Senate debates

Monday, 23 August 2021



7:20 pm

Photo of Andrew BraggAndrew Bragg (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to make some remarks about the ongoing COVID issues in Australia. I think what the Australian people are looking for is clear leadership and a pathway out of this 18-month nightmare, which for so many people has been a defining moment in their lives. If they've been running a small business or they're a young child who may have started at primary school or high school, it's severely impacted their life. One of the issues we have in this debate is that there are people who work for large businesses who have been unaffected or people who are in the public sector who do not feel the weight of the decisions that are made by state and federal governments. So, in looking for that leadership—and I think that leadership has been on clear display over the past few days—it is very important that we are honest with the Australian people about the prospect of getting to COVID-zero. COVID-zero is a dead duck. It cannot be achieved. There is virtually no major city in the world which has been able to turn the delta variant into a COVID-zero situation, and I think anyone who wants to perpetuate this myth and this lie that COVID-zero is an appropriate policy objective is only damning people who run small businesses and kids who want to go to school to a life locked behind the bars of their own home, where they can't earn an income and they can't learn as they usually would.

I represent the state of New South Wales, which has been dealing with a significant COVID outbreak, and I would say that the lockdowns there have had an extraordinary impact on people who are, as I say, running small businesses or people who are working or people who are wanting to go to school. The cure is becoming worse than the illness. I think that the remark made by the Treasurer last week is very important; it is a fallacy for anyone to think we can actually eliminate the virus. Mr Frydenberg went on to say: 'We can't; no country has done it. Based on the vaccines and the efficacy we know today, based on the medical advice, you cannot eliminate the virus. We have to live with it.' That is the message that people need to hear, because that is the truth. We have to live with this virus, and the national plan gives us a way out of this. Most importantly, we have to get away from this idea that lockdowns are going to be appropriate going forward, because the impact of lockdowns is very hard to quantify in an economic sense, but I think the social impact is very clear: it is hugely damaging to people's mental health. The inability to visit a friend and the inability to visit a dying relative are things that cannot be quantified.

I want to move on to the issue about the different views on COVID-zero. COVID-zero is a policy that is being pursued by the state of Western Australia, where the Premier of Western Australia, Mr McGowan, has said:

We still reserve the right to lockdown in specific locations if absolutely necessary.

This is after Western Australia is meeting its 80 per cent benchmark of vaccination. This is absolute madness. If this is a policy that Western Australia is going to pursue, Western Australia will be a hermit kingdom. No-one will want to go there. Why would you invest a cent in Western Australia if they're going to pursue lockdowns even after they've met their agreed targets in the national plan?

Much has been written and said about the events of the past few months in New South Wales, but I have to say that I think that the Premier of New South Wales has been honest and clear and up-front with the people. Premier Berejiklian has said in the past few days that of course we want to see the case numbers go down; there's no doubt about that. But the number that we need to focus on is vaccinations. When we've reached 70 per cent double-dose vaccinations, we'll be able to live more freely, and when we get to 80 per cent double-dose vaccinations, essentially we will have normalised the way that we treat COVID. You start to transition it and you treat COVID as you treat the flu in terms of how you record hospitalisations and the way the community is going. That is leadership, because that is the truth—we have to get to the point where COVID is treated just like any other illness. People need to stop focusing on case numbers and focus on admissions into ICU and vaccination rates. That is the only way. The only reason that you would want to maintain a policy of having these dreadful, dreaded lockdowns once you've reached 80 per cent of people being vaccinated is that you're addicted to political power and the control that you have over your citizens. Well, that is not the way that the Australian people can and will live in the future.

If you look at the numbers today for vaccination rates, we have done well in New South Wales. In the next few days, we are going to hit 60 per cent of people having had their first dose. That is 15 points ahead of Western Australia, so my advice to Western Australia is that they need to get on board with getting vaccinated, because that is going to get them, hopefully, to a position where they can have some more freedom. But who knows? The fellow in charge over there sounds like he really has a major problem if he wants to pursue lockdowns even after they've got 80 per cent of people vaccinated.

At the end of the day, the cost of the lockdowns is $2 billion a week. It is not something that the nation can afford in an economic sense. We have to get to the point where we can live with this virus. I commend the leadership and the plain speaking of the Treasurer, the PM and Premier Berejiklian over the past few days. We are being open and honest with the people. This is a virus that cannot be eliminated. It will be there permanently. It needs to be managed in a way where we reflect upon the numbers of people in ICU and the vaccination rates. We don't care about case numbers anymore. The more that people obsess about case numbers and the fallacy, the big lie, of COVID zero, the more damage we will do to people's mental health and the more economic damage we will do to the whole nation.

Of course we are a Commonwealth of states and we don't want to see hermit kingdoms emerge in any part of our great Commonwealth. So we don't want to see Western Australia pursue crazy policies like COVID zero. We don't want to see Western Australia flagging and lagging in its vaccination program. We want to see Western Australia remain a strong, connected state. It has been a great contributor to our federation in recent times. We really urge our Western Australian state government to wake up to itself, to forget about COVID zero. It has not been possible for any country or any major city to pursue a policy of COVID zero against the delta variant. Certainly Mr McGowan will not be successful in the long run, and all he will do is damage his own jurisdiction and inflict great damage and great confusion upon the Australian people. We now have a clear plan which is working. The vaccines are kicking off. I urge Mr McGowan to get real and get a grip.