DOORSTOP: 2/8/21

August 02, 2021


MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: As Australians know Scott Morrison had two jobs this year: a speedy effective rollout of the vaccines and a safe national quarantine and he's failed abysmally at both. As a result of his failures, 10 million Australians begin the week, yet again, languishing in lockdown as they watch other countries around the world start to see life returning to normal. Over the past few weeks four of our five major cities and many regional parts of Australia have experienced substantial lockdown events. These repeated lockdowns are severely impacting the lives and the livelihoods of millions of Australians. Children can't go to school, workers can't go to work, the social and the economic consequences, and the mental health impacts are enormous. Australians remain dangerously exposed today to this highly infectious Delta variant with the lowest vaccination rate in the developed world. Just 15 per cent of the Australian population are fully vaccinated today. And we're seeing the real life consequences of Scott Morrison’s failures to protect the most vulnerable Australians through vaccination play out. 

Scott Morrison promised that aged care staff would be fully vaccinated before Easter. We know the reason for that, we saw last year the tragic consequences of the real life fact that aged care staff are the transmission point between the community and our most vulnerable Australians in aged care facilities. But still, the vast bulk of aged care staff are not fully vaccinated. And as a result today, we've seen reports of 18 residents at one aged care facility in Sydney transferred to hospital because they've contracted COVID through an aged care worker who was not fully vaccinated. 

Scott Morrison also promised older Australians that they would be fully vaccinated before the onset of the dangerous winter season. Yet we're now into the third month of winter, and 60 per cent of Australians aged over 70 years of age are still not fully vaccinated. Compare that to the UK, where more than 95 per cent of older members of that community are fully vaccinated. Older Australians remain dangerously exposed to this Delta variant. We're seeing tragic consequences of that play out yet again in Sydney this morning. 

Scott Morrison claims that his vaccine rollout is a gold medal run. You don't get a medal for running dead last. If the vaccine rollout were an Olympic event he would not even qualify. 

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Do you support the idea of large sporting events and businesses such as pubs and cafes banning people from entering if they're not vaccinated?

BUTLER: With only 15 per cent of Australians fully vaccinated, we're not yet in a position to introduce some of the systems we are seeing develop around the world. I think Australians would expect that the Prime Minister would give them the chance to get vaccinated before we start to see restrictions placed on people simply because their Government has not given them the opportunity to get vaccinated. In time, though, I expect we will see a mature, reasoned debate in Australia, about opportunities for people who have been able to get vaccinated to start to see life return to normal. But at the moment, Australians aren't given the chance to do that, because Scott Morrison failed in his job to give them the supply they need.

JOURNALIST: But do you support that idea? There have been some concerns that easing restrictions on fully vaccinated Australians could create two different classes and it could create haves and have nots. So do you support that idea?

BUTLER: I support a reasonable discussion about people who have been vaccinated with both doses being able to see life return to normal. But we are not at the point yet of being able to have that conversation in a meaningful way in Australia, because Scott Morrison's failures mean that only 15 per cent of the population have had the opportunity to get fully vaccinated.

JOURNALIST: There's more than 3 million AstraZeneca doses that haven't been used yet. What does that say about people's hesitancy for that vaccine?

BUTLER: AstraZeneca is a safe and effective vaccine. I myself have had my first dose of that, I've got my second dose booked soon. It's a vaccine which is recommended by all of our health experts for significant parts of the community. To the extent there is community hesitancy in some quarters about the AstraZeneca vaccine that was last week created by Scott Morrison's failures of communication. People remember the panicky late night press conference that he convened which simply sent a message that something was wrong. People remember the Government saying that if people have concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine, they could wait till later in the year to get one of the mRNA vaccines. Scott Morrison needs to do much better in communicating the health advice that he receives as Prime Minister. They are, after all, the health advisers. ATAGI is the Technical Advisory Group. That's what the name suggests. The Prime Minister is paid to communicate that advice in a reasonable meaningful way to the Australian people. He’s abysmally failed to do that, particularly in relation to AstraZeneca.

JOURNALIST: What can the Government do then to fix that reputation?

BUTLER: He should be communicating his health advice in a far better fashion. He has failed at this and that has created very serious problems. You don't have to take my advice on that, Brad Hazzard the New South Wales Health Minister said yesterday on Insiders that the Federal Government had done a very poor job. “Definitely been unhelpful,” were Brad Hazzard’s words, in communicating the advice of AstraZeneca.

JOURNALIST: Do you think we'll be able to get to that 70 per cent vaccination target by Christmas?

BUTLER: I certainly hope so. That’s a rate, at least of the adult population, other countries have already achieved. We're only at 15 per cent of the total population, less than 20 per cent of the adult population, fully vaccinated. Still dead last in the OECD. We need to see that vaccination rate climb very, very quickly if we're going to protect the Australian population against this highly infectious variant, which is causing lockdown after lockdown. Let alone have a chance to see life returning to normal as Australians want to.

JOURNALIST: But in terms of the targets, are you happy with the targets as they stand at the moment?

BUTLER: We've called, and I call again today, on the Prime Minister to release the modelling that has driven this plan. The Doherty Institute modelling, paid for by taxpayers, presumably not out of Scott Morrison’s personal pay packet. It’s public modelling, we deserve to see it. We also deserve to see the Treasury modelling. The Opposition deserves it, clinicians deserve it, most importantly, the broader Australian community deserve to see what has driven the plan that was decided upon in principle on Friday by the National Cabinet. We’ve already seen a number of health experts say that those targets might be too low. I can't comment on that, because we haven't seen the modelling. So we must see that. There are questions, for example, about what drove those particular targets, as opposed to some of the other numbers we've seen in modelling that has actually been produced publicly. I call on the Prime Minister to do that as soon as possible because I think it's in everyone's interest, that this plan has the broadest possible community and political support. We all want to see this plan succeed. But Scott Morrison can't continue to keep that modelling secret from the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: Data out today by CoreLogic on house prices show they’ve gone up by as much as 24 per cent in some parts of the country. By dropping its policy on negative gearing has Labor made it even harder for young people to enter the housing market?

BUTLER: We're not going to relitigate the past. We're going to take a housing policy to the next election which is focused on the future. We've already released one element of that which is filling a gap left by the Government, a very substantial gap in the area of social housing. We'll have more to say before the next election.

JOURNALIST: Just back on the AstraZeneca jab. Queensland's Chief Health Officer, Jeannette Young, says people under 60 should still receive only Pfizer, even with the current lockdown in place. What do you make of that advice?

BUTLER: I haven't seen the Chief Health Officer of Queensland’s precise comment, so I'm not going to comment upon that. Our position is to support the advice of the Technical Advisory Group and that is that for people under 60 the preferred vaccine is Pfizer. If people under that age wish to avail themselves of AstraZeneca that is also to be encouraged and that is a conversation they should have with their health professionals. And further to that, people in Greater Sydney who are exposed right now to this highly infectious Delta variant are, in the words of ATAGI, strongly encouraged or should strongly consider having that conversation with their health professionals and availing themselves of the AstraZeneca vaccine. That's the advice that we're backing as a Federal Labor Party. Thanks very much.