Monday, 23 August 2021
Questions without Notice
[by video link] My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Birmingham. On 24 June, as delta continued to spread through the Bondi cluster, Mr Morrison said:
… I commend Premier Berejiklian for resisting going into a full lockdown.
Does he stand by this statement?
[by video link] I think I answered an almost identical question at some time in the previous sitting fortnight. Whether it was from Senator Sheldon or another senator, I'm not sure.
As the Prime Minister himself has made clear, and as I told the chamber at that time, our knowledge and understanding of the delta variant and how we need to respond to it has only grown—as indeed our knowledge throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has grown, given the evolving nature of it.
This is a once-in-a-century pandemic. The scientific analysis and the evidence and advice continues to evolve, and we have responded to it and adapted to it as we have gone along. We recognise the fact that, for so much of the pandemic, New South Wales, with one of the best contact-tracing systems in the world, was able to effectively respond to small outbreaks and clusters to effectively drive the testing, undertake the contact tracing and enforce the isolating that kept the people of New South Wales safe during those outbreaks.
Tragically, in relation to this latest outbreak, we do have a circumstance where it has been necessary for New South Wales to pursue lockdowns and, regrettably, those lockdowns have not been able to—
On relevance. It was a pretty straight question asking whether the Prime Minister, and Senator Birmingham, stood by his statement. We're getting a long dissertation from Senator Birmingham, but we're not getting an answer to that question.
Senator Watt, the material Senator Birmingham is outlining is directly relevant. That point of order goes to attempting to instruct the minister how to answer the question, which I cannot do. The minister is being directly relevant with this material.
As I said earlier in the answer, these are points the Prime Minister himself has made publicly in response to questions like those that Senator Sheldon has just asked. Tragically, in New South Wales, we do have the circumstance now where, of course, the lockdown has been necessary, and it's been very necessary for New South Wales to tighten aspects of that lockdown, and we have made sure with the provision, as Senator Payne referenced earlier, of Australian Defence Force personnel to seek to help New South Wales in the enforcement of that lockdown, as we've made such ADF resources available to other states and territories before—whether it be in lockdown enforcement, border enforcement or, indeed, testing or other regimes—to support them.
[by video link] On 15 August, after the Bondi cluster had spread throughout the state, Mr Morrison claimed he told Premier Berejiklian to lock down the entire state. Why did Mr Morrison insist that south-west and Western Sydney go into a hard lockdown when he previously insisted Bondi, where the delta outbreak started, remain open?
[by video link] We have sought through this pandemic to work as best we can with state and territory governments, who have the public health powers and abilities to put in place the restrictions that have so effectively kept Australia safe. Despite the very challenging, very difficult circumstances we know that Australians in lockdown face at present and the tragic circumstances for those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19, be it in the current New South Wales outbreak, last year's Victorian outbreak or other circumstances in Australia, as a nation we have still performed far, far better than almost any other developed country around the world in terms of suppressing COVID-19, in terms of saving lives and in terms of ensuring that our country is as strongly placed for the future as is possible. We're going to continue to build on that through the rapid escalation we've seen in the vaccine rollout, working with the states and territories, with health professionals, general practitioners and pharmacies, to keep that momentum in vaccination rates.
[by video link] Will Prime Minister Morrison accept responsibility and apologise to the people of south-west and Western Sydney who are in a harsh lockdown as a result of his failure to secure enough vaccine supply and his failure to build purpose-built quarantine facilities?
[by video link] Like Senator Colbeck previously, I reject completely the assertion in relation to vaccine supply. Australia has contracted some 180 million doses of vaccine for primary supply and many tens of millions of doses now to support booster shots. Of course, as is well known, there have been some challenges in the vaccine supply—the challenges in terms of early failure to deliver, from Europe to Australia, some 3.4 million doses that would have enabled us to move faster earlier, had those doses turned up; and challenges in relation to the changes in ATAGI advice related to AstraZeneca that are all too well known. But what we have managed to do is ensure Australia had fallback options with each of those challenges, with the contracts we put in place with Pfizer and the contracts we put in place with Moderna. The fact that we're now seeing Australians turn out in such record numbers and that, indeed, we are administering vaccines at a faster rate than many other countries have managed to achieve is a testament to— (Time expired)