Senate debates

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Matters of Public Importance


3:38 pm

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

I inform the Senate that, at 8.30 am today, eight proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. I inform the Senate that a letter from Senator Keneally proposing a matter of public importance was chosen:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

That after the Morrison-Joyce Government has failed to deliver on its promises to vaccinate four million Australians by the end of March 2021; vaccinate all of the first priority group by Easter 2021; and vaccinate six million Australians by 10 May 2021, last weekend Australia experienced its highest daily COVID case numbers since the pandemic began eighteen months ago.

Is the proposal supported?

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.

3:39 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to make a contribution on this MPI:

That after the Morrison-Joyce Government has failed to deliver on its promise to vaccinate four million Australians by the end of March 2021; vaccinate all of the first priority group by Easter 2021; and vaccinate six million Australians by 10 May 2021, last weekend Australia experienced its highest daily COVID case numbers since the pandemic began eighteen months ago.

I don't have to remind anyone in this chamber, as I don't have to remind anyone outside this chamber, of the serious nature of this pandemic and the impact of a hapless, unorganised, disorganised, chaotic government that's failed to secure the health and safety of its citizens. And that job rests solely with one man: the Prime Minister of this country, Scott Morrison. He's failed to meet the dates that he put in place to reassure Australians that he was on the job. I don't know how many times we've been in this chamber and reminded the Prime Minister that he has had two jobs during this pandemic—two crucial jobs. One was to roll out the vaccine in a timely way to protect the health of the Australian people and to protect the economy. The other was to provide adequate quarantine. He has failed at both of those tasks. But the consequence of his failures has seen too many Australians lose their lives. Too many vulnerable older Australians have died needlessly because of the failures of this man. When you're the Prime Minister of a country, you are expected to show leadership. This is the same man who said there isn't a race. He said, 'There is no race to roll out the vaccine; there's no race.' There is a race, and the race was always about ensuring Australians' health, ensuring that the Australian economy was protected and ensuring that Australians could feel secure in their jobs and secure in knowing that their Prime Minister was on the job. But he has failed on all counts. What we see now is that there are over 16 million Australians in lockdown around this country. Families are being locked down. Children are locked down at home and parents are having to resort to homeschooling. That has an impact on that family and it has an impact on the community.

If we look at the frontline workers in this country—the truckies, the people who work in retail, our healthcare workers, our schoolteachers, our aged-care workers, our disability carers—these are the people that should have been a priority for vaccination because they're keeping our economy moving and helping to ensure the health and safety of this country and our people. But we still don't have all aged-care workers in this country fully vaccinated. We still don't have all disability carers fully vaccinated. We still have not seen even a plan to address the vaccination of aged-care workers who go to the homes of our older Australians, our most vulnerable Australians. Many of those workers are not yet fully vaccinated. We have heard stories from upset people who call our offices. They're concerned about their loved ones because they can't access the vaccine or the vaccine that they choose. This is the government that failed to secure enough vaccines to ensure their communities, their residents, are kept safe.

We know that the Prime Minister never likes to accept responsibility for his own failings. We've seen that time and time again in what is a pretty sad reflection on his ministry. We've seen Senator Colbeck come into this chamber wanting to talk about the number of vaccines that have been rolled out over the last couple of weeks, as if that's something to be proud of. But that is just an acknowledgment of the fact that they have failed to meet the time lines that they set themselves. Those people on that side of the chamber may think: 'That's okay, we can get away with this. People are now lining up for five hours to get their vaccination, so all's good—nothing to see here.' This is after three years of this Prime Minister, who on every occasion wants to blame somebody else and accept no responsibility. What he's going to be remembered for is being the Prime Minister who was good only at slogans and trying to spin his way out of trouble. That's what Mr Morrison is going to be remembered as: the Prime Minister who always went missing in a crisis, just as he did through the 2019-20 bushfires. What we heard in those circumstances was, 'I don't hold a hose.' Then it was, 'I don't give jabs.' That is not good enough. This is a war against this pandemic. This is when a Prime Minister is supposed to stand up and be counted, and he's failing to do that.

In my home state of Tasmania, fortunately, we aren't in lockdown. But we are seeing the effect of New South Wales and Victoria and at times Queensland, WA and South Australia going into lockdowns. That has an impact on our community. It has an impact on our economy. It has an impact on our small businesses. But I never hear any of the Liberal senators from Tasmania come in here and speak up for the small businesses or for the schoolteachers who can't get a vaccine. We see them coming in defending their government on their pathetic attempts to secure the safety of Australians. What we don't see is a Prime Minister and his government taking responsibility.

We've had other senators make a contribution through the course of this week about our First Nations people, who have such a low vaccination rate. These are some of the most vulnerable people in our community. In Western Sydney and further west—in Orange, Bathurst and Dubbo—there are spikes in outbreaks. Teachers who are working with special needs children, and who should be a priority, have been told when they ring around doctors' surgeries and pharmacies that they will have to wait until next year to get a vaccine, because they don't want to have to have the AZ vaccine; they want to have Pfizer.

This government will be reminded about its failings every single day that we sit, and it must be held accountable for its failings, because our economy and the Australian citizens deserve nothing less. This shifting of blame, trying to say that we want people to stay in lockdown, is ridiculous. We want to see the Australian people going back to their old way of life. Of course that's what we want. But we wanted that to have happened because people had been vaccinated according to the Prime Minister's own time lines. First it was March and Easter this year. Then six million Australians were going to be vaccinated by 10 May 2021. Then it was that we were all going to be vaccinated by October. Those deadlines were not met, and I have no faith that this government will be able to meet even its own latest deadline of October or the end of this year. Other countries around the world are already looking at boosters for their residents, but we are so far behind.

How many more people are going to have to die? When the Prime Minister says that we are going to have to learn to live with this pandemic, it will be on his head. How are we going to live with the number of people that are going to die if we open up the borders before all Australians are vaccinated? How are we going to be dealing with those deaths? That will be the situation if he forces states to pull down their borders before the majority of Australians are vaccinated in this country. Enough is enough, Prime Minister. Get on and do your— (Time expired)

3:49 pm

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] It is my pleasure to rise and speak on this MPI which, regrettably, reflects the Labor Party's determination to focus on petty politicking and personal political attacks and not the national interest. I say to Senator Polley, and to all Labor senators opposite, that Australians are sick of this negativity, of you dragging down the achievements of Australians, of our nation, of our health workers, of our cleaners, of our families struggling with home schooling and of our businesses. Australians are sick of it. So I say: what about starting to put the national interest first? This politicking is a disgrace.

I say to Senator Polley that I am outraged. I'm outraged by your statement attributing blame to the Prime Minister personally for COVID deaths. That is an absolute disgrace. You should withdraw that appalling statement. The facts are that the Coate inquiry found that the evidence is and the facts are that the vast majority of COVID deaths in this country—801 deaths—were caused by the failure of hotel quarantine in Victoria last year. Those are the facts.

Talking of slogans, Senator Polley, let's have a look at Labor's slogans. Labor keeps on claiming that we failed with quarantine. The bottom line and the facts are that the Labor premiers determined to take responsibility for quarantine. In fact, that was led by Premier Andrews last April when he put forward the hotel quarantine plan to national cabinet, which was accepted. So please start telling the truth. The fact of the matter is the Commonwealth is playing its part, but quarantine has been taken on as a responsibilities by the states. One of the most successful quarantine facilities is in Howard Springs in the Northern Territory. It's supported by an investment of more than half a billion dollars. It has taken the bulk of repatriation flights into this country. In Victoria, the Morrison government has also agreed to share the costs of quarantine with the state for a new quarantine facility in Melbourne. So let's stick to the facts and stop this revolting politicking.

The first positive thing I want to say in my contribution—and let's focus on the positives—is to say to all Australian who are eligible: please, get vaccinated. What a shame we didn't hear that from Senator Polley. Today we have the wonderful news that Australians aged between 16 and 39 will be able to book their Pfizer vaccination from seven o'clock tomorrow morning. We are seeing a dramatic escalation in vaccination rates. Some of the figures we've heard from Labor are just a misrepresentation of the facts. The fact is that over 17 million vaccine doses have now been administered, and we are now hitting over 1.8 million doses being administered every single week. A total of 4.5 million vaccinations were given in July, which is more than double that achieved in May, when 2.1 million doses were administered. Yes, there have been some challenges, principally with supply. But these have largely been overcome and I wish Labor would tell Australians that. Give Australians hope. I say to Labor senators: give Australians hope that there is a way out of this. Our government has secured close to 300 million doses of various vaccines.

Let's not forget that, based on our hard work and the decisions that we made very early in the piece in relation to the management of the pandemic, including closing the border with China, which occurred in January of last year, we have saved, working together, 30,000 lives. We have been very proud to support over three million Australians through programs like JobKeeper, getting one million Australians back to work. There is a lot this government has got right. Now Lieutenant General Frewen and his team are working with the health minister and the Department of Health and doing a great job in accelerating the rollout of the vaccinations.

As the Prime Minister has said, to keep Australia focused on going forward, we need to make sure that we stick to our national plan—that is, once we achieve 70 to 80 per cent vaccination rates, we will see less transmission of COVID-19, fewer people with severe illness and, therefore, fewer hospitalisations and deaths. As the Doherty institute has said, COVID-19 won't go away, but it will be easier to control in the future. That is the hope that Australians need.

I say again to Labor senators, to the Leader of the Opposition, please start talking about hope. Please start talking about what we can do together as a nation. Please start talking about the importance of the national plan, because the bottom line is we can't live in lockdown forever.

I have been very critical of Daniel Andrews and state Labor at times when they have plunged us into lockdown, particularly in parts of Victoria where there are no cases. I am deeply critical of the fact that there are children currently at boarding school in New South Wales who cannot get a permit to cross the border to come back to their families in Victoria which, in my view, is a breach of the Victorian charter of human rights. This is outrageous. There are elderly people sitting in caravan parks in Albury and across the border who cannot get a permit to return to Victoria.

We have got to manage these lockdowns better. They must be a last resort. When we hit those 70 per cent and 80 per cent vaccination rates, we need to see Australia opening up. As the Prime Minister has made clear, as the Treasurer has made clear, we cannot live in lockdown forever. We need to open up our economy, get kids back to school, people back to work and we need to give Australians hope.

The Prime Minister has reiterated that the groundhog days of rolling lockdowns gripping the nation must not last a day more than necessary. The premiers and the first ministers must stick to the national plan. It is deeply concerning that some premiers are already indicating that they will walk away or walk back from this national plan. The Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, will not rule out further lockdowns even though we reach the 70 or 80 per cent vaccination rate. The Herald Sun reported today that Premier Andrews said that once Victoria reaches a vaccination rate of 80 per cent of those aged over 16, there would not be state-wide lockdowns unless otherwise advised. I say to Premier Andrews: What sort of hope is that? What sort of plan is that? This is deeply troubling. This saps confidence from every single Victorian, particularly the businesses which have been hit so hard in the events sector, in hospitality, in arts, in tourism. These are businesses which have suffered so much. When Melbourne goes into lockdown, it causes such huge issues right across regional Victoria because the regional Victorian economy to a large degree depends on the Melbourne economy.

I say that Victorians have had enough, and that's why I call on Victorian federal Labor MPs, including Mr Marles, Ms Coker, Ms King and Ms Chesters, to come out in support of the national plan. I say to Labor, please stop your negativity. Please start acting in the national interest.

The national plan we have developed and agreed on is our pathway to living with this virus. That is our goal—to live with this virus and to do the best we can as a nation working together. It's a plan based on the best possible scientific, medical and economic advice, and, I would argue, the best advice available to any government in the world.

Let's not forget that 12 months ago we didn't even know whether we would have a vaccine. The fact that we have a vaccine that has been rapidly rolled out to all Australians is an incredible scientific achievement. This is largely going to keep us safe from this terrible virus, which has caused such havoc in Australia and around the world. But we are getting through this and we are managing.

Again, to Labor, to those opposite, please let's focus on our success. Please let's focus on what we are achieving. Please let's focus on the scientific breakthroughs that we have seen here in Australia and around the world. Let's celebrate what we are doing. (Time expired)

3:59 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make a contribution to this MPI debate. Apparently we're being political if we dare raise concerns about the so-called national plan. That plan for 80 per cent of the eligible population conveniently does not include children under the age of 16. There are a lot of human beings not included in the targets. When I asked the government today about children being included in the targets they conveniently didn't answer that question. They said, 'We're going to ATAGI and we're going to get vaccines out to children sometime in the future,' but they did not commit to include it in the plan. Let's be very clear: children continue to be at risk because an 80 per cent target that doesn't include those under 16 means that we are dealing with around 65 per cent of the population, and that's pretty scary, folks.

Don't accuse us of being political when we raise very genuine concerns. We too look at the science. We too look at the modelling. The Doherty institute's modelling is slightly out of step now with the current situation, which I think the government acknowledges. But there is also other modelling. ANU modelling came out today—the pre-published report. The Grattan Institute modelling clearly shows that young people—children, kids—need to be included in the targets. When are they going to be included? It is our job in this place to question government, hold them to account and raise these issues—the same as we have done with many other issues, such as JobKeeper and increasing the coronavirus supplement. We all acknowledge that the government did the right thing there. We raised those issues.

4:01 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

This year started with so much promise because of the lightening-speed scientific endeavour that delivered us the promise of protection through vaccination. The success of public health intervention measures meant that Australians could look forward to a vastly superior 2021 than the previous year. It is true that the failings of the Morrison government to get Australia near the head of the queue on vaccine procurement was evident even in 2020; however, thanks to the successful public health interventions led by state governments it seemed like we bought a little more time to successfully deliver our rollout.

The commitment was there directly from the Prime Minister that Australians would be vaccinated and vaccinated soon. In fact, the Prime Minister pledged to Australians that some four million of us would be vaccinated by the end of March. That pledge included a further commitment. He promised that every Australian in the first priority group who wanted to be vaccinated would be by Easter. There was hope that our most vulnerable Australians would be protected and protected reasonably soon. The promise made by the Prime Minister stretched to the vaccination of six million Australians by 10 May. While the vaccination rollout in Australia even under this pledge was well behind the OECD, it still seemed as though we would reach higher levels of vaccination coverage within months.

We needed just two things to go right. We needed our government to deliver on just two responsibilities that fall directly at the feet of the Commonwealth government. We needed to keep COVID out through a successful quarantine system whilst we rolled out a successful vaccination program. It seemed doable. We thought this government and this Prime Minister would be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. It turns out that they can't do either on their own.

Last week, tragically, this nation experienced its highest daily COVID case number since the start of this pandemic, and we are nowhere near where we were supposed to be on our vaccine rollout under the Prime Minister's original plan and promise. We all agree that vaccination is our ticket out of this pandemic, so why on earth did the Prime Minister fail to secure deals to secure vaccines in a timely manner in 2020? Other nations seem capable of doing it. He claimed we were at the front of the queue. Now we find we are near the back of the pack when it comes to all comparisons with comparable nations. In fact, we are last in the developed world when it comes to having our population fully vaccinated. There are still people in the vulnerable priority categories yet to be fully vaccinated.

It's quite extraordinary really, and a far cry from the hopeful optimism we all felt in January, because the consequences of Mr Morrison's failure to do his job have a devastating impact on Australians. Many of us are in seemingly endless lockdown. Hundreds and hundreds of Australians are contracting COVID every day. Borders are closed. Businesses are struggling or collapsing. People are out of work and losing income. The stress and the strain is having a significant impact on the mental health and wellbeing of Australians, and it didn't need to be this way. We didn't need to be here, but here we are because Mr Scott Morrison couldn't do his job—just two jobs. Job No. 1 was a speedy, effective rollout of the vaccine: fail. Job No. 2 was to manage quarantine: fail. But, for this Prime Minister, every job is someone else's fault; every crisis is someone else's responsibility.

We are in the race of our lives—we always were—to get this done and to provide better protection and the hope of a better life. This was always a race, despite what the Prime Minister said. It's been a total dereliction of duty, because, as you know, he doesn't even hold a hose, and now Australians have been plunged into uncertainty and disruption because of the quarantine system and the slow vaccine rollout. Australians are crying out for leadership. They just want the job done. They want some hope. They want the promise of January 2021 delivered, and all we ever get is more spin. All the while our health is at risk, our economy is held hostage, families are being kept apart and children are stressed and missing out on school. Australians deserve better. Interestingly enough, the first of Mr Morrison's promises and commitments to Australia in early 2021, the 70 per cent target, would already have been reached.

4:06 pm

Photo of Hollie HughesHollie Hughes (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Clearly, those opposite are consistently listening to some form of echo chamber, the land of Danistan cheer squad focus group, with their constant negativity. Do you want Australia to fail? Why are you constantly rooting for Australia to fail? I would have thought Senator Keneally, as a senator for New South Wales, might have been able to muster some state pride, if not national. Australia is now vaccinating people at a rate higher than that of any other country in the world. In fact, the only thing more impressive than that is the fact that New South Wales is actually leading that charge. What that means is that New South Wales is now vaccinating people at a faster rate than that of any other jurisdiction globally.

As a fellow New South Wales senator to Senator Keneally, I for one am extremely proud of the people in my home state who have gone out and gotten vaccinated. When Gladys Berejiklian set a target of six million vaccinations this month, New South Welshmen heeded the call and exceeded those six million vaccinations, with still a week to go in August. That is something we should be celebrating. Instead, here we go again with the political pointscoring and the talking down of Australians and of what Australians are actually going out to do in record numbers. In fact, there have been over 17 million doses of vaccine delivered to date. But what's really so remarkable about that is that just three days ago we were at 16 million vaccinations. For those of you who struggle with the maths here, that means that in the past three days we've seen one million doses delivered. Now, no-one could have gotten their first and second jab within three days, which means that one million Australians have received a vaccination over the past three days. So I would like to say thank you—thank you to them for making themselves safer, thank you for making your loved ones safer and thank you for assisting all Australians to get back to their lives without lockdowns. But perhaps that's where we find the problem. Perhaps you don't want to return to any form of normality. Perhaps you've developed some form of fetish for lockdowns. Each to their own, but this predilection affects millions of Australians and hundreds of thousands of businesses.

We need to break the lockdown cycle, and we know via the Doherty modelling we can start to do that at a 70 per cent vaccination rate. Just let me break it down for you. More than 85 per cent of over-70s have received their first dose and 58 per cent their second, more than 75 per cent of over-50s have received their first dose and almost 45 per cent their second, and more than 50 per cent of over-16s are protected with their first dose and 31 per cent their second. But what we also know is that in both New South Wales and the ACT over 60 per cent of all of those eligible have received their first dose. Unfortunately, Queensland and Western Australia are lagging well behind, with their numbers in just the mid-40 percentile.

Those opposite are very fond of asking questions about it being a race, so here you go. Have your race. Get onto your state premiers and start encouraging them to get their citizens vaccinated. Maybe those of you from outside the premier state—that is, New South Wales—could get onto those premiers and CHOs and get them to understand this requirement. While we're on it, perhaps Senator Keneally might like to ask the member for Maribyrnong, who's such a fan of AZ, to give the current opposition leader a call. Firstly, he could teach him how to actually say the word 'AstraZeneca'. Then, perhaps he could start to get out there and practise by encouraging people to get the vaccine rather than by desperately trying to slow it down with his fearmongering, because those of us on this side actually understand the toll these lockdowns are taking.

But perhaps the mental health toll that these lockdowns are taking is beyond you. The rate of teenage suicide and self-harm is rising and we have a generation of kids that, quite frankly, these lockdowns are breaking. We know that Lifeline is receiving record-breaking numbers of calls each and every day. This morning I heard Roderic Rees on Sky News speaking with Peter Stefanovic. His business, Cairns Adventure Group, is unlikely to survive if he can't at the very least get interstate travellers to visit Cairns, and I'm sure Senator Green will be on the phone to Premier Palaszczuk pleading with her to ensure that fellow Australians are able to travel interstate at Christmas not only to see their families but to support these businesses that are absolutely at breaking point. But, when these premiers, who agreed to the plan and then walked outside to politically point score and further jeopardise the wellbeing and the livelihoods of so many within their own states, go against what the national cabinet devised, do they even begin to comprehend the damage that they are doing to not only the business owners—I know those opposite aren't too fussed with small business owners—but the workers employed in those small businesses. Do they comprehend the uncertainty that this prevarication causes for those workers when they don't know if the small business they work for will be able to survive.

I remain an optimist. I am hopeful that very soon your focus groups will tell you that the day of lockdowns being a vote winner is over. I am forever hopeful that you will start to support Australians. You don't support all Australians and their families, their jobs and their businesses. If those opposite don't start to understand the devastating consequences of refusing to accept that we need to start to live with this virus in the same way that we live with the flu, the mental health consequences will far outweigh the damage that COVID could ever have.

Whilst those opposite continue their scare campaign and fearmongering, I'd actually like to congratulate Victor Dominello, the New South Wales Minister for Customer Service and Minister for Digital, on the creation of the inclusion card. What he's doing here is allowing businesses to check people in rather than the other way around. It's this sort of innovation that's going to assist in opening up New South Wales. If only all the premiers had the same focus. We know that there are people who struggle with using a smartphone, who aren't that tech savvy. In fact, I still have a giggle when I think about one of the posts I saw last week. Someone mentioned that their mother wasn't sure what to do with all the photos of the QR codes. She'd been taking photos of the QR codes, rather than checking in, because the technology was maybe a little too sophisticated for her. But it's also really good, and an important move forward, for people with a disability who would also struggle with the check-in technology.

I would also like to acknowledge that, from tomorrow, 25 August, all NDIS participants over 12 years of age will be eligible to get vaccinated. Every NDIS participant over the age of 12 will be eligible. For those wondering why it's not under 12, it's because no vaccine is approved for anyone under 12. So when we all start chiming in about how many children are going to be vaccinated—no vaccine is approved anywhere around the world for children under 12. My son, gorgeous 'Freddo Frog', is 12. I, for one, will be getting him vaccinated as soon as possible because I understand, unlike some of the antivaxxers out there, that vaccines don't cause autism. What they do, though, is ensure that people with autism don't suffer this serious illness. I'm also pretty sure vaccines contribute to decent spelling and the use of correct grammar, but that's a whole other matter for us to discuss on another day.

What I would like to say to those opposite—and, really, it's a very simple message; I think even those opposite may be able to understand it: please stop the politicking. Please start to back Australians. And, to Senator Keneally: be proud of your state. Let's get back to life. Let's get back to travel and help support the mental health of all Australians.

4:17 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] Some 14.5 million Australians have not yet received any COVID-19 vaccination—not Pfizer, not AstraZeneca. Three in four Australians are not yet fully vaccinated. The Prime Minister massively bungled the vaccine procurement, and his government is now engaged in a mad scramble to increase and accelerate vaccine shipments from overseas. He will eventually achieve satisfactory levels of vaccination, but it will be many months later than it should have been, and there will have been great social and economic cost associated with the delay.

What is particularly worrying is the extent to which the Prime Minister's so-called plan for reopening Australia is being wrapped and accelerated by his political objectives. The declared target of full vaccination of 80 per cent of the eligible adult population excludes one in five adults—that's 4.6 million adults—and all children below the age of 16, or 4.8 million kids. At the 80 per cent level, millions of Australians, including children and teenagers, will not be fully vaccinated and will still be vulnerable to the virus and its potential, long-term, debilitating effects. There's much argument about the Doherty institute modelling. However, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the Prime Minister is wilfully disregarding the scale of the New South Wales delta strain outbreak and the spread of the virus amongst children. These factors surely deserve much deeper investigation—more than just one institute—and that analysis should be made public. It's a case of a looming election skewing the Prime Minister's view. Australians are right to question his judgement in relation to— (Time expired)

4:19 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

If you listen to the noise coming from the government, they're trying to hold everyone to account except themselves. I think we've heard—I can't quite remember—Mr Morrison finally admit that he's lagging behind in the vaccine rollouts, but let's put the facts on the table. The Morrison-Joyce government failed to deliver on its promise to vaccinate four million Australians by the end of March 2021. Okay, Mr Morrison might have actually acknowledged that he failed to meet that target, but then he was going to vaccinate all the priority groups and care workers by Easter 2021. We know that aged-care workers are not fully vaccinated—and that stops clearly at the feet of Mr Morrison and Senator Colbeck. There was that promise to vaccinate six million Australians by 10 May 2021. And we've now got mandated vaccination of aged-care workers being done by 17 September. I can't see that happening myself. And we were going to make sure that everyone over 70 was vaccinated by winter 2021—we are now just a few days away from spring—and there was that big promise to vaccinate all Australians by October 2021.

These aren't magical numbers made up by the opposition; they are numbers put out there by Mr Morrison. Is it any wonder that we've got vaccine hesitancy in this country when we've got a Prime Minister who can't even meet his own targets? I heard Minister Reynolds talking about the NDIS on the radio this morning. If you listen to her, you would think people with disability are lining up all over the shop and able to get vaccines. That's clearly not the case. After Minister Reynolds had finished trying to hoodwink the Australian community, a mother called up about her child who has a disability and is within the age range to get the vaccine. She said that, despite going everywhere to try and get a vaccine, the earliest she could get one was October. Do you know what Minister Reynolds's response to her was? 'Keep trying'! This is the government that is responsible for the vaccine rollout—and we know that there has been vaccine rationing all over this country.

What's happening right now among First Nations communities in western New South Wales is, frankly, shameful. Sure, the Premier of New South Wales and Mr Morrison can get up about 'six million' but the reality is that that figure needs to be broken down. In western New South Wales, it won't be 30-odd per cent receiving their first jab; it will be nothing like that. It's shameful that the Minister for Aged Care and minister representing the minister for health said in here today that 'they are doing their best'. They should have been on the front foot with First Nations communities, not the back foot. I'd like a map of Australia to show us the appalling rates of vaccination among First Nations people and I'd like to know exactly what the government is doing about it.

In the ACT, a significant number of people under 40 are coming down with the delta strain and a significant number of them are children aged from 12 years. Primary schools and high schools have had to be shut down. In New South Wales, it's the same. If we are not now proactively looking at getting vaccines for that age group, for those aged 12 and up, then, again, Mr Morrison will fail the Australian people. The need is there. We have a disastrous vaccine rollout across this country amongst vulnerable groups and now, clearly, amongst children. Sure, we are now starting to vaccinate children who have some sort of disability or illness. But, frankly, that is not good enough. Other countries are vaccinating children from the age of 12.

And where on earth is Moderna? We have been promised—'its coming, it's coming, it's coming'. I'm sorry, but you have failed at vaccine rollout. You should be ashamed of yourselves and finally admit it.

4:24 pm

Photo of Perin DaveyPerin Davey (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is certainly clear that Labor got the memo this week about their key speaking points. With everything else going on, Labor are ensuring they keep it negative—shock, fear and loathing, 'bad vaccination rates, bad PM,' blah, blah, blah. Yesterday they were quoting the PM ad nauseam: 'He said, "It's not a race." How bad is our Prime Minister?' They've been harping on about that for quite a while now. They've also been harping on about how the Prime Minister had just two jobs, as they say. Well, I'm sure the Prime Minister would love to have only two jobs, but the reality is not so simple, as the Australian public are well aware. It is not as simple as Labor delivering their tired sound grabs, and yet they accuse the Prime Minister of being addicted to slogans.

It is true that, early on in the piece, the Prime Minister did say, 'It's not a race,' because he wanted to keep our public calm. He could have said to the Australian public: 'Don't panic. We have the vaccine. We have a plan. Stay calm.' He used different words. Did we get everything right from day one of the rollout? No, and the Prime Minister has admitted that. Did the changing ATAGI advice throw a spanner in the works of the best-laid plans? Absolutely. But we are not the only country that had to pivot and deal with changing advice regarding different vaccines. I'm not quite sure what Labor are proposing when they harp on about the fact that we didn't have enough vaccinations early enough. We were also a country with one of the lowest rates of infection in the world. Did they want us, as a wealthy Western nation, to push other countries aside and say, 'Give us your vaccine?' Atrocious.

But, while the public were told, 'It's not a race,' that doesn't mean our agencies, our healthcare workers, the vaccination hubs and others have not been racing. Indeed, it is now clear that, from a slow start, they're racing like Phar Lap. Per capita, as Senator Hollie Hughes said earlier, people in New South Wales are now getting vaccinated faster than at the peak of vaccinations in the US and the UK. Dr Nick Coatsworth tweeted on the weekend:

UK was the world model in vaccination and NSW is now exceeding it.

And we're rolling out our ancillary troops. GP clinics across the country have now administered over nine million doses. Community pharmacies are delivering AstraZeneca. The Royal Flying Doctor Service—if I may respond to Senator Lines's worry about remote communities and Indigenous communities—have delivered 22,000 jabs into the arms of our most remote communities, through 90 site visits, as well as delivering nearly 14,000 additional doses to remote health services. Even our Defence Force is engaged. In my state, the ADF delivered 1,500 vaccines at a pop-up clinic in Dubbo just last Saturday—one day. We are now delivering well over a million doses a week. In fact, the most recent data shows it took just three days to deliver the last million doses, so we are off and racing. But we don't want to panic the nation.

While this motion is right, in that we didn't meet the six million target by the end of May, we are now getting almost that figure out per month, and, at current rates, we are on track to have 80 per cent of the over-16 population vaccinated by the end of November. But it requires a level of personal responsibility. People need to come forward. So I say to Labor: stop fearmongering, stop looking in the rear-view mirror, stop harping on about past targets missed and look at what we are achieving. Look to the horizons. I say to the 30 per cent of eligible people who are now fully vaccinated: thank you. And I say to those coming to get vaccinated: thank you. We're moving forward.

4:29 pm

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] It is difficult to see the rising COVID numbers in New South Wales, and it is also heartbreaking to watch the New South Wales Liberal government shaming people in certain communities in their theatre of compliance because they have failed to control the spread of COVID and, ultimately, because Scott Morrison has failed to roll out a vaccination program early enough. It is having a huge impact. The multicultural communities being overpoliced and singled out by the New South Wales government are also now carrying a disproportionate burden from this outbreak. South-West and Western Sydney are full of essential low-paid workers who carry out the bulk of the needed critical work. They are first responders, grocery store workers, train and bus drivers, delivery drivers, childcare workers, nurses, aged-care workers and so much more. Getting their jobs done means that they are shouldering the burden of this pandemic while, all the time, risking exposure to the virus. But the people of South-West and Western Sydney, rather than being thanked for doing the work we all so desperately rely on, get told off and put under curfews in a heavy-handed police crackdown. This might be a cheaper strategy than proper wage subsidies and income support, but it's also shameful and discriminatory. Overcrowded housing is at its worst in Sydney's west and south-west, yet the government keeps telling people to stay home rather than providing safe housing for all. The Morrison government's botched vaccine rollout, mixed messaging and blame shifting have created mass confusion.

Despite efforts to divide and to paint multicultural communities in a different light, a report by the New South Wales Council of Social Service found that attitudes towards vaccines in multicultural communities mirror those of the general population. I know that low-paid brown and black workers might be the easiest of scapegoats for politicians, but shifting the blame to people of colour really needs to stop right now. Just stop. It is not just unhelpful; it stinks of racism and is doing immense harm to so many.

4:31 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] I'm speaking from Sydney in our ninth week of lockdown. I listen to the government senators saying, 'Look at what we've achieved.' You've achieved nine weeks in which small business, working people and families are put in an extremely difficult situation as a result of the government's failure to sort out a national quarantine system and organise an efficient and speedy vaccine rollout. As COVID-19 ravages New South Wales, the vaccine rollout is still months behind schedule. Victoria, the ACT and even New Zealand have been forced into lockdown by the outbreak which began in Bondi.

It is unthinkable that, 18 months into the pandemic, six months into the vaccine rollout and nine weeks into lockdown, many of the most urgent priority groups for vaccines are still being left behind. People are still waiting outside in the pouring rain for hours at a time to get a vaccine. Just 26.9 per cent of NDIS participants over 16 are fully vaccinated. That is less than the general population, despite them being in phase 1a or 1b, the urgent and high-priority groups for vaccine access. Anne Kavanagh, a professor of disability and health at the University of Melbourne, has called the rollout for disabled Australians 'negligent' and a 'failure'. These aren't complaints; this is a call for the government to get its act together today.

It was recently reported in the news that a pregnant woman found that she could only book a vaccination appointment five months from now. This is despite the recommendation from ATAGI in June that pregnant women be urgently vaccinated due to the severe risk of COVID to their health and that of their unborn babies. Then there is the disability and aged-care workforce, who Scott Morrison promised would be vaccinated by April. Well, it's nearly September and more than 40 per cent of aged-care and disability workers are yet to have even their first jab. The Health Services Union has reported that workers have been struggling to access vaccines. The HSU says that aged-care workers have had to cancel appointments in order to go to work so that they can put food on the table. That is the reality for a workforce which is 90 per cent part time or casual. No Australian should be in such a precarious position in their job that they are forced to miss out on critical medical appointments just to get by.

When health workers are making so many sacrifices, when they are risking their health and wellbeing caring for those who are vulnerable, the least we can do is make sure they don't have to lose shifts or to pay to make their vaccine appointment. The fact is that small businesses and working Australians, particularly in western and south-west Sydney, are doing it tough during this lockdown. I think also of the businesses of working Australians in Victoria and the ACT, who are being impacted by the Bondi outbreak. Of course, there are many other parts of the country not able to receive tourism and exchanges from state to state.

When people are doing it tough, they need short-term support and they need a longer term vision for how we can get to a better place. I note a new report by Community and Patient Preference Research today, which found vaccination take-up is almost five times more likely if a $300 payment is on offer. That's not whinging; that's about solutions. This government is refusing to do it because it was the opposition who proposed it. Ludicrous! That is exactly what Labor has proposed. It's about time the Morrison government dropped its ideological opposition to providing financial incentives to vaccination. Mr Morrison certainly has no issues with giving billions in JobKeeper to Gerry Harvey and his pals. I'm sure Mr Morrison can cough up a far, far smaller amount to salvage our national vaccination program, which is still struggling to catch up from his insistence that this isn't a race.

4:37 pm

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] For disabled people and our families, the pandemic has been a time of unparalleled fear and anxiety. Many of us have been trapped inside our homes, scared to go outside since the very beginning of the pandemic. Throughout this time, we have worked as hard as we can; we have banded together, we have collaborated, we have raised our voices to our state and federal governments. We have argued, cajoled, convinced, persuaded, presented discussion papers and expertise, and sometimes even pleaded for a plan that would vaccinate us and would give us what we need to be safe. And from the very beginning of the pandemic, the Morrison government has repeatedly failed to heed our advice, failed to engage with us effectively, and failed to provide us with the protection and the support that we need.

At the very beginning of the pandemic, we discovered there was not a single person in the health department whose job it was to make sure that the initial response supported and protected disabled people. Months into the pandemic, we discovered that there still was not a plan. Months later, there was still no plan. And now we discover that, as far as we are into this great crisis, no more than 26 per cent of NDIS participants have been vaccinated, and there are still about half of the folks living in residential settings who are yet to be fully vaccinated. This is absolutely unacceptable! It puts disabled people's lives at risk, and it must be urgently addressed effectively.

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for the discussion has expired.