CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH:  Well good morning everyone and thanks for coming. Since the Coronavirus first reared its head the Labor Party, the Opposition has given constructive engagement to the Government, full bipartisan support for the decisions it has made on the best medical advice available. We've done that because it was the right thing to do and we'll continue to do that. This is a large national challenge and it's important that the Government and the Opposition work constructively together wherever we can. That does not mean however that we won't make constructive suggestions about things that need to be done better or call out things we think need to be improved.
 
It's become increasingly clear to me that there is a significant degree of confusion in the community and a lack of information to General Practitioners and healthcare professionals more generally. This must be an urgent priority for the Government. Last week Anthony Albanese and I wrote to the Prime Minister and the Health Minister with a series of concerns and suggestions. The Prime Minister did respond to that letter although I can't say the response was particularly constructive. However we'll continue to engage and today I've again written to Minister Hunt making a series of suggestions of things which we think are urgent national priorities which the Government should be taking on.
 
The most important those and the most urgent is in my view to provide the telehealth rebate so that GPs and doctors can provide medical advice over the telephone, over video conferencing to people who fear they may be suffering from Corona, from COVID-19 or indeed more broadly chronic conditions which can be treated and consulted over the phone to avoid people going to doctor surgeries. The Government has in various ways flagged that that might be possible but as I said on Sunday it is now urgent and is now more urgent than it was even on Sunday for the Government to take that up. It needs to be a public information campaign and GPs in particular need more support and advice. There needs to be a more broad information campaign. We sometimes argue and criticise the Government about Government-funded advertising, taxpayer-funded advertising. This is an appropriate case for a full and complete and comprehensive factual non-political advertising and public information campaign.
 
One thing the Government I would suggest should take up is our suggestion for an app; a go to one stop shop, a virtual one stop shop that anybody can log onto their telephone get the latest advice from the Chief Medical Officer, the latest advice as to what they should do if they fear they might have COVID-19, advice as to how to handle self isolation and quarantine et cetera. In the recent crisis many Australians including myself were regularly checking the ‘Fires Near Me’ app and the various state based apps and this is just as important now as it was for that. For people to have access to the latest information and a Federally funded and sponsored app would be a very good step going forward for factual information and the latest advice.
 
GPs have contacted me concerned about the lack of protective equipment and surgical masks. It's a good thing of course we've given support to the Government in procuring more masks from overseas. It's appropriate that that happen as soon as possible and that the Government engages very directly with the peak bodies; The Royal College with whom I met today, the Royal College of General Practice and the AMA with whom I've been in very regular contact and will have further discussions later today about the concerns of frontline doctors. Some doctors have said to me that they are getting enough support but many have said they're not and really we cannot have any situation where a doctor feels they are not getting enough support. Again we've given the Government time, we've given the Government constructive engagement but the time has now passed for discussion, we need to give GPs and health care professionals every support possible.

The other matter I'll deal with is pathology. We need to ensure that there are maximum resources to provide fast turnaround of COVID-19 tests. Again another suggestion that we would like to put on the table is for the Federal Government to facilitate home testing i.e. a healthcare professional perhaps a nurse going into people's homes who feel they might be exposed and conducting the test in the home to save the person going to the surgery. This is occurring to some degree in Western Australia already is my advice. It would be better if it was facilitated across the country as well. And of course just on public information: healthdirect the Federal Government's health hotline. People have told me that they've been on the phone waiting for healthdirect advice for half an hour or an hour in some instances before having their call answered and in many instances the advice has been at the end of waiting on the phone for an hour to go and see their GP. There does need to be significant resourcing put into healthdirect but perhaps some of that pressure on healthdirect might be taken off if there was a comprehensive public information campaign including the instigation of an app where people could go to to get that information.
 
Again we will support measures the Government undertakes which are based on the very best advice from the Chief Medical Officer and the Australian Health Protection Principals Committee. I've said before Australians can take comfort in the fact that the institution of that committee is working and working well but we will also make suggestions and call on the Government to take up these measures where we feel things are falling short and we do feel it's falling short in these instances.
 
Happy to take any questions.
 
JOURNALIST: As this continues to worsen, do you think Australia has enough of a workforce available in Health and Aged Care?

BOWEN: That is a concern. It is appropriate that the Government be taking every step to engage with healthcare providers with the States and Territories, with trade unions representing healthcare professionals like the Health Services Union and the Nurses and Midwives Association, putting in place programs like perhaps facilitating retired health workers coming back to the workforce. I'm sure that there are people who may not have been retired for years and years but have been retired for a little while but who in this national challenge would be happy to come back. I don't underestimate the complexity of the situation. I don't underestimate, I'm not downplaying how difficult it is particularly if health care workers get infected or have to self quarantine because of concerns. That increases the need for fast turnaround pathology for example. So yes it is a concern going forward and I do hope the Government is engaging very strongly on that question
 
JOURNALIST: And casual aged care workers, if they are unfortunate enough to test positive, do you think there should be a 14 day payment for those workers to self-isolate?
 
BOWEN: I think it's more broad than casual workers in the health workforce to be fair and to be honest. I think it is a broader issue with casuals across the workforce who are needed to self isolate at any time. Around a third of the workforce is casual. That means they have no sick pay in most instances and not just casual workers but gig economy workers as well, you know Uber drivers and Uber Eats drivers and the whole gamut. They are very exposed here and we've put on the table and as I said on the weekend the ACTU has been right to raise this; that this should be something which the Government addresses and it's not just if you self-quarantine by the way, if your children go to a school or a childcare centre which is closed and it wouldn't be good practice to then you know if you can send them to the grandparents look after you might not be able to go to work even if there's no question that you've been directly impacted. So this is a big issue. I haven't seen much evidence that the Government is addressing it or planning to address it. I hope they are and they'll have our full support if they do and this is going to continue to be an issue. More Australians will be infected and the Government does need to put in place these workforce issues as we've consistently said.
 
JOURNALIST: I just wanted to ask, last week there was confusion around what should be State funded and what should be Federally funded, particularly around medical supplies. Do you think it is the responsibility of the Federal Government to be paying for things like masks and things like that, particularly in our hospitals.

BOWEN: Well the Federal Government's primary responsibility is the stockpile, the emergency stockpile. As I understand it the Federal Government has offered to cover 50 per cent of the hospital costs. That is appropriate, we support that. I thought was unfortunate last week in relation to aged care that the New South Wales Health Minister was forced on the front page of the newspaper to say that the funding model wasn't working. That's one thing I criticized. I'm not criticizing the New South Wales Health Minister to be clear, I’m criticizing the situation he was put in. Now the Government says they've fixed that. The Commonwealth and the States, just as the Chief Medical Officers are working closely together, the Ministers need to be working closely together to achieve that outcome as well.
 
JOURNALIST: There is a Sydney doctor suggesting everyone in major population centers in New South Wales should go into a two week quarantine period. Do you think we're at that point yet?

BOWEN: No. I'm happy to take the advice of the combined Chief Medical Officers on those matters. They will-- if they think the advice needs to change and that more people need to be self-quarantined, they’ll make that advice. With all due respect to people making suggestions, it’s appropriate the Government listens to the combined Chief Medical Officers.
 
JOURNALIST: Just on Italy, do you think the travel advice for Italy needs to be updated?
 
BOWEN: Well that's primarily a matter for Penny Wong but again the Government should be working with the-- and they would be working with the Health Principals Committee and if very clearly, very clearly I think Australians would understand that travel to Italy at the moment should be very much reconsidered. But people should accept-- people should look at the DFAT advice and the DFAT advice should reflect the advice of the Chief Medical Officers.
 
JOURNALIST: So you’ve written to the PM, what’s the next step for you guys?
 
BOWEN: We wrote to the Health Minister today. So we wrote to the Prime Minister and the Health Minister on Saturday. It was a constructive letter. I've written again to the Health Minister today in more detail about these two particular matters. There will be other matters which we raised as well but at the moment I think the two most urgent priorities for the Government are support for General Practice and advice to General Practitioners which is patchy at best it's fair to say based on the feedback I've had from GPs right across Australia, the pathology and home testing, the telehealth rebate and the public information campaign including the creation of a Federal Government app which would be a very good step forward. I hope the next step is the Minister writes back to me and says ‘Good ideas, we'll do it’. We do it in good faith to try and make sure that these sensible suggestions are taken up.
 
JOURNALIST: Do you think these need to be implemented quite fast?
 
BOWEN: Yes, yes I do. I do think this is-- without being overly dramatic about it, these things are urgent. The telehealth rebate is urgent. I said on Sunday it was urgent. Again we've given the Government room and time to do this but the time has passed and it should be implemented A.S.A.P.
 
Any more questions. All in all done? Thanks for your time.