Senate debates

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers


3:23 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

[by video link] Well, that was quite mind-boggling. Quite clearly, when we first got into these vaccines there was a clear indication that it was a necessity to have a whole series of vaccines purchased on order so that, even with those that would fail and those that wouldn't follow through, we'd have enough for the Australian community. Of course, time has proven it. Epidemiologists told the government. Pfizer told the government, in direct conversations and indirect conversations. Yet the government has still failed to take responsibility for its mistake. This is not about looking backwards; I'm looking forwards. If they won't take responsibility for what they're doing wrong right now, how can people have the necessary confidence that this will be dealt with appropriately into the future?

Today we have another 1,164 new locally transmitted COVID-19 cases here in New South Wales. We have 871 in hospital and 143 in intensive care. People are suffering from the mental toll of months of lockdown, and small businesses are suffering dire economic hardship. It's important to remember that the reason we are in this situation is that the Prime Minister failed in his two most important jobs: to get the vaccine rollout right and to get a dedicated quarantine system up and running.

Of course, we saw with the Bondi outbreak, with the limo driver driving international flight crew, that there were not appropriate safeguards at our border. That is a federal government responsibility, yet we hear repeatedly from the government that they should not be held to account for the mistakes and failings they have made and the ones they continue to make.

The health system was already at breaking point before the Prime Minister's national plan, which, based on Doherty modelling, will put tens of thousands more Australians in hospital. There is no plan for how our medical system can handle that pressure and no serious plan to move forward. This rollout is quite clearly a failure, and the government needs to take responsibility. There's not enough Pfizer. There are delays. The New South Wales health minister made it clear when he blew the whistle on the silence of the federal government and their incompetence about Pfizer.

Of course, the moment of truth was Senator Colbeck's response to a quote from an experienced respiratory physician in Western Sydney. I'll repeat this because I hope those listening to the Senate will be as outraged as I am that this question was not answered. 'With the coming deluge of cases, it is possible that ambulances will not reach people suffering heart attacks or strokes as quickly as they should,' said a Western Sydney doctor. Quite clearly the government needs to take responsibility and be able to deal appropriately and in a quick way with the sorts of pressures that are applied to our health system at the moment.

You don't have to have too much of an imagination, because you have the government turning around saying, 'It's not a race.' You don't have to have too much of an imagination to know we're in a crisis. The government says, 'It's not a race.' You don't have to have too much imagination to know that we have so many people suffering from COVID and the effect on business. Of course, it wasn't a race! This government continues to try to distract people by saying that the failure is the opposition's, which is just ironic, by raising the government's mistruths and failures. That is absolutely ludicrous. Take responsibility. I know that the Prime Minister won't do it. I say to the ministers and the government: take responsibility.

New South Wales, along with those pressures on services, has seen staff shortages, hospitals reaching ICU capacity and increased sedation of ICU patients in order to manage the burgeoning workload in the New South Wales COVID system. And 60,000 aged-care workers still aren't vaccinated. They say, 'Don't be alarmed.' I wish they were more alarmed. I wish they actually thought it was a race. It is a race to vaccinate by the deadline 60,000 aged-care workers. The Health Services Union National President, Gerard Hayes, appropriately said that the aged-care royal commission found in March the sector was facing a staffing crisis that risked being exacerbated by the pandemic.

Question agreed to.


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