Tuesday, 22 June 2021
COVID-19 Disaster Payment (Funding Arrangements) Bill 2021; Second Reading
The longer this pandemic has gone on, the less this government has done for the people of Australia. The longer this pandemic has gone on, the less this Prime Minister has done to support the people of Australia. I remember the early days of this pandemic when the Prime Minister and the Chief Medical Officer were the ones who actually made the announcements around the restrictions, around the settings in which we were going to keep Australia safe. The Treasurer and the Prime Minister announced the JobKeeper supplement. They announced the coronavirus supplement. They announced the support measures that were going to keep Australia safe, and then they started to withdraw them. Businesses were still hurting and they started to withdraw the JobKeeper and JobSeeker supplements.
Then, thankfully, we were out of lockdowns. The majority of this country experienced a brief period, a couple of months, in which we were able to get the economy back on track, and that is a brilliant thing. It is a brilliant thing for businesses. No-one in this House wants to see Australian businesses struggle—absolutely no-one. But then this government pretended that the pandemic was completely over. And what did they do? They stepped away from any responsibility or any support for Australians and Australian businesses.
Then, when the unfortunate situation with one of the 24 breakouts from hotel quarantine happened and Victoria—like Perth, like Brisbane, like Sydney, like Adelaide—went into a short lockdown, the federal government were shamed into doing something, the very bare minimum, to support Victorian workers. That's why the COVID-19 Disaster Payment (Funding Arrangements) Bill 2021 is here today: because the federal government, who have removed themselves from all of the decision-making processes and all of the support mechanisms to get people through the pandemic, were shamed into bringing this bill.
I say that because, at the start of the parliamentary sitting, when we came back up here a few weeks ago, this federal government's public statements were that if the Victorian government was going to lock down Victoria then it was up to the Victorian government to support Victorians. That's what this government said, and it's only because that was so untenable and so unhelpful that they did a complete U-turn. There must have been someone sensible on that side of the House saying: 'You know what? Maybe just leaving the entire state of Victoria on their own isn't the best idea.' But that's exactly what this government have done repeatedly throughout this pandemic.
During the stage 4 lockdown, instead of supporting Victorians, the Prime Minister and the two most senior Victorians—the Minister for Health and Aged Care, and the Treasurer—issued petty press statements on the side, comparing Victoria to New South Wales, as if it's some sort of a competition, as if it's not about keeping people safe, as if the Victorian government wanted to keep restrictions in place one second longer than they needed to, as if the political pain being experienced by those actually turning up to keep people safe were somehow a flippant competition that this federal government had earned the right to comment on. Well, they didn't, because they weren't willing to turn up and actually make the decisions that help keep people safe. What's worse is they weren't willing to support people during those difficult days.
That's what leads us to this bill. It's the bare minimum bill; that's what this bill is. We should never, ever have had to be in the situation that the member for Dunkley just articulated. We should never have been in a situation where we needed the bare minimum bill. Where we should have been is way ahead in the vaccine rollout. We should have had well over 50 per cent of our population vaccinated by now. We have an outstanding health network. Look at the ways in which countries around the world have successfully rolled out the vaccines. They've used pharmacies, they've used mass vaccination clinics and they have procured as many vaccines as possible. They have been the big three parts of their success. What did this federal government do? They put all their eggs—all of them—in one basket, AstraZeneca. They put all their eggs in the AstraZeneca basket. The original deal signed with Pfizer was for only 10 million doses, because, as the health minister said, they apparently were hiding behind advice that said they didn't need Pfizer. They said no to Pfizer. They put all their eggs in the AstraZeneca basket, and now that AstraZeneca has had a change of medical advice we are stuck.
The federal government also decided to roll out the vaccines through the GP network. I know many GPs, and they have done an amazing job. GPs have done a full list of vaccinations on top of their usual roster of patients. They have worked their backsides off because they, as health professionals, feel a sense of responsibility and duty to vaccinate as many people as possible. I say unashamedly that we are so grateful to our GPs, but they have been forced to do the majority of the work when they didn't need to. Using mass vaccination clinics, community hubs and pharmacies, as well as procuring enough vaccines, could have supported them.
Add to that the fact that we need purpose-built quarantine facilities to make sure we contain outbreaks of variants like the delta variant, which is highly transmissible. At the moment, Victoria seems to be the only place in the entire world that has run down an outbreak of the delta variant, and I hope that New South Wales, Sydney, will be the second. Without purpose-built quarantine facilities, outbreaks from hotel quarantine are only going to increase. If we'd fixed the vaccine rollout and fixed quarantine, there would have been no need for the bare minimum bill we have here today.
Make no mistake: this bill is the bare minimum. It is the absolute bare minimum, which this government was shamed into doing. They were willing to leave Victoria stranded, they were willing to leave Victorians stranded and they were willing to sit there, not make any of the hard decisions, not take any responsibility, and completely evade any political responsibility for the management of this pandemic. The longer it's gone on, the less we've seen of this Prime Minister. Australians, and especially Victorians, know exactly what sort of character this Prime Minister is. They've been left behind by him, and they deserve so much better.