Senate debates

Thursday, 4 February 2021


COVID-19: Vaccine

5:30 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Another day and another humiliation for this incompetent, bumbling minister—an incompetent, bumbling minister who has a history of not being able to get his numbers right. The whole country saw his inability to answer questions about the number of Australians who had died in aged-care facilities when he appeared before Senator Gallagher's committee. Now he can't get his numbers right in the Senate. Then he comes in here and he says, 'I thank Senator Wong for bringing it to my attention.' Don't you check that what you tell the parliament and, through them, the Australian people is correct? That is ministerial accountability. You are accountable to the Australian people through the parliament. It is your job to check. You shouldn't require the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate or shadow ministers representing here to let you know you got your number wrong. If you were serious about your ministerial responsibility, you would have made sure you took the time to check the record and come down here before we wrote a letter to you asking you to come down. I say to the Leader of the Government in the Senate and the minister: it's pretty pathetic to come down and make sure he speaks just before the adjournment so we can't take note of the minister's statement and have a proper debate. It's pretty pathetic, frankly, of the government to do that, to try and protect an incompetent, bumbling minister who has already been previously censured by the Senate.

But really what this underlines is not only this minister's incompetence but the government's failures on the vaccine, the government's failings on the vaccinations. This is the most important task facing this government if they're serious about keeping Australians safe. It is the most important thing this government have to get right. But instead of a clear, honest, open plan that even this minister could explain, they're caught up and entangled in their own spin. Perhaps you should focus on keeping Australians safe and actually rolling out the vaccinations that are required rather than holding press conferences before question time so Mr Morrison can wriggle out of the fact that, to this date, we have not seen a vaccination delivered in Australia.

One of the pieces of hype and spin that this Prime Minister has sought to wriggle away from is his promise that four million doses would be delivered by the end of March. He wants people to forget that he said that. We saw him in his press conference doing the soft-shoe shuffle, trying to get away from it. Now it's April. Then it's going to be the end of April. Then it's going to be May. There's a bit of a trend here. But he said it. He told Australians, as the leader of the country, that his government would deliver four million doses by the end of March. We'll wait and see, because so far all we've seen is announcements and him trying to slide away from that commitment in subsequent press conferences.

Of course, as Senator Keneally reminds me, he also told people we'd be at the front of the queue. 'Australians will be at the front of the queue,' he said. It's a good line. You can see them workshopping that in the PMO. 'Australians will be at the front of the queue. Don't you worry. I've got your back.' Well, there have been about 108 million shots given across 76 countries to date. That's 108 million doses across 76 countries to date. How many have there been delivered in Australia? Zero. A big fat zero. Can someone please explain to me now—perhaps I'll give leave to the government to stand up and explain to me now—how 108 million shots across 76 countries versus zero equals front of the queue. As Senator Gallagher said, 'Which queue?' I think the evidence to her was, 'We're at the front of the queue in front of New Zealand.' So are we at the front of a queue of two? That's a pretty good result, isn't it? That's not what the Prime Minister said. That's not what the Prime Minister told us.

Around the world over four million doses—that is, 4.25 million doses—are being administered every day. How many doses are administered every day at the moment in Australia? Zero. This minister, yet again, has not been able to get this number right, but the real number that matters to Australians is how many doses have actually been delivered. Again, that number is zero. Whether the promise is 40 million or 20 million, the number they've actually delivered is zero.

What I'd say to this government and to this minister is: maybe one of the reasons you can't get your numbers right is because you're so focused on the hype and the spin that you don't even know what you're doing. Let's come back to what really has to happen. This is the most important task facing this government to keep Australians safe, and it's about time you got it right.