Senate debates

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

COVID-19: Vaccination

3:14 pm

Photo of Kim CarrKim Carr (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

It was Gandhi who made the observation that the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members, and I think this issue that's been identified today in the questions that have been put to Senator Reynolds just highlights our difficulty in this country. We are not treating our most vulnerable in a humane and civilised manner. We are allowing our most vulnerable to be subject to far greater risk and far greater danger than they need be.

The media reported today that the government was withholding supplies of vaccines from the states. Victoria's COVID response commander, Jeroen Weimar, said that the state government was grateful that it received an extra 500,000 vaccine doses. Hence, in question time today, the minister repudiated the ABC report. It may be asked, however: how is it that an extra half a million doses can be found so readily if more doses are being produced and imported than are being released? Whatever the accuracy of the media reports, it has become abundantly clear that the Morrison government does not understand how to respond to this pandemic. It's preparing for possible future waves of virus. If it's arguing that case, and it's sitting on a stockpile, that's not the way to go. Increasing the production and distribution of the vaccine is the answer to that, and the government should ensure that that actually happens.

It must also ensure that existing stocks are made available to people who actually need them now. No group of Australians needs to be fully vaccinated as soon as possible more than the people with disabilities and those who actually care for them. For the minister to suggest this sort of laissez-faire approach—that it's up to individuals to get it sorted out for themselves—is simply not good enough. Many people with disability have reduced immunity and are extremely vulnerable in such an environment. The government estimates that the number of people who have been fully vaccinated is some 355. That was the position they put to the estimates. That's only 1.6 per cent of people living in residential disability facilities. The government has confirmed that it just doesn't know how many disability workers have been fully vaccinated. In other words, the rollout for disabled people, especially those in residential care, is almost non-existent. To me, that constitutes a national disgrace.

The royal commission, only in May, rightly called the slow rollout for disabled people an abject failure in the vaccination program. The responsible minister at the time was Minister Littleproud, who said the figures showed that the vaccine rollout was working as it should because there were no COVID infections among people with disabilities. He was boasting about people's good luck. What he didn't say is that not being vaccinated is confining those people to their homes and forcing them to live in what amounts to permanent lockdown. Nearly four million disabled Australians are cooped up in their homes, afraid of what a continuing pandemic will mean for them. Only this government, surely, can pretend that that's an acceptable situation for a country like this.

The situation has become so bad that some organisations working in disability care have taken on the role that the government is shirking. For example, Scope Australia has taken the matter into its own hands and is opening up specialist vaccine hubs for people with disabilities. That's admirable, even heroic. But that's the job the federal government should be doing, because only the federal government has the resources to do the job properly. Scope is asking for further clarification from the government as a guide for staff who may be questioning getting the vaccine at all. You have to ask yourself: how has it come to this?

This government has been reminded many, many times that it has two jobs during this pandemic: one is the rollout and the other is quarantine. It's effectively shifted quarantine onto the states despite its constitutional responsibilities, and it's been dragging its feet in terms of the vaccine rollout itself. (Time expired)


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