18 September 2020

CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks for coming today. I'll deal with two matters before taking any questions. Seven years ago today Tony Abbott was sworn in as Prime Minister. Australians are entitled to ask whether they've had seven years of good Government. Three Prime Ministers, debt and deficit higher than it's ever been, in recession, no energy plan still today. In health, hospital waiting lists the longest they've ever been. Out-of-pocket costs the highest they've ever been. Failure after failure. Cycling through three Prime Ministers. Australia deserves better. And of course at the next election we propose to offer Australians better.

On the second matter, I welcome the extension of telehealth announced by the Government today. We've been calling for this extension. It comes too late. It comes with not a minute to spare as doctors and other health care professionals haven't been able to book people in for telehealth consultations past the end of September. Nevertheless I very much welcome it. Telehealth has been an important part of the response to COVID-19, that's why we suggested it in the first place. I was very glad that the Government introduced it. Experts, doctors, psychologists, peak groups have been pointing out that ending telehealth in September would be a disaster. I'm glad the Government has finally listened. The six month extension, the further six month extension is vital. It's welcome and it's supported. I wish it had happened earlier but I welcome it happening today very very much.

Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Today weve got the National Cabinet meeting, do you think that all states and Premiers do need to decide on a common definition on what constitutes a hotspot and do they all need to come on board when it comes to international arrivals? Because it doesnt seem that theyve landed on a position.

BOWEN: Well let me take the two matters there Michael, thanks for the question. In relation to internal borders my views haven't changed. Premiers should act on their own state Chief Health Officers advice. They are accountable to their states. The federal Government has constantly pressured the states to open their borders - despite the Prime Minister denying that yesterday in relation to Queensland; it's just not true. He's just not telling the truth. He has done that. When Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg said that Annastacia Palaszczuk should open her borders to Victoria they were wrong and she was right. Now of course we all want to see borders opened as soon as it's safe to do so. But every state regardless of whether it's Annastacia Palaszczuk or Steven Marshall or Peter Gutwein continues to have the support of federal Labor in making the decisions that they do based on their own health advice.

It was outrageous that Scott Morrison supported Clive Palmer's challenge to the Western Australian border closure, absolutely outrageous and it did great damage. The states need support, they don't need carping from Canberra and they've had too much carping from Canberra. Now if the so-called National Cabinet reaches some sort of progress today of course that's constructive. But Premiers should have the support of all Australians including their Prime Minister as they make those tough decisions. It should not be the sort of partisan battering ram that Scott Morrison has tried to make it.

In relation to quarantine, we have called and suggested for a sensible increase in the cap of weekly arrivals and that does involve an expansion of quarantine. We recognise the challenges here. We recognise that you can't put too much pressure on the quarantine system but we also recognise there are thousands of Australian stranded overseas who are citizens and have a right to return home safely. Now quarantine is ultimately a federal responsibility but the states have taken it on and the big states in particular New South Wales and Victoria in particular have taken the lion's share of the burden of the quarantine. Again we welcome an expansion of quarantine but fully understand the constraints on states as they implement what is ultimately a federal Government responsibility. And I hope that there is a constructive and sensible outcome today which supports an expansion of the cap, which we've consistently suggested and recommended.

JOURNALIST: Do you think, just further to that, that the Commonwealth should be providing additional financial support to the states for their hotel quarantine programs?

BOWEN: Well that's a matter for them to discuss together. The states did the right thing and stepped up and took on a responsibility which was not technically theirs. As I understand it hotel quarantine was originally suggested by Victoria and then supported by the other states as a necessary health measure to see Australians and others return when necessary to Australia in a way which doesn't endanger public health.
Now ultimately quarantine is a Commonwealth responsibility. The states have taken it on in this instance and if there are sensible arrangements entered into by the Commonwealth and the states we would welcome them. I'm not here to provide a running commentary. Im not inside the meeting as to what will be discussed in relation to financing. But we thank the states for the role they play and certainly welcome any progress today

JOURNALIST: Given the jobs figures we saw yesterday, 110,000 people finding work in August, do you agree with the Government that its time for people to get back to work? What are you concerns around the changes to JobSeeker more specifically?

BOWEN: Well Tegan, thanks for the question. If the Government thinks that everything could just return to normal and snap back as they keep saying they are wrong. They were wrong when they said snap back and they're wrong about it now. There are still huge hurdles to cross for the economy and for individual workers. And if the Government thinks that it's just because those figures are better than market expectations, time to snap back and snap people off JobSeeker and JobKeeper, it is just plain wrong. The economy will need continued support. We've made that point consistently. The changes to JobSeeker and JobKeeper, and JobKeeper in particular, will have a real and negative impact in the economy. People will do it tougher. Fewer people will be in work and this pandemic is not over. There are maintained constraints on what people can do and how they can work and for the Government to simply suggest that I think shows they're out of touch.
JOURNALIST: In the Budget would you be expecting that there is continued Medicare support for telehealth services, so that Medicare support runs permanently rather than just be extended for the next six months?

BOWEN: Oh look Michael, that's a reasonable question. I do think that telehealth will need to play an ongoing role in our health system and it will be an important part of our health system not just after-- not just during the pandemic but an ongoing basis. Now to be fair I don't expect the Government to extend it permanently automatically. I do expect that there'll be need to need to be tweaks and changes as they do so. It's a big change and it would be understandable that things get changed as they went in relation to telehealth. And accordingly they should take their time to get it right. I'm not demanding that it be made permanent immediately. I'm not demanding that it be made permanent in the Budget. I do think it's appropriate that it be an ongoing part of our health system but I do understand that they have issues to work through.
My concern was to ensure that it gets extended for six months. I tell you what I do want to see in the Budget though Michael, given that you raised the Budget. I want to see a response to the Productivity Commission report on mental health. I want to see the report. I want Australians to see the report. The Government's had it for months. We say there's a mental health crisis in Australia and there is. It will only be dealt with if we confront it. And that means releasing the report and responding in the October Budget, not putting it off the next year, responding in the October Budget. To me that is the most urgent health priority for the federal Budget in October.

Do we have any other questions? Okay. Thank you. Thanks for calling in guys, appreciate it.