January 11, 2022



MADELEINE MORRIS, HOST: The ball is very much in the Federal Government's court with Immigration Minister Alex Hawke still able to cancel the world No. 1's visa. This has been as much a story about Australia's COVID response as it has been about politics and borders, so for his take on the Novak Djokovic saga, as well as the other very important COVID and health related stories today, let's bring in Labor's health spokesperson Mark Butler who joins us from Adelaide. Good morning, Mark Butler.

MORRIS: Should Alex Hawke cancel Novak Djokovic's visa?

BUTLER: Any individual who comes to this country should be able to satisfy the entry tests, so if Mr Djokovic can't satisfy those tests then he shouldn't be in Australia. That's really ultimately a decision the Government has to make, but they will have to make it lawfully because this has been a deeply embarrassing soap opera for Australia and I'm sure for Mr Djokovic as well. The Government at the end of the day granted Mr Djokovic a visa in November. On three separate occasions the Government lobbied the Victorians to facilitate the entry of Mr Djokovic to the Australian Open, and 24 hours before Mr Djokovic landed, Mr Morrison tried to pretend yet again that the entry to Australia had nothing to do with him as the Prime Minister, this was all a decision for the State Government, in spite of the fact that everyone knows the Commonwealth controls our borders. This embarrassing backflip that Scott Morrison tried to make at the Melbourne airport by cancelling this visa, has ended up with the Government falling flat on their face. It is a deep embarrassment. They've just got to get it right.

MORRIS: Just on the issue of whether he should have his visa cancelled, though, the continuing reasons for which that could happen are if he poses a health risk, or if it's in the public interest. Now, does he pose a health risk at this stage to the Australian people? Is it in the public interest for his visa to be cancelled?

BUTLER: As I said, that ultimately is a decision for the Government. They've got to receive the public health advice. They've got to make a decision in accordance with the law of the land. They have clearly not done that, an embarrassing rebuff from the Federal Court of Australia yesterday. If they are going to make a decision, I think all Australians want them to make it lawfully and get on with the real business of getting through this fourth wave. 
I have to say, this is an enormous distraction. We have tens of thousands of aged care residents locked down day upon day because the Government has mismanaged this fourth wave. Our supermarket shelves are empty, our hospitals are overwhelmed, parents are deeply concerned about whether their children will get vaccinated before school goes back later this month. Just do it properly and move on and start doing your real job of managing this disastrous fourth wave. 

MORRIS: I do want to get onto those very important issues you just raised but lastly on Djokovic, the Federal Government has said that having had recent COVID is not a reason for exemption, ATAGI says it is, as the health spokesman, where do you stand on this?

BUTLER: Right throughout this pandemic, which has been going on for two years, the Labor Party has had a very clear view we take the public health advice. We take advice from groups like ATAGI, from all our Chief Health Officers who come together on a very regular basis and issue this public health advice. 

MORRIS: So it is a reason for exemption in that case?

BUTLER: The Government has got to make a decision according to the law and the public health advice. They've bungled this so far and I just say do it right, do it lawfully and let us get on with managing the fourth wave. That is the real story frankly for Australians today, not the story of one single tennis player. 

MORRIS: Onto the vaccine rollout for kids, we had the first day yesterday. Lieutenant General John Frewen continues to insist that there are enough vaccines for everyone, he is urging parents to be patient. What's your assessment of how it's going?

BUTLER: I think everyone accepts that there are enough vaccines in the country, but that's not the real question. The question is whether they are getting to where they need to be to be put into children's arms. That's what GPs and pharmacies and many other parents are complaining about. GPs are saying they are simply not getting the supplies that they were promised. GPs across the country are saying that, and as a result they have had to cancel appointments that parents have made this week to get their children vaccinated. Other GPs who do get supplies say they are only getting 50 or maybe 100 doses per week, where they might have 1,500 children aged 5 to 11 on their books, so they're just not getting enough supply. Parents often want to take their children to a GP, particularly a young child, a familiar environment for them where they can get advice, where the child can feel comfortable about getting a needle. The Government just haven’t managed distribution. I’m not just talking about the supplies in the country, but the distribution of these vaccines properly. Parents want a solid assurance, a solid commitment from the Prime Minister that their children will have access to a vaccine before school returns later this month and that's a very reasonable expectation.

MORRIS: Just quickly on the schools, Queensland has pushed it back by two weeks. Should other states and territories consider the same?

BUTLER: I think everyone wants to see school return when it's due to return, and I know the Prime Minister keeps saying it, but just saying it over and over again as the Prime Minister doesn't make it happen. What parents and teacher want is a plan for the Prime Minister to make sure it can happen, but happen safely. That's why the vaccinations are so important. That’s why teachers want to know whether they will get booster shots to give them the protection they need against the Omicron variant. What is the Prime Minister doing to put in place arrangements like ventilation in schools, mask wearing at schools? A plan is what the Prime Minister needs. Right through this fourth wave we are yet again seeing a Prime Minister playing catch up with events rather than implementing a sensible, evidence based plan before this fourth wave because it is quite clear he didn't do that. 

MORRIS: Mark Butler from Adelaide, thanks for joining us this morning.

BUTLER: Thank you.