Thursday, 2 September 2021
Matters of Public Importance
COVID-19: Morrison Government
I've received a letter from the Hon. the 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 plan through and beyond the 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 pandemic has shown the strength of Australian society—the way that Australians are resilient and the way they look after each other. But it's also shown the weakness in our economy, and it's highlighted the failure of a tired government that can't deal with the challenges of today, let alone imagine and create a better future tomorrow. A government focused just on short-term political and media management. The only time they looked up and looked ahead was when the Prime Minister said they were looking for the horizon, and we know horizons are never met.
In contrast, the Labor Party is committed to overcoming the COVID pandemic and creating a better future. When it comes to the pandemic, it's easy to put out claims that would fail the pub test when your failure to act on vaccines and quarantine mean that half the nation's pubs are closed. Direct results of this government's failures include: a failure to secure enough vaccines and to roll them out effectively; failures on quarantine, where we've seen breaches on 27 occasions; and, added to that, its congratulations to Premier Berejiklian for not locking down in June. These failures have led—in New South Wales alone—to 23,000 people being infected, 107 people losing their lives, 1,000 people being in hospital and 160 people being in intensive care. It's also resulted in the spread of COVID-19 to the ACT, Victoria, South-East Queensland, for a while, and even to New Zealand.
The fact is that we need to do more. Labor's COVID approach would be a speedy vaccination rollout, a safe end to lockdowns, protecting our children and preparing for the future. We would ensure a speedy vaccination rollout through a $300 incentive; through securing booster shots now and by supporting vaccine leave; by providing a safe end to lockdowns through fair access to vaccines before reopening; delivering an effective world-class national COVIDSafe app; supporting the national plan; and supporting businesses which want to protect their customers as well as their workers. We would protect our children, including 12- to 15-year-olds in the targets or, if not, specifying targets for them: We would vaccinate them quickly through a school based program, and prepare for under-12 vaccinations by securing a paediatric vaccine supply in the future. And we would prepare school based programs now.
We would prepare for the future, post-vaccination, by manufacturing mRNA here, building purpose-built quarantine and creating an Australian centre for disease control. We have a plan for post the pandemic as well—a plan for a stronger nation, a stronger middle class, a stronger federation, stronger regions and cities. We have a plan for a sustainable Australia and a collaborative, inclusive approach. Stronger nations futureproof their economies. This means producing sophisticated goods and services; plans for new industries through our National Reconstruction Fund; making Australia a renewable energy superpower to drive down energy prices; supporting advanced manufacturing, including in cyber, energy storage, mRNA vaccines, transport and logistics; and more. This means a stronger middle class and secure work. People are struggling out there to pay a mortgage. People are struggling to pay their everyday bills. We need to have secure work that values permanency, that values that security in the workplace. Yet those opposite won't even guarantee that people be paid the minimum wage.
We will have Jobs and Skills Australia, to ensure that Australians can fill the permanent well-paid jobs that we will create in the future. We have simple principles—no-one held back and no-one left behind—and we will make sure they're implemented as well. We will improve workforce participation by making child care affordable. We will genuinely advance women's equality by adopting all the recommendations of the Respect@Work report, not just some of them.
We need a stronger federation. This government has proven itself incapable of leadership. There has never been a prime minister who has so weakened the federation. The Prime Minister established the so-called national cabinet and today had to introduce legislation essentially to hide what happens in that national cabinet, as a result of the AAT decision. We've seen him go to court, backing Clive Palmer to tear down WA's border—a decision that cost a million dollars for Australian taxpayers, including over $40,000 given directly to Clive Palmer in order to further promote some of those whacky theories that are undermining our health during a pandemic.
The fact is: there is no state premier who this Prime Minister won't undermine. Even the Premier of New South Wales has been the subject of backgrounding and undermining. The fact is: we will introduce proper federal reform, including microeconomic reform. We will work with the states and territories, not against them. We are not seeking to divide Australia but seeking to unite Australia, so we can move forward stronger into the future. This Prime Minister thinks it's acceptable to call Western Australians and Queenslanders 'cave dwellers'. When Queenslanders are watching the rugby league grand final at Suncorp Stadium and when Western Australians are watching the AFL grand final at Optus Stadium, they won't think they're in a cave; they will be thanking their premiers for keeping them safe.
We need to return to respect for the Public Service as well—something that's consistently undermined by those opposite. We need to have appropriate regional development as well as a genuine plan for cities policy. They used to talk about cities policy. Now they just rort programs, like the commuter car parks program. They think that infrastructure development in our regions and cities should be determined not by what it does for the national economy, not by what it does for jobs, not by what it does for improving the standard and quality of life for people in our regions and cities; they think it's all about an electoral map and a colour coded map based upon political marginal seats.
We need a sustainable Australia, one that takes climate action seriously. The whole of the industrialised world will go to Glasgow already supporting net zero by 2050. The whole of the industrialised world knows we need real action. If there's anything that exemplifies this government being scared of the present but terrified of the future, it's the rhetoric we saw during the last election campaign about electric vehicles, about EVs, going forward; we have a government that said they would 'destroy the weekend'. They are completely unable to embrace and shape the future in Australia's national interest. We will once again be pariahs at that conference if we can't even get through net zero emissions.
Australia is a great nation, but we can be even greater. We're located in the fastest-growing region of the world in human history. With that comes enormous opportunity not just to export our resources but to value-add here, to manufacture things here, to imagine the opportunities from lithium, from copper, from nickel—from these great resources that will be so valued in the future. We have the opportunity to be a renewable energy superpower and position ourselves, but that requires leadership, collaboration and foresight. This government ignores problems until they become a crisis, and then their response is too little, too late. Then they never take responsibility and rewrite history. The 'gaslight on the hill'—that's what they have opposite.
Labor has the light on the hill—the light on the hill with imagination, courage and energy to bring Australians together, to create high-value jobs, to lift living standards, to lift people up; to make sure people are not left behind on the basis of where they were born, their gender, their sexuality or their religion; to make sure that we unite as a country. We need a government that's as big and bold as the Australian people themselves—a government with ambition for the future, not ambition for the next news day, not ambition for the next headline. That's what Labor will bring. Labor will bring that ambition for the future—a better future that we will deliver in government. (Time expired)
It's my great honour to be here before you again, Deputy Speaker Wallace. It's starting to be a bit of a regular occurrence.
It's been a long week in parliament and a very trying period for all of us, but I would again like to totally reject the hypothesis of these people on the other side. The opposition have got amnesia. The response Australia had to the COVID-19 pandemic has been second to none around the world. Let's go back to the beginning. People on the other side have incredibly short memories. When the rest of the world and the World Health Organization were in total denial, Australia was out of the blocks declaring it a virus with pandemic potential and issuing biosecurity orders at both federal and state level. We planned and looked at the modelling of what could happen in Australia.
First of all, I can tell you the health response was second to none and the economic response was second to none. Even though they criticise us, we had deals in place for 280 million vaccines. Now we've got forward orders in for booster doses. We sourced PPE from around the world. We redeveloped our own respirator capability, with industrial assistance from lots of sleep apnoea makers, and retrofitted old classic ventilators in New South Wales. We had a special pandemic register to increase the medical workforce. Even my good self got put back under full registration on the pandemic register because we thought we might need hundreds of doctors—you can't forget 33 years of knowledge!
We reregistered and retrained 20,000 nurses, as the Minister for Health outlined. We had agreements in place with state hospitals to increase by over 50 per cent the payment of all the COVID-19 expenses. There was a negotiation and a deal signed with our private hospital network to make their intensive care and ward capability available as surge capacity. We got the vaccine rolled out through a latticework of general practices. There are now over 5,000 registered and currently vaccinating. They have been the workhorses of the vaccine rollout. The Aboriginal medical services, as the Minister for Indigenous Australians outlined, were enlisted up-front. We established respiratory clinics to make sure we could divert the load away from the public hospital system. The states started their megahubs. We also put extra money into the remote Australia rollout of the vaccine through the Flying Doctor Service.
We have contracted vaccine administration services. You've all heard the name Aspen, but there are four or five other companies like that delivering vaccinations around the nation. We can see that we have reached 20 million vaccination doses already. We are catching up at a rate of knots. I expect we'll be reaching 70 per cent, at this rate, within three or four weeks in New South Wales and in other states that are getting on board and catching up.
In the quarantine space, because we were ahead of the rest of the world, we weren't flooded with international travellers bearing COVID-19. Our original testing, tracing, isolating and quarantine worked. That is one of the reasons we have had a good economic outcome. As was outlined, people were criticising our quarantine program, but, of 434,000 people who arrived and were put into either Australian quarantine centres or hotels identified as quarantine hotels, 4,200 cases were identified and isolated. Only six cases out of those 434,000 people who arrived escaped through that system. That is an incredibly small percentage.
The economic response is also second to none. Treasury was forecasting a projected 20 per cent loss of GDP and unemployment rates of 15 per cent. We had an amazing rollout of programs, starting with improving cash flow so that people could get a rebate of tax paid based on their GST and wages. It has been accompanied by continuing the instant expensing, or the instant asset write-off, provisions. We instituted a targeted loss carry-back so that losses this year could be carried back to profits in earlier years, resulting in a retrospective tax return. We started the HomeBuilder program, which had an absolute turbocharging effect on the housing construction industry. That program brought forward $114 billion worth of economic stimulus activity. It's the highest level of home building and the highest level of homeownership for first home buyers in nearly 15 years. One hundred and thirty-five thousand people applied for it. That is unbelievable economic activity in the middle of a pandemic, and it has kept the economy going.
There's a reason we got 161,000 more people in employment when we got over the first wave in the economic bounce-back. The other side has been criticising the JobKeeper program, but it kept people employed and linked to their employer—these companies and businesses that families, individuals, and large corporates had built up over decades. There is the old saying 'Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall and they couldn't put him back together.' We kept our economy together so it could rise from the COVID pandemic induced recession. Unemployment is now at the lowest level in over 10 years, at 4.6 per cent. It was 5.7 per cent when we were elected to govern this nation in 2013.
They criticised JobKeeper, but it's been reviewed by so many respected authorities. The Australian tax office has looked at it. As the Treasurer outlined today, at the second assessment, with the same criteria, it was an estimated downturn. That is what the law said, and businesses followed that. The criterion was then changed to actual turnover reduction, but even then the Australian tax office says the average downturn in those periods was 37 per cent. So everyone put their shoulder to the wheel, and there was an enormous sigh of relief that it was life saving for so many businesses and for so many people employed. It kept 700,000 people in employment. Look at the devastation that was wrought by the pandemic in Europe and at the reduction of 11 and 12 per cent in the GDP of other countries. Ours was a fraction of that. Our last GDP growth is still positive, even though with the most recent wave there has obviously been an effect.
There is criticism that we didn't have a plan. We had a plan for everything. I've run through them: workforce, PPE, hospital capacity, ventilator capacity, securing vaccines, telehealth items, mental health programs, respiratory clinics and getting a network of vaccination around the country. The list goes on. In my role as Minister Assisting the Minister for Trade and Investment I've been checking with other countries. Death rates in other countries are up to 39 times higher than what has eventuated in Australia.
We have had an exceptional health response and we've had an exceptional economic response. It's absolute nonsense for the other side to say we didn't have a plan. We have had a plan for everything, and the proof of those plans is in the economic response. We have a plan to get out of this current wave. We have voluntarily given up our freedoms of association and of economic activity, but we have a plan to get all those lifted. When 70 and 80 per cent is reached we will be lifting restrictions, and the economy will bounce back. (Time expired)
[by video link] We all know the Morrison government has a women problem, so it's not surprising that it's the women of Australia who are being penalised by the lack of a cohesive pandemic plan by this Prime Minister. Many of the financial impacts and inequalities of the COVID-19 pandemic are not immediately obvious, yet they can have a profound implication on people's lives, especially on women's lives. Through no fault of their own, people are becoming silent victims because of the Morrison government's mismanagement of the COVID response. It took the Labor Party to drag this government to finally introduce a bill this week to fix a glaring issue that has potentially denied many women parental leave during months of COVID.
Why did it take months and persistent prompting from Labor to get the Morrison government to fix this problem? I can tell you. It's because the Morrison government does not have a pandemic plan. It has lurched from one disaster to another in this pandemic, scrambling to keep up, and besides, parental leave is primarily a women's issue. Women just aren't a priority for the Morrison government. Just take the Respect@Work bill being pushed through today. This government is refusing to adopt all 55 recommendations of the Respect@Work review. Labor in government would implement every single one and give women the safety and respect they deserve as we pull out of COVID-19.
I'll tell you what is a priority for the Morrison government: looking after big business at the expense of hardworking families. For example, in my electorate the Morrison government continues to hound a hardworking single-mother of four, while it fails to chase big business for potentially billions of dollars of JobKeeper payments that many of them didn't even need. The Morrison government was forced to drop a claim against this single-mum when its robodebt system was declared illegal, yet the government switched tack only weeks later to relentlessly pursue this hardworking mum over well-deserved childcare support. She's forced yet again to fight the might of big government to defend her right to payments she's entitled to receive in order to support her job and income and support her kids. This single-mum has a question for the Prime Minister and his Treasurer: 'Why are you relentlessly chasing down hardworking Australians but failing to demand big businesses pay back the millions of dollars in profits they have made from JobKeeper?' It's a good question, but sadly, it's fallen on deaf ears. 'Nothing to see here,' says the Treasurer, 'It's up to big business to decide if they will give back their mega windfalls.' For many, many Australians, including hardworking families across my electorate, this is yet another example of the Morrison government having one rule for the big and the rich and another for hardworking battlers in all our communities.
The Morrison government's double standards are on full display in many sectors. This week in my electorate we learnt that hundreds of Deakin University workers could soon lose their jobs as a result of the Morrison government's neglect. The Prime Minister has failed our higher education sector. Staff at Deakin have not been supported. There has been no JobKeeper for them. The government's failure to establish purpose-built quarantine facilities was effectively a double whammy. Without those facilities, there has been absolutely no chance of revenue from overseas students flowing to universities. Billions of dollars were squandered by the Morrison government on JobKeeper, yet our university sector, one of our nation's biggest export earners, continues to be snubbed by this government.
We are now seeing the harsh impacts of the Morrison government's failures, which are putting people's health, businesses and lives at risk. They have failed to deliver purpose-built quarantine facilities and an effective vaccine rollout of the vaccines. They are trashing universities across the nation. They are treating women as second-class citizens and turning a blind eye to the inequities of JobKeeper. They're turning their backs on many in the tourism and arts sectors. The Morrison government has failed on so many levels. There's a lack of coherency, a lack of vision, a lack of clear leadership, a lack of compassion, a failure to respect women. COVID has starkly exposed the flaws in the Morrison government. It's demonstrating to the nation that the Morrison government is a government without a plan, a government scrambling to stay afloat.
I look at the subject of this MPI today and I think it's probably a dorothy dixer: 'The failure of the government to plan through and beyond the pandemic.' I'd like to inform the House that we have a great plan for the pandemic. It's a plan to subdue, to suppress, the virus and then get back to normal. I tell you why it's a great plan. It's a great plan because it changes when the circumstances change, so it's adaptable. Every time something changes, you need to go back to the basics and make the necessary changes. As technology changes, as the virus changes, as indeed the capacity to produce vaccine changes, so too does the program.
I might point out that it's worth remembering the first dose of a mass COVID-19 vaccination plan in the world was administered on 8 December last year, not quite nine months ago. The vaccination program, when you put it in perspective, is now going like a rocket. It's a little behind time and had a bit of a rocky start, it would be fair to say. We had interrupted supply and we had changing official views on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which introduced hesitancy. But now we're about two months behind, by my reckoning. We know that 20 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in Australia, with greater than 60 per cent of the population having now received their first dose. We are within range of the 70 per cent target, and when four million more doses have been administered we'll reach 80 per cent, which are the figures that are nominated by the Doherty institute. We're closing in on 30 per cent of the population having had two doses. In New South Wales, the figures are 70 and 35 per cent respectively, so it's really picking up speed and it's making a difference.
We have a plan that has been backed up by the work of the Doherty institute, a world renowned institute. They're focusing on those two numbers, 70 per cent and 80 per cent respectively, when we will get rid of the state restrictions on the borders and then get rid of the lockdowns within communities, except in extreme circumstances. It's a good plan and it's been good for the economy. The performance of Australian economy through the pandemic has been simply extraordinary. We're down to 4.6 per cent unemployment and the GDP is 1.7 per cent bigger now than it was before the pandemic. Today's motion talks about through the pandemic and beyond. I've got to tell you, we've got plans for that as well. If I look at my electorate, I've got over a billion dollars of Commonwealth expenditure either underway or in the pipeline for the upgrading of our road network. We've established a national space agency. I would've thought that that's about tomorrow and beyond the pandemic. The Space Agency is in South Australia. In fact, it's at Lot Fourteen, on North Terrace in Adelaide. In my own electorate, Southern Launch has just received approval from the authorities in the last week to launch three rockets towards the end of the year from their new launch facility at Whalers Way, south of Port Lincoln. We have great hopes that this will lead to hundreds of jobs in our regional footprint.
We are backing hydrogen production in Australia and the move to green hydrogen. We have a plan. This government has a plan for green steel. I have 40 per cent of Australia's steel production in one of my cities, Whyalla. Green steel is a great way forward.
We are backing families and women by increasing the support for child care. Eight-five per cent of your payment will be met if you're under the $75,000 threshold as of July next year. That's a great outcome. That's talking about the future. That's about getting women with skills into our workforce, because we need them.
We're providing support from ARENA for electric car-charging stations—support which, at this stage, is being denied by the Labor party, can you believe! They've voted against it twice. We have a plan to deliver zero emissions as soon as we possibly can—hopefully, before 2050. But we are not going to do it by knocking off Australia's economy. At the moment we're making great progress, with a 20.8 per cent reduction from 2005. I looked at the OECD. There are 38 countries in the OECD. Twelve have gone up in that period, and we've gone down by 20.8 per cent. We're making great headway. We've got a great plan, and we will have a great future here in Australia.
[by video link] We are an island continent. We have every natural advantage. The only reason we are now talking about living with the virus before Australians are vaccinated is because we also have a Prime Minister who failed to plan and has thus failed to manage the two crucial tasks of the pandemic. It's not just a health crisis. It's not just a disaster of people dying and of people filling up ICU wards. It's not just a mental health crisis. It's also now an economic disaster.
The Australian economy is bleeding hundreds of millions of dollars every day and billions of dollars every week, adding tens of billions of dollars to the national debt that the next generation is being asked to repay because the Prime Minister failed to plan and he failed to manage the pandemic. The Prime Minister is now foisting an economic disaster upon our country. Yesterday, despite all evidence, we had Liberal MPs telling us how well the economy was going and how grateful we should be for 0.7 per cent growth, anaemic growth. Remember, that was three months ago, before the current round of mass lockdowns really started. Compare that to countries that are almost fully vaccinated like the UK, which has been getting four per cent growth in the same period. Australians now have fewer jobs, there's less national wealth, wages are going further backwards, small businesses are getting smashed and household budgets are getting smashed because the PM failed to plan and failed to manage the pandemic.
The election of a Labor government at the next election would fundamentally change our nation for the better. We have a plan to create more opportunities for the working family in Everton Park who are sick and tired of living week to week. We have a plan to create secure, well-paid northside jobs so the baggage handler living in Banyo who lost his job because of COVID can find his feet. We have a plan to revive our Aussie-made manufacturing industry in our industrial suburbs like Geebung, Banyo, Eagle Farm and Pinkenba. We will ease the pressure on the household budget for the family living in Brighton by cutting the cost of child care and reducing their power bills. We will embrace the potential of renewable energy not only to protect our environment but to create good, secure jobs for the young apprentice who's living in Deagon. I know that northsiders have aspirations, and they want a government that invests in them and invests in their future. I know an Albanese Labor government will deliver for northside families.
Last week, the Palaszczuk government announced that, from Wednesday 8 September, the Brisbane Entertainment Centre at Boondall will open a mass vaccination hub for northsiders. It will begin with 1,500 and ramp up to 3,000 vaccines a day, once the Morrison government sort out their supply issues, which they failed to plan for as well. Our Premier is also stepping up and doing the Prime Minister's job, by protecting our borders and by getting cracking on a fit-for-purpose quarantine facility in Queensland. Unlike the Prime Minister, our Premier understands that Queenslanders cannot afford to wait until mid-2023 for a fit-for-purpose quarantine facility. The Palaszczuk government's 1,000-bed regional quarantine facility will be ready to go by the end of the year, in just four months. That is real leadership. On the other hand, the Prime Minister couldn't organise so much as a whip-round at the Trade Coast Hotel in Pinkenba in four months.
Over two weeks ago, I wrote directly to the Deputy Prime Minister, requesting an urgent briefing on the proposed fit-for-purpose quarantine facility in Pinkenba in my electorate of Lilley. To date, the federal government has failed to engage in any community consultation with Pinkenba residents about the 1,000-bed quarantine facility to be built at the Damascus Barracks in Pinkenba—not even a letterbox drop, not even a robocall, like their great ally Clive Palmer. When I doorknocked Pinkenba village back in July, some of the residents I spoke to were hearing about the Morrison government's plans for the very first time, and that's just not good enough. At the very least, the Deputy Prime Minister needs to respond to my letter and organise a briefing with the department so that I can keep my constituents in the loop about what's happening with the national purpose-built quarantine facility and do the job that they elected me to do.
The Prime Minister had two jobs this year: secure enough vaccines to ensure a speedy, effective rollout of the vaccine and quarantine our borders. He has failed in both. And, when he is called out on his failures, the Prime Minister's response is always the same: 'It's not my job;' 'It's a matter for the states;' 'I don't hold a hose.' For the Prime Minister, every problem is someone else's fault and every crisis is someone else's responsibility. We deserve better.
Well, the topic of this MPI, 'the failure of the government to plan through and beyond the pandemic', just shows how really devoid of ideas the opposition is. I know it's been a tough and long five weeks, but, really, I think you could have tried a bit better. I really don't understand why you haven't been listening to the fact that there is a plan. There's a plan that's called the national plan, and it was a plan that was agreed to at national cabinet by the elected leaders of federal, state and territory governments, using world-leading experts from the Doherty institute, who've provided a safe way to open up. These states and territories need to honour their agreement and stick to this plan, and it would be helpful if those opposite got behind the plan.
We all know that elimination of the delta variant is a fallacy and vaccines are the only way forward. But the opposition hasn't actually acknowledged this. The Prime Minister, on the other hand, has shown leadership. As the Prime Minister said:
The national plan we have developed and agreed is our pathway to living with this virus. That is our goal, to live with this virus, not to live in fear of it.
The Leader of the Opposition, however, insists on political pointscoring ahead of the national interest, and nowhere has this been more obvious than when it has come to the response to the COVID pandemic.
Let's go back to March of last year. The Prime Minister said from the get-go, 'We're going to have to learn to live with this virus.' I really think every global leader probably wishes they had the prescience exhibited by these wise words: 'We're going to have to live with the virus.' He said that because, every step of the way, this government has relied on experts and evidence to inform its plans to respond to a global pandemic. Those plans have had to pivot, because the global pandemic has had more twists and turns than a Hollywood blockbuster. All through those twists and turns, this government has kept in its sights the main goal of saving lives and saving livelihoods, and all the time relying on the evidence and the experts.
Humanity has always had to learn to live with viruses. In fact, the only virus modern medicine has been able to eradicate in the last 200 years is smallpox. That is why the Prime Minister led the plan for the national vaccine rollout, the largest public health initiative in the history of this country. He has known that it is the way out of this pandemic and its rolling lockdowns. Sure, it has had its hiccups, but the government has had a plan to deal with all of these. Global supply has been an issue, something the government anticipated, so we built sovereign capability. And we've dealt with vaccine side effects with honesty and transparency with the Australian public. We have treated Australians with openness and respect about what the vaccine means for them and for their loved ones.
But the Leader of the Opposition has failed to support the central role of AstraZeneca in the COVID vaccine rollout. He prefers to see a political opportunity rather than understand the importance of leadership on this issue. In stark contrast, the member for Maribyrnong has publicly backed the AstraZeneca vaccine, declaring it is the cure to get out of lockdown. And this was just a day after the opposition leader declined to clarify his own stance on the jab. The member for Maribyrnong met with workers at the manufacturing site, CSL, in Melbourne:
I'm here today to see the magic bullet to get out of lockdown, the AstraZeneca vaccine. I'm here to see how Australian made is going to break the lockdown and help stop the spread of COVID.
That was leadership from the member for Maribyrnong.
But what was the Leader of the Opposition's response to that? Zero: doughnuts! He just avoided the subject. Quite frankly, his silence in supporting AstraZeneca is a disgrace. More than that, while the Leader of the Opposition supports a debate such as the one we're having here today—after all, it is his MPI, 'the failure of the government to plan'—he refuses even to acknowledge that there is a national plan. Meanwhile, the member for Maribyrnong has publicly backed in the national plan because he knows that the evidence is there, the experts are there and that we need to work together for this.
Quite frankly, the hypocrisy of this MPI is breathtaking. When is the opposition going to get with the national plan? I have implored those opposite in a previous MPI: in this House we are all leaders in our communities. Our supporters look to us to lead, whichever side of the chamber we sit on. Please, I beg you: use your voices for the good of your communities. Support the national plan and support the national rollout. Do it for your loved ones, do it for your communities and do it for your country so we can all get on with our lives. AstraZeneca is part of that response and I implore them to get behind both Pfizer and AstraZeneca.
[by video link] Never could there be a greater failure of the coalition government to plan through and beyond the pandemic. My constituents are pretty smart—they're pretty savvy. Many are retired and have told me their stories of difficulty in accessing a vaccine or a local GP. Thousands of local small-business owners and workers have been thrown into turmoil due to extended lockdowns due to the Morrison-Joyce government's failed vaccine rollout and a business support package which simply doesn't cut it.
And what does the Morrison-Joyce government do? Nothing—'It's not our problem.' This is what one local business owner, a cafe in Kangaroo Valley told me. Monique did the right thing and applied for support—a business grant. But Monique had heard nothing 18 days after applying. How does she pay the bills? There are so many mixed messages daily between the Morrison-Joyce government and the New South Wales state government through the COVID-19 pandemic. Who can keep up? Families are battling to homeschool their children while working from home. There are impacts on our children, teenagers and teachers, and, of course, our health, aged-care and essential workers. And then there are the people who have been completely left behind: pensioners and carers who don't even qualify for the COVID disaster payment. Why is the Prime Minister so against pensioners? And for the people on JobSeeker there's nothing really to support them this time.
I want to share one of the very sad stories I received this week. An Aboriginal gentleman in his 40s contacted me from Ulladulla: 'I am writing to you to inform you of the struggles my family are having with COVID. We are in lockdown. We are homeschooling as best we can. I have my son back home from Canberra. He is on Abstudy and is currently on a scholarship at school and boarding there. The school asked all boarders to go home due to health concerns, so we brought him home. Abstudy is not doing anything to help financially, nor is the government. We have four children at home. The cost of food, electricity, water and so on are making it harder every week. I'm on a carer payment for my partner, which is making it even harder on me and my family. The struggles are real. It hurts. I cry by myself at night when everyone is asleep, as I have to be strong for my kids and my partner. Can you please help us or point me in the right direction of help, as we need the help? Why is the government only helping workers and businesses, not low-income earners? We are all struggling. We all need help in some way.'
The lack of forethought, planning and collaboration by the Morrison-Joyce government through the COVID pandemic is staggering. They are more focused on short-term political gain and media spin. I am proud to say that the election of a Labor government at the next election will fundamentally change our nation for the better. One of the biggest challenges we face is how we come out of this pandemic. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make things better for people. Don't we owe it to people to do that? Workforce shortage is already a major issue, but, with no plan, this will become an even larger issue. New jobs require a better, skilled workforce. Labor will rebuild Australia's training system. That means investing more in TAFE, investing in renewables and investing in renewables jobs. It means a national reconstruction fund to boost business and jobs.
Labor would commission a white paper on full employment to create a blueprint for new employment arrangements that would rebalance security and flexibility in workplace arrangements. We want more jobs but also secure jobs with better pay. Australia is a great nation but it can be even greater. Only a Labor government can deliver the change that people so desperately need.
I really welcome this discussion because it's based on a presumption that is quite an innovation in this House—that everyone in this chamber, for the first time, actually wants the pandemic to end. You need only look at the sabotage that the opposition has engaged in at every point throughout this pandemic, whether it is on the economic response or the undermining of the vaccine rollout, the Australian made AstraZeneca vaccine and making sure we get it into people's arms. Of course, there is the behaviour of the Labor Premier of Queensland in the past 24 hours. The benchmark for getting Australia reopened now is to make sure that those who can't be vaccinated based on scientific evidence are able to do so, and are able to do so where safety and efficacy have not been proven.
It's actually welcome that federal Labor say they want the pandemic to end, because at every point all I see is sabotage and undermining of the efforts of collective and responsible governments that are working to end the pandemic so we can have a future. But, as I said, there's no-one who has been more clear on this than the Premier of Queensland and, of course, her Chief Health Officer, who have actively, deliberately and maliciously undermined the vaccine rollout and the use of the Australian made AstraZeneca vaccine that has been proven by the Therapeutics Goods Administration to be safe and effective for getting into Australian people's arms.
Normally, when I attack state Labor governments, there is a barrage of abuse from members on the other side of the chamber. I think they secretly agree with us on this. I actually think they agree that the reckless behaviour of the Queensland government, the Queensland Premier and her Chief Health Officer is as despicable as I am pointing out—so much so that, to his eternal credit, the opposition leader got up today in a press conference and condemned the Queensland Premier for introducing this new benchmark and saying that they wouldn't open up until those under the age of 12 had been vaccinated, even though the safety and efficacy of vaccines haven't been proved for them to do so. So I give them a point. At least they want the pandemic to end. I give them two points now because they're prepared to call out their Labor brethren for their gross misconduct in the way they conduct themselves.
The reality is that, since the beginning of this pandemic, there have always been stages. We've always known, as the Treasurer said in question time, that there was a stage where the nation was looking into the abyss, economically and on health grounds. Most of us in the public and in this chamber did not know where we were heading and, critically, were concerned about the future. Since then we have gone through a stage of lockdowns and various other public health responses. We've always looked beyond lockdowns and said, 'Where can we grow the country thereafter?' What we've done is put in the support mechanisms to get people through this time.
It's fine to talk about the plan afterwards, but if small businesses still aren't operating or people aren't there—alive—to be able to go on and live flourishing lives then there's no point in having a plan. That's why we introduced, right from the start of this pandemic, additional support for those Australians who need assistance with their mental health, particularly as a consequence of lockdowns. We introduced that last year because we saw the crisis in Victoria. Tragically, we've now seen similar crises go through all parts of the country. We introduced measures around telehealth, so that those who were vulnerable, who couldn't see their doctor in the flesh, because they were concerned about the physical risks of mobility, could do so on online platforms. After years of innovation, we took those steps in just days—something that we should be enormously proud of. And, of course, there is the financial support we provided through critical programs like JobKeeper, which Labor voted for and now they attack and want to undermine, and the early release of superannuation. Of course, when the nation was faced with a moment when the foot was on the throat of households, Labor had an ideological struggle between whether they wanted to take the foot off or not and allow Australians to access their own money.
At every point, we have had a plan to get people through the crisis. The challenge now before this chamber and state governments is whether the states, in working with the Commonwealth, show the maturity needed to get beyond the pandemic. We have consistently seen this from New South Wales, who have talked about the pathway out. South Australia, to their credit, have said today that they want a pathway out that sticks to the national plan. We've seen Victoria finally show maturity to acknowledge that COVID-zero is not sustainable with delta. The big laggards in this are, of course, Western Australia and Queensland, who don't want a future. (Time expired)
Australia is in the mess it's in today because of the Morrison government's failure to plan. Half of the country is in lockdown, with 1.7 million Australians unemployed or underemployed. Our borders are closed. Our health system is at a crisis point, with COVID cases rising and with a mental health calamity hanging over us. Tens of thousands of Australians are stranded overseas, desperately wanting and needing to come home. There are so many businesses facing closure. And, there has been a breakdown of the national cabinet process. This government has failed to plan an effective rollout, failed to secure sufficient vaccine supplies and failed to set up purpose-built quarantine facilities.
Eighteen months ago, when COVID hit, there was considerable goodwill and tolerance throughout the country, but today that goodwill and tolerance has disappeared. For 18 months, the Morrison government has bungled its way through its responsibilities. Only now, 18 months later, are plans for purpose-built quarantine facilities being considered and being rushed through parliament, exempt from scrutiny by the Public Works Committee. Even worse, those facilities are at loggerheads with state government proposals for similar facilities. Labor has been raising these matters from day one, alerting the government to what is needed and planning a way forward. Unfortunately, the Morrison government just simply refused to listen.
It was a failure to plan Australia's withdrawal from Afghanistan—a failure that placed added risk on defence personnel, on embassy staff, on AFP officers and on aid workers and, more importantly and particularly, on desperate Afghan people, who are now at the mercy of hostile forces. These risks should have been foreseen, but the Morrison government's failure to plan this withdrawal meant it was a catastrophic failure. This government refused to process visa applications here in Australia in a timely way. The member for Bruce earlier today alluded to those failures in a very touching speech that he made.
This government has failed to plan for the now-with-us climate change threats, with fires, floods and hurricanes right now, around the world, destroying lives and properties. Unlike Labor, the Morrison government refuses to embrace and commit to a renewable energy future, which would create jobs and secure the future. The Morrison government's failure to plan will cost future generations dearly, for they will have to wear the cost of inaction. But, even worse, these are all matters of life and death. Lives are actually being lost right now.
Governments are elected to lead—to plan for emerging threats, changes and risks. But not the Morrison government. For this Prime Minister, it's always someone else's problem, someone else's responsibility. Even today in question time we consistently listened to him hiding behind the South Australian Premier. If the Prime Minister doesn't want to lead, he should get out of the way and call an election. Australia could do much better and Labor has a plan to do just that, a plan outlined by the Leader of the Opposition in this debate today—a plan that backs secure jobs; a plan that backs renewable energy; a plan that rebuilds Australian manufacturing capability, which we need so dearly; a plan that will cut childcare costs; a plan that invests in skills and trades, where we now have 115,000 fewer apprenticeships than when this government came to office; a plan that will establish a $15 billion national reconstruction fund; a plan that will invest in social housing, which is so badly needed; and a plan that will restore federal-state collaboration, which is disintegrating before our eyes.
I want to finish on this point. If members opposite think the economy is doing so well, why are so many people stressed out to the point where we have a major mental health crisis looming over us? If the economy is so strong, why would half of the Australian people be in lockdown right now? How can they be employed if they're in lockdown?