Wednesday, 16 June 2021
Statements by Senators
Member for Herbert, COVID-19: Vaccination
I want to thank Senator Hughes and Senator Steele-John for their contributions in regard to the NDIS. I know their personal advocacy is recognised by members across this chamber. In working with them on the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs, I've learnt a lot more about the NDIS. I'm sure there's a lot more for me to learn—and a lot of questions for the government to answer about changes that are being proposed.
Last week, I was lucky enough to watch the State of Origin, game 1, in a brand new North Queensland stadium. I want to congratulate the town of Townsville, especially the mayor, Jenny Hill, on the success of the event—despite the score, which we will not mention today. Every time I visit Townsville, I get asked one very important question, and this visit was no different. Every time I visit Townsville I get asked: where is the $195 million of funding that the member for Herbert, Phillip Thompson, committed to Townsville at the last election?
Let me be very clear about this funding and how it has been misconstrued through comments by the member for Herbert about whether he is responsible for delivering it. Here's a brief history of the funding and the announcements. In 2019, before the last election, the LNP promised this funding to build stage 2 of the Haughton pipeline—a $195 million election promise, to win the seat of Herbert. At one stage, shortly after being elected, the member for Herbert actually pulled support for this project in an embarrassing Facebook video that he later had to retract. The federal government refused to provide the funding with no strings attached to the state government, so the state government decided that they would step in themselves and fund the pipeline directly.
It has now been over 300 days since the member for Herbert said that the funding would remain in Townsville, that the $195 million would still go to projects and jobs in Townsville. Despite that commitment, not a single dollar of that funding has been committed to a single project and not a single job has been created. This is more than two years after this commitment was made to the people of Townsville.
Mr Thompson told the Townsville Bulletin a few months ago that he had a new set of projects and that the money was ready to go but that the state Labor government was holding it up for political reasons. Give me a break. At the last Senate estimates we asked the department if this was the case, and—surprise, surprise—they had seen the list of projects, but those projects had not received final approval from the federal government. The answer was clearly no. The member for Herbert is incorrect in saying that the money is being held up for political reasons. They haven't even provided final approval yet. In fact, there isn't even a time line yet of when it might be approved—and, again, embarrassingly for Mr Thompson, he was forced to agree with these assumptions in the Townsville Bulletin when he confirmed that the projects that not been finally reviewed.
So not only has Mr Thompson not delivered on his big election promise, but he has been running around telling his constituents that the state government ate his homework and actually it's not his fault that he has not delivered on the promise that he made. Why has there been such a monumental failure to the people of Townsville? Why is it that this funding cannot be delivered by Mr Thompson and by the LNP, despite the big promises made before the election?
I believe that it's because Mr Thompson is Mr Morrison's mate in Canberra and is not a friend of Townsville's. You see, he likes to pick fights in Townsville with state MPs and then come to Canberra and use parliamentary privilege to slag off state MPs about state based issues. He does that a lot. He picks a lot of fights. But, when it comes to the things that he has promised to deliver and when it comes to picking fights on behalf of the people of Townsville for the things that he's responsible for—well, that simply doesn't happen. Mr Thompson has been absolutely pathetic, in my opinion, about this funding and whether it should be delivered by the federal government. He is happy to keep the Prime Minister happy but disappoint his constituents. Again, that's not my word; Mr Thompson said that he is disappointed himself in his own failure.
Last week, at the Origin, in Townsville, Mr Thompson posted a photo of what can only be described as a weird, fanboy moment, FaceTiming Scott Morrison at the football. If Mr Thompson can FaceTime the Prime Minister at the footy, why can't he get the Prime Minister on the phone, face-to-face, or even FaceTime his best mate Mr Morrison and demand that this funding be delivered? In the two years since he has been elected, he has failed to do that.
Townsville deserves an MP who will actually fight for them, not lie down because their mate the Prime Minister has decided that North Queensland—or, more specifically, Townsville—isn't a priority right now. When it comes to Medicare, aged care, the cashless debit card or the NDIS, people in Townsville need to know whether Mr Thompson has their back or Mr Morrison's back, because we know that this government sent robodebt notices to people in Townsville in the aftermath of the floods—that's what they did to people in Townsville. We know that this government are attacking Medicare. We know that they've failed to deliver vaccinations to aged-care workers. We know, as we've heard today, that they're making fundamental changes to the NDIS in a region where it's already difficult to get NDIS services, and we know that there is the potential for this government to roll out the cashless debit card to more regions and to pensioners. So people in Queensland and people in Townsville need to know that Mr Thompson has their back, and what we clearly know, from what has happened with the Haughton pipeline funding, is that that is not the case.
This tired, eight-year-old government is just one inadequacy after the next. The LNP is dangerously slow when it comes to the vaccine rollout in this country. We know that, thanks to Scott Morrison's abysmal vaccine rollout, the national borders are going to remain closed for far longer than they should. Nobody here thinks that the borders should be open despite the health advice. Everyone respects that health advice. But the health advice is determined by our vaccine rollout—we know that. While the rest of the world begins to open up, thanks to high uptake of vaccines, Australia will be losing billions upon billions of dollars in tourism revenue, thanks to the LNP's 'not a race' strategy. Well, I can tell you, regional Queenslanders, it is a race. Getting vaccines out is a race. We've been in this pandemic for more than a year, and the Prime Minister still can't get quarantine right and he still can't get vaccines right. There are no more excuses anymore for the Prime Minister's failure to step up and do his job on vaccines and quarantine. The budget made an assumption about when the vaccine rollout would allow for the borders to open, and it wasn't until mid next year. So that means that a year from now tourism operators in regional Queensland will still be waiting for international visitors to visit them, and this Prime Minister says that the vaccine rollout isn't a race.
What we want to see from the members opposite and from members in the other place isn't patting Mr Morrison on the back and protecting him for his failures but standing up for your communities and doing what you were elected to do: support your communities through this. It is not acceptable that this government has failed to roll out the vaccine quickly enough to make sure that we keep up with the rest of the world. We get a lot of comparisons with the rest of the world, and this government likes to make them often, but what we know is that other countries are opening up and that international tourism operators in Cairns will be left behind if this government does not successfully deliver a quarantine program and a vaccine program that mean that we are ahead of the race. We should be at the front of the race, not the back of the race. We were always told by this government that we were at the front of the queue. Well, we are at the back of the queue, and people in Queensland are catching on.