Tuesday, 22 June 2021
COVID-19 Disaster Payment (Funding Arrangements) Bill 2021; Second Reading
This COVID-19 disaster payment was welcome relief to many Victorians and many people in my community when it was finally announced at the start of this month, halfway through the lockdown that we have just come through. Let's be clear: the Morrison government was dragged kicking and screaming by Labor and the Victorian state government to offer this support. We know that this was the Morrison lockdown. It came from hotel quarantine because we do not have a quarantine system in place. It hit a population that is not vaccinated because the vaccine rollout has been botched. Victorians were in lockdown because the Morrison government has failed to do its job. The moment the Prime Minister said that the vaccination rollout wasn't a race was the moment we seemed to start losing that race. We welcome this payment. It is much needed, but we shouldn't have been in the situation where we had to push so hard for it and where it came so late.
I must say that, as a Victorian, as a Melburnian, who, together with my community, has gone through all of these lockdowns, I know how on edge people are. I know just how difficult it has been. People really have dug deep, and they have accepted the need for lockdowns to protect us all. But that is not to say that people are not on the edge, because they are. I think one of the things that was hardest at the start of this lockdown was to realise how little support there was from the federal government. The government that is meant to be there for all of us seemed to abandon Victoria. In fact, we had government members from Victoria suggesting that, really, the federal government had done all it should and could and that, if people needed more, 'Have a look at what's out there, but we're not going to step up.'
I'm very glad that eventually they did step up, but, just before they got that to point, we had people like the member for Wannon telling people, during an interview with the ABC, that they could go to Centrelink because they might be eligible for emergency payments. He said, 'What I'm saying is, if you've lost all your income, then you should go to Centrelink and see whether you're eligible for a payment.' Do the members of this government live in the real world? Do they understand what it is like for people who have already been through a very difficult year last year, and who, as the member for Melbourne said, are coming to a period when most of the supports that were in place for that year have been withdrawn and are in another lockdown? The government just do not seem to realise that that does not mean that people have resources that mean they can go down to Centrelink and check whether or not they might be eligible for a payment that's not there. They need support and they need to know that they are backed by their federal government.
As I said, it is a good thing that this payment is now in place, but it did come too late, and it is concerning that there are still too many people who are left out and who won't be eligible for this payment—people who have done the things that this government told them to do, such as withdrawing their super early on because they were told by this government to do so, even to their future financial detriment. Those people are likely to not now meet the asset test for this payment, so they will be stuck without it. I've had constituents in my electorate, particularly people in the events industry who have done it so hard through this entire pandemic, tell me that that's the situation they are in—that they are left out from this payment, that they're not eligible for it and that they feel that lack of support from this federal government. Instead of being there for all Australians, instead of being there for Victorians, this government's attitude is: 'No, this is not our problem. We are not here to support you.' It is just so disappointing that that is the attitude that people in my electorate have had to confront.
It's difficult for all of us on this side of the House as well, knowing that we are doing everything we can to advocate for these people in our communities and feeling like, for too long, that is falling on deaf ears. So I urge the members of the Morrison government to take a look at the reality of people's lives, to understand what it is like for people when they do go into lockdowns, when they can't work and when they are taking one for our whole community so that this virus doesn't spread. Take a look at what that's like, and give people the support they need. That is what they are asking of you, and it is not too much to ask.
I very much echo the concerns of the member for Scullin around the vaccine rollout and the lack of information around the vaccine rollout and the environment that that is creating for misinformation and disinformation to flourish in our community. I know that there are so many people in my community who are confused and anxious as a result of the Morrison government's botched vaccine rollout. There are frontline workers—aged-care workers, disability care workers, teachers and early childhood educators—who have not yet managed to secure even a first dose of the vaccine. There are local businesses who want to know that they have certainty in opening up going forward, yet they face a winter ahead where most of the population will not be vaccinated. More broadly, there are members of the community who are confused and uncertain about when, where and what type of vaccine they should be receiving. Why are we in this position? It's because this government saw the vaccine rollout as a Liberal Party branding exercise and not a public health effort. So, instead of putting together and running the public health campaign that we needed—the education campaign that should be helping people to understand their options and understand why getting a vaccine will support our whole community—we got a Liberal Party logo on an announcement. What a disgrace! What an absolute failure of responsibility! In the middle of a pandemic this government was more interested in putting Liberal Party branding on announcements about securing vaccines than they were about doing the work to get a public health education campaign out there. Well, we needed that campaign earlier this year, but we definitely need that campaign now, so I urge the government to step up and put together a public health education campaign that helps people understand what is going on, because, at the moment—and I'm sure I am not alone in this—I'm sure there are many members who are being contacted by members of the community who are confused, who are uncertain and who are looking for more information about what their vaccine options are. At the moment, those people are really at risk of misinformation, misunderstanding and confusion.
I was contacted just today by a member of my community who wrote to me to tell me that he received in his mailbox unsolicited health advice from none other than Clive Palmer. He said: 'Today, I received a pamphlet in my letterbox that outrageously claims that there's no pandemic in Australia and urges myself and any other recipients to avoid being vaccinated against COVID-19 with either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccinations.' The pamphlet also contains many unsubstantiated claims and statistics designed to make readers hesitant to receive a vaccination. Obviously, Clive Palmer should not be distributing that misinformation, and I am very concerned that it is going to members of my community, and I know it is going to members of other communities in Victoria. But the gap, the space that means that people are taking on board this information, is because this government has not done its job in making sure that people understand what their options are, how vaccines work and how getting a vaccine will help us all out of this pandemic.
Of course, one of the other reasons the government didn't do that is because they failed to secure the supply of vaccines we need. So we know now that instead of securing deals with a range of manufacturers, instead of doing the early work with Pfizer in the middle of last year, the government put all its eggs in one basket and told us at that point that we were at the front of the queue. And then, when it became blindingly obvious for all of us that we were nowhere near the front of the queue, they told us that it wasn't a race.
Now we're in the position obviously where we still don't have the supply we need to vaccinate our community, and every day that passes where our vaccination levels remain so low puts us all at risk. Again, before our last lockdown, I know in my community the sense of deja vu for people as we looked at another outbreak, as we looked at the virus taking hold again. And we heard that our aged-care residents and our aged-care workers had not been vaccinated. Can I tell you the distress that caused amongst so many members of my community who had already experienced the fear last year. In some cases people had lost loved ones because the virus had got into the nursing homes. The fact that we haven't fixed that for this year is a complete failure of responsibility by this government, and it is a stress that those people, those families and the people in aged care should not have to bear and they would not be bearing if this government had done its job on the vaccine rollout. So I am very, very concerned. We need the government to pick up its game immediately on this. We need to know how the vaccines are rolling out, and we need a concentrated public health information campaign rolling out around that so that people in our community know what's going on and feel secure about getting the vaccine.
I am concerned that instead of urgently fixing this mess, instead of urgently getting people the support they need and the vaccine rollout that we all deserve and need, the Morrison government this week has been focused on itself. It's been focused on electing a new Deputy Prime Minister. Last week it was focused on the Prime Minister tracking down his relatives in Cornwall. This is not a government that is doing the work that is needed in the middle of a pandemic. This is a government that has dropped the ball so comprehensively that we are not vaccinated and there is no national quarantine system. We need this government to do its job. We need this government to lift right now. I urge the government to do better.