TV interview with Minister Butler and Allison Langdon, The Today Show - 11 July 2022

Read the transcript of the TV interview with Minister Butler and Allison Langdon, The Today Show, on Emergency payments and third and fourth vaccine doses

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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Well, isolate or earn money. That's the decision Aussies will have to make as the Federal Government scraps pandemic leave payments for good. To discuss, Federal Health Minister Mark Butler joins us now from Canberra.
Minister, nice to see you this morning. Is the middle of a COVID wave, in the middle of winter, really the right time for this?

There's no easy time to end emergency payments. I think that's the truth. But this payment was designed and budgeted by the former government and by all state governments, which co-owned this scheme, to come to a conclusion on the 30th of June. And the truth is, Ali, that with a trillion of dollars in debt and eye watering deficits, as far as the eye can see, we can't continue to borrow money to fund emergency payments forever.

Look, I think everyone agrees it needs to end at some point. But I think there is questions about the timing. What do you do if you're a casual worker and you're sick? I mean, you still need to pay rent and feed the family.

That's right. And obviously, there will be an impact on people because there are isolation rules in place. But as I've said, there's no easy time for these emergency payments to come to an end. If we extended them at very significant expense for a couple of months, we would have had this this discussion in a couple of months’ time. These are the hard decisions that you have to take when you're in the middle of something like this with a trillion dollars in debt.

But in a couple of months’ time, we'll be coming out of winter and we've got this sort of this double whammy at the moment with the flu. You've also got respiratory issues. There's a whole lot of pressure on our hospital system. And you've also got this issue. Then you've got people having decide whether to isolate or earn money. You're going to have people who simply don't test. They're going to turn up to work, spread COVID at a time that you're warning as the virus is still a serious threat.

Last year we thought we were almost through it. And then earlier this year, we thought we're almost through it. The truth is that this virus continues to mutate and we're having to take a much more targeted approach and unfortunately, having to bring to an end some emergency payments that we simply can't afford to continue to pay forever.

Do you accept that people will turn up to work while sick?

I accept that these are hard decisions, Ali, and encourage people where there are isolation rules that are still in place at the state level to follow them, of course. But, you know, we are rolling out very significant measures to improve our resilience as a community. We said that we would do everything to get through this winter safely, which is why we've expanded eligibility for vaccines for these incredibly effective medicines that frankly were too restrictive and staying in warehouses rather than out preventing people from getting severely unwell.

I know that from today over 30s can get their fourth jab. Take-up of boosters has been slow. Do you overcome that with a cash incentive, which is something that you suggested while in Opposition?

I think that was a decision at the time where, really, there was a very slow uptake of the first critical two doses of the vaccine. What we're doing now is getting information out just to reinforce the importance of boosters. Before the election, I said and the Prime Minister said that there frankly was not enough energy around the booster campaign from the Federal Government, which is why we've put in place an information campaign just to reinforce that two doses is simply not enough to protect you from this Omicron variant. There are still more than five million Australians for whom it's more than six months since they had their second dose and still haven't had that critical third dose. I mean, that's the one that really kicks your immunity up. It's vitally important that people think about getting that third dose as soon as possible if they haven't had it.

Yep. And a tough month ahead for many people, I think. Thank you, Minister, for your time this morning.


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