Tuesday, 30 November 2021
Matters of Urgency
COVID-19: Morrison Government
The Labor senators' contributions to the debate on this urgency motion remind me of a saying of a Jacobean playwright:
Of all the forms of wisdom, hindsight is by general consent the least merciful, the most unforgiving.
This government has actually shown great foresight, great anticipation of the challenges the nation was going to face and has faced with COVID affecting its population. As a result of its initiative, the government now has a proven record of dealing with COVID, and we've had one of the lowest fatality rates, highest vaccination rates and strongest economies in the world. That is success.
The motion we're debating this afternoon makes specific reference to the delivery of sovereign mRNA vaccine manufacturing capacity, and I would like to bring my comments to that in particular. Honourable members of the Senate should know that no new end-to-end mRNA facilities have been established anywhere in the world since the vaccines were approved. A facility to be established in Singapore won't be online until 2023 at the earliest. And none of the submissions through an approach to the market by the government said they could provide an end-to-end facility in the near term.
In essence, this motion is criticising the government for not achieving the impossible. The government is still taking action to bring mRNA vaccine production to Australia. The government is speaking extensively to Moderna, the producer of one of only two mRNA vaccines approved for use anywhere in the world. There are other approaches to market. The reality of the situation is that there are two important elements in developing onshore capability. You have to have a manufacturing capability as well as the intellectual property and know-how. In essence, this motion, as I've indicated to the chamber, is criticising the government for not achieving the impossible. The government is doing all it can to achieve sovereign capability, and where we are at the moment is competitive with most other nations in the world. The government is not able to send off Prometheus to magically produce manufacturing plants.
Honourable members should be aware that more than 99 per cent of over-70s are protected with a first does and more than 97 per cent have received a second dose—success. More than 97 per cent of those over 50 are protected with a first dose, with more than 93 per cent having received a second dose—success. Just over 92 per cent of the eligible population aged over 16 is protected with a first dose, and more than 86 per cent of the eligible population aged over 16 is fully vaccinated with both doses—success.
So I'd encourage senators to take a more realistic approach, rather than the miserable contributions to the Senate which are dragging down the efforts of the government, which has worked collaboratively with the states—even those states which have governments of a different political persuasion—to keep Australians safe. We must remind ourselves that we have one of the lowest death rates from COVID-19 of anywhere in the world. It can be estimated that this government has protected over 30,000 people from death, if we compare our rates against the OECD average.
The government is establishing a national plan to reopen. It has committed $33 billion to a vaccine rollout and it has strengthened our health system in response to the disease. Mention has been made by senators on my side of the aisle of the Howard Springs quarantine facility and the investment in new centres in Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth. We're beginning to establish overseas travel, although that has been paused out of an abundance of caution. Australia has fared magnificently compared with other countries, and it should be a cause for celebration in the Senate, not denigration.