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Covid 19 Permanent Measures Bill

8 June 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (17:15): I welcome the opportunity to talk about the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on South Australia. It really goes without saying that we have been very lucky in our state when it comes to the impact of COVID-19. I think a lot of us reflect on that when we see what is happening over in Victoria at the moment and the regrettable situation that they face there. We are very lucky in that sense. However, whilst many of us have been lucky, this has not been a lucky time for everybody in our community. In fact, COVID-19 has exposed the growing pandemic of inequality that has been sweeping the globe over the last few decades. Really, this pandemic has shone a light on that.

In particular, I want to talk a little bit about the impact on some of the most vulnerable people in our community. As my honourable colleague Tammy Franks has stated, we saw the government take action to support people who are homeless, in terms of connecting them with short-term accommodation during the pandemic. That was a welcome thing, but unfortunately we have not seen the follow-through. We have not seen the government then ensure that those people are provided long-term accommodation.

I really fear that there are people sleeping on our streets—I know there are people sleeping on our streets in the middle of this harsh winter—and that is simply not good enough for a state like South Australia. It is simply not acceptable that we have people sleeping on the street when we have so many resources at our disposal. Where is the leadership from this government to deal with the housing and homelessness crisis?

We also know, and this has been reported extensively over the last few months, that if you are somebody who is renting and you are trying to live on JobSeeker—and I say 'trying to live' because you cannot live on JobSeeker; it is woefully inadequate—you cannot find a single place that is affordable for you to rent in South Australia. If you are a single person, there is not one single property that is affordable for you to rent. I think that is an outrage.

I really would like to see some leadership from the government to deal with the rental crisis. What are they doing in terms of building more social housing? What are they doing in terms of building more public housing? What are they doing in terms of building more affordable housing? This is not something we can just push off into the never-never; it is integral to the response to this pandemic and the economic crisis that has followed. Just today, I noted a news report on the ABC, referring to homelessness services in Port Lincoln. I quote:

A homeless support service in South Australia's Port Lincoln is reluctantly calling for locals to donate tents, sleeping bags and old swags, following an increase in people seeking support in the…region.

It comes as reports of rental shortages across…SA emerge…

What on earth is happening when we have vulnerable people being forced to sleep in tents because we do not have enough accommodation available in our state and in our regional centres? That is a disgrace. That is an absolute disgrace, and we need leadership from this government to address that.

As I said before, COVID-19 has really exposed that ongoing crisis of inequality in South Australia, and it has really highlighted the potential for government to take action that changes people's lives for the better. What we need from this government is for them to embrace this opportunity to actually take the leadership that is necessary to deal with the public health crisis and also the growing crisis of inequality in South Australia, recognising that every South Australian deserves a roof over their head and a place to call home, and that that is the right of every citizen in our community, not just the wealthy few.

Whilst I support this bill and commend this bill, I call on the Marshall government to go further in terms of advocating for vulnerable South Australians and in terms of investing in the infrastructure that we need to ensure that people are not plunged into poverty as a result of this economic crisis. I note that the government has called a Code Blue to support people during the extreme weather that we are facing over the next few days, but they are announcing that measure—and of course the Greens welcome that—at a time when they have initiated brutal cuts to the homelessness sector in South Australia. We have seen cuts to Street to Home, cuts to Catherine House, cuts to the Hutt St Centre; again, a failure of leadership at a time when leadership is so desperately needed.

In terms of concluding my remarks, I make a few comments about the rollout of the vaccine to people who are homeless. You may recall that I asked the health minister in question time during our previous sitting period what the government's plan was to ensure that the vaccine was made available to people who are homeless.

He provided an explanation and stated that he was going to be dealing with support services to get the vaccine out through food trucks that already provide support to people who are homeless. It is great that something is being looked at, but we need to have more detail on that. The minister's response really threw open more questions than it did answers.

We need to know whether or not more resources are being allocated to these organisations so that they can roll out the vaccine. Are these the sorts of organisations that have been impacted by the Liberals' brutal cuts to homelessness support services? Are these organisations going to be able to ensure that a follow-up vaccine is provided to people who are homeless? What measures are in place to ensure that we can keep track of these people and ensure that they receive the second vaccine that they so desperately need?

All of these are questions that the government has failed to answer. When I asked the minister about this I received, might I say, a fairly churlish response correcting me about the size of the health department. That is not good enough. We need to see leadership from the government on these questions, and we need to see answers to these questions, so that vulnerable South Australians know that they are getting the support they desperately need during this economic crisis. I commend the bill, but I call on the government to show the leadership that we need to ensure that no South Australian is left behind.