House debates

Wednesday, 24 March 2021



7:35 pm

Photo of Vince ConnellyVince Connelly (Stirling, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Every Australian who hasn't had the opportunity to work inside parliament or government sort of sees a few things on question time or television or might hear them on the radio but doesn't get to see what it's like behind the scenes. Today I would like to take our viewers and listeners on a little bit of an expose as to what it's like to observe as a member of parliament and watch our leadership team, our Prime Minister and our ministers, manage through a crisis. Decisiveness is one of the most important principles of managing through crises well. I had some experience in this, firstly, through serving as a military officer for about a decade and then, secondly, through a decade and a half in business, where I worked in crisis management and business continuity. So I've seen the importance of taking decisions early and making them with the best information that you can.

One of the very earliest decisions taken by our Prime Minister and cabinet was to close the international borders to limit the spread of the coronavirus and that played such a significant role in keeping Australians safe. The second measure was declaring the spread of the virus a pandemic. That occurred two full weeks before the World Health Organization did the same. That assertive forward-leaning action went a very long way to getting us ahead at the very start of the crisis.

I will talk a little bit now about our Minister for Health, Greg Hunt. He has obviously been under immense pressure but has almost performed amicably if we are to assess him in terms of crisis management performance. Minister Hunt, the Minister for Health, has a mind a bit like a steel trap and is famed for being able to remember the names of complex medicines which save and enhance lives, many of which have been listed on the PBS under this government. He also has demonstrated a deft ability for decision-making. In September last year, one of the most important decisions that has been made during this crisis was taken. It was then, in September last year, that the decision was made to generate the capacity to manufacture vaccines at scale here in Australia. Right now that contract is taking great effect. In fact, the TGA has just approved the release of the first on-shore manufactured AstraZeneca doses. Indeed, 832,200 of those doses will now be rolling out of CSL's Melbourne plant. A further 2½ million doses have already been manufactured and are undergoing quality control ahead of rolling TGA approvals. Imagine where we would be had that early decision not been taken to manufacture at scale vaccines here in Australia. We have seen the disruptions to the global supply chain of vaccines and, thankfully, we are not now exposed nearly as badly as we could be to those risks.

Next I will talk about perseverance under pressure. It is no secret and no shame that when you are in a leadership position during a crisis you are under immense pressure. I don't think that the Treasurer will mind me admitting that one Sunday night whilst we were still unable to travel between Canberra and, in my case, my electorate of Stirling in Western Australia, I was in the ministerial corridor because I had to come in and do some work. On that Sunday night, the Treasurer was coming out of the cabinet room. Normally, the Treasurer is a bright and chirpy fellow and quite personable who says 'G'day Vince, how are you?' However, this time, he marched out of the cabinet room, used the disinfecting station there. I could see not only a look of determination on his face but incredibly red eyes as he marched past without even seeing I was there. I didn't feel too bad that I wasn't acknowledged. We later learnt that he was spending many, many sleepless nights with Treasury designing what we now know as the JobKeeper package. We know that JobKeeper has been a massive benefit for all Australians. It has kept Australians in jobs and it has protected Australian businesses. In my own electorate of Stirling, businesses like Cordingley's Surf in Scarborough Beach and El Greco Cafe in Stirling really have reaped those benefits.

We are also leading, adjusting the plan and being compassionate. We've seen that in PNG, where we've released eight million of our own vaccine doses and are continuing support to our wonderful Pacific island neighbour.