The Nationals WA understand regional WA faces unique challenges in responding to the emerging crisis of COVID-19.
As the Parliament has met over the past two weeks we have also been in discussions with and had briefings from the WA Police Commissioner, Director General of the Department of Health, Minister for Health and his office and representatives from the Premier’s office.
Our No.1 priority is ensuring our regional health and emergency services have the resources and support they need to remain functional. The health and safety of regional West Australians are at the top of our minds, and we are doing our best to ensure these matters are raised in all the appropriate forums.
At the moment, there are no confirmed regional cases of COVID-19. This will change, and when it does, we want to know that our hospitals, GPs, emergency service workers (both volunteer and paid) will be able to sustain the care and support that will be required.
This is an unprecedented challenge – and the situation is changing every day. It is important you take health advice from credible sources, such as the WA Health Department.
We have asked for the creation of a ‘one-stop-shop’ to assist in directing queries and resolving issues relating to COVID-19 to ensure a lack of information, or conflicting advice, does not add to the anxiety and confusion already in our communities. Not all queries will relate to business or health, and we don’t want important resources of Government tied up trying to respond to questions when they should be focused on operational matters at this time.
Beyond the health impacts of the virus, The Nationals WA are acutely aware that COVID-19 is having severe impacts on our regional businesses and industries as well as our not-for-profit and community organisations.
We have called on the State Government to bring forward further measures to support businesses which do not meet the payroll tax threshold – small businesses, sole traders, micro-businesses that are the fabric and backbone of our communities but are not covered by stimulus measures announced by either the State or Federal Government.
We have also called on the Government to work with the supermarkets and their supply chains to ensure we don’t have ‘raids’ on our regional centres as has been taking place over the last week as people begin to panic buy and hoard. The behaviour of those people depriving our regional communities of vital supplies is abhorrent and needs to be stopped now.
In Parliament this week we secured a commitment from the Premier to raise looming workforce shortages in the agricultural and horticultural sectors, and asked for the National Cabinet to immediately amend conditions for those in Australia already on backpacker visas. We need to keep fresh fruit and vegetables on our supermarket shelves so this is an urgent matter.
In these worrying times, I urge our communities to stay calm. We understand that you are concerned for your family, friends and colleagues. We understand many are under financial strain.
Our team is here to assist our communities through this crisis, but we do not have all the answers.
We are making sure regional WA is firmly on the agenda as the State and Federal Government respond – and welcome your feedback on issues as they emerge.
The following quotes can be attributed to the Leader of The Nationals WA:
“We accept that this is a challenging time, but regional West Australians face unique challenges when it comes to managing the impacts of COVID-19.
“Isolation and distance may be a benefit in slowing the spread in the first instance, but it is inevitable it will arrive in regional WA and when this happens there will be some serious challenges.
“We already have a GP shortage in parts of Western Australia, and shortages of staff are a regular occurrence across regional WA health services.
“Our emergency services rely on volunteers and we are yet to be provided with details on how St John Ambulance will operate should their volunteer workforce be unable to operate.
“The Health Minister indicated in the Parliament this week that there was potential to replace these workers with paid workers, but with no further detail it is still a question that many are raising with our Members.
“We have asked for a regular update from the Government on health matters specific to regional WA to commence – so that we all have clarity on exactly what planning is being done from a regional perspective.
“Urgent action is required to halt the shopping ‘raids’ that are occurring now, it is engendering anger, panic and fear and is completely unacceptable.
“People in regional and remote areas do not have the luxury of visiting their supermarket or shop every day, but regardless of this, it’s just abominable and unethical behaviour.
“We also call on the State Government to ramp up their rescue package by pulling all levers they have at their disposal to provide relief to the thousands of small business, sole traders and micro-businesses that have been left out of the current stimulus package.
“Freezing fees and charges for water, power and other licensing fees is welcome, but more is needed to allow businesses to survive the devastating impact of COVID-19.
“If we don’t, I fear we will lose the fabric of much of our regional communities and recovery post-COVID-19 will be very, very difficult.”