Parliamentary speeches

Scullin Electorate: COVID-19

August 31, 2020

It's so important that this parliament is deliberating right now, going about its work on behalf of all Australians, and it's particularly important that the parliament can hear the voices of the communities that make up the city that you and I both love—that I think all of us in the chamber love—Melbourne. Mr Speaker, I want to thank you and the President of the Senate for the efforts you have undertaken to ensure that some of our colleagues who weren't as fortunate as we are to be here can speak on behalf of their constituents. It does this parliament and our democracy a great service.

I've found, in this period of social distancing and harder lockdowns, different conversations with the people I'm privileged and proud to represent. I've found them particularly interested, in this sitting of the parliament, in the issues that we have been deliberating on. I have been asking them, as I'm sure other members have been doing, the things they would like conveyed in this place on their behalf. I had hoped I would be able to celebrate with you and many of my constituents a good result in the football yesterday, but we will pass over that. There are things that are within our control.

The main issue that my constituents have been concerned about—in addition to the supports for businesses, a wage subsidy that works and support at an adequate level for people who are not presently working—has been, of course, the issue of aged care. I have had the opportunity to raise this in the House on many occasions, but I want to again put on the record to those constituents who've contacted me that there is no more important issue for me while I am here than to see justice done in a retrospective sense so that we can understand what went wrong but also proactively take this opportunity, as the shadow minister and the Leader of the Labor Party have sought to do in this place, to set out a template that treats elderly Australians with the dignity and respect that they deserve, that they are entitled to and that we have neglected to offer them.

The other thing that I want to do on behalf of the people I represent is to acknowledge the frontline workers who have done so much for all of us in so many fields—in retail, in logistics. I'm personally very grateful to teachers, and I know others are to early learning workers right now. All these people are making our society function in these unparalleled and unprecedented times. Particularly, I want to acknowledge healthcare workers, the extraordinary work they have been doing and the limited but important contact I have had with their work in the communities I represent. I think of the geriatricians, the palliative care teams, the doctors in training, those in general medicine and of course their wonderful nursing colleagues and all health workers at the Northern Hospital in Epping. I'll give a shout-out to my sister-in-law, Alison Giles, for the work that she's done and her efforts to connect me to the challenges that workers are facing, many of which I'd never thought of. I've been astounded at the work and the thought that's gone into servicing communities, in relation not just to issues connected to COVID but those other challenges, those other health issues that can't be ignored while we deal with the critical issues of the pandemic. Supporting people in the COVID wards when the nurse or the physician or the health worker is clad in PPE is very difficult and very challenging, particularly with people who may have afflictions as well as the coronavirus. It is particularly challenging for those for whom English is not their first language, where difficult conversations are being had, often separated from family, or with family connection only possible by means of FaceTime. These are extraordinary challenges that are being imposed on our healthcare workers.

I want to acknowledge in this place how they have risen to those challenges, and also to share the story of a 34-year-old doctor, Yianni Efstathiadis—and I hope he'll forgive my pronunciation—an emergency doctor at the Northern, who says he feels lucky to be alive after spending days on a ventilator in intensive care. He started experiencing fever, muscle aches and lethargy and was tested for the virus, but his first test came back negative. A second test confirmed that he had COVID. About five days after going into isolation, the symptoms were more severe. He went first to hospital and then into intensive care, with a tube inserted, battling the virus in ICU, to come out the other side. He has a warning to those who aren't taking it seriously yet: this is a serious disease, it's there and it can potentially kill you. In thanking him, I ask everyone to take heed of his warning.