Senate debates

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Statements by Senators

COVID-19: Vaccination

1:17 pm

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

[by video link] Over the last few years of this Morrison government, we have seen time and again that it acts too little and too late. Now, Prime Minister Morrison wants Australians to make up for his lost time on the vaccine rollout and 'go for gold'. When it comes down to it, in almost everything that would benefit Australians, Mr Morrison makes sure that we are last out of the blocks. There are always excuses, there is always blame and there is always something that this government uses to justify its inaction, its complacency, its failures. In the case of the vaccine rollout, the government's inaction, complacency and failures have had devastating consequences.

If the vaccine rollout was a Liberal Party pet project in a marginal seat, you could bet your house on this government winning gold. There would be colour-coded spreadsheets. The Prime Minister would take charge. In fact, he would be the captain, the coach and the main player. The vaccines would be out the door as fast as a Liberal Party promise. They would be into people's arms as fast as a prime ministerial dash to a press conference. But the vaccine rollout is not a Liberal Party pet project; it's a national program that needs to be run to benefit all of us, with a plan, with energy, with commitment, with leadership. Without any of those things from this government, we are running last in the race, running last in the OECD and running something like 80th in the world. We are nowhere near the podium when it comes to the race to be vaccinated. We are not even close to qualifying for the main event.

Prime Minister Morrison has sought to spin the facts—that we were 'at the front of the queue', that it 'wasn't a race'. The truth is he didn't do his job when he needed to and now Australians have lost ground. We've lost the ground that we gained last year through so much hard work and so much sacrifice. We've lost the ground that we gained through the hard work of all Australians to lock down, to follow the rules and to stay safe. The Prime Minister has squandered our lead. He's squandered the advantage that we had with his failure to roll out the vaccine. We are coming last in the developed world, and Australians are paying the price today—Australians who last year did their job, Australians who are doing their job again under the incredible pressure of lockdowns and restrictions. They're staying home, they're getting tested and they're missing time with family and friends, and now, eight months into 2021, the Prime Minister finally does admit that it is a race. He finally wants to claim a gold medal and race us to the end of the year. Well, Prime Minister, I don't think there's going to be a gold medal waiting for you at the finish line.

Australians deserve so much better. They deserve a government that truly cares about keeping them safe and getting them through this pandemic. We should have had multiple vaccines secured and enough vaccines secured, because Prime Minister Morrison's incompetence led to a devastating overreliance on just one vaccine. We should have had purpose-built quarantine up and running, because Prime Minister Morrison's claim that hotel quarantine is 99.9 per cent effective has to be one of the biggest leaps in marketing history. And we should have had an objective and neutral response from the Prime Minister to lockdowns, because Prime Minister Morrison's refusal to accept going hard and going early on lockdowns and his determination to politicise state lockdowns is clearly costing us dearly now.

Australians have had to wait time and again for Prime Minister Morrison to backflip into doing the right thing, the right thing that Australians and Labor have called on him to do time and again, and that waiting has been disastrous—waiting on him to backflip into financial support for struggling workers and businesses, waiting on him to backflip into supporting short and sharp lockdowns to control the spread of the virus, waiting on him to backflip into picking up the phone and getting more Pfizer delivered into our country. Now we're waiting on him to perform his next backflip. We're waiting on him to backflip into supporting incentives to get more Australians rolling up their sleeves and getting the jab. The backflip? Now, that is an event where this Prime Minister would win a gold medal.

Why is the Prime Minister so incapable of hearing what is needed and acting in a timely and effective manner? Why does he insist on being dragged, kicking and screaming into any form of action? Why does he struggle so hard to admit his mistakes and learn from them? These are not the hallmarks of a real leader. They are the hallmarks of someone who just does not care, who does not care about the lives and livelihoods of the people he is supposed to stand up for, the people that he is supposed to fight for each and every single day.

Australians trusted that this government would keep them safe. Australians trusted that they would get a good supply of vaccines and have them ready by the start of this year. Australians trusted that this government wouldn't leave them like sitting ducks, waiting for the next outbreak of this virus. And this government failed. They failed. No matter how the Morrison government tries to spin it, they have failed to keep Australians safe, and that is their core responsibility. The Prime Minister says it's time to go for gold, but time and time again he has left Australians running last. Mr Morrison said Australia was at the front of the queue. What a load of spin! What a load of absolute spin!

Then, when he had to front up to say that we were, in fact, right at the back of the line, he decided to say that it was 'not a race'. Now he's trying to spin that statement and tell us that it was in the context of getting vaccines approved safely in this country. But the truth is that Prime Minister Morrison said it wasn't a race well after approvals for the vaccines had already been secured. The truth matters. It matters every single day. It certainly matters in a pandemic. But it doesn't seem to matter to this Prime Minister.

We all know far too well now that it always was a race, that it is a race today and that it's a race that Prime Minister Morrison has been losing for all of us, with Australians paying the price. Bad decision after bad decision has been made, interspersed with only non-decisions and complacency. The advice was to buy multiple vaccines, but it seems that the Prime Minister told Pfizer where to go, and they went. They went to the rest of the world with their vaccine. Instead, he put all the eggs into the AstraZeneca basket. He didn't spread the risk, he didn't plan, and Australians have been left behind the rest of the world. They have been left exposed to this new deadly strain of the virus. They have been left out in the cold again—locked down, quarantining, isolating and staying home, all because Prime Minister Morrison did not roll out the vaccine.

We have consistently ranked the worst in the world for the vaccine rollout. More than 80 countries are ahead of us today as the delta strain tries to spread itself across our country. Only 15 per cent of us are vaccinated. What an absolute disgrace! Scott Morrison has failed the vaccine rollout and failed to protect Australians against this highly infectious variant. After all of this, he now tells us, the Australian people, to 'go for gold' to make up for his lost time. What an absolute disgrace! 'I didn't do my job,' he says, 'but now you should get on board and get in the race.' That is his message for the Australian people. How he can think that his weak apology can make up for these astronomical failures is just beyond me. How he thinks he can say, 'Oops, my bad,' and expect Australians to move on from his stuff-ups is beyond me. (Time expired)