Thursday, 5 August 2021
Treasury Laws Amendment (COVID-19 Economic Response No. 2) Bill 2021; In Committee
I want to get an answer to the question I asked prior to us going to non-contro. The question, to remind the minister, is: firstly, is Treasury modelling, in a dynamic sense, the events that are taking place? Have they modelled maximum and minimums? If so, what are the minimum costs associated with this bill and what are the maximum costs associated with this bill?
In terms of Senator Patrick's framing of minimums and maximums, I'm not aware that estimates have been put in those terms. I will commit to bringing to the chamber and Senator Patrick's attention any further information I can provide on that. The current estimated cost of the support for New South Wales, and the lockdown occurring in New South Wales, with the flow of COVID-19 disaster assistance payments and the business support payments, in partnership with the New South Wales government, is running at about $750 million a week. In that sense, we can see the ongoing costs there. Obviously, the costs vary significantly from state to state, as we have seen, from the duration of lockdowns. South Australia's lockdown lasted only one week, Victoria's lockdown lasted a few weeks and there is an uncertain situation in Queensland. So it is very hard to accurately put an estimate on the cost of current supports given their relationship to the uncertainty around the spread of the delta variant where there may be outbreaks and the duration that restrictions remain in place.
Thank you very much for that commitment, Minister. As you come back with the information, under the new measures, it might be this sort of number for New South Wales and that sort of number for Victoria. Whatever measures you are using internally to guide your own decision-making would be useful.
Minister, you have mentioned the Doherty modelling quite a few times. What is the relationship between the Doherty modelling and the UK modelling associated with Niall Ferguson? Why did all the governments initially talk about flattening the curve? We saw the modelling results from New Zealand early last year, and that showed a major peak that decreased and then subsequent peaks after that. We didn't see that with Australia; we saw a rise and a flattening—and that's it. We have since seen that the New Zealand approach is far better than what we believe is the Doherty modelling on which the government gave us those graphs. It seems that there is no costing to the Doherty models, no opportunity costing to the Doherty models, and no alternatives were considered to other strategies. This is significant when we see that lockdowns are proving to be ineffective. Is there any modelling on the health consequences for future health putting off current problems because people are afraid to travel? Is there any costing of the suicides? Is there any costing of the other health impacts and psychological impacts from the trauma being inflicted by state governments?
As always in Australia, a range of academics, think tanks and other institutions undertake modelling on all types of different scenarios. Indeed, that may include some of those that you have raised. It is our government's desire to see Australia get to the point where extensive, widespread, prolonged lockdowns and restrictions can be minimised, brought to an end and become a thing of the past. That is why we have asked for the Doherty institute modelling to help guide us—and the states and territories who have those constitutional powers in relation to the application of medical orders in their jurisdictions. That modelling has drawn on scientific knowledge and the evidence those researchers have used from the outbreaks in Australia and elsewhere around the world. It is accompanied by Treasury modelling. The Treasury modelling includes consideration of the costs of different scenarios and, as I indicated to Senator Canavan, the behavioural change we see from people where widespread outbreaks occur, even if you don't have restrictions in place, which also result in significant costs. So I draw Senator Roberts's attention to those elements of the Treasury modelling as an accompanying element to the Doherty modelling.
Thank you, Minister. I have one final question. In the absence of data, fear and rumour can run rampant. We've seen the state Labor governments—not the Berejiklian government, because it already had an election before the COVID scare—use fear to increase their vote. That's what happens under fearful circumstances: the incumbent government increases its vote. People in the constituency are asking: is the federal Liberal-National government preying on people's fear and keeping the fear alive? Is that in play right now because you are facing the next election?
Emphatically, no. Our government would like nothing more than for COVID-19, the threats it poses and the costs it imposes, to be a thing of the past—but the reality is they're not. Australians have made enormous sacrifices over the last 18 months to get us through this pandemic and to save the lives of their fellow Australians. I thank Australians—individuals, families, households, businesses, healthcare workers and service providers—right across this country who have made sacrifices that have saved the lives of an estimated 30,000 fellow Australians.
As we enter the final stages, hopefully, of managing this pandemic, as we get to the point where we're seeing some 42 per cent of Australians over the age of 16 having had at least their first dose of the vaccine and as we see around 80 per cent of Australians over 70 having had at least their first dose of vaccine, we can have confidence that Australians will undertake widespread uptake of the vaccine. Not only do we thank them; it's appropriate to reassure them that we're not going to blow the sacrifices of the last 18 months midway through the vaccination program and cause unnecessary loss of life. We are going to make sure that we see it through and get to the point where Australia, informed by evidence such as that from the Doherty institute, can reopen safely and in a way that allows us to bank those dividends that have seen Australia not only save lives but also keep our economy as one of the strongest in the world throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
I did want to respond to that and ask another question in light of what the minister has raised. When an organisation or an entity, whether it be a charity, business, council or government, has a plan, the beauty of a plan when it's based on objective data is that if the circumstances change the plan can be changed. I already discussed earlier on and raised with the minister the seven strategies needed to be part of a comprehensive plan. This federal government has partly enacted one. It is now pinning all its hopes on another. The state governments are pinning their hopes on one, being lockdowns, and waiting for the federal government to keep propping them up. That leaves the other four strategies untouched, yet the Chief Medical Officer and the Secretary for the Department of Health have verified that those seven strategies are needed in a comprehensive plan.
The future health of Australians depends upon our economy. Taiwan has done a marvellous job. Despite one breach in quarantine, they've quickly recovered. Australia is limping along on two basic strategies, leaving another five ignored. When will we see a comprehensive plan? When will we see accountability against that plan? When will we see a real plan that says what is going to happen, who is going to be responsible, when it will be done, where it will be done, what will be done and how it will be done, rather than putting all our hopes in a vaccine? I am concerned about the future economic security of this country and the future health of Australian citizens, as well as their current health. There are better ways of looking after their current health. There are certainly better ways of looking after their future health. When will we see a comprehensive and detailed plan?
I'm not aware of the different strategies that Senator Roberts says he took health officials through last year, but I'll go back and check the Hansard to familiarise myself with those issues that he raised. As a government we have outlined a plan for the different stages of reopening. It relies not only upon the vaccines but also upon continued appropriate management strategies for COVID-19 that are designed to ensure that our shared concerns for the economy and health of Australians achieve the optimal outcomes.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report adopted.