Rebecca White MP | Labor Member for Lyons

Tasmanian Labor Leader Rebecca White’s Talking Point on COVID-19.

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on all our lives.

It has caused economic and social upheaval. It has turned life as we knew it on its head.

On behalf of the Labor party I would like to convey our sympathy to those families who have lost loved ones to this insidious virus.

I cannot begin to imagine how awful it must be to be robbed of the opportunity to say goodbye or hold the hand of the person you love as they slip away. This virus is not only taking the lives of people we love but it is taking away our ability to be together as we suffer these heartbreaking moments.

I would also like to recognise and thank all the workers who have continued to support our community throughout this pandemic.

I’m sure all Tasmanians share my gratitude for your dedication to the continued operation of services and the delivery of care to our community at this time.

As we each struggle to make sense of this enormous disruption to our lives and make adjustments we also need to think about what recovery looks like.

When people speak about their desire to “return to normal” I can understand what they might mean, given how difficult the current circumstances are for so many.

There is a natural instinct to regain what we had, to retreat back to what feels familiar.

But “normal” wasn’t great for far too many Tasmanians before this virus, with one in four people living in poverty.

If we think that a “return to normal” is the best we can aspire to upon recovery, then I think we are selling ourselves short.

After bushfires we don’t rebuild houses the same as they were.

We seek to understand what the structural weaknesses were, what made them vulnerable and how to make sure they are more resilient in the future.

And we work hard to understand how we can protect our community from future threats.

This is the opportunity we are presented with as we seek to shape our post-pandemic society. To build a fairer and better Tasmania that is resilient and strong.

Before this virus, Tasmania already had the highest underemployment rate in the country, with too many people piecing together casual jobs just to make ends meet. It’s a precarious way to earn a living, and these are among the people who’ve been hardest hit by COVID-19 job losses, and potentially pushed further into poverty.

This pandemic has also reinforced the importance of public services – none more important than our health system.

But it is not just our hospitals that have been on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus. There are thousands of workers, including the public health officials who have been modelling the spread of the virus and providing advice to Government on how to respond. These are the same people that just a few months ago some would have termed as “non-frontline workers”, vulnerable to budget cuts.

Right across Government agencies, policy advisers have been designing and administering support packages to help businesses and our households and developing policies for the long recovery ahead.

We should remember these contributions and in future question the wisdom of budget cuts that reduce the intellectual capacity of our public service.

Recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows Tasmania recorded the biggest job losses of any state or territory as a result of COVID-19, shedding 7.3 per cent of all jobs in the three weeks between 14 March and 4 April.

These figures don’t come as a surprise given Tasmania’s highly casualised workforce, due to the seasonal nature of tourism and agriculture, and our unenviable claim to the highest underemployment rate in the country.

There is an immediate need for the Government to ensure casual workers, visa workers and students can access income support as the data from the ABS shows they have been hardest hit by the impact of COVID-19.

But the opportunity in recovery is to reverse the trend of casualisation, insecure work and erosion of workers’ rights that means thousands of workers are just one paycheque away from homelessness.

The cost of responding to COVID-19 has been enormous, and rebuilding an economy in its aftermath will not be cheap either.

We cannot expect to find a way back to prosperity through austerity.

We cannot fix an unemployment crisis with budget cuts.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder to all that prosperity is fragile.

We should not rush to go back to the ordinary. We should strive to create something extraordinary in its place.

My Labor team is working hard in consultation with stakeholders, industry, unions and the broader community to plan for a better future.

Let’s rebuild our state with an emphasis on good, secure jobs. Let’s connect our schools and training providers with industry and provide free TAFE training so there is a clear pathway to employment for Tasmanians in areas where we have growth across the economy.

Let’s find ways to harness the kindness and compassion we have seen people in our community demonstrate towards one another during this crisis and improve the social connections we share across the state.

Let’s build houses to provide shelter for those in need, creating jobs in the construction industry and providing apprenticeships in trades.

Let’s help to rebuild lives together as a community, and rebuild communities together as a united state.

A fairness agenda is a good economic agenda and this has never been more true than right now. If people don’t have their health or a roof over their head then they can’t participate fully in the community or economy.

Tasmania can be a beacon for fairness. We are small enough that no one should be left behind and clever enough that we can do great things that make us the envy of the world.

From this tragedy, let’s find a way to build hope for the future.

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Rebecca White

Authorised by Lindsay White, 276 Masons Road, Nugent, 7172