Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Ballarat - Tony Abbott’s unfair Budget; Cuts to Health




SUNDAY, 24 MAY 2015


SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s unfair Budget; Cuts to Health; Marriage Equality; Royal Commission into Institutional responses to Child Sexual Abuse; Koalas outshining Ministers in diplomacy. 


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon, everyone and welcome to Ballarat. I am here with our shadow health spokesperson, Catherine King, who is also the local member for Ballarat.


Today, we’ve have been talking with local people about what is happening in Parliament this week, what is likely to happen. The Abbott Government is still persisting with $80 billion worth of cuts to schools and hospitals and they are still persisting with cuts to family payments which means that families on about $60,000 a year could lose up to $6,000 in support. Combined with this old unfairness from last year's Budget, which the Abbott the Government's persisting with, we are very concerned that the Government's introducing new cuts to health, and aged care in particular. There is $2 billion worth of cuts flagged, along with increasing cost of pharmaceutical prescription drugs. There are new cuts to health care. We have already identified that the Abbott Government intends to cut funding for children's dental, that the Abbott Government intends to cut dental care for veterans and there is over a billion dollars of undisclosed cuts to health care. This Government's Budget was all about saving Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey's job and it does nothing to change the unfairness which these people are inflicting on Australia. I would like to ask my colleague Catherine King to talk further about the cuts to health care confronting all Australians by Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey.


CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks, Bill and it is great to have you here in my home town of Ballarat.


Of course, last year's Budget was a horror Budget when it came to health with over $57 billion being cut out of public hospitals. The GP tax and the hikes to the costs of medicine. The GP tax by stealth still persists in this Budget, as does the $1.3 billion costs to patients to increase the price they will pay when they are accessing their medicines. We are also seeing an extra $2 billion worth of cuts, and Bill is absolutely right, some of these go to some of the most vulnerable in our community. We have seen children's dental care cut, veterans dental care cut, the axing of the GP after hours line. I was in Collingwood just this week talking about the community health centre there where they have the only community-run community health based pharmacy and is that facing the axe. We have seen in an incredibly pathetic and mean-spirited way, cuts to a program that comes from the Department of Health that feeds children who have PKU. This Government has seen health not as an investment in Australians' health, it has seen it as an opportunity to cut, cut, cut.


SHORTEN: Thanks Catherine, Are there any questions?


JOURNALIST: Where would you make cuts then if you are saying these cuts are unreasonable?


SHORTEN: Labor has broken the mould of Opposition by offering up changes to help the Budget bottom line only halfway into the term of the current Government. We have put forward over $20 billion in savings. That is right, Labor's proposing that by chasing down and changing the law, we can make sure multinational corporations, foreign multinational corporations pay their fair share in Australia. We have also proposed reducing the excessively generous tax concessions which multi-millionaires get in retirement from superannuation. This is over $20 billion. We are staggered that Tony Abbott on one hand won't take up our $20 billion of help to the Budget bottom line, but on the other hand, he wants to see taxes go up, does nothing about reducing the deficit and now is proposing new mean cuts to the health Budget of Australia.


JOURNALIST: Would a binding yes-vote on same sex marriage by Labor hurt the cause and stiffen the resolve of some of in Liberal Party?


SHORTEN: I am a supporter of marriage equality - I believe the time has come in Australia for marriage equality to be legalised. I believe the news overnight from Ireland is very exciting. Ireland occupies a special place in Australian consciousness - many of us have Irish ancestry. We know it has been pretty religiously conservative. If the Irish people can vote in favour of marriage equality, the question has to be asked, what is Tony Abbott's problem with it?


The Labor Party supports a conscience vote on gay marriage. We support a conscience vote about legalising marriage equality. The only obstacle now to having a really honest discussion about marriage equality in this country is Tony Abbott. Now after this Irish referendum result, Tony Abbott has to explain to Australians why he is forcing Liberal MPs to vote against their conscience, voting against marriage equality. Tony Abbott is the obstacle between marriage equality happening in this country and not.


JOURNALIST: Would a referendum on the issue be appropriate in Australia?


SHORTEN: Previously the High Court has said it should be decided by the parliament. Tony Abbott has pretty quickly rushed out today and said he doesn't want Australians to have a say in marriage equality, he says it should be the Parliament. Tony Abbott can't have it both ways. If there is not to be a referendum on it and he has ruled that out, he needs to explain why he is denying his own members of his party the right to exercise their conscience on marriage equality.


JOURNALIST: Ok, but what is your view? Do you believe there should be a referendum?


SHORTEN: I support the Parliament resolving this issue. That would be, I think the most effective way to do it. The real obstacle to marriage equality being dealt with by the Parliament is Tony Abbott won't even allow his own MPs to have a free vote on this question. Some things in politics should be above the party political. I respect there is two sides in the marriage equality argument but I don't understand why Tony Abbott is so scared of marriage equality that he won't let his own members of his team have a free vote.


JOURNALIST: Why not follow the lead of Ireland and have the people decide on a referendum?


SHORTEN: The High Court has looked at this matter and our political system is different - the issue of marriage equality is one which is well within the capacity of the Parliament. Australians elect their members of parliament to make these decisions. What I think though is what Australians don't understand why there is a Liberal position on marriage equality which binds everyone when there is plenty of Liberal voters and plenty of Liberal MPs if there was a free vote would support marriage equality. I think the parliament on such an important and sensitive topic should allow a conscience vote and I do not understand why Tony Abbott is so scared of letting Liberal MPs exercise their conscience in this matter.


JOURNALIST: Just to be clear, your view is that the Parliament should decide and not the people?


SHORTEN: I think the parliament is the most appropriate starting place to make these decisions. On one hand, Tony Abbott's ruled out a referendum but on the other hand, he is effectively ruling out marriage equality when he denies there being a conscience vote in the Liberal Party. The developments all around the world - not just Ireland. Most places in the world are dealing with marriage equality, why is Tony Abbott stopping Australia becoming a more modern nation and why won't he trust his own members of his own team to exercise a conscience vote? That is the question that needs to be answered.


JOURNALIST: Labor's pushed for electoral reform, it could see micro parties being shut out?


SHORTEN: Not at all - what we are interested in making sure that our Senate functions well. In terms of the key issues coming up in the next four weeks what I believe to be most important is can the Abbott Government actually spell out to Australians the precise nature of the cuts they are making when it comes to health care? In Australia one of the things that makes this one of the best countries in the world is we have a good safety net with our health system. I don't understand why Tony Abbott is proposing cuts up to a billion dollars and not disclosing where the cuts will be. I don't see the case being made by Government to cut children's dental care. The Government hasn’t made the case to explain why they are cutting the dental care to veterans. The Government hasn’t made the case why they want to increase the cost of prescription drugs. You can't trust the current Government when it comes to adequate health care of Australians in this country. They need to spell out what new nasty measures they are proposing for the health care of Australians.


JOURNALIST: Do you support stripping dual citizens accused of terrorism of their citizenship or is jail a better place for them?


SHORTEN: On this very important issue of national security, Labor has been both consistent and constructive. We fundamentally believe one of the primary responsibilities of the Parliament and of both Government and the Opposition is to make sure that Australia is safe and secure. We have a good track record of working constructively with the Government when confronted with new forms of terror in this country and abroad. When it comes to the specific measures, which your question goes to, we obviously need to see the detail and we have asked the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, for a briefing on these matters to make sure we can make our ongoing consistent and constructive contribution.


JOURNALIST: Do you support having a police officer or someone from the AFP heading up a task force aimed at people who are claiming too much on welfare?


SHORTEN: Labor is the proudest defender in Australian politics of a strong safety net and a dignified welfare system. Labor deplores people who abuse the system. Labor has no time for anyone who is defrauding the system of social security and giving everyone who legitimately receives welfare a bad name. It is illegal to do this. We certainly will support with careful consideration on measures to improve compliance but I have to stress again that if we are talking about making sure that the AFP has a role here; I think the Government needs to explain why they are cutting the number of AFP officers by 115.


JOURNALIST: Can I just ask you about the Royal Commission given we are in Ballarat. Do you stand by your calls for George Pell to come home and come here to Ballarat and answer the victims' claims?


SHORTEN: Absolutely, I stand by what I said. I think like all Australians, we have been appalled and shocked by the revelations. This has been going on for decades. I was raised a Catholic. It is not an easy question for people of the Catholic faith or any other faith to see that institutions, not only had this happen while children were under their care but then they are judged on whether or not their response was adequate or not. I think it is the obligation of everyone to cooperate with the Royal Commission regardless of who they are, and if that includes George Pell so be it, he should come back and help with the Royal Commission. I stand by what I said.


JOURNALIST: Catherine, the last week has been tough for the town having these claims just down the road?


KING: I think it has been a tough week but no more so than for these incredibly brave victims who have come forward with their stories. Many of them who have - this is the second or third time they have said them in public. I know they and their families are absolutely grieving having to relive the stories. They are so important that they are told. This is something that happened in our home town. It is something that we have to make sure never ever happens again to children in institutional care. The commission has an important role in bringing this to light. I certainly think that anyone who has information that can help the Royal Commission should be here and should come forward to assist the commission in its work.


JOURNALIST: On a lighter note the COAG koalas have gone to Singapore. There is concern that taxpayers are footing the bill to keep them there and that includes fresh eucalyptus leaves. What are your thoughts on that?


SHORTEN: I think nothing is too good for our koalas here or abroad. I think it is legitimate that the issues of how much costs are put out there. I suspect some of the koalas could do a better job in diplomacy than some of the Government ministers we have got.


JOURNALIST: In terms of the health cuts, do you feel Ballarat base hospital could face further cuts given that there were funding cuts in the last Budget?


SHORTEN: I will answer that very generally and then I might ask Catherine to go to the Ballarat hospital. One of the untold stories of the 2014 Budget and now the 2015 Budget is that the way in which Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott are trying to make the national Budget books - the bottom line of the Budget look good is they have essentially taken the lazy route of cutting $80 billion of forward funding from the States, in particular from hospitals and schools. We are heading for a real train crash in terms of the Budget courtesy of Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott because they are lazily, rather than engaging in reform, what they are doing is they are simply cutting money to the States. This will lead to a great deal of pressure on the hospitals from emergency departments to waiting times to beds, to the number of doctors and the number of nurses in our health system. Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are really behind the scenes really wrecking our health system in Australia. You ask specifically about Ballarat, so I might ask Catherine to talk about that.


KING: When we talk about the figure of $57 billion, that means cuts to every single public hospital in the country and here in Ballarat, our fantastic Ballarat health services, that is over $300 million that will be cut over the next decade, that should be going to this health service to make sure our elective surgery waiting times are reduced, that our emergency department waiting times are reduced, that people can access theatres so they can have the surgery that they need, that they can access beds and have more nurses and doctors and that’s what Tony Abbott's delivered that here in this community - cuts to the health care and cuts to the base hospital.


SHORTEN: Thanks everyone.