By Anthony Albanese MP and Terri Butler MP

08 January 2022

SUBJECTS: Labor’s announcement on increasing Indigenous rangers programs; COVID cases increasing; Omicron variant; healthcare; Labor’s call for free rapid antigen testing; Labor’s policy agenda.

ELIDA FAITH, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR LEICHHARDT: Good morning. Thank you for being here, everyone. My name is Elida Faith. And I am the Labor candidate for Leichardt. I'm joined today by Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese, and our Shadow Minister for Environment, Terri Butler, Cairns born and bred gal. We are standing at the doorstep of one of the world's oldest rainforests, here at magnificent Mossman Gorge. Now, empowering First Nations people and preserving our land and sea is always a priority for Labor. And today, Anthony and Terri are here to talk a little bit more about how we are, how Labor is, going to double Indigenous rangers in Australia, and also how we're going to boost the Indigenous protected areas. And now, I will hand over to Anthony. Thank you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much, Elida. And it's great to be here in Mossman on day three of my Better Future for Queensland visit. And today, I want to thank the traditional owners for showing us around their beautiful country here at Mossman Gorge. This is just one of Australia's great natural assets. They are natural assets that were cared for by First Nations people for at least 65,000 years, who understood how to look up land and how to look after sea. And what we want to do is to capture that knowledge and that capacity, while creating jobs for First Nations people, whilst respecting culture and the long history that is here on this island continent. We can do that by doubling the successful Indigenous rangers program. The Indigenous rangers program is one that is a great success. It's operating here, but on a scale that could operate much better. Because we know that parts of this country have been ravaged over the last 200 years. And we need to, where we can, restore that country and make sure that we can all benefit from that. I know that just a couple of years ago, when Australia was facing the bushfire crisis, so many people said, 'Why is it that we're not using the knowledge that First Nations people have had about fire, about country, handed down orally from generation to generation to generation?' And it is true that we must use that knowledge. Our program of doubling Indigenous rangers, as well as looking after other traditional areas, is an important program which will create jobs, which will make for a better environment, which will assist in areas like tourism. And that will really make a difference in this country. It's a very successful program. But it could be even more successful. I'll ask Terri to make some comments. And then I'll make some comments about today's latest issues on the pandemic.
TERRI BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Well, thanks, everyone. It's terrific to be here with Anthony, our wonderful Leader, and of course, our outstanding candidate for Leichardt, Elida Faith, who has been very keen to show us around and to introduce us to traditional owner groups, to Indigenous rangers, and to others who are working here at Mossman ad all around this area to make sure that our beautiful world heritage forest is protected and preserved for future generations and to make sure that traditional owners, now and in the future, have that real connection with country that they've had for so many generations and for so many thousands of years. I just want to say a big thanks to Josh and the team from Jabalbina for having us here today. They've done such a great job. We've met with some wonderful people who work with right here on country as part of the Indigenous rangers group, and also in the Indigenous protected area group. And this is a really important group. It's a really important program. And it's an important program in really just lovely areas across this entire country. So, it's a pleasure to get to see the work firsthand right here on country that they're doing. And we wanted to make sure that people did hear about our really significant commitment in respect of Indigenous ranges and Indigenous protected areas. That's why we want to double the number of Indigenous rangers through an Albanese Labor Government. If we're part of an Albanese Labor Government, come the next election, we will see a doubling of the number of Indigenous rangers and its incredibly important work that gets done across country. And we will increase funding for Indigenous protected areas. It's really important to notice the significance of Indigenous protected areas, for making sure that this country's wonderful natural assets can be preserved for their economic value, for their environmental value and for their cultural value. I'm really excited about this announcement. I'm really keen to make sure that we see Elida elected here in Leichhardt so that we can deliver and Albanese Labor Government to implement this and so many other important policies.
ALBANESE: Happy to take questions, or I'm happy to make some comments as well about the health issues that Australia is confronting.
JOURNALIST: We have learned today that former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and Josh Frydenberg have tested positive for COVID. What's your reaction to that news?
ALBANESE: Well, every person catching COVID, I wish them a swift recovery. And I spoke with Josh Frydenberg this morning. I think that, though, they are just a few people who are known to me who have caught COVID in the last 24 hours and have been deemed to be positive. Other members of my team have tested positive in the last 24 hours. But what we see is that just in New South Wales and Victoria alone, it's clear that there's over 100,000 people that have tested positive. The New South Wales figures don't include people who've tested positive from rapid antigen tests. So, the figures in Victoria indicate that if you include that, it's about double. And that is how they have now exceeded 50,000 people. And of course, New South Wales is above 40,000 just through PCR testing alone. So, it's very clear that what we're seeing is a massive increase in the number of people who are testing positive. There is a significant increase in the number of people who are in hospital, a significant increase in the number of people who are in ICU. And this is of real concern. The fact is that at the same time, we're still seeing people not being able to get their booster shots who are eligible. We're seeing supermarkets that are empty of food and that are really demanding supplies because of the impact on the workforce that is occurring. We're seeing a real crisis occur around this country. And the Prime Minister yesterday virtually said it's good that we're living with the virus. Well, the truth is that for those people who are testing positive, for those people who are anxious about their status because they can't get access to a rapid antigen test and they can't queue for PCR, which are often closed, some of the centres, then this is a really anxious time. And I find the Prime Minister's flippancy, quite frankly, extraordinary. The fact is that the Prime Minister also said repeatedly that people want government out of their lives. Well, what he's really saying is, 'They're on their own'. People are being left on their own to try to find a rapid antigen test that just isn't available. And if they do find one, it's not affordable. Australia needs to do better. After the failure to secure supply of vaccines, the failure to build purpose-built quarantine, we now have a failure to ensure supply of booster shots that are available and a failure to put in place an appropriate testing or rapid antigen scheme that made it accessible. And that's creating a great deal of anxiety out there in the community.
JOURNALIST: Do we have to face the realities of work shortages and pressure when it comes to living with COVID day to day?
ALBANESE: Well look, I just want to give a shout out to our health workers today. They're exhausted. They've been working, day in day out, for two years now, in circumstances whereby this pandemic is something that we haven't seen for 100 years, literally. And to our doctors, nurses, our orderlies, our radiographers, our people who work in the health system, including the cleaners, those people who are trying to keep those venues safe, I say thank you to them. A year ago, today, I was in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, having had a major car accident. And they got me through. They were extraordinary. And I say to health workers each and every day, thank you for what you do. Because you are the real heroes of this pandemic. The people in aged care, I know in Cairns there are still aged care facilities that can't get access to booster shots. How is it that has occurred more than two years into this pandemic? We need to do better. But if you're failing to plan, then you're planning to fail. And that's what we're seeing here. A Prime Minister who's more concerned about the grab on the TV news at night than he is in thinking weeks, months, ahead about what's coming down the track, and who at each and every occasion, responds too little and too late, waits for a problem to become a crisis, and then just seeks to blame someone else. We need to do better.
JOURNALIST: What would a Labor Government do differently or how would you get healthcare workers to recover from this burnout and prevent future situations should you form Government this year?
ALBANESE: Well, what we would do is plan in advance and listen to the health advice. Now, the health advice for months has said when we open up there'll be an increase in cases. That was said. That's why we've had border closures. Because that information was given. The TGA approved rapid antigen tests in September. Greg Hunt said at that time, in September last year, that rapid antigen tests were a part of the national plan, moving towards home testing. And yet, what we had, in spite of the fact that people were eligible to use it on the 1st of November, we've actually had Australian companies that are producing rapid antigen tests, sending them overseas, while there's a supply shortage here, because the Federal Government wasn't interested in purchasing them on mass, just as occurred in the United States and in the United Kingdom. The truth is that for people who can't get a PCR test, they are told to go get a rapid antigen test, but don't get access to it. The real concern, of course, here as well is that health experts are saying that if people are traveling around from venue to venue, potentially with COVID, trying to get access to a rapid antigen test, that very action itself is unsafe. But people aren't being given a choice of that. This has been a complete failure to plan for something that was predicted by the health experts and was envisaged in the national plan. But the Federal Government has simply failed. They've been complacent. And yesterday, when commenting on the cricket, the Prime Minister was dismissive, essentially, of the seriousness of the challenge that this country faces. Now, it is good that people are trying to go about their everyday life, including playing cricket, watching cricket, visiting the Daintree here. That's a good thing. But we need to recognise that this is a serious circumstance as well. And I don't think now's the time to be dropping jokes about it. Because the people who are working in our emergency departments, the people who are working in ICU, the people in pharmacies and local GPs struggling to get access to the vaccine to make sure people get their booster shots, the parents who are worried because their kids can't get access to the vaccine. And in terms of school, it is likely to be deferred with a further impact on the workforce if school can't go back at the scheduled times. All of these are consequences. But from the Government, what we just have is, ‘She'll be right, mate’. And the attitude, which is all about the spin of getting the government out of people's lives. Well, government has to play a role in leadership here. And Scott Morrison saying people just want government out of their lives, well, people don't want to be left on their own. They want leadership from the Government. They've done the right thing themselves. They have been taking responsibility themselves over the last two years, for their own healthcare, for their families, for their community and for their country. What we have is a Prime Minister who never takes responsibility and always goes missing in action. And when he does appear, he just blames someone else for the problems, which could have been foreseen. Just like we could foresee the issue of the rollout of the original vaccines for which the Prime Minister said wasn't a race. The year before, he said during the bushfires that he didn't hold a hose. Well, he doesn't hold a hose, he doesn't think the battle against this pandemic is a race and he doesn't hold a testing kit either. We deserve better. Because Australians have done the right thing over the last few years. Thank you.