Senate debates

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Matters of Public Importance

Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services

4:34 pm

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the Senate that, at 8.30 am, 28 proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate the following letter has been received from Senator Sterle:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

The need for the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services to apologise to Victorians for claiming 'a very positive record across the board with respect to maintaining a safe border for Australia' at the same time as Victoria faced new COVID outbreaks because of the Morrison Government's failure to implement and maintain safe national quarantine.

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

4:35 pm

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This Morrison government have failed Victorians—they have failed! They've had months to prepare Australia to deal safely with the ongoing impact of the pandemic. They've had months to roll out the vaccine effectively and they've had months to get safe, national open-air quarantine facilities up and running. And have they? No. Throughout this pandemic, the Morrison government have denied their responsibility for quarantine. They have failed to set appropriate national standards for quarantine. And all the while, they have sat back and critiqued state government responses to breaches in hotel quarantine.

Prime Minister Morrison said about hotel quarantine back in April:

A system that is achieving 99.99 per cent effectiveness is a very strong system and is serving Australia very well.

How did he come to that conclusion and that figure? There have been 21 breaches from hotel quarantine in this country, tens of thousands of infections in this country and more than 800 tragic deaths in this country. Does that sound like a system that is serving Australia well? It sounds like a system that's struggling dangerously to keep up.

When will the Morrison government get it? Hotels are built for tourists and for short stays. Hotels are not built for virus control. This government was told in October by their own hand-picked adviser Jane Halton that they needed to build fit-for-purpose, open-air quarantine facilities. That was seven months ago. The Victorian government handed them a proposal for a new purpose-built quarantine facility back in April. When did Prime Minister Morrison finally agree to build a facility in Victoria? In June, when Victorians were already battling with new outbreaks from more failures of the hotel quarantine system—this time from Adelaide. This government just does not think ahead. They don't plan, and when they are finally dragged, kicking and screaming, to act, it's already too late.

According to this Prime Minister, the vaccine rollout is not a race and mRNA vaccine manufacturing starting in four years time is fine. Purpose-built quarantine facilities can wait and the states are just welcome to give the government their proposals. Financial support for casual workers who are in crisis in Victoria? They can wait too. They can wait for a week without pay: 'You'll have to drag us, kicking and screaming, to deliver it.' And according to the Acting Prime Minister, a week without income is not that long to wait anyway. What a heartless response from this government!

This government should be embarrassed and ashamed at the pace of the vaccine rollout in Australia—embarrassed and ashamed! Victorians entered 2021 expecting a fast and efficient vaccine strategy, only to be given the exact opposite by the Morrison government. I was there, with all Victorians, going through the winter with the virus spreading throughout our community last year. One of the things that got us through was the hope of a vaccine on the other side and the hope of effective national quarantine. That's what got us through last year. But here we are again, facing yet another Victorian winter with the virus again trying its best to spread through an almost-entirely unvaccinated population. Today, less than three per cent of Australians are fully vaccinated—less than three per cent! Let that sink in. And we're currently 4.2 million doses behind the government's current vaccination target. It's not their first target and not their second target; it's behind their third target. They just keep dropping the bar lower and lower, and still they're missing the mark. They still can't tell us how many aged-care workers have been vaccinated. They still can't tell us when aged-care workers will be vaccinated. The health minister, Mr Hunt, is not even sure whether he wants us to be vaccinated. One day he's telling over-50s to get AstraZeneca; the next he's saying they can wait until the end of the year for Pfizer. Which is it? You could not make this stuff up.

Australians and especially Victorians had to dig deep to get through last year. Victorians sacrificed so much to beat this virus back, and they should have been able to come into 2021 with confidence that this government had learned the lessons of 2020 and had a real plan to ensure that Australians would be able to beat this virus and be safe; that people wouldn't be sitting ducks, waiting for the next outbreak to hit; that we would be vaccinated; and that quarantine would be safe. But the Morrison government has failed Victorians, because it is impossible for a federal government to deal with the pandemic if they don't actually believe in governing. It is impossible for a federal government to deal with the pandemic if they don't want to roll up their sleeves and if they wait, time and again, to be dragged kicking and screaming to do anything—to do something. It doesn't work. The Morrison government's approach doesn't work. They have left Victorians exposed. They have left Australians exposed. It doesn't have to be this way. If only the government believed in actually governing! If only they believed in taking responsibility! If only they would act instead of just react!

It is a race, and it isn't a case of slow and steady wins the race. So it is time for this government to pick up the pace, to get moving, to get on with the job of building fit-for-purpose quarantine facilities in every state and territory, to start a public health campaign and to ramp up the vaccine rollout with some urgency. There is no room for more excuses from this government. The Prime Minister needs to step up and do his job, because lives depend on it. Until this government does step up, all of the hard work that Australians put in last year and this year to get our country moving again, is just waiting to be thrown away.

Labor knows that, if we are to beat this virus and keep Australians safe, there can be no more delays. Labor would build dedicated quarantine facilities in every single state and territory. We would fix this bungled vaccine rollout. We would start a mass public health campaign around vaccines. Where is the public health campaign around vaccines? We would make it a first priority to manufacture more vaccines right here in Australia. It's the only path forward towards a real recovery that leaves Australians secure in getting on with their lives.

But all of this, apparently, just seems like too much work for the Morrison government. They would rather sit back and be reactive instead of proactive and to deal with it once the damage is already done. They 'don't hold a hose'. They don't take responsibility. They don't admit fault. They should feel real shame about what Victorians have been going through for the last few weeks. They should look at the evidence and see what their repeated failure has done. Their inability to take responsibility, actually run this country and take us through the pandemic is hurting Victorians and other Australians. Real people are impacted by this government's weakness.

It is no longer day 1 of the pandemic. It's been over 500 days since the first COVID case in Australia. The Prime Minister cannot pretend that he doesn't know how this virus moves, how infectious it is and how devastating it can be. He needs to wake up and be honest with Australians. He needs to realise how big a mistake it is every day that we miss the vaccination mark and every day that we wait for fit-for-purpose open-air quarantine. Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his government might be prepared for Australians to make the sacrifice again and again for the Morrison government's failures, but Australians are done. We are done. We want the Morrison government to do the job that they were elected for: to stand up for Australians and protect Australians.

4:44 pm

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's my pleasure to rise and speak in this matter of public importance debate about the need to apologise to all Victorians. I have to say I am incredibly disappointed to hear Senator Walsh's contribution, about which I can only say was highly irresponsible. To misrepresent, in particular, the advice of the federal health minister in relation to the vaccination is a disgrace, and that's what Senator Walsh has just done. We all have a responsibility in this chamber, no matter which side of politics we are on, to make sure that Australians have accurate information. For Senator Walsh to get up with that ridiculous spray and say what she did, she should be totally ashamed.

This is an MPI about the requirements of an apology. Yes, an apology is required, and Victorians have worked it out: an apology is required by the Victorian state government and by federal Labor Victorian MPs and senators, who have stood in silence through four lockdowns as Victorian residents, including Victorian families, businesses, seniors and students, have been brought to their knees as a result of the mismanagement of the pandemic in Victoria by the state Labor government. The fact that Victoria has suffered four debilitating lockdowns, unlike what we have seen in any other state or territory, is no coincidence. To Labor senators in this chamber I say please perhaps consider apologising to Victorians for the hotel quarantine fiasco, including the engagement of security guards who had no proper infection control training or expertise which allowed coronavirus to spread into the community, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of senior Victorians. That was the finding of the COAT inquiry.

They should apologise to Victorians for not accepting the offer of help from the Commonwealth, such as the provision of ADF personnel to support the state's quarantine responsibilities. They should apologise to Melburnians for the curfew, which effectively locked them in their homes and which was, without doubt, in breach of the Victorian government's charter of human rights. They should apologise to the people who lived in the public housing towers in Melbourne, who were locked down with no warning whatsoever, leaving parents without food for their children and older residents frightened, which the Victorian ombudsman found was a clear breach of human rights. They should apologise for the Victorian state government's incompetent contact tracing system. There have been some big improvements, and I'm pleased to say that, but it's still a far cry from the gold standard in New South Wales, and it meant that for many months the government ignored the advice of the experts to adopt a unified QR code and check-in system, to adopt proper IT systems and to publish exposure sites so that people could immediately, if they'd visited those sites, isolate and get tested. Perhaps they should also consider apologising to school students for missing so many weeks of school and to families for not being able to see their loved ones. Even now families in regional Victoria can't visit their loved ones in residential aged care unless they are at end of life.

So I say: apologise to Victorians for four state-wide lockdowns, including the most recent lockdown in regional Victoria, where there has been no community transmission. They have resulted in insurmountable financial and mental health pain and left so many businesses broke and/or closed when there was no basis to do so, including the IGA supermarket in Anglesea, which was forced to close as a result of a false positive case and which has now suffered losses in excess of $100,000. Perhaps also they should apologise to our regional tourism and hospitality sector and to regional chambers of commerce and to regional committees, including the Committee for Mornington Peninsula, which are pleading for the state government to put in place a proper COVID-safe response plan so that whenever a positive case arises it can be dealt with locally whilst allowing the rest of the city and the state to function, as happens in New South Wales. The facts are that this latest lockdown has caused a loss of faith and confidence, because it demonstrates that the Victorian government still doesn't have the capacity to control the virus and the outbreaks locally in any sort of proportionate manner as occurs in other states.

Last weekend, the long weekend, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry estimated that lost visitation and cancelled trips cost regional Victorian businesses and the visitor economy around $150 million just over three days. And that, of course, was due to unreasonable density caps. Major tourism businesses, such as Sovereign Hill, could not open and many major businesses were closed, such as Heathcote on Show and the Castlemaine Jazz Festival. Wineries, restaurants, hotels, cafes, accommodation providers and other tourist operators were left high and dry. It is time that the state government worked out how to keep our state's economy open whilst protecting lives and livelihoods. None of these issues were addressed by Senator Walsh in her contribution.

I want to move now to the facts in relation to the Commonwealth's quarantine responsibilities. They are very clear. Again, these are facts not acknowledged or even referenced in Senator Walsh's contribution. Mandatory quarantine with COVID-19 testing is currently considered the best strategy for incoming travellers and it is a key pillar of our nation's response. Hotel quarantine was mandated by national cabinet on 27 March 2020. These requirements have been implemented under state and territory legislation with the support of the ADF and the Australian Border Force, where necessary. Since the implementation of hotel quarantine there have been 372,000 international air arrivals, with some 4,000 COVID-positive cases—most of which have been in hotel quarantine. Apart from the major failures which occurred in Victoria there have been very few other outbreaks.

In accordance with the resolution of national cabinet, the Commonwealth is supporting the states and territories. It's supporting Northern Territory at the Howard Springs quarantine facility. The investment is in excess of half a billion dollars and that is also supporting our national effort to repatriate Australians flying in to Australia. That is a major incoming port for all Australians. There is the agreement with Tasmania to support Australians returning there. Then there is the memorandum of understanding for a quarantine facility in Victoria, and I welcome that. It is a pity, though—again, Senator Walsh did not reference this—that the state Labor government has proposed an animal quarantine facility at Mickleham as its preferred option. From where I sit, as a regional senator based in Geelong, that is absurd because that presents a whole range of biosecurity and logistical issues which the state government have not even considered. That's why I have been such a big supporter of placing this quarantine facility at Avalon Airport, where incoming travellers can fly directly into Avalon—to an international terminal, a first-class terminal—and then travel a very short distance to their accommodation facility. Even on this issue it does not seem that the Victorian government has done its basic homework.

I do welcome the fact that the Victorian government is open to Avalon. I'm very confident, and I hope, that that will be the decision as negotiations continue between the Commonwealth and the state. This makes great sense for Victoria. It makes great sense for the Geelong region. It would be a huge boost for jobs in our local economy and would utilise Avalon Airport, which has endured such financial pain over the last 18 months or so.

I say to Labor senators: there's a lot to apologise for in relation to what has happened in Victoria. It has been a very torrid time and, as I say, it's no coincidence that there have been these rolling lockdowns in Victoria—unlike in any other state. I am really proud of the Morrison government's management of this pandemic. To a large degree the Morrison government has worked very successfully with the states and territories. Just think of this: more than 12 months ago it was hard to envisage that we would have a vaccination. That vaccination rollout is happening at a very, very fast pace. We are at total vaccinations of almost six million. That is a great achievement. Yes, there is more hard work to be done. We urge all Australians to get vaccinated. We can be very proud of our efforts together. I say to the state government in Victoria: please get your act together in relation to the issues for which you are responsible, and I hope and trust that the new quarantine facility in Victoria will be at the wonderful Avalon Airport.

4:54 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak to this matter of public interest on the need for the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services to apologise to Victorians for claiming 'a very positive record across the board with respect to maintaining a safe border for Australia' at the same time as Victoria faced new COVID outbreaks because of the Morrison government's failure to implement and maintain safe national quarantine. The reason that the minister has to apologise for this is for the comments that have been made. These comments about the fact that they have a very positive record have been repeated a number of times. How can you call it a 'positive record' when, during estimates, a document was tabled that documented 21 quarantine breaches? That document didn't include another breach that has happened since then nor the quarantine breach happening right now in New South Wales. People may say, 'It's just 23 breaches'—and the government has been saying that thousands of people have been coming into Australia—but the point is: look at the impact that one breach had on Victoria just recently. It wasn't even an escape from a Victorian hotel. It came through a South Australian quarantine breach and caused the current outbreak in Victoria which led to the lockdowns. I notice today that the restrictions are being wound back again, thank goodness, for Victorians. But the fact is that one breach has a very, very significant impact, and the Commonwealth knows this. So how can they say, 'We have a very positive record,' when in fact there have been a number of breaches?

We know hotels are not the right place for quarantining people. Fair enough, when the pandemic first hit, we had to take immediate action and hotels were then brought into play. It was important that that happened, but we are now a significant period down the track. We are now having breaches from quarantine, which are causing lockdowns. Western Australia has had several, Victoria has had a number, South Australia has too, obviously, and so have New South Wales and Queensland. That is why we need specialist facilities for quarantining like Howard Springs. There have been no breaches of quarantine from Howard Springs. That's because it has what is necessary to ensure effective quarantining—people in their own space and able to get fresh air. There have been none of the issues around ventilation and aerosols that we're seeing in hotels.

While the government, again in estimates, said, 'We're paying attention to aerosols,' the problem with aerosols has been there since the beginning. Yes, they mouth the words, but do they do something about it? No. There's been a problem with getting out effective PPE that deals with aerosols, but, specifically, the ventilation in hotels for quarantining in a lot of those hotels is not adequate. They've known that for a long time too, but do we have guidelines across Australia on ventilation and aerosols? Guess what? No, we don't. While I mistakenly believed, from an answer to one of my questions in the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19, that, yes, they are developing some guidelines around that across the nation, in estimates the answer to my question, 'How are they proceeding,' was, 'No, we're not actually working on them.' So we still have no national guidelines on ventilation ensuring negative pressure in these hotels. While states have moved to try and address this issue, it is still happening. This clearly means the Commonwealth needs to take action to build special-purpose, fit-for-purpose quarantine facilities, because we are going to be dealing with this issue for a significant time into the future.

That takes me to the issue of the need for vaccines. Of course, we are very pleased to see that vaccines have been developed with a lot of effort around the world, but for the government to claim that they are way up there in the rollout of vaccines is ridiculous.

On the number of targets and the number of assurances by the government that we've had: at the beginning of March the government missed the target. At the end the March they missed the target. In April they missed the target. In January the government announced there would be 40 million total doses by the end of October this year. They've already admitted they're not going to meet that. We have seen the 40-million-doses target revised a number of times. We have clearly missed the mark on vaccinations, specifically in aged care for residents but particularly for staff. In disability, shared accommodation and group homes, we again have missed the mark for residents and disabled people and their carers. In aged care in particular, we still don't know how many workers have been vaccinated.

The government have contracted this out. When the first contractor didn't deliver, what did they do? 'Oh yes, we went to another contractor to try and fix the first contractor's failure to roll out the doses to meet our targets.' This has been, in many instances, in fact, farcical—the number of contracts, the amount of money we have paid—instead of making sure that the Public Service could do it, that the government could do it or that the states and territories could do it. The reason so many doses have now been rolled out is the states and territories have picked up the slack and set up hubs. They're the ones doing it. So, yes, the minister does owe Victorians an apology for continuing the myth that the government is doing safe border management when we've had so many breaches that have had such devastating consequences.

5:01 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to make a few comments in relation to this MPI. To start with, I think we have to correct the record. When Senator Henderson, who is typically keeping her head in the sand, comes in here and tries to rewrite what's really happening in this country, saying: 'This is all Victorians' fault. The whole pandemic rests with the Victorian state Labor government'—well, what a lot of nonsense. Then she goes on with some more diatribe, trying to tell us that there is a fast rollout of the vaccine. We know quite clearly that that is not the case.

There are two facts that we should put on the record which make very clear what is happening in this country and why it is happening. Firstly, it's the Commonwealth government's responsibility to roll out the vaccine. It is the Commonwealth government's responsibility to provide quarantine. They have failed in their duty of care on both counts. As Senator Siewert just spoke about in her contribution, there have been 23 breaches of hotel quarantine in a number of states, including New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria. We haven't seen any leadership from this government when it comes to ensuring that there is an efficient, fast rollout of the vaccine.

We have known for some time in this place, because we have evidence of it every time we sit in this chamber, that we have an incompetent minister in Senator Colbeck when it comes to his responsibilities around aged care. We saw the Prime Minister remove a lot of his responsibilities and hand them over to Minister Hunt—we've seen how well that has worked!—and I'm sure he sees Senator Colbeck as a dispensable commodity in this place. If the Prime Minister really believed it when he said that he was going to make aged care, aged-care workers and older Australians a priority of his government in rolling out the vaccine, then he would never have left Senator Colbeck in charge. Senator Colbeck has been an embarrassment to this government, and I know that Australians generally have no faith in him as a minister when it comes to aged care.

Senator Henderson—who is a Victorian, by the way—denies that there needs to be an apology to the Victorian people. It almost leaves me speechless that she could come into this place and try and shift the blame—like the Prime Minister and all the ministers do—and say that the whole problem around the pandemic rests with the Victorian Labor government. Well, it does not. The buck stops with the Prime Minister and his government when it is a matter of rolling out the vaccine and when it comes to quarantine in this country.

I have the utmost respect for Jane Halton, a former secretary of the Department of Health. The Prime Minister's own captain's pick has made numerous comments and recommendations in relation to quarantine and what is needed in this country, and yet we still see the government ignoring that advice. Senator Henderson said in her contribution that the vaccine is being rolled out at a fast rate. Why is it then that less than three per cent of the Australian population has been fully vaccinated? Heavens! I would hate to see what it would be like if it was being rolled out at a slow pace!

This is really frustrating for people who have relatives, friends and loved ones in residential aged care, because what we have seen is neglect by this government—and, in particular, by Senator Colbeck in his responsibility around aged care. They have not only failed to ensure that the residents in these aged-care residential homes have been fully vaccinated—and we know that they all haven't been—but also failed in their duty to ensure that aged-care workers have had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated. And the government still don't know how many workers have in fact been vaccinated.

But, even worse than that, knowing that we are still in this pandemic and that the virus is mutating around the world, and we have various different versions now in Australia, the government took away the supplement that was being paid to aged-care workers in this country to ensure that they were not being forced to go and work across a number of sites. We all know that they are so lowly paid, and what did this government do? They stopped the supplement, and yet the pandemic is still going. How irresponsible is that? Where is the leadership? Where is the strategy for ensuring that we get ahead of the game when it comes to rolling out the vaccines and getting ahead of this pandemic? They don't have one.

There is no way that anyone, including Senator Henderson, can come into this chamber and try and spin it, because we know that they have failed in their basic duty of care to older residents in this country. We know that, in the case of those older Australians in residential care who died, the virus was taken into those homes through workers. But what has the government done to remedy that situation? They have taken away the supplement and they have not ensured, to the degree that they should, that aged-care workers have been vaccinated. We believe that some nine per cent of the workforce have been vaccinated. There are over 360,000 people working in aged care. So nine per cent is not very many of them. It isn't good enough. Quite frankly, people on that side of the chamber should be quite ashamed of their government's contribution when it comes to ensuring that Australians, and particularly older Australians and their carers, have been vaccinated—and we're not yet talking about people with disability and their carers.

But, as is always the case, the government are so arrogant. They think they can just spin their way out of any situation. I have been following politics since I was a young student in high school, and I have never known of a prime minister who would let the lies just slip off his lips as easily as this Prime Minister does on a daily basis. The really sad thing is that I think he believes his own lies. I really do. He believes his own lies. He is now being seen for the deceptive, very shonky Prime Minister that he is. Quite frankly, the Australian people deserve so much—

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Seselja, a point of order?

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

It is against standing orders to reflect on people both in this place and in the other place. They are personal reflections and they should be withdrawn.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I note there has been a fairly robust debate in the chamber this afternoon. Senator Polley, you might want to just clarify your comments and move on.

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is shocking as a senator to have to come into this chamber and expose the shortcomings of the Prime Minister of this country, but I will come into this chamber every day and draw attention to the mismanagement, the lack of compassion and the lack of urgency in relation to us as a country being able to get ahead of the game when it comes to this pandemic.

Quite frankly, the minister does owe the Victorian community an apology. Certainly, the Prime Minister owes Victorians an apology. The Prime Minister and other members of the government have been saying there is not a race to roll out the vaccine. Well, quite frankly, this is a race that we need to win. We need to get ahead of this virus. It is mutating to the extent that we don't know if there are any bounds to this. Therefore, we should be ensuring that the most vulnerable members of our community—whether they're older Australians, whether they're people with disability or whether they're the people who are on the frontline—have access as quickly as possible to ensure that we get ahead of this virus. But the government continually blame the states because they never want to accept any responsibility. The Prime Minister is being known as the Prime Minister who never takes responsibility. He is a Prime Minister who can't be trusted.

5:12 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a Victorian, I am someone who has seen my home state slowly come out of its fourth lockdown as a result of a state premier absolutely obsessed with power and with a totalitarian approach to running our state like I have never seen in this country. The facts are that we face a global pandemic and, in about March last year, the Prime Minister rightly called all leaders in this country—himself as Prime Minister of the nation and every single one of our premiers and chief ministers—to discuss seriously as one nation how we were going to deal with a global pandemic the likes of which we had not seen since the Spanish flu. It was in that national cabinet that Premier McGowan, the Labor Premier from WA, Premier Palaszczuk, the Labor Premier from Queensland, Chief Minister Barr, the Labor Chief Minister from the ACT, Chief Minister Gunner, the Labor Chief Minister from the NT and Premier Daniel Andrews, the Premier of 'Danistan', as we now know him, all agreed—

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

A point of order, Senator Watt?

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

Madam Acting Deputy President, you've quite correctly ruled that members should be referred to by their proper titles, and I'd ask that Senator McKenzie do the same.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Watt, your point is noted. Senator McKenzie, do you wish to seek clarification on that point of order?

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I wish to make a submission to the point of order. I was not referring to Premier Daniel Andrews by anything other than that title. My home state has, in fact, become known as 'Danistan'. I wasn't referring to Daniel Andrews by anything other than his name.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator McKenzie, if you can just reflect on your comments and continue your contribution, thank you.

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, thank you for your positive ruling in my case. Thank you, Chair—

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, I wouldn't want to characterise it as particularly positive or negative. Senator McKenzie, I cannot leave your comment unnoted. I seek that you don't reflect on my ruling—that you accept it and you do as I've asked you: to continue your comments, mindful of a decorous conversation on this matter of importance in the parliament. Thank you.

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. So, coming, as I do, from Danistan: all of those Labor premiers and chief ministers agreed in March that they would take responsibility for quarantine and we would take responsibility for other aspects of dealing, as a nation, with a global pandemic. Premier McGowan has been tough on the borders, but you know what? He doesn't hold a candle to Daniel Andrews's failures. Premier Palaszczuk—at least you can contact trace in Queensland. In Victoria, they cannot contact-trace a zebra crossing Collins Street, after 18 months. So, if you want to talk about where the failures in our system are in this country, I lay them firmly at the feet of the ministers who've failed—from health ministers right up to the premier—in my home state of Victoria, who, 18 months after the fact, have only one trick in their back pocket on how to deal with outbreaks in my home state, and that is to lock everybody down—everyone, put your masks back on; you can't leave home; you can't get married; you can't bury your loved ones; you can't get elective surgery done; you can't open your business. Of the latest lockdown, the first seven days cost regional Victoria $150 million. It just sounds like a number to people who don't care about small businesses, but these are people who've put their mortgages on the line to run these businesses and have absolutely no certainty. And you know how confident people are in Danistan about our state government's ability to manage the COVID-19—

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator McKenzie, please resume your seat. A point of order, Senator Watt?

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. I noted that you asked Senator McKenzie to reflect on her language, and I can see that she is flagrantly ignoring you, and I'd ask that you bring her to order, please.

Senator Seselja interjecting

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, we're getting a little exercised here! Yes, Senator Seselja?

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

On the point of order: it's not clear to me at all how the use of language by Senator McKenzie could possibly breach a standing order. If there is to be a ruling against Senator McKenzie, it would be good if that were clarified, because, on my reading of the standing orders, there is no standing order that is offended.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you for your contribution there, Senator Seselja. Can I just indicate to you, Senator McKenzie, that it is good practice to speak in plain English so that the people of the state might recognise that you are speaking to them, and I encourage you to use the term 'Victoria'. I'm assuming you are a proud senator of the state. It would be helpful if you could refer to it as 'Victoria' going forward in the debate. Thank you.

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On our current malaise: I am a proud Victorian, and, just to assure you, Madam Acting Deputy President, everyone in Victoria understands where we're talking about when we talk about Danistan—

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, Senator—

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

because we are actually living in a totalitarian state—

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator McKenzie, please take a seat.

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator McKenzie, resume your seat. Yes, Senator Watt?

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I think you know what I'm going to say, Madam Acting Deputy President. The senator keeps ignoring your requests. She's making adverse reflections on the premier of another state, and I submit that that's unparliamentary language.

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry—there's a point of order—

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm ruling on Senator Watt's matter first. I'll come to you in a moment, Senator McGrath.

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have a point of order.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Trust me. I'll come to you. Senator Watt, your point is—

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My point of order is on Senator Watt's. I should be able to do a point of order on a point of order.

Honourable senators interjecting

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senators, I did use the word 'decorous'. I think that this has descended way past that. Senator McKenzie, I think it's pretty clear that this is a heated issue and it matters to everyone. It would be helpful if you could make a contribution that doesn't ignore the general guidance that I'm attempting to give you, and I would ask senators if we can take the temperature down a little with regard to this debate. Senator McGrath.

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek clarification. Is 'Danistan' being ruled as unparliamentary? Either the senator can say 'Danistan' or she cannot say 'Danistan'. We need a ruling either way, because Labor clearly are on a slippery slope—or slippery stairs, indeed.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator McGrath, please take a seat. Just to be clear, there is no point of order and, if you wish to have a debate on that, I suggest you find another vehicle to advance that in the parliament.

Senator McGrath interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator McGrath, we are moving on. There will be no further points of order on this particular matter.

Senator McGrath interjecting

Senator McGrath, please take your seat. I call Senator McKenzie.

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. I thank my colleagues for their support. It has been like living in a gulag living in Victoria for the last 18 months, where at any given moment, because this guy cannot contact-trace, because he's got a bureaucracy that's doing its best but doesn't have the systems in place, the state can be locked down at a moment's notice in such a draconian way. This isn't about Labor versus Liberal, because I praise the Chief Minister of the ACT, Chief Minister Barr, for having recognised that regional Victorians didn't carry the same COVID risk that someone from Melbourne might have in an earlier breakout, so he sensibly applied a definition of a hotspot that was nuanced and wasn't just this carte blanche 'lock up and leave' approach of Daniel Andrews in my home state. That is the reality.

Those opposite are characterising how Victorian senators in this place feel about how our citizenry is being treated, how our economy's been decimated and how at the end of last year 26,000 people fled to other states to live. If you had seen the line-up of cars, including four-wheel drives, with tents stuffed in the back or caravans hitched to the back, with families shoved in them so they could exit Melbourne as quickly as possible at the start of the last lockdown, you would have thought you were in a Third World country and we were about to have a military coup. That is actually the reality, because none of these decisions are being made on medical advice. They are simply being made by an incompetent state government which cannot get its act together after 18 months.

I will call once again for a nationally consistent approach to the definition of a hotspot—that would be great—a nationally consistent approach to handling quarantine and a consistent approach to contact tracing, because both Labor and Liberal states have been able to keep themselves open and going, but there is something decaying and wrong at the heart of the state Labor government in my home state, the name of which starts D and ends with N. Really, you have to live there to understand what it feels like. Presentations to hospitals and specialists by young people with mental health issues have increased by upwards of 30 per cent as a result of this behaviour. Elective surgeries have been postponed. People are now in danger of not getting the health care they need, because of these restrictions. It is absolutely unprecedented, it is unwarranted and it is simply because of their incompetence. For those opposite to come in here from states that are not having to endure this—this particular matter of public importance has been lodged by a Western Australian Labor senator, not even someone who's actually having to live with the reality of these decisions—really gets our goat.

If you had to go through it, you couldn't believe it. Towns like Mildura are 550 clicks from Melbourne and had lockdown restrictions forced upon them, despite recording zero cases. That's not zero cases this week, this month or this year; it's zero cases ever. But they got, 'We're going to lock down your main street and we're going to stop you burying your loved ones.' We saw a tragic case of that in Warrnambool: a mother begging to have a funeral for her primary-school-aged son down in Warrnambool, and she was denied an exemption by a premier who cares more about inducing Stockholm syndrome in his citizenry to secure the next election than he actually does—

Senator McGrath interjecting

Yes, good question. He cares more for that that he actually does for the health, wellbeing and economic future of our once very proud state.

We have those opposite coming in here and taking cheap political shots, when they all know that the Premier has made that decision and that we have fast-tracked an MOU for a federal quarantine facility in Victoria. We took that proposal from the Victorian Labor government—despite them not offering to put a cent on the table, I might add. Those opposite do that, despite knowing we're doing everything and that the vaccine rate is actually accelerating. Every single group of Australians who are getting vaccinated have it happening quicker and quicker, which is great news. And that's despite us stepping in with essential economic support for Victorian families and businesses.

They want to talk about us all being in this together. I can tell them that if they lived in my home state of 'Danistan' they'd know it doesn't feel like we're all in this together. It feels like we're paying the price for a premier who is drunk on power—

Senator Van interjecting

Drunk on power, Senator Van. We've done the right thing in striking the balance. I call on all leaders of this nation to develop a consistent approach to hotspots and quarantine so that we actually can deal with the pandemic. (Time expired)

5:27 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I agree with the need for ministers to apologise to Victorians and all Australians. This includes ministers from state governments, particularly in Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia, and the federal government.

But let's dive deeper: after 16 months we still have virtually no data and certainly no plan. People are feeling scared and confused. Some are now terrified about the vaccine because crucial universal human needs are not being met—needs like security, health, reassurance, confidence, honesty, leadership, direction, care and competence. Where is the plan for managing this virus and managing our economy? The inconsistent behaviour across states and the nation reveals no plan. Queensland, Victoria and WA have deepened fear and confusion. Ministers are lurching from event to event and crisis to crisis. The people have been abandoned and there is just confusion and lack of accountability.

There are seven strategies for managing a virus, and I checked these with the Chief Medical Officer and the Secretary of the Department of Health and Ageing. The first one is isolation or lockdowns. The World Health Organization admits that this is only of limited use to get control. So lockdowns are now an admission that the state governments don't have control of their states. They're not managing the virus; the virus is managing the states. We see now in Victoria a 184 per cent increase in attempted suicides by children—184 per cent! Lockdowns are failing.

The second is testing, tracing and quarantine. These are partially in use, but to very poor standards. The third strategy is restrictions—things like masks and social distancing. These are capricious and dubious in benefit. The fourth one is vaccines. We now have deaths from vaccines and thousands of people dying from vaccines overseas. We have a wide variety of side effects, including blood clots, and the health minister himself has been hospitalised with cellulitis as a side effect. The Chief Medical Officer, the Therapeutic Goods Administration and the head of the federal department of health refused to declare the vaccines 100 per cent safe, and the vaccines fail to prevent transmission.

The fifth factor is cures and prophylactics. Ivermectin: I took it in 2014. There have been 3.7 billion doses around the world, over six decades. It's proven safe. It's cheap, because it is off patent, and it's now being proven successful—highly successful—overseas. We've had 655 aged-care residents who've died, yet this drug is available, proven and safe.

There are two other factors that I won't go into, but the main point is that there's no plan, and governments lurch from event to event and issue to issue. They're making it up as they go; premiers and prime ministers are hiding behind health officers. Australians have had enough of the fearmongering and the spin. Australians need honest, responsible and competent leadership.

5:30 pm

Photo of Raff CicconeRaff Ciccone (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is quite amazing—if someone were to just tune in—for on one hand, state governments have been accused of making up the virus; on the other hand, we're getting accused of going too hard and trying to protect citizens, whether they are from Victoria—in our good state, Senators Van and Paterson—or from any other state around the country. Governments right around this country have an obligation to ensure they protect their citizens. This is a new phenomenon that we're all trying to live through.

Quite frankly, the contributions from some on the other side have been very juvenile, saying that they're not trying to politicise the issue. Sorry, but some on the other side are being political about the issue. They're trying to say that the state government down in Victoria wakes up one morning and somehow decides: 'We want to shut down the state just because we can.' No-one wants to shut down their state. No-one wants to shut down their economy. But every state government has had to make decisions—as has the federal government. Let's not forget that Prime Minister Morrison invited all the state premiers to come together around a concept called the national cabinet. The national cabinet set down the rules that are in place around how we would manage the lockdown and other factors as a result of COVID. So let's all take a deep breath.

I know that, in our great state of Victoria, we've had quite a few challenges over the last 12 to 18 months. Nonetheless, we are managing through those issues. We have shown the rest of the world that, in how our Commonwealth interrelates with our state governments, we are living in paradise compared to the rest of the world. Do we want to compare how we're going with how they're going over in the UK or the rest of Europe or the United States or Asia or Africa? Quite frankly, I wouldn't rather be anywhere other than here in Australia right now.

When Senator Sterle puts forward a motion, I think we all need to read the words of what he's after. It was around the comments of the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services—no-one else, just the minister: there was 'a very positive record across the board with respect to maintaining a safe border for Australia'. That's what he was claiming. What we are saying is that the minister has misrepresented this place. Time and time again, when we have put questions to him—whether it be here in question time or in estimates—he hasn't been able to provide a straightforward answer, having to go through his pack or not being able to provide simple answers to questions: how many people have been vaccinated, Minister? We cannot get a simple answer.

We heard that today from another minister in this place, when I asked a couple of questions to the minister for the NDIS: how many people have been vaccinated who have been in a home under the care of organisations that are looking after those with a disability? The minister wasn't able to provide a straightforward answer—especially when it came to understanding the difference between group 1a and group 1b.

So, before we all get in here, beating our chests and saying what a bad job some of our state governments have been doing, I think we all need to have a look at ourselves and say: 'Have we all been doing a good job? Can we make this situation better for everyone?' I'm sure Senator Van will have a contribution later on, given his cheeky grin across the aisle!

As a nation, we find ourselves 12 months into this health event and we are still waiting, sadly, for the federal government to step up, in my opinion, and take more responsibility around quarantine. There have been two issues that Labor has been pushing this government hard on: having a national, consistent quarantine system around the country and making sure that Australians right around the country take up the vaccination to a level at which we can then start to slowly open up our economy. Until we get to that point, we are going to be in this scenario where we'll have constant challenges about what we do when there is an outbreak.

Reports received in the past couple of hours have suggested that New South Wales has a small outbreak, in the south of Sydney. There may be another one in Queensland. Before we start taking cheap pot shots at Victoria, let's also remember that there are other states that will have to grapple with the issue as soon as we start opening our economy. Ultimately, that is all that we want in this place. We want to protect our economy, because the sooner we can get out of this mess, the sooner we can start creating more jobs and get better outcomes for people right around the nation.

5:35 pm

Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I love MPIs, because they are exactly what we always expect from Labor. They throw some Dorothy Dixers at us, and we come back and show just how political they are going to be. While my good friend Senator Ciccone says 'cheap shots', there is nothing cheaper than this MPI today. There is nothing cheaper. We have a very safe record—mostly—in Australia; however, as he said, I will probably have something to say about what the media have called 'Danistan', and have called it that on many occasions. My good friend Senator McKenzie had every right to use that language.

Senator Ciccone was right about one thing: the states came together under national cabinet and they agreed that the states would run hotel quarantine—for very good reasons. They agreed it because they have primary responsibility for the quarantine arrangements under their public health legislation. This enables those jurisdictions to best manage their public health response. Why? Senator Ciccone mentioned Senate estimates. Our Chief Medical Officer said quite clearly in Senate estimates earlier this month that hotel quarantine was clearly a public health matter, and that was why the decision was made—that decision being the states running it. It's probably the most important thing that we have done in relation to keeping Australia safe since that time. The Chief Medical Officer went on to say there had been a lot of questions in that committee, and other places, about types of quarantine. But, the key part, the important part, Senator Ciccone, is you get public health issues right. The Chief Medical Officer went on to say the public health workforce sits in the states. He said, 'My colleagues on AHPPC have ample and very experienced people to do that work, and that is why they chose to do it.'

Since hotel quarantine measures were implemented—we're talking about an MPI about keeping our borders safe—more than 358,000 international air arrivals have come into hotel quarantine. Among those international air arrivals, there has been an estimated 3,900 COVID cases, the majority of which were detected in hotel quarantine. This represents approximately 1.1 per cent of all international air arrivals that became COVID-19 positive. Out of those, only six have gone on beyond the household of the person—either a worker or someone who has been released from quarantine. I am paraphrasing our CMO, Professor Paul Kelly. Six out of 3,900 positive cases is an extraordinary record of how we have managed our borders. Managed quarantine has been Australia's first line of defence, and Professor Kelly went on to say hotel quarantine was the most key 'ring of containment'.

Where did those cases go, those six that went out there? They started going onto other things. How have states managed where cases have got out of hotel quarantine? Well, that job is down to contact tracing, and that's where my home state, the one that the media called 'Danistan', has failed miserably. Every sitting period last year, I challenged my Victorian Senate colleagues to talk about what was happening in 'Danistan'. They never once said a word about lock down; they never once said a word about hotel quarantine; they never once said a word about the failures of contact tracing.

Let's look at the empirical evidence here. Australia has had, and I think this is pretty close to accurate as of today, 30,274 cases. Victoria had 20,668 cases, so 68 per cent of cases were in Victoria. Australia had, sadly, 910 deaths. Victoria had 820 of those deaths. So 90 per cent of deaths due to COVID happened in Victoria. That empirical evidence shows the failure in my home state, my very proud home state, the one that the media called 'Danistan'.