Tuesday, 24 August 2021
Questions without Notice
Order! Before we start being disorderly, can we at least allow the minister to start getting to his feet.
Opposition senators interjecting—
Senator Watt! Again, I'm going to ask senators, for the courtesy of all those appearing remotely. Senator Colbeck.
Thank you, Mr President, and thank you, Senator Chandler, for the question. Australia's COVID-19 rollout continues to expand. To date, more than 17.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Australia. We had a record Sunday, with more than 139,000 vaccines administered, and 335,000 vaccines administered over the weekend. Yesterday was a record Monday, with more than—
Order, Senator Colbeck. Stop the clock. The interjections started two seconds into his answer. While there is a place for interaction across the chamber, some courtesy, so that those appearing remotely can hear, would be appreciated. I'm having trouble hearing the minister, and it's very hard to tell who is interjecting unless they have a very recognisable voice, Senator Watt. Senator Colbeck.
Thank you, Mr President. Yesterday was a record Monday, with more than 289,000 doses administered. That is good news for Australians and good news for the country. Just about the only ones barracking against this rollout are on the other side of the chamber. In the last seven days, more than 1.8 million doses have been administered into the arms of Australians—6.3 million doses in the last 30 days.
Senator Watt interjecting—
The vaccine rollout is ramping up, as we always said it would. In our home state of Tasmania, Senator Chandler, 414,000 doses have been given to those who have stepped forward to protect themselves, protect friends, protect their families and protect their country. Each vaccine helps protect each one of us, but every vaccine helps protect us all. We now have national vaccination rates of more than 54 per cent for first doses among the eligible population and over 30 per cent for second doses. Perhaps most significantly, amongst our most vulnerable Australians—which is why we are seeing a difference in New South Wales this year compared to Victoria last year—over 70 per cent of over-50s have had their first dose and over 85 per cent of over-70s have had their first dose. (Time expired)
I thank all those involved in the rollout of vaccines across Australia—in particular, the frontline healthcare workers—for their commitment and hard work in getting this most important job done. We have enlisted GPs, Commonwealth vaccination clinics, Aboriginal community health centres and pharmacies to deliver vaccines into the arms of people right across the country. There are over 8,100 points around the country at which you can get a jab.
This week, 2,595 pharmacy sites were active and vaccinating nationally. By the end of this week, it will be 2,850 pharmacies across the country that will have received doses and be able to vaccinate next week. More importantly, more than 900 of those are in New South Wales, including in the greater Sydney hotspot areas.
The sooner Australians turn up at one of the more than 8,100 sites across the country, the sooner we will be able to return to a normal life, with fewer restrictions and fewer lockdowns. As the Prime Minister has said, the national plan that we have developed and agreed with the states is our pathway to living with the virus. That is our goal—to live with the virus, not to live in fear of it. It's a plan based on the best-possible scientific evidence, undermined only by those opposite. Once we achieve 70 to 80 per cent vaccination, we'll see less transmission of COVID-19, fewer people with severe illness, fewer people in hospital and fewer deaths. We should all get on with it.
My question is to the minister representing the Minister for Health, Senator Colbeck. South Western and Western Sydney woke up yesterday to harsher restrictions and a Western Sydney curfew as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak that started in Bondi. Why are South Western and Western Sydney residents, who are trying to do the right thing by their communities, being forced to take multiple busses and trains in the middle of a lockdown to get to a vaccination hub and being forced to wait up to five hours outside at those vaccination hubs to get vaccinated?
Senator Van interjecting—
I say to all of those people in South Western Sydney who are turning out to get vaccinated: thank you for doing so. Those residents of South Western Sydney know, like we know, that vaccination is one of the things that provides a pathway for all of us to deal with this pandemic.
There are 777 primary care and Commonwealth sites administering vaccines across South Western Sydney. There are 590 general practices, including 266 that are offering the Pfizer vaccine, seven general practice respiratory clinics, 14 Aboriginal community health centres and 176 community pharmacies that are offering AstraZeneca—777 sites across South Western Sydney.
I say to those Australians from South Western Sydney: thank you for turning out. Thank you for having the patience to wait for your jab. You are doing not only yourselves but also your community a service. We know and those people of South Western Sydney know that one of the pathways to dealing with this virus is to get vaccinated. It will protect you, it will protect your community and, once we start reaching the thresholds that have been set down by the national plan, it is the way to start returning to a more normal life. So thank you to all of those people in South Western Sydney. In fact, thank you to all of those people around the country who are turning out to get vaccinated. Thank you particularly to those health workers who are working in those vaccination clinics—the GPs, the pharmacists, those working in the ACCHOs, those working in the Commonwealth health sites and those working in the state clinics. All of those people are working to assist people to get vaccinated. (Time expired)
Why are children with disabilities and pregnant women in the federal electorate of Macarthur still having trouble booking vaccine appointments, as they are reporting to their local MP, 18 months into the pandemic and six months into the vaccination rollout?
I thank Senator Keneally for her question. Clearly there is strong demand for vaccine across the country, and that is a good thing. I say to all Australians: it's clear that there's only one group of people in this country who are campaigning against the vaccine rollout and who are undermining confidence in the vaccine rollout, and it's that lot over there. We continue to increase the supply, and, as I've already indicated today, we continue to increase the number of outlets that are available for people to get a vaccine. As more vaccine becomes available, we will continue to increase the volume. It's only the Labor Party who are out there trying to undermine confidence in the vaccine rollout. It's only the Labor Party who are out there trying to undermine confidence in vaccines.
The people of South Western and Western Sydney, 18 months into the pandemic, are struggling to secure vaccine appointments and are living in lockdown conditions worse than anything Australia has ever experienced. Why has the Morrison-Joyce government left the people of South Western and Western Sydney behind?
Senator Van interjecting—
I completely and utterly reject the premise of the question. Only last week, we put an extra 500,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which we'd managed to bring in from overseas, into New South Wales to assist with the current circumstance. We continue to work on vaccine supply, increasing the availability of vaccine and the number of outlets, as I've already outlined a number of times in the chamber today. While the Labor Party fight us, we fight the virus. While the Labor Party fight us, we will continue to fight the virus and we will continue to work in the interests of Australians to give them access to the vaccine. We appreciate the fact that they are lining up for an appointment. We appreciate that they are turning out to get vaccinated. They know, like we do, that vaccination is a pathway to freedom.
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Senator Colbeck. There are a growing number of children, teenagers and young people sick with COVID. Do you acknowledge that including children in the vaccination targets will save lives? When will your government include kids under 16 in the national vaccination targets, and when will there be enough supply for those young people?
I thank Senator Siewert for the question. I reject the assertion that there's any sense on the part of the government that all parts of the Australian population aren't important in the vaccination rollout. The national plan for vaccination, which was agreed by national cabinet, with modelling done by the Doherty institute, was based on a certain population cohort and based on the information available at that point in time to Doherty and to Australia with respect to approved vaccines.
I think it's also important, at this point, that we consider the impact of the virus on Australians within different cohorts, which reinforces our process. We have received approval for the administration of vaccines to 12- to 15-year-olds and we have commenced the process of rolling the vaccine process out to the most vulnerable of those. We have started that. We have said that when the advice from ATAGI comes to us, when the advice from the health professions that are advising the government and guiding the vaccine rollout comes to us, we will make the vaccine available to the rest of those cohorts. Plans for that are already being developed, and they are important. If you look at the wording of the information from Doherty, they stand by their modelling and the targets that have been established. When you consider there are 1.2 million children in the cohorts you're talking about--(Time expired)
There are now a number of models on vaccination targets. Why are you relying only on the Doherty modelling? Is it because it's politically convenient? Why did you limit that advice and the modelling from Doherty to over-16-year-olds?
Can I say at the outset, I think that's an outrageous thing for Senator Siewert to say. The Doherty modelling is based on work across a number of peak institutions in this country and—
Senator Siewert interjecting—
I will take your interjection, Senator. If you look, for example, at the ANU modelling, and at the assumptions, which are seriously flawed, I have to say—
An honourable senator interjecting—
No, I will tell you what's flawed about them. They assume that we go directly from A to D and skip sections B and C in the national plan. That's the flaw. So be careful about the modelling you're quoting and don't be a part of the Labor Party's process of undermining the modelling and the plan that we have for the national vaccination process—
An honourable senator interjecting—
Children are important— (Time expired)
That is an absolutely outrageous slur. Quite frankly, Senator Siewert—through you, Mr President—you should be ashamed of yourself. At no point has the government tried to downplay the importance of any part of this Australian community. We have at all times sought to provide protection and support for all Australians, including children, and it's an outrageous slur.
Order, on my right! Points of order have to relate to the standing orders. I'm going to at least ask people to treat the chamber with the courtesy of saying that it's to do with direct relevance. It's not a chance to restate the question. Senator Siewert, you also used a highly charged term in that question. I have ruled previously that where highly politically charged terminology is used ministers are entitled to respond, and that was a particularly loaded piece of terminology. So the minister is allowed to respond. I can't instruct him how to answer a question.
Thank you, Mr President. The government has at all times been concerned to ensure that all Australians are supported and protected through the management of the pandemic, and so in setting the thresholds under the national plan, the Doherty modelling takes into account the two-week time frame for people to get full immunisation and the later time for the vaccination of children. The Greens and Labor can come in here and run all the slurs they like against us, but we will continue to work in the interests of the Australian people to help them to get vaccinated and also to support the opening of the Australian economy. (Time expired)