Tuesday, 31 August 2021
Matters of Public Importance
A letter has been received from Senator Pratt:
Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:
The reported views of members of the NSW Liberal Government, including that they consider Mr Morrison to be "the Prime Minister for Morrison and no one else".
Is the proposal supported?
More than the number of senators required by the standing orders havin g 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.
This afternoon the MPI we're debating is the reported views of members of the New South Wales Liberal Party, including that they see the Prime Minister to be 'the Prime Minister for Morrison and no-one else'—the Prime Minister for himself. What a divided bunch the Liberal Party are! All of us here already knew that. We've all been around this building and seen some of the bickering and side glances, but who would have thought that the Premier of the state of New South Wales, a stalwart in the Liberal Party and in the New South Wales Liberal Party—just like the Prime Minister—would be in open revolt? There is very apparent mutiny in the ranks.
The Sydney Morning Herald on 28 August published a piece entitled 'Even Gladys Berejiklian is fed up with PM, who she privately regards as "evil" and a "bully"'. I must say that when I heard that even I was taken aback. After all, I said just last week that the Prime Minister was the Prime Minister for New South Wales.
But, frankly, not even the Premier of New South Wales wants him as his Prime Minister. It is no surprise to hear someone calling the Prime Minister a bully—it's almost synonymous with his name at this point in terms of the many debates we've had in this place regarding his character—but evil is something quite new. And it's coming from one of the most senior Liberals in Australia, the Premier of Australia's largest state. I find that damning, and I find that very worrying. The nation should be worried that senior Liberals describe the leader of their party and the leader of the government in this way. It's all very well to say, 'Yes, we take it with a pinch of salt,' when the opposition rails against the policies of a government, when we rail against the decisions of a government and when we rail against the incompetence of this government. But, for our Prime Minister's character to be impugned in this way in public debate and on the public record, yes, our country should be worried.
In the last year, we've heard the phrase from all over the country that the Prime Minister is the Prime Minister for Sydney, New South Wales, and nowhere else. He doesn't care about South Australians or Victorians. He called Queenslanders and Western Australians cave people. Now we're told by the Sydney Morning Herald that, among Premier Berejiklian's inner circle, the Prime Minister is considered a joke. It's a joke to consider the Prime Minister the Prime Minister for New South Wales, because New South Wales, in the inner circles, certainly doesn't regard him that way. They regard him as the Prime Minister for Morrison and no-one else.
Let's break down why the Liberal Premier of New South Wales, Gladys Berejiklian, may think that the Liberal Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, is evil. We were told a few weeks ago that the Prime Minister's press office phoned political reporters backgrounding against Premier Berejiklian to try to push the pressure of a failing vaccination rate onto New South Wales, backgrounding against members of his own team. Our Prime Minister has certainly been feeling the heat. He and his government had failed to fulfil one of the two most crucial jobs this year, which is costing Australian lives. That job was vaccination and quarantine. But, like every other time our nation's Prime Minister has been put under pressure and held accountable, he crumbles and tries to shift the blame onto others. It's utterly pathetic. It's a low political tactic employed by those who can't stand behind their decisions and the consequences of their decisions. It is a tactic that our Prime Minister has employed over and over again, to background against people, undermine them and impugn their character. Prime Minister Morrison's attempt to shift blame onto Premier Berejiklian for the failed vaccination rollout could be one reason Premier Berejiklian might have for calling the Prime Minister evil.
Senator Pratt, I understand that you are quoting someone, but the President has ruled that we be careful of unparliamentary language, even if we are quoting documents. So I remind you of the President's ruling. Please continue.
This is not the first time the Prime Minister's staff have been accused of backgrounding against Premier Berejiklian and many other people. They were seen to be backgrounding against the Premier during the horrific New South Wales bushfires some two years ago. I think this is utterly shameless. We even have a quote from one of Premier Berejiklian's loyalists saying:
Usually he briefs against her for doing her job with some measure of competence.
But then went on to say:
He doesn't like the contrast – he makes himself look big by trying to make others look small.
These are the actions of every awful male manager you have ever had: shirking responsibility, pushing the blame onto others and trying to steal the success of others who are just trying to competently do their own job.
I have to say that that awful relationship management is perhaps why Queensland Premier Palaszczuk decided to dump Morrison's failed hotel quarantine system and instead build dedicated cabin facilities. Queensland needed to go ahead and do it because the Prime Minister wouldn't take responsibility for it. They didn't go through Prime Minister Morrison, and I guess it may be the same for Premier Berejiklian.
If it all works then the Prime Minister will walk away with the glory—it's the PM's doing. If it fails, without a doubt our Prime Minister will always seek to blame someone else: the premiers of the states. This is completely unacceptable behaviour for a national leader. I have to say I can only assume that those senators opposite must feel a sense of shame in having to put up with this circus.
As for Western Australia, I can tell you right now that the Prime Minister is winning no friends in my home state. Alongside the outrageous 'cave people' comment from last week, we now have the Prime Minister undermining Premier McGowan. The Premier who has been doing his best to keep Australians safe and healthy is being undermined by a two-bit Prime Minister who is trying to deflect the blame. We are witnessing before our eyes the breakdown of the national cabinet system, and it is the Prime Minister's fault. He can't run from this one and he can't shift the blame. New South Wales thinks the Prime Minister is—I can't quote it, but we heard it in the news. Queensland is just getting on with the job without him, and WA is doing its utter best to keep Western Australians safe in the face of a Prime Minister who desperately wants to drag Western Australia into the COVID disaster gripping Australia.
It is a matter of grave public interest that this Prime Minister starts cooperating with the states and working in the interests of all Australians. This should mean no more backgrounding when the going gets tough, no more blaming and blame-shifting from the Prime Minister—from those in the top job and around him—no seeking glory when it is undeserved and no more undermining of premiers like Mark McGowan, who I'm proud to say has done a very good job keeping Western Australia one of the safest places in the world during this pandemic. I know that we all face risks and that it could happen to any state at any time, but I have to say that Western Australia has done more than most and certainly more than New South Wales to keep itself safe.
I've got to say I thought that was a fantastic comedy sketch. It was hilarious. Seriously, it was really funny. But it was smears rather than substance. I mean, what else would we expect from you lot?
Senator Pratt interjecting—
Of course, from the senator for WA, hiding in those caves—
The author of today's MPI, through you, Madam Acting Deputy President, hiding in those caves, under the doonas, making sure there's no COVID in WA—and thank goodness there's not, because the hospitals can't cope over there already. You guys are in so much trouble and you don't even have a COVID case. Can you imagine if, as with the rest of Australia, COVID actually came to WA? I mean, let's be honest: you guys couldn't cope. I'm not sure what we call him now. Is it 'Clown McGowan' or is it 'Mark McMoron', the Premier of—
Senator Hughes, and all the other people who wish to contribute, I did draw Senator Pratt's attention to the President's ruling around unparliamentary language, and simply quoting from an article doesn't mean that you are excused from rules around unparliamentary language. I ask Senator Hughes to continue.
Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. I will read for those opposite, though, some information around the funding of WA hospitals, because this Prime Minister is for all Australians. Even when Labor state premiers fail to support their own states, the Commonwealth, under the Prime Minister, is there to ensure that the citizens of Western Australia are best supported. What we know is that funding from the Commonwealth for hospitals in WA has increased by 72.8 per cent. I'm sorry Senator Pratt is not staying to listen to this. Over the same period, the WA government, the state government—
Thank you, Senator Urquhart. The point of order is upheld. It is unparliamentary to reflect on a senator if they're leaving the Senate chamber. Please continue, Senator Hughes.
Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. They're feisty today. As I was saying, over the same period, the funding from the WA state government—you know, under the federation, those guys that are actually responsible for funding hospitals—increased by 18 per cent. So, while the Commonwealth has increased its funding by over 72 per cent, the WA state government—which, let's face it, is pretty much on its own. We know you guys won pretty big over there, so there's no-one else you can really blame. We are now increasing the funding by approximately four times that of the state government. I honestly hope for the people in WA that someone within the WA government starts to pay attention to that, because their hospitals are currently at the highest level of alert without a single case of COVID. So, if people would be concerned, I wouldn't be casting aspersions from WA about how fantastic they are when it comes to COVID and COVID management. Of course, the Prime Minister of all Australians—even the ones who have incompetent premiers incapable of funding the services they're supposed to be responsible for—the Commonwealth, through this Prime Minister, is ensuring that those citizens are protected.
That isn't actually where I wanted to start today. I just thought it was important that we got bit of clarity out there on who is actually looking after all Australians. Unlike many people in this place, I've actually known the Prime Minister personally for nearly 20 years, and he is an absolutely fantastic leader. I got to know him when he was State Director of the New South Wales Liberal Party. That was when we were working on the 2004 campaign. Those opposite might remember it, through you, Acting Deputy President: Medicare Gold. Remember that one? That was a cracker. We had the Mark Latham handshake, and we had Mr Howard being mobbed by loggers in Tasmania, as they were so grateful for the support that the Howard government was giving them, as opposed to what Mr Latham wanted to subject them to. Mr Morrison, when he was Mr Morrison, State Director of the New South Wales Liberal Party, was an absolutely fantastic leader and a great campaigner—a fantastic campaigner—and someone who it was an absolute privilege to work with. I would like to say: actually, because of the Prime Minister, the thought of massaman curry just turns my stomach since that campaign. I have never seen anyone who could order curry literally every night over a six-week campaign, consistently. It really was something to behold. It's probably his biggest flaw: his embracing of curry in so many flavours.
I thought that, for those opposite, we might have a little talk about the actual achievements of this government and how they have delivered for Australians across the nation.
We know you sneer; those opposite love to smear and sneer and carry on when the Prime Minister talks about team Australia. Well, that's because those opposite aren't on it. The only team they're on is the team of the union bosses, who make sure they do exactly as they're told. Those opposite are not interested in helping to fight for small businesses. In fact, they're not even interested in large businesses.
You pretend, those opposite—through you, Acting Deputy President—that you're interested in jobs. No; you're not interested in jobs. You're only interested in the job the government pays for. You're not interested in the jobs that are created by Australian innovation. You're not interested in the jobs that are created by Australian companies. You're not interested in those businesses that employ the vast majority of Australians—and those vast majority of Australians are still connected to their workplaces, even with the current situation that we're seeing in the ACT, New South Wales and Victoria. These people are still connected to their jobs, and that's because of the introduction of JobKeeper, and that kept them together, and they were there, but it was never a permanent solution. Those opposite were claiming we'd fall off the economic cliff, but guess what? Some people actually paid attention in economics class, and that did not happen. What we're actually seeing now is that we have more Australians in work than we did before the pandemic. We have more women in the workforce than we did before the pandemic started. In fact, we're the first advanced economy to have reached that milestone. We're faster than the US and faster than the UK. None of them can claim the same sort of economic victory over COVID that was experienced by Australians—all Australians!—last year, led by this Prime Minister.
It's the 3.4 million small businesses that are receiving tax relief all across this country. These are everyday Australians who've set up their own small business and employ fellow Australians. They are being supported through tax relief, but we know you guys on the other side don't like tax relief. It was all about $387 billion of taxes at the last election. I just wonder whether, when the current opposition leader finally faces up to the member for Maribyrnong, they'll be bringing those taxes back. I've yet to hear the former opposition leader say to the current opposition leader that he's not keen to see them reintroduced.
We know that those who sit up at the further end of the chamber like to talk a lot about emissions. A lot of hot air is expended discussing some of these issues, but what we should be recognising—again, this is for all Australians across the country—is that all Australians are now seeing that emissions are at a lower level, 19 per cent lower, than they were in 2005. That's the lowest level since 1995. So emissions have been reduced to their lowest level since 1995 under this government. But this government has done that with a Prime Minister who has led from the front and who made sure it was technology, not taxes. He didn't go out there to shut industries down. He didn't go out there to whack on every tax he could find. What we've done is invest in Australians across the country—all Australians, even those in WA who were let down by the health expenditures, who we know are incredibly poor and have been locked off from the rest of the country under that COVID doona.
We've also supported all Australians through schools. There has been an increase, from 2014 to 2021, in spending for schools. It's gone from $13.8 billion to $23.4 billion. That is a significant increase in expenditure in education, which, again, for those who have read the Constitution, is the responsibility of state governments. But the federal government, the Commonwealth government, led by this Prime Minister, is ensuring that every Australian is well supported, even when their premiers can't do their job.
I have a very special place in my heart for the Hunter. The Hunter region is absolutely booming, and I am loving every minute that I get to spend up there. I cannot wait until New South Wales opens up, as our vaccination rates keep charging through, and Premier Berejiklian will stick to those lockdowns, making sure we can ease them off as soon as we can. Our vaccination rates are charging along, unlike some of those other states hiding under the doona. But you could almost call the Prime Minister the PM for the Hunter. He and I have been up there a couple of times together and have made significant announcements around investments that are going to boost that region. But not only are they for the people of the Hunter; they are going to boost the entire north-west of New South Wales.
I know those opposite don't like New South Wales; we know that. They're all a bit jealous of Sydney. I know we've got the harbour. It's kind of the best state—and I say that having lived in three of them. That's fine. But the Hunter region opened up the whole north-west region.
We've just spent $66 million investing in Williamtown airport not only for the Defence Force, securing those jobs, but to ensure that Newcastle can open up as an international destination once borders open up. Let's be honest: people from New South Wales will be going to London before they will be going to Perth with the way things are going at the moment—and soon you will be able to fly from Newcastle.
[by video link] I for one, Senator Hughes, love New South Wales and Sydney—the harbour and everything else that comes with it—and, I must say, I am a little bit offended by your very weird comments on curry. Having served in the New South Wales parliament for five years, I can tell you that I have had my fair share of disagreements with Premier Gladys Berejiklian and the New South Wales Liberals, but I have to say on this very rare occasion I do agree with them wholeheartedly: Scott Morrison is a Prime Minister for himself and no-one else.
I say he is for himself and no-one else because Mr Morrison is the Prime Minister who was holidaying in Hawaii when bushfires were ravaging our forests, bush, communities and wildlife. I say he's for himself and no-one else because Mr Morrison is the Prime Minister who was gallivanting around in England when hundreds of thousands of us were barred from seeing our families overseas due to border closures. I say he's for himself and no-one else because Mr Morrison has completely bungled the vaccine rollout in Australia, which is his responsibility. More than 10 per cent of Wilcannia's mostly Aboriginal population is now infected with COVID-19. Tragically, one First Nations man from Dubbo has passed away. The vaccination rollout in western New South Wales has been miserably slow. These communities would not have been in this trauma and mess if the Prime Minister had done his job.
I say he's for no-one but himself because Mr Morrison chose to leave hundreds of thousands of temporary migrants and international students out of the government's COVID support packages, leaving them at the mercy of charity because they can't vote for him. I say he's for no-one but himself because Mr Morrison is plunging us ever deeper into a climate emergency which threatens the planet's and our future generations' very survival just because his campaign donations come from the fossil fuel lobby. It's not only that; we are in a climate code red and Mr Morrison is busy handing out hundreds of millions of dollars to his pals in the gas industry so they can frack the earth and pollute even more.
What a sham. What an absolute disaster this Liberal-National government is with Scott Morrison at the helm. Mr Morrison is not fit to be Prime Minister. The COVID-19 pandemic presented the Prime Minister with a chance to do things differently. Here was the Prime Minister's opportunity to redeem himself. Instead, inequality has skyrocketed and the climate crisis has gotten worse. Mr Morrison, you may not want to hold the hose, but the true fact of the matter is that you are holding us all back with your sheer incompetence and self-obsession. All you are interested in is holding on to power. To do what, though? It's to keep acting in your own political interests rather than those of the public. Acting in the public's interests is what you are here to do with the power and responsibility you have. Shame! For the sake of our collective peace of mind and collective blood pressure, I hope the Australian public has seen right through you and your shenanigans and that they vote you out come the next election.
We are sick of Mr Morrison's self-interest dominating all policy and political outcomes. It's time to get rid of this blight and take some real action on tackling inequality and the climate crisis. Only the Greens can share power with a Labor government, who we can give a big push to go further and faster and deliver this change and this hope for our community.
S () (): [by video link] The situation in New South Wales is very grim indeed, with almost 30,000 cases of COVID and 1,164 cases recorded today. There have been 94 deaths from this outbreak so far. There are deep concerns about the capacity of Western Sydney's hospitals. There have been queues of ambulances outside emergency rooms, with some waiting for up to eight hours, and there are concerns that staffing shortages will soon limit the state's surge ICU capacity. There is also the crisis unfolding in western New South Wales, where COVID has been spreading amongst a largely unvaccinated and vulnerable population. Yet the Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, wants to declare 'mission accomplished'.
The truth of the matter is that it is going to get a lot darker before Mr Morrison's dawn. The trend is against us. The infection wave has not yet peaked. There is every indication that New South Wales is facing more terrible weeks and months ahead, and all of this was entirely preventable. It is an entirely predictable outcome of the Prime Minister's obvious failures—the botched vaccine rollout, the failure to set up quarantine facilities, and a constant undermining of the states' responses from day one. His failure is the greatest public policy failure in Australian political history, and it's ordinary Australians who are paying the price. The crisis is entirely a function of, and a reflection on, this Prime Minister's hollowman inadequacies, his complacency, his vanity, his refusal to take responsibility, and his inability to distinguish between his own political interests and the national interest. As this crisis continues, these failings are becoming more and more apparent to Australians. Over the weekend, the Sydney Morning Herald reported:
Berejiklian is a Liberal team player who keeps her grievances about Morrison private. But, in private, she is scathing. The NSW Premier has told Liberal colleagues she'd have preferred Peter Dutton had won the last federal leadership ballot—
she'd rather be dealing with Dutton—
because Morrison is so unpleasant. She's described the PM as a "bully". Berejiklian went so far as to tell a colleague—
Senator Ayres, I just want to draw your attention to the ruling of the President that quoting another source does not allow a senator to bypass the normal rules in relation to unparliamentary language. So, if you could keep that in mind as you continue your contribution, I'd appreciate it.
Senator Ayres, I would ask you to reflect on the language that you're using, even though you are quoting. The President has previously ruled that, just because you're quoting a document, that doesn't allow a senator to bypass the normal rules in relation to unparliamentary language.
Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. I'll withdraw that. That will also save the Senate from hearing a substantial part of the character assessment of the Prime Minister that the article provided. I will go to the end of the article:
Among Berejiklian's inner circle, it's considered a joke to call Morrison "the Prime Minister for NSW". They consider Morrison to be the Prime Minister for Morrison and no one else.
That's what the Prime Minister's friends think of him. It's not simply a personal assessment of one leader over another. It has real costs for Australian families.
The article then goes on to chronicle the New South Wales Treasurer's efforts to establish an effective new JobKeeper scheme in New South Wales. It says that Mr Perrottet was so determined to fix Mr Morrison's failed economic response that he began to establish his own scheme. The article says of the Prime Minister:
… Morrison refused to supply the essential information even though the program would not cost Canberra a cent.
The Herald goes on to say:
The politics seemed pretty plain – Morrison didn't want to be seen to be abandoning the states. The two governments reverted to a fall-back plan, sharing the cost of increased supplementary payments instead. This confirmed the suspicion in the Berejiklian government that Morrison was more interested in the politics of appearance than the substance of outcomes.
Has there ever been a more brutal summary of a political career than that? Mr Morrison was more interested in the politics of appearance than in the substance of outcomes.
For three years the people of Australia have watched this unlikely Prime Minister. They've seen the announcements, the press conferences, the Facebook lives, the hectoring, the lists, the mansplaining, the slogans, the made-for-television marketing, the phoney ironed hi-vis jackets, the leaks, the negative briefings, the diversions, the gaslighting and the spin. And Australians have stopped listening. They've started to tune out from the bullying, the flip-flopping, the shifting goalposts, the mini-Trump efforts to create his own reality, the efforts to keep the story moving along. Marketing, spin and slick political messaging works—right up until the moment it stops working. And when it stops working, gravity takes over, and that's the problem for this Prime Minister.
The reality is that there are over 1,000 daily infections in New South Wales, when we should be vaccinated, healthy and free. The reality is that Prime Minister Scott Morrison sat on his hands on vaccines, when it was his job to order them. He hasn't turned a sod or laid a brick for effective national quarantine and continues to undermine the health efforts of the states. The reality is that this Prime Minister has broken every promise he has made to the Australian people: that they would be first in the queue for vaccines, that stranded Aussies overseas would be home by Christmas, that four million vaccinations would be delivered to Australians by the end of March, that vaccination wasn't a race, that all aged-care residents and workers would be vaccinated by Easter 2021, that six million people would be fully vaccinated in May and four million by April, and now, confusingly, that apparently all Australians will be vaccinated by October.
The reality is that millions of Australians are waiting for their vaccines—in the bush, in Western Sydney and among aged-care residents and workers, disability workers, NDIS recipients, schoolteachers, Indigenous Australians, children, supermarket workers and truckies. The reality is that millions of us are locked down with no end in sight because of this Prime Minister. The consequences of lockdowns and the public health measures that his own backbench complain about—unemployment, the mental health impacts, the impacts on kids, lost opportunities, the dragging back of economic growth—are entirely a function of the failure of this Prime Minister's leadership and his incapacity to do his job on behalf of the Australian people.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister is preparing for his 'mission accomplished' moment. Yesterday he said our vaccine challenges had been overcome. He must be living in a different universe to the rest of us. Mr Morrison received his vaccine early this year, but millions of Australians are still waiting for theirs, because of his failure on vaccine delivery. He thinks his best chance of re-election is to try to pretend everything is somebody else's problem, everything is somebody else's fault. I saw today the efforts to blame the people of Wilcannia themselves for the low levels of vaccination in that township. And he wants to suggest that it will all be over very soon. But it won't. Gladys Berejiklian, the New South Wales premier, knows it; Mr Perrottet, the New South Wales treasurer, knows it; and the Australian people know it. They know who he is—more marketing than man, more Billy McMahon than even Billy McMahon was.
The Prime Minister for New South Wales? The New South Wales Liberals know that's not true; he is the Prime Minister for nobody but himself. He is interested only in his own political interests, not in the interests of the Australian people. The New South Wales Liberals themselves know that the only good way to look at this Prime Minister is through the rear-vision mirror.
I rise to make some remarks about this matter of public importance. As a member of the New South Wales division of the Liberal Party, I can assure the Senate that the New South Wales division would regard the Prime Minister as a favourite son. I recall that back in 2019, which seems like a long time ago now, there were two elections—one state election and one federal election—in which the Premier and the Prime Minister campaigned on a regular basis across Sydney and the state of New South Wales. That is the position that we have seen throughout this pandemic. There has been a high level of coordination between the state government and the national government here in Canberra. That is what I think people have come to expect from this government. It has been a government that has accepted that, in a national pandemic and an economic shock, there is a need for the federal government to work closely with the state governments because, under our constitutional system, power and responsibilities are shared across the federation.
Many people have complained about the former Council of Australian Governments, which was put to death by the Morrison government for good reason. I think it was described regularly as a place where good ideas went to die, and that was the case. The establishment of the national cabinet, which is an innovation designed to bring together the health and economic responses that Australia requires as a federation to get through this pandemic, has been very successful. You can look at the data points and you can look at what has happened across the globe. I think what really matters to people is: how many people have died, how many infections have there been and what has the economic response been like in terms of the rebound after you've had lockdowns and public health measures in place? On deaths we effectively still have the lowest rate among comparable countries; we still have a very low rate of infection; and we have the strongest economic rebound of all OECD nations so far. That has been the net position so far for Australia, some 18 months into this pandemic, with the national cabinet at the centre of our response.
In 2020, New South Wales had a particularly good year relative to other jurisdictions and states that we would regularly compare ourselves with on the eastern seaboard. For the most part, New South Wales remained open while Victoria was closed. Now, 2021 has been a tougher year as the delta variant has taken hold in Sydney, and I think you'll find that the Premier and the Prime Minister have levelled with the Australian people. New South Wales has been the Australian state where the delta variant has seated itself on the mainland, where it is destined to stay. These two leaders have spoken the truth, as has the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, and the reality is that no major city across the world has been able to withstand the delta variant. Delta is ultimately going to embed itself in every major city, and the sooner people get out, get vaccinated and have public health orders, rules and plans to manage delta, the better. I don't think Western Australia has a plan to manage the pandemic. I think its plan has been to close the border. That is not a plan to manage the pandemic.
The plan in New South Wales has had to change because, as a result of carrying this country for these last 18 months, New South Wales has been highly exposed to hotel quarantine. Everyone wants to assist Australians to come back to this country; that requires hotel quarantine, and 75 or 85 per cent of the hotel quarantine has been done in New South Wales. When Victoria went offline last year, they didn't do any hotel quarantine. We've heard senators complain, bemoaning the relatively high level of cases in New South Wales, but, even with a thousand cases a day, New South Wales is still doing hotel quarantine. So these are the risks you face when you're a global city trying to carry the rest of the continent through a pandemic—you will face delta, and it will come to all the other jurisdictions that have no or low levels of case numbers at the moment. That is the reality, and that is where Australia is heading.
So, having dealt relatively well with the economic and health issues, we have seen the Prime Minister work well with the state premiers, including the Premier of my state, New South Wales, on the recent outbreak. We have seen very significant fiscal support—over a billion dollars a week—going into New South Wales. Businesses are able to go onto Service NSW and access the disaster support payments for their businesses, the JobSaver payments, and these are in addition to the payments provided by the Commonwealth through the Services Australia system. The Commonwealth and the state of New South Wales are going halves in relation to these JobSaver payments, which are putting in place a floor under businesses, which we want to see open up fully in the next eight to nine weeks in New South Wales. I think that shows the high level of coordination and cooperation—that there has been an agreement that the federal government and the state government would pay for JobSaver.
But, more broadly, there's also been a high level of coordination in terms of vaccinations. There's no question that, with the outbreak in Sydney, there has been a much higher need for vaccinations, and the national government has prioritised getting vaccinations to Sydney in particular. Of the one million additional doses of Pfizer that came from Poland, more than half a million went into south-west Sydney, in order to get people protected, because, of course, just one shot of the vaccine provides a good level of protection against the virus.
More broadly, across the state, into the western districts of New South Wales—where we unfortunately do have a COVID outbreak in some Indigenous communities—the national government has deployed an AUSMAT team and additional vaccinations to support the state government in getting vaccinations into those remote Indigenous communities, which I've visited myself. It is very regrettable that there is COVID in those areas, but we are working swiftly with the state government to ensure that vaccines can go into arms as quickly as possible. When you have COVID in your community, the best thing you can do is to get a vaccination. I think it is a testament to the high level of coordination and cooperation between the federal and state governments that there has been a huge influx of vaccinations into New South Wales, where, as of today, 67 per cent of our citizens have had a first dose. In New South Wales we're leading the nation once again on vaccinations. I believe that that means that New South Wales will be the first state to get real freedom, because we will have had the honest conversation with our citizens that delta is here, it won't be able to be eradicated, and we're going to have a high level of vaccinations, and that will make us able to reopen very quickly. And that has been possible because of the coordination between these two governments.
This has been an 18-month battle with the pandemic. Last year we deployed the very successful JobKeeper scheme, which underpinned Australia's world-leading economic response. But we also had the very successful early release super scheme, which the people across the aisle, I think, have been very supportive of, because they know that giving people access to their own money in a pandemic and in an economic shock is the right thing to do.
It's very important to put one's citizens ahead of one's donors.
I know that's a troubling concept for people across the aisle. The reality is that, with Australia facing the greatest economic and health crisis since the Second World War, the super funds and the Labor Party have been more interested in saving the super funds than in saving Australia. That is a great shame and a great stain on the Labor Party. Of course, this discussion comes on a day when we have seen Labor's former Treasurer Mr Swan become the chairman of one of the major super funds. I guess the real question is: does big super own Labor or does the Labor Party own big super? That is a question for the ages but certainly a question I hope the Senate can debate one day in a future matter of public importance discussion. I think it would be quite an illuminating discussion and I look forward to it happening, perhaps in the next session.
tor ROBERTS () (): [by video link] This matter of public importance states:
The reported views of members of the NSW Liberal Government, including that they consider Mr Morrison to be "the Prime Minister for Morrison and no one else".
While that is increasingly heard in the media, among members of the government, among members of the Liberal and National parties and among the people, I reflect on an additional, more significant and rapidly growing conclusion among the people, and it's allied to the one this MPI debates. That conclusion is that the parliament of Australia is for the parliament. By that they mean the parliament is working for both the tired old parties—that is, the Liberal-Nationals and the Labor Party—and the people of Australia are the ones paying the price, because the people are serving the parliament, when we need to get back to the parliament serving the people.
I'm very positive about Australians—our resources, our opportunities, our potential—yet I'm very worried about Australia, because of shoddy governance for many decades, and so are the people—for example, the truckies. The truckies recently blockaded a highway south of Brisbane. Truckies are the salt of the earth—regular people, real people. There's nothing that hasn't been on a truck, whether during processing or after it has been made and sent to market. Truckies interact with everyone—all ways of life, all callings and all needs. Now they're calling out the politicians—and not just those from the government; truckies are calling out politicians generally. Why? Because they're feeling doubtful, confused, afraid, overwhelmed and hopeless, and they're getting angry and feeling very frustrated. Why? Because of their need for a livelihood, which is being threatened; their need for survival; their need for truth and honesty—a basic need; their need for consistency and ease, predictability; their need to be heard by the members who are supposed to represent them in parliament; their need for leadership, trust, integrity, credibility.
Let's have a look at some of the data. We've now had hundreds of days of lockdown in Victoria, months in some of the other states. It's capricious: smacked on and taken off suddenly. People's lives have been ruined. There has been stress, isolation, poverty, suicide, domestic violence. There have been cruel restrictions. One of a pair of twins was lost because their parent was denied access to a Brisbane hospital because she came from northern New South Wales. Fancy losing a twin because of some capricious government or bureaucrat!
Parents are dying without the comfort of their kids. Kids in cancer treatment are alone because their parents have to go into lockdown. Then we have curfews. We have local government authorities in areas of Sydney calling on people to show their papers before they can move from one LGA to another. There is child suicide, domestic violence, alcohol abuse. There are kids at boarding school unable to go home for the holidays and see their families. There are now threats and bribes to get people to vaccinate, and those threats are undermining vaccination itself.
The World Health Organization says that lockdowns are to be used only initially, to get control of the virus. Well, 18 months is not 'initially'. Every time a government slaps on a lockdown in this country it is admitting, for the whole world to see, that it does not have control of the virus. Clearly, there is no plan—people can see and feel that—but politicians lack the strength of character to admit their error. They're locked in, gutlessly, to save face in front of the people.
The Liberal-National and Labor governments, state and federal, are pushing this rubbish on the people of Australia. The people, though, are starting to get the Liberals to backpedal. What is happening is that the data is starting to come out: people are feeling the pain, and they're saying, 'To hell with you lot.' They want to sort out parliament. But the politicians still won't back down, because of the fear they have drummed up, the fear that they have ingrained in our society and that is killing people.
What we see now, for the first time ever, are the Liberal, Nats and Labor pushing an untested and unproven vaccine. For the first time in history we see governments injecting healthy people with something that can kill them, and is killing many. At the same time, we see ivermectin, a now proven, safe, effective and affordable treatment—and a preventative; a prophylactic—and the Liberal, Nats and Labor are stopping this treatment. There's a complete lack of a plan, a bias away from the data and a contradiction of the data. All the truckies want is to have simple, basic needs met—an end to damaging lockdowns and curfews; vaccine by choice only; and children back to school—so they can get on with their lives and their livelihoods and protect their family. (Time expired)
A Prime Minister for no season. Poor leadership is something that we have in this country at the moment—and, as we all know, this can lead us to catastrophic outcomes, as we are witnessing right now in this country. Poor leadership and certain characteristics are evident, including an inability to listen, a lack of empathy for others and an inability to take responsibility. We on this side know that the Prime Minister does not even have the ability to communicate effectively during this time of a pandemic. But now we see the New South Wales branch and the New South Wales government publicly expressing the same frustration. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has ticked these boxes consistently during his tenure as Prime Minister of Australia—never more so than in the last 18 months. As I said, these are not just our views; these are the views of the New South Wales government.
What COVID is doing to Australians is so evident to us, but I want to refer to survey data which suggested Australians are more worried about their job security and mental health than they are about the COVID breakouts and more deaths. The YouGov poll argues that one in three Australians believe vaccinations are the pathway back to normality, with only 22 per cent of people believing continued lockdowns should occur until the number of COVID cases reaches zero. What Australians want is a vision out of the pandemic and a time line for that. They want to see a light at the end of the tunnel—and it's hard when 60 per cent of Australians find themselves in lockdown right now. They don't want a Prime Minister who cares only about himself and his own job; they want a Prime Minister who will lead. It is more important than ever for us to have a Prime Minister who has the conviction to be able to lead the Australian people.
I want to speak about Donna Nguyen, an 18-year-old young woman from Sydney who contracted COVID at a party in Sydney, was tested numerous times before finally testing positive and ended up in hospital twice before recovering from the disease. It is a sad story that should be a warning to everyone who isn't concerned about the delta variant—because you should be. On her fifth day of quarantine, Donna's condition deteriorated quickly. Donna said:
I was passed out for 14 hours a day. Time moves so strangely when you're in that state. Morning and night were barely distinguishable.
I began hyperventilating.
Donna was not able to eat, because she couldn't stop vomiting. She said:
If I tried to breathe, I would cough and gag.
Staggering to the bathroom, Donna tried to take a shower. She passed out from the heat. She said:
I was excessively shivering, but was sweating and hot.
Donna lay dishevelled in her bed for six days unable to sit up. She recalled:
When you're in that state, with no clear trajectory of getting better, you lose the joy in everything.
I am sorry that this happened to you, Donna. It didn't have to be like this. If we had a Prime Minister committed to keeping delta out of the country, then you may not have been forced to go through this ordeal that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Donna is happy that she has recovered. She was lucky that she survived, and she is now recovering slowly from COVID-19.
Unfortunately, over a thousand Australians have died from COVID-19, and many, many more may still face that bleak outcome.
We have a lack of vaccines and no fit-for-purpose quarantine system in our country. We have a Prime Minister who only had two jobs. It was his job to roll out the vaccine in a timely manner, but he said, 'There's no race,' and, 'Nothing to see here.' We all know that he's failed. We've even seen him reject the idea of having purpose-built quarantines to keep Australians safe. We know that hotel quarantine doesn't work. We know that we're losing too many people. We know that there are over 60,000 aged-care workers in this country who still haven't had a vaccine. We don't know how many carers delivering home-care packages haven't yet received a vaccine. This was a race, Mr Morrison, and it was a race that we needed to win.
Imagine this, Madam Acting Deputy President. We're often told that we in this place are out of touch, focused more on navel gazing and internal issues than on governing for the country. Today, Labor really are taking the cake, because they are more interested in navel gazing into internal Liberal Party issues than in what actually matters to the people of this country—the people of this country who are concerned about their jobs and who are concerned about their mental health. Do we really care what the Premier of New South Wales thinks about the Prime Minister behind closed doors when 44 per cent of Australians say they are concerned they are in a worse mental state today than they were pre COVID?
Labor would rather have us talking about an unsourced 'she said, she said' allegation that appeared in one weekend paper than have us governing the country. Well, I would rather focus on 'he did, he did'. Indeed, so would the Premier of New South Wales, because, when she was asked directly about this unsourced, uncorroborated claim that Labor are focusing on, Premier Berejiklian said, on the record, 'I thank the Prime Minister for his support during the entire course of the pandemic, but especially in relation to this outbreak.' The support that we have provided to New South Wales—and all states, but specifically New South Wales—is evident, because since 1 July this year over 1.7 million claims from New South Wales citizens for COVID disaster payments have been granted, claims valued at $921 million with a further $2.6 billion being issued via recurring payments.
Labor have their slogan of the week. 'The PM had just two jobs,' they say. Well, if that's the case, I'm going to say: 'Prime Minister, slow down. You are clearly overachieving.' As well as the two jobs that the Labor Party say he should be focusing on, the Prime Minister has also led national cabinet to an agreed, updated, four-step National Plan to transition Australia's National COVID-19 Response. The Prime Minister has led an expansion of the New South Wales business support package, which now supports more than 400,000 businesses employing 3.3 million workers just in New South Wales. That's only in New South Wales, not to mention the expanded support.
We've got an additional $400 million in Victorian business support packages. We've increased the disaster payment to $750 for individuals who've lost 20 or more hours work a week. We've also secured an extra 85 million doses of Pfizer, providing access to additional booster vaccines into the future that will protect Australians in an ongoing way. We've invested $125.7 billion in Medicare over the forward estimates.
We've announced $36 million in innovative medical product manufacturing projects, which bring manufacturing onshore to help protect Australians and keep Australians safe from COVID. We've extended telehealth consultations. We've waived childcare gap fees for parents. We've unveiled $1 billion in funding to underpin the first Closing the Gap Implementation Plan, which has been developed with Indigenous Australians, not for Indigenous Australians. We've announced a financial and wellbeing redress scheme for living stolen generations members. We've aided the Queensland government in its very successful bid to secure the 2032 Olympic Games. Congratulations to Queensland. The list goes on. I congratulate our government for overachieving. Keep up the good work, Prime Minister.