FRIDAY, 15 APRIL 2016
Subject/s: Malcolm Turnbull’s attack on Medicare and cuts to pathology; Government’s Budget, Queensland Nickel, Royal Commission into the banking and financial services sector, Industrial Relations.
JULIE OWENS, MEMBER FOR PARRAMATTA: Can I thank Dr Joseph Sanki for inviting us to visit Superscan, a diagnostics imaging centre in Parramatta. I'm Julie Owens and I'm lucky enough to represent this great city that we're standing in. A city of great diversity and with that diversity comes challenges. We have a very high diabetes rate, an estimated 12 per cent of the population have diabetes and have heart attacks ten years early. When it comes to diabetes, the low socio-economic band die at twice the rate of the upper one and the indigenous population die at three times the rate. When we were in government we formed Medicare Locals which began the work of addressing those issues. They've got plans in place which have been carried on by placement organisations to reduce those rates and a significant part of those plans involve early diagnostic testing for these diseases. Diseases that take lives and livelihoods and are entirely preventable.
What the Turnbull Government plans, by smashing bulk billing of these diagnostic services, will make those figures worse. There is no doubt whatsoever that the lower income people in Parramatta will not be able to afford the tests they need to avoid those serious illnesses. I'm glad to invite Bill Shorten here today because Labor will not let this happen. We will not see Medicare destroyed and we will not see people left to face disease in later life because they couldn't afford a simple test that would have prevented it.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much Julie and good morning everybody. I'm here today because Labor will fight to keep Medicare strong. Today, we visited a surgery where they treat a hundred people a day. But bulk billing of much of our Medicare system is under great threat through $650 million worth of cuts that Mr Turnbull's pushing through the Parliament and it starts on 1 July.
Mr Turnbull's proposals to take away the bulk billing payment which incentivise the surgeries to be able to provide medical treatment and bulk bill the cost means that people in Australia will get sicker or they will pay more or both. It will not help the taxpayers of Australia if bulk billing incentives are removed; people have to try and find upfront costs. Poorer and middle class Australians don't have a lot of money to spend on the upfront costs of medical treatment. What happens with Mr Turnbull's push to attack Medicare is that people will either skip vital blood tests or diagnostic imaging or x-rays and therefore they will get sicker and that will ultimately cost the taxpayer through greater public hospital costs.
We will see delays in medical treatment. We will see a reduction in the availability of crucial medical testing from our regions and some of the postcodes of our cities all because Mr Turnbull and his team want to cut bulk billing incentives. It is the first stage towards an attack on Medicare. I do not understand why Mr Turnbull will go soft on multinationals but hard on people with diabetes conditions. I do not understand why Mr Turnbull will protect big banks yet not support downward pressure on the costs of women seeking pap smears. I do not understand why Mr Turnbull is so determined to give a tax cut to large corporations yet so determined to reduce the bulk billing incentives for millions of less well-off Australians. In Australia, all Australians should be able to get healthcare wherever and whenever they need it, full stop.
We're happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: How do you plan to stop the Turnbull Government from pushing through with this?
SHORTEN: Change the government. The best way to stop Mr Turnbull wrecking Medicare is to change the government. Change the government and at last, Medicare will be free of the constant threat of privatisations. At the next election, it will be a referendum on the future of Medicare. The next election will be a referendum on the privatisation of Medicare. If Mr Turnbull wins the next election, first it will be the payments system, then there will be further cuts in payments and privatisations and bang, one day, the whole of Medicare will be privatised and in its place, we'll have two-tier American style healthcare where the medical treatment you get depends on how rich you are. But if Labor wins the next election, we won't go down the path of privatising our Medicare system. We will reverse these ridiculous and mean cuts which means that the bulk billing incentive for people needing vital pathology tests and x-rays. We will defend the system as it currently is. The choice is clear at the next election. It is a referendum on the privatisation of Medicare. Vote Liberal, get American-style healthcare. Vote Labor and we will see a better Medicare for all Australians.
JOURNALIST: Just on cuts, would Labor welcome the Government lifting the tobacco excise and cutting super concessions?
SHORTEN: Well there we go, the Government in another backflip. For months and months, they've consistently attacked Labor for making sensible decisions of Budget repair. Then yesterday we see one of the world's pre-eminent rating agencies, basically confirm that the Turnbull-Morrison approach on the Budget is just rubbish. And today, we now see the Government picking up some of Labor's very sensible ideas. The real problem about the Budget coming up is this: I've given up trying to guess what's going to be in it. I don't even think Mr Morrison knows what's going to be in it. The only thing we can be sure of is that the Budget is a mess, that the Government doesn't know what they're going to do or in fact what they're doing.
JOURNALIST: If the Government increases some taxes but the overall tax burden stays the same, would Labor regard that as a tax hike?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, Labor's actually been doing the job of government from Opposition. From last year onwards, we've been outlining sensible measures to do Budget repair that is fair. They're both important parts of the same sentence. Labor's up for Budget repair but we want to make sure it's fair. Mr Turnbull talks about a 15 per cent GST, he's spoken about double taxation, allowing States to levy new income taxes, they talk about giving cuts to large corporations. By contrast, Labor's always known what it's doing. In many ways, what we've seen from the Liberals is that they're acting like an Opposition and Labor, with our well thought out, prepared plans, acting like an alternative Government. Mr Turnbull should take up some of Labor's further ideas: reform negative gearing tax laws, go ahead with a tobacco excise increase, clamp down on excessively generous tax concessions to people who already have millions of dollars in superannuation. While he's at it, he should pick up the rest of Labor's sensible and well funded plans. What he should do is rather than talk about getting out of funding public schools, government schools, he should instead look at making multinationals pay their fair share. Mr Turnbull should scrap the wasteful expenditure from Mr Abbott's time of paying billions of dollars of taxpayer money to large companies for poor environmental outcomes. And if he really wants to help improve the bottom line of the Budget, scrap the plebiscite into marriage equality and just get his Members of Parliament to do their day job and exercise conscience-based judgments in the Parliament rather than making taxpayers pay $160 million. Mr Turnbull is welcome to take up Labor's well-funded propositions because we've got a positive plan for the future of this country. Mr Turnbull's only got a plan to try and keep his job.
JOURNALIST: Does Labor want to, in the words of the Finance Minister, tax more and tax badly?
SHORTEN: This is the same government who was criticising the tobacco excise increase one day and now they're taking it the next day. That's fine. We don't mind the Government adopting our sensible ideas, because what matters to me is the long-term national interest of Australia. What matters to me is nation building. What matters to me is making sure that we're making the national Budget, repair that is fair, but not inflicting problems on the household budget. The Finance Minister, Senator Cormann, can call Labor all the names under the sun. I just want them to focus not on us but on the best interests of Australians. I want them to focus on having a budget which is not the messy sort of proposition with a thought bubble one day, a new idea the next day and dropped by day three.
JOURNALIST: Do you welcome the Government providing financial assistance to Queensland Nickel workers?
SHORTEN: Labor welcomes the provision of financial assistance to Queensland Nickel workers. We called for it back in January. I could see that this business unfortunately was going to go into liquidation. I don't understand why the Government's left 820, 830 people stranded for the last two and a half months, but better late than never. But for me the real issue here is: we need to hold Mr Palmer and his business to account. This is taxpayer money, the Commonwealth needs to be relentless in getting to the bottom of what's happened. I get that we have a safety net system, I helped introduce that law into Parliament, which picks up the minimum entitlements of workers who lose their jobs, but what we now need to do is for the Commonwealth to rigorously and relentlessly pursue reimbursement of this taxpayer money from Queensland Nickel, but in the meantime I just think about these workers and their families. They've waited ten weeks for this Government to make a decision. I just hope that they're able to get back on their feet and be able to start sorting out their mortgages, their payments, their lives.
JOURNALIST: Will you support the Greens's motion for a royal commission into banking when Parliament resumes next week?
SHORTEN: I think the more accurate question is does Labor still believe in having a royal commission into banking, yes, we do. Labor's the one who's has led the charge on this. Labor is the only party capable of forming a government other than the Liberal Party. We've made the serious and not lightly taken decision to support a royal commission into banking and financial services. We do this not because we want to engage in bank bashing but enough is enough. There's been scandal after crisis after rort after investigation. In the last 12 months we've seen serious allegations made about rate rigging, which affects customers. We've seen the shocking circumstances where a bank was happy to encourage people to take out insurance policies with them but when it came time to honour these insurance policies the bank and some of its representatives tried to rip these people off who had paid for their insurance policies. We see the remarkable set of circumstances where on one hand major banks advocate that women can be anything they want to be, but on the other hand we find our bank executives conducting business in strip clubs. You know Mr Morrison and Mr Turnbull say each of these examples is isolated, there's no need for a genuine inquiry to find out how widespread the problems are. We need to make sure that our regulator is properly resourced, we need to make sure we have the healthiest possible banking culture. Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison have said that any discussion of a royal commission into banking undermines the health of our banks. I think inaction, after all of these scandals, that's negligence about the health of our banking sector.
JOURNALIST: But will Labor support the Greens' motion or will you put forward your own?
SHORTEN: The Greens don't tell Labor what to do. Labor will work through its propositions. We're the ones out there championing a royal commission into banking, and we will keep pursuing it. The best way to have a royal commission into banking is to vote Labor at the next election.
JOURNALIST: Why are you reluctant to say whether or not you will support the Greens motion?
SHORTEN: I haven't seen a resolution and again I make this point. Labor is the only party other than the Liberals capable of forming a government. We don't want to do gestures, and I don't know what the circumstances of the Greens' particular press release is, but Labor doesn't take its economic advice from the Greens. We take our economic advice based upon the best interests of the Australian people. It is no small thing for the alternative government of Australia, as opposed to a group of people in the Senate, proposing a royal commission into banking. We do this not lightly. We've already been subject to quite extreme attacks, the Australian Bankers Association have threatened Labor with an advertising campaign to stop Labor winning the election merely because they want to keep protecting their special position. Mr Turnbull knows what the right thing to do is here. He should stop protecting the banks and be on the side of putting people first.
JOURNALIST: Just one last issue, what will Labor's approach be to the two IR Bills up for debate in the Senate next week? Will you allow debate to run on those?
SHORTEN: It's not up to us whether we allow debate. Labor is a known quality when it comes to standing up for the minimum conditions of workers in Australia. The case has not been made to set a different law for tradies to other Australians. This Government is so obsessed about industrial relations and undermining minimum conditions in this country, they're proposing laws in their ABCC legislation which frankly mean that suspected terrorists and suspected ice dealers have more legal rights than tradies on building sites. There's no case made for this. Of course we believe in the rule of law, some of the examples we've seen out of the royal commission are despicable, but what we haven't seen the case made for is to create a new industrial bureaucracy, to create a second regulator, with draconian powers that don't even apply to suspected ice dealers. This is a Government who is focused on their own job and going after their political enemies. So Labor will keep standing up for Australian workers. We will make sure that we keep standing up for an equal treatment for people across this country and that's why we're not going to give up on a royal commission into the banking and financial services sector. Every Australian has a bank account. Every Australian aspires to having a mortgage. Every Australian has insurance policies. We save for our superannuation for our retirement. We have a reasonable expectation for the financial institutions in which every Australian invests their hopes and dreams is acting in the most ethical manner possible, that there isn't widespread maleficence, and that is why nothing less than a royal commission is satisfactory. Thanks, everyone.