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Wednesday, 2 June 2021
Page: 163

Mr BURNS (Macnamara) (19:24): I am pleased to speak on this motion moved by the member for Warringah. I want to start by saying that, the longer this pandemic has gone on, the less responsibility the Prime Minister has taken. In the early days, the Prime Minister and the Chief Medical Officer were the ones who actually did the announcements late at night. They were the ones who did the press conferences. They were the ones who did the decision-making on the restrictions that the country would have to undergo. Then, as the pandemic evolved—obviously Victoria had a second wave, which was devastating—the Prime Minister and Chief Medical Officer backed away. They backed away from all responsibility, and they basically handed all of the responsibility over to the states and territories. All of the different states and territories had different decision-making and different rules for different circumstances. The Prime Minister and the federal government took a completely hands-off approach when it came to managing our borders and this pandemic.

So the member for Warringah is 100 per cent right that we need a road map in order to get our borders open, but it has to start with the Prime Minister taking some responsibility for what goes on inside the country. It is completely unbelievable that John Howard would have allowed the states and territories to control the movement of people in this country. I just find it impossible to believe that John Howard would have completely relinquished all authority on that matter. But that's what Scott Morrison has done, because it was too politically inconvenient and difficult for him to be involved in that decision-making process.

When Victoria had a case a couple of weeks ago, I was speaking to a travel agent friend of mine who has had some of the most difficult times in his business. He runs a great business, but this pandemic has been devastating for it. He said he had someone leave Melbourne before the restrictions came in. They were in Brisbane for work. Then, returning, they had eight different sets of circumstances from all of the different states and territories about what they could do next and what the border rules would mean. One state had certain rules and another state had another rule, and the territories had another rule. There is no uniformity in our border restrictions and our border controls in this country. It comes back to the fact that the central government, the Commonwealth government, the federal government, has had a completely hands-off approach to this pandemic. That's where this problem lies.

If we are serious about having more robust protection against this virus, we cannot have that discussion without a serious vaccination program that has a sense of urgency, as if lives and livelihoods depended on it, because they do. We're seeing in Victoria right now the devastation from a lack of protection because of a lack of vaccination. There aren't enough people who are securely defended against this virus. I note that, over the last couple of hours in Victoria, another aged-care resident was reported to have contracted the virus. At this stage, they are asymptomatic. The good news is that they had had two vaccines, which goes to show that you can still catch the virus. But, if the difference is between catching the virus and going through a deadly second wave like the one we had in Victoria, with aged-care residents catching the virus, that's the ballgame. That's exactly what we need to focus on in order to ensure that our borders can stay open with confidence. But without a vaccination program that has urgency, without a federal government that is willing to take some of the political heat and make some of the political decisions, this is going to continue on.

Of course, the other big piece of the puzzle is quarantine. The states have done an admirable job, but they are all crying out for the federal government to come to the table and to assist with it. I genuinely hope that this isn't a political issue that we have to continue prosecuting over the next few months, I genuinely hope the federal government starts vaccinating people with urgency, I genuinely hope the federal government sorts out quarantine and I genuinely hope the federal government starts to take responsibility for this pandemic, because it is only then that we'll start to see the other side of it.