Senate debates

Monday, 18 October 2021

Matters of Public Importance

COVID-19: Morrison Government

4:56 pm

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the Senate that, at 8.30 am today, 17 proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the letter from Senator Pratt proposing a matter of public importance was chosen:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

The lives at risk because with Mr Morrison it is always too little, too late and he is more interested in picking fights with premiers rather than taking action on expert advice to address the expected shortage of beds, overcrowded emergency departments and longer waits as a result of COVID-19 patients in our hospitals.

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

The Act Ing Deputy President:

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.

4:57 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

DON () (): I rise to speak on this very important motion that's been put forward by Senator Louise Pratt. This matter of public importance is incredibly important to this country and to my home state of New South Wales, which has been suffering lockdowns but is now emerging out of those months of lockdowns. Months of lockdowns were only necessary because the Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, utterly failed on the vaccine rollout and quarantine, because of Mr Morrison's insistence that the vaccine rollout was not a race. Because of Mr Morrison's insistence that the COVID-19 pandemic is a problem for the states and territories, there have been lives lost; there have been many more who have suffered serious illness; there have been billions of dollars lost from the Australian economy, billions of dollars that have been drained out of the pockets of small business owners and working Australians; there has been severe financial hardship; and there have been severe impacts on mental health. It will be some time before we truly understand the full toll that Mr Morrison's failure on the vaccine rollout and quarantine has had on Australia.

It is only thanks to the extraordinary response of the Australian people that we have managed to begin turning Mr Morrison's failures around, but now Mr Morrison is moving on to other matters. He is now entirely preoccupied with internal fights about climate change. He is a Prime Minister held hostage by his junior coalition partner. He is no longer even in the room where the decisions his government makes on climate are made. He is held hostage by the New South Wales Premier, who makes announcements about international borders without even telling the Prime Minister.

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn't ended. It certainly isn't over for Victoria, which continues to suffer through lockdowns created by Mr Morrison's failures. It isn't over for those workers around Australia who continue to be out of work as a direct result of Mr Morrison's vaccine failure. And rather than support people who remain without work at this critically important time, Mr Morrison is instead cutting the safety net. He is ending COVID-19 support payments for workers around Australia. International students haven't come back, but he's cutting support for university workers. International and domestic aviation has been recovered, but he has already cut support for aviation workers. In fact, Mr Morrison excluded outsourced aviation workers from support payments.

Perhaps Mr Morrison isn't aware, but the vast majority of the ground-handling work at Australian airports is now outsourced. Qantas outsourced 2,000 jobs last year while simultaneously receiving $2 billion from the government to keep those workers in their jobs, and the Federal Court recently ruled that outsourcing was illegal. I still haven't heard a peep from the Prime Minister about those workers, but Mr Morrison certainly made sure the 2,000 workers whose jobs were illegally outsourced will not have any access to COVID-19 support payments. I would find it very surprising if this was just an unfortunate oversight, because many of those aviation workers live in his electorate of Cook. And what do workers at Sydney airport get from their local member for Cook? They get their jobs outsourced, and then they get cut off from support payments for their trouble.

The fact is COVID-19 has not gone away. Those jobs have not come back. So why are the payments disappearing? If only Mr Morrison were as quick to roll out the vaccine as he is to cut the safety net for Australian workers. And it isn't just support payments that Mr Morrison has gone missing on. While the Premier of New South Wales has taken over control of Australia's international borders, the Prime Minister has gone missing on rapid testing for aviation workers. We all want to see international aviation begin. Aviation workers desperately want to get back to work, but they are rightly concerned about COVID-19 safety, particularly as we open back up to the rest of the world. Aviation workers want to know what Mr Morrison is going to do to ensure they can be safe at work. They have heard nothing in response.

The Transport Workers Union produced a COVIDSafe national transport road map. It is a road map for how we can safely reopen our road transport and aviation sectors—sectors where workers are uniquely exposed to COVID-19 transmission risks. A key part of that road map is rapid antigen testing. Rapid antigen testing will reduce transmission on planes, it will provide aviation workers with peace of mind and it will keep planes in the sky. Rapid testing is already being used in international airports across the world to detect positive cases early. These airports include London's Heathrow and terminals in the USA, Ireland, Germany and Turkey. Sydney international airport has rapid PCR testing installed, with results given in just 20 minutes. Even before international borders open, we've seen, time and time again, domestic flights listed as contact sites and hotspots for transmission, so how can we open up our aviation sector again without a road map and a plan for minimising COVID-19 risks? We already know how it can be done. The TWU's road map has been endorsed by the leading Australian epidemiologist, Professor Adrian Esterman from the University of South Australia. Professor Esterman said, 'It is a major step forward and, if implemented, would greatly reduce the risk of transmission of the virus.' It is time for Mr Morrison to come to the table and commit to government-funded rapid testing across the network, and to do so immediately.

But, no, Mr Morrison has nothing to say about rapid antigen testing. Mr Morrison doesn't care about keeping aviation workers safe at work, just as Mr Morrison doesn't care about the tens of thousands of workers around Australia who are about to lose critical COVID-19 support payments. What has Mr Morrison been focusing on, other than fighting the Nationals on climate policy? He's been telling state and territory governments to look elsewhere if they need support with the hospital system as we emerge from lockdowns. Mr Morrison is telling state and territory governments that he's not going to stump up any money to help them deal with increased pressure on ICUs and hospitals. How unbelievable is that!

Mr Morrison was happy to dish out $40 billion to big businesses. Over $20 billion was paid to companies that made an improvement in their income. But if you need funding for intensive care units struggling through a surge of COVID-19 cases or if you need funding for emergency support payments for people without work due to the pandemic, Mr Morrison turns his pockets inside out and cries poor. It's just the latest chapter in the sorry saga of the Morrison government. There has been no end to the amount of money that can be dished out for government rorts or in handouts to big business that doesn't deserve it, but if you're doing it tough, if you need money to put food on the table or to pay for an ICU bed, then you're tough out of luck.

The necessity for there to be a fifty-fifty funding arrangement with the state government was raised by the Queensland Nurses and Midwives Union. A survey of Queensland health workers was carried out recently. They're calling for funding to address the dire safety issues in hospitals. A survey of nurses and midwives reveals that 72 per cent worry about facilities that cannot cope with COVID-19 outbreaks. The Queensland Nurses and Midwives Union questionnaire revealed that 58 per cent of respondents do not believe that facilities are safe for patients or staff. Queensland is part of Australia. New South Wales and the rest of the states make up Australia. It's critically important that the Prime Minister act, and act now.

5:07 pm

Photo of Ben SmallBen Small (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I think that today we've seen some of the hypocrisy that we've come to expect on this from the Labor Party. Louise Pratt, a fellow senator from Western Australia, has proposed a matter, supposedly of public importance, calling attention to the dire state of our health system in Western Australia. But, in doing so, she has completely failed to front up here today and put that case; she has also left out the true story. The true story, if we look back over the period from 2012-13 through to this financial year, is that coalition federal governments have increased federal funding for the health system in WA by an incredible 72.8 per cent. Over the same period of time, the state government has increased funding by 18.4 per cent. That's right, the federal government has increased health funding to Western Australia at four times the rate of the state government for the health system that the Labor Party, Premier Mark McGowan and Senator Pratt hypocritically accuse us of neglecting.

Indeed, Premier Mark McGowan and Minister Cook went so far as to blame older Western Australians and NDIS recipients for the overrun of our state's emergency departments. Although that's shameful in itself, it takes place in the context of not a single case of COVID community transmission in Western Australia. For that, I know I and my colleague from Western Australia Senator O' Sullivan do commend the McGowan government for their effective management of the evolving situation with the pandemic. However, I think we can be rightly critical of the abject failure to prepare the health system for the pandemic, despite us being some 18 months down the line. The health system exists to protect us. We mustn't manage our economy to protect the health system they have neglected. We're not asking for anyone to open up on a whim; we are asking the Labor Party to level with the Australian people and be honest with the facts, and that would start with acknowledging that in Western Australia the state Labor government has chronically underfunded our health system to the point that ambulances can't get into hospital car parks, let alone get their patients into the emergency department. That takes place in the same context of the federal government pouring four times more money than the state's own Labor government into that health system.

If we're going to level with the Australian people, I think we should also be honest around a few other home truths. Despite the fact that this government was the first to close its international border to the world, that this government declared COVID-19 a pandemic a full 14 days before the WHO did so and that Australia's vaccination rollout is occurring faster on a per capita basis than either the UK's or the US's, the Labor Party do nothing but continue to snipe and undermine the success of our economic and health management of this pandemic. I've heard nothing from those opposite to celebrate the fact that our vaccination rate here in Australia now outstrips not only the United States' but also Israel's, which has been lauded for its high vaccination rates. Those opposite totally neglect the fact that here in Australia, due to our effective management of the pandemic, the death rate has been one-fortieth of those countries the Labor Party senators would like to compare us with. Not only have we outstripped the US in terms of the speed of our vaccination rate; we've suffered a death toll less than one-fortieth of that experienced in the United States.

The reason we put our vaccination through a normal approval process by ATAGI and the TGA was that we didn't have dead bodies piling up in the streets. Instead, due to Australia's effective health and economic management, this government, protecting lives and livelihoods from the onset of the disease, was able to take a slow, considered and ultimately very, very successful approach to this pandemic where we have not only saved the lives of those Australians who are still here today and who would have died in any other circumstance, such as we've seen in other advanced economies in the OECD; we've also seen the success of the Australian economy in being able to thrive with economic support from the government.

Whilst those opposite snipe, undermine and seek to underhandedly detract from the success we've seen here in Australia, we on the government side are levelling with the Australian people: once you get vaccinated, in accordance with the national plan, we will safely reopen to the world. Our health system is robust. Our health system has been adequately resourced by the federal government, and we're asking for that same commitment from the states. Indeed, when we look at the assessment of the ICU capacity here in Australia and feed that into the Doherty modelling—which the national cabinet accepted as the appropriate way to assess our readiness—the premiers and the Prime Minister together reached an assurance that the surge capacity in Australia's hospital system was sufficient to deal with the small number of cases we can expect in a vaccinated nation. That is the key point that seems lost on those opposite.

The discussion has continued to evolve in the course of the pandemic because the information in front of us has changed. Back in February and March, not only did we not have vaccines; we didn't even know if vaccines would ever be developed for this disease. Of course, the actions taken by the government were cautious, considered and appropriate in the circumstances that that decision was taken. Now, 18 months later, we find ourselves at the tail end of a successful vaccination rollout, with an economy poised for a strong economic recovery in the fourth quarter as, particularly, the eastern seaboard reopens and businesses reopen. Employees have unfortunately suffered the impacts of being stood down, but they received support from this government through things like initially the JobKeeper program and later the COVID-19 disaster payments. As they go back to work and as people continue to spend and get ready for the Christmas we will all enjoy hopefully as a reunited country, I think that is when we level with the Australian people that this was a Team Australia moment, despite the wrecking, sniping and undermining we heard from across the chamber. That is what we need to take away from this when we look back on COVID-19—that this government was bold in its policy-making at times of national crisis. That bold policy-making has ultimately been so incredibly successful on both the health and economic fronts.

So, again, I question why my fellow senator from Western Australia, Senator Pratt, would fail to come to the Senate today having submitted such an outrageously baseless MPI that seeks to blame the federal government when in fact the responsibility for the situation with the Western Australian health system lies squarely at the feet of the McGowan state government and completely ignores the fact that this government, together with our state and territory leaders through the national cabinet process, has agreed to a safe plan for reopening. It's not on a whim. It's not incautious, but it is appropriate and it is necessary. That is why I am so proud to be part of this government that has delivered such effective management of the pandemic.

5:16 pm

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] The reality of this pandemic and the rollout of the vaccine for disabled people here in Australia has been one of fear as we have watched our government fail us time and time again. It is a hard truth to hear that your government purposefully, strategically and outrageously made the decision to deprioritise four million Australians as it panicked to make up for its own incompetence in the early days of the vaccine rollout—but that is what happened. That is the truth. We have our royal commission to thank for the clear knowledge of the absolute failure of this government's vaccine rollout in relation to disabled people.

As a result of this failure, vaccination remains scandalously low among our community, well below the average in the wider population. We must urgently ensure that all disabled people who want to be vaccinated can get vaccinated right now before the country opens up and COVID inevitably rips through. There is absolutely no time to waste in this endeavour as Victoria and New South Wales radically change the way in which they manage COVID-19 in the community. We know that disabled people are at greater risk of COVID-19 and are more likely to become seriously ill or die if infected. Once again, the Greens call on the government to rapidly upscale the accessibility and the appropriateness of the vaccine program by making it a proactive program that goes to people where they are, sets a clear target of 90 per cent of the disabled population and prioritises disability support workers and disabled people's close contacts while making sure that all vaccination portals and websites are fully accessible.

Contrary to what the government's attitude seems to show us, the lives of disabled people are not expendable. The Greens have prioritised and always will prioritise committing to putting disabled people at the centre of this vaccine rollout as we change the way that we manage COVID-19. As we do that, we must also provide a proper plan to make sure that children in our schools have access to ventilation and air filtration and we must provide a proper set of socially distanced requirements to keep kids safe in schools as well.

5:19 pm

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Earlier we heard Senator Small tell a fairy story about what's happened with COVID-19 in this country. Self-deception runs right through this government. The truth is that, as an island nation with a good health system, we had an enormous opportunity to withstand the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic that have affected the world so badly. We had an enormous opportunity. An island nation in the Southern Hemisphere, we had to get two things right: No. 1, we had to get a decent system of quarantine and, No. 2, we had to get the vaccine strategy right. Both of those things were so utterly bungled that we have squandered this opportunity. How dare he or Mr Morrison wander around saying, 'We've saved 30,000 people's lives'? It's a bit like Mr Morrison a few months ago, when the women's march was out the front, saying, 'It's lucky people weren't shooting at them.' It's a very low bar this government sets itself in terms of achievement.

The lockdowns in New South Wales and in Victoria were entirely a product of the greatest public policy failure in Australian history. The Morrison government were utterly incapable of doing what was required to protect ordinary Australian families from the ravages of this virus. Billions of dollars worth of economic activity was stopped dead in its tracks, leaving hundreds of thousands of jobs gone and public finances in absolute tatters. These jokers who say so much about economic management have trashed the Australian economy and trashed public finances because they couldn't manage the health response.

There's a famous quote from Catch-22, where Joseph Heller wrote:

Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them.

This bloke, the Prime Minister, has, in a stunning achievement, managed all three of those things in the same three years. There's no crisis that this Prime Minister can't ignore until it's too late. He has not grown into the job; he has shrunk. There is no opportunity that he can't squander, no problem that he can't hide from. Even this week, while preparing for the most consequential international summit of his prime ministership, he is somehow absent. Until a few days ago, we didn't even know if he was going to have the courage to appear, to turn up.

He has a task in front of him. I think people have been generous in saying that his problem is the National Party. The problem that he has is not just the National Party; it's the rump of backward ideologues—antiscience, antiempiricist, backward reactionaries—in his own Liberal Party backbench. You know the reason that they're there? He encouraged them to be there. He and former Prime Minister Abbott went on this long antiscience, antiempirical, backward-looking thing—Robert Menzies would have been ashamed of the conduct of the modern Liberal Party—and they encouraged all these characters to emerge in their branches, and suddenly it turns out they've all got a vote. Suddenly they all turn up in parliament, because of your failure of leadership. And now guess what? They're in charge of the show. You can't manage to pull off the most basic requirement of leadership. It requires leadership and conviction from a man who has no capacity for leadership and no convictions at all. He's delegated the task of leadership in this instance to the Deputy Prime Minister, who in turn has denied the very possibly of leadership at all. And they've left an ocean of space for the fringe dwellers on the backbench. Minister Pitt has proposed a $250 billion fund. Hundreds of billions of dollars have gone out the door because this government can't manage its COVID vaccine response, and now they want an extra $250 billion of public money for a loan facility. That makes the Khemlani loans affair look like a corner shop operation. They know, Senator Canavan knows, that that will have the effect of pushing up home mortgage rates for ordinary Australians and pushing up the cost of doing business for ordinary small and medium enterprises. And do you know what that will mean? Falling living standards and lost jobs. It will mean power prices go up, not down. It is the most backward-looking response you can imagine.

And Senator Rennick? What a surprise he's in here with nuclear power stations! Where are the nuclear power stations going to be? Why on earth do we want to put up the price of electricity and have unaffordable energy approaches in this country? Why? Because all these backward-looking characters on the backbench, who actually run the show, have been told they can frolic with any dumb idea they like. Where will these nuclear reactors be? Will they be in Jervis Bay? Will they be in Fremantle? Will they be in Port Stephens? Will they be in Hervey Bay? Those are the places that have been recommended before—and the Latrobe Valley and Portland in Victoria. They are all on the list drawn up by former chief scientists. What a joke! So we've had eight years of shambolic failure on climate policy, a shambolic response to this grave national crisis.

If the National Party fails to endorse the Prime Minister's net zero policy before he leaves for Glasgow, are the Nationals going to leave the cabinet? Who's going to be the Deputy Prime Minister? Who's going to be the Acting Prime Minister when this conference starts? This is an utter shambles, and all this swirling chaos comes back to one thing: an utter incapacity for leadership from this man, the Prime Minister. The backbench isn't the only group that's reacted to this failure of leadership, this vacuum. Last week featured the astonishing scene of the New South Wales Premier announcing the end of the international border. He forgot—it's so easy to forget—that it's a Commonwealth responsibility. Why? Because the Prime Minister is utterly absent. He's spent the whole of this pandemic in the shadow of the state premiers.

The national cabinet has descended into a farce. It's not national and, after the decision of Justice White, it's certainly not a cabinet. The national plan is scarcely national and it's certainly not a plan. And last week the man who built his political career saying, 'I stopped the boats,' is suddenly no longer in charge of the international borders. You can't chalk this up as unfortunate miscommunication. It's entirely consistent with this Prime Minister's total absence, his total lack of vision. So even as Sydney and Melbourne emerge from the Morrison lockdown, the country still faces enormous challenges. There remain pockets of unvaccinated, vulnerable people, particularly in the regions. I heard the Deputy Prime Minister say on Insiders a month before the lockdown, 'We're well ahead in the regions. We're ahead of the cities,' and I wondered if he had access to some secret trove of information that we've been denied. It turns out that he was entirely making it up. Vaccination rates and the supply of vaccines in his own electorate of New England are 10 to 15 per cent behind the rest of the country. Populations in far west New South Wales are at critically low levels of vaccination. So where is the Prime Minister? He's nowhere to be seen. We've seen it so many times before. We saw it during the bushfires. We saw it in response to the women's march. We've seen it in the consistent failure on democratic responsibility. We saw it in the failure to adequately prepare for the evacuation from Afghanistan. We've seen it in the failure to denounce far-Right conspiracy theorists on his backbench. This bloke is just not up to the job.

5:30 pm

Photo of Matt O'SullivanMatt O'Sullivan (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I actually thank Senator Pratt for moving this motion. But I have to say that, when I read it this morning, I thought to myself that this must have been moved by an eastern state senator because they didn't actually know what was going on in WA—it wasn't possible. I thank my colleague Senator Small for his contribution earlier, and he made a very similar point. But, no, it was actually moved by a Western Australian senator, Senator Louise Pratt. This is quite remarkable. Maybe those on the other side don't take the opportunity to think much about Western Australia or know much about Western Australia. If you did, you'd know that the Western Australian health system is in absolute crisis right now—absolute crisis. We don't have COVID, though; it's got nothing to do with COVID. The health system is in a state of crisis because of poor management by the Labor government over there in Western Australia.

This isn't hyperbole. On Saturday, the AMA WA president revealed that Western Australia has the lowest rate of ICU beds per capita in the nation, despite the fact that the McGowan government announced a $5 billion surplus. When asked about this statistic, the AMA president in Western Australia had this to say:

Unfortunately, it doesn't surprise me because the McGowan government effectively flatlined operational budget for WA health over the last four years …

What is even more galling about this ICU bed figure is that it's actually less than what was available last year. It's actually 10 per cent lower than before we went into the COVID pandemic. The big announcements that were made, absolutely necessarily, because of the pandemic, were that we needed to shut everything down, go into lockdown and have social distancing. We had to do all the things that were necessary to help the system to be able to deal with COVID, and part of it was to build up our capability within the hospital system. It was to get the extra beds that were necessary, to get the staff that were necessary, to get the equipment that was necessary. But, when it comes to ICU beds, there are actually 10 per cent less than before we even went into the pandemic.

Senator Pratt's motion mentions 'shortage of beds, overcrowded emergency departments and longer waits as a result of COVID-19 patients in hospitals'. But, as I said, there's no COVID in Western Australia, so how this motion really should read is, 'The WA health system is facing a shortage of beds, overcrowded emergency departments and longer waits as a result of serious underinvestment and mismanagement by the WA Labor Party.' Since the coalition government came into power, we have increased funding to WA hospitals by 72.8 per cent. The WA government, over the same time, has increased it by 18.4 per cent. So some four times more investment in WA hospitals has been delivered by the Morrison government, and state Labor are found wanting.

Premier McGowan's rigid insistence on his hard border was necessary; we accept that. It was, however, responsible in part for staff shortages across the state health system. And it's not only there but also in our resources sector. Senator Small and I were recently in Kalgoorlie, and we went out to the goldmine there, right in the centre of town, and they've got a shortage of truck drivers; they need 60 truck drivers. They estimate that there's about $100 million in revenue for this country if they could fill those jobs, but there isn't because they can't get the staff. And that's what we're seeing in our hospital system right now.

A recent survey of more than 600 doctors has highlighted a number of other contributing factors, most of which can be laid directly at the feet of Western Australia's health minister, Roger Cook. There have been reports of staff at hospitals across Perth having panic attacks and taking stress leave due to staff shortages, which is a sad irony, as it's making the situation even wors The Australian nursing federation secretary—a union boss, nonetheless!—recently suggested that Roger Cook should find another job. I'll add my name to that: the health minister in Western Australia should find a different job, because he can't manage the administration of WA hospitals. Staff at King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women, Perth's dedicated maternity hospital, recently rallied to protest the abysmal staffing at their place of work. These are health workers and union members protesting the 'dangerous conditions' that staff are required to work under. My wife is a nurse; my sister is a nurse as well. The stress that they and other members of that workforce are under in Western Australia right now is horrendous. The nursing federation representative spoke about dangerous conditions.

In 2017, Roger Cook declared that monthly ambulance ramping of 1,030 hours under the Barnett Liberal government was a massive failure and a crisis. Since being elected to government in Western Australia in 2017, Labor has overseen an average monthly ramping of nearly double that figure, with ramping breaking past their self-imposed crisis level some 41 times. In August alone, ramping hours hit 6,528 hours. Ramping hours for October are already at 2,950. This is why I'm saying that it's in a state of crisis. These figures represent the hours Western Australians spend sitting in an ambulance, unable to get appropriate care because the hospital is full. This is often combined with code yellows, which signify that the hospital is completely full. We don't have COVID in Western Australia. There are no cases of COVID in WA; thank God for that. I acknowledge the efforts of the McGowan government for that, but they have completely abandoned their responsibility for looking after the health system of Western Australia.

Earlier today, we saw a bold and appropriate move from the Queensland government. They've provided a road map to the people of Queensland for what they can expect when they hit their 70 and 80 per cent targets. Of course, that is to open in a safe way. There'll be testing and the need to show their vaccination certification. Appropriate measures are being put in place for when they get to those levels. That is good. It gives people a plan. It means that businesses can plan. It means that families can plan to reunite at Christmas time. In Western Australia, we don't have any plan whatsoever.

Senator Small and I have done a fair bit together over the last few weeks. We had a meeting with events industry representatives. They spoke to us about the opportunities to have some major identity concerts and big sporting events in Western Australia next year. But they're deciding about whether they can come or not based on the status of our borders. It's more about the lack of a plan. Right now, we've got a situation where there is uncertainty. So I call on the McGowan government—and I'm so proud to be a Western Australian in this place right now—to be upfront with Western Australians about what we can expect when we get to 70 and 80 per cent.

On the current trajectory, with the current vaccine rate, we know that we will get there around 4 or 5 December. That's fantastic. We're on track. We're going to get there. We're a bit behind other states, and I understand that. There hasn't been that sense of urgency in Western Australia. There haven't been any COVID cases, so people haven't been really focused on it. But, on the current trajectory, we know that that's when we're going to get there. The government should be making it clear what we're going to do when we get there. It's actually very good logic that you've got to give people that are a little bit hesitant a little bit of extra time to get themselves sorted. I understand that. There's great logic in that, because there is some hesitancy in WA. But why don't you give people that certainty now?

We know that we're going to be at 80 per cent come early December. Give some certainty now. Make known to Western Australians what it is we can expect when we get to that point. There are measures that can be put in place with testing and with vaccination certificates. There is an ability to provide a safe re-entry, and that's going to deal with the issues that we've got with staff shortages, including in our hospitals, our resources sector and right across our agricultural sector, which is having a bumper season right now but can't harvest because of the closed borders. (Time expired)

5:40 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

When Senator Pratt talks about delays in responses and lives being at risk, the senator and the Labor Party fail to understand the need to provide Australians with a full range of safe options for COVID. State and federal parliaments have chosen bullying to force mandatory vaccination on everyday Australians. They have driven a wedge into the Australian culture and left many in fear, without jobs, stressed and in tears.

Australians need a guarantee that the pharmaceuticals being rushed to market without proper approvals are 100 per cent safe, not just to this generation but to the next. Now Labor is pushing for more healthcare staff and resources when we may need them for only a few months. This will leave us with more debt for decades to come, simply because federal and state parliaments—Labor, Liberal and Nationals—refuse to consider a better way, using treatments alongside vaccines.

Healthcare heroes have been defending our health and lives. Now those same professionals are being intimidated and terminated by Liberal, Labor and Nationals governments for choosing, for daring to choose, not to be vaccinated and not to be injected. How can healthcare workers go so quickly from hero to villain? One Nation values all our healthcare and emergency services personnel. In many cases stress on the system is coming not from inadequate resources but from mismanagement and inefficient practices. Given the worldwide demand for healthcare resources, where are Senator Pratt's extra practising healthcare professionals going to come from? Is Labor going to rehire the unvaccinated people they're sacking? Because of the sackings we've seen AHPRA rush to requalify retired health professionals to practice without adequate retraining, support or professional development. Their skills may be out of date, and that puts lives at risk. The government's hasty ill-researched acceptance and $300 million purchase of molnupiravir is another example of selling pharmaceutical hype over proven treatments. It is Labor, the Liberals and the Nationals who are putting Australian lives at risk. (Time expired)

5:42 pm

Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very pleased to be speaking on this matter of public importance, which deals with a lot of the issues that we are facing across the country. We know that we are in a situation that we have been led down. We have been led into this situation by this Prime Minister, who failed to lead on vaccines, who failed to lead on quarantine and who is now failing to lead on our health response to COVID-19.

The Prime Minister was too late to order vaccines, and as a result, we've had more lockdowns across this country. Families have been separated and businesses have been devastated. These Morrison lockdowns this year didn't need to happen. We could all have been vaccinated by October. Instead, we were behind the rest of the world in ordering vaccines and in getting vaccines to people. Supply of vaccines was the No. 1 issue when it came to vaccinating vulnerable people and people throughout Queensland. As we've gone through the process of getting vaccines to the people who need them the most in Queensland and throughout the country—albeit slowly, delayed by this government—the government has now been patting itself on the back for a job well done, sending out messages about how many people have been vaccinated. This government isn't responsible for those vaccination levels. Queenslanders themselves are responsible for those vaccination levels. They've done the hard work. They've gone in and been vaccinated. They've sought out the vaccination. This government hasn't done that, and yet it is here to celebrate that hard work.

The hard work isn't done yet. We know that there are members of our community, vulnerable members of our community, who are still not vaccinated. In Cairns, for example, around 52 per cent of people have been fully vaccinated. That's great. People have been getting out. They've been doing the hard work in getting out and getting vaccinated. But we know that only 21 per cent of First Nations people in Cairns are vaccinated. They were meant to be a priority group, but under this government's delays and dithering we have seen our First Nations people being left behind. We also know that these are the members of our community who will be impacted first and foremost when we see cases of COVID-19 circulating through our community. We know that these are the people that the government has wiped its hands of. It doesn't care about whether they are protected when that time comes. I would like to see the government strongly consider those people in their rollout of the vaccine and consider what they can do to increase participation, because at the moment they've said it's someone else's problem and it's only the states that are responsible. So all they've done is to delay and say it's a state matter. Quarantine is in the Constitution, yet the government still said that it was a matter for the states.

Most importantly, what we need to do now is get our health response right, and what that requires is a constructive conversation between the federal government and the state governments. But what we've got is Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister for New South Wales, talking about politics instead of getting things done during this pandemic. We know that our health system is a whole system. In Queensland, particularly regional Queensland, at the moment it is really hard to get in to see a GP. I've been travelling all across regional Queensland. The place where people go when they can't get a GP is the emergency department. We've seen this throughout Queensland. We've got the numbers. The number of people who appear at emergency who don't have urgent illnesses is going up in Queensland because nobody can get in to see a GP.

This government will stand up and tell you that, on our health response and our hospitals, all of that is somebody else's problem and the state government is responsible. But the primary health system is impacting on our hospitals right now, and this government needs to stand up and work with the states. What we won't be doing is to be lectured about health and hospitals by the party of Campbell Newman, a party who sacked nurses when they were in power in Queensland. What we want is constructive conversations.

5:47 pm

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Let's look at the actual facts. The facts are these: when Campbell Newman and his government lost power, ambulance ramping in Queensland was at 15 per cent. Those are the facts. A month before the COVID pandemic broke out in Queensland, it had gone up to 29 per cent. It had doubled, I say through you, Madam Acting Deputy President, to Senator Green. It had gotten twice as bad. I have dear, dear friends who are paramedics and ambos, and they tell me about the shambles the Queensland ambulance system has come to from a management perspective. That is entirely the fault of the Queensland Labor government. Right now, ambulance ramping sits at 41 per cent. It was 15 per cent when Campbell Newman left office. It is now at 41 per cent. In the Metro South health district in Brisbane, an area with which I'm intimately familiar, it's in excess of 60 per cent. Six out of 10 ambulances that present themselves to the emergency departments are ramped—60 per cent. It was 15 per cent when the LNP left government. It has gone from 15 per cent to 60 per cent. That's the state of the Queensland health department and our Queensland ambulance system. It's an absolute disgrace under the Labor government.

Let me quote from an ABC News story posted on Friday 15 October 2021 at 8 am:

In the early hours of April 24, QAS headquarters was advised of "multiple pending Code 1 cases in excess of 1 to 2 hours" in and around Brisbane.

For code 1 cases, the most serious cases, it took one to two hours to get an ambulance. The article continues:

Code 1 patients refer to those requiring urgent care for potentially life-threatening situations. Ambulances are sent to them under lights and sirens.

This is what the brief said, Senator Green, under Queensland Labor:

"Nil available resources to respond," the brief said. "Nil divertable [sic] resources. Multiple units ramped and hospital for several hours."

That's nil available resources to respond to Queenslanders needing urgent aid from their health system. Just as is the case in Western Australia, Queensland has a handful of COVID cases. This is the situation today in Queensland under a Labor government that has been in power for 25 out of the last 31 years. Hospital ramping under Campbell Newman was 15 per cent and up to 60 per cent in the metro south region. You want to blame the federal government? The federal government has increased funding to Queensland hospitals by 100 per cent. In the same period, Senator Watt, the Queensland government has increased it by 51 per cent. You want to blame the coalition government? Look internally at what is happening to Queensland's health system. We now know what's happening at Caboolture Hospital—the horror stories coming out of the Caboolture public hospital. They're reminiscent of what came out of Hervey Bay. Again, under a Labor government, there is this managerial incompetence. Hospital ramping at the end of Campbell Newman's tenure was 15 per cent. In metro south—south of the Brisbane River, an area I'm intimately involved in—it was 60 per cent. In six out of 10 hospitals, ambulances attending our emergency departments were ramped. It's an absolute disgrace and our public health workers are at the end of their tether. Let me quote from an AMA Queensland announcement from 27 April 2021:

Queensland doctors say public hospitals are at crisis point, with clogged emergency departments, too few beds and an exodus of burnt-out staff.

This is what Dr Kim Hanson, from the Australian College for Emergency Medicine, says:

Emergency departments are the canary in the coalmine. They bear the burden when other parts of the health system are over capacity … It's awful, like putting a Band Aid on a stab wound.

That's how she describes the Queensland government's response: it's like putting a bandaid on a stab wound. Whoever was involved in putting forward this MPI for discussion this afternoon obviously wasn't aware of the current situation in the WA public health system and the Queensland health system.

5:52 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

This government has got a lot wrong in its pandemic response, and one of its most egregious failures is how it has ignored and marginalised people in immigration detention in the middle of a pandemic.

Heartbreakingly, tragically and eminently foreseeably, we now learn that there's been a COVID outbreak in the Park Hotel in Melbourne, one of this government's hotel prisons. Remember, this hotel prison is full of innocent people who asked our country for help over eight long years ago. They've been locked up every day since and they continue to suffer as a result of this government's cruel indifference to their fate and horrific persecution of them. The government has chosen to cram these people, who have pre-existing medical conditions and illnesses, into hotel prisons and other immigration detention facilities without putting effective COVID prevention measures in place. We now know, confirmed by the government, that at least three of these people have caught COVID, and there could be many more, because many more are feeling sick and are symptomatic, as we debate this issue today. This is a massive failure in the government's duty of care. This was predictable and it was entirely avoidable.

The Greens, along with many other people—including, most importantly and most critically, the refugees and people who sought asylum who were locked up and remain locked up in these hotel prisons—warned the government at the start of the pandemic that exactly this would happen, that this tragedy would come to pass, unless people were released from hotel detention into the communit We warned about the overcrowding of people and the impossibility of proper hygiene in these facilities, and we and they were ignored.

These innocent people have been detained now for over eight years. They've been exiled. They've been brutalised. They've been deliberately dehumanised. They've been illegally imprisoned. They've witnessed violent assaults, rapes, the sexual assault of children and murder. They are now being infected with a potentially life-threatening disease. We call again on the government to release all low-risk detainees being held in detention into community detention, with appropriate medical care and precautions to ensure that they and the broader community are safe from COVID. (Time expired)

5:55 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Australia's hospitals face a most testing time as the government lifts COVID-19 restrictions. The hope is that 80 per cent vaccination rates will keep the severe cases and hospitalisations low to avoid stretching our hospitals. The Doherty institute modelling predicts the biggest COVID-19 health challenge may come from a pandemic of the unvaccinated. Will our hospitals cope? Adelaide's major public hospitals regularly ramp ambulances, a sign of stress under ordinary circumstances.

On 1 October, Professor Brendan Murphy updated the non-national cabinet on our health system's ability to manage COVID-19 cases during phases B and C of the national plan to transition out of pandemic restrictions. The Prime Minister and the premiers and chief ministers received some 100 pages of data and analysis covering the ability of hospitals to cope with the likely surge. Is that information publicly available? No. In keeping with the PM's secrecy mantra, it's locked away. Imagine how informed this debate would be if we had access to that information. I've sought it under FOI, but I don't expect a positive response anytime soon.

Despite being told that the national cabinet is not a committee of the cabinet, the government are still claiming cabinet confidentiality in defiance of a ruling by a member of the federal judiciary. Is there a legitimate reason to withhold this data? No. It's to avoid embarrassment because the preparations should have been made months ago, and it hasn't been done. Again, it's too little too late.

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for the discussion has expired.