SPEECH: Beyond COVID-19

Today Mark reflected that in this time of crisis, we not only have our eyes wide open to the flaws in our current system, we have a great opportunity to rewrite the rules to fix what is broken and create the type of Australia we want for our future, not just temporary bandages to get us through this immediate crisis.


The current coronavirus pandemic is posing enormous challenges to our society and our economy. Our disrupted lives and those of our friends, families, neighbours and pretty well everyone else, both here and overseas, are never far from our thoughts. Reports of the virus and its impacts are certainly dominating the media and are now virtual water- cooler or front-bar conversations, and the news over the past few months has been bad most places that you look. But I want today to reflect on some of the more positive signs that are coming out of the current coronavirus pandemic.

One of our country's strengths is our resilience and our ability to support one another, especially during hard times. The way that we supported our farmers through the drought and we pulled together in the face of the bushfires, the way that we cared for the injured wildlife that were lucky enough to survive them, these are the things that Australians do. We care for each other and we show courage in the face of adversity.

On the back of the coronavirus, life as we know it is changing daily, but I have great confidence that Australians will face it together and, as we have done before, we will support one another through these hard times. As well as what we are doing to help each other, I am also excited about what people are thinking. In particular, more of us are thinking about what kind of world we want after the current crisis has abated. Certainly, some people are just looking to get back to how things were before but others are anticipating and working for a better future, one that is based on fundamental human values and not driven by artificially constructed notions of what the economy is and how it should work.

What is driving this thinking is that, during times of crisis like this, the cracks in our current system are readily highlighted. Basic inequalities and the way we treat our most vulnerable are being exposed like never before. What has now become obvious to all is that the stronger our public institutions and services are, the better placed we are to deal with this crisis. Cooperation and compassion, rather than business as usual, is what will get us through this and what we need to foster once the initial crisis has passed.

In a recent article, George Monbiot pointed out that, 'All over the world, communities have mobilised where governments have failed.' From my perspective, seeing communities taking action in these ways is really heartening. It shows that people everywhere are ready and willing to embrace positive change. In Australia, this crisis has shown us that the systems put in place to govern our lives can be quickly changed by those that we elect for our collective wellbeing. We can deliver new hospital beds and hire enough people to care for us. We can provide free child care, we can stop landlords evicting tenants and we can tell the banks that they are not the number one priority.

In this time of heightened awareness and cooperation, we not only have our eyes wide open to the flaws in our current system, we have a great opportunity to rewrite the rules to fix what is broken and create the type of Australia we want for our future, not just temporary bandages to get us through this immediate crisis. So that begs the question: what will happen when restrictions ease? Will the government halve the unemployment benefit back to its original level? Will the 400 Adelaide rough sleepers being housed in hotels and motels be pushed back onto the streets when the risk of the virus has passed? I certainly hope not, and most members would agree. We will do what we can to make sure that that does not happen.

There are many other areas where we can take current emergency measures and ensure that they do continue into the future, and this will ultimately benefit us all. But it is not just keeping the emergency measures going, we also have the chance to reimagine every aspect of society, whether it is health or housing, the protection of the environment, our relations with other nations or anything else that we like to consider. Perhaps those multinational corporations that have been avoiding paying their fair share of tax, or in fact any tax at all, can finally be brought to heel. It is certainly possible, if there is political will, and a key driver of political will is public opinion and community action.

Let's use this time to reflect and share ideas about the type of society we would like to see emerge from this crisis. The time is right and people are ready. They are thinking about the future and they have seen what can be done with political will and what we can do when we work together for our shared future.