House debates

Thursday, 26 August 2021

Matters of Public Importance

Morrison Government

3:23 pm

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

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 impact of the Government always acting too little, too late.

I call upon those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Oscar Wilde once noted, 'It's not whether you win or lose; it's how you place the blame.' He must have been anticipating Scott Morrison as Prime Minister, because that's what we see, time and time again. The first phase is complacency: you deny a problem exists. Then it goes to crisis management, once a problem becomes a major one, but then you respond with too little, too late. The third phase is that you blame someone else. He wants to be the Prime Minister, but without the responsibility.

For this Prime Minister, his heart isn't in the job—just his ego. For this Prime Minister, every job is too big and every response is too small. In particular, that's been the case over the two big jobs this year: quarantine and vaccines. But there's history. There were the bushfires and the 'I don't hold a hose, mate' moment, where he refused to take action and refused to even meet with the experts prior to that bushfire season. There was the reported sexual assault just metres from his office, and he says that, for two years, 'No-one told me,' and there was an inquiry by his former chief of staff into what his own staff knew, but we haven't seen that yet; it remains hidden, and it was initiated months ago. And, of course, on climate change we once again see no leadership, no energy policy, no response. Tragically, we saw it being played out in Afghanistan, where the Australian embassy closed in May and people were left behind. There are so many people—we don't know how many—who will be left behind and we won't be able to get them out, with tragic consequences—real consequences for real people. He is a Prime Minister who, in his own smug mind, is Superman, for whom scrutiny is kryptonite—a Prime Minister who is addicted to spin and is truth-hesitant. He began his media conference today by saying:

Today has been another day of hope.

It's a day of 1,000 cases in New South Wales and three more deaths! But we don't talk about that. We pretend that it's nothing to do with the failure of the vaccine rollout and the failure in building purpose-built quarantine. And there's the fact that the Prime Minister congratulated the New South Wales Premier on staying open.

People are tired and angry. More than a year ago, Labor argued daily that vaccinations were the key. We said that you have to do five or six deals, that we need more vaccines from more suppliers more quickly. We were dismissed and were told, 'No—Australia is at the front of the queue,' when it was obvious we were running last in the developed world. We were then told it was not a race. The delta strain emerged in India last October and was wreaking havoc by April. Australians were told that if they tried to return home they would be locked out and they would be locked up—sent to jail for trying to return to their own country. One Australian actually survived India without getting COVID but caught it in hotel quarantine in Adelaide, which then led to the Melbourne outbreak in early June. The current outbreak began in Sydney, but, in the Prime Minister's response on 24 June, he said:

I commend Premier Berejiklian for resisting going into a full lockdown.

This week, though, we've seen the Seinfeld reset, as Premier McGowan called it—a reset trying to look for difference where there is none; a reset by a Prime Minister who is the gaslight on the hill. The fact is that the national plan was signed off by every state premier and every territory leader, and the national plan has details in it that the Prime Minister thinks no-one can actually read, even though it's on an A4 bit of paper. He pretends that there is opposition to opening up when it's safe, but no-one wants the sorts of constraints that are around our economy—nobody. What people want is to be able to see their family and they want to return to life as normal, but when it is safe. He talks up Team Australia, but then he seeks to divide. Team Australia's coach seeks to blame the team. He calls Western Australians and Queenslanders 'cave dwellers'. He sent out Senator Bragg—what an appropriate name that is—to say that Western Australia has 'no plan to manage the pandemic'. Oh, yes? WA is likely to get the grand final. They're going about their way of life because their Premier has kept them safe, in spite of the fact that this government and the minister at the table spent taxpayers' money backing in Clive Palmer

An opposition member: A million dollars.

A million dollars of taxpayers' funds, some of which went to Clive Palmer. Let me say this very clearly: I'm on Mark McGowan's side; Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister, was on Clive Palmer's side. When he was pulled up on this, the Prime Minister yesterday, on 6PR, said:

... the Premier made very good contributions to that—

that is, the national plan—

So, you know, I think sometimes people try to make a bit more of a disagreement than there actually is ...

He actually said that! He was talking about his imaginary friend, because he's talking to himself—like he does at this dispatch box all the time—the imaginary friend! He's standing out there, creating this division, seeking to divide Australians, telling Western Australians and Queenslanders they are 'cave-dwellers', but then saying, 'Oh, no; some people just try to make out there's a bit more of a disagreement than there actually is.' It was an extraordinary performance—of course, cheered on by some in the press gallery.

The reason we are in lockdown is the failure on vaccines and quarantine. Today we saw a real leader, Premier Palaszczuk in Queensland, going it alone to build the Wellcamp facility—a site that I visited two months ago. The fact is, the only hole he has dug is the metaphorical one we are in as a nation. Not one hole's been dug for one quarantine facility, for one bed, in this country. And the fact is that the consequences are devastating: over a thousand new cases today; lives lost; health damaged; lessons missed by our children; families separated; mental health impacted; small business devastated; our hospitals at breaking point in New South Wales. People do need hope, but they need hope based upon facts. They need foresight, not spin.

Throughout this pandemic, Labor has been constructive. We put forward constructive ideas for vaccines. We continue to put forward constructive ideas about quarantine facilities. We put forward constructive ideas about wage subsidies—including, of course, what led to JobKeeper. We put forward the $300 cash incentive, to provide both a reward and an incentive for people to be vaccinated—immediately dismissed by this Prime Minister, without giving it a second's thought. Well, Telstra are giving their employees $200; Qantas are providing frequent flyer points; the New South Wales government is teaming with sporting teams to provide incentives. But there's no vaccine for being unfit to provide leadership—no vaccine for that.

This Prime Minister of course, we know, stood in the Prime Minister's courtyard next to Malcolm Turnbull, and there he was asked if he had ambition for leadership, and he said, no, he didn't; he was ambitious for him—his mate. Well, that's the one commitment he's made that he's kept, because he does have no ambition for leadership. He waits until there's an absolute crisis before he acts. He never comes out of his own cave until there's an absolute crisis, and we've seen it over and over again. We saw it with bushfires. We saw it with the March4Justice, where all he had to do was walk a short few metres—but he couldn't do that. We see it with the rollout of the vaccine and with the failure to build purpose-built quarantine. We see it with the deception that he comes up with each and every day, never accepting responsibility. Everything is always someone else's fault. Well, if he doesn't want to lead, there are people on this side of the House prepared to do so, because Australia needs a government that's as good and strong as the Australian people themselves, not someone who presides over issues by not acting until there's an absolute crisis and then having a response that is always too little and always too late. (Time expired)

3:33 pm

Photo of Ben MortonBen Morton (Tangney, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a funny thing, saying you're constructive; it's another thing actually to be so, and what we see from those opposite, particularly the Leader of the Opposition, is a claim of being constructive but actually demonstrating, throughout this pandemic, the complete opposite. You cannot say you're constructive when you have worked against this government and against the Australian people, who have absolutely contributed to Australia's success in dealing with COVID-19.

Australia's vaccine rollout is hitting its stride: yesterday, a record-breaking day of 335,000 vaccines administered in Australia; a million doses every four days; 18 million doses in total. Over 86 per cent of Australians over 70 have received their first dose, and over 59 per cent are now fully vaccinated. Fifty-five per cent of Australians over 16 have had their first jab, and almost a third are fully vaccinated. Australians are currently getting vaccinated faster per capita per day than the speeds that we saw in the United Kingdom.

There are over 9,000 Commonwealth supported vaccination facilities. I was thinking about this in context, and it was pointed out to me, just as I was walking in here—it reminded me of something my family found very entertaining, when I was starting to speak: One of my first words was in fact 'Donald's'; I was able to spot a McDonald's, even around corners!

Photo of Christian PorterChristian Porter (Pearce, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You'd never guess!

Photo of Ben MortonBen Morton (Tangney, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet) Share this | | Hansard source

You'd never guess, Minister! But if you think about how many McDonald's there are in this country, and you times that by 10, you see that for every one McDonald's there are 10 vaccination places where you can go to get vaccinated. That is the achievement of this government—to make sure that Australians have access to vaccinations.

There were delays at the start of our vaccination rollout. I think it's very important to put them in context. I've said before here at the dispatch box that yes, the vaccination program in Australia started two months or more after the UK or US started theirs, and I think that's entirely reasonable. I wonder if those opposite are suggesting that it shouldn't have. Let's look back at that particular time. At the time emergency approval was given in the UK and the US for the use of vaccinations, the UK was averaging 14,656 COVID cases and 452 deaths a day. At the same time they gave emergency approval for the vaccine in the US, there were 215,000 cases in the US and, sadly, 2,500 deaths a day in the US. Remember those photos of those pine coffins being buried in Brooklyn, and how sad that was? No wonder emergency approval was given for vaccinations in those countries.

It's very clear that the TGA took a more cautious approach, a safer approach, an approach that was supported by this government. In the first week of December 2020, when emergency approval was given for those vaccinations, Australia experienced 74 new cases of COVID—all in hotel quarantine—and, sadly, one single death. So I understand why. I understand that our success in dealing with COVID meant that we didn't initiate our vaccination program in an emergency situation like other nations. But I tell you what: we've more than caught up to where we would have expected to be otherwise. We always knew that, as a result of the delays and supply issues we experienced, we would have to backend our vaccination rollout. Today, for every one McDonald's there are 10 vaccination sites. That is an amazing effort of the governments of Australia, and that is why Australians, together, are achieving the successful vaccination rates we're seeing.

It's also important, I think, to make sure that we put COVID, tragically, in the context in which we live in the world. We know there have been 213 million cases of COVID and that that's resulted in 4.4 million known deaths. In the last seven days, tragically, our neighbours to the north, Indonesia, have experienced 7,111 COVID deaths. The United States has experienced 6,517 COVID deaths. We have seen 787 COVID deaths in France, 597 COVID deaths in the United Kingdom and, tragically, 14—likely 15 today—COVID deaths in Australia. But in Ireland, Israel and Germany, their death rate from COVID has been 20 times higher than Australia's. In the UK, Italy and the US, we've seen death rates 50 times the rate of Australia's.

The Leader of the Opposition, in talking about the MPI today, about 'too little, too late', reflected on the government's efforts in Afghanistan. I think that was a disgusting political slur in relation to the efforts of our ADF members and our public servants from a variety of different agencies in responding to the evolving, volatile and dangerous situation in Afghanistan. Sure, you can have a crack. In a democracy you would expect that leaders of the opposition would, but it should be acknowledged that overnight 1,200 people were evacuated from Kabul on six Australian flights and one New Zealand flight, working together, including with Afghans, other nationals and Australians, meaning in total 4,000 people have been able to be evacuated as a result of the operation, including 29 flights over the last eight days. The Prime Minister alluded to this in his press conference. The challenge that was facing Australia in relation to the evacuation continued to grow as more Australians in Kabul registered for support and the ADF, the Australian government and the hardworking members of the Australian Public Service, particularly those who were in country, have responded to that admirably.

At this point I think it's very important that we do acknowledge the 40,000 Australian Defence Force personnel and honour the 41 soldiers who died and those soldiers who were wounded and continue to feel the effects of their service. We pay tribute to their sacrifice.

Moving forward the Australian government has announced 3,000 initial humanitarian places. The Prime Minister has made it very clear. We anticipate this initial allocation will increase over the course of this year. There's something about this government: it does what it says it will do, and it does it and it achieves it. It doesn't set lofty targets with no particular plan or proposal in order to meet them. We actually set reasonable targets that we can meet with our plans. We go ahead and achieve them. We overachieve them and we intend to do the same here. We shouldn't forget that this is on top of the 8½ thousand Afghans Australia has already successfully resettled in Australia since 2013.

In relation to the economic supports that we're providing the Australian people, at a very difficult time, we can be very proud. I am very proud in my responsibilities as the Assistant Minister to the Minister for the Public Service. I'd like to commend and thank those hardworking members of the Public Service, who have come from a variety of different portfolios, agencies and departments, who have gone to support their fellow public servants at Services Australia to support Australians in need.

We have seen 1.74 million Australians receive at least one COVID-19 disaster payment. That actually represents 2.83 million claims that've been granted across those three different payments. With the COVID disaster payment, which assists Australians who need financial support in the event of a Commonwealth hotspot, there was a total of $4 billion paid out in that particular stream alone. We have seen the $200 income support payments to recipients who've lost at least eight hours of work—149,000 claims have been received, paid to 120,000 individuals there as well. We have seen the pandemic leave payment put in place, which is an agreement with the states and territories for those who have to self-isolate, quarantine or care, and 45,000 claims have been received and paid to 39,000 individuals for that particular support.

Of course, we acknowledge and thank the Australian taxpayer, without whom we would not be able to make these contributions. We thank and acknowledge the hard work of the Australian Public Service who, in a variety of areas, in every corner of this country, are working to support their Australians in need. This government is responding to the evolving situations both with COVID and in Afghanistan at moment. All we see offered by those opposite is constant criticism. They stand at this dispatch box and because some focus group has said that the Leader of the Opposition needs to say how constructive he is—well, I tell you what, the best way to actually do that is to demonstrate it, not to come into the chamber and, after demonstrating anything but being constructive, just claim that you are when you're not.

3:44 pm

Photo of Shayne NeumannShayne Neumann (Blair, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Defence Personnel) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] Unfortunately, this government's approach can be summed up as too little, too late with almost every issue it deals with, large or small, crisis or otherwise. There have been contemporary elusions to cartoons and comedies during our recent political discourse. All too often, the Morrison-Joyce government reminds me of the legendary British comedy Yes, Prime Minister. At first I couldn't work out whether our Prime Minister is more like the fictional prime minister Jim Hacker or his permanent secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby. I wasn't too sure at first. Certainly the Prime Minister has all the vices of Jim Hacker, but none of his virtues. But I've concluded that our Prime Minister is more like Sir Humphrey Appleby, coming up with ways to do nothing, invariably ignorance and then inaction, inertia and idleness—denying that problems exist, or pivoting from them, and then, when it becomes unavoidable, rewriting history. It's all spin, spin, spin.

But there are dire consequences to this approach. In the area that I represent, as the shadow minister for veterans affairs, the government's belated response to holding a royal commission into veteran suicide is one such occasion. Veterans, their families and Labor have been calling for a royal commission. It took until April this year for the government to announce a royal commission. Tragically, during the war in Afghanistan we lost 41 lives. We've lost more to veteran suicide during that time. And reports are that more than 35 defence personnel and veterans have taken their lives up until June this year alone.

Let's not forget that, despite this epidemic of veteran suicide in recent times and the loud calls from the royal commission and from veterans and their families, the Prime Minister consistently and stubbornly refused to act. Then, in a marketing exercise, all spin—obviously to placate veterans and their grieving families—he announced, guess what? A national commissioner—better than a royal commission, he said. Now he's sacked the national commissioner, the legislation is stuck in the Senate and he has no plans to appoint a new national commissioner. It was only when faced with a backbench revolt through a bipartisan motion in support of a royal commission that he was dragged kicking and screaming into a royal commission.

Look at what we're seeing unfolding before our eyes in Afghanistan. We thank the ADF personnel and the public servants who are doing their very best to get people out. But, guess what? The Prime Minister—warned for months by veterans, senior defence personnel, Labor and others to take action, get the interpreters, get the Afghans who aligned their interests with our interests out of Afghanistan, when other countries were airlifting their nationals and airlifting the Afghan interpreters who were helping their people—refused to act. Now our dedicated diplomats and dedicated ADF are hastily organising evacuation. We thank them for it. It's been left to veterans and advocates like Glenn Kolomeitz and others to work with people on the ground, desperately trying to get people out.

And look what's happened today in my home state of Queensland. This morning the Queensland premier took action on quarantine—a federal government responsibility—because this government won't act. Premier Palaszczuk announced she would build a 1,000-bed, purpose-built dedicated quarantine facility at Wellcamp Airport, near Toowoomba, to be operational by the end of the year. Why? Because the project was rejected by the Prime Minister, because he reckons he couldn't get enough planes large enough to fly there—not good enough. He claimed it isn't suitable or accessible to the Toowoomba hospital. I bet he's never been there. Then he claimed it is a desert. Little did he know that Canberra is more arid than Toowoomba, and Wellcamp is less than 150 kilometres from Brisbane by road and less than a 40-minute flight from the Brisbane hospital.

This government just can't seem to get it right, whether it's on vaccination or quarantine. The Morrison government needs to act and get this right. But constantly we get marketing, spin and 'Look over there!'—again and again and again. It's not good enough. It's always too little, too late, whether it's veterans issues, vaccination or quarantine. It's time for the Prime Minister to be the Prime Minister, not the prime procrastinator. Do your job, Prime Minister.

3:49 pm

Photo of Christian PorterChristian Porter (Pearce, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

With respect to vaccinations, we're now at 18 million doses. That's 55 per cent of the Australian population with one dose and 32 per cent of people over the age of 16 who are fully vaccinated, and the rate—the pace—of vaccination is now surpassing the best measure of the pace of the vaccination program that ever existed in the United Kingdom or the United States. We're now exceeding the highest daily averages ever achieved per capita in the UK or the USA. If the proposition from members opposite is that that is somehow too slow or too little, then, obviously, they have got to suggest the way they would make that faster, or more. At least, to the credit of the Leader of the Opposition, he did put up a way. There has been one suggestion that has come from members opposite and from the Leader of the Opposition as to how they would speed up that vaccination process—which is now faster per capita than it ever was in the UK or the US—and that was, as described by the Leader of the Opposition, the idea of an incentive of $300.

An incentive is a very simple concept. It's very easily defined. It's a thing that motivates someone to do another thing. It's a very standard definition in economics. And there are two golden rules about incentives. First, you have to design them very, very carefully to make sure they don't have the opposite effect, that is, that they don't slow something down or demotivate people from doing the other thing. But, even before you get to that, the golden rule in economic management and economics about incentives is that you shouldn't pay someone to do a thing that they've already done—pretty simple stuff. The one proposal that the Leader of the Opposition has offered as to how you would make the vaccination rollout faster—noting that it's already faster per capita than it ever was in the United States or the United Kingdom—is this $300 incentive payment. The major problem with it is that it breaks both of those fundamental rules in economics about incentives. Essentially, it is a proposal to pay people to do things that they've already done. When you look at the scale and pace of the vaccination rollout now, that not only would have represented a complete lack of confidence in the Australian people to do what they're doing now, which is the right thing for public health and themselves and their family and community—getting vaccinated—but it also would have represented a waste of money on a scale that Australian public finances would never have seen before and that you could not possibly imagine.

Since the start of the vaccine rollout over 6.5 million people have been fully vaccinated. These are people who have already done the right thing. The Labor policy, the Leader of the Opposition's policy, of $300 per head for those people would have represented $2 billion of wasted taxpayers' money that could have been spent on other things, mental health or whatever it is that you think is important—and there are many of them. Since the announcement of the $300 incentive, which was on 3 August—that is, in the last 23 days—there have been 2,487,000 Australians fully vaccinated. If you were to pay them $300 to do the thing that they've already done, that would cost $746 million. That is $746 million of taxpayers' money to pay people to do a thing that they have already done. Yesterday, 152,996 Australians became fully vaccinated. If Labor were in government, and had the chance to institute the policy that they describe as constructive which is actually idiotic, yesterday they would have paid $46 million in one day—to pay people to do something that they had already done. That would represent one of the most shocking wastes of taxpayers' money, and it gives you precisely the idea that you need as to how the pandemic would have been managed under members opposite.

In public health particularly, it's been shown that incentive programs, for instance, for donating blood, can actually have the opposite effect—

An opposition member: Titmuss!

It can actually have the Titmuss effect; you've got it! When a journalist asked the Leader of the Opposition: 'How did you settle on this $300 payment? What is underpinning the advice?', he said, first, 'We gave consideration to it'—well, that's good to know!—and, second, 'It included consulting some economists'—that also is good to know—and, third—inspiring confidence—'I studied economics at university'. If you had, you wouldn't have come up with this.

3:54 pm

Photo of Emma McBrideEmma McBride (Dobell, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Mental Health) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] I'm sure local people on the Central Coast, stuck at home, waiting to be vaccinated and teaching their kids from home, would have welcomed the economics tutorial from the minister. At a time when 15 million Australians are in lockdown and people are losing their jobs, the minister is lecturing them about the golden rules. Businesses are hitting the wall, schoolkids are struggling to learn from home and many people, including some of the most vulnerable, are struggling to be vaccinated. And why? It's because of the failure of the vaccine rollout and quarantine. As a pharmacist and the local MP, I am deeply concerned.

Australians living with a disability are a high-priority group and were supposed to be fully vaccinated by Easter. It's now the end of August, and just over 28 per cent of NDIS participants aged 16 or older have been fully vaccinated. Of the 27,000 people with a disability, identified in the government's highest priority group, slightly more than half have been fully vaccinated and 67 per cent have been given one dose. It's not good enough. It's unfair and it's unsafe. This week the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Senator Reynolds, would not guarantee that everyone with a disability would be vaccinated by the time we reach the 70 to 80 per cent vaccination target, leaving people with a disability, some of whom are the most vulnerable Australians, as potential cases or carriers.

Why hasn't the Morrison government done more to protect people with a disability, including in the electorate I represent on the Central Coast of New South Wales? On 4 June, the minister for the NDIS, Minister Reynolds, announced a disability vaccination hub would be set up on the Central Coast that same month, but three months later there's still no hub. Then on Tuesday the Minister for Health and Aged Care told parliament he now expects two hubs on the coast to open in September. While this is welcome news, the government should have acted when they said they would and set up a disability vaccination hub in my electorate back in June. Vulnerable people in my community and across Australia deserve better.

First Nations Australians have also been left behind by the Morrison government during this pandemic. Vaccination rates among First Nations communities are critically low. Only 18 per cent of First Nations Australians have been fully vaccinated. This number should be much higher this far into the rollout. And now we're seeing the situation in western New South Wales getting worse. The Prime Minister said First Nations Australians would be a priority for vaccines. They were supposed to be at front of the queue, but they're not. They are being left behind, at risk and exposed.

There are so many vulnerable Australians who are desperate to get vaccinated, but they can't because the government didn't secure enough supply for all Australians soon enough. Every day my office is overwhelmed by desperate people wanting to be vaccinated, but they can't get an appointment. What do I tell Bobbie, who is living with frontotemporal dementia, when she tells me she misses hugging her grandchildren because we're in lockdown? What do I tell Jennifer, who is struggling to get by, as her work is impacted by COVID, at the same time as she is teaching her kids from home, when she asks me, 'When will school be back?' What do I tell Lisa, who had to shut her business with two hours notice nine weeks ago, when we have been told today we will be in lockdown until 10 September? What do I tell Megan, a local schoolteacher who can't get a vaccine, after we've had outbreaks in two local schools? What do I tell Brad, a local GP, who tells me general practice is in crisis, or Sandy, a community pharmacist, who is having to dispel misinformation on a daily basis, who tells me, 'It's too little too late, and the damage is done'? How can the PM justify pharmacists not being properly paid for the work they're doing during the pandemic? What do I tell my niece Maria, who's two and who's lived in the pandemic most of her life, when she speaks to me on Facetime and asks, 'Are you still in lockdown, Aunty Emma?' What do I say to local aged-care workers who were turned away from the vaccine hub and told they were the federal government's responsibility?

The Prime Minister says he's got a national plan—that it's a careful plan; it's the right plan. Well, tell that to the people in my community. Spreadsheets and phases, with missed deadlines and redirected vaccines don't make a plan, and they've left my community exposed and at risk.

Right now, fewer than one-third of Australians are fully vaccinated, and half of the country is in lockdown, including the Central Coast. We've been in lockdown for the past nine weeks, and we've just been told today we have to spend another two weeks, at least, in lockdown. We keep hearing the way out is through vaccination, but how can we get vaccinated when there is not enough supply to go around? This government failed to secure enough vaccines for all Australians from the beginning. This government has left our community at risk and exposed. This Prime Minister won't accept responsibility for anything. It's always someone else's fault—it's the state premiers—and when he finally acts, it is always a case of too little, too late, leaving communities like mine overlooked, at risk and vulnerable.

The Prime Minister said the vaccine rollout isn't a race, but it is. Clearly, with this government it's always too little, too late. (Time expired)

3:59 pm

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

'Too little, too late'—what a joke! There has been significant investment in our health and COVID response, and it has been delivered in such a way that I think people will look back and say it has been quite extraordinary.

Let's start with the concept of 'too little'. COVID health funding has been quite extraordinary in the last 18 months. We've guaranteed funding for health and Medicare. Importantly, we introduced the telehealth measure to ensure people could see their doctors without the risk of COVID. It helped take the pressure off our PPE early in the COVID pandemic and it was a clever way of making sure that our doctors weren't getting sick. It was an absolutely brilliant stroke and it has resulted in 71 million telehealth visits. It has completely transformed medical care, and I think it will be a legacy for many years to come.

We've invested $1.5 billion in COVID related health services, including testing and tracing, respiratory clinics and telehealth. We've invested $20 billion in the vaccine rollout and to strengthen our health system in response to COVID. We've further invested a record $2.3 billion in the mental health and suicide prevention package in the budget, and that's because we understand the shadow pandemic of this COVID pandemic. We understand these rolling lockdowns have had a significant impact on Australians. There will be more headspace centres to support young Australians, Head to Health clinics for those aged over 25, and greater access to medical professionals through Medicare. I'm absolutely proud that there's going to be a headspace opening in the Higgins electorate in the coming months. But, more than that, we've increased Medicare funding from $19 billion per year in 2012-13 to $30 billion in 2020-21, going up to $33 billion in 2024-25. Bulk-billing rates were at a record high, 88.7 per cent, for the period from July 2020 to March 2021. So not only is there more funding but we're making it more affordable for patients, so that they can get the help they need, and more accessible through telehealth.

We have also delivered significant reforms to private health insurance. This has been incredibly important as people have had to face an economic downturn. More than that, the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, has worked very hard to ensure agreement across the private and public health systems so that there can be movement of patients between these incredibly intertwined healthcare systems. And he prepared last year, increasing intensive care beds from 2,200 to 7,500 in case we had an outbreak that we were unable to contain and that would overwhelm our intensive care units. That preparation happened at speed, so to talk about too little, too late is a complete joke.

But let us turn to the 'too late' aspect. When we think about the vaccine preparation that our government had very early on, you would think we were on different planets. Last year, Australia entered into five separate agreements—five!—to secure more than 195 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine. That was if they were proven to be safe and effective, because of course we're not going to roll out a vaccine that's not safe and effective. The UQ investment, which was a great investment because it was going to be an Australian invention, unfortunately fell over.

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

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

I don't think the members opposite, including the member for Macarthur, could possibly expect that we would roll out an ineffective vaccine. But it is true that the Australian government has invested $5 billion in these five agreements, including for Moderna, which is coming very soon. The Pfizer vaccine went through a world-class TGA approval, which was on 25 January 2021, after a rigorous assessment and approval process. Australia didn't cut corners when it came to safety. It was the same with AstraZeneca. We knew that we needed to be careful about our international supply. We knew from PPE and testing last year, when there was a secure supply issue, that we needed to manufacture right here.

That is actually not something with which we have full agreement from the other side. The Leader of the Opposition has been repeatedly invited to encourage take-up of AstraZeneca, and he has failed to do it. So if we are to say someone has been 'too little, too late', the Leader of the Opposition has something to answer for. But there are members on the other side who have actually supported the AstraZeneca rollout, and they include the member for Maribyrnong, who has been very clear in his support for the AstraZeneca rollout. He understands that we've got to talk up our vaccine, not talk it down.

4:04 pm

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Too little too late. I don't really want to go to the vaccine rollout or the hotel quarantine, which have been botched by this government. The fact that in New South Wales we've now got over 1,000 cases a day due to failures in hotel quarantine is demonstrably the reason we are in so much trouble and the reason it's too little too late from this government. What I want to talk about are the things that have happened since my time in parliament with this government.

Let's talk about aged care. I was on the Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport and we did an inquiry into aged care. We delivered our findings—the member for Makin can back me up on this—which showed the terrible state of aged care in Australia. An ageing population, the lack of resources, the reductions in payments and the reduction in-home care packages were leading to absolute tragedies occurring. Yet this government had to be dragged kicking and screaming into having a royal commission. They didn't want one. According to them, everything was fine; there was no problem—'Let's not do anything about it.' That was until the Australian public kicked up such a fuss that we had to have a royal commission. And look what it found: neglect, lack of investment, lack of understanding and absolute tragedies—thanks to this government.

Let's talk about robodebt, shall we? In my electorate, we had people suicide because of the stress that robodebt was putting them under. They were being treated like serfs, like slaves, in a system that failed to take into account their own specific difficulties, that made them pay money that they didn't owe and that forced them into absolute penury where they couldn't afford to put food on the table. Yet this Prime Minister and this government refused to recognise that there was a problem. And I say shame on you—the whole lot of you. You stood there and you let robodebt destroy the lives of people and put some of the poorest people in this country under unbelievable stress. And you stood there and you did nothing, with the Prime Minister saying: 'Nothing to do with me; it's just the system. Let's just punish these poor people.' Absolute tragedies.

Let's talk about health care. The member for Higgins says, 'All's fine here; look at the great things we have done.' I have petitioned this government since I came into parliament to do something about the recruitment of doctors, particularly GPs, in outer metropolitan and rural and regional areas. Time and time again—as recently as two weeks ago—I have written to the government, through the health minister, about the difficulties in my area in attracting general practitioners to provide basic health care for my constituents. Some of the poorest constituents in the area, in particular in some of the new suburbs, can't get access to general practitioners and, therefore, are using the local hospital as their general practitioner, which puts even more pressure on one of the main hospitals having to deal with a major outbreak of COVID-19 in the country. Yet there's been no response. I think in the end they will have to act because it's obvious that our health services are completely overwhelmed at the present time. But so far this government, through the health minister and the Prime Minister, has done nothing. We have huge waits for elective surgery, and we have people who can't get in for psychiatric care and mental health care, yet this government does nothing.

Let's talk about the environment, shall we? Since I came into parliament I have written time and time again to this government—to the now Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, when he was Minister for the Environment—about the plight of the koalas in my electorate. You are all aware that I constantly talk about the koalas in my electorate. They are the only disease-free urban population of koalas in the country. They will be extinct in the next few years because this government has refused to do anything to protect them. It is a great shame. My constituents are watching their local koala population become extinct. There has been continued habitat destruction, yet this government does nothing. Too little too late. Shame on the lot of you! (Time expired)

4:09 pm

Photo of Warren EntschWarren Entsch (Leichhardt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to refute the claims by those opposite. This motion is utter nonsense. Our government certainly has an enviable track record—before and even during this pandemic. Right through this pandemic our government has not shied away from tough decisions. We have pulled together and coordinated unprecedented economic support for Australian businesses, families and individuals. We've risen to the challenge, despite what the Labor Party might allege. It's incredibly easy to criticise from those benches over there; they have no responsibility. They screech and they throw stones but not for the benefit of Australians; rather, for their own pursuit of political opportunism.

I'll be the first one to acknowledge that things could have been done better or differently, of course. We know this, but the benefit of hindsight makes everybody an expert on past events. The fact is Australia is one of the safest places in the world during this pandemic. So we are not going to spend time beating ourselves up about this or that, because we know that we need to keep moving forward. In doing so, we learn and improve and ensure that Australia and Australians make their way out of the pandemic. The recovery is already well and truly underway.

Those opposite can say what they like, but the key programs and funding initiatives that have underpinned our country's resilience during this incredibly difficult time speak for themselves, and the numbers are very clear. JobKeeper helped 3.8 million people in their jobs. JobSeeker has helped 1.5 million without work. Cash flow boosts supported over 800,000 businesses and not-for-profits. HomeBuilder has supported some $33 billion in construction activity. JobTrainer has created more than 450,000 new training places to upskill jobseekers and new people, and there's been over $30.2 billion in health related COVID expenditure. There are many other initiatives as well, like the zookeeper and aquarium support package and a whole range of other things that have been absolutely critical in supporting businesses during this difficult time. I'm sure it will probably pour some cold water on Labor's framing of these issues, but it's important to recognise that as a result of our government's management there are more people in work today than there were before the pandemic hit Australia. It might not suit their narrative, but this is, in fact, the reality.

Those opposite love to criticise the vaccine rollout. They keep saying, 'You should have ordered more Pfizer at the beginning.' This is Labor's trusty and favoured use of hindsight and through it they will magically solve all of our problems! In reality, if Labor could manage to think back in time, clearly they would remember that not all the nations who committed to Australia to provide the Pfizer vaccine came through with their obligations. It's also worth reiterating just how geographically diverse our nation is. The logistics of getting Pfizer out to every corner of Australia should not be understated. You have to store and transport this vaccine at -70 degrees Celsius. It might have been alright for metropolitan Australia, but I can tell you that in the regions like mine you don't have that kind of infrastructure and it's not something that you can a fix overnight. So, at the time, AstraZeneca was by far the most appealing option. We have sovereign manufacturing capabilities. The choice was obvious. We acted on the best information and advice at the time, and we deployed a strategy that would work for Australia and under Australian conditions.

To criticise in retrospect the things that were not in the government's control is simply an intellectually dishonest political exercise. Instead of taking every opportunity to play politics on the pandemic, those opposite should try to be more constructive with their critiques of government. Maybe they could even provide something useful for consideration. What a welcome change that would be! In doing so, it might do them well to think back to their own record in government. I'm sure some of them would rather forget those comprehensive failings, but I must say I for one am glad that that period of Australian politics is well and truly consigned to the history books.

Once again, this motion is nonsense. Those opposite need to take a long hard look in the mirror before they start legitimately criticising our government. Our credentials are clear, and we will continue to chart a course out of this pandemic—and we'll do it for all Australians. (Time expired)

4:14 pm

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In times of crisis, communities need leadership. True leadership is about stepping up and taking responsibility. It's about taking action when problems arise and it's about planning for the future, but we know this is not this Prime Minister's modus operandi. We've seen zero commitment for national leadership from this Prime Minister over the last three years, let alone in the eight very long years of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments.

The Prime Minister won't accept responsibility for anything. It is always someone else's fault. I'll give this to him: he is consistent. He's constantly ducking, weaving and denying responsibility every time that something goes wrong. It's a well-worn pattern of behaviour. When the Prime Minister sees a problem, his first instinct is to pretend it doesn't exist. When the problem eventually becomes an emergency, he's always there to blame someone else. And, when all else fails, he just starts making stuff up; he gaslights the Australian people. Whatever the response, the Prime Minister is always too little and too late on the scene.

This year, the Prime Minister had two jobs: vaccines and quarantine. He bungled them both. He's totally botched the vaccine rollout. He might as well have rolled out the red carpet for COVID to enter into regions like mine in Newcastle and the Hunter. If he were any kind of leader, purpose-built quarantine facilities would be built by now. We are, like, twenty months down the track from when we first started talking about these issues. But, no, this Prime Minister just leaves it up to the state premiers to pick up his slack, and thank goodness they have. I must congratulate Labor premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who today announced that she will press ahead with building a new purpose-built quarantine facility near Wellcamp airport in Queensland. And she'll go it alone, because she can't afford to wait another day for this dithering Prime Minister to get on board. The delta variant is highly infectious and dangerous. We cannot expect tourist hotels to double as biosecurity zones. Any one of the 27 leaks from those hotel quarantine places should have been proof enough of this government's failed approach. Section 51 of the Australian Constitution makes abundantly clear that quarantine is a Commonwealth responsibility. There's no ambiguity about this, but still this Prime Minister does nothing and accepts no responsibility, always ducking, weaving and denying any responsibility.

Let's have a look at just some of those matters that the Prime Minister has failed to act on. We all recall those terrible summers when bushfires raged through our nation, scorching the earth and inflicting so much pain and suffering on so many communities, but this Prime Minister refused to take a meeting with the 23 fire chiefs of this nation, who were the most experienced and knowledgeable people he could turn to. What did he say to us, at the end, when push really came to shove and he'd been caught out having a holiday in Hawaii while the nation was burning to a crisp? He gets home, tries to save his bacon and says to the journo, when pushed, 'Well, I don't hold a hose, mate.' That was it. Well, that is going to be the defining moment of your prime ministership.

Here we are, almost a decade into this government, with zero progress on climate change or anywhere near a nationally agreed energy policy. This is a Prime Minister who expects us to believe that he knew nothing of incidents that were happening in this very workplace—the Australian parliament—that his staff had nothing to say to him of a sexual assault, even after two years. The March4Justice, which you refused to go and attend; the cuts to all of the National Women's Alliances that were undertaken; and the refusal to actually adopt all recommendations of the Respect@Work report will remain your defining features. (Time expired)

4:19 pm

Photo of Vince ConnellyVince Connelly (Stirling, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to begin my comments by talking about cow farts. I know that may seem a little bit of an odd thing to talk about—I can see the quizzical look on your face there, Deputy Speaker Wallace—but, firstly, it matches the rather pungent and stinky nature of this suggestion that the government is operating with something other than speed and accuracy. So back to these cows!

There's an organisation called Sea Forest which has been working for a number of years now with the CSIRO. They've discovered that there's a special type of seaweed which, if added to feed for cattle, reduces the amount of methane they expel by 99 per cent. If this were in place in Australian industry on a large scale, it would be the equivalent of taking 100 million cars off the road—that's more than double the amount of cars which exist and are in use in Australia today. I know that the member for Braddon is cheering along here and seeing these great sorts of crossovers between environmentally friendly policies, the intelligence of world-leading scientists and, of course, our wonderful agriculture industry, of which the member for Braddon is a key sponsor.

This also sits against our more general approach when we look at climate change. Here, again, it's a government with a very clear plan and very clear targets—targets which we're meeting. We met and in fact beat our 2020 target and are on track to meet our 2030 target—a target which those opposite have not even established. Our technology road map includes an investment of $20 billion in new and emerging technologies by 2030. There are some great stories in place already. We've seen a 20 per cent reduction in emissions, which is more than for New Zealand, Canada and the United States, and we've seen the highest uptake of rooftop solar in the world here in Australia. So there are some great things which we should celebrate and not denigrate—as those opposite too often do.

I'll move on to something else that's a little bit stinky as well and mention fish. I mention fish because the sovereignty and security of fisheries in our Pacific region are something which our neighbours hold vitally dear, as do we ourselves. It's a surprisingly lucrative industry, particularly for our Pacific neighbours. Those fisheries are absolutely relied upon as the lifeblood of their economies and their societies. That's one of the reasons we're so committed to supporting the defence and sovereignty of our whole region. This ties into our defence budget. Whilst we saw Labor, those opposite, slash the defence budget to 1.56 per cent of GDP—the lowest level since before the Second World War—this government is increasing spending on defence by $270 billion over the next 10 years. The Guardian class patrol boats, which are being built by Austal, a wonderful Western Australian company, form an important element of the way in which we will support our regional Pacific brothers and sisters, to help ensure their own security and sovereignty over those fish stocks.

I'll switch targets and expand a little more on our economic agenda. We're absolutely continuing to stimulate our economy. One of the elements of that program is the $110 billion which this government is investing in infrastructure right around the country. As we talk about the economy, and within the context of the pandemic, it's also important to acknowledge the great success of the JobKeeper program. Frankly, I'm sure that members on both sides of the House are like me and colleagues, who have had so many people come up to express appreciation for the JobKeeper program. So many in my electorate, like El Greco Cafe, Cordingley's Surf Shop and many other businesses, have said, 'Vince, this enabled us to keep our doors open,' and, indeed, it saved 3.8 million jobs.

We also saw the cashflow boost—again, over 800,000 businesses and not-for-profits benefited there. The HomeBuilder program was initially labelled as a fizzer by those opposite—I think they hoped it would be! But of course it wasn't, with around $33 billion of activity now in the residential construction sector. (Time expired)

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The discussion has now concluded.