4CA Radio Interview: 11/10/2021

October 11, 2021




SUBJECTS: COVID-19, National Quarantine, Home Quarantine, Hospital Capacity, Far North Queensland, GP shortage, Climate Change

MURRAY JONES, HOST: Is it real? Is it really going to happen? Australia's international borders, could we open for vaccinated travellers in New South Wales as early as November 1st under a fast-track plan announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to allow us to take back our lives, and we do want that.

The proposal outlined by the Prime Minister follows discussions with the new New South Wales Premier about fast tracking the rollout of home quarantine and I guess that's one of the key things, home quarantine, is it going to work?

Very timely, he’s just walked into the studio. Welcome to Cairns, Mark Butler. He’s the Federal Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing. Great to have you in town, welcome.


HOST: I tell you what, we've turned it on too, isn’t it beautiful weather? It's just wonderful at the moment. It’s feeling a bit hard to get out of bed at the moment. But anyhow, there's enough snakes at my place that got me going this morning, but I won't scare you by telling you things like that.

But Mark Butler, great to have you here. Home quarantine - I was talking about it quite a bit in the breakfast show last week, because I guess it's one of the key things. Hotel quarantine’s been bungled right across states and territories over the last couple of years - issues here in Queensland.

Most people do the right thing. But you know, when people don't do the right thing, it risks everyone. What are your thoughts about the Prime Minister’s announcement this morning that basically international travel is back November 1st based on home quarantine. Is it realistic?

BUTLER: I think everyone wants to see the lockdowns in the south lifted as soon as they possibly can be and for borders to be reopened as soon as they possibly can be, but they want this all to happen safely. They want to be confident that the lifestyle that you've been able to enjoy in far North Queensland, that we're enjoying in my home state of South Australia by and large, isn't impacted by too recklessly opening up either of those two things.

Quarantine is a really important element of that. There will, I think, need to be purpose built quarantine facilities for some time, because we are going to see the possibility of travel from countries where new variants might emerge, and that's why I think it's so important the Queensland government is proceeding with the Wellcamp Proposal down in Toowoomba.

But home quarantine hopefully will be the mainstay of our quarantine arrangements. In my state of South Australia we’ve been having a pilot now for some time, we were the first state to start the pilot on behalf of the National Cabinet. Obviously can't just rely upon people's goodwill because some people will do the wrong thing.

So there was a discussion early on about ankle bracelets and those sorts of monitoring devices - were not going with that. Instead South Australia is trialling an app on your phone that has geo-location. It tells where the phone is and reports that back to the authorities, and also facial recognition so that you are required to report in to the authorities on a regular basis where you are. It’s not just an honour system, if you like. The community can have some confidence that a system is being put in place that will have control measures in it that give people the confidence that when people do start coming from overseas or start returning from New South Wales and Victoria, that the community will be kept safe and the lifestyle that you've been able to enjoy up here won't be threatened.

HOST: I think when it comes to mobile phones, certainly a lot of people are lost without them these days. So that might actually work quite well, that system as well.

Let's talk a little bit more about what's just occurred in the last week or so. Obviously, over the last 18 months plans have been made with National Cabinet - things have had to change, but the Prime Minister is basically not backing up the state and territory health ministers on a request for further funding.  If we do open up and we've got to this point of 70, 80, 90 per cent, I guess, 80 to 90 per cent vaccinations, has it been fair for the state and territory health ministers to request further funding or is the Prime Minister right, 18 months we've had to get this organised?

BUTLER: We’ve seen our hospitals, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, at breaking point. They really have been brought to breaking point with the disastrous third wave that we've seen down there but even our hospital systems in the COVID-free states like Queensland, South Australia, WA, Tasmania, where I was a week or two ago, they're really feeling the pressure as well.

The pressure's just generally in the community as we get older and we've got more chronic disease. But what we're finding across the world is that in 2020 patients across the world, including here in Australia, deferred going to the doctor. People stayed at home. They were nervous about going to the doctor, they were nervous about going to the hospital, and so in 2021, and we'll still see it in 2022, there's a much higher level of acuity or severity. People are presenting to their doctor and their hospital with much more severe disease than they ordinarily would because people weren't seeking the treatment last year or over the last 18 months when they should have. So there's no doubt our hospitals are under enormous pressure and as COVID does come into the jurisdictions that are currently COVID-free, that pressure will increase.

Hospitals are a joint responsibility. They're operated by the states but they are the joint responsibility of the Commonwealth and the states -  have been for decades and decades. They share funding, they share authorities to oversee the hospitals, and the idea that business as usual for hospitals is going to cut it in a once in a century pandemic, I don't think is acceptable.

I don't think our doctors and our nurses can afford for Scott Morrison simply to pretend that this is all the states' responsibility. He's done that far too often through this pandemic. So I want him to sit down with the states and constructively work through this rather than picking political fights with all of them, which is what he's doing. He’s singled out Queensland a bit, which he has done through this pandemic. But really the claim for a constructive negotiation is not a claim from Premier Palaszczuk. It is a claim signed on by every single state government Liberal or Labor through the Federation, and I think it is a claim the Prime Minister should listen to.

HOST: And there are certainly concerns about the impacts and once we do open up it's inevitable that we will have those additional people in hospital - for the national good I guess we really do need a coordinated approach with respect to that.

If we can hark back to your past, even though I know you've had quite a history certainly in the Health Portfolio and of course it’s Seniors Month this month too so ageing at this particular time. But going back to your position as Shadow Minister for Climate Change, an interesting move by the Business Council of Australia across the weekend and certainly a lot of pressure on the Nationals. Matt Canavan even used this example of what's happening with respect to some gas prices, really large increases in gas prices in the UK, he's blaming renewables, but it's not, it's clearly a fossil fuels reliance issue. What are your thoughts about this quite remarkable step up by the Business Council of Australia across the weekend?

BUTLER: It's obviously welcome and it's driven by a profound change in sentiment by banks, by investors, by regulators and by the business community right across the world.

HOST: And by Fossil Fuel companies.

BUTLER: Yes, and by electricity companies, and they're not doing it particularly because they'e all becoming greenies. They're doing it because they recognise that the investment direction for this century will be into clean energy, that's where they'll make money. That's where jobs will be created. And you cannot think of a place on the planet that has more advantages there than Queensland. You have the best solar radiation in the world. You've got extraordinary capacity here in terms of energy production and energy exports.

That's why to see the Queensland Government and Twiggy Forrest yesterday announce this huge investment down in Gladstone, for Gladstone to be one of the world leaders in the manufacture of hydrogen equipment, was so exciting.

Back in 2019 on behalf of the Labor Party I announced that Gladstone would be the hub for the Labor Party's hydrogen policy. We know you've got the commercial linkages there, we know you've got the expertise there and we know that Queensland has better solar radiation than pretty much any other place on the planet. So you can produce surplus renewables that can be electrolysed into green hydrogen, and the rest of the world is thirsty. They're hungry for green hydrogen, Japan, China, Korea. They can't create the levels of green hydrogen that they need. So they're looking to Australia and the long-standing commercial linkages they have with Australia to produce it for them, export it over there, and earn the money here and create the jobs here. It's a wonderful opportunity.

HOST: Should the Prime Minister go to Scotland or do we just need a policy first and foremost?

BUTLER: We need both. We've just drifted along for too long without a policy and obviously Australia, or this Government, is coming under pressure from some of our oldest friends in the UK, the United States, Europe and really you’re seeing the whole of the world move here. The UK has become a leader on climate change and it's been the leader under Labour governments over there and Conservative governments. So it's not a political issue for the British Parliament - there's bipartisanship around this.

They recognise it's the right thing to do for future generations, but just as importantly it's the right thing to do economically for them. So in the UK carbon emissions or greenhouse gases are lower than they've been at any time since Queen Victoria was on the throne, it is just extraordinary but they're creating jobs, they're bringing down power prices. They're really getting with it. And the fact that Boris Johnson will be the host of the climate conference in a few weeks’ time, I think, is a particular challenge for Scott Morrison.

HOST: I know you're going to keep running but, you know, welcome to the Topical North. Just give us a bit of an outline of maybe, apart from lying beside the pool, what are your plans while you are here in the Tropical North?

BUTLER: Well there won't be much lying by the pool.

HOST: I didn’t think so.

BUTLER: I just like this part of the world. I’ve been coming here since my 20s, which I have to admit, is a long time ago, since before I had kids. And I've been bringing my kids here who are now, you know, one’s an adult and one's finishing school. They’ve been coming here since they were babies, going to Muddy‘s Playground and then eventually going on to the reef. It's just such a beautiful part of the world.

HOST: We’re so lucky.

BUTLER: But I'm not on holiday here, unfortunately. We're with Elida Faith, our great candidate up here, and with Nita Green who's been working so hard on behalf of Far North Queensland in the national debate about things like JobKeeper and whether it was cut off too early.

We'll be talking particularly to health. So we'll be talking to GPs, to pharmacists, we’ll be going out to Wuchopperen, the Aboriginal Medical Service to talk to them this morning and to the University obviously as well.  Particularly focusing on the shortage of general practitioners. Nita Green is chairing a really important senate inquiry into the shortage of GPs and the access to GPs in regional communities and also in the outer suburbs of our big cities, because we’ve seen an enormous drop off in access to GPs over the last several years, which is going to impact people's health.

HOST: Sure. Thank you so much for taking the time and coming in and seeing us here at the radio station this morning.  Enjoy your trip to Tropical North Queensland and take some of that sunshine back to South Australia. No shortage though I guess in South Australia, you do pretty well.

BUTLER: It's been a while since we've seen some sunshine down there, I can tell you. So we're thirsty for it.

HOST: Wonderful to see. He’s the Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing Federally, Mark Butler. Have a great day.