QUEENS PARK, MELBOURNE
SUNDAY, 9 MARCH 2014
SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government’s Commission of Audit secrecy; Cuts to Medicare and Seniors’ concessions.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: First of all, let me start by expressing my and Labor's heartfelt wishes of concern for the families of those on board the Malaysia Airlines plane that has disappeared. This is a terrible time for families. A terrible time of distress and grieving, and I believe the Australian nation’s thoughts go out to the families of those Australians and New Zealanders who were on this plane, and indeed the families of everyone.
Also today we’ve seen more reports of the Abbott Government’s plan to take slashing cuts to the conditions of older Australians and families. There is a 900 page set of nasty surprises for Australians which Tony Abbott will not release until after the West Australian Senate election. It is not appropriate that Tony Abbott and his team have 900 pages of nasty surprises for seniors, for people who get the pension benefit cards, and that they will not find out what is going to happen to them until after the West Australian Senate election.
It is time for Tony Abbott to be upfront with the Australian people. If he’s got nasty surprises, 900 pages of nasty surprises, he shouldn’t hide them until after the West Australian Senate election. He should come clean and tell people now what he has in mind for them.
Happy to take questions.
REPORTER: So do you think that these leaks should just stop and he should just release the Audit Commission report?
SHORTEN: I don’t think that any reasonable person thinks that the Abbott Government isn’t hiding something nasty. Treasurer Joe Hockey has said that he wants to accept the great number of recommendations in the Commission of Cuts, which the Abbott Government has instituted.
In Western Australia alone there are 28,000 seniors who rely upon the Commonwealth health card to help get access to medicine at a more cost effective, accessible rate. There are something like $59 million of extra visits to the doctor’s costs will be implemented if the Abbot Government’s fair dinkum about their GP tax. There’s 19,000 seniors in South Australia who stand to be slugged – but would you believe, the Abbott Government doesn’t want to reveal their plans until after the state election in South Australia? There’s 5500 in Tasmania would stand to lose by the Abbott Government’s cuts, and miraculously the Abbott Government is not going to tell these people what a Liberal Government will do to them until after the state election in Tasmania.
Tony Abbott’s playing politics with people’s conditions. Self-funded retirees and older Australians deserve better from Tony Abbott. At the very least, if he’s intending to cut and slash their conditions, he should at least have the courage to tell them the truth.
It is weak of Tony Abbott to have 900 pages of nasty surprises, and not tell people until they’ve voted in Tasmania and South Australia, and significantly in the West Australian Senate election. That is weak.
REPORTER: What are your thoughts specifically on reports that the eligibility of these health care cards could be tightened?
SHORTEN: Well, we hear all sorts of reports. The Abbott Government would do Australia a favour by not hiding 900 pages of nasty surprises until after there have been state elections and the West Australian Senate election.
I know that self-funded retirees have worked hard their whole lives, they don’t get a lot back from government. I’m alarmed that the Abbott Government has got the conditions of self-funded retirees squarely in their sights.
REPORTER: It’s clear some cuts need to be made. Do you think that these cards should be exempt, considering that they don’t take into account super?
SHORTEN: What I think is important here is that the Abbott Government has clearly got 900 pages of nasty surprises. Before the election the Abbott Government said that they would be a Government of no excuses and no surprises. Now they’re full of pathetic excuses and nasty surprises.
It is not a coincidence that the Abbott Government will not release its bad news to Australian people until after state elections in Tasmania and South Australia and a Senate by-election in Western Australia. This is not a coincidence, this is the deliberate action of a weak government who won’t tell seniors and self-funded retirees what they have in mind.
REPORTER: Would you rather see the cuts be made elsewhere?
SHORTEN: I’d rather just see what the Abbott Government is proposing, to begin with. This is a Government who hasn’t made the transition from Opposition. Everything’s about the timing and none of it is about the issue. Everything’s about the politics and none of it is about the people.
What we want and what I think Australians expect from the Abbott Government is that they’re upfront. If you’ve got bad news, don’t sit on it, tell people the truth. If you’ve got bad news for seniors, if you’ve got bad news for people who use the GP, if you’ve got bad news for self-funded retirees, just be upfront, tell people the truth and let people have a chance to see what you’re proposing.
And indeed a Senate by-election would be an opportunity for people to let the Abbott Government know what they think. It is not a coincidence that the Abbott Government will sit on a report for by the time the West Australian by-election for two months.
REPORTER: Mr Shorten, what do you think of Mr Turnbull’s comments [inaudible] relaxation of regulation [inaudible]?
SHORTEN: I think that Mr Turnbull and everyone else need to work out that what is important in this country is making sure that all Australians get a fair go, rather than just concentrating on the interests of some. We’ve seen in Tasmania the Abbott Government promises on the NBN being broken. It may well be that Mr Turnbull has a view about media ownership at the top end of town, I’m worried about 300,000 Australian seniors who potentially stand to lose their access to cheaper prescription medication.
This is a government with all the wrong priorities. They have no view – they won’t tell people About what’s going to happen to the cost of going to a GP, they won’t tell self-funded retirees if they’ll keep access to lower cost medicines which they need, they won’t tell seniors if they’re in the gun for the Abbott Government cuts to the budget.
So I think the first thing the Abbott Government can do is treat people, treat Australians as intelligent, tell them what’s going on. If they’ve got a good argument people will listen to it. But don’t hide it from people, that will make Australians very very frustrated with the weak government.
REPORTER: So you don’t think that media ownership regulations should be relaxed?
SHORTEN: I think what matters first of all today is the Abbott Government tells us what they’ve got in mind for 300,000 seniors pensioners who are reliant on cheap medicine. Growing old is one of the gifts of Australian life, but one of the challenges of growing old is making sure that you can remain healthy and access medicines.
One of the things that makes Australia the best country in the world is universal and affordable health care. Why is it that the Abbott Government is tinkering with universal and affordable health care? Why does Tony Abbott mind if people need to go and see the doctor if their parents are aging or they need more help from the doctor? Why does Tony Abbott mind if self-funded retirees get a little recompense for their hard years of work?
Thanks everyone, have a lovely day.
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