Senate debates

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers


3:02 pm

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services (Senator Colbeck) to questions without notice asked by Senators Sheldon, O’Neill, McCarthy and Keneally today relating to the COVID-19 vaccination program.

The situation in New South Wales today is deeply concerning. Our hospital system is groaning under the weight of the latest COVID outbreak, and there is no relief in sight. Mr Morrison had two jobs this year: to roll out vaccines and to fix the leaky quarantine system. He has monumentally failed at both, and it's Australians and their families that are left to suffer.

We have seen, in other countries, what it looks like when a hospital system is overwhelmed by COVID. Doctors and nurses struggle to care for the skyrocketing numbers of patients requiring intensive care. They're ultimately forced to choose which patients receive life-saving treatment. Effectively, they must choose who lives and who dies. This doesn't just impact those who have COVID-19; it affects anyone suffering from life-threatening illness and injury, as the finite resources of their healthcare system are stretched to the breaking point. It is a fate that is too difficult to contemplate for my home state, yet we are seeing the tell-tale signs of a system on the brink of disaster.

Last week, Westmead Hospital and Blacktown hospital stopped accepting COVID patients, forcing paramedics to ramp up with patients on board. It has been reported that overworked Sydney ICU nurses are now sedating patients to manage what they describe as 'hellhole conditions'. Another 1,164 cases in the state today will only add to this strain.

We are 18 months into this pandemic. We are six months into this vaccine rollout, and yet it's never looked more dire. Never has this minister looked so out of touch. Everything, according to him, is going just fine. He is patting himself on the back for failing to meet the targets the government set, leaving New South Wales, Indigenous people, and aged-care workers behind—leaving Australians behind.

Remember, this Prime Minister claimed that the vaccine rollout wasn't a race. Look where we are now. As usual with Mr Morrison, it's always somebody else's fault. Make no mistake: what we are seeing in New South Wales today is the direct result of the failures of the Morrison government. A proper hotel quarantine system would mean that we didn't have leakages. Hotels are for tourists. They are not for quarantine. Under Mr Morrison, we have seen 27 leakages which have led to illness and death across the country. The outbreak that we are currently experiencing in New South Wales was something that Jane Halton warned the Prime Minister about last year—the transport system causing a leak in the quarantine system.

By the way, the 27 leakages I am talking about don't even include the Ruby Princess debacle, which we heard the Inspector-General of Biosecurity say this week was a failure of federal officials—agriculture department officials—who didn't check the traveller-with-illness checklist, didn't review the ship's medical logs and didn't warn New South Wales Health that COVID was rampant on the Ruby Princess. That means they failed to stop the one boat that mattered.

If we had a proper vaccine rollout, we'd have a safe and speedy rollout of jabs in arms. Remember, four million of us were supposed to be vaccinated by May. All of us were supposed to be vaccinated by October. That's not going to happen. It is always too little, too late. It is vulnerable communities that are being left behind. We are now hearing doctors, like Dr Peter Malouf in New South Wales, labelling the vaccine rollout in Indigenous communities a 'chaotic crisis'. The Morrison government's response to COVID-19 must be seen as one of the most catastrophic public policy failures of any government in the history of our nation. We have the New South Wales minister Brad Hazzard pointing the finger at the federal government. We have the New South Wales Deputy Premier, John Barilaro, pointing the finger at the failures of the Morrison government. The problem we have here is not that people have vaccine hesitancy; it's just that we have a Prime Minister who has apathy—he's too little, too late. It's always somebody else's fault, and it's the Australian people who are being left behind to suffer the consequences.


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