House debates

Wednesday, 23 June 2021


Quarantine Facility in Victoria; Approval of Work

9:47 am

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the Assistant Minister to the Minister for the Public Service, I move:

That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969, and by reason of the urgent nature of the works, it is expedient that the following work be carried out without having been referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works: New quarantine facility in Victoria.

The government, in partnership with the Victorian government, wishes to proceed urgently with the construction of a new quarantine facility in Victoria. The Commonwealth is working with Victoria to progress the development of the project, which includes consideration of the Commonwealth processes, agreeing design requirements, procurement, contracting and a build program.

I note that a proposal to proceed with the construction project without referral to the Public Works Committee is not common. The government very much supports the work of the Public Works Committee and has not taken this decision lightly. The government has decided that, given the urgency of the project, it is not feasible to refer these works to the Public Works Committee as a precursor to the commencement of the works. However, noting the public importance of this urgent project, the government proposes to offer a briefing to the committee at an appropriate time. Subject to parliamentary approval, the project will commence as soon as possible. I commend the motion to the House.

9:49 am

Photo of Ms Catherine KingMs Catherine King (Ballarat, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

We agree that building quarantine facilities not just in Victoria but all across the country is urgent. We agree that the government has made the decision not to refer this to the Public Works Committee because this matter is urgent. But where has the urgency been for the last year? Where has the urgency been in the Commonwealth actually accepting responsibility for what is in the Constitution as a Commonwealth responsibility? Where has the Morrison government's responsibility been when it comes to quarantine? It has been nowhere.

They did a deal back in March 2020 with the states and territories, when all of us thought that coronavirus was going to be over very quickly. We all thought, when this pandemic started: 'This is going to be like SARS. It's going to be over very quickly.' So they did a deal with the states then to look at hotel quarantine. It has been evident for over 12 months now that hotel quarantine is simply not fit for purpose. We have seen I think it is over 22 or 23 outbreaks recently from hotel quarantine and, particularly when we get to the delta variant, it is clear that hotel quarantine is no longer fit for purpose. It is no longer fit for purpose, and it is absolutely a disgrace.

The Morrison government had two jobs: roll out the vaccine program and fix quarantine. And what has it done? Absolutely nothing. It is failing at both. It is long past time that this government accepted responsibility for quarantine. It is terrific that they are now building a facility in Victoria. That is important, and that should be done, but it should have been done over 12 months ago. Every single state and territory should have a Howard Springs facility. Every single state and territory should have the capacity to ensure quarantine is done properly in this nation, and it is an absolutely damning indictment on this government that they have failed to do this. So, while we accept and agree that there is some urgency about this, where was the urgency over 12 months ago?

The best time to have built proper quarantine facilities was a year ago. The next best time to build them is now. So this is good news for Victorians, but what about the rest of the country? What about Queensland? We know there has been an outbreak from hotel quarantine just this week in Queensland. Where is the Commonwealth quarantine facility for Queensland? Again, we've seen outbreaks because of transmission from people transporting flight attendants in New South Wales. Where is the Commonwealth quarantine facility for the people of New South Wales? Where is the quarantine facility for South Australia or for Western Australia? Where is it for Tasmania? This is an absolute failure of governance on the part of the Morrison government, and it is something that should be called out every single day.

9:52 am

Photo of Mark DreyfusMark Dreyfus (Isaacs, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Attorney General) Share this | | Hansard source

The Morrison government had two jobs and it has failed at them both. It had the job of getting quarantine right. It is a constitutional responsibility of the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth has ducked that responsibility from the get-go in this pandemic. The other job that it has failed to get right is the vaccine rollout. But right here and now I'm going to speak about quarantine, because the exemption of this project from the ordinary requirements of this parliament and the ordinary requirements that it go before the Public Works Committee is only needed because the Morrison government failed to get onto this last year. We've known for 12 months that hotel quarantine is grossly inadequate, that hotel quarantine is a temporary fix, that hotel quarantine is not the perfect solution—far from it; hotel quarantine is not even an adequate solution.

We've had 24 outbreaks from hotel quarantine. Think about that: 24 outbreaks, each of them capable of giving rise to a massive spread of this deadly disease across our country. It's only good luck, good management by state premiers and the immensely cooperative behaviour of Australians that has prevented those 24 outbreaks from the inadequate hotel quarantine arrangements that we have and has saved us from the recurrence of the deaths that we had across our country, particularly in aged care, in the middle of last year.

The government commissioned a report from an eminent former secretary of the Commonwealth health department to tell the Commonwealth government what needed to be done for quarantine in Australia. And what did we get? We got a report from this eminent former secretary of the Commonwealth department of health that told the Commonwealth of Australia that they needed to build dedicated quarantine facilities. It's not like this is a new idea for the Commonwealth of Australia. Australians in every capital city are deeply familiar with the Commonwealth-run facilities, which are now museums—think North Head in Sydney or Point Nepean in Victoria—where the Commonwealth used to have its own dedicated facilities for infectious diseases. It doesn't now because we've resolved other arrangements to deal with infectious diseases, but this pandemic is presenting us with a challenge that the Morrison government has utterly failed to meet. It's continuing to fail to meet this challenge. It thumbed its nose at Victoria's proposals when they were first made.

We still don't have exactly clear what it is the Commonwealth wants to do. It took months to get to the position that it's announcing here today, and that is that it wants to go ahead with a joint venture with Victoria to build a dedicated quarantine facility in Victoria. It should have been doing this last October. We've known since last October, when the report that it commissioned was delivered to the Commonwealth government, that a Howard Springs style facility is what is required. There hasn't been a single escape of this deadly virus from Howard Springs. There hasn't been an outbreak from Howard Springs. There has been an outbreak from every part of the hotel quarantine system. Victoria had to go back into lockdown because of someone leaving hotel quarantine in South Australia and spreading the virus throughout Melbourne, which happily, again, we've managed to get on to. But it's a disgrace. It is a disgrace that the Morrison government has squibbed its responsibilities, ducked its responsibilities, run away from its responsibilities. You've only got to think about the disgraceful performance of the Prime Minister going right back to the bushfires. 'I don't hold a hose, mate'—that is Scott Morrison. 'I don't hold a hose, mate,' and he's at it again.

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

The member for Isaacs needs to refer to members by their correct titles.

Photo of Mark DreyfusMark Dreyfus (Isaacs, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Attorney General) Share this | | Hansard source

I apologise, Mr Speaker. You've only got to look at the Prime Minister's behaviour since he became Prime Minister. This Prime Minister ducks responsibility. This Prime Minister says, 'I don't hold a hose, mate.' This is his excuse for going on holiday during appalling bushfires besetting our country. Ever since the pandemic started he hasn't wanted to take responsibility, he hasn't taken responsibility and he's still not taking responsibility. Every time something bad happens, he pushes everything off to the states. He's not grappling with what needs to happen now. We know what needs to happen in quarantine. We know that we need to have a dedicated facility in every state. Of course, it's pleasing for Victorians to think that the Commonwealth government has finally, after repeated entreaties from the Victorian government, accepted its responsibility for national quarantine. It's very good that we are to get a facility in Victoria, but what about South Australia? What about Western Australia? What about Queensland? What about New South Wales? And where is the expansion in the Northern Territory? Apparently, it's proceeding very slowly. We need to have a quarantine facility in every state. We need to have national responsibility for quarantine. We need to have national standards for quarantine, and that's because, sadly, this pandemic isn't going away.

I'll finish by saying the vaccination rollout needs to speed up. We don't just need national quarantine facilities. We don't just need the Commonwealth government, the Morrison government, to accept its responsibility for quarantine. What we actually need is the Commonwealth government taking responsibility for the vaccination rollout as well, making sure that, unlike the rest of the developed world, which has got on with vaccinating its population, the Australian population can be protected too. It's pathetic that just three per cent of our population has been vaccinated. In the United States, 50 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated and 70 per cent have had their first jab. There are similar numbers in Britain, much higher numbers in Israel—and you could go on. We're at about 100th in the world on vaccination. It's a pathetic effort. The Morrison government has failed in both the jobs that it had this year. It has failed at national quarantine and it has failed at vaccination.

10:00 am

Photo of Anthony ByrneAnthony Byrne (Holt, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

First off, I would commend the Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Territories for bringing these works to the table. Obviously, they are going to be bypassing the Public Works Committee, and I make no criticism there. What I am deeply concerned about and somewhat incredulous about, as a Victorian who has watched the people he represents being locked down on four occasions, and given, as the Acting Premier of Victoria says, the wicked nature of this virus, is the fact that we are doing this now, when it has been such a long period since this plague hit our shores. If you were in the outer suburbs, you had been locked down on four occasions, you had made the sacrifices that governments had asked you to make to keep the community safe, you had seen that over the forward estimates we will have a trillion dollars in debt and you had seen the economy rebounding after the work that you in those outer suburban areas and each of the states had done to keep everyone safe, you would expect a government and its Prime Minister to lead. You would think we would not be welcoming the first mention of this public works co-facility in Victoria but speaking about the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth or tenth. Fundamentally, it is stunning to me that we have a Prime Minister who basically won't lead.

Perhaps we should ask a tradie from the outer suburbs to come in here, because he or she would know what to do. Everyone knows what the difficulty is. It is that we have a hotel quarantine system that's designed to fail. Everyone knows it. We see the evidence of this in the commonsense test. Australians have great common sense, and everyone I speak to knows that hotel quarantine doesn't work. The government will say to you, 'Well, 97 per cent of people have come through.' Have a look what happens when three per cent or even one per cent gets out into the community. You cannot have a system that is city based. I have watched the buses come to the hotels in Adelaide and Melbourne, where people have decamped from the flight to the buses to the hotel. It is such a fragile system. People I've spoken to in South Australia, even though they haven't had a lot of outbreaks, know it's a fragile system. Every state premier and chief minister, if they were honest, would state that it doesn't work, that we need consolidated facilities.

Think about the money. We are over a trillion dollars in debt, and this government has been implementing short-term measures to deal with the impact of this virus hitting our shores and the disruption that it causes to our way of life. What is the long-term benefit of that trillion dollars being expended? Virtually nothing. There is no guarantee. The state premiers have fought tooth and nail to bring the Prime Minister, the leader of our country, to the table. Did the Prime Minister generate this? No, he didn't; it was the state premiers. As my colleagues from Victoria, the member for Ballarat and the member for Isaacs, have said, he had to be dragged to the table by the state premiers.

I've been here when prime ministers have led. Paul Keating was a leader, Bob Hawke was a leader and John Howard was a leader. Does Mr Morrison seriously think that if John Howard were Prime Minister he would have outsourced national security, quarantine and border protection to the states? How long would that have lasted? People say this Prime Minister is the heir apparent, but there is absolutely no way that John Howard would have allowed those things to occur. Those on the other side need to reflect on that. Leaders lead; they don't get told what to do by a focus group. This is a guy who won't get out of bed without checking the focus group to see which side of the bed he wants to get out of. That's effectively what we're facing here. This is a guy that just won't lead. This country has confronted a life-changing event, which is a plague, a virus, that is completely changing our way of life. I keep on saying that, when leaders lead, what leaders need to do is tell people how we get out of this. One of the things that I reflect on when we're looking at this measure, which has been brought to the table by the efforts of the state premiers, is: where is the leadership? We've just spent hundreds of billions of dollars, and the public still don't know where we're going. This guy's hopped in the car and is driving like Mr Magoo, all over the shop, making sure that we avoid the potholes, falling in occasionally and coming back out again. The problem is there is no leadership.

If you're in the outer suburbs, if you're that tradie that should be Prime Minister because at least you would know what to do, when you go for a job, you say: 'This is what we need to do. This is the amount of money we're spending. This is the direction.' For parents out there who are planning their kids' futures, there is no direction. The direction seems to be provided by the states. In Victoria, particularly with the second lockdown, because of the highly infectious nature of this disease, because of the fact that you have a hotel system that was designed for the short term, as the member for Ballarat said, you can understand that when we had a crisis we had to respond to a short-term measure was necessary. We will acknowledge that. But then to keep that short-term measure that was agreed upon by the national cabinet and basically go: 'We'll just keep on going. We'll just keep it there, keep it there, keep it there,' and then get dragged to the table by others, again, what I say is when you're a leader, when you sit in the highest office in the land in that chair, you lead. The Australian people give you the licence to lead them; they want to be led. They are being led by the state premiers, I might add.

The irony is that when the Prime Minister travels overseas to the United Kingdom, as he did, and they go, 'Job well done,' he should bring the state premiers and the chief ministers with him, because, in effect, the very hard measures that were needed to be taken by the community were taken by our premiers, the premiers in each of those affected states. They're still being affected, and yet the Prime Minister is still trying to avoid responsibility. At some stage, 'The buck stops with me.' The buck stops with the Prime Minister. When do you keep on handballing, Polly Farmer-like, through every window possible? At some stage you've got to say: 'I am the Prime Minister. We've asked you to do this. We're building a quarantine facility, and here's what we're going to do in the future,' because of all of those Australians who are still stranded and want to come back over; businesses basically saying they need certainty, they need a direction; and international students, which I think we need to bring back into our country, because they add to the lifeblood of tertiary institutions. To basically say to them, 'We're going to wait, and we're going to vaccinate people,'—well, we are not vaccinating people.

The point that has been made by the member for Ballarat and the member for Isaacs is this: the government had two jobs and it's done none of them. That is astonishing. In my time in this place, and it's nearly 22 years, I have never seen a government abrogate responsibility for its key mandate. If you see Maslow's hierarchy of needs and if the public votes on this in an election, they vote for a federal government to keep them safe—that's quarantine and national security—and if they're rolling out something like a national rollout, to basically do it, to implement it, to take responsibility for it and to oversee it. I've not seen a government on those two absolutely essential planks of what makes a government not do it—and then to blame them!

As long as I'm in this place I will never forget that when we were enduring the second lockdown and the aftermath after Victorians made incredible sacrifices and in a world-leading way—I think it is one of the three capital cities in the world of that size that saw off a second wave; Victorians should be incredibly proud of what they did, I was there, and the sacrifices they were making—you had two ministers from Victoria on the government side who didn't say, 'Well done, Victorians.' They basically said, 'It's the Premier's fault.'

I also remember watching the health minister, particularly when we started getting on top of the second wave lockdown, basically undermining public confidence in the measures being undertaken, the necessary measures based on the best possible health advice, by attacking Premier Andrews. If we're in this as a national fight against this virus, we're all in it. You can't hop in it. What I'm watching is them hopping in, hopping out, hopping in, hopping out. You don't try to claim victory after the victory has been earned by other people. That's not the way; it's not an Australian way. It's un-Australian.

What I have seen in this period of time—and I notice that my time is running out here—is a Prime Minister who is the least likely to lead. I've never seen a Prime Minister not lead. Well, Prime Minister, it's time for you to lead; do your job. You were elected to protect our country and to make sure that the vaccine rollout was done appropriately. You have done neither; start doing both.

10:10 am

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to thank the member for Holt for his contribution on this debate because he made a really important point about taking responsibility, taking action and taking credit. This Prime Minister is certainly choosy about when he does all three—it's usually, potentially, to his own political advantage but not to the advantage of the people of Australia. Today, that's exactly what we're here to talk about. Of course, we welcome the federal government finally coming to the table to say that they'll support a specific, purpose-built quarantine facility for Victoria. We have lots of points to make about, 'What about the other states?' but let's just look at the Victorian situation.

A couple of weeks ago the Prime Minister was finally dragged, kicking and screaming, to do the right thing, to co-fund and to become part of the solution for quarantine. But, in typical form for this Prime Minister and this government, the Victorian state government said, 'We've got a plan; this is where it's going,' but the feds came in and said: 'Oh, we like your plan but we're in charge here. Let's move it to the other side of Melbourne.' They couldn't even pick up the phone and have a reasonable conversation with the Victorian state government and say, 'Obviously you looked at both of these sites and you've come down favouring one, can you tell us why?' No. They had to come out like a bull at a gate and dragged to it, kicking and screaming; they couldn't cope. Instead of just ticking the box and saying yes to the Victorian state government they said, 'We'll help you with quarantine but not at that site.' Essentially, that's what they did.

Today they've done another backflip. They decided the Victorian government was correct about the site and now they're going to rush this through to support that. But there's no Prime Minister on the screen today and no Deputy Prime Minister in here, eating humble pie and saying, 'We were wrong.' We have lost two weeks construction time—again. What month is it? It is 2021 and it is June. We are in another winter in Victoria. There's only one part of the country that's doing hotel quarantine with that climate, and that's Victoria. So we're now in another winter without a for-purpose quarantine facility built. Why? Because we have a federal government abrogating responsibility. That's why.

The story here today is that this government, rather than leading and rather than taking responsibility for the quarantine program, has outsourced it to the states and to hotels. Let me tell you what Melburnians think about hotel quarantine. Last winter they thought hotel quarantine was a good short-term idea to get us through the first couple of months. It's now a long, long time while we've been dealing with something that was supposed to be short term. As we've said in here, we've now had 24 breaches in hotel quarantine. That's not surprising: they're not purpose-built for quarantine. They're hotels: they're built for tourists. This government has taken all of this time to come to terms with the fact that the Australian people will hold them accountable for how this program works.

And it's not just Victoria, the state that they like to demonise; we now have hotel breaches coming from South Australia. In fact, let's just remind the House that the most recent Victorian lockdown was actually caused by a quarantine breach out of South Australia, not out of Victoria. Let's just make sure everyone is clear about that. We're on our 24th breach now, with one happening in Queensland, and yet here we are without a government, a Prime Minister or a Deputy Prime Minister coming in here to eat the humble pie that should go with this decision—to apologise to Victorians for confusing them about which should be the preferred site and for disrespecting the Victorian state government and their decision-making processes about which of these two sites was the best site.

I stand before you as someone who represents a seat which the Avalon Airport is just outside of. There were lots of locals who thought having this facility at Avalon was a terrible idea. But the bottom line is that the Victorian government had already looked at this and, for good reasons, they had landed at Mickleham and not at Avalon. At some stage, this government needs to determine that if it wants to work with the states to do things then collaboration actually requires it not to stand back, waiting for the chance to point the finger of blame at someone and so avoid taking responsibility itself; collaboration means respecting the state premiers, respecting the state governments, respecting their processes and not losing time in the delivery of something that shouldn't be happening just in Victoria but should be happening all around the country. Let's look at the fuss about the Toowoomba idea coming from Annastacia. Let's look at that farce. It is absolutely appalling that the government would dismiss an idea coming from a state premier.

Of course, this side of the House supports this. We've been calling for it, but it's just one step. We need one in every state, and we need not to lose any more time.

10:15 am

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The government had two jobs this year: to get the vaccination rollout sorted out, and to get hotel quarantine out of the picture and get a national quarantine program in place. They have failed at both. Hotel quarantine was okay at the start. We are 15 months into this pandemic. It was okay at the start; it was a good short-term measure. But, instead, they've let it run on and on. There has been a complete failure of leadership at the national level to get a national quarantine system in place. Every state of this Commonwealth needs a national quarantine system centre in it, including my state of Tasmania. I'm pleased to see that Victoria is finally getting one, but Victoria is not the only state in this country. Where's Queensland? Where's New South Wales? Where's Western Australia? Where's South Australia?

This government is failing this country by not having a national quarantine program. Hotels are okay for tourists, but they're not good for quarantine. They are a transmission risk. There is plenty of evidence now that this is an airborne virus and that people are catching this disease in quarantine. They're overseas, they've withstood the virus overseas, they haven't caught it, they've come home to Australia, they have gone into quarantine and they are catching it in hotels, and this Prime Minister says: 'That's fine. This hotel quarantine system works just fine.' That's what he says. It's an absolute disgrace. It is a complete failure of national leadership by this Prime Minister.

We have 36,000 Australians stuck overseas and we have a tourist PM who's quite happy to gallivant around the United Kingdom, which he says is too dangerous for Australians to go to. But he'll happily go on a pub crawl and have his photo taken on the outskirts of the UK. It's one rule for him and another rule for the rest of Australia. There has been no urgency from this Prime Minister in getting this sorted out. And why would he have urgency when he's alright, Jack? The PM is okay; he can travel in and out on a whim. But Australians can't, because there's no national quarantine system to look after them.

This has to be said: what an absolute disgrace the vaccination program is under this government. We've all seen the advertisement from France. France has a wonderful promotion to get its citizens vaccinated, and we know why we don't have one in this country. It's because there are not enough vaccines. If the government had a promotion saying, 'Get vaccinated,' and people responded to it, they'd be stopped at the door: 'Sorry, we don't have any vaccines for you.' That's why we don't have an effective public information program like the one they are rolling out in France.

This government and this Prime Minister had two jobs this year: get the vaccination rollout sorted out—fail—and get hotel quarantine off the books and get a national quarantine system in place, and that is a massive, big, red F for this Prime Minister.

10:19 am

Photo of Stuart RobertStuart Robert (Fadden, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Original question agreed to.