Speeches

Federal Parliament - Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022

May 25, 2021

Dr ALYWhen my family came to Australia in 1969, they knew they were coming to the lucky country, to a country which had opportunities for themselves and for their children, a country that would afford them social mobility, a country with universal health care—thank you very much, Labor governments—and a country with good public hospitals and good public schools. In 1973, my father was actually offered a job in the US. It was my family's original intention to go to the US, but we got the offer to come to Australia first. So they packed up and were ready to move to the US, but they were convinced to stay in Australia and give it a go. So instead they packed all three of us up and we headed north to Brisvegas. In 1974, we were living in a modest home that we'd bought in a place called Hill End when the floods came. I think it was then that our family also realised that they had come not just to a lucky country but to a country of people who look after each other, a country of people who roll their sleeves up and help each other and face adversity head on.

We've been here for well over 50 years now. We are heading into three generations of my family that have been in Australia. Hopefully there'll be a fourth generation if my two sons can get their act together and give me a grandchild! But we now see with COVID-19, again, that kind of endurance that really marks the Australian spirit, that ability to roll your sleeves up, that ability to face adversity head on. The fact is that Australians have really done the heavy lifting during COVID-19, whether it's the frontline workers, the mums and dads educating their kids at the kitchen table or the parents and the grandparents who went for months without being able to see each other. We did the right thing. Aussies did the right thing. They followed the rules, they social distanced, they stayed indoors, they wore masks—they did all of those things.

When I think of Australia and her people, I think of the people that don't ask much of their government, not really, not when you compare it to some other countries, certainly not when I compare it to the country that my parents left, where there isn't health care and there aren't good public hospitals. We Australians really don't demand that much of our government. But what Australians did ask of their government was simply that the government fulfil its constitutional responsibility to keep them safe by providing effective quarantine facilities and a timely vaccine rollout. That was all. They did everything else and just expected those two things. But, sadly, I have to say that Australians feel let down in that space.

Last week's budget had a range of things I thought were good. Let's be honest and fair and give credit where credit's due. It was great that the government finally started to address the aged-care crisis that they have presided over. It is great that they have put more funding into social programs that need funding. But there was no mention of quarantine. There was zero mention of their responsibility for quarantining. I take the Prime Minister's point from when he was asked in question time about the federal responsibility for quarantine about the national cabinet and the states taking on that role. I want to go to that point just for a little while tonight.

Sometime in May last year I came across an article that was written and published 100 years ago in the journal Nature, which is a very well-known and highly respected journal. The article was titled 'Lessons from a pandemic'. The pandemic that it referred to was actually the Spanish flu. It gave a range of lessons that they had learned from the Spanish flu. So I did a bit more research into the Spanish flu. Did you know that the Spanish flu had five waves? It was actually the second and third waves that were the most deadly. They were the ones that claimed the most victims. So, while we've used the word 'unprecedented' many times during the COVID-19 pandemic, it's actually not that unprecedented.

There actually are lessons to be learned from the Spanish flu of 100 years ago. One of those lessons is that the virus is knocking on our door. It's not going to go away immediately and we must be vigilant against the virus. But we must also plan for the future and for the prospect of the virus returning in different iterations. There will be different manifestations of this virus, and we have now seen different strains in various countries, including the Indian strain. The fact is that hotels are woefully inadequate as quarantine facilities for airborne strains of the virus. They are simply not built for the purpose of being quarantine facilities.

I would have said that, even if at the beginning of this virus we had started on the footing of having hotel quarantine in consultation and in agreement with the states, there should have been enough lessons learned, enough foresight and enough vision to have started building quarantine facilities to ensure that various strains of the virus would not take hold in Australia, that we would not get community transmission in Australia and that we would have quarantine facilities that could take us through the inevitable various waves of the COVID-19 strains, just as we had learned from the Spanish flu 100 years ago. The Howard Springs quarantine facility should have been the model for what other dedicated facilities could look like.

I just have to point out here that Australia is a world leader in rapid building technologies. Do you know what we do here in Australia? We build dongas and mine sites, and we build them in a really timely fashion. We build them really quickly. We could have built rapidly, using that technology. Using Australian ingenuity and world-renowned Australian technology, we could have built a number of quarantine facilities around Australia that would have allowed us to do a number of things. It would have allowed us to bring stranded Australians home. It would have allowed us to keep state borders open. It would have allowed us to continue to keep our citizens safe. But, most of all, it would have allowed us to have a foolproof plan for the future as this virus mutates into different strains and as we face a longer-term period of dealing with COVID-19. Anyone who thought that COVID-19 was going to go away with the first wave surely had no understanding of how viruses work. But, also, they had no understanding of human behaviour and what we needed to do to plan for that future.

But, as I mentioned earlier, in this budget there is not a single mention of quarantine. Instead of allocating money to the things that people in Western Australia want, like a quarantine facility, the budget actually provides for $1.2 billion to be set aside for a road to nowhere that Western Australians have voted against. It's a road that Western Australians have resoundingly rejected time and time again. Yet in the federal budget $1.2 billion is allocated for this road, the Roe 8 and Roe 9. The people of Western Australia have said, 'We don't want it.' This is holding West Australians hostage for $1.2 billion.

I want to talk a little bit about the vaccination rollout. I don't need to repeat what's been said time and again by people on our side reminding Australians of the constant variations in the information that they're given: the Minister for Health saying one thing, the Prime Minister saying something else and somebody else saying something else; the mixed messages; the inability to achieve the targets that were set; the fact that, as of last week, only one per cent of Australians are fully vaccinated. Compared to other countries, we are way behind.

I'm sure that everybody else, like me, is getting calls, emails and constituents coming into their offices saying that they simply cannot get the vaccine, that they have been unable to access the vaccine. We know that frontline workers, healthcare workers, aged-care residents and disability-care residents are really counting on this vaccine. I've got a constituent who is really counting on the vaccine so that he can finally visit his mother in the nursing home. He is still waiting on the vaccine. It's just not good enough when it's all that Australians asked for: a timely vaccine rollout and an effective quarantine regime. That's all they asked for: two jobs. This government had two jobs and it failed on both accounts.

As those in this place may know, my husband works in anticorruption. I've said before that I find it quite astounding that my husband has the capacity and the ability to investigate my state colleagues but there's nobody to investigate me or any of my federal colleagues. The establishment of a federal anticorruption body is something that is not just popular with the people. Yes, it is a popular thing. A lot of people want that. When I ask people, 'What do you want?' that's what they want. But it was also an announcement that was made by this government, and we're still waiting on it, still waiting on a federal integrity commission. Apart from that, the budget didn't have a single cent put towards any kind of staffing for a federal integrity commission. To me that says very clearly that there is absolutely no intention to establish a federal integrity commission even after this government has made the announcement that they want one.

I'd like to finish on one thing. We get this spiel, as you would know as politicians, when we ring constituents or when we talk to constituents and say to them: 'Are you concerned about jobs or education? What are you concerned about?' People will say, 'Yes, jobs. Yes, employment. Yes, education. Sure,' but, when you really dig down and have a conversation with someone, what people really want is security. I'm not talking about national security or the ability to leave home with the doors unlocked. Sure, people want that kind of feeling of security as well, but when I say 'security', I'm talking about a feeling of wellbeing, a feeling of belonging and a feeling of security in that they know that their jobs are secure, their wages are secure and they're going to be able to go to work and put food on the table.

It's not just about protection. It's not just about more police services—that your car or your home are not going to be broken into. It's not just national security, of which I am very fond, as you would know, Deputy Speaker. It's not just about defence or anything like that. It's actually about a feeling of security that people have. That's what people want. They want a sense of belonging to their community. They want a sense that they can plan for the future, for their children's future, and that they have a vision for that future so they can follow their dreams and their children can follow their dreams. That's what people want. They may express it in the political terms of policy that we give them: more employment, better wages, more police on the beat or education. But, when you really sit down and have a conversation with someone, when you really talk to them about their lives, their hopes, their futures and their dreams, what people want is security—that's all they want. It's up to this government to provide that for them in a whole range of areas, certainly including a timely vaccine rollout and an effective quarantine facility. Sadly, this government has failed on both those counts, and on other counts as well. I urge the Morrison government to really talk to people. You've got two jobs: vaccine and quarantine. It's your constitutional responsibility. Get it done and get it done right.

ENDS