Taking Note - Scott Morrison's failure to take responsibility

09 August 2021


Wasn't that an uncomfortable, although not unfamiliar, silence we had from Senator Colbeck this afternoon in question time in failing to answer what can only be called very basic, very factual questions about the vaccination rollout, about the number of people who have been impacted by COVID this year, about the deaths from COVID? It is just staggering. Senator Chisolm was asking about the number of deaths of Australians since the start of the year. He was asking about the number of Australians in ICU, and in response: silence. Silence for moments and moments and moments as once again Minister Colbeck couldn't answer the most basic of factual questions on this pandemic. These are hardly gotcha questions. It's hardly an attempt at a gotcha moment. They're basic factual questions. But an astonishing silence has come to characterise his performance in question time on this topic, his performance in this place.

We've got almost half the country in lockdown, New South Wales entering its seventh week in lockdown, my state having been locked down, Cairns going into lockdown now. What's the pathway out? What's the pathway from this government out of this mess? We know we need to get to somewhere like 70 to 80 per cent vaccination across Australia if we're going to start to see the end of lockdowns. The way the Prime Minister is patting himself on the back you would think we were close to that. But let's look at some facts. As at 7 August only just over 22 per cent of the population over 16 had had both vaccines. In South Australia that's even lower. We're not anywhere near the vaccination rate we need to be at if we're going to see an end to these lockdowns, which more than half the country are experiencing, or have experienced in recent weeks, including in my home state of South Australia. Millions of Australians have been left exposed and vulnerable to the delta strain in particular because they haven't been able to access jabs in arms. Disproportionately, younger people with much lower rates of vaccination, are often out there doing essential work—it may not be characterised as essential for the purposes of their access to vaccination, but it is essential work because it has to continue. Many of those are young people who are vulnerable to this variant. They've already suffered disproportionately, because of this pandemic, and now more so. They are desperate to see their lives return to normal, but until they have both shots of a vaccination they cannot.

The government has bungled this. The government has bungled the vaccination rollout just as they bungled hotel quarantine. Minister Colbeck stood in parliament today, not only unable to answer the most basic factual questions but he had the audacity to accuse Labor of attempting to politicise the vaccination rollout. Nothing could be further from the truth. Labor has every right to ask you questions about this rollout. That's not politicising it; that's holding you to account. That's our job. And we have to, because you've bungled it.

If you want to talk about politicising the rollout and politicising vaccines, a little self-audit of the Facebook pages of your backbenchers wouldn't go astray, because if there's anyone politicising the vaccination rollout it is not Labor senators; it is people on your own side, on your own back bench, on their Facebook pages, in the public domain—that's where the problem of politicisation is. Rather than focus on us, you should be focused on fixing the bungled vaccine rollout, the bungled hotel quarantine system and the mess we are in at the moment, where far too many Australians are standing ready and waiting to get a vaccination but are unable to access one. That's where your focus should be. That's where your attention should be. When Labor senators ask you the most basic and factual questions about where that process is up to, you should be able to answer those when you come into question time. It's the most basic level of ministerial accountability. So perhaps be able to do that before you start attacking us.