Senate - Matters of Public Importance - COVID-19

 

Senator STOKER (Queensland—Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Assistant Minister for Women and Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations) (17:11): Wasn't that an interesting meander that demonstrated remarkably little understanding of the way that our federation works or indeed the interests that all Australians, including the federal government, might have in section 92 of the Constitution, which provides, among other things, that intercourse between the states should be absolutely free? For those who don't read the Constitution for fun, that means the movement of people and goods around this country should be absolutely free. To suggest that that's an indulgence that only a Western Australian is able to engage in is itself a kind of novel interpretation of the way one might think about our nation's founding document. In any event there's no reason why our Prime Minister should be accused of just about any of the things in the speeches from those opposite. In fact, I think this is a prime opportunity to spend some time thinking about the achievements of this government in what has been a really difficult time. COVID has created some enormous hardships for many Australians, and I'm thinking of the Queenslanders who have been in lockdown for the last week—and our family was just one of many who went through that experience—the Sydneysiders and Victorians who are in a similar situation. It's an enormous hardship to be locked down, particularly for those who don't get paid on the times they don't go to work. The actions of this government have been necessary to keep our economy alive through this time. It is opportune to reflect on the way Australia's health and economic responses have quite literally been world-leading. We have managed to avoid the kinds of COVID-19 death rates that have been seen in the UK and in the USA. In terms of the number of people who have passed away, those rates have been 50 times that experienced here in Australia. At the start of the pandemic the coalition introduced the largest economic support measure in Australian history—JobKeeper, which helped to keep 3.8 million Australians in a job. That has meant our economic performance has been vastly more resilient than that of any of the other OECD economies that have gone through this experience. We are—this is quite significant—the first advanced economy to have more people employed in the post-COVID period than there were pre COVID. Over 74,000 more Australians were in work in March 2021 compared to March 2020. That's not to take away from the fact that recent disruptions will, no doubt, have their impact, but it shows the way that this government has done what's necessary to support Australians through the economic hardship of lockdowns and we continue to do that. There are a range of new measures in place designed to help get Australians through this period. Our supports have never been set and forget in the way that those opposite might think. The new level of the COVID disaster payments and the income support payment recognise the significant impact that the delta strain has had on communities, businesses and working people. The COVID disaster payments recognise that. We've already processed more than 1.4 million of those, paying out more than $1.33 billion to working people in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. There's an income support payment. All of this is there to help get us through the plan we are implementing to vaccinate all Australians in this country who want a vaccination. We're insistent on this being voluntary. We don't forcefully vaccinate people in this country, but we encourage it and we think it is the responsible thing for people who are in the right health condition to do. We're going to encourage people to do that and to do it in the nation's interest.