Leaders address the nation

Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressed Parliament today, before a vote for an unprecedented response package to combat the social and economic impacts of COVID-19.

The federal Labor leader and state leaders addressed the public this morning.

Australia now has around 6000 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 2734 in New South Wales, 1212 in Victoria, 943 in Queensland, 415 in South Australia, 470 in Western Australia, 98 in Tasmania, 97 in the Australian Capital Territory and 28 in the Northern Territory.

Speaking in Parliament this morning, Mr Morrison said “what we do today is what governments have always done … protect Australia’s sovereignty”.

“We act through our agreement and our wilful support of the national interest, through our many institutions, including this parliament, and the many other parliaments around this country, and we will not surrender this,” he said.

“Our sovereignty is demonstrated by the quality of life we afford Australians, with world-class health, education, disability, aged care and a social safety net that guarantees the essentials Australians rely on.”

“Our sovereignty is sustained by what we believe as Australians, what we value and hold most dear, our principles, our way of life, our way of doing thing. We will never surrender this.

“Today is not about ideologies – we check those at the door. Today is about defending and protecting Australia’s national sovereignty. It will be a fight, it will be a fight we will win.”

Mr Morrison said that protecting our sovereignty “has always come at a great cost, regardless of what form that threat takes, and today will be no different”.

“So today, we will agree to pay that price, through the important measures we will legislate today,” he said.

Mr Morrison praised the nation for a COVID-19 case growth that has slowed from more than 20 per cent to around two per cent a day.

“This is very encouraging. We are flattening the curve. We are buying ourselves precious time in this fight,” he said.

“And I want to thank the overwhelming majority of Australians for doing the right thing. You are saving lives; you are saving livelihoods. But we have to keep up our efforts. Progress can be easily undone, as we have seen in other places around the world.”

Mr Morrison said Australians should be “very proud” that we have one of the “most comprehensive testing regimes in the world” with around 313,000 tests so far.

The coronavirus is “the greatest economic crisis to afflict the world in many generations”, he said. “We have responded with the biggest economic lifeline in Australia’s history, that we will consider today.

“Through the actions we have taken to date, we have bought Australia valuable time to chart a way out over the next six months.

“But there are no guarantees, and it could well take far longer. Our country will look different on the other side, but Australians will always be Australians.”

Mr Morrison believes Australia is far better placed than most other countries in “preparing our health system for the challenge is to come”.

“Putting in place the big economic lifeline and the buffers for Australians, in what for so many will be the toughest ever year in 2020. We are charting the road through.

“We are all in. Our institutions are strong. Our people are strong. Australia is strong and will continue to be strong. We will respond to this challenge. We are up for the fight. We will pay the price needed to protect our sovereignty, and we will chart a way out. We will get through this together, Australia.”

Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s reply speech to the Prime Minister was equally as rousing and highlighted the spirit of bipartisanship.

“It is encouraging that one possible casualty of this pandemic is a politics where partisan interests trump the national interest, where vilifying your opponents and their motives replaces a contest of ideas,” he said.

“That sort of politics undermines faith in our democracy. One day, we will conquer this disease. The pandemic will be a Wikipedia entry with a start date and a finish date, but the effects will be with us for a long time.”

He also said Australia should aim to become more self-sufficient after this crisis, to ensure “greater self-reliance and self-protection … support for manufacturing and producing products that we need in times of crisis”.

“This extends beyond medical products to food and other essential supplies. It means recognising our fortune in being an island continent provides us with some advantages,” he added.

Earlier, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she was happy that current restrictions were having a positive impact across her state and has even hinted at easing them. She also said that she didn’t want to “raise expectations” but there could be room to “tweak” restrictions in coming weeks “if the health experts deem it appropriate”.

“We know that the restrictions are having an effect, but it takes us a couple of weeks to get the data through the health experts to be able to advise us,” she said.

“So I don’t want to raise expectations. But at the same time, there could be a chance, if the health experts deem it appropriate for us, to look at some relaxations. It’s a rolling monthly basis that we’ll look at that.”

She added that decisions to ease restrictions or not will be assessed monthly.

“I said yesterday that social distancing would be a part of our lives until there was a vaccine or a cure, and that’s absolutely the case, but I also want to stress that social distancing is different from restrictions,” she said.

“We get data on a daily basis from our health experts, and every month, our health experts will give us advice as to whether there is an opportunity for us to relax any of the restrictions.”

NSW recorded 48 new cases overnight.

Meanwhile, Victoria recorded 21 new infections overnight and has one of the gentler curves in the country, but Premier Dan Andrews has urged people to stay inside, especially over Easter.

“People are giving up a lot and I’m very grateful to them for that,” he told Triple M on Wednesday.

“Let’s remember our loved ones, because if this gets away from us, there won’t be any family in this state that won’t be touched by this. People will die because there will never be enough ICU beds.”

The state has also increased testing, with the premier saying it stood to reason that the more testing that is done, the more positive cases will be found.

Almost 1300 people unemployed due to the coronavirus crisis are now working for the Victorian government.

Mr Andrews and jobs minister Martin Pakula announced the first raft of positions secured through the Working for Victoria Fund – with thousands more to benefit in coming weeks and months.

“This is just the beginning. Over the coming weeks, thousands of Victorians will be matched with employers who need staff and given the support they need to skill up and start work,” said Mr Andrews.

More than 2500 workers are expected to be placed through the $500 million Working for Victoria Fund by the end of next week.

There has been a growing call from the public for MPs to take pay cuts during the coronavirus crisis. But those calls have not been heard, nor should they be, inferred finance minister Mathias Cormann. However, according to AAP, he has told the remuneration panel to institute a pay freeze.

“Right now, politicians are probably working harder than they ever have,” he told ABC radio.

“This is the most intense period in my working life that I am going through, and I think it’s the same for most if not all of my colleagues.”

How do you think our leaders are handling the pandemic?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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