Speeches Chris has made in the Australian Federal Parliament.

Ministerial Statements - COVID-19

May 14, 2020

Mr HAYES (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) (10:48): Morning Speaker and colleagues. As you know, we are in unprecedented times and the responses to deal with the coronavirus require unprecedented effort. We are only going to achieve this by working together. I just want to reflect a little on the contribution from the member for Petrie. It is something we need to learn from the way we approach this coronavirus. It is not just a matter of defeating this virus; we need to actually make sure that we set the platform so that we can address challenges like this into the future and ensure Australia's continued viability.

We must remember that we've got to stay focused on our national interests. We've got to stay focused on the welfare of Australian people. It is not just about addressing the coronavirus; it is about ensuring the ongoing development of our economy and hence why we have supported the government in the various markets they've laid down in the administration of stimulus packages.

I think it's reasonable to say that what has plagued the nation are the levels of uncertainty. They certainly affect the health and the livelihoods of all those we hold dear. I see it in my own family where they have been laid off work, where work has slowed up and where businesses are now having to make various amendments to
the way they're doing business or trying to do business. We supported, for that very reason, the JobKeeper package. I know there are various issues that flow from it—if
you're a university student working one shift, getting paid $50 per shift a week, you qualified for the $1,500 a fortnight as part of JobKeeper; whereas if you were actually
a university lecturer who's been laid off by the university, you got nothing. There are issues associated with that, and the member for Petrie, I think, is right: we must
show more flexibility. But the flexibility wasn't being shown at that point. I think we've got to realise there are issues in the system that can be improved, and simply
because it's been advanced by the opposition doesn't mean the government needs to turn a blind eye to it.

We are not unfamiliar with the issue of stimulus packages to meet economic challenges. You recall in the global financial crisis of 2008, we received advice— probably similar advice that the government has received from Treasury—that we needed to go hard, go fast, go early. On this occasion, I give credit to the government: they have moved in that direction.

When Labor moved in that direction in 2008 and 2009, do you realise how many late-night sittings we had in this place? Every piece of legislation giving effect to stimulus packages was opposed outright on every occasion. The then opposition moved to frustrate every aspect of stimulus packages. By the way, they've dined out on that ever since. The issue about debt and deficit has become almost a catchcry for those opposite.

No, you won't hear a jot of that any longer, Member for Werriwa, because they now know what it's like to be in government when you have to address the hard decisions. But it's a lesson that they've only just learnt, or should have learnt. Just a few months back—this year, in fact—addressing the Business Council of Australia, the Prime Minister described Labor's approach to the global financial crisis as 'wasteful' and 'ill disciplined'. That's a direct quote. A month before that, the current Treasurer was deflecting on Labor's approach to the GFC when he said that Labor were 'panic merchants' and 'economic neophytes'. I had to go and look up what 'neophytes' means, and it means people who are new to a situation. Boy, have they become new to a situation over recent times! Let's go back to the 2013 election. What was one of the core issues there, apart from issue of debt and deficit? They wanted a royal commission into what they called the Pink Batts fiasco. The first thing that Tony Abbott did when he formed government in 2013 was exactly that. He made good on his promise to the community—a royal commission into the stimulus packages and roof insulation. I haven't heard those opposite say anything about a royal commission into the Ruby Princess yet—not a word, nothing about the fact that it accounts for more than 200 cases of the coronavirus in our community and, regrettably, over 20 deaths. By their own standard—provided they don't want to be tarred as hypocrites—wouldn't you think they'd have something to say about that?

By the way, I think Gladys Berejiklian is doing a very good job. I know there is a police investigation occurring into the Ruby Princess. She ensured that there would be a judicial inquiry into this. She is a person who has shown leadership. As a matter of fact, I commend all those who serve on the national cabinet, because I think what we are seeing from them as a group is national leadership.

Having said all that, I want to talk about the jobseeker payment. It is going to be very important to us. I cannot see that, as a community, in six months, on the designated date, this is going to be halved. That would cause sheer devastation across all communities. And we still need to look at wage subsidies, because businesses are not going to just snap back on that six-month date set in the initial legislation. It's clear to me that, despite the government's predetermined date for the subsidies to conclude, businesses, jobs, households and the economy are not going to automatically snap back. We need to make sure that we are investing in the future of this country, and that's not just the future that extends to what we do in six months or to the next election. We need a long-term commitment now to ensure the viability of our industries, to ensure they can re-establish themselves, employ Australian workers and get out and compete on the international scale, supporting our economy. It is going to take a lot of heavy lifting, for generations, by whoever is in government. This will not stop at the next election or the one after that. This is going to take a significant commitment.

There is one other thing I'd like to raise in the short time I have left. Deputy Speaker, you've heard me say on many occasions that my electorate is very multicultural. As a matter of fact, I probably receive, with the member for Werriwa, the majority of refugees that come into this country. There are many refugees currently living in our communities supported by charities like St Vincent de Paul, Food Angel, Inspire Church and other groups because they are getting nothing and yet, like everyone else, they are trying to survive. It reflects badly on us, because these people can't be sent somewhere else. They're here. They're human beings. We must look after them as well.