Western Australia has faced extraordinary challenges over the past 11 months. Thanks to the hard work of our front-line health workers, police, and families, businesses and communities across WA, our State has enjoyed freedoms many have been denied.
But as we have seen this week, the threat of COVID-19 is ever-present and we can’t be complacent or let down our guard. Detection of community transmission in the metropolitan area and the subsequent lockdown imposed on Perth, Peel and South West regions shows the risk of COVID-19 is real. And it disrupts many people’s lives and livelihoods.
Over the past year, The Nationals WA team has worked hard to ensure regional WA is a priority as our State responded to the pandemic and entered a recovery phase.
Since March last year, we have asked State Government Ministers over 100 questions and ran 16 debates in Parliament in relation to the Government’s COVID-19 response.
We also engaged with Government to highlight the challenges specific to regional communities and to seek information and clarity for families, businesses and communities impacted by new restrictions and ever-changing circumstances.
We didn’t do this for political gain, but rather to ensure the real issues that were being raised on the ground by the people of regional WA were being heard by the decision makers in Government.
The issues we raised – and continue to raise – are not insignificant.
Like many impacted by the initial intrastate border lockdowns, we wanted answers about how and to who travel restrictions would apply; how regional hospitals and health services would be resourced; and whether personal protective equipment – which was being consumed at levels unseen before – would be kept available for the vulnerable, our frontline workers, and volunteers providing the health response in regional WA.
We pushed for COVID-19 testing rates to be upped and for more testing sites made available in regional locations. Probing in Parliament by The Nationals WA revealed the Labor Government lagged behind any other State when it came to testing regimes.
We called for more support to be targeted towards businesses, community groups and not-for-profit organisations that found themselves caught in the vortex of COVID-19. We’ve seen very little meaningful response to the spike in mental health presentations in our emergency departments and the pressure this is putting on our community and health system.
We knew that there would be a crippling shortfall of workers to critical primary industries, the resources sector and small businesses and flagged this early – and still the Government response was lack lustre and missed the mark.
Our advocacy extended to providing more community support so people did not have to struggle paying their utilities bills, finding suitable accommodation or getting a feed.
We also worked with the Labor Government to push through emergency laws – often with little or no notice – to enhance our State’s emergency and economic response to the crisis.
Yet here we are, 11 months down the track and we find ourselves facing all these challenges and an outbreak that seems to be the result of sloppy policy decisions by Government.
We are yet to see Chief Health Officer advice that led to the implementation of this week’s lockdowns.
The Premier has given no rationale as to why three regions of WA are in lockdown and not others in closer proximity to where community spread occurred.
There has been no reasonable explanation as to why the risks in our quarantine system were not addressed – especially when there were learnings to be taken from other states.
When the lockdown was implemented, there was no up-to-date G2G Pass system ready to go for intrastate travel.
We don’t understand why when there’s been an almost ‘business as usual’ environment in Western Australia that these matters had not been anticipated and planned for.
And that’s why we quite rightly have concerns about our preparedness should the outbreak spread, or another occurs.
It’s reasonable to expect answers from the Premier and his Government regarding the current situation. The task of interrogating the incident that led to the outbreak last weekend has just begun and there will be many questions as to why, in a State with almost a full year to prepare, we have still been caught short.
On Sunday, shortly after the lockdown was announced, The Nationals WA suspended campaigning activity for the duration of the current lockdown in recognition that it is not appropriate to play politics when peoples lives and livelihoods are on the line.
But that does not mean the State Government gets a free pass on explaining how we arrived at this situation.
West Australians have the right to demand the unvarnished truth from the Premier about what has happened – anything less would be an unforgivable breach of the trust so many have placed in his leadership.