by Bill Shorten
Federal Shadow Minister for Government Services and NDIS
It’s just 24 days until Christmas. After a rough year, peace on earth and goodwill to all may look like the triumph of hope over experience as a Christmas wish, but I’m an optimist.
I want the Omicron COVID-19 variant to be a flash in the Christmas turkey pan, so we can all spend some time with our loved ones.
For me, that is my wife, children and two emotionally needy British bulldogs.
It’s fair to say all Australians are tired.
It’s been an extremely emotional, tough year and many people feel like they are crawling to the finish line.
We want a Christmas free from worry.
We want to play beach cricket with our kids and go camping.
We want to catch up with friends.
We want to travel.
We want to be safe.
Now the Omicron strain has arrived and it’s got people worried.
It’s time to be rational.
It’s not time to panic, enforce more lockdowns or shut down long-suffering east coast family businesses.
By luck and good planning from Premier Mark McGowan, Western Australia has avoided the painful lockdowns that we have had to endure over east.
In Melbourne particularly, we have done our time in lockdowns, clocking 262 days across nearly two years.
Another lockdown ever would be too soon for many Victorians.
We need to move on.
We need to be able to trust the Government to take care of our public health emergencies.
For Christmas this year I would also like to see the Federal Government do some basic things.
We should be making more vaccines in Australia.
We shouldn’t be relying on imports.
Also read: Vax Passports Just the Ticket
We are manufacturing AstraZeneca in Victoria, our only homegrown vaccine so far in the pandemic, and it would be a shame to stop too early.
We’ve seen this new variant come out of southern Africa.
We’ve got parts of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea with low vaccination rates.
Rather than letting some of the vaccines in Australia get wasted and expire, we should be using our Australian-made vaccines to send to our region.
Why should we help our neighbours?
It’s the right thing to do, at Christmas and every day.
Oh, and because no one in Australia wants another lockdown.
I would also like to see the five to 11-year-olds able to be vaccinated as soon as possible.
And I think we need to promote the hell out of getting booster shots.
The hard and fast decision to close our borders to a set of southern African countries is welcomed.
But we do need to maintain many of the health protocols that have kept us free from the public health chaos we have seen overseas.
The new variant reminds us we also desperately need some purpose-built quarantine facilities.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised WA a 1000-bed purpose-built quarantine facility in Jandakot, then in Bullsbrook.
It hasn’t happened anywhere in the west.
My Perth colleague Anne Aly has pointed that out too many times to count now.
This is the same story around Australia.
These are things that will stand us in good stead even if the Omicron variant is not as dangerous as the Delta variant.
But right now, the No.1 thing we know is that the more the nation is vaccinated, the less of a threat the pandemic is.
Compared to the badly hit European countries, which continue to struggle against the virus, our vaccination rates are the best in the world.
Just over 85 per cent of all Australians have been fully vaccinated, with 91 per cent receiving one dose.
However, for the 9 per cent that have yet to receive a jab, either through choice or because they have not been able to access it, the stakes remain very high.
Every person with disabilities that I know wants to be vaccinated but some have still not had the chance.
People with disabilities have been relegated to the back of the queue throughout the pandemic thus far.
That must continue to be front and centre of all our minds.
It’s a different story for the people turning up to the protests in my hometown Melbourne these past few weeks.
The protests have proven to be events where the unvaccinated contract COVID.
We know of the 19 people who have tested positive and attended these protests, only one was fully vaccinated.
So, 18 of the 19 were not fully vaccinated and caught the virus.
That says it all and is disappointing beyond measure.
This Christmas, the best gift you can give yourself, your family, your neighbours, your community and your country is to be vaccinated.
This is the only way we can safely return to life as we know it and have some peace in 2022 and beyond.
This opinion piece was first published in The West Australian on Wednesday, 1 December 2021.