DOORSTOP: 30/7/21

July 30, 2021

FRIDAY, 30 JULY 2021

MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: This afternoon the National Cabinet for Premiers, the Chief Ministers, and the Prime Minister will be considering, finally, the Doherty Institute modelling. This is a critical piece of work which will help to guide the pathway of this phase of the pandemic. 

Scott Morrison must release that modelling to the Australian people. He can't continue to keep the Australian people in the dark about what their future looks like. Already, Scott Morrison is delivering completely mixed messages about these issues. On Wednesday, he promised the Australian people that, and I quote, “lockdowns will be a thing of the past by Christmas”, but barely 24 hours later, he backtracked on that and said, and I quote again,  “No one can give those guarantees” as if it was someone else entirely, who'd given precisely that guarantee only 24 hours earlier. 

And this at a time of revelations in the Australian newspaper this morning that government modelling does assume indeed that lockdowns will continue into next year. Right now, 6 million Australians in Greater Sydney are again languishing through a lockdown with millions of other Australians living in other states, in less onerous conditions. These are the real life consequences of Scott Morrison's failures on vaccines and quarantine - Kids not going to school, workers not able to go to work, and enormous social, economic and mental health consequences. 

It's time that Scott Morrison stopped giving mixed messages to the Australian people and came clean with them about the pathway out of this mess. 

JOURNALIST: What if this modelling isn't released as you're calling for the afternoon? 

BUTLER: Well that will be an utter disgrace. The Australian people deserve to know the sorts of issues that are going to guide our pathway out of this mess. We see ourselves with the lowest vaccination rate in the developed world, a leaky quarantine system made up of buildings that were built for tourists, not for people in medical quarantine. It's time finallly for Scott Morrison to come clean with the Australian people about the pathway out of our current predicament, which seems to be endless lockdowns and breaches of hotel quarantine.

JOURNALIST: What do you expect the modelling to show? 

BUTLER: Well, there's obviously lots of modelling starting to be published now about the sorts of vaccination rates that would allow life to start to return to something like normal, but we’re all placing a lot of faith on the modelling that was commissioned by the National Cabinet. The public want to see it. The Australian people deserve to see it. Not to have it kept secret by the Prime Minister. He needs to take the Australian people into his confidence about the pathway out of this mess  He needs to stop sending mixed messages time and time again, when he is expected to front up about the mess that he's created for his failures.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about today's COVID Committee and what do you make of the news out of that committee that Howard Springs hasn't yet reached its maximum capacity of 2000 people?

BUTLER: Well, Scott Morrison was advised last year that we needed purpose built quarantine facilities because we couldn’t continue to rely upon hotels as a long term wholesale arrangement. 

Scott Morrison said that Howard Springs, the only purpose built facility we have in this country, would be expanded to 2000 places and be up and running by the end of May. We're now at the end of July and the revelation that he's not been able to deliver on yet another promise is a shocking reflection on his capacity to do his job. 

But we shouldn't just rely on Howard Springs. We need purpose built facilities for quarantining right through the country to ensure that we are able to see Australians who are stranded overseas return home, but to do so safely without exposing the rest of the community to risk.

JOURNALIST: Just further to that, the committee was also told that around 360 people associated with the Tokyo Olympics will be quarantining at Howard Springs. Is that fair?

BUTLER: Well I think all Australians wanted to see our athletes, who trained in many cases for most of their lives to get the opportunity to represent their country at the Olympics, have the chance to do so.  That meant that there would have to be special vaccination and quarantine arrangements for those athletes and the minimum possible support staff that they will need to be able to do their job properly over in Tokyo. I think generally the Australian people supported that arrangement.

JOURNALIST: Could you also understand how there could be a sense of frustration for those 1000’s of Australians who may have been trying to come back from repatriation flights from the United States or Europe, and now they're seeing this 360 odd people associated with the Olympic team coming in straight to Howard Springs?

BUTLER: But there are bigger failures that have driven the inability of as I understand it, about 35,000 Australians, who are still registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs as wanting to return home, but who are simply not able to do that because Scott Morrison hasn't put the arrangements in place that he promised last year would be in place to ensure they’d be home by Christmas. By Christmas last year, seven months later they’re still stranded overseas.  There's a much bigger set of failures by Scott Morrison at play there. 

JOURNALIST: If we flick over to the vaccine rollout, do you agree with one of the creators of the AstraZeneca vaccine that mixed messaging over the vaccine in Australia could cost lives?

BUTLER: Well, I think the messaging around the AstraZeneca vaccine has been deeply unfortunate in this country. The AstraZeneca vaccine is a safe and effective vaccine. It’s a vaccine that I've taken, I’ve only taken the first dose, my second dose is still to come, but it's a vaccine that is an important part of our response to COVID-19. And I think some of the issues, the admitted issues around community acceptance of the vaccine that we see in all of the polling that's been done over the last couple of months reflects some incredibly poor messaging from the Prime Minister.

Now see, over the weeks he's tried to deflect that responsibility to others. That's the sort of thing he does. But the panicky, late night press conference that the Prime Minister undertook after receiving the ATAGI advice did drive a sense that something was wrong. Why else would a Prime Minister conduct a panicky late night press conference if something wasn't wrong? That was a profound mistake the Prime Minister made, which was followed up then by the Government sending a sloppy message, in May, to people over the age of 50, that if they did have concerns about AstraZeneca, they should simply wait and they can get at Pfizer or the Madonna vaccine later in the year. 

This has been appalling messaging by the Prime Minister. You can't blame the health experts for the advice they've given. The advice they’ve given is based on science, reflects the advice that was given by their equivalents of many other countries overseas - it was just appallingly communicated by the Prime Minister. 

As always, he pretends it's someone else's fault, rather than taking responsibility for his own mistakes. 

JOURNALIST: Has Labor contributed though to fear of AstraZeneca?

BUTLER: I don’t think we’ve ever said anything about the AstraZeneca vaccine that doesn’t accord to the advice given by the experts, particularly the Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation – ATAGI.

JOURNALIST: Should NSW be given more vaccines from other states allocations, amid the current outbreak there?

BUTLER: Well, all over Australia, particularly Sydney, Greater Sydney, right now is suffering through lack of supply of vaccines.  We’ve heard stories again today, of people in Sydney having their existing bookings to get vaccinated cancelled.  So not only can people not make a booking, but when they can make a booking, it's weeks and weeks away, we find people in Sydney yet again, actually having their bookings cancelled. 

Now this is a problem of supply that has been brewing for months because of failures in Scott Morrison’s strategy last year.  We have seen revelations this week where the  government actually adopted a deliberate so called “wait and see” strategy on vaccine procurement, while countries around the world are racing to secure deals with companies like Pfizer. So yes, there's a supply problem. Yes, the country should ensure that any unallocated doses, as much as possible, are funnelled toward Greater Sydney because that is where the emergency is right now. But there is a national imperative to vaccinate the population. We can't lose sight of that. 

JOURNALIST: Do you think an 80% population wide vaccinated threshold is appropriate for reopening? 

BUTLER: Well, I've seen that is the figure of the Grattan Institute, a very highly respected Institute in Australia, has put out a report over the last 24 or 36 hours. Obviously, that is something that we'll all consider carefully. But we also want to see the Doherty Institute modelling. So I'm not going to jump for pulling a particular number out of different pieces of modelling that are around. I think we want to see the Doherty Institute modelling. That was the modelling commissioned by the National Cabinet and will obviously have a special place in the national conversation about the path out of this mess.  So until we see that, we should see it as soon as possible, we're not going to adopt a particular number. 

JOURNALIST: And back to those 38,000 Australians stranded overseas, what would Labor do to bring them home? 

BUTLER: Well, what we should have been doing for months now is building a network of purpose built quarantine facilities, that meant we couldn't take significant numbers of Australian citizens back and permanent residents back into the country and do it safely. 

That was the advice last year, as far back as October, almost 12 months ago now that Scott Morrison received, and instead he’s relied upon a network of buildings that were built for tourists, not medical quarantine and continue to leak regularly and drive the outbreaks that are causing all of these lockdowns and all of this misery. 

JOURNALIST: So Labor’s option is to start putting these facilities in now?

BUTLER: Well, it should have been started months and months and months ago. But the second best option is to start today - if you can't go back in time they should be starting today. And again and again when options are presented to the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, like the one around Toowoomba, that could be built quickly with significant capacity, he just pushes them back and pretend this is someone else's responsibility. He is the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth which has constitutional responsibility for quarantine arrangements. This is a profound public policy failure for which he is responsible. Thanks, everyone.