Tuesday, 22 June 2021
COVID-19 Disaster Payment (Funding Arrangements) Bill 2021; Second Reading
The only reason that this legislation, the COVID-19 Disaster Payment (Funding Arrangements) Bill 2021, is needed is because of the Morrison government's many failures to actually guide us out of the pandemic and to put the things in place that will see us through the next period. Workers and self-employed people all need to know that there is a financial safety net there if an outbreak stops their city. While a lot of this has been focused on Melbourne and Victoria, in Sydney right now I bet there are lots of people wondering what might happen if the outbreak Sydney is experiencing spreads and we find ourselves in the same position in Greater Sydney as Melbourne and Victoria. It strikes me that the government are unable to think ahead, unable to be one step ahead; they're always one step behind. It's like COVID is the queen and they see themselves as the consort. They are never getting out in front. They're never able to show us that there is a plan to move beyond where we are now.
When I reflect back on what has happened during the pandemic, from the start we, as the opposition, were really pleased that we encouraged the government to listen to the science early on and that we recognised there was a need to deal with this as a health crisis and then to think about the need for wage subsidies so that people could do the right thing to save lives. The community responded magnificently to both those things, recognising that they were needed. I have no doubt that around the country it was the community that did this, with decisions led and pushed for by premiers, and that spared us from the worst health impacts and, consequently, the worst financial impacts. I have to say it feels like it was little thanks to the Prime Minister or the aged care minister, if you go back to the very early days. When I think about aged care—because my dad is in aged care—I realise how vulnerable people were, people in their 80s and their 90s or even those who were in their 70s and not in good health. The premiers had to step in and try and deal with, at that time, a very much unknown situation, and they didn't get any help from the feds. There was such little support at a federal level, and that attitude has continued to this day around aged care. People will look back on how this government responded in the aged-care sector with absolute dismay that it was done that way.
There was the good decision made that the premiers would essentially be left to convert empty hotel accommodation to quarantine accommodation. Yes, a good call. What we've realised though and what we've known for some time is that the set-up of hotels is not conducive in all cases to an effective quarantine system. Now, this isn't new; we didn't just work this out yesterday. We have known this, and the contrast is clear when you look at Howard Springs, which was set up with quite independent units that allow people to not have to share infected air. When you've got 24 leaks from hotel quarantine, you'd think somebody would work this out, but yet again the government's been a step behind, never a step in front. It's clear we need dedicated quarantine facilities so that we can reduce the chances of this sort of disaster payment ever being needed.
The vaccine is the other area where there have been failures. I know governments don't like to admit failures, but this government more than any are unable to recognise their mistakes. The rollout has been an embarrassment, with only three per cent of people fully vaccinated and about a quarter partially vaccinated. The rates of vaccinated aged-care workers and disability care workers are still not really clear, nor are the rates of vaccinated residents in disability care. We should have all that data. It should be at our fingertips. We should be able to look at it and go: 'Okay, there's a problem here. How do we address it?' This fear of admitting they haven't got it right means it comes across as an arrogant approach, particularly when we've been in opposition wanting to work with the government, wanting to bring forward the problems that we see and help find solutions to them.
I wonder why we still don't have really good mobile facilities, particularly for areas like mine on the edge of the city, where they are a long way from the hubs that have been established in New South Wales. I'm getting a lot of comments from people in their 40s and 50s who are finding out that it's going to be a really long wait for their Pfizer appointment. Clearly, that's because supply has been an issue. You can't deny it. You can't pretend that, no, it's all good. It just hasn't been. It hasn't even been equitably distributed amongst the states. You wonder whether that could have been done differently. Yes, we were saying that you needed more deals. You needed to do more deals for a variety of vaccines, knowing that they might not all be perfect. And hasn't that proven to be the case! You could have done a deal with Moderna. Fancy not taking the offer of additional doses of Pfizer! All those things are clearly errors that have been made. We should also be making mRNA vaccines here, or looking at how we would do that, and doing it as quickly as we can.
I don't think anyone thinks that pandemics just suddenly turn off. We know we have a road ahead of us, and that's why we not only need a plan but we really need to have information. That's the other huge gap from the Morrison government: information—especially given the changes in the vaccine, that would have given people a place to be able to clearly and succinctly find out what they needed as things changed. There has been such a lack in that, let alone the motivating and inspiring campaign that would have had people of all ages flocking for vaccines. When your supply isn't good enough, maybe you don't want that to happen, but a public health information campaign is the massive vacuum that has been left. It has allowed people like Clive Palmer to fill the vacuum with the rubbish that he says. It is stuff that is dangerous, yet we're not even seeing action from the government to correct and mitigate the misinformation that's being pumped out all around the country. That's a failure of this government.
What we need is action on all these steps, and we need a plan that will see us be protected and will see new arrivals quarantined effectively. We need a plan that allows for stranded Aussies to come home and reduces the risk for others coming in, such as the much-needed skilled workers and students. We need a plan that takes us forward. Right now we're in limbo. We need a plan that puts us a step ahead, not just a step behind. I think we need a plan that shows that this government doesn't think the job is done, because right now it feels like they've done all they're going to do. We have these little bits of tweaking, like this legislation, but it really is time for the government to take the weight and show us the way forward. We are really happy on this side to have input into that plan. If there were true bipartisanship, that's what would be happening now. We would work together.