The COVID Economy

  • February 15, 2021

I want to start by acknowledging the member for Dunkley for moving this motion today on COVID-19 and the economy. The thing we can agree on in relation to the motion is the importance of remembering that the wellbeing of a nation and its people is a lot more than economic statistics—a concept the Deputy Speaker might find hard to fathom, but it is certainly true that there are a range of measures that should judge a nation and how well it’s performing.

But the disappointing aspect of this motion—and it’s a disappointment that we see consistently through what the opposition is doing in this place—is its glass-half-empty approach to Australia. Unfortunately the opposition, at every opportunity, is determined to talk down Australia and its achievements. That is implicit in the wording of the motion we have before us today. It’s a disappointing approach, because if there’s anything we should have learnt from the last 12 months it is how high we can hold our heads as Australians on the global stage. Our response to the COVID pandemic has been to deal with an individual crisis, but through that response Australians and their governments have demonstrated all that is good about our nation and the reasons we are such a success.

It is something I see in my own electorate. I see the greatness of Australians in helping each other. It is true to say that my electorate, by relative standards, is an affluent one. But it is still an electorate where there is so often a need for support for those who are more vulnerable. And I see, through the range of voluntary organisations that exist in my electorate, Australians coming to support each other. I also see that Australia is, despite what the opposition would have you believe, such a successful nation. As part of our duties as local members of parliament we all attend citizenship ceremonies, and it is fair to say that we get such a phenomenal response from those new citizens, who are so excited to be joining the Australian family because they recognise that there is no better place on earth to be making their home and their future.

I particularly want to turn to the health aspects of wellbeing that are being raised in this motion. Again, I think the past 12 months have demonstrated the extraordinary success of Australia in achieving the wellbeing of its citizens. For example, the Lowy Institute has rated Australia in the top 10 nations in terms of managing the health consequences and the economic consequences of the COVID pandemic. Being in the top 10 nations of almost 200 is something we can be exceptionally proud of.

It’s also perhaps a time to remind those on the other side about what the Morrison government is doing to improve not only the nation’s economy but also the health and wellbeing of all Australians, outside the conditions of the pandemic that we’re seeing at the moment. Combined with strong and decisive action taken by this government and informed by expert advice, Australia’s world-class health system guarantees universal access to affordable medical services and is ranked No. 2 in the world by the respected and independent Commonwealth Fund. That is why we have been so well prepared to meet the challenges of COVID.

In addition, the government has continued to make significant investments to support access to high-quality medical services, along with longer-term reforms. Whether it’s our strong support for Medicare—our NHS, but I would argue a lot better and more successful than the NHS—the support we’re giving for life-saving medicines and their availability at low cost to Australians, our achievements in achieving a record level of bulk-billing, our investment in medical research to make Australia the leader it is and can further be in medical research and science, or the work that I’ve seen as chair of the House’s health committee—all of these things point to the incredible contribution that we as a government, that we as a nation are making to the wellbeing of Australians when it comes to health.

The National Health Reform Agreement sets a clear reform direction for all Australian governments to ensure we can help reduce pressures on public hospitals, shift more towards hospital avoidance programs and increase sustainability while improving peoples’ health. The numbers speak for themselves: a record four-year investment of $467 billion into health; investment into Medicare of $119.3 billion over 2020-21; $41 billion for medicines funding and the creation of the new PBS New Medicines Funding Guarantee; ensuring hospital capacity with a $133.6 billion investment over five years. This points to the type of work that this government is getting on with. Of course we can make our nation better—the task of government is never-ending—but we can be so proud of all that Australia has achieved and will continue to achieve.