Representing Northsiders during lockdown
Ms WELLS (Lilley) (17:27): [by video link] I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (COVID-19 Economic Response No. 2) Bill 2021. As I speak, millions of Australians are in lockdown, including in my electorate of Lilley in the north side of Brisbane. I am joining parliament for the very first time virtually from Nundah today. In my community, frontline health workers at Prince Charles Hospital are working night and day treat people with COVID. We now have six testing sites on the ground here in our electorate testing north-siders, with umpteen more administering vaccine doses to keep us safe. Aged-care workers are protecting our senior citizens who are most vulnerable to the disease—and for insufficient pay, I would add. We have retail workers and service workers here on the north side at places like Westfield Chermside, Woollies at Sandgate, Aldi at Toombul and Coles at Stafford who are continuing to work and to put their own health and safety at risk so we can buy groceries and feed our families. Healthcare workers, nurses and GPs are doing their bit to get as many jabs in arms as possible. Their receptionists and other healthcare workers are bearing the brunt of the Morrison government's bungled vaccine rollout.
The common thread uniting north-siders and all Australians is that no matter where they are, where they live or what they do for work, all we want is for our pandemic recovery to succeed, and to succeed as quickly as possible. Today we are debating a bill to implement administrative arrangements to support communities that have recently been locked down. Of course I welcome any financial support for workers and businesses in Lilley who are struggling because of COVID. But lockdowns like the one in Sydney and the one we are experiencing here in Brisbane right now have been made necessary by the Prime Minister's failures to deliver on vaccines and fit-for-purpose quarantine facilities—failures which are hurting workers and small-business owners and are costing the economy hundreds of millions of dollars a day. Roughly $300 million a day is the price that Australian workers and small businesses are paying for his incompetence. The government's failures on vaccines and quarantine are putting lives, jobs, the economy and the recovery at risk.
The Morrison government had two jobs throughout COVID: to roll out the vaccines as efficiently as possible and to make sure that our borders are safe, with fit-for-purpose quarantine facilities. Sixteen months into this pandemic, we are the last in the OECD for vaccines, and there wasn't a dollar in the latest federal budget for fit-for-purpose quarantine facilities. The Morrison government may not be pulling the trigger on lockdowns, but they are the ones responsible for them.
A few weeks ago I spoke with Dr Conor Calder-Potts at Shaw Road Medical Centre in Wavell Heights about how we can improve the vaccine rollout in our electorate. In March 2021 Dr Calder-Potts applied to become a clinic to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine. He increased his clinic's infrastructure, purchased extra vaccine fridges, hired more nurses and found more space to vaccinate people. Shortly after that, the Morrison government announced that patients should contact their GP to book a vaccination. There was a small problem: GP clinics hadn't actually received any GP doses yet and did not know how many doses they could receive or how many patients they could book in to be vaccinated. The consequence of this policy blunder was that medical receptionists and nurses were copping abuse from confused and frustrated Australians who were receiving mixed messages while they were just trying to do the right thing.
Shaw Road Medical Centre had to wait almost two months before they finally received their allotment of AstraZeneca doses. Their capacity in the clinics was about 700 vaccines per week, but they were given only 150 vaccines per week. That is 25 per cent of their potential realised. Since ATAGI changed their advice regarding AstraZeneca, demand for Pfizer is growing, but the clinic is yet to receive any Pfizer doses whatsoever. The latest reports that the clinic has received are that they are only likely to receive Pfizer doses in September or October, if at all. As Dr Calder-Potts said, 'As a GP, I think the best way for us to escape this pandemic is to vaccinate Australia. Unfortunately, we haven't received the vaccines to be able to do that, and I hope the vaccine rollout will improve in the near future so that we can move forward and vaccinate everyone.'
Since COVID-19 reached our shores in 2020 we have seen 26 leaks from hotel quarantine, which have wreaked havoc in our communities. The solution to this problem is just common sense: we need fit-for-purpose quarantine facilities. Hotels like the Novotel at Brisbane Airport and Eagle Farm were built for tourism, not for quarantine. So, I welcomed the federal government's agreement to work with the Queensland state government to finally build a fit-for-purpose quarantine facility in South-East Queensland. This is urgent infrastructure for which federal Labor has been calling for some time.
However, I am extremely disappointed in the lack of community consultation with my community before the Morrison government decided to leak their decision to the press. Because neither the Prime Minister nor the Deputy Prime Minister could not be bothered to do their due diligence and consult with the people of Pinkenba, I thought I would bring the feedback from Pinkenba, and more broadly, to the parliament here tonight. During the winter break I doorknocked Pinkenba Village to listen to the feedback of Lilley locals about the proposed quarantine facility at Damascus Barracks, near Brisbane Airport. I followed up that day's doorknocking by attending the Pinkenba Community Association meeting at the Trade Coast Hotel. Overall, Pinkenba locals agreed that the Damascus Barracks is well situated, and they welcomed the proposal. But it's not a done deal yet, and there are some really important issues that we need to resolve first.
Dr Richard Alexander from the Pinkenba Community Association said that the Damascus Barracks is a logical site but his major concern is that the site is heavily contaminated with asbestos. So, for the safety of quarantined residents and workers, it is paramount that 100 per cent decontamination of this site occurs before the site is fit for occupancy. And for the Pinkenba site to be an effective and safe operation, critical issues of air quality, noise levels, human rights concerns, health and infection control, time, cost and the site's potential future use need to be addressed.
These issues can be resolved, but it will take time and money to do so. Not only do Lilley locals want the best quarantine facility that meets the health and wellbeing needs of its staff and residents; they also want to make sure that the facility provides economic and social use opportunities into the future. Rob, the president of the Pinkenba Community Association, raised a great point during the meeting: that we have the international cruise terminal in Pinkenba. So, in the future, this quarantine facility could be used for disease outbreaks onboard international ships. It's really important that the Morrison government engages with the community, to maximise local benefit and, wherever possible, to ensure that all manufacturing and supply opportunities come from local businesses. We have such a proud history of local manufacturing on the north side, particularly in places like Eagle Farm and Pinkenba.
Dr Alexander was also worried about transparency. He suggested that a community person should be involved in the consultation, construction and management committee process, to make sure that the building and the ongoing running have some community input and transparency—much like the community has on major works by the Brisbane Airport. I think this is a great idea, and it came about by their representative actually going and listening. I encourage the Morrison government to do the same. Gary told me that we have a responsibility to look after people with COVID, and it's clearly not working well in hotel quarantine. He thought that Pinkenba was a great fit, but was frustrated by how long this seems to have taken. An agreement hasn't even been reached yet between the state and federal governments. We've been in a national emergency for over a year now but the Morrison government has not acted with urgency when it comes to international quarantine. The best time to build a fit-for-purpose quarantine facility was a year ago, but the second-best time is right now. It is time that the Morrison government stepped up, did their job and injected some urgency into building a fit-for-purpose quarantine facility at Pinkenba.
At every step of the COVID crisis, Labor has called for crucial financial support to protect jobs and the Morrison government have been dragged along, kicking and screaming. The changes in this bill are welcome but, 18 months into this pandemic, workers and businesses are still paying the price for the Prime Minister's failures on vaccines and quarantine, and for the Morrison government's decision to cut JobKeeper prematurely. Getting support right is critical to ensuring that people are still employed and that businesses are still around on the other side of lockdown. Australians need certainty, not continued policy changes and policymaking on the run.
This bill is a concession from the government that they, once again, got these support packages wrong. Since March 2020 I have called for specific, targeted support for our 6,600 aviation workers here in my electorate of Lilley, whose livelihoods have been decimated by COVID-19 through no fault of their own. I wrote to the Prime Minister and to the former Deputy Prime Minister about this and I've spoken in the parliament about this at least half a dozen times. I have even met with the now former Deputy Prime Minister on this very issue, in person in parliament. At every step of the way I have been ignored or shrugged off by the Morrison government.
Yesterday, the new Deputy Prime Minister hosted a press conference to announce further support for the aviation industry. Great! But how many times do I have to say that support for the industry is not the same as support for the workers? Qantas has received $2 billion in financial support from the federal government, including $200 million in JobKeeper. With $2 billion in his pocket, Alan Joyce tried to outsource the jobs of 2,000 baggage handlers last year—a decision which, on Friday of last week, was found to be illegal by the Federal Court. This morning, not 24 hours after the Deputy Prime Minister announced further unconditional support for the aviation industry, Alan Joyce announced that he will be standing down a further 2,500 workers. This is exactly why public money given to giant private companies like Qantas should only be given on the condition that this taxpayer money will be used to keep local workers in their jobs.
The Prime Minister has Alan Joyce's number on speed dial. He now needs to pick up the phone and tell Alan Joyce that any taxpayer support given to Qantas must be used to keep workers in their jobs here on the north side of Brisbane. I thank the House.