MARK BUTLER MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGEING
MEMBER FOR HINDMARSH
SENATOR MURRAY WATT
SHADOW MINISTER FOR NORTHERN AUSTRALIA
LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND
THURSDAY, 14 OCTOBER 2021
SUBJECTS: Flynn campaign; GP shortages; Vaccination rates; Scott Morrison’s failures in aged care; Hydrogen energy.
MATT BURNETT, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR FLYNN: Thank you for being here this morning. Last night we launched our campaign headquarters right here in the old Reef City Ford site on Gladstone-Benaraby Road, what a fantastic facility to be running our Flynn campaign. I thank Mark Butler for being there with us last night, and Senator Anthony Chisolm, for the official launch of our campaign headquarters. We'll actually be able to get out and about and get more involved in the next few months or whenever the election might be called.
We've got a place to call home here in Gladstone-Benaraby Road, so people notice it as they're driving past, certainly all the signs and everything and getting out and about across Flynn.
The main reason I've asked Mark to be here is because of his portfolio as the Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing. In the Gladstone Region and right across Flynn, we're seeing the GP numbers not stacking up across the state, but we're also seeing people being forced to leave their homes, the places they've spent their lives, the places they’ve grown up in, to find suitable aged care accommodation. It's not good enough.
What I've asked Mark to do is have this health forum today, not just to talk about the lack of GPs across Flynn, but to listen and hear the stories first-hand from locals about how they can't access aged care in Gladstone, in Moura, in Blackwater, in Emerald, and right across Flynn. It is a big issue and that's what I'm hearing every day from my community, not just here in Gladstone but right across Flynn. I’ll hand over to Mark now to talk more about that, but they are the big issues that we're hearing in Flynn and in Central Queensland at the moment.
Thank you, Mark.
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGEING: Thanks, Matt. Before I deal with some of those local issues Matt talked about, can I just say, at a national level that this has been a terrible day for Australia in the fight against COVID. We've had the highest number of cases ever recorded through the pandemic, more than 2,700 new cases in just the last 24 hours and 18 people reported to have lost their lives to COVID over the past 24 hours as well. Labor’s condolences are extended to those families and loved ones who've lost yet more people to this dreadful third wave of the pandemic.
It just reinforces the importance of making sure that the next stages of the National Cabinet’s implementation plan are preceded with safely. We need to make sure that we don't just look at national vaccination rates, but we look at different cohorts in the population that continue to lag that national rate. It is Scott Morrison’s responsibility to make sure that Indigenous Australian vaccination rates don't continue to lag 25 or 30 per cent behind the national average. It's Scott Morrison’s responsibility to make sure that all Australians living with a disability in disability residential facilities are fully vaccinated. Still one in three of those vulnerable Australians are not fully vaccinated, in spite of a promise from Scott Morrison that they would be fully vaccinated before Easter, months and months ago.
Perhaps most importantly, as we confront the possibility of COVID not only spreading in those locked down states as lockdowns are lifted, but also creeping into the COVID-free jurisdictions like Queensland and South Australia and other states, Scott Morrison needs to assure the Australian community and our hard-working doctors and nurses that our hospitals will be kept safe and strong.
And to that end, I again call on Scott Morrison to release the modelling he has commissioned about the impact on the hospital systems of the next stage of the National Cabinet plan. He has that modelling. The Australian community deserves to see it, particularly our hard-working doctors and nurses deserve to know what is coming down the track over the coming weeks and months.
It is a betrayal of the hard work of our doctors and nurses for Scott Morrison to keep that modelling secret. He then needs to sit down with the states and territories and in response to that modelling, develop a clear plan to keep our hospitals safe and strong over coming weeks and months, instead of simply picking political fights with the Queensland Premier and other premiers across the country.
Can I say though, what a pleasure it is to be in Gladstone with Matt Burnett. We are, at a Federal level, delighted to have a candidate of his calibre contesting this set of Flynn for the Labor Party. Matt has given the vast bulk of his adult life to serving his community and we’re delighted that he wants to take that to a new level by serving his community in the Federal Parliament. Because we all know this community desperately needs a more energetic, new servant in the Federal Parliament. This community is bearing the consequences of billions and billions of dollars cut by Scott Morrison from Medicare and from aged care. This electorate has the second lowest level of access to a GP per head of population in the entire state of Queensland.
We are hearing stories of people having to leave their own community to get access to an aged care bed. At a time when the ageing population demands that aged care beds are increasing, the Queensland state has lost 100 beds in the regional community because of Scott Morrison’s cuts in the last 12 months alone. The people of Gladstone, the people more broadly of Flynn, and Emerald, and other jurisdictions and other parts of this seat, need someone representing them in the Parliament that will call out these cuts and make real action to make sure that the people of this community have access to GPs when and where they need it, and are able to access an aged care bed when and where they need it as well. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: About 7,000 Queensland Health staff are yet to receive their first dose of COVID-19 vaccination despite the State Government mandate to have done so by the 1st of October. What do you make of that?
BUTLER: We're seeing this across the country. It's obviously important that people who are dealing with vulnerable members of the community, particularly in health care settings and aged care settings, are vaccinated themselves, and that's why state governments have put in place across the country, these mandates to ensure that doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals are fully vaccinated as they go about their important daily health care work. Across the country, we are still seeing a number of health care workers who have not yet been fully vaccinated. Again, I urge them to take advantage of the ready access that they now have to vaccines. Ensure they get fully vaccinated, not only to protect themselves, but to protect the community that they serve.
JOURNALIST: Staff who are yet to be vaccinated have been forced to take leave from their roles or receive regular COVID-19 testing and increase the level of PPE worn in patient facilities. Do you think that's enough to keep our hospitals and states safe?
BUTLER: That's ultimately a matter for the public health advice that all state and territory governments are receiving. We've seen this in aged care settings, as well as at a Commonwealth level. I just say again, health care professionals should take access to the vaccines that are available to them to ensure that not only they are fully protected, but importantly as well, the people they serve are fully protected.
JOURNALIST: When speaking on the 1,900 workers who have requested a vaccine exemption, Queensland Health said in a statement “We will work with those staff to explore alternative options to keep them and our workplaces safe”, but what do you think that will involve?
BUTLER: That should be done in accordance with public health advice. There is a very small number of people in the community who are unable to receive a vaccine because of medical reasons, whether that's a proclivity towards anaphylaxis or for other reasons, they're obviously need to be strong exemption arrangements in place for them. That would involve PPE, that might involve reallocation of duties, that might involve a regular testing regime for those people, but ultimately those decisions should not be made just by politicians, they should be made following strong public health advice.
JOURNALIST: In regards to the shortage of aged care beds and the cuts from the LNP, the Member for Flynn, Ken O’Dowd, has said that some of that promise to deliver beds is still on the table, however, I think some of these projects were still awaiting approval from Gladstone Regional Council for shovels to start hitting the ground. What other cuts do you think are happening and what would a Labor Government do to increase beds for aged care?
BUTLER: Ken O’Dowd promised there would be 70 new age care beds in this community four years ago and still all we have is the media release from four years ago. Nothing on the ground to keep older Australians who grew up here, built their lives here, paid their taxes, raised their families, and want to access aged care in the community they helped build. Ken O’Dowd has done nothing except issue media releases about this thing. And at the same time Scott Morrison has cut 100 beds in just the last 12 months from regional Queensland aged care facilities.
At a time when we know the population is ageing, we need more aged care beds, not less. The only way you're going to get a fair go in this community, whether it's access to GPs, access to aged care bed, is to elect a new Member of Parliament, someone with the energy and the experience of Matt Burnett, frankly, Ken O’Dowd has had his chance and he’s failed to deliver for this community.
JOURNALIST: What would a Labor Albanese Government do differently?
BUTLER: We put in place a range of really important reforms to aged care 10 years ago. They set about making sure that there were age care beds available right across the community, that there was a home care system that would ensure that people who wanted to receive care in their home could do so for as long as possible, and if at all possible for the remainder of their lives, and what did this Government do with those reforms? They did nothing. The only thing you got from Scott Morrison over the last eight years was as Treasurer, he cut $2.5 billion dollars out of aged care funding and that made a sector that was already under pressure fall into crisis. We saw a Royal Commission report titled Neglect lift the lid on stories of aged care residents sitting for hours and hours in their own filth. Sitting with maggots crawling in their open wounds because Scott Morrison had not delivered the funding needed by this sector to ensure there are enough nurses, enough personal carers and other staff to deliver older Australians the care they deserve after having built this community over so many decades.
A Labor Government will fix this. The Australian people know they can't trust Scott Morrison to deliver the aged care that older Australians deserve. They can only trust Labor to do that. In this community, they can only trust Matt Burnett to do that.
JOURNALIST: How much money do believe needs to be invested to meet this adequate standard?
BUTLER: What was extraordinary about the Government’s response to the Royal Commission report earlier this year is that they did not take up some of the most basic recommendations from the Royal Commission around nurses. There was a recommendation from the Royal Commission to put nurses back into nursing homes, to make sure that every Australian family could be confident that there was a registered nurse on duty, 24 hours a day, seven days a week at every nursing home across Australia and extraordinarily Scott Morrison refused to accept that recommendation. He didn't accept the recommendation from the Royal Commission about staffing levels, lifting the number of staff and their skills-mix in aged care facilities.
The Labor Party will always have the workforce at the centre of our approach to aged care, because we know that the quality of aged care, at the end of the day, depends on the number and the skills of registered nurses, enrolled nurses and personal carers that you have at every facility. Scott Morrison rejected those recommendations.
The Labor Party will have those recommendations at the centre of our response.
JOURNALIST: So how much would you call on the Government to invest?
BUTLER: We've said there's a very clear body of work from the Royal Commission, putting in place systems that make sure that every facility has a registered nurse on duty 24/7. Those are the things that we're looking at now, we're talking to nurses about, we're talking to aged care providers and seniors about that. We want to make sure that we have an aged care system in Australia that is fit-for-purpose, and it is a system that reflects the level of extraordinary contribution that senior Australians have made to building this country over so many decades. Working hard, paying their taxes and raising their families. Frankly, they deserve nothing less.
JOURNALIST: So, this type of commitment, it would be several billion?
BUTLER: I'm not going to put a particular dollar figure on it but the Australian people will see our aged care policy well before the next election. I'm indicating the sorts of things that everyone with a casual acquaintance of the aged care system know that Scott Morrison failed to address in his response earlier this year. They also know that a lot of this crisis, at the end of the day was due in substantial part, to the budget cuts he put in place in 2016 and 2017 as Australia’s Treasurer, ripping billions of dollars out of an aged care system that needed to grow at the time, not shrink.
And that's why we’ve seen 100 beds cut from aged care facilities in regional Queensland in the last 12 months alone, at a time when we know because of the ageing the population, we need more beds, not fewer beds.
JOURNALIST: Would you at least pledge to promise to put back in the $2.5 billion that was allegedly ripped out from the sector from under Scott Morrison?
BUTLER: The Australian people as I've said will know very clearly what our approach to aged care is well before the next election. We're working hard on those policies, talking to nurses, talking to personal carers, talking to families about their experience reflected in the Royal Commission. The people will know very clearly what our policy is, but I say this, the Australian people know they can't trust Scott Morrison with the aged care system. He created this crisis, in large part because of budget cuts, and his response to clear recommendations from the Royal Commission about the importance of putting nurses back in the nursing homes show he’s not serious about fixing it.
JOURNALIST: Well before the next election, when do you think that would be, in a couple of months?
BUTLER: It will be well before the next election, I'm not going to announce the timing right now. There are a range of policies, obviously that Labor as the alternative Government is working on right now and those policies go to these sorts of issues that Matt Burnett has been talking about with his community. Access to GPs, making sure that people can get the health care they need when they need it and where they need it. Because if they don't, we know what happens, they end up in a hospital system that is already, across the country, under very real pressure.
JOURNALIST: Can you confirm if it was 70 beds because Ken O'Dowd said in 2019, that it was 84 beds that were destined for Tannum Sands.
BUTLER: That's a matter for, frankly, Ken O’Dowd to clear up. He's the one who issued the media release, he's the one who made the announcement in 2017, four years ago. All that the community of Gladstone know is that they haven't got a single bed out of it.
That's the thing with this Government, they're very big on the announcements. They're not very big on the delivery.
JOURNALIST: With any big announcement there needs to be processes put in place before anything can happen. Back in May just last year there was a request to enter into an infrastructure agreement to even get that project off the ground. So far we haven't heard back from Council to decide whether or not that approval had been made.
BURNETT: Happy to take that. Sorry which project exactly?
JOURNALIST: The Tannum Sands project.
BURNETT: That's actually not correct, that project has been approved by Council. Are we talking about Tannum Sands?
BURNETT: So the Tannum Sands site on Tannum Sands Road, Gladstone Regional Council is very happy to be working with the proponents of that and you'll see that that is not just an aged care facility, that is a facility that's going to have retirement villages in it, and everything in it. What we want to see is more of that in the Gladstone Region. We want to see those retirement options. The Gladstone Regional Council is right now working on an MOU with the Central Committee on the Ageing to deliver more retirement village options. But the fact is zero aged care beds have been added to our community since they were announced many years ago.
Now that the team at New Auckland Place, Eden Vale, and Bindaree are doing an amazing job, but they need more beds for more people in our community that are being forced to move to Southeast Queensland, to Hervey Bay, to Bundaberg and other parts of Queensland. It’s just not good enough.
JOURNALIST: Just about these hydrogen announcements, and obviously it's great for the Region. Some people are worried that rental prices will go up with the surplus of people coming to the area, what do you have to say?
BURNETT: Labor’s got a $10 billion affordable and social housing plan. So when you partner that up with Annastacia Palaszczuk’s social housing plan, you've got a Labor Government both in the state, and a future Labor Government Federally that will work towards addressing social housing and affordable housing, not just in Gladstone, right across Flynn and right across the state and country.
JOURNALIST: In terms of the jobs that will be created from hydrogen projects, from renewable projects, what will happen with the jobs or the people working in fossil fuels or CSG at the moment, within the next 20-30 years after these hydrogen projects take off?
BURNETT: What we've seen just recently announced by Andrew Forrest in Gladstone last weekend is a billion dollar commitment to manufacturing renewable components. These renewal components we're talking about electrolysers. We're talking about wind turbines, were talking about electrical cabling, and not just for the renewable projects in Central Queensland, right across the country and exported to the world almost immediately with a $115 million investment by Andrew Forrest and Fortescue Future Industries. We will double the world electrolyser capacity right here in Gladstone, these jobs are manufacturing jobs, not taking away from anybody else’s jobs.
JOURNALIST: And with the hydrogen projects, Matt, where are these projects getting the water from?
BURNETT: The announcement on the weekend by Andrew Forrest is for manufacturing those components. When you're talking about Iwatani and Sumitomo, they're still going to go through EIS processes, but there is opportunity for water to come from the Rookwood Weir which is under construction right now, Fitzroy Pipeline, which has been gazetted for many years and will be built between Gladstone and around Stanwell area to provide additional water for hydrogen industries, not just in Gladstone but right across Central Queensland.
JOURNALIST: So Lake Yarrawonga is safe?
BURNETT: Lake Yarrawonga is absolutely safe. The Gladstone Area Water Board is doing an amazing job working with the team at SunWater to deliver that water that's necessary for future industries. Lisa Caffery has just been appointed as the Chairman of SunWater and I have absolute confidence and faith in her ability as a local in Emerald to look after all of Central QLD when it comes to delivering water and water security.
JOURNALIST: Murray is there anything that you'd like to add?
SENATOR MURRAY WATT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR NORTHERN AUSTRALIA: I reckon I can't improve on that, Matt's the focus.