January 21, 2022

STEVE PRICE, HOST: We had that circumstance during the week where unfortunately IVF treatment was cancelled in Victoria, it's now been reinstated. But we also heard from the Alfred Hospital yesterday that elective surgery, and I don't know why you'd call this elective surgery, but treatment for things like heart problems, strokes and cancer are also being delayed by COVID. That's very troubling, isn't It?
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: It’s deeply troubling. I don't imagine many of your listeners have heard of a code brown until the Victorian Government announced that some of their hospitals had gone into code brown. It just tells you how serious the situation is not just in Melbourne, but in in other parts of the country as well. I think people will be enormously relieved at the reversal of the IVF decision, but still, there are a lot of people who are going to be deeply impacted by the suspension of elective surgery that's happened all across the country. And you’re right Steve, this term elective surgery is a bit insulting frankly to people. What it technically means is surgery that doesn't have to happen within 24 hours. So you're not rushed into the emergency ward. But it's surgery, particularly category one surgery that is incredibly important. It might be surgery to intervene with breast cancer, a range of other cardio issues that people have. So this is causing enormous impacts on people's lives and it has over the last couple years. And what we're going to see is a real backlog of elective surgery across Australia over the course of 2022, once we get through this disastrous fourth wave.
PRICE: Yeah, sitting at home and you've got chronic pain, because you need a hip replacement. I wouldn't call it elective particularly if you've had it booked in for several weeks and you’re mentally getting ready to do that.
BUTLER: Absolutely, and you know, I have people calling into my office, as I'm sure all MPs do just describing the level of pain, the level of distress and the trauma it causes not knowing when it's going to be relieved. I mean, these are relatively straightforward operations, but because the hospital systems across the country are all now, sort of focused on dealing with this COVID emergency. We sometimes forget that that COVID is not the only health issue this country faces. People in their daily lives are dealing with a whole lot of health issues, not just IVF or knee replacements, but we know people aren't getting the care and haven't through the last two years, been getting the care they need when they need it because of the impacts of COVID. So there's going to be a long tail to all of this. We've seen this in other countries where the deferred care where people just haven't been able to get the other health care that they needed because everything is geared to COVID, is going to have real long-term impacts for us.
PRICE: How did we get to the point where we weren’t prepared with enough supply of rapid antigen tests?
BUTLER: You know, without being overly political about it, I'm very critical of the Prime Minister on this. He was warned back in September by the AMA, by the trucking industry at about the same time, that if we didn't get ahead of the game and order lots and lots of these rapid tests, we'd see the sorts of impacts we are seeing right now. Supermarket shelves are empty. You and I are old enough to remember the images of soviet era Russia, that's what this reminds me of not modern Australia. Industry is having real trouble getting ahead. Aged care facilities aren’t getting the tests that they will promised. People in a whole range of other really important parts of our society and our economy aren't getting them because the Prime Minister didn't order them when he should have. 
This is a repeat of, I think the serious mistakes he made in relation to the ordering of vaccines the year before last and we're paying the price for that. He just refused to listen to the very clear warnings and advice he got months ago.
PRICE: So here we are with a lack of supply and we're presuming that the states are going to be able to reboot education from Monday week and there will be testing, mass testing of students and teachers, but if you don't have the kits you can't do the mass testing. This deadline is just around the corner and I just get a sense that that we don't have enough of these things for education to be safely reinstated but no one wants kids to be at home learning again.

BUTLER: Of course, particularly for Victoria and for Sydney as well over the last six months kids missed so much school over the last couple of years in those big states and people want them to return to school as soon as they can, but obviously, they want the return to be a safe return for students for the families when they return back on and for teachers and other school support offices. 
We’re seeing in really critical parts of the country. As I say, aged care, for example, I was talking to a whole host of aged care workers and they're not getting the rapid tests they need to keep themselves safe, and some of the most vulnerable members of our community and aged care facility safe. 
Although there have been changes into isolation rules, for close contacts in critical industries, like the trucking industry, food and groceries and so on, those changes don't mean anything if you're not getting rapid tests. Businesses have said that, they're all great changes in the abstract, but if you don't have rapid tests out there free of charge readily available, these changes really amount to a hill of beans.
And you're right, the National Cabinet was not able to agree a national approach to schools. So every state basically decided to go their own way. I do understand the New South Wales and Victorian governments are trying to get on the same page but you'll see quite different approaches from different states and without rapid tests being readily available, free of charge schools along with aged care and a whole bunch of other critical parts of our society are going to really continue to struggle for weeks and weeks more. 
There is the other issue of vaccines for kids, I don't understand why the Prime Minister wasn't able to guarantee parents that their primary school aged children would be able to have at least one dose of the vaccine before they return to school, but at the current rate, it's going to be several weeks before, even the first dose is given to 5 to 11 year- olds. There's no program to give booster shots to teachers in a comprehensive way, which is also we know incredibly important to protect against this new Omicron variant.
PRICE: The Government yesterday was crowing about the unemployment rate with the four in front of it. Those numbers though were taken before Omicron hit. Do you expect that rate will jump once you look at the numbers through January and February? And it's one thing to be talking about how there's, you know, not many people unemployed in Australia, but the real question that we need to get asked, is how are we going to fill those job vaccines that seem to be crippling industry? 
BUTLER: That's right, first of all those figures are before this disastrous fourth wave so you take them with a grain of salt. What we're seeing right now is the impact on employment in pretty much every part of the economy except Western Australia and those figures won't show up for a while. 
It's not just unemployment though Steve, it's also a problem we've had for years in this country, one in nine workers need more hours. This under employment issue is really endemic in Australia. There's a whole bunch of people who are counted as employed, but don't have enough hours to pay the bills, don't have enough hours to pay their mortgage or rent. 
So, we do need to deal with that. I think once we get through this, people are still going to be asking the question it’s all well and good to have a lower employment rate, that's a great thing we should all applaud, but when are wages going to start moving. Prices for everything seem to be going up but people's wages still aren't moving
PRICE: When do you think the election is going to be?
BUTLER: It looks like it is going to be May. At the end of the day, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison I'm sure will call the election, whenever he thinks it's to his political advantage rather than the national interests. But, you know, any speculation about an election being called the day after Australia, Day seems to have dropped off. So, it looks like he’ll have his Budget on March 29 and go pretty shortly after that for an election in the first half of May. He will kill make that decision according to his political interests, I suspect.
PRICE: What do you make of your mate Mark McGowan keeping the borders shut in WA?

BUTLER: This'll obviously be a really difficult decision for many of your listeners Steve who might have family in WA who want to reunite with them. But I think the people of WA, I haven't been there for a few months for obvious reasons, but I think the people of WA are pretty supportive of Mark McGowan's record on keeping them safe. They have the lowest infection rate in the country, the lowest death rate. They have next to no restrictions, You know, you go to WA and it feels like pre-COVID for the rest of the country. They have the lowest unemployment rate and they haven't only been the best performing economy in Australia at times during this pandemic, they’ve been the best performing economy on the planet. Things are going very well there and it's no surprise to me that given the sort of disaster we're seeing unfold in the rest of the country, case numbers exploding, hospitals overwhelmed, supermarket shells empty that Mark McGowan wants to continue his record of keeping West Australians safe and their economy strong.
So these are difficult decisions but when they're taken in accordance with the public health advice, which this one has been, I think they are a decision that the people of Western Australia will support.
PRICE: Good to catch up Mark, thanks for your time.
BUTLER: Thanks Steve.