Thursday, 2 September 2021
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Senator Colbeck. As a result of vaccine supply shortages, the New South Wales government has been forced to extend the gap between the first and second doses of the Pfizer vaccine to eight weeks. What impact will this change, resulting from a shortage of vaccine supplies, have on the time frame of reaching the 70 and 80 per cent targets? And did the New South Wales government advise the Morrison-Joyce government of this change before it was announced?
I reject the premise of the question—that there is a vaccine shortage. There are significant volumes of vaccines available to Australians. In fact, if someone wants to go out and get—
Opposition senators interjecting—
They say they support the vaccine rollout program. They say they support both vaccines. But the scoffing across the chamber belies that. They're focused only on Pfizer and they are not concerned about AstraZeneca, which has done a large proportion of the work in the system. And I note that they have actually shortened the time frame between doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to promote the vaccine rollout. We have supported New South Wales in respect of their vaccine rollout by putting 50 per cent of the additional vaccine doses that we got from Poland—500,000-plus doses—into New South Wales to support their rollout. We distributed the rest of the vaccine across the states on a per capita basis. So we have supported, and we will continue to support, states in the vaccination program. Today we have passed 20 million doses—a significant effort. The Labor Party should be celebrating that.
That was one question amongst several asked. There was a preface. A minister cannot simply reject the premise of a question and say everything they want. They still must remain directly relevant to the material in the question. I'm listening carefully to the minister. As I heard him, he was talking about vaccine supply. It's not a place for a general address on the vaccine rollout program, but if he's talking about matters raised in the question then I believe he is directly relevant. I can't instruct him how to answer it.
We will continue to support New South Wales and other states in the vaccine rollout. In fact, to date, as I've indicated, 20,028,084 doses of vaccine have been administered across the country. Of course, both vaccines—not just Pfizer—are playing an important part in the rollout. There are different time periods in different states between doses. Victoria has extended their second doses out to six weeks, rather than three weeks, for Pfizer.
If someone has a booking for a vaccination, I urge them to keep it. I urge everyone who wants to take up a vaccine to make a booking. There is ample supply of AstraZeneca right now.
Yes, and it's with regard to relevance. The question was pretty straight and it did not refer to AstraZeneca. It was a particular question about the rollout of Pfizer with the three-to-eight-week delay. I urge you to bring the minister to the actual question in hand.
It was a relatively specific question. Was the word 'Pfizer' mentioned in the supplementary question?
Senator O'Neill interjecting—
I didn't have that in my notes. I try to scribble as quickly as I can. This is a specific question. I'm going to ask the minister to specifically address the issues in the question, but again I cannot instruct the minister the terms on which to answer a question, the terminology to be used or the content of the answer. In my view, this question goes to the extension of the time period for the vaccine—I didn't have 'Pfizer' written down, but I take your word for it, Senator O'Neill—and it goes to whether people will have to wait longer or any other arrangements that are directly relevant. Senator Cash, are you seeking the call?
Thank you. On the point of order in relation to relevance, Mr President, you are right. The question was in relation to the New South Wales government's decision to extend bookings in relation to Pfizer and whether people will have to wait longer for a vaccination. The minister is directly referring to whether people have to wait longer.
Senator Keneally interjecting—
Thank you, Mr President. I do appreciate that. The question was actually: would it force those who've already booked their appointments to wait longer? It didn't go to whether people should book or not book. It went directly to the question of people who already have appointments booked for Pfizer.
I appreciate it did not go to—it's not the place for a general discussion of whether someone should book for a vaccine. But, at the same time, to a tightly worded question, an answer can still be directly relevant by addressing the issues raised in the question, even if it is not addressed in the terms the opposition would like. That is what the motions to take note are for, afterwards. So I call Senator Colbeck, taking all that into account, to continue.
As I said, I would urge anyone who's got a vaccine appointment to keep that appointment and anyone who doesn't have one to make one. The Labor Party want to make this all about Pfizer, but the vaccine rollout is not just about Pfizer. There are two vaccines currently in our vaccination program, and there are ample supplies of AstraZeneca available right now. To date, we have received 32.7 million doses of vaccine: 14.5 million doses of Pfizer—
With respect, I do not think that, to be directly relevant to an answer, a brand or manufactured version of a vaccine is going to meet—I can apply that as a strict test. If the minister is directly addressing the issues in the question, there is an opportunity to take note—
Government senators interjecting—
On my right. I think—
Honourable senators interjecting—
Order! I think, with respect, the submission that I instruct the minister to speak about one brand of vaccine is actually going beyond direct relevance and actually seeking me to direct him how to answer a question. Senator Keneally?
Thank you, Mr President. I appreciate the point you're making, but this goes to a decision of the New South Wales government that is directly relevant to just one brand of the vaccine. We didn't have an option to ask about other brands. The New South Wales government made this decision—
Actually, no. There is an opportunity to debate the merits of how a minister answers a question. Direct relevance does not go to using the very words raised in a question or, in this case, the brand. You have an opportunity to debate that afterwards. Senator Colbeck.
And the Labor Party directly contribute to vaccine hesitancy by their dismissal of AstraZeneca. We have two vaccines in our vaccination program: Pfizer and AstraZeneca. And I would urge every— (Time expired)
I am sure it will disappoint New South Wales men and women who couldn't get Pfizer, that answer; it's just terrible. Despite the 107 tragic deaths in the current delta outbreak, 957 people in hospital and 160 in the ICU, the Morrison-Joyce government is forcing people in New South Wales to wait an additional five weeks to be fully protected from COVID. Does the Morrison-Joyce government take responsibility for failing vaccine supply, or does Mr Morrison maintain that, ultimately, everything's a state matter?
Despite all their protestations, clearly the Labor Party continue to attempt to undermine the confidence of the Australian community in vaccines, particularly AstraZeneca, and it's not the first time Senator O'Neill has done that this week, with her scoffing across the chamber at the mention of AstraZeneca.
Honourable senators interjecting—
There are 32.7 million doses of vaccine that have been made available in the Australian community since the beginning of the vaccine rollout: 14.5 million doses of Pfizer; 18.2 million doses of AstraZeneca. I thank every one of the people who've taken up the 20 million doses that have currently been put into arms. I urge every Australian to take up the opportunity to take a vaccine, of whatever variety is available to them, because that is what is going to make us safe against the COVID-19 virus.