Senate debates

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

COVID-19: Economy

3:56 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians (Senator Colbeck) to the question asked of him by Senator Siewert today relating to COVID-19 and the economy.

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

[by video link] I want to speak on the motion to take note of the answer from Minister Colbeck to my questions around the Doherty modelling around vaccination rates and how it relates to the phases of transition out of the current situation. I was extremely disappointed in the minister's answer, for a number of reasons. He had clearly not acquainted himself with the Grattan Institute report, which is very important to this discussion. We know that shifting from an effective strategy of zero community transmission to one of removing restrictions and opening up our borders, based on high levels of vaccination, is one of the most important decisions that this country will make. Setting too-low targets, risking surging hospitalisations and the deaths of thousands of people, is deeply concerning. We need to make sure that we are properly basing our decisions on the scientific modelling that needs to be used to inform our target decisions.

What the minister was basically saying in answer to my questions was that the Doherty institute has done the modelling, and that's it. Well, the Grattan Institute has done some modelling too, and I'm sure other institutes have as well. How about we look at that? The Doherty institute's modelling is based on the people who are currently eligible for vaccination, those above the age of 16. If you compare the two models, Grattan suggests that a vaccination target of 80 per cent of the whole population—in other words, including children aged 12 and up—is necessary to avoid overwhelming the health system and to stop infections and deaths. If you look at its modelling, the 80 per cent that the government is using, that national cabinet has decided on, is based on people aged over 16 and is actually a population target of 65 per cent. If you go to looking at the 70 per cent, as I said in my question to the minister, that relates to 56 per cent of the entire population, if you include children over the age of 12.

My question to the minister then was: why aren't you including them? His answer was, 'We're including some children who are vulnerable and are now eligible.' That is good, but it's not just the vulnerable children who need to be vaccinated to make sure that we are not opening Australia up with wildly optimistic targets that will risk our health system and, most importantly, risk people's lives and increase the number of deaths that occur.

But we also need to remember long COVID. Even if some people thought we should accept some people catching COVID, nearly a million people, under a 50 per cent scenario, are predicted to catch COVID. Not only would that have a very large impact obviously on our health system but it would risk a lot of people having long COVID.

We have seen from the outbreaks in New South Wales and in Queensland that children are now catching the Delta variant. They are transmitting the Delta variant. It is very important that we have vaccination targets that will actually ensure we get to the point where we can safely transition out. The Doherty Institute modelling does not talk about getting to the point where we fully open our international borders, which the Grattan Institute does. The government need to ensure that they are taking into consideration all of the modelling that is occurring and that they have a good look at the Grattan Institute modelling. I can't believe the minister had not looked at alternative modelling to ensure that we are making these decisions, which we all agree are some of the most important that a government and a parliament will make, to not only transition out of lockdowns but transition to what people regard as normal.

Question agreed to.