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18 May 2021

TUESDAY, 18 MAY 2021

SUBJECTS: Morrison Government’s bungled vaccine rollout; people with disability left behind in COVID planning.

FRAN KELLY, HOST: The latest problem emerging with the vaccine rollout is the revelation that fewer than five per cent of people in residential disability homes have received the vaccination. At the start of this week, only 999 people in supported accommodation had been vaccinated, at least with their first jab, plus about 1,500 disability workers. Earlier, we spoke with David Littleproud, a Cabinet Minister, who defended the slow pace of this rollout. CLIP: Is it good enough that less than a thousand people with disability in residential disability care are vaccinated at this point? Is that good enough?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD, DEPUTY LEADER NATIONAL PARTY: Yes, because it's part of the scheduled rollout. And this is where we've taken, looked at a risk profile. And the fact that we haven't had cases here in Australia to the extent of anywhere else in the world, we could make sure that we can do this rollout properly with confidence and instil confidence in the community at every sector. So, there are no cases within the disability sector.

KELLY: That's David Littleproud speaking to us earlier. Well, Bill Shorten is the Shadow Minister for Government Services and the NDIS. Bill Shorten, welcome back to Breakfast. 


KELLY: There are 26,000 people with disability in care homes, and the Royal Commission heard yesterday only 999 residents have received at least one injection. Only 127 have received both doses. But now the rollout is occurring because the aged care rollout is almost done. Is that good enough?

SHORTEN: No, it's not. What the Government Ministers are ducking and weaving on is people with profound and severe disabilities in these group homes often have reduced immunities. And because they haven't been able to get their vaccination, and because their disability care workers haven't been able to get vaccinations, essentially COVID continues for these people because they can't even leave their own house.

KELLY: So when we hear David Litteproud there, or the Health Minister, Greg Hunt, yesterday defending the pace of the rollout, citing the fact that there are zero cases in disability care at the moment, they say that's a sign of success and also means that, you know, they can cope with a slower rollout. Is that a fair point to make?

SHORTEN: No, it's just a sign of good luck. The reality is that if this was the first problem there'd been with disability during COVID from the Federal Government, maybe some people in the disability world might accept it. But it isn't. When the COVID first hit us in March of last year, there was people with disability weren't included in the first COVID plans. On February the 22nd this year, the Government promised a disability vaccination roadmap, which they've never printed. I mean, let's call it really straight here, Fran. If it wasn't for the Royal Commission questioning public servants yesterday, we wouldn't know these numbers today, would we? I mean, the Government's now trying to say there's no problem, but I don't buy that because people are stuck in their facilities. Disability care workers during COVID had to miss shifts because they'd been exposed elsewhere, and you had disabled people stranded. Vaccinating people with disabilities isn't just a nice thing to do. It's a necessary thing to do. And for the Government to say that they could only vaccinate, fist jab, less than a thousand people when we've had months and months of the vaccination, it's not credible.

KELLY: Well, let's talk about that. I mean, yes, it is a necessary thing to do, but we've got to make choices and make priorities. And the Health Department bureaucrat in charge of the rollout, Caroline Edwards, told the Royal Commission yesterday that back in March and we've heard this before from the public sector, they decided to prioritise aged care residents after discussions with the Chief Medical Officer. And she said she did this because aged care residents are at greater risk. Given the way COVID ripped through nursing homes last year, is that a fair choice to make?

SHORTEN: Well, first of all, it accepts that there's only a limited number of vaccinations, that the only choice in this country is aged care or people with disabilities.

KELLY: One or the other, you mean?

SHORTEN: Yeah. I mean, how on earth did we get to such a ridiculous political equation where disabled people have to sit behind aged care residents, as if there's not more vaccinations than the number for these two groups? 

KELLY: Well, I asked that question directly to Glenn Keys, who runs Aspen Medical, and they're in charge of some of the aged care rollout. And he described it not – well he said, yes, it was a political equation, the Government decided this, but he - and he cares for himself, he is a carer for people with disability - he thinks it's the right priority because they did need to be a choice because of the limitations on the workforce, you know, who are vaccinating people?

SHORTEN: Listen, I know Glenn and I know he's a parent carer of a child with disability, and I quite respect him personally. I know he's on the board of the National Disability Insurance Agency and he's also running Aspen Medical doing aged care rollout, so individually, got no problem with Glenn. But I don't buy the argument that the only way to vaccinate aged care people is to only put one vaccination into less than a thousand people who are disabled. Like, let's just get a grip here. This is a Government who promised four million vaccinations by the end of March and they failed every deadline. I'm sure eventually they will vaccinate people with disability. And if we have good fortune, no one will die. But that doesn't excuse the Government making people disability invisible in this process. The other thing I have to say is, I think it is cowardly and chicken-hearted of the Government to roll out public servants to defend the Government's political choices. Rest assured, Fran, yesterday, if they had actually kept their promises and vaccinated the people who they said they would vaccinate, it would have been the Minister taking credit. But they put the public servants up to cop the blame. This Government has failed the vaccination timetable. And in the case of people with disability, what that has meant is they're still trapped in their houses. The anxiety of COVID, whilst it's gone for many of us, hasn't gone for people with reduced immunities and there's been no consultation. The problem with the Government is that people with disability are invisible. And why on earth, who asked the people with disability what they thought, when the Government is apparently making some godlike decisions, that we're going to vaccinate everyone in aged care before we move on to group homes? I mean, it doesn't make sense.

KELLY: Bill Shorten, thank you very much for joining us.

SHORTEN: Thank you very much, Fran.

KELLY: Bill Shorten is the Shadow Minister for Government Services and the NDIS.