Shadow Minister for Health and Aged Care - Transcript - Interview with Jim Wilson, 2GB

4 August 2022

Subjects: Labor’s Covid response, aged care booster rates


JIM WILSON: On the line is the Shadow Health and Aged Care Minister, Senator Anne Ruston. Senator Ruston, welcome back to the program.

ANNE RUSTON: Thanks very much.

WILSON: Are you concerned about the mixed messages being sent by the Government here?

RUSTON: Well, we certainly are. At a time when the pandemic is going through obviously a really dangerous phase, the Government's just ripped out measure after measure of supports that are designed to protect Australians. And just to put the severity of the wave into a bit of context, this virus - this last wave of the virus, has seen more aged care residents die of Covid in the last ten weeks alone than in the whole first two years of the pandemic. So for the Government to be saying how serious this wave is, but at the same time ripping out measures like telehealth items, the Pandemic Disaster Leave Payments, they ripped away from Australians who are being forced to isolate then only to have the backflip and put them back in again. You know, stopping access to free Rapid Antigen Tests to aged care facilities of all places. They've done this while the virus is surging, no explanation as to the basis of that decision or it's timing. It is very concerning.

WILSON: Well, obviously, lagging with getting boosters into aged care homes is very, very concerning. What should Health Minister Mark Butler be doing differently?

RUSTON: Well, first of all, I think the Minister needs to be more transparent with the public and our hardworking health professionals. I mean, right the way through the time when we were in government and managing the pandemic, we released our modelling because we believed that modelling would assist the health sector to make sure that they were as prepared as they possibly could be about what was coming down the track. We haven't seen any of the modelling despite them having been asked for it. You know, right now we have aged care facilities in Australia that have booster rates as low as 50%. That is very, very concerning. And at the same time, he's cutting the most successful vaccine rollout operation which saw Australia achieve these massively high vaccination rates, some of the highest in the world. He cut COVID Shield. The messages are so mixed.

WILSON: Why do you think he's done that? Why do you think he's done that, Senator, as far as ending the Operation COVID Shield?

RUSTON: Well, I don't know why he's ended it, but I really would like to know and I think all Australians would like to know why he's ended it. You know, when I was in government and as a Minister, I used to take advice and I would base my decisions on the advice that I received. I would love to know what advice Minister Butler has received that led him to think that ending a vaccine rollout program was a good thing to do as we were surging, at a particular stage of a new virus surge in Australia, and right at a time when vulnerable Australians are dying at a rate that is really, really distressing.

WILSON: Well, it seems to me like we're being told the virus is still a risk, but there's no support for Australians to deal with it.

RUSTON: Well, indeed. You know, you can't go out there and say to Australians that this is really serious, we're going through a new wave. And clearly statistics that we've just been talking about show that this is another very serious wave of the pandemic. But at the same time, they're cutting all of the basic supports that were put in place to protect Australians, to support Australians, to enable Australians to be able to comply with the health requirements that were put in place, that were mandated by states like having to isolate if you had COVID. It just seems to me that, you know, they say one thing and they do something else. And even the demonstration of themselves about how they behave. We saw Mark Butler a couple of weeks ago out there saying Australians should be wearing masks. The very same day, the Prime Minister had his fourth booster shot and he was in a pharmacy, a health setting, not wearing a mask. I mean, what are Australians supposed to think when their leaders are setting that as an example.

WILSON: Yeah, well, that's right. Practice what you preach and actually walk your talk. Senator, thanks for your time this afternoon.

RUSTON: My pleasure. Thanks for having me. 


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