Senate debates

Wednesday, 25 August 2021

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

COVID-19: Western Australia, COVID-19: Vaccination

3:49 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to take note of the as usual and, sadly, utterly inadequate answers from those opposite to questions concerning vaccines for children, which is such an important issue. As with every single other aspect of the vaccine rollout, the Morrison-Joyce government has botched the landing on this. They've missed every deadline, they've missed every goalpost that they set themselves, and Australians are paying the price. Yet their failure is more egregious when we consider the at-risk communities that they have not only failed but long ignored. The disability royal commission heard evidence last year that there was a glaring lack of pandemic planning for children and young people with disability, yet nothing has been done to effectively prepare for this new stage of the rollout. I read in an ABC article from yesterday that Bodhi, a young man with neuropathy, was forced to make eight separate attempts to get vaccinated in Sydney. His mother rightly asked:

I understand we are in an unprecedented pandemic but really does it have to be this hard?

Yet, in her response to my question today, Minister Reynolds denied that mother's lived reality. It was dismissed out of hand by the minister. That reveals the failure to actually deal with the crushing reality of parents trying to get access to the vaccination rollout for a disabled child. 'It really didn't have to be this hard,' I say to Bodhi's mum, 'but it is because of the ineptitude of this government.' Bodhi's condition means he has difficulty managing his lung function and, were he to get COVID, he would have much greater difficulty breathing than if you or I got COVID. Tragically, his older brother had a similar condition, and that poor family is suffering the grief of losing Bodhi's brother, who died of pneumonia three years ago. We've got to make access to vaccines for kids with disability as easy as possible. It hasn't been on the to-do list for Prime Minister Morrison and Minister Reynolds. In the US, they've managed to get around 600,000 vaccines out the door for children aged 12 to 15, and more than four million of those under 17 have been vaccinated. Yet Scott Morrison's ruled out including children in our vaccine targets before opening up.

We all want to open up. We all want to be with our families. We all want some sense of normal. We all want businesses to get back up and running, if they can. We want to get back to work, but no-one in those groups wants to trigger an attack by this illness on our children. No-one wants to trigger the deaths of children because the vaccine rollout hasn't been properly planned. Modelling by epidemiologists from ANU has warned that excluding children from our vaccination targets could result in thousands more deaths across this community, with those children who are most vulnerable caught up in the outbreak of delta, which is highly transmissible to children. This is also going to be particularly worrying for populations that are disproportionately young, like Aboriginal populations in western New South Wales. I'm advised that ABC Central West NSW has reported that only 6.3 per cent of Aboriginal people in western New South Wales are vaccinated at this stage. That's where there's a massive outbreak, about which I made a contribution just before question time.

This government's appalling mismanagement of the rollout has left Indigenous communities without the recommended Pfizer vaccine. Remember, Mr Morrison was offered 40 million doses by Pfizer in June 2020. He squibbed it; he didn't get those vaccines. Because he made that choice, this is where we are, without adequate doses of Pfizer. People on lists are waiting desperately for it, but they can't get it, and it all comes back to the Prime Minister's decision to reject those 40 million Pfizer vaccines. With only eight per cent of the First Nations population fully vaccinated across the country, words fail me. I cannot think of what's going to happen in remote communities that will be infected with the delta strain very, very soon. These communities have been chronically underserviced by successive Liberal-National governments, particularly in New South Wales. People in those communities have been forced to stay away from members of their community, lest they contract this deadly disease and have to leave country for indefinite periods. But that is what's happening right now in the central west of New South Wales. This government is failing the people of Australia.


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