WEDNESDAY, 9 MARCH 2016
SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberals attack on Medicare and cuts to pathology and imaging services; Budget, US-Australia alliance; another dirty Green-Liberal deal; Labor’s positive plans for Australia.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Pathology centres, particularly in Australia, are some of the unsung heroes of providing quality patient care to people who need the best possible assistance. Currently, the Turnbull Government's proposing drastic cuts to Medicare. Specifically, one of the programs in the firing line is a bulk billing incentive which is provided through pathology laboratories. What this bulk billing incentive does is it provides just enough money which allows the pathology centres to be able to let people be bulk billed for vital tests. Vital tests including diagnosis and the treatment of diabetes and other chronic diseases. It's all about providing bulk billing for patients who need cancer treatment or leukaemia. Now, it's really important that Australians are able to get primary healthcare and early treatment of disease so that can help them recover, and of course providing early treatment of medical cover allows the taxpayer to actually pay less in the long run, because if we create a system where bulk billing goes, where the pathology laboratories are forced, due to harsh government cuts, to increase the initial price of getting a test, what that means is that the most vulnerable Australians, the poorest Australians, will be forced to make choices about can they afford a medical test or can they afford to pay for the groceries that week.
We believe in Australia, the Labor Party believes in Australia, that it should be your Medicare care and not your credit card that determines the level of healthcare you get in this country. And this is particularly important in regional Australia. If this laboratory had to make a co-payment or charge an extra price because of Mr Turnbull's cuts to Medicare, what would happen is for a lot of regional laboratories they just wouldn't be sustainable. So, what you'd see is people on the Central Coast would have to wait longer to get the medical treatment and analysis they need. Pathology tests are required in 70 per cent of all clinical diagnoses for people who are ill. In cancer, it's 100 per cent of the time pathology tests are required. We want to make sure that it's your Medicare card not your credit card that determines the level of healthcare in Australia.
And this again, these cuts are reflective, I think, of the deeper dysfunction in the Turnbull Government. The Turnbull Government has no plan for Medicare other than to cut it. They've got a plan for higher education, which involves $100,000 degrees and of course they're continuing many of their cuts on family payments. The chaos and dysfunction needs to end. Malcolm Turnbull in the upcoming Budget needs to reverse these dreadful Medicare cuts so Australian patients can get the care they need when they need it and also whenever they need it. Actually before we go to questions, we're very unfortunate to have one of the leading medical experts who works for Sonic talk about the specific cuts on pathology and, I think, it's very unusual I know for people affected by cuts to speak up themselves, but we're very fortunate to have Stephen who'll do that right now.
STEPHEN FAIRY, REPRESENTATIVE FROM SONIC HEALTH CARE: Thank you very much, Bill. We very much appreciate you coming to visit our laboratory today. We know that unlike many in Government today, that you have a deep understanding of the vital role that pathology plays in healthcare. In fact, pathology is so critical that without pathology medical practice would be almost impossible. Laboratories like the one we've seen today perform thousands of tests every day providing results to doctors and hospitals that allow them to diagnose and treat patients with a variety of medical conditions, including cancer and chronic diseases like diabetes.
We're very fortunate in Australia, because our pathology laboratories are amongst the best in the world in terms of quality, safety and efficiency and what's more, 98 per cent of all pathology services provided outside of hospitals are currently bulk billed. If the proposed fee cuts come into effect, that will change. The Medicare fees that allow pathology companies to bulk bill are absolutely vital. The pathology industry has absorbed fee cuts for many, many years, but now with intense cost pressures that is no longer possible. Many of our laboratories are financially stressed.
Therefore, the reassurances of the Health Minister that the pathology industry will absorb these fee cuts are unfounded. Unfortunately we will have no choice but to introduce co-payments for many pathology services. As a doctor and a pathologist, my concern is that the most vulnerable in our community will choose not to have vital, potentially life-saving pathology tests. The risk is if these fee cuts are not reversed is that laboratories like the one here in Gosford and in other regional and rural areas in Australia will be forced to close and what's more, we would be placing the health and well-being of vulnerable Australians at risk and I don't think we should allow that to happen. Thank you.
SHORTEN: Thanks Stephen. Whilst we've got Stephen here, are there questions on the Medicare and pathology cuts first before we go to other matters?
JOURNALIST: Just quickly how much would that co-payment that you'd be whacking on, how much would it be?
FAIRY: The co-payment will depend upon the tests that are ordered. We're still looking at the various mechanisms that we might put in place to do that.
JOURNALIST: And in terms of here on the Central Coast, what's the demand like for a centre like this?
FAIRY: The laboratory here on the Central Coast receives specimens for approximately 1500 patients per day and we do local testing on the urgent cases from the area.
JOURNALIST: Will this increase wait times for people to get results back?
FAIRY: If regional laboratories like the one here in Gosford are no longer able to remain open then it is inevitable that patients will wait much longer for their pathology tests, because they'll all have to be transported to Sydney for testing.
JOURNALIST: Would it actually be a reality that a big lab like this would face closure?
FAIRY: I think with the financial pressures that the industry is now under means that is a very real possibility.
SHORTEN: I just want to reiterate, therefore, these Medicare cuts are part of the Turnbull Budget strategy, but the idea that the Turnbull Government would choose to go hard on patients and cancer sufferers yet soft on dealing with unfair tax concessions for the big end of town just shows you the priorities of the Turnbull Government. Happy to take questions on other matters.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten are you ready for a 7.5 week election campaign? Mr Turnbull was here in the region last week, you're here today.
SHORTEN: Every day in the Turnbull Government we see new distraction, we see new chaos. It's another day in the Turnbull Government where they're doing everything but talking about the Budget. Labor's not afraid of an election, but Malcolm Turnbull's afraid of talking about his Budget. What Australians want is we want to see an economic plan, we want to see positive plans for the future. The Labor Party's offering positive plans on Medicare, on schools, on TAFE, on universities, on jobs and on taxation, on housing affordability, on renewable energy. Labor's offering positive plans in 2016, all the Turnbull Government's offering is division, dysfunction and distraction. This talk of an early election is just another effort by Malcolm Turnbull to distract people from his lack of an economic plan to help all Australians.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, when would you like to see the Budget delivered?
SHORTEN: I believe Malcolm Turnbull should deliver the Budget on May 10. He's now said today that he's going to deliver it on May 10, which isn't what he said yesterday. But now that Malcolm Turnbull said that he's going to deliver the Budget on May 10, he should now spell out his economic plans for Australia. He said six months ago to justify rolling Tony Abbott that he was going to offer new economic leadership. It was a wonderful, never more exciting time to be Malcolm Turnbull; six months on we haven't seen any economic plans. What we've seen is the right-wing of the Liberal Party force back downs and changes from Malcolm Turnbull. He's not going to do anything about housing affordability and negative gearing. He says that he's not going to do anything in superannuation, that's certainly what some in his party are pushing him to do. All he will be left with on Budget night is to repeat the horrible 2014 Budget, a Budget which had cuts to Medicare, $100,000 degrees, harsh treatment of pensioners and no proper funding for schools in the future based on need.
JOURNALIST: So what will your pitch to voters be?
SHORTEN: A vote for Labor is a vote for jobs, jobs, jobs. We believe in maintaining jobs in Australia from defence manufacturing through to renewable energy, through to advanced manufacturing. We'll promise Australians that we'll make sure that we have a fair taxation system in Australia, a Medicare system and a healthcare system where it is your Medicare card not your credit card that determines the level of care. We'll promise that every Australian child in every Australian school gets every opportunity in the future, and of course, we'll take real action on renewable energy to tackle the real problem of climate change.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, reports today that the US plan to increase I guess their capabilities here. Do you think that will raise tensions with our relationship with China?
SHORTEN: The American-Australian alliance is a bedrock policy of both Liberal and Labor. Strategic US bombers have visited Australia in the past and there are vigorous and rigorous protocols in place for such visits. Beyond that I believe that Australia can expand our relations into Asia and China without compromising our friendship with America. I actually think Australia is well placed in the world to use our middle-power status to be a good international citizen. Active in Asia, strong in our alliance with America and also prioritising working through international institutions so that we can see trade grow for Australia and indeed Asia.
JOURNALIST: How do you think China will view this move though?
SHORTEN: Well Australia's policy is decided by Australia, by no other country. Australia's foreign policy and defence policy is decided by Australia, it's not decided by the United States, China or anyone else.
JOURNALIST: Back to the election, how will you convince voters to vote Labor after the chaos of last time you were in office?
SHORTEN: I think that if you want to look at chaos and division, there's no better exemplar than the Turnbull Government. We've seen even in the last week, you've got the Treasurer in witness protection, you've got the Attorney-General overruled by the Prime Minister, you've got the Prime Minister overruled by the right-wing of his political party, not even allowed to go for a walk in Sydney during the Mardi Gras. This is a very divided government. One day the Budget's going to be one week, the next day, the Budget is going to be the next week. What this Government has got to start doing is standing up for Australia not fighting with themselves and focusing on their own jobs. For me, it's the jobs of Australians which matter not the jobs of Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott or the rest of that crew.
JOURNALIST: How important do you see the seats of Dobell and Robertson in the upcoming election? There's boundary changes up in Dobell which make it look like it’s more notionally Labor. Obviously it's an area that I imagine (inaudible).
SHORTEN: There is no seat in Australia which is automatically Liberal or Labor. I don't have that view. I tell you how important we're taking winning Dobell and Robertson, look at the high-quality candidates I've got with me. These are distinguished Australians who bring a wealth of experience before politics into their candidacy for Parliament. But we also understand what's really going on on the Central Coast in New South Wales. This is a fantastic place to live and raise a family, but we need to do better on our roads and transport. This is a fantastic place to live, but we need to make sure that the jobs are here and that not everyone has to go somewhere else to find a job. It's unacceptable that Malcolm Turnbull, who was the Minister for Communication for the last two and a half years is offering an NBN to locals which is slow, expensive and late. We believe in the bread and butter issues which make the Central Coast such a fantastic community. That's jobs, that's health, that's education.
JOURNALIST: Mr Turnbull is blaming, saying that it's Labor ‘s mess with the NBN. But if you come back into power, if you won the election, how would you fix it? There's been a lot of problems here on the Coast.
SHORTEN: There have been a lot of problems and Malcolm Turnbull promised before the last election he would deliver the NBN for a price tag of $29 billion. He's been the Minister in charge, whose only real experience of running anything in public life, in politics, has been the NBN. The cost has blown out from $29 billion to $56 billion. Everyone here was promised a better quality and faster NBN. Many places haven't got it at all and those that have are experiencing great difficulty with it. The other thing he's done is he’s sold Australia short by proposing a second-rate copper network, which isn't going to actually fulfill the needs in the future of the people who require a quality NBN. My view about the best technology is that we get the best technology in the world and we do it right the first time. The problem with this Government is they can't seem to do anything right the first time.
JOURNALIST: So what would Labor do if you came back to power?
SHORTEN: We'll be articulating our clear policies between now and the election. We believe fundamentally there should be a greater role for fibre to the premises as opposed to just the second-rate fibre-to-the-node. Although, what we won't do is pretend you can start everything again and we'll look at what the Turnbull Government's done and see how we can improve upon that. For us, it's all about making sure that small businesses on the Central Coast can compete with anywhere in Australia. For me, we just don't live to work, what we do is we work to live and that means we need an NBN which allows people to live in this part of Australia. The Central Coast is fantastic, you know that, you live here and my candidates are on to me every day about our policies. What we will do for the Central Coast is make sure that the NBN is working properly, that we have a better policy for people who commute, especially with roads, but also how transport interacts with public transport here. We want to make sure that the schools here are the equal of anywhere in Australia. We want to make sure that the hospitals here get the same sort of resources that the big city hospitals get and, of course, it's all about jobs. We want to make sure that we've got a confident economy where people can invest and we start generating more jobs right here on the Central Coast. Maybe I'll take one or two more questions.
JOURNALIST: A comment on the Liberals and Greens preference deal.
SHORTEN: A lot of Greens voters will be very concerned that a vote for the Greens will be a vote for the Liberal Party. I think that the Liberals are conning some of the Greens and some of the Green political party people are doing a deal to preserve their Senate spots, but in the meantime, we're seeing the Greens potentially allocating their votes to the Liberals. What that means is that a Green voter can no longer be sure that if they're voting Green that they're not, in fact, voting Liberal. I think it's a really, really dangerous path and I think a lot of Green voters will be very disillusioned.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the PM was here last week, you're now here. Is it a trip to Adelaide next or is it a trip to South Australia next?
SHORTEN: Labor's been standing up for South Australia long before Malcolm Turnbull could find it on a map, since he's become Prime Minister. I'll tell you what matters in South Australia - I've outlined what we think is important to the Central Coast - what matters in South Australia is jobs, jobs, jobs. What matters in South Australia is well-funded schools, a well-supported TAFE and the ability of working class and middle class kids to be able to go to university. What matters in South Australia is they build the 12 submarines there; only Labor can be trusted to do that. What matters is that Malcolm Turnbull hops off the fence and stands up for the steel industry in Whyalla.
But it doesn't matter if it's South Australia or the Central Coast, the Labor Party is the only party in 2016 who's offering positive plans. Malcolm Turnbull, he's running a divided and chaotic team. You can see his party doesn't like him and that he's uncomfortable with his party. I can promise Australians, be it the Central Coast or Adelaide, the Labor Party's united, we stand for jobs, healthcare, education, renewable energy and a fair taxation system and all we need the Central Coast to do, if we want to see that bright future, is vote for Emma and Anne at the next election. Thanks everyone.