Senate debates

Thursday, 8 September 2022

Auditor-General's Reports

Report No. 3 of 2022-23

4:01 pm

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

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I rise to take note of the Auditor-General's report, Australia's COVID-19 vaccine rollout: Department of Health and Aged Care. This report is pretty damning of the last lot, isn't it? For folks watching at home who might not have had time to read this—and I don't blame you at all if you haven't—I'd like to draw the collective attention to a quote from the report's first lot of conclusions:

Initial planning was not timely, with detailed planning with states and territories not completed before the rollout commenced, and Health underestimated the complexity of administering in-reach services to the aged care and disability sectors. Further, it—

being Health—

did not incorporate … targets for the rollout into its planning until a later stage.

The reality of these missed targets, the underestimations and the untimely planning is 14,214 deaths from, or with, COVID-19. That is 14,000 people taken far too soon from their families with a virus that could have been stopped had the previous government acted in time and if they had listened to the warning signs given by the disability community, who knew from day one of this pandemic that there was the most mortal danger that we would be left behind by a government that so continually failed to incorporate lived experience into its planning processes.

That is 14,000 people gone, including people like the incredible disability advocate and leader, John Moxon, whose loss has devastated our community this week. I want to take the opportunity to offer my sincerest condolences to Margaret, to Bruce and to everyone who loved him so dearly. Rest in power, John. It's one of the great regrets of my life so far that I didn't get a chance to know you more than I did or to learn from you more while you were with us than I had the opportunity to. We have lost so many people it is often too hard to think about. COVID 19 isn't close to being over. How is it that our state and federal governments have become so good at ignoring the reality of this deadly situation? Everyone deserves to be able to participate in society safely, comfortably and fully, and the Australian government should be working towards this end.

This report sets out in writing what so many in our community already know, that the previous government had no previous serious plans to provide vaccines to those who needed them. The previous government clearly and evidently mismanaged the rollout. They underestimated the entire process, and only when we were already in the thick of it, with vaccines having been available for months, did they start to make any kind of decent progress for those who needed these vaccinations the most. I urge this government not to do the same now as we face the continuation of this virus and of long COVID and the extensive symptoms and suffering for thousands.

I want to finish by speaking directly to anybody—in fact, to the tens of thousands who I know in the disability community are immunocompromised, who feel as though the nation, the conversation, has left them behind and is quite happy to see people pass away from COVID 19, as long as the rest of the business community is no longer inconvenienced. I want you to know that the Greens understand that for you this pandemic is not over, that COVID 19 is still keeping you in your homes. I therefore seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.

4:07 pm

Photo of Gerard RennickGerard Rennick (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak to the Auditor-General's Performance audit: Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. I have to say I was shocked when I heard that the Auditor-General had even done a report into the rollout, because the Auditor-General wouldn't know what he's talking about. We should also remember that the Auditor-General is an ex-Labor staffer who has been shown in the past to be partisan, as we saw with the Leppington Triangle.

I want to make this very clear. The World Health Organization came out in September 2020 and said that the vaccine would not be ready for another nine months because there needed to be greater safety testing. They needed to do much more safety testing of the vaccine. Lo and behold! Six weeks later, about a week after President Biden was elected and after trying to find a vaccine for 40 years, three different pharmaceutical companies had suddenly found a vaccine. I don't know about you, but that sounds like a bit too much of a coincidence for my liking.

For Senator Steele-John to be saying that the Morrison government didn't do everything it could to roll out the vaccine in time, when just six weeks earlier the World Health Organization had been saying that the vaccine wouldn't be ready till June 2021, is complete rubbish. How can you make a plan when there hadn't been a vaccine, when a vaccine hadn't even been invented? They had been searching for a vaccine for up to 40 years, and they certainly have never used an mRNA encased in a lipid at all. So to suddenly blame the Morrison government for not rolling out a vaccine that wasn't properly tested on immunocompromised people—remember that, Senator Jordon Steele-John. It wasn't tested on immunocompromised people. It wasn't tested on people who were getting anti-immune tablets at all. So for you to be claiming it wasn't rolled out fast enough isn't actually true at all. As it turns out, we still have had one of the lowest COVID death rates in the world, not because of the vaccine, I might add, but because we kept the country locked down for two years.

The best part of the country was locked down for two years, and you're still complaining—you and your mate the Auditor-General, who we know can't be trusted, because he couldn't actually know the difference between an agricultural zone and an industrial zone and ran partisan politics. I will be writing to the Attorney-General about his inability to remain impartial—the Auditor-General.

I will be writing to the Attorney-General about his inability to remain impartial. Why would he suddenly find the urgency to have to do a report into the rollout of the COVID vaccine? This guy would not have a clue, and we should also point out that he never once talked on what the TGA did. I will quote that Pfizer never tested the spike protein in humans. How can you roll out something that's never been actually tested on somebody and then say it's safe and effective? But did the Auditor-General raise that? No, no. I would suggest that the Attorney-General should really take a good look at his own position. I don't think it's right that he stays in this position, given than he's an ex-Labor staffer. He was a staffer back in the late eighties for a Hawke-Keating government minister. I think, because he's meant to be impartial, he should reconsider his position. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.

Question agreed to.