Mere months ago Australians were emptying their wallets and their pantries to help their fellow man during the bushfire emergency. Through hardship we saw compassion and kindness; a generosity of spirit that made us puff out our chests and say, “yep – that’s what makes us Aussies.”
Yet recently, we’ve seen panic buying to fill our pantries with no regard for our fellow Australians.
We’ve gone from heroes to hoarders.
Make no mistake – we are living in uncertain times. The Prime Minister has described the outbreak of coronavirus as our greatest challenge in a century.
It’s confronting. Life is changing and will continue to change for some time. We will be tested in ways that just weeks ago we could never have imagined.
But is an extra packet of pasta or roll of toilet paper really going to quell that fear?
The scenes we’ve seen in supermarkets around our country in recent weeks have been embarrassing. It has been un-Australian.
I’ve been staggered by the distinct lack of decency some people have shown.
I understand that seeing empty shelves in the supermarket is a surreal experience. As Australians, we are victims of our fortune. We’re used to an abundance of supplies being readily available – from wonderful fresh fruit and veggies through to ready meals we can whack in the microwave. In many instances 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
I understand how not seeing that abundance of supplies can make you think you, too, need to panic buy. Maybe buy another pack of toilet paper even though you’ve got two packs at home. Just in case.
But I can assure you that you don’t need to stockpile. In fact, it’s this behaviour that is leaving our shelves bare and some Australians – some of our most vulnerable and elderly Australians who should be looked after – going without.
As Industry Minister I have been working with our business community for weeks to ensure our supply chains can cope with this outbreak.
And the message from those making the food and groceries through to those selling them has been the same. We’ve got plenty. More than enough.
In fact we produce enough food in Australia to feed 75 million people. There’s 25 million of us.
We are a food bowl, with an incredible agriculture industry that other nations could only wish for. Food manufacturing is one of our proudest and most productive sectors.
We make our own toilet paper. Pasta is made here too. And bread. And flour. The list goes on. The Australian Made logo peppers grocery items in aisle after aisle.
Unfortunately, our retailers are struggling to get the product into the stores and onto the shelves. When demand for some items is up by more than 500 per cent, you can see why.
I applaud our supermarkets for the steps they’ve taken to try and address this – particularly their support for the most vulnerable members of our community.
Governments at all levels and political persuasions are also doing what we can to help – from easing curfews to allow 24 hour deliveries to ensuring employment flexibility so increased staffing demand can be met.
As a government we are working with our supermarkets daily and stand ready to do more if it becomes necessary, but I genuinely hope we don’t get to that.
If we go back to our normal buying habits – and display a little more humanity – our shelves will soon be back to their abundant best.
We can go back to being embarrassed to have to carry the big pack of loo paper under our arm to the car, rather than it being a symbol of good timing.
Let’s rediscover that Aussie sense of community that makes us beloved around the world; that makes us proud to say we are Australian made – just like many of our groceries.