Take Note of Answers - COVID-19

Before I get to the substance of my contribution, taking note of the questions asked by the opposition today, I too would like to commend the government and all governments around Australia—indeed, the entire Australian people—for how they have responded, combined and acted over the past two months. It's perhaps becoming too easy to forget that two months or so ago, when we left this place and basically suspended at least normal operations of the parliament, we had our cases growing at well above 20 per cent a day.

It was very much on an exponential growth path. If we had continued on that path, hundreds of thousands of Australians would have been infected and thousands more would have died, unfortunately. It has been a remarkable turnaround. It has been, at least in part, testament to the strong response of the Australian people and the combined and consistent actions of Australian governments—this one here in Canberra but also governments right around the country.

I take some heart today that, in the only way possible for an opposition, those opposite also paid some credit to the government for its actions over the past couple of months. There was very little—indeed, I didn't really pick up any—criticism in question time of what the government has done over the past two months in response to this global pandemic. The substance of the opposition's points today were all about what we might do, or what they fear we might do, in the future. There was very little, if anything, about what is actually being done.

I do take some heart from the fact that I know an opposition can't come into question time and put up dorothy dixers and suggest what a great job the government has done. That would perhaps be an incorrect application of the tools here for us as senators. The opposition is here to hold the government to account; so it can't just come in here and provide bouquets to the government—a government that I think has done a pretty good job, which the Australian people expect. So I understand that. But let's be clear: what the opposition has put forward today have only been criticisms of what some hypothetical, in the future, government might do. The contributions we have just heard have been all about how, when, maybe, or if the JobKeeper program is changed or amended and what might happen if or when there are withdrawals and drawdowns on superannuation.

Obviously, critiques of future actions that have not happened don't carry all that much weight, but they carry even less weight here because they are caricatures of future decisions that a government might take. In the Labor Party's mind, we over here on this side are all cigar-chomping, big-business loving, cashed-up senators. That is their caricature of us. You can see in their nightmarish Labor-centred vision of the future that that's where they think things will be going.

It's clearly a caricature and has clearly been demonstrated to be a caricature by the actions of this government in the last couple of months. We have taken action to support workers—enormous action. We were criticised a few months ago for being enslaved to a rock-solid commitment to a budget surplus. Obviously we weren't enslaved to such a commitment, because when action was required, when we had to respond to help and assist thousands of Australians, we ditched what was, yes, a very important commitment of ours and something that we worked very hard to achieve to put the nation back into surplus. But it had to be ditched for the greater good, and we showed that we have the pragmatism to do that. How we've acted in the last couple of months is exactly how we will act in the months ahead. The government will be pragmatic. It will be sensible. It will respond to the needs and concerns of average Australian citizens. And, of course, we will seek to manage the money that ultimately is other people's. It is Australians and it has to be repaid as carefully as possible.

In terms of the future—which today's question time was focused on—the question that will have to be asked is: which side of politics do the Australian people trust to get people back to work and to restart this economy? We cannot continue to subsidise the wages of millions of Australians day in and day out. We cannot continue to double welfare payments on an unending basis. We will have to get Australians back to work. And the question that the Australian people will ask is: who can best be trusted to unlock business, to get people employed and to get our country back onto the strong track it was on before? (Time expired)

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