16 June 2021

Matters of Public Importance

It is quite amazing—if someone were to just tune in—for on one hand, state governments have been accused of making up the virus; on the other hand, we’re getting accused of going too hard and trying to protect citizens, whether they are from Victoria—in our good state, Senators Van and Paterson—or from any other state around the country. Governments right around this country have an obligation to ensure they protect their citizens. This is a new phenomenon that we’re all trying to live through.

Quite frankly, the contributions from some on the other side have been very juvenile, saying that they’re not trying to politicise the issue. Sorry, but some on the other side are being political about the issue. They’re trying to say that the state government down in Victoria wakes up one morning and somehow decides: ‘We want to shut down the state just because we can.’ No-one wants to shut down their state. No-one wants to shut down their economy. But every state government has had to make decisions—as has the federal government. Let’s not forget that Prime Minister Morrison invited all the state premiers to come together around a concept called the national cabinet. The national cabinet set down the rules that are in place around how we would manage the lockdown and other factors as a result of COVID. So let’s all take a deep breath.

I know that, in our great state of Victoria, we’ve had quite a few challenges over the last 12 to 18 months. Nonetheless, we are managing through those issues. We have shown the rest of the world that, in how our Commonwealth interrelates with our state governments, we are living in paradise compared to the rest of the world. Do we want to compare how we’re going with how they’re going over in the UK or the rest of Europe or the United States or Asia or Africa? Quite frankly, I wouldn’t rather be anywhere other than here in Australia right now.

When Senator Sterle puts forward a motion, I think we all need to read the words of what he’s after. It was around the comments of the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services—no-one else, just the minister: there was ‘a very positive record across the board with respect to maintaining a safe border for Australia’. That’s what he was claiming. What we are saying is that the minister has misrepresented this place. Time and time again, when we have put questions to him—whether it be here in question time or in estimates—he hasn’t been able to provide a straightforward answer, having to go through his pack or not being able to provide simple answers to questions: how many people have been vaccinated, Minister? We cannot get a simple answer.

We heard that today from another minister in this place, when I asked a couple of questions to the minister for the NDIS: how many people have been vaccinated who have been in a home under the care of organisations that are looking after those with a disability? The minister wasn’t able to provide a straightforward answer—especially when it came to understanding the difference between group 1a and group 1b.

So, before we all get in here, beating our chests and saying what a bad job some of our state governments have been doing, I think we all need to have a look at ourselves and say: ‘Have we all been doing a good job? Can we make this situation better for everyone?’ I’m sure Senator Van will have a contribution later on, given his cheeky grin across the aisle!

As a nation, we find ourselves 12 months into this health event and we are still waiting, sadly, for the federal government to step up, in my opinion, and take more responsibility around quarantine. There have been two issues that Labor has been pushing this government hard on: having a national, consistent quarantine system around the country and making sure that Australians right around the country take up the vaccination to a level at which we can then start to slowly open up our economy. Until we get to that point, we are going to be in this scenario where we’ll have constant challenges about what we do when there is an outbreak.

Reports received in the past couple of hours have suggested that New South Wales has a small outbreak, in the south of Sydney. There may be another one in Queensland. Before we start taking cheap pot shots at Victoria, let’s also remember that there are other states that will have to grapple with the issue as soon as we start opening our economy. Ultimately, that is all that we want in this place. We want to protect our economy, because the sooner we can get out of this mess, the sooner we can start creating more jobs and get better outcomes for people right around the nation.