Senate debates

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Matters of Public Importance

COVID-19: Vaccination

4:07 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

Australians are paying the price for Mr Morrison's complacency. Today, as we meet here in the Senate, millions of Australians—those in New South Wales and in Queensland—are in lockdown, and there are two reasons why. Mr Morrison failed to listen to warnings to establish safe, fit-for-purpose national quarantine, just like he failed to listen to bushfire warnings two years ago. The other reason is he completely failed to deliver a plan to get us out of the pandemic.

Whilst governments around the world raced to secure supplies of vaccines to inoculate their populations, Mr Morrison's government had a 'wait and see' approach. Reports from industry publication BioPharmaDispatch have indicated that last year it was an open secret in the pharmaceutical industry that there was exasperation over the Morrison government's lack of urgency in securing vaccine supplies for Australians. They reported that whilst other countries rushed to do deals, the industry was constantly told that the Morrison government was 'not ready to procure or engage in discussions about procuring the vaccine'. Can you believe that? Other countries are off doing deals, and our government is telling the pharmaceutical industry constantly that they are 'not ready to procure or engage in discussions about procuring the vaccine'. It was a 'wait and see' approach, business as usual. Even under President Trump, the American vaccination program was called Operation Warp Speed. There was no Operation Warp Speed for this Prime Minister. He preferred 'wait and see', because, remember, it's not a race.

Of course, he only said it's not a race as an excuse for the growing delays in his vaccine rollout. And he needed that excuse. He needed that excuse because, last year, he said Australia would be at the front of the international queue. Do you remember that? 'I promise Australians we're at the front of queue.' And when he said to Australians we're at the front of the queue, he knew that many other countries had ordered their vaccines months ahead of us. He said Australians would be at the front of the queue even though he only got around to ordering Pfizer in November, months later, months after other countries had ordered theirs—and then he only ordered enough for five million Australians!

Prime Minister Morrison has made so many excuses but all roads lead back to him. He put all his eggs in one basket, the AstraZeneca basket. He did that despite it being well-established that best practice is to have a range of options. It's more than that; it's common sense. Mr Bowen, the shadow health minister ,was saying in the middle of last year that the world's best practice was to have four to six vaccine deals. But, as per normal, Mr Morrison was too arrogant to listen, always insisting he knows best. And when it became clear to everyone that he had once again dropped the ball and failed to deliver, he said it's not a race, it's not a competition. But Australians know it's always been a race to beat this virus. Until we have Australians vaccinated, lives, jobs, the economy and the recovery are at risk.

And while Australians ran the ever greater risk of infection with COVID-19 the government's response to that risk was infected by Mr Morrison's complacency. Now lockdowns have been made necessary by his failures. They're costing the economy around $300 million a day. This is the price small businesses and working Australians are paying for Mr Morrison's incompetence. His incompetence hasn't been limited to the vaccine rollout and quarantine; he has pressured premiers not to go into lockdown when clearly they needed to. As recently as June, Mr Morrison publicly pressured the Premier of New South Wales not to go into lockdown at the start of the outbreak—even though, at the time he said this, there was already ample evidence from around the world of the dangers of the delta variant, which was also the driver of the outbreak in New South Wales. And remember what he said? 'I commend the New South Wales Premier for the fact that she hasn't gone to lockdown in Australia's biggest city.' And yesterday he said, 'The only way to get on top of these things and ensure you don't have longer lockdowns is to move quickly.' As always with Mr Morrison, his story changes from week to week. You can't rely on him; he just blows with the political wind. He was dead against locking down Bondi—and now the rest of Sydney and beyond are paying the price.

We know that there are chronic problems with the supply of vaccines under this government, but there is more that we can do to encourage all Australians to sign up to get vaccinated. Today, continuing his approach of offering constructive solutions to the COVID crisis, Mr Albanese put forward another positive proposal—a one-off payment of $300 to all Australians who are fully vaccinated by 1 December. That's a good idea not just because it provides incentive to get vaccinated but also because it delivers a critical shot in the arm for businesses and workers who are struggling from ongoing lockdowns costing $300 million a day. It's a simple, practical idea that could make a big difference.

We know that this government have already been considering what incentives they could offer. This was indicated in their own COVID response plan. Their Chief Medical Officer, Mr Kelly, said:

We really do need to look for incentives—as many incentives as we can—for people to become vaccinated.

There was a obviously a little footnote to that: 'unless Anthony Albanese proposes it!' 'We really do need to look for incentives—as many incentives as we can—for people to become vaccinated.' That's based on the simple reality of how hard it is to get that last surge of vaccines that we will need if we are to avoid or minimise the risk of future lockdowns, and we know from the government's own backgrounding of the media they were considering giving people Frequent Flyer points and discount vouchers, so you'd think they'd have little to quibble about with Mr Albanese's proposal. Yet, just as he arrogantly dismissed Labor's proposals for wage subsidies before he finally introduced JobKeeper and just as he arrogantly dismissed Labor's calls for more vaccine deals, which he clearly should have done, Mr Morrison has arrogantly dismissed this idea today. You see, with this bloke it's always politics first. He's much more interested in scoring political points than doing the right thing.

The core proposition Mr Morrison seems to be putting forward is financial incentives don't work. That's big news to everybody here and big news to anyone who's ever had a job. It's an extraordinary and a bizarre claim, and it is so because what he says changes depending on his political circumstances, because can anyone imagine the leader of the party that claims to be about enterprise saying that financial reward is bad? You see people understand incentives do work. Mr Morrison knows incentives work. There are two possible explanations for him being so arrogantly dismissive of the idea to give financial incentives for Australians to be all vaccinated by 1 December. Is it just that they're so stubborn about playing politics that if Mr Albanese says it they dismiss it, or is it that they don't have enough vaccine supply to get Australians fully vaccinated by 1 December?

Today Mr Morrison claimed he wasn't going to offer financial reward. He said, 'That's not the Australian way.' Well, this bloke is in no place to define the Australian way, because, I tell you what, most Australians think our way is to be straight with people, to own up to your mistakes and to put the country's interests ahead of your own personal political interests. So just for once could Mr Morrison put politics aside, because, yet again, what we see is he's still more interested in his short-term political interests than the national interests, more interested in scoring political points than helping people, more interested in making excuses for his own failures than winning for Australia. The result is nearly half our country is in lockdown, and the result is that in the race to be vaccinated against this deadly virus Australia is last in the developed world.


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