Doorstop interview 26/04/2021

April 26, 2021



SUBJECT/S: Scott Morrison’s hotel quarantine failures, slow vaccine rollout, telehealth

MARK BUTLER MP, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: Scott Morrison had two jobs this year, he acknowledged them himself. First, a speedy effective rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. Secondly, a safe national quarantine system to protect the broader Australian community while stranded Aussies were able to come back home. And very clearly he's failing on both of those jobs. The latest daily figures for vaccines published by the Commonwealth Department of Health show that in the last full day, the Commonwealth didn't even manage 20,000 vaccine doses in a whole day. The United States on most days is managing 200 times that they're getting 4 million doses into people's arms over there. We need about 200,000 doses per day, seven days a week to get this job done this year, and the Commonwealth simply isn't coming up to scratch on that. Shockingly, they showed that in six of the eight jurisdictions including here in South Australia, not a single dose was delivered in aged care facilities. Still, two-thirds of residents in aged care are not fully vaccinated, in spite of Scott Morrison promising to vaccinate them by Easter. 

The second job is quarantine. This is clearly a Commonwealth responsibility, quarantine arrangements for people coming in through our international borders. It has been a Commonwealth responsibility for more than 100 years. Scott Morrison was given very clear advice last year, briefed on it on several occasions about what he needed to do as the Prime Minister to guarantee a safe system. First of all, to put in place national standards for quarantine around things like the vaccination of staff, PPE personal protective equipment, and importantly, ventilation standards because it is poor ventilation that appears to be driving all of these infections within hotel quarantine. The second piece of clear advice he was given is that we need dedicated facilities built outside our central business districts purpose built for quarantine. We know that hotels are built for tourism. They're not built for medical quarantine. And Scott Morrison has done nothing on either of those two crystal clear recommendations. 

Our quarantine system is in a mess and Scott Morrison has got to stop pretending that it's not his job to fix it. Happy to take questions. 

JOURNALIST: So Mark where do you see for instance, in this state or other states, purpose built quarantine facilities out of the city? They don't happen overnight and the problem is escalating. 

BUTLER: They should have been working on this last year. There hasn't been a proposal I'm aware of in South Australia but there were proposals that were recommended to the Prime Minister in WA, proposals that have been on the books now for some time in Queensland in Toowoomba, in Avalon in Victoria. The Commonwealth should actively have been pursuing this, examining of options for dedicated quarantine to reflect the situation we have in the Northern Territory with Howard Springs. A very effective quarantine facility that allows open air, that allows people not to be swapping or sharing the same air with poor ventilation arrangements that we see in our hotels.

JOURNALIST: The AMA’s WA President has described hotel quarantine as a human rights violation. Do you agree?

BUTLER: What I would say is that hotel quarantine was a relatively short to medium term option to deal with Australians needing to come back home. It is not a long term option. I've seen the national president of the AMA say that people are now realising we need something other than hotel quarantine and frankly, Scott Morrison was briefed on that need as far back as last year. He's done nothing to further it. It's his responsibility quarantine. It's his job to fix this mess. 

JOURNALIST: Given what we've seen in Perth recently and in other states in bits and pieces. It's it's still a ticking time bomb. And what do you think about just curtailing the influx of patients as well?

BUTLER: There are thousands and thousands of Australians that are stranded overseas and they should be able to come home. But to be able to come home safely, to protect the broader Australian community, we need an effective quarantine system. 

That’s why this mess is such a failing on the part of the Prime Minister. We want Australians to be able to return home, but to be able to do so without exposing the broader community to infection. Every single outbreak we've seen in all of our major cities over the last few months, which resulted in incredibly disruptive lockdowns we saw over the weekend Anzac Day services were not able to proceed in WA, with businesses in those cities in Perth and in Peel lost millions and millions of dollars. All of these outbreaks, all of this disruption flows from a failure of hotel quarantine. So we've got to get a proper quarantine system in place that protects the border Australian community but also ensures that Australians stranded overseas are able to come home.

JOURNALIST: But even so is it an easy cop-out for Mark McGowan just to blame the feds?

BUTLER: We’ve seen outbreaks from hotel quarantine in all of our major cities, including here in Adelaide, but all of the major cities over the last few months. So this is not particular to a specific state. This is a national problem reflecting again, that quarantine is a national responsibility. It is for Scott Morrison to fix this, not to keep duck shoving it off to state governments that have done all of the heavy lifting, right through this pandemic.

JOURNALIST: That's true but South Australia has made you know, South Australia now has a dedicated quarantine facility for COVID positive cases, what is the responsibility of the states?

BUTLER: There should be a national system that has national standards. Instead, what we see is very different arrangements in different states. That's not how a quarantine system should operate. It's not how our quarantine arrangements have operated for more than 100 years. At the end of the day, we have one set of international borders. Australians no matter what state they're in, should feel confident that there is a quarantine arrangement in place to allow people to come home, we want Australians to be able to come home, but to do so in a way that protects the broader community.

JOURNALIST: Should Australia ban flights to and from India altogether?

BUTLER: I think the Prime Minister has agreed with the Western Australian Premier for a reduction in arrival numbers in Western Australia. We've seen that happen in other states where there's been an outbreak in hotel quarantine, a need for contact tracing and things like that. This all just shows that we're reacting time and time again, to what is essentially a failure in a national quarantine system.

JOURNALIST: Is Mark McGowan right to be angry at the Federal Government for allowing some Aussies to leave for overseas for certain events?

BUTLER: I don't know the circumstances of everyone leaving and then coming back. I just make the point. There are tens of thousands of Australians now who are stranded overseas who want to come home and to be able to come home safely from the perspective of the broader Australian community we need a safe national quarantine system. 

JOURNALIST: Does Federal Labor have doubts about the lifting, right across the board, for instance, crowds at the MCG or Adelaide Oval given the perilous situation WA is in at the moment that we've jumped too soon? State by state are jumping too soon on these caps on crowds?

BUTLER: We've taken the view consistently through this pandemic, that all of these decisions need to be taken consistent with public health advice, I think that has served Australia really well over the last 12 or 13 months and I think marks us out well, compared to some other countries where public health advice has been the subject of political debate and political commentary. At the end of the day, if the public health advice is that those events were able to take place safely, then we support that happening.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, just back to arrivals from India. Do you think that Australia should follow the lead from other countries and just ban them altogether?

BUTLER: I think these decisions hark back to my last answer and should be taken in accordance with public health advice. You know, we have experts who have been working on this. They will provide all governments, federal and state, with advice about that and we should follow that advice.

JOURNALIST: On the childcare subsidy growing from 85 per cent to 95 per cent, what do you make the plan?

BUTLER: Amanda Rishworth, our shadow spokesperson for childcare is going to be up later today. So I'll leave her to respond to those.

JOURNALIST: And in terms of telehealth being extended until the end of the year, should it be made permanent?

BUTLER: Greg Hunt said last November that telehealth will become a permanent feature of our Medicare system yet all he does is on a six month by six month basis is extend the uncertainty. It is time for the Government finally to make a decision about what the permanent telehealth arrangements are going to be for Medicare.

JOURNALIST: Just back to what you mentioned about ventilation standards in hotel quarantine, do you think that there does need to be a national standard and hotel rooms could be retrofitted to be better ventilation?

BUTLER: Many, many months ago now Scott Morrison was briefed on a report that he commissioned about quarantine arrangements. And one of the key recommendations of that was that there be national standards around ventilation in any quarantine setup, whether that was a hotel or something else. He's done nothing about that national standard. Of course, there should be standards around ventilation we now understand very clearly that aerosol transmission is a key driver of these infections. And where hotels don't have proper proper ventilation in place we see these outbreaks.

Thanks everyone.