04 August 2021

Questions without notice: Take note of answers

[by video link] As I speak to you now it’s more than 12 months on from the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in Australia. Millions of Australians are living under lockdown. Just to pick up a remark by Senator Brockman, we are not just a little bit behind; Australia is in fact 36th out of the 38 OECD nations. The government just dismisses that as if somehow we are doing okay, but quite frankly we are not. If it weren’t for the opposition and others in the health profession putting pressure on government, we would still be dead last.

In recent weeks citizens right around the country have at some point been confined to their homes in a very drastic attempt to stop the spread of this deadly virus. It pains me to learn just how much these lockdowns have impacted upon the lives of many locals in my community here in Victoria, with families separated and livelihoods lost. But why must it be this way? Why is it that, after more than 12 months, restrictions continue to be a feature of our daily lives?

As we look overseas, it is not hard to identify what at least part of the answer might be. Countries like the United Kingdom, Canada and Israel tower over Australia in the proportion of their populations that have been vaccinated. In these countries, as in many others, a new COVID normal has been allowed to develop, one which is for most part freeā€”free of lockdowns, curfews and other harsh measures, which limit the freedom of the citizenry. There can be no doubt that a key element of our pathway out of this mess is through vaccination. It’s very simple. Sufficiently vaccinated Australians will help end the lockdowns, each inflicting billions of dollars of losses on businesses, both big and small. It will help in the border closures, the constantly cancelled holiday plans and help us all get back to work. Australia’s lag in vaccination rates is hardly a new phenomenon. They have been lagging since day 1. Whether it’s been insufficient supply, hesitation or any other concern in between, more needs to be done.

This week Labor announced another element of its positive alternative plan to help Australia combat and recover from the coronavirus pandemic. It’s these incentives that can indeed help play an important role in helping us all to get our vaccination rates where they need to be, and by no means is Labor alone in suggesting such measures. Offering incentives has been an important element of many other country’s plans to combat the pandemic in a positive manner. Sadly, those opposite have dismissed such measures out of hand. We are not making excuses for their own failings on vaccinations. Of course, this isn’t the first time a coalition has dismissed Labor’s positive suggestions out of hand. Do we remember JobKeeper? The measure was credited with saving countless jobs right around the country. Given the victory laps we have seen from the government, one could be forgiven for forgetting that this wasn’t even their idea. It’s not just that it wasn’t their idea; when Labor and those in the union movement first suggested it, those opposite also dismissed it completely out of hand.

My hope is that the government will once again perform the same about-face on this initiative. My hope is that instead of pointing the fingers at others for their own failings that the coalition will see merit in this suggestion from Labor and implement it. If we are about to get where we need to be, it is imperative we get jabs in arms. Any measure that gets us to that point should be entertained. To reject such measures simply because they came from Labor is irresponsible. I call on those in the government to stop the spin and to start getting on with the job of keeping all Australians safe.