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18 January 2022

SUBJECTS: Morrison Government’s failure on booster vaccines and rapid antigen tests for NDIS participants and their carers; impact of COVID workforce shortages in disability sector.
BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: Good morning, everybody. It's great to be at this convention, encouraging people with disability and their carers to find out where they can get more help and the latest technology for people with disability. The problem though is, that people with disability in Australia are Morrison's forgotten COVID people. Alarming statistics revealed from leaked Health Department documents reveal that 17 per cent of people on the NDIS are not double vaxxed. These documents reveal that in some parts of Australia, the double vaccination rate for people with disability is as low as 50 per cent. Alarmingly, only 20 per cent of the people who live in disability group homes funded by the NDIS have been boosted, have had their booster shot. This is a roll call of failure by the Morrison Government. In particular, today, I'm calling upon the Morrison Government to put from the back of the queue to the front of the queue, people living with intellectual disabilities and people diagnosed with autism. The Morrison Government has forgotten that people with autism and that people with intellectual disabilities are not getting the same access to vaccinations, to booster shots and to rapid antigen tests that even other people in the Australian community are getting. It's not good enough when the most vulnerable in Australia are at the back of the queue under Scott Morrison's mishandling of the COVID disaster. Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: How do we move those people to the front of the queue? I'm guessing that sort of mass vaccination centres aren't suitable for a lot of people with disabilities to go and get their shots?
SHORTEN: To explain to Australians at home right now in the January summer break about people with disability, there's 470,000 Australians who are on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We know where they live. We pay them money on a regular basis. We know where they live so therefore, the Morrison Government should be doing outreach. It's very difficult for some people with disability to get to vaccination hubs. But the Morrison Government knows where these vulnerable Australians live. If they can send them money, can't we at least send them a rapid antigen test? Can't we at least send a vaccination team around to make sure that they're safe? Can't we at least make sure that these vulnerable Australians, who've done nothing wrong, that they could at least be prioritised to get their booster shots right now across Australia? There are hundreds of thousands of people living with disability, their carers, their loved ones who are scared. They're scared to leave their homes. They're scared to come and mingle and take for granted what a lot of us take for granted, being able to get out and socialise. And they're scared because the Morrison Government isn't doing its day job, which is protecting the vulnerable from this terrible challenge of COVID.
JOURNALIST: We're here at the convention today, which is designed for people with disabilities to be able to get around and see the latest tech and everything. Do you think maybe attendance today might be hampered by the fact that people with disability are nervous about going out at the moment?
SHORTEN: There has been 4000 registrations for people to come and visit, so I'm optimistic that some people will, despite all the difficulties, come here and see what's possible. The problem, though, is that Mr Morrison may be at the cricket saying you know, how good is it that we're taking wickets during COVID? The problem is that for a lot of people, they don't have his driver, they don't have his support network. They can't leave their homes. You can't say that we're living with COVID when people just simply are too scared to leave their house, where care workers can't get rapid antigen tests and they can't even go to work. COVID is a challenge, but there's nothing new today that wasn't going to be a problem three months ago. People ring me every day and say, Why can't we get a rapid antigen test? Why can't we get a booster shot? And why on earth can't we at least make sure that we're getting all the information and getting the support, which really, we knew was going to be needed.
JOURNALIST: Early on in the vaccination rollout there were sort of, provisions made to prioritise vulnerable people and people with disabilities. Do you want to see the same thing happen with rapid antigen tests?
SHORTEN: I know that people don't want to have politics in January when they're on holiday. But Mr Morrison's all spin and no substance. He promised that people with disability would be at the front of the queue, then he's quietly shoved them to the back of the queue. Mr Morris has never seen a problem he can't turn into a disaster. With rapid antigen tests, we should have been making them in Australia for the last 12 months. With rapid antigen tests, Mr Morrison's in charge of supply from overseas. He should have been making sure that we had enough tests in Australia. Why is it that whenever there's a new problem, Mr Morrison and his senior Ministers always act so surprised? Like, you didn't need to be a Rhodes Scholar to understand that we were going to need a lot of rapid antigen tests so the workforce can go to work, so that people can test themselves rather than waiting for hours and then days for their PCR test results. Every problem that Australians are living with today throughout our great nation was predictable. I get these are difficult times, but what I don't understand is why this Government's constantly at the back of the queue always surprised about everything that seems to happen, all the time.
JOURNALIST: When it comes to rapid antigen tests, how would sort of, a proper and regular supply of those help out the disability sector, both people with a disability and their support workers?
SHORTEN: Rapid antigen tests aren't that hard to make, but why is Australia not making them? Why are we waiting for them to be shipped in from China and other parts of the world? Why didn't the government last year say righto, we know we're going to need millions of these little tests. Let's make them now. I don't understand why the Government has done nothing for so long to affect so many people and done so little. A rapid antigen test merely means that a worker who might have a symptom of a cold, making that crucial decision, do I go to work or do I stay home? If you don't have the test, you’re perhaps better to stay home. So why should it be left to individual care and support workers to make what they feel a life and death decisions, merely because Mr Morrison couldn't be bothered getting out of bed and making a $10 test in Australia.
JOURNALIST: And we're looking at workforce shortages across a number of industries and how is that impacting the disability sector?
SHORTEN: Well, Australia's disability workforce deserve a medal, perhaps even just a couple of weeks off they'd settle for. The reality is that they've been – they’re not very well paid. A lot of them have casual and irregular and insecure employment, but they've been turning up, looking after the vulnerable people in their care. The problem is that when they have a close contact with an exposure, they have to stay home. It would be so much easier with people not having to even make a decision, is this a cold or do I have COVID? If they had a test, it would be so much easier for the vulnerable people in their care. I know personally plenty of people with disability who've had several carers unable to come to work. It means the remaining workforce are burnt out and it means sometimes people go without being toileted, without being showered, without being fed, without the basics of human contact that many of us take for granted. And this is all because we don't have enough of these $10 tests. How on earth is Australia grinding to a halt, from our schools to our supermarkets, to our warehouses, to our disability carers, to our hospitals merely because we don't have a $10 test? This is ridiculous and completely preventable. Thanks.