DOORSTOP: 13/2/21

February 13, 2021


MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGEING: Today the thoughts of all Australians are with the several million Victorians who are again enduring a state-wide lockdown. Over the past three months, every major city on the mainland, all five of our biggest cities, have been hit by outbreaks from hotel quarantine causing enormous social and economic disruption. Outbreaks from hotel quarantine are the biggest failing in our COVID response right now and it's a failing for which Scott Morrison has constitutional responsibility. Australians are fast losing patience of the risks that this failing hotel quarantine system are posing to the broader community. It's not acceptable for Scott Morrison to continue to duck shove his responsibility for managing our borders and keeping the community safe.
As the AMA said earlier this week, it is time for urgent national action. Things like dedicated quarantine facilities outside of our major CBDs, a point the AMA has again made in the past 24 hours. Strong national standards covering things like the workforce that are delivering quarantine, staffing arrangements, but also personal protective equipment systems, including particularly masks and ventilation in these facilities as well. All of these points were delivered in a report by Jane Halton, months and months ago to Scott Morrison. He was briefed on it several times and still he has done nothing.
Australians are also asking the question, when are we going to get the vaccine here in Australia? As of today, 160 million people have been vaccinated around the world in almost 90 different countries. Zimbabwe has announced, in the last 24 hours, it will start vaccinations this week. So much for Scott Morrison’s guarantee that Australians would be in the front of the queue. It's time for Scott Morrison to definitively say when the vaccinations start and is he going to deliver his promise to vaccinate 4 million Australians by the end of March?

JOURNALIST: Daniel Andrews has said, on the issue of people arriving back, it needs to be looked at quite hard and possibly to the extent of only allowing people back on compassionate grounds. Do you think he has got a case there?

BUTLER: In the face of a failing hotel quarantine system, for which Scott Morrison is responsible, it is not surprising these debates are going to emerge. Remember it was Scott Morrison who promised Stranded Australians would all home by Christmas. Scott Morrison is the person who has responsibility for managing our borders and managing our quarantine system. So if this means that Australians take even longer to get back home from overseas, that will be on Scott Morrison’s head.

JOURNALIST: The closure of the border – are you comfortable with that?

BUTLER: Well, these are decisions that are advised and taken on the basis of public health advice. That's been the wonderful thing about Australia's COVID response. It compares very favourably to some other countries around the world. Our public health experts consider what is happening around the country, make a decision, recommended it to government and governments and the community being very good at following that public health advice. I think that's what we should continue to do into the future.

JOURNALIST: The conditions around the care of those in aged care – are there any issue for you there?

BUTLER: The Commonwealth said early last year, 12 months ago, they had a plan to ensure that aged care facilities regulated by the national government, by Scott Morrison, would be protected from COVID and tragically, we had 685 residents of aged care facilities last year die as a result of the COVID pandemic. So the Commonwealth needs to lift its game. It’s a point that's been made by the Royal Commission into Aged Care and really it is a responsibility again for which Scott Morrison must take action.
JOURNALIST: You don’t have any immediate concerns, though, about what is happening in Victoria?

BUTLER: Well, there are always concerns to make sure that our several thousand residents in aged care facilities are safe. The very vulnerable older Australians, the couple hundred thousand of them, in there are safe and protected by the Commonwealth, which has responsibility for regulating.

JOURNALIST: There is concern that this strain of virus in Victoria could be moving around the country. Do you think the Victorian Government acted swiftly enough?

BUTLER: These are all matters that will be the subject of considerable action review over the coming days. I know that health authorities in all states, including here in South Australia, but New South Wales and elsewhere as well, are taking swift action to ensure that anyone traveling through Terminal 4 at Tullamarine are contacted, isolated and tested and that really goes to the strength of our contact tracing system here in Australia. But at the end of the day, these things are only happening because of a failing hotel quarantine system with which Australians are fast losing patience.

JOURNALIST: Is the failure, you identify there, should that be shifted back to the state governments?
BUTLER: Look, I don't think anyone can remember an Australian politician who has made more of the Commonwealth's responsibility for managing our borders, which includes quarantine arrangements, than the former Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. But now he seems happy to wash his hands, say the system is working fine, and to the extent it's not, it's all the responsibility of the states. That is not good enough. Quarantine around our national borders is a responsibility of the Commonwealth. He has recommendations before him for months around dedicated facilities outside our CBD, strong national standards, and he sat on his hands. We are now seeing the consequences of that in Melbourne.
JOURNALIST: Does that imply that the state method isn't working, it doesn't stack up?
BUTLER: What we need is strong national standards. This is not about any particular state. This is about the Commonwealth driving those standards. Driving those things that Jane Halton talked about last year. Health experts have been saying on almost daily basis, around the workforce, around the PPE in these hotels, around ventilation arrangements, the use of nebulisers, for example, it's been such an issue at the Holiday Inn at Melbourne airport. So all of these things at the end of the day are the responsibility of the national government and he should be driving better arrangements here that protect the broader community from these risks.
JOURNALIST: The state of play in South Australia is fairly normal. Should we have to take on some of the load of the arrivals that can't be kept in those affected spots like Victoria?
BUTLER: That is a matter for advice from our public health experts as they consider our capacity. But the point I think people are focused on today is standards in our quarantine systems, the failure of the Commonwealth to take any action in response to the advice they’ve received to put in place dedicated quarantine facilities to alleviate pressure from these CBD hotels. That's the point Australians are thinking about today.
Can I also say in response to a story that I've read this morning about some several hundred international students being able to be brought into Australia. It is completely unacceptable that Scott Morrison continues to leave Australian citizens stuck overseas while he's happy to bring in international students and businessmen into our country.
JOURNALIST: Do you agree with Dan Andrews that Australia's returning should only be allowed in on compassionate grounds?
BUTLER: Again, as I said, in the face of a failing quarantine system that is not protecting the broader community, it's inevitable that these debates will start to take place. But it's Scott Morrison, who promised that all Stranded Australians will be home by last Christmas. Scott Morrison who has responsibility for these failures in our hotel quarantine system. So if this all means that Australians take even longer to get home after being stuck overseas for months and that will be on Scott Morrison’s head.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask you about the national apology. Senior Australian of the Year, Dr Marian Rose, is calling for compensation for members of the stolen generation in the Northern Territory. Would Labor support this? Also Kevin Rudd has criticised the decision to delay the delivery of the closing the gap statement by six months do you support that criticism?
BUTLER: Can I say, it is the 13th anniversary of the apology to the stolen generations in the Australian Parliament. That was an incredibly important milestone in our path to reconciliation with First Nations people. Now our focus needs to be on building on that milestone by embracing the recommendations from the Uluru Statement from the Heart and that is very much the focus of the Australian Labor Party.
Thanks everyone.