SATURDAY, 5 JUNE 2021
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: Scott Morrison had two jobs this year a speedy effective rollout of the COVID vaccine and the development of a safe national quarantine system. This week in Senate Estimates we heard an absolute welter of data about the degree to which he has failed. We heard from the Government there have been 21 breaches of hotel quarantine. Breaches that have led to state-wide lockdowns, citywide lockdowns, health impacts and enormous economic disruption. We heard from the Secretary of Treasury that they are assuming that there will be a weeklong lockdown in one of our major cities every single week for the rest of the year. A week long lockdown every single month. Scott Morrison again in Parliament said that hotel quarantine built around buildings that were built for tourism, not medical quarantine, was working fantastically well. We need a network of purpose built facilities. And almost nine months since he received the Halton Report all we've got so far is a memorandum of understanding with one single state, Victoria. That is not a network. It's not good enough. We heard that at National Cabinet yesterday, the Prime Minister again rejected out of hand a detailed proposal from the Queensland Government for another purpose built quarantine facility in Toowoomba. A 95 page detailed proposal which Scott Morrison is rejecting out of hand without even reading it. We heard at estimates this week that the Department of Health has not even been asked to assess the health merits of this Queensland proposal. Scott Morrison is clearly playing petty politics with this issue of quarantine instead of delivering a real plan in the national interest.
We also heard from the Aged Care minister that on the one hand, he was very comfortable with the vaccine rollout in aged care, but on the other, he couldn't tell us how many aged care workers had actually be vaccinated. Remember, Scott Morrison promised that aged care staff, along with aged care residents would all be fully vaccinated by Easter. Still, there is about 450 aged care facilities where residents have not today been fully vaccinated, and the Minister could only name about 10 per cent of aged care staff who have been vaccinated. We heard in Senate Estimates that the Department of Health and the Government quietly dropped their plan to vaccinate aged care workers as far back as February. And they abandoned those aged care workers, those hard working care staff who have worked on the front line for this entire pandemic, left them to their own devices. There was a proposal to put pop up clinics, which the Government said would be operating around the country by the end of May. But we heard last week there were only three clinics. Every single one of them is in Sydney. We heard there was a contract for providers to go into the aged care facilities again, to vaccinate the staff that tender won’t even close until the 30th of June. Even here in South Australia, the most loyal supporter of the Prime Minister, the Liberal Premier here Steven Marshall, has said he can no longer rely upon the Federal Government to do their job and vaccinate aged care staff. Scott Morrison has failed Australia's aged care workforce and yet again, state governments are having to step in and clean up his work. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Does Labor support mandatory vaccinations for aged care workers, even if some of the medical experts say it's not necessary?
BUTLER: We want to see final advice from the committee of all of the chief medical officers from state, territories and the Commonwealth. I'm glad National Cabinet has asked for that to be progressed as a matter of urgency. We've been saying that that advice should be updated for some days now since it was originally provided in January. But we want to see that advice and we'll assess it then.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it might prompt some aged care workers to leave the sector?
BUTLER: I think that would be a terrible tragedy. Obviously that needs to be borne in mind. You know, what we need to do is keep an eye on the main game as well. This sort of work that the chief medical officers are doing is important but the main priority must be to get vaccines to the aged care staff. They were supposed to be fully vaccinated by Easter, and yet they're not being provided with the support they was promised from Scott Morrison. So yes, by all means, have the chief medical officers look at this advice and provided to all of the governments and we'll have a look at that. But that doesn't relieve Scott Morrison of his responsibility to provide vaccines to those aged care staff and at the moment, he's not doing it.
JOURNALIST: The Government has admitted that it is not recording whether international arrivals have had their vaccinations while overseas and are now in quarantine here. What do you make of that?
BUTLER: This is just an extraordinary failure. I mean, one of the most straightforward things to do would be as Australians return home, ask them a question. Have you been vaccinated? We've passed legislation in the Parliament that requires a mandatory reporting of people's vaccination onto the Australian immunisation register. So if you're vaccinated in Australia, it must, as a matter of law be uploaded onto the register. But all of those Australians coming home from the rest of the world, not even asking the question. This is an extraordinary failure, which just comes to demonstrate how far out of control Scott Morrison’s responsibilities have got.
JOURNALIST: From a local perspective as well, the Prime Minister has indicated he wants vaccinated Australians to be able to travel more freely between states, even if there's lockdowns, etc by using a digital vaccine certificate, but states haven't agreed to that yet. Do you think it's a good idea?
BUTLER: This is another gimmick from the Prime Minister. Just do your job. Your job is to get the vaccines to Australians so they can get the vaccination and put in place a safe national quarantine system to protect us in the meantime. And every time his failures to do those two basic jobs are exposed to the Australian public he comes up with yet another gimmick. This gimmick being that you're going to have to show a passport to be able to travel from Sydney to Melbourne or Albury to Wodonga. Let's just focus on the most basic jobs the Prime Minister has.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned the Queensland quarantine proposal does Labor support it and wanted to see it proceeded with even though it doesn't meet some of the key Federal Government requirements?
BUTLER: We don’t what the key federal government requirements are. Scott Morrison hasn't even read this plan. I mean, I don't know what Scott Morrison has against Queensland. They've come up with a detailed plan, supported by the private sector in Toowoomba. You know, why won't Prime Minister Morrison ask his Health Department to assess it? That would be a good first step but we heard in Senate Estimates, the health officials, the experts employed by the Commonwealth Government, paid by the taxpayer haven't even been asked to assess this detailed proposal from the Queensland Government. He's just playing petty politics with this this issue like he does with every issue.
JOURNALIST: So does Labor support the proposal from Queensland?
BUTLER: We haven't seen the detail of it in a way the Prime Minister has. What we have said time and time again, is we need a network of safe national quarantine facilities built for that purpose not built for tourism, like hotels are, built for the purpose of medical quarantine. It's the Prime Minister's job, the Constitution makes it clear he is responsible for setting this up. So if there are detailed proposals that that a state government like Queensland have worked hard on, he should deal with that in good faith. Ask his experts to assess it and then make a decision that's not simply one of petty politics.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it needs to be located closer to a hospital or an international airport?
BUTLER: There is clearly an airport with significant capacity there. The Prime Minister's jet has landed there on a number of occasions, even though he pretended there was no airport at Toowoomba. He described Toowoomba as a desert. There is clearly a substantial set of infrastructure that's already there. There's a hospital at Toowoomba. The Prime Minister has not explained why he is not willing to have this proposal properly assessed by his own health officials. He just seems committed to playing petty politics with the people of Queensland.
JOURNALIST: There's a push to review square metre rules to get CBDs back up and running. Do you think now is the time to be doing that?
BUTLER: We've made a practice, I think a sound practice, of not trying to second guess public health officials about this. Obviously, they're reviewing and they should around the country review these questions on a regular basis so that as far as public health allows, businesses are able to continue operating and people are able to enjoy themselves. So I'm not going to second guess public health officials. That's a matter for them.
JOURNALIST: Just on another topic quickly. What do you make of Craig Kelly’s staffer Frank Zumbo being charged with sexual assault offenses dating back to 2014.
BUTLER: That's now obviously a matter for the courts. I'm not going to comment on the proposals that are before the courts. We have asked the Prime Minister though in the Parliament before why, given everything that he knew on the outset about different allegations around Mr Zumbo did he allow Mr Zumbo to continue working in a Liberal Party office? The media had covered a range of allegations about Mr Zumbo as far back as the middle of last year. Mr Morrison admitted in the Parliament in February that he'd known about issues around Mr Zumbo for, in his words “a long time” but he didn't act. He didn't do anything about it. I think Scott Morrison owes the public an explanation about that. Thanks, everyone.