DOORSTOP: 30/1/22

January 30, 2022


MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: Today again we’ve heard a tragic death toll reported, at least out of the two largest states that have already reported, with the deadliest day after the deadliest day recorded yesterday in NSW, we’ve tragically lost 72 Australians to their fight against Covid today following Friday and Saturday’s death toll of around 100 deaths each. Each of these are lives lost that will be felt very very deeply by families, by circles of friends, and by local communities. Our condolences go to all of those loved ones who have lost people over the last 24 hours. 

There is no doubt this is the deadliest phase of the pandemic that Australia has faced over the nearly 2 years that we have been going through this covid crisis. The deadliest phase right through the 2 years. As Australia was preparing to open up late last year and move to the next phase of the pandemic with lockdowns lifted and borders reopened, Scott Morrison was repeatedly warned about what ne needed to do to keep the Australian people safe and to keep businesses going. What he needed to do on rapid tests, on boosters, on childhood vaccination and importantly on aged care.

This deadly fourth wave is hitting aged care particularly hard. Just in January we have lost more than 400 lives in Aged Care facilities. That is more, substantially more, than the loss of life experienced in the course of the entire year of 2021. Scott Morrison has failed yet again in one of his deepest most solemn responsibilities, that is to protect vulnerable older Australians under  Commonwealth care in Aged care facilities. Rapid tests and personal protective equipment is hard to come by, we are told by aged care operators. Remarkably the government says it only provides rapid tests to facilities once an outbreak has occurred. When everyone knows that rapid tests should be deployed to prevent outbreaks in the first place. Facilities are reporting drastic staff shortages such that people are only getting showered every second day. They are not getting the care they need . Yet when Mike Baird the former NSW Liberal premier who now runs a very reputable aged care organisation requested the Prime Minister consider the deployment of ADF medics, the Prime Minister brushed him off and said everything was fine.

The booster program is drastically behind schedule.  We are told that there are 500 aged care facilities that still don’t have their booster shots when we were assured by the government that they would all be done in January.  Tens of thousands of aged care residents are locked in their rooms., isolated, scared, distressed. 10,000 aged care residents have covid and hundreds are dying right now. How on Earth has this happened given all we have learned in recent years about aged care, all of the recommendations from the Royal Commission.  And where is the Prime Minister to answer for this growing scandal? It has been ten days since the Prime Minister has fronted the Australian people at a press conference about Covid. Instead, all we have seen over the last several days is the Prime Minister engaged in slick marketing campaigns seeking to deflect attention from this deadly crisis and rebrand his image cuddling Koalas and the like. Well the Australian people deserve answers. With Australians dying in the hundreds all they can see right now is an Aged Care Minister who heads to the Cricket and a Prime Minister who yet again goes missing in action in the middle of a crisis. Happy to take questions.


Journalist: The opposition leader has been on Insiders this morning talking about the latest plans for RATs. He said there would now be limits on how many RATs a Labor government would be able to provide.  This is different from what he said before, isn’t it?


Butler: No, not at all. Every country that is doing this well, and there are many other countries doing it much better than Scott Morrison, the UK, Germany, Singapore, others besides, provide the test to all citizens in their country to ensure that they can go about their lives as safety as possible, as normally as possible. But there is always a numerical limit. There is not a free for all no matter how many you want. Now there are different numbers in different countries and obviously Labor would seek to take advice about what the proper number for Australia is.  But it is quite clear, we have been quite clear supporting the advice of the AMA, other health groups, of business, that all Australians should be supplied with free RATs. The economic benefit of it we know from economic modelling, vastly outweighs the cost of doing it. It is a critical public health measure. It is a critical tool in the fight against Covid now.  Why is it not supplied to all Australians free of charge through Medicare just like vaccines are and just like PCR testing was?


Journalist: Can Labor say under the plan how many people would receive RATs and how much the policy would cost overall?


Butler: As I have said, we say that rapid tests should be available to all Australians free of charge through Medicare. Medicare is a universal health program. Vaccines were available through Medicare to all Australians. This is a critical public health tool.  As to the number of tests that would be available for each Australian that is something, obviously,  that we would take expert advice about. There are lots of examples around the world for us to draw on as well and if for some remarkable reason Scott Morrison has not come to his senses between now and the next election, we will have a very clear fully detailed costed policy available to the people.


Journalist:  At the moment those numbers, you haven’t gone to that stage?


Butler: This is not an issue for May or June, this is an issue for this week.  We have said Scott Morrison should fix this right now. In aged care of all places they can’t get rapid tests. Right now you go to any chemist across the country, you are not likely to be able to get a rapid tests, whether you are a pensioner or not a pensioner covered by the government program. So, this is not something we should be debating in May for an election campaign, this is something the Government should act on now. We have seen time and time again in this pandemic Scott Morrison stubbornly resists a good idea, like JobKeeper, like a whole range of other measures, and eventually he’s sort of dragged kicking and screaming to adopting it. Now I hope he does that with our policy supported by the AMA and business groups around free RATs for everyone. But if he doesn’t, if we drag through this ridiculous position where they are scarce as hen’s teeth and they are costly for Australians, right up until the next election, then of course we will have our fully detailed costed policy out before then. But it would be remarkable for Scott Morrison was to keep to this ridiculous position for the next several months.


Journalist: Can you provide examples of local manufacturers who are ready to roll out RATs now, or ready to roll out the materials that are needed now?


Butler: A number of them have spoken publicly over the last several weeks, few months about discussions with the government they had going back to 2020, when they knew that at some point in the pandemic we would move from the more formal PCR testing to a rapid testing regime with an invitation to partner with the government to set up that sovereign capability here in Australia to supply the Australian government. They got short shrift, they could not have got a lower level of interest from the Australian government if they had tried.  So instead obviously, these companies had to direct their business somewhere else and they did to governments overseas, like the US.  What we are saying is that we would be, Labor would be a government that was interested in building sovereign capability. We know that’s good for jobs and importantly it is good for public health security as well. There is a range of companies who have said over the last several months that they have always been keen to set up manufacturing operations here in Australia to supply the Australian market. But to be able to do that they need a government willing to back them and they haven’t had that under Scott Morrison.


Journalist: What do you think of Rachelle Miller not being part of the investigations over Alan Tudge?


Butler: Well look I haven’t read those reports this morning. I have seen the headlines but I have not read them in enough detail to be able to comment on that.


Journalist: Do you think that Alan Tudge will return to the front bench?


Butler: Look that is a matter obviously for the Prime Minister to determine if Mr Tudge deserves to be returned to the front bench. I am not going to speculate about that before the report is released.


Journalist: There is talk of the Greens pushing Labor to go further and faster on Climate Change. How likely is that?


Butler: Well it is not likely at all. It is not going to happen. The Labor party has released its climate change policy, it is a policy that Chris Bowen, Anthony Albanese and Jim Chalmers developed in close consultation with stakeholders, with industry, with environmental groups. It is fully costed, it is subject to the most detailed modelling probably done by any Opposition in relation to a major policy before in Australian political history.  We know it is the right policy for Australia. It is the right policy for the climate. It is the right policy for the Australian economy. It is the right policy for Australian households with power bills savings of $285 on average over the next few years. So we are sticking with that policy because we know it is the right policy.