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06 October 2021

As I write this, Australia is on the verge of passing the best COVID-19 milestone we've had since the virus hit. Eighty per cent of eligible Australians have now received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

It's brilliant news and means we are on track to have 80 per cent, if not more, of Aussies fully vaccinated in the coming months, certainly well before Christmas.

So where to from here? We know that we're going to come out of lockdown. It's time to get ready, Australia.

While every State and Territory leader will want to make an informed and educated call for their own populations, the bottom line is "Fortress Australia" is ending.

The State premiers and Territory leaders have had to make the hard decisions on how to keep their communities safe and economically viable throughout this pandemic, and that will continue.

But at the moment it feels like there is a major trust deficit between the States and the Federal Government.

This is partly because, as Labor leader Anthony Albanese has repeatedly emphasised, of the massive failure of the Morrison Government, initially on the vaccine rollout and still on quarantine facilities.

Whether they open at 80 per cent, as the Doherty Institute modelling has recommended, or 90 per cent or higher as some other leaders have suggested, 2022 is certainly looking a lot brighter than the past two years.

The last thing we want to see now is Australia lagging the rest of the world, again, because the Morrison Government lacks ability to strike while the iron's hot. Far too often throughout the pandemic we have been debating critical issues such as vaccines, quarantine, and now rapid home antigen testing, months after we needed to get busy.

As we open, it is a reality that we are going to have more exposure events, more Aussies getting furloughed and having to stay at home.

Our contact tracing system will be stretched and the demand for intensive care beds will be great. And let's not forget the need for more hospital staff and better protections for them. So, we've got to do everything we can to get ready for coping and living alongside COVID-19.

This means protecting our hospitals, which in turn means the Morrison Government must come to the party.

The Federal Government is encouraging lockdowns ending.

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison must work with the States and Territories to ensure that our healthcare systems can meet the demand.

It is not blackmailing, as Mr Morrison called it yesterday, for State governments to be asking for Federal assistance to keep local hospitals going during a global pandemic, it is a bona fide cry for aid and national leadership.

The States are voicing concerns to protect their communities and the health systems. It's time to invest and organise now, not when it's too late. The old way of funding hospitals cannot keep up with the new impact of COVID-19.

Outside the hospital system, there are other things we can do to keep the community safe, reduce transmission and potentially reduce strain on healthcare.

WA has been blessed by good leadership and good fortune and retained an enviable normality through the pandemic.

In Victoria, schools return this week and the State's construction sector started up again after a two-week shutdown.

Australia is set to lift the international travel ban next month, once we hit the 80 per cent double dose target, with fully vaccinated travellers allowed to enter on the proviso they have pre-COVID testing and one week of home quarantine.

We need to look abroad, to countries such as Britain and Israel, who are fast returning to COVID-normal lives, for where Australia might head.

Rapid antigen do-it-yourself tests have been used in the US and Britain to get people back to work safely, kids back to school, and see life start to return to normal.

In Britain, for example, rapid DIY testing is being used broadly, including in high schools. In the US, rapid testing is used for truckies and building workers.

In Australia, we still don't have rapid home testing available, stopping people being safely and swiftly tested and further reducing the burden on the broader health system and keeping more people safe.

This is despite Brisbane digital diagnostic company Ellume producing rapid tests right here in Australia.

Ellume recently won a $US300 million contract with the US Government to sell its rapid antigen testing kits, yet we haven't even got approval to buy them here in Australia.

How tragic that in Australia we invent something the rest of the world wants and we can't even buy it here. Once again, the opportunity to lead the world has been lost on the Coalition when it comes to putting its money and policies behind Australian-made products.

Let's not forget how it stuffed up the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine, when it was lauded as one of the great success stories of our generation in other countries and it was being made in Melbourne.

Health Minister Greg Hunt has said rapid testing will be here soon. Is this the same old song from the same tired choir?

In fact, if the Morrison Government says it's raining, it's best to step outside and check for yourself because sure enough there may not be a cloud in sight.

On vaccinating the nation, we are so close to the finishing line and we have worked so hard to get here. Our kids, our families, our healthcare workers, our frontline responders and our small business have sacrificed so much. Hopefully not in vain.

Better days are on the way, but let's get ready.
This was first published in The West Australian on Wednesday, 6 October 2021.