Wednesday, 1 September 2021
[by video link] It has been a very difficult period in Victoria, in New South Wales and across the country over the last little while. We have a virus that is raging out of control, unfortunately, in New South Wales, and today was a difficult day with the Victorian Premier saying that it's unlikely that the number of people with coronavirus will come down in this state. We are almost a month into lockdown, there is huge economic pain and there are a lot of people doing it really tough, and I wanted to say thank you to each and every person who is making sacrifices on behalf of the broader community to help slow down the rate of coronavirus.
These sacrifices are so important, and we know they are important because, at the moment in New South Wales, there are hospitals that aren't taking more patients, there are limited intensive care beds and there are processes that are unfolding which are causing really difficult ethical decisions about likelihood of survival and other issues around who gets full attention and who gets the absolute best medical care. This is something in Australia that we haven't really had to think about in our lifetimes. We have an incredible healthcare system, we have universal health care. It was the great Bob Hawke who brought in our health system that enabled us to have access to high-quality health care whenever we need it, but we are in a period in this country where that is really going to be tested—probably for the first time in many of our lifetimes. We are really going to be tested as to whether or not we will have access to full care.
The most devastating and frustrating aspect of all of this is that it was entirely predictable, in that we knew that vaccinations were going to give us the best protection in order to prevent people getting sick and prevent transmission of this virus. We have been urging, since the very beginning of this pandemic, for the government to act with speed and purpose in order to manage this. Of course, we famously heard the Prime Minister say that it wasn't a race. And, more than that, more than just saying it, the actions of the federal government also treated the vaccine rollout in exactly that way—that it was never a race. And now we have only 35 per cent of the population fully vaccinated. We're not even halfway and we have most of the eastern seaboard in lockdown, there are cases constantly creeping into other states and we are in a really precarious situation with our healthcare system at the moment.
Dealing with this virus has always been a race, and at the moment the government is failing this contest and the virus is winning in Australia. The Prime Minister needs to take responsibility for that. He needs to admit his failures, because at the moment people in Victoria and New South Wales are facing dangerous days ahead because of his mismanagement of the vaccine rollout. It is so frustrating, because Victorians and Australians have done so much throughout this pandemic; they have sacrificed so much for their friends and for their families. People are tired of this pandemic, people are angry and people are exhausted. And what have we got to show? We are not even halfway to the 70 per cent threshold, where more options become available to us. That's really frustrating, and it did haven't to be like that.
Whatever the incentives are that people have in the future—not in the past; we can't change that—to get vaccinated, I know most people are going to get vaccinated because it will help them stay out of hospital and spending up to five weeks in intensive care. Some people are going to get vaccinated because they want to protect their families, their friends, their loved ones. Some people are going to get vaccinated to protect their country. Whatever the reason, we have put forward an incentive scheme to ensure we get to the 70 per cent or 80 per cent vaccination target. The Prime Minister, like he has done so many times throughout this pandemic, has played politics with that, and dismissed it because the idea came from the Labor Party. Well, there are other incentives that also need to be brought in.
If you choose not to be vaccinated, that's your choice. I can't say I agree with it or condone it. But then that also means that businesses will have a right to choose to keep you out of their businesses. It means airlines will be able to choose to keep you off their planes. It means that society will choose to separate themselves from you because of your choices—because we want to get out of this, we want to see the back of the lockdowns and we want to see our country move forward and be everything it can be. So my advice to you tonight is to get vaccinated. And thank you for all of the sacrifices that you've made so far.