TUESDAY, 27 APRIL 2021
REBECCA WHITE MP, TASMANIAN LABOR LEADER: Really thrilled to be here in Braddon as we do the last week of the campaign, making sure that we're talking about the things Tasmanians care most about. And we know that the number one issue this election is healthcare. I'm joined today by our entire Braddon team who are incredibly hardworking, they're out talking to people every single day, knocking on doors, and what they're hearing is that this community here in Latrobe wants to see maternity services returned to the Mersey Community Hospital. This is a growing LGA with the third fastest growing population in the state. More families coming to this region and yet, sadly, the maternity services that were once here have been taken away by the Liberal government. A Labor Government would restore maternity services here to the Mersey Community Hospital making it a level two maternity service. Providing the service that this community needs.
We know that Peter Gutwein took $1.6 billion out of health and that has seen a reduction in services right across the state. We've seen health waiting lists blow out to levels we've never seen in Tasmania before. One in eight Tasmanians is now waiting for healthcare, which is completely unacceptable. The Labor Party has a health action plan that will invest in our nurses, our doctors, our allied health professionals, as well as the services that Tasmanians deserve right across the state. I'm joined here today as well by Federal Shadow Minister for Health, Mark Butler, who is going to provide some further information and some support for Labor’s Maternity and Family Services at the Mersey Community Hospital, but more generally the desperate support our health system needs to inject the resources, the staff and the money back into a system that has been decimated by a liberal government over the last seven years.
MARK BUTLER MP, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: Thank you, Rebecca. Great to be here with the Braddon team, particularly with Rebecca White, who we’re hoping will be the Premier of Tasmania come Saturday. More than 4 years of leadership, that Rebecca now has of the Labor Party here in Tasmania. And again yesterday afternoon in the leaders debate, she showed she's got the vision, she's got the energy to lead this state over the next 4 years. Also delighted to be here with my parliamentary colleague Anne Urquhart from the Senate, the great fighter for the northwest of Tasmania and Dr Bastian Seidel, The Shadow Health Minister here for Tasmanian Labor Party.
Bastian and I have now done a couple of roundtables last night and this morning with people in the Northwest talking to them about their health needs. And as Rebecca said, it's quite clear to me in that short time that health care is the number one election issue for this part of Tasmania. And no wonder after years of neglect and cuts by this Tasmanian Liberal government, which Rebecca said, $1.6 billion of cuts from the health budget when demand has been going up.
And just since 2018, we've seen the elective surgery waiting list blowout by more than 70 per cent and the outpatient waiting list blowout by almost 80 per cent. An utterly, utterly shameful record on the part of Peter Gutwein as Treasurer and then as Premier of this great state. I’ve got to say, I'm incredibly impressed by the health policy that Rebecca and Bastian Seidel have put together for this election, a centrepiece of it, obviously, is to really modernise and reinvigorated the key hospital precincts in this state including here at the Mersey.
People should be able to receive healthcare where they live and when they need it, and there's nothing more important than maternity services in the community. That's why I think this is a great announcement today, to ensure that level 2 maternity services can return to the Mersey, so we don't see mothers giving birth on the side of the highway. That is just a shameful legacy of this government’s neglect in healthcare.
Rebecca, we all wish you all the very best on Saturday. Your four years of leadership has been energetic, it's been visionary, we know that you will make a great Premier of the State of Tasmania.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Are you able to give us more details on this case where someone gave birth on the side of the highway?
BUTLER: I've been talking to people, I’ll defer to Bastian, but I've been talking to people over the last little while over the hours that I've been here last night and today about services here in the northwest of Tasmania and it's quite clear that there is simply not enough services out in the community. Not just here at the hospital, but out in the community more broadly and that's why Bastian’s policy of delivering healthcare where people live, when they need it, rather than requiring them to go to the big cities is one that really responds to the needs of Tasmanians.
JOURNALIST: Did this actually happen?
BASTIAN SEIDEL, TASMANIAN SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: There was an ABC radio caller call in.
JOURNALIST: OK sure, when was that, today?
SEIDEL: Friday, two weeks ago when it was on ABC.
JOURNALIST: Okay, good.
JOURNALIST: There has been some criticism of returning maternity services here because the hospital may not have capacity to deal with complicated births and mothers that may have complications and that could then endanger the lives of the mothers and babies. What do you say to that?
BUTLER: I'll defer to Bastian as the Shadow Health person and a clinician himself with enormous experience on that.
SEIDEL: Thank you. It's a myth.
We know that over the last 10 years over 120 maternity units have closed nationally. And the maternity unit here at the Mersey was one of them.
And we now know that it causes issues because women can’t access maternity care where they need it. That's why the Royal Doctors Association is supporting our plan to bring maternity back to the Mersey. That's why the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is supporting the plan to bring rural maternity services back. That's why the National Rural Health Commissioner is supporting the plan to reinstate maternity services in rural communities. And that's what we're committed to. We are committed to make it work. We are employing permanent medical specialists to work on this. We are employing midwives and nurses to do that and we are employing them permanently. It's about having the right practitioners to be able to offer the services this growing community needs and maternity services are so essential for this community.
We are committed to establishing the national centre of rural health and integrated maternity care. And we are committed to put $2.5 million to it. We are also committed to find an extra $5 million on capital work upgrades, for example, for the maternity suite. On top of that we have committed 50 permanent positions for nurses and midwives just here for the Mersey Hospital and we have committed to employ 7 specialist medical practitioners permanently, in addition to the existing medical doctors that are here. And on top of that is the national centre for rural health, we also committed to fund 50 advanced training places for rural medical professionals who want to do their advanced training here at the Mersey Hospital.
JOURNALIST: So, mothers who have complicated births or who are having Twins, they'll be able to give birth at the Mersey Community Hospital?
SEIDEL: We are committed to establish a level 2 maternity service and level 2 material service is for deliveries above the age of 37 weeks and it wouldn't necessarily involve, you know caesarean section unless it's an emergency. This is level 2. That's the level of services that's appropriate for rural community, and that's the level of services we are committed to here for the Mersey Hospital.
JOURNALIST: Sorry, just to be clear, is there a figure on how much Labour committing to get this maternity ward back up and running?
SEIDEL: It's $7.5 million in total and that's excluding staff costs which we’ve calculated separately as part of our outpatient initiative and as part of our workforce initiative.
JOURNALIST: And the what will you be doing to make sure that health professionals are able to fill the positions I would prefer that you are attractive person should.
SEIDEL: We know there is huge interest to work at the Mersey Hospital, as long as we’re able to offer permanent employment. Currently there’s hardly any advertising for positions here. Currently what you see is local positions being advertised for the Mersey Hospital in Victoria, which of course doesn’t make sense. What we are committed to, is to ensure we have permanent positions for doctors, midwives and nurses. So people can come here, and can work here and can prosper here in this community. That’s what makes a difference, for people to have a career path here at the Mersey Hospital.
JOURNALIST: What are the precise details and examples of what a Labor Government would do to overhaul the hotel quarantine system?
BUTLER: We’ve said now for several months, that Scott Morrison should have followed the advice that was given to him many months back into last year. And that advice had two key elements that we supported at the time. The first was to establish national standards in our hotels to the extent they’re still doing quarantine. National standards around personal protective equipment for all staff working in there, ensuring that all staff had vaccination as a priority and very importantly, national ventilation standards because poor ventilation is driving all of the outbreaks that we're seeing in hotel quarantine. We’ve seen them in the five major cities on the mainland all over the last six months, resulting in very disruptive lockdowns of the type we saw over the long weekend in Perth. So that's the first thing, that the government hasn't responded to that advice from last year. We think they should do so immediately. The second thing we've said is that the advice talked about dedicated quarantine facilities being built outside of our major cities. The CBD hotel system is designed for tourism, not for medical quarantine. It's fine to have to rely upon it in the short term, while you build dedicated facilities. But this government has done nothing to build dedicated facilities outside of our cities to take that pressure off the CBD hotel system and that's why we see quarantine in such a mess. We’ve seen 14 outbreaks over the last six months, resulting in incredibly disruptive lockdowns that have cost businesses millions of millions of dollars, and workers, substantial amounts of lost wages.
JOURNALIST: Where would some of those areas be? Like in regional Australia do you mean? Or just like in the outskirts of the CBD?
BUTLER: The report to that was delivered to Scott Morrison early in the second half of last year outlined a couple of potential options. Facilities that are run by Defence. There is one facility in the Northern Territory, Howard Springs, that currently accepts people returning from overseas. But there is a range of different points of interest, so there are proposals for Toowoomba, west of Brisbane. There are proposals for Avalon just outside of Melbourne. The point I’ve made over the last several weeks is that the Commonwealth has been responsible for quarantine for more than 100 years. They should be getting on the front foot and working out what possibilities there are around the country. Instead they’ve done absolutely nothing. I heard Greg Hunt yesterday complain that he still hasn’t received a detailed business case for a facility in Toowoomba, it’s the Commonwealth’s responsibility to chase those business cases, to develop those business cases, so that we can have returned Australians coming home safely in a way that doesn’t pose a broader risk to the Australian community.
JOURNALIST: In terms of India’s COVID crisis, the national security committee is meeting today, and my understanding is that all flights from India won’t be allowed back into Australia except for a few repatriation flights into Darwin, what’s Labor’s thoughts on that?
BUTLER: We haven't seen a final decision yet. Our position on these sorts of things right through the pandemic has always been to follow the public health advice and if the public health advice is for there to be a pause in flights from India, as there has been in the past from China, Italy, Iran and South Korea, then we would support the implementation of that public health advice. What I would say though is that the situation in India I think breaks everyone’s heart. The scale of the COVID crisis over there really does beggar belief. And Australia and rich countries across the world should be doing all that they can to provide extra assistance to the Indian government and the Indian people. Medical equipment, ventilators, oxygen, whatever other support and assistance we can provide, we should be doing that. It is a humanitarian crisis happening over there. But it does reinforce the importance of a safe, national quarantine system here in Australia. Of the 36,000 Australians who have registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs wanting to come home to their country to their homeland, 9,000 of them are in India. If there is a pause in repatriation flights, commercial flights back to Australia, then we’ve got to work out a long-term solution. We’ve got to have a safe quarantine system because one of the responsibilities of a national government is to bring your citizens home in a time of global emergency.
JOURNALIST: So you support flights being taken to Darwin?
BUTLER: We’ll have a look at the public health advice and the decision of the government when it’s released. At the moment we’re all speculating about what that advice might be. What we've said though, right through this pandemic, is that it’s important that all political parties, governments at all levels follow the public health advice.
JOURNALIST: I’ve got a slight curveball for you. There was a report, poor sleep is costing Australia about $4 billion a year. Does Labor believe the government needs to do more to address poor sleep?
BUTLER: Well you’re right, that is a curveball, I'm not really sure what to do with that. Bastian is a doctor. What I would say though, is I think what we do need more of a focus on in Australia is health promotion and preventative health. That was a big focus of our last time in government. Whether you're talking about, quit smoking programmes or something like the importance of good sleeping patterns. We know how important it is for young people as they’re growing into adulthood. But we also know in middle age that poor sleep is one of the drivers of a whole range of other poor physical conditions. So I know that something that Bastian and Rebecca had been working on, maybe not the sleep issue particularly, but they have been working on the importance of bringing prevention right into the centre of health policy here in Tasmania. Bastian may want to say a few things about that.
SEIDEL: Well let's face it, it sounds funny but it’s actually a serious question because people don't sleep because they're worried about jobs or they are worried about having an income, they are worried about having healthy meals and they’re worried about other things that affect them on a daily basis. So, having poor sleep is just a symptom, rather than trying to talk about symptom control, how we fix that, we actually need to be serious about talking about the underlying issues here. That's the discussion we should have. So, your question about poor sleep really goes straight into what matters to us as a community and that is, you know being able to have a job, being able to have safe and affordable housing, being able to have access to healthcare, being able to have access to child care, ensuring that your parents are being looked after, and if they’re elderly that they are in an aged care facility where you can be assured that everything is going well. And currently it's not. That's why people are worried. You know, that's why people are concerned. And yes, that's why they probably can't sleep.
JOURNALIST: Doctors are urging the infection control expert group to clarify its advice to the federal government on the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19. Do you think the group has recognised the potential for transmission via aerosols?
BUTLER: I'm not an expert in that area directly myself. I don't have those qualifications. I've seen the reports about the debate swirling around the ICEG about the role of ventilation and what personal protective equipment should be mandatory, particularly for clinicians working with patients who have a diagnosis of COVID-19, and I think it's important that that debate play out and that some definitive, clinical advice from IECG given to our hospital system, to our quarantine facilities, to ensure that the workforce, as well as patients and other users of those systems are kept safe. What has become clearer over recent months is that aerosol transmission is a key driver with infection of COVID-19 and all of our arrangements should reflect that understanding.
JOURNALIST: Pharmacies are calling on the federal government to clarify their rollout of the vaccine after National Cabinet decided to defer their involvement in cities. Should this have been sorted out by now?
BUTLER: Absolutely. This vaccine rollout from Scott Morrison is a shambles. You know, we've found that today the world has tipped over 1 billion doses of vaccine, here in Australia we haven’t even managed 2 million. In spite of the fact Scott Morrison promised there would be 4 million Australian vaccines delivered by the end of March. We know that two-thirds of residents in aged care facilities are still not vaccinated and shockingly 99 per cent of residents in disability facilities are still not fully vaccinated. Both of those groups were promised they would be vaccinated by Easter. Now several weeks ago. So this vaccine rollout has become a shambles. Scott Morrison and Greg Hunt missed every single promise, every single commitment they’ve made. And I’m not surprised at all that community pharmacists, who are geared up to be part of the phase 2a of the rollout are feeling frustrated, are feeling abandoned by a government that has just casually pushed them aside. We know how important community pharmacies are in, for example, the flu vaccine rollout. And I know that they can play an important roll in starting to get this COVID vaccine rollout back on track as well. They deserve an explanation from Greg Hunt.
JOURNALIST: Can I just get some clarification too, you mentioned earlier there’s been $1.6 billion in cuts, is that in Tasmania or is that a national figure?
BUTLER: That’s a Tasmanian figure, as I understand, since 2014, since this government was elected.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of speculation there will be federal intervention into the Labor party if you get into government?
WHITE: This is not something that I think about at the moment. My focus and the focus of my team is campaigning to win the election on Saturday, to win majority Labor government so we can deliver a comprehensive plan to solve the problems in our health system. To make sure we can put a roof over people’s heads, to provide more job opportunities for Tasmanians. That's the only thing I'm thinking about and right now I know that's the only thing that my candidates are thinking about too.
JOURNALIST: Is the Tasmanian Labor Party in trouble?
JOURNALIST: Can you rule out that Sydney isn’t going to take over Tasmania’s branches if Labor loses?
WHITE: As I said, it’s not even anywhere near what I’m thinking about right now. My focus is on making sure we campaign to win majority Labor government. And that’s the only thing Tasmanians care about too. They care that their politicians are talking about the things that matter to them, about fixing the health system, about providing more affordable housing, about providing jobs opportunities for Tasmanians. To make sure that we give everybody a chance to have a go, because right now so many people are missing out. That’s the feedback we’re hearing from the community, that's what they want us to be focused on. And that's why my commitment is that I will be focused, steadfast on that until Saturday.