Senator ROBERTS: I seek leave to amend business of the Senate notice of motion No. 2 relating to a referral to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee.
Senator ROBERTS: I move the motion as amended:
That the following matter be referred to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee for inquiry and report by 1 December 2023:
The World Health Organization’s pandemic treaty, also known as the pandemic prevention, preparedness and response accord, with reference to:
(a) the conceptual zero draft of the pandemic treaty and any other draft of the pandemic treaty;
(b) Australia’s input to the drafting and negotiating process for the pandemic treaty;
(c) the principles of Australian autonomy in responding to health crises and pandemics;
(d) the effect of proposals contained in the pandemic treaty, and
(e) any other related manners.
As a servant of the many different people who make up our one Queensland community, I want to read out the amended motion because I want the provisions in the Hansard:
That the following matter be referred to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee for inquiry and report by 1 December 2023:
That will give plenty of time for consideration in detail.
The World Health Organization’s pandemic treaty, also known as the pandemic prevention, preparedness and response accord, with reference to:
(a) the conceptual zero draft of the pandemic treaty and any other draft of the pandemic treaty;
(b) Australia’s input to the drafting and negotiating process for the pandemic treaty;
(c) the principles of Australian autonomy in responding to health crises and pandemics;
(d) the effect of proposals contained in the pandemic treaty; and
(e) any other related matters.
I note that when one of the world’s most influential people, someone famous for valuing the liberty and sovereignty of human existence, makes a comment about the risks that the United Nations World Health Organization’s pandemic treaty poses it’s worth listening to. In response to my video of my Senate speech last week criticising the proposed increased health powers of the pandemic treaty, Elon Musk said: Countries should not cede authority to WHO.
Regardless of what you think of Elon Musk, he’s one of a handful of people invited into the global backrooms of power. He knows better than anyone sitting in this chamber what the world looks like when the press aren’t watching.
So threatened as a result of this comment was the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Ghebreyesus, that he felt the need to reply to this tweet. Perhaps four million impressions and 1.2 million plays of my speech got his attention. Tedros is a man that no sensible Australian would want anywhere near the health response of this nation, not least because of his prominent role as a terrorist in a violent Marxist political party with a track record of using health care as a political weapon.
In his reply to my speech in this chamber three weeks ago, Tedros failed to address the key point that I was making. That key point is that 83 World Health Organization staff were found to have committed rape and sexual exploitation of women in the Congo, some women as young as 13. Who made that finding? The World Health Organization’s own investigators. Those investigators went on to say that UNWHO must take any action against their staff and, if they failed to take any action of their staff, it meant the World Health Organization was ‘rotten with rapists’. Tedros deliberately ignored that part of my speech, so I can only assume those rapists will remain employed in the UN World Health Organization and free to commit further crimes. The World Health Organization really is rotting from the head. Tedros only replied on the issue of sovereignty, which I briefly mentioned, so now let’s discuss sovereignty in detail.
Tedros insists countries aren’t ceding sovereignty to the World Health Organization and that the pandemic treaty won’t change the sovereignty of member states. It is, he promises, simply a device to help countries better guard against the pandemic. Oh, really? As the United Nations World Health Organization’s advise already achieves that, why go to all this trouble of a three-year development cycle for a treaty that doesn’t change anything? Here’s the case that suggests Tedros is deliberately misleading the public about what the World Health Organization are doing.
Remember, this is out in the open. All these documents and statements are available on the World Health Organization website. The zero draft—they had to come up with a new number because the first draft was an embarrassment—clearly shows this is not an agreement about passive advice. The pandemic treaty, despite Tedros’s lies on Twitter, proposes to hold the same authority as all other United Nations treaties. It is a set of instructions that nations, corporations and individuals scripted, people and organisations who had their own interests at heart, not the health, safety and welfare of the Australian people.
Included in the pandemic treaty are the powers to enforce mandatory detention, compulsory vaccination, lockdowns, forced medical procedures, vaccine passports—vaccine prisons, really—closed borders and generally all the worst parts of the gross global COVID deceit and mismanagement. Australia could be locked down and its people medicated without public consent with no democratic mechanism to reprimand violations of civil liberty—none. Every country is different. Bespoke solutions are essential. The World Health Organization cannot maintain 195 bespoke solutions. It would take the bureaucrats easy way out, one size fits.
The World Health Organization did not offer the best solution to COVID. Arguably that was Sweden with their business-as-usual approach. Several Indian states went their own way, which is now offering rich data on vaccination and herd immunity. If we’d had an all-powerful Tedros pandemic treaty in place at that time, Sweden and India would have had to comply and the world would not have the information we now have about what worked and what did not work. Perhaps that’s the point. If the World Health Organization can require the whole world to follow the same response, how will we know whether the response was the wrong one? We wouldn’t know. The United Nations World Health Organization loves to hide the truth. The World Health Organization has a proven record of hiding the truth.
As it stands, the only reason that a mob of unelected health bureaucrats based in Geneva is not governing Australia is thanks to a collection of African nations who voted down the first version of the pandemic treaty presented as regulation changes last December. This will not happen again. The 42-member African nations bloc has been offered money, technology, bribes and resources in exchange for their support. Western nations, including Australia, are being sent the bill for this bribing of African nations to the tune of billions of dollars—Australian taxpayers paying bribes. We won’t have it. This is how much Western money Africa has been offered to support the pandemic treaty.
How many understand that this treaty is not just about pandemic management but a permanent system of healthcare aid to the third world? The pandemic treaty proposes allowing health stakeholders, such as vaccine companies, to sit as voting members to a World Health Organization committee running a pandemic response, with the United Nations World Health Organization declaring potential pandemics—they wouldn’t even have to declare a pandemic, just a potential pandemic.
Vaccine companies would have the power to order the use of their vaccines around the world, under World Health Organization orders. These would include companies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is the World Health Organization’s second-largest donor. In return, the World Health Organization promotes vaccines from pharmaceutical companies that Bill and Melinda Gates own. The Gates Foundation returns a profit from vaccine purchases to an organisation that promotes vaccine use. It’s a nice circle.
Welcome to cronyism and corruption World Health Organization style, Gates style, big pharma style.
In the detail, the World Health Organization has decreed that this policy instrument makes the WHO ‘the directing and coordinating authority on global health and the leader of multilateral cooperation in global health governance’.
It further insists that it will have powers to control the health response from a global to a regional, national and community level, meaning the World Health Organization—the crooked, corrupt, incompetent and dishonest organisation—will have powers inside every Australian town and suburb, every GP surgery and every state and federal health bureaucrat’s desk. That would leave little room to doubt that the intention of this document is to invade the domestic health processes of each country, right down to the local community health centre.
Who will really exercise these powers? I’ll tell you. The document clearly states that national sovereignty ends where the impact on other countries begins, at which point the United Nations World Health Organization takes over. Who determines what impacts on another country? The World Health Organization, apparently, setting itself up as judge, jury and executioner, with the only right of appeal being the World Health Organization itself. We should ask ourselves: if the World Health Organization declared Sweden to be causing harm to neighbouring countries during the last pandemic, what action would Tedros and the World Health Organization have taken against them?
No-one has given an answer to this; indeed, no-one is even curious about these extreme hypothetical powers and what they would look like in even in the most basic real-world scenario.
The SWIFT system of processing international financial transactions was used to enforce sanctions against Russia. This is the most likely method of delivering World Health Organization sanctions, and it has been mooted.
The treaty will create a monstrous health bureaucracy that binds Australia to funding the health systems of developing nations, even though we can’t seem to find the money to build hospitals in our own country. Only today there were reports in the media of mothers-to-be in Gladstone, Queensland having to travel hours to get to a maternity centre. Gladstone is a city of 35,000 people, not a village, and it has a maternity unit that is effectively closed to new deliveries. This is a first world country, or it was. Perhaps, if the treaty comes in, Premier Palaszczuk can apply to the World Health Organization to pay for a new birthing unit. That’s sarcasm, by the way. I’d never want them to build any damn thing.
Our states have some of the worst health records in half a century and yet we cannot wait to rush in as global saviours of international health and throw what little money we have left behind the World Health Organization.
The Zero Draft of the WHO pandemic treaty, accord or instrument—whatever the rebranding—must be referred for a detailed review, including the costing. We need to know exactly what the price tag is going to look like. We need to know exactly how much sovereignty will be ceded to an international body that has proven itself to be politically compromised to China, a nation offering sufficient security concerns that our defence minister decided we needed to sign up to AUKUS, in part to provide protection against China.
Under the pandemic treaty, the private medical data of citizens becomes the property of global health bureaucrats and their corporate stakeholders. Your private health data becomes their property. Will this data be deidentified?
Not on the current wording, it won’t. We all, in this country, will become vulnerable to foreign health rules, procedures and orders, dictates from bureaucrats that Australia cannot vote out of power and from whom we cannot protect ourselves, nor can we hold these bastards accountable. With unending unlimited power, the pandemic treaty will ensure that nations like Australia, which are least likely to be the cause of a global pandemic, are required to bear an unfair burden of cost for the mistakes of other regimes.
The pandemic treaty is a political document, not a health document, and it must be treated as such. The treaty dictates how much money Australian governments must spend on pandemic prevention—five per cent of annual health budgets. It cedes sovereignty to unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats in Geneva and New York. It requires Australia to give away a defined percentage of our GDP on international cooperation and assistance on pandemic prevention. It cedes sovereignty to unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats in Geneva and New York.
Under our Constitution’s external affairs powers, the Commonwealth government is empowered to sign away our sovereignty and require the state to make this expenditure. The external affairs powers are being used here in a manner our founding fathers did not envisage. What about the other UN agencies? I imagine they’re all eyeing this one up. What a way to extend their power and their funding—their control! Since when did Australia’s governments allow the UN World Health Organization to make binding demands on public money and the allocation of funds?
One Nation completely opposes the UN World Health Organization being issued with a magic credit card, with Australian taxpayers paying the bill.
And what of reviewing the severe risk a unified health response places on national security? Do we want potentially hostile nations knowing exactly how Australia will respond to a pandemic, given that a pandemic might come in the form of a biological weapon? That is what the pandemic treaty demands.
Signing this is a violation of national security. We can’t wait until the treaty is completed and passed through parliament, a fait accompli, as every other sovereignty-sapping agreement has been. We can’t wait until then. We have to hit this now. This is far too important. People’s lives are at stake. People’s health is at stake. Our nation’s sovereignty is at stake. Our negotiating committee—permanently based in Zurich!—needs to receive their instructions from the Australian people, not from the pharmaceutical establishment.
At the very least, the pandemic treaty must be submitted for a rigorous, detailed and forensic review to determine exactly what we are agreeing to. This must happen now so the negotiating body understands what the public will accept and what it will not accept. After that, the public must be allowed to decide if it is prepared to cede control of health care, something that has always been proudly under the control of Australia, instead to the international bureaucracy. It’s a question so significant that it’s worthy of a plebiscite. Yet the best we can do is to come into the Senate chamber and beg for a Senate inquiry. This treaty needs an inquiry now to help our negotiators make good decisions—decisions in the national interest, decisions that everyday Australians struggling with an out-of-control cost of living can afford.
I want to make the point that Senator Alex Antic, Senator Pauline Hanson and Senator Ralph Babet are cosponsors and co-movers of the motion. This work on the United Stations started in my very first speech in the Senate in 2016. It has continued, thoroughly, completely, continually, until now. It will continue, because the United Nations and the World Health Organization are corrupt, dishonest, disgraceful, inhuman entities.
I will not shut up on this until we exit from the United Nations. I call on an Aus-exit. After years of Liberal, Labor and the Greens gutlessly ceding sovereignty over many aspects of this country, we will chase and hold accountable governments on this, just as we did on the cash ban and won on that.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Chandler): Before I call you, Senator Babet, I will just remind senators to be diligent in their use of parliamentary language during these debates. Senator Babet.
Senator BABET: I thank Senator Malcolm Roberts for this motion. Obviously I rise here in this place today to support the motion. I too spoke in my maiden speech about the ever-encroaching United Nations WHO and all their sister organisations. During the 2020 election campaign, the UAP brought to the people of Australia a serious concern. That concern of course was the ever-encroaching—the ever-growing—power of the WHO. Specifically, we sounded the alarm on the pandemic treaty. We did our best to get our warning out to the public. We allocated significant resources to an education campaign around the proposed treaty, which was swiftly dismissed by the majority of people here in this place and by the legacy media as just another conspiracy theory, just more misinformation, even though our nation was already heavily entangled in the early stages of this treaty via the intergovernmental negotiating body. Just another conspiracy theory, they said.
Well, it’s now unfolding right before our very eyes. Not a conspiracy theory anymore, is it? It is up to us in this place to ensure that our nation’s interests are protected from any agreement which could impact the autonomy of our people and, of course, our nation and our sovereignty. It must be protected.
What have the past three years taught us? I’ll tell you what they’ve taught us. They taught us that secrecy and lack of disclosure erodes trust and produces poor outcomes. Like I keep saying in this place over and over again, we need transparency. The Australian people were shielded from the truth when they voted in 2022, and we must do all that we can to ensure that no treaty is signed off until the people have their chance to look at the issue and properly dissect and understand the implications. What have we learnt from the pandemic? We’ve learnt that transparency and accountability is the best way forward. That’s what we learnt from that. As Senator Roberts mentioned, and I’ll quote again, even Elon Musk tweeted just last week in response to a speech by Senator Roberts: Countries should not cede authority to WHO.
I ask all of you here one question: who should control or guide our government response to the next health emergency? Should it be the WHO, an unelected international body with no accountability, or should it be the
Australian people? Should it be us, democratically elected here in this place to serve the people? That’s a rhetorical question. Of course it should be us.
The Department of Health and Aged Care website states: Once the new instrument has been finalised, the Australian Government will make a decision on whether to agree to it.
Changes to the International Health Regulations may create new international legal obligations for Australia.
I urge everyone here in this place to consider the second sentence carefully. We must understand what the WHO wants to achieve, and we must ask our constituents if they are comfortable letting a foreign, unelected bureaucracy potentially take the wheel next time there is a public health emergency. I was elected to this place because the people of Victoria disapproved of the last pandemic response. Never again can we allow basic inalienable human rights to be tossed to the side. Never again can we threaten livelihoods, close borders, grant indemnity to big pharma or break up families. We must learn from our mistakes and not off-load our responsibility to unaccountable and, in my opinion, easily corruptible foreign bodies.
I’ll give you some examples. Bill Gates was the second-highest donor to the WHO in 2020-21, the start of the pandemic. Greater even than the United States, Germany was the highest, with US$751 million donated. In addition to this, the Vaccine Alliance, which Bill Gates created in 1999, has donated US$1.5 billion from 2016 to 2020. They also donated $452 million to the WHO in 2020-21. Basically, foundations supported or funded by Bill Gates donated in total over US$1 billion to the WHO in 2020-21. Gates said in 2010, in the now infamous Ted talk, that if we do a good job on vaccines we can reduce the world’s population by 1.5 billion or so. I’ll be clear and I will say that that comment may have been taken out of context, but it makes you wonder: is he all about promoting vaccines no matter the cost?
Senator Roberts: That he makes.
Senator BABET: That he makes—vaccines that he makes. Thank you, Senator Roberts. Now, Gates is also quoted as saying—this is what he has said—that he gets a 20-to-one return on any investment he makes on vaccines. Doesn’t that make you wonder what he’s up to, the guy who funds the WHO? Isn’t that enough to make you say, ‘Hang on a sec: maybe we should look at this’? I, for one, am opposed to the WHO pandemic treaty, and millions of Australians stand with me. Just like the lyrics to that famous song from the band the Who, ‘I’ll get on my knees and pray we don’t get fooled again.’ Thank you.
Senator CAROL BROWN: The devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been felt across the world, including here in Australia. Countries from across the globe are looking to determine how the global health system could better work in future pandemics so that they can better protect their populations, minimise economic effects and see a more effective and equitable global response.
This parliament has, since 1996, a long-established significant role in scrutinising treaties prior to binding treaty action being taken by government, led by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, JSCOT. Before Australia can ratify any new international agreement, once negotiated, the JSCOT will consider the agreement, undertake further consultation with stakeholders and members of the public, and make a recommendation to parliament as to whether Australia should ratify the agreement. The proposed new instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response is still being negotiated, and key provisions have not been agreed between countries. There is not yet a final agreement for the parliament to consider. Negotiations on a new instrument are not expected to be concluded until May 2024 at the earliest. We therefore oppose the proposed motion.
Let me also take this opportunity to clarify a range of misunderstandings about this proposed instrument.
Countries retain sovereignty regarding their public health policies, including public health and safety measures such as border measures and the use of masks and vaccines. This is enshrined in the very first paragraph of the current draft agreement, which enforces the principle that each country retains responsibility and control of its own health policies. It is also enshrined in international law, including the existing International Health Regulations 2005. The WHO has no legal authority to force countries to accept any recommendations The WHO can provide assistance only at the request of a country. Australian law can be changed only by an act of parliament, not by an international treaty or any other international legal instrument. No international instrument can change or affect Australia’s constitution. Any changes to Australian law to implement the new instrument would also have to be considered and passed by parliament through the usual processes.
Negotiations are currently underway on the new instrument, and nothing has been agreed. In particular, the specific proposals referred to in the motion will be subject to extensive negotiations by member states and have not been agreed. The specific proposals referred to in points (b) and (d) are not being considered for inclusion in the new instrument. While this instrument is being negotiated through the mechanisms of the WHO, negotiations are between countries only. This is an opportunity to pursue Australia’s objectives for improvement to global health systems, which include: strengthening the international community’s efforts to prevent and respond to future pandemics; allowing Australia to pursue international and regional health priorities while protecting domestic interests and sovereign rights; and protecting the Australian community’s health and wellbeing against the threat of future pandemics. Further information on these negotiations is available on the Department of Health and Aged Care website and on the World Health Organization website.
The government expects to commence public consultation on the proposed instrument later in the year, once the likely shape of the agreement is better defined.
Senator RENNICK: I rise today to speak in support of Senator Roberts’s motion to refer the World Health Organization pandemic treaty to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee, because his motion goes to the essence of democracy. It goes to what our forefathers have fought for for the last 250 years. I hark back to that great year, 1776, when the great patriots of the USA fought against foreign oppression.
I know many of those on the opposite side like to laugh at that, but that was the flame that lit the light of democracy. That was followed by the French Revolution. What makes Western civilisation so great is that it is founded on grassroots movements, not unelected elite bureaucrats out there in Switzerland who make these decisions and then use globally controlled media to influence decisions.
While I agree with you, Senator Brown—I don’t think that we’re going to give up our sovereignty to the WHO on what is binding and non-binding—we do risk being influenced by the so-called vibe. We saw that during the COVID pandemic, when we would religiously follow the orders or proclamations from the WHO without any questioning. We had great big organisations under the umbrella of the ‘trusted news initiative’ giving commands, and you weren’t allowed to question anything. If you did, you were censored. We have seen that come out recently with the Twitter files, where the White House, for example, was influencing social media companies. Anyone who tried to put out a story that might have questioned the safety of the vaccines was immediately barred from social media. That is not right. That was a globally coordinated effort. There were no laws in place to say that any of that was legal. What was in place was a system of influence that has been brought about by the centralised control of wealth. I will give a bit of a prologue here in this country.
My first memory of politics is from 1983, when Bob Hawke was elected. Within months of being elected, he went to the High Court in order to overthrow a state government that wanted to build a dam. Put aside the
environmental issues of the Franklin dam. The fact of the matter is that the Labor Party used the Constitution to argue that foreign treaties ought to override state powers. That undermined democracy, and it undermined our own Constitution. You cannot tell me that, when Deakin and Barton—the two great protectionists of this party and the first two prime ministers of this country—helped to formulate the Constitution and said that the federal government should have foreign powers, that meant that foreign treaties could override domestic law. That’s exactly what the Franklin dam decision did, and that was the start of the unwinding of our sovereignty in this country.
In 1985, Paul Keating let foreign banks into this country without any capital controls. That mattered, because for the next 30 years we saw the banks go out on a borrowing spree. They went from having $8 billion in debt in 1985 to having $800 billion in 2007, and all that money went into housing. There were no controls over how much went into manufacturing or industry. If I had my way, for every dollar that we borrowed offshore for housing another dollar would have to go into industry. We have to cut down on foreign debt, because it is another form of influence.
Then we had the Button plan, which ultimately destroyed manufacturing in this country. It destroyed the great state of Victoria. That was followed by the Dawkins plan, which brought in and empowered universities. So we basically got rid of our manufacturing industry and replaced it and empowered these Marxists in universities who go around and undermine the working population.
To cap it all off, we had superannuation, which basically funded the sale of our infrastructure to unelected officials in superannuation, along with foreign ownership. That superannuation has a centralised all the battlers’ wealth in this country. For example, the industry funds use one proxy manager, they own over 20 per cent of all the major top-50 companies in Australia and they vote together with that one proxy vote. What’s happened in Australia has also happened overseas. We have wealth managers, like BlackRock and Vanguard, who have controlling interests in NBC and Pfizer. These people who sit on the boards also sit on the NIH, and there are massive conflicts of interest. That is where we get the problem with these treaties and the World Health Organization. As Senator Roberts rightly pointed out, Bill Gates, I think—I stand to be corrected on this—is a massive donor to the World Health Organization. He might be the second-biggest donor. He has enormous influence. He’s not accountable to anyone. He, himself, has backflipped on how effective the vaccines are. Yet again, there is no level of accountability. That is the problem with organisations like the World Health Organization.
I think they served a purpose after World War II. I think the United Nations was created with the good intentions of trying to find a peaceful solution between countries going to war. But, as we know with the famous Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt leaked conversation, back in 2014, Ban Ki-moon condoned the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Ukraine. So you have to ask yourself why the United Nations isn’t trying to strive for peace, rather than interfering domestically with countries’ policies. That is the difference.
I’ve got no problems with seeking cooperation between countries. That is very important. We do not want conflicts going on. At the same time, we have to respect a nation’s sovereignty. That means the people and the
government must listen to its people. This is particularly relevant, because section 477(1)(c) of the Biosecurity Act empowers the health minister to declare an emergency on a recommendation by the World Health Organization.
That is already in legislation. That is very, very scary—the fact that we have already legislated, the fact that the health minister can make a unilateral decision based on the recommendation of the World Health Organization.
That is why this inquiry is so important. We need to shine a light on the dealings of the bureaucrats. Let’s face it, it’s the bureaucrats who run—I’ve often said this. It’s the bureaucrats who are a shadow government in this country. It’s not us. We turn up here for 19 weeks of the year and we run across the chamber to the bells—like monkeys on a tin can or whatever. No, it’s the bureaucrats who have permanent jobs here. They get to go on the junkets over to Switzerland. Occasionally, the other side might get to go.
I think I picked up before that there are permanent bureaucrats living in Switzerland who do the deals. So you can imagine how easily influenced they’ll be by their colleagues in Switzerland, when they’re going out wining and dining and having schapps after a day on the slopes. I must admit—maybe I should try and jag a job, thinking about it like that! What a cushy job that would be. The point is, you can imagine how easy it would be for these bureaucrats to be influenced by these people. Those in Australia would never even know. So much money was spent throughout COVID. We saw the World Health Organization flip-flop. They flipflopped on masks. They flip-flopped on remdesivir. You have to ask yourself why they flip-flopped. Was it political pressure? Was it the wheelings and dealings of, for example, these wealthy fund managers, like BlackRock, Vanguard and the Gates of the world who have conflicts of interest, trying to push their drugs onto people when they weren’t properly tested?
I think it’s a fantastic idea that we shine a light on the wheelings and dealings of these treaties. I ask everyone to support this motion.
Senator COX: The Greens will be opposing this motion and the attempt to undermine the World Health Organization in the claim that they undermine Australian sovereignty. I think I’m pretty well positioned to talk about sovereignty in this place.
The World Health Assembly has decided to create a treaty for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, and this decision was made by consensus. The Greens support this decision. The World Health Organization represents governments from across the world, all of which have had vastly different experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even within Australia, we’ve had vastly different experiences of the pandemic. I know that my experience as a Western Australian is very different from that of people in New South Wales or Victoria. This treaty will gather their learnings, and the WHO will draft and negotiate the WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.
This is actually a good thing, because it’s important that we learn from the responses of governments right across the world so we can do better next time. Australia needs a plan. We are now the only country in the OECD that does not have a national authority on communicable diseases and their control. The Australian Greens plan for pandemic preparedness in Australia includes establishing a national centre for disease control with $246 million of funding to lead a unified apolitical health approach across the entire country and to ensure that we can deal with the threat of new and emerging diseases; investing $250 million over the next two years into COVID-19 vaccine research; ensuring we can produce enough of our own vaccines onshore for everybody by building and operating publicly owned mRNA vaccine production facilities; and using a boosted foreign aid budget to invest in COVAX to support globally equitable vaccine access. All of these play a critical role in ensuring that Australia is as prepared as possible for the next pandemic.
I want to turn to how First Nations communities were impacted by COVID-19. To put it simply, without those lockdowns, which we all absolutely detested, especially in some of our remote communities, COVID-19 could have been absolutely devastating. These lockdowns actually saved lives. These lockdowns helped keep COVID-19 out of already vulnerable communities. I remember, before coming becoming a senator, I was working alongside some of those remote communities in Western Australia who actually moved boulders onto access roads to stop people coming in and spreading COVID-19. Some of these communities don’t have access to clean running water and may not have access to health care to treat them if they did get sick from COVID-19. Indeed we know that First Nations people have significantly worse health outcomes than non-First Nations people. The life expectancy in Australia is 83.2 years. We are No. 8 in the world in this regard. For comparison, Hong Kong is No. 1, with a life expectancy of 85.3. Just to put that into context, for a First Nations person here in Australia, our average life expectancy is 71.6 years for men and 75.6 years for women—in fact, I don’t have that long to go; about 30 years.
It’s also been found that the burden of diseases may result in illness but not death, such as mental illness, injuries, arthritis, hearing loss and asthma, which all have a huge impact on other diseases because the immune system is already compromised, especially for First Nations people in their communities. We saw all through this pandemic that if someone had an underlying condition, there were more likely to become sicker and would perhaps have a harder time recovering from COVID-19. First Nations people are getting sicker earlier and for longer. In fact, what those statistics tell us is that we are dying earlier. This is still a shameful reality for our community and for Australia as a whole. It is the result of ongoing oppression that has been going on since colonisation in this country. We are already worse off, and if COVID-19 had been allowed to run rampant in our communities, this would have been catastrophic.
We’ve seen some progress being made, but, as we debated the most recent Closing the Gap report in the first sitting period in March, we know that this is not happening fast enough. Four out of the 18 targets are on track—only four. This in itself is disgusting and disgraceful. The other 14 are either not on track or there is no new data, so we don’t even know how we’re tracking. That in itself is a huge problem that needs to be addressed. For First Nations people, good health is more than just the absence of disease or illness; it’s a holistic concept that includes physical, social, emotional, cultural and spiritual wellbeing both for an individual and for their communities. That’s why it’s so important to have community led health care because First Nations people understand this. We understand the cultural difference between First Nations people’s health and non-First Nations people’s health, and that must be taken into consideration to provide adequate health and wellbeing care. This is integral to the success of the Closing the Gap initiatives. We need First Nations people deeply embedded in our approaches as we tackle these issues, from housing to health care to education to incarceration. It is not enough to be in consultation with First Nations people. The solutions need to be First Nations created, led and managed.
One element of the pandemic preparedness is to ensure remote communities have access both to clean water and community led health care, and it is about making progress in all of the aspects of Closing the Gap because the healthier our communities are, the better we will be able to face the next pandemic. Thank you.
Senator ANTIC: Australia, as a sovereign nation, has the right to exercise its own judgements and decisions when it comes to dealing with healthcare issues in emergencies. Power consolidated in the hands of a few, especially when those few are an international elite, establishes a precedent of subordinating ourselves to globalist institutions like the World Economic Forum, the United Nations and, in the case of this particular motion, the World Health Organization.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic we witnessed Australia’s CHOs—chief health officers—and our premiers obediently defer to the advice of the World Health Organization, which pushed for the hardest possible restrictions, including lockdowns, border closures, mask mandates, vaccine mandates and so on, and all without concern for the damage that might be done to the countries upon whose advice they were relying. Much of this advice was not only wrong, but it was also dangerous, and I’m specifically speaking of the advice in relation to lockdowns and mandates.
But this didn’t prevent WHO’s Director-General Tedros from telling the world in 2020:
One of the greatest dangers we face now is complacency. … … … There must be a new normal …
When millions of people were locked in their homes, Tedros said:
The same public health measures we have been advocating since the beginning of the pandemic must remain the backbone of the response in all countries; find every case, isolate every case, test every case, care for every case, trace and quarantine every contact …
It’s hard to believe in hindsight, but that’s what was being said. Anyone who pointed out basic facts was deemed a conspiracy theorist by the WHO, and they encouraged the actions I just described which trampled the most basic rights, liberties and dignity of Australian citizens and citizens throughout the world. Such rights included the rights to freedom of speech, movement and association. And I say freedom of speech because anyone who defied the WHO’s supposedly expert advice, including eminent medical professionals, were censored and vilified by the media and big tech at the behest of government and these organisations. The only narrative that was allowed oxygen was that which parroted the WHO. Many Australian healthcare providers were suspended for contradicting what was ultimately the WHO’s position on COVID-19 vaccines. Their predictions and observations have turned out to be correct, and we’ll see how that narrative is slowly changing.
We saw it this weekend when, on Saturday, on the front page of the Weekend Australian, the tragic story of Amy Sedgwick was told. The article explained how a 24-year-old woman’s health rapidly deteriorated following her COVID-19 injections, which is thought to have led to her death. Yet the WHO’s website to date states:
The vaccine is safe and effective for all individuals aged 6 months and above … All efforts should be taken to achieve high vaccine coverage rates in the highest and high priority-use groups.
Clearly, we have here a contradiction between what is reality and what is the official advice of the WHO. And it should be obvious to anyone—anyone with a functioning memory—that the story in the Weekend Australian on the weekend would have been considered and deemed dangerous and probably even antivax by the censorship industrial complex known as the mainstream media in this country, which only a year ago parroted the WHO’s dangerous lines.
The WHO is slowly drip-feeding these stories to normalise the idea that people who pushed against this agenda were wrong, and also that there’s no way they could have known at the time. Well, we did know at the time. People did know at the time. Experts did know at the time. There are thousands of stories out there like the tragic one of Amy Sedgwick and her family. If only people in this place had taken the time to listen to them. Nobody did, bar a few. I say that because the rules that Amy Sedgwick followed were precisely the same rules that the WHO sought to have its member governments enforce. Why, then, would we even entertain further involving ourselves with this body? Why would we entertain signing and ratifying a treaty to make further encumbrances on our own sovereign nation?
In the early days of the pandemic the WHO refused to investigate the Chinese Communist Party’s potential involvement in the development and release of COVID-19, despite the fact that the virus came from China. It was never, ever an issue. Down the road they had a major virology institute, which had labs in which coronaviruses had been experimented on. When they finally did start investigating the CCP, they quickly confirmed that there was no wrongdoing on their part. We’ve all forgotten it, but that’s what happened. Coincidentally, the WHO refused to acknowledge the existence of a little country called Taiwan. This is the body we’re dealing with. This is the body we’re talking about here—the one that’s so vaunted by those opposite in this chamber. One might well be excused for being a tiny bit sceptical about the WHO’s supposed independence when it comes to international matters.
I believe that government power needs to be at its lowest possible level, and, wherever that power is given, it shouldn’t be abused on an extraordinary level. National or federal power is required, but the federal government shouldn’t be controlling the lives of communities. This is even more so at an international level. The idea that the WHO should have control over individuals’ personal medical choices is an egregious abuse of power. This WHO pandemic treaty represents a further descent into the world of centralised powers that our leaders, our representatives in this place, are failing to prevent. You’ll all understand in due course—I assure you of that. Our government departments are walking in lock step with the globalist agenda of the WEF, the UN and the WHO, and we’re ceding our national sovereignty bit by bit. It’s death by a thousand cuts.
There’s a lot to discuss with this proposed treaty, but, to choose just one example, article 17 deals with strengthening pandemic and public health literacy. It says the WHO will:
conduct regular social listening and analysis to identify the prevalence and profiles of misinformation, which contribute to design communications and messaging strategies for the public to counteract misinformation—
and what else—disinformation …
What’s the difference? We’ll never know.
This is what the document says. Presumably, the WHO will define what is deemed to be misinformation and disinformation at some point, and then we’ll all know. It even uses the term ‘false news’. I’m sure this would be very convenient for the financial contributors to the WHO, who are heavily invested in the development and manufacturing of vaccines. As I stated earlier, much, if not all, of what the WHO considered misinformation ultimately was—guess what—true. It turned out to be true. How about that! Why, then, would the Australian government entertain a treaty which allows the WHO to define what constitutes misinformation and presumably, under the guise of international law, work with social media companies to further censor the people of Australia and those who take a stand? That’s what ‘design communications and messaging strategies’ really means, ultimately.
Essentially, the Australian government is lining up to sign an agreement that the WHO is the central body determining how once-sovereign nations prepare for and deal with pandemics. We don’t need international
solidarity. We need to be establishing ourselves as a sovereign nation with our own response mechanisms in place.
Those mechanisms should strike a balance between public health and safety and a fundamental respect for people’s dignity and human rights, as well as being genuinely science based.
Simply put, the WHO will ensure that the process by which pandemic related products, which obviously means vaccines, are approved by regulatory agencies—in this case, the TGA—will be even speedier. Apparently, the COVID-19 vaccines were not developed and approved quickly enough, despite the lack of long-term safety data of any form. Once again, I can’t help but notice how convenient this is for the pharmaceutical investors and manufacturers. Saturday’s Weekend Australian presents undeniable proof of why this hastening of the development of these drugs is dangerous. Australia is being led by blind guides who are not listening to the voices of Australian people, or even the dissenting voices of highly qualified experts, but to the voices of international elites whose top priority is not to do what is best for the people of Australia. I support this motion. I commend it. My view is: get out of the WHO.
Senator SHOEBRIDGE: I rise to speak against this motion moved by Senator Roberts, and I want to thank Senator Cox for her contribution and for putting onto the floor of the Senate the perspective of First Nations communities when it comes to spreading disinformation about critical public health responses, because these conspiracy motions, these conspiracy theories from the cooker conspiracy club that occupies the far-right fringes of the Senate chamber, actually cause harm in the real world. I don’t know what the credentials are to get into the cooker conspiracy club, but they would probably involve some secret handshake and a genuine disgust of science and evidence. You have to establish that before you get entry into the club. There’s a dark and miserable 1970s shagpile on the floor of the cooker conspiracy club, and they wear a variety of strange antiquarian suits or clothing. Who knows what it involves?
But at the core of it is a dangerous disbelief in science and, worse still, a political willingness to play with people’s lives and play with public health for a narrow sectional political interest. It’s actually dangerous, what they’re doing. It is dangerous to public health. It’s particularly dangerous to First Nations communities, who are especially vulnerable to these public health risks. And it is a reckless abuse of their positions as senators in in place.
What the pandemic did highlight, very clearly, was a dangerous lack of preparation around the world for pandemics. When it came to Australia, the pandemic showed how the Commonwealth was not adequately prepared to respond to a global pandemic. As much as we might want to wish pandemics away or hope they could be dealt with by putting up sovereign borders and sealing Australia off from the world, we’re in a globally connected world, and if we’re going to respond to the threat of a global pandemic then we need to do it in co-operation with the rest of the world and we need some global strategies on how to deal with a pandemic. That means we need organisation and resourcing. To ignore that or to pretend otherwise exposes our community and the rest of the global population to harm.
And they’re quite happy to do that. The cooker club are quite happy to expose Australians—particularly vulnerable Australians, those with significant health concerns, older Australians—to highly elevated risks from
pandemics. They’re quite happy to do that, because they think they get some sort of narrow political benefit out of it. I think we saw one of the Victorian senators step up and say how spreading conspiracy theories had been his pathway to getting elected to this Senate. Well, that’s a kind of tragic statement, really—that the spreading of conspiracy theories was actually his way of getting elected. He was quite shameless about it. And the far-right fringes of the National Party and the Liberal Party are giving a safe berth to these same conspiracy theorists, because they think there’s an electoral advantage in it—a narrow electoral advantage in tearing down public health outcomes, tearing down public confidence in vaccines, which we know have been among the most significant public health victories for the planet in the last century. These senators may not like it.
They obviously don’t like science. They obviously don’t care. But vaccines have been among the most significant public health outcomes, and they’re willing, for their narrow political advantage, to tear down public confidence in that. That is almost the definition of venal politics, right there from that lot.
Of course, conspiracy theories are now in vogue in the far-right fringes of politics around the world. This is the kind of Trumpian politics they’re trying to introduce into Australia. They’ve never seen an election result they don’t agree with that they haven’t wanted to tear down through a conspiracy theory. In the United States, they use conspiracy theories to produce appalling public policy outcomes, not least of which is targeted voter suppression.
So they create a conspiracy theory about the integrity of the voting system without any factual basis, based on one or two anecdotes, and then they weaponise that politically to do targeted voter suppression in the United States.
That’s the game plan of the cooker conspiracy club. That’s what they do in the United States, and they want to bring that game plan here. They do it on antivax as well, bringing deeply unscientific, non-credible anecdotes to try and tear down public confidence in vaccine efficacy.
Of course, one of the things they want us to do is to repeat their conspiracy theories, because if we, in meeting these unscientific fringe conspiracy theories, repeat their conspiracy theories, it produces what’s called the backfire effect: if we engage in any way in a place like this—the Senate—with the details of their myths and their conspiracies, that somehow makes them appear more plausible. They want us to repeat the nonsense back at them because that gives their nonsense some kind of credibility. I think we need to be mindful of not doing that—not repeating the nonsense conspiracy theory—and instead resorting to the facts.
When it comes to the very sensible moves afoot to get a pandemic treaty, the facts are these. The World Health Assembly’s pandemic treaty is designed to establish an intergovernmental negotiating body. The intent is to draft and negotiate a world health convention agreement or some other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. The idea is that we cooperate with the rest of the world to come up with a plan for the next pandemic; to prevent it or to be prepared if and when it hits the planet; and to have an integrated response to deal with a global pandemic. They don’t want that to happen, because they don’t care about vulnerable people. They don’t care about the elderly. They don’t care about people with an immunosuppressed health response. They don’t care. They’re willing to play with the lives of vulnerable Australians for their own narrow political advantage, and that is an obscene outcome from the cooker conspiracy club in the Senate.
The intent is to adopt the instrument under a longstanding article of the World Health Organization’s constitution.
Then, of course, once we have a global treaty framework, how to implement it is entirely up to Australia. How we implement a World Health Organization treaty is up to decisions of the Australian government and our state and territory governments. I know that’s awkward for the conspiracy theorists to take on board. Perhaps they should read the Constitution they say they care about. I’d suggest Senator Rennick not start his lessons in Australian constitutional law in 1776, because he’s probably on the wrong continent, but it’s up to him. But, if they read the Australian Constitution and looked at High Court decisions, they would know that entering into a treaty under Australian law in no way incorporates that into Australian domestic law. It just doesn’t. That’s an awkward constitutional reality for the club. The conspiracy club finds the reality of how our Constitution works politically inconvenient because it doesn’t work with their scare campaign. But the Constitution is very clear. The High Court has said repeatedly that the act of the executive government in entering into a treaty—whether it’s a World Health Organization treaty or an arms reduction treaty or a treaty on bilateral trade—does not incorporate the treaty into domestic law. It just doesn’t.
Some people would think that understanding the Constitution would be a prerequisite for a senator before they get up and spout their conspiracy theories, but they’re not troubled by that. They’re not troubled by evidence. They’re not troubled by law. They just want to make people feel uncomfortable and uneasy because they think there’s a political advantage in it. But entering a treaty does not incorporate the treaty into Australian law. For any element of a treaty to be incorporated into Australian law, this parliament or a state or territory parliament has to determine to do so, by passing a law or granting a power to a minister. The idea that entering into a treaty is some sort of surrender of sovereignty is just plain nonsense. They know it’s nonsense, I think, because I actually give them some credit. They know it’s nonsense. They know it’s false. They know it’s a lie, but we still get ridiculous motions like this. They know they’re peddling lies to the Australian public. They know they’re deliberately creating unease in people.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Walsh): Senator Shoebridge, resume your seat. Senator O’Sullivan?
Senator O’Sullivan: Acting Deputy President, it’s an interesting debate but I believe it’s crossing the line in terms of impugning the motives of other senators.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I was listening to you, Senator Shoebridge, and you might have accused senators of doing something that would have been perhaps unparliamentary. So I would just ask you to
consider that and move on with your comments. I’ll be listening carefully.
Senator SHOEBRIDGE: Thank you, Acting Deputy President. They don’t care that the rhetoric they put here is totally contrary to the law and to the Constitution. As I said before, I give them credit: they know it’s wrong. They know what they’re saying is wrong, but they don’t care, because for them a really good conspiracy doesn’t have to be grounded in the truth.
I was counting the number of conspiracy theories that Senator Rennick had—it’s one of the challenges in trying to follow the senator’s contributions—and I got up to six. Somehow superannuation was in it. Somehow the Button plan was in it. Bill Gates, of course, featured at some point. The UN was in on it. Somehow or other universities were in on it. Former Minister Dawkins was in on it. I was trying to work out how to weave all the conspiracies together into some coherent whole. That way danger lies, I think—trying to pretend that they think that there’s some sort of coherence in it. They just throw out all these individual elements. They throw out all these individual conspiracies and hope that one of them will stick in someone’s mind. Maybe it was the UN. Maybe it is superannuation. Maybe it all comes down to the Button plan. Maybe it’s the WHO. Maybe it’s Bill Gates. Maybe it’s banks in general. Maybe it’s something that happened in Ottawa in 1917. I don’t know. But it is never grounded in any kind of coherence or facts. To do that is the worst abuse of the position of an elected representative.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Is this a point of order, Senator Scarr?
Senator Scarr: It is. It is personal reflection and imputation of motive against my friend and colleague Senator Rennick. Senator Shoebridge was directly speaking about Senator Rennick, and he talked about abuse of process et cetera. He should withdraw.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Shoebridge, it is appropriate to use people’s proper titles, and we will collectively clarify that it’s Senator Rennick. I’d just ask you to reflect on the comments that you made in relation to that senator.
Senator SHOEBRIDGE: Yes. I apologise for calling Senator Rennick anything other than his name.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Scarr on the point of order?
Senator Scarr: Acting Deputy President, I specifically raised in my point of order that Senator Shoebridge should withdraw. If you didn’t have an opportunity to hear the comments then perhaps you want to take it on notice, review the Hansard and make a decision—unless Senator Shoebridge would be prepared to withdraw.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Shoebridge?
Senator SHOEBRIDGE: I withdraw it. Of course the Greens oppose this motion. It would be useful to see the coalition actually forming a position on this, opposing this motion and speaking against those kinds of dangerous fringe elements that they otherwise give a safe home to within their parties, because it comes at real cost. Senator Cox made it clear that among the communities that pay the highest cost for these conspiracy theories are First Nations communities. So reflect on the damage you’re causing in these motions. I’d ask the coalition to reflect on allowing this to continue to happen week in and week out in this place and on the real cost that’s causing on the ground to some of the most vulnerable people in this country. I would have thought it’s our job to protect those people, not to expose them to the cooker conspiracy club, which is pushing this motion forward.
Senator RUSTON: I acknowledge the extraordinarily important role that the committees of this place play in making sure that we have the most robust process we can have to investigate issues that are of importance to all Australians. I think that the role of the Senate is undermined by the kind of contribution that we just heard from Senator Shoebridge. I think that to come in here and lecture somebody simply because they had a view contrary to that of somebody else in this chamber, to somehow suggest that they’re a lesser person and to use derogatory terms to describe them reflects very badly on Senator Shoebridge—more so than on those people who have put forward this motion.
I have something to say to Senator Roberts, who obviously feels very strongly about this issue, and to others who have made a contribution about the importance, as they think, of shining light on issues that have significant impact on Australia going forward and particularly on our place in the global environment. I thank you, Senator Roberts, for bringing forward this important issue. I believe that as a Senate we shouldn’t be standing in the way of scrutinising very important issues. We are never all going to agree on any issue. That is the beauty of this place. But the minute we start shying away from having a genuine debate and getting the experts in, which is how the committee process works, I think we are letting the Australian public down and not delivering what this chamber has been designed, in the first place, to do. So, Senator Roberts, the coalition will be supporting your reference, because that’s exactly what it is. It is a reference. It gives us the ability to go into more detail and investigate the very important concerns that have been raised by everybody in this chamber about the issue that is the matter of substance of this reference.
I would also put on the record that coalition governments have never compromised, and will never in the future compromise, the interests of Australia or its sovereignty in anything they do, and we would make sure that we would be very strongly of that view right the way through. We support transparency. This is something that’s really quite interesting when you consider the platform on which those opposite were elected to this place. They went out to the election and they trumpeted transparency from the hilltops, but I’ve got to tell you it is really quite extraordinary that, since we have been in this place, there has been nothing that has been less transparent than this Albanese Labor government. We stand for transparency on this side of the chamber, and for that reason we will be supporting the reference, as we almost always support references.
Senator CANAVAN: I support this referral because we shouldn’t be signing an international treaty with the World Health Organization; we should be getting out of the World Health Organization because of their negligent handling of the coronavirus pandemic. It surprises me that very few people have actually raised in this debate the record of the World Health Organization over the past few years. There’s a lot of emotion
now in light of lockdowns and vaccine mandates and what have you, but people have forgotten the initial stages of the pandemic and the mistakes—the gross errors of judgement—that the World Health Organization presided over.
It’s absolutely ridiculous that they haven’t—and no-one has—been held to account for those errors and mistakes, which probably cost hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, their lives. In fact, the head of the WHO is still the same person as at the start of the pandemic, even though at the start of the pandemic—we’ve all forgotten now—the WHO were saying there was nothing to see here; there was no problem.
On 14 January 2020, we were starting to learn about this thing called coronavirus, or COVID-19. Governments, including the Australian government at the time, were considering border restrictions against travel to and from China. At that very moment, when this was quite topical and governments were having to make serious decisions about protecting their own citizens, the WHO tweeted out:
Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China.
That’s what they said. There was nothing to see here. There was no airborne transmission, no human-to-human transmission. ‘You don’t need to close your borders.’ In fact, they doubled down on that as, in the weeks to follow, we were discussing a border closure to China. The Australian government was one of the first countries in the world to do that. I think it was almost that decision alone that prevented a wider COVID spread at that time. We made that decision on 29 January 2020, just two weeks after that tweet, but, as late as 3 February 2020, there was a news article, ‘WHO chief urges countries not to close borders to foreigners from China’. How does this organisation have any credibility? There are people coming in here and saying: ‘We’ve got to listen to the science. We’ve got to listen to the WHO; they know it all.’ If we’d listened to the WHO in January and February 2020, this country would have had a massive COVID outbreak, because we still would have had flights coming to and from Wuhan. We would have been in the same boat as almost every country in the world. We were very lucky that, for whatever reason, COVID wasn’t circulating in a widespread manner here in January and February 2020. It was probably because we didn’t go to the military games in Wuhan the year before, in late 2019—Australia and New Zealand were two of the major countries that didn’t go. We got lucky there, but we would have been very unlucky if we had listened to the WHO.
For those saying that somehow the WHO is sacrosanct and this oracle of science that must never be disagreed with, can you please explain to me whether or not you would have followed the WHO advice in February 2020? Did you agree with the Australian government’s very tough and critical decision to close our borders to China at the time? If you did agree with that decision, you were going directly against the advice of the WHO at that time. You can’t hold both positions. You can’t say the WHO is infallible but at the same time agree and think that we made the right decisions about COVID there.
Their advice goes on, of course. Later on, in March 2020, the next month, CNN reported, ‘WHO stands by recommendation to not wear masks if you are not sick or not caring for someone who is sick’. Remember that?
Hardly anyone remembers now; it’s gone in the memory hole, but for months in early 2020, right up until late 2020, the WHO were saying: ‘No need for masks. Don’t wear masks. They don’t do anything.’ As it turns out, they were probably right the first time. Later on, the WHO were saying we all had to wear masks and we had to force people to do it. This also shows that there’s no such thing as ‘the science’. Science evolves. Science changes all the time, including in response to something as severe as a pandemic. It’s ridiculous to say that somehow an international treaty by an unelected group of health officials should be the gold standard and should effectively run the response to any kind of pandemic.
At first the WHO weren’t in favour of lockdowns or border closures, as per most of the health advice. We did have communicable disease plans in this country and many others, and those plans almost invariably said not to lock down a society in the face of an airborne transmissible disease, but we went and did it. Originally the WHO said we shouldn’t, and then we did. Then the WHO said we should and we should lock down harder and longer and all the time.
Again, what happened to the science here? These last few years have been a complete failure for the scientific community. They did not stick to their original plans. They got spooked by the panic of TikTok videos from China with people falling over in the street. We don’t know where those videos came from or how they happened. It never happened anywhere else during the coronavirus pandemic, but we got spooked and the scientists got spooked. We all got panicked. I got scared. Everybody got scared. We were all spooked by it, so the science went out the window, and we all just responded with panic and fear. That’s what happened.
Allowing a treaty to entrench decision-making in a small group of people who, just like every other human being, are subject to potential paranoia and fear is a recipe for more errors during a pandemic.
What we need during a response to any kind of crisis, like a pandemic, is the flexibility and the ability of different countries to do different things, and then we can see what works and what doesn’t work. Thank God for the good sense, bravery and courage of the Swedes over the last few years because they did chart a different path under huge pressure, under massive pressure. They were called murderers, pandemic spreaders and variant creators, but they have come out trumps. The Swedish experiment has clearly worked better than almost any other country in the world. They have pretty much the lowest excess deaths over the last few years of any country in the world—lower than ours. Even though we were lucky that we closed borders and didn’t get COVID, we ended up three years later with a higher level of excess deaths than Sweden.
Again, there are those who are saying they support the science. When I learned science at school, I thought the idea was that we’d have a hypothesis, we’d experiment, we’d look at what happens in the real world and then we’d choose the particular experiment or particular course of action which delivers the best outcomes. Clearly, over the last few years the approach of Sweden has delivered much superior outcomes to those of almost every country in the world. Again, if we entrench the decision-making and power in this group, a particular group of unelected officials who seem completely unaccountable, that will potentially remove the ability to have that level of experimentation and effectively kill science. There won’t be science; there will just be one particular hypothesis, and you won’t be able to compare it to or contrast it against other approaches, which was a good thing. Likewise, in the United States different states were doing different things. Again, clearly, those states that didn’t lock down as severely have ended up with much, much better human outcomes, much better health outcomes and better economic outcomes as well.
Before I go, I want to make sure there is some mention of perhaps the greatest failing, the almost criminal failing, of the World Health Organization in the last few years, and that is their gross mismanagement of the investigation into the origins of the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic. There was a lot of controversy at the time about where this had come from. There was a lab in this place called Wuhan that was experimenting on coronaviruses, and then a coronavirus pandemic happened in Wuhan. It seemed reasonable to suggest that perhaps this laboratory that was experimenting on coronaviruses in bats may have played some role. But, of course, anyone who suggested that the lab leak theory had any kind of merit was immediately described, as Senator Shoebridge did just then, as a ‘cooker’ or ‘conspiracy theorist’ or some other rubbish.
In fact, 27 scientists wrote a letter that was published in the Lancet journal, a very respected journal—well, until now, it should be a respected journal. These 27 scientists all wrote a letter in March 2020 claiming that anyone who did support or posit the lab leak theory was a conspiracy theorist. That’s what the letter said, that the lab leak theory was a conspiracy theory. In that letter in the Lancet journal, as there is in all articles in medical journals, there was a declaration of interests. The 27 authors said, ‘We declare no competing interests.’ That’s what the scientists said. That letter was incredibly influential in giving cover to the Chinese Communist Party and suppressing any sensible discussion on whether or not a mistake or otherwise from the Chinese Communist Party played a role. It later came out—the letter published in March 2020, and they declared no competing interests—in a headline from the Daily Mail in September 2021 that 26 of the 27 Lancet scientists who trashed the theory that COVID leaked from a Chinese lab have links to Wuhan researchers.
We have a senator here today coming in and calling everybody a conspiracy theorist, and we had scientists doing the same three years. It turns out those scientists were directly conflicted and lied about their conflicts of interest. They lied about it in an otherwise respected medical journal.
Where’s the accountability here? Why doesn’t that get mentioned at all? Why are you running a protection racket for scientists who if they’re not engaging in criminal activity it should bloody well be a crime to do something like that because it absolutely costs lives doing stuff like that.
What is worse than this though, and that’s scandal enough, is how the WHO fits in here. One of those 27 scientists who signed it was a guy called Peter Daszak. Peter Daszak was the head of an organisation called EcoHealth Alliance, registered in New York. EcoHealth Alliance had funded coronavirus research in bats in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The WHO selected Peter Daszak to play an influential role, to be one of the scientists, on the inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus. How the hell did that happen? The World Health Organization that we’re a member of and we’re apparently going to sign a treaty with—where’s the accountability? Why aren’t we asking questions about this? We fund these guys. We send millions of dollars to the WHO.
The Australian government specifically asked WHO to do an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus. We paid a big price for that in terms of China’s unreasonable and illegal trade actions in response to that reasonable request.
And then the WHO undermined the government of Australia’s position by appointing somebody who had funded work in the Wuhan Institute of Virology to look into whether the Wuhan Institute of Virology had started the coronavirus. That happened, and we’re just sitting back and taking it. Don’t we have any self-respect? This is the way they’re treating us. We’re giving them millions of dollars, and they get hundreds of millions of dollars from the Chinese government, and they seem to completely whitewash any kind of link to China or whether this came from there. They’re not held to account. The same people are in the same jobs.
That’s why I said at the start of this, and it might seem dramatic, that surely we should leave this organisation if this is their record and if these are their actions and this is their complete unaccountability here. They have shown complete almost intransigence in seeking to fix any of the errors that they have made, any of the gross errors of judgement that they have made, if not criminally negligent activity, with regard to the inquiry they operated. Why would we still be involved with them?
I think we should have a body that coordinates on pandemics and health responses. I certainly don’t think we need to sign massive treaties or anything with them, but yes we should have a body where people can come together and discuss these issues. There are obviously cross-border implications when a pandemic occurs. However, the WHO is just completely discredited. It’s totally stuffed up the coronavirus. And if there is not going to be a complete flush out of the people involved in these stuff-ups then we should leave WHO and form some other body. Let’s create a new one. We can take our money, along with other like-minded countries, and set up a different body with actual accountability, because where is the accountability?
This inquiry will at least give a degree of accountability to the WHO. Maybe we can get them into the inquiry and ask them: Where is our money spent? What’s happening to it? Why did you get it so wrong? We could ask these questions. If the government are not going to support this small inquiry in this Senate into the WHO’s gross errors of misjudgement in the last few years, what are they planning to do to hold them to account?
Where is the accountability? Because any organisation that gets taxpayer funded money from people who work hard in this country every day should be held to account. It should be held to account to parliaments, to elected officials and to others. Even if they have done everything right, they should still be held to account.
I’d still support this inquiry even if they’ve done everything right because we should have an inquiry. There’s been a major, major thing that’s gone on in the world and the WHO have been central to it. But they clearly have not got everything right. They clearly made massive errors of judgement. Even if they’ve not been directly involved in a cover up of the Chinese government, they clearly should have known Peter Daszak was doing this stuff. It was clearly and publicly available. He’d spoken about his research on coronaviruses in bats in public fora. The WHO should have known, and yet they appointed a bloke who was irredeemably conflicted to hold the inquiry into the origins of coronavirus. We should not be funding the WHO. We should be getting out of this corrupt organisation and we certainly, at the very least, should be doing an investigation into them.
Senator McKIM: That’s 15 minutes of my life that I’m never going to get back, but I did actually learn one thing from Senator Canavan and that is this: cookers are going to cook. That’s what we’ve learned here this evening. The pandemic that we’ve been living through for years, and we continue to live through today, is an extremely serious issue. As we continue to grapple with the ongoing challenges of this global pandemic and as large numbers of Australians continue to die of COVID-19, it’s critical that we reflect on the lessons we learnt, the mistakes that we’ve made, the mistakes that we continue to make and the work that still needs to be done.
I want to start by acknowledging the incredible efforts of healthcare workers over the last few years. We need to acknowledge and thank the people who work in the health system from the bottom of our hearts, whether they be support workers, doctors, nurses, first responders or all of those other essential workers who do such a terrific and critical job of looking after all of us when accidents befall us or sickness takes us, because they have put their own health and safety at significant risk to look after us, to try to keep us safe and to keep our country running. We owe them a debt of gratitude that can never truly be repaid.
We also need to understand and recognise that the pandemic has exposed deep inequalities in our society, particularly in the areas of health care, housing and employment. What the pandemic has revealed ultimately is that we are far more units in an economy than we are human beings to those who govern us. We’ve seen that time after time when basic protections for people such as income support and health frameworks have been removed in order for the economy to keep on trundling along. We have to address those issues that have been exposed by the pandemic, ripping off some of the bandaids that have covered up some of the gaping chasms in our society and some of the inequalities in our community and economy. We have to commit to addressing those issues and ensuring that everyone has access to the things that they need to stay healthy and to have a good life. We also need to make sure we are prepared for future pandemics because, believe me, colleagues, they will be coming down the line.
That’s going to mean investing in public health infrastructure, in the research of things like vaccines, in things like testing for particular viruses, in things like ensuring our supply chains are resilient and in ensuring our emergency and pandemic response plans are up to date. Absolutely the Australian Greens support research and review of the ongoing handling of COVID and the lessons that can be learnt for the future.
I want to be really clear about something: it really beggars belief that a Labor government isn’t working hard to do more to look after people and to create jobs in our society by engaging in a significant retrofitting of public buildings in this country with clean air standards, ensuring adequate ventilation and filtration of our air and ensuring that new builds in this country comply with rigorous standards. One of the most significant things that a government could do in this space at this time is ensure that, to the greatest degree possible, the air that we are all breathing and that we rely on to survive as human beings is clean and virus free. The Greens also support global cooperation in addressing pandemics and public health emergencies, and we believe that the World Health Organization plays a critical role in coordinating international responses to these crises. We do believe that a global pandemic treaty with a focus on prevention, preparedness and response represents an important step forward in our efforts to protect public health on a global scale.
What is always amusing—and I’m glad Senator Roberts and Senator Babet are in the chamber—is when we get a little peek behind the curtain of what the cookers and the right-wing conspiracy theorists are actually worried about. Senator Roberts wants to put on his white coat and use the Senate’s valuable time and resources to annoy public servants about the illuminati, Agenda 21 and probably the lizard people, and we’re not going to have a bar of it.
I have to say, Acting Deputy President McGrath, it must be absolutely terrifying—
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McGrath): On a point of order, Senator Roberts?
Senator Roberts: Could you please ask the senator to get back to telling the truth instead of impugning me?
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Roberts. Senator McKim, if you could not impugn the motives of your fellow senators that would be much appreciated.
Senator McKIM: As I was saying, it must be pretty terrifying being Senator Roberts because he spends so much time worrying about imaginary threats that he can barely come to grips with some of the massive real challenges facing our society. Last week Senator Roberts was in the chamber carrying on about lab-grown meat, and I was recalling while I was listening to him that during last year’s election campaign he defiantly posted on Twitter that he would not ‘shut up and eat the bugs’. Despite making some jokes about it at the time, I do want to point out to Senator Roberts through you, Acting Deputy President, that no-one is trying to make Senator Roberts eat the bugs.
Eat the bugs, don’t eat the bugs—the Australian Greens don’t care whether you eat the bugs or not, Senator Roberts.
But while we’re on the subject of irrelevant rants, I would like to thank Senator Babet for dropping into the Senate in between making real estate deals to warn us that we don’t own DVDs anymore.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator McKim, to assist the chamber, perhaps you could withdraw that please because it does reflect on Senator Babet. I would ask you to withdraw it please.
Senator McKIM: I withdraw. But I do note that Senator Babet did actually say that we don’t own DVDs anymore. I want to say Senator Babet can speak for himself. He may or may not own any DVDs—I don’t know.
I’ve got plenty at home, Senator Babet. The Lord of the Rings box set on blu-ray looks utterly magnificent, and I commend it to you and to the chamber.
Interestingly, as I was coming in here, I found a document stamped ‘Top secret One Nation’ on the top. I was very surprised because it’s a bit like dynamite, and, when I read it, it turns out that this document is actually a list of proposed Senate inquiries that One Nation are going to push for in the future. I thought I’d share some of these potential Senate inquiries that One Nation want to pursue. First on this top-secret document is a Senate inquiry into why one sock seems to go missing when you do the laundry. That would be a critical matter for this chamber to inquire into. The second is a senate inquiry into whether Elvis is alive and perhaps living in a small village in regional Serbia. The third is a barbecue stopper, a senate inquiry into how they just made Maxibons smaller but are still charging the same price for them—Senator Roberts, I look forward to that one. Then there’s a Senate inquiry into ‘how there are like 14 different streaming services, but you still can’t find some movies on any of them’. That should be an absolute beauty, Senator Roberts. This one I think is possibly the most critical of them all, and I do thank Senator Roberts for bringing this one forward: a Senate inquiry into why you need scissors to open a packet of scissors. That one, is an absolute ripper and I look forward—
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator O’Sullivan, on a point of order?
Senator O’Sullivan: The senator is reading out a list. I’m wondering if he could table that, please.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: McKim, would you like to table it?
Senator McKIM: I thank the senator for the invitation, but I don’t think it would be fair of me to table a topsecret list of One Nation’s proposed Senate inquiries. The last one on the list, which I think actually the Liberal and National senators could be very constructive members of, is an inquiry into the question: why do you have to have a go to get a go? That one is a critical inquiry in Australian politics, and I thank One Nation for bringing these absolutely amazing proposals before the Senate. As I said at the start of my speech, what we’ve really found out today is that cookers are actually going to cook despite what sensible people in the Senate have got to say.
What I want to say in closing is that the COVID-19 pandemic has of course presented us with many challenges, but one of the big opportunities that it has presented us all with is an opportunity to reflect on the state of our society, the state of our government and the state of our economy. It has shown us where we need to improve, where we need to invest, the regulatory frameworks that are missing and those that need to be beefed up. Ultimately, it’s given us an opportunity to learn a giant lesson about how we need to change as a society and how politics needs to change in this country to make sure that we do much more to look after people and support people who are ill.
I want to give a shout out to everyone who is suffering from long COVID in this country. I want to give a shout out and extend my deepest sympathies, and those of the Australian Greens, to everyone who has lost a loved one, a family member or a friend as a result of COVID-19, because it is cutting a swathe through our community. Life expectancy in this country and globally is plummeting. In fact, global life expectancy is plummeting now at the fastest rate since the great famine of China in the early 1950s. That is the rate at which global life expectancy is currently plummeting, and it is due to this virus; it is due to COVID-19 and the global pandemic that we are all living through and will live through, tragically, for some time yet.
What we do know is that it has revealed, amongst many other things, the critical importance of public health infrastructure, the critical importance of a robust and responsive healthcare system, and the absolutely crucial nature of a coordinated and compassionate approach to protecting everyone in our community, but particularly those who are most vulnerable: older people and immunocompromised people. We’ve also seen the devastating consequences of systemic inequality and economic injustice in this country. We’ve seen the devastating consequences of a precarious and underpaid workforce and of a lack of investment in the education and training of healthcare professionals. As we move forward, we have to make sure that we learn the lessons of this pandemic: invest in our people; invest in public health infrastructure; give more people permanent, secure work with paid sick leave; invest in healthcare workers; and invest in the social safety net that protects the most vulnerable people in our community.
JobSeeker was doubled for a brief and beautiful time during the pandemic—by a Liberal-National government, I might add. My office was flooded with testimonials from people who said that for the first time in years, in some cases, they could actually put food on the table and pay the power bill in the same fortnight. For those who have never laboured under those kind of financial stresses—I actually did labour under them for a brief period when I was younger—they are terrible pressures to have to bear on a day-to-day basis. We should be doing much, much more to ensure that JobSeeker allows people to live a dignified life. We’ve got to ensure that our economy is resilient and adaptable and that it provides good jobs and fair wages and supports the small businesses and workers who are the lifeblood of our communities. We’ve got to do it all with a clear-eyed focus on the challenges and the opportunities that lie ahead.
This pandemic has actually demonstrated very clearly that everything is interconnected. We are all interconnected. The jobs people do are interconnected. The pastimes people enjoy are interconnected. Our families,
our communities, the economy, our society, the environment and the climate are all interconnected. Our fates are intertwined and our actions can have far-reaching consequences, not just on ourselves but on everyone in our communities. Ultimately what the pandemic has shown us is that collectivism will win the day. We have to work together, we have to listen to each other, we have to support each other, we have to love each other and we have to approach our collective future with hope, with determination and with resilience.
Senator WATT: I move: That the question be put.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Just so colleagues are aware: because it’s past 6.30, if a division is required it will be deferred until tomorrow.
Question agreed to.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I will now put the substantive motion, which is the motion moved by Senator Roberts in relation to a reference to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee. A division is required. That will be deferred until tomorrow.