Senate debates

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Matters of Public Importance

Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services

5:01 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I want to make a few comments in relation to this MPI. To start with, I think we have to correct the record. When Senator Henderson, who is typically keeping her head in the sand, comes in here and tries to rewrite what's really happening in this country, saying: 'This is all Victorians' fault. The whole pandemic rests with the Victorian state Labor government'—well, what a lot of nonsense. Then she goes on with some more diatribe, trying to tell us that there is a fast rollout of the vaccine. We know quite clearly that that is not the case.

There are two facts that we should put on the record which make very clear what is happening in this country and why it is happening. Firstly, it's the Commonwealth government's responsibility to roll out the vaccine. It is the Commonwealth government's responsibility to provide quarantine. They have failed in their duty of care on both counts. As Senator Siewert just spoke about in her contribution, there have been 23 breaches of hotel quarantine in a number of states, including New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria. We haven't seen any leadership from this government when it comes to ensuring that there is an efficient, fast rollout of the vaccine.

We have known for some time in this place, because we have evidence of it every time we sit in this chamber, that we have an incompetent minister in Senator Colbeck when it comes to his responsibilities around aged care. We saw the Prime Minister remove a lot of his responsibilities and hand them over to Minister Hunt—we've seen how well that has worked!—and I'm sure he sees Senator Colbeck as a dispensable commodity in this place. If the Prime Minister really believed it when he said that he was going to make aged care, aged-care workers and older Australians a priority of his government in rolling out the vaccine, then he would never have left Senator Colbeck in charge. Senator Colbeck has been an embarrassment to this government, and I know that Australians generally have no faith in him as a minister when it comes to aged care.

Senator Henderson—who is a Victorian, by the way—denies that there needs to be an apology to the Victorian people. It almost leaves me speechless that she could come into this place and try and shift the blame—like the Prime Minister and all the ministers do—and say that the whole problem around the pandemic rests with the Victorian Labor government. Well, it does not. The buck stops with the Prime Minister and his government when it is a matter of rolling out the vaccine and when it comes to quarantine in this country.

I have the utmost respect for Jane Halton, a former secretary of the Department of Health. The Prime Minister's own captain's pick has made numerous comments and recommendations in relation to quarantine and what is needed in this country, and yet we still see the government ignoring that advice. Senator Henderson said in her contribution that the vaccine is being rolled out at a fast rate. Why is it then that less than three per cent of the Australian population has been fully vaccinated? Heavens! I would hate to see what it would be like if it was being rolled out at a slow pace!

This is really frustrating for people who have relatives, friends and loved ones in residential aged care, because what we have seen is neglect by this government—and, in particular, by Senator Colbeck in his responsibility around aged care. They have not only failed to ensure that the residents in these aged-care residential homes have been fully vaccinated—and we know that they all haven't been—but also failed in their duty to ensure that aged-care workers have had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated. And the government still don't know how many workers have in fact been vaccinated.

But, even worse than that, knowing that we are still in this pandemic and that the virus is mutating around the world, and we have various different versions now in Australia, the government took away the supplement that was being paid to aged-care workers in this country to ensure that they were not being forced to go and work across a number of sites. We all know that they are so lowly paid, and what did this government do? They stopped the supplement, and yet the pandemic is still going. How irresponsible is that? Where is the leadership? Where is the strategy for ensuring that we get ahead of the game when it comes to rolling out the vaccines and getting ahead of this pandemic? They don't have one.

There is no way that anyone, including Senator Henderson, can come into this chamber and try and spin it, because we know that they have failed in their basic duty of care to older residents in this country. We know that, in the case of those older Australians in residential care who died, the virus was taken into those homes through workers. But what has the government done to remedy that situation? They have taken away the supplement and they have not ensured, to the degree that they should, that aged-care workers have been vaccinated. We believe that some nine per cent of the workforce have been vaccinated. There are over 360,000 people working in aged care. So nine per cent is not very many of them. It isn't good enough. Quite frankly, people on that side of the chamber should be quite ashamed of their government's contribution when it comes to ensuring that Australians, and particularly older Australians and their carers, have been vaccinated—and we're not yet talking about people with disability and their carers.

But, as is always the case, the government are so arrogant. They think they can just spin their way out of any situation. I have been following politics since I was a young student in high school, and I have never known of a prime minister who would let the lies just slip off his lips as easily as this Prime Minister does on a daily basis. The really sad thing is that I think he believes his own lies. I really do. He believes his own lies. He is now being seen for the deceptive, very shonky Prime Minister that he is. Quite frankly, the Australian people deserve so much—


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