MARK BUTLER MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGEING
MEMBER FOR HINDMARSH
ABC RN BREAKFAST
FRIDAY, 7 JANUARY 2022
SUBJECTS: Novak Đoković; Scott Morrison’s bungled booster rollout, rapid tests.
HAMISH MACDONALD, HOST: Australia appears to be edging back towards some COVID restrictions as the Omicron surge tests hospitals right across the country. States and territories do seem to be blinking, some of them anyway, in the face of the rapidly growing case numbers. National Cabinet is trying to ease the strain by agreeing to provide free take home tests for people on a concession card, while Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the country needs to ride the wave, but even outside of healthcare, the strain is growing with supply chains struggling as well and businesses losing staff to isolation and illness. Mark Butler is Labor's Shadow Minister for Health. Good morning to you.
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: Good morning, Hamish.
MACDONALD: And Happy New Year, we should say.
BUTLER: And to you.
MACDONALD: We'll get to the broader health situation in a moment. But I know you were listening in to that interview with Abul Rizvi. Should Novak Đoković be allowed into the country and to play in the open?
BUTLER: On the basis of the reports that I've read, Mr. Đoković can't satisfy the test for entering this country, so Border Force has reached the right decision here. But let's be clear, this is a deeply embarrassing soap opera of Scott Morrison’s making. I don't understand how the visa was issued in the first place. There was still reports that on three separate occasions, the Morison government lobbied the Victorian Government to facilitate Mr. Đoković’s approval for entry into the Australian Open. But the day before yesterday, Mr. Morrison said that this was all a decision of the Victorian Government to let Mr. Đoković into the country. Yesterday, he finally realised that he made the wrong call or the government had made the wrong call on this, recognised public opinion was against it and finally did the right thing.
MACDONALD: It's quite a distraction from the Coronavirus story. Do you think it's deliberate?
BUTLER: I think it's incompetence, not any sort of deliberate act on the part of the Prime Minister. But I have to say we are facing some very serious challenges in this exploding fourth wave that are having a deep impact on Australian businesses and Australian households. And I don't want this to distract from the very serious work of getting this fourth wave under control. And Mr. Morrison talks about riding this wave. There's a very serious risk that the Australian community is going to be dumped by this wave because Mr. Morrison failed to do the hard work to prepare us for the decision to open up the economy and let it rip.
MACDONALD: Is it just the failure of the Commonwealth? I mean, clearly the states and territories are the ones driving the local decisions and the NT, Victoria, possibly New South Wales, are moving back towards introducing some restrictions, should they have done this before now?
BUTLER: Being a Federal health spokesperson, I've said that there are two critical weapons in the fight, particularly against the Omicron variant given it's particularly infectious nature. That is to make sure that we're getting boosters into people's arms as quickly as possible, and to ensure we have a comprehensive rapid testing regime. And those were both Mr. Morrison's jobs and he's failed at both of them. You know, we have only 10 per cent of the Australian population having received boosters, that's about half the rate of North America, it's about a third of the rate of countries like Italy and France, a quarter of the rate of Germany and Ireland, and only a fifth of the rate of the UK. We know how crucial boosters are to providing protection against the Omicron variant which evades two doses of vaccine in a way that we haven't seen before. And the rapid testing system, which the AMA warned the government they needed to start developing way back in September, is a complete shambles that is causing enormous harm to the economy and enormous harm to people's health.
MACDONALD: But again, is this just a question for the Commonwealth? The States obviously participated in the development of this roadmap? There was nothing about rapid antigen tests included in the roadmap whatsoever?
BUTLER: Well there should have been. The AMA made that clear. We've been saying for weeks that if you're going to move to a system where there are inevitably going to be high case numbers, then you need rapid testing right at the centre of our testing and tracing systems. It's not rocket science. We've seen that from all around the world. And because of an absence of leadership yet again by the federal government, with no reporting arrangements for rapid testings in place, yet again, just as we saw with the COVID Safe app failure, the states are having to step in and develop eight different systems for people to report the results of their rapid tests that they're taking at home. It's a complete absence of leadership again from Scott Morrison.
MACDONALD: To be fair, I mean, we spoke to the Opposition Leader on this program on Monday. It wasn't Labor's position until a few days into this week to make rapid tests. Free it seems like the entire political establishment has moved on this in pretty rapid time.
BUTLER: We've said very clearly and have for some time, that the key principles that should guide the provision of rapid testing should be that they're widely accessible, so there's good supply of them, and they're affordable. Now, over the course of the weeks, particularly in the Christmas and New Year period, we took soundings, we engaged with people to work out a more definitive position on the basis of those principles. But we wanted to give National Cabinet frankly, some space last week to make a decision about the way in which rapid tests will be made available to the Australian community and the fact that Scott Morrison came up with this ridiculous proposition that would require pensioners to line up and make an application for some sort of disaster payment from Services Australia, led us to the view that we had to come out with a more definitive position because the Prime Minister was again continuing to fail to provide leadership.
MACDONALD: From Monday children 5 to 11 are eligible for vaccination. Scott Morrison said there are enough vaccines in the country to vaccinate every child. You've raised concerns that parents are struggling to make bookings are you confident that in the next phase of the rollout?
BUTLER: I'm very concerned that we're facing potentially another bungled vaccine rollout from Scott Morrison which threatens to leave not just our children, but our teachers as well dangerously exposed. School returns later this month. Parents are apparently able to get their children vaccinated from Monday, but I'm not raising these concerns. I'm reflecting concerns that have been raised by parents and doctors and pharmacists across the country, that they are deeply struggling to get an appointment before the end of this month. Here in South Australia, where I'm talking to you from, only three of the state clinics have any appointments available before the end of the month when school is to return. Doctors again are saying yes, there might be vaccines in warehouses somewhere in this country, but they're only getting 100 doses for a fortnight which is nowhere near the demand they have from their local communities.
MACDONALD: Mark Butler, you could be in government within a matter of months. Would you rule out lockdowns in the future?
BUTLER: I don't think anyone wants to see a return to lockdowns, a return to border closures. I think everyone was deeply relieved to see national cabinet, the federal government and all of the state governments move to the next phase of the pandemic to reflect the hard work that Australians have done to get themselves vaccinated to get those first two doses. And we want to lock in the freedoms that Australians worked so hard over the second half of 2021 to achieve, but locking in those freedoms requires us to have a functional booster program, not yet again having one of the slowest booster rollouts in the world. It requires us to have a comprehensive rapid testing regime. If we do those things then I think we can avoid lockdowns we can avoid the sort of border closures we saw.
MACDONALD: Mark Butler we’ll have to leave it there, we've got to get to the news. We appreciate your time this morning.
BUTLER: Thanks Hamish.
MACDONALD: That's Mark Butler, Labor's health spokesperson.