WEDNESDAY, 23 MARCH 2016
SUBJECT/S: Terror attacks in Brussels; Malcolm Turnbull’s cuts to Medicare and pathology; Clean Energy Finance Corporation; Industrial Relations; Worker Entitlements; Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal; Morrison not in Turnbull’s inner circle
ZAC BEERS, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR FLYNN: Morning everyone, my name is Zac Beers and I'm the Federal ALP candidate for the seat of Flynn. I'm pleased to be here today with the Honourable Bill Shorten and Senator Chris Ketter to talk about some of the issues that are going to affect our health care system in the region if the LNP Government is re-elected at the next election.
Today we've had the privilege to talk to some experts from the medical community here about some of the issues that are going to play out in the event that the cuts to Medicare take place. It's already tough enough in regional communities to get access to quality health care and specialist services. There cuts that the LNP are proposing are only going to make that even tougher. People in regional communities should not have to travel to metropolitan centres to get access to reasonable health care. And I’m proud to say that Bill Shorten and the Labor Party are going to continue the fight to make sure that these services stay in regional communities, for the people in these areas to have access to the health care and services they need. I'll pass across to Chris Ketter now to make some comment.
CHRIS KETTER, LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: Thanks very much Zac and it's great to have Bill Shorten here in Gladstone today following on from a very successful Town Hall meeting last night. Bill was engaged with the community, hearing about the concerns that people have, but today we've heard about the impact that the $650 million in cuts to the bulk billing incentive will have on pathology services. And that is going to affect real people in the Central Queensland area. In Gladstone we've heard about how people come here for CT scans, breast and prostate testing, and that is - those are people who are at a stage in their life where they need support from government, and what we find here is the heartless Abbott/Turnbull Government is all about cutting the services to those people in their hour of need. So that is not the Labor way, Labor is about supporting people in vulnerable positions and in regional areas, and this comes in a train of cuts that have come from the Coalition with health, education, and I also want to highlight the fact that we have a Government which it seems is hell bent on focusing on industrial relations in this forth coming election, and we know that this is a Government that's not only hell bent on destroying the trade union movement but also wants to attack weekend penalty rates. And that has dire consequences for people in regional areas and in rural Queensland we know that that's $40 million that comes out of local economies which affects people, towns that can least afford to have those sorts of attacks on their community. So I welcome Bill to Central Queensland, it's great to have him here and he will lead the fight so that we can defeat these cuts. Thank you.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much Chris and might I say how pleased Chloe and I are both here to be visiting in Gladstone with Labor's very passionate and capable candidate for Flynn Zac Beers, and Senator Chris Ketter representing Central Queensland.
But before I talk about the issues affecting Medicare Gladstone, I think it's important that I put on record my complete condemnation of the shocking events which have been revealed that have occurred in Brussels overnight. This wanton act of criminality and terror and taking of innocent life, he stands condemned by the whole civilised world. I and Labor join with the Government in offering our bipartisan support to the people of Belgium and the government of Belgium. I'm probably like any number of Australians when they were younger who backpacked through Northern Europe and Belgium and Brussels, it's a beautiful city. Belgian people are a warm and generous people, they do not deserve, they do not deserve in any fashion these acts of barbaric cruelty, we absolutely condemn them, and on the day after we've seen the shocking loss of life and the damage, we just - our thoughts are with the Belgium people in particular.
I should also turn to the issues which bring me to Gladstone. Last night Zac, Chris and I and Chloe got to meet with hundreds of local citizens to talk about politics, and one of the big issues which people in Gladstone are most concerned with along with jobs, is of course the health care of Gladstone, the health care of the citizens of this region.
Medicare is under attack by the same cuts that Tony Abbott wanted; Malcolm Turnbull is now pushing ahead with. We're here at a diagnostic imaging centre. The work that the very special staff do here sees hundreds of people every week, 500-600 patients every week. The tests that they do here help deal with heart disease, help deal with the scourge of cancer from prostate to breast cancer. What happens here is that lives are literally helped prolonged and saved with good patient care.
However, a lot of this medical care is in jeopardy. What the Government is proposing to do is to get rid of the bulk billing incentive. The bulk billing incentive allows these businesses to have a sustainable investment and be able to keep downward pressure on the price of medicine for people in Gladstone and the regions surrounding it. The investments here, the machines here mean that sick people don't have to travel to Brisbane or large urban centres to get care. Because of the bulk billing incentive it means that this business has been able to look after patients and therefore attract more doctors and surgeons and specialists to the region, thus improving the overall quality of health care.
Mr Turnbull and his cuts would put all of this at risk. Labor has a very clear view about Medicare. We believe it should be your Medicare Card not your credit card which determines the level of care you get. We believe it should be your Medicare Care not the postcode you live in which determines the level of care you get. The regions of Australia including the great coastal and inland regions of Queensland deserve first class, universal health care.
The difference between Liberal and Labor when it comes to health care couldn't be starker. Labor believes in Medicare, we don't believe in cutting Medicare. Mr Turnbull wants to cut Medicare. The Liberals simply cannot be trusted, the LNP cannot be trusted with the health care and Medicare of Australia. Now we're happy to take questions on these and other matters.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the CPSU has recently, very recently announced they're delaying the strike action at airports in light of the Brussels attacks. Do you welcome that news and do you think after the attacks that these strikes should go ahead at all?
SHORTEN: Well I welcome the news that the CPSU, the union representing our hard working people in the Border Force and Immigration and Customs are not going ahead with the planned industrial action on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. I do now think it's time for the Government so sit down intelligently and moderately, not provocatively and confrontationally, and work through the issues with the hard working public servants. We ask a lot of the people on the front line of our public service. I know that they look at industrial action as a last resort, I think the Government now needs to sit down and send senior people to negotiate intelligently with the workers so that we can get a mutually beneficial outcome.
JOURNALIST: Should strikes still be on the table?
SHORTEN: Well I think today if the CPSU has taken it off in the light of the Brussels atrocities, I think - I don't think there's any doubt we should welcome that. I think the ball is now in the Government's court to take up the olive branch and respond with an equal degree of moderation rather than simply sitting in their corner and refusing to negotiate.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister today announced a $1 billion Clean Energy Fund. First of all do you welcome the fund and secondly what does it say about the difference in leadership in the Coalition given Tony Abbott wanted to scrap the Clean Energy Finance Corporation?
SHORTEN: Well we're day two of Malcom Turnbull's 103-day long election campaign, and what we see is Mr Turnbull scrambling with window-dressing to pretend that he's not the same as Mr Abbott. Now, Mr Turnbull once used to be the king, the champion of climate change action, now he leads a party who is gravely sceptical and not interested in taking real action on climate change. The reason why Mr Turnbull's actions look panicky and jerky and unpredictable is because in fact as recently as Monday, another Turnbull Government Minister wandered out into the media and said that there were no plans to retreat back from any of the cuts and changes that the Turnbull Government was sustaining from the Abbott-era. So on Monday you've got Greg Hunt saying 'no change, we're sticking with the Abbott-Turnbull plan as of last week'. Today, Mr Turnbull's under pressure because Tony Abbott's been out in newspapers yesterday and said that the Turnbull Government's really just the Abbott Government with a new salesman. Now Mr Turnbull's desperate to deal with the in-fighting, but one thing's for sure, he's not desperate to deal with climate change, because they've still got legislation to get rid of the very bodies which are necessary to help fund innovative new technology and funding in renewable energy. They are still going ahead with significant cuts to the CSIRO and the climate change scientists who work there. No, this is another day, another example of Malcolm Turnbull panicking. Today he wants to distance himself from Tony Abbott, but he's not changing the fundamentals. If you're fair dinkum about climate change you have a market-based system, you prioritise renewable energy, you stop trying to scrap the very bodies who do a lot of the work to help drive forward real policy on climate change. If you're fair dinkum on climate change you tell the CSIRO not to sack 350 scientists, including many of the very necessary climate scientists. Now Mr Turnbull's just window-dressing. It's all front and no substance.
JOURNALIST: Is it a step in the right direction though?
SHORTEN: Well, it's window-dressing, so that's the only way to describe it. Labor's got much better policies. If you want to take real action on climate change you can either choose the LNP who've got Malcolm Turnbull leading the party who don't believe in real action on climate change or you can have the real deal with the Labor Party. We're committed to 50 per cent renewable energy as being a part of our energy mix by 2030, we're committed to by 2050 reducing our carbon emissions to net zero, we're the ones who want to see solar power kick off again in the country. In the past two years the Governments of both Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott, the same Government effectively, we've seen Australia go backwards in renewable energy jobs and we've seen the Government also pump billions of dollars to pay large polluting companies with poor environmental outcomes. If Mr Turnbull were serious, he'd scrap the Direct Action Fund, he's reinstate all the scientists they've sacked, and he'd work with Labor in a bipartisan manner to go back to holding the views he held before he took Mr Abbott's job, but at the moment window-dressing is all the right wing of Mr Turnbull's party will let him do.
JOURNALIST: Back on the fall-out from Brussels, does Australia need stronger preventative detention laws to prevent this style of attack happening in Australia?
SHORTEN: Well, again, let's start with what's most important on the day after these atrocities, it's the people of Belgium. In terms of Australia, we're very fortunate to be such a long way away from a lot of these trouble spots, but that doesn't mean we can relax our vigilance at all. But today when you look at what's happened in Belgium, it's not a day for the blame game or looking at what laws would or wouldn't have prevented that, the people of Brussels are picking up the pieces, they're the ones trying to work out who's lived and who hasn't, they're trying to work out whether loved ones are safe. I'm confident that our security agencies, our defence forces, and indeed the bipartisan nature of which I dealt with national security, even with Tony Abbott and again we have the same offer to Mr Turnbull, Australians should rest assured that we don't see national security as a political football, we're very committed to maintaining the highest possible standards. We're very lucky in this country but I just have to say, today for me, my first thoughts are with the people of Brussels in Belgium.
JOURNALIST: Should Australia be offering assistance to Belgium?
SHORTEN: I think Australia should be offering assistance to Belgium. I'd be surprised if that hasn't already happened. But of course the Belgian authorities will have a lot of incoming offers for help. They'll be trying to work out what's happened, are there any more risks, how do they make sure this doesn't happen again, there'll be the dreadful task of talking to families trying to give people bad news. It's been very recent since the atrocities have taken place, but Australia should always be prepared to help other nations in difficulty.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned earlier how jobs are a big concern in Gladstone, how bigger role will IR play in this upcoming election? Will that might be one of your key claims?
SHORTEN: Well, when it comes to creating jobs in regional Queensland and Central Queensland both along the coast and inland, there's a number of factors which affect jobs. The resources boom: at the moment the prospects and resources aren't great, but it'll lift again at some point in the future. What we need to do is to make sure there's economic activity outside of resources which soaks up a lot of the hard-working people who've been displaced by the resources boom and the declining commodity prices. That means infrastructure, it means sorting out port roads to and through the access roads to the port. It means that the government, whoever's in charge, should get on and stop talking about infrastructure and build some stuff. I also see a good future here for agriculture, it's great that we had a cruise ship here in very recent times in Gladstone. This is a region who doesn't look for a hand-out from anywhere else. This is a region who's got a number of industries, and I've been visiting this place through my previous work and now, over twenty years. If you’re living in Gladstone, at key moments in the history of Gladstone in the last couple of decades have made strategic decisions to diversify their economy, but we are seeing hard redundancies at QAL and elsewhere, and we're seeing people perhaps confronting the prospect of redundancies in a way they haven't had to do between six and ten years previously. But if you want to create jobs in a region, you've got to make sure you've got a well-educated workforce. That's why properly funding our schools, our TAFE and our universities is important. You've got to be building infrastructure and you've also got, when there's government contracts, to prioritise and preference for local business, local small business, local jobs. There's a range of things that can be done to help Gladstone, but right now I think Gladstone's been forgotten by the Federal Government. I think the LNP were happy enough to take the taxes out of Gladstone when things were going well, but I think they've been strangers now there's been a downturn.
JOURNALIST: And with Baralaba, obviously there's a lot of workers that are still waiting for their redundancy packages. It's been six weeks that they're still waiting. Why isn't the Federal Government stepping in?
SHORTEN: The Federal Government, you know, they're only focussed on their own jobs at the moment. The biggest trauma the Federal Government's had to deal with is what date to have an election. The truth of the matter is that the rest of Australia's still trying to get by, and the rest of Australia have got to worry about their jobs, how their household budget's going, yet we've got a Government in Canberra who's just focussed on their own job. The example you use about the displaced workers who haven't received their redundancy in six weeks, that is scandalous. Tell you one big difference between Liberal and Labor, one big difference between the LNP Government in Canberra and Labor here on the ground in Gladstone? If I know that there's workers going without their legitimate entitlements, you leave no stone unturned to sort that out, the entitlements of workers are essentially money which has been loaned to the company, interest free, and the deal is when things go bad the company gives that money, which is accrued by the workers to the workers. It is unacceptable that corporate Australia does not pay the entitlements of workers who have no chance to protect themselves from a lot of the financial misadventures of companies and the workers are left at the bottom of the heap. And in Canberra, Malcolm Turnbull's got a chance to show that he really cares but every day goes by, it really shows that he doesn't care.
JOURNALIST: You spent the first two days of your campaign in Queensland, how often are we going to see you back here?
SHORTEN: Well my wife's a Queenslander so I come here a lot. The truth of the matter is that regional Queensland is one of the economic powerhouses of Australia. When you look at the great regional cities up and down the coast from Cairns to Townsville to Mackay to Rockhampton, to indeed Gladstone and to Bundaberg there's a lot of economic activity here. This part of Queensland during the resources boom has been doing its share of the heavy lifting for Australia. I think there's a great future for regional Queensland. I understand that Queensland doesn’t stop just north of Brisbane. I understand that it's a place where families want to live right through all of those towns and of course inland for the great mining towns inland. What I get is that in order to make sure we have a strong regional Queensland, you've got to have good hospitals, you've got to have the ability to have the sort of expensive equipment here which means that people living in Billawilla and Emerald and all around the region don't have to fly to Brisbane or further south to get the medical care they deserve. You've got to have good schools. You've got to make sure that kids are getting the best chance. A determinant of you success in life should not be the postcode which your parents live in and how close you live to the CBD of Melbourne or Sydney or Brisbane. So properly funded schools that's what Labor's about. Properly funded health care, hospitals, Medicare - that's what Labor's about and of course what drives all of that is jobs. We've got to make sure that we unlock the pipeline of infrastructure and investment which is long overdue to help soak up blue collar and tradie jobs, designers and engineers so that there's work to do after the mining boom. This Government's been asleep at the wheel.
JOURNALIST: On the road safety remuneration tribunal there are changes coming into the trucking industry next month and the truckies are claiming they're not getting a fair deal. Are you going to step in?
SHORTEN: Well I think that it's most important that truckies are paid properly. You know, when you think about how Australia carries its freight, there's shipping, there's rail and there's of course the long overnight hauls of interstate truck drivers and people driving between the big regions of Australia. We're very lucky to have that hard working transport and logistics industry we have. But it's most important that the people driving these trucks, the people working in this industry are paid safe rates of pay. It's no good trying to force a driver into an unhealthy and dangerous set of rules where the only way they can make a good living is to break the rules or to take risk with fatigue. We need safe rates of pay. We must understand that everyone uses the roads, we share the roads with these great - with the trucks of the road and we've got to make sure that we have a safe transport industry which treats its people fairly.
JOURNALIST: So would you make changes if you're elected?
SHORTEN: Well, we believe that there should be a process to help set what is a safe rate of pay. The Federal Government can't be trusted with the industrial conditions of people in Australia. You know, they're always banging on about the ABCC, but the truth of the matter is the only reason why they're attacking unions is that ultimately they want to undermine the ability of people to have a safety net of conditions. The Liberal Government has opposed safe rates of pay, and there's been one or two conservative Senators who’ve done the right thing, but the Government as a whole doesn’t like the idea of creating safe rates of pay. You can't trust Mr Turnbull and the Liberal Nationals on penalty rates. No, I think that if you're a blue collar worker in the country, if you're someone who goes to work every day and depends on getting proper safety net of pay rates Labor's the only party you can trust.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten I've just got one more on Europe, the PM said this morning that domestic security arrangements were allowed to slip over there and as a result and now weak. Do you agree with that statement?
SHORTEN: I think it's premature for the Prime Minister to be telling the Belgians what they did wrong within 24 hours of what's happened in Belgium. Now I've got no doubt that questions you're raising and all of the matters to do with the adequacy of security are legitimate topics to examine, what are the lessons, what's gone wrong, how do we make sure that doesn’t happen again? But I think within the 24 hours after these atrocities, from the distance of Australia and the safety of Australia, I'm not going to start handing out advice to the Belgians. For me today is about recognising that people have lost their lives, innocent people have lost their lives. No doubt the hard questions will get asked in coming days but for me today it's just about sending a message to the people of Brussels and the people of Belgium that the people of Australia feel for you, we respect you and we support you.
One last question, thank you.
I might just then go on to one other issue which has been brought to my attention this morning. It appears that Mr Turnbull's confirmed that the Treasurer of Australia, Mr Morrison, is not in his inner circle. Specifically, Mr Turnbull was asked this morning why didn't he tell the Treasurer of Australia about the change in the date of the Budget and Mr Turnbull admitted that it was an inner circle who made this decision or were aware of it. You cannot have a situation where the two key economic spokespeople of Australia, the Prime Minister and his chief economic steward, the Treasurer, are on different pages. The setting of the date of the Budget to my way of thinking is a more important decision to make then when you hold the election that comes afterwards. But it goes to show you that Mr Turnbull's more interested in the setting of the date of the election and retrofitting everything that has to go in order to set a date for the election, including when we hold the Budget. The Budget is the single most important economic task of a Government in a year. The single most important person for carrying out Mr Turnbull's wishes is Mr Morrison. It is nothing short of humiliating for Mr Morrison that he's on radio or talking to the media, like I am here, but he's talking at 9:30 in the morning and then by 10:30 his boss, Mr Turnbull, is saying something completely different. At 9:30 Mr Morrison made it absolutely crystal clear the Budget would be on May 10th, at 10:30 his boss, his leader, the guy who works most closely with him, his partner in arms is out there contradicting the Treasurer and saying that the Budget will be on May 3rd. If Mr Turnbull won't trust Mr Morrison with the date of the Budget, why should Australians trust Mr Morrison with any other details of the Budget? Another day, another example of the Liberal's tearing themselves apart. Yesterday it was Mr Abbott fighting with Mr Turnbull, Mr Turnbull fighting with Mr Abbott. And it is also clear today by Mr Turnbull's own admissions that he not only humiliated his Treasurer, but he doesn’t even care how his Treasurer feels. Not only did he publically embarrass him by contradicting his position within one hour but what he's then done today is conceded that the Treasurer is not even in the inner circle of the Prime Minister. Australia deserves better than the divided Liberals National Party.
JOURNALIST: Do you think Turnbull is dropping the ball?
SHORTEN: In terms of the - Mr Turnbull I think he is panicking. I think he's only interested in the date of the election. I think he's only interested in his own job. Contrast this with Labor's policy plan, Mr Turnbull wants to try and prove on one day he's tougher than Mr Abbott, another day he's different to Mr Abbott, he wants to try and prove that he's the real Treasurer and not Mr Morrison. By contrast Labor has positive plans.
I'm here in Gladstone because I think the health of all Australians matters. I'm here in Gladstone because I believe in jobs in the regions not just the cities. I'm here in Gladstone because I believe that schools in Gladstone and the surrounding region should be properly funded. I'm here because I believe the hospitals in Gladstone deserve to get the same attention and support as the hospitals in big cities. I'm here in Gladstone because I want to see new jobs, especially through renewable energy and local procurement, building local infrastructure. I'm here in Gladstone because Labor has a plan for all Australians. Mr Turnbull only has a plan for his own election.