Wednesday, 16 June 2021
Matters of Public Importance
Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services
I rise to speak to this matter of public interest on the need for the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services to apologise to Victorians for claiming 'a very positive record across the board with respect to maintaining a safe border for Australia' at the same time as Victoria faced new COVID outbreaks because of the Morrison government's failure to implement and maintain safe national quarantine. The reason that the minister has to apologise for this is for the comments that have been made. These comments about the fact that they have a very positive record have been repeated a number of times. How can you call it a 'positive record' when, during estimates, a document was tabled that documented 21 quarantine breaches? That document didn't include another breach that has happened since then nor the quarantine breach happening right now in New South Wales. People may say, 'It's just 23 breaches'—and the government has been saying that thousands of people have been coming into Australia—but the point is: look at the impact that one breach had on Victoria just recently. It wasn't even an escape from a Victorian hotel. It came through a South Australian quarantine breach and caused the current outbreak in Victoria which led to the lockdowns. I notice today that the restrictions are being wound back again, thank goodness, for Victorians. But the fact is that one breach has a very, very significant impact, and the Commonwealth knows this. So how can they say, 'We have a very positive record,' when in fact there have been a number of breaches?
We know hotels are not the right place for quarantining people. Fair enough, when the pandemic first hit, we had to take immediate action and hotels were then brought into play. It was important that that happened, but we are now a significant period down the track. We are now having breaches from quarantine, which are causing lockdowns. Western Australia has had several, Victoria has had a number, South Australia has too, obviously, and so have New South Wales and Queensland. That is why we need specialist facilities for quarantining like Howard Springs. There have been no breaches of quarantine from Howard Springs. That's because it has what is necessary to ensure effective quarantining—people in their own space and able to get fresh air. There have been none of the issues around ventilation and aerosols that we're seeing in hotels.
While the government, again in estimates, said, 'We're paying attention to aerosols,' the problem with aerosols has been there since the beginning. Yes, they mouth the words, but do they do something about it? No. There's been a problem with getting out effective PPE that deals with aerosols, but, specifically, the ventilation in hotels for quarantining in a lot of those hotels is not adequate. They've known that for a long time too, but do we have guidelines across Australia on ventilation and aerosols? Guess what? No, we don't. While I mistakenly believed, from an answer to one of my questions in the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19, that, yes, they are developing some guidelines around that across the nation, in estimates the answer to my question, 'How are they proceeding,' was, 'No, we're not actually working on them.' So we still have no national guidelines on ventilation ensuring negative pressure in these hotels. While states have moved to try and address this issue, it is still happening. This clearly means the Commonwealth needs to take action to build special-purpose, fit-for-purpose quarantine facilities, because we are going to be dealing with this issue for a significant time into the future.
That takes me to the issue of the need for vaccines. Of course, we are very pleased to see that vaccines have been developed with a lot of effort around the world, but for the government to claim that they are way up there in the rollout of vaccines is ridiculous.
On the number of targets and the number of assurances by the government that we've had: at the beginning of March the government missed the target. At the end the March they missed the target. In April they missed the target. In January the government announced there would be 40 million total doses by the end of October this year. They've already admitted they're not going to meet that. We have seen the 40-million-doses target revised a number of times. We have clearly missed the mark on vaccinations, specifically in aged care for residents but particularly for staff. In disability, shared accommodation and group homes, we again have missed the mark for residents and disabled people and their carers. In aged care in particular, we still don't know how many workers have been vaccinated.
The government have contracted this out. When the first contractor didn't deliver, what did they do? 'Oh yes, we went to another contractor to try and fix the first contractor's failure to roll out the doses to meet our targets.' This has been, in many instances, in fact, farcical—the number of contracts, the amount of money we have paid—instead of making sure that the Public Service could do it, that the government could do it or that the states and territories could do it. The reason so many doses have now been rolled out is the states and territories have picked up the slack and set up hubs. They're the ones doing it. So, yes, the minister does owe Victorians an apology for continuing the myth that the government is doing safe border management when we've had so many breaches that have had such devastating consequences.