COVID-19 Vaccinations

Picking up on the words of the member for Hindmarsh, there is little doubt that the people of Australia are sick and tired of the absolute rubbish and weaponisation that those members opposite continue to perpetrate upon the Australian people. I’ve never heard so much rubbish in my life. Talk about talking out of both sides of your mouth! Those opposite say, ‘We don’t want to delay any of it; we don’t want to be talking anything down,’ but that’s exactly what the Labor Party are doing every time they get on their feet and talk about COVID. They are continuously talking Australia down and continuously impacting on Australians’ mental health. It has got to be called out. I will not stand here and listen to this rubbish without calling it out. This is a time where Australia has faced significant threats to the lives of each and every single Australian. And what is the Labor Party doing? They are absolutely weaponising this for their own political gain. Shame on you for weaponising what is a terrible thing, a once-in-100-years pandemic. I won’t say I can’t believe it, because they are continuing to run to form. I am greatly disappointment that they continue to do so.

There is no doubt that the global COVID-19 pandemic and the actions of governments and populations around the world will be argued by historians for generations to come. Unfortunately in this debate, as we’ve seen time and again in recent months, members opposite are already trying to do their own rewriting of that history in pursuit of naked political gain. So I’ll begin by briefly setting the record straight. Members opposite would have the public believe that the Morrison government has not done everything possible to secure vaccinations for this country.

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of MPMr WALLACE: The truth, of course, is very different.

An opposition member interjecting

Photo of MPMr WALLACE: On 18 August 2020—that’s the difference between this side and that side. I sat there and listened to the member for Hindmarsh dribble on for half an hour and didn’t interrupt. You guys, as soon as you hear something on this side that you differ with, you’re up in arms.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Claydon ): Member for Fisher, just pause for a moment because I’m going to interrupt everybody right now. I’m going to ask for a little bit of quietness—and I’d like you to use a little less unparliamentary language. You’re using adjectives that you might think about before uttering.

Photo of MPMr WALLACE: On 18 August 2020, just months after this now-familiar disease was first recognised, the health minister signed a letter of intent with AstraZeneca to support the development of an effective vaccine and to get early access to it for Australians. We agreed with AstraZeneca that Australia would be able to manufacture their vaccination on home soil, under licence, to ensure that our protection would not be compromised by failures of international supply.

However, to ensure we had a second option, just three months later the government signed a contract with Pfizer for access to 10 million doses of their new vaccine. By February the government had doubled this to 20 million, and in April, as it became clear that medical advice was changing, the government doubled it again to 40 million. In July the government signed an agreement for another 85 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine and, as the pressure on supply all over the world remained sky high, successfully negotiated with Pfizer for this country to receive more doses sooner. Instead of the 350,000 doses a week we’d received in June, Pfizer agreed to increase supply of its vaccine to Australia to approximately one million doses per week in July and a total of more than 4½ million doses in August. Even then the government wasn’t satisfied and just weeks ago secured a further one million doses from Poland, even as our supply continued to ramp up. And, whilst we’ve been sitting in here, the Prime Minister has announced a further 500,000 doses as a vaccine swap with the government of Singapore. That’s not to mention, of course, the government’s additional agreements to access the Covax Facility, in September 2020; the Novavax vaccine, in December 2020; and the Moderna jab, in May 2021.

In total, the government has secured 126 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, 53.8 million doses of AstraZeneca, 25 million doses of Moderna, 25 million doses through the Covax Facility and, if approved by the TGA, 51 million doses of Novavax. That’s 281 million doses of vaccine for a country of 25 million people, and that doesn’t include the additional doses that we’ve secured for nations in our region. Yet members opposite frequently complain that the government failed to secure enough vaccine doses. It is clear from these figures that, once again, Labor will simply say anything, no matter how out of touch with reality, if they believe it will give them a political advantage. Put simply, the government has secured enough doses, across four different vaccines, for every Australian to receive 10 separate shots.

We are seeing the fruits of those energetic and focused efforts around us right now. I think most Australians know that the vaccine rollout today is progressing as quickly as is humanly possible. But I don’t think many appreciate the true extent of its current lightning pace. The first million doses in Australia took 45 days to administer. The second million doses took 20 days. The most recent two lots of a million doses took three and four days, respectively. In the past four weeks we’ve administered more than 6½ million doses. On a per capita basis, this is a faster pace of vaccination than was ever achieved by the United States or the United Kingdom. The Morrison government has recently invited over 3,900 community pharmacies to join in the vaccine rollout, and mass vaccination centres are opening across many states and territories.

Momentum continues to build. I’m sure that when we began discussing the national plan for our path out of COVID-19 in July the targets of 70 and 80 per cent of the adult population vaccinated must have seemed very far away for many people. Now, just four weeks later, we have more than 57 per cent of the population protected with a first dose, and those targets are looking much closer to becoming reality. The federal government is doing its job. Now it is time for state and territory premiers and first ministers to do theirs. I call upon them to abide by the national cabinet agreement that they signed up to and prepare to open up when our targets are met. We need to stick to the plan.

The hard work and proactivity on vaccines we’ve seen from the Morrison government is in evidence once again in the bill before the House. While state Labor party governments constantly seek to shift the goalposts in respect to abiding by the national plan, and do everything they can to delay the opening up that Australians are rightly crying out for, the federal government is thinking ahead and today is bringing before the House a bill to facilitate the purchase of even more vaccines in the future. The government recognises, as we all should, that COVID-19 is not going away. No one expects to eliminate this virus forever. Like the flu, it’ll be an ongoing part of our daily lives. It is likely that the vaccinations we are all receiving today will not be our last. 280 million vaccine doses are much more than enough to get us where we need to be today, but that doesn’t mean we can shirk our responsibilities in planning for the future.

If there are two things that we’ve learnt during this pandemic, they are that fighting COVID-19 is a rapidly changing and unpredictable process and that it requires a great deal of resources. This is unlikely to change as we move into the next stage. New variants, and the booster vaccines needed to deal with them, are likely to arise quickly and at unpredictable times. When they do, we need to ensure that Australia is at the front of the queue to receive the latest treatments and vaccines. That means making often large and unexpected up-front payments to the pharmaceutical companies and medical product manufacturers which are developing and supplying the tools that we need. Our arrangement with the COVAX Facility, for example, required an immediate up-front payment of $123.2 million. In total, the existing five arrangements the government has entered into for vaccine supply amount to $8 billion.

At the moment, the only avenue available to the government to acquire the funds needed to make these payments is appropriation bills, which can take six months to receive royal assent. This is simply not fast enough or flexible enough to meet our needs during an ongoing global pandemic. As it stands, in the absence of this bill the government would be unable to make any payments for vaccines and treatments beyond January next year. This is clearly an unacceptable limitation on our ability to fight this virus and an unacceptable risk to our ongoing vaccination program. As such, this bill gives the Minister for Health and Aged Care spending power to enter into arrangements and make payments to secure COVID-19 vaccines, new effective treatments for COVID-19 and the equipment and consumables needed to distribute them. The cabinet will retain the ability to make the ultimate decisions about which tools we need, but the bill will ensure that the government can always act on those decisions.

There’s no doubt that spending powers beyond the normal appropriations bills process must always be carefully managed to ensure that parliament continues to have oversight of how Australians’ hard earned money is spent. The bill ensures the power to appropriate funds continues to lie with the parliament by including a sunset clause which will bring these arrangements to an end on 30 June 2022. This is a temporary measure to deal with the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in, but it is a much needed one.

Vaccination is our best defence against COVID-19 and our only way forward out of this global pandemic. For all Australians, whether they want to travel overseas to see family, go back to school or university on campus, visit a great Australian landmark in another state or simply go to the shops without a mask, vaccination is the key. The national cabinet and the Doherty Institute set out the equation very simply in Australia’s four-stage national plan: the more people that get vaccinated, the sooner we will get back to normal life. To make that a reality from here we need to overcome two challenges.

We need to reassure all Australians that vaccination is safe and effective. Unfortunately, there have been all too many wild stories and myths flying around about COVID-19 vaccinations in recent months. For any Australian who is concerned and wants the full truth about the safety and effectiveness of taking COVID vaccines, how they are tested and approved and what they mean for your health, I would ask that they please speak to their GP as soon as possible. For me, like many of us here in parliament, I’ve already had two doses of AstraZeneca vaccine. I know that there are small risks involved in taking any medication. However, there are also significant risks to health involved in contracting COVID-19 when unvaccinated. So I chose to get the jab for my own health, for my family’s wellbeing and to help protect our Australian community. For any Australians watching this who have not already done so, I would urge them to do the same and check their eligibility and register for a vaccine through the website.

Alongside ensuring that all Australians are fully informed about the safety and effectiveness of getting vaccinated, we also need to ensure that vaccine doses continue to be available to meet demand. That is what we are debating today.

The bill before the House will help to ensure that whatever COVID throws at us, whatever new treatment, vaccine or equipment we need, the Australian government will have the power and the flexibility to secure it right away and keep protecting Australians from this disease throughout the months to come. It is an extraordinary measure for extraordinary times. I commend the bill to the House.