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Speech: The Pandemic's Impact

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 12 May 2020

I rise to speak on the pandemic, its impact and our future. The coronavirus pandemic is having some of its greatest impacts on people on low incomes, temporary migrants and women. It has exposed the vast gap between the wealthiest in our society and people barely making ends meet. It has exposed the crushing weight of inequality that many in our community bear.

COVID-19 has laid bare the systemic racism we suffer from in Australia, with the government choosing to exclude nearly one million temporary migrants from their support packages. This is how systemic racism works. When designing the wage subsidy, the government said they had to draw a line somewhere, and this is where they drew it. Other countries have gladly included migrant workers in their wage subsidy schemes, but, shamefully, not Australia. For this government, it didn't matter whether you were working and paying taxes in Australia before the pandemic hit; the government said, 'Now you're on your own.' The message was clear: 'We don't care if you become homeless. We don't care if you don't eat. We don't care if your mental health suffers. Australia is not responsible for you even though you live here.' It's a $130 billion wage subsidy package, but not a cent for temporary migrants and international students, the vast majority of whom are people of colour.

We have also seen the depth and breadth of the housing crisis in Australia during this pandemic. We know millions of people are living in housing stress and are just one rent payment away from being turfed out onto the street by a system that puts investor profits ahead of all else. Saying the housing system is broken is an understatement. Housing is a human right. It's time for the federal government to lead from the front with big investments to build public and community housing as part of its economic stimulus.

Women have been hit harder than men when it comes to job losses during the crisis. We know that women bear the brunt of the work when it comes to caring for children. Thankfully, the introduction of free and universal child care has been a huge step forward for access to child care. It should be made permanent. The government has finally recognised child care and early learning for what it is: an essential service that we all rely on and everyone can access—not only those who can afford to pay.

We are looking at the highest unemployment rate in decades. The recent raising of jobseeker and other income support payments is the most significant change to social security we have had for decades, and it is a change that needs to stay. We need a safety net that is not punitive but is fair and equal for everyone who lives in Australia. We need to retain the rate and increase and expand other social security payments like the disability support and carer payments.

Higher education is an absolutely critical element of our recovery from this crisis, yet this government has gone out of its way to ensure universities do not have the support they need to survive. It is an ideological attack on universities, motivated by the same contempt for education that has driven their ceaseless attacks on public TAFE.

Despite its devastating impacts, the COVID-19 crisis has provided us with an opening to reset and to reshape our society and our economy for the better. Nothing would be worse than going back to what we had come to expect as normal. We need universal and permanent changes: universal and free child care; fee-free higher education; a social safety net that doesn't leave anyone behind; a housing system that ensures a secure home for everyone; an economy that values the spirit of our community and puts people before profit; and a society where everyone has the opportunity to engage in fulfilling and secure work with good wages, where care and community work is valued, where rampant profit-making and endless growth are faint memories and the true measures of a good society are our wellbeing and how we care for each other, our country and our planet.

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