KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: Joining me now in Canberra is Health Minister Mark Butler. Mark, good morning to you. How is the health of the Yes campaign this morning?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: This is a long campaign. We know that referenda are always difficult to achieve in Australia. Australians are constitutionally cautious people. We've only won eight referenda in 120 years, but we're committed to continuing to make the case for recognition of first people in this country and also listening to them about some of – particularly in health – some of the appalling gaps in outcomes and life expectancy that are reported every single year.
STEFANOVIC: What did you make of those comments last night?
BUTLER: I've read the comments. I just heard them again, it seems pretty clear to me that Professor Marcia Langton, who's been working in this area for a long time, advised the former government on constitutional recognition, that she was clearly referring to the No campaign itself. And frankly, some of the appalling material that people are finding in their letterbox, on social media...
STEFANOVIC: Is that ill-advised? It doesn't make it any easier for you. In fact, it makes it a whole lot more difficult.
BUTLER: On the front page of Channel Nine newspapers yesterday, Karl, the No campaign was laid out in great detail, that they're telling their campaign volunteers to choose fear over fact. They're telling their campaign volunteers not to identify themselves as being from the No campaign and to introduce, frankly, red herrings like the issue of reparations or compensation. I think what Professor Marcia Langton was doing was drawing attention to some of the tactics of those who are leading the No campaign.
STEFANOVIC: Alright. So, you say all fair in love and war?
BUTLER: No, I think, as Linda Burney said in the Parliament yesterday, we want this to be a respectful debate. But, as your newspapers put on their front page yesterday, some of the tactics of the No campaign, some of the material being put into people's letterboxes and on social media is misleading, it's divisive, it's appalling.
STEFANVOIC: I think it's going to be a bit of a problem for you, retail wise, but we'll see how it all unfolds. Another big story out of Queensland: bombshell data this morning exposing major hospitals hitting breaking point multiple times. You'd be across all of that. Something needs to be done, people are losing faith. Are hospitals well enough resourced?
BUTLER: We're seeing this right across the country. Indeed, we're seeing it right across the world. Health systems are under such pressure after three years of COVID, an exhausted workforce. And what we've been trying to do, working with all state governments, not just Queensland, is put in place these Urgent Care Clinics. Because about half of all of the presentations to emergency departments we see every year are classified as non-urgent or semi-urgent. They're things that need immediate attention, but they're not life-threatening emergencies.
STEFANOVIC: But is it working, Mark, I mean, when you see hospitals going so close to what is disaster?
BUTLER: We're only opening them right now. We've opened 22; 58 will be opened over the course of this year. They are open seven days a week, extended hours, and importantly, provide fully bulk billed services. And as I've been visiting the services that are already open, they're diverting a lot of traffic from emergency departments. I visited one a week or two ago. Its waiting room was full, particularly with parents, with kids who've fallen off their skateboard and broken their arm and need immediate attention but don't need to go to a fully equipped hospital emergency department.
STEFANOVIC: The federal government is taking further steps this morning to stop addiction to tobacco and nicotine, changing legislation on how brands package and label their products. You are worried about addiction to smokes, but what are you doing to stop illegal tobacco? It seems like it's everywhere right now.
BUTLER: There is a lot of illegal tobacco and frankly, a lot of vapes coming into the country as well. There's a taskforce that's led by Border Force and also by the tax office. They've seized, as I'm advised, almost 1 billion illegal cigarettes over the last couple of years. But this is just an ongoing challenge for law enforcement authorities.
But today, what I'm doing is relaunching the fight against Big Tobacco after 12 years of no additional reform to the world, leading plain packaging laws we introduced 12 years ago. I mean, today more than 50 Australian families will lose a loved one to tobacco, the same number tomorrow, the day after and the day after that. And it reminds us that the fight against Big Tobacco is far from over.
STEFANOVIC: All right. Good to talk to you. Thanks so much.
BUTLER: Thanks, Karl.