Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (12:23): I rise today to speak on the coronavirus and the effects that it is having directly on my electorate in these early stages. It was reported this morning that there are now 44,754 cases worldwide, in 27 countries, and reported deaths are 1,112. These figures are certainly concerning, but there was news from the Chinese government in the last 24 hours or so that they believe the epidemic may have peaked. Let’s hope and pray that is the case. We know about the primary hotspot, Hubei province, but what happens if other parts of the world become secondary hotspots? We are a long way from out of this challenge at the moment, but I have to commend the Australian authorities, particularly Professor Brendan Murphy, the Chief Medical Officer, and Greg Hunt and the whole team. The Home Affairs office have done a very effective job in shutting Australia down and stopping the importation of this virus. We have 15 reported cases in Australia. I understand at least five of those people are over the virus and there have been no new cases recorded lately.
In my electorate, we have a real seafood focus. There are two industries which are probably feeling the brunt of this immediately, even though the knock-on effect will continue. The first is the wild-catch abalone industry. I’ve spoken to some leaders in that industry. Perhaps we’re a little bit better off than Tasmania in that most of our product goes out frozen. Consequently, it has a two- or three-year shelf life. They are able to continue harvesting at the moment, but they are getting no income. If they start to shutdown, they risk losing their skilled workforce. They’re wondering what will happen if we store too much abalone in cold store—what that would do to the market in the longer term. But they are continuing to fish at the moment.
Then we have the southern rock lobster industry. In my patch, the northern zone of the southern rock lobster in South Australia is a 300-tonne fishery. It’s nowhere near as big as the one in Tasmania with 1,000 tonnes, but it’s a very significant employer in a very important industry. Largely, their markets have evaporated at the price they need to harvest and they have shutdown. I’m not aware of a lot of rock lobster being taken at the moment. How long that sort of crisis lasts remains to be seen. One thing we do know—and we can see this from the SARS virus—is that, when it was over, the economy bounced back very quickly. So, if this coronavirus can be rounded up, isolated and shutdown, I would expect a quick recovery for all of these industries, but of course we don’t know what that outcome will be yet.
On students, we only have one regional university campus in the Grey electorate. In South Australia we have around 6,000 Chinese students, and they are worth $1.8 billion to the economy a year. I spoke with a vice-chancellor the other day. They are very concerned about what that loss of income might mean if those students don’t roll up for the first semester or, indeed, whether they come back for the second semester if they’re not here for the first. Virtually every university in Australia will be dealing with that at the moment, so it’s a challenge.
We have quite interesting growth in the tourism industry. Last year we had 66,000 Chinese visitors to South Australia. In my electorate we have some wonderful tourism assets. We see visitors from all over the world. The Flinders Ranges, the Outback, the Yorke Peninsula, the Eyre Peninsula and the beautiful Clare Valley are all significant drawcards for people coming to South Australia. We all expect that there will be a cutback in Chinese tourist numbers, but we don’t know what the knock-on effect will be through the rest of Asia—whether Japanese numbers will be limited or whether Korean numbers will be limited as a result of their fears around the coronavirus and travel at the moment. If you want to think about the prospect of travel, you only need to look at the cruise ship that’s tied up at Yokohama in Japan at the moment. My heart goes out to not just the Australians on board but also everybody—the 3½ thousand people on that ship. The mental stress of being in a place which feels like it’s an incubator for a disease that may kill you is enormous. I think the Japanese are doing a very good job of handling it. They are removing the people with symptoms immediately and putting them in isolation, but, even so, we know that if you’re on that cruise ship you’ve probably got a much higher chance of catching coronavirus than you would back in Australia. We will keep our eye on that and hope and pray for the very best.