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Speech: Imagining the world post-COVID-19 (Matters of Interest)

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:28): I rise today to make some remarks on the COVID-19 pandemic and the world that we find ourselves in, and the world, in fact, that we can see through this pandemic. As we know, the Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson, is currently in intensive care. He most recently said that he distanced himself from a previous prime minister of the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher, who famously—or infamously—stated that she did not believe that there was a society, just an economy. The current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom firmly believes in a society and that society is serving him very well right now, with the national health system taking care of him in his time of need.

Coming to work today, I had to note that there were no homeless people on the streets around Parliament House. Normally, I would walk past two, three, four or five at least, lying on the streets on what today would have been a chilly day; on summer days it can sometimes be in plus-40˚ heat.

I commend the Minister for Human Services for her work in finding homes for our homeless. It turns out that with this challenge things that we have been told have always been done this way and must be done this way can be done in different ways. The COVID pandemic is indeed a portal to the country we could have beyond this crisis. The changes we have always wanted to see are within our grasp, and we see a Prime Minister from the conservative side of politics announcing JobSeeker and JobKeeper grants, saying that we are all in this together, looking more like a socialist than—I am sorry to the ALP members—any ALP leader that I have seen in the most recent history of our federal parliament (I will not include all states in that).

We see the rights of tenants, and the rights of people to have a safe house, protected in the face of a public health crisis. We see that we can raise the rate of Newstart, that we can have people not live in poverty, that we can actually ensure that we have a good life for all.

This is a very frightening time. It is a real challenge. It is not unprecedented; we have shut our state borders before. For those who are familiar with the history of the Spanish flu, many of the stories are similar. Indeed, in the library, just before, I was being told about nurses who were coerced into caring for patients in the time of the Spanish flu who refused to do that, being sent white feathers, being seen as cowards. They were standing up for the workplace rights and their own health.

So these are not new challenges, but I hope with the new solutions we have seen and the belief that we are all in this together we can actually lift people out of poverty, that we can ensure that people have a connection to meaningful work and a safe place to live and not be homeless and be protected through this crisis, and that it will be something that we take beyond this crisis as a new way of carving our society.

To those people who have always said that it cannot be done this way to people with disabilities in their workplaces, suddenly we are all on Microsoft Teams, suddenly we are all having to absolutely turn on their heads our workplaces and our working arrangements. Suddenly these things can be done. Suddenly child care is an utterly essential service, suddenly child care is free. It shows that we have the power to create a society that we want to see into the future.

The dreamers do not seem to be so impractical now when we are faced with this public health crisis, but what we should recognise into the future is that the public determinants of health should mean that we have a good society, that people should be able to sleep safely and comfortably at night, that they should be secure, that they should have healthy food, that they should be able to educate their children, that they should have child care when and if they need it, and that they should be afforded access to income and employment.

Spain has just announced a universal basic income—they are the first European country to do so. These are the sorts of conversations we can have in this COVID crisis, but beyond this COVID crisis, because we cannot go back to doing things the way we have always done them after this. Watching and seeing North Terrace cleared of homeless people today shows me that we can do better, and we are currently doing better and we must continue to do better.

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