Senate debates

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Matters of Public Importance

Prime Minister

3:43 pm

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

I inform the Senate that, at 8:30 am today, 14 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 growing list of people Mr Morrison blames for his own failures: ATAGI, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, State and Territory Governments, vaccination clinics, and Australians themselves for his bungled COVID-19 vaccine rollout; and his own Ministers for his Government's misuse of taxpayer money.

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

I rise to speak today on a matter of great public importance, which you have just outlined in your opening statement. That is that there is, in fact, a growing list of people and institutes that Mr Morrison blames for his own failures. How on earth can we expect the leader of the nation to correct his mistakes if he can't even own them? We've seen Mr Morrison blame ATAGI, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, state and territory governments, vaccination clinics and even Australians themselves for what can only be described as a massively bungled COVID-19 vaccine rollout and his own ministers for the government's misuse of taxpayer funds in its response to that national crisis.

The consequences of Mr Morrison's failures in this area have had a massive impact on my home state of New South Wales. More than half the population woke up this morning under lockdown. For most in New South Wales, it will now be their seventh week in lockdown and the numbers of cases are rising ever higher. I want to acknowledge the incredible efforts of the Victorians under the leadership of Mr Andrews, who was absolutely maligned by the Prime Minister at the time, in preventing the spread of illness and disease in the great state of Victoria. We are in a terrible position in New South Wales now, and sadly the numbers are increasing.

This could have been avoided. All over the developed world, nations with successful vaccine rollouts are returning to life—a very, very different scenario from what we face here in Australia under the leadership of the Liberal-National party, Mr Morrison and his team. His team come in here and continue to back him up, back up his excuses and back up his contrasting reality speeches. Everything the man says is incoherent most of the time. The problem with vaccine rollouts being unable to happen is we can see a very different life for us here in Australia by comparison to overseas. We can see others across the world seeing concerts; their pubs are open and their economies are bouncing back. Why not in Australia? Why aren't we returning to normal life? Australia is not returning to the normal life that we all want, because Mr Morrison did not build a functioning quarantine system for overseas travel and he didn't secure a varied and sufficient supply of vaccine. It is as simple as that.

Has the Prime Minister taken any responsibility for his decision-making and his failure of leadership for the Australian people? Of course not, because Mr Morrison continues to pretend that he is right every time he steps up to a microphone. That is why we are finding over time he is completely contradicting himself. First, Mr Morrison did not secure enough supply of Pfizer and Moderna because he put all the eggs in the AstraZeneca basket. It is important to note that that was the cheapest version of any sort of protection that we could get. Mr Morrison and Hunt botched the messaging regarding the extremely rare blood clot condition with AstraZeneca. That led to many people who actually still believed the Prime Minister at that stage making a decision to wait for Pfizer. 'Be careful about AstraZeneca'—that was the message coming out of the leadership of this country, and people decided that they would wait for Pfizer.

Well, what a disaster waiting has been. What's happened? We've seen thousands of vials of perfectly good vaccine perish. Again, it's been a failure of leadership by Mr Morrison. I want to be very clear to anybody who might be listening to this: AstraZeneca can protect you from the virus. I have received it, my husband has received it and, despite the fact that all my children are in their 20s, I encouraged them to do their own research and each one of them has received their first jab of AstraZeneca. That's because they know that they can't rely on this government that botches everything at every turn to protect them. They had to take matters into their own hands.

Government Senators:

Government senators interjecting

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

I'm not distressed by the noise that is coming from the other side of the chamber. In addition to Mr Morrison's denial of reality and his cacophony of excuses, we have the bleating of those opposite, who are backing him in at every turn and saying: 'He's a great Prime Minister. He's doing a good job.' It doesn't feel like that in New South Wales, let me tell you. It doesn't feel like that for businesses in New South Wales.

AstraZeneca can protect you—

Senator Hughes interjecting

Senator Duniam interjecting

Who's playing the blame game? Do you really want to ask that question? Accept responsibility. Accept responsibility for the decisions of your government.

AstraZeneca can protect you from the virus. AstraZeneca is the reason that 75 per cent of the UK is vaccinated, and they are returning to normal life as they knew it before the vaccines were rolled out there. The head of the TGA only yesterday said that AstraZeneca has saved dozens of lives every single day since the pandemic started. But Mr Morrison's comments, his embroidery, his profuse language, his hours in front of a microphone have contributed to the confusion and the vaccine hesitancy, the vaccine complacency, across the nation. When he was called out on it, instead of saying, 'Actually, I did get that wrong,' he chose instead to blame. Who did he blame? He blamed the scientists and ATAGI. Mr Morrison actually went to the highest institute in terms of determining what is safe and blamed them, rather than accepting his own responsibility.

Instead of appropriately communicating the risks of AstraZeneca, Prime Minister Morrison blamed ATAGI, Australia's top advisory body on immunisation, and tried to bully them into changing their advice on its risk and blame them for the glacial speed of the rollout. This is despite their role being to provide advice, because it's ultimately up to the federal government, run by you know who, to implement that advice. It is the fault of no-one but the Prime Minister.

Senator Hughes interjecting

If you want to call him Voldemort—I'll take that interjection, Senator Hughes—go right ahead! He's the man who won't be named, the man who won't take responsibility for anything. Instead of responsibly securing a supply of Pfizer, like Israel, the United States and France, Mr Morrison went cheap, and then he botched the negotiations with Pfizer and then blamed them for the lack of supply. The Prime Minister fatefully said, 'We're not in a race.' Now there is no Australian who can forgive that critical moment, that moment of failure to be a leader, when Mr Morrison decided to say we weren't in a race. He lacks vision for this country. He lacks leadership. He lacks the capacity to own his mistakes. He is a morally flawed individual who is actually putting the whole country at risk through those failures of character.

Senior business leaders around the country had to turn to former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to fix the appalling mess after Mr Morrison completely botched the negotiations. Mr Morrison, according to Pfizer, displayed a 'rude, dismissive and penny-pinching' approach in the negotiations, and he only got 10 million doses, and that was four months after other countries had got theirs. He was offered 40 million doses of Pfizer. Australians, remember that: forty million doses was the offer that Mr Morrison got last June. And, if he had led properly, if he'd taken facts into the decision-making instead of his own hubris, we might not be suffering the lockdown in New South Wales that we are suffering now. The Prime Minister is directly responsible for the shortage of Pfizer. But to hear him tell it, it's everyone else's fault but his.

Not content with fighting with Pfizer, though, Mr Morrison then blamed the European Union for not delivering them and AstraZeneca for not shipping three million vaccines on the delayed rollout, which the EU pointed out was actually only a number of 250,000 doses. Everywhere you look in Mr Morrison's comments there are falsehoods, there are self-congratulatory explanations and there is deflection onto anyone else who he thinks should bear the blame. 'Anybody but me,' says Mr Morrison, day in and day out. 'Blame anybody but me.' Yet he is the Prime Minister of Australia. This is happening on his watch. This disaster is happening on Mr Morrison's watch and he is failing the country every single day.

3:53 pm

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

I think the Australian people, after listening to that contribution, would be thanking their lucky stars that those opposite are not on the government benches through this terribly challenging time for Australia. The memory of those opposite is extraordinarily poor. The ability to be constructive during one of the biggest challenges that has faced this nation in generations is absent. What do we hear from the other side, apart from carping and negativity? Crickets. Absolutely nothing.

They talk about what is happening in the rest of the world in places where the vaccine rollouts are further advanced than Australia's. We are happy to acknowledge, as a government, that there are countries around the world that have vaccine rollouts further advanced than Australia's. But let's just stand back for a moment and look at what is happening in some of those countries. The US, whose vaccine rollout has been lauded by some of those opposite, are currently detecting 100,000 cases a day. Senator O'Neill talked extensively about the AstraZeneca vaccine and its use in the United Kingdom. The UK is getting 20,000 to 30,000 cases per day. It is an absolutely extraordinary idea that the Labor Party is putting forward.

I will agree with one thing that Senator O'Neill said, and that is that the AstraZeneca is a very good, high-quality vaccine, and I would absolutely encourage everyone out there to talk to their doctor or talk to a medical professional about getting advice on getting the AstraZeneca vaccine, if it is available to them. It is a high-quality vaccine and it adds to the repertoire that we have available to us here in Australia, thanks to the methodical approach taken by the Morrison government—the approach led by the health advice. Did that approach face some challenges? Absolutely, and we've been upfront with the Australian people about that. Did it face some challenges? Yes. ATAGI did change their advice in terms of age groups as to AstraZeneca. They changed their advice twice, in actual fact. That did reduce the number of people who could access that vaccine at that time, and there was a perception issue around that as well. As I've said in this place before, I myself was caught up in that. I was registered to get an AstraZeneca vaccine. The health advice changed. My vaccine was changed to a Pfizer vaccine. Obviously that did cause some issues. There was also an issue of some deliveries of vaccines from Italy, I believe, earlier last year, which slowed down the availability of doses.

But what the Labor Party completely fails to now take into account is what is happening on the ground as we speak. Looking at March this year, there were 770,000 vaccines administered; in April, 1.4 million; in May, 2.1 million; in June, 3.4 million; and, in July, 4.5 million. The Australian people can see what this government is delivering, and that is an accelerating vaccine program. Just in the last few days—I think this was the number from Monday, from memory—there has been a daily increase in doses of 234,899 doses. So there has been a daily increase of almost 235,000 doses. And now we have added to the repertoire of vaccines available in Australia. Very shortly, we will have the Moderna vaccine available in Australia. Obviously, that adds another string to our bow in facing this virus.

The Moderna vaccination is a two-dose vaccine, with the doses delivered four weeks apart. The gap is shorter than the gap between AstraZeneca doses, and that does help to speed up the rollout of the vaccines across Australia. Ten million doses of Moderna will be in Australia by the end of this year. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to see what that will add to the vaccination rollout in this country. We're going to see a million doses arrive in September, and they will go to pharmacies across the country. Then there will be three million in October, three million in November and three million in December. The Moderna vaccine is safe and effective. Again, this is a message to all Australians out there who are listening and who haven't yet registered to encourage them to get along. It has been approved for use in Britain, Canada, the European Union, the United States, Switzerland and Singapore.

Over 140 million doses of the Moderna vaccine have been administered in the United States already, so we've got a very large body of evidence we have been able to draw on when assessing these vaccines. They are 93 per cent effective after six months—

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

Order! Senator Brockman, you will be in continuation. Pursuant to order, we interrupt the debate for the business of the Senate.