SUBJECT/S: Medicare; Budget repair that’s fair; Parliament leave arrangements; Boat turnback to Sri Lanka; Nauru; Racial Discrimination Act
JENNY MACKLIN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FAMILIES AND SOCIAL SERVICES: Thanks everyone for coming to West Heidelberg today. I thought I might just mention that with the Olympics coming to an end, the 1956 Olympic village is just around the corner here, and a big congratulations to all the fantastic athletes who've really done us all proud over the last couple of weeks. Welcome everyone to this terrific doctors surgery, and I want to first of all say a very big thank you to Dr Janelle Francis and all the staff who work here, who do an outstanding job caring for people here in West Heidelberg. This is an area of need where a lot of people need to be able to come to the doctor and not face out-of-pocket costs. People don't have a lot of money. So it's very, very important that doctors here are able to bulk bill. Dr Francis contacted me a little while ago to let me know what she is doing to make sure that she can continue to bulk bill. She's actually taken out an extra mortgage on her home to enable her to financially manage to bulk bill her patients here in West Heidelberg. I just want to say to her on behalf of the people of West Heidelberg how much we appreciate her willingness to put herself in this position. Of course she's had to do this as a result of the Turnbull Government threatening bulk billing by freezing the Medicare rebate. Dr Francis and many, many other doctors right around Australia have spoken up and said "We want to see bulk billing continue". That's why I'm very, very pleased that Bill Shorten's been prepared to come here today to talk to Dr Francis and to Ivy, one of the patients, about how important bulk billing is, how much Labor is prepared to do to make sure that bulk billing is continued in this country and particularly in areas like West Heidelberg. Thanks very much Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Jenny, and it's great to be in West Heidelberg at the surgery of Dr Janelle Francis. Mr Turnbull's talking today across the other side of town about Budget repair. Labor's up for Budget repair which is fair. You don't make the Budget better by making it harder for sick people to see the doctor when they need to see the doctor. All that does is cause greater complications down the track, greater pressure on our hospitals and greater health care costs. Mr Turnbull cannot have learnt anything from the election if he's still persisting with harmful changes to Medicare. Bulk billing is not just good for patients, it's good for the bottom line of the Budget. Because the easier it is for patients to go and see the doctor, the cheaper it will be on the total health bill paid by taxpayers down the track. So, Mr Turnbull's got some straightforward opportunities here to not harm Medicare and if he wants to improve the Budget bottom line, he could stop backing big corporations and stop offering a $50 billion tax give away to the largest companies in Australia and overseas operating in Australia. Budget repair must be fair. Labor will work to ensure that we have Budget repair which is fair, but what we will never do is compromise and undermine and harm Medicare, especially when Mr Turnbull's giving away $50 billion of much needed taxpayer money to large companies and multinationals who will just use it for their bottom line. We're happy to take questions on these important issues and anything else.
JOURNALIST: On the Budget, does Labor stand by all of the savings measures it and you announced during the election, and if so, will you support the Government's moves to legislate those cuts in Parliament?
SHORTEN: Our position will be consistent with what we said before the election, but let's be clear here, Mr Turnbull says he wants cooperation. Cooperation doesn't involve him telling everyone else what to do. What's Mr Turnbull bringing to the table to improve the Budget position from his point of view? If he just expects Labor to dance to his tune and ignore our values and ignore our priorities, well, he's got another thing coming. Mr Turnbull could improve the Budget bottom line dramatically by not going ahead with the $50 billion of tax give-aways that he wants to give large companies. He'll get all the cooperation in the world for that measure, too. I also think that Mr Turnbull needs to come clean. He's dictating to Labor - he says that the only formal cooperation can be if we all do what he wants, if we dance to the Liberal tune. Well, we will never vote to harm Medicare, we will never vote to lift the retirement age of Australians to 70. We will not vote for these measures and we will never vote to give $50 billion away of taxpayer money to large corporations. Mr Turnbull's got to be fair dinkum. He's got to be fair dinkum about looking at measures which he is not currently talking about: negative gearing reform, capital gains tax discount reform, going harder on multinationals not paying their fair share of tax. Mr Turnbull's got to be fair dinkum. In a negotiation, it's not a matter of he gets everything he wants and Labor and the people get none of what we think is important. Mr Turnbull's got to come to the party and give up some of the things he thinks are important, because the truth of the matter is, that if we want to repair the Budget, the single best thing we can do is not give $50 billion away to big banks and multinationals, taxpayer money going to improve the bottom line of large companies who don't need that money.
JOURNALIST: If the individual measure does align with Labor values, if the individual measure is the same from the Government's point of view and the Opposition's point of view, why not just support that individual thing and be done with it and move on to other issues?
SHORTEN: Well, I would refer you to the previous answer. We need to see the detail. For Malcolm Turnbull, words are cheap. He hasn't provided a list of what the legislation is. Of course we'll be constructive, but it speaks volumes for the attitude of this fellow, Turnbull, that what he does, instead of sitting down as convention would dictate, and talking to us about what he has in mind, he's rushed off to announce it in a speech. He is negotiating by megaphone. That’s not the way to do business. That's not the way to make a Parliament cooperate. He's acting, and it speaks volumes of his attitude, he's acting like he knows best, he knows everything and the rest of us should be grateful for the fact that he's there and we should just do as he says. We're not going to give up on Medicare. We're not going to give up on a banking Royal Commission, we're not going to give up our opposition to a $50 billion tax cut for large multinationals. We're not going to give up opposing increasing the working age of Australians to 70. Mr Turnbull's policies are out of touch. We will certainly look carefully at his legislation, of course we will, and of course we'll make sure it's consistent with our values, but if Mr Turnbull wants cooperation, I think he needs to adopt a different approach, and he's going to have to bring to the table what he's willing to compromise on. If Malcolm Turnbull says he'll compromise on nothing and we have to do what he says, that's not a very good start for cooperation.
JOURNALIST: Chris Bowen has said, a pair should be granted for compelling, personal reasons. What, in your mind, constitutes a compelling personal reason?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, this whole debate about pairing comes around from the fact that Mr Turnbull has told the Australian people that he's in charge, he's got a working majority. When a Government has a working majority they don't traditionally have an arrangement of pairing with the opposition party.
Now, If he doesn't actually believe he has a working majority, if he doesn't trust his own backbench to keep working with him, he needs to be explicit about that with the Australian people. In terms of our own conduct, we're not going to be petty. We know that in the Rudd-Gillard era, where the numbers were very close and it was a hung parliament, the Liberals could be quite spiteful from time to time. We're not going to go down that same path.
The Labor Party believes, for example, that employers should provide compassionate leave to employees. We think the Parliament should do the same thing. So, where there's a family emergency or the like, we get that. We're not going to play petty schoolyard games, but there's a bigger issue here. Mr Turnbull's told the Australian people that he's won the election, that he's got a strong working majority, etcetera, etcetera - you know the rhetoric. Well, if he has that, why is he so desperate to get our agreement?
JOURNALIST: Does that count for overseas trips that could be in the national interest or the Government says is in the national interest?
SHORTEN: Well, let's see - already we've got this Liberal mission creep. Just because - if there's a family emergency, the birth of a child, well of course, that's a perfectly good reason, but if all of a sudden Mr Turnbull wants us to dance to his tune and he's got a Liberal MP making a political speech and it suits the Liberal Party's political agenda, well they need to sort that out. We're not here just to make possible for the Liberals to pursue all their political partisan positioning and speech-making around the place.
JOURNALIST: So you'll be assessing those kinds of things on a case by case basis?
SHORTEN: If Mr Turnbull has a working majority, why does he need to worry about what we say? If he doesn't have a working majority, then he needs to come clean with the Australian people. But as for the personal stuff, we're not going to be petty about that, absolutely not.
JOURNALIST: There's a Queensland school porn issue, I don't know how up to date you are with this story. Essentially a website has been found that allows people to target and swap explicit images of school students in Queensland - it is a national story.
SHORTEN: I know nothing about it.
JOURNALIST: Can't comment on that at all?
SHORTEN: Absolutely not, no. I don't know anything about that.
JOURNALIST: How about boat turnbacks, has Labor received any briefings of the latest boat turnback?
SHORTEN: No, we haven't. Let's be very clear here. On one hand, Labor is as committed as the Liberals to stopping the people smugglers from plying their evil trade, but on the other hand we don't think that that opposition to people smuggling should be used as an excuse to keep people in indefinite detention on Nauru, for example.
We do think that the Senate should investigate the most recent spate of serious complaints. It is not good enough for the Immigration Minister to brush it all under the carpet and say, "There's nothing to see here." Report after report means that I think it's about time the Government took the Senate and the Australian people into their trust. If there is genuinely no problem here, then they've got nothing to hide, have they? And if there is something to see here, if there are problems here, well I think we need to deal with it, don't we?
I think, though what's been remarkable in the last few days is that Tony Abbott, in a quite an amazing speech, confirmed that the Liberals had been too partisan against Labor's Malaysia solution which could have avoided the sort of waiting times we are seeing on Nauru right now, but what we haven't heard is Malcolm Turnbull's view on this. Does he agree with Tony Abbott that the Liberals should have voted for the Malaysia solution, or doesn't he? Somehow Mr Turnbull sailed right under the radar here. Tony Abbott signalled that the Liberals didn't get it right. What does Mr Turnbull think about that. Also I think the Liberals should support a Senate inquiry and I'm at a loss to understand why Mr Turnbull won’t do that.
JOURNALIST: The Nauruan Government has brushed off criticism saying that a number of these reports - these incident reports, in their mind, possibly fabricated and made-up. They've said that to the Australian media. How concerned are you that the Nauruan Government has this approach to this issue?
SHORTEN: Nauru is a sovereign government, I'm not going to tell Nauru how to conduct their internal politics, but these people are indirectly in the care of Australia. I think it is appropriate for Australia to talk with Nauru. I think it is appropriate for our Parliament to investigate these matters. I don't think they can be swept under the carpet and I don't think we can ignore the fairly significant release of a whole lot of files and complaints. Some of them may not be true, but if some of them are true, then it's remiss of us not to act, and the Government being put on notice of these complaints becomes culpable if they refuse to act on these complaints.
JOURNALIST: Would the kind of investigations, and Senate inquiry that you're looking at, look at how the Nauruan Government handles this issue?
SHORTEN: Well, it is up to the Senate to work through their terms of reference with this matter. I wish the Government of Australia would work with the rest of us and we could get to the bottom of this matter. Taking that theme of cooperation, I might just wrap up this press conference and just state again, Mr Turnbull's call for cooperation, he hasn't done it by sitting down with myself and the Labor leadership, he is doing it through the megaphone of a speech to the media. That says a lot about his attitude towards cooperation.
Mr Turnbull has to understand that we want to be cooperative, but he has to bring something to the table. What is it that he's going to modify in terms of his behaviour to make this Parliament work? If Mr Turnbull just says it is his way or the highway, well, that's not a very good start. We will not, and we will never support the undermining of Medicare.
Mr Turnbull said about 50 days ago, and the day after the election, that the Liberals have got the message on Medicare, but he said nothing about Medicare since. He needs to improve his funding for hospitals. He needs to not go ahead with increasing the cost of prescription medicine. He needs to unfreeze the payments to the front line and medical care around GPs. He needs to not go ahead with the cuts to bulk-billing for diagnostic imaging and for blood tests and X-rays and the like. He has to show that he is willing to listen to the Australian people on issues as fundamental as Medicare and we will not let go of this topic of defending Medicare when the Parliament resumes, and we certainly know that if he wants to make real Budget repair, he should not go ahead with his $50 billion worth of corporate tax cuts to large companies, to big banks, to multinationals. These are the measures which he should do if he wants to have cooperation, he's going to need to bring something to the table himself, rather than just tell everyone to do as he says.
I mean, why should we? His own backbench don't even agree with what he says, and we've just seen most recently that fairly dramatic revelation overnight that he did a dirty deal to undermine protections against hate speech with the right wing of his party, and now that that secret deal has been outed, Mr Turnbull needs to confirm if the reports in the Daily Telegraph are correct, or incorrect. Did Mr Turnbull do a deal with his own right wing to undermine protections against hate speech or not?
So if we want cooperation, it's got to start at home and Mr Turnbull's got to be upfront, upfront on Medicare, upfront on his dealings with his own party, and upfront about not going ahead with corporate tax cuts to big businesses rather than seeing our social fabric being undermined by his harsh cuts to Medicare.
Thank you everybody.