BILLS (Second Reading): National Health Amendment (COVID-19) Bill 2021

31 August 2021

I rise to address the House on the National Health Amendment (COVID-19) Bill. Labor, of course, supports this bill as it will ensure funds are always available for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines, including boosters, treatments and related consumables. Vaccines are a vitally important part of the infrastructure needed to proceed to a world beyond lockdowns. I say 'part of the infrastructure' because a lot more needs to be done to ensure all Australians are safe in a world where COVID-19 exists.

We need a government that doesn't say it's not their job, and we need a Prime Minister ready to hold a hose. To that end, I wholeheartedly support the amendment moved by my friend and colleague, the member for Griffith. The eyes of Australians are all on the Morrison government right now. We are all watching, holding our breath, waiting for the vaccine rollout to gather speed. Every morning Australians tune into the news or they chat to their neighbour over the fence or they get a ping from Twitter to find out the numbers that guide each and every one of us during our days—the coronavirus case numbers and the vaccination numbers. We watch these numbers like our lives depend on them, and perhaps they do.

Each case number tells a story about a household and individuals. These numbers show a steady march of Australians who are keen to do their part. These numbers include elderly folk who are protecting themselves, knowing the havoc this disease could bring to their bodies and homes. They are men and women in their 40s and 50s—schoolteachers, tradies and retail workers who want to make sure we come out of this stage of the pandemic so that they can watch footy at the pub or visit their mum for dinner. They are young people in their 20s who have grown tired waiting for their lives to resume.

But also behind Australia's vaccination numbers is another set of stories: hundreds of thousands of Australians can't get that vaccination appointment because there haven't been enough vaccines rolled out, because phone numbers ring out or because their GPs don't have enough shots of the vaccine. Millions of Australians have waited and waited and waited for their age group to be eligible. The Prime Minister assured Australians that four million of us would be vaccinated by the end of March 2021. Remember that? By the end of March there were only 600,000 doses administered—only 15 per cent of the Prime Minister's target.

The Morrison government's vaccine rollout has been one of the biggest policy failures in a century. It has caused so much damage to so many. No other policy, failing that one, has damaged the lives of people at all stages from cradle to grave. It has seen the mental health of those who live alone spiral into dark places. The Prime Minister's vaccine rollout has kept Australia in a paralysis of lockdowns, uncertainty and economic gloom.

Here's another number: 200. My fellow Melburnians have recently experienced the milestone of 200 days of lockdown. Beyond that number are more than five million stories, one for every Melburnian who has endured this milestone. Earlier on in this pandemic, the Prime Minister assured Australians that we would be at the front of the queue. Hear that? We would be at the front of the queue—first in line. But as Australia soldiered on he changed his tune. Then he told Australians, 'This isn't a race.' But he's wrong, it is a race, and Australians are nowhere near the front.

Here's another number: 113. Australia is ranked 113th in the world for our vaccine rollout. We have one of the slowest rollouts in the developed world. The Prime Minister's refusal to secure a variety of vaccine deals early on in the pandemic has left Australians dangerously exposed. Now the Prime Minister has had to negotiate country-to-country deals to get vaccines when he should have negotiated with the pharmaceutical companies in the first place. Now the Prime Minister is attempting a crafty sleight of hand and pretending that each lockdown is the doing of the state premiers, as though they failed to keep their state safe when in fact quarantine is a Commonwealth responsibility. It will never fail to drive me to fury that the Morrison government is more concerned about keeping refugees out of Australia than keeping COVID-19 out of Australia. The Prime Minister is hoping that Australians blame premiers for the lockdowns that so many of us are currently experiencing, but Australians can see through that.

Let me leave you with a final number: two. Scott Morrison had two jobs—a swift and efficient rollout of the vaccine, and keeping Australians safe from COVID with an effective quarantine system—and he failed both of them. It is a race, it always was a race and, frankly, the stakes couldn't be higher. The only people to lose from this will be the Australian people.