Senate debates

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Matters of Urgency

COVID-19: Morrison Government

4:17 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) Share this | Hansard source

[by video link] Today I'm speaking on the urgency motion in relation to what is very clearly the government's continually dangerous and lacklustre approach to this pandemic. This week we've had the new omicron variant found in Australia and it brings into harsh focus the fact that we have a too little, too late approach coming from this government.

We've seen this for the last two years of this pandemic. We've said it time and time again, that this government had two jobs in the pandemic—two jobs: to vaccinate the country and to have a national quarantine scheme around the country. Both of these are federal responsibilities according to our Constitution—it couldn't be clearer. They're the constitutional responsibility of our federal government, and the Morrison government have failed at achieving or taking responsibility for both.

Not only have they shirked their responsibilities they've attacked state governments, like in Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria, who have filled the void. They have filled the void and fought, tooth and nail, to patch up the gaps left by this federal government's shortfalls. We've been left, necessarily, with COVID lockdowns and border closures because of the lack of quarantine support by the Commonwealth and also because of slow vaccination accessibility in coming from overseas. We should have had a government that was prepared to back responsible lockdowns and border closures instead of causing division and divisiveness in the community. We saw this government side with Clive Palmer trying to tear down the Western Australian border control. Then the Prime Minister went on to say: 'I don't hold a hose, mate. It's a matter for the states. It's not a race on vaccination.' The simple fact is that the government has tried to undermine the states, including Western Australia.

At the same time Indigenous people were supposed to have been vaccinated much earlier. Instead, we now see outbreaks in remote communities in the Northern Territory. We have a vaccination gap of something like 22 per cent. This is bad enough, but when you come to Western Australia and Queensland the gap is over 30 per cent, with a national gap of some 28 per cent in vaccination rates. From the start it was well understood that remote communities are more vulnerable. From the start there should have been a plan for them to be vaccinated first. The government failed to do this. It failed to prioritise people appropriately in the vaccination rollout. Aged-care workers were supposed to be vaccinated by Easter this year. These workers are already struggling with a critical workforce shortage caused by this government's underfunding. The government failed to meet that target too.

We have had promise after promise to protect this country during this pandemic. We still see a drag on dedicated quarantine facilities in Australia. Hotel quarantine is not a sustainable solution as the Commonwealth pushes us to open up internationally. This is an outrageous dichotomy. Almost all of the leaks of COVID-19 into the general community have come from hotel quarantine. These leaks have caused devastating lockdowns across the country. This is something that the Commonwealth government has failed to take responsibility for.

Hotels were not set up for quarantine. We've been calling—again and again—on the government for the duration of this pandemic to take responsibility for quarantine and only now do we begin to see movement. Do we see this movement completed? Do we see it rolled out? Do we see federal supported quarantine facilities open and active before we open up the international borders? No. We've seen designated quarantine facilities behind schedule. Quarantine Services Australia is only now gearing up to provide quarantine for skilled workers and international students. They will be charged nearly four times what state and federal governments have charged for quarantine. This is outrageous. Trust the government to attempt to let their mates gouge profits out of students in a pandemic.

Even worse, it turns out that this fee-for-service setup is being run by friends of Scott Morrison, our Prime Minister. They were the only people approached by Home Affairs to run the quarantine system. DPG Advisory Solutions, which is led by the Prime Minister's friends David Gazard and Scott Briggs, advised on setting up the private sector quarantine service. Scott Briggs is a former Liberal Party state director, party donor and friend of the Prime Minister.

Mr Briggs is not a 'pop in cash for the raffle at the local Lib fundraiser' kind of donor. He is at the heart of the political circles of the Liberal Party and their power hub. Mr Briggs's company is a largely inactive political consultancy business that he started four years ago. Last year it was reported that his company donated $165,000 to the Liberal Party. When asked about it, Briggs and the Liberal Party denied the $165,000 donation and they declared to the Electoral Commission that it never happened. Mr Briggs also has another company—Pacific Blue Capital—which made 14 donations to the Liberal Party, worth $90,000, in 2018-19.

This is the man who recently resigned from very aggressively bidding for the $1 billion visa privatisation contract the government has recently abandoned. Perhaps the Liberal Party and the government are trying to make it up to him. He is the only one whom Home Affairs has contacted to run this privatisation of quarantine. Quite a consolation prize, isn't it? This kind of 'job for mates' approach is something that this government blatantly takes on. They blatantly deliver it. It is little wonder that because of this kind of activity the public is losing faith in our federal leaders by the day. Our nation needs answers, explanations and accountability.

What this government needs to explain to the Australian people is why it is even necessary to create a fee-for-service quarantine system run by the private sector in the first place. The need for this has not been established, especially when QSA has said that it will charge clients up to $13,750 per person for these quarantine services. Why is our government attempting to monetise the pandemic when we as a country could have been domestically manufacturing the mRNA vaccines much earlier than we look to? They've been proven to be the vaccines of the future and Australia has been behind—and contributed to their research and development. We should have the capability to produce them to protect our health, but also to secure jobs and economic prosperity.

This should not be about trying to get a job for your old mates who have given your political party a lot of money. But, no, we have a government that has taken too long to protect us from this pandemic, too long to rule out misinformation, too long to bring out information for Australians about our vaccines, too long to get those vaccines into the country. Instead, they've held up their hands—not led. Instead, they've pandered to extremists attempting to get votes. Our nation needs a government that we can trust to respond in a crisis.


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