The new independent MP for Kooyong, Monique Ryan, has snapped back at jeering Coalition MPs, as they interrupted her first question to Parliament.
“Put your masks on,” Dr Ryan snapped as shouting opposition MPs weighed in as she tried to ask on Monday what the federal government is doing about increasing risks of long COVID.
“COVID-19 infections in this country are at a record high and increasing. Can the minister please explain how he proposes to manage the oncoming national significant burden of disability and chronic illness from repeated infection with COVID-19?” Dr Ryan said – although she was repeatedly interrupted from the opposition benches.
Her speedy retort highlighted one of the key differences emerging between the government and opposition benches in both the upper and lower houses in Canberra.
As Australia’s winter COVID surge continues, Labor and Greens MPs are mostly wearing masks in Parliament unless they are speaking. But, aside from a handful of exceptions, most Coalition MPs are not.
In response to Dr Ryan’s question on Monday, Health Minister Mark Butler supported the sentiment of Labor MP Dr Ananda-Rajah during her first speech in saying Australians needed to “come to grips” with long COVID.
“Long COVID is not easy to diagnose or treat. The medical literature already reports more than 200 different symptoms being logged, most commonly involving fatigue, shortness of breath and what people are calling brain fog,” he said.
“We think that as many as half of Australia has contracted COVID just over the course of this year so far.
“Our focus is on getting through this wave. We have extended support to state hospital system. We have expanded access to fourth-dose vaccines and antiviral treatment.
“We are encouraging Australians again to be COVID-safe. In particular, as the member pointed out, to wear masks when indoors [and] are not able to socially distance.
There were more than 27,000 new COVID infections across Australia on Monday, and 18 further virus-related fatalities.
Mr Butler said more and more Australians were reporting longer-term disorders that were hard to diagnose and treat.
“The truth is, we don’t know [the] scale of the challenge,” he said.
“A common estimate of about 4 per cent of COVID patients experienc[ing] long-term symptoms already runs to hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Australian.
” Support is available through our standard medical system. States are operating long-COVID clinics. Their waiting lists are growing.
“It is increasingly clear to me that we will need to develop a focused response nationally to the phenomenon of long COVID.”
Later, Dr Ryan – a paediatric neurologist prior to her win in the May election – said that she “didn’t appreciate being interrupted while speaking on serious risks of repeated COVID infections”. She followed up with a repeat of the mask instruction.
“I particularly don’t appreciate being interrupted by shouting LNP MPs who refuse to wear masks,” she tweeted.
“We all have a duty to look after each other. Here and everywhere.
“Put your mask on!”
Elsewhere on Monday, former prime minister Scott Morrison made his first appearance in the new Parliament. He was sworn in alongside former deputy PM Barnaby Joyce.
Mr Joyce missed last week’s first sitting because of the death of his father. Mr Morrison skipped it in favour of a meeting of former global leaders in Tokyo.
On Monday, he took up his new seat on the backbench – in fact, in the very back row – alongside factional Liberal ally Alex Hawke.
The opposition spent much of Monday’s question time quizzing the Albanese government on Labor’s election pledge that it would cut power prices. Opposition energy spokesman Ted O’Brien asked whether the government had provided “false hope” by promising to cut energy bills by $275.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the government would honour its election commitments.
“What we know is that renewables will lead to cheaper power prices,” he said.
“We stand by our modelling.”