30 June 2021


SUBJECTS: Medicare changes coming into effect; lack of bulk billing in Canberra; COVID restrictions across the country; vaccine rollout; national quarantine; Morrison Government failing Australians during a health pandemic; confusion over Morrison Government’s vaccine messaging; international caps on arrivals; gig economy; industrial relations; Menulog.

ALICIA PAYNE, MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: Good morning, everyone. I'm Alicia Payne, the Member for Canberra. And it's great to have our Leader, Anthony Albanese, here in the electorate this morning to talk about Medicare and bulk billing in Canberra. We're here at Macquarie shops at the Macquarie office of the National Health Co-op, one of eight in Canberra. They've just gone into administration. One of the reasons they have is that the bulk billing incentives are not enabling them to survive in providing bulk billing. Now, Canberrans know how hard it is to get a bulk billing doctor appointment here in Canberra. In this electorate, we have the lowest rate of bulk billing in the country. Canberra has a bulk billing rate of around 33 per cent compared to the national average of 65 per cent. And it's not good enough. I've written to Minister Greg Hunt saying that we need a strategy to ensure that Canberra can improve its rates of bulk billing. In 2019, the Government removed the rural bulk billing incentive from Canberra. And while that might make sense because we're not really a rural area, it has meant that our already low rates of bulk billing have further struggled. And it's really important that people in Canberra can access bulk billing appointments with their GP. Canberrans have written to me about the changes to take effect tomorrow to Medicare, not sure if important surgeries will be covered. It's all just indicative of the Government's lack of support for Medicare, which of course, Labor created, and Labor will always support. And I'm proud to hand over to Anthony to talk further about this. Thanks, Anthony.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much, Alicia. We are in your electorate here today talking about the increased costs of healthcare. In particular, the increased difficulty it is in getting access to a GP to get bulk billing services, but also to talk about the changes which are taking place to come into effect tomorrow. These more than 900 changes to the Medicare schedule will mean increased costs when it comes to essential surgery, to fix someone's hip, to fix someone's hand, to have these surgeries that are absolutely necessary for people in order to get around and to engage in their way of life as normal. These cuts to Medicare will have a significant impact on people's living standards. They're being done without due process, without proper notice. The Government can't say how much the increased costs will be towards people. And so tomorrow, July 1, is ‘Cuts to Medicare Day’ from the Morrison Government. A Government, of course, that began with its first Budget trying to introduce a new GP tax, has now found a way of increasing the costs of essential surgery. And it's not good enough. Of course, today, people's concern will be on the Prime Minister's announcement on Monday. This late-night announcement, frankly, words fail me. How you can make a major announcement like that without proper consultation with the Australian Medical Association, without any decisions actually being taken by the National Cabinet itself, without giving consideration to the advice that is there from ATAGI means that it's incredibly confusing now. The Prime Minister must come out immediately and state why it is that he changed the advice that he gave. Provide some certainty for people who just want to be vaccinated. He also needs to explain why there's ongoing issues with supply. And the Queensland Government had been denied increased access to the Pfizer vaccine, even though they are having a lockdown. This Prime Minister had two jobs this year: the effective rollout of the vaccine and national quarantine facilities. On the rollout of the vaccine, we now have utter confusion. And I, frankly, am dismayed at how we could have these circumstances whereby a late-night announcement without explanation has been made by the Prime Minister on Monday night and now you have different advice being given depending upon whether you're a state or a federal health officer, whether you're ATAGI, whether you're the AMA, whether you're a GP. The fact is people just want certainty. And one of the things that was seeing us through this crisis, particularly early on, we did so well at following health advice. Australians have been magnificent in following health advice. But it's difficult to follow advice when it's going in different directions. And the Prime Minister needs to explain this. He also needs to reconsider his obstinate objection to quarantine facilities that could be ready to go far sooner than anything that's been proposed by him at Toowoomba. It's very clear that these facilities do stack up, that they've been on the table since October and they should be up and running now. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: The Queensland Health Office today has basically made up her mind about AstraZeneca saying that all people under 60 should wait for the Pfizer jab and will at no point be putting healthy 18-year-olds at risk of getting blood clots from having the AstraZeneca when, given if they had COVID, they would probably survive.

ALBANESE: Well, I saw the advice from the Queensland Chief Medical Officer that was very, very strong indeed. I also can't find an explanation up to this point about how this announcement was made without approval from the National Cabinet. I've got to say that Australians who looked at Scott Morrison's press conference on Monday night were entitled to think that this was based upon medical advice. But we're told that ATAGI hasn't changed its advice, the body of all the chief medical officers that gets together and has been doing such outstanding work during this pandemic. We're told that the Australian Medical Association hasn't changed its advice or wasn't consulted on this announcement. The Prime Minister needs to come out and explain why it is that announcement on Monday night was made and provide clarity.

JOURNALIST: Do you share the Government's position? Would you encourage under 40s to get the AstraZeneca vaccine?

ALBANESE: I share the idea that we should be listening to medical advice and a politician shouldn't be changing advice without that proper medical consultation. I'm not a doctor, nor is Scott Morrison. We need to make sure that we listen to that advice. And that's why the Prime Minister needs to urgently clarify exactly why it is that this announcement was made on Monday night. If it was because we have access to AstraZeneca but don't have supplies of other vaccines, then the Prime Minister needs to just say that.

JOURNALIST: If people under 40 do want to get the AstraZeneca vaccine and they go to their GP and the GP is happy to administer it, what's wrong with that? Is that okay?

ALBANESE: Well, I think that health advice, I'm not about second-guessing what people do with their own healthcare. It's up to them to listen to the advice, which is there, to consult with their doctors. And that's what people overwhelmingly have been doing. The problem now, I think, for those Australians under the age of 40, is that there's very conflicting advice out there. And there needs to be clarity. Because that will cause confusion that will further add to the reluctance from some which is out there to be vaccinated. We need to lift our vaccine rates. We are last in the OECD, stone dead last in the OECD, 4.7 per cent. And I noticed that there is spin that has come out from the Government in its usual way today, to take out those people who are underage as if we can fiddle our figures. But all the figures from the OECD are based on exactly the same, based on number of people fully vaccinated per the population.

JOURNALIST: Do you have concerns over travellers coming back to Australia. Should those that are being allowed back into country be fully vaccinated to stop any more of this importation of COVID, especially the Delta variant?

ALBANESE: Well, there's a couple of issues here. One is that common sense tells you that every bit of safety that we can put in place should be put in place. Secondly, Australians were promised that they'd be home by Christmas, and they haven't been able to get home. And many of them have been stranded overseas now for a year trying to get home. Thirdly, when people do come home and have to quarantine, we should have purpose-built national quarantine facilities for them. That's best practice. It's beyond my comprehension why the Government rejected that and continue to stand up day after day, week after week, month after month and say, 'No, hotel quarantine is fine'. Common sense tells you that hotel quarantine is built for tourists, either the domestic or international. It's not built as quasi-medical facilities. And yet this Government refused to act. It must have got a bit of a focus group, so they sent a letter to a couple of newspapers and then belatedly then sent it to the state governments of Queensland and Western Australia with proposals without any detail for facilities going forward. But facilities are a long way off from actually being constructed whereas there are options which have been there, options that could see facilities built far quicker, that the Government has rejected.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).

ALBANESE: Common sense tells you that if we can have people vaccinated before they get on planes, I spoke about this when we had the crisis getting people back from India, I spoke about whether it's possible for the Australian High Commissioner to play a role there. These measures are common sense. The health advice regarding which vaccine is better and the health risks should be left to doctors. But common sense tells you that the whole point of what we're going through here is that we need to get people vaccinated. People who are vaccinated are less likely to catch COVID, are less likely to spread COVID. We saw with that party in Sydney, whereby more than 20 people who weren't vaccinated caught COVID and those people who had been vaccinated didn't catch COVID. We have seen these examples. That should be real incentives for people to be vaccinated, wherever they are. And that is important. But we continue to see these gaps. We continue to see the major gap being in hotel quarantine. And it's a gap in which the Prime Minister, day after day in Question Time, whether in person or in virtual mode, has said that it's all working fine. And we continue to see that. And we saw Josh Frydenberg on the 7:30 show just the other night again say that our vaccination rates were all fine, hotel quarantine is fine. And the truth is it's not. This Government had two jobs. To fix up the rollout of the vaccine and fix hotel quarantine. And they have botched both.

JOURNALIST: The international caps on arrivals have been reduced in the past when there have been outbreaks. Given the situation we are seeing across the country at the moment, should those caps be reduced during this outbreak?

ALBANESE: Well, what we should be doing is making sure that when people come into Australia, they're able to be quarantined in a way that maximises safety. And that isn't happening. When you have circumstances whereby, to be very clear, this Sydney outbreak that has then spread around the country arose because someone, who didn't break any rules, ferried people around in a car to hotel quarantine who were overseas arrivals. Someone who wasn't vaccinated, someone who wasn't wearing a mask, but at the same time was not breaking any rules. How that can occur 18 months into this pandemic is beyond my comprehension. And the truth is that it shouldn't have happened. There are direct consequences behind the Government's failure, which is why Scott Morrison should accept responsibility for things he's responsible for. Instead we have, on Monday night, this new announcement.

One further thing, if I can. Just a shout-out to Menulog. We've been running for some time on the issue of the gig economy and saying that workers should be paid at least minimum rates, that there is an employer-employee relationship there. The Government said that was impossible. But Menulog, together with the Transport Workers' Union, were able to put together a trial. And I note that just this week, they have said that they've directly employed people as a result of the success of that trial. Six riders have died last year. We need proper employment relationships, including in the gig economy. This is something that we've been arguing for some time. The Government said it wasn't possible. But here you have an employer, Menulog, and employees, building that relationship there. So I say when people think about, during lockdown, where they order, support good practice. I can confirm I have no financial interest in this relationship. Thank you.