Monday, 23 August 2021
Questions without Notice
My question is also to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Senator Colbeck. Yesterday on Insiders, Mr Morrison said that high COVID case numbers shouldn't delay Australia's reopening: 'At some point, you need to make that gear change, and that is done at 70 per cent.' Is it the Morrison-Joyce government's position that New South Wales, which recorded its worst day on Sunday, with 830 new cases, should open up when it hits a rate of 70 per cent vaccination, irrespective of case numbers?
What the Prime Minister was doing was reinforcing the work that has been prepared for national cabinet, which has been agreed to by national cabinet and supported by the modelling of the Doherty institute. To reinforce that, the national cabinet has requested that additional work to update that Doherty modelling be commissioned to support the program. And, as the Chief Medical Officer said yesterday, the fundamentals of that modelling don't change.
I think it's dishonest of Labor, as it has been throughout the pandemic, to be frank, to suggest that this question be considered in isolation from all of the other things that we're doing, including the increase in vaccination. We've seen over a million Australians in the last four days receive a vaccination. We've seen day after day—
On relevance. We're getting lots of rhetoric from the minister, but we're not getting an answer to the question, which is simply whether it's the government's position that New South Wales should open up when it hits a rate of 70 per cent vaccination, irrespective of case numbers.
Again, Senator Watt, I'm going to insist that, rather than just take the opportunity to say the answer is not appreciated and then read out the question again, particularly when it's only part of the question being read—it contained a number of quotations that refer to a rather comprehensive area of public policy. The minister is directly relevant to that by addressing the issue of vaccination. I can't instruct him on how to answer a question. But I don't think anyone would assert that that is not relevant to the modelling that you refer to.
Of course, the modelling includes a whole range of different measures that support reopening the Australian economy, which is what we all want. We want Australians to be able to move more freely, and there are a number of actions that are being taken by state governments and the Commonwealth government to facilitate that. There are restrictions on movement that are being taken to limit the spread of the virus. That's what we're doing. We're increasing and continuing to increase the pace of the rollout, with records being posted nearly every day for the number of Australians who are turning out to get a vaccine. We thank every single one of them for doing so, and we encourage more to continue to do that. We want to see our economy open. We want to see Australians being able to move around. We'll continue to do everything we can to facilitate that.
One of the architects of the Doherty institute modelling, Professor James McCaw, said last Friday that if New South Wales case numbers weren't reduced we would need 'stronger social measures and stronger versions of lockdowns, rather than weaker'. Who is right: Mr Morrison or Professor McCaw?
As I indicated a moment ago, the Prime Minister was reinforcing the agreement that he has made with state and territory leaders to start opening the economy at certain points of vaccination rate. To reinforce that, the national cabinet has asked the Doherty institute to do some further work on the modelling. But our aim is to work with the states and territories in a cooperative manner to reinforce the need to get vaccinated and to provide the opportunity for Australians to take up vaccination and reduce community transmission of the virus so that we can reopen both our communities and our economy, which we know is what all Australians want. That's what we will continue to do.
University of Melbourne epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely warned this morning, 'If you've got high numbers, your contact tracing will be overwhelmed and you won't have as much of an effect from your vaccination coverage to keep things under control.' Who is right: Mr Morrison or Professor Blakely?
What the government will continue to do is to take the advice of the health professionals who have been guiding us through the process. When we received the Doherty modelling, we released it to the public so that they could see it. What I would urge the Australian public to do is to have a look at the Doherty modelling. We will continue to release the information that will allow Australians to be able to make their choices about whether they should call on their state governments to open up their economies. We will continue to work to fight against the virus instead of, as the Labor opposition are doing, fighting against us. There are no Cedric Dublers on that side. They're not barracking for the Australian people or trying to assist us to win this race against the virus.
Honourable senators interjecting—
They're more likely to be at the back of the pack and trying to talk the athletes over. We'll continue to work in the interests of Australian people.
Senator McAllister interjecting—
Senator O'Neill interjecting—
Order! Senator McAllister, Senator O'Neill, order! When I call people's names, I ask them to have some respect for the chair. I appreciate there was some volume in the chamber at that point because of the nature of the interjections during the contribution. But I did call people to order on numerous occasions.