25 August 2020
COVID-19 has changed Australia and the world. As the pandemic continues to unfold and we grapple with this new normal, economic and social fault lines are being exposed. When restrictions were introduced in March, regional coastal communities like mine were hit hard when hospitality, retail and tourism closed. As parliament was shut down, I felt it was more important that locals had their say. Between 30 June and 31 July I ran a COVID-19 community survey. Close to a thousand locals let me know how the pandemic was affecting them, their friends and families. Over 90 per cent of respondents expressed concern about the health impacts of the virus, which is no surprise in a community where one in five people are aged over 65. They see what is happening in aged-care homes in Sydney and Melbourne and they worry that it may happen closer to home. Recent media reports of a failure to disclose a cluster at Peats Ridge on the coast is likely to cause further concern. I asked locals whether they had downloaded the COVIDSafe app, the government's ticket to a COVID-safe Australia where we can once again go about doing the things that we love doing. At the time, 53 per cent of respondents said they had. Now the national uptake is around seven million, well short of the government's 10 million target. Labor supports the app. I have downloaded the app, but the survey result suggests that technology and privacy concerns persist.
Over 80 per cent of survey respondents expressed concern about their financial security because of COVID-19. On the Central Coast 10,000 locals have lost their jobs since March, and there are now 34 jobseekers for every job vacancy. Young people are bearing the brunt of the economic downturn. There are now 10,565 locals accessing youth allowance and JobSeeker. By May, 47 per cent of local businesses applied for JobKeeper, and currently 10,649 local jobs are supported through JobKeeper. Labor pushed for a wages subsidy, which was initially rejected by the Prime Minister. While not perfect, the subsidy has offered assistance to six million Australians, and I'm relieved the government has walked away from a hard snap back come September.
These are alarming figures, but the Central Coast economy was struggling well before COVID-19. Before the virus, youth unemployment sat at 14.6 per cent, and the Central Coast had the highest rate of underemployment for women in Australia at 34 per cent.
In the survey, locals called for an increase in manufacturing, renewable energy and a boost to TAFE funding. Our community and regional coastal communities across Australia need a proper jobs plan as we recover from this pandemic. A good start would be proper investment in infrastructure on the coast. But what have we seen from this government? Not a single project for the Central Coast on the updated Infrastructure Australia priority list. In fact the last major project, the M1 upgrade, was funded by Anthony Albanese when Labor was last in government. The Central Coast is being left behind by this government. Our community deserves better to recover from this pandemic.