Taking Note - COVID-19 & Hospitals

02 September 2021


I asked these questions in the Senate today because the public hospital system in my home state of South Australia is struggling to cope. This week we had a major incident alert issued for two South Australian hospitals struggling to cope with pressure on their emergency departments. We've had emergency doctors at the Women's and Children's Hospital who have warned that urgent action is needed before the system fails completely. Everyone in South Australia knows that ramping is at crisis point. We have had record levels of ramping in my state. Every South Australian is aware of that, and they are deeply anxious about what's going to happen if they ever need to call an ambulance. We have had code whites declared.

It is fair to say that our system in South Australia is already struggling. So what on earth happens with a further COVID outbreak? What on earth happens when our system is already under pressure? What happens in the next steps of the national plan in my state of South Australia when we're already seeing these significant issues in our hospital system?

I want to be absolutely clear: no-one in South Australia wants to be locked down again, and no-one wants to see the existing lockdowns across our country go a moment longer than they need to. We have been urging the government to do the policy work required so that we wouldn't be in this mess in the first place. To get the vaccination rollout on track, speedy and effective, is what we wanted to see, and they bungled it. We wanted them to fix quarantine because hotels are built for tourists, not for quarantine. These were the things they needed to focus on to avoid the sorts of things we've seen, and on these two things the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health and Aged Care have deeply failed.

So it is not enough for the minister, in his answers today, to just ignore me or actually to spend his time shouting at senators across the chamber. I'm here remotely. I can't even hear the conversation going on. I want an answer to my question, Minister. I want an answer to my question, not to hear you engaging in nonsense with other senators in the chamber. It's not enough to just say, 'There will be effects.' Yes, that's the point: how are you going to handle them? What are you going to do in my state of South Australia? People are worried in my state. They are anxious because of the state the health system is in already, and we do not have a widespread outbreak of COVID in my state at the moment. We do not, and the health system is already struggling, so what happens if we do? To the federal health minister: what are you doing to ensure South Australians can be kept safe?

It's not enough for the minister to make this about Labor, and it's certainly completely unacceptable to suggest any of us are engaging in vaccine hesitancy. I'm getting my jab this week. I can't wait. I cannot wait to be vaccinated, because I want to keep my family and my community safe, and I know my colleagues feel the same. The only people peddling vaccine hesitancy in this place have come from your own backbench, so maybe grab a mirror, take a good look and get your backbench into line, instead of coming in here and accusing us of engaging in vaccine hesitancy. It is absolute nonsense. There are real issues in the healthcare system in my state—real issues in our hospital system and real issues with ramping. What's going to happen?

This isn't about trying to undermine a plan. It's not about trying to undermine a policy response. No-one wants to do that. No-one wants this to go a minute longer than it needs to. No-one wants the restrictions in my state. No-one wants lockdowns. But we do want answers. We want answers from the federal government, who are responsible for what's going on here. You're responsible for how we're going to see a path through this, and you didn't give me answers today. You didn't give us answers, and that means you didn't give South Australians answers. You didn't answer their anxieties, and you need to. People are worried because you've bungled vaccines and you've bungled quarantine, and they're worried you're going to bungle what comes next in my state of South Australia. It is absolutely unacceptable, and I hope next time I ask a question you have the decency to answer me properly.