FRIDAY, 8 OCTOBER 2021
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGEING: Today has been another very tough day in the fight against COVID in Australia, particularly for the lockdown states or jurisdictions of New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT with 2,500 new cases. We've seen the highest case numbers right through the 18 months pandemic. Tragically, again, we've seen 16 people lose their lives to COVID in the past 24 hours now. Our condolences are extended to the family, friends and loved ones of every one of those 16 Australians.
Labor welcomes the fact that over the last day or two we have reached the national average of 80 per cent of 16-year-olds and over receiving at least their first dose of COVID vaccine. Everyone wants to see these chronic debilitating lockdowns end as soon as possible and as Prime Minister it is Scott Morrison’s responsibility to make sure that these lockdowns are ended safely. That we move through the next stage of the National Cabinet plan in a safe, rather than a reckless manner.
Scott Morrison, first of all, must make sure that no group is left behind. The vaccination rates of Indigenous Australians are still far too low. The first dose numbers for Indigenous Australians are 30 per cent lower than the national average and the full vaccination rates, receiving 2 doses, for Indigenous Australians are 25 per cent lower than the national average. Scott Morrison must show the Australian people, particularly Indigenous Australians, what his plan is to make sure that those Australians are not left dangerously exposed as Australia opens up. And we know still that one in three of NDIS participants, who living in disability facility accommodation are still not fully vaccinated in spite of a promise from Scott Morrison that they would be fully vaccinated before Easter, months and months ago. This is a position that the Disability Royal Commission described only a couple of weeks ago as “seriously deficient.” And again, I call on Scott Morrison to outline what plan he has to make sure that those Australians are not left dangerously exposed when Australia opens up.
And lastly, can I say Scott Morrison as the country's Prime Minister must be able to assure the Australian people that our hospitals will be kept safe and they will be kept strong. It is quite clear that business as usual simply is not going to cut it in our hospitals in a once-in-a-century pandemic. Our hard-working nurses, our hard-working doctors and other health professionals simply can't afford for Scott Morrison to pretend this is all someone else’s responsibility. Just as he's done right through this pandemic. He must show what he's going to do to keep our hospitals safe and strong. Instead of constantly picking fights with the states, he needs to work with them constructively to keep our hospital safe and strong.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of Greg Hunt’s comments this morning that you won't be immune from COVID just because of closed borders? We can expect that everyone will be exposed at some point, which is of particular importance to us here in South Australia, but also in WA which have closed borders at the moment?
BUTLER: It's quite clear from the advice of our own health experts and the experience overseas, that when borders are open, when lockdowns such as we're seeing in Sydney, Melbourne, and other parts of New South Wales and Victoria and the ACT are lifted, that COVID will start to spread through the community. That is why it is so important to keep those vaccination rates climbing. That is why it is so important that Scott Morrison be able to assure the Australian people that no group will be left behind - these national averages that we see around vaccination rates and Indigenous Australians, Australians living with a disability, our teenagers and our children. That’s why it's so important that Scott Morrison must be able to assure the Australian people that our hospitals will be kept safe and strong.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe booster shots should be made available to everyone who received a dose early in the rollout? Or does Labor support ATAGI’s recommendation for the severely immunocompromised to receive the first?
BUTLER: First of all Labor welcomes the recommendations from ATAGI today to prioritise Australians who are immunocompromised for a third shot, or a booster shot, of COVID vaccines. But we also call upon the Morrison Government to outline a plan for other Australians who will need a third shot soon. Those frontline health professionals who received their doses of vaccine now months and months ago. We've seen evidence overseas than the immunity from those vaccines doses start to wain after several months. We also call upon the Morrison Government to outline when older Australians will be made available for booster shots. We're already seeing older members of the communities in the UK, the US, many other countries already receiving their booster shots. Are we going to see, yet again, something that's too little too late from Scott Morrison on booster shots?
JOURNALIST: But how soon do you think it should occur for the general population for those booster shots?
BUTLER: It's important that there be priority groups now. We've seen the prioritisation by ATAGI of the immunocompromised, but I want to hear from Scott Morrison, what is the plan to provide booster shots for older Australians and for frontline health care professionals who received their first shots much earlier than the rest of the general population? That's what's happening in other countries around the world. It's just not happening here in Australia.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned about the prospect of what could occur once we open back up in the nation's hospitals in WA, here in South Australia, Victoria and Queensland, all of those states have raised concerns that their hospitals might not be able to cope? What's your response?
BUTLER: The hospital system is already under very serious pressure even in COVID-free jurisdictions, like here in South Australia. And we've seen over the last several weeks hospitals get to breaking point in Sydney and Melbourne as they go through this disastrous third wave. So again, I call on Scott Morrison, what is your plan to keep hospitals safe and strong? I call on him to stop picking fights with states. Every state health minister, Liberal and Labor alike, has called for Scott Morrison and Greg Hunt to sit down with them and develop a plan to keep hospitals safe and strong. And instead Scott Morrison is yet again picking fights.
JOURNALIST: Is more interim funding needed to get more staff on the ground? We know that is a particular issue here in South Australia on the number of staff inside some of about biggest hospitals. Do you think that is the solution?
BUTLER: What I have said is, business-as-usual is simply not going to cut it for our hospitals in a once-in-a-century pandemic. I call on Scott Morrison, sit down with the states and work on this cooperatively.
Our doctors, our nurses, our health care professionals can't afford for Scott Morrison simply to pretend this is all someone else’s responsibility.
JOURNALIST: Do states lagging behind on vaccine rates need to do more to boost uptake? WA for example, has set a December 31 deadline for 80 per cent double vaxed, and that's well behind other states.
BUTLER: The vaccination rates for the outlying states of South Australia, WA and Queensland are all running behind Victoria and NSW, some mainly for very obvious reasons, that those jurisdictions were prioritised for supply, particularly of Pfizer, over recent months as they experienced their lockdowns. Of course we want to see the vaccination rates of all of the other jurisdictions Queensland, SA, and WA running at about the same rate. They're all projected to reach 80 per cent in the first week of December, and the sooner that happens the better for the whole country. We should see those vaccination rates now start to accelerate, as we've seen supply of vaccines start to go into those states rather than being prioritised just into New South Wales and Victoria.
JOURNALIST: What does Labor think could be done in those particular states to boost uptake?
BUTLER: Finally we've seen supply catch up with demand, and that's really only happened over the last few weeks. For months and months now Australians simply weren't getting the access to vaccines that matched their enthusiasm for getting vaccinated. I'm confident you'll see vaccination rates climb in all of the other states, following the experience we've seen in New South Wales and Victoria, but I do say again, Scott Morrison has a particular responsibility to make sure that no group within any state is left behind. He should be focusing very heavily on the need to lift vaccination rates for Indigenous Australians, to lift vaccination rates for people living with a disability, particularly in disability accommodation.
JOURNALIST: France’s Ambassador to Australia will return to, “redefine define the relationship” between the two countries. Do you believe there's room for the relationship to mend, or is it beyond repair? And should the government admit they could have handled the negotiations better?
BUTLER: Labor has said that we support the new arrangements that were announced as part of AUKUS, cooperative arrangements with long standing allies, the United States and the United Kingdom. But it is also very clear that the Morrison Government handled the announcement and the rollout of these arrangements very poorly. You just see that from international reaction, including the reaction of a long-standing ally in France who is an important strategic partner of Australia’s in the Indo-Pacific.
JOURNALIST: Is France making too much of a big deal out of a small thing relative to our economy?
BUTLER: All I would say, is it's clear from international reaction, not just from France, but the broader European Union, that the Morrison Government did not handle this process well and now needs to do some work to improve the relations with a long standing and important strategic ally in the Indo-Pacific.
JOURNALIST: But the relationship is not the unrepaired, obviously?
BUTLER: I'm sure the relationship is not beyond repair. It's an important relationship for Australia and the Morrison Government has a lot of work to do.