House debates

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Matters of Public Importance

COVID-19: Vaccination

3:20 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable member for Hindmarsh proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The Government's failures on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

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—

Photo of Mark ButlerMark Butler (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives) Share this | | Hansard source

Today is an important day to reflect on where the nation is at in relation to the vaccine rollout. Yesterday we reached 100 days of the vaccine rollout, and today is the first day of winter. As we know, any illness around the respiratory system is a particular risk in winter. That, of course, is why phase 1a was decided upon by the government and why the opposition and bodies around the country gave it support.

So where are we, 100 days into the rollout? Well, we're still not in the top 100 nations of the world in terms of doses per head of population. We're still at around two per cent of the Australian population having been fully vaccinated, and, tragically, we have seen this dreaded virus reach back into the aged-care system in Victoria. So—in spite of the Prime Minister's attempts, repeatedly, to pat himself on the back over the course of this question time—we are not performing well.

Phase 1a was announced in January for the priority populations: frontline workers in border and quarantine and in the hospital system, and, importantly, from the Commonwealth's perspective, aged-care and disability-care facility residents and the 318,000 workers caring for them. There was good reason why those populations were prioritised, particularly those living in residential aged and disability care. They are, we know, the most vulnerable to succumbing to this virus. We know this from overseas experience and we know it through our own bitter and tragic experience last year, in New South Wales and, significantly, in Victoria as well. So that is why those were prioritised, and the government promised to vaccinate those populations fully by Easter. The minister said it would be a six-week process; it would be done by Easter; we could then move on to the older populations in the community, to make sure that, by the time the first day of winter arrived—which is today—all of our very vulnerable populations in residential care and older Australians in the community would be fully protected.

The Prime Minister was asked again—he just can't back down; he just can't admit he was wrong—by the Leader of the Opposition in question time today: 'Do you still think that this is not a race?' And he tried to blame the secretary of the department. He is always trying to blame someone else. Well, since that answer, the secretary of the department has been asked in estimates about his comments about whether or not this is a race, and Brendan Murphy's testimony to Senate estimates, over the last very little while, was that he was talking about the approval processes for the vaccine by the TGA. We all agree that that was not a race and that Australia should not follow the emergency approval process followed in those countries that were succumbing to very serious rates of infection, like the US, the UK and Europe. We all agreed with that. So the Prime Minister was again just trying to deflect to the secretary of the department, who said he was not talking about the vaccine rollout; he was talking about the vaccine approval process by the TGA.

There are three areas of very, very concerning outcomes from the government. The first, obviously, is that there are incredibly poor vaccination rates for aged-care residents—and we're not even getting to disabilities; we're going to have to get to them at some stage. There are very poor rates of vaccination for aged-care residents, who were all promised full vaccination by Easter.

We've talked about the two doses question a number of times. The government's own health website confirms that, in relation to Pfizer and AstraZeneca, you need two doses for full protection, and that full protection only emerges some days after the second dose. We've been told by the government's own information today that 587 facilities in aged care still haven't received their second dose and 21 facilities across the country haven't received a single dose at all. In Victoria, the epicentre of this latest outbreak, there are 13,000 residents of aged-care facilities who have only received a single dose of this vaccine.

I asked the minister again why he told viewers of 7.30 that the vaccination process in aged care would be completed by last Friday. He wasn't asked when the first doses would be complete; he was asked when the vaccinations would be completed. I've read the transcript since the minister's answer. He wasn't asked by Leigh Sales: 'When will the first doses be done?' He was asked: 'When will aged care be vaccinated?' He said it was 99 per cent completed and would be 100 per cent completed on Friday. When we asked him about the one dose, two dose question he pushed back and said, 'You know, one dose is essential.' I think we understand that one dose is essential in a two-dose process. It's a pretty important stopping point on your way to full vaccination. But we should not pretend that one dose gives full protection. We should not. The minister keeps pushing up to the press gallery old research about the effectiveness of a single dose in relation to the original strain of this virus, when we know that Public Health England published last week through the British Medical Journal research that showed that a first dose of Pfizer or a first dose of AstraZeneca was only 33 per cent effective against what we now call the delta strain.

I'm not raising this to be cute. I'm raising it because the community needs to know about the level of protection provided through a single dose and the importance of getting a second dose. It is the government that is seeking to evade a serious question about whether or not it has complied with its responsibility to fully protect the most vulnerable members of our community before we move into winter, given that we are continuing to experience an outbreak from hotel quarantine every single week or two.

The other fall down is with staff. These people are heroes. For some of the lowest rates of pay in our community they have kept us safe. They were on the front line last year and in Victoria they are on the front line again, and the government promised they would be fully vaccinated by Easter. We've tried by hook and by crook to get an answer from the government about how many aged-care workers have been vaccinated. Today they said there were 33,000 or so. There are probably more than 200,000 workers in aged care. They conducted a survey of aged-care providers that found that less than nine per cent of the providers they surveyed were confident that their aged-care workers were fully protected. This is just not good enough. When it became clear that the inreach process to vaccinate residents was going to be complicated for staff the Commonwealth just gave up. They said, 'Go to your GPs. Go and find a state clinic. Go to a GP respiratory clinic.' Later on, the government said, I think to the COVID committee, 'We'll have 13 pop-up clinics running by the end of May'. The end of May was yesterday. They've got three clinics. All three are in Sydney. The minister said they'd be established soon in Victoria. After the minister said that, the department was asked about the pop-up clinics, and they said there are still no locations identified for the remaining 10 clinics and no arrangements had been agreed with particular state providers. Then they said they would provide a tender for companies to go into aged-care facilities—hopefully, having vaccinated their residents—and vaccinate the staff. The tender is out, but it doesn't close until 30 June. It's running for another four weeks. That's the other option the government has provided, a tender process that doesn't finish until almost the middle of winter. It is just not good enough.

The government decided on 30 November to just stop the support programs that would prevent aged-care workers from having to work across two or more facilities just to make ends meet, just to keep their household budgets going. They'd say, 'Well, when a hotspot is declared will put that arrangement in place again.' It's too late then. What we've seen in Victoria because aged-care workers have had to work across different facilities is that five facilities now are impacted by this.

This has been a debacle, and tragically it is now playing out again in a state that suffered so much last year. Again, we have a Prime Minister who cannot take responsibility, is genetically incapable of facing up to his responsibilities and his failures. I don't think anyone expected from the minister for aged care services a better answer than he gave today. He's just not up to it. He said last week he's very comfortable with the pace of the rollout in aged care and, when questioned about that again today, he stood by it. He couldn't answer a simple question of whether or not the Commonwealth is responsible for aged care. It so unambiguously is. The Prime Minister tries to blame everyone else. The Australian people, particularly those with loved ones in aged care, just want him to admit that he's got this wrong, he's underperformed and he's going to fix it. When is the Prime Minister going to do that simple thing?

3:30 pm

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Minister for Health and Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm actually delighted to take on this MPI because I want to start by thanking Australians who have come forward to be vaccinated in record numbers week after week after week after week: from over 300,000 to 402,000 Australians who were vaccinated, 436,000 Australians who were vaccinated, 512,000 Australians who were vaccinated and then 630,000 Australians who were vaccinated in the last seven-day period. As the Prime Minister indicated, when you bring that forward by one day it was a rolling seven-day average of 672,000. What we see is that rates of vaccinations being administered have more than doubled. We see this in a world where, in the last 24 hours, there were 403,000 cases that were officially recorded with 8,800 lives lost, so the global comparison with Australia, a country which this year has had 94 days of zero cases of community transmission, could not be starker or more obvious.

There are challenges at the moment. We know that Victorians are facing a great challenge. But we also know that we can do this. New South Wales faced a challenge over the four weeks from 16 December to 16 January which, on current figures, was roughly four times greater in terms of community transmission. They were able to test and trace and distance, and there were areas such as the Northern Beaches which had significant restrictions. All of Victoria is under restrictions as we speak, and so I say to every fellow Victorian, I understand the deep distress and the challenge that is being faced at the moment. That's why we've stepped in. We've stepped in with all of the actions that have been taken: 160 Defence personnel, the support of asymptomatic testing, the declaration of the Commonwealth hotspot test. All of these things are occurring at the moment.

In particular, we add that we know that in Victoria there are currently 787,000 vaccines that have been provided to the state, and to their credit they've administered 494,000 of those vaccines, with a significant inventory still available to them and another 172,000 vaccines to be delivered over the course of this week. These are very significant numbers, a rollout which is accelerating as was always intended and which is following a combination of both supply and now response in relation to public demand. One of the messages which is absolutely clear is: please do not wait. If you catch COVID, you could die. If you have not been vaccinated, your chances of losing your life are massively, massively higher. That's why any vaccination at any time is so fundamentally important. In the last 24 hours, there have been 119,139 Australians who have brought themselves forward to protect themselves but also to protect every other Australian, and I commend and thank them. That takes us now to 4,362,739 vaccinations, so a significant number and a significant acceleration. Very importantly, that number includes over 1½ million Australians beyond the age of 70 who've been vaccinated: 1.574 million Australians over the age of 70 have had a first dose, which equates to over 53 per cent, as the Prime Minister indicated, and over three million people over the age of 50 have been vaccinated with at least one dose, which is 34 per cent of the population in Victoria. I particularly want to commend Victorians for this—412,000 people have stepped forward over the age of 70, or 54 per cent of the over-70 population, and 817,000 over the age of 50 have stepped forward, or over 37 per cent of over 50s in Victoria, so these are very important.

I particularly want to note what we have seen in aged care, as I've said in the course of question time, is 100 per cent of Commonwealth residential aged-care facilities have received first doses within Victoria, the ACT, Tasmania and the Northern Territory and 99 per cent in others, with an expected five as of the close of business tomorrow which are still to be completed and to be done in the coming days when issues such as gastro or any other impediments no longer apply to those facilities. These are exceptionally important steps forward.

I want to respectfully but very much categorically take issue with the shadow minister's points in relation to first doses. Professor Paul Kelly, the chief medical officer, addressed significant questions which had been raised last week, last Thursday, about the value of a first dose. I note the next day many people are saying, 'Why don't we hold back second doses just to deliver more first doses?' On all fronts, for both the timing of first and second doses, we follow the medical advice, and that's the medical advice of both the TGA, which has approved the vaccines which are available for use in Australia, and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation. In terms of the advice of Professor Paul Kelly—we know it from the clinical trails; we know it from the laboratory tests that have been done about antibody protections; we know it from real-world experience, particularly in the UK and Scotland where they have very good information now about the protection given by both the AstraZeneca vaccine and the Pfizer vaccine after the first dose—there's zero protection with no dose and very good protection with the first dose. Then, from next week, we'll be starting to see those second doses rolling out in relation to AstraZeneca, and those numbers of fully vaccinated people will rapidly rise over the coming weeks. That was the medical advice from ATAGI about that dose interval, and that was the very clear response of Professor Paul Kelly.

I understand the job of the opposition is to provide difference. On this occasion, I don't think it's wise, I don't think it's responsible. I had strong views, which I expressed in question time of last week. I am both surprised and disappointed that the opposition has pursued a line which would indicate that this is not an important and fundamental protection. I think that this is the case, as we saw in the TriCare aged-care facility in the Sunshine Coast. It's a facility which I have recently visited with the member for Moncrieff. They had a contractor who was working within the facility precinct who was diagnosed out of Byron Bay. That facility had received a first dose some weeks before and, indeed, was given a second dose almost immediately because they were coming to the end.

That is very similar to the situation of Arcare Maidstone, which had residents vaccinated on 12 May. There was one worker who was vaccinated who nevertheless tested positive and one resident, a 99-year-old, who was vaccinated and nevertheless tested positive. That resident is asymptomatic and, on the latest advice I have from the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre shortly before coming to question time, has been moved for observation purposes to a hospital facility and to ensure that they are isolated from the rest of the residents. On all the advice that I have, they remain in very good condition. Of course, anybody anywhere with COVID, no matter what the circumstances, is a person who is vulnerable to serious illness, but the vaccination process, first dose and then subsequently second dose, provides very significant measures of protection against serious illness and loss of life.

Finally, I want to deal with this question of the single-site worker decision. In question time I specifically addressed the policy, which was endorsed by the AHPPC and tabled before the national cabinet—without any demur, I'm advised. That policy was very clear that single-site arrangements are complex and should not be required where there is a low risk of COVID-19. That was the view of the chief health and medical officers around Australia. It was also very much the view of the HSU in their case before the Fair Work Commission and it was a position which they took to the Fair Work Commission and which they were successful in prosecuting against an aged-care facility. Nevertheless, we have these arrangements in place. We follow the medical advice. We implemented them immediately in line with the medical advice when the hotspot was declared. All of these actions together are helping to save lives and protect lives and keep Australia as one of the safest countries in the world.

3:40 pm

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] I'm really pleased to make a contribution today from my electorate in Clayton. A lot of the work that we do in parliament can feel quite remote from the lives of the people that we represent. That's what our constituents tell us really clearly. But this is not one of those times. The minister has just made a contribution to the debate which I find very hard to hear, coming from Victoria. The truth is that there are a variety of enormous failings that are completely the fault of the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health and Aged Care, and I'm still waiting for some type of contrition about some of the things that have led us to where we are today.

Here we are in Victoria, in lockdown No. 4. I just want to say that everyone in parliament today should be—and, I hope, is—thinking of the people who are especially vulnerable in our community. These are terrifying times for people, especially those who have underlying physical or mental health conditions. I think of the people who live alone, for whom these periods of lockdown are intensely lonely and intensely difficult to get through. There are almost seven million people living in Victoria. It's very difficult for everyone here. What we really want is for the federal government to stand up and take responsibility—to break the habit of a lifetime and take responsibility for some of the things that have gone wrong on their watch, which have taken us up to this point today.

The health minister said in very glorious terms that the federal government has 'stepped in' with respect to the situation in Victoria. Again, I would say: let's remember that we would not be in lockdown again in Victoria if we had a quarantine program that actually worked. If the federal government took its constitutional responsibility for quarantine seriously, did what is so obviously the right solution here and built purpose-built quarantine facilities around the country, then we would not be having the 17 outbreaks in hotel quarantine that we've seen over the last six months. Then, of course, there's the vaccination program. If we were anywhere near where the US and other comparable countries are, then there would not be this absolute sweep of fear blasting through the state that I live in.

I know I speak for all Victorians when I say that my heart truly sank when I saw that the COVID outbreak in Victoria had found its way into residential aged care. What residents and staff went through in the last outbreak in aged care was nothing short of truly horrifying and terrifying. You cannot feel the intensity of that experience unless you go to these homes and talk to the workers and residents. I've talked to older Australians whose eyes have literally filled with tears as they've talked to me about the experience of lifelong friends of theirs dying overnight, of the terror of feeling a little bit sick one day and thinking: 'This is the end for me. I'm going to get COVID and die.' People were going to bed at night and wondering if they would wake up the next morning. That was the life of older Australians within these aged-care homes. And what the staff went through you wouldn't wish on anyone. It was weeks of not being able to hug their children, weeks of feeling guilty because they were going to work and hence exposing their families to danger, but also knowing that if they didn't go to work there would be no-one there to look after the residents they have so much fondness and regard for.

We could have avoided the threat of this happening again. We have all the tools, resources and policies we need to prevent this from happening again. The only reason that we are back here is because of the total incompetence of the federal government when it comes to rolling out the vaccine program and, in particular, rolling it out in aged care. We know that the program of vaccinating residents has been very troubled, such that, when this outbreak first started in Victoria, there were 29 aged-care homes who had had no dose of the vaccine. I still cannot believe this.

We need to think about the staff. The federal government promised us that all staff and residents would be vaccinated by March, but essentially they've allowed aged-care workers to be on their own. The government have told aged-care workers that it is not the government's problem and that they have to get vaccinated on their own time. As a consequence, firstly, the federal government can't tell us how many have been vaccinated and, secondly, their best guess is that it is somewhere in the order of 10 per cent.

There are a lot of other failings going on here in residential aged care, but I want the federal government—the Prime Minister and his minister—to stand up tomorrow and deliver an apology, which is what Victorians deserve as we face another difficult week of a COVID outbreak here in Victoria.

3:45 pm

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to start by saying that this is a week when all Australians are thinking about our friends in Victoria as they endure yet another lockdown. All of us, through our own experience—thankfully, from New South Wales, never as severe as the lockdowns that Melbourne has endured—have some familiarity with the consequences and anxieties that these lockdowns cause, as necessary as they may be as we battle this pandemic. So all of us are united in our support for Victorians.

But what disappointments me is that this is also a week in which the parliament could have been united in encouraging Australians to learn from what is happening in Victoria and to make sure that they are overcoming their hesitancy and participating in the vaccination program. Yet what we see from those sitting opposite is a desire to continue the fight of politics rather than the fight against this pandemic. We should be very disappointed, at this time when the pandemic is still raging, as bad as it ever has been around the world, that we are seeing this type of politics come to this parliament.

I want to reflect in the first instance on three things—three things which I believe are the truths about this pandemic. The first is simply a statement of fact. There are very few nations on this planet that have endured the last 12 months as well as Australia has. You can name them on one hand, and I'm pleased that our cousins across the ditch in New Zealand are part of that small coterie of nations that have proved that, with the right policies, you can actually ensure that your citizens are protected from the worst of this pandemic. It is reflected in both our response to the health implications of the pandemic but also the economic consequences as well. We should be proud of the fact that governments, state and federal, and the people of Australia themselves have heeded the advice from the best of science and the best of our health experts and have been relying on that advice and that health expertise, which has seen us reach the point that we have in this nation.

The second point I want to make is that today, as we stand here debating vaccinations, I think we should reflect on the fact that it is an incredible achievement of all of those scientists and all of those health experts that we can debate the rollout of a vaccination program for COVID-19. I well remember 12 months ago discussing this with some of our leading epidemiologists, who said that it was a fifty-fifty shot as to whether we would ever get a vaccine, let alone one that we are now able to roll out to so many millions of Australians as we have already done.

The third point I want to making goes to what we as a parliament united together should be doing, and that is to urge all of our fellow Australians who are eligible to not hesitate but to get the vaccinations, which are our pathway back to an even greater level of normality in our community. I've had my AstraZeneca shot. I had it 10 days ago. I did not hesitate not only for my personal health—which is a real factor for all of us, I hope—but also thinking about my mum, my friends, my relatives and the support that we can provide to our neighbours and in fact our country by getting that vaccination shot. So I didn't hesitate for a second, and I'd encourage Australians to think rationally about how minute the risks of these vaccinations are compared to the huge advantage that they provide to us as individuals and to our community as a whole.

I want to make one particular point about vaccinations in our aged-care settings. It is fantastic news that the vaccination program has now reached in Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory every single aged-care facility. Every person who has accepted the vaccine in those aged-care facilities and those jurisdictions has now had a first dose. In other states, including my own, that figure is at 99 per cent. I'm very pleased by the fact that in my own electorate, this weekend, this Saturday, the very last aged-care centre as part of the program will receive its second doses. So it will mean that, by this weekend, every-aged care centre in North Sydney will have had two doses of the vaccination, based on the information that has been given to me by my PHN.

But what I do want to say is that we know that 15 per cent of aged-care residents haven't had that vaccination. There are some reasons for that; some are in palliative and it is not appropriate. But for those relatives who haven't given consent, I'd say please do so now. We have a vaccination program that is based on the best of science vaccination program that is based on the best of science. It is protecting Australians. It does continue to ramp up at an incredible rate—300,000 a week just a month ago and now 600,000. It is based on that great achievement of our own domestic capability and we would be up a creek full of excrement if we didn't have that AstraZeneca production here. So please, Australians, continue to get vaccinated for this important program.

3:51 pm

Photo of Ged KearneyGed Kearney (Cooper, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Health and Ageing) Share this | | Hansard source

I have four children. When they were young they all played basketball, and I was given the job that many parents dread but do. I was given the job of organising 400 kids to get to two lots of training every week, dozens of games on a Saturday over maybe half a dozen venues. This was a logistical nightmare but it was my job and I did it. I did it well and I made sure that every kid got to every game that they had to get to and that every game was played with the full number of children needed. Lots of parents all around the country do that, all around the world, because they know when they have a job that people rely on them for, they do it. Now those parents, those families—lots of people who have a job to do—are looking at this government and thinking, 'You had a job—a job to keep us and our kids safe during the pandemic—and you have failed. Not only did we rely on you to stay safe—our lives depended on you—but our livelihoods depended on this government to do that one job: keep us safe.' The whole community of Australia is scratching their heads as to why our Prime Minister has failed in that job.

Last year, 655 Victorians died tragically in my state in aged care. I know a lot of Victorians are asking today not only why have they not done their job but did they not learn anything from not doing their job properly last time? Well, they haven't learned anything. Just today, we saw just how shambolic the vaccine rollout is. Let's step through it. Minister Colbeck, the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, told us that he is 'comfortable' with the pace of the vaccine rollout—comfortable! Well, I would like to tell you that the residents in aged care are not comfortable with the vaccine rollout; many of them are fearful. No aged-care worker is comfortable with the pace of the vaccine rollout; they are fearful. And definitely no family who has a loved one in aged care is feeling comfortable right this minute, particularly in Victoria; they are fearful.

The Prime Minister has neglected aged-care residents and workers, particularly in Victoria. It was the government's job to protect them. We also learned that the government thought that they might have to just survey aged-care staff to find out if they had been vaccinated. Not only did they opt out of their promise to have all workers in aged care vaccinated but they didn't collect any records at all to see how the rollout was going. 'Oh,' they said to the workers, and this is bad enough, 'we're not going to vaccinate you. You go off and do it yourself, find a GP who can do it for you.' They neglected to keep records. That is unacceptable.

I heard the previous speaker say, 'Oh, there's hesitancy out there about getting the vaccine.' Well, where is the public health campaign? Where is it—another job the government has not done. There should be a public health campaign. We have Dolly Parton in the United States and Elton John the UK out there, saying, 'Get your vaccine.' Singapore is running a brilliant campaign about getting people vaccinated. They know hesitancy is a thing. They are doing their job. This government is letting this country down.

We heard from the shadow health minister that they can't get their stories straight. The inconsistencies around the vaccine rollout are absolutely outstanding. Is it 21 facilities to get their doses? Is it six facilities? Is it 70,000 aged-care workers that have been vaccinated? Oh wait, no it's only 32,000. Who knows? It seems that asking this government who knew what, where and when are questions they can never answer. This is unacceptable.

We know the policy to prevent aged-care workers working across facilities was ended by this government in November before a single vaccination had been given. Have they learnt nothing? This was a major issue with the last outbreak. We would not be in this position—and I definitely understand this—if those workers had been protected. There's no point just saying you can work in one facility. We heard the minister say, 'The Fair Work Commission had this ruling here and there.' Why would you work in one facility if you're only going to get two shifts? You can't afford that. That is not going to give you a living.

Quarantine is a monumental failure. I haven't got time to go into what a monumental failure it is, but we would not be in this position if the Prime Minister did his job.

3:56 pm

Photo of Pat ConaghanPat Conaghan (Cowper, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Firstly, I acknowledge the frustration and the distress of the people of Victoria in having to go into a further lockdown. I've not been in the unfortunate position of being in a lockdown, but I've no doubt that it wouldn't be a nice thing and that it certainly would not be good for mental health. Having said that, we have to acknowledge the aims of the Australian vaccination program from the very beginning, back in January of this year. The aims of the program were to prevent death and severe disease; to ensure equity of vaccine access and uptake and, in order to do that, to protect those most likely to experience serious disease, maintain the functioning of healthcare and other essential services; to preserve health, social and economic security, and to extend vaccination to the general population as quickly as possible. That is exactly what this government has done.

This was always going to be an accelerated rollout. This is not something where there is a handbook that you can check off as you go along. This is a one-in-100-year pandemic. Others can criticise the functioning of the government or the actions of the government, but we have to look at the cold hard facts of what we have achieved, not twist those facts around for our own political gain. Some 4,243,000 people have been vaccinated, 2,705,000 with Commonwealth vaccine doses. There have been 2,359,000 Commonwealth doses in primary care and 345,000 Commonwealth doses in aged and disability. Fifty-seven per cent of 70-year-old people and 37 per cent of those over the age of 50 have been vaccinated.

In my electorate I have some 80-odd aged-care facilities. They have all received their first doses. We have a population of close to 30 per cent over the age of 65. The litmus test is when people stop you in the street, call you in the office or email you if there are problems. The overwhelming majority of people in my electorate are happy with the way this program is being rolled out. There are always going to be difficulties with these types of programs, these huge objectives by a government to ensure the health and safety of a nation

That brings me back to cold hard facts. Two months ago, two million people had had their vaccinations. Over the space of the last month, that increased, as per the accelerated rollout of the vaccine, by two million—500,000 people a week. The seven-day average last week was 630,000; the week before, 300,000. So, two weeks ago, it was 300,000. Last week, it was 630,000. The government is getting those doses out, just as we promised, to ensure the safety and the health of our citizens.

The previous speaker opposite started talking about quarantine. I'll be fair. Take a bow, Michael Gunner. Take a bow, Premier Palaszczuk. You got your quarantine right. You can pat yourself on the back. But, when it goes wrong, don't turn around and say, 'That's the Commonwealth government's fault.' Turn around and look at your own systems. Turn around and examine what you have done wrong on the last four occasions. When you get it wrong, take the blame. Don't turn around and try and blame the Commonwealth government for your failed processes—because that's exactly what has happened. The Commonwealth government will come in and assist you, as we are doing now, to clean up the mess that you have created by not having the right protocols in place, and we've done that through $48 billion in funding over the past 12 months. The state government provided a mere $13 billion. So we are there for the Victorian people, we will continue to be there for the Victorian people and we will continue the rollout.

4:01 pm

Photo of Libby CokerLibby Coker (Corangamite, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Today the people of Victoria, including all those in my electorate of Corangamite, remain in lockdown. Each day, we've seen a rising number of COVID cases and great uncertainty about when the lockdown will end. I stand with my fellow Victorians at this time of great anxiety, frustration, loneliness and heartbreak, and self-sacrifice, and urge you to stay strong. We will get through this, but it will be with little help from the complacent Morrison government that refuses to help Victorian workers and struggling businesses during this lockdown. Once again, it's the Daniel Andrews government that has stepped up and announced $250 million to support Victorians.

But this dangerous complacency is not just about the Morrison government's failure to implement safe quarantine facilities. It's also about the woeful vaccine rollout. We are not even in the top 100 countries when it comes to vaccination rollouts. It's a scandal that, while all residents of aged care were promised full vaccination by Easter, there remain several hundred aged-care facilities in Victoria that have only received one dose; they need two. The result of such negligence is a fourth lockdown for people in Victoria, with students missing school, parents homeschooling, businesses struggling without the support of the federal government, and high levels of stress and heartbreak. Aged-care workers have contracted the virus because they've had to work at multiple facilities. It's been 463 days since the first domestic case of COVID-19. There are no excuses for the government's inaction.

This latest outbreak comes from interstate hotel quarantine. It's the 17th outbreak of its kind. Hotels aren't designed for quarantine. They're designed for tourists. In October last year, the Prime Minister was handed a report by the former Health secretary, Jane Halton. The report was the National review of hotel quarantine. It outlined serious concerns about the potential for aerosol transmissions in hotels and poor ventilation in hotels—built for tourism, not medical quarantine. This was an issue that needed to be resolved. Several months later, nothing has changed.

The Morrison government could have included funding for a national quarantine facility in the last budget—or in the one before that—but, hey, we had zero cases nationwide, so why bother, right? At every chance, this government has shirked its responsibility for quarantine, despite the Constitution stating quite clearly that it's the responsibility of the federal government. The Prime Minister only had two jobs this year. Firstly, it was to fix national quarantine. He failed that. Secondly, it was the timely rollout of the vaccine. We're now in June, officially the start of winter, and we're not even close to the population being vaccinated. The Prime Minister said, 'This is not a race.' He is wrong. It is a race against the virus, a virus that is shifting and changing every day, making it harder for us to defeat it and for us to enable 6.8 million Victorians to get out of lockdown.

As it stands, there's no public health campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated. This government can't even vaccinate our most vulnerable and the people who care for them. For example, did you know that only 355, or 1.4 per cent, of Australians living in residential disability accommodation have been fully vaccinated? Residential aged-care facilities in my region report average staff vaccination rates of less than 30 per cent. Today in Senate estimates we learnt that 21 Australian aged-care facilities still haven't received a single dose. What is more, the responsible minister is misleading the Australian people day after day to hide their bad failings. Imagine that: prioritising spin over lies and livelihoods. This is a disgrace.

We are dangerously behind schedule because this government has been incompetent and complacent. One only needs to look at the national cabinet. It was only in April that the Prime Minister triumphantly declared the national cabinet was on a war footing. Now, the country's second-largest state is being thrown into yet another lockdown, and the national cabinet is not even meeting until later this week. It's about time the Prime Minister stepped up and stopped blaming the states when things don't go well. You only have to look to Victoria where acting Premier James Merlino put it best: 'There is only one path to defeating this pandemic—that is, through the successful rollout of the Commonwealth vaccine program and an alternative to hotel quarantine.' Time to step up, time to show up and get things done, or perhaps it's time for another government to do the job.

4:06 pm

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise basically to say it's about time we stopped talking down the COVID vaccine rollout, and that is because it's generating fear and anxiety in the community. This government has been open and transparent about the issues that we have faced, and those issues are well-known across this country. Despite the noise from those opposite, despite the noise generated by people who have a vested interest in saying things like, 'There should be another government running this country,' it is because we know the Australian community has trust in and respect for the government and knows that the Morrison government has its back.

I would like to talk about some of the issues that this government has addressed, and has addressed calmly and openly, and made sure it's taken the Australian public with it. The first thing to talk about is the issue of supply. Perhaps people on the other side haven't noticed, but it's very clear that there has been a supply issue globally, and that is because COVID has been raging internationally. There is no doubt that the international agreements that this government had with countries in Europe, in particular, have actually not been supplied because those governments have been more concerned, appropriately, about their citizens and their risk of dying than they have been about their customers. That is very understandable.

But what is important for the community in Australia to realise is that this government has the backs of Australians when it comes to supply. That is because this time last year, when we were facing the initial pandemic which was coming at us at speed, the health minister, Greg Hunt, had to deal with an initial supply issue, and that was a supply issue for PPE: masks, gloves and gowns. He dealt with that extremely well by ensuring that we stepped up manufacturing onshore, particularly of masks and gowns, so that we had a sovereign supply. He knew at that time that Australia was dealing with something that was coming at us at speed. I had local GPs in my electorate call me and say, 'I don't have enough masks to get me through the next few days.' Greg Hunt, the then Minister for Health, was able to step up that manufacturing capability at great speed and with great diligence. But he knew back then that our sovereign capabilities were incredibly important for Australia's future, so that, when other people were concerned that we weren't going to even have a vaccine, as early as September last year he organised an agreement with CSL to ensure that we had sovereign supply here in Australia of AstraZeneca. There is no doubt that using AstraZeneca as the backbone of our vaccine rollout has been incredibly important.

I want to raise not just the issue of supply but the issue of side effects. I've been known to say publicly that I believe that the side effects of AstraZeneca are not a problem that we should be talking about in great depth because, when you look at the side effects of AstraZeneca, you're more likely to die going to your vaccination appointment than you are from a vaccine side effect. ATAGI, which is the evidence based group that has been providing the Morrison government with information, has recently released a statement that talks about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine. ATAGI has been informed by our world-class Therapeutic Goods Administration, the TGA. I think all Australians understand it is top-quality. We have always said, as a government, that we will make sure that safety comes first and that, with the rollout of this vaccine, we would put the health and safety of Australians first.

There are now clear diagnosis and treatment pathways for responding to cases of clots that have been associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine. Previously, these clots were of unknown origin, and medicos were not sure about how to treat them. This has now changed, and the outcome and prognosis has considerably improved. There are 22 patients who have already recovered from vaccine associated clots and have been discharged from hospital. Unfortunately, one person has died from TTS in Australia, but the risk of side effects from clots from AstraZeneca are put at less than one in a million. This is a very low side affect.

The good news is that Australians are understanding, as we look at the COVID lockdown in Victoria, how important the vaccine rollout is to their health and safety of themselves, their loved ones and all of Australia. I'm pleased to say that, now that the supply issue has been sorted out and we understand how to better treat the side effects of the COVID vaccine, the COVID vaccine is in demand and being embraced by Australians. We have some short-term scheduling issues that are being resolved as we speak, but, hand-in-glove, all governments are working together to roll out COVID vaccination for the good of the Australian people, and I commend the government's work in this area.

4:11 pm

Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I mean, honestly! Short-term scheduling issues? They dropped their entire targets for the whole rollout. They had targets and they dropped them. Now they're calling them short-term scheduling issues. It is so frustrating to listen to a government where their hubris doesn't match their output. Their hubris is at an all-time high. These people are patting themselves on the back at every opportunity that they possibly can, but they're not doing the work. They're not actually making sure that Australians are being vaccinated.

Let's go back to the very beginning, shall we? Let's go back to the beginning where the Minister for Health did all of these quite colourful and flowery press conferences saying how Australians are going to be at the head of the queue. The eagle has landed—the three-word-slogan press conferences from this Minister for Health. He even put Liberal Party branding on an announcement for securing Pfizer vaccines—not Australian government branding: Liberal Party branding. These people wanted all the credit, but they weren't willing to do the actual work.

When this rollout started happening, all of a sudden the targets that this government was meant to achieve seemed completely unachievable and were completely missed. They said there would be four million vaccines by the end of March, and they missed that by about three million vaccines. But this government didn't then say: 'Hang on a second. Let's try and fix this. Let's try and get this into the right place. We need it to work. We set these targets for a reason. We set them so that when we go into winter we don't have aged-care facilities completely void of vaccines.' Instead, what did we hear? They said, 'No, we're going to have all vaccines done by October.' Then the Prime Minister said, 'No, no, no—I only meant one vaccine by October.' Then the Prime Minister said, 'No, no, no—when I said one vaccine by October, I meant by the end of the year.' Then he said: 'No, no, no—not by the end of the year. Forget targets. We don't do targets for the vaccine rollout.' There couldn't have been a bigger walkback from where they started.

The tragic thing is that aged-care facilities in Victoria are in lockdown right now because, instead of fixing their rollout to meet their targets, they just got rid of their targets altogether. Instead of fixing the rollout to make sure that aged-care residents were protected, they just got rid of their targets altogether. Instead of fixing the rollout to make sure that the disability care sector was protected, they dropped their targets altogether. Instead of making sure that their targets were met so that immunocompromised Australians were protected, what did they do? They dropped their targets altogether. They have not organised the vaccines in order to meet their own targets. They were willing to put Liberal Party branding on announcements, but they're not willing to put any level of government responsibility around the failure of this vaccine rollout. And now we are here where we are in Victoria, in lockdown and in a situation where vulnerable Victorians are exposed and vulnerable to this virus. You would think that the federal government would have an ounce of humility—an ounce of self-awareness—that, maybe, the federally run vaccine program should somehow be the responsibility of the federal government, but they haven't. The health minister comes in here and says that it's all going well and that it's going along as planned, even though they don't have targets for their own rollout.

I've been in contact in the last 24 hours with one of the aged-care facilities in my own electorate which is locked down because the staff are working across multiple facilities. The CEO was completely infuriated by the fact that, when these staff at our aged-care facilities were told by the federal government that they needed to go and source their own vaccines instead of the federal government including them in the priority groups that they said they would originally, now we have a situation in which staff are working across two facilities—the federal government haven't fixed that—and they're told that they have to go and source their vaccines, just like any other member of society. This is the federal government's fault, this is their vaccine rollout, these are their failures, this is them removing all targets, and this is Australians paying the price. This is Victorians and the Victorian economy paying the price because of the government's failures, the government's inability to take any responsibility and this health minister's hubris that is not meeting the output that Australians need and Victorians rely on.

4:16 pm

Photo of Steve IronsSteve Irons (Swan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this MPI on COVID-19 vaccination today and send good wishes to all the people and all my family in Victoria. I grew up in Victoria, and most of my extended family, including grandchildren, are in Victoria. Fortunately none of them have rung me to complain about the federal government's position on this. I congratulate all the frontline workers and all the people who are doing the rollout for the work that they're doing.

Yesterday was a record Monday for vaccinations. Overall four million vaccine doses have been administered. The Australian government is a strong supporter of immunisation as a safe and effective way to prevent the spread of many diseases in the community that can cause death, severe health conditions and hospitalisation. The COVID-19 vaccination is the best way to protect the Australian community. While the government supports immunisation, it is voluntary, and individuals maintain the option not to vaccinate. It is important that everyone who can benefit from a COVID-19 vaccine can access it to protect themselves and their community.

The TGA rigorously assesses vaccines for safety, quality and effectiveness before they can be legally supplied in Australia. These are strict requirements, because vaccines are routinely given to healthy people in large numbers. The Australian government have committed $1.3 billion to the vaccine delivery, including workforce funding to states and territories; primary care, including general practice; Commonwealth vaccination clinics; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled health services; pharmacists; and surge workforce.

While I mention the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community areas, I give a shout-out to the Royal Flying Doctor Service for the tremendous work they're doing in rolling out the vaccines in remote areas, which we haven't heard anything about from those on the other side. Just to update them, the government has committed a total of $37.2 million to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which includes an extension of the contract to 31 December 2021 to expand RFDS capability to undertake vaccine administration in rural and remote communities and continue early evacuations, medical retrievals, swab transfers, and fly-in GPRC services. In addition, the 2021-22 budget announced an additional $18.2 million to extend specific measures to support the successful COVID-19 vaccine rollout to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations to 30 June 2022, including an extension of the RFDS contract.

The RFDS delivered vaccination administration under the contract for services at Eucla, WA, on Wednesday 19 May 2021. Eucla is a remote community located in WA, on the WA-South Australian border. The RFDS administered 51 vaccinations in three different locations—36 doses in Eucla, nine doses en route at Rawlinna, a small mining town 450 kilometres away from Eucla, and six doses at Forrest Airport, 154 kilometres from Eucla. Vaccine delivery was facilitated from DHL to the RFDS base in Kalgoorlie, WA, and supported from them within the department, using the Pfizer vaccine. Second doses will occur in the week of 14 June 2021, so, again, hats off to the RFDS, who are just doing a fantastic job in remote and regional areas with the vaccine rollout.

The Australian government remains committed to rolling out the vaccine as promptly and as safely as possible, backed by medical advice from the TGA. The Australian government has secured 195.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine. This includes the newest agreement, to secure 25 million Moderna vaccines, and our focus will be on getting these doses rolled out over the year. The Australian government's COVID-19 vaccination public information campaign launched on 27 January and is rolling out across the country. The national campaign will support the phased rollout of the vaccination program. There will be further stages over the coming months, and different messages, as the program extends to other phases of the rollout. The campaign is working with more than 100,000 people, on average, each day, checking the eligibility checker. I, along with all members on this side of the chamber, encourage people to go to and check if they are eligible and find their local clinic and book right now. One point three million dollars has been provided for peak multicultural organisations to help reach culturally and linguistically diverse communities. The government will continue to fight the virus, while the opposition just fights the government and the vaccination rollout.

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The discussion has concluded.