Senate debates

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Matters of Public Importance


4:15 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism) 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 Wong

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

The failure of the Prime Minister to deliver a speedy effective rollout of COVID-19 vaccines and safe national quarantine, meaning 10 million Australians begin the week, yet again, languishing in lockdown.

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 clocks accordingly.

4:16 pm

Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity to speak today in the chamber about the Morrison government's failure to deliver effective vaccine rollout and safe national quarantine, meaning that we have millions of Australians—10 million Australians—who are currently living in lockdown situations.

I think it's worth going back and having a look at what happened right from the beginning of the vaccine rollout to answer the question: why has it been such a shambles, why has there been so much confusion in the public messaging, and why has every target or commitment given by this government failed to be achieved or reached? It starts right back at the beginning of the announcements about the vaccine procurement strategy. At the beginning of November, the Prime Minister told all of Australia, 'Australia is at the front of the queue.' That is where the misinformation and the commitments given but never reached started. This was the day that the Prime Minister announced a deal for 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 40 million from Novavax, saying that Australia was at the front of the queue for the mRNA vaccines. Of course, now one of the issues with our low vaccination rate is the failure to have adequate supply of the Pfizer vaccine. We know that the claim that we were at the front of the queue was simply not true.

The Prime Minister also said:

We aren't putting all our eggs in one basket and we will continue to pursue further vaccines should our medical experts recommend them.

Again, either the experts failed to provide the government with the advice that was actually needed by this country or the Prime Minister chose to have a very reduced number of deals. When you look around at other countries, they were signing up to five, six or seven deals. The Australian government made an absolutely clear decision not to do that.

The Prime Minister then committed to having four million Australians vaccinated by the end of March. He made this commitment in January 2021. Of course, we all know now that this was never reached either. On 31 January the health minister, Greg Hunt, said, 'Australia will be fully vaccinated by October.' He stated, 'We aim to have the country, 20 million adults, vaccinated before the end of October.' We now know of course that that won't happen either. On 1 February 2021, the Prime Minister made another promise—that all Australians who wanted a vaccine would be vaccinated by October. But, just a few days later, the failure to deliver on commitments started. On 5 February, the health secretary, Professor Murphy, said, 'It's more realistic that Australia will hit the four million vaccinated mark by early April rather than mid-March. Just a few weeks after the Prime Minister had given that commitment the government were accepting that they weren't going to meet it.

On 15 February the Prime Minister set a new target of 60,000 doses for February instead of the 80,000 he promised in January. On 16 February the health minister announced that the aged-care vaccination rollout would take approximately six weeks. Remember that? It's still not done. That was on 16 February and here we are in August and we know there are still aged-care residents to be vaccinated with their second dose and we know that the aged-care workforce, the ones that are actually bringing the virus into aged-care residential settings, haven't been vaccinated. We learnt just a couple of weeks ago that nobody actually knows what's happening with the home-care workforce because there isn't a plan. A decision was taken to not really pursue the home-care workforce because the government were too wound up with how they were failing to meet the residential aged-care vaccination target.

On 28 February this year, on the government's target of 60,000 doses by the end of February, we found out that only about half of those had been administered. So right from the get-go every target set by this government has failed. Then on 11 March, just a month after the Prime Minister said, 'Everyone who wants to be vaccinated will be fully vaccinated by October,' Professor Murphy belled the cat and said, 'We don't know whether we will be able to achieve two shots by the end of October.' On 31 March, the day that we were meant to hit the target of four million vaccinations, the Prime Minister failed to meet the target he set himself by 3.4 million vaccinations. Where he promised four million, he delivered 600,000. A week later—what a surprise!—there was a rollout recalibration. The Prime Minister announced that, after ATAGI advice, Pfizer would now be the preferred vaccine for under-50s and—what a surprise!—there wasn't enough. We had a shortage of supply because we failed to secure a deal with Pfizer that allowed for this sort of redundancy.

On 11 April the commitment to have all aged-care residents and workers and disability care residents fully vaccinated by Easter failed. That went. A few months later, we found out that a decision had been taken to take disability residents out of that target because the government were prioritising aged-care residents. They didn't meet that target anyway. Nobody told people working in the disability sector or people living with a disability themselves that that decision had been taken.

On 12 April the Prime Minister released a video statement where he announced that Australia no longer had vaccination targets. What a surprise that was considering the targets the government had set themselves had been missed! We got promised 13 pop-up vaccine clinics in New South Wales that would be open by the end of May to get aged care and disability care services done. But by July just three were listed on the Department of Health website.

The vaccination target of six million vaccinated by May was failed. Then, on 11 May, the Treasurer stated in his budget speech, 'Every Australian who would like to get two shots of the vaccine will be able to do so by the end of the year.' We know that didn't last a day before the Prime Minister overruled the Treasurer and made it clear that it's actually not government policy any longer to have a commitment that Australians will have access to two doses by the end of the year. Now the target had moved to, 'Well, we'll just hope that you'll have one dose or you'll be offered a vaccine by October.' The Prime Minister said, 'These aren't our assumptions any longer; they are not the policy settings.' On 28 May, Australia reached 3.9 million vaccinations, two months behind the original schedule, which predicted four million doses by the end of March. As to the 13 pop-up clinics that were promised, at the end of May there were still only three of them.

In June, the aged-care minister acknowledged that he didn't know how many people in the aged-care workforce had been vaccinated. Health officials said only 10 per cent of the workforce had been reached through in-house vaccination programs and at least 20 aged-care facilities were to be visited as part of the aged-care residents vaccination rollout. This was in June. The vaccination rollout started in February, and aged-care residents, disability residents and the workers in those areas were 1a. They were meant to be done in the first six weeks.

On 19 June we got a new term, 'horizons'. That was to replace the word 'targets', we think. We haven't had an ad campaign. We've had strategies, we've had plans, we've had horizons, we've had targets and now we've got a campaign plan being launched. It seems every time something goes wrong with the vaccine rollout another document comes out. There are more phases—1a, 1b, 2a and 2b, which are now phases A, B and C. And now we have the Doherty modelling announcing different arrangements that are being put in place. Is it any wonder people are confused about what's going on? There hasn't been an ad campaign to target people around the vaccination, because we haven't had enough supply, because we didn't have enough deals. Decisions taken last year have turned out to fail the Australian people in terms of getting an efficient rollout, getting it done properly and making sure we're protecting vulnerable people. None of that, which should have guided the strategy, has actually been achieved today, some six months after the rollout started.

4:27 pm

Photo of Perin DaveyPerin Davey (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's all well and good to be very negative in what is a negative and a very trying and difficult time. It's all well and good to, with hindsight, say that we should have had multiple vaccine deals with multiple vaccine companies which had not even put in an application to have their vaccinations approved for use in Australia yet. It's all well and good to say that the Prime Minister has failed, but that is a very harsh judgement.

Our government, under the Prime Minister, has spent the last 561 days working day and night with the health experts and listening to the health advice to try and deal with this pandemic. We were one of the first nations in the world to actually notify that the virus had human pandemic potential. That was in January 2020, at the same time as we were dealing with devastating bushfires and trying very hard to keep our country and our morale up. We were already listening to the health experts. We were already watching this pandemic, and we have continued to work with the health experts ever since. We have worked hard, and our efforts, which initially had the full support of the Labor Party, are estimated to have saved over 30,000 lives. We've supported over three million Australians through JobKeeper, while keeping Australia's economy on track, with over one million Australians getting back to work. We have invested more than $370 million—that is $659,000 per day since the pandemic began—in support for COVID-19 research and development. As at the start of August, we've now got 5,000 GP practices playing a crucial role in administering the COVID vaccination rollout.

Yes, I accept Senator Gallagher's accurate reflection that we missed the target. We didn't have four million people vaccinated by April; that is right. The Prime Minister has acknowledged this and he has publicly apologised for missing the mark. But we have turned that around. We had met the four-million mark by mid-June. We are now vaccinating a million people a day and, just in the last 28 days, we have administered over four million doses, so we are now doing four million doses a month, which has really turned it around. We also have our community pharmacies on board to deliver vaccinations. I also want to acknowledge the work of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, who have been out and about in our most regional and remote communities and have administered 9,200 vaccine doses across 88 remote communities, including remote Indigenous communities.

I also want to mention the important work our government is doing to support other countries in the South Pacific, which are being crucified by this pandemic. Over 153 million doses have been distributed around the world to 137 countries, and we have helped our neighbours and friends in Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, Fiji and the Solomon Islands get their hands on crucial doses to help their populations because we don't turn our backs on our neighbours.

This pandemic is immeasurable, but this motion goes to show how out of touch Labor is with the everyday Australians. There is so much health advice coming out from those opposite that doesn't necessarily reflect the advice that the experts are giving us. Australians know that our government is behind them. We are working our hardest to ensure that we get through COVID and that our economy is in a position to be able to recover and respond.

4:33 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

Millions of Australians across the country are now in a COVID lockdown because the Prime Minister has bungled the two most important jobs this year—rolling out the vaccine and fixing the nation's quarantine system. Let's be very clear about what is happening. Lockdowns are still happening because the Prime Minister didn't treat the rollout as a race; it was always a race. The rollout remains the most important job the government has and they need to use every option that they have to speed it up because it is not going well. In the rollout race, Australia is coming 84th in the world. As Malcolm Turnbull recently pointed out, 'It is a colossal failure.' He went on to say it is 'the biggest failure of public administration' that he can recall. It costs a lot, an estimated $300 million a day. The economy is bleeding hundreds of millions of dollars a day and billions each week because Mr Morrison has not done his job, and it's a price being paid by Australian workers and by Australian small businesses for his incompetence.

I remember really well how difficult things were for Chinese Australian businesses, particularly the restaurants, at the beginning of the pandemic. At that time, I spoke with Chinese Australian representatives in Burwood and in Hurstville about the challenges that they were facing at a time of real uncertainty and fear but also of rising racism—let's be honest. I've kept track of how these communities and these businesses are going, and there was a story the other day about the restaurateur Vivien Chen, who runs Yang's Dumpling Restaurant in Burwood. She talked in the story about just how devastating it is to be back in lockdown in 2021. She pulled her business through the challenges in 2020, but this time it's really tough. The story quoted her:

"This lockdown is proving very, very hard for us," said Ms Chen … "Our business is more than 75 per cent down compared to this time last year, and it's really bad now; there are virtually no customers.

"Yesterday, I made $200, which isn't even enough to cover my employee costs. And I really want to keep my staff because, if they go, I won't have staff anymore when this lockdown finished."

She said that many of her friends had already closed their businesses. They struggled during the previous lockdown, and this one is proving to be the last straw. She said that they couldn't manage with the opening and then closing, opening and then closing, so they've given up and closed permanently. It's these small businesses and the workers that they employ that are bearing the brunt of these lockdowns, and we owe it to them to fix up the rollout and fix up the quarantine.

Of course, it's possible to quantify the economic impact with a number, but we don't live in an economy; we live in a society, and, although it's more difficult to quantify the impact of the lockdown on the bonds between us, it doesn't make that impact any less real. In Sydney it seems likely that children will go for months without having a lesson in a classroom or being able to play with their friends. People won't be able to meet their newborn nieces and nephews, and older Australians are increasingly isolated without contact with their loved ones. And we've lost the ability to do simple things like have a conversation with our neighbours. Our communities really are the sum of these genuine, sometimes casual, human interactions, and technologies like Zoom and Skype really don't substitute for them.

None of this is an argument against lockdowns. Public health officials are rightly telling us that short and sharp lockdowns are amongst the best tools that we have right now to avoid a devastating spread of the Delta variant. But all of this is an argument for having fought tooth and nail previously, back when we had the space and the time, to put in place the conditions that would have allowed us to avoid this. Every dollar that the Prime Minister saved by not ordering more, and a more diverse range of, vaccines back in 2020 is looking very expensive indeed. And every excuse that he provided for his refusal to establish a national quarantine facility looks very foolish indeed.

Has there been any real reckoning with any of this, any sincere examination of performance? Not really. There is a continuing insistence that everything is going quite well. There has been little regret, much less sincere apology. Indeed there has been deflection, blame shifting, to the point where it's surely getting a little embarrassing for the Prime Minister's own team. It's always someone else's fault—headline after headline, press conference after press conference. It's not his fault. It's ATAGI. It's the Italians. It's the aged-care workers who didn't get themselves organised. It's somebody else's fault, but it's never his.

This week, in a new low, the coalition is, bizarrely, trying to assert that it's the opposition's fault. This is fanciful and just a little desperate, right? Labor has always supported the health advice 100 per cent. We support it about lockdowns. We support it about Pfizer. We support it about AstraZeneca. Any suggestion to the contrary is total nonsense. And, unlike the Prime Minister, we have never sought to undermine the health advice, never attacked ATAGI and never sought to influence their advice through waging some sort of public campaign.

My leader, Mr Albanese, and our entire federal Labor team have supported the science and supported the evidence around the pandemic. That is a position that really can be distinguished from the behaviour of the Prime Minister and the people around him, especially that group of backbenchers who have sought to gain political advantage by microtargeting messages to the antilockdown crowd and the antivaccine crowd.

This, oddly enough, is a government that seems determined to behave like an opposition. It really is quite that strange. They would rather point the finger and complain about external circumstances than actually take responsibility for delivering and for leading, because what you need, what we need, right now as a community is actual leadership. We need real leaders willing to step up and accept the heavy burden of leadership at a really difficult time. We need leaders to take decisions in the national interest. Australia is facing the biggest health crisis in a century, and if Mr Morrison and his team do not want the job of governing under those circumstances they really should get out of the way.

Labor does have a plan to beat COVID-19, to support our community through this pandemic, and it starts with treating the rollout like a race. We would bring the necessary urgency to this task if we were governing. We would work to increase supply by talking closely with the vaccine companies and with our allies. We would vaccinate frontline workers by bringing the vaccine to them rather than putting the burden on them to organise their own arrangements. We certainly wouldn't blame them, like the Morrison government has. And we would build the capability to start manufacturing vaccines here. We recognise what is required to lead, and we recognise the imperative for leadership at this time. The Morrison government's failures have left millions of people in very, very difficult circumstances, and it is time that instead of deflecting blame and saying that it is someone else's fault that they stood up and took responsibility for leading at this most difficult time. Thank you.

4:42 pm

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

[by video link] The Greens are supporting this MPI about the failure of the Prime Minister to deliver a speedy effective rollout of COVID-19 vaccines and safe national quarantine. This failure means 10 million Australians begin the week yet again languishing in lockdown. When it comes to getting out of COVID the government had a number of key tasks. Vaccines and quarantine were key, yet the Morrison government failed to secure enough vaccine or enough diversity of vaccines, they failed to provide clear messaging and advice, and they failed to provide us with an evidence based pathway out of this mess.

I welcome the release of the modelling from the Doherty Institute that was used to inform the government's national plan to reopen Australia, but this only prompts more questions. For example, why weren't the Doherty Institute asked to model the impact of reopening our borders? Under phase C of the government's plan, caps on returned Australians would be abolished and international travel restrictions would be lifted. So many Australians have felt the heartbreak impact of border closures. For many people life is on hold until our borders are open once more. Everyone deserves to know when the government is planning on reopening borders and the associated risks involved. It's a huge shortcoming, and I'm disappointed the government hasn't asked for this information. So many Australians are hanging out to see relatives and their loved ones, and so many Australians are hanging out to come home.

The Doherty Institute also looked at what would happen if we had partial or optimal effectiveness of testing, tracing, isolation and quarantine. We do not have optimal contact tracing and quarantine arrangements in Australia. This is abundantly clear from the 27 breaches of hotel quarantine which have sent us into so many lockdowns. If our contact tracing and quarantine continue to be only partially effective, the Doherty Institute predicts we will still continue to need lockdowns for 18 to 22 per cent of the time once 70 per cent of the population is vaccinated.

The government is gambling with our future by refusing to include children in its vaccination targets. Again, the Doherty Institute thinks that vaccinating children would only achieve modest reduction in transmission, yet we know that children aged zero to 19 account for more COVID cases in Australia than people aged 70 and over. Children can catch and transmit COVID, which has been evident throughout the current outbreaks in Queensland. Children can also catch COVID from their vaccinated parents. This is another reason why we need to understand exactly what the government asked the Doherty Institute to model. That is very unclear. While the government is making critical decisions about our way out of COVID, private consulting companies are continuing to make huge profits, yet we still have had significant troubles and mistakes made through the vaccine rollout. We have no idea about the qualities of the strategic planning they're supposed to have given and the advice and case studies they're supposed to have given, or whether they were even used in decision-making. These are all confidential reports.

On a personal note, I encourage people to get vaccinated. My mother and I have now had our second dose. We got vaccinated together, both being in phase 1b. Please, I urge Australians to get vaccinated. We need the government to come clean about what their targets are and when we will be able to open our borders. (Time expired)

4:46 pm

Photo of Matt O'SullivanMatt O'Sullivan (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I've made a habit of thanking the opposition for the opportunity to speak on matters of public importance that they bring before this chamber, and this opportunity is no different. When they're writing them they must think that the wording is clever, they'll get a few runs on the board and somehow they'll embarrass the government. But in reality what they do is they expose themselves. They give us the opportunity, time after time, to come in here and talk about their lack of policy and how they've managed to go through this whole pandemic without making a single meaningful contribution to the public debate. They've come up with really clever campaign slogans about how we have two jobs, and that's much the same in how this MPI is worded. They've put a lot of time into developing that little campaign. Just think about how they've been writing all those talking points, getting them out to all the MPs and putting them on social media so that they can churn them out to anyone who will listen. They've taken months of preparation, months of saying the same thing over and over again because they're trying to get their message into people's minds. And this week they've managed to unwind it all. One policy announcement, and all of that effort has been wasted.

The Leader of the Opposition fronted the media and came out with his grand plan to get Australians vaccinated. 'Give them cash,' he said, '$300 to anyone, everyone, who gets the jab.' Firstly, it's a massive insult to the intelligence of Australians, and that's a whole debate to have in and of itself. But most significantly, by making this announcement Labor have finally come to the party and backed our vaccine plan. They've finally admitted that we actually are in a position to get between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of Australians vaccinated by Christmas, otherwise they wouldn't be out there saying that we should be giving them $300. They have confirmed what we on this side already know, and that is that we have the supply of vaccines for every Australian who wants one to have one by Christmas. And just like that they've undermined months—months—of their own scare campaigns.

Why are they advocating for the $300? It's true there are many in our community that do have some reluctance to get vaccinated. There's a lot of misinformation flowing about the vaccine strategy, and I must say that those opposite are actually doing little to deal with it, just like what they did with JobKeeper. They had to fight it every single step of the way. They had to try to undermine it, and when it wound down they were saying that it was going to cause mass unemployment. They said that the economic apocalypse would come. They claimed that it would come, but it never came. In fact, it was quite the opposite: we had the lowest unemployment rate in 10 years. Did we hear any retraction? Did we hear any admission that their predictions did not come true? Sadly, no.

I wonder if I can be surprised by those opposite. When we get to Christmas and we've achieved those targets set by the Prime Minister, which I know Australians will step up to, will those opposite acknowledge that their gloomy predictions were wrong? Will they bring themselves to the Senate for an hour, like we are doing with this MPI, and acknowledge that they got it wrong and celebrate Australia's success? Or will they yet again bring to the Senate some political pointscoring? With every policy response we've put in place to deal with the economic and health consequences of this pandemic, they've said it goes too far or doesn't go far enough, that it's too big or too small. You name it, they've brought up every single argument they can to undermine it. Yet here we are, having been able to deal with the response of the pandemic like no other nation in the world. You wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

This vaccine rollout will be no different. Already, more than 12.5 million doses have been administered. We are now hitting well over one million doses every week, or over 200,000 per week day. A total of 4.5 million vaccinations were given in July—more than double the number achieved in May, when 2.1 million doses were administered. Sure, there've been issues of supply. We've resolved those issues. The Prime Minister, working with his leadership, has dealt with those problems. Not all the calls we've made have gone out as we had hoped, but we've turned the corner.

Every time a news campaign hits the airwaves, particularly in relation to the vaccine rollout, where we have hesitancy in the community, more and more people second-guess the efficacy of the program. They are doing nothing to underscore the efficacy of the program; they are undermining it every step of the way. They are turning what should be a medical conversation into a political one. That should never be the case. We're seeing it here with the substance of this MPI, and it's absolutely despicable. There have been setbacks—of course there have. Never before has a nation had to deal with a rollout on the scale we're dealing with right now. This is what Australian families are dealing with.

Unlike those opposite, we are capable of wearing those setbacks. We are capable of owning them, correcting them and, importantly, moving on. The Prime Minister has done that, and we are on the home stretch. The next six months will be the definitive moment in our response. Every nation is racing to get people vaccinated. The world is opening up again. They won't be waiting for Australia, but we'll be ready for when that happens. We'll be ready because we are on track. We have an achievable time frame with the rate of vaccination that is occurring right now. With the pipeline of vaccines available, we know we can do it. We have fantastic health staff—GPs and pharmacists—and infrastructure in place to get the job done. We know Australians will step up. Australians are rolling up their sleeves and having that jab. This is a massive national effort unlike anything we have ever seen. That's a phrase that you hear often, but it's absolutely true. It requires everyone to get on board to either have the vaccine or to have conversations in the community with those who have concerns. And that's why I say it's a great national effort.

Labor needs to join the team. Labor needs to get in behind Australia, not seek to undermine it for political points. I know many of the senators on that side of the chamber. They are good people, and they are better than these cheap campaigns.

Senator Farrell interjecting

There's a few, Senator Farrell. This isn't the time for cheap political points. We're coming up to an election soon, and there will be plenty of time for that during the election campaign. Between now and Christmas, this is about getting behind Australians, supporting those who need to go and get the vaccine—and supporting those who have got some hesitancy; we understand that. Now's the time to join us. Now's the time to join Australians as they make the decision to come forward and get vaccinated. Every day that you try to make vaccines political, you make those last few percentage points of people who haven't got the vaccine that little bit harder to reach. Now, I expect you to disagree with what I've just said, but you've got to step up.

In Victoria some of the statements by the Labor candidate for Higgins, no doubt, ought to disappoint every single person in this room. They were undermining the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine. I won't even repeat the things that were said because I don't want to give them any credence at all. I'm not a doctor—full disclosure—but I have as much information available to me as anyone else in this place and I can say that those statements that have been made are not grounded in fact. Yet we have candidates for the Labor Party out there spouting this stuff.

An opposition senator interjecting

But those are the sorts of views that we're hearing from your side of politics—views put to Australians who may be deciding whether to come forward for a vaccine. The path for Australia is clear. Life after lockdowns, no restrictions and opening up to the rest of the world again means Australians getting vaccinated. This is what we need to do. Rather than scoring cheap political points, you should be dedicating yourselves to encouraging people to go out and get vaccinated. You're better than that. Let's work together. Let's work together before Christmas so that we have even more reason to celebrate at Christmas.

4:56 pm

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

This matter of public importance raises five important questions. Can everyday Australians locked up under house arrest in Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales or Victoria tell the difference between the Liberal Party response and the Labor Party response to COVID? I can't. Can truck drivers and workers who need to cross the border for their livelihoods tell the difference between Labor's border closures and Liberal-Nationals' border closures? I can't. Can grieving Australians needing to travel to see a sick loved one or attend a funeral tell the difference between Labor states' callous restrictions and Liberal-National states' callous restrictions? I can't. Are Labor premiers standing up for small and medium-sized businesses? No, they're not. Liberal and Labor premiers are equally wreaking destruction on businesses, marriages and lives. On Senator O'Neill's motion regarding the vaccination program, can everyday Australians who believe in 'my body, my choice' tell the difference between the threats, intimidation and coercion that Liberals Scott Morrison, Gladys Berejiklian and Steven Marshall use, and the threats, intimidation and coercion that Labor's Dan Andrews, Mark McGowan and Anastasia Palaszczuk use? I can't. Has the Prime Minister or one state premier, Liberal or Labor, stood up for the rights of everyday Australians to manage COVID, not hide from it? No, they have not. Have you even asked the Australian people what they want? No, you have not.

Millions of Australians are currently under house arrest as a result of a COVID protocol that the Liberal-National and Labor parties, acting in concert as one party, enthusiastically imposed on Australians. It's a protocol that says that a sick person is sick until proven healthy. Yet 'sick until proven healthy' is the same as 'guilty until proven innocent'. Both represent a totalitarian mindset, a controlling mindset, that would have been soundly rejected at any other point in our history and should be rejected now. There's no difference between the Labor and Liberal-National parties when it comes to a COVID response. None. As in so many areas, Labor unites with the Liberal-Nationals.

4:58 pm

Photo of Anne UrquhartAnne Urquhart (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This motion captures the deep frustration and pain of the Australian people regarding the failure of Prime Minister Morrison to deliver a speedy, effective rollout of COVID-19 vaccines and a safe national quarantine, meaning that 10 million Australians are languishing in lockdown, yet again.

In the last 24 hours, we've heard some outrageous statements by those opposite, somehow trying to link Labor senators' concerns about this government's abject failure in these areas to the Olympic Games. Yesterday we heard Senator Hughes attempt to describe Labor as unpatriotic and unsupportive of 'Team Australia' because we demand, on behalf of the Australian people, an efficient vaccine rollout that allows Australians to get on with their lives, to be safe and to be out of lockdown. We could describe Senator Hughes's awkward attempts to draw this connection as a double backflip with a sideways deflection. In fact, she flipped so many times we were concerned that she might stumble and lose her balance entirely.

Today we heard Senator Chandler perform a magnificent long jump as she sincerely explained that we must learn to be flexible and adapt. What a magnificent leap that was! And what an insult it was to the millions of Australians who have juggled home schooling with working from home, the businesses that have built online stores, the cafes and restaurants that have turned to takeaways, the churches, artists and community organisations that have rebuilt their congregations and audiences online, the teachers who have switched to online classrooms almost overnight, and the health workers who have been so flexible with their working hours that they have not seen their families for days and have worked to the point of exhaustion. The majority of Australians have done an amazing and courageous job of pivoting and adapting to this pandemic. They do not need or deserve lectures from the Liberal Party senators on this subject. They deserve an efficient and effective vaccine program. They deserve world-class quarantine facilities, and they're tired of this rubbish from a government which has proven itself utterly unable to show leadership.

The Prime Minister is excellent at dodging the facts. He gives a gold medal performance in avoiding the apology that he owes the country, and he is truly gifted at coming last, because, for all Senator Hughes's sidesteps and deflections, we are coming last in the developed world when it comes to the vaccine rollout. In my part of the world, north-west Tasmania, the data the government released this week shows that we are towards the tail end of the field. In the north-west just 21.8 per cent of people aged over 15 have been fully vaccinated, which is five per cent behind Launceston and 3.5 per cent behind the capital, Hobart.

On first jabs the situation is markedly worse. The north-west is a full nine per cent behind Hobart. Many are struggling to access vaccinations. They still can't go to their pharmacy for a COVID jab and, despite workplace programs for flu vaccinations, they can't get a COVID vaccination at work. Their local community vaccination hub is closed. In my part of the world it's going to be open again in mid-August for three weeks to deliver dose 2 only. We were contacted by a Devonport woman who, with her family, has recently been trying to get vaccinated. The family includes a support worker with many vulnerable clients. Their local vaccination hub had been closed down. They rely on their local chemist for the flu vaccine and assumed that they'd be able to be vaccinated there. But, no, that wasn't the case.

Meanwhile Australians hear from overseas that countries like Germany, Hungary and France are so advanced with their vaccination programs that they'll be offering booster shots by September. There'll be booster shots in Europe when only 21 per cent of people on the north-west coast will have had two jabs. It is a race, and we are coming last. In fact, we've been lapped. Despite the government's backflips and twists, Australians know how badly the government has botched hotel quarantine and vaccinations. I'm sure that the government senators will continue channelling their inner Olympians and desperately twisting their language for the remainder of this sitting fortnight. We need to talk about a single, simple message to the Australian people, not the mixed messages and blaming that we're hearing from the Morrison government.

5:03 pm

Photo of Ben SmallBen Small (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

With the Tokyo Olympics underway, I embrace the sporting analogies that suit the moment. We've heard lots about long jumps and leaps, but we haven't heard anything about policy belly flops. Australians following this at home have clearly seen one this week, with the Labor Party's latest cheap political stunt that ultimately highlights the fact that they have nothing positive to say about the President and are embarrassingly silent on a plan for Australia's recovery.

Every simply person on the government benches in this place, from the Prime Minister down, has been honest about our response to the pandemic not being perfect. It has had wrinkles and speed bumps, but I guess that's what you get when you're trying to run a country and having to deal with a once-in-a-century global pandemic. We have, however, shown great resilience and adaptability in the face of the biggest health crisis since the Spanish flu pandemic and, arguably, the biggest economic calamity since the Great Depression. We have turned a corner with a plan to return Australia to a post-COVID normal. The PM himself has taken responsibility for the early setbacks in our vaccination program. Let's not forget that the Italians prohibiting the release of 3.8 million doses of AstraZeneca in February was a significant setback completely outside the control of this government. But it was in fact the decision of the Morrison government in August last year to ensure that we had a sovereign vaccine manufacturing capability in this country that enabled us to overcome that.

Our progress to date isn't the disaster that Labor would represent. There was no plan at any time that had Australia fully vaccinated by today. Those opposite tend to forget that even at the beginning of the pandemic the Morrison government acted quickly and decisively on key decisions to protect lives and livelihoods—not only the things I just mentioned but also being the first nation to close its borders to the world, declaring COVID-19 to be a pandemic more than two weeks before the World Health Organization did so. That early action was effective and gave us time, but now it's being used against us for cheap political stunts by the Labor Party. They're trying to take away from Australia's success. It's not the government's success; this is a success that is shared by all Australians in protecting lives to this point of the pandemic and upholding livelihoods through economic security. By undermining that response, those opposite are doing a disservice to the Australian people as much as they are to themselves.

Because of those early actions the Morrison government took, Australia, through the appropriate health authorities, put the vaccines through a normal approval process. This wasn't an emergency approval process that had to be rushed through as bodies piled up in the streets, and that's the cold, hard reality of the countries that those opposite point to now as winning this race. Australia did not find itself in that very difficult situation, because of the leadership that this government took in the early phases of the pandemic. We don't hear much from those opposite about that, but the reality is that there are more Australians who are still with us today than would have otherwise been the case without those very important decisions taken by this government. We have acknowledged that the vaccine rollout has had a slow start, especially compared to countries that have had a much greater death rate. But when you understand that our vaccination rate is now at some 1.2 million shots into arms every week—and accelerating—it's clear that we are well on the way to returning to a post-COVID normal.

Those opposite may claim that this is a failure of the Prime Minister, that this is a failure of this government. But, when you look at the cold, hard facts and cut through the Labor spin and their policy bellyflops, this is what you find: 200,000 vaccines being administered daily and 1.2 million vaccines being administered weekly. As supply increases that will continue to rise. Almost 80 per cent of those aged over 70 are protected with a first dose, and over 42 per cent have received a second dose. If we take the over-50s, more than two-thirds are protected with a first dose and 27 per cent have received a second dose. More than four in 10 Australians aged over 16 are protected with a first dose. Some 20 per cent, or one in five, have already received a second dose. So when those opposite bleat about the slip in the time line, from the end of October to the end of the year, let's not forget that an eight-week delay, given the imperfect information and the fact that we're operating in a once-in-a-century pandemic, is actually a great success on the part of the Australian people—overcome adversity, thriving on the challenges that this pandemic represents and looking forward to the future with that inherently Australian optimism.

The vaccination program continues to exponentially increase because we are not resting on our laurels. Much as our economic success won't stop, this is a government that has also recently announced an extra 85 million Pfizer vaccine doses, the majority of which will be delivered in the next 12 months. That is not a failure, and I think most Australians agree. They can see that those opposite are fear mongering and playing political games to the detriment of all Australians.

Not content with cheap politics, this week those opposite decided to adopt, in typical Labor fashion, the idea of throwing money at the solution. Having learnt nothing from cash for clunkers, pink batts and cheques for dead people from the last time they sat on the government benches, now they've decided to try and bribe Australians with their own money to do what they are doing in overwhelming numbers every day. That shows that they have learned nothing from their past failures in government. They have learned nothing from eight years on the opposition benches. They have not only offended those Australians that continue to do the right thing but again demonstrated why they are unfit to sit on the government benches. They're still suck in that ideological fantasy land where government spending from the magic money tree is the fix-all solution.

On the other hand, as I've outlined today, this is a coalition government that has consistently protected lives and livelihoods, acted early, acted decisively, been pragmatic and non-ideological, followed the health advice and delivered excellent outcomes for Australians by keeping their lives protected and keeping their livelihoods intact. We have acknowledged that JobKeeper and JobSeeker allowed the Australian economy to survive what would have otherwise been an economic calamity.

The lack of realistic solutions and inconsistencies from those on the other benches is astounding. My colleague Senator O'Sullivan was very right to point out that there were predictions from those on the Labor side that the end of JobKeeper would cause the economy to fall off a cliff. Instead we saw an unemployment rate with a four in front of it, more Australians in work than there were at the start of the pandemic and, in fact, near record participation rates, particularly for females, in the Australian workforce. In one breath they criticise us for preventing international arrivals and leaving Australians stranded overseas and then, in the next, they're having a go at hotel quarantine, which was a consensus decision taken by the national cabinet to ensure that the maximum number of returning Australians could be accommodated in the context of the health advice. That shows that they've got nothing to say that's productive. They're willing to throw any truth overboard in the pursuit of their cheap politics. That is why the Morrison government can be trusted to steer this nation out of the pandemic but those opposite cannot.

5:12 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to pay my respects to those Australians around the country today who are doing it tough because of the pandemic and I would to acknowledge that this is a particularly difficult time for many Australians. I would also like to apologise, if the Prime Minister won't, on behalf of this government for its policy failure in the last 12 months. Australians are not only having to arm themselves against the anxiety of being in a pandemic and potentially getting the virus, repeated lockdowns, loss of individual freedoms, the depression that goes with these significant changes they're seeing in their lives, the loss of income and the loss of work; they are also having to arm themselves against the incompetence and stupidity of this government and against the U-turns, back flips, excuses, policy failures and lies.

It's no wonder with the mixed and conflicting information that's been out there, some of it still being peddled by coalition backbenchers, that Australians are confused, angry and anxious. It's no wonder that they are lashing out and protesting. It's no wonder some are vulnerable to misinformation in this time of fake news. It's no wonder that many won't listen to the facts and the science considering what has happened in this place in the last decade and how often this government and coalition senators have turned their backs on the science of things like climate change. Why should people listen to the government on COVID when it's actually a climate-denying government? It's no wonder. Australians are trying to get their lives back on track, and we have to do everything we can to help them.

5:15 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

The vaccine rollout is a shambles. I'm not going to repeat all of the debate that has taken place in the chamber today, but I will zoom in on one pending aspect of the rollout failure. Last Thursday I got my second COVID jab. On Monday I downloaded my COVID vaccination certificate from the Services Australia website. Within 15 minutes of doing so, I had managed to generate a forgery. Our vaccination certificate has no security features whatsoever. Photoshop defeated it.

We're not using vaccine certificates yet, but their use is inevitable whether you like the vaccine or you don't, whether you've had it or you haven't. The moment that vaccination certificates are connected to health measures there will be value in forgery. We've seen this in Europe and in the United States. One of the problems is that, if you've got a false vaccination certificate and the health measures are relying on its validity, it will endanger public health. Why would you design a vaccination certificate with no security against forgery? There are certainly technical solutions available. This is typical of what's been happening so far in this embarrassing failure. Basically, the PM keeps turning up late to the recovery dance party, realising that he's left his dance shoes at home. He's doing it repeatedly. He's got to change.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for the discussion has expired.