Wednesday, 2 June 2021
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable member for Indi proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The urgent need to respond to the public health challenges facing the nation.
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—
As a Victorian, it was with a heavy heart that I watched the press conference this morning from the Victorian government, knowing the anguish and difficulty this press conference would bring and the devastation felt by communities right across our great state.
It's possible that from 11.59 pm tomorrow night these restrictions may apply a little differently in regional Victoria. It's a tense time, and I thank the Deputy Premier for taking into account that the conditions in regional Victoria are somewhat different to those affecting our friends and family in metropolitan Melbourne, and I say that with the greatest respect to everyone in Melbourne. It's important that we don't apply broad brushstrokes indiscriminately. It's really important that we make sure in regional Australia and regional Victoria that we take into account the particular circumstances that regional Victorians, and regional Australians more broadly, have. Again, I say that with the greatest respect and compassion for metropolitan Melbourne.
This is important because many of my constituents will, should the restrictions change, be able to return to work. Many people have already lost a week of wages. To lose two would be devastating. Businesses are exposed, casual workers are exposed, school kids are home from school and there's no federal safety net anymore for any of these workers.
So, as the constituents in my electorate may be able to return to work, I'm conscious that the workers of Melbourne will not. This afternoon during question time we had the federal Treasurer boasting about the economic recovery. Of course, we are all pleased about an economic recovery. But to boast about our position in the world and not be providing some form of support to the workers of Victoria during what is now an extended lockdown, is, I think, highly, highly problematic. Because what is a lockdown in Victoria now will surely be, inevitably, a lockdown somewhere else during this long pandemic crisis.
Because that's what it is. This virulent strain of COVID-19, with its many variants and now its very dangerous variant, will continue to escape from hotel quarantine. That's inevitable. We know it will. To boast in question time but not have a plan about how we'll respond, community by community, as they're affected by this ongoing public health crisis, is really concerning to me. Because this isn't a game. This isn't about passing the political football. This is about real people: people who have to pay the rent and people who have to put food on the table and petrol in the car. They have to buy medicines. Casual workers are exposed and businesses are frightened and uncertain.
We've talked a lot about a race in this parliament this week and, frankly, I'm sick of talking about races. This is an Olympic year. In a normal year we may be talking about a race. But, honestly, this is a nation which has had a proud history of public health response, and, right now, when it comes to vaccination, if this were the Olympics we would be right at the bottom of the medal tally.
That is really, really disappointing, because access to vaccination is problematic, and it is problematic in my community. Just this morning, I had a constituent absolutely irate that in his little community, a tiny village called Yackandandah, there's no ability for him to get a vaccine. He's unable to get to the vaccination hub in Wodonga, and, even if he could, he actually would be turned away right now, because those poor health workers in Wodonga are trying to catch up on the 1a and 1b vaccination priorities that should have been done months ago.
Many of our GPs are not vaccinating. One of them rang me this week to say she would love her clinic in Beechworth to be vaccinating. But, quite frankly, her frontline staff are exhausted and burnt out, and they're burnt out from the numerous phone calls they're getting from confused and worried people in the community—people who are wondering how they can get this vaccine now that the urgency dial has been turned up so acutely.
It seems to me that none of this appears to have been predicted, that this surge requirement was not predicted. I find that extraordinary. Surely it was predictable, knowing what was going on around the world and knowing that, inevitably, this virus would escape from our hotel quarantine. This go-slow attitude is really having consequences now, and I say to the nation, wherever you are: Think about this. Think about this very, very carefully, because what's happening in Victoria can happen anywhere now. We know that. Our vaccine hubs in Victoria are turning away people right now because there is simply not the capacity to vaccinate the number of people who are coming forward. In regional Victoria—indeed, in regional Australia—if everyone was vaccinated by now we could feel a little more reassured, but we're not. The mayor of Indigo Shire contacted me during the week. She told me that the stand-up vaccine hubs that are planned for her community won't be there until July. That's a long time to wait. She's really worried. So I do say: please let this be a lesson to the rest of the nation, particularly in rural and regional Australia, to get those vaccination hubs working in a way that works for little communities as well as big ones.
So, yes, the government needs to ramp up the vaccination program. It needs to ramp it up fast. It's a folly, a total folly, that we haven't done this until now. I'm really tired of hearing both sides talk about the politics of this. What we need now is a prime minister—and a government—who stops talking about politics and really acts and listens to many of our GPs in particular and to those health services in our smaller communities.
Albury Wodonga Health run the vaccination program in the top end of my electorate, and they are an extraordinary health service. There are an incredible team doing an incredible job, but they have a limited workforce. They did before the beginning of this pandemic. They haven't got any more workforce; they're doing additional work. They are in fact the busiest regional health service outside of Geelong in Victoria—incredible, really—and they have highly inadequate facilities in their hospital, which is seeing demand in their ED greater than they've seen in many, many years. They're crucial to our response. They need urgent capital works. Our region in the northern end of the electorate needs a world-class single-site regional hospital on the border. If ever we knew that, we know that now, and I really call on the government to get behind Albury Wodonga Health and put in capital funding to get that single-site hospital. It's a clear message from Albury Wodonga Health. By 2040 that hospital will have to handle 150,000 emergency presentations, 40,000 surgeries and 1,900 births every year, and we could still be in a pandemic—who knows? That's the thing, we don't know and we need to be ready and we need to predict. That surge capacity needs to be able to be brought on board when we face public health emergencies such as what we've got.
We need to make sure in this public health crisis that we're facing that rural and regional Australia is not left behind, that we have the facilities, that we have the workforce and that we have the capacity to surge when we need to in order to meet the challenges that are quite unique to small places. In the last week I've met with Christine Morgan, the CEO of the National Mental Health Commission, and Professor Ruth Stewart, the National Rural Health Commissioner. We all talked about similar things. We talked about the absolutely crucial need to make sure that with our rural health services we are not trying to fit a metro model into a rural context. It's important that we look at the whole workforce and that we look at practitioners such as nurse practitioners, who right now are not able to participate fully in the vaccination program, because they're not covered by Medicare. That's a lost opportunity, and one we could fix. We truly could. I'm looking right now at the minister for regional health, the member for Parkes. Minister, the report of the multipurpose services program is still sitting on the government's desk. In that report are key elements that could really improve our capacity to deliver high-quality aged care in rural and remote situations. Multipurpose services was a key finding of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, and I'd love to work with you on that and make it a reality.
These rural health services are crucial to this pandemic response. I call on the government to do everything they can to protect rural and regional Australians.
I can relate to the member's anxiety and frustration at this time, as someone who has a border community myself. In some ways, there are added complications and issues when there's a lockdown like we've got in Victoria. I might comment on where the member finished. I also am a fan of the multipurpose services. In the little town where I live, the multipurpose service is provided by a dedicated staff and two very dedicated doctors. They provide a wonderful service, not only aged care but emergency services as well.
What tends to happen in this place—and I suppose it's only natural—is that the conversations focus on where things mightn't be quite happening as they should, and the great work that has been going on doesn't get recognised. The member for Indi mentioned GPs and how they're tired and overworked. But we should give credit to the over 4,000 GPs who have stood up and taken on the responsibility. I've visited quite a few of those around the countryside in the last couple of months. Indeed, my wife and I are having our AstraZeneca shots at four o'clock on Saturday afternoon at a GP clinic that's working extra hours to make sure that they're keeping their community covered.
We need to be careful in this place. I think the breakout of a number of COVID cases in Victoria and the subsequent lockdown have probably been a bit of a wake-up call for the rest of the country. Because of our success, we did have a level of complacency. For a period of time, we did have vaccines that were sitting in vaccine fridges in clinics and GP services around the country and were not being taken up at the rate that they are now. That has turned around. The member mentioned that in her comment. We're now finding that people are really taking the opportunities when they come up. Just as an indication of how this is ramping up: the first million doses took 47 days to deliver, the second million took 19 days, the third million took 17 days and the fourth million took 13 days. That will continue to escalate as more vaccines become available to the public and as we broaden out the number of ways and the number of locations for people across Australia to go and obtain vaccines. Last week in Queensland the community pharmacies signed up to deliver doses across some of those country areas where there might not be GP services. I know state health departments are doing the same.
The member's matter of public importance is 'the urgent need to respond to the public health challenges facing the nation'. We shouldn't forget the response at the start of this COVID pandemic that led Australia to be one of the safest countries in the world. We shouldn't forget that the telehealth program was brought in in a matter of days—10 days—and we still are using that telehealth system. We've had, I think, 60 million telehealth calls, so people have been able to get the advice and the medications they need and have been kept relatively safe. The reason that Australia has done so well is not a fluke. It has done so well because of the policies that have been put in place. More importantly, it has done so well because the Australian people have stood up and taken the advice they were given and, as a result, we are in a very enviable position.
The member spoke about the need for a broader approach, a multidisciplinary approach, across regional Australia, and I agree with her. The government has recognised that need. We've funded some trial sites around the regional areas, looking at building a multidisciplinary team. She mentioned the Rural Health Commissioner. We've actually also contracted two deputy health commissioners, one with experience in allied health. The first Indigenous pharmacist in Australia is now a deputy rural health commissioner. The other deputy rural health commissioner has extensive experience in nursing. We contracted these deputies so that we can look at broadening that team approach. But we shouldn't forget that, across the regions with our Stronger Rural Health Strategy, already over 700 extra doctors have gone into regional Australia along with a similar number of nurses. In the budget we changed the rural bulk-billing incentive, so that those doctors that go to work in regional Australia are remunerated for the fact they are more likely to have to bulk-bill in communities that don't have high levels of income. We've recognised that process.
Last Friday I was with the Deputy Prime Minister to announce that the Royal Flying Doctor Service will be servicing 30,000 people across rural and remote Australia and the issue of hesitancy from the fears that people have in some of those smaller communities will be largely alleviated because the Royal Flying Doctor Service is such a respected organisation. If they give advice to a community that this vaccine is the right thing to do, that community will take it up. The success story—some might even say the miracle—of the COVID-19 pandemic is that we've managed to keep it out of those remote communities, where the level of chronic ill health and the lack of intensive care beds would've been an absolute disaster should COVID have come into play.
With reference to measures around COVID-19, the government has expended $1.7 billion to extend the health response package and another $1.9 billion for the vaccine purchase and rollout. The rollout is growing exponentially. I think we in this place have a responsibility to the press because a lot of the fear that has been generated around the vaccine rollout has been from debates that have happened in this place. I'll take up some of the points the member raised. We need to have a united voice because the science is in, and having the vaccine to protect us against COVID is the best way to protect ourselves as individuals and to protect our families. It's also the best way to protect our communities. A number of articles that we're seeing that are generating uncertainty and fear and some of the contributions that are made in this place, I think, have led to that uncertainty. I believe that, with what's happening in Victoria and the lockdown that is having such a devastating effect on that community, that might be the catalyst that will see Australians step up and take the opportunity to have the vaccine when it arrives.
This government understands the importance of protecting Australians. We acted quickly at the start of the pandemic. As a result, we have a record that is enviable around the world. There's more to do. We can all play our part in this. We're putting in the resources and the Australian people are putting their shoulders to the wheel to make sure that this country continues to be the safest place on the planet to live.
It dredges up terrible feelings and memories for all of us in Victoria watching and awaiting those press conferences every day, awaiting those figures, to find out today that we are going into an extended lockdown again. We know that we'll get through it because we have done it before but we're angry because we shouldn't have to, because this lockdown follows a series of failures from this government. The virus escaped from a quarantine facility in another state, and quarantine facilities and standards in those facilities are the Prime Minister's responsibility. It came into a population that was unvaccinated, and vaccination is the Prime Minister's responsibility. We saw infections among aged-care workers, and aged care is the federal government's responsibility. That is why this is called the 'Morrison lockdown'. He's leaving us in Victoria high and dry. That is rubbing salt into our wounds and making this lockdown even harder.
This time around, we're asked to do our bit for the public health of the country, to stop a third wave from spreading across Australia but without the financial support we had last time. It's happening when businesses, especially in my electorate of Melbourne—in the arts sector, the creative sector, the hospitality sector, the retail sector—were just getting back on their feet, starting to enjoy full houses again and seeing those bookings come through. Casual workers were starting to get shifts coming through again, and people were looking forward to this period as one of rebuilding; instead, it is one that might smash many businesses and many workers during this period.
The first time around, JobKeeper was so important because it kept businesses and their workers connected and kept them alive. But despite clear requests, the government is giving us in Victoria nothing. People in Victoria are asking for a hand, and the government is giving us the finger. Even though this lockdown may only go for two weeks, and we hope it does, the consequences can be long lasting because this could be the difference between businesses getting back on their feet or failing. People who don't have a job are in enormous strife because they are living below the poverty line at the moment.
Last time around, there was some recognition that costs during a pandemic can go up, because all of a sudden you need to order things that may have been available for you through some other means. Costs for many things go up. Life can become more expensive for many people, especially for those who are amongst the poorest in our community. That's why this time around we need JobKeeper 2.0. We need JobSeeker lifted above the poverty line and, right now, the government needs to listen to the call from ACOSS for an immediate payment of $3,000 for those people who have lost work or, we say, didn't have any in the first place. Bills need to be paid right now. We don't have the same protections that were in place last time, like the protections against evictions. We don't have the same financial supports from the government. But people have lost their shifts. People are already doing it tough. People are already finding it impossible to make ends meet. If there's one lesson from last time, if you want people to follow the public health advice then relieve the financial pressure on them so they can do it and we need to do that right now. The Prime Minister could do that with a stroke of a pen. There was $10 billion put aside to deal with COVID emergencies. Most of that, about $9 billion-plus of it, as far as I'm aware, is still sitting there. That is what it is there for—to help people through the tough times and the urgent times. Spend some of it now to ensure the pandemic doesn't get worse and to ensure people don't fall through the cracks.
I mentioned aged care before. One of the things that this pandemic has shown us is the failure of privatisation in aged care. It turns out that running aged care for profit and having your country run by people who take donations from the big corporations that run aged care for profit is an all-round terrible idea. It's time to start making care for the public good, not for profit. We know that what is going to get us through this pandemic we're witnessing are all the things the government has attacked for the last 30 years. It is our public health system that is going to help us get through this pandemic. That is why we have to stop the cuts to our public health system and, instead of giving handouts of billions of dollars to corporations that already have a lot of money, start reinvesting in our public health system.
There is no doubt about it: COVID has been an absolute tragedy globally. In excess of 170 million people have caught the disease, and in excess of 3½ million people have died. In the United States, 555,000 people have died. That's basically more than the First World War, the Second World War and the Vietnam and Iraq wars combined. In England, in excess of 120,000 people have died. Each one of those lives is as precious as the other. There is no way to calibrate the worth of a life. But what you can say is that Australia has done very well, on that morbid statistic. Fewer than a thousand people in Australia have died from COVID. That is an exceptional outcome. We hoped it would be zero—Greenland has had zero deaths—and we have to strive towards that.
It seems evident that the epicentre of the disease in Australia has been Victoria. Someone has to call into question the management by the state government in Victoria. If the Victorian Labor government are incapable of managing the COVID epidemic, then they should hand it over to somebody who can. There's been a massive expenditure by the government, almost totally on borrowed money, to make sure that we do what we can to alleviate the financial concerns and try to get ourselves to the other end here, but it's not an unlimited cheque book. It just can't go on. This money has to be repaid. What I find an incredible frustration is hearing members from the Greens talk about wanting to spend more money. Then, in the next breath, they're saying we need to ban coal and gas and the live cattle trade. They want us to ban the mechanism that earns the export dollars for this nation.
It shows that there is an inconsistency and, some would say, an economic insincerity in their request. They're never able to show you exactly where the money that they want spent comes from. It just becomes an ambit claim. Anyone can make an ambit claim, but it's only the coalition or the Labor Party that have to make the books stack up, that have to work out where this money is going to come from and how our path out of our current debt is going to be achieved. If your benevolence is authentic, you need to stand behind it and be strong enough to say, 'We must also show you where the money we want spent will come from and how we'll make sure our economy becomes as powerful as possible, as quickly as possible, so we can achieve that outcome.' What you also find with the Greens is that, once they get perturbed, frustrated or incompetent in an argument, they just go to an argument ad hominem. There is really no depth or substance to what they say. That's fair enough. You can be a barking oracle in here. It's quite easy, but it doesn't take our nation anywhere.
I'm happy that in my electorate of New England we are getting on with the COVID vaccine rollout. We are getting through the population. In Australia, around four million people have received the vaccination, and about one million have received two doses. So the program is rolling ahead. You may say, 'Where is perfection?' I don't know where that resides, but the fact that Australia has managed to control the cataclysmic death toll seen in other countries, I would say, has to be a big tick for the government. I would say that anyone looking around the world would have to say that it's thanks to the grace of the government—and luck—that we do not have the problems being experiencing elsewhere. I would say our government has done an exceptional job, and I'm not known for giving away glib praise just for the sake of it.
In talking about the response to the public health challenges of 2019-20 and 2020-21, we should firstly recognise and say thank you to our health professionals, our frontline professionals, who have in fact kept us safe. It is not the government that has kept us safe; it has been individual citizens who have put their lives on the line to defend and protect communities and keep them safe. Throughout the bushfire crisis of 2019-20, it was all of them out there that were keeping us safe. So, with respect, I always find it very hypocritical when the government is in here beating its chest and the opposition is pounding away, because, at the end of the day, it is the individual Australians who are keeping Australia safe. They are taking the hit for the team. They are the ones who are following health orders or doing what needs to be done. They are closing down their businesses despite knowing there will be serious consequences resulting from that, that their economic outlook will be dire. We have some serious challenges, and it would be such a relief if we could for just a moment in this place hear some long-term planning around those health challenges instead of this short-term, glib, beating of chests and pointing of fingers from side to side that we get nonstop in this place. Australians are desperate to know that this government and this parliament as a whole are focused on the health challenges.
Our immediate challenge is COVID and the vaccine rollout. I and my office were getting so much anecdotal evidence from frustrated people who wanted to receive the vaccine but couldn't. I conducted a survey of health practitioners and GPs in my electorate, and the overwhelming feedback was that they were not receiving sufficient supplies to administer the vaccines to those wanting to get it. Seriously! We have shut down the borders. For the last 14 months we have been absolutely 'Bubble Australia' at great personal, economic and emotional cost to many, many Australians. During that 14 months the absolute responsibility on the government was to ensure we had a prompt and efficient rollout of the vaccine. Now, 14 months later, to be getting feedback that people are willing and able and turning up to be vaccinated but are unable to because of a lack of supply is just negligence. This has to be addressed. Overwhelmingly, the message around the need to get vaccinated has been appalling. Again, we have had 14 months to prepare for this. We all came together to put in place emergency measures to ensure the government had space to come up with a response, to come up with a plan. Where is our COVID-19 Coordination Commission? What were they doing, apart from wasting money and focusing on gas follies and self-righteous and self-serving projects? Why were they not planning a very meticulous rollout of this vaccine to ensure that it would happen with the utmost urgency and speed?
Bubble Australia cannot continue forever. It is a fool's paradise to think so. Economically, we have to ensure that our businesses can access the workforce they need. We need to ensure that families can have contact. I wrote in August to the minister to ask for the extension of the family exemption to being able to travel to include parents, but I've had no response at all from the government on that. There has been no movement despite it being some 14 months on. We've had a really interesting double standard developing. We hear reports of movie stars that are having no trouble getting their parents in and out of the country to visit them, but Australians who are here who need that support are unable to get that same support. We have serious challenges ahead of us on the health front. We have obesity, which is a rampant problem. I shudder to think of the health consequences that are going to flow from these COVID years, when we think of lockdowns, the mental health consequences and the consequences of lack of activity. We already have a huge obesity problem in this country, and we're simply not addressing it.
Then we come to the really big challenges. If we've been slow in acting on vaccination rollouts, let me tell you how slow we're moving on addressing climate change health risks. That is like a cliff that we will be at the bottom of, facing a disaster, before there will be any real action. There are serious questions that need to be dealt with, and the government needs to pull up its socks and get on with it.
The envy of the world, Australia is a leader in its response to the coronavirus pandemic. This is because the Morrison government's world-class response is evidence based, expert informed and timely. Across the country, experts have worked together to deliver ongoing advice and guidance. Consistently, the government has listened to and acted on this advice, advice that Australians have listened to and engaged with, and this has resulted in outcomes that all Australians can feel extremely proud of.
As we've always said, no system for managing the COVID-19 pandemic will be perfect. This is not simply due to human error, but additionally because the incubation period of the virus and its variants can be beyond the 14 days required for self-isolation. Quarantining has safely brought home more than 350,000 Australians, 3,500 of which had COVID. Unfortunately, 21 leaks occurred, but only 21 leaks occurred. That is remarkable in itself with such an incredibly infectious virus.
Last year we took rapid and proactive steps to close the border and implement quarantine measures, but, just as importantly, we understood that this was not the only defence mechanism that we needed to deploy in our response. Indeed, as for all public health measures, we've exercised a diversified armamentarium towards COVID. Whether this is the triple protection for individuals, of masks, handwashing and physical distancing, whether it is the triple protection for those arriving from overseas, of quarantining, contact tracing and social-distancing measures, or whether it's the investment of this government in a diversified portfolio of vaccines, of AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Novavax and Moderna, our government has understood the ability of this country to respond. And it's included a rapid development of CSL manufacturing capabilities for the AZ vaccine.
The Morrison government's targeted approach of safeguarding those most at risk ensures that they are the most protected. This includes residents of aged-care facilities and frontline workers who've been prioritised in our vaccination program, starting with stage 1a and stage 1b. These are the approaches that the Australian people know they can trust and rely on to get us through the pandemic.
We all know that a one-size-fits-all approach to the pandemic doesn't work. It requires a dynamic approach, one that prevents and responds to COVID. As we've seen with the New South Wales government, Premier Gladys Berejiklian has rolled out a targeted and dynamic method with hotspot containment as opposed to entire state lockdowns, which means, time and time again, not only has she protected the citizens of New South Wales from the ravages of this disease she's saved businesses from the devastation of economic lockdown.
My fellow Victorians: my heart goes out to you all. You have lived through one week of lockdown and are now staring at a second week of lockdown. Thank you to all Victorians for your efforts ensuring that you, your family and your friends are safe, for keeping us all safe. Thank you for all who've already received the jab. Just yesterday, 20,492 Victorians received a dose of the vaccine. That is a record number.
As the vaccination program ramps up, I'm proud the Morrison government is continuing to deliver a free, safe and effective defence against the scourge of COVID-19. The first one million doses were delivered in 47 days—the fourth million doses were delivered in just 13 days. The ramp-up of the vaccine is happening at speed. This is, indeed, the biggest vaccine rollout in our country's history, one that has had to be delivered when there have been supply constraints outside of this country's control.
On this side, we understand a calm, open, transparent and accountable government is best suited to deliver the public health outcomes this country needs and deserves. In contrast, those opposite play blame-game tactics. That is all that they can muster. Australians can see through these tactics of playing politics with the pandemic, of playing the blame game. I want to re-emphasise for those listening across Australia the calm message from this government: if you have symptoms, get tested; if you've been in contact with someone with the virus, isolate and get tested; and, finally and most importantly, if you're eligible, get vaccinated.
I'd like to start my remarks by saying thank you to the people of Victoria, who are doing work on behalf of the entire nation right now. Every Australian stands with you. Those of us who don't live in Victoria don't know exactly the pain that you feel on the news today that you will continue your lockdown, but there are many millions of Australians who support you.
There are also Australians who just do not understand how this government continues to make so many mistakes. They can deliver cuts, but they can't deliver a jab. They can stab Malcolm Turnbull in the back, but they can't jab the population. And when we needed the ad-man Prime Minister—when we needed his advertising skills, at the most pressing time—he couldn't deliver the ad campaign the nation needs to boost vaccine confidence. The Prime Minister had two jobs: quarantine and vaccine delivery. Vaccines save lives—if you can get your hands on them. In politics, we all know—we've learnt in different ways in this place—that a small prick can make a big difference. Vaccines prove that point.
It's been 100 days since the Prime Minister got his vaccine. We saw the photo op. We saw him doing the peace symbol. Even I sort of hoped that things were going to get moving—but they didn't. We just saw the photo op; we didn't see any action to get the vaccine rollout moving. The United Kingdom got Elton John and the United States got Dolly Parton—and we got the Prime Minister. Maybe it's time that he texts Julie Bishop again and says, 'Can I have Tina Arena's number; I need to ask her for help with a public information campaign.'
The Prime Minister says, 'It's not a race.' I've heard the Prime Minister say many, many times, 'It's not a race.' He's not the only person in my life who says, 'It's not a race.' My three-year-old Leo, when he is losing at anything—when he can't eat his dinner as quick as I can or when he can't get into his pyjamas quick enough or whatever—he goes, 'It's not a race, daddy; it's not a race,' and, for him, that's totally fine. But we are racing against a virus, and we've seen—in terms of what's happening in Victoria—just how quickly it can race ahead of us when we become at all complacent.
The Prime Minister says, 'It's not a race.' He promised 16 pop-up vaccination clinics. Three of them are open and they are all in Sydney. None of these pop-up clinics are in any other state or in any other capital—just in Sydney. We know that there is a problem with the way the Prime Minister sees the country, because he does look to preference New South Wales. I remember when the New South Wales Premier said in the media that the Prime Minister was 'sympathetic' to putting New South Wales ahead of other states in the vaccine distribution queue. That, of course, requires having a vaccine distribution plan, though.
We're not even in the top 100 nations for vaccine distribution. It takes a very special type of incompetence to find something slower than the NBN that this government rolled out, but they've found it: they had an even slower vaccine rollout. Only 8.74 per cent of aged-care staff are fully vaccinated. Only 1.5 per cent of disability care residents are fully vaccinated. We still have no plan for national distribution of the vaccine for our schoolteachers or for our early childhood educators—people who have high contact with vulnerable Australians.
Then it comes to the failure of hotel quarantine. There have been 21 outbreaks from hotel quarantine—the latest in my electorate of Perth, at the Pan Pacific hotel. The workers at the Pan Pacific hotel do a fabulous job. They have not only felt the huge economic whack of COVID; they've also stepped up to help. But what they need to see is that we provide other options for quarantine. You could look to do something in Learmonth or Esperance or you could look—as the Premier of Western Australia has suggested today—to do something in Busselton or in south-west WA. You can't avoid the fact that hotel quarantine did an amazing job in 2020, but it is broken for the challenge we face in 2021, and the government needs to step up. This government needs to take responsibility. Even if it's just acknowledging that it is the one responsible for vaccines and it is the one responsible for quarantine, it would be a huge step in the right direction.
When the COVID-19 virus began spreading around the world early last year, the Morrison government put the health and wellbeing of Australians at the forefront of our response. We listened to advice from health experts, like Australian government Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly, and we continue to do so. We secured our international borders and worked with the states and territories to introduce quarantine systems. We have provided, and continue to provide, unprecedented levels of direct economic support to help individuals, families and businesses in all states and territories get through this pandemic. The economic measures we have put in place are vital not only for the economic health of the nation but for the mental health of all Australians. Many businessowners and employees would have otherwise faced the prospect of losing their jobs and financial stress at home caused by the loss of an income.
This latest outbreak in Victoria is not a small matter, and the Australian government in the 2021-22 budget announced just two weeks ago anticipated that future COVID-19 outbreaks would occur in Australia. Our budget measures were calibrated accordingly, with the budget providing an additional $41 billion of COVID related economic support on top of existing support. In the 2021-22 budget, the Australian government provided a further $1.7 billion to extend our COVID-19 health response package and a further $1.9 billion for vaccine purchases and rollout. These measures bring the total health related COVID expenditure to over $25 billion.
We have extended the operation of the Medicare COVID-19 pathology test items until the end of this year. The more than 300 temporary telehealth items that were implemented in March 2020 have also been extended until the end of this year. These items were previously due to stop at the end of this month. As of yesterday 60.2 million telehealth services have been delivered to 14 million patients, with nearly $3.1 billion in benefits paid. The government continues to work with peak bodies to co-design permanent telehealth as part of reforms to modernise Medicare and provide flexibility of access to primary and allied healthcare services.
On 13 March last year the Australian government and all state and territory governments signed the National Partnership on COVID-19 Response. As part of this partnership we will cover 50 per cent of costs incurred by state and territory public health and hospital systems when responding to COVID-19 outbreaks. From 31 March last year we guaranteed the viability of private hospitals to respond to COVID-19 and to help them resume operations at the end of the pandemic. As of 7 May this year the government has provided $5.5 billion to states and territories under this partnership. As of yesterday there were 142 COVID-19 GP led respiratory clinics operating nationally, of which 19 are Aboriginal community controlled health services and 80 are situated outside of metropolitan areas. More than 1,265,600 consultations have occurred in these clinics, and more than 1.1 million COVID tests have been conducted. These GP led clinics have serviced patients from 2,430 different postcodes, including those in my electorate of Longman.
Throughout the COVID-19 vaccination program, vaccination has continued to scale appropriately with the available vaccine supply. The first million vaccine doses were delivered in 47 days, the second million were delivered in 19 days, the third million were delivered in 17 days and the fourth million took another 13 days to administer. Above all else, safety remains the highest priority. We will not rush this rollout and risk the safety of Australians. We will continue to take the advice of our medical experts and act accordingly.
The Australian government has also provided up to $3.2 billion to secure essential PPE equipment and other medical supplies along with antibiotics and antivirals to help in preventing the transmission of COVID-19. More than half a billion masks have been secured by the department of health to ensure a continued supply to frontline healthcare workers. We have also committed $374 million to researching COVID, including research on vaccines, treatment and clinical responses.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian government has provided more than $2 billion to support people in aged care. We have implemented a dedicated pathology service for rapid specimen collection and testing of suspected cases. As of 25 May, Sonic Healthcare, under contract to the Australian government, had conducted 369,000 tests at 2,432 unique residential aged-care facilities across Australia. The government has responded to the public health challenges facing Australia and will continue to do so.
Government has a limited amount of money. If you wish to take the number of environmentalists working full-time in the Far North Queensland area from three to 147, obviously you're going to burn up an awful lot of money. If you want to build a $10 billion tunnel in Brisbane—which is not needed and has never been asked for by the public—you're going to burn up a lot of money. If you want to spend $15 billion on roadworks and flyovers over flyovers over flyovers between the airport and the CBD in Brisbane, you're going to burn up a lot of money. If you want to build a billion dollar pleasure dome for yourselves, as the Queensland government did—it was a Liberal government; most of the rest of this is ALP—and billions of dollars on the Olympics, then it ends up with the head of the health department in Queensland saying to me on the telephone, 'It's no use. You're kicking up about Mareeba Hospital not having an outpatients. Outpatients in Queensland have ceased to exist.'
The greatest pride of the Queensland people was that, of all the places in the world, you could walk in 24 hours a day, every day of the year, including Christmas, and get free health services. Now, at the coalface, at Charters Towers, my home town, where my family's lived since the late 1870s, there was an outpatients. It's closed. It's a huge building in front of the hospital. It is closed. It has across it 'Closed'. The only entrance to the hospital has 'Inpatients' written across it. I had a spider bite, from a white spider. They're very, very deadly. This one turned out not to be, but my hand swelled up, so I went there. You sit on a chair outside the hospital, waiting, if it's an emergency case. If it's not an emergency case, go home. So we only have healthcare in Queensland for 40 hours a week now. That's all. That's what's happened. The latest figures that I've received via a back door is that the Queensland Health budget is $600 million in deficit, and there'll have to be massive cutbacks on what we've got—on what we're down to now. Don't people in this place understand that you will go broke if you keep spending money on multistorey pleasure domes for yourselves or buying votes by flyovers over flyovers over flyovers? You can't do it and deliver a health service. What are your priorities? What are your priorities?
It is the shame of this nation—and I've brought it up again and again and I have some difficulty in living with the fact that I'm not going very well on it. When I am not going very well on a serious issue, I get very, very nasty. And I'm about to turn extremely nasty over the issue of our First Australians, my brother-cousins, because life expectancy—on the only figures I could get, because they're hiding the figures—in the gulf Cape York community is 41 for males and 53 for females. In the Torres Strait, it's 20 years less than for the rest of Australia.
Both the ALP government and the National-Liberal party government closed down the market gardens in every single community. The much-maligned missionaries took the people in, protected them from being shot at and burnt out and starved and poisoned. They protected them. They protected them also with their diet. Because they couldn't go out and forage for food on the open plains anymore, they had market gardens.
When we inherited the market gardens, we kept them going till the fall of the government in 1990. Worse than that, the federal government banned the backyard vegetable gardens. Why would you do that in the Torres Strait? 'Diseases could get in.' The war and trading canoes, the raiding canoes, have been coming down from New Guinea for 40,000 years, and if disease was going to get in, it would have long since arrived. Every backyard had a fruit and vegetable garden. I cannot remember having a single meal—and I probably had about 300 when I was a minister in the Torres Strait—where I ate any non-Indigenous food at all. By that, I mean I ate Torres Strait Island food. It was fish, it was turtle, it was dugong, it was prawns, it was crayfish and of course there were mangoes, bananas, sweet potato, yam and taro—all of those things. It was a very, very healthy diet. That was up until 1990. What is going on is the shame of the governments of Australia. (Time expired)
I say to the member for Kennedy that I expect there are some difficult health challenges in your part of Queensland that need to be addressed and I'm sure you're the right member in the right place at the right time to address those issues. I thank the member for Indi for putting on the table this matter of public importance on the urgent need to respond to the public health challenges facing the nation. I want to talk about one of the responses to those public health challenges and the way that response worked. I think just about all of us in this room would have received the benefit of a telephone conversation with your GP, rather than attending the clinic. In fact, during the pandemic the particular clinic that I have attended in Pakenham for many, many years just didn't want you in the building. They didn't want you anywhere near the place, unless it was necessary for you to come to the building, and then you had to either wait in your car or wait outside or wait at a certain point. This was very hard for older people, so the government introduced a telehealth system to address the crisis within communities.
I make this point because I felt through the 18 months that we've been living with this pandemic, a long time, one thing I haven't mentioned is that not only are our people concerned, disrupted and fearful but they're tired. They've worked hard. You have businesses that have worked for 30 years to build themselves up and have been blown away. They may have survived up to this point and then another lockdown finishes them off. That's the reality that we face. I've got a whole stack of emails here and that's exactly what's happened to these businesses. It's just heartbreaking for these people. They're angry, and I can understand their anger. But directing that anger is very difficult. I've always said to everybody in this House, when you're in a leadership position and you have to make a decision, put yourself in their position to say, 'What would you have done?' They say, 'Well, I wouldn't have made those mistakes.' No, but we all make mistakes. Things can go wrong and they will go wrong. We've seen governments right across the nation making decisions on the run the whole time. They had to make those decisions. You can criticise them and say they were right or they were wrong, or they should have been quicker, or they should have thought of this beforehand. But put yourself in the position of those leaders.
I go back to the way that we've handled the telehealth services. But it's expensive. I hadn't even thought about how much those telehealth services might have cost. As of 1 June 2021, 60.2 million health services have been delivered to 14 million patients at a cost of $3.1 billion paid to 84,395 practitioners who have benefited from that. It's expensive. A lot of what governments have done in this process—