Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Sydney - Tony Abbott’s unfair Budget; GP Tax;






SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s unfair Budget; GP Tax; Joe Hockey’s comments; COAG; Surrogacy; GST; Social Cohesion


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Great to be here watching the back line services of the health system help make interventions which will improve people's health and treat their illnesses. I congratulate the doctors, the partners and the staff here for the work they do.


I'm here today with Catherine King to talk about the fact that the pain caused by Tony Abbott's GP Tax does extend well beyond the doctor's surgery. Not only is Tony Abbott's GP Tax hitting the front line of medical services, but the crucial back line of medical services. Pathology, diagnostic imaging - all of these are facing massive cost increases because of Tony Abbott's unfair changes in the Budget. What we see here is that it's not just a GP Tax which is concerning Australians and health professionals and clinicians.


What we see is that Tony Abbott's introducing a pathology tax, an MRI tax, a diagnostic imaging tax. For people who are fighting cancer and other serious illnesses, what Tony Abbott is doing is introducing new payments that they will have to make running into thousands of dollars for CAT scans, for mammograms, for MRIs, for diagnostic imaging, things which are important and fundamental to people preserving their health.


It is difficult when you are a cancer patient or you have a family member fighting cancer to have that battle. The strength it draws upon, the efforts to fight the dreadful cancer are just fundamental, so it is wrong that cancer patients already in the tough fights now have to fight to find more money because of Tony Abbott's unfair changes to the health system.


What's important here is that not only should we not have a GP Tax, Australians cannot afford a GP tax - the evidence is in, what but what we also need to recognise is that Australians who are fighting cancer and other serious illness cannot afford to have a pathology tax, a MRI tax, a diagnostic imaging tax.


Today in particular, after the dramatic events at a health inquiry during the week where we found out much more detail about how these dreadful changes are going to affect these fundamental diagnostic imaging services, where we found out this week that Australians will have to pay thousands more to afford to be able to have these treatments with hundreds of dollars not being reimbursed.


What we have seen this week now is that COAG is meeting today. The challenge couldn't be any more straight forward for Premier Napthine in Victoria, Premier Baird, Premier Newman, Premier Hodgman and Premier Barnett. On one hand they can back in Tony Abbott's unfair changes to the health system with the GP Tax, the pathology tax, the MRI tax, or on the other hand they can support Victorians, people from New South Wales, Queenslanders, Western Australians and Tasmanians.


The Liberal Premiers of Australia can show some backbone, stand up for sick and vulnerable people in their own states or they can choose to back in Tony Abbott's unfair taxes.


I'd like to ask Catherine King now to make further comments about the impact upon diagnostic imaging which we're seeing courtesy of Tony Abbott.


CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks very much, Bill. It's great to be here at Southern Radiology. This practice here is providing vital services for this community, many of which are bulk billed.


We know the nature of Tony Abbott's GP Tax is that it pervades the entire health system, whether it's its impact, as we heard this week, on public hospitals right the way throughout this State, whether it's its impact when people go to the GP to try and get a diagnosis or try and go for prevention, we know that when they need to go for pathology, it’s a tax there.


What we are now hearing is it’s not just $7 when you go to access diagnostic imaging, that patients with be thousands of dollars out of pocket upfront and then will not get very much of that back when they actually claim it from Medicare. So thousands of dollars up front, hundreds of dollars out of pocket.


We know for cancer patients that that is certainly a disincentive for many of them to be able to access the scans they need to get that diagnosis and we do know there are many people who put off those diagnoses already. What does the Government think it is doing by putting such a huge financial barrier in the way of people trying to access the health care that they need?


We know this is again Tony Abbott trying to introduce a user-pays system into Australia to destroy our universal health insurance scheme and to get rid of Medicare.


SHORTEN: Thanks Catherine. Are there any questions?


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, what do you - what's your response to the Treasurer once again linking the Budget cuts to the funding for the national security, despite the bipartisan support for involvement in Iraq?


SHORTEN: Both the Prime Minister and I have made the observation that Joe Hockey's contribution is ill-advised. There's no way that our support for the intervention in Iraq should be linked to a demand to support the unfair Budget which the Abbott Government's trying to ram through the Parliament.


We've signed up to support the intervention in Iraq thus far, and that's the right thing to do. But it is not appropriate for the Treasurer to keep putting his foot in his mouth every time he speaks and to demand that Labor sign up to the GP Tax, sign up to cuts to pensions, sign up to the pathology and MRI taxes we're seeing here today. There's no way that Joe Hockey can bully the mighty Labor Party into giving up the fight against $100,000 university degrees and all the broken promises that this Government made before the last election.


I think, in all sincerity, Joe Hockey should now beat a sensible retreat. I caution the Government against trying to link the important bipartisanship of the intervention in Iraq with propositions around domestic political agendas. Australians will see through that and I think what Joe Hockey is doing is a threat to bipartisanship on national security.


JOURNALIST: Do you think the Prime Minister should publicly reprimand him?


SHORTEN: I think the Prime Minister has already publically reprimanded Joe Hockey. It's unusual in Australian politics when the Prime Minister will back in the Opposition Leader over his own Treasurer. I appreciate that. Again though, Let us be straight with the Australian people, the intervention in Iraq, a serious issue where we're putting Defence Forces in harm's way to provide humanitarian relief and support for oppressed vulnerable minorities and citizens of another country should not be reduced to a grubby debate about trying to bully the Opposition into supporting their unfair changes and wrecking of the health care system in Australia.


JOURNALIST: What do you think of the Western Australian Premier's calls for a national regulator on the surrogacy issues?


SHORTEN: Labor is open to the question of an inquiry into should there be one set of surrogacy laws in Australia. I note some people say it’s a state issue not a national issue but when it involves matters to do with foreign affairs I don't see how the national government can avoid having a position on this.


For parents who are desperate to have children, for little children who can get the prospect of being raised in loving families, these are complex matters. I don't think there are simple answers at all but what I do know is we don't have a consistent approach across Australian jurisdictions. That's why we have a national government. We should have an inquiry to ensure that we know the direction we're going to go. Former Attorney-General Nicola Roxon started this process. There was a review. It's been sitting on the current Attorney-General's desk for 8 months, now they're belatedly playing catch-up. But I do think the matters to do with surrogacy do require one set of uniform laws across Australia and there should be an inquiry to get to get to the bottom of what is the best answer to provide certainty for loving parents and for children.


JOURNALIST: A regulator rather than holding an inquiry?


SHORTEN: Having a regulator presumes the outcome of an inquiry.  I appreciate that there are matters to do with state laws here.  I do think though the national Parliament and national Government should have a uniform set of rules in this country, whether or not one of the outcomes is a regulator, I'll leave that to the outcome of the inquiry,but I think the whole nation probably wants this matter to be clarified and tidied up to provide certainty for everyone caught up in these matters.


JOURNALIST: In regards to COAG, do you think that education and health issues should be considered separately to the federation white paper?


SHORTEN: The Government, it doesn't have an education policy. It doesn't believe in needs-based education funding. It has broken its pre-election promises where they said they were on a unity ticket with Labor, you can vote Liberal or Labor and get the same approach on education - clearly that was a lie and a broken promise. The federal government wants to have a GST by stealth, increasing the GST, there's no doubt in the minds of most experts. What they're doing is they're blackmailing the States by cutting their funding.


In the case of education, nearly $30 billion to be taken out of schools over the next 10 years. What they're trying to do is starve the states into forcing a debate about the GST. That's not an education policy. For 50 years in Australia, since Robert Menzies, there has been a commitment by the Federal Government to support education funding done by the States. This a very radical right-wing Government who is not interested in schools or the best interests of our children when they just wash their hands of school education in Australia.


JOURNALIST: With regard to that GST issue, do you think it will be resolved?


SHORTEN: I think the state governments have got to grow a backbone. When you're elected a state Premier, Denis Napthine or Mike Baird or Campbell Newman or Barnett in Western Australia or Will Hodgman in Tasmania, you have an obligation to stand up for your States. That doesn't mean you've got an obligation to stand up for Tony Abbott as he does over schools and hospitals in your States, you have an obligation to stand up for your states.


I am concerned at the political cowardice of State Governments who seem see be willing to rubber stamp Tony Abbott's unfair Federal Budget cuts and, again, their job is to stand up for the sick in their states. Their job is to stand up for the schoolchildren in their States. Tony Abbott clearly hasn’t got the best interests of hospitals and schools at the State level and the State Premiers need to muscle up and defend their States against Tony Abbott's unfair cuts.


JOURNALIST: Just on the states, would Labor back calls from NSW and Victoria for more funding for support programs for young Muslims?


SHORTEN: I do believe we can do more in social cohesion. I haven't seen the detail of the specific programs but the best information from across the world is if you want to starve terrorist groups of oxygen, what you do is encourage social cohesion. When the centre of political debate holds together then the extremists cannot get traction. At the end of the last sitting week of parliament we saw this situation when on one hand the Government's asking for social cohesion yet on the other hand we see Liberal MPs having breakouts attacking and perpetuating a sort of Islamophobia. It is important we have programs which are aimed at encouraging disaffected youth back into the mainstream of Australian society, prevention is always much better than cure.

No other questions? Thanks, everyone.