Senator CANAVAN (Queensland) (16:51): I’ll start by congratulating Senator Babet for bringing what should be the most important topic in our nation into the Senate for discussion. I thank him for the courage and bravery he has shown on these issues. I also want to pay tribute to the work of Senator Roberts and Senator Rennick, who have gone before me and who know more about this than I do. I especially want to recognise the tireless efforts of Senator Rennick. Sometimes when I’m out and about with Senator Rennick, I see he just gets messages all the time from people right around the country. These are individual cases of people who have been hurt by the vaccines. He’ll break from having a coffee or dinner in order to speak with them and to take up their cause and their issue. He’s a hero to so many people because he is one of the few of us here who is doing the work that a good politician should do: hearing people’s complaints and trying to help them.
These are people who, through no fault of their own, have had their lives destroyed through vaccine injuries. This has become such an emotional debate but, ultimately, a vaccine is a drug and pretty much all drugs have side effects. This drug has been developed in record time and has side effects. But because so much social control and promotion went into it, we can’t even seem to have the humanity and dignity to recognise the tough circumstances that many innocent people have been put into by the rollout of the vaccine. It’s an absolute disgrace that very few of us here are even willing to recognise their issues or that their lives have been turned upside down, let alone take up their cause in a fight like Senator Rennick has. So I pay tribute to him.
I don’t have the answers today to Senator Babet’s motion. I’m mainly going to ask questions, but I think they’re very important in questions—as I said, probably the most important questions in front of this room for people right now. As has been outlined by other speakers, we have an epidemic of excess deaths in this nation. We did go through the coronavirus epidemic and, according to the official statistics, 20,000 Australians lost their lives to coronavirus. We were fortunate not to be impacted as badly as some other countries, but I think there are questions over those statistics because, often, we have seen people being categorised as dying of COVID when they really died with COVID and not necessarily of it. But let’s take the official statistics of 20,000 Australian deaths from COVID over the past three years.
If we look at non-COVID excess deaths over the past two calendar years, then over the last year, as has been outlined by my colleagues here today, we’re looking at around 13,000 non-COVID excess deaths. And in 2021, the year before last, there were around 8,000 non-COVID excess deaths. That adds up, roughly, to a figure of 21,000 excess deaths not related to COVID over the past couple of years. More unexplained deaths occurred over the past few years than occurred from coronavirus itself, and that statistic and that alone should put this into stark relief for us all. How much time, how much discussion, how much money and how many restrictions were put in place by governments to deal with the threat of coronavirus, which has tragically killed 20,000 Australians over the past few years? Look at the effort we put into that. And compare that to the complete silence that is existing in a vacuum down here over the 20,000 Australians who have lost their lives in unexplained ways over the past few years. Why is there this double standard?
So the questions I ask today are on behalf of those 20,000 Australians and their families who have lost their lives, and no-one can seem to give them any answers. Worse than that, no-one is seemingly even putting a lot of effort into trying to find the answer. What is the government doing on this? Twenty thousand more Australians than normally is the case have lost their lives, and we can’t explain it. It is as big a loss of life as we have seen through coronavirus, and what is the response from the government?
The first question I have for the government is: Where is your royal commission into coronavirus? Where is it? The Prime Minister promised a royal commission or a royal commission-like inquiry into COVID at the last election. It is now almost a year since that election, 20,000 Australians have died inexplicably, and we still do not even have the outlines of a terms of reference for this royal commission or royal commission-like inquiry. Where is it? It is an absolute national shame that we can have royal commissions into robodebt and we can have royal commissions into all these different types of political topics, which just benefit lawyers, but we seemingly can’t have a proper inquiry into the heartache that has been caused to so many Australians, not just through these particular deaths being discussed here but the lockdowns, the restrictions, the border closures, the failure to be able to go to your relatives’ funerals—all of those things deserve a proper inquiry.
I give the West Australian government their due—I’ve disagreed with them a lot over the last few years—because they have announced an independent inquiry. Premier McGowan has announced one over there. I believe it’s the only one that has actually started, three years on from the start of all this madness. But the Prime Minister of Australia made this commitment last election. In fact, when he was grandstanding a few months ago about former Prime Minister’s Morrison’s multiple portfolios, he repeated the claim that he would hold this inquiry. It was put to him, ‘If you’re concerned about all these different portfolios the Prime Minister had,’ and notionally, at least initially, they were there to respond to coronavirus, ‘why won’t you have an inquiry into it all?’ Under pressure from the press, he said, ‘Yes, yes, we will have one, just not now.’ His specific words were ‘just not now’; we were still dealing with an outbreak in August last year. Well, we’re not dealing with an outbreak anymore, guys. We are far past coronavirus. Hardly any of us are wearing masks. There are no border restrictions anymore. People are getting on with their lives. We can have this inquiry now. If not now, it will never happen. The 20,000 Australians who have lost their lives for inexplicable reasons deserve that inquiry today. They deserved it last year. They definitely deserve it today. Where is that royal commission?
The next question I’ve got is: where is the government’s response to this motion—or anyone’s response for that matter? As I say, there seems to be complete silence about the issue. Any time other senators in this place do raise these excess deaths—like Senator Rennick, Senator Roberts, Senator Babet, Senator Antic and myself have in Senate estimates—we’re ridiculed for daring to question the health authorities’ wisdom, daring to question the expertocracy’s advice. Well, where’s the ridicule today? Where is it? So far we’ve heard from Senator Babet, Senator Rennick, Senator Roberts and me, and next on the speakers list is ‘government (frontbench)’. Who’s that? No-one’s put their hand up. Who is this hapless member of the frontbench?
Senator Pratt: I’m speaking next.
Senator CANAVAN: Senator Pratt has drawn the short straw. She won’t put her name on the list, but she will have to dutifully read out some talking points that have been prepared for her by some hapless staffers over there on the blue carpet in the ministerial wing. They’ve had to put together a defence. It’s hardly a rousing defence of the health bureaucracy’s record over the last few years, because no-one seems to be able to question it and put it back to them and ask, ‘Why aren’t we having an inquiry into this? Twenty thousand more people than we expected have died. Where is the inquiry into this issue? I hope Senator Pratt can enlighten us, because it seems like the white flag has been put up here on this. They are no longer defending the potential shortcomings and significant side effects of the vaccine rollout. But it’s not enough to be silent now. It’s time for questions and, ultimately, answers about what went wrong.
We also deserve to know, and the question should be asked: how have our health bureaucrats got things so wrong? We spent so much time in COVID—and I was guilty of this, early on—agreeing with and believing the advice of the health experts. We said that we would have to just listen to the advice. They were the experts who knew what they were doing, so we should do what they tell us. And we dutifully did that. It turns out that so much of their advice was completely, utterly and tragically wrong.
A report was released just in the last day about the excess deaths over the past few years in different countries. Despite all our border closures and largely being untouched by most of the worst COVID outbreaks, we have actually ended up with more excess deaths than Sweden—by some margin. I remember at the time all the health bureaucrats and experts were saying how terrible Sweden was. They were killing grandma and grandad! It was terrible!
In fact, we know that the official advice before coronavirus arrived about how to deal with an airborne pandemic did not call for lockdowns. All our official documents, including here in this country, by the health experts said that we shouldn’t have lockdowns: you can’t use lockdowns to control an airborne virus. It’s not going to work. Despite all that, Sweden was about the only country in the Western world that actually complied with the initial advice on this. Everyone else became panicked and we locked people in their houses.
I still think about how we locked single mums up with two or three kids in an apartment in Western Sydney and told them they could only go outside for one hour. That’s what did! We told them, ‘You can only go outside for an hour.’
An honourable senator interjecting—
Senator CANAVAN: Yes, fresh air was the best thing you could do for them. They were struggling with screaming kids in a house, and we locked them inside for 23 hours a day and said we were protecting everyone. They also deserve this inquiry—although they did not suffer as much as those who’ve unfortunately died in the last couple of years—about what the hell went on and how did we get things so wrong.
What really frustrates me is the double standard that we see from our health experts. They seem to be engaging with something much more akin to behavioural science, or discredited behavioural economics, than they do with actual, real virology or pharmaceutical science. At estimates just a couple of months ago, Senator Rennick raised the case of two children, a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old, who had died after receiving the vaccine. The head of the TGA at that time, Professor Skerritt, went to great lengths to say: ‘Look, you can’t draw conclusions from isolated cases. There are only a couple there. There could be other factors.’ That is a perfectly reasonable point, may I add, from Professor Skerritt. That is true: a couple of cases is not enough to draw strong scientific conclusions—I still think there should be an investigation—but you can’t draw the necessary conclusions.
But it seemed just a little unusual that Professor Skerritt would make such a conclusion on something like that, when I remember that every time a single child tragically died from coronavirus the health bureaucracy played it up like it was the worst thing ever. There’s an article here in The Australian saying that Professor Skerritt at the time was grumpy and unloaded on people about downplaying COVID’s effect on children, when one child—very tragically—died of the coronavirus. Yes, that is very concerning and should be investigated. But here we have a situation where Professor Skerritt used one case to scare people to get their children vaccinated but refused to use two cases to investigate the side-effects of the vaccine itself.
Perhaps one of the worst things we have done throughout this period is to force, or pressure people, to vaccinate their children when there was almost zero evidence of the scientific benefits of that. I can accept weighing up the risks of vaccinating older and vulnerable Australians, but children should have been left alone. The risks of COVID were always clearly low. They were lower than the flu. I’m not saying that COVID itself was less worse than the flu, but for children it was. The evidence was always clear, and we don’t force or pressure people to vaccinate their children for the flu, but we did so here with an experimental vaccine that we knew didn’t stop transmission. It wasn’t going to save Grandma—it didn’t save Grandma—yet we exposed our children to that risk anyway.
Again, we deserve that inquiry, because I would hope that we can get back to giving people broad-ranging advice on their health, while respecting their intelligence. One thing that has frustrated me the most over the last few years is the way our health bureaucracy all treated us like idiots. We were force-fed these scare tactics and propaganda, rather than just being given the advice and being treated like adults who can weigh up the risks and benefits of different medical treatments, because—I come back to where I started—every drug has a potential risk.
And I worry that the pharmaceutical industry here seems to constantly push the drug option on us, rather than the best health option for us. We could have told people to invest in their health, over the last few years—to exercise a bit more, eat a bit less, take some vitamin D. All of these things would have helped reduce the risk of coronavirus, as well as lot of other diseases. But, of course, what that health advice wouldn’t have done was help the profits of pharmaceutical companies. It would not have done that. Most of all, if this inquiry ever does get up, if the government finally announces this inquiry—and I hope Senator Pratt can announce it right now—those pharmaceutical companies must be hauled in front of it to explain why they didn’t provide more data and more evidence about the risks to people, and didn’t put their profits above the 20,000 people in this country who have inexplicably lost their lives.