Take Note: Covid-19
Senator RENNICK (Queensland) (15:18, 31 August 2021): I’m glad to rise today to speak on this motion to take note of answers. In particular, I’d like to just remind Senator Keneally of the boats, because, when the Labor Party was last in power, over 1,200 people died at sea in the boats by something that was totally brought on by the Labor Party. Compare that with the number of people who died with COVID, which is only just past 1,000, and a lot of those had co-morbidities. I can assure you that the Morrison government didn’t design COVID, unlike the boat crisis that was designed by the Labor Party and was totally self-inflicted. So it’s a bit rich for them to come in here and play games and accuse the Morrison government of causing deaths in a situation which was basically out of their control.
Australia has one of the lowest COVID death rates in the world, and we’ve actually got one of the lowest fatality rates in the world. It’s worth noting that this year we’ve had fewer than 100 COVID deaths out of over 20,000 cases. That is a case fatality rate of 0.04 per cent, or fewer than four people out of every 1,000 cases. Compare that with the number of deaths in 2019, when Australia had 170,000 deaths out of 25 million people. That was a death rate of seven people out of 1,000.
The COVID fatality rate is just around half of the overall fatality rate.
Let’s talk about the vaccine rollout. We’ve now basically got 86 per cent of over-70-year-olds first-dosed and over 63 per cent of over-70-year-olds second-dosed. I get a little bit sick and tired of hearing the Labor Party talk about AstraZeneca and Pfizer as though it’s a competition. The fact of the matter is that last August—when, as Labor love to claim, we could’ve bought 40 million doses—the Pfizer vaccine hadn’t even been approved for safety. It hadn’t even been proved that it actually worked. It’s a completely new technology.
Interestingly enough, the World Health Organization came out in September last year and said that it wouldn’t be until mid-2021 that the Pfizer vaccine was going to be ready. Another point to note is that the Pfizer vaccine has to be refrigerated and stored at negative 70 degrees. The Morrison coalition government had to make a decision back then. They went with the AstraZeneca vaccine as its main supplier because they could get it produced here in Australia. They could get it produced here in Australia by none other than CSL. To remind people about the history of CSL, CSL used to be government owned. It was actually set up by the government in 1917 so that Australia would have its own—wait for it—vaccine supplies. What happened? The Labor Party sold CSL. In the time since, it has got into blood transfusion and a lot of other products, but its core business of vaccine production has gone by the wayside. For Labor to come in here and claim that we haven’t got enough vaccines—they ought to look in the mirror, because the damage was done right back in 1992 by a bloke named Paul Keating and one of his great advisers, Bill Bowtell. He’s out there running around being an expert on everything, yet he was one of the advisers to Keating who allowed CSL to be sold. The hypocrisy is astounding.
It should also be noted that the US didn’t even export Pfizer. The first country it exported Pfizer to was Mexico, on 29 April. The USA was exporting very few Pfizer vaccines. What seems to be overlooked in all of this is that it’s not that easy to just go and conjure 50-odd million Pfizer vaccines at the drop of a hat, keep them stored at negative 70 degrees and get them rolled out.
The vaccination program is well and truly on its way. It hasn’t been helped by Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, who’s been there under a Labor government, who has been basically talking people out of getting the AstraZeneca vaccine. While she was saying this, she failed to disclose that her own husband used to consult to Pfizer. If that’s not a conflict of interest I don’t know what is. That type of behaviour—while we’re trying to encourage vaccine rollouts—hasn’t helped anyone. It’s about time Labor got on board and started to work in the interests of the Australian people, rather than whingeing and wailing.