DOORSTOP: 27/7/21

July 27, 2021


MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: It's obviously great news that the Victorian and South Australian Governments have decided that the situation is such that they can lift the lockdown arrangements in those two states later tonight. That's a great testament to the discipline and hard work of South Australians and Victorians, and the work of those governments, to nip this in the bud. Our thoughts are all with the people of Greater Sydney, 6 million of whom remain in lockdown tonight and for some time coming.

I do want to point out though that in spite of the fact that the Victorian and South Australian decisions will be of great relief to many businesses and workers in those two states, there still will be enormous numbers of workers who continue to lose hours and shifts and wages as a result of the restrictions that very understandably, are being kept in place. For example, hospitality workers in facilities that are only able to operate at 25 per cent capacity will undoubtedly lose hours and will lose wages because the Government and Scott Morrison refused to heed our calls and the calls of many business groups to put in place a JobKeeper type arrangement again. Those workers will get absolutely no support from the Government because the state is no longer in lockdown arrangements. So we reiterate our calls, the calls of the ACTU and many business groups. Scott Morrison must swallow his pride and put something in place like JobKeeper so that those workers in states like South Australia and Victoria, who will continue to lose wages as a result of COVID related restrictions, get some support from their Government. 

Scott Morrison had two jobs this year: a speedy and effective vaccine rollout and an effective quarantine system. We’ve seen yet more evidence today of his failures to do both of those jobs properly. We've seen the 27th outbreak of hotel quarantine recorded up in Queensland. A man who went into the hotel fully vaccinated, with a negative COVID test, acquiring the COVID virus during his stay in hotel quarantine. The 27th as I said, during the operation of this system. It is important to remember that the outbreak that is currently crippling the Greater Sydney economy and spread to South Australia and Victoria was caused by a failure in the airport transfer arrangements within that quarantine system overseen by Scott Morrison. A failure that was identified last year and which Scott Morrison was warned he should address urgently at that time, but again he did nothing. He also received advice after advice about the need to put in place purpose built quarantine facilities so the country does not have to continue to rely on hotels, which were built for tourism not medical quarantine. And again Scott Morrison has just done nothing and left Australians dangerously exposed. 

We've also seen revelations of the continuing failure around vaccines. Just Friday last week, the Government testified to the Senate that we would see arrivals and the deliveries of the Government's third vaccine option, the Novavax vaccine, within the next eight weeks but this morning there are revelations that we will not see Novavax arrive in Australia until next year. Yet another failure of Scott Morrison in his vaccine rollout. 

Also there are disturbing revelations in an article in BioPharmaDispatch and reported by Sky News this morning about the extraordinary level of dysfunction at the highest levels of Government around the vaccine rollout strategy last year. It appears from this report that the Federal Department of Health decided upon a so-called “wait and see strategy” while every other government around the world was rushing to secure vaccine deals with companies like Pfizer. Scott Morrison now has very serious questions to answer given that this article expressly named one of his senior advisors as a key player in this debacle. Scott Morrison needs to tell the Australian people how his Government arrived at a so-called “wait and see” strategy. He also needs to come clean with the Australian people about why it took until Christmas Eve last year for him to sign a deal on Pfizer vaccines when countries like the US, UK, Canada, Europe and Japan had secured deals with Pfizer five months earlier. It is now quite clear that the fact that Australia is dead last in the developed world for vaccinations is no accident but instead is a product of a deliberate decision by this Government to adopt a so-called “wait and see” strategy. 

Now just lastly, I want to express Labor's deep concerns about reports that yet another resident of a disability care facility in Sydney has contracted COVID. This particular disability facility in Lakemba, this is a highly vulnerable cohort to the effects of COVID, which is why they were a priority group in phase 1a and Scott Morrison promised they would be fully vaccinated by Easter. Now, we heard Senate testimony last week, that only one-third of that group is fully vaccinated. This particular person had not even received a single dose. Neither had all of the other residents of that facility in Lakemba. It's extraordinary that the Disability Minister this morning said on TV, that in her words, the rollout of the vaccine to residential disability care is “going really well.” What an extraordinary thing for a Minister to say, in such extraordinarily difficult circumstances for this particular person, and so many residents and their families who are deeply worried about their dangerous exposure to this highly infectious variant. Yet another failure by Scott Morrison. 

JOURNALIST: The number of COVID cases in Sydney isn't slowing down. What's going wrong? What more does New South Wales have to do?

BUTLER: Clearly this is a product of the fact that Scott Morrison just did not secure enough vaccines for Australia to be protected. At a time when we're watching so many other countries around the world start to see life return to normal because they've got such higher vaccination rates than Australia, we are still locked into a position where the only response available against the highly infectious Delta variant is to lock their city down. It's a reflection of a deep failure, an enormous public policy failure by Scott Morrison.

JOURNALIST: Given the situation is getting worse should vaccines from other states be sent to New South Wales?

BUTLER: The problem is there are simply not enough vaccines in the country, whether in New South Wales or any other state. The Prime Minister just has not secured enough vaccines to protect Australians during this dangerous period. Now if there are unallocated vaccines, this apparent stockpile that has come to light over the last couple of days, which no other state government appears to know anything about - Brad Hazzard was asked about it this morning and he didn't know anything about it, he’d never been told about it – but if the Commonwealth does have spare vaccines locked away somewhere, then yes, they should be released to a city that is suffering so much like Greater Sydney is. 

JOURNALIST: The Business Council wants the rate of the COVID disaster payments to be lifted from $600 a week to $750 a week. Is that a reasonable request?

BUTLER: What we see now is state Liberal governments, the business community, Federal Labor, the trade union movement, so many other industry sectors saying the Government needs to do more to support businesses and to support workers through these outbreaks, particularly given that these outbreaks are a product of deliberate failures, clear failures, by Scott Morrison on quarantine and vaccines. So, yes we continue to encourage Scott Morrison, even if he can't bear to use the same description as JobKeeper, just put in place something like that, something that provides proper support to workers who are going through so much financial and other distress as a result of these lockdowns.

JOURNALIST: Just on the Queensland man who tested positive after hotel quarantine. He was obviously fully vaccinated. What would Labor put in place differently? 

BUTLER: We've been saying since last year, as have many other experts who advise the Federal Government, that hotel quarantine is not a long-term solution to quarantine in this COVID crisis. Months and months ago, the Prime Minister who is constitutionally responsible for quarantine should have put in place purpose built facilities that were built for quarantine, not built for tourism, which is what hotels are built for. That is why we are seeing outbreak after outbreak of hotel quarantine, and why we are seeing the lockdowns that Australians are enduring right now. It’s time Scott Morrison did his job on quarantine or else we will continue to see these repeated outbreaks from hotels.