Senate debates

Thursday, 2 September 2021


National Health Amendment (COVID-19) Bill 2021; Second Reading

12:01 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the National Health Amendment (COVID-19) Bill 2021. This bill amends the National Health Act 1953 to facilitate the purchasing of COVID-19 vaccines, inclusive of boosters and necessary consumables and COVID-19 treatments. Labor supports this bill, as it will ensure funds are always available for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines, including boosters, treatments and related consumables. At present, funds are only available through appropriation bills, which are not frequent or flexible enough during the pandemic. When new purchase agreements with suppliers are negotiated, at present the department has to meet upfront payments within existing resources while waiting for the next appropriation bills to receive royal assent. This can take more than six months, making it difficult for the department to meet all of its existing financial commitments. The bill confers a spending power on the minister for health to enter into arrangements and make payments in relation to securing COVID-19 vaccines and related goods and services, such as boosters, necessary consumables and COVID-19 treatments. This power will be time limited to 30 June 2022.

This bill is a sensible change which will enable the Australian government to better manage the purchasing of additional vaccines and other supplies, but it does not absolve the Morrison government for the fundamental failure that has been their vaccine program. Mr Morrison had two jobs this year: a speedy, effective rollout of the vaccine, and quarantine. He has failed at both. The vaccine rollout has been shambolic.

Mr Morrison said that Australia was at the front of the queue, but, when it became clear we were at the back of the queue, Mr Morrison changed his mind and said: 'This isn't a race.' He is wrong. It is a race, and Australians are paying the price for his failures. Mr Morrison said that Australia was at the front of the queue for the vaccine, but, as 30 June 2021 approached, Australia's rollout was ranked as the worst in the OECD and 113th in the world. We have one of the slowest rollouts in the developed world. Countries like the US, Japan and the United Kingdom were making Pfizer deals back in July 2020. Australia didn't secure a Pfizer deal until the end of 2020, putting us at the back of the queue. Mr Morrison promised that four million Australians would be vaccinated by the end of March 2021, but, by the end of March, there had been only 600,000 doses administered—some 15 per cent of Mr Morrison's target. Mr Morrison then promised that all aged-care residents and workers would be vaccinated by Easter 2021. Shockingly, only 45,000 aged-care residents were fully vaccinated by 10 April. Mr Morrison later abandoned plans to provide vaccines directly to aged-care workers, and on 30 June only one-third of staff in aged-care homes were fully vaccinated. Mr Morrison appeared on multiple media outlets on 9 July amid reports he had struck a new deal to bring additional Pfizer into Australia. But Pfizer then contradicted Mr Morrison:

The total number of 40 million doses we are contracted to deliver to Australia over 2021 has not changed. We continue to work closely with the government to support the ramp up of their rollout program …

Mr Morrison never once picked up the phone to the Pfizer chairman to get more Pfizer for Australia. In contrast, Israel's Prime Minister rang the Pfizer chairman more than 30 times.

Mr Morrison has missed every target he has set, and now the Liberals and Nationals have dropped the idea of vaccine targets altogether. Instead, Australia has 'horizons'. The thing about a horizon is that you never actually meet it. That's the problem we've had under this government. Scott Morrison continues to say our children will not be counted as part of the national plan. The Prime Minister needs to stop playing word games with Australia's parents. He needs to explain why Australia is so far behind many other countries in protecting our 12- to 15-year-olds. At the very least, Australia's parents deserve a separate commitment about when their 12- to 15-year-old children will be fully vaccinated and what target Mr Morrison has for their vaccination rates. The lockdowns—which are having a devastating impact on Australians, their families, their communities, their businesses and their mental health—keep going on as a result of Mr Morrison's failures. And the outbreak that these lockdowns are fighting is itself a result of the Morrison government's failure to provide a safe, dedicated national quarantine system. This Prime Minister not only doesn't hold a hose; he simply doesn't do his job

I understand that amendments are being proposed by other parties. This bill, which will make the administration of vaccine contracts easier, is a welcome one, and Labor supports it for that reason, without amendment. But this small action, this late in the game, cannot and will not absolve the responsibility of the Prime Minister for his vaccine and quarantine failures. It is well and truly past time for the Prime Minister to get on with it.


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