You are here

A Fair Social and Economic Recovery

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Tags: COVID-19

A Fair Social and Economic Recovery, Cassy O'Connor, 23 September 2020


Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, I could not agree more with the Deputy Premier's observations of the value of having a job. It reminded me of a statement from one of my favorite living human beings, the Dalai Lama, who says 'be useful and be happy'. That is, wake up each day with a sense of purpose and you can out into the world and do good things and that brings its own rewards, whether it is paid employment or unpaid employment.

We will be supporting the member for Clark's notice of motion that the House agrees that Tasmanians deserve a fair social and economic recovery. It does raise the question: what does 'fairness' look like, as we chart our way through the pandemic while accelerating climate impacts are barrelling at us at a rate of knots. We have twin crises here: a pandemic and climate. The people who are most affected by that are young people.

There is a mental health crisis amongst young people, there is great fear about the future, and COVID-19 has brought it to a point but young people are engaged and aware. They know the system is not fair and they know that they have been shafted by the economic system in place now, which has been the key contributor to the enormous social and economic disruption and distress that has been caused by the pandemic.

We have stagnating wages in this country and increased casualisation of the workforce and insecure work. We have a government that attacks universities. They will not provide them with the critical JobKeeper lifeline, so some of our finest academic institutions are now shedding hundreds of staff. You have a Morrison Government that is trying to stop Australians from learning how to critically think by getting an Arts or Humanities degree.

On every single front, the system is unfair on young people. They cannot dream of owning their own home. Many of them lost work as a result of the pandemic and lockdown. They are terrified that they are running out of time. I talked about a young man named Jack O'Hare, from the Forestry Watch group of scientists. We went into the Denison Valley a couple of weeks ago. Jack is very bright. I asked, 'What are you going to do with your life? You have to do something with that brain because brains that are not put to work start consuming themselves'. He said, 'I do not have time, I could go to university but things are such now that I do not feel I have time to spend years getting a degree. I want to be out here saving the forests and to doing what I can for a safe climate'.

We cannot talk about fairness without focusing on young people. The difference in their experience of life and their future from what most of us in this place, privileged as we are, experience could not be more stark, profound and a challenge to us all.

The level of poverty in this country and inequality brings shame on us all as Australians and we know that. From 25 September when there starts to be cuts to the coronavirus supplement for JobSeeker, single-parent payments will be cut by around $300 per fortnight.

This is a government in Canberra that treats people as disposable, and people who are not in the workforce, as a burden. It is punitive in its approach to people who are dealing with the profound consequences of intergenerational inequality and widening social inequality caused by an economic system that is set up by the rich and for the rich. What does fairness look like? It looks like full employment. It looks like government making sure that the engine-room of an economy is built to serve people and a planet, not the profits of billionaires.

If there is one thing COVID-19 has taught us, it is that the money is there if it is needed. It is a political choice that is being by successive governments. You could have full employment, could put a roof over everyone's head, could be sure that every child in Tasmania is safe and loved and well-nourished, attending quality public schools that are well-funded. You could have a health system that did not leave people to die in waiting rooms, an aged care system that respected and allowed to flourish those we have entrusted to its well-funded care, but right across the country, you see unfairness embedded in our social and economic structures.

As a nation, we need to rethink the whole thing. Young people need to know that governments and parliaments have got their back. In Tasmania we do things differently because we are a small and highly-connected island. We have a minister in this place who cares about young people in his portfolio, but still there is unfairness embedded in the system here, deeply embedded and we have to have a rethink.

Part of that rethink should be a Green New Deal where we tackle the twin crises of the social and economic destruction that has been caused by the pandemic and the environmental destruction that is happening as a result of rising greenhouse gas emissions and accelerating climate impacts. You need an economic model that works for people and the planet, not the profits of billionaires.

It sounds, I am sure, to the neo-Liberals in this place, and the right wingers from Labor, like heresy to talk about remaking the whole economic system, but unless we do, we are knackered. Unless we have a total rethink of the system, young people will not have the hope for the future that we need and want them to have and we should dedicate every single day of our political life to making sure they do have.