Thursday, 4 August 2022
Questions without Notice
Operation COVID Shield
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Farrell. I refer the minister to the announced cessation of Operation COVID Shield from 1 August. I ask the minister: could you detail the advice the government received that led you to remove this effective operation at a time when vaccinations remain the primary defence to the pandemic?
I thank the senator for her question. I think we start any debate about the issue of COVID and what's happened in the past with an understanding of what your government failed to do when you were in—
It is a point of order on relevance. I would ask you to draw the minister's attention to the fact that I was asking very specifically about advice received about the cessation of Operation COVID Shield and nothing else.
As I had started to answer the question, any debate about what's happened with COVID-19 in this country has to start right back where the opposition, which was the government at the time, failed the people of Australia. We saw it first of all with the issue of closure of the borders. The government was too slow to close the borders when the issue—
With the greatest amount of respect, a point of order on relevance: I would draw to your attention that the minister is not being even remotely relevant to my question. I would ask you if you could draw him to the substance, and only the substance, of my question.
I do believe that the minister is being relevant. He is talking about the COVID pandemic, which he is entitled to do as part of his response to your question. As you know, I can't direct him to answer the question but I can be cognisant of relevance, which I am. Please continue, Minister.
Thank you, President. The COVID shield will cease on 1 August 2022. From this time the functions of the National COVID Vaccine Taskforce will return to the arrangements within the Department of Health and Aged Care. The Coordinator-General of the COVID shield, General Frewen—who I had the good fortune to meet last night and congratulate on the role he has performed in this area—will return to his role as the Chief of Joint Capabilities in the Department of Defence. The Australian government has ensured that the national COVID-19 vaccination program is providing support for people in Australia who need to maintain their protection— (Time expired)
I thank the senator for her question. Obviously, this is not my normal area of responsibility. I know that the country has continued to increase and improve the level of vaccination in this area, and I will be very happy to get those figures for the minister. In fact, I right now have the answer to those questions. I thank Senator Gallagher, who does represent the Minister for Health and Aged Care, the very hardworking Mr Butler. Over three-quarters of residents estimated to be eligible for a fourth dose have received a fourth dose, up from around 50 per cent in June 2022, following efforts by the government.
Thank you very much, President. I look forward to clarification of the accuracy of the answer that was just given. With fourth-dose rates reported to be as low as one in five residents in aged care, how is the government going to ensure the safety of older Australians without the support of Operation COVID Shield?
I thank the senator for her question. It's incredible that a government that so failed Australians on the issue of vaccination is now raising issues about how we are rolling out the vaccination program. You failed to close the borders when you should have. You failed to order enough vaccinations. I know you're shaking your head, Senator Birmingham, but that's the absolute truth.
President, on a point of order on a matter of relevance: I was specifically asking in relation to the current wave of COVID in aged-care facilities and how the government intends to ensure that residents are vaccinated.
President, I would draw to your attention that I believe that the minister is being wholly, completely and utterly irrelevant to the question, not just being not relevant, and I would ask you to draw his attention to the question.
President, on the question of direct relevance, you do have within your power the ability to draw the minister to the question. The question was precisely about what this government's plans are. The minister has spent the entirety of the answer talking about the previous government.
Thank you, Senator Birmingham. Please resume your seat. You will note that I did draw the minister to the question.
I'm not asking you to debate. I did draw the minister back to the question, not the last time Senator Ruston stood up, but the time before that. I directly drew the minister back to the question. Minister, please continue.