FRIDAY, 24 JUNE 2016
SUBJECTS: Labor's positive plans for the Northern Territory; Labor’s plan for a fairer temporary work visa system; Medicare; Turnbull’s plans to give a $50 billion tax break to big business and the banks; Backpacker tax; Paul Keating; Costings
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: [inaudible]…launching a summary of Labor's positive policies for the Northern Territory. A simple summary of this, is the choice is very clear for Territorians. You can choose to have a well-funded school system, a Medicare free of the sort of cuts which Malcolm Turnbull is seeking to do and properly funded infrastructure, or you can go down the path of having a $50 billion corporate tax cut which is funded out of poorly-funded schools and a decreased Medicare in this country. That's the very straight-forward choice for Territorians. Labor is most committed to jobs, education and Medicare in the Territory as we are throughout Australia.
I also want to talk briefly about Labor's major reform to our temporary worker visa system. Our economy has changed a great deal in the last few years with the transition from the mining boom. There are a million people in this country on visas which give them some temporary work rights. Labor is committed to reform of this system, to make sure: One, everyone who who works in Australia are paid Australian wages and conditions. Two, we're very committed to making sure the people employed on the visas, in the specific occupations spelled out by the visas, are only employed consistently with the visa specifications. Three, we're very committed to making sure Australians are not missing out on job opportunities because people on temporary work visas are getting opportunities which should be going to permanent Australian citizens. Fourthly, we're very committed to making sure, in the future, a Labor Government, when we 9;re signing free trade agreements which go to the movement of natural persons, make sure these agreements are consistent with those first three principles I just outlined.
It is time, in the Australian economy, to reform the visa system to stop the exploitation we've seen with 7/11. To make sure when people come to this country their experience of coming here is not an unfortunate experience. It is time to make sure we start addressing the issue of over a million underemployed Australians as well as 750,000-plus unemployed Australians. It's time also, whilst we will always have guest workers in this country and our skilled and our temporary migrant worker visa system is an integral part of our economic make-up, it's time to make sure we're ensuring Australians get opportunities which should be rightfully theirs in terms of work in this country.
I'm going to ask my Shadow Spokesperson for Employment Relations, Brendan O'Connor, to talk further about the major reforms we're announcing to our visa system because of the major changes our economy is undergoing.
BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Thanks, Bill. Thanks very much. As Bill has outlined, we know temporary skills visas are important for our economy. We know there are occasions on which employers are required to look overseas for work, for skills, to ensure we can actually make sure we have sufficient skills and labour for our labour market. However, over time we've seen exploitation of these workers. Over time we've seen employers choose to go overseas and look for labour and look for skills without looking locally.
Labor believes you need to look locally before you go overseas. Labor believes you must ensure the 730,000 unemployed Australians get a chance of work before you look overseas. For that reason, we're going to prohibit the advertising of work in the skilled visa area overseas, before employers demonstrate they have looked locally. We are going to ensure we properly utilise and implement the student visa and holiday-maker visa, very important visas for this country and very important for certain sectors of our labour market. We're going to examine the use of that.
Too often we've seen exploitation. Bill touched upon the 7/11 example. Do you know the 7/11 example, it would now seem there is at least $100 million underpaid to workers. Predominantly those that are on temporary visas. They were too frightened to speak up. They didn't know where to go. They were not organised, they were not in a position to say ‘this is unfair’. It went on too long. We have to ensure we do not allow the exploitation of these visa applicants. We have to ensure workers in Australia get the first opportunity to fill vacancies.
Under the Abbott-Turnbull Government we've seen an increase in unemployment. We have to ensure employers who do the right thing are not undermined by employers who do the wrong thing. These changes ensuring every job is advertised for at least four weeks before they seek an application to go overseas. Ensuring locals get an opportunity to be employed before an employer goes overseas is absolutely vital. We have many Australians going overseas and obviously seeking work and they gain work. We also know when we have people visiting here, backpackers, they work here and that's important for our economy. Often they spent most of the money they earn in this country. It's a very important bilateral or multilateral arrangement we have with countries.
What we should not allow to happen is the exploitation of workers. People who come, for example, on a holiday-maker visa and do not have a holiday. Working seven days a week, working below award wages, exploited by employers. That should not happen. In fact, it ruins our international reputation. It's the wrong thing for those workers, it deprives local workers of jobs, it denies, I believe, the opportunity for unemployed Australians to get work. So the combination of these reforms today, both with respect to the 457 visa and the holiday-maker and student visa, will ensure we still have the flexibility required in our labour market. They will ensure we still have the capacity to fill existing vacancies and skill deficiencies in our labour market with overseas workers. But we will not continue to allow the exploitation of these workers. We will not continue to allow local employees, prospective workers, job seekers, deprived of opport unities because the Abbott-Turnbull Government wants to deny them that opportunity. We will not allow employers who do the right thing being undermined by employers who do the wrong thing. These changes build upon what we did when last in Government to make sure we have labour market testing where required. So in the end, if an employer needs to look overseas, they must look local first.
SHORTEN: Thank you Brendan. Are there any questions on the Northern Territory package and visas?
JOURNALIST: The first results are coming out of the referendum in the UK. You would be pleased they look like they're going to stay in Europe and what does that mean for Australia?
SHORTEN: It's a matter for the British people what decision they make. I'll wait to see what they decide. But what I've said all along, is the fundamentals of the Australian economy, the fundamental foundations, we're solid. We cope with international events all the time. But what it does show is the importance of having a long-term plan for transitioning Australia from the mining boom. As the world changes around us, it always has and it always will, what we can't afford to be is be a one trick pony. We can't just rely upon mining and resources and hope, as this Government clearly has for it's last three budgets, that will just carry us through. That's why our long-term economic plan is the right plan for Australia.
We are committed to investing in people. That's what makes education so important. We're committed to investing in public infrastructure. That's what makes our roads and rail and NBN promises and proposals so important. We're committed to investing in the industries of the future as well as the industries of the present. That's why renewable energy, tourism and indeed advanced manufacturing are all part of what we see as the future line-up of a diverse economy. We'll see what happens with the British on this decision, but Labor's got a plan to make sure whatever happens in the world, we're building sustainable, organic, domestic propositions which will see the Australian economy grow and will keep generating the sort of jobs which are so fundamental to economic prosperity.
JOURNALIST: Your Shadow minister mentioned some changes to employment so will you commit that if elected you'll get rid of the backpacker tax which is affecting Territory businesses right now?
SHORTEN: You're quite right in the last part of your sentence, or the last part of your question. The Liberal Party and the CLP up here and their representatives in Canberra, Malcolm Turnbull, have made a dreadful hash of things. There's practically a backpacker strike under way. Backpackers have choices about where they travel to, what Malcolm Turnbull's done has made New Zealand and Canada look more attractive. That takes some feat of policy to discourage backpackers coming here.
I promise, if I'm elected on July 2, we will immediately review the backpacker tax. What we will do, is what this Government seems to be chronically incapable of doing. We'll talk to agriculture, we'll talk to tourism, we'll understand the impact. If we have the sensible discussions which I think only a Labor Government can do, bringing people around the table, we'll make sure we reform the system so it works in the interests of the Territory.
JOURNALIST: Why are you backing away from your attack in recent days the Liberal Government will privatise Medicare and can you say they do have a policy to privatise universal health care?
SHORTEN: Thank you very much for that question. It is an important issue. What's happened is Malcolm Turnbull has been caught with his hand in the policy cookie jar. He's been very clear he believes in the privatisation of the outsourcing of the payment system. He's said as much in Parliament. He has a $5 million task force they created. So he's been on the road towards privatisation.
What's happened though, of course, is Malcolm Turnbull has seen the mounting electoral backlash against all his Medicare changes. What he has done, is he has doubled down and said, ‘listen, on this issue we won't do any more for the time being’. So he's had a look at his taskforce and said ‘we're not going to go ahead with that for the time being’. If you believe Malcolm Turnbull's basic DNA disposition is not to privatise assets, that's up to you. I just don't believe him.
The fact of the matter is, one of the reasons why I don't believe his new-found love of Medicare, his new-found commitment not to damage Medicare, is look at the rest of the cuts he's doing. It is not what Malcolm Turnbull is saying now about a particular privatisation taskforce that's got me worried. What it is, is piece by piece, brick by brick, this fellow, if given the chance on July 3, will dismantle our Medicare system. The evidence I have for that? He wants people to pay more to see the doctor because of his GP freeze. The evidence I have he wants to dismantle piece by piece our Medicare system is that he's putting up the price of medicine. The evidence I have to say Malcolm Turnbull wants to dismantle our Medicare system is the fact he is getting rid of bulk billing incentives for X-rays and for our pathology tests.
What will happen, and Sydney University's established this, is if Malcolm Turnbull gets re-elected, an average family with two children will pay an extra $412 per-year for their Medicare costs. They're already paying taxes for it. The price of our health care system will go up and be transferred from Malcolm Turnbull right onto the household budgets. That's assuming the average family doesn't have a medical problem and their kids don't have to attend the doctor more than just the average each year.
JOURNALIST: If, like you say, he has been caught with his hand in the policy cookie jar, does that therefore mean he doesn't have a policy on this and are you not being honest with voters?
SHORTEN: No, I'm standing up for Medicare. What I'm saying, Malcolm Turnbull wants people to have a look at a retreat he's making in one area temporarily and he wants to say ‘nothing else to look at here, at Medicare.’ I'm not going to let him off the hook. The Labor Party built Medicare and we've always defended Medicare. I'm not going to let Malcolm Turnbull off the hook of his terrible cuts, which will smash our health care system. He's not funding hospitals properly, he's getting rid of bulk billing by stealth, he's undermining the cost of medicine by increasing prices people pay for medicine. Malcolm Turnbull cannot be trusted with Medicare. If the Liberals get back in on July 2, piece by piece, brick by brick, the Medicare system as we know it will be fundamentally compromised.
JOURNALIST: If you are unsuccessful on July 2, will you rule out putting your hand up again for the leadership or trying to retain the leadership?
SHORTEN: You may think the election is over, I don't. I'm fighting this election down to the last minute. You could talk to me at 5:59pm on Saturday and I'll still be chasing votes because we've got the best policies for Australia. Indeed, today in the Territory, along with Warren Snowden and Luke Gosling, we're launching our positive policies for the Northern Territory. Our issues are beginning to bite in this election. We're going to make sure we talk about our positive plans. I think it's very interesting, don't you, Malcolm Turnbull no longer talks about his one economic plan. He had the 15 per cent GST, he's dropped that for the time being. He had the idea of letting States introduce a second income tax on all Australians, he dropped that idea pretty quickly; for the time being.
Then he came back to his core economic plan. The case for voting for Malcolm Turnbull is a $50 billion tax gave away to multinationals. You never hear Malcolm Turnbull talking about that anymore. Malcolm Turnbull will do anything not to talk about his tax giveaway to large companies. He wants to hide from the Australian people Malcolm Turnbull would give $7.5 billion to our big banks. He wants to hide from the Australian people 60 per cent of this tax cut would go overseas. He wants to hide from the Australian people he'll be rewarding large companies for investments they've already made. There is no proposition in his plans to create the sort of jobs we need for Australia, unlike Labor.
JOURNALIST: Julia Gillard, Paul Keating, Bob Hawke were at your campaign launch, I'm wondering which of the three leaders you've managed to catch up with, including Kevin Rudd as well, during the campaign and what advice they're offering you during this campaign?
SHORTEN: I have to say I was humbled we had so many former Labor Prime Ministers at the launch. I do keep up with Kevin Rudd, as you know he is pursuing some goals overseas at the moment and I wish him well. They've all been generous with their support. They’re generous in their council.
I have to say, I noticed one of those people you referred to has had a foray today. I speak of none other than Paul Keating. Its been interesting in this election, Malcolm Turnbull has said, ‘what he's doing with corporate tax cuts, that's what Keating did.’ Be careful what you wish for Malcolm. He's been invoking the name of Paul Keating in a spurious, dishonest attempt to say somehow he is Keating light. He is nothing like Keating. Hasn't the vintage Paul Keating emerged strongly today in the pages of the AFR. What Paul Keating has said, is everything Malcolm Turnbull is doing, the way he's doing the corporate tax cut, is wrong, wrong, wrong.
What Malcolm Turnbull's mistake is, he wants to give away the money to the large corporations, that's in his DNA. Fair enough, that's his values and that's his politics. If he gets in he wants to look after his friends in the top end of town. What he doesn't recognise, is the only way you can engage in tax reform is if you replace the revenue from somewhere else. Paul Keating did it by Capital Gains Tax and Fringe Benefits Tax. What is Malcolm Turnbull's replacement for the $50 billion he gives away? Going after Medicare, not properly funding our schools. No Labor leader, no Labor voter and most Australians would never contemplate you give a tax cut to ANZ, NAB, Westpac and Commonwealth Bank when it means the Medicare system. We see the end of bulk billing, we see the attack on prices average families have to pay more to go and see the doctor. No Labor person would do that.
JOURNALIST: You criticised Turnbull for coming into office and promising to avoid a rule in-rule-out approach, avoid three-word slogans and respect people's intelligence and to avoid captain's calls and that kind of thing. You said he's not delivered on that. Can you vow when you're in office not to do those things, the rule-in, rule-out, slogans and respect people's intelligence and not to run scare campaigns in the three years you're elected?
SHORTEN: The only three word slogan I want to see in the next three years if I'm elected Prime Minister is “Made in Australia”. What I want to do, is make sure Australians share in our prosperity. What drives me is the common good. What I believe is governments should govern in the interests of all, not just vested interests or particular sections of our community. I believe our plans for the Northern Territory are a perfect case study of the way which Labor would govern this country. If we want to make sure Indigenous kids get the same chance as non-Indigenous kids. We want to make sure people in Palmerston get an opportunity to have a quality hospital there. We want to make sure is we have good infrastructure, access to NBN. We want to make sure businesses work in the interests of all Australians and that's why we want to have a Royal Commission into the banking sector.
What we will do, is we will tackle vested interest in the common good. What we will do, is make sure we defend Medicare. Let's face it, 14.5 million patients are going to pay more to see the doctor if Malcolm Turnbull gets elected. That's what the Royal College of Australian GPs has said. So, yes, we will govern for all. We won't divide this country. We're not interested in using the slogans. In terms of captain's picks, what I will do is run a consultative Government. I think the proof of my style is the last three years in Opposition. When I took over the Opposition it's a matter of record we were a very divided organisation. People don't say that about us anymore. I've shown in the last 1,020 days what I'm capable of doing. Uniting people, being a strong Opposition and now providing positive policies for the people of this country.
JOURNALIST: With regard to costings, you said you would be different with costings and they would not be released last-minute in the campaign. We are one week out and unless I'm wrong and you've released all you intend to release, we still need a costings bottom line from you and we're going to get it in the hullabaloo of the last week of the campaign. Haven't you failed us in that regard?
SHORTEN: Tim, I wouldn't try and get anything past a forensic journalist of your experience. Tony Abbott released his costings, I think, 9pm or 8pm on the Thursday night before the Saturday. I promise you, we'll do that well before that.
JOURNALIST: That's a bad benchmark though, Mr Shorten.
SHORTEN: I agree. That's why we won't be as bad as him.
JOURNALIST: Why has it taken a week for you to concede Malcolm Turnbull is, in your words, for the time being not considering privatising Medicare? He was on the record as soon as you started talking about this a week ago. Why has it taken seven days for you to concede the point?
SHORTEN: I think whilst you ask the question, you sort of know the answer yourself. The fact is for three years this Government's been attacking Medicare and they still are. I think you understand it was the forensic questioning of Senators in Senate Estimates which revealed the existence of the privatisation task force.
Does anyone really believe that Malcolm Turnbull's turned his back on his faith in privatisation for any reason other than the electoral necessity and backlash of an Australian people? What we're saying to Malcolm Turnbull, is if you want to back off for the time being on one part of your plan to undermine Medicare, then you should back off on the lot. We're not going to let him get away with the trick of saying, ‘see, I will graciously back down for the time being on one issue,’ that somehow that lets him off the hook of all the cuts.
It was Sydney University that said an average family with two children will pay $412 more to go and see the doctor. $412 more. Now, Mr Turnbull might not think that’s a lot of money, I happen to think it is a lot of money for Australians. Of course, as any parent knows, if your kids get a bit of a run of bad luck and are quite sick well then, the costs will balloon out from there. The Royal College of Australian GP's has said 14.5 million patients will pay more. Large pathology firms have said the cost of a mammogram is going to go up to $100. The cost of the diagnoses of the great challenge of breast cancer, $300. We're in the sunny north here; the cost of the treatment of melanoma goes up by $1000. Mr Turnbull's plans if he is re-elected will see average Australian families paying a lot more for healthcare which they once took for granted.
JOURNALIST: I was just going to ask on the issue of Medicare. Today I think you're making an announcement about Veterans health suggesting that the Coalition would privatise Veterans health services. When Labor was last in power, didn't it do this by offering a contract to Medibank Private? I think you may have organised that deal Mr Snowden?
SHORTEN: I'll get Warren to answer that in a second. Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm saying I think the Government is aware of the mounting community concerns with the way the Liberals handle Medicare. Labor has been talking about defending Medicare ever since the 2014 Budget. The Government has belatedly decided to and tried to tweak a policy to say ‘nothing to see here.’ Well we're not going to let them off the hook.
JOURNALIST: But you've done that before. I was just going to say haven't you done that when Labor was last in power? Didn't you also privatise some health services such as Veterans health services to Medibank Private?
SHORTEN: Well first of all we didn't privatise Medibank Private did we? The Government sold it off.
JOURNALIST: But you outsourced the service.
SHORTEN: Sorry, if you feel there is another question I won't interrupt you.
SHORTEN: Ok, let’s go. The truth of the matter is, this is a Government who in their DNA believes in privatisation. We know they've been caught out trying to pretend something wasn't happening when something really was happening. The Government sought of hit the electoral panic button and said ‘nothing to see here’. But they are dismantling Medicare piece-by-piece and brick-by-brick. If Malcolm Turnbull really is interested in not shoving the burden of the cost of healthcare onto private Australians, he will immediately reverse his cuts to the GP freeze, he'll reverse his cuts to the bulk-billing incentive payments and he'll reverse his price hikes for Medicine. It’s as simple as that. If you really care about Medicare Malcolm, don't cut the system. I'll let Warren answer the last bit.
WARREN SNOWDEN: In terms of Veterans health, it’s very clear nothing substantial has changed at all. What our primary concerns has been and was then and is now, is that every Veteran gets access to the healthcare they require. Most Veterans visit private medical practitioners and charge them according to bulk-billing rates. In terms of hospitals, a long time ago the Australian Government owned repatriation hospitals and they no longer do, so they now go to private hospitals and that’s how it works.
In terms of defence families however, which is also part of this, it was the Labor Government which introduced the Defence Families Health Service. That Defence Families Health Service now 70 per cent, or there abouts’, of defence families are involved in that health system, which means for the first time, defence family members can have access to bulk-billing medical services for their health care. So, it’s a very important change that with which we've made in Government and we'll continue to support the health of Veterans and we'll continue to support the health of defence families.
SHORTEN: I'll take one last question please.
JOURNALIST: You've been asked a lot about deals with the Greens, but could you clarify for us whether you would be willing to enter alliances, deals or anything with Nick Xenophon, Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and any other Independent may happen to be elected this time round? And the Greens if you want to say you will?
SHORTEN: My intention is to try and win this election. I think Labor can win this election. My intention is to get Australian's first preference votes. My intention is for us to get as many seats as possible. Australia needs a Labor Government at this point in its history because we need to make sure our schools are properly funded. We need to make sure Medicare doesn't suffer the raft of savage cuts which Malcolm Turnbull is currently implementing on Australian’s healthcare.
Australians need a fast and first-grade NBN. Australians need real action on climate change. Australians don't need a $50 billion tax corporate give away. Malcolm Turnbull has stopped talking about his key economic plan because he knows Australians don't like it. He knows Australians don't believe it. Today I think former Prime Minister Keating's intervention exposing the hollowness, the porosity of content behind Malcolm Turnbull's $50 billion corporate tax cut speaks volumes for the lack of vision Malcolm Turnbull has for this country.
JOURNALIST: For the Greens you said no and you've just said now your intention is to get the first preference votes.
SHORTEN: No, that isn't what I said. Certainly what I'm making clear today, is Labor is going to try and win this election and the best way we can provide certainty is to put a number one next to the Labor candidate in your seat and number every box thereafter in a continuous consecutive series of numbers.