DOORSTOP: 21/7/21

July 21, 2021


MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: First of all, can I say again that our thoughts are with the people of South Australia, especially in my case being in South Australia right now, but across New South Wales and right across the state of Victoria. There are 14 million Australians languishing in lockdown yet again today, some for a very extended period of time. We remember that this lockdown in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales is being caused by yet another failure in Scott Morrison's quarantine arrangements - this time through a limousine driver who was unvaccinated and not wearing personal protective equipment transferring international flight crew from the airport to their hotel quarantine. This was an issue Scott Morrison had been warned about last year as a matter he should urgently address and he did nothing. And in the face of this outbreak, it is racing across Australia, the highly infectious delta variant, Australians are dangerously exposed because we have the lowest vaccination rate in the developed world. Just 11 per cent of Australians are fully vaccinated. So we see a position where 9 in 10 Australians are now unprotected against this virus. Only 30 per cent of Australians aged over 70 years have been fully vaccinated against COVID. Compare the UK data where more than 95 per cent of people in that country aged over 60 have full protection with two doses. Only one in four residents of disability care facilities have both doses of COVID vaccine, one in four aged care workers. These groups were promised full vaccination by Scott Morrison before Easter – months and months ago. 

This has been a debacle and instead of facing up to the consequences of his actions and his failures, Scott Morrison has spent this morning on a radio blitz filled with spin and with lies. Scott Morrison said that the vaccine rollout was “not a race.” He then practiced what he preached. Australians today are dangerously exposed because of his failure to secure enough vaccine supplies early enough to protect Australians, particularly against this highly infectious delta variant. But this morning, he has repeatedly pretended that what he was talking about was the formal approval processes by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. That is just a barefaced lie. The TGA approved Pfizer in January, they approved AstraZeneca in February. The Prime Minister himself received his vaccination in February as well. It wasn't until weeks after that, after an approval process that had not been contested by the Opposition or anyone else, weeks after that, the Prime Minister was repeatedly questioned about the slow pace of his vaccine rollout, which was already quite clearly well behind schedule. And it was in response to those questions that at least on three occasions on one day, in separate interviews, he said this is “not a race.” 

We shouldn't be surprised. This is a guy who has a record of not taking responsibility for his own failures. Australians will remember when questioned about a lack of action on his part in the face of the bushfire crisis he famously said, “I don't hold a hose, mate.” With 14 million Australians in lockdown, Scott Morrison is again failing and refusing to face up to the consequences of his failure and instead just lying to the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: Mr Butler, how would you describe this vaccine rollout so far?

BUTLER: This vaccine rollout has been a debacle. Scott Morrison had two jobs this year - one was to put in place a safe national quarantine system. He's failed on that. This current outbreak is a direct consequence of his failure to put in place safe quarantine arrangements about which he was warned as early as last year. In the face of this outbreak, Australians are dangerously exposed because we have the worst vaccine rollout in the developed world. People are still struggling to get an appointment to have a Pfizer vaccine. People under 40 are told by the Lt General that it will be months before they're able to do that, not weeks but months. While more than half of the Australian people are yet again languishing in lockdown. While we start to see life returning to normal in other countries around the world. 

JOURNALIST: What are some practical things the Government can do to speed up this vaccine rollout? 

BUTLER: They should be moving heaven and earth to get more supplies into the country. At the end of the day we can't go back in time and cure his failures from last year. We told him to do more deals. We said that he should be doing more to get supplies into Australia early while other countries like the US, the UK, the Europeans, the Canadians, the Japanese were inking deals with Pfizer as early as July last year. He didn't do a deal until November because he said this is “not a race,” there's no rush. I think we see the consequences writ large for the Australian people, of that gross failure by Scott Morrison, right now today.

JOURNALIST: So the Opposition's happy then with the way that the vaccines are actually being offered to the community through hubs, through GPs, through some pharmacies, you don't see any need to actually change the mechanisms in which people access the vaccines that are here at the moment. It's just a matter of supply?

BUTLER: I’ve said we need all hands on deck, as many opportunities as there are in the community through mass vaccination centres, GPs, pharmacies, whatever opportunity we have to get vaccinations into people's arms we should be taking up. The problem is we don't have enough supply and that's because Scott Morrison failed to do his job. GPs are reporting that they're having to cancel Pfizer appointments, people who had been booked to get their Pfizer vaccinations in New South Wales are having their bookings cancelled. Not only are people unable to get on a booking list, but people who were on a booking list are being knocked off because there's not enough supply.

JOURNALIST: Given that Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales are in lockdown, should those jurisdictions get more vaccines and supplies compared to other jurisdictions like Western Australia and the ACT?

BUTLER: That's a matter that I think should be negotiated through National Cabinet. But when communities like Sydney, and Melbourne and now South Australia are facing outbreaks in their community, understandably, their community wants a good access to vaccine supplies and that's Scott Morrison's responsibility to make sure that that happens. 

JOURNALIST: Should the national vaccine rollout now be open to people under the age of 40, to get Pfizer in particular?

BUTLER: We still think the priority should be to make sure the most vulnerable Australians are vaccinated and that job is far from done. As I said, only 30 per cent of older Australians have had both doses. We know through bitter tragic experience over the last 18 months from around the world that older people are far more susceptible to severe disease and death with COVID. So at the moment Scott Morrison needs to do his job and fully protect older Australians. He needs to make sure that residents and disability care facilities are fully vaccinated. Still three in four of them aren’t. Aged care workers, all the groups that were promised vaccination before Easter are still not done. So that's got to be the priority of the Commonwealth Government. I want to see everyone under 40, over 40, able to get a vaccination as soon as possible. But as a country, we must make sure that the most vulnerable groups are vaccinated as quickly as possible. That's been the advice from the AMA. That's been the advice from all of the health experts, they must be the priority.

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister to his credit today has come out and admitted to problems in the rollout: the availability of vaccines, the changing advice from ATAGI about which vaccine should go to which age group. Surely the Opposition does see those things as hindering the vaccine rollout and he's not sort of shirking responsibility in that regard?

BUTLER: He is shirking responsibility because every problem ever identified by Scott Morrison is someone else’s fault. It's never his fault. It's never his responsibility. He doesn't hold a hose. It's got nothing to do with vaccine supply. It's someone overseas or it’s some health expert giving the Government some advice that is inconvenient for him. At the end of the day, the Australian people, particularly when 14 million of us are locked down, just want a Prime Minister who will take some responsibility for his own failures. You know, the Australian people are a forgiving lot. They recognise it is hard to manage a pandemic and crises like bushfires, but what they want to see is some honesty, some courage from their leaders to face up to the consequences of their failures, instead of always pretending it’s someone else's fault. Or when things get tough and they get asked hard questions, just rolling off barefaced lies, which is what we saw from Scott Morrison this morning. Thank you.