Tasmania, let’s help each other through this (The Examiner Talking Point, 21/03/20)

By their very nature, Tasmanians are supportive of those in need and the state benefits from a robust community services sector. But the coming months will be a challenging time for all, writes Simone Zell.

Battles against bushfires, drought and now COVID-19 are not fought with hesitations to determine if this house deserves to stay alight, this farm deserves to turn to dust or this person deserves to catch a dangerous virus.

Humans tend to be most focused and clear in the midst of a crisis. Extraneous concerns take a backseat to our core aims and values. After years of political talk attempting to divide us from our neighbours, the current situation can bring us together in a way that feels much more in keeping with what Tasmanians hold onto most strongly: our sense of connection to each other and to our communities.

Tasmanians celebrate, work and struggle together. We are generous with our time. We smile at strangers. We share supplies.

Decisive and strong actions continue to be taken by governments at all levels to minimise the spread and risk of COVID-19 in our communities.

As a state we are all feeling the repercussions of those decisions; the financial uncertainty, the health anxieties and the changes to our work and daily lives.

More than 120,000 Tasmanians were already struggling to make ends meet before the COVID-19 crisis began. Soon there will be many more who will suddenly find themselves with no or less income, and it’s important we remove any additional barriers to accessing essentials like food or medical care.

It might be a funny kind of luck that Tasmania already has a robust, experienced and nimble community services industry set up to provide essential and emergency support services in all corners of our state.

More than 10,000 workers and 35,000 volunteers already deliver these services each and every day. And we are planning, working and collaborating across organisations and communities to ensure we continue to deliver the most essential services to the people and places that need them.

This starts with taking care of our workers through negotiations with state and federal governments to ensure we can continue to pay our staff, support our volunteers and deliver services where you need them most.

Just like the communities we work with, we are all pitching in to help each other.

The same principle applies to companies and governments: this is not a time to hesitate before helping, to doubt the recipient’s motives, to delay decisions until later.

This is the time to make sure everyone is fed, sheltered, healthy and knows how to access support when needed. It is a time to waive penalties and fees, to suspend mortgage repayments, to call off debt collectors and put a moratorium on evictions resulting from a lack of income.

It is time to waive job search requirements, to cut down waiting periods. It is a time when people should be pursued only so they can be asked if they’re ok.

None of these solutions are simple, but the reasons for doing them are. We are in this together. Companies, governments, communities, families and individuals are all working to keep each other safe, healthy and supported.

This will take creativity, leadership and daring. Trying new things is scary because we can’t be certain of the outcomes. But if there was ever a time to dare to change it is now.

We’ve been through trying times together before. We do know this will pass.

When that happens, we will want to be able to look back on how being ourselves, enacting our compassion for each other, our creative ways of working and our willingness to try new things meant we got through this difficult time together.

Because that’s what happens when we trust ourselves, not to judge each other but to act generously and remind ourselves that in the end we are all Tasmanians.

Simone Zell is acting chief executive of the Tasmanian Council of Social Service (TasCOSS).