Doorstop, Adelaide with Minister Butler on 14 July 2022

Read the transcript of the Doorstop, Adelaide with Minister Butler on Labour force figures; rapid antigen tests; pandemic leave; aged care.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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MARK BUTLER, MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: 

Thanks for coming out this afternoon. The good news from today's labour force figures is that 88,000 more Australians today are in work, in a job, than were last month, including 23,000 more young Australians. Today's unemployment rate of 3.5 per cent is the lowest rate in almost 50 years since 1974, including the lowest female unemployment rate over that same period, improving the participation rate. The number of Australians who are actively in work, looking for work, is at record highs, including, again, female participation rates. The youth unemployment rate is at its lowest level, down almost one full percentage point at the lowest level since before the Global Financial Crisis. This is all terrific news for tens and tens of thousands of Australians who today find themselves in work who weren't just last month. It also reinforces the incredible tightness of Australia's labour market and the need for government to work collaboratively with business and the unions to boost productivity, to boost skills and training, and to boost wages and job security so that workers also see a dividend from this very, very strong labour market. And that is exactly what our Government will be doing through the Prime Minister and Treasurer’s Jobs and Skills Summit in six or seven weeks’ time, working collaboratively with other governments, with business, with unions, through ideas that keep our labour market strong, keep Australians in work, but also deal with the rampant skills and labour shortages that are running right through the economy. Happy to take questions.

REPORTER: 

Just some health-related questions, Minister. In regards to free RATs for concession holders, has there been any change in that decision?

BUTLER:

Well, let me be very clear about what has happened with COVID testing - there is no change to the arrangements that have been in place right through this pandemic. That if you think you have COVID, if you have symptoms, if you've been exposed as a close contact anywhere in Australia, you can access COVID tests free of charge through state government programs that either give a PCR test or give a RAT test co-funded by the Commonwealth. There will be no change to that whatsoever. And I'm really concerned about misinformation that has been spread that there will be change to the free COVID testing arrangements that have been in place for some time now. Also, if you want to visit a relative at an aged care facility, there will be free RATs available to you funded by the Commonwealth to allow you to do that. There is no change to COVID testing arrangements. What there is a change to is a time limited-program that the National Cabinet put in place - not the Commonwealth, the National Cabinet put in place about six months ago - that would allow pensioners and other concession card holders to put together a stockpile for their personal use. That was always intended to run for six months. That was the budgeted position of the Commonwealth Government put in place by the former government and the budgeted position as far as I understand it for every single state and territory government.

REPORTER:  

Have you had any correspondence with the Health Minister here in South Australia, from Chris Picton, about this issue?

BUTLER:

No, I haven't.

JOURNALIST:

Are you open to reinstating the pandemic leave payment that expires on June 3rd, sorry, that expired on June 3rd?

BUTLER:

Well, as the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have said on a number of occasions, this is a hard decision put in place by the former government. But at some point, you need to end emergency payments that are put in place in an emergency period. We can't continue. We don't have the financial capacity to continue to fund these emergency payments forever.

JOURNALIST:

You say it was a decision made by them. So, that means you agree with that decision. And because you are in Government now, you will not extend it?

BUTLER:

The decision has been taken not to extend it - that was a decision put in place by the former government, as the Prime Minister and Treasurer have said. At some point there is not the ability to continue to borrow money, which is what the government would be doing, to borrow money to continue emergency payments that were put in place months ago.

JOURNALIST:

Just in regards to payments - this was put in place to make sure people do the right thing and that they stay home and isolate when they have COVID. How concerned are you that people who are really struggling for money right now and have COVID will go out and go to work anyway?

BUTLER:

This is going to have an impact on people in the community. I've made no bones about that and I deeply regret it, as do other members of the government. Unfortunately, whenever an emergency payment arrangement is withdrawn or comes to an end, there will be an impact on the community. Whatever time, whether that was now, three months ago, or in three months’ time, we do regret that obviously. But we also make the point, we've inherited a budget that's a trillion dollars in debt, that has eye-watering deficits as far as the eye can see, and at some point, we need to recognise there's not the financial capacity to continue emergency payments forever.

JOURNALIST: 

What about casual workers in particular though? We know now they're really struggling to afford basic things like groceries. What do they do?

BUTLER:

Our Labor Government is deeply concerned about the ability of casual workers to make ends meet, because of a range of pressures placed on them. You know, casual workers don't have sick leave for whatever illness affects them. Whether it's the flu or COVID, or another illness, which is why job security and improving access to paid leave entitlements for casual workers is right at the centre of our workplace relations policy.

JOURNALIST:

When do you envisage that this seven-day isolation rule will be revised or scrapped?

BUTLER:

I've got no information before me that the Chief Health Officers are looking at changing that.

JOURNALIST:

And to New South Wales, Chris Minns, the Labor leader is demanding an urgent rethink on the $750 payment from the Federal Government. What's your response to him?

BUTLER:

Well, I've got no communication from Mr Minns. I'm not sure whether that's a leader-to-leader communication between him and the Prime Minister. But I've not seen any direct communication from Mr Minns.

JOURNALIST:

And just moving to aged care. From Monday aged care visitors in New South Wales won't need to be vaccinated. Nearly half the COVID deaths last week were aged care residents - and we're in the middle of an Omicron wave. Is this really the time to be relaxing restrictions in that sector?

BUTLER:

Look, we're very focused on making sure that the most vulnerable members of our community, those living in aged care facilities, are fully protected against this third Omicron wave. This is why we're putting our pedal to the floor, if you like, on lifting fourth dose vaccinations for that population. I've been working on that with my ministerial colleague Anika Wells over the last several weeks. We've seen a very big increase, but there's more to do there. Obviously, before getting into an aged care facility, you need to have a RAT test. Those RAT tests are provided by the Commonwealth free of charge. You need to show you don't have COVID. You need to wear masks. There are strong protections in place. Anika Wells, as my ministerial colleague, has the responsibility for aged care, is making sure that those protections are at their fullest.

JOURNALIST:

And just back to payments. Sorry, did the CMO give you specific advice on the pandemic leave payment?

BUTLER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

That’s all the questions I had.

BUTLER:

Thanks very much.

JOURNALIST:

Thank you.

BUTLER:

Thanks.

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