Senate debates

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Matters of Public Importance

COVID-19: Vaccination

4:07 pm

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

I inform the Senate that, at 8.30 am today, 12 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 that the following letter has been received from Senator O'Neill:

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

The Prime Minister's failure to deliver a speedy effective rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, meaning Australians remain dangerously exposed today to the highly infectious Delta variant with the lowest vaccination rate in the developed world.

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 for today's discussion. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

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

Australians are paying the price for Mr Morrison's complacency. Today, as we meet here in the Senate, millions of Australians—those in New South Wales and in Queensland—are in lockdown, and there are two reasons why. Mr Morrison failed to listen to warnings to establish safe, fit-for-purpose national quarantine, just like he failed to listen to bushfire warnings two years ago. The other reason is he completely failed to deliver a plan to get us out of the pandemic.

Whilst governments around the world raced to secure supplies of vaccines to inoculate their populations, Mr Morrison's government had a 'wait and see' approach. Reports from industry publication BioPharmaDispatch have indicated that last year it was an open secret in the pharmaceutical industry that there was exasperation over the Morrison government's lack of urgency in securing vaccine supplies for Australians. They reported that whilst other countries rushed to do deals, the industry was constantly told that the Morrison government was 'not ready to procure or engage in discussions about procuring the vaccine'. Can you believe that? Other countries are off doing deals, and our government is telling the pharmaceutical industry constantly that they are 'not ready to procure or engage in discussions about procuring the vaccine'. It was a 'wait and see' approach, business as usual. Even under President Trump, the American vaccination program was called Operation Warp Speed. There was no Operation Warp Speed for this Prime Minister. He preferred 'wait and see', because, remember, it's not a race.

Of course, he only said it's not a race as an excuse for the growing delays in his vaccine rollout. And he needed that excuse. He needed that excuse because, last year, he said Australia would be at the front of the international queue. Do you remember that? 'I promise Australians we're at the front of queue.' And when he said to Australians we're at the front of the queue, he knew that many other countries had ordered their vaccines months ahead of us. He said Australians would be at the front of the queue even though he only got around to ordering Pfizer in November, months later, months after other countries had ordered theirs—and then he only ordered enough for five million Australians!

Prime Minister Morrison has made so many excuses but all roads lead back to him. He put all his eggs in one basket, the AstraZeneca basket. He did that despite it being well-established that best practice is to have a range of options. It's more than that; it's common sense. Mr Bowen, the shadow health minister ,was saying in the middle of last year that the world's best practice was to have four to six vaccine deals. But, as per normal, Mr Morrison was too arrogant to listen, always insisting he knows best. And when it became clear to everyone that he had once again dropped the ball and failed to deliver, he said it's not a race, it's not a competition. But Australians know it's always been a race to beat this virus. Until we have Australians vaccinated, lives, jobs, the economy and the recovery are at risk.

And while Australians ran the ever greater risk of infection with COVID-19 the government's response to that risk was infected by Mr Morrison's complacency. Now lockdowns have been made necessary by his failures. They're costing the economy around $300 million a day. This is the price small businesses and working Australians are paying for Mr Morrison's incompetence. His incompetence hasn't been limited to the vaccine rollout and quarantine; he has pressured premiers not to go into lockdown when clearly they needed to. As recently as June, Mr Morrison publicly pressured the Premier of New South Wales not to go into lockdown at the start of the outbreak—even though, at the time he said this, there was already ample evidence from around the world of the dangers of the delta variant, which was also the driver of the outbreak in New South Wales. And remember what he said? 'I commend the New South Wales Premier for the fact that she hasn't gone to lockdown in Australia's biggest city.' And yesterday he said, 'The only way to get on top of these things and ensure you don't have longer lockdowns is to move quickly.' As always with Mr Morrison, his story changes from week to week. You can't rely on him; he just blows with the political wind. He was dead against locking down Bondi—and now the rest of Sydney and beyond are paying the price.

We know that there are chronic problems with the supply of vaccines under this government, but there is more that we can do to encourage all Australians to sign up to get vaccinated. Today, continuing his approach of offering constructive solutions to the COVID crisis, Mr Albanese put forward another positive proposal—a one-off payment of $300 to all Australians who are fully vaccinated by 1 December. That's a good idea not just because it provides incentive to get vaccinated but also because it delivers a critical shot in the arm for businesses and workers who are struggling from ongoing lockdowns costing $300 million a day. It's a simple, practical idea that could make a big difference.

We know that this government have already been considering what incentives they could offer. This was indicated in their own COVID response plan. Their Chief Medical Officer, Mr Kelly, said:

We really do need to look for incentives—as many incentives as we can—for people to become vaccinated.

There was a obviously a little footnote to that: 'unless Anthony Albanese proposes it!' 'We really do need to look for incentives—as many incentives as we can—for people to become vaccinated.' That's based on the simple reality of how hard it is to get that last surge of vaccines that we will need if we are to avoid or minimise the risk of future lockdowns, and we know from the government's own backgrounding of the media they were considering giving people Frequent Flyer points and discount vouchers, so you'd think they'd have little to quibble about with Mr Albanese's proposal. Yet, just as he arrogantly dismissed Labor's proposals for wage subsidies before he finally introduced JobKeeper and just as he arrogantly dismissed Labor's calls for more vaccine deals, which he clearly should have done, Mr Morrison has arrogantly dismissed this idea today. You see, with this bloke it's always politics first. He's much more interested in scoring political points than doing the right thing.

The core proposition Mr Morrison seems to be putting forward is financial incentives don't work. That's big news to everybody here and big news to anyone who's ever had a job. It's an extraordinary and a bizarre claim, and it is so because what he says changes depending on his political circumstances, because can anyone imagine the leader of the party that claims to be about enterprise saying that financial reward is bad? You see people understand incentives do work. Mr Morrison knows incentives work. There are two possible explanations for him being so arrogantly dismissive of the idea to give financial incentives for Australians to be all vaccinated by 1 December. Is it just that they're so stubborn about playing politics that if Mr Albanese says it they dismiss it, or is it that they don't have enough vaccine supply to get Australians fully vaccinated by 1 December?

Today Mr Morrison claimed he wasn't going to offer financial reward. He said, 'That's not the Australian way.' Well, this bloke is in no place to define the Australian way, because, I tell you what, most Australians think our way is to be straight with people, to own up to your mistakes and to put the country's interests ahead of your own personal political interests. So just for once could Mr Morrison put politics aside, because, yet again, what we see is he's still more interested in his short-term political interests than the national interests, more interested in scoring political points than helping people, more interested in making excuses for his own failures than winning for Australia. The result is nearly half our country is in lockdown, and the result is that in the race to be vaccinated against this deadly virus Australia is last in the developed world.

4:17 pm

Photo of Hollie HughesHollie Hughes (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Those opposite—you guys seriously must be hating on the Olympics, you must be hating the fact that we're doing so well and that Australians are being represented by these fantastic athletes that are continuing to do our country proud, because there is seriously nothing you guys can't knock down, discredit and quite plainly misrepresent when it comes to our great nation. Why do you hate Australia—seriously? This persistent cry from those opposite about the vaccine rollout, all whilst out there contributing and aiding and abetting and pushing it along with—

Opposition Senators:

Opposition senators interjecting

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

Order, Senators!

Photo of Hollie HughesHollie Hughes (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

vaccine hesitancy—

Opposition senators interjecting

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

Order, order!

Photo of Hollie HughesHollie Hughes (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

confusion, misinformation, continuing to spread that. You guys need to have a really, really good hard look at yourselves and start to get on board with 'Team Australia'—

Opposition senators interjecting

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

Order on my left!

Photo of Hollie HughesHollie Hughes (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

because, quite frankly, you're just making it up. And this claim that we're at the bottom of the world ranking when it comes to vaccination rate is actually wrong. But I understand for those of you opposite that maths isn't exactly your strong suit. Perhaps for that lesson when they taught you how to read graphs you might have been absent or chatting away or looking at what the big government and the unions were supposed to tell you to do and what you needed to think, because when you see countries like New Zealand underneath our vaccination rate that means that Australia's not at the bottom.

Perhaps this inability to read graphs and interpret data is why you guys are unable to recognise a really important graph that continues to show Australia at the bottom, but, in this instance, it's at the bottom of rates of death by COVID. I would have thought that was a pretty good graph to be at the bottom of, but I'm not sure you guys have even seen it, let alone can understand it. Can you imagine where we would be had we not had the failure of the Andrews government last year? He absolutely was culpable for hundreds of deaths. There has been unbelievable success when it comes to the COVID death rate across Australia. Of course, you guys aren't interested in any of that. You aren't interested in the economic success and the lives and livelihoods that were saved. There has never been a scare campaign you didn't like.

I go back to the vaccine rollout. If the ALP are to have any integrity—and I guess I need to spell that word for them—they need to stop their disgraceful misinformation campaign around AstraZeneca. If it weren't so serious, it would be entertaining. The member for Maribyrnong, the man whose leadership aspirations remain strong—the beating of the drum for Albanese—

Opposition senators interjecting

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

Order on my left! Senator O'Neill, order!

Photo of Hollie HughesHollie Hughes (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before question time today the member for Maribyrnong proudly tweeted a photo of his second AZ shot, showing his support for this effective Australian-made vaccine. The Doherty Institute has confirmed that AstraZeneca is just as effective as Pfizer. I ask the opposition leader: is it purely a bid to create a point of difference between you and the member for Maribyrnong that you continue to withhold support for AstraZeneca? Is that why when you're asked to support this Australian-made vaccine you avoid responding, you worm and weasel your way around the question?

This is bad and irresponsible behaviour from the man who apparently aspires to put himself forward as the alternative Prime Minister of this fantastic nation, but he's not happy just feeding into this vaccine misinformation campaign; he's now out there ensuring the ALP goes to the next election with many vaccine scaremongers, misinformation merchants and, quite frankly, fantasists as candidates. With the preselection of Dr Michelle Ananda-Rajah in the seat of Higgins the ALP have now confirmed what we all already knew—they are more interested in political point-scoring, driving division and wedges between Australians, and scaring vulnerable cohorts. Shame on all of you.

Of course, the absolute worst of these scaremongers and spreaders of misinformation is none other than the Queensland Chief Health Officer, who has now been rebuked by pretty much every epidemiologist in the country and, in fact, by pretty much everyone with a medical degree—so that wouldn't include some of the commentators we regularly see on the ABC. If the Queensland Premier is so wedded to reward her—a woman who has shown a complete lack of compassion at every opportunity, has divided and destroyed families, has kept them apart and has spread misinformation but has never seen a film star or a footballer she wouldn't give a special exemption to at the first opportunity—let's just make her governor now. Get her in there. Get her out of the public view. Get her out of giving information to Queenslanders about what vaccine they should get, because she clearly doesn't know what she's talking about. She is making ridiculous and, quite frankly, stupid claims.

Unlike those opposite, with all this in mind, the grown-ups are actually here working towards increasing vaccination rates because we know that's how the country will open back up. Perhaps Senator O'Neill would be better off spending her time on her internal preselection rather than bothering to spread this pathetic propaganda. For those who are actually interested in the reality of the vaccine rollout—how many jabs have actually been given to Australians—more than 12 million jabs have now been administered. We also know now that more than one million jabs are being administered into the arms of Australians every single week. So we've done 12 million to date and will be doing over one million per week going forward. But those over there are not happy.

Like every country around the world, we have had some bumps along the way because these are unprecedented times. I know those opposite have perfect 20/20 vision. Had we all listened to them when they had nothing to say—of course, they have every criticism in the world after—everything would have been great. Imagine how good things would be with the $387 billion of new taxes they wanted to introduce! Thank God they didn't get the opportunity after the last election. But every country around the world experienced a couple of bumps with the vaccine rollout. The pace picked up as it was rolled out. It was slower at the beginning, and then it continued to grow exponentially.

There were some issues. The PM has acknowledged this. He doesn't hide. He doesn't weasel his way around why he won't support AstraZeneca. The PM has actually acknowledged that there were some issues at the beginning, and some were well and truly out of our control. I realise those opposite don't acknowledge that. When Victoria had problems, that was the PM's issues, or there was no issue because it was Dan Andrews. But now that it's in New South Wales it's all Gladys's fault, and what's not Gladys's fault is Scott's fault. You guys just can't quite get it together. But we've seen these issues resolved. We've seen supply increase. There's actually an excess supply of AstraZeneca, to the point that we're sending it overseas—to the point that the Queensland chief health officer decided that she didn't even want it. They've kind of changed that position now.

AstraZeneca is available, and we have seen over 4½ million vaccinations given in July. For those that don't understand how the rollout has exponentially increased, the 4½ million vaccines that were delivered in July is more than double what was delivered in May. So there's May, then June, and then we have July, for those who weren't paying attention in school. Within those months, we saw an over-doubling of the number of vaccines being delivered, from 2.1 million to 4.5 million.

Those opposite like to talk about supply issues and stagnation in the vaccine rollout. They're fundamentally living in the past. Let's face it: they always do cling to those old days. There's the disgraceful behaviour of the chief health officers in Queensland. There are all the little cash-for-comment epidemiologists popping up on the ABC—half of them without relevant qualifications; they're not even epidemiologists—talking down AstraZeneca, and then those opposite race out to secure them as candidates. But, aside from all of that, there is no supply issue. I would say to those opposite: 'You need to stop scaring people about AstraZeneca. There's plenty available. We make it here. Why don't you support Australian jobs?'

4:27 pm

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

[by video link] I wish to contribute to the debate on the Prime Minister's failure to deliver a speedy, effective rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, meaning Australians remain dangerously exposed today to the highly infections delta variant, with the lowest vaccination rate in the developed world. As people have called it, this is definitely a 'stroll out' of vaccines across this country. We were in an excellent position just before the rollout occurred. We could have been so much further ahead if the government had not squandered our advantage in this stroll-out of a vaccination process. Billions have been spent on trying to get this rollout fixed. There's been contract after contract, and yet we are still seeing the lowest vaccination rates in the developed world.

The Morrison government's rollout to date has been characterised by chaos and incompetence. We've witnessed a rollout that has been plagued by constant supply issues, poor messaging and a lack of transparency. We try to get the information that Australians want, but we can't. We've seen that through the COVID committee time and again. Every step of the way we have had to beg for data, information and action from this government. Across Australia, people have been left confused, angry and disappointed.

The vaccination targets that were released last Friday raise even more questions. If we are going to get 80 per cent coverage by March 2022, we need to include children over 12 years. The TGA has already approved the use of Pfizer for kids over 12, so why weren't kids over 12 included in the vaccination targets?

It just boggles the mind that we have not included children over 12 in those targets. The government is aiming for 70 per cent of people aged 16 and over to be vaccinated, but this equates to only 56 per cent of the entire population. The Grattan Institute predicts that, if we reopen at 50 per cent vaccination coverage, then we will see nearly 900,000 cases of COVID. Our hospitals, and our ICU wards, will be overwhelmed. We can't afford to play these sorts of politics with people's lives.

As the government fails to meet its own targets for vaccinating vulnerable populations, we've also seen vaccine inequity emerging. As of 1 August 2021, only 24 per cent of First Nations peoples have received at least one dose of a vaccine. This is unacceptable, when everybody agrees that First Nations communities are particularly vulnerable and when they were supposed to be prioritised. If this is what the government calls prioritising, I'd hate to think what the situation would be if in fact they hadn't been prioritised.

Scientists have been warning us for a long time about the emergence of variants, yet we seemed unprepared when delta hit us in this country. We still haven't adapted. We don't have fit-for-purpose quarantine facilities or the ability to produce mRNA vaccines here yet. We need to be doing better. We need to understand that we are in a race, a very fierce race, to ensure that we get 80 per cent of our entire population vaccinated as soon as possible. We have no proper dates, no proper time line, for when we will see the targets under the government's new approach, its new plan. (Time expired)

4:31 pm

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

I think the Australian people are now very well aware that Mr Morrison had two critical jobs. Mr Morrison and his government and all the people who are sitting on the treasury benches had two critical jobs, which were to deliver vaccinations for Australians, and quarantine that didn't leak, and they have failed absolutely on both fronts. Today I'm really pleased that we can actually put the facts on the record in this place—what the Australian community have been experiencing, suffering and worrying about in the period since this parliament last sat, particularly the people in the great state of New South Wales that I'm so proud to represent here. So many, so many in my community, so many across Sydney, locked down; businesses gone, never to come back—a total failure in governing this country, because the government forgot to do two critical things: get the vaccine out and sort out quarantine. They failed on both.

Today's matter of public importance, though, has a particular focus on the impact of the government's failure, the Prime Minister's failure, to deliver a speedy, effective rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. I have to wonder what on earth Mr Morrison—the man who was supposed to be in charge; the man who'll be in front of a microphone again tomorrow, delighted by the sound of his own voice—was doing in June last year, June 2020, when Pfizer came knocking on Australia's door. Mr Morrison was probably standing in front of a microphone back then, like he will be again, instead of doing his real job, his day job—actually doing the work of government and considering carefully what needs to be undertaken for the people of Australia—and thinking about the future and taking seriously the responsibility for getting vaccines against this COVID-19 outbreak across the world, a one-in-100-year event.

What's happening now is wholly attributable to this glorified ad man, who, along with his team, didn't take note of the advice that he was given. He talks about health professionals and following the health advice, but he didn't take the right advice at the right time, and every single one of us is paying for that now. The consequence, in quite a different reality from the world that Senator Hughes seems to reside in, is that people who have had good faith in the Australian government to date have lost that faith. They have lost that hope. They're all over Facebook on the Central Coast, where I wish I could go home to. I can't, because we're in lockdown, and I've had to do 14 days iso just to come here and do my job—and that's nothing in comparison to the imposition and the suffering that's going on right across Sydney right now. People have lost hope. People are despairing. Mental health crises are on the rise.

There are people like Nadine Morris, who wrote today on the Facebook page of the member for Robertson, Lucy Wicks:

Your "assurance" doesn't mean much when so many people have booked through the federal system … what a joke, I'm beyond furious, this whole situation is a big fat joke. How are we so far behind in this country, I'm embarrassed to be Australian right now. Still in hard lockdown a year and a half into this pandemic with no end in sight.

That's what Australians are thinking about this government and its failures to deliver a speedy, effective rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations. Valerie Dressler writes:

What double standards. One day they are telling people to get out and book in for their vaccine and the next they cancel your appointment.

Danny Long says:

This sends a really bad message—basically you don't matter. There's a few people I know who have been cancelled because of this. All of them have said they won't be trying again.

There, in microcosm, is exactly described the chaos of this government's attempt at a vaccination rollout. Don't buy the vaccines, don't get in a race to deliver them, don't tell people the truth about what's going on, stand in front of a microphone every day and pretend that you're governing a country when you're not really doing your job, and watch the whole thing go to hell in a handbasket. Watch businesses go down the drain, watch families lose their housing because they can't pay the rent, watch kids who can't go to school, and watch mental health crises emerging up and down the streets on which we live. That is what is happening because the vaccines were not purchased when they should have been and because there has been such terrible messaging in the way that this government has gone out to the community.

Julie Redfern says:

Surely this is NOT ok! We are being told we are in a government enforced lockdown until people are vaccinated BUT now the government is cancelling appointments of people booked for vaccination! What a mess …

Janelle Holman calls it like it is:

That's BS, Lucy Wicks MP, I had a booking for my vaccination at Gosford Hospital, it was cancelled today! There's a history of blood clots in my family and I'll be supervising HSC students in Sydney!

We're all interconnected. There are people who need Pfizer. They can't take AstraZeneca. And every time the government says, 'Sign up, get ready, get your jab,' people are taking the government at their word and finding the whole system is failing them.

Gemma Hall says:

So tired of our so called Ministers who don't fight for us at all … why are we the continually sold out region????

People are sick and tired of not being able to get access to a vaccine that the government keeps saying is available. It's not available. There are a number of GPs—very few—on the Central Coast who are able to deliver it, and the ones who had Pfizer have had it removed. So many people are so anxious about this, and it's because of the constant failure of this government to do the right thing—failure to own up to the problems which the government itself and failure to give the Australian people an even chance.

How bad is Australia's record internationally?

The Grattan Institute have been very, very clear over many years in giving frank and fearless health advice to governments of all persuasions. They do their research and they put their reputation on the line every time they put out a report about health. Stephen Duckett said that the government's vaccine strategy is amongst 'the worst in the world'. There are a lot of people in the Australian community who do not listen to politics. They say it doesn't matter. But they're figuring out it matters. I've heard from people who've said they're embarrassed about Australia's stance on this, because we are, in fact, the worst in the world. The numbers don't lie. At the end of last week, Australia had inoculated the third lowest proportion of its population of any OECD nation. We are falling far behind countries like Costa Rica, Mexico, Colombia and almost all of Europe.

We have had contributions like that of Senator Hughes, who tried to indicate that Labor politicians like me, on this side of the chamber, standing up for our communities, holding the government to account and telling it like it really is, haven't got pride in this nation. I've got pride in this nation. I've got pride in the people who want to do the right thing. I've got pride in all the people who want to sign up and get their AstraZeneca or their Pfizer dose. I've got pride in the doctors who are helping them make the decision about which vaccine is best for them. I've got pride in all of those people who have already gone and got the jab. I've got pride in my own family, in my own kids, who could see the writing on the wall and who knew that they could not take a chance and wait for this government to deliver Pfizer into our community. They're in their 20s and they went and got the AstraZeneca jab. They weighed it up, they spoke to a good doctor and they went ahead. But they shouldn't have been in that position. They wouldn't be in that position if this government had actually delivered an effective and timely rollout. It's a disaster. Mr Morrison should be ashamed of himself. (Time expired)

4:41 pm

Photo of Susan McDonaldSusan McDonald (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What a dismal, disappointing afternoon we are having here. At Australia's time of greatest need, what do we hear but negative rock-throwing? What do we hear but from an opposition who are very, very happy to be in a nation that has had the lowest infection rates, the lowest death rates and the most extraordinary financial response to this pandemic of any country in the world and that has managed to save lives and save jobs with its programs. Yet now we're going to listen to an opposition who, with the benefit of hindsight, can tell you exactly what was going to happen. With the benefit of hindsight, and without having any manual, as wasn't provided to any government in the world, they are going to tell us exactly what they would have done and how the government, without any of the benefits of hindsight and this mythical manual, could have done so much better.

I'll tell you what has happened in my state of Queensland. When the Pfizer vaccine doses started arriving earlier this year, they were poorly administered by Queensland Health. There were so many that were going out of date they had to start throwing up tents and hoping people would walk in off the street to commence their vaccinations, despite the federal government providing the vaccines and the ammunition to inform people. I was aware of people who walked in, having seen it on the street, and got their vaccination within 30 minutes. How many of those vaccine doses were destroyed after going out of date? How many people in Queensland were not encouraged to be vaccinated early? How much vaccine hesitancy was the result of the words of the Queensland government, which was only keen to be a roadblock in the way of the federal government's successful rollout?

Let me tell you about what happened in Burketown in the far north of the state. When I arrived, the public health system had flown up six people to vaccinate a community of 300 people and, in the two days they were there, they vaccinated 50. In that time communities were left exposed because of the lack of practical administrative processing. Queensland Health admin officers in Townsville were being vaccinated but not the doctors and nurses at the hospital.

These are the kinds of practical implementations that Queensland Health has failed on. The greatest impediment to vaccinating Queenslanders is our own Labor state government. Queensland Health did not order any Astra Zeneca in July and only ordered a thousand doses in May. Queensland has the second-lowest rate of fully vaccinated people, at just over 18 per cent, and the lowest rate of people who've had just one dose, at under 37 per cent. It is extraordinary that the opposition would continue to lay all this blame at the feet of the federal government, despite the millions of doses that have been provided to state governments to get into the arms of its population.

The latest thought bubble that has come from Mr Albanese is 'cash for jabs'. The best incentive that we can provide to get vaccinations is that it could save your life and the lives of your loved ones. It's not something that people put a price on. Australians know that, and they know that their taxpayer dollars are best spent supporting those who are doing it tough, who've lost their job or lost work due to another round of lockdowns. Instead, Labor is proposing payments to people who have already been vaccinated or have already decided to get their vaccinations. Research has highlighted that financial incentives have little to no impact on vaccination rates. Suggesting that people be paid to get vaccinated will alter their risk perception on what decision they should be making. It will also remove the personal responsibility from Australians to understand what is the right thing to be doing. At some point, we as a nation have to make the decision about what actions we personally are going to take. Senator O'Neill was talking about her pride in this nation, but I can't help but wonder how much further ahead the people of New South Wales might be if she spent more time picking up the phone to help people understand how to book a vaccination and what options they have to make that decision for themselves and their families and less time reading Lucy Wicks's Facebook page. I put to so many people the question: Have you been able to get a vaccine? So often, the answer is, 'Yes. I rang the hospital, but I couldn't get an appointment. I rang my GP and I got one,' or, 'I went to see my pharmacist and I got one.' There are many examples of people taking their own personal responsibility to go ahead and take the actions to become vaccinated, because they know that that is the right thing to do.

Senator Siewert raised questions about children over the age of 12 being vaccinated. From 9 August this year around 220,000 children aged between 12 and 15 who are at a high risk of illness if they contract COVID 19 will be able to receive a COVID vaccination. This includes:

        over 12. This follows a review of the Pfizer vaccine for use in children aged 12 to 15 by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.

        One of the things that Australia has done very well is not rush. We've not rushed decision-making and approvals because Australians are telling us they don't want that to happen. Australians are telling us that they have questions about the vaccination and they want to feel confident, and so this rollout has allowed people to know that, for those people who want the vaccination, the vaccination is available to them. We cannot put a price on Australians' safety. We know that we have a plan to get back to normal life and a target of getting 70 per cent of eligible Australians vaccinated, so lockdowns are less likely, restrictions are eased and many freedoms are returned. This plan is working. Already, more than 12 million doses have been given, and that has ramped up to more than a million doses per week.

        Regardless of what rocks the opposition is going to continue to throw, what criticisms they have, what benefit of 20/20 hindsight they have, what secret manual they have that apparently nobody else in the world has, in Australia the plan is working. Australians are able to get access to vaccinations, they're able to consult with their doctor and they are able to visit a range of different sites, whether hospitals, GPs, community pharmacies or other primary healthcare providers. So I beg the opposition not to continue this horrible, negative, anti-Australian, antisafety messaging but to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the government, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the communities of Australia, particularly those regional and rural Australians, and to support this incredibly successful vaccination rollout that is speeding up with every day that goes past. The rollout is ensuring that Australians will be safe and that we will continue the extraordinary economic recovery that we are having.

        4:52 pm

        Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

        [by video link] I rise to contribute to this important discussion on the matter of public importance. We've known since the start of the pandemic that First Nations people have an increased risk of adverse effects from COVID-19. We've known since the start of the pandemic that we're walking into a crisis. We are no strangers to dealing with deadly infectious diseases to which we have no immunity. We survived disease brought by the colonisers, like smallpox, which killed hundreds of thousands of my people. Our people, communities and organisations mobilised our COVID-19 responses early and effectively. Remote communities organised big return-to-country reparations efforts to keep people well on country. Our self-determined organisations produced health promotion materials in language to keep our communities safe and healthy. The botched vaccine rollout—and, yes, it has been botched and still is being botched by Mr Morrison, the so-called Prime Minister—has been marred by inconsistent messaging and inadequate vaccine numbers. Mr Morrison's failure to secure enough vaccines has led to serious and valid concerns about how low rates of immunity are affecting Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia.

        As I mentioned, our people know how to keep our communities healthy. In Victoria, my home state, Aboriginal health services have helped get 58 per cent of First Nations people vaccinated. This confirms that we've always known self-determination works. When First People are in the driver's seat, we achieve great things, and yet just last month the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation was excluded from a meeting of the National COVID Vaccine Taskforce. If that's not telling you that First Nations don't matter to the Morrison government, then I don't know what is.

        First Nations health services need to be included in the conversation. We have solutions, and, resourced properly, we can keep our communities safe. We can look after one another. We just need the vaccines to be able to do it. The Morrison government has said since the start of this pandemic that vaccinating First Nations communities was a priority. Well, start acting like we are the priority: get everyone vaccinated and get your plan sorted out to save people's lives.

        4:55 pm

        Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        [by video link] As this parliament meets again, Australia's largest city is in lockdown, and, over the last few weeks, most of the eastern seaboard has been in lockdown. It is an anxious time for millions of Australians, including millions of Sydneysiders, who are either stuck in their homes, risk the virus when they travel to the supermarket or work in essential jobs around the city where they are doing the right thing for the country and the right thing by Sydney, but are facing the constant risk of escalating the coronavirus pandemic. It is clear to the people of Sydney and it is clear to the people of Australia, that the Morrison government's vaccine rollout has been an abject failure. That failure is the reason we have the lockdown. Plenty of people on the other side of the Senate have criticised state governments for the lockdowns, but the lockdowns are a necessary public health response when the vaccination rate is so low. Without vaccination, there is no measure that's available other than the lockdowns.

        This is Scott Morrison's lockdown. It was his hubris, his utter failure of leadership that created this crisis. All of his press conferences look like a list of things that he should have done in 2020. Only this Prime Minister would so abjectly shrink from the work required to solve this national crisis. It requires three things of him. It requires grasping complexity, it requires casting aside ideology in favour of pragmatic solutions and it requires being honest with the Australian people in the national interest. No wonder he is so uniquely unsuited to this work. Just when we needed it most, we have a prime minister who is utterly incapable of doing his job.

        Nowhere is this failure more apparent than his consistent refusal to condemn members of his own backbench for undermining public health measures. The soon-to-be-former member for Dawson endorsed a selfish, dangerous anti-lockdown protest in Sydney and Melbourne on his social media pages and hosted his own protest in Mackay. He claimed that the coronavirus is no more dangerous than the flu and it only kills the elderly. He even went so far as to tell a small crowd: 'At some point in this fight, civil disobedience is going to have to be done,' and that they are 'going to have to prepare for that at some stage'. It was self-indulgent, extreme narcissism, yet neither the Prime Minister nor the Deputy Prime Minister have taken a single step to condemn him. Nor did they condemn Senator Rennick when he attacked public health measures, saying, 'You can't protect the weak by destroying the strong.'

        Senator Canavan also joined in. He told the ABC that he doesn't think the lockdowns are the right response, that they're causing untold damage to people's mental health, their business, their employment situations and their marriages. Not content with pretending to be a coalminer, now he's an epidemiologist. He is a one-man careers fair. He's had more imaginary careers than Paul Hogan had real ones. Last week, Senator Canavan made the bizarre decision to appear on Steve Bannon's podcast, which has been furiously pumping out vaccine and COVID misinformation to the far-Right internet—probably sourced from Russia somewhere, but damaging to our democracy and damaging to public welfare.

        Senator Canavan, Mr Christensen and Senator Rennick show everything that's wrong with the modern National Party. They're more concerned with prosecuting culture wars than representing the people they should be representing. The saddest part of Senator Canavan's appearance was when, given the opportunity at the end of his podcast—I couldn't bear to watch it—after talking about his big role in the international resistance to communism and whatever other garbage it was he was going through, he spelled out his Twitter account and asked people to follow him. He literally spelled it out. For goodness sake, instead of protecting the health and livelihoods of Australia, he is begging for followers on far-right podcasts! We need a serious effort from this Prime Minister, we need serious accountability, we need serious answers. Australians have done their job. Victorians have done their job. The people in New South Wales have done their job. We just wish this Prime Minister would do his. (Time expired)

        5:00 pm

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

        I'd like to thank Senator O'Neill for this MPI. I always love it when Labor get their MPIs up in the ballot. It's like they're delivering us a Dorothy Dixer every single time—and this is just another example. What rot we see in this MPI! How Senator O'Neill could possibly write that down is beyond anyone. But let's have a look at why. The vaccine rollout is continuing to gain momentum. More than 12 million doses have been administered, and we're now hitting more than a million doses administered each week. If you look at the starting point from when we started rolling out this vaccine, 160 days ago, Australia is actually ranked around 14th from that time. Why was it late? Because we built in that safety factor of seeing how it affected other countries. And why could we do that? Because we didn't have COVID at the time. So we built in extra safety measures. Now we're rolling it out, and 80 per cent of over-70s and 65 per cent of over-50s have had their first jab. If we look at the whole eligible population, 40 per cent have had their first jab and 19 per cent have had their second. The rollout continues apace, and it will continue to do so.

        As the Prime Minister said, there have been a number of setbacks in the vaccine program. As a government, we've taken responsibility for this. No-one could have foreseen the challenges that AstraZeneca has brought, but it has saved countless lives nonetheless. The UQ vaccine fell out. It was a very good candidate but it had false positives so we had to take that out of the list. Now we have other vaccines, and the amount of vaccines is growing every week.

        The government is taking responsibility for these steps, but we also take responsibility for a number of other things. As some of my colleagues have said, we have the second-lowest death rate in the OECD. We've protected the jobs of over three million Australians on JobKeeper and we've got more people back into work than were out of work before COVID hit. All these facts are lost on those on the other side. They don't seem to grasp what's important to Australians, and that is protecting their lives and protecting their livelihoods.

        Currently we have two vaccines on offer that we know are safe and provide effective protection against COVID-19 and it's subsequent variants. To ensure Australians are protected against the delta variant, we all have a responsibility to promote the vaccines and reduce vaccine hesitancy. What doesn't help in delivering a speedy and effective rollout is when Labor's candidate in the seat of Higgins spreads mistrust around the AstraZeneca vaccine and promotes vaccine hesitancy even further. What doesn't help the rollout is when the Queensland Labor government's chief health officer continues to criticise the AstraZeneca vaccine when we know it is safe; it has been approved for use by the TGA and we know it will help keep Australians safe. You only need to look at the UK's rollout. The effective vaccination rate of their population is 57 per cent. And their death rate has dropped from over 1,000 a day; the last number I saw was 24 a day. So AstraZeneca is very effective in protecting life.

        We need the Labor Party to stop doing everything it possibly can to undermine the rollout and promote vaccine hesitancy.

        Even just today, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Albanese, explicitly refuses to endorse the AstraZeneca vaccine. What is his thought bubble of $300 a day going to do to people's minds? It will make them think, 'Oh, I'll just wait a while until I get my vaccine, because I'll get 300 bucks if I wait.' We want people to go and get vaccinated now, so these little thought bubbles that wander out from those opposite need to stop. They need to get behind our vaccine rollout. They need to roll up their sleeves and do the work that parliamentarians should. So the answer to those questions is that they just don't care. They're very happy to play politics with the vaccine rollout, and I think Australians have seen through their political aims. (Time expired)

        Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

        Senator Steele-John? I'm sorry. We're not able to hear you, Senator Steele-John.

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

        [by video link] Can you hear me?

        Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

        I can hear you, Senator Siewert.

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

        [by video link] We can hear Senator Steele-John online, if that helps the technicians.

        Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

        We'll just wait for a moment to see if I can get an indication of whether that does help. Are we able to fix this issue? We'll just wait for a few more seconds to see if the technicians can fix this issue, but otherwise we will have to move on to the next agenda item. I'm sorry, Senator Steele-John. I think we'll have to move on. I'm not getting any indication from the technicians that they're able to correct the issue. Senator Hanson-Young?

        Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

        Given we can't hear or see Senator Steele-John here in the chamber, I think it's only right that we now do move on. But, just to be clear, we've already had a number of Greens senators speak to this topic, and I know full well that Senator Steele-John would have been highly critical of the government's rollout of the vaccine to date and critical of their lack of support to people. I'm sure that, in his three minutes, he was going to put the case very eloquently that we need to do better to keep Australians safe.

        Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

        Thank you, Senator Hanson-Young. I apologise to Senator Steele-John. The time for the discussion has expired.