DOORSTOP: 12/9/21

September 12, 2021


MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGEING: It's been another terrible day in the fight against COVID for Australia. Yesterday, for the first time in the entire pandemic, there were more than 2,000 new infections and today again, more than 1,650 new infections, and people are still dying every day. Our condolences are extended to the family and loved ones of seven people were reported to have lost their life to COVID in the last 24 hours - people ranging in age from their 20s right up to their 80s. 

This third way is becoming worse every day not better and it’s a disastrous third wave that has been driven by Scott Morrison’s failures on vaccines and quarantine. Scott Morrison bears more responsibility for this third way than any other person. Remember it began with an outbreak from quarantine transport arrangements with Scott Morrison had been warned about and urged to address urgently as far back as October last year, but he did nothing. It took hold in New South Wales after the Prime Minister cajoled the New South Wales Premier on television, in his words, to resist going into full lockdown as late as eight days after the outbreak began. And it’s taken hold and spread because we've had the slowest vaccine rollout in the developed world. There are more Australians in lockdown today and fewer fully vaccinated than any other developed country on the face of the planet. 

Now Labor welcomes the fact that Australians later this month will finally get access to the state of the art mRNA vaccine, Moderna. We have been urging Scott Morrison to sit down with Moderna as far back as last year. And now he must explain why it has taken so long for Australians to get access to this vaccine. Americans and Canadians were receiving this vaccine nine months ago, in France eight months ago, in Singapore six months ago, in Britain five months ago, just to name a few countries. Scott Morrison didn't even do a deal with this company until four months ago. Just like we do with Pfizer, Scott Morrison has put us right at the back of the queue again with Moderna.

JOURNALIST: Do you feel if the negotiations for Pfizer had been better that we wouldn't have required this dependence on other countries for the doses?

BUTLER: There's no question, we were urging Scott Morrison last year to do more deals and to do them more quickly so that we would have backup options in the event that something went wrong. Now no one could have predicted what would go wrong. But in an emergency like this, a once in a century pandemic, there is always the need for backup options. That's why we say do a deal with Pfizer more quickly and get more doses, sit down with Moderna last year. But he didn't even sit down with Moderna until 2021. Get a deal with Johnson & Johnson - make sure we have as many options on the table as possible. The fact that he didn't do that is exactly why we have the slowest vaccine in the developed world.

JOURNALIST: He’s just announced today a deal to secure one million Moderna doses from, essentially, European countries with surplus supply. What do you make of that?

BUTLER: What it reflects is our need to go and find surplus doses from other countries because we didn't do a deal. Scott Morrison didn't do the deals he should have done when he should have done them. This deal with Moderna should have been done last year. As I've said, so many other developed countries have been administering Moderna for months and months now - nine months in Canada and in the US, eight months in France, five months in the UK. No one in Australia has even got a jab from Moderna yet. This is why we had the slowest vaccine rollout in the world and have to go and scrape and find additional doses from other countries because he didn't do the deals himself.

JOURNALIST: Scott Morrison has said that these extra doses represent “a family-sized dose of hope”? 

BUTLER: There would have been more hope, frankly, if he had done his job and secured vaccine supply directly for Australia last year when everyone was urging him to do so. His clear failures on vaccines are exactly why we have the slowest and lowest vaccine rollout in the developed world.

JOURNALIST: Would you concede that we have caught up ground as the Prime Minister is suggesting?

BUTLER: We're starting to see much better vaccine rates every single day. We have for some time but we're still right at the bottom of the OECD table in terms of our vaccine rollout. Still, only around 40 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated. That is only halfway to the 80 per cent target that the national plan has. And still very few teenagers, hardly any teenagers have been vaccinated as well. So I don't think frankly the Prime Minister should be patting himself on the back when we're in the middle of a disastrous third wave that has been driven first of all by him urging the New South Wales Premier to resist going into full lockdown when they should have gone into lockdown, and a very, very slow vaccine rollout.

JOURNALIST: What about producing the mRNA vaccine here in Australia? Do you think we have the capacity to do that to really hit those targets of 70 to 80 per cent by getting the jab for people over 16?

BUTLER: We've been urging the Government to do much more, much more quickly on mRNA manufacturing capability here. We should be manufacturing our own state of the art mRNA vaccines. Last October, in 2020, the then Industry Minister said we could be doing that as soon as July to October 2021. Well, it's September 2021 now, and now the Government says it might not be until 2023 that we would have the capability to do that. I note only several weeks ago, Canada was able to announce a deal with Moderna, not only to reflect the fact they’ve been receiving Moderna vaccines since December 2020, but that Moderna was setting up an mRNA manufacturing facility in that country. Why are we always so far behind the rest of the world when it comes to Scott Morrison?

JOURNALIST: Alongside this deal announced today, the Government also announced a surge of doses to be headed Victoria’s way. This comes off the back of the state counterparts, Dan Andrews, obviously criticizing the Government by moving these vaccines into New South Wales. Is this too little too late to have a bit of a vaccine blitz in Victoria?

BUTLER: I'll let the Victorians really respond to that. But I think Scott Morrison will have to explain to the people of Victoria why it's taken weeks of their lockdown to receive this extra support from the Commonwealth Government.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)  

BUTLER: I haven't seen the ad yet but we've been calling for months for the Government to have a much more positive, encouraging public interest campaign out there to encourage people to get vaccinated. For months public health experts have been have been asking the question, where is the advertisement campaign to get people vaccinated? So if it starts tonight, that will be welcome to Labor but again, it's too little too late. We should have been flooding our TVs flooding our other media with these positive ads for months now. Thanks everyone.