When we get through this COVID-19 pandemic – and we will get through it – let’s not put everything back exactly where it was. Let’s work together to make some changes, so that everyone can live a good life.
By Adam Bandt
COVID-19 is transforming the world and our country before our very eyes, and it's exposing a lot about how we have structured our societies and what is important when it really matters. But if the coronavirus pandemic has taught us one thing it is that it is not simply that we're all in this together and that we all have to get through it together; it has shown us that by valuing the things that we have in common and things that governments have attacked for the last 30 years, we are able to pull through in times of crisis. It is with a touch of irony that we are retreating as individuals, isolating ourselves in our own homes, to advance the needs of society. The neoliberal truism from Margaret Thatcher that there's no such thing as society couldn't be further from the truth right now.
It has been amazing that in this period of crisis when people need looking after more than ever, we’ve seen a speedy dismantling of neoliberal ideals and a commitment from a government of ideologues to throw ideology out the window. All people need access to the same universal services – healthcare, dental health, mental health and aged care, childcare, education and higher-learning, a roof over their heads and a social safety-net for support when times are tough.
But as some things change, many still stay the same
By working together with people, community groups and the unions, we’ve been able to achieve some big wins during this crisis. Greens amendments in New South Wales and Tasmania helped lead the push for a nationwide ban on rental evictions for six-months. After years of campaigning by Greens across the country we finally saw a lift in the rates for people receiving government income support. We fought hard for and achieved additional assistance for not-for-profit organisations and women at risk of domestic violence. When I first became leader I made clear my goal of free childcare, but didn’t expect to see it become a reality so soon. And we finally saw a wage subsidy for workers introduced, a measure we had been calling for from when the crisis first hit.
These are incredibly important changes that will go a long way to keeping people safe and looked after during this unprecedented time.
But our work is not yet done because this government is continuing to sort people into those they deem worthy of additional assistance and those who they choose to cast aside.
Where is the support for renters, the one million casual workers who worked for less than 12 months, people on the disability support pension and those who are carers, residents working here on temporary visas, international students, the arts and entertainment sector? Why has the government drawn a line to sort people into deserving and undeserving of help? It makes no sense why some groups need to be looked after and others don't.
What a lot of the groups being left behind have in common is that they are young people. Again, it is young people the government is screwing over. From encouraging our climate to collapse to lifetime debts for education, from unaffordable housing to an unfolding extinction crisis, the government doesn't seem to care about young people having the same safety net that previous generations enjoyed. And now the looming recession is going to hit young Australians hard. I am not just talking about forced isolation or a delayed career or being forced to move back home with parents. Young people are wearing the social pain because they are the ones occupying the jobs in industries that have been shut down—hospitality, retail, tourism, the arts and entertainment industries—but they are being intentionally dismissed by this government. Half a million of the million casual workers the government is abandoning from the JobKeeper scheme are under the age of 24. Let me say this again: half a million young people under 24 are purposely being excluded from help by this government. Many will be forced to default on their rent, borrow money from friends or have to navigate our unemployment system.
Stories from those left behind
Over the last month, the offices of Greens MPs across the country have been inundated with the stories of those left behind by this government.
Like Shannon from Adelaide, who returned to work six months ago after having had a baby. She is casually employed but doesn't qualify for the JobKeeper payment. Her words to the Prime Minister are short and sharp. She said, 'I am one of the one million people left behind in the JobKeeper package. I have been out of work since early March and I have a young family to support.' And Scott, who recently moved to Sydney in order to complete his training as a boilermaker. He was employed as a casual and now he is out of work. His direct plea to the Prime Minister is: 'No income makes it hard to find a place to rent, and without a place to rent it is pretty hard to find a job. It is going to take me months to save up the bond for somewhere.’
It is not just young workers but carers too. Neesa from Busselton is a single mother caring for her son with autism. She has just lost her job, and this is her message: 'My landlord has ignored all contact. I have pleaded with him to reduce my rent for the time being. Our medical bills have gone up as have our grocery bills. I'm scared about how to feed my son and keep a roof over our heads. I feel unseen and overlooked by the current government.'
Temporary visa holders are in a similar position. Few temporary visa holders have the financial capacity to simply leave, as the government is suggesting. Others have built a life in Australia, like Sarah and Niall who wrote to us saying ‘Scott Morrison says "it's time to go home" but that is not an option for us; after 5 1/2 years THIS is our home, our community and our future. Please help make sure we're not left behind during this crisis.’
The stories we’ve heard have been horrifying and humbling, a stark reminder of the human cost of this government’s arbitrary decisions about who deserves to be looked after during this crisis and who doesn’t. We’ll keep up the fight to make sure more people are protected and supported.
It’s been a strange experience getting used to the new normal of life under coronavirus isolation. Never have my social media feeds been so full of sourdough bread. Never before has the idea of muting and unmuting yourself been as important.
As our lives change, so too has our work as a political party. With fewer options to pressure the government in parliament and the prospect of gathering in large groups offline seemingly off the cards for the foreseeable future, we’ve had no choice but to embrace new opportunities to engage, campaign and create change together as a party. It’s been so inspiring to see new forms of activism emerge, and hundreds joining Zoom calls and Facebook lives, energised to be part of our movement for a more progressive Australia.
And there has never been a more important time to grow our movement and our collective power. We have so much work to do to ensure that we don’t just survive this crisis, but that we use this opportunity to imagine a better world. Because when we get through this COVID-19 pandemic, and we will get through it, let’s not put everything back exactly where it was. Let’s work together to make some changes, so that everyone can live a good life. Let’s fight for a better ‘normal’.