Legislative Council Thursday 25 June, 2020
Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I move -
That with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on Tasmania, the Legislative Council acknowledges -
(1) The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the people of Tasmania with many losing their jobs and curtailed the personal freedoms of all;
(2) The Government’s response has reduced the spread and impact of the virus;
(3) The death of 13 Tasmanians and offers our sincere condolences to the families and friends of these Tasmanians; and
(4) Recognises changes in response to the pandemic in the following areas -
(a) opportunities to work from home;
(b) flexible work hours and places;
(c) free child care;
(d) greater focus on housing those who are homeless;
(e) developing different ways to identify and respond to domestic abuse and violence;
(f) greater use of telehealth services; and
(g) community support and connection with vulnerable and elderly members of the community.
Mr President, I speak broadly to this motion and focus on a number of areas that deserve a more focused debate. The virulence and severity of the virus, especially on older and vulnerable people, is well known. It has had a devastating and deadly impact in so many countries where the poor, elderly, vulnerable and disadvantaged members of the community have been far more susceptible to the ravages of this virus.
Tasmania and Australia as a whole have done well to contain this virus, but it is not over yet. The threat of a second wave is real and potentially devastating. The virus does not discriminate; however, it is clear that serious illness and death have been far more prevalent in vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.
In Tasmania, very sadly, 13 people have succumbed to the virus. I offer my sincere condolences to the family and friends of these 13 Tasmanians and also note the remarkable stories of survival by some who, despite being in the category described as being in extremely high risk, caught the virus and survived.
The extraordinary and often named unprecedented times we are living through have and will continue to impact on us for some time to come. Some of the outcomes will be with us forever and this is not necessarily a bad thing. The impacts of the COVID-19 coronavirus around the world have been and continue to be profound. I recall listening to podcasts about it back in February and early March. We often become a little complacent here in Tasmania, and even Australia, and we think we may be immune - pardon the pun - to the ravages of this virus as we were seeing it unfold in places like China and Italy. It was beneficial to see this reality because it helped us to take seriously the very real threat COVID-19 could bring to our shores.
In Tasmania, particularly in my electorate, we have an ageing demographic, with a higher than average burden of chronic disease. This made me acutely aware of the very real risk we were facing. Watching what was occurring in northern Italy was truly frightening. Northern Italy is a region with a sophisticated and well-resourced health system and they were seriously struggling. Many people were dying, including young and otherwise well health professionals. I know our Public Health officials led by Dr Mark Veitch were watching this carefully as he and the Government were planning our response. I believe these events in other parts of the world definitely informed our response. Should we have closed the nation's borders to more countries sooner? Possibly, but things were moving so fast, it would have been hard to react much more quickly because a range of measures needed to be put in place and on the ground before any of these measures were actually in place.
I believe the response by the federal government and the state Government was appropriate and proportionate. I also know others disagree. There are those who believe that this whole' COVID thing', as they call it, is a conspiracy. I disagree. I know we have all been deeply impacted by the measures taken to control it. Many are far more negatively impacted than any of us here. We all kept our jobs, many did not - many suddenly had no income at all. I commend both the federal government and the state Government for stepping up to support those impacted through job losses, for the raising of the Newstart allowance to the new JobSeeker payment, which is a godsend for many - some can finally afford shelter. This could well be lost if the payment is cut back to levels that force people to live below the poverty line. To suggest this payment should not be a 'lifestyle choice', as I have heard some federal members refer to it, is blatantly ignorant of the reality many on Newstart are facing. To say these people should get a job, when many struggled to find employment prior to the pandemic, is ill informed at best and absolutely heartless and cruel at worst. To find a job in the current economy in coming months will be even more difficult, particularly for young people and women, with the Government itself predicting unemployment rates of 12 per cent.
However, not all workers were supported. The arts sector was completely overlooked, perhaps until today. Maybe there is a bit of light at the end of the tunnel for the arts sector, but when I wrote this motion, they had still been completely overlooked. Many, almost all, in this sector have struggled during this period. Ironically, during the shutdown, many of us turned to the arts for our own mental health and wellbeing. I challenge anyone to suggest they have not consumed any art over the period at no cost to themselves, because we all have.
The restriction of movement within and around the state and country has been very difficult. We are not accustomed to any such limitations on our freedom of movement. I note that the vast majority of Tasmanians did the right thing and followed the rules. The rules at times were confusing and somewhat contradictory. Much of my time was given to providing clear and understandable messaging to those who contacted me during this period. I and my office have never been so busy and I know my community appreciated these efforts.
I note the huge effort my assistant, Yvonne Stone, put into assisting me in this role. Even when I instructed her to have the weekend off, she refused and worked anyway. Her efforts helped me to stay on top of matters and, I believe, to respond to almost all, if not all, requests that came in, many that took quite some time and effort to respond to effectively.
I commend the Premier for his leadership at this time. He was clear on his messaging and decisive. He responded to Public Health advice with decisions made based on this advice and on evidence. We have not seen this style of leadership in some other places - the difference in the outcomes could not be starker. I also appreciate the fact that he is available - well, he was, at least - to the opposition parties to discuss the situation the state was facing. Both the Leader of the Opposition, Rebecca White, and the Leader of the Tasmanian Greens, Cassy O'Connor, were, as I understand it, constructive in their input and supportive of the measures taken. It seems that may have taken a slight turn for the worst, but I will not give up hope on that.
I hope this level of cooperation can be continued in the important areas where the best interests of the state and its citizens are crucial - areas such as the elimination of poverty, access to safe and secure housing, education and health care. If we are to serve the people of Tasmania well, we need to work together on these crucial areas.
I also appreciate the regular and direct contact I had with the Premier during this period, especially when the north-west outbreak was unfolding and ongoing. It was a very stressful time for all of us on the north-west and having such free access to the Premier, the Minister for Health and other senior officials was extraordinarily important and helpful. The support from the Premier was greatly appreciated and acknowledged by my community. There has been, and will continue to be, concern around the lack of scrutiny of the emergency measures, as we debated at our last sitting. I will not revisit those comments other than to say that as a member of the inquiry in the Public Accounts Committee, I will do my best to ensure that all decisions made with an impact on the state's financial position or expenditure of public funds as a result of these matters will be considered along with the financial impact. I encourage members to encourage their constituents who may have specific areas they believe require additional scrutiny to put a submission in to the Public Accounts Committee inquiry.
I will now speak to part (4) of the motion and I will join a couple together. Part (4)(a) and (b) recognise changes in response to the pandemic and opportunities to work from home and flexible work hours and places. Working from home provides greater flexibility for many workers. Of course, there are many, such as essential workers in health, who are required to turn up to work at a range of healthcare settings, including caring for COVID-19-positive patients, putting themselves and potentially their families at risk.
Likewise, many police officers could not work from home. They had to check on the people in quarantine for a start. Also, delivery drivers, those who work in mining and manufacturing and so on. However, I am aware of many people, often for family reasons, who had requested to work from home pre-pandemic who were told their jobs could not be done from home, only to find they actually could. While this was not always easy - especially if parents were also educating their children at home as well as working - it was possible for many workers to work in this way. The flexibility and opportunities this presents for many families, especially women seeking to re-enter the workforce after having a child, should remain one of the live options.
For workers with long commute times, this can enhance worker productivity. We should actively avoid just returning to the way our work practices were pre-pandemic without question. Use of flexible hours can also greatly assist families. Women particularly benefit from these arrangements, as can men, who may be able to schedule work around day care, early education and care, and school drop-off and pick-up times, for example. Flexible work hours and places reduce the gender stereotyping of parenting roles, enabling men to be more engaged in the care of children and providing greater flexibility for the whole family.
The Australian Government's business website has this to say about the benefit of flexible work hours. This is before the COVID-19 pandemic and obviously persists beyond that -
If you employ people, consider how your business can offer flexibility to achieve a work/life balance for your employees.
There are a number of benefits of work life and family flexibilities, such as:
• reduced absenteeism
• increased productivity
• retaining skilled staff and reduced training costs
• reduced staff turnover
• attracting new employees
• being recognised as an employer of choice
• increased morale and job satisfaction.
With the right approach, workplaces with flexible working arrangements and a family-friendly culture help your employees achieve a work/life balance. If you support your employee, in this way, they continue to support and be an asset in your business.
Further, the federal government's Education, Skills and Employment website also noted the benefits of flexible work arrangements, also pre-COVID-19, saying -
Poor access to flexible work is a significant barrier to women's workforce participation and is a particular challenge for working parents. Access to flexible work arrangements can help mothers stay in the workforce or come back to work after a caring-related break.
The benefits of incorporating flexible work arrangements into your business are:
• attracting a wider pool of applicants when hiring staff;
• creating staff flexibility;
• improving staff work life balance;
• creating a positive and healthy culture for staff and shared sense of community (personal and working lives);
• achieving greater productivity as staff experience less burnout and stress;
• creating a distributed workforce which can result in savings on accommodation; and
• reducing staff turnover and absenteeism.
Now that we have seen this with a significant number of jobs, more than previously thought, by both the employers and the employees, let us not see them lost. Let us not lose the benefits these options can bring, these flexible workplaces and working from home options where they were possible, which is far more than was first thought.
It is not just in terms of productivity but also in progressing gender equality and enhanced health and wellbeing of many employees.
Part (4)(c) of the motion recognises changes in the response to the pandemic in free child care. The decision by the federal government to remove the JobKeeper support and free child care options in July before any other sector receiving support must be called out.
It seems clear from public comment that the Prime Minister was coming under pressure from some of his party to remove this support. He needs to stand up to some of those people. There has been a plethora of comment in all media related to this decision, and rightly so. Publicly funded education is fundamental to the promotion of a civil and just society and access to early education and care should be considered in the same vein.
We always hear the cry, 'But who is going to pay for it?'. Well, it is all about spending priorities. One of the most important investments we can make for our future is the education of our children. Access to early education and care is a crucial part to that, especially for vulnerable children and children from disadvantaged families.
I also wrote about this recently. I firmly believe the cost of not investing in our future in this way far outweighs the cost and lets us down, particularly women and vulnerable children. I note Jay Weatherill heading up - I have forgotten the name of the organisation now - has come out supporting the same things I have been calling for. It was in in our local Advocate just the other day. It might have been yesterday. Anyway, a day or two ago.
I will repeat much of what I wrote recently, which was published in an opinion piece, because it is very relevant to this point -
Public policy should always aim for equity, target vulnerable and disadvantaged families and children and support women's participation in the workforce, thus leading to increased productivity.
The support provided to early education and care during the pandemic was welcome for all of these reasons. Private schools and early education care have a role to play however publicly funded early education and care is crucial to a modern, equitable and just society.
The last thirty or so years of uninterrupted growth in the Australian economy has not seen the benefits spread evenly, with housing and childcare costs rising faster than incomes.
The free childcare announced in April, admittedly aimed at helping parents of essential workers who were desperately needed to keep the economy working, was like manna from heaven. But it has been withdrawn before anyone has had a chance to assess the efficacy or flaws of the policy. It's back to the old dysfunctional poorly designed system.
I am not suggesting that the federal government's recently introduced scheme is perfect, because it is not. It was brought in with great haste to meet a real need. However, this has highlighted the urgent need for a radical reform of early education care in Australia that has been long overdue. The current scheme is fragmented, expensive and inefficient, and fails spectacularly when it comes to paying educators appropriately.
Educators do the most important job in the world, caring for the children, and some of the most well-paid members of our society do not see fit to ensure they should be paid commensurate with the responsibility they are giving those people with their children.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the need for reform and in doing so has accelerated and exacerbated deficiencies in our current approach to early education care.
If we experience what is predicted - that is, high unemployment and an economic slump - noting that we are already in a recession, without reform, this will spell failure, likely closure of many regional centres and a risk of the collapse of a vital sector.
As I have said, I am not suggesting the rapid rollout of the free childcare arrangements during the pandemic has been without flaws. What I am suggesting is we should not revert to the way things were and effectively throw the baby - and possibly the mother - out with the bathwater.
The decision to remove the JobKeeper payment in this sector two months before other sectors will disadvantage women from every angle. Childcare workers are predominantly women, as are those in the margin requiring child care before going back to work.
Many small regional centres will find it hard to keep operating, with many families who use these services having lost employment and income. The risk of further job losses in the sector is real, especially without consideration of the long-term benefits of public funding. Women are more likely to stay home to care for the children when child care becomes unaffordable, further impacting their capacity to participate in work and benefit from the economic recovery.
Children from vulnerable households, many in regional areas, will be further disadvantaged, falling further behind if these centres close and no other options exist. We are letting the opportunity to overhaul the childcare system slip by. It should certainly take precedence over providing middle class welfare of $25 000 per family to those in a position to spend $150 000 on a new kitchen or bathroom.
A not-for-profit organisation, The Parenthood, is Australia's leading parent advocacy group, with a reach of over 68 000 parents across Australia. In a report of a survey of 2200 Australian families released on 1 June 2020, they found that more than half - that is, 60 per cent - of Australian households currently using child care will have a parent forced to reduce work when full childcare fees return. They also found that in 28 per cent of those households the parent who will stop or reduce work will be a woman.
I will quote from sections of the media release published on its website and encourage members to visit that website for more detail. I quote –
A snap-back to out of pocket fees will undermine the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison's stated ambition to ensure women's workforce participation in Australia remains high in the COVID-19 economic recovery ... 'Given increasing women's workforce participation is one of the most effective ways to boost a nation's GDP, we cannot afford a mass exodus of women at this point,' Georgie Dent, The Parenthood's National Campaign Director said.
Almost half (42%) of families reported at least one parent earning less as a result of COVID, with 16% of respondents reporting both parents have seen income reduced. A third of parents (34%) reported that they will need to reduce days or remove their children altogether if out-of-pocket fees come back to what they were pre-COVID. The vast majority of families (70%) reported the government's move to make childcare fee-free for parents had had a positive impact on their family's finances. Among parents who have lost income, 63 percent will be forced to reduce days or remove altogether if fees go back.
ECEC services could not operate viably if a third of families pull their children from care, meaning mass closures will result.
These will be in our regions predominantly -
That puts Australia's economic future in both the short and long term in jeopardy.
We must think more broadly here and look at the overall cost. Participation of women in the workforce benefits the children, particularly those who are at risk, and benefits from access to early education care in our regions where the risks of closure are greatest.
Ms Dent, from The Parenthood, stated -
A PWC report commissioned by The Front Project published last year concluded that $2 of benefits flow from every $1 spent on early childhood education. In 2017, for example, there were $2.34 billion in costs associated with the provision of 15 hours of early childhood education in the year before school. From that, $4.74 billion in benefits were associated with providing this one year of early childhood education.
Let us not lose the benefits that have clearly been demonstrated through this measure, and push for meaningful and real reform of this sector, and publicly fund early education and care as we do education. Clearly, the costs of not doing so were much greater. Let us not lose this opportunity.
Part (4)(d) recognises changes in response to the pandemic, with a greater focus on housing those who are homeless. Being homeless increases not only the risk of contracting COVID-19, but also means that the illness is more likely to be more severe. Homelessness meant it was impossible for these people to self-isolate at home. It was a matter that required urgent attention. I note the Government did respond, with nearly $4.3 million funding for additional housing and homelessness announced on 29 April 2020. That included providing funds to expand the current Safe Night Space pilot, extending the program for an overnight service into a 24/7 full wraparound support operating in Hobart, Launceston and Burnie.
The package also included extra funding to expand Housing Connect's package to provide emergency accommodation in hotels, motels and cabins statewide and increased mental health support services for clients who need this.
The minister's media release stated -
These measures will ensure more Tasmanians have somewhere safe to stay, with thesupports they need to follow public health advice and help save lives as we continue to contain the spread of coronavirus.
These projects, together with the hundreds of new homes and units being delivered under our Affordable Housing Strategy, will provide secure, longer-term accommodation for clients entering the Housing Connect system to the Safe Night Space and brokered accommodation services.
These measures are welcome and necessary. Anglicare's Rental Affordability Snapshot 2020 data was collected just as Tasmania and the rest of Australia were experiencing an escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I acknowledge the action taken by the Premier and the Government to assist people living on low incomes who often struggle to maintain safe and affordable secure housing. The state Government's protection from eviction and expanded family violence services and the federal government's coronavirus supplement to selected income support recipients has been welcome and needed. However, before withdrawing some of these measures, we really need to understand the benefits of these measures and the risks of their withdrawal.
Anglicare's snapshot describes some of the impacts and I quote from its report -
Other responses, such as the closure of many public spaces and the requirement to “stay at home”, will negatively impact our most vulnerable Tasmanians, those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
On the Snapshot weekend of 21-22 March 2020, there were 1,291 properties listed for rent across Tasmania. This is a 52% reduction in listings since 2013. Of this year’s listings, just 145 properties (11%) would have been affordable and appropriate for our households that rely on income support payments. This is a reduction of 67 properties since the same time in 2019. Just a third of the properties listed (444) would have been affordable and appropriate for our households on the minimum wage, which is similar to 2019.
The report looked at the issue relating to positive impacts of retaining a higher rate associated with the coronavirus supplement -
This year’s Snapshot also looks at the impact for people seeking rentals if they retained the temporary Coronavirus Supplement permanently. This would considerably increase the amount of money available for some people. Using the same March 2020 listings, 343 properties (more than a quarter of all listings) would have been affordable and appropriate for our households that rely on income support payments, an additional 198 properties.
We did see in some jurisdictions, innovative and sensible options being utilised to home people who were homeless and living on the streets during this period. These people were at high risk of coronavirus and suffering severe symptoms if they did contract the virus. Some were housed in hotels in some states, including five-star hotels.
I appreciate this cannot continue as businesses begin to reopen and tourism resumes but we must not lose the benefit of safe accommodation for these people during a very difficult time. We need to find other ways.
The Anglicare's snapshot noted -
The State Government should also urgently increase funding to Housing Connect front door and support services so they are able to meet demand across the increasingly diverse range of client groups needing crisis, medium and long-term housing and tenancy support. Given the private rental market is unable to provide affordable homes for independent children and young people and children and young people are over-represented in Tasmania’s specialist homelessness services, there is urgent need for the State Government to specifically provide sufficient affordable homes for this cohort.
The report notes –
While Tasmanians are being told to do their bit to stop the spread of COVID-19 and “stay at home”, thousands of Tasmanians are homeless, living in crowded conditions or unable to pay all their bills due to excessive rents, all of which makes staying at home during the pandemic more difficult. If COVID-19 has shown us one thing, it is the need for strong community and strong leadership. The strengths currently being shown during the pandemic need to be applied to urgently addressing Tasmania’s affordable housing crisis.
Let us not lose the opportunity.
Most believe the Premier has shown strong leadership during this period; however, this strong leadership needs to continue. The problems experienced by low-income and vulnerable Tasmanians, especially those who are homeless or unable to secure safe, affordable housing, will not go away as we begin the economic recovery.
These challenges are likely to become greater with risks of unemployment and many people who have lost employment are finding it hard to now meet their financial obligations.
Whilst the investment in infrastructure and construction is welcome, it needs to be targeted where we can do so as investment that should also build social capital and not only physical structures. In a recent article in The Conversation, Elizabeth Mossop, the Dean of the School of Design, Architecture and Building at the University of Technology, Sydney, made some important observations -
Infrastructure spending is great for economic stimulus, but it has to be the right kind of infrastructure.
These are some of our largest public investments, so we want this public money to work a lot harder to create multiple rather than just singular benefits. As well as quickly providing jobs and the economic benefits of solving the problems of transport or energy supply, stimulus projects need to deliver broad, long-term community value, reduce inequality and help counter climate change.
We must be sure the investment in affordable and social housing is part of this stimulus and not lose this opportunity. Anglicare's report also comments and notes -
The Affordable Housing Strategy and its targets may not be enough. Tasmania needs more than 14,000 social housing dwellings over the next 20 years to meet the housing need of the lower end of the market.
Given the importance of housing for health and wellbeing, it must be our state's priority. This will be particularly important in our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, investing substantially in social housing as essential infrastructure will not only create homes for thousands of disadvantaged Tasmanians, it will also create much needed jobs and assist the economy to recover.
Shelter Tasmania, along with the National Shelter, Homelessness Australia, Community Housing Industry Association - CHIA - and the Everybody's Home campaign are all calling for a timely stimulus package that will provide a much-needed investment in social housing, create jobs and improve social outcomes during the pandemic and beyond. We must ensure we do not miss this opportunity to address the unacceptable levels of homelessness in Tasmania.
Point 4(e) recognises changes in responses to the pandemic in developing different ways to identify to respond to domestic abuse and violence. It seems Tasmania has gone against the national trend with a reduction in notifications of family violence. This, however, does not mean there is an actual reduction in incidents. As reported by the ABC on 16 June 2020, Engendered Equality Chief executive officer Alina Thomas said, 'the reality of the restrictions is that victims cannot get away from their abusers to get help.'.
It is also clear that even reaching out through other channels - phone, email, Facebook Messenger and so on - may be impossible with a perpetrator in constant attendance in the home. In the ABC report, Ms Thomas stated -
Under these conditions, often people's options would have been to keep quiet, to keep the kids quiet, to do what you're told, to pretend that everything's OK.
Advocates say the lockdown allowed greater levels of abuse.
The reality is coronavirus actually became part of the conditions of family violence,' Ms Thomas said.
Social isolation is a tactic that is used by family violence perpetrators before coronavirus … [officially sanctioned] social isolation, endorsed by the authorities, definitely brought in a new layer of abuse.
We do need to anticipate that there will be increased ability for financial abuse as the Centrelink benefits roll back, with the ongoing impacts on businesses and economy so we just need to be prepared. We can't be overly prepared to support victims. The more prepared we are, the better we're going to be able to respond.'
There have been many examples of victims of family violence being less able to report and escape family violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially women in abusive relationships and particularly during the lockdown period. Whilst it is inappropriate to name innovative and different ways women have used to seek support and advice during this period to protect them and enhance their safety, it is the lived reality for many victims that this period has been additionally frightening and difficult for them. There have been accounts of abusers stating falsely to their partners they have COVID-19 and the whole house is quarantined and no-one must leave the house. This is really happening. Many women have feared for their safety, having to be locked up with their abuser for weeks on end, trying to work from home, care and provide education support for their children.
It is difficult to know the full impact of these abusive relationships. However, we know that calls to or information sought from websites of organisations or services supporting victims of family violence, such as 1800RESPECT or Engender Equality, have increased significantly during this period. It is often in the middle of the night when hits on the website or requests come through. It is important that any important positive aspects of service delivery and access to support are maintained and analysis of the data and service delivery during this period be reviewed to ensure all those impacted with family violence and abuse are recognised.
Point 4(f) recognises changes and response to the pandemic and the greater use of telehealth services. There are many health-related jobs that cannot be done from home and require care providers to turn up and work at a range of healthcare settings. However, we did see a much greater use and rollout of telehealth, which is one of the great benefits of this experience. Telehealth is not possible in all patient care episodes, but it does mean less travelling, greater accessibility and enhanced monitoring of patients when properly resourced and utilised.
Some of our less tech-savvy community members may need a crash course in using it and some of the doctors possibly had to as well, but when it is used effectively, it will significantly reduce their risk of catching something else while sitting in a waiting room. They can avoid leaving the house if they do not need to, if they can be cared for in this way. That is a more federal matter in ensuring that is funded properly but it is a positive outcome we have seen. It should never be considered a cheap option. It should be considered as a legitimate health service and be funded appropriately to promote sustainability, efficacy and longevity of the service.
Point 4(g) recognises changes in response to the pandemic and community support and connection with vulnerable and elderly members of our community. It is interesting to reflect that pre-COVID-19, many elderly people would go for days or weeks without seeing or talking to their loved ones. Now, there are WhatsApp groups checking in on elderly neighbours and grandparents, all upskilled in Zoom or some other videoconferencing platform, giving them much more meaningful contact more often.
Whilst there is no substitute for a real hug between elderly parents or grandparents and their children or grandchildren, keeping them safe was much more important. I assisted my elderly parents to see and speak to their grandchildren and great grandchildren for my Mum's birthday and Mother's Day, both occurring during the height of the COVID-19 lockdown. It was something that we probably would not have done had it not been for COVID-19. It took a little while to get Mum up to speed on Zoom over the phone, but we got there and it was just delightful to see her reaction when she saw her grandchildren and great grandchildren in Melbourne.
We also saw many wonderful examples of friends and neighbours, and even those with no previous connection, finding ways to assist some of the vulnerable elderly members of our community. Some who had previously been very isolated and lonely were cared for in different ways by our community. Some did not receive the support and care they needed. However, overall, I believe our communities did work together to find new ways to assist many members of our community. We should maintain these connections and support mechanisms and avoid isolation and loneliness of members of our community most at risk. I also appreciate how difficult it was for family and friends with loved ones in aged care. The physical separation was difficult for all involved in those circumstances, including the aged-care workers.
I accept and note the economic challenges like no other seen in our lifetime. We have seen a significant and rapid change to the way we lived pre-COVID-19. We must avoid losing the benefits of some of the changes initiated to support our citizens in a very challenging time.
The need for an economic recovery plan is clear. Many businesses were forced to close and jobs lost at the stroke of the Premier's pen, certainly something he took no joy in. However, there is a real risk our blinkers will give us a distorted view of the real world. Health and education are downplayed as if they are not fair dinkum industries like the building industry that builds things we can all see. Child care and early education are wrongly held in low regard as if they are merely glorified babysitters, which they are certainly not, as they do one of the most important jobs there is; educating and caring for our future through our children.
The economic recovery plan needs to take a broad, long-term approach that is gender-sensitive. To date we have seen anything but a sensitive and equitable response. We can clearly see that state and federal governments have resorted to giving the construction industry preferential treatment to help the economic recovery. These jobs are important but the industry has been and will continue to be male-dominated. Programs aimed at encouraging women to enter the trades have seen limited progress to date. Investment in infrastructure needs to create social value, not just capital value. Building social housing, improving our education and healthcare facilities and improving road safety are all important investments.
Governments must rethink their approach to Australia's economic recovery. The trajectory we are on takes us back to the past, reinforces old views of what industries are important, reopens gender inequality gaps we have started to close and risks further disadvantage to vulnerable Australians. Publicly funded early education and care should be the cornerstone of our recovery, and certainly something that we should not lose the opportunity to address as we continue to effectively invest in our future.
I thank members for listening to my contribution and I welcome their input.Go Back