Senate debates

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Matters of Public Importance

COVID-19: Vaccination

4:55 pm

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

[by video link] As this parliament meets again, Australia's largest city is in lockdown, and, over the last few weeks, most of the eastern seaboard has been in lockdown. It is an anxious time for millions of Australians, including millions of Sydneysiders, who are either stuck in their homes, risk the virus when they travel to the supermarket or work in essential jobs around the city where they are doing the right thing for the country and the right thing by Sydney, but are facing the constant risk of escalating the coronavirus pandemic. It is clear to the people of Sydney and it is clear to the people of Australia, that the Morrison government's vaccine rollout has been an abject failure. That failure is the reason we have the lockdown. Plenty of people on the other side of the Senate have criticised state governments for the lockdowns, but the lockdowns are a necessary public health response when the vaccination rate is so low. Without vaccination, there is no measure that's available other than the lockdowns.

This is Scott Morrison's lockdown. It was his hubris, his utter failure of leadership that created this crisis. All of his press conferences look like a list of things that he should have done in 2020. Only this Prime Minister would so abjectly shrink from the work required to solve this national crisis. It requires three things of him. It requires grasping complexity, it requires casting aside ideology in favour of pragmatic solutions and it requires being honest with the Australian people in the national interest. No wonder he is so uniquely unsuited to this work. Just when we needed it most, we have a prime minister who is utterly incapable of doing his job.

Nowhere is this failure more apparent than his consistent refusal to condemn members of his own backbench for undermining public health measures. The soon-to-be-former member for Dawson endorsed a selfish, dangerous anti-lockdown protest in Sydney and Melbourne on his social media pages and hosted his own protest in Mackay. He claimed that the coronavirus is no more dangerous than the flu and it only kills the elderly. He even went so far as to tell a small crowd: 'At some point in this fight, civil disobedience is going to have to be done,' and that they are 'going to have to prepare for that at some stage'. It was self-indulgent, extreme narcissism, yet neither the Prime Minister nor the Deputy Prime Minister have taken a single step to condemn him. Nor did they condemn Senator Rennick when he attacked public health measures, saying, 'You can't protect the weak by destroying the strong.'

Senator Canavan also joined in. He told the ABC that he doesn't think the lockdowns are the right response, that they're causing untold damage to people's mental health, their business, their employment situations and their marriages. Not content with pretending to be a coalminer, now he's an epidemiologist. He is a one-man careers fair. He's had more imaginary careers than Paul Hogan had real ones. Last week, Senator Canavan made the bizarre decision to appear on Steve Bannon's podcast, which has been furiously pumping out vaccine and COVID misinformation to the far-Right internet—probably sourced from Russia somewhere, but damaging to our democracy and damaging to public welfare.

Senator Canavan, Mr Christensen and Senator Rennick show everything that's wrong with the modern National Party. They're more concerned with prosecuting culture wars than representing the people they should be representing. The saddest part of Senator Canavan's appearance was when, given the opportunity at the end of his podcast—I couldn't bear to watch it—after talking about his big role in the international resistance to communism and whatever other garbage it was he was going through, he spelled out his Twitter account and asked people to follow him. He literally spelled it out. For goodness sake, instead of protecting the health and livelihoods of Australia, he is begging for followers on far-right podcasts! We need a serious effort from this Prime Minister, we need serious accountability, we need serious answers. Australians have done their job. Victorians have done their job. The people in New South Wales have done their job. We just wish this Prime Minister would do his. (Time expired)


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