DOORSTOP: 19/1/22

January 19, 2022


MARK BUTLER MP, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: Thanks for coming out in Adelaide this morning. I think a number of us have just watched Scott Morrison’s press conference where he spent 30 minutes along with the Treasurer no less, patting himself on the back for the Government's performance during this disastrous fourth wave. A period where Australians are suffering through exploding case numbers. Some of the highest infection rates in the developed world only exceeded by one or two other countries in the globe, while we still suffer through the lowest and the slowest booster rollout program in the developed world. Our hospitals are overwhelmed. Our ambulance systems are overwhelmed. Our aged care systems are experiencing exponential increase in outbreaks and parents still can't be assured by their own Prime Minister, that their children will have at least one vaccine dose before they return to school later this month or early in February.
This is a Prime Minister who pats himself on the back during all of this. I suppose no one should be surprised because this is a Prime Minister who has been running TV ads at your expense, at taxpayer expense, patting himself on the back for his rapid test program before even having delivered a single test to Australia through the Commonwealth Government. But in the press conference, he again tried to pretend that rapid tests had nothing to do with him. That rapid test provision outside of aged care was all a matter for state governments. And he also tried to pretend that no one could have predicted the circumstances we find ourselves in right now. It’s vintage Scott Morrison, the guy who said he doesn't hold a hose. It's never got anything to do with him.
Katie Allen, one of the Government MPs whom Greg Hunt and Scott Morrison receive advice from on health policy, for good reason - a well-established researcher and paediatrician, wrote an op ed back in June, urging the Government to put in place a comprehensive rapid testing regime. In September the AMA warned Scott Morrison as we move beyond lockdowns, beyond border restrictions, as we all wanted to do, there would need to be a comprehensive rapid testing regime. And the TWU said if you didn't have that, we'd see what we are currently seeing, which is supermarket shelves empty just like Soviet-era Russia, not like modern Australia. But the fact is, he was warned. He didn't listen, he refused to take responsibility and right now Australians are paying the price.
I also saw that Scott Morrison denied that there was any Commonwealth Government requisitioning of private supplies of rapid tests. Now earlier the Department of Health simply said that they hadn't requisitioned “all” rapid tests in the country. But now Scott Morrison says he hasn't requisitioned any. That just isn't the case. Private company after private company are reporting that they've been told that their suppliers of rapid tests that they ordered in good faith, for their workers and their customers have been requisitioned by the Commonwealth Government. We just want Scott Morrison to be straight for once and fess up about what he's doing with those private suppliers.
Can I also refer to a number of requests now that are out from the hospital systems, the ambulance system and aged care for some support from the Australian Defence Force. Our hospitals, our ambulances, our aged care facilities are under extreme stress, they are at breaking point. And those requests are something I think should be considered. Our ADF has a wonderful tradition of supporting our community through national emergencies, and we are in the middle of a national emergency. Indeed, the ADF has supported communities through this pandemic at different points, particularly in aged care in the second wave in Melbourne the year before last. I note also that the US administration over the last few days has deployed military medics to hospital systems in the United States that are equally at breaking point. Now Scott Morrison again this morning said that the ADF is not a shadow workforce, indicating he is not willing to look at this very reasonable request that we've seen off a very broad range of views. I urge the Prime Minister to reconsider this. Labor urges the Government to give serious consideration to what assistance the ADF can give to our stressed hospital, health and aged care systems. They've done it before. These systems are a breaking point. Scott Morrison can't keep pretending it's got nothing to do with him.
Lastly, and I just refer to the Prime Minister's response to George Christensen's latest outrage with the Prime Minister simply saying George is free to speak his mind. George Christensen and other MPs from the Government party room like Alex Antic, Gerard Rennick and others are not fringe commentators out in the private sector. They are Government MPs. They are using government resources. They are able to badge themselves with the Scott Morrison Government badge. Now this is an outrage. George Christensen is the Chair of the very highly prestigious Trade and Investment Committee of the Parliament. A position that gives him  substantial additional salary. This guy is not a fringe commentator. George Christensen is a menace to public health. He’s a danger to the public health of our children no less, and there should be no place for him in the Government party room. At least Barnaby Joyce was honest when he said he wasn't willing to pull George Christensen into line because the Government only has a thin margin in the Parliament. What happened to Scott Morrison's claim that there was one rule for everyone? These MPs, a number of them in the Government refused to disclose their vaccination status, yet want to turn up to Parliament, turn up to the Government party room. They're welcomed into the party by Scott Morrison and Barnaby Joyce, while nurses, police officers, doctors, teachers and many others, if they don't disclose their vaccination status, they can't go to work, they might lose their job. What happened to one rule for everyone, Mr. Morrison? Doctors who give advice about vaccines that don’t strictly adhere to the official advice from the TGA have their registration threatened, their jobs as doctors threatened. But Government MPs using Government resources are able to spout this dangerous bile. Something has to happen from the Prime Minister, not just words, but action to pull these guys into line. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: What do you think the PM means by “respect Omicron”?

BUTLER: The Prime Minister is now trying to rewrite history and pretend that the emergence of this new variant was something new, completely new. Now, of course, this variant is different but the Prime Minister had received advice from a range of sources including his own MPs like Katie Allen, that as we move to the next phase of the pandemic, move beyond lockdowns, reopen the borders as everyone wanted us to do, we were going to shift from a PCR to a rapid testing regime, which meant the Commonwealth had to ensure we had the supplies. Now, of course, that's the Commonwealth's job, just as it was the Commonwealth's job to ensure we had the supply of vaccines, not a job that it did particularly well. It's not the state's job to go into the global market, all eight of the state and territory governments, trying to source vaccines or rapid tests. It was his job, and it was his job before Omicron. It was a job he had to do if we were going to move to the next phase of the pandemic and it is a job he failed.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that backpackers and students will want to come to Australia considering how things are at the moment?

BUTLER: This looks like just another ad hoc announcement from the Prime Minister and from the Treasurer to distract from the failures that are resonating, reverberating right through Australia right now. If the Prime Minister and Treasurer wanted to deal with the drastic workforce shortages that lead to empty supermarket shelves, hospitality venues that can’t get staff, how about we have a system of free and widely available rapid tests?

JOURNALIST: And what did you make around the PMs comments around procuring the rapid antigen tests?

BUTLER:  I'm not sure which comments particularly that that they were?
JOURNALIST: We'll move on. I know you’ve addressed it differently but the Prime Minister says Australian should listen to trusted sources on vaccines and not George Christensen. What's your response?
BUTLER: That's the bleeding obvious. What's he going to do about the fact he's got an MP in his party room using Government resources, chairing one of the important committees of the parliament spouting rubbish that is a danger to public health and a danger to the public health of our children no less. Enough of these pathetic defences from Scott Morrison that George and other MPs in the Government are free to speak their mind. In relation to the tennis, Scott Morrison assured Australians there was only one rule in this country. If there is a role that covers the provision of advice, the vaccination status of important public workers why is it not applied to his own MPs? It's time for some action on Scott Morrison's part not just words.
JOURNALIST: Scott Morrison says he'll be discussing Mr. Christensen’s position as Chair on the Joint Committee of Investment and Trade. Should he keep that position?
BUTLER: Of course he shouldn't. I don't think George Christensen and others who don't follow the public health advice at a time of a national emergency should have any favours from the Government, indeed should not be part of the Government party room.
JOURNALIST: You may have covered this but I’ll just rehash over it one more time. The Government will be providing rebates for backpackers and international students to get more workers into the country. Is this the right move given the supply crisis?
BUTLER: This is not the emergency right now. The emergency with workforce right now is the fact we don't have rapid tests that are available and free of charge for workers and businesses. It would be good if Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg could apply their minds to what is really afflicting industry right now. Now over time, of course, we need a system of immigration that reflects what the country needs over time, but we've got an emergency on our hands and the Prime Minister continues to pretend it's got nothing to do with him. We've still got hundreds of thousands of Australian workers who can't find jobs. If they do have a job, they need more hours of work, but we've seen a collapse of apprenticeship numbers under this Government to the tune of 85,000. So it's about priorities and I think Scott Morrison needs to get his priorities right. Thank you.