Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Canberra - Abbott Government cuts to children’s dental care; Marriage equality






SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government cuts to children’s dental care; Marriage equality; National security; GST; National Disability Insurance Scheme


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everyone. It’s fantastic to be at Carmelo Bonanno’s dental surgery talking with someone who every day is improving the dental health outcomes for Australia’s children. I’m here with our Shadow Minister for Health, Catherine King and local Member of Parliament, Gai Brodtmann. We’re here because the Abbott Government  has broken an election promise when he said there would be no cuts to health and in the Budget two weeks ago Australians have now discovered that Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are cutting $125 million from child dental care. You would have thought that people could see the wisdom of encouraging and supporting families making sure they’re children get the dental care they need in the early years.


On one hand the Government’s changing the indexation formula which is effectively cutting $125 million but what this means is that the costs for families will go up to ensure their children get dental care or even worse, some families can’t afford the increased costs and children will be plagued lifelong by inferior dental care. Good oral hygiene, good dental practices for children will pay dividends for them, their quality of life, their cost of living and Australia’s health bill in the future. The Abbot Government should immediately drop these unfair cuts so that the children of Australia can get the best chance to have the best teeth possible in the future. I might ask my ask my colleague now Catherine to talk further about this very unfair cut.


CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks very much. Well what we know from the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures is that 42 per cent of five-year-olds have decay in their baby teeth. We also know that over 50 per cent of kids by the age of 14 have tooth decay in their adult teeth. That is why Labor invested, when we were in Government, in a child dental scheme. We knew that if we invested in children's dental health, this is $1,000 for eligible patients over two years, if we invested in children’s dental health we would have lifelong good dental hygiene and that prevents significant dental problems later on.


The Abbott Government in cutting $125 million out of this scheme means a couple of things.


Already dentists, most of them are bulk billing. What you will see is many of those dentists saying we can no longer bulk bill patients and we need to recoup that money that has been cut by the Abbott Government directly from patients. If they do that there will be patients, they very patients we actually want to come, the kids that we want to come and see their dentist, they will not come because their parents will not be able to afford in essence what will become a co-payment on dental care. And that will be a long-term problem for Australia's healthcare system. It is $125 million, a short-sighted cut from a short-sighted Government that has cut $2 billion from health programs in this, its latest Budget.


SHORTEN: Thanks Catherine, are there any questions about this unfair cut to children's dental care in Australia?


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, what is Labor's plan to protect children's teeth?


SHORTEN: Well first of all we think that the Government should reverse these unfair cuts. The Government, the Prime Minister yesterday was very mischievous in Parliament when we asked him about this issue. He said it's a freeze, they are just freezing the indexation. Actually that's not what they are doing. If you go to page 100 of the Budget paper No.2 they are changing the indexation formula. Now the Government loves getting lost in the weeds of this detail because then they take people's attention off the real issue. The real issue here is that there will be $125 million less available for families to claim in order to help support the cost of getting their children, young children, to be able to get the sort of dental care which they need for the future.


We’ll talk more about our policies and the future more generally but I think a very important start would be for Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey to one, actually keep an election promise. Remember, they said there would be no cuts to health and this is definitely a cut. And two, you’ve really got to ask yourself, what does this nation save off its bottom line, off the balance sheet if what we end up with is children with worse teeth which will cost more to the system in the future? This is a Government who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Are there any other questions?


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten just in general with the GST, obviously it’s been an issue this week in terms of sanitary items but broadly speaking with the GST in general, do you think it's time for a conversation to be had about whether it should be broadened, or if not raised?


SHORTEN: Well Labor doesn't believe that we should increase the GST. But clearly Arthur Sinodinos agrees with you that it’s time for a conversation. He is a leading Liberal powerbroker and when asked about this very issue about the GST on various items, he said that we should broaden the base of the GST. We know that the Liberal Party, if they could get the numbers, would increase the GST and Arthur Sinodinos again let the cat out of the bag yesterday. With regard to women's sanitary products, Labor believes that there’s an unusual opportunity, a rare occurrence in Australian politics where the States are going to get an increase in GST revenue from putting the GST on Netflix and downloads.


That's about $350 million. We think that it is now time to correct the unfair treatment of women in terms of tampons and GST paid on women's sanitary products and the States can still have growing revenue through the new Netflix and downloads GST but now it's time to right the inconsistent treatment that currently occurs between the implementation of GST on items that are important and vital to women as opposed to GST which is not levied on items which affect men’s health.


JOURNALIST: Will you talk to your State Labor Premiers and Treasurers also about that then?


SHORTEN: Absolutely and for the record Tony Abbott just, again, vacated, put an empty chair in Parliament yesterday in terms of being the Prime Minister of Australia when he said, when we asked him what are you going to do about it? We had that split, remember Joe Hockey on Monday night, on television says in response to a question yeah, yeah, I think it's an important issue and Tony Abbott slaps him down Tuesday morning then Joe Hockey puts out a two-paragraph press release saying he’s actually going to cost how much withdrawing the GST on tampons and sanitary products would be. And then what we see is Tony Abbott  saying well it's not my job at all actually, it's the States. Since when did the Prime Minister of Australia say that trying to have a fairer tax system is not his day job, that is Tony Abbott’s day job.


What Labor’s done in a constructive sense, is we’ve said well you’re getting $350 million extra to the States through the tax on the Netflix and the downloads, the cost of removing the GST on tampons and women's sanitary products is far less than $350 million. So when Tony Abbott just simply handballs the issues to the States, most of the States have said yes, they would support this already. I think the two holdouts are a neutral answer from New South Wales and nothing heard from the West Australian Government. But I know that Labor premiers are most interested in trying to fix up this unfair treatment of women in society.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, Greg Combet was one of the architects of the carbon tax. By had enlisting him to help develop your policy aren't we taking the first steps to going back down that road again?


SHORTEN: Not at all. I'm really pleased that Greg Combet and a range of Australians interested in progressive politics are stepping up to help formulate our policies and ideas for the national conference and for the next election. Now more than ever we need Australians engaged in providing an alternative positive plan for the future because the current Government's Budget is a hoax, we know it's just a Budget designed to save Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott's job. In the Budget Reply speech, I outlined that we need to have a more science-based future. We need to teach our primary school students to code, we need to make sure that we’ve got more support for innovation and more support for small business. Labor’s determined to have good policies for the future because that's what Australians want to see. In terms of the specific proposition you say that because someone who was involved in the previous Labor Government is helping us now that therefore you assume that therefore is a carbon tax on the way, that's just wrong. That is just wrong. We will not have a carbon tax but we will be the only fair dinkum major political party in Australia on climate change.


JOURNALIST: Is it a failure of the system that a letter to George Brandis from Man Monis mentioning ISIL before the Sydney siege didn't raise any red flags?


SHORTEN: It is a serious matter that you raise. I think Australians believe that the Attorney-General has questions to answer. How was it that two months before the dreadful siege and the terrible crimes that were committed there, the Attorney-General says that this criminal who contacted them - contacted him directly - should just say well that was a routine matter. I think there are questions to answer here, why this was treated as a routine matter.


JOURNALIST: So do you have faith in the authorities as a result of that?


SHORTEN: I have confidence in the authorities. I do believe of course that the Attorney-General needs to explain why this criminal writing to him two months before and their response was just treated as a routine matter and it didn't raise any red flags.


JOURNALIST: Do you support the Prime Minister's comments on same-sex marriage in Question Time yesterday saying that he wants the whole Parliament to own the debate?


SHORTEN: There's no doubt that I and many Australians believe that the time is right for marriage equality in Australia. I’ve believed this for some years. I’ve voted on it in the past and I’ve spoken about it in the past, but the Irish referendum on the weekend, I believe, gave new impetus. I think a lot of Australians woke up on Sunday morning didn’t we and said, Ireland, which is a country which is known to be strongly religious, if the Irish can vote for marriage equality, why on earth can't we? So I made the decision, supported by my Labor team, that we would put a Bill into Parliament to amend the Marriage Act to allow for marriage equality.


Now what's happened is that the real obstacle here is that we need a free vote from Tony Abbott's team. I will allow a free vote of the Labor Party so for people who don't agree with marriage equality they can vote against it because I believe this matter should be above politics. The only reason why Tony Abbott was talking about marriage equality yesterday is because Labor put it on the agenda.


JOURNALIST: Where to next for Labor on this issue because you can't force a vote in the House of Representatives. How quickly do you expect a Bill could go to a vote?


SHORTEN: I think Australians will be shocked if the Liberal Party doesn't support a free vote. I believe the matter should be bipartisan, it shouldn't be a Liberal issue or a Labor issue but if Labor hadn't put it on the agenda, if I and Tanya hadn't proposed this bill on amending the Marriage Act to support marriage equality, do any of you seriously think we'd be talking about this today? The time has come for Tony Abbott to allow a free vote for members of the Liberal Party and the National Party.


JOURNALIST: The PM says it should be a move that's pushed by the Parliament, not one party. Would you support a cross-party inquiry into this? A cross-party working group?


SHORTEN: We sincerely hope that the matter is bipartisan. It is the only way it can succeed. Tony Abbott's right in that but the only way that it can succeed is if Tony Abbott allows a free vote. That is the question which is before the Parliament. Will Tony Abbott allow a free vote? In terms of working through the issues, of course we'll work with people who are interested in it, of course we will. But there's been a lot of work to come to this point too and I should pay acknowledgment to all the activists and the people who've promoted marriage equality over the years.


I should also acknowledge previous Labor Governments from Gough Whitlam to Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard made changes to start taking away the discrimination against people who are gay. Now, I believe the next step is marriage equality. I'm pleased that the nation is talking about this. I'm pleased that our steps have triggered this debate and I look forward to working constructively with people of goodwill about advancing the case of marriage equality in the Parliament in Australia.


JOURNALIST: Will you and Tanya Plibersek withdraw your Bill or one of you withdraw sponsorship of your bill if a Liberal or National Party co-sponsor can be found, for instance Warren Entsch?


SHORTEN: Well you understand very well that the real issue here is, is it Liberal Party going to allow a free vote? Nothing can happen unless the Liberal Party allow a free vote. Once they allow a free vote I think all things are possible but it is a little cute, I suspect, not of the advocates of marriage equality in the Liberal Party but perhaps others, to say that somehow the Labor Party raising the matter is a bad thing. Does anyone think that we would be talking about it this week if we didn't show the leadership which we are displaying? Two more questions thanks.


JOURNALIST: It appears there's a Budget black hole looming for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Are you aware of that and where should the money come from?


SHORTEN: Well I don't accept that there is a Budget black hole looming for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The National Disability Insurance Scheme is about empowering people with disabilities and their carers to control their own lives. It is the assumption that if you provide packages of support to individuals and their families they will exercise the best judgments. But of course when we look at the cost of this we need to compare it not with a blank piece of paper but the current system. The current system of disability in Australia before the NDIS and in many places outside the trial areas is hopeless. You have to have a crisis where the parents can no longer care for their adult children and then you get the care you want.


The system currently is costing billions of dollars so for me when we talk about the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and while I respect your question what I'd say is this - can we afford not to fundamentally change and empower the lives of people with disability and their carers? Can we really afford for 80-year-old parents, awake at midnight wondering who is going to love their 50-year-old child with severe down syndrome? To me, that's the question that's got to be answered and the Labor Party is resolutely committed to better lives for people with disabilities and their carers. Last question.


JOURNALIST: So where should the money come from then Mr Shorten?


SHORTEN: Well sorry, but you also know that we have, we increased the Medicare levy to help pay for this and what I say to you is when you say where’s the money come from, please do not dumb this debate down, and not that you are, but the debate is saying that somehow that if we didn't spend the money on the NDIS that there would be no cost. It's costing billions right now. This is a much better way. If you put people at the centre of your disability system, if you put the people with the disabilities and their carers in control of the packages of resources, they will make the same amount of money, stretch so much further than any other system. Last question.


JOURNALIST: On same-sex marriage, so Penny Wong says that the overwhelming approach is to get an outcome, you've got people in the Liberal Party saying that they support it but they have various issues about it, not forcing people to do same-sex marriages if they don't feel comfortable. Will you go to the Liberal Party and say to them, we're prepared to have a cross-party inquiry to work out some of these issues in the interests of getting this through as quickly as possible?


SHORTEN: On Monday when we present the Bill we'll outline some of the propositions which I think you're most interested in but what I can say, the principles that we adopt, some of the principles that we adopt, one, the time is right for marriage equality in Australia. Two, we will not ask priests or particular religions if they object to it to have to solemnise marriage equality in their own churches. We'll work through these issues but let's not pretend that there hasn't been a lot of work already done on this.


Many countries around the world have already dealt with these issues. We're not breaking any new ground, in fact Australia's lagging behind many other countries. Why do we want to create an outward-bound tourism industry where couples who want to get married have to go to other countries, leave their own shores to get married? The idea that Australians who love each other have to go to a High Commission or an embassy of another country even on their own soil so they can get married, you know, really, time's come to sort it out, hasn't it? Thanks, everyone. See you in Parliament.