DOORSTOP: 28/4/21

April 28, 2021



MARK BUTLER MP, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: Thanks, everyone. Can I congratulate Friends of Northern Hospice on their persistence and their commitment and also congratulate Rebecca and Bastian Seidel on this really imaginative, clever announcement. Tasmanians in the northern part of the state deserve to be able to receive end of life care in a fit for purpose facility rather than an emergency department. I think this is a great policy on the back of a whole range of really important health policy announcements by the alternative Premier of this state.

I want to address though, some national evidence that’s come out of the Senate COVID Committee overnight. There really was some shocking evidence presented by the government to the COVID committee last night that confirms that almost 90 per cent of aged care workers have still not received a COVID-19 vaccine. They are part of Phase 1a of the vaccine rollout strategy. All of whom were supposed to be fully vaccinated by Easter, a number of weeks ago now. We also know that two-thirds of residents in aged care facilities, perhaps, the most vulnerable Australians, have still not been fully vaccinated and more than 99 per cent of residents of disability facilities have still not been fully vaccinated either. This is a shocking indictment on Scott Morrison's promises to vaccinate our most vulnerable Australians and those Australians on the frontline who care for them, by Easter. We're heading into winter now and still the vast bulk of this group has not even received a single dose.

We’ve also seen overnight that the world has delivered more than a billion vaccine doses, but here in Australia we still haven't managed 2 million, notwithstanding that Scott Morrison promised 4 million doses by the end of March. As we approach the end of April we have not even reached 2 million. In the US, they've delivered more than 230 million doses, in the UK almost 50 million doses. The vaccine rollout strategy led by Scott Morrison is a complete mess and he needs to make sure he gets it back on track.

Lastly, can I also point to some evidence before the COVID committee yesterday that there appears to be no plans on the part of the Morrison Government to build dedicated, fit for purpose facilities to quarantine return travellers coming in from overseas. Group after group have confirmed that the hotel quarantine system that is currently in place under Scott Morrison is not a long-term solution. CBD hotels are built for tourism, they are not built for medical quarantine. Over the last several months we’ve seen 14 cases of outbreaks of COVID within the hotel quarantine system that have led to debilitating lockdowns in our major cities. Over the long weekend millions and millions of dollars was lost by Perth businesses as a result of that 3-day lockdown. Veterans were not able to gather on Anzac Day because of the outbreak within hotel quarantine in that city and many, many workers lost wages as well.

I saw Scott Morrison yesterday boast that he thought their hotel quarantine system was very, very effective, but I don't think you'll get the same response from all of those businesses in all 5 of our major mainland cities that have had to deal with lockdowns. The AMA again said last night Australia needs a fit for purpose quarantine system led by the Commonwealth Government. Our quarantine system right now is in a mess and it's time that Scott Morrison realised it's his responsibility to fix it.

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: The first of Australia's Tokyo bound athletes could receive their first vaccine next week. Does Labor support that?

BUTLER: We do support the decision taken, as we understand it, through National Cabinet. There are about 1,400 athletes and support staff who intend to travel to Tokyo to represent their country. Those athletes have been training for many, many years and I think Australians want to give them the opportunity to compete at the next games.

JOURNALIST: Do you think they should be prioritised over people in aged care and people with disabilities?

BUTLER: Well, obviously this doesn't detract from Scott Morrison's responsibility to make sure that our most vulnerable Australians are vaccinated as quickly as possible. He promised they would be done by Easter, they’re nowhere near that at this stage, but 1,400 vaccine doses is a relatively small amount of our national stockpile. I think Scott Morrison, with application, can balance those two needs. But I think Australians want to see our athletes able to compete in the games for which they have trained for so many years.

JOURNALIST: Do you agree with the decision to block thousands of Australians stuck in India from returning home?

BUTLER: Labor has always taken the position that we would follow and accept the public health advice. The advice is that given the scale of the crisis in India right now, the proper thing is to pause travel from India to Australia. That's particularly the case given it's quite clear our current quarantine arrangements under Scott Morrison are not working as they should. This is obviously a distressing decision. There are 9,000 Australian citizens or permanent residents who are stuck in India who want to come home. Scott Morrison must make sure that over time, consistent with the public health advice, they are able to get home, but we support the decision right now to pause returns.

Thanks everyone.