MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE - COVID-19

By Matt Keogh MP

26 August 2020

Watch Matt's speech here 

I rise today to speak about the serious failures in this government's attempt to combat COVID-19. When I sat down to think about those serious failures, I have to say, my problem was containing myself to the five minutes available for me to speak in the chamber today. Since the member for Brisbane has referred to the national cabinet—I wasn't going to mention it, but I am going to mention it now.

If there's one thing I've seen that's consistent about the approach of this government to its much fated national cabinet, it's that Friday afternoon seems to operate something like this: the Prime Minister comes out of national cabinet, tells the whole country in a press conference what has been agreed by national cabinet, and then we have a succession of state premiers coming out and correcting the Prime Minister about how what the Prime Minister thinks is good for the country actually won't work because of the circumstances in their states. So, as a way of getting people together on a videoconference, which I think we're all getting very familiar with—it seems to be very effective. As a way of getting national agreement to things, I think the Prime Minister's completely missed the boat, or maybe he's not attending at all. He's got a lovely prewritten media release to go when he walks out, which bears no resemblance whatsoever to the reality confronting Australians or the reality confronting our state governments right now.

I want to also touch upon this government's digital response. They've made much about the COVIDSafe app, the COVIDSafe app that our shadow minister for health and the Labor side of politics were very happy to support in messaging to the community that we need to take all steps available to us to make sure that we are able, as an entire society, to move back towards the lifting of restrictions, and this was seen as a key part of that. But, of course, we did know, in the backs of our minds, that this government that gave us the 2016 census and this government that gave us myGov was also the producer of the COVIDSafe app.

I point out that, with this COVIDSafe app on my iPhone—it's not a particularly unique type of phone across Australia—I have to make sure I restart the app every time I go into my phone, make sure that I've got my battery pack to go with my phone to deal with the battery charge problem that the app has created and make sure I don't keep my phone in my pocket for too long because it's going to burn a hole in my leg because of the way it's using the battery on my phone. All of these are issues that this government has failed to deal with.

Of course, that's not the only digital blunder we had. We had the minister for Services Australia come out and say that the government was under cyberattack because the myGov site wouldn't work. People couldn't lodge their claims with Centrelink. It turns out, unexpectedly—who would have thought!—if you shut down the entire economy and hundreds of thousands of Australians need to go and get payments from Centrelink, they might need to log on to make that claim. I saw queues down the street—down the block, to the train station, around the corner—from my local Centrelinks because of the incompetence of this government in supporting Australians to get through the pandemic crisis and the economic effects that come with it.

The government finally came to the program with a wage subsidy: JobKeeper. It's a great outcome. We're glad that you did that. We have been happy to support the legislation that enabled it. But for some reason the essential service that is child care—the service that helps workers go to work, especially our healthcare workers—is the one area that, at least, you gave JobKeeper to and then you took it away early. That is capricious, that is unhelpful, that is stopping people from getting back to work. That is stopping our healthcare workers from being able to support those that need their assistance in our community right now—let alone the complete stuff-up of providing those childcare support services with the additional support that they need, leaving them vulnerable for too long. Then giving them an additional subsidy which didn't help with some of the childcare system because it is a differential system. It has different aspects to it. The government could not deal with that issue.

We now have the changes to JobKeeper that are coming forward under this government. Remarkably, what the government has proposed, that we have been dealing with in the House today, is a system to extend JobKeeper—a good outcome—but at a lower rate. What's going to happen under these lower rates of JobKeeper? This is the government's plan for jobs in the country—wait for it—400,000 more unemployed people. That's not a plan for jobs. The government doesn't have a plan for jobs. The government literally has a plan for no jobs. It has a plan for 400,000 more unemployed people. That is what they want the Australian people to support. That's not a plan. That is leaving the entirety of Australian society worse off. That is not looking after Australians, not looking after their welfare and not looking after their jobs.