DOORSTOP: 10/1/22

January 10, 2022


MARK BUTLER MP, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: Thanks for coming out this morning. Scott Morrison decided to let it rip in the face of this Omicron variant without doing the hard work first to protect the Australian community, particularly in relation to boosters, in relation to free rapid antigen tests and vaccinating our children. As a result, right now we're seeing case numbers explode. We're seeing huge shortages on supermarket shelves, aged care facilities locked down yet again, and hospitals completely overwhelmed. GPs today are reporting, as they have over recent days, that the vaccine doses that they're supposed to start delivering to children in their community haven't arrived in their surgeries. 

Scott Morrison's failures have delivered Australia one of the highest infection rates today in the world with one of the slowest booster rollouts to protect the Australian community. And yet again, the aged care sector tragically is being hit harder than any other part of our community. Today, tens of thousands of vulnerable aged care residents are locked in their rooms, unable to receive visitors because of outbreaks in their facilities. Many of them with cognitive impairment will be bewildered, they'll be distressed not understanding what is happening yet again in their facility. It is frankly remarkable that nine weeks into this booster program, hundreds of aged care facilities still haven't received boosters from the Commonwealth Government. The Health Minister Greg Hunt says that we're running ahead of schedule in aged care facilities. Well that, frankly, is a statement that beggars belief. 

Australia right now is staring down the barrel of yet another failed and bungled vaccine rollout from Scott Morrison this time impacting Australia's primary school children. In America, for example, the CDC tells us that seven and a half million children aged 5 to 11 have already received one dose and almost five million American children that age have received both doses of the vaccine. Australian parents were expecting a promise from Scott Morrison that their children will be vaccinated before school returns later this month. But yet again, Scott Morrison has failed Australia's families. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister today has flagged potentially changing the close context definition of critical supply industries. What do you make of that idea to get people back to work quicker? 

BUTLER: Obviously, as supermarket shelves become empty all across Australia because of the raging fourth wave that we're currently experiencing, we need to do everything possible to see workers able to stay back at work. So if public health advice supports those sorts of changes, then I'll look forward to National Cabinet making sensible changes along those lines later this week. But Scott Morrison's job is to provide readily available free rapid antigen tests to various industries. Those industries, particularly in the retail and logistics sector this morning, have again, called upon the Prime Minister to provide readily available, free of charge rapid antigen tests to allow those sorts of systems to be put in place. But again, Scott Morrison failed to do a basic job of the Prime Minister, and that was to provide free rapid tests to everyone who needs it.

JOURNALIST: We’re hearing reports of some Adelaide hospitals going to code five because of staffing shortages. Is that a real concern that hospitals simply don’t have enough staff to deal with patients at the moment?

BUTLER: Hospitals across the country right now are becoming increasingly overwhelmed by COVID cases. We're seeing big increases day, upon day, upon day across all states, except obviously Western Australia. And added to that burden, those huge case numbers that were that we're seeing in hospitals, is obviously the impact of workforce, hospital staff themselves either contracting COVID, or becoming a close contact and having to isolate. And that's why we've said now for weeks and weeks as we moved into this phase of the pandemic, even before the Omicron variant became an issue as well, that the Commonwealth had to have a plan to support states dealing with this extra burden, this extra demand on the hospital system. Now, Scott Morrison said everything was fine. There was nothing additional that the Commonwealth had to do. But hospitals right now are becoming overwhelmed and Scott Morrison is doing nothing to assist state governments to deal with that added pressure

JOURNALIST: We’re seeing some state governments decide to delay the start of school for 2022 until they get those 5 to 11 year olds vaccinated more. Here in SA we know we're only going to get half the supply from a state level. Is that an issue? Do you support states, for example here which hasn't decided yet to go down that path and push the start of term one back?

BUTLER: This is something that obviously state governments and school authorities are going to have to think through very carefully. It frankly, would be much more reassuring to parents and to teachers if the vaccine program for 5 to 11 year olds was operating well, and at the moment, even on the first day, it's got off to a terrible start with GPs reporting that the vaccines that they had ordered, hadn't arrived and where they have arrived, they're simply not getting enough to deal with the number of children of that age group that they have on their books. This is a critical element to ensuring that school kids can get back to school when they're due to do so in two weeks, two weeks in Queensland's case, and three weeks in the rest of the country. So, Scott Morrison just needed to pay more attention to doing his basic job and that was getting children vaccinated and making sure also that teachers have access to boosters and he appears to have failed the Australian school community in that again.

JOURNALIST: Victoria today extended the vaccine booster mandate. Do you support that extended to different sectors here, for example, like education and child care?

BUTLER: Here in South Australia the mandate has been extended to disabilities and to aged care, as well. We've supported right through this pandemic sensible mandates that are based on public health advice to secure, particularly, the health of staff and vulnerable customers or consumers or residents in those sectors. And again we will support any of those decisions made by state governments based on public health advice.

JOURNALIST: And so do you regret reject the Prime Minister's evaluation that we're pushing through, not “letting it rip” when it comes to Omicron?

BUTLER: It's quite clear that Scott Morrison took a decision several weeks ago to let it rip in face of all of the evidence that we knew early on, as the Omicron variant had emerged around the world. And he let it rip importantly, without doing the basic jobs that he had to do to protect the Australian community around boosters, around rapid testing, in spite of the fact that he had led the decision to move rapid tests to the centre out of our testing and tracing system. We didn't order enough, he hasn't put in place a system to make sure that they're free to the board Australian community. We hear from pharmacists this morning, that even for concession card holders, that quarter of Australians who are going to get some support, at least from a Commonwealth Government, that the government hasn't set up a proper system of pharmacies to ensure that that could roll out smoothly. So, you know, every job that the Prime Minister has to back up the rhetoric, to back up the sort of hairy chested statements this Prime Minister likes to make. He fails to do the hard work.

JOURNALIST: Novak Djokovic is in court right now fighting to stay in the country? Is it a bit embarrassing the way this has been handled?

BUTLER: This has been a deeply embarrassing soap opera of Scott Morrison's making. We know that it is the Federal Government that controls our borders, even though 24 hours before Mr Djokovic arrived, Scott Morrison had said that somehow this was all a decision of a state government, in this case the Victorian State Government. Twenty-four hours later, he had to backflip on that. An embarrassing backflip only after the World Number One had already arrived in the country. Now it looks to me on the basis of the evidence that this was a decision made very late in the day by the Australian Government to reject Mr Djokovic’s entry to Australia. Obviously, if Mr Djokovic hasn't satisfied the entry test, well, he shouldn't be allowed to enter. There's not one rule for celebrities and another for everyone else. But the way in which this has been handled by Scott Morrison has become a deeply embarrassing soap opera across the world and  obviously will await the outcome of the court decision today and have more to say about that after that. Thanks, everyone.