Monday, 26 October 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Health. Will the minister please update the House on how the twin pillars of testing and tracing are helping to keep Australian lives and livelihoods safe during the COVID-19 pandemic?
I want to thank the member for Berowra, who has been a great advocate for mental health in his time in this place and, in particular, during the course of the pandemic, has been one of the supporters and proponents of steps which the government has taken in conjunction with the states and territories to assist with mental health support around Australia, but most particularly in Victoria, where we know that, whether it's MBS presentations, whether it's eating disorders or whether it's Beyond Blue, we've seen huge increases in numbers. More generally, though, the greatest protection has been our containment strategy, and that containment strategy includes, as I've said, borders, testing, tracing and distancing.
In terms of our testing strategy, what we've seen is an outstanding success story in eight out of eight states and territories. Over 8½ million tests have been conducted. One of the most important things that the government has done to protect Australians was, during February, March and April, when the world faced severe shortages of testing equipment, to maintain that air bridge, operating as a single government, operating with the Treasurer and the Prime Minister and, in particular, the minister for transport, who was able to assist in ensuring that we had those supplies constantly coming in to Australia, to provide those tests, when we saw, in parts of Italy and Spain and France and New York, huge challenges with those supplies. But that constancy and consistency has protected Australians right throughout.
Shortly before question time, I was also able to meet with the chief scientist, Alan Finkel, and he was able to advise me on his judgement on the tracing programs around the country. Seven out of the eight states and territories—seven out of eight—have outstanding tracing capabilities. And Victoria is improving significantly, and I want to welcome that. It obviously comes from a situation where they had great challenges. We were able to provide 400 ADF personnel to assist; able to help bring in, from Western Australia and Queensland and other places, very experienced public health personnel to improve their quality. That quality is on the improve. And what that means is that Victoria is now, with low case numbers and a significantly improved contact tracing system, we believe, in a position to open in a COVID-safe way, in line with New South Wales.
And, because of the national approach to testing, because of the national approach to tracing and because of the fact that we have a strong system, Australia is in one of the strongest places in the world. And I want to thank everybody involved—all of our public health officials. What they have done is to help save lives and protect lives.