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Thursday, 24 June 2021
Page: 68


Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (15:10): I think what Australians expect from their government during a global pandemic is that they keep them alive. That is what we are trying to do. We are trying to make sure that Australians are kept safe and alive. That's what all our efforts are focused on. That's why we went through all the costs last year of closing our international borders and, for a time, shutting down our economy. It was to keep Australians alive. And because the opposition has nothing to say on that matter, they are going for all these other issues. But it is important to come back to the fact that this year not one Australian here in Australia has died from coronavirus—not one person. Overseas, more than two million people have died this year from coronavirus. The equivalent of the whole town of Brisbane has, unfortunately, died as a result of this global pandemic. It is a terrible, shocking and tragic thing that has happened to the world. But here in this country, with the cooperation of Australians, by working together with state governments, Australians have largely been kept alive. We are very, very lucky.

The opposition would like to compare us to Mars or somewhere, where there's no risk. They'd like us to be like an outer planet where there's no coronavirus—absolutely no risk at all. Well, that world doesn't exist here. We have to accept risk. We have to get Australians back home—which the opposition was calling for last year; they wanted more Australians to come home. We have to get them home, and when they come home from countries that have lots of coronavirus there are risks. Yes, there have been outbreaks from hotel quarantine. But that is to be expected in a risky environment. The more than 99 per cent of people who have gone through hotel quarantine have not led to any community transmission, because hotel quarantine has worked pretty well. It's not perfect. No system is perfect. Even if everybody were vaccinated, guess what? Vaccines are not perfect. You can still contract or transmit the coronavirus after getting a vaccine.

We want to make sure we get Australia vaccinated as fast as possible, but we were right to be cautious with our vaccine rollout, as we have seen with the problems experienced with the AstraZeneca vaccine. The opposition have not been mature about this issue. At every point they have operated like a panicked child—with every bad-news story that has come about. At the start of the year the Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese, was wanting us to vaccinate people as soon as possible, even before our own health authorities had gone through the proper assessments of the vaccines. If we'd adopted that approach, we probably would have ended up with more Australians dying from the AstraZeneca vaccine than we have. Two Australians have died, linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine. More have died in Australia this year from the vaccine rollout than from coronavirus. It's a tragic thing. Again, the vaccine has risks. Life has risks. It was right and proper for us to make sure we assessed those risks proportionate to the risks we face from coronavirus and to be cautious about the rollout.

When issues with AstraZeneca were first exposed a few months ago I called for a pause so that we could look at it, and I was pilloried by the opposition. They would come into Senate estimates and say, 'What a crazy person that Senator Canavan is!' Well, now we know that there are real risks and that we were right to look very closely at those risks. But, again, the opposition, acting like a child, jumps up and down, panics and runs into the corner, rather than dealing with the facts of life. A fact of life is that there are risks. Our job, as a sensible, mature, adult government, is to manage those risks as reasonably as we can, to get them as low as we can. But they'll never disappear.

We have to be upfront with the Australian people about the risks we face in a world where there is a global pandemic. But, on every score, on every measure, we have kept Australians safe. We have made sure that many more people have stayed alive in Australia than has been the case in other countries over the past year. That is a great success. I'm confident, after the cooperation we have seen from Australians over the last year, that we will receive the same type of cooperation as we get more vaccine doses, as the Pfizer and Moderna doses come in later this year. We will get those vaccination rates. We will get out of this. We will rebuild our country. We will come out of this safer and stronger than we were before. But we'll only do that if we stop panicking, stop being panic merchants, as the opposition constantly are when they enter this debate. (Time expired)