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Source: Prime Minister of Australia

PRIME MINISTER: Mr Speaker, I indeed would have been happy to second the motion, Mr Speaker. I join with the Leader of the Opposition and I believe it is very important that this Parliament today come together and express its thanks and gratitude to the people of Victoria, Mr Speaker, for their extraordinary resilience, and their determination, their patience, the care that they have shown for each other through what has been an exhausting and difficult and overwhelming time for so many. 

There have been many things asked of Australians over the course of what has been probably in most people’s living memory, one of the most difficult times they have ever experienced and certainly as a nation, our collective experience, it has been many generations since Australians have had to go through a time such as this. But for Victorians, this time has been a time like no other in Australia have really had to endure, Mr Speaker. 

And so it is right for our Parliament to congratulate and to thank Victorians for the way that they have conducted themselves over these many, many difficult months and indeed, yesterday, I was pleased to hear of the decision of the Premier and the Victorian government to take this next important step forward. 

Mr Speaker, I said at the outset of the Victorian lockdown that Australia will not win unless Victoria wins and we are now starting to see Victoria win again, Mr Speaker, and I welcome that. This is a good thing for Australia, it is a good thing for all Australians and we all welcome it, I’m sure, from every corner of this country. 

Mr Speaker, when the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic hit this country, we brought together all State Premiers and Chief Ministers to what was an innovation in the National Cabinet that has now met on 30 occasions, Mr Speaker. Unprecedented in our Federation history for Premiers and Chief Ministers to come together with the Prime Minister and work in the way that we have. And there have been critics of the National Cabinet, Mr Speaker, and there have been disagreements amongst the National Cabinet from time to time. But I can assure Australians, as I do, Mr Speaker, I don’t know why there are any interjections, Mr Speaker, this is a bipartisan motion. 

Mr Speaker, in that National Cabinet as we work together, as we work together Mr Speaker, to deal with that first wave and the many challenges that presented, it was indeed the Victorian Premier, the New South Wales Premier, all of the Premiers and Chief Ministers who supported that national effort and what we sought to do, Mr Speaker, in that first wave, was to build our national resilience, to build up our health response, to ensure the respirators were in place, that the testing and tracing kits were in place, to ensure the COVID-safe practices could be established. 

Mr Speaker, the interjections continue. But Mr Speaker, I will endure over them because Mr Speaker, it is important that Australians know that this Parliament has come together on this issue today and I would urge those opposite, Mr Speaker, to cease the interjections because we are at one on this and this is the truth. This is the truth, Mr Speaker, of Australia’s success, that well outside of this place, Australians have supported each other, each and every day, through this pandemic, Mr Speaker. Outside of this place, Mr Speaker, governments have worked together, each and every day, each and every day. And the National Cabinet has been an important part of that process. 

So as we built up that national resilience as a country, as a people, as governments, all across the country, we looked forward to that time in July where we had agreed as a National Cabinet that we would be open again in July and we looked forward to that day and we were moving well towards that day, Mr Speaker. In seven states and territories, that progress continued but sadly in July, we saw the case numbers begin to rise in Victoria and we saw the failure of the quarantine which is understood and well-known and has been documented. We saw the issues of contact tracing and we saw Victoria descend into what was a cataclysmic second wave of this virus and it was the right decision of the Victorian Premier and the Victorian government to impose the lockdown measures, which I welcomed at the time and urged all encouragement to Victorians to endure those measures, Mr Speaker, because they had come necessary. That lockdown had become necessary. As borders between New South Wales and Victoria had become necessary, Mr Speaker. 

But I say this, borders and lockdowns are not demonstration or evidence of success. They are not evidence of success, they are evidence of outbreaks that have got out of control. They are evidence of things that have not gone as they should and so now Mr Speaker as I welcome the reopening of Victoria and the endurance and the sacrifice of Victorians and the way they were able to work through this issue Mr Speaker I welcome that. I think it’s tremendous and I think it’s great that Tasmania’s opening back up again. I think it’s fantastic, Mr Speaker, that South Australia’s opened up again. And I am encouraged by the words of the former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie who believes things should open up again Mr Speaker, I’m encouraged by that. 

People in this place know that I have always wanted Australia to work their way through this crisis and not get stuck in a rut Mr Speaker, and that’s what we must do. So I welcome the fact that Victoria is opening but as Victorians went through this crisis and I can assure you of this, this Government stood by them. Mr Speaker, this Government stood by them. 28 Commonwealth GP-led respiratory clinics assessed over 175,200 people in Victoria. 1,400 interviews assigned to Commonwealth teams on contact tracing, 27.8 million masks from the National medical stockpile, some $1.3 billion in funding for specific COVID safe health costs in Victoria, testing for aged care workers, interstate truck drivers and train drivers, support through communications, tailored mental health programs, 15 mental health clinics Mr Speaker, $200 million every day of support to see Victorians through this crisis. 

Mr Speaker, our Government has stood by Victorians every single day of the lockdown that became necessary as a result of the outbreak that got out of control. And as we look to the future and we look to the new three step process that has been agreed by National Cabinet and I thank, in particular, the Premier of Victoria who was one of the first to sign up to open it by Christmas when we agreed this in September.

Mr Speaker, as we look to the future, we cannot look to a future of lockdowns as a way of managing this virus. What we must do is ensure we have the testing and the tracing and the isolation and the quarantine options and all of these things which National Cabinet and my cabinet are working to deliver for Australians because we are going to open safely and we are going to safely remain open under the policies of our Government, Mr Speaker, working hand in glove with the state and territory Premiers and Chief Ministers around this country. 

So, Mr Speaker, I join with the Leader of the Opposition in commending Victorians, I thank the many public health workers in Victoria, I thank the tram drivers, Mr Speaker, I thank all of those who have worked whether in aged care, childcare, distribution centres, schools, hospitals, wherever they have been, they have been champions of this country in their time of crisis, Mr Speaker, and I thank them for every single sacrifice because the cost of the lockdown has been significant. It has been a heavy blow. There are so many Victorians who will carry the scars of this lockdown, Mr Speaker, for years to come. That is the advice we have received from Christine Morgan, my National Suicide Prevention Adviser, and the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Mr Speaker, Ruth Vine, who is focused on mental health. There will be scars that will be carried by Victorians and I assure those Victorians that just as we have stood by you throughout this terrible lockdown we will stand by you through the recovery, we will continue to support you in the economic needs that you have and get you back into the jobs, to open your businesses again and to rebuild your lives. 

Mr Speaker, this Christmas I want Australians to come around the table and talk about 2021 with positivity, with hope, with aspiration, looking forward to what they are going to do, the schools their kids are going to go to, the training courses they are going to do, the jobs they are going to get into, the health that they will be able to enjoy because in this country we have one of, if not the best records of managing the health and economic impacts of this pandemic of any country in the world. God bless Australia.