18 May 2020

CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Well thanks for coming out today. Firstly of course across the country we're seeing a gradual and cautious easing of restrictions which of course is very, very welcome. Across the weekend we're seen people starting to return to restaurants and cafes in most jurisdictions and other jurisdictions to come, and if we all continue to maintain social distancing of course, we'll continue to make progress.

A couple of other matters before I take questions. Of course, we welcome the progress from the World Health Assembly for the motion sponsored by the European Union for an independent inquiry into the COVID-19 crisis. We said at the outset that we supported such an inquiry and progress is welcome. Of course the broader the coalition that would support such a motion the better. We trust and expect that Australia is working with like-minded nations to progress that motion and I'm sure that that's the case and that's a very welcome thing.

The inquiry needs to ensure that we learn the lessons in whichever country, we learn the lessons of COVID-19 as a system and that we are better prepared for future pandemics into the future. I've was a little disappointed to see some Liberal MPs criticising the resolution. I think it's more appropriate that we support sensible resolution going that Australia has been involved in.

The only other matter I'll deal with before taking questions is to say again that we have six weeks now left before the National Partnership on public dental runs out. Now while the COVID-19 crisis has been very important for the Government and the Health Minister to focus on we've understood that and respected that, public health and public dental is vital going forward. 580,000 Australians have relied on that partnership agreement for dental care over the last three years. We have 70,000 hospitals admissions a year for dental care. That will only get worse and put more pressure on hospitals if that deal is not signed. So we say to Scott Morrison and to Greg Hunt, the clock is ticking, sign the National Partnership Agreement on public dental as a matter of urgency so that those Australians who need that public dental can get it from 1 July.

Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Just on the inquiry first, has Australias push for the inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 been vindicated?

BOWEN: I don't think it's a matter of vindication I think it's a matter of some satisfaction that there appears to be growing international support. We supported this from the day Marise Payne announced it. I said here at a press conference and the opposition lend its support. We think it was appropriate for the Government to enter into discussions with other countries before publicly announcing it and we've said that we think we'd like to see more Marise Payne in the debate in Australia, and less George Christensen. But the progress in welcoming the motion, the resolution at the World Health Assembly is very much welcome.

JOURNALIST: Just on dental, you mentioned that the agreement is due to expire in a matter of weeks. The Government has consistently said that the states are responsible for the delivery of public dental services, and the management of waiting times, the Commonwealth merely provides assistance to states and territories over a series of NPAs. Whats your response to that argument?

BOWEN: Well thats a false argument. The Federal Government has been involved in public dental for years and if this Government is going to walk away from public dental that is a disgrace. We need to see more investment in public dental care not less and if the Federal Government, if the Morrison Government is going to wash its hands of Australia's dental system, which is a vital part of our health system that is a scandal. As I said, we see 70,000 admissions to hospital each year for dental issues. That's a lot of pressure on our hospitals and we see millions of Australians avoiding dental care because they can't afford it. We already see long waiting lists of public dental that will only get worse if this National Partnership Agreement which has been in place for years in various forms, is scrapped on Scott Morrison and Greg Hunts watch, and if they think they can get away with not being held to account for walking away from public dental they are dead wrong.

JOURNALIST: Is the Government doing enough (inaudible) on our relationship with China?

BOWEN: Look we always take the approach it's best not to politicise the relationship with China if it all possible. It's a complex relationship a very important one of course, one of our most important relationships, it must be handled sensitively and it won't always be easy. We won't always agree with China about everything, it's about how you handle those disagreements that is important. This relationship needs sensitive diplomacy. Standing by Australia's best interests and our values, of course, but also sensitive diplomacy.

We don't always see that from the Liberal Party backbench, we're not seeing that at the moment from many voices on the Liberal Party backbench. It's disappointing that Liberal and National Party backbench sees this as a political plaything far too often and thinks that the best approach to China is megaphone diplomacy, which is not very subtle. We'd like to see more Marise Payne and less George Christensen in the discussion about China. But where the Government has a sensible approach to suggest in relation to China, they'll have our bipartisan support as we've done already on this inquiry.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible).

BOWEN: Now it's deeply concerning for Australia's primary producers in particular that this impasse has been reached. Of course it's incumbent on the Government to be doing everything possible to have those discussions with the Chinese Government. We understand it's a two-way street. The most important thing the Labor Party can do is give bipartisan support to the Government in any sensible efforts but the thoughts, the priorities of our primary producers are utmost in Labor's mind and we certainly hope this issue is resolved as a matter of great urgency.

Anything else? All done. Thank you.