TUESDAY 21 JUNE 2016
SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Turnbull’s plan to privatise Medicare, Housing affordability, Malcolm Turnbull’s tax cut for big business, CFA.
STEFANIE PERRI, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR CHISHOLM: Hello everybody. My name is Stefanie Perri, I am the Labor candidate for Chisholm. It's great to be here at Monash Medical Centre in Clayton, a great local hospital that serves the Chisholm electorate and beyond extremely well. It's a great hospital where I had my own two children and it's a hospital very highly valued in this community, and is an area we need to continue to support very strongly as a key service in this area. It's my great pleasure to introduce Bill Shorten.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody and thanks very much Stefani. I am also joined by Clare O'Neil, Labor's member for Hotham and Julian Hill, Labor's candidate for Bruce. It's great to be here at Monash Hospital because it reminds you about what's important in this election. It's about making sure we defend Medicare. Today again, I'm going to talk about defending Medicare. One of the reasons why we have to do this, is because the Prime Minister continues to mislead Australians about his intentions towards Medicare.
As recently as last night on Q&A, and also in his media appearances, the Prime Minister is deliberately going out of his way to mislead Australians about his intentions on Medicare. If you listened to him, yesterday he said he knew nothing about the privatisation taskforce. What Productivity Commission report, he says. The truth of the matter is, you don't have to take my word for what the Prime Minister is proposing with Medicare. I would like to quote you his words in February. Specifically, when asked by Labor in Parliament earlier this year, Mr Turnbull replied: "Any outsourcing would apply only to back-office operations and administrative actions of making payments to individuals and providers." He spelt is out. He showed clear awareness of the privatisation proposals of the payment systems.
It's not me saying that, it's Malcolm Turnbull. Yet yesterday, he said, never been considered. You can't have both positions at the same time. That is a direct contradiction and I'm calling him on it. We had the media FOIing documents to do with the privatisation taskforce, bang comes back the reaction as the shutters came down from the Turnbull Government, it's a Cabinet in confidence matter. Yet, yesterday the Prime Minister said it had never been to Cabinet. You can only claim the FOI exemption on Cabinet in confidence if the matter is being prepared for Cabinet. Mr Turnbull can't have it both ways. He was either wrong in February, his departments were wrong with the FOI, or he was misleading people yesterday. The truth of the matter is, and it is an old line, but I think it's appropriate: with friends like Mr Turnbull, Medicare sure doesn't need any enemies.
Can I have some questions, please?
REPORTER: This morning on Nova, you claimed a mammogram would cost an extra $100 if the Government is returned, breast cancer treatment, an extra $300 and melanoma treatment would cost $1,000 extra. Where have you got those figures from?
SHORTEN: We've got that material from service providers' websites and the representatives of service providers. The cost will be up by $100 for a mammogram, the cost could increase up to $300 for breast cancer diagnosis, and up to $1,000 for melanoma treatment. What the Turnbull Government is doing, and I think your question goes to the heart of the matter, is they are abolishing the bulk-billing incentive payments to pathology laboratories and to diagnostic imaging centres, $650 million. If you take $650 million out of the bulk-billing system of Australia, someone is going to pay the bill. It will either be absorbed by the service providers or ultimately, it's going to increase costs and an upfront increases in costs.
Mr Turnbull thinks it is enough for him just to write on a piece of paper he will guarantee Medicare. The problem is, now Mr Turnbull has gone down the rabbit hole of saying he is fair dinkum about Medicare, he needs to back up his words with actions. If Malcolm Turnbull is fair dinkum on Medicare, he will unfreeze the GP rebates, he won't go ahead with the price increases to medicine and he won't go ahead with scrapping the bulk-billing discount. He should look at Labor's proposal to legislate restrictions against privatisation in the future, rather than simply hoping what he says before the election, people will forget about after an election, if he gets another term.
REPORTER: Labor's NDIS used [inaudible] private companies to boost those services. Why is it OK for something as important as the NDIS but not potentially for Medicare?
SHORTEN: Let's be very clear here about the National Disability Insurance Scheme. As someone who was involved in helping work up the case for it, what we want to do is make sure we put our people with disabilities and their carers at the centre of the disability system. What we want to do is make sure Australians living with a disability, or their families caring for them, receive packages of support. Then when they get these packages of support, they will use services. But the payment would go from the NDIS to the person. Now, I am not going to tell individuals how they allocate their packages of support. But the truth of the matter is, Medicare is a one payment system.
It is very important, if we want to talk about Medicare, let's look at why Labor is up in arms to defend Medicare. We believe in a single payment system. We believe in one provider making the payments, that's the Government. We don't want this function outsourced to banks or to foreign companies, where data is handled overseas on these matters. We want it dealt with by the Government, by Medicare.
The second thing is, you can't be fair dinkum about Medicare unless you support bulk-billing. This is the great sort of magic, dare I use it, of Medicare. The point about it is, with our payment system, it allows medical providers to be able to provide services and the patient doesn't have to pay an upfront fee. Bulk-billing is at the core of universal health care in this country. Mr Turnbull has specifically got different measures which undermine bulk-billing. Let me remind you what they are. We will keep reminding Australians right up to the election. It is the GP freeze. What they are proposing to do is freeze the payments from Medicare to GPs for six years. A six year winter of freezes in terms of Medicare payments. That will mean the number of GPs able to offer bulk-billing will shrink. What it means, is if you've got a sick child, you face the prospect of having to put your hand in your pocket much more than you current ly do to pay an upfront fee to get the attention a sick patient deserves. This Medicare debate is important. You've asked me a question –
REPORTER: The question was about the private providers –
SHORTEN: Mate, I'm going to answer the question.
REPORTER: Why is it ok to use them for the NDIS? [inaudible]
SHORTEN: I am going to talk about Medicare, saving Medicare, the NDIS and the whole shooting match. I am not going to give it to you in a five-second grab because this issue deserves a proper explanation. Malcolm Turnbull says he is the champion of Medicare. You cannot be the champion of Medicare if you are freezing GP rebates for six years, can you? You certainly can't be the champion of Medicare if you are increasing the price of medicine. You can't be the champion of Medicare if you are removing the bulk-billing incentives for pathology and for diagnostic imaging.
Again, the basis of Medicare is a payment to providers, which says you don't have to pay an upfront fee to go to see the doctor. In terms of the NDIS, I answered that earlier. This is a model of providing disability care where by you provide packages of support to people with disabilities with life-long impairments so they can help buy and purchase some of the services they require to lead fully empowered lives. If the Liberal Party is trying to confuse the issue and somehow say the NDIS is proof they should privatise Medicare, that is complete rubbish.
REPORTER: Are you saying Malcolm Turnbull is lying and if you are saying that, was Julia Gillard lying when she said there would be no carbon tax?
SHORTEN: Well, let's be really direct here. I think Mr Turnbull is not being truthful with the facts. You are a smart person, you draw the conclusion. In February, he says I'm all for the outsourcing of the payment system. Now, 12 days out from an election, he is desperately trying to deny and he says, I never even considered it.
Back when the Sydney Morning Herald or The Australian was trying to FOI these documents, they were given the big brush off, the big stop sign from the Government addicted to secrecy. Saying this can't be FOI this information, no Freedom of Information to see here because the exemption is a Cabinet matter. Yet yesterday Mr Turnbull says it is not a Cabinet matter. You can't be both. It either is a Cabinet matter or it isn't a Cabinet matter. You either have considered the proposition or you haven't.
The truth of the matter is, this government is not a great defender of Medicare. They've been caught out on their privatisation taskforce. There was $5 million for this taskforce, which was revealed at parliamentary estimates. But it doesn't stop there. If you want to defend Medicare, you've got to be a Government who is prepared to properly fund the GPs, keep downward pressure on the price of medicine and ensure you keep bulk-billing incentives. It's as simple as that. You can't be half for Medicare two weeks before an election, and then after an election, roll out your Productivity Commission review, which is looking at the contestability of services. Which goes to the heart of Medicare. We will keep defending Medicare as much as Mr Turnbull keeps undermining its future.
REPORTER: At various times your Shadow Treasurer and your Shadow Health spokesman have pointed to aspects of Medicare being privatised, if you like, or run by the private sector. Many economists talk about it all the time. Aren't you, by flatly ruling out any private sector involvement, ensuring health costs will actually be higher under a Shorten Government and you would be able to deliver fewer health services to Australians?
SHORTEN: No, I don't accept much of the assumptions of any of that question, Tim, and let me explain to you why. First of all, as my colleagues have pointed out, you use consultants in any system of government, that's true. But none of my colleagues have ever said outsource the payment system to the private sector. Any other statement to say otherwise is false.
We want to go to the issue of healthcare costs. We have a laboratory example of a privatised health care system, it is called the United States health system. Where what you've got is a two-tiered health system. If you are really poor, you get the very basic level of care and for the rest of you, you've got to be a millionaire to be able to get proper medical care. I'm not making up the problems of the American healthcare system’s crowded emergency wards. I'm not making up a system where a third of Americans don't have proper health care. The truth of the matter is, the United States under President Obama is moving more down the path of Australia's health care system. We would be crazy to let go of one of the great strengths and community standards of Australia. I love the fact I live in a country where we put patients before profit. I love the fact it's your Medicare card, not your credit card that dete rmines the level of health care.
You can't be a serious Prime Minister of this country if you don't prioritise the health care of Australians. I have chosen to prioritise in this election finding the money to help pay the GPs their modest increases so we keep bulkbilling. I have chosen to be able to make sure we can keep bulkbilling incentives for pathologists and for X-ray companies and all of that important work done there in diagnosis. I have chosen to make sure we have decided to scrap the price hike for medicine. I have chosen not to give a tax cut to millionaires. I have chosen to make multinationals pay their fair share. I've chosen not to go ahead with a $50 billion corporate tax giveaway to the biggest companies in Australia. This election is all about choices. I choose the healthcare of Australians.
REPORTER: There's new polling out today on negative gearing and your capital gains tax policies. It shows house prices would be cut by an average of four per cent across the country and investors would be up to $20,000 worse off over a decade. Are you pleased or concerned about these findings?
SHORTEN: I'm going to back all the research showing we're on the right track about these matters. The truth of the matter is, why should first home buyers be discriminated against and receive no support from the Government, yet someone buying their tenth investment property gets a taxpayer subsidy paid by every taxpayer in Australia? It is not the great Australian dream to get a tax subsidy for your tenth house. The great Australian dream is for parents to be able to see their adult children be able to enter the housing market.
This country has to make choices about budget repair. We choose to do budget repair that is fair. In this country we currently spend more in a year on negative gearing and capital gains tax deductions subsidies than we do on childcare or higher education. Is that really the nation we want our kids to grow up in? I've made a choice, I will do structural repair to the Budget, reducing the structural deficit, by reigning in unsustainable tax concessions rather than short-cutting the health of Australians. I'm up for the fight.
If Malcolm Turnbull says he is on the side of big property agency companies who want to maintain tax subsidies and investment properties, or the sick and the unwell and people who want to see a health system where you don't have to pay a big upfront fee to go to the doctor, I choose health every time. Let's also be clear about negative gearing before we fall prey to some of the more fanciful and overcooked arguments of the real estate lobby and their representatives in Parliament, the Liberal Party of Australia. They say housing will collapse, it is all a disaster. Nonsense, rubbish, complete nonsense, complete rubbish.
Joe Hockey said in his valedictory speech he wished he had looked at it. Jeff Kennett, not known for voting Labor very often, he said we should look at this issue, of course he did. Scott Morrison said in February there were excesses in negative gearing. Now of course because Labor has the idea, these people are so political and hyper-partisan when Labor has a good idea, they run the other way even at the point of compromising their own integrity on these matters.
REPORTER: Can I ask you about today's ANZ consumer confidence survey, shows consumer confidence is at a two and a half year high. Doesn't this show the Government's economic plan and policy the Government has been articulating seems to be working, including company tax cuts?
SHORTEN: I'm not the sort of politician who is unhappy when there's good news about the economy. I'm pleased for any signs, any ray of sunlight, but let's also name some other statistics you didn't go in this question. This current mob have tripled the deficit. They've increased the net debt public sector burden on every Australian. They haven't got a plan for healthcare. They will freeze the GP rebate for six years. They're gutting the bulkbilling incentive for blood tests, mammograms, breast cancer diagnosis, the treatment of melanomas.
Inequality is at a 75-year high. Our cost of living is falling for the first time in a long time. The truth of the matter is, this Government has got an economy wallowing in the doldrums and they have no plan to improve Australia's future except handing away tens of billions of dollars out of the Budget to large corporations and high net worth individuals. What is going to replace that money once the money is gone? What's their plan to replace it? Their plan is don't fund the schools properly. Make sure we have two-tier health care system. Make sure we put pressure on waiting lists and emergency wards. We'll see elective surgery waiting lists blow out. This is a Government with a plan for big banks, big companies, big real estate, just not a plan for everyone else.
REPORTER: Two questions.
SHORTEN: Can we do one and then we'll do someone else?
REPORTER: How seriously is Labor taking the threat CFA volunteer will be campaigning against you, especially in seats like Corangamite, and in regards to an industrial relations dispute of someone from your own office, what happened there and how much will it cost the taxpayer?
SHORTEN: Well, let’s do the second matter first. First of all, this matter was dealt with by the Department of Finance at arm’s length. Out of respect for the parties involved in that particular matter, there has been a confidentiality settlement. I'm not going to compromise that.
Going to the issue of the CFA. Again, let me state clearly my view on these matters. CFA volunteers are at the heart of the CFA. Career firefighters, and the CFA generally, do an outstanding job. It is not a matter of saying one group of people are more meritorious than another group of people. They are both committed to the safety of Victoria and the safety of Victorians. This has been a disappointing dispute, and of course everyone would like to see it resolved more quickly than it has been. But as I've said before, every argument, every negotiation and complex matter, has a has a beginning, a middle and an end. I am confident the goodwill of the people in this service, the professional firefighters, they're all professional firefighters, but the career firefighters and the volunteers, I am convinced there is more than enough goodwill to resolve this matter. What I am not going to do is start using the federal electio n to politicise a state issue.
REPORTER: You want to make the health care system easier for people to access. If there are back-end functions that could be handled by the private sector that would make it easier for people to do that, would you consider it and if not, why not?
SHORTEN: Mate, I'm not going to sell off the payments system –
REPORTER: I'm not talking about selling off, I'm talking about getting the private sector –
SHORTEN: Jason, I will answer your question. I understood it perfectly well. I am not going to sell off the payment system of Medicare. There are a couple of key elements of Medicare which I think we need to keep reiterating and I'm going to keep defending. The payment system is part of the secret of the success of Medicare. I am not going to sell off the back-office payment systems to a large multinational or to a bank. What happens then, when you are paying for that payments system, you're not just making sure the money is going out the door to patients and providers, but you have to find some of a healthcare budget to pay a large company for the profits their shareholders want too. I want Medicare in this country to serve one master: the people of Australia.
REPORTER: Does the Medicare system, the claims system, needs to be modernised?
SHORTEN: Everything always needs to be updated. I'm not going to stand here and say otherwise. But what Medicare doesn't need to do is to be privatised or undermined. What Medicare needs is a government who will defend Medicare. Let's call it as it is. Mr Turnbull, if re-elected, will freeze the payments to GPs for six years. That's a fact. He wants to increase the price of medicine for prescription drugs. That's a fact. Mr Turnbull wants to scrap the bulk-billing incentives for pathology tests and for diagnostic imaging. That's a fact. Labor will not do any of those three measures and another fact is, and we are standing in the precinct of a great hospital, Mr Turnbull is inadequately funding these hospitals.
I was touched by the stories I heard up in that children's ward. What it reminded me is my own experience of becoming a parent. When you are just looking after yourself, it's not that you take your health for granted, but unless you have illness directly it’s not something which is always front of mind. When you have a child, you realise there is something a bit more important than just yourself. Every parent knows the truth of what I'm saying. You realise you've got a little human who is defenceless and depends and trusts upon you completely. There is nothing more disempowering and upsetting for a parent when their child is sick and they are not getting better. No parent wants their child in hospital. If you have to trust the most precious being in your world to the care of another, you want to make sure that hospital is properly funded, the nurses and doctors are not overworked beyond the point of exhaustion, and you actually do have 21st century resources.
I have made a decision in this election and I will test in this election my values against Mr Turnbull's. I will test my commitment to properly fund hospitals, to make sure you can get to see a doctor when you need one and not have a fence of a big co-payment. That when you need to get a blood test or an X-ray, you can actually afford to get one without being deterred by the cost pressures in that system. That you can actually afford the prescription medicine your child needs. This election is all about choices and for all of Mr Turnbull's words and for all of his protestations about his good intent, his policies are not good for Medicare and I will defend Medicare. Perhaps, I have taken a few questions, I will take one more question.
REPORTER: Mr Shorten, just on the Medicare issue, is it not true to say when it comes to specifically the issue of privatisation of any aspect of Medicare, both major parties have exactly the same position?
SHORTEN: No. I wouldn't trust this Government with the health of the nation. You can't say we have the same position, when the fact of the matter is it wasn't Labor who set up a privatisation taskforce. It wasn't Labor who has tried to protect by FOI the matter considered by Cabinet and then subsequently gets themselves tied up in knots and says maybe it wasn't a Cabinet matter. It wasn't Labor who proposed a reference to the Productivity Commission about the contestability of the delivery of all Human Services, which is code for privatisation. It wasn't Labor who made Mr Turnbull get up, grant eloquently, in Parliament in February and say, ‘blah, it's all a good idea and let's look at the back-office functions being contracted out’. No, this is a mess of the Government's making. All we're doing is reminding people.
By the way, it's not Labor who wants to cut the heart out of Medicare by freezing GP rebates for six years, by cutting the bulk-billing incentive payments to pathology and diagnostic imaging and by increasing the price of medicine, prescription drugs and by not properly funding the hospitals. If the health of Australia is important to you, vote Labor at the election and perhaps I will take just one question, because I notice one of the big guns has come out to join the rest of you.
That would be you, Pete. How did you know I meant you?
PETER HELLIAR: Yes, I had a feeling. My question goes to the heart of leadership. I've been travelling on the bus with my esteemed colleagues here and some of them have been calling me #fakejourno can you tell them not to do that, please?
SHORTEN: Come here. He is a journalist, he has got feelings.
PETER HELLIAR: When you look at the nominations for Gold Logies, can you look at how that can be rearranged? Yes?
SHORTEN: Let's talk about another one. That's a private sector matter.
Thanks everybody, I did say last question. Catch you at the next gig.