DOORSTOP: 14/1/22

January 14, 2022


MARK BUTLER MP, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: Australians needed Scott Morrison yesterday to take a detailed plan to National Cabinet to get us through this crisis and particularly fix the supply of rapid antigen tests and he failed to do that. Coles tells us this morning that it will be weeks before the supply of rapid tests matches the demand and weeks before we can be confident that our supermarket shelves will be fully stacked with basic foodstuffs, and nothing happened yesterday to fix either of those two things. The new isolation rules agreed yesterday at National Cabinet will simply not amount to a hill of beans if Scott Morrison can't fix rapid tests, which currently are about as rare as hen's teeth, and cost an arm and a leg. Now business and unions agree that those tests must be used, to use their words “must be free and widely accessible.” But Simon Birmingham remarkably said this morning, that “the worst thing you could do,” those were his words, would be to adopt Labor's policy of free rapid test for the entire Australian community. I mean, it’s right up there with John Howard's famous statement that one of the great failures of the Hawke Government was introducing Medicare. It just tells you how completely out of touch this Government has become in this national crisis.


To add insult to injury, Australians over the last few days will have been seeing TV ads that Scott Morrison is running, paid for by taxpayers, patting himself on the back for rapid tests in spite of the fact he hasn't yet delivered a single test to Australia. Scott Morrison always spends more time and energy on marketing and spin than actually doing his job. And as further insult, there are now widespread reports of private businesses having ordered rapid tests from overseas for their customers and their workers, having their orders requisitioned by the Federal Government. Businesses that did the right thing ahead of time to order tests for their customers and their workers having their supplies pilfered by Government and a Prime Minister that again was too slow to act. Scott Morrison was warned months and months ago of his need to act decisively on rapid tests, but he never listens, he never takes responsibility, and Australians always end up paying a very high price for his failure to do his job.


Can I just say a couple of things about the developing crisis, the worsening crisis in aged care. We find again, there are hundreds of facilities with COVID outbreaks today, with tens of thousands of residents locked in their rooms, often unexplained to them because they might have cognitive impairment, unable to take visitors. This is a crisis and it is time that Scott Morrison did something to fix it. We know that staffing levels in aged care even before the pandemic were desperately low because of Scott Morrison's budget cuts amounting to about $3 billion while he was Treasurer. We know that those staffing levels have been worsened by the closure of international borders, the understandable closure of international borders, given the degree to which aged care depends upon international workers. And obviously, these staffing levels have been greatly exacerbated by the fact that there are many aged care workers, nurses and carers and other staff who are either COVID positive themselves or are isolating because they are close contacts. Scott Morrison so far has done nothing to deal with this crisis in aged care that is leading to enormous distress, enormous trauma to tens of thousands of residents, their families and their staff. It's about time he took this crisis seriously. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: So the Government says safeguards are in place to avoid the virus spreading in workplaces. Do you think they're enough? Or will this lead to the kind of worst case scenarios being described by unions?

BUTLER: Of course something needs to happen. The images we see right now of our supermarket shelves being empty, remind me more of Soviet era Russia than modern Australia. Australians want some action by their governments. But while we obviously need these workplaces and supply lines operating more smoothly than they currently are, workplaces obviously also need to be healthy and safe. That's why we've said for some time, the Government should be engaging with trade unions about this. That's what they did in the early stage of the pandemic, to their credit, and that led to good outcomes for Australian workers and Australian families. Why doesn't the Prime Minister sit down with Sally McManus and with other trade unions and work with them along with business to ensure that we go through the next stages in a constructive, cooperative fashion to get those supply lines operating properly, but also maintain safe and healthy workplaces for Australian workers. The critical thing is that the new isolation rules announced by Scott Morrison over the last couple of days simply won't work if you can't fix the crisis around rapid tests. Those tests need to be widely available. They need to be free of charge for workers and for businesses and at the moment under Scott Morrison they're neither.

JOURNALIST: So the Government says making rapid test free as Labor proposals would lead to hoarding and worsen shortages. Is this the case?

BUTLER: That is a ridiculous claim. You just need to go to so many other countries overseas where a proper supply of rapid tests free of charge for members of the community has led to very, very good outcomes. It was the Government that brought rapid tests to the centre of the nation's testing tracing and isolation system. But they did that without giving a thought to questions of supply, or questions of cost. Now, we know when we put vaccines at the centre, they are supplied free of charge to Australian families. We know when PCR tests were at the centre of our testing tracing system they were supplied free of charge in the Medicare system. What's different about rapid tests?

JOURNALIST: You’ve said before that Labor would have prevented Novak Djokovic from gaining a visa to enter Australia. Can you explain how Labor would have done so, what would you have practically done differently?

BUTLER:  The most obvious, the most simple failure by this Government was to issue Mr. Djokovic with a with a visa back in November, many, many weeks ago, knowing that he was coming to Australia for a very high profile event, one of the most high profile events held in Australia, and knowing that there were very significant question marks, at the very least, over whether he was double vaccinated. Now, the Government has had a policy for some time now that non-citizens, non-permanent residents will not come to this country if they have not received two doses of the vaccine. It was widely known that Mr. Djokovic probably had not received two doses of the vaccine but they still gave him a visa. No one picked him up in Dubai. What Labor would have done is to apply the law of the land properly in a timely fashion. Thanks, everyone.