Thursday, 12 August 2021
Questions without Notice
[by video link] My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Birmingham. In defending his own disinformation campaign, Senator Canavan has declared today that throughout the pandemic there has not been 'even a scintilla of parliamentary accountability'. Does the minister agree with Senator Canavan when he says that the Morrison-Joyce government has been completely unaccountable through the pandemic?
No, I don't agree, because you're taking the comments quite significantly out of context. I was sitting in the chamber when Senator Canavan was making those comments. I was sitting in the chamber, and I know full well that in making those comments Senator Canavan was challenging public health orders issued by states and territories that are made by regulation, by edict, without reference to their parliaments. It's up for each of those states and territories to defend their positions, and indeed I know that many of them, in some cases, of course, have probably presented in parliamentary committees or other formats.
In terms of the Morrison government, we've made sure we're here today answering your questions. We've made sure, through the establishment of the COVID select committee, that we have fronted up. Countless times, our officials have fronted up to answer the questions of the opposition, to answer other questions and to submit ourselves to the scrutiny of this parliament and its processes and procedures, as is only reasonable. We front up. We handle that scrutiny. We submit ourselves to it. That's exactly what we're doing right now. Contorting or twisting words out of context, pitching them in terms of pretending somehow that this parliament hasn't had scrutiny, hasn't had opportunity to do so—that's just not true. This parliament has. I don't believe that's what Senator Canavan was suggesting in his remarks. I believe he was making references to other decisions elsewhere.
That's for him to defend and for others to engage in, but, Senator, I think you are misleading in terms of the construct of the question that you have put. We are here, engaged in scrutiny and accountability. I'm sure you, Senator Sheldon, have pursued opportunities at estimates and otherwise to hold the government accountable, and I've got no doubt that all of you, in particular Senator Gallagher as chair of the select committee, will continue to do so throughout the course of the pandemic.
(—) (): I didn't quite catch the quote that was referenced then. It is the job of members and senators to bring perspectives to this parliament from their communities on behalf of their communities. I urge, the government urges, everyone to do that in the most responsible way possible. We don't control the words that come out of the mouth of every member or senator, but I urge them to do so in the most responsible way possible. I urge all of those who engage in public discourse across this country to engage in it in the most responsible way possible. I referenced concern about the vaccine rollout in an earlier response and the fact that we've seen this anti-AstraZeneca mythology built up by some, led, sadly, even by some public health officials such as the incoming Governor of Queensland. It's disappointing that we've seen those sorts of mistakes made in terms of the language used by others. I'd urge them all to make sure they apply—(Time expired)
One of Mr Morrison's own cabinet ministers told Niki Savva that Mr Morrison's philosophy is: 'If you see a problem throw money at it. If you see a problem walk away from it. If you see a problem duck sharp to somebody else.' Isn't the dangerous misinformation campaign being run from his own party room just another problem Mr Morrison is walking away from?
I reject the premise behind that question. I reject the assertion in Ms Savva's article. And, of course, having a question from a member of the opposition about throwing money at a problem is really quite an astounding proposition. It's quite an astounding proposition that those opposite would decide to hone in on an anonymous quote and suggest that somehow throwing money at a problem is a bad thing. Those opposite know no other solution to most problems than to throw money at them. Whilst pretending to take a bipartisan approach to issues in the pandemic, they've also been none too shy in terms of saying that the government should not bring JobKeeper to an end, but then criticising the spending on JobKeeper. They've come out with policies such as last week's thought bubble around the $300 payments to all Australians, including the millions who have already been vaccinated.
Of course, we know they want to talk about cabinet process. That one didn't even go through the shadow cabinet process. It was a surprise to Mr Butler. The shadow health minister, of all people, didn't even know about it—(Time expired)