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Speech: Statutes Amendment (COVID-19 Permanent Measures) Bill - Second Reading

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I rise to speak in support of the Statutes Amendment (COVID-19 Permanent Measures) Bill 2021. I would have thought, just over a year ago, when we first started grappling with this pandemic, that we would not have had such emergency management measures in place for well over a year, as we have seen, but this pandemic has turned our worlds upside down and provided for a prism to re-examine the way we live.

The bill has some very practical measures that will be ongoing and become permanent measures, as much as we have permanency in these pandemic times. Indeed, the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee Act is amended to ensure that members may join by audiovisual means. I note that the Presiding Member of that committee reflected on the ease with which this has assisted members of that committee to participate in the work of the committee but the technology perhaps being a little lacking at times, and I concur with that.

I point out that, while we were given information in the briefing that that was to support regional members, for those of us who for example have had other requirements and are not regional, whether it is waiting for a COVID test or not being able to be physically in this building, the changes that have been brought about by the pandemic, with the ability to meet remotely through audiovisual measures, have meant that democracy has continued under the pandemic in a way that has given it a real shake up. Certainly, this building and the institution in which we sit sometimes does need such a shake up.

The Acts Interpretation Act, the Emergency Management Act, the Environment Protection Act, the Mental Health Act and many more are all subject to some of these permanent and very practical measures that have become part of our world of living differently under COVID. We have lived now under this pandemic for a little over a year, and it has been a very challenging time and South Australia has certainly risen to the challenge.

I echo the commendation that other members of this council have acknowledged today for Professor Nicola Spurrier, our Chief Public Health Officer, and for Commissioner Grant Stevens, our State Coordinator. They have faced quite testing times, and I think we have been in very safe hands with those two at the helm. I note that we are technically in a police state, however, and the Greens certainly do not find comfort in being in a police state. I would rather we were in a public health state.

I note that other jurisdictions around the country do not necessarily have the police commissioner as their state coordinator or equivalent position. Indeed, the very specific nature of whatever emergency they face then determines who is the lead agency and person in charge. Certainly, from the Greens, in terms of debating the Emergency Management Act well over a decade ago now, if we could turn the clock back, should it be a public health emergency perhaps it should be the Chief Public Health Officer in charge ongoing. For example, if it was a fire emergency, the head of the fire services should be in charge ongoing, etc.

This pandemic has challenged us all. We have been told to stay at home to stay safe. What that has absolutely made crystal clear is that not everyone is safe at home and not everyone has a home. For those who live with family and domestic violence, their homes were not safe, yet we were forcing them to stay there with very little supports, with increased isolation and often with increased coercion.

I have been quite critical of the lack of proactive response. Over the period of time that we have had some of the emergency declarations, there has been a lack in understanding of the complexity of domestic and family violence, but I am pleased to say that that is improving as the voices have been heard of those who represent particularly the women's sector and the DV and family violence sectors in those emergency declarations.

Of course, under the pandemic, just over a year ago we saw the Premier declare that no-one need be homeless in this city. Indeed, we cleared the streets of those who were homeless and living rough just before this time last year, with the coming of winter as well as the onslaught of the pandemic, and we housed people in hotels or homes. We found them a roof to put over their heads and we found them the supports that they needed. We showed that it can be done and we showed that the world can change overnight if we simply reprioritise what we think is important. In that case, we thought it was important to have good public health for the entire community, so we supported the most vulnerable in our community.

At a commonwealth level we saw people on welfare payments lifted out of poverty, abject poverty, for the first time in many generations, and that has now been lost. Should we, like Victoria, face a lockdown situation again, I do fear what will happen now with that lack of support to housing, that lack of a welfare system that has put people above the poverty line rather than plunge them into poverty, and should we need to again be telling people, 'Stay at home to stay safe,' whether or not they will be safe, whether or not they will be secure and whether or not they will even have a home.

This pandemic is an opportunity to build back better. The Greens have said that in our campaigning work across the country but we have shown that political choices are made as to whether people have homes, as to whether people live in poverty, as to whether people have good access to public health. It has laid bare one of the tenets of the public health mantra, if you like, that there are social determinants to health and, in this case, those social determinants have very much exposed what I would call cracks in our social fabric.

Building back better should not mean that we paper over the cracks. We actually have to rebuild and ensure that those cracks that have now been exposed are properly fixed, that people are housed, that people are able to live good and healthy lives and are able to afford food, rent, power, utilities, medicine should they need it, and education should they need it. I have to say that unfortunately I think we are heading back into the error of our old ways.

While the measures in the bill today are good, practical measures, there is no vision coming from the Marshall government about ensuring that people are not plunged into poverty and are not put into homelessness yet again. We are seeing rough sleepers on our streets increase at a rapid rate—in fact, at a rate higher than I have seen in my adult lifetime of living in the city—and I find that to our shame.

I note that NRAS expires soon and I think there is another cliff of increased rents that are about to hit that somewhat private rental market that was supported by the Rudd era reforms that increased the ability of people to pay an affordable rent under that scheme. That is something where we have not seen redress coming from the state government and I think that is, again, to our shame as a parliament.

The real pandemic is coming; that is, we have faced the public health crisis of the coronavirus, we have seen our worlds turned upside down, we have seen shortages of toilet paper in the supermarkets, a twist on who really is an essential worker in this day and age, the fascination with things like TikTok and watching Tiger King, and theyall have their place in the stories that we tell of our woes of the pandemic. I have to say that I will here declare that I did not bake a single loaf of sourdough in the pandemic. I did eat quite a few.

The Hon. R.A. Simms: Neither did I.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: The Hon. Rob Simms interjects that neither did he. I have tasted his cooking and I think that is a very fine thing. What we have seen through the shared trauma, though, is the importance of community and the importance of connection, and the reason people have resorted to those things which I put in a somewhat humorous and trite way is that as a community we are stronger together but we have been forced quite often into isolation, and the most vulnerable of us have suffered the most.

I look on the pandemic as an earthquake that has shaken the very foundations of our social fabric, but what is the tsunami to come? The Hon. Terry Stephens raised this. The tsunami to come post the pandemic earthquake is, of course, a mental health crisis. I am often fond of saying that it is not whether your glass is half empty, it is not whether your glass is half full that affects your mental health, it is how long you have been made to hold that glass. No-one can hold a half full or a half empty glass forever.

The longer we make people struggle to pay the rent, afford medicines and be able to feed themselves, and the harder we make their lives and the more trauma we expose them to, the less likely they are to be able to meet the challenges to come as we transition from this public health pandemic. The mental health crisis to come is what needs our most urgent attention and all our efforts. However, the pandemic, as I say, is an opportunity to build back better: build more houses, build public infrastructure and ensure that we have food and water security in this state to get right the basics of a good social system and healthy welfare state that will create a healthy population, both physically and mentally.

I, for one, look forward to a recognition, as we have seen at various levels of government, of the importance of our public institutions, the importance of public investment and the importance of ensuring that all share in what is in Australia, this developed and very wealthy nation. With those few words, I commend the bill and look forward to the committee debate.

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