26 August 2020

I rise this afternoon to speak on the shortcomings of the government's ongoing COVID-19 response. The first thing I would note is that they have done their very best to not allow the parliament to make a response to COVID-19. It is an ongoing source of frustration and genuine democratic objection that people who were elected by 110,000 Australians to come to this place and put their views and ensure that their needs are looked after have been so shut out of such an important process, at such an important time of policymaking for this country, on a policy that will have consequences for decades to come. So the first thing I wanted to note is the government's petty small-mindedness in the way they have gone about the business of Australian democracy and in the way they have conducted themselves with respect to parliament this year.

There is a difference between politics and governance. Politics is the art of the possible. It's how you go about policymaking. But good governance requires both an opposition and a government. It requires members from all parts of the country, who have a diversity of views and different experiences, to work together. We on this side of the House have done our very best to be constructive and to work together where possible. But, week after week, month after month, we have found that parliament has been cancelled and there has been a transfer of powers, with decisions that should rightly be made by the parliament being made by one minister alone, transferring things that should be in legislation to regulations. Things are being decided, for example, by the Treasurer, at the stroke of a pen, rather than through a vote in parliament by those elected by the Australian people.

The Prime Minister says that he isn't interested in the politics of the pandemic, but I do not think it is politics to ask genuine questions that people ask us, as their representatives, to put and to consider with respect to a policy response. For example, is it politics to try and improve the disgraceful state of the private aged-care system in this country? No, it isn't. Is it politics to try and support young people through the second economic crisis of their lives? No, it isn't. Is it politics to ask the government what they're going to do for the people that they have chosen to exclude from JobKeeper—people like casual workers, childcare workers, staff at universities and the dnata workers, as part of our broader aviation workers, who are in severe financial stress after the events of this year? When you have chosen to exclude them from a program, is it politics to ask what you are going to do for them instead? I do not think it is. I do not think it is unreasonable for us to ask those questions and to expect legitimate answers from the Prime Minister in places such as question time.

In the time I have left I want to briefly touch on two areas that are of crucial concern to the people in my electorate of Lilley, the first being mental health. The member for Brisbane and I literally share road borders. I have the northern half of the road and he has the southern half of the road. It was news to me that he has had an outpouring of people writing to thank him for the dynamic and agile response of the government, because on the other side of the road, when those neighbours are taking their wheelie bins out and consulting with my constituents, there seems to be a very different experience. With respect to mental health, we know there have been shortcomings in the government's response to this emergency. We know it must be a priority. They've said that it will be a priority, but that is not being backed by the funding and the policy heft that is needed to address this problem.

We welcome absolutely the efforts that they have made so far, including those announcements and the things that have happened in recent weeks in Victoria, but more needs to be done. I did a town hall with my young people last week ahead of this sitting of parliament to make sure that I was across what they wanted to be raised in this place. They said mental health was their No. 1 concern. Specifically, young people are going to places like headspace to get support. I had a woman, Kayla, who's in her early 20s, say that she went at a point when she felt like she really needed help—so probably a long way beyond when she should have or could have first gone—in May and was told that she could not get in until September. When she said that, the nodding across the Zoom windows was emphatic. Everybody is having a universal experience of having to wait three months too long to get support, and that's at the point when they already have recognised that they need it. We need to do a great deal more.

I'll wrap up by saying that the mental health crisis doesn't stop at the Murray River. The mental health crisis is real for young Australians right across the country. We need to step in—this parliament, this sitting—and provide more funding immediately.