MONDAY, 23 MAY 2016
SUBJECTS: The future of Australia’s health care system; Newspoll; Last day to enrol to vote; Election 2016; Experts support Labor’s Medicare policies; Entitlements; Housing affordability; Liberal lies on Labor’s polices; Donation reform; Medical Research Future Fund
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It's great to be here in Perth during the campaign, talking about one of the key issues for this federal election: the future of Australia's healthcare system. Saving Medicare, saving bulk-billing, keeping downward pressure on the cost of medicine. There is a very clear choice for voters in this election. Vote Labor and secure cheaper medicine, vote Liberal, and secure tax cuts for multinationals. This is a fundamental issue of importance to Australians. The health of any one of us is a great concern to all of us and defending Medicare I think is a fundamental function of a Prime Minister. It's all about choices. If I'm elected after July 2, I will prioritise the health care of all Australians. If Mr Turnbull is re-elected, he will prioritise tax cuts for the wealthy and tax cuts for multinationals. But it would appear also today that it's not just Labor wh o understands the importance of our policies on saving Medicare, on unfreezing the GP rebates, on keeping downward pressure on the cost of pharmaceutical prescriptions. No less a person than Mr Turnbull's own Minister for Health has today said that she doesn't support the policies of the Government and instead says she's been rolled by other people in the Government. When the Minister for Health in a Liberal Government says that their own policies are looking sick and that Labor policies are on the right track, it just shows Australians, I think, the fundamental choice at this election. You can vote Labor, and make sure that we have cheaper medicine for the sick. You can vote Labor and make sure that GPs don't have to implement upfront fees to go and see the doctor. Or you can vote Liberal, and if you earn a million dollars a year get a $17,000 tax cut, or you can vote Liberal and make sure that Australia's largest banks will enjoy $7.4 billion dollars in tax cuts over the next 10 years. This election is a referendum about the future costs of medicine, going to the doctor, and saving Medicare. I'd now like to hand over to my shadow Minister for Health to talk further about Labor's great positive policies for the future of health care.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks very much for that Bill. It's terrific to be here in the seat of Hasluck with Bill Leadbetter, our fantastic candidate here. Well look, the Health Minister today, her position is entirely untenable. How can you have the Health Minister of the nation somehow conceding she has no control whatsoever about what happens in Cabinet to health policy? She has basically admitted that health policy under the Turnbull Government is all about cuts and about finding savings, it has got nothing to do with the health of this nation. There is a clear choice at this election. A clear choice. A Labor Government who wants to back in patients, back in people like Natalie who are trying to do the right thing, keep their kids healthy, keep themselves healthy, work hard every single day, support Medicare, support Labor's policies in relation to making sure that we don't see pr ice hikes to the costs of prescription drugs, or continue with a Turnbull Government that now has its own Health Minister basically saying Labor's policies are better than those of her own Government. I can't see how her position can possibly be tenable today, how she can possibly continue today when she's been out there basically saying "I've got no control over what's happening, I've got rolled in Cabinet, Treasury and Finance are making me do this and I think this policy is the wrong policy." Thanks.
JOURNALIST: Newspoll shows today that if an election were held today, you'd be the Prime Minister even though Malcolm Turnbull remains preferred Prime Minister. Is Labor still the underdog?
SHORTEN: Labor's clearly the underdog in this election. It's a steep climb to win north of 20 seats in this election. But as I've said all along, this election's not about Malcolm Turnbull or myself. Quite frankly, this election is about Natalie. It's about Caitlin, it's about Zac, it's about Jacob. Natalie's story and that of her partner's is a story I've repeated across the Australian suburbs and regions. She works part-time. Her husband's working full-time. They're raising three, four children, which is fantastic. They don't earn a lot of money. What happens is though, they pay their taxes, they pay their Medicare levy. She got sick last year. A serious illness. It can happen to any of us. And because we've got the great Medicare system we've got, she was able to get high-quality assistance, from superbly trained medical staff, but what she was a lso able to do is afford to pay the bills. When you've got the sort of illness she has or indeed when you're just raising children, children do get sick and it can be unexpected. And when you're living on a fortnightly pay packet or a monthly pay packet, when you've got a medical system which doesn't require big upfront payments to get the care that your children deserve, what that means is that Medicare is worth fighting for. So when we talk about polls I think about Natalie. As she said, they aren't asking for a pension. They're not super wealthy. But they do feel that because of what they do, when they need help, when they need that safety net of our health care system, it should be there for them. Clearly, the issue here is in the election, that if you are a family raising children and you need to keep cheaper medicine, then you vote Labor. If you want a more costly system, which creates upfront fees for going to the doctor, vote Liberal.
SHORTEN: I think that today the biggest thing other than our health announcement is to remind young people and people generally not enrolled to vote that this is the last day to enrol to vote. You can do it up to 8pm, you can enrol on-line. What I say to people, perhaps who never got around to enrolling, don't be shy about it. I had a bloke come up to me the other day quietly and he said does he get in trouble? He'd like to enrol to vote because he has seen what we're talking about with health care. I said "Just enrol." I just say there is a lot of young people, there's people who've moved houses, there's people who haven't got around to voting or perhaps people in the course of moving around have dropped offer the roll and they're not quite sure what to do. It's fine. I just say to Australians: if you want Australia to have a strong Medicare system, if you wa nt to have investments in our schools, please enrol to vote and make your view known.
JOURNALIST: One of your Senate candidates here in WA is in the news for his expletive laden forays into social media. Is this appropriate and is it concerning that all of your Senate candidates in WA apart from your captain's pick of Pat Dodson have come out of the unions?
SHORTEN: Let's be clear here. He shouldn't have used expletives on social media and I'm disappointed. I'm sure there will be no repetition of that behaviour. In terms of the calibre of our candidates, Labor has actually got a relatively clean slate of new candidates. Pat Dodson is a remarkable West Australian. He will make a great contribution. Bill our candidate in Hasluck has a distinguished career working in education and being an advocate for the issues which I think most Australian families want to hear about. We've got a very good team. Matt Keogh our candidate in Burt, very good. He's been a senior lawyer, has worked both in the public sector as a lawyer, prosecuting criminals and he's also worked in the private sector. We've got very good candidates. And what's more, we've got very good policies. What Natalie wants to hear is what are we going to do to help her f amily? This household here are not people sitting back and expecting a whole lot of favours. They're not expecting a whole lot of favours in terms of tax cuts to multinationals. They don't expect to get large taxpayer subsidies in negative gearing. But what they do want to know is when their kids are sick, will they be able to afford to take them to them to the doctor?
JOURNALIST: On Natalie, Mr Shorten, she got sick last year, as you say. She was treated well in the health system. Your Shadow Health Minister yesterday conceded that bulk-bill rates are at higher levels than they were under Labor. What is the problem?
SHORTEN: Just ask the AMA, the union for doctors. Just ask the Royal College of Australian General Practitioners. They know, they're the front-line our GPs. They know that, if the Liberals get re-elected and there's an ongoing freeze to rebates, doctors will have to stop bulk-billing. What drives our policies is not trying to score points off the Liberals. What drives our policies is the health of all Australians. The Liberals have got form when it comes to trying to cut Medicare. Mr Turnbull set up a $5 million taskforce to look at privatising parts of Medicare. We know that ever since Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey's Budget in 2014 they've been determined to increase the cost of prescription drugs. We know they have had three or four goes at trying to force increase of co-payments for patients going to see the GP. When it comes to the health of Australians you just can't trust the L iberals. And by the way, the Minister for Health in the Liberal Government also said she hasn't been able to convince her colleagues to go with the better policy, which for the record is Labor's policy.
JOURNALIST: Yesterday you seemed to be defending the independence of the entitlements system and now your frontbenchers are talking about what Labor would do. You seem to have had a rethink of the role of your party. Isn't this a populist gesture?
SHORTEN: No, what I said is entitlements are set by an independent tribunal. Yesterday's issue which was revealed is one of a tax office ruling in 1999. I also made it clear yesterday that I was unaware that this ability to make claims even existed because I certainly don't do that. No, what I have asked Chris Bowen and my Treasury team to do is to look at how we close down this ruling. I don't think it's fair and I'll make it very clear to Australians that where I don't think something is fair, I will act on it.
JOURNALIST: We have seen modelling today that shows people earning less than $100,000 will be disproportionately affected by your party's proposal to make changes to negative gearing. Do you agree that will be the outcome? How do you justify those changes to low income owners who will be less worse off?
SHORTEN: Let's not fall for one of the big lies of the Liberal Party that somehow negative gearing is a Robin Hood tax concession which lifts the poor out of poverty. That's rubbish. Ask yourselves clearly. What happens here is that when they look at the data which the real estate industry and Turnbull and Morrison are using to defend this unsustainable tax subsidy. What they look at is the after negatively geared taxable income. Well this is false. Under the current evidence that this Government produced, there are people who pay no Medicare Levy and no taxable income, are able to negatively gear. Now what bank in Australia lends money to people who have no money? Clearly what the Government is doing is looking at the after tax benefit of negative gearing and conflating that and saying that the people using it are battlers in Struggle Street. Nothing could be further from the truth. But we sh ould also make it very clear, our changes are not retrospective. Our changes will not affect anyone who currently negatively gears and you will still be able to negatively gear for new housing. But something's got to give. It's all about priorities. Do we want to be a country which spends more on negative gearing tax deductions and capital gains tax deduction than we do on child care? Do we actually think that it's more important in this country that we spend more on subsidies for a property speculator to buy their tenth house, than we do on our total bill for higher education? I am much more interested in finding the money so that Natalie and her kids can keep being able to go to the doctor and get cheaper medicines than I am in defending $100 billion of government subsidy to the negatively gearing property speculators, to big business, to high net-worth individuals pulling down seven figure incomes. It's a matter of choices. The Labor Party will fight for Medicare, for cheaper medicine. We will fight for the ability of schools to be well-funded. Mr Turnbull, by contrast, he will fight for the right of people to negatively gear their 10th house, for the right of large American companies operating in Australia to get a massive tax cut, and remit the profits to foreign shareholders, he will fight for the right of someone earning $1 million a year to get a $17,000 tax cut. They're their policies, they just don't get what Australians want. Australians want a well-funded health care system. They want a well-funded schools system and they want a government whose priorities reflect the wishes of Australians.
JOURNALIST: Malcolm Turnbull at his press conference this morning used the phrase spend-o-meter a few times this morning. That was the phrase you adopted in Woy Woy a few nights back on a local road announcement. Are you not just playing into the Liberals' advertising campaign?
SHORTEN: Well let's go to the clip which the Liberals are trying to use. The Liberals have promised a road which is a dangerous road, $670,000 for three years and they haven't actually got around to building the road. Our experts tell us the road, to be done properly, will probably cost about a million dollars. I then mocked the argument that the LIberals are running, that somehow doing that sort of local infrastructure, which is productive, helps congestion, helps improve communities, and I've mocked the Liberals big lie - and let's nail the big lie of this election. The big lie of this election is that the Liberals are saying that somehow Labor is spending a lot more than the Liberals. That is a big lie and I'm calling it for what it is. The truth of the matter is that the Liberals are proposing to give big companies a $50 billion tax cut over 10 years. The truth of the matter is that the Government is going to spend in the Budget to give a tax cut to high net worth individuals who earn, say $1 million, a $17,000 tax cut. The truth of the matter is that this Government is going to spend $32 billion dollars over the next 10 years in sustaining unsustainable tax concessions in negative gearing, in capital gains tax discount. That is $100 billion that this Government is choosing to spend on a small group, and selected vested interests. By contrast, the truth of the matter is we have economically responsible policies, which are about investing in Australia and our schools and our health care and Medicare and cheaper medicine. The truth of the matter is that we have chosen to use the scarce taxpayer money in a responsible fashion. Well-funded to make sure that every Australian can get access to quality medical care, to make sure that every Australian child in every postcode gets every opportunity to go to a great school. Whereas Mr Turnbull has chosen to spend more money on giving the big end of town tax cuts. I mean he just doesn't get it. What Australians want is a government that's prioritising investment in Australia. Australian health care, Australian schools, and what Australians want is a government who shares the priorities of Australians. Mr Turnbull's priorities are very different to mainstream Australia.
JOURNALIST: There's been some scrutiny of some of Malcolm Turnbull's meetings, some reports about that. Do you have any comments about that at all?
SHORTEN: I've got nothing to say about who Malcolm Turnbull has lunch with. That's a matter for him to explain. But what I think it does do, as does the ongoing saga of the Free Enterprise Foundation in NSW, and Liberal fundraising, what it goes to show is we need more transparency, we need more transparency in the way that money is raised for elections. I challenge Mr Turnbull, now, today to agree with Labor's proposal that any donations over $1,000 should be disclosed. Transparency is the sun light which clears away all the dark corners in terms of fundraising and Australians I think have a reasonable expectation that that's what should be happening.
JOURNALIST: The government argues that without the $1.3 billion in PBS savings, expensive lifesaving drugs and breakthrough cures won't be subsidised. The previous Labor Government deferred several listings because of cost pressures. Can you guarantee that won't happen again?
SHORTEN: I don't accept the assumption of the first part of your question, and I'll ask Catherine to talk further about that approach more generally. But in the Budget, and what the Government is doing, and you can show they're getting a bit desperate, frankly. What they're doing is contradicting what is published in their own Budget. In their own Budget it shows that the money from the PBS freeze, or from increasing the PBS, sorry, the $5 they want to put on medicine, is going into the medical research fund. If the Government was right they wouldn't have put in their Budget that it was going into the medical research fund, they'd put that it was going into new medicines. So the Government's been caught out again, lying about healthcare policy. Anyway, don't take my word for the quality of our healthcare policy. Just ask the Liberal Minister for Health. But I might get Catherine to ta lk a bit further.
KING: Thanks very much for that, and of course, in government, as I said yesterday we reformed the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule, saving $20 billion across the period of time to now, that this Government could have been using to list new medicines. I don't accept the proposition that you have to have cuts to some groups of patients - so they've cut the bulk-billing incentive for pathology and diagnostic imaging - so have cancer patients pay so that you can list medicines. And it's an extraordinary proposition that this government is saying, so you have to cut from one set of patients if you're going to help another set of patients. That is not how we do health policy in this country and the real question is: what has this government done with the savings Labor made in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule? What have they been doing with that money to make sure that you list the medicines appropriately?< /span>
JOURNALIST: The majority of cuts to health were to go towards the establishment of that $20 million research Future Fund. If you reverse those cuts, will the money that is going towards that fund dry up? Will you abolish that fund?
SHORTEN: Thanks. I'll get Catherine to talk further about our approach on medical research. But let's be clear - this is not a question of the medical research fund or saving Medicare. The issue here is do you want to give big business a tax cut or do you want to save Medicare? The truth of the matter is that Labor's got funded policies, the truth of the matter is that we can explain how we pay for our commitment to keep the cost of medicine down, how we make sure that GPs, the front line of family medicine in Australia, get the necessary support they get. We can explain how we defend bulk-billing and how we make sure that we save Medicare and the way we do it is we will not give a $50 billion cut which will flow to companies of up to $1 billion in turnover. We will not give over the next 10 years $7.4 billion of extra revenue to the big Banks. We will not see $11 billion in tax cuts flow to the United S tates and companies based there, because of Mr Turnbull's priorities. By contrast, I want to make sure that the next time, if it happens, that Natalie is sick or her kids get sick, they don't face a big barrier of a co-payment or a tax at the front before she can see a GP. I want to make sure that when every Australian child gets sick, the parents can afford to pay for the prescriptions. It's all about who benefits.
KING: Labor supported the Medical Research Future Fund and in fact we actually made the legislation better by making sure that on the advisory board the NHMRC were engaged. And we dealt health into the Medical Research Future Fund, the original legislation didn't do that. We've supported the fund. The sham of this, frankly, is the Government is maintaining, despite the fact it's been saying that you have the Health Minister saying she doesn't want to proceed with the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule, the cuts, the hikes to medicine, she's still counting that money. We support the fund, we want to see it go forward. The issue is going to be for the Government, it's made a promises that it's going to be $20 billion, how it's actually going to get there, it's clear that it's not.
SHORTEN: I'm going to see you all a bit later at our next fantastic announcement. So, maybe if I could get one question.
JOURNALIST: What does your party plan to do to put downward pressure across on fuel prices across the nation?
SHORTEN: We will have more to talk about all of our policies going forward. Today what we're saying is for families who have a cost of living battle, and most families do, we will make it cheaper for you to buy your prescription medicine. What we are saying to Australian families is that we will make it the case that you won't have to lose bulk-billing in Australia's medical surgeries. The other thing I can say to West Australians, and indeed all Australians, which will help keep downward pressure on all the cost of living, is a Labor Government I lead will never have a 15 per cent GST. Let's not forget that Mr Turnbull said for six months he toyed with the idea of a GST, only temporarily delaying it because he was concerned about electoral backlash. But here we in in WA, the home of Colin Barnett, where there is 12 Liberal MPs in the House of Representatives supporting Mr Turnbull. If WA votes Liberal, y ou increase the chances of a 15 per cent GST. So Labor understands how everyday families construct their Budgets. Families like Natalie should be supported, they shouldn't be undermined. That's why only a Labor Government can promise cheaper medicine, cheaper visits to the GP and will also make sure there is never a 15 per cent GST on everything, which is really where the Liberals want to take Australia. See you all at the next event. Thank you.