Community rises to COVID-19 challenge

Published on Wed 13 May 2020 4:12pm

Nothing I’ve seen in my life has swept through as suddenly, changing the way we live and not just resetting our horizon but making the horizon hard to see.

Mr Wilson (4:12pm) — Life in my community has been rattled by the coronavirus pandemic. I know that’s been the case around Australia and also very sharply in other parts of the world. As a local member, I’ve heard from people experiencing pretty much every aspect of the crisis—people caught overseas, being pushed out of work, having their surgery cancelled or having their business shut down; parents teaching kids at home; many of us unable to see older parents or celebrate milestones; and, sadly, some people getting sick and not surviving.

Nothing I’ve seen in my life has swept through as suddenly, changing the way we live and not just resetting our horizon but making the horizon hard to see.

Through all of that, I’ve been surrounded by people and organisations in my community that have risen to the challenge. I’ve seen good humour, resilience, selflessness and great generosity of spirit. It’s been amazing but not surprising.

This health crisis moved quickly from being an item on the news to being the most widespread jolt in social, community and economic life in Australia since the end of World War II. In a matter of weeks, we went from bewilderment to real fear when the rate of infection was taking off. Mercifully, we flattened that trajectory, working together and taking dozens of changes in our stride—safety tape around all the playgrounds; hand sanitiser on all the benches; and toilet rolls on none of the shelves, at least for a while.

Fremantle’s Monument Hill at dawn on 25 April was cold and bare, but candles and poppies were in the driveways throughout the suburbs, and the Last Post played down our streets.

Like all of us, I’m grateful that we’ve managed the health aspect of the crisis so well so far. That is a credit to our system of government and to the conduct and decision-making of the national cabinet, the Prime Minister and the premiers, and certainly, in Western Australia, the leadership of Premier Mark McGowan and Deputy Premier and health minister Roger Cook.

It’s a credit to our health experts and to our health workforce.

I want to acknowledge all the workers on the front line in aged care, in schools, in early childhood education, in transport and freight, and in chemists and supermarkets.

I want to make special mention of the cleaners in my community and across Australia. Cleaners work in all the places that I’ve mentioned—in our schools and hospitals, in community facilities and in workplaces. They were working before we started today, and they’ll be there after many of us—those of us who are still working—have gone home. What they do is sometimes difficult. I think people would agree that cleaners are not respected enough and in many cases are not paid enough.

One thing we know about this crisis is that it’s an opportunity to reflect on the contribution of a lot of workers that don’t get enough recognition. They are the essential workers and we would do well to remember that when we get through this, but there’s a long way to go.

It’s remarkable that we’re now in a position to begin easing restrictions. We have to do so carefully and with discipline because, until there’s an effective vaccine, we will remain at risk of a virus that’s incredibly contagious and, as we know, is a killer.

We’ve been in the survival phase. The recovery phase lies ahead and it will not be easy.

It is risible to suggest that we will snap back. There is a greater risk for many businesses and households that what lies ahead is, in fact, a further snap—not just the prospect of a second wave of infections but the likelihood of successive waves of economic squeeze for businesses and for workers.

The wage subsidy that Labor always said was necessary was implemented by the government in the form of the JobKeeper package, but, as winter begins, it’s turning out to be a small blanket with many holes. It’s all very good to say that Australians have to get out from under the doona, but there are a lot of people who have never been under that doona so far. There’s no support for hundreds of thousands of casuals, no support for local government and no support for many in the arts and creative industries.

JobKeeper unfortunately doesn’t provide support for hundreds of thousands of casuals and for workers in local government, and there’s no support for many in the arts and creative sectors. I am especially mindful that arts and creative workers were among the first hit and hardest hit, and the horizon for them is still well and truly out of sight. It is equally difficult for people in tourism and universities.

All those sectors are strongly represented in my community, and all those sectors have been left more vulnerable to this crisis because they’ve been undersupported by the government in the past.

We need a focus on welding together the imperative of job creation onto the outstanding areas of critical reform in this country.

We need a job builder initiative more than anything, so that we can focus on areas like affordable and social housing, renewable energy, aged care, land management, biodiversity protection, waste recycling, and manufacturing.

I look forward to working side by side with my community in the time ahead, looking out for one another and walking forward through this together.

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