Helen Haines says Scott Morrison’s failure to rein in “heinous behaviour” by Member for Hughes Craig Kelly on social media threatens Australia’s successful containment of COVID-19.
The Independent Federal Member for Indi, who was a nurse and midwife before a career as a public health researcher, told Parliament today the government’s co-ordinated public health response had been crucial to keeping the pandemic in check.
But she warned Australia would lose its public health advantage unless the Prime Minister cracked down hard on irresponsible comments about the nationwide vaccination roll-out by parliamentarians in his own ranks.
Speaking in support of the Government’s Therapeutic Goods Amendment (2020 Measures No. 2) Bill, which speeds the import of life-saving COVID vaccines by amending labelling regulations, Dr Haines applauded the government’s pandemic response but warned that this good work was being undermined from the inside.
“That’s why I was so powerfully disappointed when the Health Minister, asked to condemn the lies from the Member for Hughes, said only that: ‘There will be different views from different people’,” Dr Haines said.
“It’s why I was so appalled when the Deputy Prime Minister, as Acting Prime Minister, when asked about the Member for Hughes’ dangerous fabrications, told people to ‘toughen up’ because ‘facts are sometimes contentious’.
“It’s why I was scandalised on Monday when the Prime Minister, asked to reject the arguments put forward by the Member for Hughes, instead said he was doing ‘a great job in his electorate’.
“From three of the most senior members of the government, this is reprehensible. This is not what being captain of ‘team Australia’ looks like. This is a capitulation to idiocy that does not befit a government which has otherwise overseen such a successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic and is presenting a good bill to us right now.
“This is a government that called COVID-19 our ‘Dunkirk moment’, and yet, when its most senior members were called upon to show leadership, they squibbed it. They’ve the spine of a jellyfish when it comes to the member for Hughes.”
Dr Haines said while the Prime Minister was reported yesterday to have privately rebuked the Member for Hughes, his recommendation that Australians stop using Facebook for public health information didn’t make sense in the modern world.
She said his comment also contradicted the actions of the Treasurer, Health Minister and others who regularly posted vaccine updates on Facebook.
“The obvious truth is that the government does use Facebook and social media to put out health advice, because they know that’s where people get a lot of their information” Dr Haines said.
Dr Haines acknowledged that many people were worried about the vaccine.
“I understand that people across the country feel vulnerable and are anxious about the vaccine,” she said.
“It’s not wrong to have questions.
“But it’s so important to be clear – the vaccines being rolled out in Australia have been rigorously tested, approval process have not been rushed, and they are safe and effective.
“The fact only around half of Australians are saying they will definitely get the vaccine is a public policy failure that needs to be addressed urgently, and it is a failure falls directly at the feet at those who spew lies, and those too scared to stop them.”
Dr Haines said the only government member to call out Mr Kelly’s lies was Member for Reid Dr Fiona Martin, one of the newest and youngest members of Parliament.
Dr Haines also urged the government to put a dedicated regional focus on the vaccine roll-out, noting that unless 70 to 90 per cent of the Australian population was vaccinated life would not return to normal.