Thursday, 2 September 2021
Matters of Public Importance
COVID-19: Morrison Government
It's my great honour to be here before you again, Deputy Speaker Wallace. It's starting to be a bit of a regular occurrence.
It's been a long week in parliament and a very trying period for all of us, but I would again like to totally reject the hypothesis of these people on the other side. The opposition have got amnesia. The response Australia had to the COVID-19 pandemic has been second to none around the world. Let's go back to the beginning. People on the other side have incredibly short memories. When the rest of the world and the World Health Organization were in total denial, Australia was out of the blocks declaring it a virus with pandemic potential and issuing biosecurity orders at both federal and state level. We planned and looked at the modelling of what could happen in Australia.
First of all, I can tell you the health response was second to none and the economic response was second to none. Even though they criticise us, we had deals in place for 280 million vaccines. Now we've got forward orders in for booster doses. We sourced PPE from around the world. We redeveloped our own respirator capability, with industrial assistance from lots of sleep apnoea makers, and retrofitted old classic ventilators in New South Wales. We had a special pandemic register to increase the medical workforce. Even my good self got put back under full registration on the pandemic register because we thought we might need hundreds of doctors—you can't forget 33 years of knowledge!
We reregistered and retrained 20,000 nurses, as the Minister for Health outlined. We had agreements in place with state hospitals to increase by over 50 per cent the payment of all the COVID-19 expenses. There was a negotiation and a deal signed with our private hospital network to make their intensive care and ward capability available as surge capacity. We got the vaccine rolled out through a latticework of general practices. There are now over 5,000 registered and currently vaccinating. They have been the workhorses of the vaccine rollout. The Aboriginal medical services, as the Minister for Indigenous Australians outlined, were enlisted up-front. We established respiratory clinics to make sure we could divert the load away from the public hospital system. The states started their megahubs. We also put extra money into the remote Australia rollout of the vaccine through the Flying Doctor Service.
We have contracted vaccine administration services. You've all heard the name Aspen, but there are four or five other companies like that delivering vaccinations around the nation. We can see that we have reached 20 million vaccination doses already. We are catching up at a rate of knots. I expect we'll be reaching 70 per cent, at this rate, within three or four weeks in New South Wales and in other states that are getting on board and catching up.
In the quarantine space, because we were ahead of the rest of the world, we weren't flooded with international travellers bearing COVID-19. Our original testing, tracing, isolating and quarantine worked. That is one of the reasons we have had a good economic outcome. As was outlined, people were criticising our quarantine program, but, of 434,000 people who arrived and were put into either Australian quarantine centres or hotels identified as quarantine hotels, 4,200 cases were identified and isolated. Only six cases out of those 434,000 people who arrived escaped through that system. That is an incredibly small percentage.
The economic response is also second to none. Treasury was forecasting a projected 20 per cent loss of GDP and unemployment rates of 15 per cent. We had an amazing rollout of programs, starting with improving cash flow so that people could get a rebate of tax paid based on their GST and wages. It has been accompanied by continuing the instant expensing, or the instant asset write-off, provisions. We instituted a targeted loss carry-back so that losses this year could be carried back to profits in earlier years, resulting in a retrospective tax return. We started the HomeBuilder program, which had an absolute turbocharging effect on the housing construction industry. That program brought forward $114 billion worth of economic stimulus activity. It's the highest level of home building and the highest level of homeownership for first home buyers in nearly 15 years. One hundred and thirty-five thousand people applied for it. That is unbelievable economic activity in the middle of a pandemic, and it has kept the economy going.
There's a reason we got 161,000 more people in employment when we got over the first wave in the economic bounce-back. The other side has been criticising the JobKeeper program, but it kept people employed and linked to their employer—these companies and businesses that families, individuals, and large corporates had built up over decades. There is the old saying 'Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall and they couldn't put him back together.' We kept our economy together so it could rise from the COVID pandemic induced recession. Unemployment is now at the lowest level in over 10 years, at 4.6 per cent. It was 5.7 per cent when we were elected to govern this nation in 2013.
They criticised JobKeeper, but it's been reviewed by so many respected authorities. The Australian tax office has looked at it. As the Treasurer outlined today, at the second assessment, with the same criteria, it was an estimated downturn. That is what the law said, and businesses followed that. The criterion was then changed to actual turnover reduction, but even then the Australian tax office says the average downturn in those periods was 37 per cent. So everyone put their shoulder to the wheel, and there was an enormous sigh of relief that it was life saving for so many businesses and for so many people employed. It kept 700,000 people in employment. Look at the devastation that was wrought by the pandemic in Europe and at the reduction of 11 and 12 per cent in the GDP of other countries. Ours was a fraction of that. Our last GDP growth is still positive, even though with the most recent wave there has obviously been an effect.
There is criticism that we didn't have a plan. We had a plan for everything. I've run through them: workforce, PPE, hospital capacity, ventilator capacity, securing vaccines, telehealth items, mental health programs, respiratory clinics and getting a network of vaccination around the country. The list goes on. In my role as Minister Assisting the Minister for Trade and Investment I've been checking with other countries. Death rates in other countries are up to 39 times higher than what has eventuated in Australia.
We have had an exceptional health response and we've had an exceptional economic response. It's absolute nonsense for the other side to say we didn't have a plan. We have had a plan for everything, and the proof of those plans is in the economic response. We have a plan to get out of this current wave. We have voluntarily given up our freedoms of association and of economic activity, but we have a plan to get all those lifted. When 70 and 80 per cent is reached we will be lifting restrictions, and the economy will bounce back. (Time expired)