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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 09 Hansard (Thursday, 16 September 2021) . . Page.. 2563 ..

MS LEE (Kurrajong—Leader of the Opposition) (10.31): I thank the Chief Minister for providing this update to the Assembly on the COVID-19 outbreak in the ACT. First, the Canberra Liberals thank our tireless, hardworking front-line health, emergency and community support staff, who are working around the clock to keep our community safe. This is, as the Chief Minister has pointed out, the most significant public health challenge this city has ever faced, and I do not, for a second, presume that it is easy being a decision-maker at any level during this time. As many in this chamber will have recognised, the Canberra Liberals have largely been supportive of our health measures to keep Canberrans safe. We supported the health advice and we supported the cancellation of our scheduled sitting week despite the inevitable delay to the already delayed 2021-22 ACT budget. My office even offered up to the Chief Minister my own staff to support the pandemic response.

We have, however, been fierce advocates for those Canberrans who have felt forgotten, who have felt left behind, who have felt unheard during this lockdown. Every single one of us in this chamber is privileged to be able to continue drawing a salary. Aside from the Chief Minister, his key ministerial colleagues and officials, most of us have been able to continue, to some extent, to work safely from home. Many of our small businesses and many of our essential workers are not so fortunate. Thousands of Canberra local businesses were forced to shut their doors within hours of the lunchtime announcement on 12 August that the ACT would be plunged into a seven-day lockdown. And whilst we acknowledge that it was a decision that had to be made, and made quickly, this government had been telling Canberrans for months that it was prepared—that it was ready—in the event of a lockdown.

With the outbreak in Sydney moving to regional New South Wales and coming ever closer to our border, most Canberrans hoped the delta variant would not reach our city but thought it was probably inevitable. And on 12 August we got the news that everyone dreaded but most had probably predicted. Today we hit five weeks into what was initially a seven-day lockdown, and on Tuesday the lockdown was extended to 15 October. After fierce negotiations and advocacy from the industry stakeholders and the Canberra Liberals, including our senator, we welcomed the safe reopening of the construction industry, which will not only keep thousands of Canberrans in jobs but will also ensure that the viability of our economic future is able to be salvaged to some degree. We also welcomed the changes to restrictions that meant non-food businesses could recommence click-and-collect and contactless delivery operations so that they could feed their families, pay their bills and keep staff employed.

Whilst Canberrans buckled down and did their part to suppress the virus, the Chief Minister was urging everyone to get vaccinated as this is the key weapon in the fight against this virus. And Canberrans responded marvellously. We boast some of the highest vaccination rates in the country, and the take-up of vaccinations, especially amongst our younger cohort, is encouraging. Canberrans did this because, first and foremost, we care about our families, our friends and our community. We all wanted to do our part to keep our city safe. Canberrans did this because we knew that if we all played our part in supressing the virus we would get back our freedoms and our livelihoods. And Canberrans did this because we believed, in good faith, that this government would follow through on its word that it was ready—that it was prepared.

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