ABC FNQ: 12/10/2021

October 12, 2021



TUESDAY, 12 OCTOBER 2021    
SUBJECTS: Wuchopperen; Indigenous vaccination rates; COP26.


KEIR SHOREY, HOST: Right now, here on ABC Far North, I have a special guest in the studio. We're talking about Mark Butler, he is the Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing for the Labor Party. In Cairns, why Mr Butler? What's the reason for being here?


MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGEING: I haven't been here for a while so it's a great opportunity to talk to a range of groups and individuals about health and ageing. So yesterday I met with Wuchopperen, the Aboriginal Medical Service in Cairns.


SHOREY: Who are doing their very best.


BUTLER: They’re doing amazing work.


SHOREY: I think tomorrow night, they're actually putting on a special event to try and incentivise people to come and get vaccinated.


BUTLER: That's right and that's what Linda Burney and so many others from First Nations groups have been saying. You put your trust back in these groups, these Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations, who know what is going to motivate their community, rather than coming up with some design from Canberra or other capital cities.


Give control back to the communities. They know how to get their people vaccinated. And that was certainly the message from Wuchopperen and it's the message we've got around the country from Indigenous communities who are still seeing vaccination rates around 30 per cent lower than the national average, which is deeply concerning.


SHOREY: And let's point out, not everyone, there are communities, the Torres Strait communities…


BUTLER: Particularly in the Cape and the Torres Strait have done fantastically.


SHOREY: They've done very, very well. Part of what we've heard from those various organisations is about misinformation, that people are relying on a platform like Facebook to get their information, did you get that as well? Did people talk about that when you were speaking to people from Wuchopperen?


BUTLER: They did. They talked about that, as they are right around the country, and unfortunately the virus of misinformation, the longer you leave it, the more it spreads. Indigenous Australians because of a whole lot of underlying vulnerabilities in their health were supposed to be a priority group. They were identified back in January as a group that that needed to be vaccinated very quickly, along with older Australians, people with a disability and so on and so forth and it just hasn't happened.


SHOREY: And let's not forget what happened when this all broke out to begin with. We literally had concrete blocks across roads, heading to Cape York Peninsula, to try and keep that particular cohort safe.


BUTLER: And it worked really well. We were very successful as a country in making sure the virus did not get into remote communities. Not just in Far North Queensland, but across the country, and we needed to follow that up with the next stage of the response to COVID, and that was vaccination and frankly we've been too slow.

Scott Morrison was too slow to vaccinate, particularly priority groups. So, it's not just Indigenous Australians I’m talking about –


SHOREY: Mr Butler, you're talking about a State Labor Government here as well.


BUTLER: This is across the country, we're seeing this across the country, it's a national vaccination strategy. This was being driven by the Commonwealth, people with disability are another group I'm deeply concerned about. The figures I saw a couple of days ago, show that still 1 in 3 Australians living in a disability residential facility are not fully vaccinated. Scott Morrison promised that group would be fully vaccinated by Easter. Again, because we know how vulnerable they are to a respiratory illness like COVID.


SHOREY: So what went wrong, in your assessment?


BUTLER: I think it's very clear what went wrong. The Government was too slow to order vaccines last year, we were about five months behind all of the other countries to which we usually compare ourselves in ordering enough vaccine to make sure that come January, when the vaccination strategy was published, supported by the Federal Opposition, by Federal Labor, we just didn't have enough vaccines to put into people's arms.


It's great to see what's happened in Sydney yesterday. After 106 days of lockdown, New South Wales is coming out of lockdown, but that's three months later than the UK came out of lockdown because they were able to get to the vaccination rates we have today about 3 months earlier.


SHOREY: They had a lot more dead people though.


BUTLER: Absolutely. We were as good as any country on the face of the planet at controlling the virus in the first phase. The compliant I make is we didn't then follow that up, leverage that success by being the best country on vaccination, we ended up the worst developed country on vaccination. Best in show last year, worst in show this year. Which means that for the last three months, particularly the communities of New South Wales and Victoria have languished in lockdown. Terrible for those communities, but also, obviously, very big knock-on impact for a community like Cairns that depends so much upon tourism from those two big cities while international borders are closed.


SHOREY: No question about it, many operators worry that they might not even survive past Christmas at this point in time and even if they do open up a couple of weeks before the bookings just kind of evaporate. With Mark Butler right now, Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing. So Mr Butler, can I just do one last thing? We spoke to Warren Entsch this morning about the climate change conference, the COP26, I think it's happening in Edinburgh.


BUTLER: Glasgow.


SHOREY: Glasgow, sorry.


BUTLER: Don’t say that to a Scottish person, they’ll take that very personally.


SHOREY: Yeah, alright. Paisley. How about that? It's kind of next to Glasgow I think. Can I ask about the calls for the Prime Minister to be there? It's been in the news this morning, Prince Charles saying Scott Morrison should actually be there. What's your feeling about how we represent ourselves at this conference?


BUTLER: We've said and so many others have said, Twiggy Forrest said it yesterday, it is incredibly important that Australia is represented at the highest level by the Prime Minister at this conference. Joe Biden is going, so many other world leaders will be there. This is a very important conference. They happen every year, but some are far more important than others and this is a particularly important conference.


SHOREY: You would say that considering also the way that things have maybe change slightly over the last few months, even in terms of the kind of messaging that's been coming out of the Government?


BUTLER: I think the Government's now struggling to see whether it can land a different position. After eight years of resisting the sort of global momentum around climate change, which you've particularly seen accelerate after the election of Joe Biden in the United States.


There's clearly movement at the station within the Government, but the National Party can't even agree on a single position, let alone the Coalition landing a single position. I hope they do, for the country's sake. I think the change in editorial tone from the Murdoch papers over the last couple of days has also been very good. The Business Council change on strong, medium-term targets, very good for the nation, because we know that job opportunities are going to depend upon a strong climate policy in this nation. So, I hope Scott Morrison is able to land a much better position on climate policy than the Government has had for the last eight years. But he needs then to take it to the global stage to tell the rest of the global community, including all of those big investors that want to invest in a decarbonisation strategy here in Australia, that Australia is back. That the last eight years are history and Australia is going to participate in the global challenge and the global opportunity of taking action on climate change.


SHOREY: Mark Butler, thank you so much for being here this morning. Good luck for the rest of your day.


BUTLER: Thanks for having me.


SHOREY: Mark Butler, the Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing.