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Matter of public importance, Labor must support the COVID-19 National Plan, 24 August 2021

[by video link] It is my pleasure to rise and speak on this MPI which, regrettably, reflects the Labor Party’s determination to focus on petty politicking and personal political attacks and not the national interest. I say to Senator Polley, and to all Labor senators opposite, that Australians are sick of this negativity, of you dragging down the achievements of Australians, of our nation, of our health workers, of our cleaners, of our families struggling with home schooling and of our businesses. Australians are sick of it. So I say: what about starting to put the national interest first? This politicking is a disgrace.

I say to Senator Polley that I am outraged. I’m outraged by your statement attributing blame to the Prime Minister personally for COVID deaths. That is an absolute disgrace. You should withdraw that appalling statement. The facts are that the Coate inquiry found that the evidence is and the facts are that the vast majority of COVID deaths in this country—801 deaths—were caused by the failure of hotel quarantine in Victoria last year. Those are the facts.

Talking of slogans, Senator Polley, let’s have a look at Labor’s slogans. Labor keeps on claiming that we failed with quarantine. The bottom line and the facts are that the Labor premiers determined to take responsibility for quarantine. In fact, that was led by Premier Andrews last April when he put forward the hotel quarantine plan to national cabinet, which was accepted. So please start telling the truth. The fact of the matter is the Commonwealth is playing its part, but quarantine has been taken on as a responsibilities by the states. One of the most successful quarantine facilities is in Howard Springs in the Northern Territory. It’s supported by an investment of more than half a billion dollars. It has taken the bulk of repatriation flights into this country. In Victoria, the Morrison government has also agreed to share the costs of quarantine with the state for a new quarantine facility in Melbourne. So let’s stick to the facts and stop this revolting politicking.

The first positive thing I want to say in my contribution—and let’s focus on the positives—is to say to all Australian who are eligible: please, get vaccinated. What a shame we didn’t hear that from Senator Polley. Today we have the wonderful news that Australians aged between 16 and 39 will be able to book their Pfizer vaccination from seven o’clock tomorrow morning. We are seeing a dramatic escalation in vaccination rates. Some of the figures we’ve heard from Labor are just a misrepresentation of the facts. The fact is that over 17 million vaccine doses have now been administered, and we are now hitting over 1.8 million doses being administered every single week. A total of 4.5 million vaccinations were given in July, which is more than double that achieved in May, when 2.1 million doses were administered. Yes, there have been some challenges, principally with supply. But these have largely been overcome and I wish Labor would tell Australians that. Give Australians hope. I say to Labor senators: give Australians hope that there is a way out of this. Our government has secured close to 300 million doses of various vaccines.

Let’s not forget that, based on our hard work and the decisions that we made very early in the piece in relation to the management of the pandemic, including closing the border with China, which occurred in January of last year, we have saved, working together, 30,000 lives. We have been very proud to support over three million Australians through programs like JobKeeper, getting one million Australians back to work. There is a lot this government has got right. Now Lieutenant General Frewen and his team are working with the health minister and the Department of Health and doing a great job in accelerating the rollout of the vaccinations.

As the Prime Minister has said, to keep Australia focused on going forward, we need to make sure that we stick to our national plan—that is, once we achieve 70 to 80 per cent vaccination rates, we will see less transmission of COVID-19, fewer people with severe illness and, therefore, fewer hospitalisations and deaths. As the Doherty institute has said, COVID-19 won’t go away, but it will be easier to control in the future. That is the hope that Australians need.

I say again to Labor senators, to the Leader of the Opposition, please start talking about hope. Please start talking about what we can do together as a nation. Please start talking about the importance of the national plan, because the bottom line is we can’t live in lockdown forever.

I have been very critical of Daniel Andrews and state Labor at times when they have plunged us into lockdown, particularly in parts of Victoria where there are no cases. I am deeply critical of the fact that there are children currently at boarding school in New South Wales who cannot get a permit to cross the border to come back to their families in Victoria which, in my view, is a breach of the Victorian charter of human rights. This is outrageous. There are elderly people sitting in caravan parks in Albury and across the border who cannot get a permit to return to Victoria.

We have got to manage these lockdowns better. They must be a last resort. When we hit those 70 per cent and 80 per cent vaccination rates, we need to see Australia opening up. As the Prime Minister has made clear, as the Treasurer has made clear, we cannot live in lockdown forever. We need to open up our economy, get kids back to school, people back to work and we need to give Australians hope.

The Prime Minister has reiterated that the groundhog days of rolling lockdowns gripping the nation must not last a day more than necessary. The premiers and the first ministers must stick to the national plan. It is deeply concerning that some premiers are already indicating that they will walk away or walk back from this national plan. The Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, will not rule out further lockdowns even though we reach the 70 or 80 per cent vaccination rate. The Herald Sun reported today that Premier Andrews said that once Victoria reaches a vaccination rate of 80 per cent of those aged over 16, there would not be state-wide lockdowns unless otherwise advised. I say to Premier Andrews: What sort of hope is that? What sort of plan is that? This is deeply troubling. This saps confidence from every single Victorian, particularly the businesses which have been hit so hard in the events sector, in hospitality, in arts, in tourism. These are businesses which have suffered so much. When Melbourne goes into lockdown, it causes such huge issues right across regional Victoria because the regional Victorian economy to a large degree depends on the Melbourne economy.

I say that Victorians have had enough, and that’s why I call on Victorian federal Labor MPs, including Mr Marles, Ms Coker, Ms King and Ms Chesters, to come out in support of the national plan. I say to Labor, please stop your negativity. Please start acting in the national interest.

The national plan we have developed and agreed on is our pathway to living with this virus. That is our goal—to live with this virus and to do the best we can as a nation working together. It’s a plan based on the best possible scientific, medical and economic advice, and, I would argue, the best advice available to any government in the world.

Let’s not forget that 12 months ago we didn’t even know whether we would have a vaccine. The fact that we have a vaccine that has been rapidly rolled out to all Australians is an incredible scientific achievement. This is largely going to keep us safe from this terrible virus, which has caused such havoc in Australia and around the world. But we are getting through this and we are managing.

Again, to Labor, to those opposite, please let’s focus on our success. Please let’s focus on what we are achieving. Please let’s focus on the scientific breakthroughs that we have seen here in Australia and around the world. Let’s celebrate what we are doing. (Time expired)

24 August 2021

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