I welcomed in the start of 2020 with my family in Queensland. I wasn't in Hawaii. I knew at the time that 2020 was going to be a challenging year. I knew that because Australia was burning, and this existential crisis entailed more than finding clean air to breathe. Many Australians saw voracious bushfires greedily engulfing our wide brown land, threatening homes and lives. On New Year's Day, 15 bushfire evacuation centres were open to cater to those who had to escape the fires. By 6 January public buildings and offices in Canberra were closed after this area recorded air quality that would close down a coalmine.
On 7 January, amidst the bushfire crisis, another threat was taking hold. Chinese authorities confirmed that they'd identified a novel virus now known as COVID-19. Australians can be forgiven for not taking notice, as we were otherwise occupied. The bushfires were still raging. Three American firefighters died on 23 January, when their Hercules crashed while they battled bushfires in southern New South Wales. Two days later, on 25 January, the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in Australia. By 31 January there were nine cases confirmed in Australia. And so this horrible crisis snuck up on Australians, not while we were sleeping but while we were already trying to contain a bushfire disaster that has left 3½ thousand Australians homeless and claimed 34 lives.
Now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our lives have been turned upside down. In a country that prides itself on its freedoms, we have been ordered to stay home, not to travel, not to visit our parents or grandparents, not to hug and not to shake hands, and there has been heartache. Businesses have ceased operating, jobs have been lost, people have found themselves in circumstances they never thought possible. My Moreton people are doing it tough, but, when my community faces a crisis, we come together and we help those who need it most. I saw this during the 2011 floods that devastated a third of my electorate and I've seen it recently.
So, when people began to isolate, the community groups in Moreton worked together. They adapted their practices so they could help those who had lost their income, those with illnesses, those who were vulnerable and the elderly. My office took hundreds of calls and emails from people seeking to help with things such as filling medical scripts, providing boxes of food, making home-cooked meals for affordable prices, providing fuel and even helping to cover utility bills. Sometimes people have simply scheduled in a weekly chat with somebody who is feeling alone and scared. These wonderful and dedicated helpers are from groups such as St David's Neighbourhood Centre, Kyabra Community Association, Belong, Sherwood Neighbourhood Centre, Community Plus+, Village Avenue Community Church, Meals on Wheels at Acacia Ridge, Sunnybank/Salisbury, Yeronga and Sherwood, the Kuraby Mosque, the Cathay Community Association, the Sherwood Services Club, the ADRA Community Centre and so many more. I often find myself in awe of the staff and volunteers who work these organisations. They turn up every day, although the work is tough, and they make a huge difference in people's lives.
We are likely to be living with the consequences of this health crisis for a very long time. We know that the economic fallout will be immense. We are not going to just snap back, as Prime Minister Morrison has blithely suggested. The people of Moreton will need more than marketing slogans to cope with the economic hardship. We'll need real leadership. There will be hard decisions to make, and these decisions should be guided by a commitment to jobs and skills for those who need them, retraining, a fair dinkum safety net that supports people, and an infrastructure program that helps to rebuild the nation. Our challenge must be to recover stronger and better. Don't waste a crisis. It's a chance that we don't have very often, thankfully, but don't waste it. We want a more resilient society. We want people to have secure work. We don't want jobseekers stuck in poverty and we don't want scientists ignored—for example, if they warn us about dangerous climate change.
I want my community to rebuild better than it was before, and Moreton was pretty awesome before COVID-19 hit. We have some way to go before we're out of this health crisis. We have to stay vigilant. I know that there are hard days to come. I know that the people in community groups in Moreton are kind, and perhaps sometimes that compassion won't be endless. But I've seen people who are generous and dedicated to helping others. We'll get through this together because we're a supportive and cohesive community. I know that kindness will prevail and that we will come through this together, we will be stronger and better and we will counter the voices of those who are trying to divide us and exploit this crisis to create division. Instead, I know, we'll be kinder and stronger together.