Covid-19 emergency response

Mr DULUK (Waite) (12:39): I also rise to make a few comments on the COVID-19 Emergency Response Bill 2020. As we all know, the coronavirus has had an unprecedented impact on all Australians. COVID-19 has changed our lives: we will not be commemorating ANZAC Day this year in our usual manner; businesses have closed; many Australians are out of work; footy, whether it be grassroots footy or the AFL, has been postponed; Easter religious ceremonies are being celebrated via live stream; and our school system is traversing very difficult waters for both teachers and students at the moment.

Except for those Australians who have lived through conflicts and world wars, for most of us this is the very first time that our everyday lives have been impacted to such a degree. Understandably, there is significant concern and anxiety throughout the entire community, but I am confident, as all of us are in this house, that if we continue to play our small part and work together we will get through this. As Her Majesty The Queen said on Sunday, 'We will succeed'.

Obviously, we found out this morning that a South Australian passed away as a result of COVID-19. Losing a loved one, as we all know, is very difficult, but to lose a loved one to COVID-19 must be truly distressing. Not being able to celebrate that person's life in the usual manner and the nature of the death must be terribly heartbreaking, so my condolences to that family.

I would also like to offer my sincere gratitude to all South Australians who are working hard on the front line to tackle this coronavirus. Thank you to our healthcare workers at the COVID-19 testing clinics, at hospitals, GP clinics and all other health facilities. Thank you to Associate Professor Nicola Spurrier and her SA Health team for leading us through this crisis. It is fantastic to see SA Health utilising vital community assets such as the Repat site in leading the way for drive-through testing for COVID-19.

To all members of SAPOL, thank you. To those who work in emergency services, thank you. Thank you to the teachers and the childcare workers across the state. Thank you to the staff at all our aged-care facilities who are looking after our vulnerable South Australians, especially those in aged care, where they have to socially isolate and, further to that, cannot be visited by family and friends; it is extremely difficult.

Thank you to the staff in our supermarkets during these times of extra demand. To echo the words of the Prime Minister, I think we all need to calm down when it comes to the issue of buying toilet paper. We manufacture toilet paper in South Australia, at Millicent. There is plenty for everyone, and I think as South Australians we must ensure, especially on this issue, that we apply our common sense. Thank you to all the South Australians who are assisting in dealing with this pandemic. To all of you, I pass on the gratitude of the people of Waite. You are the front line of protecting the most vulnerable in our society and keeping us all safe as a community.

As I said and as has been mentioned today, it has been a very difficult couple of weeks and months for many South Australians, especially those who feel socially isolated, are out of work, have closed their businesses or whose future is uncertain as a result of COVID-19. We have seen unprecedented change, and we have seen it evolve rapidly. So many businesses in my electorate have been adversely impacted, forced to close or have lost their jobs due to the regulations put in place to keep our community safe.

It is an incredible sacrifice for all employers and employees, particularly small businesses, mum-and-dad enterprises that work tirelessly day and night and struggle at the best of times. Unfortunately, this is not the best of times, as we are seeing more unemployment, businesses close and a sharp increase in financial stress experienced by South Australians. There has also been an increase in break-ins at local businesses in my community, and just around the corner from my office, as recently as a couple of days ago. In fact, these callous acts are making a terrible situation worse at a time when we are seeing many unoccupied retail spaces throughout our communities.

We should be lifting each other up at this time, not tearing each other down. As South Australians, we all have a role to play in that regard. This is why I think the support from the Australian government and our state government is indeed welcome and timely and, dare I say, visionary. The federal government's total support for the economy is $320 billion across the forward estimates. The stimulus packages, JobKeeper payments and other measures will help to secure as many jobs as possible and support workers, businesses and the wider community during a time of unforeseen challenges to our economy. Steven Hamilton, a visiting scholar at ANU, has said that the JobKeeper initiative 'will keep many businesses afloat and connected to their employees, which are critical to a speedy recovery.'

It is also vitally important that people have jobs. Work and what work means to so many people is important. It keeps communities strong and society even stronger. Allowing that connection to remain between employees and employers, people feeling useful and making a contribution to our economy, to our community and to our society is so important.

I am particularly heartened to see the new Jobs Hub site, which helps connect Australian jobseekers with job opportunities in a range of industries. While, unfortunately, many businesses are reducing their workforce, other areas need more workers to meet demands in their particular sector. Connecting workers with available jobs during this significant downturn is essential to keeping our economy going and it is essential to ensuring we can continue to meet consumer demand.

For the last few weeks there has been a lot of discussion around the community and the business sector in regard to the treatment of rental agreements between landlords and tenants. It is good to see that this is being formalised in the bill before us today. These measures will provide certainty for commercial and residential tenants and landlords during such an uncertain time. Among other measures, landlords cannot evict or increase the rent for tenants who are suffering financial hardship as a result of coronavirus. In the case of commercial leases, the Small Business Commissioner can be called on, in the event of mediation, as to whether or not a tenant is suffering financial hardship.

I know a lot of businesses in my electorate will be grateful for these proposed measures. We are seeing the rollout of this as of today, but I sense this is very much a work in progress. How a strip shop in suburban Adelaide is treated and how it goes about negotiating with its landlord will be very different from how a tenant in a Westfield site negotiates with the landlord. This is very different from landlords who rely on rental payments as their only source of income.

Of course, they may have significant financial debt on their business structures as well. I think this is going to be a very fluid arrangement. Certainly, I have no doubt the government, and especially the Small Business Commissioner, where possible, will be looking to do the right thing by everyone involved. As business owners worry about a loss of income, their employees' welfare and the unknown future, it is of some comfort to know that they do not have to be concerned about rent at this time. I think that will be well received across the board.

The bill also addresses a wide array of matters that are essential to keeping our state running and supporting those who need assistance. This includes protections for residents of supported residential facilities to help ensure that they are not left homeless during this critical time. The member for Hurtle Vale touched on that in her contribution. We have many homeless in our community.

It is wonderful to see the government and the not-for-profit sector reaching out at the moment. What we are seeing now is a change in attitude and a change of policy. As we come out of COVID-19, I am sure there are better ways in which we can look after those who are homeless, those who are marginalised and those who suffer the stigma of mental illness. This package also provides for the streamlined ability of the state government to pass on financial support to those who need it most.

During the recent bushfire season, affected Australians were sometimes left waiting extended periods of time before receiving financial aid from government. I welcome the government's move to streamline this process to help those impacted by coronavirus. I stress that these measures throughout the omnibus bill are meant to address the adverse impacts of COVID-19 on our community and on our Australian way of life. I would expect temporary measures and changes that are being proposed to revert back to the normal course and naturally to be reviewed at the conclusion of any COVID-19 declarations.

With this bill, South Australians are placing enormous responsibility into a few very specific hands. This power and responsibility for the passing of any emergency measures needs to be used cautiously and carefully for the benefit of our people. Parliament must always remain sovereign, as it is parliament that is responsible to the people.

I understand that the member for Florey is proposing a series of amendments, which have my broad support, especially in relation to the termination of emergency powers under the bill. In the amendments, I believe this means that if the government believes the emergency provisions in this bill require extension beyond six months, then parliament will have to reauthorise that by further legislation. This is an addition to other aspects of the bill, which make it clear that the powers that have been granted in this bill must not continue beyond the extent of the emergency declarations under the Emergency Management Act and, indeed, the other acts covered in this omnibus bill.

We all have our part to play. While the response to COVID-19 here in Australia is one that is driven by our national and state governments, it really comes down to the part played by each person in their own home and within their own community. In these challenging times it is important that we, as a community, continue to support each other as best we can. I really want to encourage South Australians to continue to shop locally and support local businesses and, importantly, local jobs. It is also important that we stay in touch with family and friends. Being physically distant does not mean we should become socially disconnected. Looking after our mental health and physical health is so important.

With just over 400 confirmed cases in South Australia, I am proud of the efforts of all South Australians to stop the spread. However, we cannot be complacent; we must all play a part in doing what is best for our families, our community and our country. The sooner we can do this, the sooner we will be able to be on the other side of this crisis. I am confident that by working together we can achieve this.

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