Senate debates

Thursday, 4 February 2021


COVID-19: Vaccine

5:41 pm

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm going to tell you a story of two Australian citizens, and I'll confess right upfront that I'm related to both of them. One is my mother; one is my mother-in-law. My mother, an Australian citizen, had her COVID vaccine—she's had it. My mother-in-law, also an Australian citizen, has not had her COVID vaccine, and she doesn't know when she's going to get it. You know why my mother, who is an Australian citizen, has had her COVID vaccine? Because she lives in the United States of America, and the United States of America has managed to roll out vaccines to 26 million of its citizens.

Senator Lines interjecting

Senator Urquhart interjecting

Twenty-six million, Senator Lines and Senator Urquhart. That is more than the population of Australia. The number of vaccines the United States, since the election of Joe Biden, has managed to roll out to vaccinate its citizens is greater than the entire population of Australia. Australia, how many have they had? Zero.

My mother-in-law, the Australian citizen who lives here in Australia, doesn't know when she's going to get the vaccine. There's no plan. We have no idea about the online booking system—we have no idea. The GPs don't have any idea of how they're supposed to administer it. The pharmacists are waiting for the information about how they're supposed to administer it. We have had the Prime Minister stand in front of the country and do what he loves doing most: making an announcement. And what was the big announcement he made? He said, 'Our vaccine plan will put Australians at the front of the queue—the front of the queue.' I don't know how the Prime Minister defines 'queue', but right now there are 100 million people around the globe who have received a COVID vaccine. Are there any Australians in Australia who are part of that group? No. We are way up the back of the queue, and we have been at the back of the queue since countries and companies started negotiating vaccine deals. The Australian government did not even approach some of these pharmaceutical companies. In the COVID committee, chaired by Senator Gallagher, we heard that, in fact, it was the pharmaceutical companies that were approaching the Morrison government, in June—in June!—when other countries had already struck deals. By the time Scott Morrison got around to striking a vaccine deal in September, there were already 34 countries that had deals and already a billion doses accounted for. We are at the end of a very long queue. We are a billion doses behind. We were 34 countries behind and now we are 100 million people behind.

The Morrison government are not on the side of the Australian people. If they were on the side of the Australian people, they would have stronger vaccine deals. They would have had earlier vaccine deals. I've heard some people say, 'You don't want to run down the vaccine.' I'm not running down the vaccine; I'm talking up the vaccine. I want the bloody vaccine. Let's get the vaccine. Where is it? I don't know if 'bloody' is unparliamentary, but where the bloody hell is the vaccine, Scott Morrison? Honestly. Senator McGrath over there looks a little disappointed in my unparliamentary language, and I will withdraw it for him. But what I won't withdraw is my criticism of this Morrison government that lacks a plan.

I kind of, almost, maybe can find a little bit of sympathy in my heart for Minister Colbeck. We know the minister doesn't have a great facility for numbers. That was demonstrated in the COVID committee inquiry by Senator Gallagher's very simple question of how many people had died, which he didn't know the answer to. He didn't know the answer to how many people had died in residential aged care when he is the minister for residential aged care. He is only the minister representing the health minister, an interesting appointment and decision by the Morrison government to give him that responsibility. But you can almost feel sorry for him not knowing the number of Pfizer vaccine doses that the government's secured because the government don't have a clear plan. It's clear they haven't discussed it in cabinet. It's clear they haven't actually briefed their ministers. All the Australian people want is some certainty. That's all they want. There's one more thing they want: they want the vaccine.