Tuesday, 22 June 2021
COVID-19 Disaster Payment (Funding Arrangements) Bill 2021; Second Reading
Andrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Cities and Urban Infrastructure) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
I rise to speak on the COVID-19 Disaster Payment (Funding Arrangements) Bill 2021. This is the bill that will provide time-limited financial assistance to eligible workers who are unable to earn their usual income as a result of public health restrictions, such as public health orders imposed by state or territory governments, and where the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer has determined the relevant location to be a COVID-19 hotspot for the purposes of this Commonwealth support.
This is a bill that Labor supports. Let me be really clear: these payments are needed and they are needed urgently. But, as well as supporting the bill, I will be moving a second reading amendment. I move:
That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:
(1) notes the Government has:
(a) catastrophically failed to address outbreaks in hotel quarantine, which has led to extended lockdowns in states across Australia;
(b) botched the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, which has left all Australians, but particularly aged care workers, vulnerable; and
(c) failed to ensure that workers and businesses received the support needed in the recent Victorian lockdown;
(2) further notes this bill may not have been necessary, if not for the Government's failure on quarantine and vaccines, both national responsibilities; and
(3) calls on the Government to:
(a) build dedicated quarantine facilities and expand existing facilities in every state and territory;
(b) fix the vaccine rollout and expand mobile and mass vaccination clinics;
(c) start a mass public information campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated; and
(d) begin manufacturing mRNA vaccines right here in Australia".
I will be speaking to that second reading amendment as well as demonstrating the support of the opposition for the provisions contained within this bill. The COVID-19 Disaster Payment (Funding Arrangements) Bill 2021 would create a special appropriation with which to draw funds from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the COVID-19 disaster payment. This payment is set at $500 a week for people who are engaged in paid employment for more than 20 hours per week and $325 per week for people engaged in paid employment but for less than 20 hours per week. According to the explanatory memorandum, the payment would be available to any person who:
We believe these principles in the bill are appropriate, but it is relevant to note that these payments are both too little and too late. I say this particularly as a Melbournian, knowing what Melbournians have gone through over the last year and a bit. As the second reading amendment makes very clear, the only reason this legislation is warranted and necessary is this government's many failures to bring the pandemic under control. Whether through the vaccine rollout, hotel quarantine or cutting off income support in the course of a pandemic, the Morrison government has failed Victorian workers, businesses and families.
The Prime Minister has had two jobs during this pandemic and he has botched both. I note that the budget, which was recently handed down, is premised on the assumption that there will be six week-long lockdowns. This of course demonstrates vulnerabilities in the economy and vulnerabilities in the labour market. But it is our obligation to pay attention to what we need to fix. When it comes to vaccination, as we are still at about the three per cent mark of Australians who have been vaccinated, we can't even see the front of the queue. Last year the Prime Minister promised that we would be at the front of the queue when it came to a vaccination rollout. But that is so far from where we are. I note that the Prime Minister made a statement on Facebook in April, in respect of the rollout, where he said that his government had 'not set, nor has any plans to set any new targets for completing first doses'. He said, 'While we would like to see these doses completed before the end of the year, it is not possible to set such targets given the many uncertainties involved.'
This is one of the most important programs the Commonwealth of Australia has had to implement since the Second World War, and the Prime Minister just told the people of Australia via Facebook that he had no plan. It seems that he did this because having a plan means accepting responsibility for the execution of that plan, and we know how this Prime Minister feels about responsibility. Again, instead of owning up to this mistake and then fixing it, he issues a statement on Facebook, hiding away from responsibility. Yesterday we learned from the Sydney Morning Herald that the Prime Minister spent weeks planning a secretive side holiday on his G7 visit, all while arguing that Britain was too risky for Australian travellers. We're in a pandemic, a public health emergency. What are the mixed messages that are being delivered here? It is extraordinary. What message does this send to the 36,000 Australians who are stranded overseas? What does this say, on point to the provisions that we are dealing with today, to the 6.6 million Victorians who have borne the brunt of lockdown restrictions to protect themselves and their fellow Australians?
We see no leadership, no responsibility and no empathy from this Prime Minister—a Prime Minister who, as I've said, had two jobs: a speedy and effective rollout of the vaccination program and of quarantine. He's failed at both. We have been dealing with the pandemic for more than a year and the Prime Minister still can't get quarantine right and still can't get the vaccine rollout right. He said, infamously, that the rollout isn't a race—and he's wrong. It is a race, and it's a race we've got to be much, much more serious about winning, because Australians today, and particularly Melbournians, are paying the price for his failures. Melbournians are paying the price for his failures even now.
Labor was saying last year, through the member for McMahon, Labor's health spokesperson, that we needed to do five or six vaccination deals—something that was recognised by the experts then and is recognised by the experts now as the best-practice approach. The countries we like to compare ourselves to had a plan in case they had trouble with a particular vaccine around supply or any potential adverse effects, so that there would be other deals to fall back on and adequate supply. We now know that Pfizer approached the government as early as June last year for Australia to be one of the first countries to get access to the highly effective mRNA vaccine—an opportunity squandered by the Prime Minister, who put all his eggs in one basket and who has now walked away from the problem.
The President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Karen Price, said new targeted advertising campaigns were desperately needed to tackle vaccine hesitancy, as Australians of all ages were confused and suffering from information overload. She said that we need 'targeted advertisements to specific cohorts to talk about this risk benefit of vaccination, because it's just become a real mess of messages'—a 'real mess of messages'. That just isn't good enough. Every Australian deserves to be safe and to get adequate information to make themselves safe and to keep their community safe. If that isn't the case, it is a core responsibility of government to fix this problem.
Last Friday, the Morrison government did announce that they'd provide $1.2 million in funding to multicultural organisations to deliver targeted health information about the rollout. But why has it taken so long for the Prime Minister to commit to this? This is almost a year after Labor specifically called for a communications grant program to multicultural communities so that we could better use the network, so that we could recognise the strengths within those communities to communicate vital public health information and so that we could demonstrate that we have learnt the lessons of some of the challenges we found in implementing an effective public health response for all Australians last year. But this government won't learn those lessons. This government won't recognise the great strengths that are in communities and harness these strengths in the interests of those communities and in the interests of the wider community.
As all this is going on, we have seen the damage that has been done and continues to be done by the likes of the member for Hughes, spreading misinformation and disinformation, and of course Clive Palmer, who has put the most appalling material into letterboxes in my electorate—and electorates around the country, it would appear—building on his earlier efforts to spread misinformation and disinformation by other means. Well, if Clive Palmer can be so assiduous at getting this misleading, divisive and damaging information out, we need to do so much better at countering it with an effective public health campaign. We learnt yesterday that one of the reasons that the government has delayed pushing harder on a public health campaign is concerns about supply. This is absolutely extraordinary. I really don't think you could make it up—that all of these problems have compounded and still, it seems, we don't have a plan. And that's before we get to the issues of quarantine.
As of this week, there have now been 24 breaches of hotel quarantine. Yet we still have a government that refuses to implement a dedicated national quarantine approach that is fit for purpose. Jane Halton, handpicked by the government to look into this issue last year, delivered her report to government in October. That's nearly 10 months ago. That report recommended the establishment of a national facility for quarantine to be used in emergency situations. That report, of course, has sat there gathering dust. When Victoria first came up with a proactive proposal to deal with this issue—as Queensland has also done and as other states are urging the Commonwealth to consider and support—the defence minister denounced this as smoke and mirrors. Well, no, Minister for Defence. The smoke and mirrors is the response of this government to this critical question. Perhaps the defence minister might pay particular attention to page 31 of Ms Halton's report. Perhaps he could put away the red carpet that seems to be rolled out at defence facilities for ministers in this government and get on with any plan to get stranded Australians home.
This government has had to be dragged kicking and screaming to provide support for people in Victoria. It has been shamed into doing its job. As a proud Melburnian, I've rarely felt more distressed than when members of this government—members from Victoria but not for Victorians—engaged in the most divisive scaremongering over the course of last year. I'm glad that stopped, but I'd like to see a recognition of the damage that it did to people under pressure, to social cohesion and to the vital sense through this pandemic that we are, in fact, all in it together. I am pleased at the belated recognition on the part of this government of the responsibility to do the right thing, but we can't forget the history that led us to this point. We can't forget the neglect, the poor decisions, the indecision and the failure to make decisions that led this to be a requirement of this government.
As the Treasurer of Victoria said of members opposite, they like making speeches, but they are not a tangible partner. We need them to step up to the plate. Workers need them. The community needs them. He also urged them to stop the empty gestures, because it is far too late for that. Acting Premier James Merlino made clear, as should be clear to any member of this place who's serious about doing their job, that delivering income support is solely the preserve of the Commonwealth. It is solely the responsibility of the Commonwealth. People who work casually, people in hospitality, people in retail and businesses in those sectors have taken a huge hit, and a general sense of anxiety lingers across the community in Victoria, particularly in Melbourne. Who's to say that other states and cities won't be affected, having regard, as I said earlier, to the assumptions that underpin this government's budget?
The analysis of the cost of these lockdowns by KPMG chief economist Brendan Rynne has shown that the state final demand can be hit by $125 million a day. I note that that's approximately half the cost of building a fully operational 500-person quarantine facility. If ever there was a statement of the wrong priorities and of the failure to invest in the future by this government—something that my friend the member for Rankin makes clear every time he stands up in this House, and often when he stands up out of it—it's that. The failure to make decisions like these is having a real cost today. It's a drag on the economy, it's damaging people's lives and it's leaving people behind. Again, while we welcome the appropriations that are provided for here—they are urgently needed; finally the government has come to the table—we can't forget about the context. Perhaps members opposite might think about the second reading amendment that is before the House in conjunction with this bill.
Lastly, on the second reading amendment, I just want to remind members opposite and the Australian public that Labor, unlike the government, has a clear four-point plan to deal with this ongoing crisis. It is to build purpose-built quarantine facilities, to fix the vaccination rollout, to deliver a thoughtful and considered campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated, and to build the manufacturing capacity to secure the delivery of mRNA vaccines. In commending the bill to the House and in ensuring that people in need in my home town and, in the future, in other home towns, get income support that will enable them to get through this, let's not let the government off the hook. Let's remember how they were dragged kicking and screaming to this when they should have been there assuming their constitutional responsibility in the first place—when, in fact, they should have taken decisions that would have removed the need for these payments in the first place and when this Prime Minister, in particular, still fails to front up and take responsibility for doing his job.
David Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
Is the amendment seconded?
Jim Chalmers (Rankin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
It is, Mr Deputy Speaker. I second the amendment. The COVID-19 Disaster Payment (Funding Arrangements) Bill 2021 is a really important bill. It goes to the type of support that the Commonwealth provides to those Australians, in this instance Victorians, who are impacted by the Prime Minister's failure to do either of his two jobs this year, which were to get vaccinations right and to build dedicated quarantine facilities.
What we know from the budget—not that the Treasurer fessed up to it on the day—is that the Treasury and the Treasurer expect there to be one-week lockdowns in major CBDs every month for the rest of the year. The budget assumes that the government will continue to fail to get vaccination and quarantine right and that, as a consequence, we will have more of the style of lockdown that we saw in Victoria not that long ago. The budget assumes that the government will continue to fail to deliver on those two key fronts. What Australians, in particular Australian small businesses, have to look forward to as a consequence of the Prime Minister's incompetence in those two key areas is more of these lockdowns. They are very damaging to business, obviously, and very damaging to workers. They are very damaging to confidence, to the ability of the people of this country to get back on their feet and recover properly from this horrible pandemic and the recession that we saw last year. You cannot have a first-rate economic recovery with a third-rate vaccine rollout, but it's a third-rate vaccine rollout that we're getting from those opposite. At the same time, they refuse to do what's necessary to get purpose-built quarantine facilities built fast enough to prevent leakage of the virus in hotel quarantine. Hotels are built for tourism; they're not built for quarantine. For too long now, as the government has dragged its feet and pretended it is somebody else's responsibility, the failure to get those quarantine facilities built has had the sorts of consequences that we saw in Victoria not that long ago. Victoria is only just emerging from that lockdown. So the only reason that this legislation is necessary is the government's failure to bring the pandemic under control, which is as a consequence of their failure to get quarantine and vaccination right.
Throughout this pandemic, Labor have tried, in this parliament and outside the parliament, to be as constructive as we can, particularly when it's obvious that the people of this country, in particular the small businesses of this country, need support. It's what we did with JobKeeper. When we originally proposed wage subsidies, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer said that it would be a dangerous development. We were very pleased when they had a change of heart. We didn't rub their noses in it when they had a change of heart, because it was crucial that we got that support out into the community. The Treasury said, when JobKeeper was being withdrawn, that they feared mass job losses. There were 56,000 jobs lost when the Treasurer cut JobKeeper. He seems to have forgotten about those 56,000 families who faced the diabolical consequences of the JobKeeper cuts. What we've said all along is that we want to help the government get it right. The government has sprayed JobKeeper money all around. The member for Melbourne—and I commend him for his efforts on this front—and my Labor colleagues, including the member for Fenner, here in Canberra, and others, have done a good job of pointing out that, if the government hadn't sprayed around so much of that support, giving it to businesses that didn't need it, we would have more room in the budget to support Victorians and other Australians who genuinely need help. This bill is about getting that support out the door in a timely fashion.
The Treasury secretary, in estimates—not that long ago—said that he thought about $100 million a day was being lost from the Victorian economy during the most recent lockdown. The Treasurer wants a pat on the back for providing $20 million in support. It is too little, too late: only about $3 for every locked down Victorian. When communities are locked down as a consequence of the Prime Minister's incompetence, he should stop trying to wash his hands of it. He should stop trying to pretend it's somebody else's responsibility. It's a Commonwealth government responsibility to provide that kind of income support. To the extent that these bills provide a mechanism for that support to be provided, obviously that's an important development.
What we need to see as soon as possible are those two failures rectified. We need the government to get vaccinations right. We need them to build those purpose-built facilities. As the member for Scullin said a moment ago, we need a mass education advertising campaign to get people over this vaccine hesitancy. We also need to build the kinds of facilities that are required to manufacturer mRNA vaccines in this country. That's our four-point plan for what needs to happen now. We urge the government to adopt it. We urge the government to come to the table in a far more timely way and a far more significant and substantial way when communities are locked down. Australians are doing it tough as a consequence of the government's incompetence. The least the government can do is provide that support where it's needed.
Adam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
I rise to speak on the COVID-19 Disaster Payment (Funding Arrangements) Bill 2021. In Melbourne and Victoria, we're just exiting the Morrison lockdown. This one was the Morrison lockdown because, after the virus escaped from hotel quarantine in South Australia—and, of course, the Prime Minister and the federal government are responsible for the national quarantine standards—it came and hit Victoria and hit a population that was largely unvaccinated. In Australia, we haven't seen the kind of speed that we've seen in the United States. After they started with Donald Trump, who was in charge of dealing with COVID for the first few months, Joe Biden, in about four months, managed to get 50 per cent of the adult population vaccinated. Yet, in Australia, our Prime Minister has had trouble cracking five.
When the virus hit in Melbourne, in a community that had already been through so much and had done our fair share to prevent the explosion of a third wave across this country, we assumed that the Prime Minister, especially given his contribution towards the lockdown occurring, might have been in a position to support people when they went, yet again, without money during a very, very difficult time. But what we found was nothing, no plan at all. Even though the government factored into their budget a week-long lockdown happening every year, they had no plan to look after people who are doing it tough. The problem is that this government doesn't quite understand it. We've had members of the government say, 'Well, a week's not long to go without an income.' What people in the government don't understand is that, especially having come out of a previous lockdown where so many people had depleted their savings and were just getting by hand to mouth, many businesses and workers in Victoria were just getting back on their feet when this Morrison lockdown hit.
In Melbourne in particular we are very heavily reliant on the visitor economy. That has been brought to its knees, not just because of previous lockdowns but because social-distancing restrictions mean that things like going to the comedy festival in the same numbers or getting people together to go to a pub or a restaurant are in many places still subject to social-distancing restrictions. We were at the point where so many people, especially casual and insecure workers, many of whom work in the exact industries that were hardest hit by COVID, were just starting to look forward to some version of normal again. With the rise of casual and insecure work that we've seen—again, especially in many of those industries like hospitality, entertainment and the creative sectors—so many people are really just living day to day or week to week. So, when all of a sudden people were told go into lockdown for a week, a lot of people did not have spare money or savings to get them through that period of time. When people find out not only week by week but sometimes day by day, or sometimes on the very day, whether they're going to have any work that particular day, a week is a very long time to unexpectedly have to go without money.
So we pushed and pushed and pushed the government, saying: 'You've had some role in causing this lockdown and making people go without money yet again, and putting some businesses who were just starting to stand up back on their knees. The least you could do is continue the kind of JobKeeper support and the level of JobSeeker support that was there when the first lockdowns happened.' Lifting JobSeeker to $1,100 was recognition that, in Australia, that's what people need to not be in poverty. They need $1,100 a fortnight; that was the Prime Minister's and the government's admission. If they needed it then, they need it now when they're in lockdown. We need to reinstate or have some form of JobKeeper. If we are going to have lockdowns and people going without work on a regular basis we've got to keep people connected to their workplace. For businesses in Melbourne that are just getting back on their feet, after everything they've been through with the previous lockdowns, it is especially crucial to make sure that those businesses don't become disconnected from their workers and don't fall over yet again.
So we pushed and pushed and pushed and, finally, the government said, 'We're going to give you something.' But there was massive disappointment throughout Melbourne and Victoria when we found out in what contempt the government hold people and the pittance they were asking many people to get by on, in lockdowns that they now, on their own admission, say are going to be regular occurrences. For someone who works close to 20 hours a week, $325 a week is less than the minimum wage. The average rent on a one-bedroom place in the Melbourne CBD is $330. So people are going without their income, and all of a sudden they're being given something that's below the poverty line, that's below the minimum wage had they stayed in their job, and won't even cover a week's rent. That's critical because this lockdown happened at a time when a lot of the protections from previous lockdowns, like the protection against eviction, weren't there anymore. We lost the ability to have those supports, so the need for some kind of financial support was absolutely critical.
Think about it from the perspective of a casual worker in Melbourne. They found out that they were going to get $325. It wasn't even $325 for all the time that they were out of work, because they missed it for the first week—and, under this bill, they're going to keep missing it for the first week and then get $325 to maybe get them through the second week. But, of course, because this bill is linked to the definition of 'hotspot' as determined by the chief health officer, even though lockdowns and restrictions may continue, people stop getting their money when the chief health officer says the definition has changed. So what does that mean for a casual worker? It means that for the first week that they've lost their income they'll get no money. For the second week they'll get potentially less than the minimum wage, depending on how many hours of work they were working. For the third week, once it ceases to be a hotspot, though they might not get their shifts back because there will still be social distancing in place, they will get no money. So some workers may have had to make this $325 last three weeks, during the course of this recent lockdown. If this is meant to be the system that is going to support all of Australia going forward, then I say to the rest of the country, as a Melburnian: look out, because if we have to go back into lockdown, which the federal government is banking on happening as a regular occurrence, we are going to be in strife.
The bill gives some minimal support. But, as is the way with this government, every time they give with one hand they take away with the other. This bill also says that, if people have got some savings—what they call liquid assets—above $10,000, they are not entitled to any payment at all.
So, if you'd been saving for your first home and then you'd found yourself without any income through no fault of your own, the federal government would say, 'Dip into your home loan savings, and do it indefinitely. Do it until it runs down, because that's the way that you're going to have to look after yourself.' As we know, because so many lost out on support the first time around—casual workers were excluded, university workers were excluded—many people drew on their super. They took money out of their super during previous lockdowns to try to get them through. So what the government is now saying is, 'If you're saving for a house or you took money out of your super and you've got some money sitting in a bank account, well, we're going to punish you again for doing that and you can't get any payment.' If someone drew down from savings or from super and put it into their savings to try to get through the last lockdown, they will get punished for doing something that the government encouraged them to do. They're not going to be able to get access to this payment.
This bill needs to be fixed. This bill needs to be fixed to address those issues, to ensure that people don't fall through the cracks and to ensure that people aren't left in poverty during these lockdowns that the government is now baking into its budget. There is one other thing that should happen, though. If we had a social security system in this country that gave people enough to live on, we might not have to be in this situation where the government has to write cheques each time there's a lockdown. If everyone at a minimum were eligible for that $1,100-a-fortnight payment, which the government by its own admission has said is what you need in Australia to live above the poverty line, then there might be less need for these kinds of special purpose payments. If the minimum wage were higher and casual work and contracting out didn't leave people working an hour here, an hour there, struggling to make ends meet, then we might not have the need for these kinds of payments to be drawn on quite so much. The government needs to look at this and not just say, 'What is the least we can do?' The government needs to look at what has happened as a sign of a huge problem of growing inequality in Australian society and work out how to fix it.
One of the things in Melbourne was that people swung into action in response to this. The Salvos went around inner-city Melbourne delivering food to casual workers, knowing that under the government's payment conditions they were going to be locked out of getting any money for a week and, as I said, some of them were going to have to make $325 last for three weeks. I applaud the Sikhs, the Salvos, all those other groups that stepped up and all the businesses in Melbourne that offered free food and free support for people during the lockdown, because they knew that people would otherwise fall through the cracks. I applaud all those community groups and businesses for stepping up, but they shouldn't have to. The government should ensure that no-one falls through the cracks. If they predict that these kinds of lockdowns will keep continuing, then they've got to lift JobSeeker, got to ensure that people get a decent wage, got to outlaw insecure work, because that is the way to make sure that, in Australia, a wealthy country like ours, no-one falls through the cracks.
Kate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
This COVID-19 disaster payment was welcome relief to many Victorians and many people in my community when it was finally announced at the start of this month, halfway through the lockdown that we have just come through. Let's be clear: the Morrison government was dragged kicking and screaming by Labor and the Victorian state government to offer this support. We know that this was the Morrison lockdown. It came from hotel quarantine because we do not have a quarantine system in place. It hit a population that is not vaccinated because the vaccine rollout has been botched. Victorians were in lockdown because the Morrison government has failed to do its job. The moment the Prime Minister said that the vaccination rollout wasn't a race was the moment we seemed to start losing that race. We welcome this payment. It is much needed, but we shouldn't have been in the situation where we had to push so hard for it and where it came so late.
I must say that, as a Victorian, as a Melburnian, who, together with my community, has gone through all of these lockdowns, I know how on edge people are. I know just how difficult it has been. People really have dug deep, and they have accepted the need for lockdowns to protect us all. But that is not to say that people are not on the edge, because they are. I think one of the things that was hardest at the start of this lockdown was to realise how little support there was from the federal government. The government that is meant to be there for all of us seemed to abandon Victoria. In fact, we had government members from Victoria suggesting that, really, the federal government had done all it should and could and that, if people needed more, 'Have a look at what's out there, but we're not going to step up.'
I'm very glad that eventually they did step up, but, just before they got that to point, we had people like the member for Wannon telling people, during an interview with the ABC, that they could go to Centrelink because they might be eligible for emergency payments. He said, 'What I'm saying is, if you've lost all your income, then you should go to Centrelink and see whether you're eligible for a payment.' Do the members of this government live in the real world? Do they understand what it is like for people who have already been through a very difficult year last year, and who, as the member for Melbourne said, are coming to a period when most of the supports that were in place for that year have been withdrawn and are in another lockdown? The government just do not seem to realise that that does not mean that people have resources that mean they can go down to Centrelink and check whether or not they might be eligible for a payment that's not there. They need support and they need to know that they are backed by their federal government.
As I said, it is a good thing that this payment is now in place, but it did come too late, and it is concerning that there are still too many people who are left out and who won't be eligible for this payment—people who have done the things that this government told them to do, such as withdrawing their super early on because they were told by this government to do so, even to their future financial detriment. Those people are likely to not now meet the asset test for this payment, so they will be stuck without it. I've had constituents in my electorate, particularly people in the events industry who have done it so hard through this entire pandemic, tell me that that's the situation they are in—that they are left out from this payment, that they're not eligible for it and that they feel that lack of support from this federal government. Instead of being there for all Australians, instead of being there for Victorians, this government's attitude is: 'No, this is not our problem. We are not here to support you.' It is just so disappointing that that is the attitude that people in my electorate have had to confront.
It's difficult for all of us on this side of the House as well, knowing that we are doing everything we can to advocate for these people in our communities and feeling like, for too long, that is falling on deaf ears. So I urge the members of the Morrison government to take a look at the reality of people's lives, to understand what it is like for people when they do go into lockdowns, when they can't work and when they are taking one for our whole community so that this virus doesn't spread. Take a look at what that's like, and give people the support they need. That is what they are asking of you, and it is not too much to ask.
I very much echo the concerns of the member for Scullin around the vaccine rollout and the lack of information around the vaccine rollout and the environment that that is creating for misinformation and disinformation to flourish in our community. I know that there are so many people in my community who are confused and anxious as a result of the Morrison government's botched vaccine rollout. There are frontline workers—aged-care workers, disability care workers, teachers and early childhood educators—who have not yet managed to secure even a first dose of the vaccine. There are local businesses who want to know that they have certainty in opening up going forward, yet they face a winter ahead where most of the population will not be vaccinated. More broadly, there are members of the community who are confused and uncertain about when, where and what type of vaccine they should be receiving. Why are we in this position? It's because this government saw the vaccine rollout as a Liberal Party branding exercise and not a public health effort. So, instead of putting together and running the public health campaign that we needed—the education campaign that should be helping people to understand their options and understand why getting a vaccine will support our whole community—we got a Liberal Party logo on an announcement. What a disgrace! What an absolute failure of responsibility! In the middle of a pandemic this government was more interested in putting Liberal Party branding on announcements about securing vaccines than they were about doing the work to get a public health education campaign out there. Well, we needed that campaign earlier this year, but we definitely need that campaign now, so I urge the government to step up and put together a public health education campaign that helps people understand what is going on, because, at the moment—and I'm sure I am not alone in this—I'm sure there are many members who are being contacted by members of the community who are confused, who are uncertain and who are looking for more information about what their vaccine options are. At the moment, those people are really at risk of misinformation, misunderstanding and confusion.
I was contacted just today by a member of my community who wrote to me to tell me that he received in his mailbox unsolicited health advice from none other than Clive Palmer. He said: 'Today, I received a pamphlet in my letterbox that outrageously claims that there's no pandemic in Australia and urges myself and any other recipients to avoid being vaccinated against COVID-19 with either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccinations.' The pamphlet also contains many unsubstantiated claims and statistics designed to make readers hesitant to receive a vaccination. Obviously, Clive Palmer should not be distributing that misinformation, and I am very concerned that it is going to members of my community, and I know it is going to members of other communities in Victoria. But the gap, the space that means that people are taking on board this information, is because this government has not done its job in making sure that people understand what their options are, how vaccines work and how getting a vaccine will help us all out of this pandemic.
Of course, one of the other reasons the government didn't do that is because they failed to secure the supply of vaccines we need. So we know now that instead of securing deals with a range of manufacturers, instead of doing the early work with Pfizer in the middle of last year, the government put all its eggs in one basket and told us at that point that we were at the front of the queue. And then, when it became blindingly obvious for all of us that we were nowhere near the front of the queue, they told us that it wasn't a race.
Now we're in the position obviously where we still don't have the supply we need to vaccinate our community, and every day that passes where our vaccination levels remain so low puts us all at risk. Again, before our last lockdown, I know in my community the sense of deja vu for people as we looked at another outbreak, as we looked at the virus taking hold again. And we heard that our aged-care residents and our aged-care workers had not been vaccinated. Can I tell you the distress that caused amongst so many members of my community who had already experienced the fear last year. In some cases people had lost loved ones because the virus had got into the nursing homes. The fact that we haven't fixed that for this year is a complete failure of responsibility by this government, and it is a stress that those people, those families and the people in aged care should not have to bear and they would not be bearing if this government had done its job on the vaccine rollout. So I am very, very concerned. We need the government to pick up its game immediately on this. We need to know how the vaccines are rolling out, and we need a concentrated public health information campaign rolling out around that so that people in our community know what's going on and feel secure about getting the vaccine.
I am concerned that instead of urgently fixing this mess, instead of urgently getting people the support they need and the vaccine rollout that we all deserve and need, the Morrison government this week has been focused on itself. It's been focused on electing a new Deputy Prime Minister. Last week it was focused on the Prime Minister tracking down his relatives in Cornwall. This is not a government that is doing the work that is needed in the middle of a pandemic. This is a government that has dropped the ball so comprehensively that we are not vaccinated and there is no national quarantine system. We need this government to do its job. We need this government to lift right now. I urge the government to do better.
Susan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
The only reason that this legislation, the COVID-19 Disaster Payment (Funding Arrangements) Bill 2021, is needed is because of the Morrison government's many failures to actually guide us out of the pandemic and to put the things in place that will see us through the next period. Workers and self-employed people all need to know that there is a financial safety net there if an outbreak stops their city. While a lot of this has been focused on Melbourne and Victoria, in Sydney right now I bet there are lots of people wondering what might happen if the outbreak Sydney is experiencing spreads and we find ourselves in the same position in Greater Sydney as Melbourne and Victoria. It strikes me that the government are unable to think ahead, unable to be one step ahead; they're always one step behind. It's like COVID is the queen and they see themselves as the consort. They are never getting out in front. They're never able to show us that there is a plan to move beyond where we are now.
When I reflect back on what has happened during the pandemic, from the start we, as the opposition, were really pleased that we encouraged the government to listen to the science early on and that we recognised there was a need to deal with this as a health crisis and then to think about the need for wage subsidies so that people could do the right thing to save lives. The community responded magnificently to both those things, recognising that they were needed. I have no doubt that around the country it was the community that did this, with decisions led and pushed for by premiers, and that spared us from the worst health impacts and, consequently, the worst financial impacts. I have to say it feels like it was little thanks to the Prime Minister or the aged care minister, if you go back to the very early days. When I think about aged care—because my dad is in aged care—I realise how vulnerable people were, people in their 80s and their 90s or even those who were in their 70s and not in good health. The premiers had to step in and try and deal with, at that time, a very much unknown situation, and they didn't get any help from the feds. There was such little support at a federal level, and that attitude has continued to this day around aged care. People will look back on how this government responded in the aged-care sector with absolute dismay that it was done that way.
There was the good decision made that the premiers would essentially be left to convert empty hotel accommodation to quarantine accommodation. Yes, a good call. What we've realised though and what we've known for some time is that the set-up of hotels is not conducive in all cases to an effective quarantine system. Now, this isn't new; we didn't just work this out yesterday. We have known this, and the contrast is clear when you look at Howard Springs, which was set up with quite independent units that allow people to not have to share infected air. When you've got 24 leaks from hotel quarantine, you'd think somebody would work this out, but yet again the government's been a step behind, never a step in front. It's clear we need dedicated quarantine facilities so that we can reduce the chances of this sort of disaster payment ever being needed.
The vaccine is the other area where there have been failures. I know governments don't like to admit failures, but this government more than any are unable to recognise their mistakes. The rollout has been an embarrassment, with only three per cent of people fully vaccinated and about a quarter partially vaccinated. The rates of vaccinated aged-care workers and disability care workers are still not really clear, nor are the rates of vaccinated residents in disability care. We should have all that data. It should be at our fingertips. We should be able to look at it and go: 'Okay, there's a problem here. How do we address it?' This fear of admitting they haven't got it right means it comes across as an arrogant approach, particularly when we've been in opposition wanting to work with the government, wanting to bring forward the problems that we see and help find solutions to them.
I wonder why we still don't have really good mobile facilities, particularly for areas like mine on the edge of the city, where they are a long way from the hubs that have been established in New South Wales. I'm getting a lot of comments from people in their 40s and 50s who are finding out that it's going to be a really long wait for their Pfizer appointment. Clearly, that's because supply has been an issue. You can't deny it. You can't pretend that, no, it's all good. It just hasn't been. It hasn't even been equitably distributed amongst the states. You wonder whether that could have been done differently. Yes, we were saying that you needed more deals. You needed to do more deals for a variety of vaccines, knowing that they might not all be perfect. And hasn't that proven to be the case! You could have done a deal with Moderna. Fancy not taking the offer of additional doses of Pfizer! All those things are clearly errors that have been made. We should also be making mRNA vaccines here, or looking at how we would do that, and doing it as quickly as we can.
I don't think anyone thinks that pandemics just suddenly turn off. We know we have a road ahead of us, and that's why we not only need a plan but we really need to have information. That's the other huge gap from the Morrison government: information—especially given the changes in the vaccine, that would have given people a place to be able to clearly and succinctly find out what they needed as things changed. There has been such a lack in that, let alone the motivating and inspiring campaign that would have had people of all ages flocking for vaccines. When your supply isn't good enough, maybe you don't want that to happen, but a public health information campaign is the massive vacuum that has been left. It has allowed people like Clive Palmer to fill the vacuum with the rubbish that he says. It is stuff that is dangerous, yet we're not even seeing action from the government to correct and mitigate the misinformation that's being pumped out all around the country. That's a failure of this government.
What we need is action on all these steps, and we need a plan that will see us be protected and will see new arrivals quarantined effectively. We need a plan that allows for stranded Aussies to come home and reduces the risk for others coming in, such as the much-needed skilled workers and students. We need a plan that takes us forward. Right now we're in limbo. We need a plan that puts us a step ahead, not just a step behind. I think we need a plan that shows that this government doesn't think the job is done, because right now it feels like they've done all they're going to do. We have these little bits of tweaking, like this legislation, but it really is time for the government to take the weight and show us the way forward. We are really happy on this side to have input into that plan. If there were true bipartisanship, that's what would be happening now. We would work together.
Peta Murphy (Dunkley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
They don't want to work with us.
Susan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
They don't like to work together; I will take that interjection. They don't like to work with us, but we've demonstrated in the last few months—
Trent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
There's no such thing as a legitimate interjection, so you don't get to choose whether you take it or not.
Susan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
Thank you, Deputy Speaker. I will respond to that interjection, which is a choice I get to make. And we can be pedantic about language, should we choose to be.
That's what I'd really urge the government to do. We need to feel like we are moving forward. Right now the country's in limbo and many people are just way behind. It's really time to work with us, rather than just skite about what you think you've achieved.
Helen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
I rise to support the premise of this bill, the COVID-19 Disaster Payment (Funding Arrangements) Bill 2021, but also to table concerns about its implementation, which has inadvertently hurt regional communities such as mine in Indi. The government's decision to commit to economic relief payments for Australians experiencing extended lockdowns is a good one, but it could have come sooner and it could have been broader. It's almost three months now since the end of JobKeeper, and the government is burying its head in the sand if it thinks that Australian cities won't face further lockdowns as the vaccine rollout trickles along into next year. The government should have been working proactively with state governments through the national cabinet process to anticipate lockdowns, such as the latest one that we have experienced in Victoria, and to ensure that support was ready and available, that it was predictable and immediate, and that it reflected the economic reality on the ground in the hotspots—but beyond the hotspots too.
The current eligibility rules for this payment are short-sighted and do not understand the economic reality of lockdowns when they occur in cities like Melbourne and the impact that they have on the regions that surround Melbourne, or any capital city for that matter—it is, again, just a matter of time, while we wait for the population to slowly, slowly have access to vaccines. That's because item 492 of the Financial Framework (Supplementary Powers) Regulations requires a worker to be subject to a lockdown for more than seven days and reside or work in the Commonwealth designated COVID hotspot to be eligible for the payment. This ignores the interconnected nature of Melbourne, or any capital city, and their regional economies. When Melbourne is locked down this has a significant impact on tourism, hospitality and accommodation in small businesses and the casual workers who work for them in regional Victoria. These businesses are heavily reliant on clientele from Melbourne.
At the start of the latest lockdown the incomes of these small businesses and the workers who work for them were cut off overnight. Many of them contacted my office in distress as their balance sheets and bank accounts dwindled, with no federal assistance in sight. And when federal assistance was finally announced they were excluded. These businesses and workers still face economic hardship, even as regional Victoria reopens. For example—a huge economic impact in the electorate of Indi—the ski fields felt the impact of the Melbourne lockdown long beyond the period when Victoria was more broadly opened up. Right now in order to come to the ski fields skiers need to have a COVID test 72 hours before they get there. Many people see that as a step too far and are not coming to the ski fields. For our hospitality venues, our wineries, there has been huge loss of visitation over the period of the lockdown and beyond. The fantastic, loyal business owners of these businesses have been doing their upmost to look after their employees.
One constituent who comes to mind is a casual worker at a boutique hotel near Wangaratta. This constituent has been stood down since the lockdown in Melbourne began and lost all of her wages. The temporary COVID disaster payment does nothing to help this worker. Workers such as her were hard to recruit. We have a skills shortage right across the region, and it's acute in Indi where business owners—fantastic businesses, great employers—simply can't get the workers they need. To have workers who come out into the regions and take up the opportunities that are there being disadvantaged by government legislation that only enables payment to the hotspot means that those workers may be scratching their head and saying, 'You know what, I think I'd be better off in a capital city where at least I would get some recompense for my loss of work.' I think that's an unintended outcome of this piece of legislation. It's one I've written to the Treasurer about to bring his attention to it.
Maybe a parallel is what happened during the bushfires. There was appalling damage right across my electorate. Huge amounts of areas were burnt. But it wasn't just the areas burnt that suffered economic damage from the bushfires, it was the many, many businesses in the surrounding areas who felt the economic impacts of the lack of tourism and the consistent smoke damage—businesses like grape growers. In working with the government ultimately I was able to convince them that the impact of a bushfire goes beyond the footprint of the burnt area. And it's a bit like this with a COVID lockdown. When Melbourne's locked down the regions feel the pain as well, so support should be available to all workers who are suffering a reduction in income because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That was the rule for JobKeeper and that should be the rule that applies now. If you're impacted you should be eligible for some support.
The lack of fit-for-purpose quarantine facilities and the slow, slow pace of the vaccine rollout means that lockdowns in capital cities around the country are an unfortunate and regrettable but inevitable reality. And even the government's own current budget papers assume recurrent lockdowns.
So while this bill is a good sign from the government that it won't totally abandon small businesses and workers facing lockdowns, it doesn't have the safeguards that the regions surrounding a lockdown area need. Regions like Indi, like regional areas all over Australia, have worked really hard to keep their communities safe and to keep COVID out of those communities. Like our populations in the big cities, much has been sacrificed as a result of outbreaks—including through ad hoc border closures, which my community in the Albury-Wodonga region suffered from so dramatically. There were 138 days of border lockdown; people couldn't cross the border to go to work or to school. They had problems getting to health care, and families were separated in their own nation. We never want to see that again. I want to make it clear to the government that the impact of a lockdown and of a COVID-19 outbreak miles from other people has an impact on those people. We need to recognise that.
The least the government could do in this bill, I think, is to recognise that severe economic impacts are not just contained to a Commonwealth-government-designated hotspot. So I call on the government to amend this new national framework for COVID outbreaks to recognise this and to recognise the impact that it has on regional economies, regional workers, regional businesses and everyday people. We need to make sure that the great gains we achieved through JobKeeper can be replicated short term. It's great if it's short-term; we don't want things to go on forever. But if you're outside a Commonwealth-designated hotspot area and are affected by a lockdown then you too need to have access to support from the federal government. I make this plea tonight: listen to this—talk to people in the regions, and I'm sure you'll hear the same story. I think it's really important. I know that the member for Monash made a similar call when this happened in Melbourne and I join with him to say, 'Please work with us and extend the ability for people affected by a lockdown to access support.
Peta Murphy (Dunkley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
Of course I support this COVID-19 Disaster Payment (Funding Arrangements) Bill 2021. As someone who represents a community in Victoria which has been hit by lockdowns, I support any support or financial aid being given. But I'll start my contribution by being absolutely clear: this bill shouldn't have been necessary. We have a government and a Prime Minister who had two jobs. The first was to roll out the vaccine so that everyone who wants to be vaccinated can be vaccinated, starting with our most vulnerable and those who work to care for our most vulnerable and who are most likely to be exposed, and then through the population. That's so that anyone who wants to be vaccinated can be vaccinated.
The other was to set up fit-for-purpose quarantine facilities across this country so that we could deal with the still almost 40,000 Australians who are stranded overseas and who want to come home but can't get into their own country. This is so we can open our borders and have tourists, upon which great sections of this wonderful country rely for economic input, and foreign students. Last time I looked, education was the second-largest export in Victoria. And it would mean that Australians could travel around the world, as we love to do and are known for, and then come home again, and that our economic, social and cultural future resembled our lives before 2019. Roll out the vaccine and have national fit-for-purpose quarantine: two jobs, both of which have been botched.
On both, we hear over and over again from the Prime Minister, from the Minister for Health and from members of the government: 'Oh, it's not our fault; we're not responsible. We had a conversation with the states in national cabinet.' At one minute that's on a war footing and at the next minute it isn't meeting for weeks on end. They say: 'We had a conversation in March last year'—which is more than a year ago—'where the states agreed to use hotels for quarantine. So, I mean, it's not our fault. That's right! We did ask Jane Halton! We did ask her to do a review of hotel quarantine. And she did say in October last year that we should have fit-for-purpose quarantine. But, I mean, it's not our fault we haven't done it yet, because it wasn't that long ago. Oh, yes, that's right; it's June now.' October to June—that's, what, eight months? We could have had fit-for-purpose quarantine going around the whole country by now. Oh, but the Prime Minister says, and the Minister for Health says: 'Oh, but, Member for Macnamara, don't you remember? In our budget this year, $500 million for Howard Springs. We're amazing! We've got hotel quarantine sorted.' It's not what Jane Halton said needed to happen, and Howard Springs is not sufficient for what is needed.
And so where do we end up? With yet another leak from hotel quarantine, because no matter how hard the states work, the people who work in hotel quarantine work, the people who are quarantined in hotel quarantine work to make sure they follow all of the standards necessary, they are in hotels. Hotels were not built to be quarantine facilities. We have had 24 leaks from hotel quarantine. We saw one that came out of South Australia and came into Victoria, and my community, like the rest of Victoria, faced another two weeks of lockdown.
It's not a political argument. It's not pointscoring. It is the reality of what our communities are living through. We're looking at what's happening in Sydney—every day; day after day after day—and we're hoping that outbreak of COVID is under control. But there is one thing that we all know, and that no-one could possibly deny with a straight face, and that is: had there been a vaccine rollout where the vaccine had penetrated further into the community than—are we at three per cent of the community who have had two vaccinations yet? I think that's about what we are at.
An opposition member: It depends which state!
I'll take that interjection. That's right; it depends which state. We'd be less anxious, wouldn't we, about what's happening in Sydney at the moment, because we would know that a significant proportion of the population, let alone the people who are the most vulnerable, would have been vaccinated. They might be able to catch COVID-19, but their chances of dying from it are so much less. They might possibly spread COVID-19 if they catch it, but, again, even if that is the case—and the jury is still out on that—the people around them who have been vaccinated might have an 80 per cent chance of not catching it. And if they do catch it, it would be minor. This is what we're talking about: actual people's lives, and the anxiety that we feel either in lockdown or as we're watching the possibility of a creeping outbreak in Sydney which could put people into lockdown. That's why the vaccination is important now.
And is it any wonder that people across Australia are actually white-hot angry when they find out, through reports in the media, that we could have had something like 40 million Pfizer doses, but apparently this government decided: 'Oh, we're just going to play it a bit hardball'—that's what the reports say—'We're going to quibble on the cost. We're going to quibble about intellectual property, and we're just going to let the offer'—which it's now being reported that Pfizer gave to Australia in, what, January of last year, was it? Or this year. They said they could deliver as many Pfizer vaccinations as we needed in this country. Is it any wonder that Australians across the country are white-hot angry?
Is it any wonder that I get calls and emails to my electorate office every day from locals in Dunkley who want the Pfizer vaccination because they have an underlying health issue; because they're concerned about the mixed messages that have come out about AstraZeneca, its safety and the changing health advice that has had to come out; and because they just want to get vaccinated? Then they hear that we could have had some 40 million doses, and they hear the minister saying, 'Well, you know, we rejected that offer.' It would seem his explanation is based on medical advice, apparently. We also hear experts like Bill Bowtell suggesting that that seems a bit strange because the medical advice wasn't available at the time that the Australian government said it rejected as many Pfizer vaccine doses as we wanted. It's extraordinary. So where do we end up? We end up in a place where we don't have a proper vaccine rollout and the government has now decided that we need Operation COVID Shield. There is one thing they are good at, and that's naming operations.
The commander of Operation COVID Shield, who appears to be one of the most transparent people speaking on behalf of what's happening with the government, has said, 'Well, yes, we do have some supply issues.' And the explanation for why there hasn't been a rollout of a public health campaign encouraging people to get vaccinated is that we need to get the supply issues sorted out first. So we have a government that can't do, it would seem, the four simple things which need to be done and which the Leader of the Opposition has made absolutely clear that a Labor government would have done by now--which, if we get elected, we would do immediately: fix the vaccine rollout; build fit-for-purpose quarantine facilities across the country; have a public health campaign—every other country around the world seems to do it, and if I see the French video come up one more time on my Twitter feed I think I'm going to be able to speak French!; and manufacture mRNA vaccines in this country. These are four pretty simple things that need to be done, one would think, and need to be done soon.
But I should correct myself: it would appear that it's not that simple to fix a vaccine rollout that is in as much trouble as this one is. Perhaps with national cabinet now meeting again, the premiers will assist with getting on top of it because, of course, the increase in vaccination rates in Victoria that we've seen has been because the Victorian government has stepped up with a vaccination blitz. We shouldn't need an outbreak; we shouldn't need people having to go back into lockdown to kickstart a proper vaccination rollout. We also shouldn't have needed to drag this government, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, kicking and screaming, to finally announce some financial support for hardworking people, particularly in Victoria, who couldn't go to work because of a lockdown recently.
This package today is better than nothing, but we have a package with so many qualifications on it that there are so few people who are really going to benefit in the end. We have a package where the government announcement is that you have to be without income for seven days before you can even apply. Seven days without income for some people means not being able to pay the rent, not being able to put food on the table and not being able to take their kids to the local footy game or the local netball game. They're the lives that many people in our communities live. Seven days without work and without pay might not seem much to people who have relatively privileged and secure lives and jobs. But for so many people in insecure work and in insecure housing, seven days is a very long time, and then they have to wait for their application to be processed. Is it any wonder that most of us who represent electorates where people are working hard in low-paid jobs get calls day after day from people asking how they're going to get this assistance and is it going to be enough for them to get through? And then, of course, we have a government that insists that only the people who they want to designate as being in a hotspot will get the funding. It's a very strange situation when you're lucky in lockdown—lucky to be able to get the funding; lucky that the federal government has decided you're in a hotspot. No-one wants to be in lockdown in the first place. Imagine, then, having to just hope that there's no political reason why this federal government doesn't want to designate you as living in a hotspot—like the political opportunity, as was reported, to wedge the premiers so that they have to do what the Prime Minister wants them to do and not exercise their own judgement or use their own staff's medical advice to make decisions about lockdown. Imagine using a pandemic and lockdown as a political wedge against premiers, to try to force them to act according to your will. Imagine being the sort of Prime Minister that would do that.
Imagine announcing financial support for people in dire financial circumstances and, in the announcement, saying, 'Of course, we warn that retrospective compliance action will be taken against people if we find that it turns out they weren't eligible.' Imagine in the same breath saying, 'But if you're a megacompany, your CEO got a bonus, your shareholders got extra dividends, the company recorded a profit and you received millions and millions of dollars from JobKeeper, you can pay it back if you want to or you can keep it—it's up to you!' And imagine saying to hardworking Australians with no money and seven days of no income, 'We warn you we'll come after you if it turns out that you didn't really need as much money as you got paid,' but saying to big companies with big profits: 'That's alright. Keep those millions and millions of dollars of taxpayers' money. You deserve it.' That's the message this government is sending to people, and it's not good enough. Is it any wonder that what we hear over and over again is, 'We need to change this government'? Because we really do.
Josh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
The longer this pandemic has gone on, the less this government has done for the people of Australia. The longer this pandemic has gone on, the less this Prime Minister has done to support the people of Australia. I remember the early days of this pandemic when the Prime Minister and the Chief Medical Officer were the ones who actually made the announcements around the restrictions, around the settings in which we were going to keep Australia safe. The Treasurer and the Prime Minister announced the JobKeeper supplement. They announced the coronavirus supplement. They announced the support measures that were going to keep Australia safe, and then they started to withdraw them. Businesses were still hurting and they started to withdraw the JobKeeper and JobSeeker supplements.
Then, thankfully, we were out of lockdowns. The majority of this country experienced a brief period, a couple of months, in which we were able to get the economy back on track, and that is a brilliant thing. It is a brilliant thing for businesses. No-one in this House wants to see Australian businesses struggle—absolutely no-one. But then this government pretended that the pandemic was completely over. And what did they do? They stepped away from any responsibility or any support for Australians and Australian businesses.
Then, when the unfortunate situation with one of the 24 breakouts from hotel quarantine happened and Victoria—like Perth, like Brisbane, like Sydney, like Adelaide—went into a short lockdown, the federal government were shamed into doing something, the very bare minimum, to support Victorian workers. That's why the COVID-19 Disaster Payment (Funding Arrangements) Bill 2021 is here today: because the federal government, who have removed themselves from all of the decision-making processes and all of the support mechanisms to get people through the pandemic, were shamed into bringing this bill.
I say that because, at the start of the parliamentary sitting, when we came back up here a few weeks ago, this federal government's public statements were that if the Victorian government was going to lock down Victoria then it was up to the Victorian government to support Victorians. That's what this government said, and it's only because that was so untenable and so unhelpful that they did a complete U-turn. There must have been someone sensible on that side of the House saying: 'You know what? Maybe just leaving the entire state of Victoria on their own isn't the best idea.' But that's exactly what this government have done repeatedly throughout this pandemic.
During the stage 4 lockdown, instead of supporting Victorians, the Prime Minister and the two most senior Victorians—the Minister for Health and Aged Care, and the Treasurer—issued petty press statements on the side, comparing Victoria to New South Wales, as if it's some sort of a competition, as if it's not about keeping people safe, as if the Victorian government wanted to keep restrictions in place one second longer than they needed to, as if the political pain being experienced by those actually turning up to keep people safe were somehow a flippant competition that this federal government had earned the right to comment on. Well, they didn't, because they weren't willing to turn up and actually make the decisions that help keep people safe. What's worse is they weren't willing to support people during those difficult days.
That's what leads us to this bill. It's the bare minimum bill; that's what this bill is. We should never, ever have had to be in the situation that the member for Dunkley just articulated. We should never have been in a situation where we needed the bare minimum bill. Where we should have been is way ahead in the vaccine rollout. We should have had well over 50 per cent of our population vaccinated by now. We have an outstanding health network. Look at the ways in which countries around the world have successfully rolled out the vaccines. They've used pharmacies, they've used mass vaccination clinics and they have procured as many vaccines as possible. They have been the big three parts of their success. What did this federal government do? They put all their eggs—all of them—in one basket, AstraZeneca. They put all their eggs in the AstraZeneca basket. The original deal signed with Pfizer was for only 10 million doses, because, as the health minister said, they apparently were hiding behind advice that said they didn't need Pfizer. They said no to Pfizer. They put all their eggs in the AstraZeneca basket, and now that AstraZeneca has had a change of medical advice we are stuck.
The federal government also decided to roll out the vaccines through the GP network. I know many GPs, and they have done an amazing job. GPs have done a full list of vaccinations on top of their usual roster of patients. They have worked their backsides off because they, as health professionals, feel a sense of responsibility and duty to vaccinate as many people as possible. I say unashamedly that we are so grateful to our GPs, but they have been forced to do the majority of the work when they didn't need to. Using mass vaccination clinics, community hubs and pharmacies, as well as procuring enough vaccines, could have supported them.
Add to that the fact that we need purpose-built quarantine facilities to make sure we contain outbreaks of variants like the delta variant, which is highly transmissible. At the moment, Victoria seems to be the only place in the entire world that has run down an outbreak of the delta variant, and I hope that New South Wales, Sydney, will be the second. Without purpose-built quarantine facilities, outbreaks from hotel quarantine are only going to increase. If we'd fixed the vaccine rollout and fixed quarantine, there would have been no need for the bare minimum bill we have here today.
Make no mistake: this bill is the bare minimum. It is the absolute bare minimum, which this government was shamed into doing. They were willing to leave Victoria stranded, they were willing to leave Victorians stranded and they were willing to sit there, not make any of the hard decisions, not take any responsibility, and completely evade any political responsibility for the management of this pandemic. The longer it's gone on, the less we've seen of this Prime Minister. Australians, and especially Victorians, know exactly what sort of character this Prime Minister is. They've been left behind by him, and they deserve so much better.
Craig Kelly (Hughes, Independent) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
To start my contribution on the COVID-19 Disaster Payment (Funding Arrangements) Bill 2021, I'd like to pick up from where the member for Dunkley left off about the changing health advice. It is correct that the health advice on the vaccination program has changed. But what that actually shows is how mistaken it would have been to follow the advice of members of the opposition who wanted to rush out the vaccine in the earlier days. Their call was that we must get more injections into the arms of people. But, because of that rushing out, we now have in this country 800,000 Australians who have been injected with a substance which our Chief Medical Officer now says poses greater risks to them than any potential benefit that they have received. That is historic proportions—that 800,000 Australians would be subject to a medical treatment where the Chief Medical Officer of the country now acknowledges that the risk to those people was greater than the benefits they received. And we know that dozens of those people have suffered from blood clots. This is the mistake that can happen when we panic and we rush, which was exactly the call that we heard from members of the opposition.
When it comes to working out our steps and procedure in tackling COVID, surely we must look at all the evidence. The first place that we might look to is a group called the National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce. I have been critical of this task force in the past. However, it is interesting to note their latest findings on ivermectin. I know that members of the opposition have called ivermectin snake oil and they have said that it doesn't work. Well, let's have a look at what the National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce says about this. They say: 'Evidence comes from 13 randomised trials in over 1,260 adults.' So they're actually getting up there in the number of randomised trials and the number of adults. What does our national evidence task force find? Surprise, surprise, they found a 67 per cent reduction in death in those who were administered ivermectin who caught COVID as compared to those that weren't—a 67 per cent reduction in death. They've also found a 46 per cent reduction in ICU admissions. That's what they found. Yet, despite those amazing figures, which show an almost 50 per cent decline in ICU admissions and a 67 per cent decline in death, our national clinical evidence task force somehow still recommends against ivermectin.
There is evidence that's now on the table, including the international peer reviewed evidence published only a few days ago in the American Journal of Therapeuticsa Cochrane standard, peer-reviewed meta-analysis, for the education of the members sitting over to my right—by researchers over in the UK. We've heard that apparently some of these studies that are not done in the UK should be discounted, but this is actually a peer-reviewed meta-analysis from the United Kingdom by Bryant and Lawrie. What did they find on ivermectin? I'll quote directly. They said that 'meta-analysis of 15 trials found that ivermectin reduced risk of death compared with no ivermectin' by 62 per cent in their study of 2,438 patients. They also found that 'ivermectin prophylaxis reduced COVID-19 infections by an average of 86 per cent'.
I put it to you, Deputy Speaker, that it is now game over for the ivermectin deniers with this peer-reviewed meta-analysis study. All those on the other side who continue to deny ivermectin are putting Australian lives at risk. The evidence is clear. The evidence is here. These people love to say, 'We must have peer-reviewed studies.' Well, here it is: a peer reviewed meta-analysis of 15 studies showing a 62 per cent reduction in the risk of death and an incredible 86 per cent reduction of COVID infections when used as a prophylaxis. Let me read the final conclusion of this meta-analysis, peer-reviewed published study:
Given the evidence of efficacy, safety, low cost and current death rates, ivermectin is likely to have an impact on health and economic outcomes of the pandemic across many countries. Ivermectin is not a new and experimental drug with an unknown safety profile. It is a WHO 'Essential Medicine' already used in several different indications, in colossal cumulative volumes.
And those volumes are in the billions of doses. It continues:
Corticosteroids have become an accepted standard of care in covid-19, based on a single RCT of dexamethasone 1. If a single RCT is sufficient for the adoption of dexamethasone, then … two dozen RCTs supports the adoption of ivermectin.
Ivermectin is likely to be an equitable, acceptable and feasible global intervention against covid-19. Health professionals should strongly consider its use, in both treatment and prophylaxis.
There you have it. That is the peer reviewed science. The denial of ivermectin must end, because it is costing lives in this country. Those on the other side must take off their tinfoil hats and follow the science, not the superstition and not the rumours. We know that many have spoken out against this drug because it's low cost. We know that many have invested financial interests in trying to suppress its use and these studies, because there are billions involved in it.
It doesn't stop there. Not only is there that peer-reviewed study; there is another study which summarises all the ivermectin studies. I'd like to go through what the numbers actually are here. There are 25 early treatment studies, and 23, 92 per cent of them, report positive effects. The random chance of that happening is one in 103,000. For late treatment, there are 21 studies, and 90.5 per cent of them show it's an effective treatment. The random chance of that is one in 9,000. For prophylaxis, there are 14 studies and all 14, 100 per cent of them, show it's an effective treatment. The random chance of that is one in 16,000. In total, there are 60 studies and 56 of them, 93.3 per cent, report a positive effect, and the random chance of that happening is estimated at—wait for it—one in two trillion. So, you on the other side, may well be right: this may all just be a lucky coincidence! There's a one in two trillion chance that you are right that ivermectin is an ineffective treatment, because that is what the numbers, that is what the evidence, that is what the data, actually says!
I would like to conclude: if you want to read one particular peer-reviewed study on the effectiveness of ivermectin, I suggest to you a study published last year in the Journal of Biomedical Research and Clinical Investigation. In that study, which was across four hospitals in Argentina, they had two groups. They had 407 hospital workers—doctors and nurses and orderlies—in their standard PPE equipment and they had another group of 788, again doctors and nurses and orderlies, which they gave ivermectin to. So we had an ivermectin group and a non-ivermectin group. Of the 407 in the non-ivermectin group, 237 of them, 58 per cent, in a three-month period, contracted COVID. Understand that Argentina is not a wealthy country, not as wealthy as we are here in Australia. Their hospitals were overcrowded, COVID was rife through their society and, of the nurses and doctors in those hospitals that didn't take ivermectin in that study period, 58 per cent of them became infected. But of the 788 that took the ivermectin treatment, can you guess how many contracted COVID, remembering it was 58 per cent of the other group? It was zero, a duck egg. Not one single person, not one single doctor, not one single nurse, not one single orderly, contracted COVID, and yet in the other group they had 58 per cent contract it. I think that I have given enough evidence here tonight that ivermectin must be adopted widely in this country. Looking at results across the board in countries like India and at how successful they have been in crushing their COVID curves with ivermectin, it must be adopted widely in this country. It is an effective treatment.
I would like to conclude that, unfortunately, because of the words I have spoken, because of the evidence that I have read out, if I were to put this speech during the proceedings here on the floor of the Australian parliament on YouTube, it would be censored and deplatformed by YouTube. They would take it down. They would look at it and they would question the proceedings of this parliament, question this debate. This speech cannot be put up on YouTube because of their censorship.
Scott Buchholz (Wright, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
I acknowledge all of the members who have made a contribution to this debate on the COVID-19 Disaster Payment (Funding Arrangements) Bill 2021 and I thank them for their contributions. This bill appropriates from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the purpose of making the COVID-19 disaster payment during the 2021-22 financial year.
Honourable members interjecting—
Ian Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
Order! Members will be silent. Order! The member for Hughes. The member for Perth, on a point of order?
Patrick Gorman (Perth, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Western Australia) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
I think the accusation thrown across the chamber at the member for Macnamara should be withdrawn.
Scott Buchholz (Wright, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
Mr Deputy Speaker, if it assists the House, I'm halfway through summing up. If I could finish summing up, I think both sides are in agreement on this bill. I have already acknowledged the contributions of all members to this debate, so if it assists the House, I'll continue.
Ian Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
Scott Buchholz (Wright, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
The bill also provides for the National Recovery and Resilience Agency to report on the COVID-19 disaster payment in their annual report. Australians are a resilient people, but sometimes they need support during difficult times. This appropriation ensures that COVID-19 disaster payments will be available and fully funded should additional lockdowns occur. With that, I commend this bill to the House.
Tony Smith (Speaker) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Scullin has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the amendment be disagreed to.