Wednesday, 26 May 2021
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable the Leader of the Opposition proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The impact of the Government's failures.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
The government had two jobs this year: the vaccine rollout and quarantine. It has botched both. We have a Prime Minister who never accepts responsibility. He's too busy rolling out the red carpet for himself to roll out the vaccination for Australians. This is not just a government of smirk and mirrors; it's a government of shirk and mirrors. It's always someone else's responsibility. We saw it today when we asked questions about the Victorian outbreak and the connection with the hotel quarantine system, which has been established because of the Prime Minister's refusal to establish an appropriate facility. If this Prime Minister has a single Shakespearean quality, it's that he is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
We saw that again today. He actually had the chutzpah to stand up and say, 'They're attacking the states.' This is the guy who had his Treasurer stand at this dispatch box and attack the Andrews Labor government. He had the health minister attack the Andrews Labor government. This is a Prime Minister who went to Queensland to do two things: to raise funds for the Queensland LNP and to call upon the Palaszczuk government to open the borders. 'Open them up!' That's what he did. And then, in Western Australia, he joined with Clive Palmer to say that Mark McGowan was right. Well, I say this: I'm on Mark McGowan's side; this Prime Minister was on Clive Palmer's side.
We were told that Australia was at the front of the queue, but we know that we're 113th. We were told four million Australians would be vaccinated by March. Well, we're almost in June and we're not at four million yet. When the vaccines arrived, the minister made it sound like the moon landing. Remember that? 'The eagle has landed.' Well, it was a dodo bird, not an eagle, because there we were at the back of the queue. The member for Higgins went further. She said on Raf Epstein's program that the minister opposite deserved a Nobel prize. She did! I'm not kidding. He's more worthy of a booby prize.
Then there are the mixed messages we've had out there. 'We're not in a rush. Nothing to see here. Chill out, peeps. Wait for the next vaccine.' That's the message they've sent out. The PM's messages spin like a weathervane in a tornado. They are different each and every day. No wonder there's so much confusion out there. When we asked about quarantine yesterday, we actually got an answer to the question. For 30 seconds he took responsibility. He stood up and he said, 'Yes, well, the Commonwealth is responsible for quarantine'—hint, hint: it's in the Constitution. He then paused and went, 'But it's the states and territories.' There it was.
We know that the Melbourne outbreak comes because of hotel quarantine in Adelaide. The people involved survived India unaffected, but they didn't survive the Adelaide quarantine without being infected and without spreading it around Victoria. This has real consequences for human health, real consequences for people's everyday lives and real consequences for our economy. That's why this is not an academic exercise. That's why this government shouldn't shirk its responsibility.
They had a report last year from Jane Halton, which recommended that they deal with issues like ventilation in hotels—hotels weren't appropriate—and that they deal with facilities. Exmouth was named. We've had proposals from state governments. The Palaszczuk government—almost a year ago now—in the third quarter of last year were advancing proposals outside of Gladstone and, of course, in Toowoomba. What did we get from the Prime Minister? He described Toowoomba as a place 'in the desert'. Then he said that you've got to have quarantine close to airports. I'll give him the big tick: the proposal is at Wellcamp Airport. It's actually at the airport where his plane landed. Then he said it needed to be near health facilities. The Toowoomba Base Hospital is not a bad place at all.
This is a Prime Minister who got confused between Toowoomba and Betoota. The Betoota Advocate got it absolutely right when they described him as 'Scotty from marketing'. Speaking of marketing, they spent $1 billion on advertising, but they can't get an advertising program for the vaccination rollout right. They spent $3.8 million on a campaign featuring a milkshake video that was so obscene that even The Betoota Advocate couldn't send it up. Then we had government members such as Senator Rennick yesterday saying this about when he would be vaccinated: 'Mate, I'm going to sit back and watch and see how it goes.' That's what government members are saying. Of course, they have no plan for getting the vaccine rollout right. They have no plan for quarantine; that's for the states. And, of course, they have no plan for the economy.
This is a government that's high on visibility but low on delivery. They assume closed borders until after the election. Their budget allows for lower wages, low growth, low productivity and lower workforce participation. What a quadrella! Not only are workers' wages due to go down over the forward estimates; we know their taxes will go up once the election is over and the tax offset is withdrawn. This is all the while racking up $1 trillion of debt while they cut $3.3 billion from infrastructure over the forward estimates.
The Prime Minister recently quoted Talking Heads—someone must have given that to him! What he should have quoted, if he's talking about this government, is 'Road to Nowhere', because that's this government. They don't actually have a plan for Australia's future. Labor does: appropriate quarantine facilities, rollout of the vaccine, manufacturing mRNA vaccines here and a proper advertising campaign. But, post the pandemic, we'll be building back stronger—not just trying to go back to what was there—through our National Reconstruction Fund and through the creation of jobs and skills in Australia. We'll be identifying jobs of the future and training Australians for them, including in the new energy apprenticeships program. There will be universal affordable child care to boost productivity, boost the economy and boost women's workforce participation. Our Housing Australia Future Fund will not just deal with homelessness, deal with people escaping domestic violence and look after our veterans who are sleeping on our streets but also create jobs and build our economy. We will create secure work and deal with casuals, the gig economy, the gender pay gap and 'same job, same pay'. When we asked simple questions about that today—about two people next to each other doing the same job with a $500-a-week pay differential—what did the government have to say about it? Nothing. They've been in government now for three terms. They're shooting for over a decade in office, but they won't take responsibility for anything. On a day like today, the fourth anniversary of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, if you want to lift Australia up, just get it done.
We want an Australia where no-one is left behind and no-one is held back. What we have from this government is not just a government dominated by climate sceptics; we know, as a result of recent decisions, they're market sceptics as well. They're prepared to engage in using taxpayers' money for any purpose whatsoever. What reform will this government leave after three terms? Where's the big vision? Where's the change in the economy, in social policy and in environmental policy? This week we saw that the Prime Minister not only doesn't hold a hose; he couldn't hold a nail! He was there with a hammer, pretending to hammer a nail in. There was no nail there! It says it all about how fake this government is. Australians have been magnificent during this pandemic, and they deserve a government that is better.
What a demonstration of not being on Team Australia that we have just seen in this chamber—disgraceful! The Treasurer this week was quoting from Sir Robert Menzies—and, I can tell you, I've been reminded of this quote. It was Sir Robert Menzies on the eve of the 1954 election against 'Doc' Evatt. He said:
Our opponents have been destructive critics. They have politically welcomed every difficulty. They have prophesied, and hoped for, disaster.
… … …
… bitterly frustrated by the failure of their past prophecies, they are struggling to raise false issues and new prejudices, and to make glittering promises to distract attention from real and solid achievements.
What are those achievements today? Australia's COVID-19 response is the envy of the world. It didn't happen by accident—and, most importantly, we thank every Australian for the part that they played in responding to this crisis. We can be proud together as Australians to share in the Australian response.
The economies of the United Kingdom, France and Italy all contracted by more than eight per cent and Japan and Canada around five per cent. Programs like JobKeeper and JobSeeker kept workers engaged in businesses, kept households afloat and kept businesses going. The result has been that the Australian economy has contracted by just 2.5 per cent. JobKeeper kept 3.8 million people in their job. JobSeeker helped 1.5 million people who were without work. Since the end of JobKeeper, 132,790 Australians have come off JobSeeker and youth allowance.
At the start of COVID, the effective unemployment rate peaked at 15 per cent. There are more Australians in work today than before COVID. At 5.5 per cent, unemployment is lower today than when we came to government. Female workforce participation is now near a record 61.3 per cent above pre-COVID levels. Business conditions are at some of the highest levels ever. According to the NAB index, consumer confidence is the highest it has been in a decade. In these uncertain times, Australia has maintained our AAA credit rating—one of only nine countries in the world to do so. On the health front, 3.8 million vaccine doses have been given here in Australia—and it continues, with over half a million doses of the vaccine given in the last week alone. Globally, sadly, 3.3 million people have lost their lives to COVID-19, and right now we see 700,000 to 800,000 people every day contract COVID. Here in Australia, sadly, just over 900 people have lost their lives. But if we experienced the OECD average of deaths, if we compared ourselves to like economies, to those like democracies, that same rate of death would have resulted in 30,000 Australians dying.
Yet those opposite want to talk about the government's failures. I don't know why you'd want to talk Australia down when our economy and health response is the envy of the world. It is something that Australians should be and can be proud of. The destructive talking down of the Australian response to COVID-19 is irresponsible. The Leader of the Opposition said that the roof of the economy would come crashing down. But what have we seen? We have seen 33,800 full-time jobs created, underemployment at its lowest level in seven years and youth unemployment falling to its lowest level in 12 years.
Our budget is rebuilding the economy. We're providing tax relief for 10 million Australians. Low- and middle-income earners will get up to $1,080 for individuals and $2,160 for couples. We're doubling the JobTrainer Fund to support 163,000 new training places, and we're funding more than 170,000 apprenticeships and traineeships. We're adding another $15 billion to our $110 billion infrastructure pipeline, and we're making an additional $1.7 billion investment in child care.
We're backing Australian small businesses—98 per cent of all businesses in this country are small businesses. The instant asset write-off threshold and the temporary full expensing and temporary loss carry-back measures will make a big difference to those businesses who want to invest and grow their businesses and to employ more Australians. We're seeing it working, and that's why it's continuing. We've passed legislation to bring forward tax cuts for small and medium businesses. The corporate tax rate will now hit 25 per cent in 2021-22, five years sooner than planned. We've also increased the small business entity turnover from $10 million to $50 million for 10 small business tax concessions. That represents $105 million worth of tax relief for those small businesses and a very important deregulation measure that this government backs. See, the government wants to set up Australia for success, and we do that by supporting small and family businesses to deliver on that success.
Getting Australians into homes through HomeBuilder has seen 137,000-plus starts to detached homes across Australia. That's an increase of 34.2 per cent on last year, and it's higher than the peak that we had seen in the previous boom in 2018. That keeps tradies in jobs. That puts people in homes. This is a key program that has assisted Australia's economic recovery and makes a huge difference to those people who deliver the program and those people who benefit from the program by owning their own home, an essential part of the Australian dream.
Australia is playing its part on climate change. We have met our 2020 commitments, and we are on track to meet and beat our 2030 target. Australia's emissions are 19 per cent lower than in 2005 and at their lowest level since 1995. Australia is on the pathway to net zero, and our goal is to get there as soon as we possibly can, preferably before 2050. We will do this practically, with a technology-focused approach. We'll use technology, not taxes. We've got the highest uptake of rooftop solar in the world. We are supporting major energy storage solutions like Snowy 2.0 and Battery of the Nation. In this budget, we're investing a further $1.6 billion to fund priority technologies, including clean hydrogen and energy storage.
We'll provide funding to protect our environment—$480 million, including $100 million for our oceans. We will invest that $100 million through our Ocean Leadership Package. It will deliver cleaner beaches, reduce fisheries bycatch, increase fish stocks, protect turtles and sea birds, and support coastal and Indigenous communities who are reliant on the ocean for their livelihoods. I'm pleased that we're establishing two more Australian marine parks, covering 740,000 square kilometres around the waters of Christmas and Cocos Islands. That will lift our percentage of waters protected from 37 to 45 per cent.
This government is about putting in place a plan that allows Australians to steer their own ship, to get their home, to employ more Australians, to ensure that we put Australia on the track that secures our economic recovery. Those opposite like to complain. They like to talk Australia down. They like to talk Australians down. They like to undermine the success of all Australians in relation to our COVID economic and health response.
No wonder Australians are confused about the Labor Party. I tell you what—when a group of people do well, you say, 'Well done.' What does this group opposite do? They whinge and they complain, because, you know what? This is a group of people that can't even manage themselves; they're tearing themselves apart. They don't know who they're for and who they're against. In fact, the Prime Minister has reminded us that they're for everybody. This group of people have lost their way, and yet they sit opposite the government and lecture this government in relation to our COVID health and economic response.
In relation to Labor's failure, their own Leader of the Opposition spent $9 million helping to set up Community Chef, a local government-run supplier of meals for the aged-care sector, which estimates have shown have cost the taxpayer $30 million. That's failure!
The Morrison government couldn't deliver a pizza and the Australian people know it. In almost every policy area that this Prime Minister has made a commitment or a promise to the Australian people, he has failed to deliver and it's affecting the welfare of the Australian people. Remember the Prime Minister promised four million Australians would be vaccinated by the end of March? He only fell 3.8 million short of that target. The government are still bungling the vaccine rollout, with elderly people and people with disabilities still unable to receive the vaccine.
I want to read a letter that I received from a GP in the area that I represent. This GP is the head of a number of GPs that work at a practice. He writes, 'We find it hard to understand and very disconcerting that some GP practices, including one as large as ours with a total of 16 doctors, is only receiving 100 AstraZeneca vaccines per week. We have a large number of elderly patients and patients with significant underlying medical conditions and currently have close to 500 on our waiting list to get the vaccine. They understand the need to be protected against COVID-19 and they're keen to be vaccinated as soon as possible via their GP. We ask you to pass on our dilemma to the health minister, Greg Hunt, and the Prime Minister and we hope this will result in an immediate improvement in vaccine distribution to GP clinics like ours.' That was on 5 May. That's the view of Australia's GPs about how that side of the chamber is bungling the vaccine rollout, but they don't seem to care.
Australians are worried about their health, particularly the elderly and those with disabilities. Small businesses are pleading with this government to get on with the vaccine rollout so they don't have the threat of another lockdown or restrictions again. Businesses whose workers rely on borders reopening are dumbfounded at the government's lack of interest in getting Australians vaccinated. When it comes to vaccinations, they have failed the Australian people. Now, the No. 1 job of an Australian government is to keep the Australian people safe and to provide them with safe passage home when they want to get home.
Remember the Prime Minister promised we would have all Australians home by the end of Christmas—another failure. There are still 36,000 Australians stranded overseas and they cannot get home. Back here in Australia, the government talks about supporting workers. Well, this government is failing Australian workers. Those on that side quite often like to come in here and say, 'We're all about supporting Australian workers.' Let's look at their record. They are not about supporting Australian workers when they're the party of WorkChoices that introduced laws that cut the wages and working conditions of Australians and forced them on to individual contracts. They're not the party of Australian workers when you cut penalty rates so that low-paid workers take home less to their families each week. They're not the party of Australian workers when they allow Qantas, one of our largest employers, to sack 3,000 of its workers and, in an ultimate insult to those workers, bring in a foreign corporation to do the work that Australians were doing on lower wages and conditions. That's an absolute disgrace. They're not about Australian workers when they oppose coalminers who are seeking to be paid the same as their colleagues for doing the same work although they're employed by a labour company. They went to the High Court and gave a submission against those workers saying no, they shouldn't be paid the same as their colleagues. And they are not for Australian workers when they make a submission to the Fair Work case for low-paid workers ensuring that they don't get a wage increase at all. When they make a submission to the Fair Work case saying low-paid workers don't deserve a wage increase at all, they're not for Australian workers one bit. The result is that Australian workers' incomes are falling and it is confirmed in the government's own budget papers. They admit that, over the forward estimates, the real wages of Australian workers are going to fall under their government. How are they for the welfare of the Australian people?
The government is failing small businesses as well. If you walk down any main street of any region in Australia, a small business employer will tell you, 'We can't get workers. We can't get skilled staff.' Why? Because there are 140,000 fewer apprentices in this country since this government was elected. They cut $2 billion from TAFE and, as a result, there are no workers to take on the skills and the requirements that employers need. Their solution in the past was: 'It'll be okay. We don't need apprentices and trainees. We'll import them from overseas. We'll bring in foreign workers on temporary visas.' Well, now that the borders have been shut they've been found wanting and small businesses are suffering.
They're not for older workers, either. Older Australians are suffering as well. When the title of the interim report of the royal commission into aged care is Neglect, you know you got a problem.
You're not for Australian workers and small businesses at all.
If you were to listen in isolation to the opposition members in this chamber, you really would think Australia was a bit of a basket case right now. In an unhealthy state of mind, everything they say is negative. Everything they say is painting a picture of an Australia that is not in a good place—if you were to listen solely to what they say.
Of course, the Australian people know that that is not the case. The Australian people know because they see and listen to international news, and they know that there is not a continent on this planet, except Australia, that hasn't been ravaged by this pandemic. The previous member said that the primary aim of a government is to keep its people safe. Guess what? We have. We have kept the Australian public safe—and thank you to the Australian people for adhering to the health advice that we were given and that we gave to them. We have kept the Australian people safe. We as a government have been a big part of keeping the Australian people safe. But you never hear that. You never hear any of the positive statistics come out of their mouths. About 12 months ago they were saying that we needed to flat the curve. Deputy Speaker O'Brien, I'm sure you heard that, and I'm sure members opposite remember that, and said that the health advice was that, as a government and as a country, we needed to flatten the curve. Guess what? We did flatten the curve.
You can't eliminate a virus; we know that. There have been outbreaks. There will always will be outbreaks. We were told right at the start that this virus could not be eliminated. As the Prime Minister mentioned today, there would be no country in the world, on both a health front and an economic front, where you would rather be right now than Australia. But, again, there's no acknowledgment of that. Sure, you can look at things and, sure, you can highlight things that we need to look at and maybe we need to get better at. No matter what you do, you can always do a bit better. Sure, we need to discuss those things. But, seriously, not a positive thing has come out of their mouths.
Because we've done so well on the health front—because we did flatten the curve and because we have kept Australians relatively safe from this virus—economically we have done very well as well. Economically, compared to just about any country in the world, we're doing really well. We talk about workers and employment—we are one of the fastest growing economies in the world right now. Unemployment was predicted by the Treasury—if we didn't introduce certain measures—to go to 15 per cent. An extra two million Australians would have been unemployed. It never happened. We capped the unemployment level at 7½ per cent. What's happened to it since then? What's happened to the unemployment rate since then? It's gone to 5.5 per cent. In the budget last week Treasury predicted it would go below five per cent. Is that good for workers? Of course it's good for workers.
Opposition members interjecting—
I hear people groaning over there. Obviously they don't agree that the unemployment rate going down is a good thing. They must want unemployment to be high. Do you want unemployment to be higher? I mean, groaning that the unemployment rate is predicted to go below five per cent? Really? The unemployment rate is at 5.5 per cent and is predicted to go below five, and I get groans from the other side? Seriously? You can't celebrate a low unemployment rate?
The biggest issue in this country right now, the biggest issue which just about every private sector business talks to me about, is that they can't get enough workers. We have a staff shortage. The biggest problem is that people can't get enough workers. Now, that certainly is better than the alternative—people not being able to find a job. But we don't have that issue. Why is that the case? Why don't we have high unemployment? It's because we, as a government, have done some very specifically targeted stimulus spending. That's why the economy is doing so well. Again, you've never heard anything about that, you've never heard from those opposite how fast our economy is growing. You never hear them talk about a falling unemployment rate because it is impossible, for whatever reason, for any of them to say anything positive about our country.
A couple of things have been very important, and the one I like the most and that I mention most times I speak is the instant tax write-off. I was at a Primex field day in my electorate on the weekend, and there wasn't a small business there that didn't say what as great policy that is. I celebrate Australia. There are a lot of positive things happening. I ask you to see them. (Time expired)
People want certainty, security and safety. That's what people want from their governments. When a government fails to deliver these things—when it fails to deliver certainty, so that people can plan for their future and their children's futures; when it fails to deliver security, so that people know that their jobs are secure, they can put food on the table, if any calamities befall them their government is on their side; when it fails to deliver safety so that people feel safe in their homes, on the streets and in their workplaces—it's not just a failing of policy. It's a failing of leadership, and this Liberal-National government has failed in its leadership. It has presided over a vaccine rollout that is inept and happening at a snail's pace. It is a rollout that has real impacts for the people that they are supposed to represent, for the people for whom they are supposed to deliver certainty, security and safety.
I want to speak about a few people in Cowan, people like Garry. He's 70 years old and he reported to my office earlier this month saying that he's been trying to get a vaccination since Easter. His local medical centre claimed that there is a waitlist—wait for it—of 500-plus people who are waiting to get vaccinated at the centre. The centre is only getting a supply of 50 doses a week. Kerry, whose 89-year-old mother is living in a nursing home, has contacted the office concerned that neither the staff nor the residents have received vaccines, despite being in the priority group 1a. One of the worst ones that I got was from a nurse named Jeanette who wrote to me. She starts her email with this: 'Right now I should be on my way to receive my first Pfizer COVID vaccination as a frontline worker, but instead I'm sitting writing to my federal MP to express my extreme outrage, frustration and disappointment.' I think that just about sums up how people are feeling about this government's handling of the vaccine rollout: outrage, frustration and disappointment.
These are not my words, these are not the words of people on this side of the chamber. This is not us complaining or whingeing or being negative. These are the words of Australians. These are the words of the people you are supposed to be looking after. These are the words of the people that you are supposed to be keeping safe, to give them security and to give them confidence: fail, fail, fail, with real-world consequences. While these are individual cases, the collective impact of this is that we have slower economic recovery. We're behind the rest of the world.
A government member interjecting—
We will have slower economic recovery as the rest of the world opens up its borders and ours stay closed because we have no vaccine and no quarantine facilities. We will have our borders closed to tourists and international students as the rest of the world forges ahead because we are No. 113 on the long list, even though we were promised that we were way ahead, that we were at the front of the line. A lack of certainty and security, people don't know who to believe—
A government member interjecting—
Do they believe the health minister? Do they believe the Prime Minister? What is the timetable? The government has spent millions of dollars advertising themselves. They haven't allocated a single cent to advertising vaccine uptake, including advertising to ensure that people do not fall for vaccine fraud, to ensure that people do not fall for phishing scams that will lead them to taking false vaccines or to criminal syndicates collecting information from them. Where is the advertising campaign? Instead, we have a government that spends millions of dollars advertising itself. How can Australians trust this government? How can they trust them on security, on confidence, on safety? We've got a Prime Minister who doesn't hold a hose. No, he doesn't hold a hose but, I tell you what, he holds a hammer—doesn't always hit the nail on the head, though! On the vaccine rollout and on quarantine, he's missed the nail completely.
I want to start by thanking the Australian Labor Party for giving me the opportunity to speak on the impact of this government. The Morrison government is securing Australia's recovery from COVID-19—and everyone knows that. Unlike Labor, the decisions we make on this side of the House have real consequences. We do not have the luxury of grandstanding in this place. While the opposition complains and plays political games, the Morrison government is getting on with the job.
When I vote in this House, my electorate of Chisholm is front of mind, and I must think about what a particular bill will do to my electorate. So let me first speak on the impact that this government has had in my electorate of Chisholm. I can go to the people of Chisholm and say that around 63,900 taxpayers in Chisholm will benefit from tax relief of up to $2,745 this year alone. This is a result of the Morrison government's decisions to extend low- and middle-income tax relief. This is the impact of this government's decisions, making sure hardworking Australians are better off. We are making sure that those that need our help most get the help. We are guaranteeing essential services and looking after those in need. Around 15,976 age pensioners and 2,983 carers in Chisholm received three support payments since the start of the pandemic, totalling $1,250. This government positively impacts the lives of everyday Australians.
Labor haven't been asked to make any public health decisions for a while. But, when they did, we saw a Labor government refuse to list life-changing medication on the PBS. If Labor want to talk about the impact of a government's failures, that would be a good place to start. Unlike Labor, this government has listed every medicine on the PBS that has been recommended by medical experts. Over two million free or subsidised medicines have been delivered in Chisholm alone.
The list of positive impacts in my community goes on. There are 930 families in Chisholm who will directly benefit from childcare reforms. I can go to the businesses of Chisholm and see the impact of continuing tax incentives. Around 24,400 businesses in Chisholm can write off the full value of any eligible asset they purchase. This has an immediate, positive impact for businesses in my electorate of Chisholm. But it's not just those in my electorate of Chisholm who are better off. Victorians are better off as well. In Victoria, we have received over 35,000 HomeBuilder applications. This is helping the construction sector—another example of real, positive impacts in our communities.
I want to thank the Morrison government for their continued investment in infrastructure as well. We have a 10-year $110 billion pipeline of projects, including, in my home state of Victoria, a $2 billion investment to deliver a new Melbourne intermodal terminal. So I am proud to be a part of this government that delivers positive impacts for the people of Chisholm, Victoria and Australia.
So full of hubris, so busy patting themselves on the back and so full of self-congratulation, the government are, in fact, utterly blind to their responsibilities and the needs of the Australian people—totally blind. I have noted this government being tone deaf on a whole range of issues in the past, and I might come back to some of those. But the idea that members of government would stand up one after another in this chamber saying, 'What a great job we're doing,' when they have utterly failed one of the most basic premises of government: to protect their citizens in a global pandemic! You've got an opportunity now to vaccinate the nation, and there is no sense of urgency whatsoever. There is no sense of urgency about this project at all. There are outbreaks in the state of Victoria again today. Are any of the Victorian members of the government saying, 'Gee, if only we'd got our people vaccinated in a timely manner, we might not be facing this crisis again'? Maybe all that trade and business you would like to see kicking off would have a chance if you'd actually vaccinated people. Telling us we're at the front of the queue when we are 113th is such deceit.
But the Australian people have got you guys clocked. They're not listening to this rhetoric that is churned out day after day after day by this government. When I'm at home in Newcastle, what do people ask about the government? Let me tell you what they ask about you. They say: 'What is this government's plan for this nation? Honestly, what is this vision?' All they see is the master of transactional politics sitting in the Prime Minister's seat at the dispatch box and not doing anything unless there is a direct, immediate political benefit from doing so. We see this time and time again.
The Leader of the Opposition was absolutely right when he said the Prime Minister definitely got the Talking Heads reference completely wrong in his speech the other day. This is a Prime Minister leading us all on a road to nowhere. We're on a road to nowhere when it comes to vaccines now. We have appallingly low rates of vaccination going on. Vaccine hesitancy is through the roof. All my GPs are saying the same thing:, they can't get the kind of supply they need in order to do the vaccines, but, even when they've got the vaccine supply, there's no information going out into the community as to how you could rock up and get your AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine in a timely manner. The irony that this Prime Minister—Scotty from Marketing, as he's known to the population—
I withdraw, Deputy Speaker, out of respect to you and your office. But the Prime Minister, who has had some experience, I am led to believe, in marketing in a prior life, is completely unable to run a community education campaign on vaccination. There is no community health promotion campaign going on. It is not necessary, apparently.
I go back to the issue that we're going nowhere on vaccinations. We're on a road to nowhere when it comes to the complete disregard for the Commonwealth's responsibility to manage quarantine and keep our borders and our nation safe. We're going nowhere on National Sorry Day, I just remind this House again. We are going nowhere on the Uluru Statement from the Heart, going nowhere in terms of any real action on climate change, going nowhere on addressing the gender pay gap or gender equality in this nation, going nowhere on real new energy jobs, going nowhere on addressing the housing crisis in Australia, going nowhere on Australian manufacturing and being able to boost our capacity to make things again here in Australia, going nowhere on wages growth, going nowhere on education and training—going backwards, indeed, on education and training in this nation—and going nowhere on national leadership full stop. This is a Prime Minister who has no vision, no courage, no guts and no appetite to build a better Australia for after this pandemic—absolutely nothing. That empathy training was a complete waste of money.
Almost every afternoon we discuss a matter of public importance in this place. We discuss the big issues of the day—taxes, vaccines, infrastructure, the pandemic, the recent recession. The Labor Party puts forward a topic that matters to the people of Australia, and we have a debate, often spirited, about these issues, because debating important matters is largely what we do here. So, when the opposition put forward a matter today that is without a substantive noun, my first thought was of a little sympathy for the other side. It must be a tough day in the back rooms of the Labor Party when, after just one MPI this week, they run out of a tangible issue to raise. There must be some soul-searching going on there.
But I'm an optimist. I have many friends over there, including the member who just spoke. I consider her a good friend. So, instead, I see this MPI as a step towards agreement between the two parties. I return to the progressive discussions between parties that we saw in the Menzies and Calwell era, in the Hawke and Howard era, where parties certainly disagreed but worked through their differences to find a way forward, avoiding the slanging matches and petty squabbles that we so often see here now, in favour of discussion and progressive debates that actually move things forward.
Sorry; I can't hear you. I'm speaking at the moment.
But, either way, there is a substantive issue with this motion, even though it says so little. Where is the failure? In 2021 how do we measure failure? In a year dominated by the COVID pandemic, we might measure failure in deaths from the disease. While every death is a real tragedy, Australia has been blessed to escape with relatively few deaths, especially compared to other countries. There were weeks when the number of daily US deaths was the equivalent to or larger than the population of Townsville. We have avoided that terrible fate, which I would think is hardly a failure. It is a triumph.
Would we measure it in cases? Perhaps. But here again Australia has had a fraction of the cases of the rest of the world. The UK had a great day for cases yesterday. There were only 2,493. While we certainly need to be concerned about the cluster in Victoria, most countries would give anything to have only 10 cases in a day. It would be a bold person who would look at this as a failure.
What about the economy? That may be a fair metric, but then again this government has had resounding success. We may have gone into recession, but we bounced back out of there so quickly that nobody in the country could have predicted it to be so good or dared to even hope for it. There is no other country in the OECD that has more people in jobs now than before the pandemic. Is that a failure? I think not.
We can always do better, and we don't trust anyone who says that they can't, but, comparing Australia to the rest of the world over the past 18 months, it's pretty hard to call us a failure. We've had this success as a government and as a nation, working together with states to deal with outbreaks, treat patients, deliver vaccines and support people who have been affected by the lockdowns. JobKeeper payments, vaccine deals, quarantine support—national cabinet coordination coming together. This government is helping to keep Australians safe, healthy and employed. If you ask anyone anywhere, they'd say this has been a huge success. In a comparison between nations right now, we are the Dawn Fraser of the race, we are the Heather McKay of the championships, we are the Ken Rosewall of this court.
An honourable member: I'm too young to know those people!
My faster told me about them! You should read your history! We're the gold medallists, and if they had platinum medals we'd win those too. If this was a war, the Mint would be overworked handing out VCs to every frontline health worker. (Time expired)
I'm proud to rise today to support my colleagues in calling this government out on the failures that they've delivered for Australians most recently, and I do so with this context: today Joe Biden tweeted that 50 per cent of American adults are completely vaccinated. That's something I'd like to be saying about this country today, but, no, in this country only two per cent of adults are completely vaccinated. If you put that into context in terms of the trajectory for the US and the fact that they've had a change of government along this journey, that's an extraordinary achievement. I won't be calling the Biden government a failure.
I will, however, be calling the Morrison government a failure today, because today we saw—it's not that long ago since question time, is it? Can I remind you of what I saw in question time?—two questions in, one from us and one from their own side, I stood to ask the Prime Minister a question and he was too puffed, too tired and gave it the flick pass to someone else, and that sums up this government. They're too tired, too out of breath, looking to flick past responsibility, and they have done it through out this pandemic. They've blamed things on the states. They've blamed it on people.
Last time we were here—it's only a week ago we went home for a little while—the Prime Minister was really being careful about congratulating Australians on their achievement. Remember? 'Australians should congratulate themselves on how well we're doing in the pandemic.' Well, that switched today, didn't it? Today it was about taking credit. Not once did he congratulate Australians today. Today it was all about him. It was all about what a great job he'd done in the face of what is an absolute failure.
As a Victorian I stand here, my phone is ringing hot from home because there's another outbreak, which underlines this government's failure in quarantine and in vaccination. I can go back—in my electorate during this pandemic we lost lots of lives in aged care, and I had to put up with this government obfuscating and suggesting that aged care was someone else's responsibility and that the provision of PPE was someone else's responsibility. They still haven't learnt the lesson, because, as we stand here today, aged-care workers in my electorate are still not vaccinated. We've got an outbreak in Melbourne, and aged-care workers aren't vaccinated. Worse, in terms of failure, they were told they would be vaccinated on site—remember?—only to have the rug pulled out from under them and told to go to the GP.
We know that aged-care workers are often working shifts at different places. We knew from the pandemic that people went to work sick because they couldn't afford to stay home, but this government told them, 'Go to the GP.' When, pray tell, were they going to the GP? Were they taking a day off work to go to the GP? Were they going to be paid for that day off, given the vast majority of them are casuals without sick pay? This government just doesn't think anything through, and then it marches in here and wants to claim credit for Australians' hard work, claim credit for the states' hard work, while they have failed, absolutely failed.
Today, in question time, they claimed credit for quarantine staff being vaccinated. The states have done that! They claimed credit for frontline health staff being vaccinated. The states have done that! The states have done those things!
The Prime Minister stood at the dispatch box claiming credit for other people's hard work. He sees the pandemic as the road to another election win. That is the frame everything is seen through. This government has failed aged-care workers. This government is so frightened of failure now, it has stopped setting targets. They don't set targets for anything. It is out on the never-never. Remember the increase in numbers in the quarantine facility in the Northern Territory were going to be April-May? April-May—what sort of a target is that? When asked about it today, the Prime Minister couldn't answer it and flick passed it to someone else to take responsibility for his failings.
Australia has been through a lot in the past year. We have been through a once-in-a-century pandemic, we have tragically lost the life of 910 of our fellow Australians, we have been through things like lockdowns and social distancing, we have had the term 'personal hygiene' elevated to a new set of expectations about how we behave, we've had weddings cancelled, we've had guests at funerals limited, we've had people unable to visit elderly and disabled relatives in care facilities, and families have been cut off from one another, both interstate and overseas. In addition to those social impacts, our economy suffered a big impact. At the height of the pandemic in the second-quarter of last year, 3½ million people were having their jobs supported through JobKeeper and 1.3 million Australians had either lost their jobs or had their hours reduced to zero. At the time, members here will remember, Treasury feared our unemployment rate could reach as high at 15 per cent and economy might contract as much as 20 per cent. Understandably, it was a time of great fear and great uncertainty, both in Australia and, indeed, around the world.
But one year later, Australia, in my view, is emerging exceptionally well from this crisis. We have unemployment now down to 5.5 per cent, youth unemployment at a 12-year low. We have more Australians in work now, with over 13 million people in jobs, than we had before we went into this pandemic. We have consumer sentiment at its highest level in 11 years. We are still one of only nine countries with a AAA credit rating from all three ratings agencies. Over 3½ million Australians have received the vaccination and, by the end of this year, everyone should have been able to receive one.
There has only been one death from COVID in Australia this year, one more death than we should have had but, nonetheless, one death. Every one of these deaths and losses and sufferings we have had from COVID is a tragedy. But when we look across the world, across the seas, at the United States, which members opposite just mentioned as a paragon or a model of some sort, there have been over half a million deaths from COVID-19 in the United States; in the United Kingdom, over 120,000 deaths. There have been 3.3 million deaths worldwide from COVID-19. In Australia, as I said there have been 910 deaths, 820 of which have been in Victoria. Whilst every one of those deaths has been a tragedy and a loss, if we looked at what we could have been facing on a proportionate basis, based on other advanced economies, we could have been facing something in the order of 30,000 to 40,000 of our fellow citizens who would have lost their lives through this.
We have the travel bubble with New Zealand now open, and the vaccination program is accelerating with a record 104,000-plus vaccinations delivered yesterday, with everyone over 50 eligible to receive the vaccination. Our economy is roaring back to life. As Steven Kennedy, the Treasury secretary, said in a speech last week:
Australia’s economic recovery from the pandemic has been stronger than we expected, stronger than we have seen from any downturn in recent history and ahead of any major advanced economy …
Now, this is not a cause for complacency and it is not a cause for self-congratulations either, but I think that perhaps a better topic could have been nonetheless found for today's MPI, because any honest and realistic appraisal of Australia's performance through this crisis would not choose a title like that which has been chosen today.
I feel for those opposite. Those opposite should hold the government to account, but my respectful suggestion is that at times their relentless cynicism and hyperbolic criticism only detracts from legitimate arguments they might have to make. When you look around the world, there are very few countries who have come through this pandemic in better shape than Australia. The health impact of the disease has been far less, orders of magnitude less, than other nations around the world, including other advanced economies. We are the only advanced economy with more people in work and more jobs than we had before the pandemic. Our economic contraction through the pandemic at 2½ per cent was one of the smallest, in part because of the success of temporary and targeted measures like JobKeeper.
We've got back to normal—the easing of health and social-distancing restrictions and the resumption of social activities, public gatherings and sporting events—much sooner than any other country. As I said, this is no cause for complacency, and we are preparing for the future. We've had 3.795 million vaccine doses administered to date, a record 104,658 delivered just yesterday, 25 May. We expect to have 4½ million Pfizer doses in the country by the end of June and then over seven million in each of the third and fourth quarters, which should allow us to ramp up to around half a million Pfizer doses per week in the third quarter. The sooner we get this done, and this will be a combined national effort not just of the federal government but of the states, primary healthcare providers and GPs, and our citizens, the sooner we can ease our border restrictions and the more we can resume normal activity.
The pandemic is far from over, but we can see our way out. The journey may not be linear, but let's keep our eye on the ball and focus on what we have achieved.