11 August 2021

Matters of Public Importance

[by video link] I’d also like to thank Senator O’Neill for bringing this matter before the chamber today, because it is indeed a matter of the greatest public importance in our country. In her home state of New South Wales there are now more regional parts of New South Wales in lockdown.

As I speak to you now, I’m doing so from a city under lockdown yet again. There are some five million people in Melbourne, all of whom, for the most part, are currently confined to their homes. They’re free to leave for barely a few hours a day for their daily exercise. Sadly, this has been a reality for Melburnians for quite some time now and may very well be for some time yet. But it is not just Melbourne that is affected by the latest wave of transmission. As we know, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide all have experienced lockdowns of their own in recent weeks. In the case of Sydney, we may very well see their lockdown continue for weeks, if not months.

Whilst there is no doubt that a multitude of factors has meant the circumstances we are currently living in, there is equally no doubt that the most significant among them is this government’s failure to deliver on the vaccine rollout. One would have thought that, in such a case, the government would take responsibility for such failure. Certainly this is what we’ve seen from previous governments. I wonder if any of us could envisage former prime ministers ducking and running and finger-pointing at everyone under the sun, as this Prime Minister has. Whether it be ATAGI or Pfizer or AstraZeneca or state and territory governments or vaccine clinics or working Australians, everyone has had some share in the burden of the blame except the Prime Minister himself, of course, because he seems to blame everyone else.

As bad as this rollout is in our major cities, however, we must not forget that the challenges are greater in regional and remote communities. We already know that those in regional and remote communities have poorer health outcomes than those in metropolitan areas. This is not something that is new.

Those of us in this place who have lived in regional areas or who have travelled to them extensively know full well the extent of this problem: doctors frequently coming and going, clinics not always open, specialists hundreds of kilometres away. These systemically poor health outcomes have meant that Australians in the country are inherently more vulnerable to COVID. As a result, it is these Australians that have the highest price to pay for the government’s vaccine failure. It is these Australians that will feel the health repercussions of this most prominently. Australians in regional and remote communities cannot afford further failures. They cannot afford more buck-passing and finger-pointing. What they need are outcomes, not excuses.

As reported in the Herald Sun today, Victorian doctors are administering fewer than half as many vaccine doses as their New South Wales counterparts every single day, leaving my home state behind in the race to meet the targets to reopen. Sadly, this is a government that is more interested in laying blame at the feet of others than in getting on with the job of delivering for our community.

I share the disappointment of my fellow Victorians who live throughout country Victoria and who feel let down and at risk because of this government’s decision-making. Whilst I cannot promise them that this government will eventually step up and do what’s necessary to keep them safe, I can promise that I and all members on this side of the House will not cease to hold the government to account on their behalf.