DOORSTOP: 18/3/21

March 18, 2021


MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGEING: This morning we've learned that more than 400 million vaccines have been delivered around the world. More than 110 million in the United States and 26 million in the UK, more than half of the adult population have been vaccinated in the United Kingdom. Here in Australia, in spite of the fact that Prime Minister promised that there will be 4 million vaccines delivered by the end of March, only 200,000 Australians have received their first dose of the vaccine. More than 99 per cent of Australians still haven't received a single dose. So, for every Australian today, who has received a dose of vaccine, more than 500 Americans have. For every Australian who's received a dose of vaccine today, more than 130 people in the United Kingdom have. So with the vaccine rollout strategy already so far behind schedule, the last thing we needed was the chaos and the dysfunction we saw yesterday with the botched release of the National Booking System. 

We've seen reports over the last 24 hours of GP practices being announced as vaccine locations in a newspaper, but not included on the Department of Health website. We've had patients by their thousands according to elected officers and the media outlets that tried to book a vaccination, not being able to get through, been told the books are closed from the practices they've contacted, and even where they are on the books of that particular practice being told to ring back as much as one month later. 

The last thing we needed was fuel on the fire of this chaos and confusion added by the Minister Greg Hunt this morning on AM. And what he said on AM this morning was “today we're announcing over 100 Commonwealth vaccination clinics. That's a very important addition, that expands the capacity very significantly.” Now, not unreasonably I was inundated by media queries, wanting to know the details of these new clinics that were announced as a new initiative and addition by the Minister at this morning's AM program. What everyone learned very quickly was that the Minister was referring to the GP respiratory clinics that have been in place for 12 months. Clinics that were included on his presentation over the weekend as the vaccine rollout strategy for phase 1b was outlined by him. This is just an empty re-announcement of existing clinics that have been in place doing important work for 12 months now. Now the last thing we need with the chaos and dysfunction we saw yesterday is more spin and empty announcements from this Government. Instead, the Government needs to focus on getting this chaotic vaccine strategy back on track.

JOURNALIST: Look, the PM says the rollouts are tough, unprecedented project. Shouldn't we expect some hiccups along the way like we've seen?

BUTLER: What we should have expected was that the Government would have had these systems in place well before the vaccines were being delivered from overseas and manufactured by CSL here in Australia. We’ve known for months we would need a National Booking System. We've known for months that GPs needed to be informed about what arrangements will be rolled out on what day and when they would receive doses instead we see this dysfunction, this chaos, this confusion, because the Government is focused so much on the announcements and not enough on delivery.

JOURNALIST: I guess just in a nutshell, what specifically does the Government need to be doing from now to make sure that rollout goes smoothly?

BUTLER: They’ve got to deal with the confusion that's rife in our GP practices and patients alike. That's what the AMA said yesterday. It's what the College of General Practice said yesterday. This has really been backwards step by the Government in the last 24 hours but they’ve got to get this back on track. They’ve got to get the booking systems operating. They’ve got to get confidence among GP practices, that the doses are going to be delivered smoothly. At the moment we've seen chaos, there's some confusion, and that really is not contributing to a smooth rollout of this critically important backstop

JOURNALIST: Do you think the Government's doing enough to help PNG with their rolling outbreak considering how close they are as a neighbour to us?

BUTLER: This is an emerging crisis on our doorstep. As a good neighbour, PNG’s closest neighbor, we have a particular obligation, obviously, to provide whatever assistance we reasonably can. But it's also in our national interest that we prevent this crisis becoming even worse in PNG as people know I think the Labor Party earlier this week called for the sorts of actions the Government announced yesterday and the Labor Party has welcomed the Government's announcement. I do say, as I said before, the Government needs to monitor events that develop in PNG and determine whether or not further or varied assistance needs to be provided by Australia.

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister has again ruled out a constitutional voice to Parliament for Indigenous Australians. Instead saying he is focusing on things like Closing the Gap. Do you think the Government's doing enough to close the disparity in health outcomes between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people?

BUTLER: Well, we should be doing both. To Close the Gap has been a challenge for this country and for this Parliament. Ever since the initiative was first announced by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, we don't do well enough on those initiatives, and we need to do better. But focusing on closing the gap does not mean that we shouldn't also be responding to the Statement from the Heart delivered by Aboriginal leaders at Uluru that includes a voice to Parliament, something which the Labor Party has indicated we support.

JOURNALIST: Now last night Noel Pearson criticised both major parties. He also criticised Labor for failing to recognise Aboriginal people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution, as both parties have promised since 2007. As a Labor frontbencher, what comments do you have in response to that?

BUTLER: All I can say is the Labor Party wants to deliver the Statement from the Heart, which Noel Pearson played such an important role in helping to develop has indicated. We are committed to its implementation to all of the elements of that Statement from the Heart.