11 June 2020 - Federation Chamber
Mr DICK (Oxley) (10:50): I'm delighted to follow on from my friend the member for Kingston, and I particularly want to acknowledge the work that she has done in a particularly difficult set of circumstances, advocating and leading on behalf of our early educators and childcare sector. I place on record the thanks of the people of Oxley for her work. I will be focusing on a lot in my speech today. There's a lot to get through, but I want to focus on the people who have missed out and who have been forgotten during this pandemic.
Not only am I the proud member for Oxley; I'm a proud Queenslander, and I want to remind the House just how well my home state have done. As of today, there have tragically been six lost lives, with five related to cruise ships entering our country. There have been 236,000 tests. In our nation, we grieve and remember the 102 souls that have been lost, and we particularly keep them in our thoughts and prayers as we gather in this parliament.
I want to start off by acknowledging the work of our Queensland government and local government officials, who have really led from the front to deal with this pandemic. I place on record great thanks to the Premier of Queensland, the Hon. Annastacia Palaszczuk, who has led our state through one of the most uncertain periods with the COVID-19 outbreak. The Premier's leadership has brought us to a very low number of currently active cases in Queensland, and we hope this streak continues while we are all mindful of social distancing and responsible behaviour.
I've been so proud and honoured to be the member for Oxley during this time in our nation's history. In the first weeks, when the pandemic hit, I held conversations with local community and business groups, churches and organisations right across the electorate. What I saw was an outstanding contribution from all our schools, small businesses, cultural groups, volunteers and faith leaders from across the Oxley electorate, all pitching in together. The community has shown great resilience during this difficult time, but it has not been easy. I think of the 13,000 small businesses in the Oxley electorate and I think of all the jobs and businesses that have been lost. I think of the long lines outside the Centrelink offices. I think of the early childhood educators that are still in need of support. We know that there are literally millions of Australians that have missed out on income support. Whilst Labor offered its support for the government's response, we know that the one-size-fits-all approach simply didn't cover everyone, and many Australians have been left behind.
With 13,000 small businesses in the Oxley electorate, and with our hardworking chambers of commerce, the Centenary & Districts Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, I was really proud to see them pull together and make sure that they are still delivering outstanding services and businesses to many in the community. I partnered with some of our state members to make sure we did a Tuesday check-in, which was an awareness campaign that we did so that the community knew which businesses were open, which supports were available and how we could shop local and buy local. The more we do that, the more we keep money circulating in our local economy, the more our businesses will survive and grow. We know—and I know, coming from a small-business background, with my parents running small businesses—that small business is the backbone of our economy. They are the unsung heroes, the mums and dads who take a risk, go out and enjoy free enterprise with the hope of improving their lives and their families' lives. We know how many of those people have been impacted by COVID-19. So I salute the businesses in the Oxley electorate and I thank them for their service and their dedication to employment and to providing an economic support base for our community. I know they're not out of the woods yet and I stand shoulder to shoulder with them as we get through this.
Over the last month I've been in contact with our early childhood educators and childcare centres. I know that after some of the most difficult employment situations they were left stranded by this government. The announcement of so-called free child care was a headline but it actually didn't deliver free child care. The most challenging thing is that we've seen people trying to access JobKeeper payments, and now, when they have finally got jobseeker, the government has announced a broken promise, to withdraw jobseeker. Now, just when they're back on their feet, we're seeing what I think is a pretty cruel measure by this government for a sector that, more than any other, has delivered support and care for those children of frontline workers. I think they are being treated as second-class citizens. They're harsh words, but it needs to be said. The stress placed on these workers and their families is unfathomable, and the mental health of our community continues to be at the forefront of what I stand for.
My electorate is extremely diverse and is home to Australians of many backgrounds, with around 50,000 people who were born overseas or had a parent born overseas, and many ethnic and religious backgrounds. One of the key areas that I've been most disappointed with in the government's response, though it hasn't had a lot of cut-through or a lot of headlines, is the way that we have treated international students. I've got a number of churches and welfare organisations that have had to fill the gap because this government has refused to take action on the care and welfare of international students. I recently visited Riverlife Baptist Church, whose members have generously donated thousands of dollars towards food parcels, financial relief and other assistance for many international students who they are connected with. We know the contribution that international students make to our Queensland economy and the national economy, but sadly many of these students have not been eligible for JobKeeper, jobseeker or any assistance at all. The fear and the concern by so many international students, who haven't been able to return home because of closed borders and who want to remain in Australia to continue studies but are financially at breaking point—I've heard stories about students being exploited, students who have been evicted from their homes, the whole tragedy. We as a society and a country must do more to look after and protect the most vulnerable, and right now some of those people are international students.
As I said in my earlier remarks, the state governments have played a huge part in delivering the COVID-19 response, and they continue to play a crucial role. I want to take a moment again to acknowledge the work of the Queensland government alongside the newly appointed Deputy Premier and health minister, Steven Miles, and the new Queensland Treasurer, Cameron Dick, who happens to be my brother as well in his spare time. They have continued to serve Queensland well throughout this unprecedented time. Early on the Queensland government took the lead and released their own response website. This helped direct Queenslanders to one place for information to help the most vulnerable in terms of the support they receive. Having pledged a $3 billion package in funding for jobs and businesses, rental assistance, utilities and a job finders program, the Queensland government really has been at the forefront, the gold standard, when it comes to the response. We've also seen a $17 million package from the Queensland government directed to the University of Queensland for vaccine research and production and a further $28 million for mental health support services.
As I said, the work that the Premier of Queensland has undertaken alongside the national cabinet has been absolutely outstanding during this difficult time. We often say that Queensland not only has flattened the curve, but it has smashed the curve. It has amongst the fewest cases of COVID-19 in the country. This has had some strong reactions across the community, but the Premier has always indicated the imperative that we work together to respond to this health crisis so that we can tackle the economic crisis that Queensland will no doubt face as a result of this national pandemic.
I also want to quickly acknowledge the work of the Care Army, which was set up by the Queensland government and which enabled thousands of Queenslanders to come together to help, just like we did during the recovery from the 2011 floods. The Care Army has put Queenslanders back in the hands of those who can help each other, and particularly those who are most vulnerable, such as the elderly and those who have lost their jobs. So while we're not over this yet and we've still got a long way to go, I pay credit to all the volunteers and community groups in the Oxley electorate, those wonderful people that call our community home.