Tuesday, 19 October 2021
Questions without Notice
[by video link] Thank you for the call, Mr President, and congratulations once again. My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health, Senator Colbeck. When the Prime Minister shut down the country in March 2020 he promised Australians that we would use the time wisely and get ourselves ready before we had an outbreak. He told us he would make sure our hospital systems could cope with COVID before it got out into the community. It's been 18 months, and Premier Gutwein says Tasmania's hospitals still aren't ready. Since COVID arrived in Australia [inaudible] Tasmanian hospitals to make sure that they are safe [inaudible] so that we can reopen?
I thank Senator Lambie for the question. I did miss a piece, which was a quote from the Premier, Mr Gutwein. I would like to assure all Australians that the work that we've been doing since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic has been to support Australians and to protect Australians as we work our way through the impacts of the pandemic. That includes for the health system, and one of the first things that we put in place was the private hospitals agreement, which allowed us to have access to the private hospital system should we need it to support the public health system to cope with the pandemic. In the period of the pandemic so far, the Australian government has provided over $6.6 billion in funding for the direct costs of the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 and the broader public health costs for contact tracing, outbreak management and vaccination. We continue to support Australians with respect to the management of COVID and also to the maintaining of their health. The National Partnership on COVID-19 Response is in place until 30 June 2022. It was agreed by all jurisdictions, and the Commonwealth is covering 50 per cent of the additional costs incurred by state and territory public health and hospital systems in responding to COVID-19 outbreaks. This funding is demand driven, and there is no cap on funding.
In the context of reopening, all states have indicated that they have adequate capacity to meet demand based on the Doherty modelling and supplemented by their own modelling, so when we get through the 70 and 80 per cent fully vaccinated rates as the basis for reopening, based on the Doherty modelling. Those are the discussions that we are having with the states and the territories.
Just before we go back to Senator Lambie, I would remind all senators that interjections are always disorderly, but particularly when we have remote questions. It is courteous to the asker of the question that they be able to hear the answer. Senator Lambie, a supplementary question?
[by video link] Minister, could you please explain to other Australians why Tasmania won't open until it hits 90 per cent? Can you clarify that it's because your government has not put a cent into Tasmanian hospitals like it promised when COVID hit?
It's good of Senator Lambie to ask me the question and then answer it for me, but I disagree with her question and I disagree with her answer. The reason that Tasmania is not going to open until it reaches 90 per cent vaccination rate is a matter for the Tasmanian government. It's purely a matter for the Tasmanian government. It is their decision. I would hope that the Tasmanian government does what is happening in a number of other jurisdictions and follows the national plan supported by the Doherty modelling in support of Australians being able to move freely around the country and get back to contact with their families. That's what national cabinet agreed. That was the process, and that was the rationale behind getting the Doherty modelling done in the first place—at what point in time could we safely reopen and at what level of vaccination rate could we start to safely reopen the Australian community?
As I said in response to Senator Lambie's first question, through the National Partnership on COVID Response, which is in place until 30 June 2022 and which was agreed by all jurisdictions, the Commonwealth is covering 50 per cent of any additional costs incurred by any state or territory public health and hospital system in responding to COVID-19 outbreaks. The funding is demand driven, and there is no cap on it. Through the partnership, the Australian government has provided over $6.6 billion to any state or territory where there have been additional costs for the direct costs of diagnosing and treating COVID-19 and for the broader public health costs of contact tracing, outbreak management and vaccination.