Senate debates

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Matters of Public Importance

Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services

4:35 pm

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

This Morrison government have failed Victorians—they have failed! They've had months to prepare Australia to deal safely with the ongoing impact of the pandemic. They've had months to roll out the vaccine effectively and they've had months to get safe, national open-air quarantine facilities up and running. And have they? No. Throughout this pandemic, the Morrison government have denied their responsibility for quarantine. They have failed to set appropriate national standards for quarantine. And all the while, they have sat back and critiqued state government responses to breaches in hotel quarantine.

Prime Minister Morrison said about hotel quarantine back in April:

A system that is achieving 99.99 per cent effectiveness is a very strong system and is serving Australia very well.

How did he come to that conclusion and that figure? There have been 21 breaches from hotel quarantine in this country, tens of thousands of infections in this country and more than 800 tragic deaths in this country. Does that sound like a system that is serving Australia well? It sounds like a system that's struggling dangerously to keep up.

When will the Morrison government get it? Hotels are built for tourists and for short stays. Hotels are not built for virus control. This government was told in October by their own hand-picked adviser Jane Halton that they needed to build fit-for-purpose, open-air quarantine facilities. That was seven months ago. The Victorian government handed them a proposal for a new purpose-built quarantine facility back in April. When did Prime Minister Morrison finally agree to build a facility in Victoria? In June, when Victorians were already battling with new outbreaks from more failures of the hotel quarantine system—this time from Adelaide. This government just does not think ahead. They don't plan, and when they are finally dragged, kicking and screaming, to act, it's already too late.

According to this Prime Minister, the vaccine rollout is not a race and mRNA vaccine manufacturing starting in four years time is fine. Purpose-built quarantine facilities can wait and the states are just welcome to give the government their proposals. Financial support for casual workers who are in crisis in Victoria? They can wait too. They can wait for a week without pay: 'You'll have to drag us, kicking and screaming, to deliver it.' And according to the Acting Prime Minister, a week without income is not that long to wait anyway. What a heartless response from this government!

This government should be embarrassed and ashamed at the pace of the vaccine rollout in Australia—embarrassed and ashamed! Victorians entered 2021 expecting a fast and efficient vaccine strategy, only to be given the exact opposite by the Morrison government. I was there, with all Victorians, going through the winter with the virus spreading throughout our community last year. One of the things that got us through was the hope of a vaccine on the other side and the hope of effective national quarantine. That's what got us through last year. But here we are again, facing yet another Victorian winter with the virus again trying its best to spread through an almost-entirely unvaccinated population. Today, less than three per cent of Australians are fully vaccinated—less than three per cent! Let that sink in. And we're currently 4.2 million doses behind the government's current vaccination target. It's not their first target and not their second target; it's behind their third target. They just keep dropping the bar lower and lower, and still they're missing the mark. They still can't tell us how many aged-care workers have been vaccinated. They still can't tell us when aged-care workers will be vaccinated. The health minister, Mr Hunt, is not even sure whether he wants us to be vaccinated. One day he's telling over-50s to get AstraZeneca; the next he's saying they can wait until the end of the year for Pfizer. Which is it? You could not make this stuff up.

Australians and especially Victorians had to dig deep to get through last year. Victorians sacrificed so much to beat this virus back, and they should have been able to come into 2021 with confidence that this government had learned the lessons of 2020 and had a real plan to ensure that Australians would be able to beat this virus and be safe; that people wouldn't be sitting ducks, waiting for the next outbreak to hit; that we would be vaccinated; and that quarantine would be safe. But the Morrison government has failed Victorians, because it is impossible for a federal government to deal with the pandemic if they don't actually believe in governing. It is impossible for a federal government to deal with the pandemic if they don't want to roll up their sleeves and if they wait, time and again, to be dragged kicking and screaming to do anything—to do something. It doesn't work. The Morrison government's approach doesn't work. They have left Victorians exposed. They have left Australians exposed. It doesn't have to be this way. If only the government believed in actually governing! If only they believed in taking responsibility! If only they would act instead of just react!

It is a race, and it isn't a case of slow and steady wins the race. So it is time for this government to pick up the pace, to get moving, to get on with the job of building fit-for-purpose quarantine facilities in every state and territory, to start a public health campaign and to ramp up the vaccine rollout with some urgency. There is no room for more excuses from this government. The Prime Minister needs to step up and do his job, because lives depend on it. Until this government does step up, all of the hard work that Australians put in last year and this year to get our country moving again, is just waiting to be thrown away.

Labor knows that, if we are to beat this virus and keep Australians safe, there can be no more delays. Labor would build dedicated quarantine facilities in every single state and territory. We would fix this bungled vaccine rollout. We would start a mass public health campaign around vaccines. Where is the public health campaign around vaccines? We would make it a first priority to manufacture more vaccines right here in Australia. It's the only path forward towards a real recovery that leaves Australians secure in getting on with their lives.

But all of this, apparently, just seems like too much work for the Morrison government. They would rather sit back and be reactive instead of proactive and to deal with it once the damage is already done. They 'don't hold a hose'. They don't take responsibility. They don't admit fault. They should feel real shame about what Victorians have been going through for the last few weeks. They should look at the evidence and see what their repeated failure has done. Their inability to take responsibility, actually run this country and take us through the pandemic is hurting Victorians and other Australians. Real people are impacted by this government's weakness.

It is no longer day 1 of the pandemic. It's been over 500 days since the first COVID case in Australia. The Prime Minister cannot pretend that he doesn't know how this virus moves, how infectious it is and how devastating it can be. He needs to wake up and be honest with Australians. He needs to realise how big a mistake it is every day that we miss the vaccination mark and every day that we wait for fit-for-purpose open-air quarantine. Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his government might be prepared for Australians to make the sacrifice again and again for the Morrison government's failures, but Australians are done. We are done. We want the Morrison government to do the job that they were elected for: to stand up for Australians and protect Australians.


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