Appropriation Bill (COVID Response)
Ms WELLS (Lilley) (11:12): I rise today to support these emergency spending bills, the Appropriation (Coronavirus Response) Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022 and the Appropriation (Coronavirus Response) Bill (No. 2) 2021-2022, which will appropriate funds for the continuation of the vaccine program and the purchase of PPE for concession cardholders and people living in at-risk communities. Yesterday, during question time, when asked about the distribution of PPE to aged-care facilities, the Minister for Health and Aged Care arrogantly rattled off statistics about what they had already delivered. When the shadow minister for aged care sought to ask whether the Morrison government would take responsibility for the 622 deaths in aged care, the Leader of the House quickly shut down the debate. The Morrison government have flip-flopped over deploying the ADF, and now they've made that decision far too late. When the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services was asked to front the COVID inquiry, he said he couldn't because he was handling urgent COVID related matters. In actual fact, he was at the cricket for three days straight. A few days later the minister for aged care services had the gall to tell the Senate that the aged-care sector was not in crisis.
Looking back on the events of the past four weeks, is it any wonder that our aged-care sector is now in this mess? Elderly Australians are dying in understaffed and underfunded homes. Aged-care workers are exhausted, and some are being asked to do triple shifts—frankly, illegal conduct. A text from management at Jeta Gardens in Queensland was leaked earlier this week in the aftermath of 15 residents there dying from COVID. Staff were urged to only change their PPE if they absolutely had to because the facility was running low on PPE stock. The procurement team at Wesley Mission are struggling to find enough PPE for their staff and have had to train their own staff in PCR tests after being told that pathology companies did not have enough resources.
In the days after Christmas I received a message begging for help from a woman whose father was at an aged-care home in Geebung. She was told that their facility was going into lockdown on Christmas morning because one of their staff members had just tested positive. This was obviously extremely distressing for my constituent, for her father and for their family—for all of the families at that centre. If the Minister for Health and Aged Care does not think that this is a crisis, then I do not know what the bar is at this point.
Access to RAT kits has also been a huge issue which, if organised properly by the Morrison government, could have helped to prevent the spread in the first place. Over the past few weeks, I have organised the Lilley RAT Run through my social media platforms to help north-siders potentially locate a RAT and also to save people from making the dozens and dozens of calls, ringing around, driving from shop to shop, only to find that the RATs aren't in stock. What that exercise did, day to day, week to week, was lay bare just how dire the lack of rapid antigen tests on the north side of Brisbane really was. For many of my constituents, it felt easier to catch COVID than it was to get your hands on a RAT.
We have had days where residents could not find a RAT for love nor money. They were asking on Facebook community groups, begging anybody if they had a spare. Then, to add salt to the wound, people who could find them had to fork out upwards of $15 for a test. I've heard instances of $15 per test, $20, $30 and even $50 per test. For my family of five, $15 a test adds up to $75 every time you, yourself, have symptoms or you are a close contact or even if you just wish to check that you are not exposing yourself, your neighbours or your family to any danger.
The Morrison government turned their nose up at those who asked for free RATs, suggesting it was irresponsible to suggest a government fund free access to RATs. It is a shocking indictment on the Prime Minister, who not only bungled quarantine and bungled the vaccine rollout but has now bungled the RAT rollout as well. The cost of funding free RAT kits is probably less than the $38 billion in JobKeeper payments that Scott Morrison's government has paid to businesses who did not qualify for JobKeeper. It is probably less than the $20 billion that went to firms who received JobKeeper payments despite having rising revenue last year. The real cost of not delivering free and available RAT kits is what we saw in our country for weeks: empty supermarket shelves; industry on a go-slow; hundreds of thousands of close contacts in isolation, unable to work; businesses shutting or restricting their opening hours due to staff shortages; and our hospitals overflowing.
The fact of the matter is that the Morrison government is completely out of touch with real day-to-day problems that Australians are actually facing here and now. While the Treasurer boasts about his government's supposed economic prowess, there are serious skill shortages and incredible supply shortages that are impacting our local businesses and our local workers every single shift, every single day. Interest rates will inevitably rise, which will make the already crippling cost of living even worse for working families. The Morrison government thinks that a family of five should fork out 75 bucks for a pack of RAT kits if they get sick or exposed to sickness. In the last year, median house prices in Aspley, Kedron, Wavell Heights, Stafford and Geebung have skyrocketed by over 38 per cent in the one year. Weekly rent in places like Deagon, Zillmere, Aspley, Brighton, Everton Park and Wavell Heights have gone up at least eight per cent. The aged-care sector is on fire, and the Morrison government is holding a watering can, sprinkling water drops on it. We have nine days left of this 46th parliament to do our jobs and to fix these issues for the people that we represent, and I am really looking for something a little bit more from the Morrison government at this point to demonstrate they have the ability to do it. I thank the House.