Doorstop interview: 28/01/2022

January 28, 2022




SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison’s slow booster rollout; Rapid test availability; Pressure on pharmacies; Scott Morrison's failure to secure rapid tests for pensioners and concession card holders; Great Barrier Reef. 
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: Can I first say that with New South Wales and Victorian reports in so far, 74 Australians have lost their lives just in those two large states, in the last 24 hours to COVID. This is a devastating toll - shaping up as one of the worst days in the pandemic so far in terms of lives lost. 

In just the past three days it looks like almost 250 Australians, in just three days, will have lost their lives to COVID. Each one of those Australians, irrespective of their age or whether they had an underlying health condition that ends up in the newspapers, each one a deeply cherished and loved member of a family, of a circle of friends, and of a local community, and their loss is felt deeply by their communities. 

There is still a really devastating impact being felt in our hospitals and our aged care systems, through the business community, and for Australian families. Late last year, as Australia was preparing to open up, Scott Morrison was repeatedly and explicitly warned about what he needed to do to keep the Australian people safe. He was warned on rapid tests, he was warned on boosters, he was warned on childhood vaccinations, and on aged care, but he refused to listen, and he refused to take responsibility. Scott Morrison’s summer of failure has inflicted a devastating toll on Australian businesses and Australian families. 

This morning we hear more shocking revelations of the pressure the Australian Government is placing on our community pharmacy sector. Several weeks ago, Scott Morrison finally promised more than 6 million Australian pensioners and concession card holders that they would receive free rapid tests from their local pharmacy from Monday earlier this week. But he failed to deliver the test to the pharmacies in the first place. He has left pharmacists and their staff high and dry, left them to explain his failures to millions of disappointed, frustrated pensioners who are rolling up to their local pharmacy, only to be told the tests weren't delivered in the first place. 

And to add insult to injury we learned this morning that pharmacists are expected to cop a financial loss. Having been short-changed by the Government to deliver this half-baked policy. Scott Morrison's decision to 
short-change Australia's pharmacists is a shocking betrayal of a group that kept their doors open, and has worked tirelessly right through this pandemic to keep their communities safe. 

Lastly, can I just respond to news this morning of the TGA’s approval of booster vaccines for our 16 to 17 year olds. We welcome that decision and we look forward to the further consideration of that question by ATAGI, the Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, as soon as it possibly can be received. We note it's seven weeks now since the equivalent body in the United States, the CDC, provided approval of boosters to 16 to 17 year olds in that country, and it's almost five months since Australia’s 16 to 17 year olds started receiving their original round of vaccines. 

I do say though, that Australia's booster programme generally under Scott Morrison is running way behind schedule. I saw Peter Dutton this morning pat himself on the back and pat his Government on the back for one of the best booster programmes, apparently, in the world. 

Well, I encourage Peter Dutton to read the data because the data shows very clearly that Australia's booster programme is one of the slowest in the developed world, just as our original vaccine programme was as well. Less than 30 per cent of Australians have received a booster. Shockingly, the aged care sector has still not had its booster programme completed by the Morison Government. We know how crucial boosters are in the fight against the Omicron variant in particular, and it’s beyond time that Scott Morrison injected some urgency into his flailing booster programme. 

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: So you do think it's too late for this TGA approval of the 16 and 17 year old boosters? 

BUTLER: No, we welcome the approval this morning. We look forward to ATAGI considering their approval of this as soon as that can possibly be delivered, and then for the rollout of these booster programmes, which we know are crucial in the fight against Omicron to our older teenagers. 
But in saying that, I want to inject some urgency in the flailing booster programme more broadly. I mean, aged care is not completed. Two out of five older Australians, vulnerable to COVID particularly, have not received booster shots yet. We have Peter Dutton on the TV this morning, patting himself on the back for one of the slowest booster rollouts in the developed world. Scott Morrison has to do better.

JOURNALIST: Would you be comfortable to send your child back to school without them being vaccinated?

BUTLER: This is a decision for every parent, but I think parents throughout summer were expecting a commitment from their Prime Minister, that their primary school aged children would receive at least one dose of the vaccine before the return of school. Now we're at a point where school returns on Monday, in just a few days’ time, but only one in three 5 to 11 year olds have been vaccinated. That's just not good enough from Scott Morrison. 

GPs are not getting the doses they need to vaccinate the children on their books. They might be getting only 50 or maybe 100 doses a week, but they might have 1,500 five to 11 year olds on their books. Scott Morrison just hasn't done well enough on this. It's too little too late.

JOURNALIST: And on the topic of the RATs – 380,000 concession card holders have taken advantage of the free RATS scheme. Would that put further pressure on pharmacies?

BUTLER: We’ve heard very clearly this morning the enormous pressure pharmacists are under. Scott Morrison made the promise that from Monday, several days ago, six million pensioners and concession card holders could get free tests from their local pharmacy - but he didn't deliver the tests in the first place. 

He’s expecting pharmacists not only to explain his failures to the customers, but when they are able to deliver the test, they end up short-changed, they end up out of pocket, short-changed by a Prime Minister who frankly nickel and dimed some of the most hardworking health professionals we've had in this pandemic.

JOURNALIST: The Government has announced $1 billion over the next nine years [for the Great Barrier Reef]. Do you think that's enough cash over that period of time?

BUTLER: Well, I know Jim Chalmers and Terri Butler, our Shadow Treasurer and Shadow Environment spokesperson and Queenslanders themselves, are up in the next hour or two to talk about this. 

But I will say this, you can't be serious about protecting the Great Barrier Reef if you're not serious about climate change. And I think Australians understand this Government simply is not serious about climate change. 

Thanks very much.