Monday, 22 November 2021
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Birmingham. In August last year Mr Morrison declared that he expected the COVID-19 vaccine to be 'as mandatory as you can possibly make'. Does Mr Morrison stand by this statement?
The Prime Minister has been very clear right throughout the course of the pandemic that we have no appetite for mandatory vaccinations aside from where the health advice makes it very clear that there is a real benefit in doing so. In that regard, where the health advice so led the Prime Minister led and the government led, particularly when it came to aged care and requiring and asking the states to pursue mandatory vaccination around aged-care workers. That is something the Prime Minister took to national cabinet and asked the states and territories to agree with, and they progressively set about implementing that. We've supported them in relation to decisions about disability care workers and in relation to essential health workers, working with those who are most vulnerable and most exposed when it comes to COVID-19. We have been clear that, more broadly, the best way to achieve the high levels of vaccination rates that Australia has achieved—more than 85 per cent double-dose vaccination across the country—is to ensure that Australians understand first and foremost the benefit of being vaccinated, that it provides greater safety to them, to their loved ones and to those around them. Australians have responded most positively and in world-leading terms in regard to receiving vaccines. They have done so overwhelmingly voluntarily. We thank them for that and acknowledge the fact that they have heeded those messages, and we continue through public communications campaigns and other efforts to pursue and to urge Australians who have not yet been vaccinated to add to that 85 per cent double-dose rate to date.
The point is a point of order on relevance. The minister has been talking about vaccinations and applauding Australians. I'm always going to acknowledge that. But the question was about mandatory, as mandatory as you can possibly make it, and I don't believe, with respect, that the minister has answered that part of the question at all.
As I said right at the outset, the government has always been clear. We have no desire for mandatory vaccinations except where it is absolutely essential in relation to the health advice, but we urge every single Australian to get vaccinated. (Time expired)
The answer is precisely as I said before, that, as a government, from the Prime Minister down, we've been consistent with regard to not expecting COVID-19 vaccination to be mandatory across the country but to supporting and encouraging every single Australian vaccinated and to supporting and leading the states and territories in relation to vaccine mandates where the health advice has argued it is necessary for the protection of our most vulnerable.
On direct relevance: this does go to a specific question about a past statement from the Prime Minister and whether or not he still stands by that statement. Nothing the minister has said actually goes to that statement. In fact, it's the new line, not the line that he's been asked about.
The Prime Minister has said on countless occasions when asked about vaccination that he was not going to mandate it across Australia. He has been very clear on that on many, many occasions over a very, very long period of time. That's the position he has continued to hold and that the government continues to hold, except in those exceptional circumstances. (Time expired)
When asked if he's going to have campaigns from the anti-vaxxers, Mr Morrison boasted, 'I was the minister that established No Jab, No Play, so my view on this is pretty clear and not for turning.' Does Mr Morrison hold the same clear views, or was he lying when he said that?
(—) (): The Prime Minister absolutely holds the same clear views in support of encouraging every single Australian to get vaccinated. Indeed, more than 91 per cent of Australians over the age of 16 have had a first dose. They have heeded that message and responded positively, and more than 85 per cent of Australians over the age of 16 have followed through and had that second dose to become fully vaccinated, ensuring that we are one of the most highly protected countries in the world now. In terms of vaccine uptake, we are one of the most highly protected countries in the world—now well above the OECD average and above the rate in countries like Israel or the UK—and we are a nation that has demonstrated that you can have a pathway to vaccination overwhelmingly voluntarily applied but Australians will respond to the merit of those arguments which have been laid out to encourage them to do so. They have, we thank them and we continue to encourage them to do so. (Time expired)
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Senator Colbeck. Can the minister update the Senate on Australia's COVID-19 vaccine rollout and how Australia's health outcomes compare to those in other countries?
Thank you, Senator Henderson, for your question. On both health and economic fronts, Australia has fared better than most countries in dealing with COVID-19. Australians have been rolling up to get vaccinated, and I join everyone in the chamber, I think, in thanking them for doing that—for protecting themselves, for protecting their loved ones and for protecting the country. More than 91 per cent of the eligible population over 16 are now protected against COVID-19 with a first dose. Of the 38 developed OECD countries, Australia has had the second-lowest number of COVID-19 cases per capita. The USA and the UK have had more than 40 times the number of COVID deaths compared to Australia. For example, over 12 per cent of people in the US and 11 per cent of people in the UK have had COVID. By contrast, 0.4 per cent of Australians have had COVID. We estimate that our vaccine program has saved more than 30,000 lives. While Australia has been doing it tough, our economy remains resilient. Australia was the first advanced economy to have more people in work than it did prior to COVID. Nearly 900,000 jobs have been created since May last year. After last year's recession, Australia's economy—the GDP—recovered to be larger than prior to the pandemic, ahead of any advanced major economy in the world. And now, thanks to our high vaccination rates, we can start to safely reopen our borders to the world and Aussies can get back to doing the things they love. (Time expired)
To provide even greater protection against COVID-19, Australians aged 18 and over who have received two doses of a vaccine at least six months ago are now eligible to have a booster shot. This follows advice from Australia's vaccine experts, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, and approval from Australia's medicines regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration. The booster program has commenced its rollout directly to people living in residential aged-care and disability homes through inreach programs. This makes Australia one of the first countries in the world to commence a whole-of-population booster program. With over 151 million Pfizer, Novavax and Moderna vaccine doses already secured for supply into the future, Australia is well prepared to provide booster doses as approvals are provided by the medical experts.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration has recently recognised two additional COVID-19 vaccines for the purpose of establishing a traveller's vaccination status. This includes Covaxin, manufactured by Bharat Biotech, India, and BBIBP-CorV, manufactured by Sinopharm, in China. Covaxin is recognised for travellers aged 12 and over, and BBIBP-CorV is recognised for those aged 18 to 60. This means that many citizens of China and India, as well as other countries where vaccines have been widely used, will be considered fully vaccinated on entry to Australia. This is especially important as we welcome international students back to our shores. There are now eight COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved or recognised by the TGA for entry into Australia, and work continues to acknowledge more.