Scott Morrison’s vaccine and quarantine failures have caused lockdowns.

By Terri Butler MP

03 August 2021

Australians have been plunged into uncertainty and disruption because of a leaky quarantine system and a slow vaccine rollout. It's certainly the case in my electorate, on the south side of Brisbane, that people are now going through a lockdown, and that lockdown can be laid squarely at the feet of the Prime Minister, who had two jobs this year and has managed to botch both. His two jobs were a speedy, effective rollout of the vaccine and a safe and effective national quarantine system. He has botched both.

Australia has seen 27 leaks from hotel quarantine and, as a consequence of that, numerous lockdowns, with families separated from loved ones, yet it's still not clear what it's going to take for this Prime Minister to step up and do his job. We saw that in question time today, where he was defensive and belligerent and was not willing to face up to the shortcomings of his government's vaccine rollout and of quarantine. We have seen that in his unwillingness to consider constructive suggestions put forward by Labor as well. That's because this is a Prime Minister who refuses to take responsibility. He doesn't hold a hose. He says it's not a race. It is a race. He needs to start acting like it.

Labor has called on the government to lift its performance in the race to vaccinate the nation. The Morrison government should make a one-off $300 payment to every fully vaccinated Australian, as Labor has proposed. This would be another incentive for Australians to be fully vaccinated. It would deliver a much-needed shot in the arm—pun intended—for businesses and workers who are struggling from lockdowns. Frankly, the cost of this incentive payment pales in comparison with the cost of lockdowns. The current lockdowns are costing billions of dollars a week. That's what the current economic cost of these lockdowns is. Of course, there's a substantial human cost in terms of the feeling that people have, the uncertainty, the anxiety. It's a very, very difficult time for mental health. It's a difficult time for households and families; it's a difficult time for people who are home schooling; and it's a difficult time for frontline workers, who are once again leaving the home at a time when their sacrifice is allowing this country to continue to run.

We're now 18 months into this pandemic. But only 15 per cent of Australians are fully vaccinated. We're the last in the developed world when it comes to the vaccine rollout. We're the last in the developed world when it comes to having our population vaccinated. We're lucky to crack the top 80 in the whole world. There are still people in the vulnerable priority categories in our country who are yet to be fully vaccinated. We've got a full-blown national emergency on our hands because the Morrison government failed to do its job properly. Despite what the Prime Minister would have people believe, this is a race. It's a race that Australia is losing under the Morrison government. That's why the government should seriously consider Labor's constructive proposal for an economic incentive. The Prime Minister immediately refused to consider it. He ruled it out, just like he did with our proposal last year for a wage subsidy, which you will remember he said was a dangerous idea. Back then, after his initial knee-jerk refusal, the Prime Minister changed his position and accepted our wage subsidy proposal. And so JobKeeper was born.

Let's hope the Prime Minister changes his position on today's proposal for a vaccine incentive, just like he did last year on wage subsidies. After all, it's pretty rich for the party of No Jab, No Pay to argue against economic incentives to boost vaccination rates. The now Prime Minister was actually the social security minister who introduced the No Jab, No Pay laws in 2015. In doing so, in the first sentence of his second reading speech, he said:

This is an important initiative aimed at boosting childhood immunisation rates.

That was the purpose of No Jab, No Pay. The Prime Minister has either forgotten how economic incentives work and forgotten his previous support for them, or he is just being cynical and hyperpartisan. I think it's the latter, especially since the government's own COVID response plan, released only a few days ago, includes measures encouraging uptake through incentives under phase B. The idea of using incentives to increase vaccination rates should be a priority. Labor will work constructively with the government, as we have long done, about how best to implement this important incentive.

Lockdowns, made necessary by the Prime Minister's failures on vaccines and quarantine, are costing the economy around $300 million each day—every lockdown, including the one affecting my electorate, which is in South-East Queensland, right now is a direct consequence of the Morrison government's failures. Every lockdown is happening because the Prime Minister hasn't done his job properly. As I said, the economic damage is billions of dollars a week. This is the price workers and small businesses in my electorate are paying for the Prime Minister's incompetence. At the same time, the Morrison government's stubborn refusal to bring back JobKeeper—without the rorts, mind you—means that one of the supports isn't there. That's just more stubbornness from the government: they just don't want to admit that they were wrong on JobKeeper and the decision to end it pre-emptively.

The Prime Minister's failures on vaccines and quarantine are putting lives, jobs, the economy and the recovery at risk. They're being held hostage to the bungled rollout, and that needs to change. Workers in local businesses in my electorate are suffering, as I said—and they're not the only ones. Everyone in our community has faced disruption from the lockdown. I feel like this is almost missing attention because we are so focused on the big issues, but community groups, schools, not-for-profit and childcare centres—all of these organisations that are part of the glue that holds our communities together—are suffering too. It's like Camp Hill school, which had to cancel its fun day. I know that the P&C had been working towards that for months and months, to get that under control. Or, on a bigger scale, Brisbane State High School had to cancel 'State High Day', which was planned to celebrate their centenary year. It's like my nine-year-old son's footy club and every other sports club that had to cancel games at short notice.

I know there are so many other community groups and schools whose long-planned events have been affected. On the same day in my electorate, just as there were everywhere across all the lockdowns, there were brides and grooms whose weddings were affected, there were mourners whose ability to go to funerals was affected and there were people who couldn't see family on their birthdays. There's a big cost to the delays and the stuff-ups; it's a big economic cost and it's a big human cost as well. The Prime Minister's insistence that this is not a race, and his failures on vaccines and quarantine, have direct, immediate and serious consequences for Australians, including those in my electorate affected by the South-East Queensland lockdown.

I want to say a big thank you to Queenslanders in my electorate who are doing everything they can to keep people safe. Thank you for wearing masks; thank you for getting vaccinated when vaccines are available to you; thank you for staying safe at home if you can; thank you for going to work if you need to do so because you're an essential worker; thank you for getting tested, even when your symptoms are only very mild; thank you for continuing to support local businesses, where you can, to help them make it through this difficult period; and thank you for checking on those in your community who might be doing it tough—caring for mental health is part of the health response to this pandemic. Thank you to everyone for pulling together to help our communities get through this.