Memo from Mayo 24 April 2020
Welcome to my latest edition of the Memo from Mayo. Being your voice in Canberra is proving to be more challenging than ever with the COVID-19 border restrictions and social distancing rules. Like many in our community, I've had to work from home (see cover photo above) during a fortnight of self-isolation after returning from Federal Parliament to pass the first tranche of the Government's economic stimulus package. My colleague Senator Rex Patrick, who has recovered from his COVID-19 diagnosis, represented Centre Alliance when Parliament passed the second tranche of economic measures. At this stage, if the cases of COVID-19 continue their current low trajectory, Parliament may sit again as early as next month. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy reading about my recent work.
Photo: Rebekha and her parliamentary colleagues maintain social distancing in a pared-down House of Representatives.
A newsletter from Rebekha outlining some important COVID-19 health information and the Federal Government's first economic stimulus package should have arrived in your letterbox or post office box in the past fortnight.
If you did not receive the newsletter, you can access the document electronically on this link.
You can also listen to Rebekha's speech in Parliament here.
By the time the newsletter was printed and distributed, the Government's second tranche of economic measures was debated and passed by the Parliament.
More information about these measures can be accessed on Rebekha's home webpage which contains information and links to appropriate health and economic support services during the pandemic.
A letter from Rebekha to the Leader of the House, Attorney-General Christian Porter, was tabled in Federal Parliament on April 8.
The letter (accessible here) shared the Member for Mayo's considerations regarding the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Measures No 2) Bill.
The Government's economic response is outlined on treasury.gov.au/coronavirus
If you are on income support payments, information about COVID-19 support is available at servicesaustralia.gov.au
If you operate a business or you are a sole trader and you believe the Government's JobKeeper scheme might assist, you can obtain information and register your interest at ato.gov.au
Not sure about your rights as an employee? You can visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website fairwork.gov.au
Dedicated JobKeeper Hotline
Rebekha has called on the Government to adequately fund a dedicated hotline for employees to seek urgent advice about their rights if they are unfairly pressured by employers over the COVID-19 JobKeeper scheme.
The call comes after the Centre Alliance MP was contacted by an employee who was offered her job back under the JobKeeper scheme but only if she gave them $600 of the $1,500 per fortnight payment in return.
"People can contact the Fair Work Ombudsman but there is no dedicated phone line for these unusual employment circumstances," Rebekha said.
"One of the issues I highlighted in my letter to the Prime Minister was the delay businesses would experience in receiving the JobKeeper payment. Local businesses are telling me that this is a cash flow problem they cannot sustain and many are experiencing difficulties and delays in obtaining credit from financial institutions," Rebekha said.
"I welcome the news that the Prime Minister has delivered a strong message to the banks to be more supportive of businesses seeking to access the JobKeeper scheme."
Parliamentary Oversight of COVID-19
On 8 April 2020, the Senate resolved to establish a Select Committee on COVID-19 to inquire into the Australian Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The committee is to present its final report on or before 30 June 2022.
The Committee was established after Rebekha joined Crossbench MPs and Senators in calling on the Government to set up two Parliamentary committees to scrutinise the COVID-19 response.
"The Australian people need a mechanism for Parliament to scrutinise government actions and spending," Rebekha said.
"Parliament has only been adjourned, not prorogued, which means committees can still function, and they can operate using technology so their members, staff and witnesses can communicate using electronic means while still remaining isolated during the pandemic."
You can read Rebekha's media release and the joint Crossbench letter here.
Let's Support Each Other
Federal Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie recently released a commentary, published in the Adelaide Hills Weekender Herald, calling on the community to support each other during the COVID-19 pandemic and to give special consideration to young people struggling in this time of upheaval.
If you, your child or grandchild is feeling overwhelmed you can contact the following organisations for support:
- Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
- Lifeline 13 11 14
- Beyond Blue 1300 224 636
- Headspace 1800 063 267
Photo: Rebekha: "One of the best things about being home is my garden is looking amazing, and nearly weed-free!"
To date, South Australians have worked together to flatten the curve of coronavirus infections.
But just before Easter, residents in popular coastal destinations on the South Coast and Kangaroo Island were deeply concerned about an influx of visitors.
Rebekha joined the public information campaign urging South Australians to heed the call from authorities to end unnecessary travel, particularly to the South Coast where the population has the highest median age in SA and is considered one of the localities at highest risk from the COVID-19. This is the video widely distributed a fortnight ago https://youtu.be/7gmqtyPDFGI
"The situation has greatly improved in SA and across Australia but the lesson from overseas is that we cannot be complacent about social distancing restrictions and I continue to encourage everyone to restrict all unnecessary travel," Rebekha said.
"Just ask yourself, if SA Health called you today and confirmed that you had tested positive for COVID-19 and they asked you to list in detail all the places you had been in the past fortnight and all the people you had been in close contact with, would you feel happy to be completely honest about those details or would you feel embarrassed? Just think about it."
ANZAC Day 2020
Federal Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie will be participating in a Community Street Event being co-ordinated by RSL branches to commemorate ANZAC Day during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A booklet prepared by the RSL branches for the event, which includes a message from Rebekha, can be downloaded here.
RSL branches across the Hills and the State are encouraging families to gather at the end of their driveways at 5:55am on Saturday, April 25, and recite the Ode to the Fallen.
"This is a simple but moving way for us all to pay our respects to our servicemen and women while also maintaining social distancing protocols during the current health crisis," Rebekha said.
Flight Centre Refund Rort
Rebekha has accused travel agency Flight Centre of taking customers for a ride by refusing to pass on refunds already collected from tour operators and suppliers to its customers.
"I have been contacted by several constituents whose travel plans have been cancelled because of COVID-19 who are furious that Flight Centre is holding onto thousands of dollars of their money that their tour operators have refunded," Rebekha said.
"I am also concerned about allegations that Flight Centre changed its terms and conditions just last month to introduce the cancellation fee of $300 per person, and many customers will not be able to claim this fee on any travel insurance."
You can read more about Rebekha's advocacy, including her letter to Flight Centre here.
If you've had to cancel or rearrange travel plans, you can visit the following websites to understand your consumer rights.
Protect Yourself Against Influenza
Photo: Rebekha receives her flu vaccination from Cia Cen from the Nairne and Meadows Community Pharmacies.
Rebekha has approached local health authorities and written to the Health Minister Greg Hunt to seek assurances that sufficient influenza vaccines will be distributed to the community in the coming weeks.
"I understand that vaccinations can be a polarising issue for many in the community and that not everyone will wish to be vaccinated. However, the Chief Medical Officer has stated that an outbreak of influenza during the COVID-19 pandemic would have devastating consequences for our health system, and the health outcomes of patients requiring care and hospitalisation, Rebekha said.
"I'm a firm supporter of getting an influenza vaccination which is why I recently obtained my flu vaccination from Cia Cen and Rachel who run the Nairne and Meadows Community Pharmacies.
"You don't necessarily have to visit your GP to get a flu shot. Pharmacies are now able to offer this service and the age limit has been lowered to 10 years of age.
"I know there have been some concerns about flu vaccine supplies coming into Australia. I am assured by Cia Cen and local primary health care authorities that there are sufficient vaccine supplies coming into Mayo.
"That includes the stock supplied to pharmacies and the separate vaccines only available to GPs through the National Immunisation Program. However, please note that the demand will be high this year so please be patient. Check with your GP or check with your local pharmacy about making an appointment for the vaccine that suits you."
Further information about influenza vaccinations can be found at the Department of Health website here.
Fuel Security For Australia
Rebekha and her Centre Alliance colleagues Senator Stirling Griff and Senator Rex Patrick have welcomed the news that Federal Government will spend $94 million on a fuel reserve to bolster the national stockpile.
"Fuel security is an important national security issue and an issue Centre Alliance has been advocating for the Government to address for some significant time now," Rebekha said.
"Australia has an International Energy Agency (IEA) obligation to hold 90 days' worth of automotive fuel in the event of market failure, but we only have about a month's supply physically on Australian soil."
Rebekha raised the issue in Question Time late last year. You can read an article on that Question here.
From WA With Love
Photo: Rebekha, left, SA Country Women’s Association Mount Barker Branch President Amanda Scott and State Liberal Member for Kavel Dan Cregan with some of the quilts made by the Mandurah Sew & So's in Western Australia for fire-affected families in the Hills and on Kangaroo Island.
Over 90 quilts hand-sewn by volunteer members of the Mandurah Sew & So's in Western Australia for fire-affected families in the Hills and on Kangaroo Island have been distributed from the offices of Rebekha and Dan Cregan, State Member for Kavel.
President of the SA Country Women’s Association Mount Barker Branch, Mrs Amanda Scott, said the Mandurah sewing group had contacted the branch after the recent bushfires to offer assistance.
Rebekha said the community would be facing a hard winter on the backs of the bushfires and the pandemic.
“The love and support of volunteer quilters in Western Australia will help our community get through one of the very toughest winters," Rebekha said.
"This is a remarkable act of kindness and I hope that when WA needs help we can also provide it.”
You can read Rebekha's media release here.
If you or someone you know has been affected by the bushfires in the Adelaide Hills or on Kangaroo Island, and you would like a quilt, please call Rebekha's office on 8398 5566.
You can watch a video of Rebekha with the quilts here: https://youtu.be/eJRw4AtlfxA
Mobile Black Spot Program
The allocation of Round 5 Mobile Black Spot Program (MBSP) funding for a base station at Kuitpo between Meadows and Willunga is good news for the community but fails to address the enormous backlog of mobile black spots in Mayo, according to Rebekha.
"I am concerned that with each successive round, base station sites in regional areas are being considered less economical for the mobile network operators," Rebekha said.
"Of the $80 million made available in Round 5, the Federal Government only allocated $34 million to proffered sites that met their guidelines and were considered value for money to taxpayers.
"I note that the Government is looking at conducting a Round5A, using the leftover $46 million, to test a range of different programs to improve mobile connectivity.
"I understand the criteria for 3G compatibility was one sticking point for telcos, as well as the opportunities for telcos to share infrastructure, and I understand these issues will be examined in the Discussion Paper on Round5A.
"I encourage our community to also contribute their feedback to the Discussion Paper on options for the design of the next round."
Photo: Cherry Gardens resident Don Wotton shows the NBN tower, the potential site for the installation of 4G equipment, to Rebekha and State Member for Davenport Steve Murray. This photograph was taken in 2019.
In light of the restrictions of the MBSP, Centre Alliance was able to successfully advocate for a $200,000 Federal funding commitment for a bespoke communications project in Cherry Gardens, an area that is not a nominated mobile blackspot under the current Federal guidelines.
"This money will go towards a $350,000 Regional Digital Connectivity Infrastructure project to set up 4G equipment on the existing NBN tower on a site near the Blackwood Golf Course," Rebekha said.
"The State Government has committed funding to the project with the remainder to be sourced from a mobile network operator."