House debates

Monday, 14 February 2022

Private Members' Business

COVID-19: Morrison Government

11:57 am

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

I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises the significant impact that COVID-19 is continuing to have on the day-to-day lives of Australians;

(2) notes that the Government has demonstrably failed in preparing the nation to be able to live with COVID-19, with;

(a) significant shortages of basic necessities prevalent in our supermarkets and shops;

(b) many communities being unable to access Rapid Antigen Tests, and countless examples of price gouging of these essential medical supplies; and

(c) issues in supply chains, workforces and a lack of support from the Government continuing to wreak havoc on small businesses and employees;

(3) further notes that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services would rather go to the cricket than show up and do their jobs while Australians continue to suffer; and

(4) condemns the Prime Minister and the Government for:

(a) their lack of foresight;

(b) their lack of planning;

(c) their lack of leadership; and

(d) abrogating their responsibilities to everyday Australians.

We're now well over two years into the pandemic. By the government's own rhetoric, by now we ought to be able to live in a world that is 'COVID normal', having left our caves and embraced the new world. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. Certainly, it is clear to me that during the pandemic a pattern of behaviour has emerged that has harmed our response and harmed our progress. The reality outside of these walls, in my own community in the electorate of Macarthur and in electorates around the country, is well short of normal. We have a Prime Minister who, at the beginning of the pandemic, was off to the footy. He couldn't manage the vaccine rollout and put some of our most vulnerable, particularly those in aged care but also other vulnerable people, at very high risk. We've had huge queues for testing. We've had a lack of response to staffing levels in our aged-care environment and in our hospitals around the country. We have a Prime Minister who, in spite of being requested to make sure we had supplies of rapid antigen tests available, did nothing of the sort. He really ignored the problem, and it was too little, too late. There has been a pattern of behaviour from this government and this Prime Minister that has harmed our response, harmed our economy and put those most vulnerable at risk.

We've had the aged-care disaster, in which many very vulnerable people have lost their lives, yet we had a minister who was off to the cricket and a Prime Minister who didn't see it as a crisis until far, far too late. Unfortunately, there is a systemic problem here, and it will not be addressed by reading out shopping lists from the health minister or by complaining about the states but doing nothing to fix the problem. People are unsure, they're very worried about what is happening, yet we still have a government whose reaction is too little, too late. The Prime Minister would have everyone believe that everything is going well. That's his perspective, from Kirribilli House, but it's not the perspective that we see in my electorate. There are still supply chain issues, with shortages of even simple things, like aspirin. If you go to the supermarket now, there are control limits on how much aspirin you can buy, because of shortages. It's also true for more sophisticated medications. Tocilizumab, which has led our response for those with severe COVID but is also used for severe rheumatoid arthritis, is in very short supply. Its use is being limited because of the lack of supply. The government have mismanaged the pandemic. They've called the shots wrong. They blame other people. And issues in supply chains are affecting us around the country.

Let us consider rapid antigen tests. It is absolutely ridiculous that we don't use rapid antigen tests in this parliament. Every other parliament around the country is using rapid antigen tests to screen people coming into parliament, yet we are doing nothing of the sort. I've written to the Speaker and to the President of the Senate about this. It is ridiculous that we are still relying on temperature testing for people coming into this parliament. We know that temperature testing is a very poor tool. The majority of people who catch COVID, particularly young people, do not have a fever, and yet we're relying on temperature screening in Parliament House.

It was apparent to me very early on—and I wrote to the Prime Minister about it—that rapid antigen tests could play a very important role in the ongoing management of the pandemic, not just in parliament but also in schools, major businesses, sporting events and functions around the country. We could reduce the restrictions if we used rapid antigen tests. Nothing has happened. Months after rapid antigen tests have become normalised in other countries, the government has failed to secure adequate supplies for our population. Residents of Macarthur face great difficulty even now in getting RATs. In fact, at times they are unable to get them at all. This is a direct result of the Prime Minister's failures and the failures of the coalition government to adequately manage the pandemic from the word go. The response from the Prime Minister has been, 'We're off to the footy; there's no problem,' then, 'I don't hold a hose,' and now 'I don't hold a RAT.' Aged care is a disaster, and the government has had no systemic response to fix the problems. Those opposite have been abrogating their responsibilities to the most vulnerable, and they should be damned for that.

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Daniel MulinoDaniel Mulino (Fraser, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

12:02 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Whilst I have great admiration and respect for the member for Macarthur, I disagree with him most earnestly on the motion he has put before the House. Australia is ranked second in the world for pandemic preparedness, according to the Johns Hopkins Global Health Security Index. Let's look at the additional findings of that particular piece of work:

Most countries, including high-income nations, have not made dedicated financial investments in strengthening epidemic or pandemic preparedness.

Australia has.

Most countries saw little or no improvement in maintaining a robust, capable, and accessible health system for outbreak detection and response.

We have.

Political and security risks have increased in nearly all countries—

I acknowledge that—

and those with the fewest resources have the highest risk and greatest preparedness gaps.

Well, we're certainly addressing those issues, and of course national security is of the utmost importance. The protection of our people is always No. 1.

Countries are continuing to neglect the preparedness needs of vulnerable populations, which exacerbates the impact of health security emergencies.

We certainly haven't fallen into that trap, quite to the contrary. The work that we did with our First Nations people, through both the Minister for Indigenous Australians and the shadow minister, has been exceptional.

Countries are not prepared to prevent globally catastrophic biological events that could cause damage on a larger scale than COVID-19.

Again, Australia does not fall into that category. The work that we have done, through the national cabinet process as well, has been exemplary.

On the first point, about dedicating financial investments, according to Johns Hopkins: 1.1 million jobs have been created since the pandemic hit—1.1 million jobs. Eleven and a half million Australians are benefiting through tax relief because of the policies that this government has put in place.

More than 95 per cent of Australians are protected with vaccines. I wish there were many more. I wish that it was 100 per cent, and I'm sure Dr Freelander does as well. As for those Australians—and they're allowed to do it—who were protesting in Canberra over the weekend and for many days before, they should all go out and get a jab, get two jabs, get three jabs—get that booster shot—to protect themselves and their families, loved ones and associates, and, perhaps just as importantly, to protect those strangers whose identities they will never ever know; they'd protect them as well. It's all well and good to protest and carry on—and I appreciate that they weren't just all anti-vaxxers—but, to that point, as I'm sure Dr Freelander will agree: some of our colleagues who are promoting that sort of stuff should take a good, long, hard look at themselves. Seriously! To those colleagues who—for the sake of a political photo op or some sort of opportunity to get more likes on their social media—go out and address those crowds and whip up a maelstrom of malcontent: I think that's very, very sad.

During the first week of this year, I had the opportunity, and I was so pleased that I did, to work with a leading Perth diagnostics firm to arrange 32.6 million rapid antigen test kits to come into Australia via 46 chartered flights. I thank Qantas for the work that they did in that regard, right up to the top—right up to the CEO, Alan Joyce. They went out of their way to make sure that those RAT kits came into Australia.

More than 94 million telehealth consultations through Medicare for 16 million patients have been put in place. I appreciate this was not just a COVID response, but it's one of the many things that we are doing to address those health issues, some of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Eight hundred and fifty-seven new medicines have been listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme since 2019. Again, it shows that this government is getting on with the job of addressing all the health issues, not just COVID. And there have been 1,400 additional nurse placements for the regions. That's so important. I come from regional Australia and I appreciate what has been done in the COVID response by good, ordinary, everyday country Australians, and I thank them—and all Australians—for doing what they've done to resist COVID.

12:07 pm

Photo of Anika WellsAnika Wells (Lilley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Riverina for his forbearance, for us, as to the commotion on our side of the House.

In November last year, the Prime Minister announced his desire to get out of people's lives. Now, the Prime Minister isn't known for following through on his promises to Australians, but I must hand it to him: in this case, he really delivered. Over the following months, as the omicron surge swept through the country, the Morrison government was a government in name only. During the most difficult time of this pandemic in Australia, the Prime Minister was absent once again. National supply chains collapsed; supermarket shelves were empty.

In my electorate of Lilley, people were lining up in their cars for a PCR test before dawn at the Boondall entertainment centre, from 4 am. They drove from chemist to chemist in vain, looking for RAT kits. Retail workers copped daily abuse from frustrated shoppers. Families could not see their loved ones in aged care because of outbreaks in nursing homes, and aged-care nurses were burnt out and exhausted. While all this was happening, the Prime Minister's most valuable contribution to the public health crisis was to redefine 'close contact'—as if COVID was ruled by semantics.

The Morrison government claims that no-one could have known the challenges that a new variant would bring, but here is a list of people who in fact did know the challenges that a new variant would bring. The federal government's own health officials warned that widespread community transmission would see PCR testing sites overwhelmed and urged the federal government in February 2021 to adopt rapid antigen test kits to alleviate pressure on the system. Public health specialists briefed members of the federal government in August that PCR testing facilities would not be able to cope with rising case numbers. The Australian Medical Association warned senior executives in the federal health department in September 2021 of the need to develop a strategy to procure rapid antigen tests, as did the Doherty Institute, which provided the federal government's own commissioned modelling.

While health industry bodies, hospitals, epidemiologists, GPs, aged-care providers, unions, and state and territory premiers beseeched the federal government to provide more masks and PPE, to build capacity for testing and to launch public information campaigns, the Prime Minister buried his head in the warm Hawaiian sand. For this Prime Minister every problem is someone else's fault and every crisis is someone else's responsibility. The Prime Minister tipped international border quarantine onto the states. He blamed the vaccine 'strollout' on international supply shortages, although every other country in the OECD seemed to manage. He failed to procure enough RAT kits because he was too busy fixing the vaccine rollout. Instead of taking responsibility, he reportedly commandeered stock from businessowners and from Queensland Rail. He lets members of his own party dog whistle to antivaxxers in the parliament and on social media, hiding behind freedom of speech so he can harvest a few preference votes. At every turn the Prime Minister has pitted the states against each other, politicised lockdowns and border closures and watched on with glee as the premiers, who were forced to make tough decisions, took the heat for his failings.

The Prime Minister thinks it's time for the government to get out of Australians' lives, and I agree. It's time that this coalition government got out of Australians' lives. Call the election. Let Australians elect a government which is ready to lead and has the will and the plan to build a better future for our nation.

I would like to use my remaining time, Mr Deputy Speaker, with your forbearance and my special thanks to the clerks, to share with the chamber an email I received from a Lilley allied health business owner. She wrote:

Dear Anika

I'm a small allied health business owner in Sandgate and I currently employ five full-time staff.

We knew that Queensland borders would be opening and that there would be more COVID cases in our community.

I bought last year N95 masks, RATs, face shields for my staff and extra masks for clients too. However, since the government has let it rip the cases have been so much higher than any of us anticipated.

The majority of our clients are unvaccinated because they are young or because they haven't had a support worker or someone to take them to get vaccinated.

I have spent nearly $2,000 on PPE in the last two months, which is a lot for a small business, and most of it hasn't even arrived yet.

With all of the cancellations due to COVID we are also operating at a quarter of our usual capacity. We cannot pass these costs on to clients, as the far majority are NDIS or Medicare funded and they cannot afford additional costs outside of what their funding covers.

We need your help. Allied health services working within the disability sector with vulnerable populations should have access to adequate PPE and RATs for the safety of our clients.

I wanted to share that message because, when the Prime Minister says it's time to live with COVID and time for the government to get out of people's lives, this is what happens—vulnerable people suffer. I for one think that vulnerable Australians have suffered enough. It is time for the government to call the election so we can get on with a new government that can deliver for working-class Australians and people in need.

12:12 pm

Photo of George ChristensenGeorge Christensen (Dawson, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

For the past two years state governments, with the assistance of the federal government, sadly, have imposed many regulations and restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These measures have eroded our freedoms, our human rights and our civil rights. Such infringements on our rights were introduced under the guise of public safety, but the oft-cited health advice on which they were allegedly based has never been held up for public scrutiny.

States have introduced draconian measures, such as border closures, without having the validity of such measures tested in court. Governments have prevented doctors from prescribing medicines that were safe and effective, with a long history of safe use. Governments have mandated and coerced Australians to undertake a medical procedure that does not have long-term safety data. Substances that people are forced to inject into their body out of fear of losing their job are produced by big pharma companies that are getting very rich off these mandates while bearing no responsibility for any of the harm their products may cause, thanks to an indemnity granted by the government. We already know some of the harmful effects but we don't know all of them, because there is no long-term safety data.

There's always going to be a section of the Australian community that for whatever reason is hesitant or totally opposed to these provisionally approved inoculations. The mainstream media are kidding themselves when they seek to demonise all pro-freedom people with the antivaxxer slur. There were tens of thousands of protesters on the lawns of parliament on Saturday. They were not all antivaxxers. Most of them were actually fully inoculated—I'd say many of them—but they were antimandate. They were hardworking people. Many of them lost their jobs due to workplace vaccine mandates. They were opposed to the discriminatory measures that are locking ordinary Australians out of polite society as well—locked out of cafes, locked out of restaurants, locked out of theatres, locked out of sporting venues and even locked out of hospitals. They are sick of being forced to comply with measures that just make no sense.

In my home state we have mask mandates. We have vaccine mandates in the form of 'no jab, no job' policies. We've even had borders closed to people who weren't vaccinated. But still the omicron variant crossed the border, from the vaccinated, and swept through the state. The vaccinated caught the disease, the vaccinated passed on the disease, the vaccinated went to hospital with the disease, and the vaccinated, sadly, died with the disease. Ordinary Australians look at this data and ask the obvious question: why are we still pretending that masks, QR codes, vaccinations, lockouts, lockdowns and discrimination can stop the spread? The mainstream media has failed to actually ask that question, but it is a question that we can ask and it should be asked.

As the pandemic transitions to the endemic phase, we need a royal commission to find out not only how we got into this situation but who is responsible. The devastating impacts of the pandemic response on millions of Australians cannot just be swept under the rug. To gloss over the rise of tyranny and authoritarianism in this country would only further embolden those who seek to coerce and control the Australian people. If we fail to examine how and why we were stripped of rights and freedoms, we will fail to learn the lessons of history and we will be doomed to repeat them at the next pandemic or the next opportunity to induce fear amongst the populace and then tyranny. That's why I have called for a royal commission or a similar commission of inquiry with sufficient powers to fully investigate the pandemic response from all levels of government—federal, state, local, Public Service institutions, departments and agencies. I'm asking people who believe in freedom, who believe in human rights, who believe that wrong was done over the course of this pandemic, to get on board with this. I've got a petition at I am calling for wide terms of reference in that, to include all aspects of the pandemic response that have eroded our freedoms, human rights and civil rights: lockdowns; border closures; mask mandates; vaccine efficacy and safety; vaccine passports; medical segregation and discrimination; transparency of medical advice; treatments and interference with GPs; misinformation and censorship; big tech and freedom-of-speech issues; quarantine facilities, rules and operations; restrictions on social gatherings such as weddings and funerals; access to hospitals and services; international travel and return; school closures; regulation enforcement and police overreach; PCR and rapid antigen tests—all of these issues. I urge anyone who has suffered under any instance of government overreach in the pandemic response to head to the website and support my call for a royal commission into the pandemic.

12:18 pm

Photo of Patrick GormanPatrick Gorman (Perth, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Western Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

We have learned a lot throughout this pandemic. One of the most important lessons is this: we can take nothing for granted—from our health, to our loved ones, to our jobs, to a sensible political policy debate. Nothing is certain. Australians have learnt this. Unfortunately the government still has failed to learn the lessons of this pandemic. It has no comprehensive plan for our future, none. It's a rite of passage for parents to say to their children, 'I'm not angry; I'm just disappointed.' Although many are angry at this Prime Minister, I am in the disappointed camp. I went back to the first time I spoke in parliament about the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic presented to us. Two years ago, on 23 March 2020, I said:

… every Australian needs the Prime Minister to do well now. I want him and his team to be incredibly successful in battling this virus. Peoples' lives do rest on them making the right decision day after day after day.

Sadly, like millions of Australians, my trust and hope that this Prime Minister and this government could provide the leadership that Australia needed were misplaced, because it was just a few months later that this Prime Minister and his government had dived into bed with Clive Palmer in the High Court, funding $1 million of his court costs to try and tear down Western Australia's health measures. I note that the member for Dawson said that the various border and other state government health restrictions were not tested in court. Well, I remind those on the government benches, those that sit with the member for Dawson, that it was tested in court. It had the full support of the then Attorney-General, in testing this question. The government piled tens of thousands—hundreds of thousands—of taxpayer dollars into the campaign that Clive Palmer was running in the High Court. It was tested, and the side that the government chose to back lost. That was a fortunate thing, because it allowed state governments, who have been the real workhorses during this pandemic, to get on with the health measures that were needed to save lives and to save livelihoods.

I can think about other things that this government have chosen not to prioritise during this pandemic—getting enough rapid antigen tests, finding a good distribution mechanism, dealing with the obvious challenges we're going to have around rolling out vaccinations for children and booster doses. But they did have enough time to take millions of dollars of Western Australia's taxpayer funds and tip them into car park rorts all across the east coast. That was a priority for them. Rapid antigen tests were not. If we think about where this government's failures have been most tragically demonstrated, they are in the aged-care sector. We know that in this year alone at least 622 aged-care residents have died of COVID-19. This is a sector in complete crisis, and the government's response has been abysmal.

I believe, and Labor believes, that every Australian deserves to get quality care, whatever life you've led, whatever income is left in your bank balance once you retire. To get quality care, we need to support the people who work in this sector. Supporting aged-care workers and the workforce means listening to them. They have been coming to this building year after year, telling us about the challenges in this sector. They were here last year, talking to us about what it was like working with COVID. The government ignored their message. Now the government is sending in the Australian Defence Force—a crisis response because the government chose not to listen to a sector in crisis.

A quarter of aged-care-worker shifts are currently not being filled. Residents' wounds aren't being tended to, and people are waiting for hours for food, water and basic care. We know that some 60 per cent of aged-care workers have not had their booster shots. We saw in the West Australian today a report that some one-third of aged-care residents have not yet had a booster shot in Western Australia. This is happening at a time when we have COVID outbreaks at Coolibah Care in Mandurah, Brightwater's The Cove in Mandurah and Juniper's Cygnet in Bentley—and we know there are more to come.

I want to thank those who are standing up for aged-care workers, not just in this place but across Australia—their unions who have been here week after week, telling us the aged-care workers' stories, standing up for them to make sure that those who are protecting the most vulnerable people in our aged-care sector get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.

12:23 pm

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

I have to say that quite frequently the member for Macarthur and I are in furious agreement. That's because we're both paediatricians. We both understand the healthcare system, including the public healthcare system, and we both understand the difficulties that this country has faced with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is something that's happening not just here in Australia but right around the world. But, in this instance, unfortunately, I have to violently disagree with the member for Macarthur's private member's motion today. In fact, I find it quite astounding, as someone who sits on the National COVID-19 Health and Research Advisory Committee, that he put this particular motion in writing. The reason I say that is this: I understand the member for Macarthur knows how difficult the situation has been, globally, over the past two years, but I'm disappointed because this is about Labor having to talk down the COVID response.

I understand that in opposition it is important to pick out things that you'd like to point out or highlight, and it is true that this has been an awfully difficult period in Australia's history. But, if we take a step back as a country and look at the leadership that the federal government, the Morrison government, has provided to Australia, it has been quite simply extraordinary. That leadership started from the get-go with an understanding that Australia as a country was going to have to learn to live with the virus. We knew that this was here to stay. This is a prime minister who had the maturity to realise this wasn't a short-term thing, that it wouldn't be over in two weeks, that there was going to be a very different approach in the weeks, months and years to come.

Further, I think the Prime Minister's leadership has clearly shown that he understands the balance between lives and livelihoods, that we need to be able to get the balance right, that saving lives is absolutely essential—every life needs to be saved—but the impact of this COVID pandemic on livelihoods also needed to be given consideration. Unlike premiers, who are actually being assessed for their impact on healthcare outcomes, the federal government is being judged on both health and economic outcomes. With that in mind, we acted quickly and we acted decisively. Throughout this pandemic, on critical issues, we've acted responsively, flexibly and nimbly. That started with the closure of international borders. It moved through to the development of the national cabinet, which has brought all the state and territory leaders together with the federal government. There's been an enormous amount of work on expert committees. The member for Macarthur and I sit on one of these bipartisan expert committees, which enables all the experts in Australia to provide information and expert evidence to government. That's been incredibly important.

One of the biggest bugbears for Australia has been securing our supply chains. There's absolutely no doubt that there have been rolling critical issues with supply chains. That started right back in March 2020, when we as a country had issues with obtaining personal protective equipment. It's hard to remember now, but we had problems with masks. We were running out of masks. We've had problems with toilet paper. We've had problems with all sorts of things with regard to sovereign supply. The minister for health, under the guidance of the Prime Minister, had secured these supply chains by stepping up local manufacturing capability. And then there were the COVID PCR tests in April 2020. Again, it is hard to believe these things. We were moving at speed to respond with diligence and care to all of these things.

More recently we moved to the vaccine rollout, which we have now delivered ahead of time, actually. In fact, I was in the media saying that I was hoping that we might have 'freedom day' by Melbourne Cup. In fact, we had freedom day well ahead of that. The vaccine rollout had difficulties—there is absolutely no doubt about that—but the government's hard work was able to deliver the outcomes that this country so vitally needed.

We move to rapid antigen tests. There is no doubt that the PCR testing for COVID was the gold standard for delta. We needed aggressive suppression because delta had a much higher mortality rate and had a different underlying set of data behind it. But, when you look at omicron, it's been more important to move to having access to rapid antigen testing. And there is no doubt that this government has moved very quickly, in a number of weeks, to rolling out RATs and to making sure the general community can have access. We've also made sure that the fringe benefits tax availability for businesses means that businesses can use them more readily. And we've also made sure there's concessional card support for those who can least afford RATs. It is worth mentioning that this government has provided an excellent outcome for Australia.

12:28 pm

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

If there were ever a eulogy for this government, it would be this quote:

… I don't accept that it's—

the system—

in complete crisis … my view—and the data supports it—is that the sector is performing and has performed exceptionally well in the work that it's doing.

If there's any quote that sums up the incompetence of this government, the criminal incompetence of this government, it is that quote from the minister for aged care services, Senator Colbeck, made only a couple of weeks ago, after he came back from going to the cricket: 'The system is performing exceptionally well.' Well, 681 Australians have died in aged-care homes since 1 January this year. This is the government's view of a system performing exceptionally well—681 souls taken because of the incompetence of this government. And that's what this government says is a system working well. That is what the member for Higgins presumably means when she says 'living with the virus'. Well, these 681 Australians are no longer living with this virus. And it's tragic, not just due to the impact on those individuals but due to families having lost loved ones because of the incompetence of this government.

This incompetence has been on display for the last eight years, but has been well and truly elevated to a new level by the COVID crisis because in aged care there is nowhere to hide. This Prime Minister is the master of buck-passing, of blame-shifting. He will blame anyone he can for his own failures. In aged care he can't blame the states because aged care is purely a responsibility of the Commonwealth government. It's purely under the responsibility of the Commonwealth government that 681 Australians have died in aged-care homes since 1 January this year. One-quarter of shifts have been unfilled, and there are not enough boosters for both the workforce and residents of aged-care facilities. There is a sad lack of PPE, and there are very few rapid antigen tests to be found. This is all to be laid at the feet of the Commonwealth government, a government that has failed every single Australian in aged-care facilities and their families. They have failed every single senior Australian who can't get a meal, who can't get a shower, who can't find someone to take them to the toilet—and Australians know it.

At street stalls what I'm most often pulled up about is what's happening in aged care. I had a street stall outside the butchers at Blacksmiths a few weeks ago and I had a couple come up to me to have a chat. The mothers of both the husband and wife were in separate aged-care facilities around the Lake Macquarie area. Both of them expressed huge frustration that they couldn't see their mums. They were worried about the treatment their mums were getting and they were worried that the staff of the aged-care facilities weren't getting enough support to look after their mums and all the other mums and dads in those facilities. The truth is that in this entire COVID crisis this government has been late, late, late. They failed on the national quarantine system, and that's why we had the Ruby Princess disaster that spread to aged-care facilities in Sydney in 2020. They were dreadfully late in providing vaccines—it wasn't a race, according to the Prime Minister. And yet again they're displaying an arrogance completely unrelated to ability. They ignored the inevitable crisis when they opened up the economy and did not secure enough rapid antigen tests.

All of this was foreseeable, all of this was predicted by experts. The Prime Minister likes to say everyone's exercising 20/20 hindsight, but the truth is that people were warning us about every single one of these issues at the time. What's particularly tragic for the aged-care system is that the system was broken before the COVID pandemic began. The system was broken, and you only need to look at the aged-care royal commission findings to see that the title of the entire review sums up this sector: Neglect. This government urgently needed to take action in the aged-care sector before the COVID pandemic hit. They failed to do that, and what's worse is that they piled on more of their incompetence in responding to the COVID crisis. What's the result of this neglect? It's that 681 Australians have been taken before their time this year alone in the aged-care sector. This motion is really important. The ignorance of the government is shown in claiming that all is going perfectly and the system is performing exceptionally well, and that demonstrates how out of touch they are with the lived experience of every other Australian.

12:33 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to speak in support of the motion moved by the member for Macarthur. He's somebody who's spent his life making sure Australian kids get the best start in life. As a paediatrician for over 37 years, the member for Macarthur knows a thing or two about keeping people healthy, so I thank the member for Macarthur for moving this important motion that recognises the significant impact that COVID-19 continues to have on the day-to-day lives of ordinary Australians. It also recognises that the Morrison government has demonstrably failed in preparing the nation for these COVID-19 times. I know the impact that COVID-19 is having on people in Moreton, and what's become clear to me is that the pummelling isn't being felt evenly across my communities.

We've all been let down by the Morrison government's failure to prepare, failure to plan and rabid failure to take responsibility. But for some people these failures have had huge impacts on their lives, especially those in multigenerational households. If you're unable to isolate, everyone under the same roof will get sick. Casual workers who get sick or need to isolate have no income to buy food for their families, and when they get better they can't access a rapid antigen test to ascertain if they can actually return to work safely. It's been especially hard for single parents. Some permanent employees who've been infected have had no leave available and have had to take time off to recover with no pay. Many people were not eligible to get pandemic leave disaster payment. Older people have found it really tough. Many are too afraid to leave their houses. They're staying at home, not helping local businesses in terms of spending, not getting any exercise and getting lonelier day by day.

Australia was in a good place to prepare for this pandemic. Our island nation is isolated from the world. That bought us time, but the precious preparation time gifted to us by our geography was wasted by the coalition government. The Morrison government didn't properly prepare. They didn't adequately plan, and they fobbed off every responsibility they could, firstly, to the states and territories and, secondly, to everyday Australians. We should have had access to vaccines earlier, but the Morrison government didn't properly plan and didn't pick up the phone. Australians should have had access to rapid antigen tests—so that businesses could continue to operate, so that truck drivers could actually deliver food to shops and so that families could visit loved ones safely—but that didn't happen, because the Morrison government again failed to plan.

The Prime Minister has made an art form of ignoring good advice provided by experts, and many of our most vulnerable older Australians have been locked in their rooms in aged-care facilities. They're soiled, desperate and many of them are infected with COVID-19. It is a horror show. Hundreds have died—our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbours and loved family members. Just this year—and it's only February; it's Valentine's Day—681 older Australians have already died from COVID-19 in aged care.

What has the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services been doing while aged-care facilities have been in crisis? He went to the cricket—not for a day, but for three days. This is the minister who said in early February that the aged-care sector was doing 'extremely well'. What is he smoking? Just last week we had 1,700 Australian Defence Force personnel launched into the aged-care sector. That's a full-blown Cyclone Tracy meets Cyclone Yasi-type crisis. Six hundred and eighty-one Australians are dead. The Leading Age Services Australia CEO, Sean Rooney, said last week:

… there is no doubt that there would have been fewer cases and fewer deaths if we had had enough RATs for daily screening of everyone, access to PCR tests where needed, access to surge workforce as promised and reliable access to PPE.

The royal commission into aged care's report, released just two years ago, was called Neglect. What would they call it today? Maybe their next report should be called 'Disgrace'.

Locals are confused about pandemic information, with no communication from the government about the virus and what to do if you catch it, about vaccinations and boosters and about rapid antigen tests and where to get them. The void has been filled with misinformation and conspiracy theories on social media and in our mainstream media. It's not just the failure of the Morrison government to keep Australians informed during this very difficult time; as the Prime Minister will know, members of his government are actively undermining our health workers by spreading and encouraging dangerous misinformation and conspiracy theories about the pandemic and making money from it. If the Prime Minister stands by and does nothing, he is condoning this behaviour. Less ukulele, more whip!

Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.