Senate debates

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers


3:13 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | Hansard source

When Mr Morrison decided to take a gamble on hotel quarantine and vaccines last year, he set in place a series of events that led us to exactly where we are today, and it didn't have to be this way. A Prime Minister who was more interested in leading rather than reducing vectors of political exposure would have actually fixed our quarantine system and would have taken responsibility for securing more types and greater numbers of vaccines. Instead, we have a Prime Minister who found time to research his family tree during a trip overseas, while thousands of Australians remained stranded with no way home. The consequences of Mr Morrison's decisions are becoming clearer by the day. In the last 48 hours, we have had significant numbers of health personnel speaking out, despite the fact that their employment contracts actually make this personally risky for them. They have chosen to speak out about the pressures they are under and about their fears for the health system. These are people on the front line of the pandemic and the government should listen to them.

Senator Canavan is right—a government should level with its people. Nothing about the current approach suggests to me that the government is levelling with its people, because it's not willing to engage with the questions that are being raised from the very people whose daily responsibility is to protect and care for sick people in New South Wales.

Nurses, paramedics and doctors are blowing the whistle on the challenges ahead. A Sydney nurse said this:

We are exhausted. Last night was brutal. We literally hit capacity … Just holding on. The patients are air-hungry, starving for breath …We simply don't have enough of us. We are on the edge now …We have been trying to warn the government for a year.

The union that represents these workers has said it's becoming increasingly concerned that Australia's public hospitals will not be able to cope with the growing demand if we allow COVID to take hold before we're truly prepared. And that's the key, isn't it? Yes, we want to get out of lockdown, but it needs to be safe, and a safe emergence from this pandemic requires careful planning and consideration.

Yesterday we heard the tragic news of the first Indigenous COVID death in Australia, a 50-year-old, a much-loved grand-uncle. He got to see his grandchild just once. He wasn't vaccinated. Aboriginal health services workers, advocates and community members have been warning the government for months and months that this was a possibility, but these warnings have been ignored. The New South Wales Deputy Premier, Mr Barilaro, said:

We know that the federal government's vaccination program at the start of the year identified the Indigenous communities in part of the 1A rollout, and it hasn't occurred … and that's something that they lost attention on, and we know earlier in the year the rollout wasn't anywhere near where it needed to be.

The PM promised that First Nations communities would be fully vaccinated by winter, but the reality is that just eight per cent of First Nations people in western New South Wales are fully vaccinated.

It's time to take responsibility for that and to develop a plan to remedy it, because the government has bungled this vaccination rollout. We are a very long way from the 70 per cent threshold—or the 80 per cent threshold. Yes, people are looking for a safe pathway to resume something like normal life; people are desperate for it. But it all depends on having a serious plan to manage the pandemic. Frankly, Mr Morrison has bungled every opportunity presented to him to lead through this pandemic. He stood by while the crisis raged through nursing homes in Victoria—a sector that is regulated and controlled by the Commonwealth—refusing to take responsibility, shunting responsibility onto the state government. He failed to procure enough vaccines and a diverse range of contracts. That left the Australian community dangerously exposed to delta, with less than a quarter of Australians fully vaccinated when the second wave brutally started sweeping through our communities.

I see absolutely no sign that he's now ready to roll up his sleeves and tackle this next crisis. What he would prefer, of course, as always, is a political approach—just pick fights with state premiers, distract, divert and wait until the news cycle moves on. Well, a pandemic doesn't move on. And real leaders do offer calm, considered leadership. That involves talking to people, not harassing them and nitpicking. It involves actually engaging the state premiers to make this federation pandemic-ready. (Time expired)


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