Senate debates

Thursday, 12 August 2021



9:37 am

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | Hansard source

We live in the most extraordinary of times—times that none of us would have imagined possible two years ago—but they are times that we have to face as a nation, as indeed the whole world does. Has Australia got absolutely everything right all of the time through the course of managing the COVID-19 pandemic? No, we haven't, nor has any other country on the planet, but we have managed, as a nation, to perform far better than most other countries of the world. Since the start of the pandemic, we have tragically seen at least 4.3 million lives lost across the globe. That's just the recorded numbers of deaths. Here in Australia, sadly, 944 people have lost their lives. Through the course of 2021, 2½ million lives were reported as lost across the globe, and no doubt there were many unreported in many countries. In Australia, 35 have lost their lives. These are all a tragedy, but we should acknowledge the work, as this motion does, of the Australian people: our healthcare workers, our scientists, our advisers—all of them have worked to keep Australians safe.

On 1 February last year, the very moment when our government made the decision to close Australia's borders to China, and when we made subsequent decisions to close Australia's borders to Korea, Iran and Italy, and then ultimately to the entire world—those decisions were ahead of the declaration by the World Health Organization of a global pandemic. We were acting early and we were acting to protect Australians and to keep COVID at bay. And we have continued to act, in concert with the states and territories wherever possible. This year, the world has been thrown the curve ball of the delta variant. The delta variant has created enormous new challenges to countries. At all stages of the vaccine rollout, it has exacerbated challenges for nations. The reality is that we as a country have to continue to respond sensibly and practically to each of those challenges.

The responses we all make, though, are not always responses that can be completely uncontested or go without debate or challenge. The opposition routinely challenges the government in relation to policy responses, and, yes, equally, other senators and other individuals across the nation challenge some of those responses. The government urges everyone, if they're challenging responses, to do so in a way that is responsible—to make sure wherever possible that Australians hear consistent messages in relation to respect for public health orders and to the need to get vaccinated.

We know that there are real debates that exist in this country and elsewhere, and we acknowledge that individuals will use their rights to engage in those debates. In this motion, the opposition acknowledges the heroes of the pandemic, as I said before. It also responds to comments made by the member for Dawson. The House of Representatives already responded to those comments. I heard the Leader of the Opposition in this place say that the government didn't have the guts to call a division on that. That was because the government was accepting the motion. And, in relation to the member for Dawson's comments, we will accept the motion in this place too. I note the desire to focus singly on certain members of the government, rather than acknowledging that indeed debates occur outside of this place as well.

Debates occur with other candidates—for example, the way Labor's candidate for Higgins has engaged on the question of the AstraZeneca vaccine, or indeed the way in which we have seen the Queensland Premier and the Queensland Chief Health Officer undermine confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine. I can't help but note that it took until 7 June for the Queensland Premier to be vaccinated. The South Australian Premier was vaccinated on 21 February and the Western Australian Premier on 2 May at least. Why on earth don't we see the equivalent approach taken by those opposite in relation to all of those who have acted in these ways? That is why I will move an amendment to the motion by the Labor Party that ensures we send a clear signal to all who use public platforms, to all public officials and to all candidates that all should be held to the same standard to support our health officials, to support our scientists and to support our response to this global pandemic. I seek leave to move amendments to Senator Wong's motion together.

Leave granted.

I move:

Paragraph (d), omit "condemns Senator Canavan's and Senator Rennick's repeated use of their public platforms", substitute "condemns the use of public platforms".

Paragraph (f), after "parliamentarians", insert ", public officials and candidates".


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