Page 4400 – 4402                              HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY                                     Wednesday, 3 March 2021

The Hon. G.G. BROCK (Frome) (12:17): I thank everybody for their participation in this. It is with great pride that I rise to speak on the member for Mount Gambier’s motion. I notice that the Minister for Education has moved an amendment, which I understand the member for Mount Gambier is agreeable to.

Regarding the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have not seen the real end of it at this particular point. I think this is an issue that the world is not really addressing properly at the moment but certainly in Australia, in South Australia in particular, we have done extremely well. As I said earlier, I do not think we have seen the real impact at this particular point. I think the big wall is going to come in about another two or three months’ time with the real impact of the realisation of people with no jobs and the financial impact on those in the community not being able to provide food, housing and things like that.

This is exactly why I previously submitted that this house establish a select committee to discuss the same issue the member for Mount Gambier put forward today, but this motion for a select committee was adjourned by the government at that particular point, and from hereon in we need to concentrate on the member for Mount Gambier’s motion.

This pandemic has had a very dramatic impact on the economic performance of many industries, small and large across Australia. We in South Australia have performed very well due to not only the health directions we have been complying with but also, very importantly, the community’s dedication and compliance in doing everything possible to reduce and potentially remove this horrible disease from our communities.

Our communities need to take credit for lots of stuff out there, because we have complied with everything and we have done everything: the social distancing, the wearing of the masks, the restrictions in hospitality and things like that. Again, sometimes we do not give enough credit to our communities for doing exactly the right thing to adhere to the health requirements.

In my travels across all regional South Australia in particular, I talk to people across all divides. There is currently positivity from those in particular who have employment, but there are many out there who either have had their employment removed or reduced or have much uncertainty about their own future.

I mentioned previously in another speech that the federal government has done a very good job with JobKeeker for those whose employment has been impacted by COVID-19, but there are those out there who are not eligible for JobKeeker and have to survive on JobSeeker.

This assistance packaging, JobSeeker, has been drastically reduced. In particular, JobSeeker has been virtually returned to the original pre-COVID payment, which equates to just over $45 per day.

I ask any member of this house and anyone in the general public to comply and survive on $45 per day. Whilst you might be able to do that just buying food and things like that, that would be with no bills coming in, but the rent has to be paid, the car cannot fall apart and overheads still come in. Again, we have to be realistic about that issue: $45 a day or thereabouts is not going to be sustainable, and going forward there is going to be a lot of impact on the mental health of those people.

From memory, the federal government recently reviewed this payment and increased it with assistance of just $3.25 per day. Again, we have a lot of media saying this is good and things like that, but $3.25 a day is absolutely an insult to those people in terms of their existence. These people are trying to live a reasonable, decent life and at the same time having to apply for more positions, which entails them spending more money on petrol and also, when applying for positions, the dress code for potential employment has to be very good. If you do not have the best of clothes, and you go in there wearing your jeans or dilapidated clothing, you do not get an opportunity to reach the finals of that particular job application, even though you may be the very best person for that job.

Whilst I agree there are many people on JobSeeker who may not put in a real attempt to get a job, there are numerous people out there—and I mean numerous—who make every attempt to get employment. There are several communities, particularly in rural and regional South Australia, where there are definitely virtually no chances of employment, which requires these people to travel to a location where employment may be available.

We must remember that many of these people may not have a vehicle to travel in or that there is no transport for them to get to their locations specifically for training in TAFE, which the government is now reducing dramatically, or to report and get a potential prospective employer to sign the documentation.

With all these issues, I do not think we have reached the wall at this particular point. They will come to a head when there is a real realisation that there is virtually no direction or opportunities for these people. We must always remember that these issues are being experienced by adults, and where they are being experienced by the adults the children also see these tensions, and this in turn has a very dramatic impact on the health and wellbeing of those children.

Whilst I know that governments state that there is money in budgets, etc., we must always remember that there are basically no people out there—trained people in particular and particularly in regional South Australia—to actually assist and/or actually see these people to walk them through the very dramatic direction they are experiencing. I believe we will see many more drastic results, particularly in mental health, such as complete breakdowns and, unfortunately, as I think the member for Mount Gambier indicated, perhaps people attempting to take their lives.

I have spoken previously in this house about mental health and the stigma of mental health affecting men in particular. I have taken the challenge: I have been open about the fact that I have had an anxiety issue over many years. I do not hide that. I think we have to get the information out there. I lost a brother to mental health issues because there was not anybody. He lived in Melbourne, and he could not get help. That is the other issue: we need to take that stigma out of it and have these people able to talk to somebody, not on Zoom and not on the telephone. I believe that there will be many more drastic results, particularly with mental health and complete breakdowns and, unfortunately, there will be more suicide attempts.

Parts of the member’s motion call for a strong focus planning and funding opportunities. There could not be any more importance than this, and I congratulate the member for Mount Gambier on doing this. I have spoken previously in this house about this and I have spoken to the Minister for Health. I have taken the challenge of the stigma of mental health, on men in particular, to raise funds for a Lifeline Connect Centre in Port Pirie. I raised just over $21,000 for that, and it will go a small way towards doing it. The Connect Centre will hopefully have some trained counsellors for people to talk to.

I have spoken to the Minister for Health, and we have also had some forums in Port Pirie. We have three clinics in Port Pirie. When people have an issue with anxiety and things like that, they need to see a medical practitioner. In Port Pirie we have three clinics. We have a shortage of doctors compared with the federal proponent; we are supposed to have 17, but we have nine doctors in our community, so we are very, very short. I have personally seen the waiting list of each clinic, and there are approximately 130 to 150 per day who are not able to get in to see a doctor.

Those people may be suffering from an anxiety issue, they may want to talk to someone and get some medication. So where do they go? They go to the A&E. The A&Es are struggling. They are being overwhelmed at the moment. We need to really look at training more people and we need to be able to get those people out into the regional areas. I noticed the Minister for Education indicated there is $100 million extra from the federal government for, I think he said, South Australia. I stand to be corrected.

Mr Bell: It is South Australia.

The Hon. G.G. BROCK: It is for South Australia. From my quick calculations, that equates to around $58 per day for each person in South Australia. Whilst it is welcome, we need to get more money out there. We need to train people in regional areas. I encourage the state government and federal government to look at every opportunity to get those people out in there in the regions so these people can actually talk to them, not on the telephone, not on Zoom, but get there and personally talk to them and see them directly so they can see the anxiety in their body language and in their emotions.

Again, I commend the member for Mount Gambier for bringing this motion to the house. I understand he is going to accept the amendment of the Minister for Education. I certainly encourage the state government to activate this as quickly as possible.