Senate debates

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

COVID-19: Hospitals

3:28 pm

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

[by video link] Senator Colbeck's answers to these questions showed he just isn't up to it. He was smug. He was complacent. He was unaware or uninterested in key details. There was no sense of urgency, just a sense of entitlement. He was evasive. He was tricky about the politics.

You may be able to hear that there is a small construction site outside level 22 of the building that I'm in. They've just recommenced drilling, so hopefully they stop for the next 3½ minutes, or whatever it is.

The underlying problem here is that the Prime Minister made a bet that a four- or six-month delay in vaccine delivery wouldn't matter very much. It's been the most disastrous public policy failure in Australian history, the worst gamble with the worst consequences. It's not clear why the Prime Minister has failed so badly—whether it was his complacency; whether he was influenced by the naggers on his backbench, the alt-Right conspiracy theorists; whether it was his own hostility to public health and active government; or whether he just thought that somehow market forces might resolve the problem for him.

You see, when Australians are in times of crisis—in times of conflict, pandemic, natural disasters such as flood or fire, or economic shock—they look to their Prime Minister. And what have they seen throughout the three years of this Prime Minister's term? During the bushfires, he was trying to pretend that he wasn't on holidays in Hawaii. Australians have seen the blame shifting, the hyperpoliticisation, the big press conferences and announcements with no delivery, the lectures, the bullying and the conflict with his political opponents. They have seen all these things, but they have seen nothing of substance. This Prime Minister only hopes that there will still be people in the press gallery who are prepared to run his lines for him.

Australia had a golden opportunity with our geographical isolation, our strong public health system and the fact that we've had over 100 years of democratic governance. Who would have thought at the beginning of last year that the world would have been able to move so quickly to develop multiple vaccines for the coronavirus? What we required was a government that was able to take the steps to keep COVID infections low or non-existent; deliver vaccines up to the 70, 80 and 90 per cent levels that are required to keep the community safe; and then have a safe, staged opening-up. Well, this Prime Minister has bungled that opportunity. He has squandered the opportunity that Australia has had, and, as a consequence, ordinary people are now paying the price. There are long-term problems for ordinary people. There were nearly 1,300 cases in New South Wales today. There are over 1,000 cases every day. Significant parts of the New South Wales population are not vaccinated, including vulnerable parts of the population, particularly in regional Australia. Our hospitals are under pressure. There is pressure on our ICU capability. There are endless lockdowns that the Prime Minister wants to blame on the state governments rather than taking responsibility for the underlying reason for these lockdowns, which is, of course, the Prime Minister's failure to execute an effective vaccine strategy, deliver the vaccines for Australians and secure vaccine supply.

The senators opposite may choose to go on with the puerile politics of trying to defend this Prime Minister's abject failure, but we ought to be focused squarely upon it. We ought to fix it. This minister—Senator Colbeck—this government and this Prime Minister are accountable for that failure, and it's having enormously negative consequences, particularly in my home state of New South Wales. (Time expired)


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