TUESDAY, 11 JANUARY 2022
LAURA TINGLE, HOST: We did invite Health Minister Hunt on to
the program but he declined. Mark Butler is the Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing. Mark Butler, the federal and state governments are blaming each other for the lack of rapid antigen tests, but isn't the fact that both levels of Government have failed on the supply a question?
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: At the end of the day I don’t think there's any question Laura that the responsibility for securing supply in global markets of rapid antigen tests rests with the Commonwealth, just as it did with vaccines. This has been another gross failure to take responsibility and to plan for this next phase of the pandemic and secure enough rapid antigen tests for the whole community, business and working families alike, to secure it at a price that means the Government could provide them free of charge and to set up a national reporting system of the type we see in countries all around the world, which will allow people to upload the results of their tests to public health authorities. I mean he should have planned for this because he was warned back in September by the AMA of the centrality of a comprehensive rapid testing strategy to the next phase of the pandemic. Yet again he has failed the Australian people.
TINGLE: But the National Cabinet signed off on the transition to rapid antigen tests last August, it wasn't just the Prime Minister. Yet, the states are only now starting to roll out systems to register those tests. Shouldn't they have been more prepared?
BUTLER: The Prime Minister and his Government were warned not last year, the year before last, that industry should be supported to set up domestic manufacturing capability of rapid tests here in Australia to secure the supply of these crucial public health measures but the Commonwealth could not have been less interested. So as a result, you have factories churning out millions of tests here in Australia that are sent overseas when Australian families and businesses for love or money cannot get their hands on one here in Australia. In a squeezed market the Prime Minister simply didn't act quickly enough to make sure that Australia had enough tests for this next phase of the pandemic. He hasn't set up a system for those tests that do exist here in Australia to be provided free of charge. We should have a national reporting system. We are a single country, Laura. The idea that states keep having to step into a vacuum, left by a Prime Minister who refuses to take responsibility for his job, is just I think an indication of his failures through this pandemic.
TINGLE: Well, given your criticisms of supply and putting it back on the Prime Minister, why did it take you so long as an Opposition to crab-walk your way towards that position of saying that the tests should be free for everybody?
BUTLER: We said very early on, just as this debate was starting, that we would be guided by two principles. The first, these tests had to be widely accessible. We had to have a lot of these tests in the country and second, they should be affordable, that income shouldn't be a barrier to people being able to get these tests and to take them when they thought they needed. After talking with stakeholders, we developed the view they should be free of charge. We didn't do it overnight. We engaged with stakeholders and carefully came to that view. I have to say we particularly thought we needed to step out that position when the Prime Minister on the morning of the last National Cabinet meeting came up with this ridiculous idea that pensioners would need to line up and make some application for disaster payment to Centrelink or Services Australia to recoup the costs of rapid tests but the other three-quarters of Australians would be completely left in the lurch, on their own to fight it out in this private market that Scott Morrison seems so intent to support.
TINGLE: Isn’t it the case that the lesson of this pandemic, particularly with Omicron, is that the hospital and health system are going to require continuing high levels of funding - what is Labor's position about how that has got to be done?
BUTLER: It is quite clear that our hospital systems around the country are increasingly becoming overwhelmed. Hospitalisation numbers climb day upon day upon day. Thousands of staff, particularly in the two big states are furloughed or in isolation either because they have COVID or they are close contacts. I think everybody is deeply concerned about the ability of our hospital systems to get through the next several weeks. Beyond that, I think obviously we'll have to see what sort of resilience our hospital and general practice systems have to deal with the next phase. Health workers are exhausted. Nurses and doctors tell us that, other health workers tell us that. We said late last year, as did many others, that the National Cabinet needed to consider the resilience of our hospital systems as we moved to lift the lockdowns, and opened borders as everyone wanted to happen. What was the plan to make sure our hospitals get through that? Scott Morrison assured people our hospital systems were ready and would get through this next phase. I think he'll be held to that promise.
TINGLE: Mark Butler thanks you for your time tonight.
BUTLER: Thank you.