FRIDAY, 13 JULY 2018
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s investment in live saving medical scans for the Adelaide Hills; immigration; temporary work visas; politicisation of the public service; Thai cave rescue mission; Mayo; out of towner Downer
PROFESSOR REG COUTTS, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR MAYO: Hi I'm Professor Reg Coutts and I'm the Labor candidate here in Mayo and it's a fantastic sunny day because I'm optimistic that I think we're getting through to a very wonderful community that want to vote for a local candidate. I've been living in Hahndorf for the last 15 years and I love the hills and the community.
And so it's really a pleasure to have Bill with us today and he's got an announcement that I think is important to all of us, thank you.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much. Thanks, that was Professor Reg Coutts, Labor's candidate in the Mayo election which is coming up on July the 28th. I'm also accompanied by Chris Picton our Shadow Minister for Health in South Australian politics.
It's really good to be here at Mount Barker and I was really impressed by Summit Health and the health services that they're providing patients and families here in the region. I actually think that health is, if not the most important issue in Australia, there is no issue that is any more important. I know what it's like when we've got to try and, as parents, when you've got to try and get your kids, when they've fallen ill or there's a fracture and you need to make sure they can get timely services.
That's why this announcement today is so important to me. I think all Australians no matter where they live should be able to be afforded high quality health care. It's why people pay their Medicare Levy, I think it's part of the contract that Governments have with the Australian people, first class health.
But there's a problem here in this part of Australia. The problem is that there's a lack of Medicare rebatable MRI machines. You know, we take this technology for granted and it really is quite amazing what the MRI machines are able to do in terms of diagnosis and treatment of our fellow Australians who are sick. The relief it provides for parents to be able to know that we can find out what's happened with their kids or indeed for older Australians who might be battling health challenges. But the problem is in this part of South Australia there is no MRI machine which when you go and have your consultation, you can get a patient rebate for from Medicare - that is not good enough.
In fact in the last five years under the current Liberal government, who've shown a real lack of interest in my opinion, in making accessible health care outside the big cities, they've only granted five MRI licences right across Australia.
Labor has announced that we're going to do something about this. So we've proposed and I said in my Budget Reply speech a couple of months ago that we're going to roll out an additional 20 MRI licences in the areas of greatest need. So we've already announced a new Medicare licence for MRI machine in Kalgoorlie, we've announced one in the northern suburbs of Brisbane.
But I'm pleased that our third MRI licence, after speaking with experts, consulting the professionals, will be right here at the local Mount Barkers Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital.
What this will mean is that for the thousands of people in this region who have to make the trip down to Adelaide if they want to be able to get an MRI assessment and be able to claim it on their Medicare - it means they won't have to make that trip to Adelaide, they can do it right here in this town. Imagine what that means in terms of cost, being able to access better health care services closer to home.
So this is a really practical announcement and what it does is it reflects Labor's priorities and it reflects, I think what is an important issue in the Mayo by-election. You can vote for the Liberal candidate and you can vote for a tax cut of $17 billion for the big banks. Or you can vote for the Labor candidate and the local people here can get access to quality health care with proper patient rebates where they can claim the visit and get the scan on their Medicare. It is a world of difference, the two sets of priorities.
That's why I'm really pleased that Labor is putting the health of all Australians first, what the Liberals are doing is putting the banks ahead of all Australians. I'd now like to invite the Shadow spokesperson for South Australia to talk further about the value of this announcement to improve quality outcomes for families in this region.
CHRIS PICTON MP, SOUTH AUSTRALIAN SHADOW HEALTH SPOKESPERSON: Well thanks so much Bill. I think it's really fitting that this announcement is being made here at Summit Health, this was one of the last GP Superclinics that the former Federal Government funded anywhere around the country.
And since the current government came to office we've seen this program scrapped, we've seen Medicare frozen for the past five years, we've seen the hospital funding agreement that was to improve the growth of hospital funding across the country thrown out the window. And these are all having an impact on health across the country and of course here in the Hills of Adelaide and in the Mount Barker region as well.
So this announcement from Bill and the Labor team will improve health in the Mount Barker region. This MRI will give access to people in the Hills a service that they've had to go into the city or pay a huge amount of fees to get access to and the more that we can help people with these services earlier - keep them out of hospital, it's better for them, it's better for the community overall.
So absolutely welcome this as well as all the other investments that the federal Labor Party has announced in terms of unfreezing Medicare and putting more money back into hospitals, so we've actually got a federal government that's going to stand with the States across the country and make sure that health is properly funded.
SHORTEN: Thanks Chris, are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: This is your first trip to Mayo since the by-election was called, I believe. Do you think - I'm guessing Labor is not sort of looking as the front runner, do you think you can make a mark here though?
SHORTEN: Yeah we're chasing every vote we can. We've put a high quality candidate in the field of Mayo -
COUTTS: Thank you Bill.
SHORTEN: - and we understand it's a three horse race but we are seeking every first vote we can get. What we're also seeking to do is to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy of Mr Turnbull and his out of touch Liberals where they think that they can get through a by-election by promising massive tax cuts to the big end of town and to the banks.
We challenge Mr Turnbull put the health of people in Mayo ahead of the funding lines for the big banks. This is why we're backing in an MRI licence which will be Medicare rebatable, we think that does more good for the locals here than giving a big tax cut to Sydney and Melbourne corporations.
JOURNALIST: Do you think if people aren't going to vote Labor then you will tell them instead to direct their votes towards Rebekah Sharkie? Or perhaps Labor one, Sharkie two?
SHORTEN: Well we think that you probably put the Liberals last. We think that they've got no plan for the health care of people in Mayo or anywhere else in Australia. But we're chasing every number one vote we can get and that's why if you vote Labor we can make sure that we put in an MRI licence. This is a practical good news story for the health of thousands of people who live here.
Why because of Mr Turnbull should people have to drive all the way to Adelaide to get an MRI scan and claim it back on your Medicare, a portion of it? Why should they put up with hundreds of dollars of out of pocket expenses merely because Mr Turnbull wants to give tax cuts to big banks? His priorities are all wrong.
JOURNALIST: When you grant a new licence, do you see a corresponding increase in the number of procedures or is it relatively cost neutral because you're taking procedures away from other venues?
SHORTEN: Well what we're doing is we'll be putting more money back into the pockets of patients. We've costed this proposal across four years, it's $4 million. The company who owns the MRI machine has to invest in the machine or in the financing of the machine.
The value of this is that we're providing about $1 million a year to make back in the pockets of patients. We estimate that this decision will see 4000 people who get scanned, the opportunity to get hundreds of dollars back in their pocket which they're currently paying for or they've got to travel a long way into Adelaide to be able to claim the Medicare Rebate.
I understand that if you want to improve health outcomes for patients, make it easier to see the doctor. That's why we have this Superclinic behind us at Summit Health. What you see here is a multidisciplinary practice and that's a fancy term. What it essentially means is you go to one venue and you'll be able to get all your health outcomes from the prescription, to the specialists, to a big pool of doctors.
What we want to do is provide that same theory, which is working well here, and make it available for MRI machines. We actually think that you should be able to access, in your local community, an MRI scan without paying hundreds of dollars in out of pocket expenses.
JOURNALIST: Just on another issue, the Government is celebrating a drop in immigration numbers do you think that it was too high under Labor?
SHORTEN: Immigration numbers fluctuate depending on what's happening in the economy but why are the Government always cover up the number of temporary visa holders in Australia with work rights. Under this government, under the Liberal government, I think it's about 1.6 million people currently in Australia with temporary work rights due to the visas they have. The Government never talks about this. This Government is creating an underclass of low-paid workers from overseas; undercutting Australian jobs, undercutting the pay and conditions of Australians and indeed all too often, seeing the exploitation of foreign guest workers in Australia. You'll never hear Mr Dutton or Mr Turnbull ever talk about the increase in people with visas with temporary work rights in Australia. That actually threatens and challenges the job security and the wages and conditions of everyday battling Aussies.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it is a positive that they're tightening vetting rules for immigration?
SHORTEN: I'm going to refer you back to my earlier answer and again, make this point: under Mr Turnbull and Mr Dutton, the number of people who come to this country temporarily and accrue work rights in Australia has gone up. It's about 1.6 million, we found out in Senate Estimates. Why does the Government never tell Australians about this number? They're always into a bit of camouflage and trickery, they want you to look at one set of numbers but not the other.
Any Australian knows, if Mr Turnbull and Mr Dutton would leave their ivory towers, get out and talk to the real people in Australia, they'd find out plenty of stories of people with work visas from overseas not being paid properly and a lot of Australians not being able to get some of those jobs.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it is a positive that they're tightening it? Because that would be -
SHORTEN: Well, I'm just saying that I don't think that is the main game. I'm saying that we've got wage stagnation in Australia. You may not be aware or you may be aware, but most Australians haven't had a wage rise in recent years.
Mr Dutton and Mr Turnbull always loved to boast about how big corporate profits are in Australia and how clever they are at giving a lot of money away to the big banks. But they are ominously and suspiciously silent when it comes to the issue of flat wages in this country. Did you know wages growth in Australia, in the last 50 and 60 years, is at almost a record lows? That's what the Liberals like. They like ordinary workers not having to get wage rises so the corporate profits of their mates at the big end of the town, so they can make more and more money.
It's about priorities. I back the health care of people in Mayo and across Australia and I prioritise proper wages in Australia, not massive profits for the big end of town.
JOURNALIST: Scott Morrison's Chief of Staff has been appointed Treasury Secretary. Your Shadow Treasurer has said it has it is politicisation of the public service. But aren't Labor guilty of similar appointments when you were in power?
SHORTEN: No, not at all. I think my Shadow Treasurer is spot on the money. This fellow they've appointed to be in charge of Treasury has spent 13 years working for the Liberals and four years working for Treasury. The Liberals are addicted to stacking positions in the Government with their mates and I think this is undermining the reputation of Treasury.
We've seen the Government use the Department of Treasury, which should be very independent, to provide politicised reports to help the Government's propaganda. So I think this is a worrying trend.
JOURNALIST: Will you be able to work with the new secretary?
SHORTEN: First of all, we want to win the election so we're not going to, you know, count our chickens before they're hatched. But I tell you what we will do and what we would say to Treasury: we want to see the Medicare freeze unfrozen, we want to see patient rebates go up. We want to see a better wages system in this country where everyday Aussies can have some chance of seeing their wages go up. We'll be passing legislation to make sure that we restore penalty rates. We will be making sure that pensioners get their $14 a fortnight energy supplement rather than being cut by the Liberals. We're going to make sure that schools in this electorate get the funding and we'll be telling Treasury no more corporate tax cuts for the big end of town, no more $17 billion giveaway - unfunded - to the big banks in Australia.
SHORTEN: Listen, I think the Government sort of makes up a lot of this stuff as they go along, you know, their forecasts. The Government should realise that some level of immigration generates economic growth in this country. What amazes me, when the Government talks about immigration, is they never talk about temporary immigration where we're seeing a rise in the number of guest workers or visa workers with work rights in Australia - that's the real challenge in Australia. When we've got young unemployed people in Australia, why is this Government increasing the number of temporary guest workers with work rights in Australia? Why is it that this Government is not doing more to fund TAFE and train our apprentices?
This is a government who isn't interested in everyday Aussies. I mean, if they wanted to do something to improve the bottom line of the Budget, drop the corporate tax cuts, drop the unfunded tax cuts for the Australia's top three per cent of earners. This is a very reckless Government and they've got the wrong priorities.
Perhaps one or two more questions.
JOURNALIST: Sorry, is that fall in immigration bad for business?
SHORTEN: Immigration numbers do go up and do go down from time to time - and we do need to have some level of permanent immigration to this country. But what I am calling the Government out on today is stop ignoring the creation of an underclass of temporary immigrant in Australia - they get ripped off, they get a bad work experience in this country, Australia wages and conditions are depressed when you've got a pool of temporary guest worker from overseas. This Government is asleep at the wheel when it comes to fighting for the wages and conditions of ordinary Aussies. That's why Labor will lift the penalty rates and restore those that have been cut. That is why we will make sure that workers don't get exploited through labour hire arrangements and we're going to do a lot more to shut down the scandal of wages theft in this country.
JOURNALIST: Just on the Thai cave rescue. The Australians involved are coming back today. Do you think they deserve bravery commendations for what they've done?
SHORTEN: Yes I do and I congratulate Richard Harris and all the others who've worked on that. I've seen rescues in the past - this one seemed so complex and so difficult and so harrowing. And I'm not going to forget that it was a Thai national, a former serviceman, who lost his life trying to rescue these boys.
I think it is a miracle. It looked incredibly difficult and I couldn't be prouder of being an Australian when you see Australians who are modest, turn up in these most difficult situations around the world and they just do what they believe is the right thing. They should realise that not only to have they're given a gift to these boys and their families, they've given a gift to every other Australian because I think we're all a little bit more proud to be Australian.
JOURNALIST: Do you agree that Sharkie is doing a good job and do you expect her to back into the office?
SHORTEN: Sorry, what was the last part of the question?
JOURNALIST: Do you expect her to back you into the office?
SHORTEN: Which office is that?
JOURNALIST: I'm not sure, sorry - I've been given these.
SHORTEN: Ok, sorry. Listen, the Government's trying to rubbish - let's be clear - I sort of understand where the question that you received is coming from. The Government knows that their candidate is on the nose, that she doesn't have a local profile and she doesn't have a local commitment other than some hereditary commitment through generations of Downers. Mayo is not someone's family inheritance to be handed off.
Listen, I want people to vote for Reg Coutts. In terms of Rebekha Sharkie, sometimes she agrees with one side of politics, sometimes the other, she's fiercely independent. But let's not confuse what's happening here: the Liberals know that Rebekha Sharkie is a real threat to them so what they're trying to do is smear her and say she's more one way or more the other way. She is her own person. And I'd say to the Liberals, you'd be better off focusing on the issues like health care and getting an MRI licence in the local area than just engaging in personal attacks on an independent candidate like Rebekha Sharkie.
JOURNALIST: Did Rebekha Sharkie's - she recently campaigned for this MRI announcement, did that have any impact on on Labor making that announcement?
SHORTEN: Labor's always been DNA-hardwired to be the party which will stand up for Australians’ health care. Rebekha Sharkie always put her case forcefully in Parliament. She deals with both the Prime Minister and myself without fear or favour. She's, I think, an advocate of talking truth to power. In my experience with Rebekha Sharkie, no one owns her, she's her own woman, I can understand why the Liberals are threatened by her. But the Liberals should also recognise that in Reg Coutts, Professor Reg Coutts, we're providing a quality candidate who's from the region, lived in Hahndorf for the last 15 years, he has been a relentless watchdog of Malcolm Turnbull's NBN scandal - where they have provided inadequate NBN. And also something else which Reg's is going to do is he's going to fight for the ABC.
I think it is scandalous beyond measure that Malcolm Turnbull, who on the way up up when he was stalking Tony Abbott, used the ABC a lot to do his appearances - put on the leather jacket, you know, do the progressive-vibe, talk about climate change and now he's sold out all his views and now he's even selling out the ABC.
Thanks everybody. Nice to catch up.