It needs to be acknowledged in this place how difficult this time has been for those of us here in Melbourne. People have lost their jobs, businesses are struggling and we are collectively feeling the strain of our long lockdown. It’s been said by others, but it really is true: you can’t understand what this has been like if you haven’t lived it. But we have collectively smashed the second wave, and that is down to the work of our community. Individually and collectively, Melburnians have obeyed the rules. They haven’t agreed with all of them, and many in my community have told me when they disagreed, and I understand and I respect their views. But, because of their efforts, we are facing a much brighter next few months.
At the peak of this second wave, in August, Victoria reported 725 daily COVID cases. Today, I am so relieved to say, we reported just one new case—just one! That is a massive turnaround. The comparison has to be made: at the same time as daily cases in Victoria peaked at 725, the UK recorded similar numbers, at 891. As I just said, today in Victoria we have one new case. Yesterday in the UK they recorded almost 19,000, and they, and many other countries in Europe, are now facing renewed restrictions.
Victorians have managed this incredible improvement through their individual and communal efforts and despite the politicking from the Morrison government. Victorians have been led by a state government that has made the difficult decisions. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been mistakes; of course there have been. But leadership in a time of crisis means taking responsibility. It means stepping up and, where necessary, taking the hard decisions. Clearly, the Prime Minister and his Victorian cabinet ministers think it means something else entirely. If you are a Victorian, all you’ve seen from this Prime Minister and his cabinet is government by press release, by announcement with no follow-through, by sniping drops provided to friendly media outlets. The man elected to lead our country thinks that is the best he can do for us in a time of crisis. Well, how incredibly disappointing—although what else can we expect from a man who ‘doesn’t hold a hose, mate’?
So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the Prime Minister and his government have reduced the rate of JobKeeper and JobSeeker despite the strong need in our community here. Even before they reduced the rate, they’d left out too many people—like the New Zealand-born chef at one of my local RSLs, who’s now worried about how he supports his family, or people who worked at our local university, La Trobe, where the government deliberately designed the JobKeeper scheme to exclude them.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that when childcare centres had to shut in Victoria this government thought it was appropriate to cut the early educators in those centres off JobKeeper entirely. I can’t tell you how many distraught workers—and in fact centre operators, who knew they weren’t able to do the right thing by their employees—I talked to about that decision. Did I get any movement from this government? No. I wrote to the minister and he told me, ‘It’s all fine.’ It’s not fine. It hasn’t been fine. People were looking to you to step up, and instead you stepped back.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that this government left Australians stranded overseas in increasingly precarious positions without a comprehensive plan or a time line for getting them home. And this from the man who built his career on managing our borders! Suddenly he’s no longer responsible for them and for how people come in through them.
Then, of course, there is aged care, the government’s biggest failure of all. I’ve talked about responsibility in a crisis. Nowhere has the failure to take responsibility been more evident than in aged care. We just heard from the member for Curtin how the role of government is to preserve wellbeing, to help people live in dignity. Well, I entirely agree. Where have you been, member for Curtin, during this aged-care crisis? Certainly we haven’t seen the minister. We haven’t seen the Prime Minister step up and take responsibility. I cannot tell you how distressing this has been in my community, how many families I’ve heard say they’re scared about what’s happening to their loved one in an aged-care facility. They haven’t been able to get answers out of this government. I haven’t been able to get answers on their behalf. There has been an abject failure of responsibility, an abject failure to focus on the things that matter during a time of crisis.