Thursday, 26 August 2021
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Senator Reynolds. Can the minister advise the Senate why the national plan, agreed by the national cabinet, is critical to charting our way back from the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for our most vulnerable Australians?
I thank Senator Hughes for her question and for her tireless advocacy in this area. All first ministers through the national cabinet have agreed in principle to our national plan to chart our path out of COVID-19 and the targets we need to reach to get there. It is built on a very clear premise: if you get vaccinated, we can make lockdowns, border closures and restrictions a thing of the past. Millions of Australians are playing their part to get to the next step on this pathway to living with the virus.
There is no better example of that than our wonderful disability support workers, who are working so hard throughout this pandemic to protect those they care for. As a measure of that, since early July more than 60,000 disability workers have voluntarily been vaccinated, and I thank each and every one of them for putting themselves forward to receive the vaccination. A total of 95,500, or just under 60 per cent, disability workers have now received a first dose and 40 per cent have received two doses. I encourage all disability workers to step forward to protect themselves and to protect those they support and care for. On behalf of all Australians—and I'm sure all in this chamber—I thank and extend my appreciation to our wonderful disability care and support workers, who are doing such a magnificent job in a very difficult time.
Again I thank Senator Hughes. I note her comments in the chamber yesterday on this very subject, which is close to her heart. Australia's experience in the COVID-19 pandemic has varied significantly to the rest of the world, including the United Kingdom, which Senator Hughes asked about. I find it almost unbelievably irresponsible to unnecessarily alarm Australians with disabilities and those who love them with alarmist and totally and utterly irrelevant assumptions and international comparisons.
The facts matter in this, and they matter a great deal. Those opposite are fond of quoting the UK statistics, so let's have a look at the facts. To date the UK has reported 6½ million COVID infections while Australia, with 40 per cent of the population, has less than 50,000. In the UK 132 of these cases have been amongst those with disability, and in Australia it is 250 cases. Again, using alarmist information from overseas is irresponsible. (Time expired)
This morning I secured an appointment for my gorgeous 12-year-old's first and second Pfizer shots. Thank you for opening it up to all 12-year-old-plus NDIS participants. Minister, why is the acceleration in the vaccine rollout so important to ensuring the delivery of the national plan and Australia's recovery from COVID-19?
That is indeed good news, Senator Hughes. Nationally we have seen a significant acceleration of the vaccine rollout, with now more than 17.7 million doses administered. We are vaccinating just under two million each week—one million in the last three days alone. There has been a concerted effort across government and the disability sector to communicate the importance of vaccination and to provide information on the over 8,000 channels now available.
The rate of NDIS participants, like the national rollout, has accelerated significantly over the last few months. Since early June, more than 95,000 NDIS participants have been vaccinated. Nearly half of all participants over 16 years of age have now had one dose. Pleasingly, the vaccination rate for NDIS participants in shared accommodation has tripled since the beginning of June, with 68 per cent now having received their first dose. As Senator Hughes says, all participants over 12 years of age are now eligible for vaccination. (Time expired)
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Birmingham. Yesterday, instead of taking responsibility for his slow and bungled vaccine rollout, which is causing the current COVID outbreaks, Mr Morrison blamed Queenslanders for their vaccination numbers. Why is Mr Morrison shifting blame to Queenslanders instead of taking responsibility for his failures to roll out the vaccine which have left Queenslanders vulnerable to COVID-19?
[by video link] It must be another day ending in Y because Senator Watt is seeking to peddle mistruths in the chamber. That is not at all what the Prime Minister has done or said. Indeed, I can really think of only two Queenslanders who stand out in terms of being unhelpful with the vaccine rollout. That would be the Premier and the chief health officer, both of whom seemed to do their utmost to dent confidence in it early on. I'm thrilled to note that Queenslanders have overcome those theatrics from their leaders and that Queenslanders are actually responding in strong numbers to the vaccine rollout, as indeed are all Australians. That's the crucial thing. The job is getting done and Australians are turning out in record numbers. More than 330,000 did so yesterday. It's driving our country's rate of people getting vaccinated faster on a per capita basis than the US or the UK ever achieved, and we would encourage Australians to do so. We completely reject the type of negativity we get from Senator Watt.
Today the Queensland government has announced that, after months of the Morrison government failing to deliver, Queensland will go it alone and build a dedicated quarantine facility at Wellcamp airport, near Toowoomba. Eighteen months into the COVID crisis, why is the Morrison-Joyce government still failing to take responsibility for delivering safe national quarantine?
[by video link] We're grateful for all the states and territories that have worked with us in the delivery of quarantine, which has overwhelmingly been safe and effective in the return of hundreds of thousands of people from overseas. Contrary to what Senator Watt is saying, we're also getting on with building quarantine facilities, with construction underway in Melbourne; commitment and indeed contracting in place for Western Australia; and, similarly, in Brisbane we're building a facility that is actually proximate to the airport, proximate to major hospitals and able to meet quarantine needs. If Queensland want to build one that's a long way away from the international airport, that's their decision. I hope they're doing it for the right reasons, not political ones.
This week, Mr Morrison blamed Queenslanders for his own vaccine rollout failures and left Queensland to build and fund safe quarantine without federal support. Why is Mr Morrison more interested in blaming Queenslanders than taking responsibility for keeping them safe from COVID-19?
Senator Birmingham, I'm going to ask you to cease and will let you start again, because Senator Watt is interjecting so loudly that I can't hear your answer.
Senator Watt interjecting—
Maybe if you ask a question you might want to listen to the answer yourself.
As I was saying, I completely reject the premise of the questions from Senator Watt. Frankly, the only question really is: why does Senator Watt feel the need to misrepresent any statement and to continually play politics with these matters? We're proud of the government and of the fact that Australians are turning out in record numbers to get vaccinated. We now have volumes of additional vaccine coming into the country in record numbers. We have nearly 9,000 distribution points across the country. We've seen the 70-plus age group charge through, with more than 86 per cent of them getting their first dose. Right across the whole population, more than 55 per cent of 16-pluses have. We're soon to receive the ATAGI advice in relation to 12- to 15-year-olds, and we'll be bringing them, along with every other eligible Australian, into this record-breaking vaccine rollout to get the job done, despite the negativity of the Labor Party.