Thursday, 2 September 2021
National Health Amendment (COVID-19) Bill 2021; Second Reading
I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the National Health Amendment (COVID-19) Bill 2021. This bill makes administrative changes that enable the government to make payments for COVID vaccines, treatments and consumables out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund. This will ensure that the government doesn't need to rely on the passage of appropriation bills to pay for COVID treatments. Importantly, this bill includes a sunset of 30 June 2022. In other words, it's not exactly a blank cheque. The Greens will be supporting this bill, because we believe that we do need to be ready to invest in new technologies, vaccines and boosters as they become available. Boosters will be an essential part of our strategy to combat COVID going forward. I note that the UK is set to start its further booster program this month. Of course, boosters do bring into question the issue of global equity, as many people in lower-GDP countries have not had the vaccine yet; some countries have had hardly any access to vaccines. That needs to be addressed.
While this bill gives the flexibility to flexibly purchase COVID vaccines going forward, it doesn't help the serious and fundamental issues with the current rollout. I am seriously concerned about the rollout, as I have articulated in this place, particularly for First Nations communities, who are supposed to be priorities yet are suffering from the lowest vaccine rates. We are also seriously concerned that, while the government continues to talk about the 70 to 80 per cent targets outlined in the so-called national plan, this does not include children above the age of 12. We believe this is a significant failure given that 70 per cent means that just 60 per cent of the total population is vaccinated, and that potentially has significant consequences for our community.
Premier Berejiklian yesterday said that once New South Wales reaches a 70 per cent vaccination rate then people will be able to go out to get food and drinks and to events. Please do not forget that this means only 56 per cent of the entire population is covered. This is of deep concern. We should not be starting to lift restrictions before we make sure that those at risk in our community are vaccinated and we have specific targets for them. So we need to include in our national targets vaccinations for children and young people between the ages of 12 and 15 and not just use the above-16 rate. ATAGI has now approved Pfizer for this age group, so we need to be vaccinating those young people, those children, and including them in the targets.
At the end of the motion, add ", but the Senate:
(a) notes that the Morrison Government's vaccination program has failed to protect at risk communities; and
(b) calls on the Government to immediately:
(i) include children and teenagers between 12 to 15 years old in the national vaccination targets, and
(ii) set specific vaccination targets for at risk communities in consultation with experts and communities".
This calls on the government to immediately include children and young people above the age of 12 in the national vaccination targets and to set specific vaccination targets for at-risk communities. We cannot open up before we ensure that those at-risk communities—First Nations peoples, older people above the age of 60 and 70 and disabled people—also have targets met. We know that if we open up and we haven't ensured that we've met certain targets for those groups, on the advice of the experts in this area, that they are at serious risk, which is why they were included in the 1a and 1b categories in the first place.
The government has failed to ensure protection of First Nations communities. In western New South Wales we are obviously seeing an outbreak now, but it's essential that all First Nations communities are able to have the vaccine. This is so important because we know from experience overseas that at-risk groups are at the forefront of the COVID crisis and being impacted by it. I'm sick of the government saying, 'We are going to 70 and 80 per cent,' and just relying on one model and not looking at the fine print but also not looking at the other models.
Just to finish off, the Greens will be supporting this legislation. We think it is really important that the government has the resources to be able to pay for additional vaccines, as I said, consumables, boosters and the things that are needed to address COVID-19. But along with that must go a commitment to targets that will protect our community, will protect young people and will protect at-risk communities. That's why I'm moving our second reading amendment.