Wednesday, 25 August 2021
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
COVID-19: Western Australia, COVID-19: Vaccination
That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Birmingham), the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services (Senator Colbeck) and the Minister for Government Services (Senator Reynolds) to questions without notice asked by Senators McAllister, Keneally, O ' Neill and Pratt today relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What a question time!
We have a Prime Minister who this week called Western Australians cave people. The gall of our Prime Minister, who wants to drag WA into the COVID mess of New South Wales! He called Western Australians cave people.
That's right—cave people.
Honourable senators interjecting—
'It's an analogy,' they said. Yes, it is an analogy. It is an analogy for a lack of evolution and living in a cave. It's time this Prime Minister remembered that he governs for the entire country and not just for New South Wales. The people of WA don't believe we have a Prime Minister who governs for Western Australia. This Prime Minister wants to differentiate himself as a champion for freedom in these difficult political times that he has no doubt very clearly created for himself. Well, there is no freedom when you live in fear of COVID—in fear of shortages of hospital beds, in fear of getting sick and in fear of bringing disease home to your family. This bloke has no idea. What we've had from him for the last three years is nothing but blame shifting over and over again. He blames Western Australia because we won't open up. He blames the states for leaks in quarantine—quarantine that this government is constitutionally responsible for.
He said that the Doherty institute says that 80 per cent means we can open up. Well, I'm sorry, but that is not what the Doherty institute modelling says. He has blamed the states for the vaccine rollout, when the states had no supply—the Premier said so yesterday. Besides, our Prime Minister said it's not a race anyway. Now our Prime Minister has the gall to whack Western Australians and tell us to get out of our cave.
We know that Scott Morrison hasn't supported lockdowns in Western Australia. We know he tried to gang up with Clive Palmer to tear down our border restrictions. This Prime Minister may not like it and this government may not like it. You may choose to sneer at Western Australia, but Western Australia's COVID strategy has worked. We don't want to be like New South Wales. We in Western Australia have a truckload of freedom right now, a lot more freedom than other parts of the country. Short, sharp lockdowns have worked for us. Locking COVID out of the state has worked for us. Keeping the state working hard with exports has worked for us, and it has certainly worked for the country. We are the freest in the country, perhaps the freest in the world.
Australia is a lot bigger than New South Wales, and it's time that Scott Morrison, our Prime Minister, realised that. Western Australia is a very different place. We don't have the spread of the coronavirus. We are the most successful economy and community in Australia. We are providing the export revenue and tax revenue that is supporting the rest of the country.
Western Australia is right to continue to be cautious. The national plan does allow WA to keep COVID out, including by managing the border. Mark McGowan insisted on this when the plan was agreed. The real issue isn't what's happening in Western Australia right now or what will be happening in Western Australia in a few months time; the real issue is what's happening in New South Wales. This Prime Minister is trying to deflect attention from the messes of his own making.
We know that we will need to remain vigilant in relation to COVID. Areas right around the world reliant on mining have been taken down by COVID and lost production, whereas Western Australia has not. It might surprise our Prime Minister to know that WA industries staying open is the only reason the government can afford to offer financial assistance to other states that need it. Right now WA is one of the safest places, if not the safest place, in the world. If that's a cave, I'm going to stick in it.
In those five minutes of ranting from the other side, thankfully—help me out here; five times 200, that's 1,000—a thousand extra people went and got vaccinated, just in the last five minutes. That's despite the efforts of those on the other side, who just want to run down the program that is seeing Australians getting protected from the coronavirus. Thank goodness that Australians are stepping up and doing that, in spite of the rubbish that comes from those opposite. It's absolutely outrageous.
Frankly, after spending these three weeks or so here in Canberra, I just can't wait to get home. I can't wait to get home, back to Western Australia, because it is the best place in the world to live and you really wouldn't want to be anywhere else. It's absolutely fantastic. And the way that Western Australians have stepped up to deal with the coronavirus pandemic is phenomenal. But let's just deal with some facts and the reality here. The last delta case that came across the border into Western Australia occurred when a woman came from Bondi over to Perth—she worked as a physio or something like that in a gym—and it spread to just a couple of people that she was in close contact with, and those people isolated. Those people appropriately isolated and they tested positive. Cases emerged out of those few people who were in isolation due to being in those COVID hotspots. It was at that point, 48 hours after the index case was known, that the state government, appropriately, locked down the state because we just didn't know how far it had spread across Perth and the metropolitan area. But, as it turned out, there was no further transmission—no transmission apart from those who were in those initial close-contact areas. Thank goodness for that, because it meant that we didn't have to have an enduring lockdown, like we're seeing here in the ACT and, certainly, what they're seeing in New South Wales.
Contrast that with what's happened here in the ACT. The Chief Minister immediately locked it down. We all recall the press conference that was held at about 12.15 in the afternoon. By 5 pm that day, it was already locked down. That was about two days earlier than the Premier of Western Australia locked down Western Australia when the last outbreak occurred. So this notion that the Chief Minister crushed and killed the virus is an absolute outrage. What you're seeing here in the ACT is a situation where the virus is spreading, but there's a huge amount of compliance—ACT people are very compliant—and there's a huge effort being made by the authorities and by health professionals to ensure that this virus doesn't spread. Now, I drove home from here the other night—I've hired a car to be able to get to and from my apartment because I was here all last week. There are New South Wales numberplates on my hire car, and I was pulled over by the police. The police asked me, 'Where have you been and where are you going?' Obviously, I complied and told them exactly what I'd been doing. I'd been at work and I was going straight home, as per what we're allowed to do. They're taking it very seriously here—very, very seriously—but there is still an element of COVID spreading.
So for Senator Pratt to come in here and pretend there's this miraculous thing going on in WA, just because we're Western Australians—and I sympathise with that; we are very special people over there. That's very true. But it's just outrageous to think that we're somehow immune from this. Western Australia is just as prone to having an outbreak as anywhere else. We have hundreds of trucks coming across the border. The question is: are we actually ready; is our health system ready? The Deputy Premier, the health minister over there, blamed Western Australians for the rise in health issues when he said that they weren't presenting because of the COVID issues last year. It's just outrageous. We've got to make sure that we're actually ready for when there is an outbreak. The best thing that Western Australians can do is go and get themselves vaccinated. But we've got to also make sure that the health system is set up and ready, and I'm concerned about whether or not Western Australia is actually ready and the health system is ready—
I rise to take note of the as usual and, sadly, utterly inadequate answers from those opposite to questions concerning vaccines for children, which is such an important issue. As with every single other aspect of the vaccine rollout, the Morrison-Joyce government has botched the landing on this. They've missed every deadline, they've missed every goalpost that they set themselves, and Australians are paying the price. Yet their failure is more egregious when we consider the at-risk communities that they have not only failed but long ignored. The disability royal commission heard evidence last year that there was a glaring lack of pandemic planning for children and young people with disability, yet nothing has been done to effectively prepare for this new stage of the rollout. I read in an ABC article from yesterday that Bodhi, a young man with neuropathy, was forced to make eight separate attempts to get vaccinated in Sydney. His mother rightly asked:
I understand we are in an unprecedented pandemic but really does it have to be this hard?
Yet, in her response to my question today, Minister Reynolds denied that mother's lived reality. It was dismissed out of hand by the minister. That reveals the failure to actually deal with the crushing reality of parents trying to get access to the vaccination rollout for a disabled child. 'It really didn't have to be this hard,' I say to Bodhi's mum, 'but it is because of the ineptitude of this government.' Bodhi's condition means he has difficulty managing his lung function and, were he to get COVID, he would have much greater difficulty breathing than if you or I got COVID. Tragically, his older brother had a similar condition, and that poor family is suffering the grief of losing Bodhi's brother, who died of pneumonia three years ago. We've got to make access to vaccines for kids with disability as easy as possible. It hasn't been on the to-do list for Prime Minister Morrison and Minister Reynolds. In the US, they've managed to get around 600,000 vaccines out the door for children aged 12 to 15, and more than four million of those under 17 have been vaccinated. Yet Scott Morrison's ruled out including children in our vaccine targets before opening up.
We all want to open up. We all want to be with our families. We all want some sense of normal. We all want businesses to get back up and running, if they can. We want to get back to work, but no-one in those groups wants to trigger an attack by this illness on our children. No-one wants to trigger the deaths of children because the vaccine rollout hasn't been properly planned. Modelling by epidemiologists from ANU has warned that excluding children from our vaccination targets could result in thousands more deaths across this community, with those children who are most vulnerable caught up in the outbreak of delta, which is highly transmissible to children. This is also going to be particularly worrying for populations that are disproportionately young, like Aboriginal populations in western New South Wales. I'm advised that ABC Central West NSW has reported that only 6.3 per cent of Aboriginal people in western New South Wales are vaccinated at this stage. That's where there's a massive outbreak, about which I made a contribution just before question time.
This government's appalling mismanagement of the rollout has left Indigenous communities without the recommended Pfizer vaccine. Remember, Mr Morrison was offered 40 million doses by Pfizer in June 2020. He squibbed it; he didn't get those vaccines. Because he made that choice, this is where we are, without adequate doses of Pfizer. People on lists are waiting desperately for it, but they can't get it, and it all comes back to the Prime Minister's decision to reject those 40 million Pfizer vaccines. With only eight per cent of the First Nations population fully vaccinated across the country, words fail me. I cannot think of what's going to happen in remote communities that will be infected with the delta strain very, very soon. These communities have been chronically underserviced by successive Liberal-National governments, particularly in New South Wales. People in those communities have been forced to stay away from members of their community, lest they contract this deadly disease and have to leave country for indefinite periods. But that is what's happening right now in the central west of New South Wales. This government is failing the people of Australia.
Let's just start with a fact, shall we? For those opposite, a fact is something based in truth. So when we talk about vaccinating children and suggest that we should be looking at children under 12—there is actually not a vaccine approved for them, globally. So let's just stop with that little piece of fallacy, shall we? Perhaps you want those of us with children under 12 to offer them up as guinea pigs? I can assure you that won't be happening. But I do note, as the parent of a 12-year-old boy who is an NDIS participant, I'm thrilled that from today my beautiful boy is now eligible to get the Pfizer vaccine. What I also know is that, had I been in Sydney, we would have been able to get an appointment tomorrow morning, at 7.30 am, at the hospital that is less than 250 metres from my apartment—250 metres from my apartment at 7.30 tomorrow morning I could have got him his first Pfizer jab—and there were multiple other options available across New South Wales. Unfortunately, I'm not in Sydney; I'm not there to be able to take it up but, had I been there, we would have been able to get our first dose tomorrow morning of Pfizer for a 12-year-old boy who's an NDIS participant.
I do accept, though, that sometimes families can struggle to find this information to figure out where they can get a booking, because they are available in health hubs, in pharmacies, through GPs. For those opposite who might actually be interested in assisting people, perhaps you'd like to direct them to my website, hollyhughes.com.au. My staff have put together a fantastic COVID page, collating all the information from federal, state and private sites to let people know where they can book a vaccine, what vaccines are available and how long it will take for them to get in.
In recognition of all NDIS participants over 12 now—as of yesterday—being eligible for a vaccine, Tom in my office really went over and above. He's put together a page specifically for people with a disability. Not only have we included information on where people can go and get a vaccine; we've actually put information in there containing social stories. Because we understand that, for a lot of people with a disability, doing something new—something a bit scary, something that you don't really understand—can be challenging, we've included links to social stories. For those of you who don't understand what they are, they're very simple stories with language and pictures that help families and carers explain to the person with a disability what's going to happen—what it means, how they might have to wait, what they're going to have to do when they get to their appointment. This is because some of us actually understand the challenges of having a child with a disability and what that means when coming to get a vaccine. We've gone out of our way—in fact, not even out of our way, just doing what we do—to include information to assist these families.
I would also like to acknowledge David in my office. He got a couple of phone calls last week from parents of children with disabilities who were struggling to find where to get a vaccine. For one family in particular, he pointed them in the right direction on our website and they managed to find one themselves. But, for another family that was still struggling, he went out of his way and made the phone calls for them, and that child received their very first dose of vaccine this week. I saw the letter yesterday from that parent, thanking him for his assistance and for going over and above what was required.
So next time Senator O'Neill gets a phone call from someone like Bodhi's mum, rather than using Bodhi as an opportunity to score a political point, perhaps Senator O'Neill and her office might like to go to some effort to actually assist the family, to actually work with them through this issue, not use them as a political pointscoring exercise. It is absolutely disgraceful. To all of those opposite sitting there, casting those stones, throwing those barbs but not really ever helping anybody, let me give you some advice: perhaps you'd like to find some real information, perhaps make it available to your constituents, perhaps ensure that people know where to go to find information, rather than fearmongering and running scare campaigns. Rather than offending and patronising parents with a disability, maybe try and help us.
At 4 pm, in about 15 seconds, we are interrupting debate to go to a disallowance motion, so we will return to taking note after that, rather than interrupt someone 15 seconds into a speech. It being 4 pm, we will go to the motion in the name of Senator Waters.