TUESDAY, 14 SEPTEMBER 2021
KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Mark Butler thanks for your time. As Tom said there is not a massive change in terms of the reopening timing, but you have been adamant that the 12 to 15 year-old cohort should be included within the official percentages.
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGEING: I’ve said they should be counted as part of a national plan, counted as part of the official percentage, in the lead into the National Cabinet meeting a couple of weeks ago, when that plan was finally decided upon by the premiers and the Prime Minister, but I also said that once National Cabinet took the decision not to include them, well, we have to work with the plan that we've been delivered. The real challenge here for Scott Morrison, whether or not they're counted as part of a National Cabinet plan, parents deserve an answer to the basic question which they're asking, which is, when will my 12 to 15 year-old child get a vaccination? They see coming down the track, hopefully sooner rather than later, that we'll have an end to these constant debilitating lockdowns and you'll start to see restrictions lifted - parents want to know the degree to which they can have confidence that their 12 to 15 year-olds will be fully vaccinated. So whether or not they're counted as part of the national plan, it's not really the issue. The issue is that Scott Morrison still hasn't given parents a clear answer to that question. And the reason why that's an important question is we've seen children and teenagers increasingly moved to the frontline in this disastrous third wave - accounting for a third, even more than a third, of new cases over the course of the last couple of months. And although they don't get quite as sick as adults do, you just talk to parents who have had teenagers or children get this illness and in many cases, they are very, very unwell. As many, I haven't seen the numbers for a few days, but as many as one in 30 teenagers who get the illness will end up in hospital, as many as one in 40 under 12 year-olds will end up in hospital. I know that's not as many as adults who end up in hospital but there's still been a serious illness and parents deserve some transparency around this.
GILBERT: Yeah, there's no doubt about that. The Government, to be fair, has also boosted the amount of Moderna on offer in pharmacies, kids and teenagers can go there with their families. I guess the Prime Minister and the Government would argue in their defence, look at the increase in inflows and suppliers now via community pharmacies, including for that age bracket?
BUTLER: Sure, 12 to 15 year-olds got access to a vaccination from yesterday. In the US and Canada they started in May. In most of Europe, in Israel, they started in June. As of last week, more than 70 per cent of Canadian teenagers were already fully vaccinated with both doses. So yes, we welcome the fact that 12 to 15 year-olds finally have access to a vaccination. But why did it take Scott Morrison so long? Why is it that when Moderna was starting to be delivered to people in America and Canada in December, in France earlier this year, in the UK in April - that Prime Minister Morrison did not even do a deal with Moderna until May. This is why we've waited so long, because the Prime Minister was so slow, so late to do deals with these mRNA companies.
GILBERT: What's your view on vaccines for under 12s?
BUTLER: Well, we’re all watching very closely the clinical trials that have been conducted by Pfizer and also by Moderna in the US. We expect that the final data will be delivered by Pfizer, which seems to be running ahead of Moderna a little bit, over the coming weeks to the FDA, Food and Drug Administration, which is the American equivalent to our Therapeutic Goods Administration. We expect that in a matter of weeks, or maybe a couple of months after that there might be a decision by the FDA to approve Pfizer vaccines for under 12s. Now, these will be different doses, smaller doses of the vaccine, because you're dealing with smaller people, unlike 12 to 15 year-olds who get the same dose as adults. So there is the need to look at this a little bit more closely. But if the Americans start to proceed to vaccinate their under 12s, then it's likely that Pfizer then ultimately Moderna will make an application with the TGA sometime after that. Then in Europe and then in Australia in due course. The question I've asked Scott Morrison is what have they done to secure in advance, through an advanced purchase agreement, paediatric doses, so doses for those under 12s, to start to arrive immediately. As soon as they possibly can in the event that the TGA approves it for Australia because we know that President Biden signed a deal with Pfizer back in June, to assure the American people, particularly American parents that on the day almost that the FDA approves the under 12s vaccine, 65 million paediatric doses of Pfizer will be made available to American families. Have we got the same deal in Australia? I haven’t heard an answer to that yet.
GILBERT: What’s your timing on boosters? We're hearing that the first quarter of next year is likely for the start of those boosters. And I know you've been critical, as you have been this afternoon, in terms of the supply arrangements, but there's no shortage of supply as of pretty much now and well into next year, with 60 million Pfizer doses for example?
BUTLER: That’s right. We welcome the fact that finally it appears that supply has caught up with demand. We've got a very big number of vaccines coming into Australia from this month, and through the rest of 2021. And that's a welcome thing. We've been calling for these things for a long time now. And really, now it's a matter of getting those doses into people's arms, we've still got a long way to go there. We've certainly done well over the last couple of months, particularly in those COVID effected states of New South Wales and Victoria, but still only a little over 40 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated. We've still got a long way to go to where we need to be. But ultimately, we are going to have to be looking at boosters. We are seeing clinical data from some of the countries that were earlier than us, that did rely upon Pfizer, for example Israel, but there is some evidence of a waning immunity after six months or a little bit more than six months after you've received your full vaccination. Now, a lot of our frontline health workers, I think I heard Andrew Clennell talk about this, a lot of our frontline health workers, as well as Scott Morrison, got their doses back in February and March and April. And so the six month timeframe that appears to be emerging in some other countries is already ticking. And we do need an answer from the Government about when boosters will be available to those frontline health workers who might start to need them in coming months.
GILBERT: So if we look at this situation now, we're not far away from the federal election, I guess, you know, practitioners in politics, it's always in mind and your argument in terms of the rollout being slow has generated a bit of traction. That's true. I think everyone would agree with that. But once everyone has had the jab, or everyone has had the chance to and things start to get back to a bit of normality, what's your pitch then?
BUTLER: Anthony Albanese will be outlining, along with the rest of the Labor team, a range of policies that go to the recovery, that go to building back better. There still is a long way to go through this pandemic, Kieran. And although we have finally got to a position where supply is catching up with demand, there are still a range of other details about how we move through the coming months that the Prime Minister still hasn't landed. Still our quarantine arrangements are terribly lacking. We still only have one purpose built quarantine facility in the country, that is in the Northern Territory. The facilities that have some level of agreement between the Commonwealth and states appear still to be months and months off. Now we have a trial on home quarantine that's happening in my state, in South Australia, that's a good thing. But we need to do much better on quarantine.
This whole system of vaccine passports, which is so critical to business being able to take advantage of the recovery with real confidence, is a dog's breakfast at the moment. There's no national leadership around this, we appear to be moving to a system of eight different systems, a different system in every single state and territory. Some states able to piggyback off their QR code systems, some having systems that don't allow a marriage between the QR code check in and immunisation register, or record of the vaccine. So where is the leadership from a national level to set up a seamless national vaccine passport system that gives business confidence to move forward? There's still a lot to do in this pandemic - we're not through it yet.
GILBERT: And just one other question out of the health area, I have to ask you, your old sparring partner from the right faction, Joel Fitzgibbon, announced he is going to retire. No tears from you?
BUTLER: Joel has had a great career, a long distinguished career at 25 years. He's entitled to feel very proud of his contributions to his community and to his party, a party I know he loves very dearly. Joel and I have always had a fantastic relationship. Sometimes it might not appear that way to your viewers. But it has been a really productive, respectful relationship. He and I have disagreed on some matters and we've had a frank, a very respectful debate about climate change policy. I think that's the right way to do it. This is an incredibly critical, very difficult, highly contested policy area for the country. When you're a party of government, like Labor, which is seen as the party of change and implementing difficult restructurings going back to the Hawke and Keating record and so on and so forth, you want people in the party who feel free to have those respectful frank debates and I always felt free to have that debate with Joel. We are going to miss him.
GILBERT: And finally, another matter, Christian Porter has revealed that a blind trust has made a contribution as part of his legal fees, in terms of his declaration. Is that reasonable or should he be upfront about who's funded the legal component of his court battles recently?
BUTLER: I had to read this twice to check whether I read it correctly the first time. Frankly, the idea that a Minister of the Crown can take a donation of I understand up to a million dollars without being able to explain where it's from is gobsmacking. It is just completely unacceptable. If a Minister of the Crown, any Member of Parliament for that matter, cannot explain the source of a donation they should not take it. They just simply should not take it. If he can't tell us whether it was someone associated with his portfolio, whether it's a lobbyist, whether it was someone with a criminal background, if he can’t assure us of that he should not be accepting a donation, he should hand it back. I think the idea that a former Attorney-General, someone who portrays himself as a great lawyer ,thinks that this is anything other than completely unacceptable is gobsmacking.
GILBERT: Mark Butler, appreciate your time.
BUTLER: Thanks Kieran.