. Industries and businesses have been hit hard, and many are without the ability to adjust their services in a COVID-19 climate. I would like to acknowledge those that have been able to adjust their business. Congratulations and well done. To those that haven’t: we understand and we are thinking of you.

So there has been care and compassion, and there have been a lot of difficulties as well. I would like to place on record my appreciation for all the sacrifices Australians have made to ensure that we protect the health of all Australians. I would also like to list a number of thankyous. Particularly, obviously, our government and our opposition, both on a federal level and on a state level as well, have worked constructively during this pandemic to actually look after Australians and work in the national interests. I’d like to do a shout-out to our medical officials, our chief medical officers, both at the state and territory level and at the Commonwealth level, and those that support them. Both in South Australia and in the Commonwealth, it was a new job for both of the chief medical officers, and I’m sure it has been a huge experience for them. I thank them for their input, advice and commitment. I’m sure they’ve been working a huge amount to flatten that curve.

Of course there have been many other workers. There are the health frontline workers, and they deserve our big thanks. The care, the compassion, the prioritising of need. Those that have been in aged-care facilities, our cleaners and support staff within our hospitals and healthcare settings have been critically important. While many of us have been able to work from home, there have been those jobs we’ve relied on who can’t work from home because they are there to look after us. They are there to care for us, so I would like to say thank you.

To our early childhood educators and our teachers, this has been a very difficult time for those individuals. For early childhood workers, their work didn’t stop. Children kept turning up; those children of essential workers. It’s pretty hard to socially distance in an early learning and care setting. They kept turning up and looking after children. It would have been a very stressful and anxious time for those early educators, but they provided the high-quality care that they always do. For our teachers it was a very confusing time. In a fast-paced sort of way they had to get their online offering up very, very quickly for those students that could stay at home, and of course there were always children that needed to go to school in a physical environment. The teachers and the school staff and the principals and everyone worked very, very hard to make sure children were looked after. Of course, as we move forward, we need to make sure that they are not left behind.

There were also the other workers, such as the retail workers, the cleaners, the transport workers. These workers are some of our lowest-paid workers in the community, but they kept turning up to work to make sure we could get our groceries or to make sure that services were cleaned right across Australia, whether that was in hospitals, GP clinics, supermarkets—wherever there were essential services being provided, cleaners were there to make sure that they were safe environments. And of course our transport workers were making sure that goods got to where they needed to go and that essential public transport was still available for those that desperately needed services.

Of course there re all the emergency services that couldn’t stop. If there were a fire during COVID or if there were a weather event, there still needed to be emergency services like ambulance officers. Everyone had to still be on deck to look after our community, and I’d like to say thank you. And of course there were our support services and volunteers: emergency food relief, mental health and a whole range of other services that were still needed in the community. Those social and support service workers and volunteers in my electorate—and, I’m sure, around the rest of Australia—were working very, very hard.

So while we’re not out of the woods yet, the work we’ve done so far is critically important. Almost exactly 100 years ago, Australia was in a similar position. In 1918, we weathered the Spanish flu pandemic better than other countries, but there was a second wave that was very devastating. So we can’t be complacent. We all need to work together and ensure that we stay vigilant to ensure that this doesn’t happen. To my community and to the rest of Australia, we say thank you.

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