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Senator’s Statement, Supporting Victorians through the pandemic, 11 November 2020

Firstly, on this Remembrance Day, I want to acknowledge all serving defence personnel, our veterans and, of course, the tens of thousands of Australians who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The COVID-19 global pandemic has presented the Morrison government with one of Australia’s greatest national challenges. Lives have been lost, our economy has been dragged to its knees and the financial and mental health toll on so many Australians has been beyond anything we have experienced since, perhaps, the Second World War. From the outset, our government’s focus has been to protect lives and livelihoods. This has been our mission, this has driven all of our decisions and this has resulted in Australia combating this pandemic better than, perhaps, any other country in the world.

At the beginning of 2020 we had drought, bushfires and floods. In our 2020 budget, the Morrison government is delivering the economic lifeline that Australians need to get through the course of this virus and to forge our economic recovery.

Led by the Prime Minister, our government has focused on what we need to do to reopen the economy and to keep it open, a COVID-safe economy. We are seeing strong signs of that momentum and growing confidence in our economy—a key driver of investment and of jobs growth. In the last four months 450,000 jobs have been created. Sixty per cent of those jobs have gone to women and 40 per cent to young people. Of the 1.3 million people who lost their job or who were stood down on zero hours, I am very pleased to report that 750,000, or around 60 per cent, of those people are now back at work. When the national cabinet meets again on Friday, the Prime Minister will continue to show the leadership that this country requires, working with the state premiers and first ministers to chart the course for recovery.

It is this government’s job to stand by Australians, and that is exactly what we are doing. That is why we are providing billions of dollars of support in programs such as JobKeeper, JobSeeker, JobMaker, tax cuts for 11 million Australians and support for young jobseekers, apprentices, trainees, pensioners, seniors. In relation to JobSeeker—a very important measure, one of which we are very proud—as we have announced, the Morrison government will extend the temporary enhanced support through the social security system for a further three months through to 31 March next year, as our economic confidence and momentum builds. As part of that extension, the coronavirus supplement will be paid at a rate of $150 per fortnight between 1 January and 31 March. The supplement is paid to every jobseeker on top of the base rate, effectively increasing the rate to $715 per fortnight.

Throughout this period one of the most important initiatives has been JobKeeper. Everywhere I go so many Australians talk about this being an incredible lifeline. This has allowed 3.5 million Australians to obtain an income to support their families, to retain their dignity and, crucially, to keep a connection with their workplace and with their employer. The investments that we have made in JobKeeper have amounted to some $101 billion. Of course, this has been so significant in increasing incomes and confidence and supporting households and businesses to get back on their feet.

The package of measures that we have delivered throughout this year and as announced in our budget are expected to result in economic activity being 4.5 per cent higher by 2021 and the peak of the unemployment rate being lower by around five percentage points than otherwise would have occurred. Without the government’s economic support, the unemployment rate would have risen and remained above 12 per cent throughout 2020-21 and 2021-22. And I have to say, on our watch, we were not prepared to let that happen.

Elderly Australians have been some of the most vulnerable, and I’m very proud of the work that the Morrison government has done to support elderly Australians, including $1.6 billion to assist senior Australians in aged care during this pandemic. This includes such important measures as quality and safety monitoring investment, support for retaining the aged-care workforce, the provision of an additional surge workforce, assistance to the sector with additional costs and funding to support older Australians to stay at home as well as the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre, which, as we know, needed particular support due to what happened in my home state of Victoria.

The mental health of Australians has also been a critical focus of our government, and, I have to say, I think it’s been one of the most pressing issues in our community.
We have responded with substantial investment, including providing more than $300 million to support a doubling of Medicare funded psychological services, which have been so instrumental in keeping people okay—though we acknowledge that this has been so tough for so many people.

Our military has provided the nation with outstanding service during the pandemic. I put on the record again that it remains one of the most regrettable and tragic decisions of this period that the Victorian government did not take up our offer of ADF support and properly and responsibly plan for Victoria’s hotel quarantine program, which, as we now know, became a disaster. As has now been revealed, this scandalous hotel quarantine program has cost my home state of Victoria, in terms of dollars alone, $195 million against the original allocation of $80 million. And, as we know, and as the evidence has told us, more than 800 people have died as a direct result of the failures in hotel quarantine. That’s more than 800 people, compared with 55 deaths in New South Wales. As the Treasurer has rightly said, the comparison for us as a state, in Victoria, is not with other countries—not the United States, not the United Kingdom—but with the performance of other states such as Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales. I also want to put on the record that my heart goes out to the family and friends of those who have lost their loved ones.

I also want to briefly raise concerns, in relation to the hotel quarantine inquiry, about the very significant waste of taxpayers’ money we have seen in the state. There’s been a declaration that legal fees alone have cost several million dollars. However, I suspect that, based on the duration of the inquiry and the number of lawyers and law firms involved, those costs are going to blow out very, very substantially. I’m also very concerned to see that in my own region, at the Sands Hotel in Torquay, which is now in receivership, an agreement was reached between the Victorian government and the hotel for payment of 55 rooms over two months, involving more than $500,000 of taxpayers’ funds, and not one room was ever used. Even though one month’s purchase of rooms occurred and no rooms were used, such was the lack of safeguard of taxpayers’ dollars that the Victorian government turned around and paid another month for another lot of rooms that were never used. This is another example—where are the checks and balances and the due diligence? Much more needs to be known in relation to the management of the hotel quarantine inquiry.

I have been profoundly disappointed by so many of the answers that we have seen in the hotel quarantine inquiry. I think there are very major issues that have been raised in relation to the shortfalls of that inquiry, including the many responses that we’ve seen from members of the Andrews government, such as ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I can’t recall’. I think it’s absolutely incumbent on the head of the inquiry, Commissioner Coate, to demand more answers than we have seen to date, because Victorians deserve those answers.



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