TUESDAY, 16 NOVEMBER 2021
ZANETA MASCARENHAS, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR SWAN: My name is Zaneta Mascarenhas and I’m Labor’s candidate for Swan. I'm here today with Mark Butler and it's exciting to have him here, as our Shadow Health Minister. We know that when we have good health outcomes, we have good economic outcomes, and the Labor Party understands that. I'm proud of the Medicare system that the Labor Party has put in place and in fact, I got to see that firsthand last year when my Dad had emergency brain surgery.
I got a call from my Mother, she explained that Dad needed to go into emergency surgery - I didn't know whether he was going to live or not. The surgeon was really kind and let me speak to my Dad before he went and had his surgery, and I had a four week old baby at the same time. I got to say “good luck, Dad” and luckily, Dad pulled through that surgery but he had to go through two months of rehabilitation.
I got to see some of the best of our healthcare system, but also some of the worst. And we've seen cuts from Scott Morrison’s Government, and only the Labor Party will protect the Medicare system, because it's in our DNA.
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGEING: Thanks Zaneta for hosting me today. I've already seen some fantastic examples of service delivery here in Swan that are just a credit to Western Australian. We just had a great discussion with a bunch of GPs here at the Park Medical Centre, who were outlining the fantastic work they're able to do but also the pressure that they're under because of eight long years of cuts to the Medicare system by the Morison Government, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull before them. Six long years of a Medicare rebate freeze that cut bulk billing rates and forced gap fees up to unprecedented levels where people on average now are paying more out of their own pocket than is contributed by Medicare. We also saw 900 cuts and changes to surgical items on the MBS schedule this year, which again, forced upward pressure on gap fees. We also saw cuts to telehealth as well only a few months ago, extraordinarily, in the middle of a pandemic.
Protecting and strengthening Medicare will always be the primary focus of the Labor Party as we move to a Federal election, particularly after the damage that's been done to Medicare by this Federal Government. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: The Health Minister insists the Government's poised to expand the COVID vaccine rollout to children aged between five and 11 once regulators give it the green light. Do you accept that the country is well placed to start that ASAP?
BUTLER: I’ve been calling now for several weeks for Greg Hunt to outline very clearly when we'll get supply of the Pfizer paediatric doses. They are different doses for five to 11 year-olds than are used for teenagers and for adults. Greg Hunt keeps assuring us that we have contracted supply for that but we know with overseas experience that they are different vials, there will be competition around the world for those vials and we need some clear answers for parents from Greg Hunt. When will those vials start arriving on Australian shores to be able to be provided and supplied to Australian children, provided of course that they get the proper approvals?
JOURNALIST: The global COVAX scheme has only delivered about a quarter of the 2 billion doses promised. Should developed countries like Australia pause their booster program to ensure that poorer countries can get vaccinated?
BUTLER: I'm very confident that we can proceed with our booster program while also being a responsible international partner and providing good levels of support to the COVAX program. We know that no one is protected from this virus until everyone is protected. Until everyone is protected there's the danger of new variants emerging - variants of concern that will pose threats to Australia and other countries around the world. So again, through Penny Wong, our Shadow Foreign Affairs spokesman, and I, we will continue to encourage the Government to do whatever they can to provide support, particularly to countries in our own region and their vaccination efforts.
JOURNALIST: The Federal Government's using Ernie Dingo to encourage Indigenous Australians in WA to get their COVID vaccinations. What do you think of that idea?
BUTLER: We support Ernie Dingo being involved in any sort of community efforts to lift vaccination rates. But we've been saying for months now that there is a real challenge to close that very big gap between the national vaccination rates, the community as a whole on the one hand, and Indigenous Australia's vaccination rates. That gap has been stubbornly stuck at 20 to 25 per cent and that's just not good enough. This is a cohort that the Federal Government identified early this year as a priority group, particularly older members of Indigenous communities were supposed to be fully vaccinated before winter even began. And still, those vaccination rates are not where they should be. We see today what that means for the community in the Northern Territory. We saw it writ large in Western and Far Western New South Wales. These are communities that have a lot of underlying health vulnerabilities and should have been the focus of much better attention from the Morison Government than they have been right now. The country is starting to open up and still Indigenous Australians have not received the level of focused support from the Morrison Government that they should have been.
JOURNALIST: What else should be done to boost Indigenous vaccination rates?
BUTLER: What we know is that community-led initiatives are the way to boost those rates rather than trying to come up with solutions from Canberra or the state capital cities. We know where these programs work. They work because they've got the support of local community leadership. That's the message we've been trying to give the Morrison Government now for months. But still, those vaccination rates among Indigenous Australians, but also among people living with disability, are far too low. We've said right through this period that moving to the next stage of the pandemic response as the country starts to open up, with lockdowns lifted in the eastern states and borders with dates to reopen, must be done in a way that doesn't leave any one group behind, whether that's Indigenous Australians or Australians living with a disability, other groups that have vaccination rates that are lagging the national average. It's the responsibility of Scott Morrison to lift those rates and make sure that everyone is protected.
JOURNALIST: What should happened with LGA’s where vaccination rates have sort of fallen behind as borders open up?
BUTLER: We've seen this experience through the third wave in New South Wales and Victoria, where there are different rates of vaccination. It's the responsibility of Scott Morrison and his Government to put resources in place to do whatever is needed to lift those vaccination rates. Now no LGA is the same as the next one, they all require a response that will work for those communities that has the buy in of local community leadership. When that happens, we’ve seen this in Western Sydney, when that happens and there is that level of focus, you do see a response.
JOURNALIST: Jut one final question, what's your response to the stoush between Mark McGowan and Greg Hunt at the moment over borders?
BUTLER: I don't understand why the Morrison Government continues to try to pick political fights with some state governments. What we need is a Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, who will bring the country together. We've got two very different experiences having been lived in Australia over the last few months. You've got states languishing in lockdown, and you've got other states like WA, and my state of South Australia, that have been able to protect their community and live relatively normal lives right through this. Now obviously, those states languishing in lockdown want to see those lockdowns lifted, but states that have been largely COVID-free over the last few months understandably want their way of life protected as well. Scott Morrison shouldn't keep trying to pick political fights with the people of Western Australia and their Premier. I noticed that they've said nothing about the fact that the Tasmanian Liberal Government also has a threshold of 90 per cent before borders will be opened in that state. All we've seen is Scott Morrison right through this pandemic pick on WA, pick on Queensland, rather than approaching the national interest.