We gather today at a time of great challenge for our nation, and indeed the world.

We are a strong nation and a strong people, but in the months ahead this will put us all to the test like at no time since World War II. But together, Australia, we are up to this challenge.

The coronavirus that is sweeping the world will continue to change the way we live. But we must not allow it to change who we are as Australians. I know, we all know, that Australians are very concerned at this difficult time.

It is the understandable fear of the unknown. And there is much that’s not known about the coronavirus. But we must not let that fear overtake us. We must instead focus on what we do know, what we can control.

We know who we are as people, and the legacy and inspiration that has been given to us from those who have come before us and shown us the way through challenges and tests just like this.

So, we summon the spirit of the Anzacs, of our Great Depression generation, of those who built the Snowy.

Of those who won the great peace of World War II and defended Australia. That is our legacy that we draw on at this time.

We also know the actions we can take. The care, compassion and respect we must show from one to one another.

While some must self-isolate, and we all must keep a healthy distance between us, it is important that we do all we can to ensure in the difficult months ahead that no Australian goes through this alone.

The tests, hardships and sacrifices that will be placed on all of us, on our national character, will undoubtedly break our hearts on many occasions in the months ahead. But we must resolve today, as Australians, to come together and to pledge to each other across our nation that this coronavirus will not break our spirit.

So, with the rest of the world, we face this unprecedented challenge. A once-in-a-100-year event.

A global health pandemic that has fast become an economic crisis, the like of which we have not seen since the Great Depression.

Life is changing in Australia, for every Australian. And life is going to continue to change. For many, young and old, 2020 will be the toughest year of our lives.

Meeting this challenge is bigger than any Australian. It’s obviously bigger than politics.

It is bigger than any of us who are in this chamber, bigger than premiers, chief ministers, captains of industry, leaders of union movements. It is bigger than all of us. It requires every single Australian to do their duty as public citizens.

So, again in that spirit, I want to thank all the nation’s premiers and chief ministers for coming -together to form Australia’s first ever national cabinet.

Five Labor leaders, four Coalition leaders. And I want to thank the Leader of the Opposition for the co-operation that he and his colleagues have afforded us as we battle this dual health and economic crisis.

Today, we have some very important work to do to cushion the blow on Australians from the economic whirlwind. We will face more issues that none of us now can imagine.

Our job is to work night and day to ensure our great country gets to the other side and emerges stronger, safer and united. We will be living with this virus for at least the next six months. It could be longer.

We have to work together to slow the spread in order to save lives. To protect the elderly and vulnerable Australians. They are counting on us. Every extra bit of time we save allows us to better prepare for the challenges ahead.

Last night, the national cabinet agreed to a more stringent set of social-distancing rules that will change further how we all live our lives. No more going to the pub after work.

No more going to the gym in the morning. No more sitting down for brunch at a cafe. These changes are vital to slow the spread of this virus to save lives.

As the virus spreads — and it will — governments are likely to impose further restrictions on our daily lives. It will be absolutely vital that every Australian respects and follows the healthy social-distancing measures to flatten this curve and save lives.

Keeping non-essential indoor gatherings to less than one person per 4sq m. Where possible, keeping 1.5m between yourself and others.

Avoiding non-essential travel. Even simply following good hygiene is essential to slowing this virus: washing your hands thoroughly; cough and sneeze into your elbow; don’t touch your face.

And I’ll say this, while you may not be able to go to church, the synagogue, the temple or the mosque, I most certainly call on all people of faith for you to pray. I can assure you, my prayer knees are getting a good workout.

We also face an immense economic challenge. Many thousands will lose their jobs.

They are lining up at Centrelink offices as we speak — something unimaginable at this scale only weeks ago. This is the biggest economic shock our nation has faced in generations. Australia is now closed off largely from the world. Internal border restrictions, not seen since before Federation, are in place.

Yesterday, the Treasurer and I announced a safety net package, doubling, in effect, the JobSeeker Payment and allowing Australians to draw on those resources they have put aside for such a time.

We will be doing everything we can to protect those most vulnerable to the impacts of this crisis and to preserve the businesses that employ them.

There will be more support to come. And it will keep coming for as long as this challenge is before this nation. And even more importantly, when this passes we will be there to ensure that Australians get back on their feet, that the businesses rebuild, that our economy resurges and that we go on in the great national story of this amazing nation.

The more Australians work together, the more we share the sacrifice and the burden, the more we do the right thing, the more lives and livelihoods we will save.

And when the virus passes — and it will — we will be stronger on the other side.

Published in The Australian