Gosford Doorstop Interview

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Tuesday, 4th January 2022

Gosford Doorstop Interview

with Emma McBride, Member for Dobell and Labor candidate for Robertson, Dr Gordon Reid.

Labor’s policy agenda; COVID cases increasing; Omicron variant; healthcare; rapid antigen testing; Fast rail from Sydney to Newcastle; Federal election.

DR GORDON REID, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR ROBERTSON: Good morning, everyone. Dr Gordon Reid here, Labor's candidate for the seat of Robertson. And I'd like to thank you all for coming out today. And I'd especially like to thank Leader of the Australian Labor Party, Anthony Albanese, and Federal Member for Dobell, Emma McBride, for coming along today. And it just goes to show Anthony Albanese and Labor's commitment to the Central Coast as a region. And it's been a very exciting few days, with some nation-building and nation-defining policy announcements. And that policy is the creation and the announcement of the fast rail between Newcastle and Sydney, which will not only slashed times for commuters going from the regions to the metropolitan centres, it's also good for job creation, building things here in Australia, and also good for the environment and road safety. I'd now like to pass on to Anthony Albanese, Leader of the Australian Labor Party.
 
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much, Gordon. It's great to be here with yourself and Emma, here on the Central Coast for this important backing in of an announcement that we've made. This is day three of my visit to the Newcastle and Central Coast regions. Because this is an important part of Australia. And it's one which we need to provide support for. The national Government should be involved in nation building. And a Federal Labor Government will do just that. Fast rail, with the capacity to build up to high-speed rail, will be a game changer for this region. So many people spend hours every day on the F3, on what's now NorthConnex, getting into the city and back to work. With the change of work patterns that have been accelerated by the pandemic, we know that many more people will work from home and will work from different locations. We know that's opened up, for a whole lot of businesses, the possibility of changing location, of moving outside the CBDs of our capital cities. High-speed rail exists in every inhabited continent on the planet except for Australia. And we know that the commute times by rail, while it's a beautiful journey from the Central Coast, takes far too long. That is a real disincentive for people. Faster rail, moving up to high-speed rail, would create jobs here on the Coast. It would improve the quality of life for people here on the Coast. It would be a road safety measure by taking cars off the roads and making sure the people have access to convenient and fast public transport travel. And it would make an enormous difference in terms of the decentralisation that we know is an important part of regional economic development. That's why this plan has been welcomed by the business community. It's been welcomed by the Committee for Cities that encompasses Sydney, the Central Coast and the Illawarra. It's one that is a game changer and will be welcomed here. And I want to say to the people of the Central Coast, that I want to work with the New South Wales Government as well, whoever is in government, to make sure that this project becomes a reality. And we've put $500 million on the table as an initial starting point to make sure our bona fide is up front. We had creation of a High Speed Rail Authority on the table that was funded prior to us losing office in 2013. I put in place measures, including appointing Tim Fischer and Jennifer Westacott to oversee that process to make sure that there was buy-in from the business community, that there was bipartisan support. But of course, the Coalition Government, never concerned about nation building, abolished that proposal when they came into office in their 2014 Budget.
 
I do want to make some other comments today about health. And it's no accident that I'm standing next to a doctor and a pharmacist who I wanted to be our representatives on the Central Coast that are so important in terms of healthcare for people, young and old, who make this their beautiful home. The fact is that this Government is responsible now for the largest public policy failure in Australian political history. We now have a circumstance, following the failure on the rollout of the vaccine and the failure to build purpose-built quarantine, we have people having their booster shot appointment cancelled, others are unable to get access to their boosters on the day in which they change the date from five months to four months of the interval between the second shot and the booster shot. That narrows further to three months at the end of the month. Not because there's a change in advice, but because of the capacity constraints mean that they couldn't just shift it through to three months. So, we have no boosters being available and booster shots being cancelled. We have a circumstance whereby PCR test queues are just beyond belief. And we have today 28 testing sites closing today, which will only exacerbate the existing problem of the queue times which are there. Australia's being told, 'You're on your own, go out and get a rapid antigen test'. But they're not available in so many areas. You have on the front page of one of the Sydney papers today, 'Your guide to finding rapid antigen tests'. That's how bad it is. If people are lucky enough to find one, they're not affordable. And for many people, it's simply pricing them out of access to that important healthcare. And of course, we have no action from the Federal Government when it comes to price gouging. They won't direct the ACCC to take action for the fact that people are being ripped off. So, you can't get a booster shot, even if you have an appointment. You can't get access to a PCR test because testing sites are closing, and the queues go for six or eight hours. You get told to get a rapid antigen test, but you can't find one. If you do find one, it's not affordable. And they won't do anything about price gouging. That's the record of this Government. And it's a record that comes after way back in September, Greg Hunt as Health Minister announced that the TGA had recommended rapid antigen tests become part of the system from the first of November. It's now January. September, October, November, December, January. They have had all of that time to prepare. All of that time in which we've known that the issue of access to rapid antigen tests would be one that needs to be handled in terms of supply. All of that time to acknowledge everything that was in the national plan that said there would be an increase outbreak once we started to open up. And indeed, Greg Hunt in that announcement in September last year, to quote him, said, 'Home testing to support the national plan'. This is a part of the national plan. The national Government didn't plan for the national plan. And when you are failing to plan, you're planning to fail. And this Government certainly failed to plan. And that meant it has planned to fail. And the consequence of that failure is more anxiety, more concern in the community today. Happy to take questions.
 
JOURNALIST: What should we do to fix the current problems with rapid antigen tests?
 
ALBANESE: Well, I would have fixed supply. That's the first thing is fix supply. And the second issue is that this Government says that it's all about personal responsibility. Well, it's about time the Prime Minister took responsibility for something himself, for doing his job. And his job is to ensure supply, just like it was his job to secure supply of the vaccine. But the reason why we've moved to rapid antigen tests, away from PCR testing, is the fact that they didn't ensure that PCR testing could occur smoothly, because the system was breaking down. So, they've moved to this system, but haven't prepared for that either. You need that proper preparation. The other thing is this. I say this to the Prime Minister, who said yesterday, 'Oh, well, we're not going to do anything with regard to affordability'. This is a Prime Minister who has provided commuter car parks where there are no train stations in Melbourne. He has spent billions and billions of dollars of taxpayers' money on waste and rorts. We have a system for female sporting teams' infrastructure where money has been allocated where there are no female teams. We have a circumstance whereby we have the commuter car park rorts. We have billions of dollars wasted for companies that have increased their profits in terms of JobKeeper because they didn't put in place a system to protect taxpayers' interests whilst ensuring the wage subsidy system operated properly. And this Government says, essentially, you're on your own. Let me make it very clear. The heart of our health system is Medicare. Medicare is about people being able to get the healthcare they need when they need it, regardless of their income. This Government and its attitude towards rapid antigen tests is undermining our health system. And it is consistent with a Government that has sought to undermine Medicare at each and every opportunity. But I might see if my colleagues want to add anything in terms of their experience that they have as an MP but a former healthcare professional and a current one.
 
EMMA MCBRIDE, MEMBER FOR DOBELL: Thank you, Anthony. It really shows the commitment that Labor has to the Central Coast and to the regions more broadly that Anthony is again visiting the Central Coast today. I'm so pleased to be joined by Labor's candidate for Robertson, Dr Gordon Reid. And I know Gordon will make some comments about his firsthand experience as an emergency doctor throughout the pandemic. As a pharmacist myself, and having worked in our local health system for most of my life, to hear pharmacists telling me that they can't access rapid antigen tests, that they're not able to provide boosters because they're not available. This pandemic has exposed the health inequalities in our community. And we're seeing it day to day in communities like ours on the Central Coast of New South Wales. I've spoken to a doctor this morning who's waiting on a PCR test result to be able to run a clinic at the local hospital this afternoon. We can't be in a situation in a community like ours on the Central Coast where doctors can't go to work because they're waiting on a PCR test result, where pharmacists can't provide a booster because the supply is not there, where nursing and allied health staff are burnt out and exhausted because they're working double shifts, have had holidays cancelled and unable to provide the care that they desperately want to provide to local people. Labor believes in Medicare and healthcare for all Australians. And the only way that we can change the Government's response to the pandemic is by changing the government. And as a local MP and a local person, that's what our community deserves on the Central Coast in 2022. We need a Government that cares about all Australians, wherever they live. Especially those living outside of big cities. And that has been exposed even more during the pandemic, the vulnerabilities in our health system, where we now do have a two-tier healthcare system, where what you earn and what you can afford to pay means what you can access. And in a country like Australia, that's not fair. And that must change.
 
And I just want to go back to infrastructure. And I want to acknowledge Anthony. Anthony, as Infrastructure Minister, was the last person who invested in infrastructure in our region. The M1 upgrade, the decision to fund the M1 upgrade was made when Anthony was Minister for Infrastructure. Labor has a track record on infrastructure in the regions. Labor has a track record in investing in communities like ours. Before the pandemic, in a community like ours where upwards of 350,000 people, 150,000 people working, more than one in four people were commuting outside of our region each day for work. This announcement by Labor is a strong investment in regional New South Wales and in the Central Coast. And that's what our community needs. And that's what our community deserves. I'll now hand over to Dr Gordon Reid to talk more about his experiences, particularly overnight in hospital.
 
REID: Hi, everyone. Just before I talk about my experiences, I just want to thank all of the nurses, all of the doctors, all of the wider health staff and health community for all their hard work during this pandemic, and particularly now during this latest outbreak of the Omicron variant. They've been working so, so hard in very tough and trialling conditions. So, I want to extend my thanks for protecting the community and keeping everyone safe. As Emma's just said, I've come off the shift from the emergency department yesterday evening, and I'm going to go on shift later this afternoon. And in the emergency departments, not just here on the Central Coast, but in the wider community, we're seeing very high volumes of patients at the moment for a variety of reasons. That can be COVID related, but also seeing patients that can't afford to see a GP or can't access a GP because books are closed. And that just goes to show the current Government's neglect of primary care services. It goes to show their neglect for community health services. So, a Labor Government is here to strengthen Medicare, to protect Medicare, and to advance and move our community forward. Thank you. 
 
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister yesterday said, 'I can't make everything free'. You have mentioned what money has gone to in the past. But do we know how much this costs?
 
ALBANESE: Well, he can make things free for his mates. He can make things free whenever it's politically convenient for him. He can make things free if there was a colour-coded spreadsheet available whereby free tests could be given just to people in marginal electorates. He'd be in it like Flint, like a rat up a drainpipe. He would be in it. The fact is that this Prime Minister has splashed around money for political purposes at regular intervals. What we're talking about here is needy people who will make a decision when they find a rapid antigen test after searching and searching for it. And often, it is the case that they will want to test members of their whole family. I heard an example this morning directly of someone who wanted to get a test for themselves. A 21 year old son who's been out and about. They're worried about their younger siblings. And they want to have rapid antigen tests for them. And they want more than one test for their son. So, it meant for them a total cost that they would have been up for of $300 that they just didn't have. And they're the circumstances that are there. This Prime Minister, if this was about a marginal electorate, he just makes a decision like that. He might not actually deliver on it. But he would make that promise and that commitment. And now after all of that, after saying it doesn't matter that some individual companies got literally tens of millions of dollars of funding from taxpayers whilst their profits were increasing, that wasn't a problem. They didn't need to put in place any handbrake or any checks and balances on that is what they've said. They just needed to get the money out the door. But when it comes to healthcare and rapid antigen tests, this Prime Minister has said, 'You're on your own'.
 
JOURNALIST: So, does Labor support free rapid antigen tests for everyone?
 
ALBANESE: We think that if someone needs a rapid engine test, and they can't afford it, they should get one. Everyone should have access to a rapid antigen test. It shouldn't be dependent upon your income. Now, the fact is that this Prime Minister has been the most profligate in Australian history when it comes to the largest increase in expenditure that we've seen as a proportion of GDP. This is also the second highest taxing government in Australian political history, only beaten by the Howard Government. The truth is that this Prime Minister, in deciding that he was going to draw the line yesterday, is saying, essentially, forget about universal provision. And PCR tests, which are free, of course, cost more than the rapid antigen tests, because of the nature of the staff and the processing that has to occur, there is a higher cost. So, it's up to the Prime Minister to explain why that was okay and why this system, he seems to be having an approach of, 'You're on your own'. 
 
JOURNALIST: What about the argument that it'll be like toilet paper, people will hoard it, are there any other models that have been used overseas that Labor would support to try and avoid that outcome? 
 
ALBANESE: Well, overseas, of course, unlike here in Australia, overseas, there are supplies that have been secured for rapid antigen tests. They are being provided for the citizens of those countries. Here in Australia, we have a circumstance whereby, as I said, Greg Hunt announced in September that the TGA had approved rapid antigen tests here, home testing, from the first of November. We're now in January, and we've had no preparation done. We're still not getting the rollout of the boosters right. People are having their booster appointments cancelled because there's no supply of enough booster shots for people. This has been a failure of the Government to prepare, a failure of the Government to plan. 
 
JOURNALIST: Has Labor done any modelling or cost-benefit analysis for making rapid antigen tests free?
 
ALBANESE: What we have done is a common sense approach, which you would recognise, and anyone watching this would recognise. If you don't get a rapid antigen test and you are about in the community, then you are a greater risk than if you have access to checking as to your status, as to your health status. The whole basis of this process from day one. I will take people back to the beginning. Scott Morrison said, firstly, there was the COVIDSafe app that was going to protect people. And of course, that, again, millions of dollars spent on the COVIDSafe App. I don't know anyone who's used it. I don't know anyone who has used it. But that was the first time he used the sunscreen analogy. Very weird analogy. I know, but the first time that he used it. And at the same time, remember, he also said on a Friday, he was going to the footy the next day, 'Life is normal', but it all shut down on the following Monday. There were going to be no crowds the following weekend. Again, saying, 'Don't worry, we don't want to shut down any economic activity'. He opposed wage subsidies at the beginning as well. The truth is that the lesson should have been learned that you need to get the health outcomes right to protect people's health as the first priority. But also, if you don't get the health outcomes right, the economic cost will be more. It's a failure to get the health outcomes right, to make sure, for example, that quarantine didn't see the issues with hotel quarantine that we have, that led to shutdowns in our economy. If you don't get the health outcomes right, we know that the cost is always more.
 
JOURNALIST: Do you agree there needs to be changes to the classifications for people being hospitalised?
 
ALBANESE: What I don't agree with is the attempted spin to suggest that this is less of an issue than it is, as if that's the priority. If someone's in hospital, they're in hospital. Fiddling with data isn't going to change those objective circumstances and isn't going to change the objective pressure that is on the healthcare system. We have real pressure on the healthcare system in terms of our hospitals. We have real pressure on GPs, on pharmacists, on access to healthcare at the moment. The Government needs to address the fundamental, real issues which are there. Thanks.

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Electorate Office

334a Marrickville Road
MARRICKVILLE NSW 2204

Phone: (02) 9564 3588
Fax: (02) 9564 1734
Email: A.Albanese.MP@aph.gov.au

Parliament House Office

PO Box 6022
CANBERRA ACT 2600

Phone: (02) 6277 4022
Fax: (02) 6277 8562

Phone: (02) 9564 3588
Fax: (02) 9564 1734
Email: A.Albanese.MP@aph.gov.au

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