DOORSTOP: 20/7/21

July 20, 2021


MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: First of all can I say that our thoughts, my thoughts particularly, are with all of my fellow South Australians, who from 6pm this evening will be entering a lockdown to deal with the runaway Delta variant which is affecting so many parts of Australia. We join the people of Victoria, most of the people of New South Wales, who are experiencing lockdowns as well. This is going to be very tough for many South Australians. We’ll face this with fortitude. We're being served extraordinarily well, particularly by testing staff and other allied health workers who are keeping us safe and making sure that the huge numbers of South Australians that are doing the right thing and rocking up to testing facilities are getting those results.
It's now a little over a month since a limousine driver who was contracted to transport staff flight crew from an international airport to their quarantine arrangements, caught COVID and then started to spread it through Australia. This was a person who was unvaccinated and reportedly not wearing PPE. Scott Morrison was warned of these transfer arrangements. They are a critical part of Scott Morrison's quarantine system. He was warned last year that this was a fundamental weakness of the system which he needed to address urgently and he did nothing. Let's be clear, the lockdowns now being experienced right through Australia go back to that critical failure by Scott Morrison. More than half of Australia is right now languishing in lockdown yet again all because of Scott Morrison's failures on vaccines and quarantine, while we watch life starting to return to normal in so many other countries. Here in Australia livelihoods are being smashed, lives are being massively disrupted. Students aren't able to go to school. Workers aren't able to go to work. Economic loss is already running to billions and billions of dollars. Not to mention the huge impact on mental health and other health care as well.
Scott Morrison had two jobs this year: a speedy and effective vaccine rollout and quarantine arrangements that were fit for purpose. He’s failed on both of those. Today, only 11 per cent of Australians are fully vaccinated against COVID, the worst rate in the OECD. Even more worryingly, only 30 per cent of Australians aged over 70 years of age who are supposed to be vaccinated by winter, are fully vaccinated today. Compare that to the UK where more than 95 per cent of older members of that community are fully protected against the Delta variant. Disturbingly, we learned today, only one in four residents of disability care facilities, who were supposed to be vaccinated by Easter, are currently fully vaccinated. A highly vulnerable cohort in the community. This has been an abject failure by Scott Morrison in the vaccine rollout. He has failed vulnerable Australians and left them dangerously exposed to the highly infectious Delta variant that is ripping through Australia.
We also learned in the last 24 hours from the Government's coordinator of the vaccine rollout that younger Australians won't even have the prospect of a vaccine for months. Not even the prospect of booking a vaccine for months, he said, not weeks. As Australians face yet more time languishing in lockdown, they are paying a huge price for Scott Morrison's failures on vaccines and quarantine.

JOURNALIST: Greg Hunt has just given a press conference detailing that last week 975,000 Australians received a vaccine dose. And yesterday was a record for a Monday with a number of people getting their vaccines. Do you think it's a case of the Government not getting the supply out? The messaging? What's going on? The numbers are increasing, but why haven't they done so up until now?

BUTLER: We're still last in the OECD. If you look at other countries in the OECD our vaccination rates are getting further and further behind. We are way behind where we should be on the vaccine and as a result, Australians are dangerously exposed as this highly infectious delta variant rips through the country. The critical problem with the vaccine rollout is that Scott Morrison thought this was not a race. He said this was not a race. As a result, he didn't secure enough vaccine supplies for Australians when he needed to do that. That was last year. We're all paying the price right now. Frankly, the Minister and the Prime Minister should spend a little less time patting themselves on the back for figures that show we're still worst in the developed world. We are a country that is languishing in lockdown while we watch other countries see life starting to return to normal. Less time patting themselves on the back and more time trying to get this vaccine rollout and quarantine system back on the rails is the best thing the Government should do.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned young people trying to get the vaccine. Should the Pfizer vaccine be brought forward for people under the age of 40? And if so, how would you managed to do that given the current supply issues?

BUTLER: The challenge currently is that the priority groups, the most vulnerable members of our community, are still not fully protected. As I said, disability care residents, some of the most vulnerable members of our community were supposed to be fully vaccinated by Easter. Still, three quarters of them are not fully protected. Only 30 per cent of older Australians over the age of 70 are fully vaccinated. So the Government needs to move heaven and earth to get those vulnerable Australians protected as soon as they possibly can. As this highly infectious variant rips through the country, those vulnerable Australians are dangerously exposed. Then we need to start shifting to making sure that younger Australians, other Australians are able to get access to vaccines as quickly as possible. But even Lt General Frewen said yesterday, that for Australians under the age of 40 it would be months, not weeks, in his words, before they'd be able to have the prospect of a vaccine.

JOURNALIST: Does that mean you don't think that it shouldn’t be available to people under 40 given older Australians haven’t been vaccinated yet?

BUTLER: Where state governments feel they've got sufficient supply to make vaccines available to younger Australians, then that is something that they need to make a judgement about. I know that that’s happening in some places of the country. The Commonwealth Government's responsibility is to vaccinate the most vulnerable Australians. They promised that would happen by Easter and in some cases by the beginning of winter, and still so many millions of those people are dangerously exposed in the face of this variant. That's got to be the priority for Scott Morrison.

JOURNALIST: What's your understanding of how Federal Government support measures will work for people in South Australia who are going into lockdown?

BUTLER: My understanding is that sole traders and workers will have available to them arrangements that were agreed at the National Cabinet last week. Labor is still concerned that that is an inferior arrangement to the JobKeeper arrangements that were in place last year. That was withdrawn way to quickly given how slow the vaccine rollout has been. We do want the Government to consider putting in place an arrangement that is equivalent to JobKeeper and which keeps that critical relationship between an employer and employees in place. We do urge those businesses, those workers, those sole traders who are now subject to lockdown arrangements in South Australia to try to make connection with the support arrangements that were put in place last week by National Cabinet. But we do again, call on the Government to consider something more appropriate and more aligned with the JobKeeper arrangements that were in place during lockdowns in 2020. Thank you.