Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP on the urgent need to respond to the public health challenges facing the nation

2 June, 2021


In talking about the response to the public health challenges of 2019-20 and 2020-21, we should firstly recognise and say thank you to our health professionals, our frontline professionals, who have in fact kept us safe. It is not the government that has kept us safe; it has been individual citizens who have put their lives on the line to defend and protect communities and keep them safe. Throughout the bushfire crisis of 2019-20, it was all of them out there that were keeping us safe. So, with respect, I always find it very hypocritical when the government is in here beating its chest and the opposition is pounding away, because, at the end of the day, it is the individual Australians who are keeping Australia safe. They are taking the hit for the team. They are the ones who are following health orders or doing what needs to be done. They are closing down their businesses despite knowing there will be serious consequences resulting from that, that their economic outlook will be dire. We have some serious challenges, and it would be such a relief if we could for just a moment in this place hear some long-term planning around those health challenges instead of this short-term, glib, beating of chests and pointing of fingers from side to side that we get nonstop in this place. Australians are desperate to know that this government and this parliament as a whole are focused on the health challenges.

Our immediate challenge is COVID and the vaccine rollout. I and my office were getting so much anecdotal evidence from frustrated people who wanted to receive the vaccine but couldn't. I conducted a survey of health practitioners and GPs in my electorate, and the overwhelming feedback was that they were not receiving sufficient supplies to administer the vaccines to those wanting to get it. Seriously! We have shut down the borders. For the last 14 months we have been absolutely 'Bubble Australia' at great personal, economic and emotional cost to many, many Australians. During that 14 months the absolute responsibility on the government was to ensure we had a prompt and efficient rollout of the vaccine. Now, 14 months later, to be getting feedback that people are willing and able and turning up to be vaccinated but are unable to because of a lack of supply is just negligence. This has to be addressed. Overwhelmingly, the message around the need to get vaccinated has been appalling. Again, we have had 14 months to prepare for this. We all came together to put in place emergency measures to ensure the government had space to come up with a response, to come up with a plan. Where is our COVID-19 Coordination Commission? What were they doing, apart from wasting money and focusing on gas follies and self-righteous and self-serving projects? Why were they not planning a very meticulous rollout of this vaccine to ensure that it would happen with the utmost urgency and speed?

Bubble Australia cannot continue forever. It is a fool's paradise to think so. Economically, we have to ensure that our businesses can access the workforce they need. We need to ensure that families can have contact. I wrote in August to the minister to ask for the extension of the family exemption to being able to travel to include parents, but I've had no response at all from the government on that. There has been no movement despite it being some 14 months on. We've had a really interesting double standard developing. We hear reports of movie stars that are having no trouble getting their parents in and out of the country to visit them, but Australians who are here who need that support are unable to get that same support. We have serious challenges ahead of us on the health front. We have obesity, which is a rampant problem. I shudder to think of the health consequences that are going to flow from these COVID years, when we think of lockdowns, the mental health consequences and the consequences of lack of activity. We already have a huge obesity problem in this country, and we're simply not addressing it.

Then we come to the really big challenges. If we've been slow in acting on vaccination rollouts, let me tell you how slow we're moving on addressing climate change health risks. That is like a cliff that we will be at the bottom of, facing a disaster, before there will be any real action. There are serious questions that need to be dealt with, and the government needs to pull up its socks and get on with it.