DOORSTOP: 17/8/21

August 17, 2021


MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: Thanks for coming out this afternoon. Today, 14 million Australians are languishing, yet again, in lockdown. Well more than half of the Australian population. This Sydney third wave is leading to hundreds of new cases every single day. There are now 450 people in Sydney hospitals. A rate of hospitalisation that has doubled over just the last two weeks, and people are dying every single day. After seven deaths were reported yesterday our condolences go out to the family and the loved ones of another person who is reported to have lost their life in Sydney over the past 24 hours, a woman in her 70s.

Scott Morrison bears more responsibility than anyone else for this disastrous third wave. It began with a breach in quarantine transport arrangements, which Scott Morrison was warned about last year. He was warned to address it urgently and he did nothing. He was also continuing to publicly urge Gladys Berejiklian, as late as eight days after the Bondi outbreak began, to resist going into a full lockdown. Advice that has had disastrous consequences for Greater Sydney. He's left Australians dangerously exposed with the slowest vaccine rollout in the developed world. 

Scott Morrison is the most incompetent manager of a crisis in living memory for Australia. He ignored the bushfires, he's bungled vaccines and quarantine, and he's now abandoned our friends in Afghanistan. It's always too little too late with Scott Morrison and Australians end up paying the price. 

I also want to address a couple of other reports this morning. It's been reported that back in June the Morison Government acquired about 500,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines from the Covax facility. A facility set up by the World Health Organisation to provide vaccines to the world's poorest nations. It's an indictment on Scott Morrison's vaccine strategy that he had to go begging and scraping to a facility designed to provide vaccines to the world's poorest nations instead of having a competent vaccine procurement strategy himself. 

Lastly can I also say that parents are becoming increasingly concerned at the position of children and teenagers in this third wave. Particularly their exposure to the Delta variant. We are seeing hundreds of cases of children and teenagers picking up this Delta variant during the third wave. As many as a third of cases in the Greater Sydney area over the past fortnight, as we understand it. Parents are contacting my office and my colleagues to ask what is the plan to protect Australia's children and teenagers with a COVID vaccine? Now I know that there is not a vaccine approved for children under the age of 12 anywhere in the planet yet, but the TGA four weeks ago provided approval for the Pfizer vaccine to be administered to 12 to 15 year-olds. ATAGI, the Technical Advisory Group, has provided advice to the Government to approve that vaccine being administered to 12 to 15 year-olds with underlying health conditions but we still don't know when the vaccine will be made available to teenagers in a general sense. Parents want to know from the Morison Government what is the plan over coming months to vaccinate our teenagers. It's time that Greg Hunt and Scott Morrison provided parents with some assurance about that. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: New South Wales is no longer listing every exposure site on their website. Is that a wise move?
BUTLER: I think Australians generally are becoming increasingly concerned that the third wave in Greater Sydney is starting to get out of control and it's having ramifications through the rest of the country - in the ACT and in Victoria. And as I said, this has been a colossal failure on the part of Scott Morrison. A quarantine transport failure that led to the outbreak in the first place, him continuing to urge Gladys Berejiklian to resist going into full lockdown eight days after the outbreak, and the exposure we have through such a low vaccine rollout. 

JOURNALIST: But that's a state situation, should the New South Wales Government be listing all sites?
BUTLER: Obviously it would be optimal to have every single exposure site publicised and made available to the Australian community if that's possible. If the New South Wales State Government has an operational reason why they can't do that they should be clear about it.
JOURNALIST: What needs to be done to deal with the threat of COVID getting into Indigenous communities such as those in Western New South Wales?
BUTLER: This is a potential health disaster unfolding in Western New South Wales. Indigenous Australians were quite correctly identified as a priority group in the vaccine rollout strategy back in January. Scott Morrison promised that they, along with older Australians, would be fully vaccinated before the onset of winter because we know that winter is a particularly dangerous period for respiratory illnesses like COVID. And yet we understand that the Indigenous vaccination rate in Western New South Wales is as low as 8 per cent. That population is dangerously exposed to this highly infectious variant. The Morison Government, the New South Wales Government, should be pulling out all stops to get those communities vaccinated as quickly as they can.
JOURNALIST: Mark McGowan’s reserving his right to keep his borders closed, even if he and others get to 80 per cent, does it show that the Doherty plan is splintering?
BUTLER: The Doherty plan has a number of qualifications in it. Particularly it's predicated on the idea that our testing, our tracing, our isolation, our quarantine systems are all optimal. I think what you see right now in New South Wales, is far from optimal in all of those instances. Stage four, which is when we really start to see all of the restrictions lifted, still does not have a vaccination rate. And Scott Morrison continues to jump around on his commitment to the Australian people, around when the 80 per cent vaccination rate will be achieved. So I don't think it's any wonder really that state governments like WA are continuing to reserve their position given that Scott Morrison is reserving his.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned other states could follow his approach?

BUTLER: Australians want to see lockdowns become a thing of the past. They want to see these border closures become a thing of the past as soon as possible. Scott Morrison promised that lock downs would be a thing of the past by Christmas, but he still hasn't set out a clear plan about how to get to at least 80 per cent vaccination to achieve that.

JOURNALIST: Is it appropriate for Australia to access vaccines through the Covax facility?

BUTLER: As I said, the Covax facility was set up by the World Health Organisation and other partners to ensure that vaccines were available to the world's poorest nations. It is an indictment on Scott Morrison that his vaccine procurement strategy for a nation as wealthy as Australia was so late, was so incompetent, that he had to go begging and scraping into the Covax facility to acquire half a million Pfizer doses back in June. These vaccine doses were supposed to be available to poorer nations. The Morison Government should have done what other developed nations have been doing back in June/July last year, and that is securing supply deals for our country in a timely fashion.

JOURNALIST: Do you think there's any chance that Federal Parliament resumes given what's happening in the ACT?

BUTLER: That’s a matter for others to determine, particularly for the Government, and I think that will develop over coming hours and days I suspect. 

JOURNALIST: On Covax should, Australia wait for its Pfizer doses to come in October rather than accessing the Covax facility? 

BUTLER: As I understand reports, they are about an acquisition that happened back in June. We welcome any doses that are made available to the Australian people but we think as a developed nation, we should have been doing what the UK, the US, Europe, Canada, Japan and others were doing back in June/July last year and that is to secure our own supply deals rather than rely upon a facility that was set up particularly for poorer nations. Thanks, everyone.