TUESDAY, 11 JANUARY 2022
MARK BUTLER MP, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: Thanks for coming out this morning. Every day, more evidence emerges of Scott Morrison's failure to plan for this fourth wave. His failure to protect Australian businesses and working families during this crisis. Right through this pandemic Scott Morrison, time and time again, appears to have been ambushed by events that he was warned about, should have predicted and should have planned for.
Scott Morrison has failed to plan a proper booster program, with one of the slowest booster rollouts in the developed world. Scott Morrison failed to plan a proper rapid testing regime in spite of being warned about this back in September by the AMA. He failed to plan wide availability of the tests and make sure they are free of charge. The aged care sector tells us today they can't get rapid tests. Food and grocery can't get rapid tests. And for love nor money, Australia's working families cannot lay their hands on a rapid test.
Scott Morrison failed again to protect aged care, with the result that, today, tens of thousands of vulnerable aged care residents, yet again in lockdown in their rooms, unable to receive visitors because of Scott Morrison's failure. Scott Morrison failed to plan a proper vaccine rollout for Australia's primary school aged children to make sure that they received at least one vaccine dose before school returns later this month.
Case numbers are exploding right now. Hospitals and ambulance systems are overwhelmed and Australians are dying. Supermarket shelves are empty and Australia's parents are deeply worried that they won't be able to get a vaccine dose for their primary school aged children before school returns. Scott Morrison decided to let it rip a few weeks ago without doing his job to protect Australians first. He always fails to plan and never takes responsibility.
I'll just say a few words about supermarkets at the moment. Across the country right now Australians aren’t able to access basic foodstuffs with empty supermarket shelves. A situation that more closely resembles Russia in the Soviet era, rather than modern Australia. Clearly, Scott Morrison failed to plan for this eventuality in spite of the fact it's exactly what happened in the United Kingdom only several weeks ago when they decided to open up. But this morning, outrageously, Barnaby Joyce has been out in the media blaming Australia's families for this situation, accusing them of irresponsible shopping practices. Is there nothing that this Government won't take responsibility for and won't seek to shift blame onto other people for? Clearly Scott Morrison failed to plan to secure Australia's food supply. I mean, how much more basic does the job of Government get? Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Just quickly on Novak Djokovic would you like to see his visa cancelled again by the Immigration Minister?
BUTLER: I want to see the Government do their job and to do it properly and in accordance with the law. It takes a particular level of incompetence to call into question the integrity of our public health system and our border control. But that is the level of incompetence of this Government. A Government that only a few days ago tried to pretend this had nothing to do with them, it was all a decision for the Victorian State Government, and then at the last minute tried an embarrassing backflip that ended up with the Government falling flat on their face. This is a distraction. This is a situation involving one tennis player. While we see case numbers explode, aged care lockdown, supermarket shelves empty. I think Australians just want the Prime Minister to do his job, do it lawfully and get back to the main task of getting us through this crisis.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned at all about the message it would send to Australians if Djokovic is allowed to stay given he's unvaccinated?
BUTLER: No one should be in this country if they don't meet the entry test. Now it's quite clear the Government utterly botched their first attempt at trying to implement their own law. Now if the Government decides to try it again, I just say do it in accordance with the law. Make sure that we don't end up in a situation yet again, where the Government is overruled by the courts of Australia.
JOURNALIST: Just quickly on vaccines and children's vaccines and boosters as well. What do you think needs to change to sort out the vaccine distribution issues?
BUTLER: We need to get a situation where the childhood vaccines in particular that apparently are sitting in warehouses somewhere in the country to actually get to where they need to be. They get to GP practices who were promised they would arrived last week, but they never showed up. They get to GP practices in numbers that actually reflect the number of children that GPs have on their books. GPs are saying, if they get the supply at all, they might only be getting 50 or maybe 100 doses for a week when they might have 1,500 children aged five to 11 on their books. They need reliable supply, and they need sufficient supply and they're just not getting that right now from Scott Morrison.
JOURNALIST: Health officials are telling parents not to panic if they can't access appointments for their kids. They're saying appointments will come up before school starts in a few weeks time. Are you confident that will happen that all children will be offered a first dose?
BUTLER: I'm very nervous that the Government's not going to be able to deliver that way this this program has started. They really need the Prime Minister to focus on getting this back on track and getting it back on track very quickly. We've only got a couple of weeks until schools start preparing to go back and yet we have stories all around the country of parents being unable to access appointments before the end of January, whether that's with their local GP, or frankly, with a state run clinic. I know for example, here the overwhelming bulk of state clinics in South Australia did not have appointments available until February. That has to change. This should have been planned for. We should have been in a situation where parents were utterly convinced, utterly assured, that their children would have access to a vaccine before school goes back and that's not an assurance the Prime Minister has been able to give to Australia's parents.
JOURNALIST: On the supermarket shortages you mentioned, what do you think needs to change there to resolve those issues as quickly as possible? And are you comfortable with the isolation changes that have been made in some states?
BUTLER: Obviously something needs to change. It is utterly unacceptable to have supermarket shelves empty of the most basic foodstuffs. This should not come as a surprise to Scott Morrison, as I said, because it's exactly what happened in the UK only several weeks ago. He's clearly failed to plan. He’s clearly now having to play catch up with these terrible events. Obviously, we need a system in accordance with public health advice that means there are sufficient workers in the retail or logistics chain, but he should also be sitting down with trade unions about these things. Workers and trade unions are finding out about these new arrangements when they read the paper or they watch the Prime Minister on TV. He should be sitting down with them and working these arrangements through clearly because although we obviously need our supermarket shelves stocked properly, we offer also need safe and healthy workplaces. And I say again, the industry has said what they need to make this work is free, widely accessible, rapid antigen tests and again the Prime Minister is utterly failed to deliver that. Thanks very much.