Doorstop interview 24/04/2021

April 24, 2021




SUBJECTS: Hotel quarantine; Vaccine rollout failures.


MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGEING: Yet again Australians are spending a long weekend with widespread restrictions put in place because of another failure in hotel quarantine. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people in the Perth and Peel region in WA are on a three day lockdown, border restrictions are being put in place yet again, and hundreds of people, potential close contacts, are in isolation in Victoria. 


Anzac Day ceremonies have been cancelled, and businesses, particularly in the Perth and Peel region, stand to lose millions and millions of dollars. 


Scott Morrison had two jobs this year - a safe, effective rollout of the vaccine, and a safe national quarantine system to protect Australians in the meantime. He's failed on both of those jobs. 


Now, quarantine arrangements around our national borders is very clearly a Commonwealth responsibility, it has been for more than a century. Scott Morrison cannot continue to duckshove these failures to state governments - they are his failures. 


Last year, Scott Morrison was handed a crystal clear report that advised him on what he needed to do to make sure our quarantine arrangements were safe and fit for purpose. Firstly, putting national standards in place around things like PPE and importantly ventilation, because that is what's driving the cross-infection that we're seeing within our hotel quarantine system. And secondly, build dedicated quarantine facilities outside of our major cities to take pressure off our CBD hotels which, after all, were built for tourism, not built for quarantine. And he's done nothing on any of those recommendations. 


This hotel quarantine system is a complete mess. When on earth is Scott Morrison going to stop pretending that it's not his job to fix it? 


Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: Just to pick up on some of those points, ventilation firstly, should hotels that don't have windows or access to a balcony outside should they still be used for hotel quarantine purposes?


BUTLER: It’s very clear they shouldn't. It's very clear, there should be national standards, agreed across the states that ensure that only safe hotel arrangements are put in place for quarantine. But more importantly, what we need is dedicated facilities built around our country to take the pressure off our CBD hotel system. We need arrangements for Australians who are returning from overseas. Thousands and thousands of Australians still can't get home, because we don't have sufficient quarantine arrangements. Equally though, they've got to be safe to protect the broader Australian community. That's why that report was handed to Scott Morrison months and months ago and he's done nothing to act on it.


JOURNALIST: Where specifically should those dedicated quarantine facilities be built?


BUTLER: There were suggestions within that report that was delivered by Jane Halton, including in Western Australia. We've also seen proposals in Toowoomba, in Avalon, other proposals around the country. What you need, though, is the Commonwealth Government to indicate to those businesses and other organisations willing to build those facilities that they will get the support of the Commonwealth Government. Quarantine arrangements have been the Commonwealth's responsibility for over a century, but Scott Morrison is pretending it's got nothing to do with him, washing his hands of this really important element of our fight against COVID.


JOURNALIST: On vaccines, are you concerned about vaccine hesitancy given we've seen more blood clots, linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine?


BUTLER: Obviously, these latest reports will be investigated by the Vaccine Safety Investigation Group from the TGA and they'll provide their advice to the community and to parliament and to government, as should be the case. There's obviously been a hit to confidence in our vaccine arrangements. First of all because of the incredibly slow rollout - Scott Morrison has failed every single commitment and promise he made about when Australians will be vaccinated. But also confidence has been hit by the stories around the AstraZeneca vaccine in particular. It's the government's responsibility now to get out and build that confidence back. We need strong community confidence in our vaccine arrangements. Over the last 24 hours, the only thing I've seen from the government is one of their ministers, Jane Hume, tell Australians that Pfizer is a single dose vaccine which clearly it is not. We need a much clearer voice from the government, including if need be, an information campaign funded by them to build back confidence in our vaccine arrangements.


JOURNALIST: Today no one from the federal government, the health department , the TGA is holding a press conference about this. Should they be speaking publicly to try and counter that?


BUTLER: They should be speaking out every single day to build confidence that our vaccine arrangements are fit for purpose and that Australians know when they're going to get vaccinated. Scott Morrison looks like he's in a bunker now because of his constant failures on this vaccine rollout. He needs to get out of the bunker and tell Australians when they will be vaccinated.


JOURNALIST: What is your advice to people aged over 50 who might be concerned about getting the AstraZeneca vaccine?


BUTLER: Well, Labor's advice has always been through this pandemic, follow the advice of the public health experts.


JOURNALIST: On a personal level as well, you're 50, will you be lining up to get the AstraZeneca vaccine when you're eligible?


BUTLER: Thanks for the reminder of my age, and yes I will be, I'll be lining up to get whatever vaccine is offered to me in accordance with the advice from the TGA.


JOURNALIST: 730,000 individuals that have been administered the AstraZeneca vaccine prior to 11th of April 2021. Is that a figure much lower than where you were hoping we would be at this stage?


BUTLER: Of course. Scott Morrison said that we would have 4 million vaccinations by the end of March. He said that all of aged care, all of disabilities, all of our frontline health workers would be vaccinated by Easter. Instead, we haven't even hit 2 million yet, while the US has over 220 million vaccine doses. Still, two thirds of residential aged care residents have not been fully vaccinated and shockingly, more than 99 per cent of people living in a disability residential facility have not been fully vaccinated, despite a promise for Scott Morrison for that to happen by Easter. We are not even in the top 100 nations of the world at the moment in terms of the speed and effectiveness of our vaccine rollout, and Scott Morrison needs to come clean with Australians what he's going do to get this back on track.


JOURNALIST: On a different question, is it fair that Dan Tehan gets a RAAF plane to fly home from London with thousands of Australians stranded overseas?


BUTLER: I don't criticise Dan Tehan for travelling overseas to represent our nation, but obviously he's got to abide by the same rules as everyone else. What his travel arrangements were, what his quarantine arrangements are right now, is really a matter for him to explain.


JOURNALIST: We talk about vaccine hesitancy, obviously you spoke about the need for government to build back that confidence. When we look at three new cases, one of them is 80 years old. Is there a chance that if that confidence can’t be pulled back what other measures should the government propose? Should there be other vaccine options available? What else would be done here?


BUTLER: Firstly, I’d say the advice from the experts is that AstraZeneca is still a very safe, very effective vaccine for people over 50. Obviously, the Vaccine Safety Investigation Group from the TGA will investigate these latest cases and provide further advice I’m sure. But, in the meantime, it is clear that the advice of the TGA is that AstraZeneca is a safe, effective vaccine for people over 50. 


I have said, and Labor has consistently said for months before, that we should have more vaccine options on the table. We should have negotiated more deals than the government did last year. In particular, when there was a pause put in place by the British, for example, around AstraZeneca for younger people in their country, they were able to substitute the Moderna vaccine - a highly effective state-of-the-art mRNA vaccine that is already being adapted to allow booster shots to deal with the variants. We don't have a deal with Moderna here in Australia. For some reason, still not explained, the Morrison government did not sit down with that company and do a deal for Australians to get access to that vaccine. We are in a position where we don't have as many vaccine options as all of the countries to which we usually compare ourselves and I think that's a matter for Scott Morrison to explain.


Thanks everyone.