Thursday, 24 June 2021
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable Leader of the Opposition proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The failure of the government to focus on the needs of Australians during a global pandemic.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
This government and this Prime Minister had two key jobs in 2021: to roll out the vaccine effectively and to fix national quarantine, and both of them have been botched. They've been botched as a result of the complacency and arrogance of this government, a government that's been too busy patting itself on the back, saying that we're at the front of the queue and a government that has missed every single target it had in place, so now it's given up. Now it just has a horizon and we know that the irony there is that horizons are never ever reached. The government doesn't seem to have understood that.
Of course, we have a Prime Minister who during the last crisis Australia faced, during the bushfires, said he 'doesn't hold a hose'. This time around, he says, 'It's not a race.' Well, it is a race. Other countries understand that, which is why they did five or six deals with vaccine producers last year. We were saying, through myself, through our shadow health minister, through others in the Labor Party, that the government needed to look at best practice, and it was ignored. We were told we're at the front of the queue, and we're way at the back, not even in the top 100. We were told essential workers would all be done early on, that stage 1a, including people who work in aged care, who work in disability care and aged-care residents, would all be done by Easter. They still haven't been done. We know that there's just three per cent of Australians who have been vaccinated and there are no national quarantine facilities. This is a government led by a man who literally, according to his photo ops, is all hammer and no nail, with no substance when it comes down to actually delivering—a virtual Prime Minister this week, where you'd get more sense and responsibility from a screensaver! You'd get more answers from a screensaver!
The fact is we are in the middle of a pandemic. The biggest city in the continent is the latest to be hit by the effects of COVID-19. But what we got from this government again today was more display of self-arrogance, in contrast to the New South Wales Premier who does understand that it's a race, who does understand that it's urgent. Every premier and chief minister, Labor and Liberal, have all been out there saying: 'We want quarantine facilities. We want greater supply.' We actually had this week, in response to Senate estimates, a question of: why is it you haven't run out a public information campaign? The answer, unbelievably, 18 months into this pandemic, was that if you had a public information campaign that encouraged vaccinations then the vaccines wouldn't be available. That was actually the response!
After the current Prime Minister rolled the former Prime Minister, he spoke in this chamber about how the curtain has come down on the muppet show. Remember that? Well, the muppet show continues, and we have a new deputy muppet in town as a result of this week. The member for New England, the only bloke who can gatecrash his own party, has gatecrashed it this week. The Nationals have thrown away whatever flimsy claim they have had to being the voice of the bush. We have a mouse plague causing devastation in regional communities, but the only mice that they're worried about are the rats in their own rank. That has been their obsession this week. They had a challenge during the bushfire crisis on the very day in which we had a motion before this parliament paying tribute to emergency service workers, and now, this week, a challenge in the midst of a pandemic when you have all of this happening, a challenge now led by a Deputy Prime Minister who said this about the coalition to The Age:
To tell you the truth, I have never really liked Liberals much. They all think they have something special happening in their lunchbox.
Now, the second sentence needs a translator, but the first is pretty clear, because just a day into the job there were the Nats in the Senate and then here, in the House of Reps, trying to shred the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. They're just trying to rip it up. It's an extraordinary spectacle and one that I've never seen in this chamber, of members of a government trying to move amendments to government legislation after consultation with other cabinet ministers, including the minister for water. Well, the test for the Prime Minister is: who will hold the water portfolio next week? Because if Minister Pitt remains with that job then that says it all.
We see conflict after conflict within the coalition. Today it's about water, but also, of course, there's all the conflict about net zero emissions by 2050, which they can't agree on. We have a Deputy Prime Minister who has net zero admissions when it comes to the problems that he has with women in his own party and the problem that he has from senior people, who have worked so closely with him, saying that he is not a suitable person for that job. Two state National Party leaders, a party trustee, a former chair of the Nationals women's council, the founder of Women in Agriculture and multiple MPs all say that he's not appropriate.
We have a Deputy Prime Minister who says that investment in renewables is 'insane'. That is what he has said. He's also said, of course, that nuclear power plants should be built in the middle of towns, including in regional Australia. Any town that has a hill, he says, should have a nuclear power plant. We look forward to campaigning on that. They're even divided over child care. This week in their party room someone actually put the view that child care was outsourcing parenting. How out of touch are they? At this time we have a major crisis, including the stepped-up crisis in New South Wales this week. We've had lockdowns around the country. We continue to have a failure to roll out the vaccine effectively. We've had changes to information, including the change that's been made in the last 24 hours to information concerning AstraZeneca.
We have a major problem, in spite of the fact that we've constructively put forward a four-point plan. We've been campaigning on it for a year: roll out the vaccine effectively, make sure you have national quarantine facilities, make sure you have a public information campaign and manufacture mRNA vaccines here in Australia. That's Labor at our best, being constructive, putting forward policy ideas to help the government. It was Labor, of course, who put forward the proposals for JobKeeper, which kept the economy going during that period. We had the absurdity this week of the New South Wales government putting forward a plan for electric vehicles, but the federal government is led by people who said that electric vehicles would destroy the weekend, would mean the end of the weekend. What we have in those opposite is a political party, a political movement, that is in chaos. They don't like each other within their parties, they don't like each other between the parties and they can barely go through a day in parliament without the dissent being on full display for all to see. What we need is for those opposite to sit in opposition on this side of the House because they act like the opposition in exile sitting on the government benches. They don't have a plan for the future.
We on this side of the House have a plan. We have a plan to grow back stronger and to recognise that the pandemic has exposed some of the vulnerabilities in our economy. We have a plan for the need to build more things here and to make sure that we create an Australian skills agenda so that Australians can fill those job opportunities. We have a plan to drive productivity growth through child care and other measures. We have a plan to invest in social housing and to not leave Australians behind. We have a plan to take the opportunities for good action on climate change to create jobs as well as to lower energy prices and lower emissions. That's our plan for the future. Those opposite just have chaos. If you can't govern yourselves, if you're coming into the parliament and moving motions against government legislation, then it's all over. What we'll see is that descent into chaos because this Deputy Prime Minister is simply not up to the job, and it's an admission that they're not up to the task. (Time expired)
The Australian government is focused on the needs of Australians in this global pandemic. What we heard from the opposition leader were his two biggest attack points, on quarantine and on vaccines. Let's talk a little bit about quarantine. Agreed under the national cabinet, which is under the leadership of Prime Minister Morrison, quarantine has been led by the states and it's been 99.9 per cent effective. People around the world would be flocking to this country if they could. They know that Australia is the greatest country in the world and the best place to live, and Australians know that as well. This has not come by accident. We haven't had such a low death rate and such a low infection rate by accident. It's been under the leadership of the Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, and the states, via the national cabinet. We know, in relation to the vaccine, that today we've delivered over seven million shots throughout Australia—seven million vaccinations throughout Australia, and it's ramping up every week.
The opposition leader spoke about the Nationals. We're not here to talk about the Nationals. He spoke about Minister Pitt and what he's doing in Water. I can tell you Minister Pitt is doing a very, very effective job. He's delivered a lot. We've seen what he's been able to do with Northern Australia, we've seen what he's done with Resources and we've seen what he's been able to do with Water, and with our national radioactive waste facility along with the member for Grey. So Minister Pitt is not a great example to use. He's a very well-performing minister. I'd also say, in relation to the opposition policy: they talk about growing back stronger. What that really means is that they want to tax Australians more. That's again what they'll take to the election next year.
If the Leader of the Opposition really wants to focus on what's happening, I'll quote the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology in question time today. The minister for industry said: back before the COVID-19 pandemic, 898,000 people were employed in manufacturing, and today 908,200 people are employed in manufacturing. So what we've seen from the start of the pandemic to today in 2021 is an increase in manufacturing jobs in Australia. For everyone listening, that's really important, because Australians, including people in my electorate of Petrie, want more jobs in manufacturing and more products made here in Australia. The minister for industry, under the plan of the Morrison government, is delivering that along with our $1.5 billion modern manufacturing facility.
When I was elected in 2013 it was under the banner 'hope, reward and opportunity', and hope has never been more important for Australians. Today, this is what the Morrison government is focusing on in the middle of this COVID-19 pandemic. Australians have hope. They know that more people are employed. The unemployment rate is low. The youth unemployment rate is falling. We have world-leading health outcomes, as I said before, with fewer infections and fewer hospitalisations. In fact, the Minister for Health and Aged Care said again today in question time that there's not one person in the ICU in Australia right now as a result of COVID-19—not one person in the ICU. Yet we see what's happening in other countries around the world. We will continue to strive for an even stronger Australia, to keep our economy strong, to keep Australians safe and to keep Australians together.
The minister for health and the health department have secured 40 million Pfizer vaccines, 53.8 million AstraZeneca vaccines, 51 million Novavax vaccines and 25 million Moderna vaccines. We're also committed to helping countries in the Pacific, like Papua New Guinea, roll out their vaccination targets to help the poorest people in our region. In Australia, half of the population over 50 have received their vaccination, and more than one in four eligible Australians are fully protected. Twenty-five per cent of eligible Australians right now are fully protected from COVID-19, with both vaccinations delivered. The Morrison government has provided a crucial lifeline to Australians and the economy during COVID-19 and Australia's first recession in almost 30 years. The Morrison government's JobKeeper payment, the JobSeeker payments, the Supporting Apprentices and Trainees wage subsidy and the HomeBuilder scheme that we delivered have kept over 3.8 million Australians in work and a further 117,000 in training, which is really effective. JobKeeper payments supported 5,500 businesses, not just on the north side of Brisbane and in Moreton Bay but right around the country, and 26,100 employees in my electorate alone.
A year ago we entered the recession, and now we emerge to prepandemic levels nine months earlier than expected. This gives all Australians hope and opportunity and the confidence to back ourselves going forward. More people are in work than ever before, and unemployment is on course to settle below five per cent for just the second time in almost 50 years. I'll just say that again: unemployment is set to drop below five per cent for just the second time in 50 years. And I'd love to see youth unemployment come below 10 per cent; traditionally it's been about double.
I'd say to all the youth out there not just in my electorate but around the country—and I think of youth like Alison Campbell, a 15-year-old student in my electorate in year 10 at Southern Cross Catholic College. I think of my own sons, who are in that youth age from 15 to 24. We need to provide youth with hope for their future, we need to provide youth with encouragement for their future and we need to thank them for their contribution right now. We can learn from children, from youth and from adults.
Every member in this House needs to go out in the next six weeks and have a positive message for our youth, because right now some of the big issues for youth are not just around jobs and education but also around mental health. They need to hear a positive message from us as leaders. And we can do that. We can still support our parties, but we can also go out into our electorates and talk to those people and say there is hope for the future. I might not agree with those in the opposition, and they might not agree with everything the government's doing. But it's so important.
I'd encourage the crossbench, the opposition and everyone here on the government backbench to focus on youth unemployment as well, and to try to get youth unemployment down in this country. Let's strive to get it down. We can still have a day for politics; we can still have our differences when we come to the next election. But we really do need to focus on Australian youth, many of whom right now have mental health issues. We need to be the leaders in this place and in our electorates who are going to provide them with hope and encouragement for the future.
I'll leave it on that positive note. I've got a whole lot more in this speech, but I want to finish there in relation to youth. I encourage everyone: over the next six weeks, before we come back to this place, do your bit in your electorates, and let's work with and help Australian youth together.
Certainly everybody in this House will be familiar with the kind of stuff we do when we're campaigning, if you're continuously campaigning, where you go out and knock on doors or call the people that you represent and ask them what's important to them. You ask them whether it's jobs, whether it's education or whether it's health. I'm sure every member in this House—I don't know so much about the other place, but certainly here in this place—will know that when you sit down and you really talk to people, that's when you get those really rich answers about what's going on in people's lives. You have that wonderful opportunity to get to know the people you represent at more than just a superficial level, and see them as more than just a vote, as another human being, and you form a connection.
In my experience, when you do that, when you talk to people and really drill down into what it is that Australians want and need from their political leadership, it's security and certainty. It's security in the knowledge that they can send their children to school and that their kids can have a good education and have a good opportunity for a future. It's secure jobs where they earn a wage for a day's work. It's social welfare, to know that if bad times befall them they can rely on their government, if they so need it. It's security in their homes, security in their communities, and the certainty that all of that brings. They want to feel safe. They want to feel safe in their homes. They want to feel safe in their communities. And they want to feel safe from a global pandemic.
If I were to take the topic of today's MPI, which is 'the failure of the government to focus on the needs of Australians during a global pandemic', and frame it as an answer to a question—a very simple question, a question that asks whether this government has provided Australians with the security and certainty they need at a time when they need it most, in a global pandemic—the answer 'The government has failed on that' is the only conclusion you can come to. It cannot be said enough that this government had two primary jobs to see us through this pandemic. On quarantine, we know that every outbreak from hotel quarantine is a direct result of the Morrison-Joyce government's failure to deliver on their constitutional responsibility to ensure that Australia has Commonwealth quarantine facilities for the people who are coming in from overseas and for the people who are here who need to be quarantined. It is a failure on the part of this government to ensure that there are Commonwealth quarantine facilities. I hear this term 'medihotels' being thrown around. They are not medihotels; they are hotels. Hotels were not built to be hospitals. They were not built for patients, and they were certainly not built for quarantine. They were built for tourism. They are woefully inadequate to provide effective quarantine facilities, particularly for the new variants of COVID.
On the vaccine rollout, it's been nothing but chaos: no plan to combat misinformation and disinformation; no plan to have a vaccine supply that deals with the urgency of this issue; and no public information campaign. Why don't they have a public information campaign? As we heard today, it's because they couldn't guarantee supply. Why couldn't they guarantee supply? Because they were too busy crowing about being at the front of the line when we are way at the back of the line—we can't even see the front of the line.
There were two jobs. Has this government failed Australia in its time of need? Absolutely they have failed Australia in its time of need. If you don't believe me, go and talk to the people you represent.
I'd love to talk to this MPI. As I've said a number of times, and over the last few MPIs I have spoken to—and, Deputy Speaker Llew O'Brien, when you have been in the chair as well; so you would have heard me say this before—I certainly understand that it is an opposition's job to hold a government to account and to point out failings or places or things that a government could do better. They should and they certainly do. But, in the eight years that I've had the pleasure to be here and represent my community, I don't think I have ever heard any of those opposite say anything positive about anything. If you listened to them in isolation, you would seriously think that we as a country are a basket case—and we are anything but a basket case. So, by all means point out where you think we can do better, but that would probably be taken constructively, if, in the same breath, you could at least acknowledge how well as a country we have done and how well as a government we have sometimes done.
So let me talk about some of the things that you would not believe could be possible if those opposite were the only people you listened to. We are one of the few developed countries, if not the only developed country, in the world that has more jobs now in our economy—more jobs in this country post when the pandemic started to now. That is an amazing achievement. Unemployment peaked at 7.5 per cent and has gone to 5.1 per cent, and 115,000 jobs have been created, as of the last stats we saw, in May alone. That is something to celebrate. That is something that we can all acknowledge is good news for our country. I have not heard one member opposite mention that statistic since it came out two weeks ago. They just refuse to acknowledge anything positive that is going on economically in this country. We have also had our economic growth figures come out. Our economy is now bigger than it was pre-pandemic. In the developed world, that is very unusual. It's a wonderful result. This is world-leading stuff, but, again, in not one platform has anyone on the other side acknowledged that. I think this is a great flaw of theirs—yes, criticise and, yes, offer things that you can do better—but the fact that they can never, ever, ever say anything positive in this chamber about anything that's going on is just ludicrous.
On the health front: again, you'd think we were a basket case. But by any measurement we're doing really well on the health front as well. You cannot eliminate this virus; the health professionals were saying right at the beginning of this that you cannot eliminate a virus. Whatever you do there are going to be outbreaks; and we've certainly had our outbreaks. But if we look at any statistic—any comparable international statistic—we have done exceptionally well. One that is often quoted is that we would have had something like 30,000 more deaths in this country. We've had comparable statistics with the virus outbreak in other parts of the world. And we were asked if our aim was to flatten the curve, and we did flatten the curve.
Again, have we heard anything positive in the last 12 months from anyone on the other side about anything we've done on the health front? No. They don't talk about it; they'll look for anything that they think isn't perfect and that's all they'll talk about. On the vaccine rollout in this country: seven million Australians have had their vaccine. I will in fact just let you know, Deputy Speaker, that I had my own vaccine—the AstraZeneca vaccine—two weeks ago and I had no side effects. Seven million people in this country have been vaccinated. Yes, there was a hiccough at the start with supply from Europe of that vaccine. But there's no acknowledgement about the statistics of what has been happening. No-one opposite will ever say, 'It's great to see the vaccination rates increase across this country over the last few weeks'. You will never hear them say that.
There's nothing positive from them at all on any of this stuff. The sad thing about that is that while they can't say it, their voters can. I've had Labor voters in my electorate say, 'Kevin, the Prime Minister and you, as a government, are doing a good job.' They know because they see it—
Opposition members interjecting—
Australian Labor voters come up to me and say, 'There's no better place in the world right now than Australia, and a lot of it has to do with the fact of the job that you've done on both the health and economic fronts.'
So we have a lot to celebrate and we still have great challenges. But it would be wonderful to hear one positive thing, just one— (Time expired)
I will tell the member a positive thing: it's Labor's plan to fix this pandemic in terms of what we need in this country. That's in terms of rolling out the vaccine and quarantine facilities. That's the only time you'll hear positive things, when they come from our side to fix the problems of this nation.
That's because this government have failed the nation in so many ways. Their sole focus is just upon themselves. In doing so, they show contempt for our nation and contempt for Australians. Here we are, in the middle of the pandemic, and the nation is plunged into another crisis as we speak, and this is all because the government have failed on their two major jobs. Their two main jobs were the vaccine rollout and having quarantine facilities. They have totally failed those. They've had more than 12 months to fix this and they just continue to stuff it up time after time. In doing so, they're putting lives at risk and putting our economy at risk. On both those fronts they're held in absolute contempt for their inaction. In fact, it's a disgrace. As many people say all the time, the government's handling of the pandemic has been a total mess.
Remember all those words that the Prime Minister said? That we were at the front of the queue and all those lines that he would throw away? It's none of them—it's rubbish. We have seen 25 leaks from hotel quarantine, so many lockdowns and families separated. This pandemic has been devastating for the nation and people have been calling out for leadership but they're not getting it. They're not getting it from this Prime Minister and they're not getting it from the Liberals or the Nationals. And the Prime Minister and this government refuse to take responsibility. 'Oh,' he said, 'I don't hold a hose,' and, 'It's not a race,' and, 'I'm not accountable for anything'. Well, you are, and it is a race and this government need to start acting like that. Their arrogance and stubbornness, again, are risking lives and hurting our economy.
Now I'd like to turn to the National Party. This week—my goodness!—totally consumed with themselves. There was massive in-fighting, resulting in a new leader and a new Deputy Prime Minister, the member for New England. Of course, it was an absolute circus as that happened—a total circus. With the new leader, they moved immediately to shred the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. And earlier today we had the bizarre spectacle of the member for Nicholls fighting against his own amendments. That's the National Party for you—total chaos!
A Deputy Prime Minister, and what policy did we see them discussing since they got their new leader? Nuclear power! That's it; they're back talking about it all the time. They're so obsessed with having nuclear power. In my electorate, my community is opposed to it and we'll keep fighting them on that.
Also, this new Deputy Prime Minister says investment in renewables is 'insane'. That's right. That's what he thinks. He thinks it's insane. I'll tell you, it is the way to go. Nuclear power is not. The Deputy Prime Minister has said previously that nuclear power plants should be built in the middle of towns, including in regional Australia. Which towns? Which regions?
Exactly! Well, I can tell you that we won't be having it in my community. We oppose nuclear power.
The fact is, no matter who leads the National Party, it is the party that has walked away from rural and regional Australia time and time again. It has. Whether it's its inaction on climate change or its cuts to Medicare or its cruel plans to force all pensioners onto the cashless welfare card across rural and regional Australia—shame on you!—we will fight you on all of those issues, and many more, right across the country, in every town and in every regional area, because you have left behind country Australia.
As I often say in this House, National Party choices hurt. They really do hurt. They hurt the regions. The fact is the National Party are just as hopeless as the Prime Minister when it comes to their multiple failures. Look at the regions. It's the National Party's fault that we don't have the vaccine rollout. That is their fault. That is their legacy. Every day in the regions we hear people screaming, 'Why can't we get our vaccines here?' They are just too consumed with themselves. That's all they do. They've got no plans for renewables, for the pandemic, for the future, for wages, for health—no matter what it is, they have no plans. They're too busy talking about themselves.
When it comes to the pandemic, when it comes to really repairing our economy and making sure that people are healthy and safe, Labor have that plan. We have the plan to fight the pandemic. We'll build dedicated quarantine facilities. We'll fix the vaccine rollout. We will start a mass public information campaign. Where is the information campaign? There is none at the moment. We will begin manufacturing mRNA vaccines like Pfizer in Australia. That four-point plan that Labor have put forward, that is the positive plan. But all we get from this government, from the Liberal Party and the National Party, are arrogance, stubbornness and a disregard and contempt for the Australian people. It has to end.
The Morrison government has the back of every Australian, and never more so than through the COVID pandemic. Not only do we know it, but every Australian knows it—except those opposite. Australia has faced a pretty serious pandemic, but we know that protecting the lives and livelihoods of each and every one of Australia's citizens is incredibly important, and that's why we are delivering for the needs of all Australians.
Suppress the virus and keep Australians safe—tick. Cement our economic recovery to create jobs—tick. Continue to guarantee the essential services that Australians rely on—tick. Protect and secure Australia's interest in a challenging world—tick. Care for our country—tick. We are the envy of the world with regard to both saving lives and saving livelihoods. You just have to look at the facts. Employment surged by 115,000 in May to a record high. Full-time employment rose by 97,500, another record high. The unemployment rate fell by 0.4 per cent to 5.1 per cent in May—another record. After the first recession in nearly 30 years, the Australian economy is roaring back, bigger, stronger and leading the world.
Participation is up; underemployment is down; 115,000 new jobs were created, of which 85 per cent were full-time jobs. And of those 115,000 new jobs, around 60 per cent went to women. Today there are more women in work than ever before, and the numbers should give Australians confidence that the Morrison government's economic plan is working. It's a plan that has been laid out in successive budgets: lower taxes, investment incentives for business, skills programs and record spending on infrastructure.
It is the Morrison government's economic plan that is delivering more jobs across Australia—and not just right across Australia, in every single electorate right across Australia. And in the seat of Higgins, my great seat of Higgins, over 6,600 individuals receive the coronavirus supplement, which was added to JobKeeper to provide additional support through the COVID pandemic crisis. I'm also proud this government has increased the JobSeeker rate to help those in need. It's the biggest increase in the last 30 years. Furthermore, around 9,300 age pensioners and over 1,800 carers in Higgins have received three support payments since the start of the pandemic, totalling $1,250 each. In Higgins there's been over 500,000 telehealth consultations through Medicare, which is an incredible transformation. The healthcare system has been transformed by our investment and our strategic direction. We've also increased funding for preschools in Higgins and made child care more affordable and accessible. Childcare reforms in this budget will directly benefit over 850 families living in Higgins. We've delivered a record investment in aged care to help the 23,181 senior Australians living in Higgins. We've delivered more home-care places and more funding for residential aged care and increased the amount of time residents are cared for, while we've strengthened regulators to monitor and enforce the standards of care.
By contrast, those opposite are not standing up for Australians. A case in point is Labor's ARENA disallowance motion. Labor sided with the Greens to vote against a technology-led approach to reducing emissions. Labor voted to cut $192 million of new funding for clean energy agency ARENA and programs that would create 1,400 new jobs. When it comes to reducing emissions, if it's not technology, Labor thinks it has to be taxes. Taxes are Labor's track record. Labor has shown their true colours. Chris Bowen and Labor have never seen a tax they didn't like. The regulation Labor voted down would have allowed ARENA to play a major role in driving investments in the next generation of technology, including energy efficiency, carbon capture technology, blue hydrogen, energy storage technologies to back up renewable energy, technologies that reduce emissions from aluminium and steel, and soil carbon. These are the technologies of the future. These are the technologies we're investing in. These are the technologies that will get us to a cleaner, greener, new energy future. This is the way of the future. Australia believes in a government that can and has delivered. If those opposite were here on this side, Australia's interests would have gone in the wrong direction. Australia knows this government has their back. The opposition doesn't. It's the Morrison government each and every time. (Time expired)
This government, as we've heard, had two things to do this year, two priorities which were the most pressing priorities a nation can face when in a pandemic. The first was to fix quarantine, and the second was to roll out the vaccine, and we've seen the Prime Minister fail on both those important endeavours, which were meant to have already happened. We knew this was going to be a failure from day one, when we saw that cruise ship sail into Sydney and the Prime Minister drop the ball on that with his border protection, which he's usually so tough on. He's keeping the boats out but he couldn't keep the most important boat of all out. He handballed it over to the states and said, 'It's got nothing to do with me.' And he's continued down that trip, continuously. Even today when he was asked a question about vaccines, he blamed the states. He turned around and said, 'It's an issue to do with the states.' If there was a trophy for the best handball player in Australia, the Prime Minister would win it because he's handballed everything over and has relinquished responsibility.
We heard him say earlier this year that it's not a race, that the coronavirus vaccine was not a race. Well, it is a race. When you're in a pandemic and when you see cities shutting down, as we're seeing Sydney shut down right this moment—it's shutting its borders, and other states are shutting their borders to New South Wales—it is a race. It's a race for the health of Australians, it's a race for our economy and it's a race for the future to ensure that we get this country back on track and back to some sort of normality.
What happened with the Prime Minister is he put all his eggs in the one basket. When countries were sourcing four or five different vaccines from different areas around the world, we stuck all our eggs in the one basket—and also stuck our heads in the sand. This government has dismally failed on the two most important jobs that were meant to be done this year. And it goes on. The government had two jobs: they had to fix the quarantine and roll out the vaccine. Both of these have been bungled, and what that has done is send our economy backwards. Our hotel quarantine keeps on leaking. These were hotels that had been set up for tourists, not for a pandemic. And the Morrison government refused to implement the state governments' suggestions for dedicated quarantine facilities. As a result, outbreaks keep happening, people's lives, plans and livelihoods keep getting disrupted, and businesses suffer. Our vaccination program has been abysmal. It's been slow and hampered, and the government are constantly changing the advice that they give to the public. We haven't seen a marketing campaign. We haven't seen a hard-hitting message out there encouraging Australians to get their vaccinations, because they can't. If people go to get their vaccinations, we don't have enough vaccine right now. They were the minister's own words the other day.
The Prime Minister is more interested in passing the buck, handballing and blaming the states than in taking responsibility for areas that he is clearly responsible for. An editorial in the Australian this week stated:
The federal government is losing credibility with its management of the vaccine rollout and its repeated claims that everything is on track.
That was from the Australian, who are pretty good friends of this lot over there. The Australian rarely attacks the government, yet this editorial says that the federal government is 'losing credibility'.
Since the leadership challenge that we saw in the National Party on Monday, we now see not only that this government is incompetent but that it's also wishy-washy. The new Deputy Prime Minister has been not even a day on the job, and what do we see? We see the Nationals trying to shred the Murray-Darling Basin Plan—clearly being on a different page from the government. When you can't manage yourself and you can't govern yourself, how are you expected to govern our nation of Australia? This act that we saw today was absolutely bizarre because there were more amendments moved in this House, yet they didn't want to debate them. This is a clear message to South Australia that, tomorrow in the reshuffle, what the Prime Minister should do is remove any and all responsibility for anything to do with water from the Nationals, and that way he'll prove that he's actually serious about the Murray-Darling plan. (Time expired)
There is nothing I'm more committed to as a member of parliament than listening to what matters most for my community and then delivering for my community. That's what we're doing at a national level, and that is also very much filtering through to a local level. We are getting Australia through the pandemic, focusing on our economic recovery, delivering for our local communities in jobs, infrastructure and healthy active living and making sure our kids are educated for the jobs of the future. This is very much what I'm focused on in my community of Lindsay.
Australians have been working incredibly hard throughout the coronavirus pandemic. As we know, there is still more to be done, and that's why the Morrison government has been with Australian families and Australian businesses every step of the way to deliver the support they need. Throughout the pandemic, people and families in my electorate of Lindsay have had access to the best health care and support when they need it most. Since the start of the pandemic, over 99,000 patients in my electorate of Lindsay have accessed telehealth; that's over 360,000 telehealth services in my community. We've supported over 14 million Australians to access telehealth with over $3 billion in benefits paid. That is extraordinary, considering that telehealth has only come online quite recently. The Morrison government recognises how important this service is for people in my community and across Australia, and that's why we are extending telehealth until the end of this year.
Since March last year, we've introduced more than 300 temporary MBS items as part of our response to the coronavirus pandemic, responding to the needs of Australians and providing the best care and support. Importantly, we're guaranteeing the essential services that people rely on, and I know this is really important for people in my electorate of Lindsay. We are backing Medicare and delivering those really important services. Life-saving and life-changing treatments and medicines are now within reach for families across my community. In the last year there have been over 2.1 million free or subsidised medicines delivered in Lindsay alone through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Our commitment to funding every medicine recommended by medical expert on the PBS is absolutely rock-solid. In this year's budget we're listing more medicines on the PBS to treat breast cancer, lung cancer, osteoporosis, migraines, eczema and asthma. These listings will make such a difference to lives of so many people and their families.
Over 26,000 people in my community of Lindsay were supported by JobKeeper during the pandemic, staying connected to their workplaces and their jobs. We're also helping people keep more of their own hard-earned money. Around 76,000 taxpayers in my electorate of Lindsay will benefit from tax relief this year. This means they can spend more of their own money on what matters most to them and support the thousands of local businesses across our economy. Already over 82,000 people in Lindsay have benefited from our government's tax relief. We know that local businesses don't need to have government tell them what they need, and our plan is really about enabling businesses do what they do best. That's why we've extended the instant asset write-off, which will allow over 15,000 businesses in my community to write off the full value of any eligible assets they purchase. I know from when I've been out visiting local manufacturers how much of a difference this has made to their businesses, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic. We have over 600 manufacturers in my community of Lindsay employing over 6,000 people, and they're just one part of our local small-business community, who are driving our economic recovery and creating more jobs. Very importantly, we're backing them and delivering what they need.
I am always talking about our local businesses and there's good reason for that. They truly have gotten us through the coronavirus pandemic. They are the backbone of our local economy. It was really wonderful to see thousands of students from across Western Sydney, particularly my electorate, attend a careers fair quite recently to look at the jobs that they could be taking up in the future. There is nothing I am more passionate about than ensuring that our local kids in Western Sydney have the best education, the best access to education, to enable them to be ready for those jobs of the future. I'll be continuing to deliver what my community needs.
I think it was three weeks ago, or thereabouts, when we were here in this chamber and COVID was spreading across Victoria from a leak from hotel quarantine in South Australia. I warned at that point in some of my remarks that the Liberals who were over there trolling the Victorian government and saying that somehow a leak from South Australia was the fault of Victoria maybe shouldn't be so smug because it could happen anywhere in any Australian city at any time—in Sydney, for instance. It wasn't a prophecy or a prediction; it was just common sense because the Prime Minister has left the country—every state, every territory, every city, every region—exposed and vulnerable because of his failures in vaccine and quarantine. As has been said, he had two jobs this year, and he's failed in both of them. We've heard some of the government speakers tell us: 'It's all going okay. It's 99.9 per cent effective.' As the member for Cowan said it's nonsense when we speak about medi-hotels as if somehow they will solve the quarantine problem. They're hotels. They're not built to contain viruses and the fact is that Australia will continue to suffer more leaks from hotel quarantine, more outbreaks and more lockdowns and restrictions, as we're seeing happening in Sydney now. But the government's in denial.
Earlier we saw the member for Higgins, my good friend. I'm sorry she's not here now. I saw her on TV a couple of weeks ago talking about hotel quarantine on Patricia Karvelas's ABC show, Afternoon Briefing. She said: 'Well, the first thing I want to say is that hotel quarantining is working. What is not working is when the cases leave quarantining, so we're not seeing mass outbreaks in quarantine hotels that we can't contain. What we're finding is that people are leaving hotel quarantine, going out into the community and the community is resulting in a community outbreak.' She tells us that she's one of the smarter ones over there. Here was I thinking the whole purpose of quarantine was to stop the infectious disease getting out into the community. Silly old me! What would we know? Purpose-built quarantine is the one type of quarantine that's 100 per cent effective, and that is what the Prime Minister has refused, month after month, to build, relying instead on this failing system that will infect Australians.
Then there's the vaccine. Talk about failure! About three per cent of our population have been vaccinated. It's 50 to 70 per cent in much of the developed world now. We're way behind. And we've got no choice. They bet their house on AstraZeneca, put all their eggs in the AstraZeneca basket, which is turning out to be a mess, and we've got no supply. Most of the states and territories have run out. You can't get a Pfizer booking for months. We've got no targets, we learnt today, just a horizon. The funny thing about a horizon, as the Labor leader said, is that you never actually meet a horizon. You can meet a target but you can't meet a horizon.
We've got no ads. They've outsourced public education to Clive Palmer, who has put two of his nonsense misinformation leaflets around my electorate in this week alone. We're in a race against COVID, the Prime Minister says, to save lives and livelihoods. But that's not a talking point. It's not stuff you say in question time to get out of answering the question; it's actually something you have to do by fixing the vaccine rollout and fixing quarantine.
I feel really sorry for the military guy, the guy they've got fronting the failed vaccine rollout, Lieutenant General—I can't remember his name right now. It's no surprise. Do you remember the border security thing? The Prime Minister was up there on TV every day stopping the boats. He had the military there, the flags. But he won't take responsibility for borders or quarantine now, when it really matters to every Australian. He is taking responsibility for one aspect of the borders, of course. He's locking every Australian in Australia indefinitely—there's indefinite detention for the whole country—because he cannot get the vaccine right and cannot get purpose-built quarantine. It is the defining characteristic, above all else, of this Prime Minister: an arrogant, smug refusal ever to take responsibility. We saw it when he nicked off to Hawaii during the bushfires—'I don't hold a hose, mate!' We've seen it with climate change: nicking off to the G7 and going on a UK pub crawl, funded by the taxpayer, and then on a little secret side trip for a bit of family history—probably while his QAnon mate was house-sitting Kirribilli for him. It's not an Airbnb, Prime Minister! And we've seen it on quarantine and vaccines.
But he does try to take credit for everyone else's good work. We hear all the time that Australia's done well compared to other countries. Yes, we have, because the community have made sacrifices, because we have good health professionals and a good system, because politicians have been smart enough on this—unlike on climate change—to listen to the experts, and because the premiers have done well. He has failed at his two jobs. Every Australian should understand that every future lockdown, every future restriction, every future leak, every future illness is because of this Prime Minister's failure to do his two jobs: vaccines and quarantine. (Time expired)
Mr Deputy Speaker, I don't know how you have been sitting here this afternoon listening to the garbage dribble out from the Labor Party, especially that last speaker. Once again they're offering no solutions, no ideas, just pointing at everyone else and yelling.
We've seen tragic scenes around the world of thousands of people dying every single day in this global pandemic. We've been very lucky and fortunate here in Australia not to have seen the catastrophic deaths that other nations have seen. I want to say to the opposition: to suggest that we on this side of the House have not been focusing on the people of Australia during this tough time is factually incorrect—a lie—and something that shouldn't be happening. In parliaments around the world, in oppositions—
Parliaments around the world have seen oppositions and the government of the day working together. We've seen it in states within Australia, we've seen it in the US, we've seen it in the UK and we've seen it around the world, but, here, every day, there is nothing more than politicking.
An opposition member: Really?
Yes, really. We've been doing everything that we've been able to do to support Australians through this tough time. We have one of the lowest death rates from COVID-19 in the world. We've got more people in the workforce than ever before. We're very fortunate to be living the many freedoms and opportunities those overseas have not seen since this global pandemic began. Even in the situations that face us today in Sydney, the Berejiklian government is responding quickly, testing and tracing. Contact tracers are doing an incredible job. And, through the co-funding arrangements we struck with the states right at the beginning of the pandemic, we're sharing the financial load of all the testing and tracing.
Those opposite are supposed to be the alternative government. Aren't they meant to be offering better solutions to the problems that we face here in Australia? No, we're just seeing a pandemic used for politics, because all we hear is negativity, and that's all we're hearing this afternoon.
I'd like to inject some positivity into this debate. I want to remind the House of how we've helped the people in my electorate, in my home town of Townsville, and how we've used the laser-sharp focus of their needs throughout this global pandemic. Firstly, on the health front, we haven't had a positive case of COVID-19 in Townsville since basically the start of the pandemic. We've never had a case of community transmission. This is a testament to the hard work of the people of Townsville, who stayed home, whose businesses were closed down and who, even through the financial stresses they were facing, still did the right thing. There was the Prime Minister's work with the national cabinet to implement tough but lifesaving restrictions. We also made sure people who were locked down, isolated or vulnerable still had access to the support of their GP by fully subsidising telehealth appointments through Medicare. There have been more than 200,000 telehealth consultations through the pandemic in Herbert, and this number is only set to grow as we extend this service.
On the economic front, JobKeeper and JobSeeker saved our city from a potential collapse. We've helped 27,100 people keep their jobs thanks to JobKeeper, and we're helping 4,000 businesses weather COVID-19. We should be working together for the betterment of Australia, not senselessly politicking.