House debates

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Matters of Public Importance

COVID-19: Morrison Government

3:26 pm

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | Hansard source

This pandemic has shown the strength of Australian society—the way that Australians are resilient and the way they look after each other. But it's also shown the weakness in our economy, and it's highlighted the failure of a tired government that can't deal with the challenges of today, let alone imagine and create a better future tomorrow. A government focused just on short-term political and media management. The only time they looked up and looked ahead was when the Prime Minister said they were looking for the horizon, and we know horizons are never met.

In contrast, the Labor Party is committed to overcoming the COVID pandemic and creating a better future. When it comes to the pandemic, it's easy to put out claims that would fail the pub test when your failure to act on vaccines and quarantine mean that half the nation's pubs are closed. Direct results of this government's failures include: a failure to secure enough vaccines and to roll them out effectively; failures on quarantine, where we've seen breaches on 27 occasions; and, added to that, its congratulations to Premier Berejiklian for not locking down in June. These failures have led—in New South Wales alone—to 23,000 people being infected, 107 people losing their lives, 1,000 people being in hospital and 160 people being in intensive care. It's also resulted in the spread of COVID-19 to the ACT, Victoria, South-East Queensland, for a while, and even to New Zealand.

The fact is that we need to do more. Labor's COVID approach would be a speedy vaccination rollout, a safe end to lockdowns, protecting our children and preparing for the future. We would ensure a speedy vaccination rollout through a $300 incentive; through securing booster shots now and by supporting vaccine leave; by providing a safe end to lockdowns through fair access to vaccines before reopening; delivering an effective world-class national COVIDSafe app; supporting the national plan; and supporting businesses which want to protect their customers as well as their workers. We would protect our children, including 12- to 15-year-olds in the targets or, if not, specifying targets for them: We would vaccinate them quickly through a school based program, and prepare for under-12 vaccinations by securing a paediatric vaccine supply in the future. And we would prepare school based programs now.

We would prepare for the future, post-vaccination, by manufacturing mRNA here, building purpose-built quarantine and creating an Australian centre for disease control. We have a plan for post the pandemic as well—a plan for a stronger nation, a stronger middle class, a stronger federation, stronger regions and cities. We have a plan for a sustainable Australia and a collaborative, inclusive approach. Stronger nations futureproof their economies. This means producing sophisticated goods and services; plans for new industries through our National Reconstruction Fund; making Australia a renewable energy superpower to drive down energy prices; supporting advanced manufacturing, including in cyber, energy storage, mRNA vaccines, transport and logistics; and more. This means a stronger middle class and secure work. People are struggling out there to pay a mortgage. People are struggling to pay their everyday bills. We need to have secure work that values permanency, that values that security in the workplace. Yet those opposite won't even guarantee that people be paid the minimum wage.

We will have Jobs and Skills Australia, to ensure that Australians can fill the permanent well-paid jobs that we will create in the future. We have simple principles—no-one held back and no-one left behind—and we will make sure they're implemented as well. We will improve workforce participation by making child care affordable. We will genuinely advance women's equality by adopting all the recommendations of the Respect@Work report, not just some of them.

We need a stronger federation. This government has proven itself incapable of leadership. There has never been a prime minister who has so weakened the federation. The Prime Minister established the so-called national cabinet and today had to introduce legislation essentially to hide what happens in that national cabinet, as a result of the AAT decision. We've seen him go to court, backing Clive Palmer to tear down WA's border—a decision that cost a million dollars for Australian taxpayers, including over $40,000 given directly to Clive Palmer in order to further promote some of those whacky theories that are undermining our health during a pandemic.

The fact is: there is no state premier who this Prime Minister won't undermine. Even the Premier of New South Wales has been the subject of backgrounding and undermining. The fact is: we will introduce proper federal reform, including microeconomic reform. We will work with the states and territories, not against them. We are not seeking to divide Australia but seeking to unite Australia, so we can move forward stronger into the future. This Prime Minister thinks it's acceptable to call Western Australians and Queenslanders 'cave dwellers'. When Queenslanders are watching the rugby league grand final at Suncorp Stadium and when Western Australians are watching the AFL grand final at Optus Stadium, they won't think they're in a cave; they will be thanking their premiers for keeping them safe.

We need to return to respect for the Public Service as well—something that's consistently undermined by those opposite. We need to have appropriate regional development as well as a genuine plan for cities policy. They used to talk about cities policy. Now they just rort programs, like the commuter car parks program. They think that infrastructure development in our regions and cities should be determined not by what it does for the national economy, not by what it does for jobs, not by what it does for improving the standard and quality of life for people in our regions and cities; they think it's all about an electoral map and a colour coded map based upon political marginal seats.

We need a sustainable Australia, one that takes climate action seriously. The whole of the industrialised world will go to Glasgow already supporting net zero by 2050. The whole of the industrialised world knows we need real action. If there's anything that exemplifies this government being scared of the present but terrified of the future, it's the rhetoric we saw during the last election campaign about electric vehicles, about EVs, going forward; we have a government that said they would 'destroy the weekend'. They are completely unable to embrace and shape the future in Australia's national interest. We will once again be pariahs at that conference if we can't even get through net zero emissions.

Australia is a great nation, but we can be even greater. We're located in the fastest-growing region of the world in human history. With that comes enormous opportunity not just to export our resources but to value-add here, to manufacture things here, to imagine the opportunities from lithium, from copper, from nickel—from these great resources that will be so valued in the future. We have the opportunity to be a renewable energy superpower and position ourselves, but that requires leadership, collaboration and foresight. This government ignores problems until they become a crisis, and then their response is too little, too late. Then they never take responsibility and rewrite history. The 'gaslight on the hill'—that's what they have opposite.

Labor has the light on the hill—the light on the hill with imagination, courage and energy to bring Australians together, to create high-value jobs, to lift living standards, to lift people up; to make sure people are not left behind on the basis of where they were born, their gender, their sexuality or their religion; to make sure that we unite as a country. We need a government that's as big and bold as the Australian people themselves—a government with ambition for the future, not ambition for the next news day, not ambition for the next headline. That's what Labor will bring. Labor will bring that ambition for the future—a better future that we will deliver in government. (Time expired)


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