FRIDAY, 29 APRIL 2016
SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Turnbull’s attack on Medicare and cuts to pathology; Malcolm Turnbull’s approval of tax avoidance; Infrastructure; Manus Island Detention Centre; Penalty rates
LIESEL WETT, CEO OF PATHOLOGY AUSTRALIA: Welcome everybody, my name is Liesel Wett, and I am the CEO of Pathology Australia, and I am here today with the Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Minister for Health. Welcome to Melbourne Pathology. Melbourne Pathology has been providing services to the Victorian community for more than 80 years. Pathology, you would know, Australian pathology is world class. 70 per cent of all medical diagnosis, and 100 per cent of all cancer diagnosis, requires the skills of a pathologist. Yesterday we launched a major report that showed the contribution that the pathology sector has made to health care to Australian citizens in this country. That $2 billion in 2014-2015, includes up to half a billion dollars in free pathology tests. That's half a billion dollars in free pathology tests every year. That's why we think the cuts to the bulk billing initiative are a nonsense and need to go. Eight weeks ago we launched a campaign to ask the community, the broader Australian community, to help us to stop these cuts to pathology. We have now, half a million signatures to that policy. We're soon, if we keep going the way we're going, we are soon to reach over a million signatures trying to stop those cuts. That'll happen just before 1 July. We know half a billion, half a million, people can't be wrong. They can't be wrong. They want their pathology tests, their life saving pathology tests where they need them, when they need them, without fear of cost. That's why we're asking the Government today to overturn this decision and to keep petitioning, and to running our petition right up until the election. I'd now like to ask the Leader of the Opposition to say a few words.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Liesel It's great to be here at this pathology lab with my shadow health spokesperson, Catherine King. Labor is absolutely committed to defending Medicare against Mr Turnbull's cuts. We've now seen half a million Australians sign a petition opposing the cuts to bulk billing that the Turnbull Government are effectively putting in place for diabetics seeking blood tests, for people dealing with the battle of cancer getting the necessary treatment and identification they need so they can be helped on their journey to recovery. This Government, Mr Turnbull, on Tuesday night has a last opportunity to reverse the dreadful cuts to Medicare which are happening here with pathology testing and x-rays. The consequences of the Turnbull Government arrogantly continuing with their war against Medicare, past the Budget, are dreadful to contemplate for people who are battling with chronic diseases and life-threatening diseases. This election will be a referendum about the privatisation and slashing of Medicare. The Labor Party is absolutely committed to a sensible policy which ensures that patients who need treatment, pathology tests and x-rays, don't have to pay a large upfront fee in order to get the vital tests they need. The consequence of Mr Turnbull's anti-Medicare policies is that sick people will get sicker and the taxpayer will end up paying more tax because we all know that people who don't get early treatment will require more expensive treatment the longer that their diseases and medical challenges remain unsupported. But this just goes to show how out of touch Mr Turnbull's priorities are. When it comes to defending the big end of town, Mr Turnbull is very strong. He doesn't want a Banking Royal Commission. He doesn't make multinationals pay their fair share. He's proposing in the Budget to give the biggest tax cuts to the people who are already the most well off. And this morning on Melbourne radio, he gave Prime Ministerial blessing to tax avoidance in Australia. Mr Turnbull is the best friend that people who seek to avoid their tax have in Canberra. The very wealthy who are able to access the most favourable tax concessions, who are able to engage in tax avoidance, the people who are avoiding tax in Australia, couldn't ask for a better friend in Canberra than Malcolm Turnbull. It's all about priorities. At the next election, Labor will defend bulk billing, we will defend the ability of people to get timely medical care and the blood tests they need so they can cope with the biggest challenges in their life. By contrast, Mr Turnbull will defend the banks against a Royal Commission, he'll defend multinationals against paying their fair share and he seems intent upon using Prime Ministerial office to encourage tax avoidance in Australia. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, do you support Malcolm Turnbull's idea to go (inaudible) loans to build infrastructure?
SHORTEN: We have seen Mr Turnbull today propose a plan that favours bankers but just not builders. Six months ago, Anthony Albanese, my transport spokesperson, and myself outlined a $10 billion concrete bank with firm proposals to help reinvest in public transport in our big cities, to help reinvest in necessary roads to clear congestion so that people can have better productivity and better quality of life. But all we've seen today from Mr Turnbull is a $50 million inquiry and we don't see any detail of what his priorities are. Mr Turnbull has a plan for bankers but not for building the projects that Australia needs.
JOURNALIST: Would you cave into the demands of the Left and let asylum seekers come to Australia if you were PM?
SHORTEN: I think it is absolutely outrageous that Mr Turnbull and Minister Dutton, arguably the worst Minister in the Coalition although there's strong competition for that, it is outrageous that Mr Turnbull and Mr Dutton have allowed this train wreck to occur in terms of offshore processing and Papua New Guinea. It was amazing yesterday morning when Minister Dutton said that he and Prime Minister Turnbull had known that this problem had been coming for months. Well what have they been doing about it? A Labor Government is supportive of regional processing. We will not allow the people smugglers to get back into business. On that, both Mr Turnbull and I are on a unity ticket. But what we won't do is allow a situation, if we're elected on July 2, of indefinite detention of people on Manus and Nauru. The Government of the day needs to make sure that we're actively negotiating agreements in our region so that those people in those facilities are given a real path to be able to be resettled in a third country. Labor's policy is settled.
JOURNALIST: Would you send them to New Zealand? They've offered to take refugees from us.
SHORTEN: We are open to the question of resettlement countries. The issue here is that what on earth has Mr Turnbull and Mr Dutton been doing for the last number of months when they have known that PNG and the situation there is going to arise and the sort of situation we've seen this week? It is not good enough for the Government to simply focus on turning back boats and not have a plan to regionally resettle people. It's not good enough for them to leave people in indefinite detention. I understand the frustration and concerns of many Australians who don't want to see indefinite detention. But also, I am equally committed to making sure that the people smugglers, the criminal syndicates who prey upon vulnerable people who merely seek to come to this country, offering them expensive tickets in dangerous boats and we see thousands of people drown. Australia needs to pursue a path which defeats the people smugglers but doesn't see people kept in indefinite detention.
JOURNALIST: Do you have anything to say to the MPs, including people like Melissa Clarke (sic), who are calling on you and everyone to settle people in Australia?
SHORTEN: We settled this matter at the ALP National Conference. See, unlike Mr Turnbull, I'm able to persuade my party to be able move in a particular direction. We know he can't persuade them to do anything on climate change, anything on marriage equality, anything in terms of a whole range of policies that he used to believe. I know it's a difficult issue and I understand that a lot of Australians, not just members of parliament, want to see an end to indefinite detention but I also understand that all Australians don't want to see mass drownings at sea. I'm committed to beating the people smugglers and I must take this opportunity to make it clear to the criminal syndicates who watch what happens in Australian politics, after July 2, whether or not it's another term with the Liberals or whether or not Labor wins, we're all equally committed and all Australians are too, in defeating people smugglers and putting people on unsafe boats and seeing people drown at sea. We're not going to go back to that.
JOURNALIST: Just back on health, we read a story today about the size of the health bureaucracy saying it was bigger than the army reserve. Are you worried about that flowing out, that non-core health worker population blowing out and have impacts on patient care?
SHORTEN: I'm going to get Catherine to go to the detail of that but let me state again, the number one priority for Labor is to make sure that it is your Medicare card not your credit card that determines the level of health care you get in this country. There is no more important issue than health care, that's why we are fighting so hard against the ridiculous and savage cuts which will discourage sick people from getting the blood tests they need, which will in fact help them more speedily to recovery or indeed in some cases, it becomes a matter of life and death. But I'll get Catherine to go to your specific matter.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks for that Bill and I saw those reports as well, so thanks for the question. I find it pretty extraordinary for a Government that said they were going to get rid of the bureaucracy when it came to health care that we've seen this happen on their watch and in particular, the Commonwealth bureaucracy. We are absolutely committed to making sure that we pursue efficiencies across the health system and making sure that dollars go into Medicare. What we've seen from this Government is substantial cuts and more bureaucracy and I think the report today points to that.
JOURNALIST: Minister, can I just get you on higher education as well? There's a story out today that the Government would look at going ahead with deregulation of university fees. Putting a cap on how much they can charge per degree. What are your thoughts on that?
SHORTEN: I don't trust the Liberals when it comes to providing opportunities for middle class and working class kids to go to university. They're very out of touch. The idea that you make slashing cuts to higher education, such as the Liberals are proposing. So, you put universities under incredible pressure and then what they do is they deregulate the fees so that you force universities to increase their fees. What that means is that this nation goes backwards in higher education. It's important that the kids in the regions of Australia get a chance to go to university. It's important that mature-age students who might be seeking to retrain and reskill for the jobs of the future in a changing job market aren’t discouraged from going back to university because of $100,000 degrees. Labor's already outlined our policies on higher education. We would make multinationals pay their fair share, we would make reform to unsustainable tax concessions and superannuation at the top end and using some of that money we would be able to then fund a minimum guarantee for every student going to university. In Australia, it should be how hard you work which determines whether or not you get to university not what school you went to or how rich your parents are. My concern is that if Mr Turnbull and the Liberals get another 1,000 days to be in power they're going to turn higher education into the bastion of the elite and lot of other people are going to be locked out and that's not good for the economic growth of the nation.
JOURNALIST: Just on Martin Ferguson, what's your view about the (inaudible). Has Dave Oliver gone too far for the tough and tumble of the (inaudible).
SHORTEN: I haven't seen the comments, Rick. What I do know is that the Labor Party has learned a lot of the lessons of the previous six years of government. I think it's fair to say we pass the test for being a united Opposition. You can't make everyone in your political party like each other, that's a fact, but today we see Tony Abbott saying he doesn't think he could get the votes to be leader. What's interesting about that is that he didn't say he doesn’t want to be leader. What we've got is real dysfunction in the Liberal Party. I was in Tasmania yesterday and one of the things I noticed is that Malcolm Turnbull's key backer and most senior Tasmanian Minister, Senator Colbeck, is number five on the Senate ticket. Another thing which I have to say about some aspects of Mr Turnbull's Liberal Party is why are the top five positions in Tasmania all gone to men? You know, this Liberal Party is out of touch. They don't have as many women running for parliament as the Labor Party, they don't have as many women in senior positions running, they certainly aren't as united. We know after the next election that whatever happens in the election, the Liberal Party is itching for a real civil war and a dust-up in their own ranks. This election is just a skirmish for the Liberal Party that takes them off what they see to be the main game which is either the Abbott forces squaring off with the Turnbull forces of the Turnbull forces squaring off with the Abbott forces. So when we talk about unity I can guarantee the Australian people that the Labor Party is a united team. That's why I think we're putting our policies out so positively whereas Mr Turnbull, in the last eight months, he's had to totally turn his personality inside out and be all the things now he said he would never be before he became Prime Minister and I use climate change as the perfect example of that. One more question, thanks.
JOURNALIST: So one of his comments was that he flies business class and he's lost sight of the (inaudible) - penalty rates saying he shouldn't oppose penalty rates (inaudible).
SHORTEN: Well, I'm not going to get into the gossip and the chatter but what I will say about penalty rates, only a Labor Government can be trusted to protect people's penalty rates. The Liberal Party, through the Productivity Commission, put a submission in to the current penalty rates case by the Independent tribunal which recommended really cutting penalty rates. I, from Opposition, for the first time in the history of Federation, put forward a submission supporting our penalty rates structure. The truth of the matter is that people who work the inconvenient hours, the unsocial hours, the hours which rob you of time with your family do deserve extra loading and extra support. Only Labor can be trusted - we get their penalty rates. For them it's not a matter of a whim or a thought bubble, for them it's the difference between being able to afford the decencies of life, be able to afford to pay the bills or not. That's why the Labor Party is on the side of penalty rates and I might just say in closing the Labor Party is going to back in the rights of kids from modest backgrounds to go to university and we will oppose rampant deregulation of higher education. The Labor Party is on the side of the half a million Australians who've already signed the very important petition in the matter of eight weeks to defend the right to be able to access quality pathology tests without having to pay an upfront fee. When it comes to standing up for people who are sick, for people who are down on their luck, for people who are working hard every day to raise their family and need penalty rates, for parents who dream of their kids going to university and also importantly for parents who want to see their adult children be able to buy their first home in the housing market without competing unfairly with people buying their 10th property subsidised by taxpayers, that's who the Labor Party stand for. Look forward to seeing you soon. Thank you.