MONDAY, 21 MARCH 2016
SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Turnbull’s plans to cut the Children’s Dental Benefit Scheme; Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberals plan to scrap penalty rates; Newspoll; Chaos and division in Turnbull Liberal Government.
MATT THISTLETHWAITE, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR IMMIGRATION & FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Welcome everyone and thanks for joining us at the Maroubra Dental Centre. We're here today to talk about the Children’s Dental Benefit Scheme and can I add at the outset and thank Doctor Stephanie Little and the staff of this wonderful centre for highlighting the importance of this scheme and to local mum Heidi and Bronte and Noah our star patient whose teeth are very clean and healthy because of the Children’s Dental Health Scheme. I'd also like to welcome Eithne from the Dental Association and of course our leader Bill Shorten, whose looking very fit and healthy today because he completed the Run for Children yesterday in record time, 16 kilometres, and the architect of the dental health scheme Tanya Plibersek.
For me, our local mum Heidi perfectly highlighted the importance of this scheme. She said that without the scheme she wouldn't be able to afford to ensure that Bronte and Noah got the dental health care that they need. In fact, before this scheme, she didn't access dental services for her kids. And as she pointed out, good dental health early on is the key to success in life. And this scheme has treated over a million kids in our community, ensuring that they get access to the dental health support services that they need. Now the Liberals are proposing to cut this scheme. They're proposing to cut it because they don't believe in the notion of universal health care, they don't believe in Medicare, they don't believe in dental health schemes such as this. They want to introduce an American style of health care in our community. Well, for my community we will fight that. Tanya will fight that on the national stage and our leader Bill Shorten will fight cuts to health care not only in this community but in the wider community. I'm now very pleased to hand over to Bill to say a few words.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Matt and good morning everyone. I'd like to thank Maroubra Dental Service for having us here to talk about why Mr Turnbull's plans to cut the Children’s Dental Benefits Scheme is a bad idea. I'd also like to thank Heidi and her children Bronte and Noah. What we saw, where you've got a mum trying to use scarce resources to make sure that her children grow with strong and healthy teeth is a scene which is replicated all over Australia. But it makes it hard for mums and dads all over Australia to try and make sure their children have healthy teeth if the Government in Canberra led by Mr Turnbull is cutting the Child’s Dental Benefits Scheme. Since the scheme was initiated a million children have received support with ten million dental visits. It really is important that we make sure that children grow to adulthood with healthy teeth and we do everything we can to attack tooth decay. This scheme is a relatively small amount of money in the total federal Budget and it really shows you the sort of priorities Mr Turnbull has, that he would contemplate cutting the Child’s Dental Benefits Scheme, yet at the same time give himself and others high income earners a tax cut and indeed support corporate tax cuts over people. Why on earth is Mr Turnbull proposing to give foreign shareholders a tax advantage yet he is damaging Medicare, damaging Children's Dental Benefit Schemes?
And indeed today Labor is also standing up for ordinary people, everyday people, by our submissions supporting penalty rates. In Australia at the moment we're going through a historic period of low wage rises. Wage rises are amongst the lowest they've been ever since we started recording wage rises in the early 1960s. Labor believes that strong penalty rates help everyday families get through and make ends meet. Strong penalty rates are the way which women secure at least some degree of wage equality in Australia. Strong penalty rates are how we ensure that millions of Australians who work unsociable hours still have enough money to put food on the table for their families. So there we have it, we have Mr Turnbull backing in corporate tax cuts and income tax cuts for the highest income earners in Australia. But they're contemplating and they're going to cut Children’s Dental Benefit Scheme and they're also attacking Medicare, at the same time they want to reduce penalty rates unlike Labor.
I'd like to hand over to Tanya Plibersek, who will talk further about the importance of the scheme and the benefit it brings young children and their families.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much Bill. When I was Health Minister I got very disturbing information from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare that said that four out of every ten five-year-olds had decay in their baby teeth and six out of every ten nine-year-olds had decay in their baby teeth. What's even more disturbing is when you look at 14-year-olds who've got that same figure six out of every ten 14-year-olds have decay in their permanent teeth. What we know is that if you don't start life with good teeth you're not going to have good teeth as an adult. So we said that the most important priority for investment in dental care was children. We said that we would introduce this program the Children’s Dental Health Scheme which is more commonly known as Grow Up Smiling because we wanted Australian kids to start life with great teeth so that they could have good oral health all through their lives. 3.4 million children were eligible for this scheme and a million children have already had their teeth seen under this scheme. So there’s more than two million children still eligible. Now, the Health Minister said that 'not enough of those two million kids have had their teeth seen, so we might get rid of this scheme’. This Government has not told parents that this scheme is available. There's been no advertising, there's been very little public information about this scheme, and yet a million kids have still found their way to the dentist. Now usually it's been because the dentist has let their parents know or have friends have told each other that their children might be eligible, but the very first thing that the health minister should do is instead of cutting the scheme, she should advertise it and make sure that the millions of children that are eligible that haven't had their teeth seen get their teeth seen.
We also know that more children than ever are ending up in hospital under general anaesthetic having all of their baby teeth pulled. There was another recent report about how critical this is becoming. With kids having their whole mouths full of teeth pulled out because the decay is so bad in their baby teeth and that affects their nutrition, it obviously risks things like blood poisoning, there are all sort of negative effects if children have severe problems with their baby teeth, aside from the terrible trauma of having to get that extent of dental work done.
So what we need are kids going to the dentist early. We need kids going to the dentist regularly. This program, a thousand dollars every two years, covers all of that basic dental work. So they can get regular check-ups, they can get their teeth cleaned, they can get fluoride treatments, they can get fillings if they need them when they're small holes rather than when they're rotted the whole tooth out and the tooth needs to be extracted.
This program as well as the cuts to public dental care, hundreds of millions of dollars cut from public dental care, hundreds of millions of dollars cut from the program of building we were going to do of dental chairs in regional and remote areas, in nursing homes and elsewhere making sure that right across the Australian community we gave people better access to dental care. We've already seen $750 million cut from dental care in this country, we cannot allow this final cruellest cut that would affect Australian children so negatively.
EITHNE IRVING, DEPUTY CEO OF AUSTRALIAN DENTAL ASSOCIATION: The Australian Dental Association has always supported this scheme because we see the value in getting children to the dentist early. That will set them up for good dental habits for life. Unfortunately, dentists are telling us that they're seeing some children at the age of nine or ten who have never visited a dentist before, and it's only because of this scheme that they have now started to go. So we know that for every dollar that is spent for prevention, up to $7 is saved in treatment later on. I think we shouldn't lose sight of the benefits of preventive oral health care.
SHORTEN: Thanks Eithne, well said. Are there any questions on Mr Turnbull's cuts to children's dental care or any other matters?
JOUNALIST: According to today's Newspoll, more voters want Malcolm Turnbull to look after tax reform and the economy. How much of a blow is that to Labor?
SHORTEN: Labor will keep fighting for children's dental care. I actually think if you asked Australians do they want to see a tax cut go to companies which mean that foreign shareholders get a windfall or do they want to see Australian children get proper dental care? My money's on Australians wanting to see Australian children get proper dental care. Eithne, from the Australian Dental Association made a very telling point, the money that we spend now will actually save these children’s teeth, their health, but also the taxpayer and these individuals' greater cost in the future. So when Mr Turnbull thinks it's smart to cut children's dental care, what he's actually doing is inflicting greater cost on individuals, children when they become adults and the whole healthcare system. It is incredible that yesterday you had Senator Sinodinos wander around the economic thought bubble paddock and he says that they're musing about cutting corporate tax and reducing the income tax rate of the highest income earners in Australia. That sort of economic nonsense just shows you what's wrong with Mr Turnbull's Government. The idea that crumbs from the rich man's table is a great economic theory, was discredited two hundred years ago, the idea that if you look after the top one per cent of Australians that it'll all trickle-down to everyone else. Trickle-down economics has been repudiated and it doesn't work. Instead we think if you do budget repair, if you actually fund our schools properly and our hospitals and our dental care for kids, that's actually a better recipe for economic growth and a better Australia. The fact that Mr Turnbull is willing to contemplate prioritising corporate tax cuts, prioritise companies over individuals speaks volumes for this Government. Quite frankly, after I've seen the remarks of Mr Turnbull and Senator Sinodinos on corporate tax cuts, it is clear that they have no idea about how people organise their lives and they have no ideas about what to do for Australia.
JOURNALIST: Labor's been trying to you know, take a lead on tax reform, but it is a blow to you guys, the fact that he is - well more voters want him to be in charge of tax reform.
SHORTEN: I think in the last six months Australians have become massively disappointed with Mr Turnbull. Six months ago I think that Australians thought - and I was one of them, that at least the political debate in this country might improve with Mr Abbott's departure. But the truth of the matter is that six months on Australians are massively disappointed with the Turnbull Government. We know that they wanted to increase the GST to 15 per cent and it was only Labor's strong opposition which has discouraged them on this idea for the time being I stress. We know that they're not interested in prioritising first home owners and providing a level playing field against property speculators, and we know that they're desperate to get their hands on people's superannuation and they won't flag what they're going to do there. But now we see it all. Today you’ve got Tanya Plibersek, Matt Thistlethwaite and myself speaking up for children’s dental care because we think that the health of our children is a number one priority, instead you've got Mr Turnbull and Senator Sinodinos running around proposing that if we look after corporations, big corporations, if we give them a tax cut that somehow that's better for Australia then looking after people.
Being a government is about choices. The fact that Mr Turnbull will choose companies over individuals speaks volumes for him, the fact that we will stand up for Medicare, that we will stand up for properly funding our schools, the fact that we will stand up for children’s dental care, I think reflects our priorities as contrasted to Mr Turnbull's.
JOURNALIST: What do you do about the latest Newspoll figures that show that 21 per cent of those surveyed believe that you would be a better PM?
SHORTEN: We know that Mr Turnbull has only focussed on one thing in the last six months. He's stopped governing and now it's all about what date to hold the election. We know they don't have a plan for the Budget, we've seen them progressively shrink into the job. Remember at the start of Mr Turnbull's reign it was going to be all about brave, new tax reform? Now the only brave, new tax reform that Mr Turnbull has is to give himself a tax cut, and to help companies have their cut in taxation. But we also know that when it comes to cutting government waste he's missing in action. We know that when it comes to properly funding our schools according to needs so that every child in every school gets every opportunity, he's missing in action. We know that when it comes to Medicare that they're going ahead with ruthless cuts to diagnostic imaging, to pathology tests, to blood tests. We know now that they want to cut children’s dental care and this shows I think again, that the diametric difference between Labor and Liberal. We believe in putting people ahead of corporations, Mr Turnbull believes in putting the very wealthy and corporations ahead of everyone else.
JOURNALIST: The CPSU is conducting work stoppages starting today and will go into the Easter break, affect a lot of families; do you support those workers who are striking?
SHORTEN: Well there again we have - this is a Government who can't even negotiate with their own employees. Strike action in Australia has been trending down and down and down across the last two, three decades, but now we've got Mr Turnbull in charge and we've got his arrogant posse of ministers. They're always trying to cut public servants wages, they're always trying to rubbish their conditions, they're always trying to rubbish public servants. No I don't believe that disputation is preferred at all. But what I do know is that if you've got one bunch of people in Canberra running the government who would give companies tax cuts, who would give themselves tax cuts at the highest rate, no wonder they can't negotiate with hard working public servants on a range of issues, and a lot of these people are the people who keep our borders safe. The Government loves to talk about safe borders, but when it comes to treating the people who keep our borders safe, well that's a different kettle of fish. That's why they're going after penalty rates, that's why they're treating domestic violence leave as something which is an additional add on and workers have to renegotiate. You can't trust this Government with negotiating properly with workers, with standing up for the middle class and the working class when it comes to tax reform. You can't trust this Government when it comes to helping level the playing field for first home buyers over investment speculators, and you certainly can't trust Mr Turnbull and his crew with looking after the dental health of Australia's children.
JOURNALIST: The PM's personal satisfaction rating is slipping, but he's well ahead of you, what are you doing wrong?
SHORTEN: Well if you think that Australians are happy with Mr Turnbull, then perhaps you're not talking to the Australians I'm talking to. Do you know what I was really impressed with about Heidi, other than the perfect manners of her two children Bronte and Noah? She's a single mum. She's trying to make ends meet but she wants to make sure that her kids get the best dental hygiene so that they can grow up as adults and have the best dental health you can. Ask any adult in Australia who grow up in a previous generation about the importance of proper dental care and how they wish that they had known then what we know now about proper dental care. Heidi is trying to do the right thing, she is doing a pretty good job with those kids for any of you who met them but she is being let down by Mr Turnbull. I want Mr Turnbull to show the same courage and leadership that Australia's mums and dads and Australia's hard working dental staff are displaying standing up for the dental health of our children. If you can't even get the dental health of our children right, what hope do you have of being a legitimate Prime Minister for all Australians in the future?
JOURNALIST: Would you support Senator Bob Day's bid to challenge the Senate voting reforms in the High Court?
SHORTEN: That's up to Senator Day. The real issue here of course is that this Government has been playing political games. It is amazing that Mr Turnbull thinks the best thing he has done in six months is have a fight with independent Senators. Let's not forget the 2013 Election. Something like 3.3 million Australians didn't vote for the Greens or Labor or the Liberals or the Nationals. What Mr Turnbull has done is effectively disenfranchise a whole lot of people who chose not to vote for the major political parties or indeed, the Greens political party. Mr Turnbull has been obsessed by one thing in the last six months; when to hold the election. We know that he would fit his Budget around the election date. See, normally in Australia when you've got a good government, government's focus on governing, they focus on their Budget. But this fellow is more interested in the date of the election and fitting the Budget and Budget repair around an election. Again, if Mr Turnbull's only idea that he has for Australia is to cut the income tax of the highest earners in Australia. If his only idea for taxation is to take a discredited theory of supporting the very well-off and corporations and that those crumbs will fall off the table of the rich man, then I think what we see is that Mr Turnbull is only interested in himself and his political games. He has stopped governing for Australia and indeed, I understand that Mr Turnbull has recalled Parliament - we will have more to say about this later, but it doesn't surprise me because we all know that the biggest question keeping Mr Turnbull up at night is not how to repair the Budget, is not about how to make sure children have good dental care, it's not about how to make sure that people with chronic conditions like diabetes don't have to pay more to get the pathology test. He is not staying up at night worrying about first home owners being priced out of the housing market. He is purely and utterly worried about when to call the election so he can keep his job - he's just not thinking about anyone else's job.
Last question, thanks.
JOURNALIST: On one other matter, Tony Abbott has been quoted in the Courier Mail calling for 10 year old sex offenders to be arrested, charged and forced through the juvenile justice system. What's Labor's position on that?
SHORTEN: There is no doubt, and there is a real problem and this is not a new problem sadly, where indigenous children, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are not living safely in communities. I think we have all been shocked by some of the reports. I have no doubt that not only is there problems that Mr Abbott speaks about but I think that some of the recent spate of suicides has also been, I think, a response and as a symptom and a consequence of some of the abuse going on in communities. What I understand is that Mr Abbott is making a contribution on it. What we will do in Labor is keep working through with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities about the best solutions. And I also understand in the case of Mr Abbott, he has certainly been interested in Indigenous Affairs. I have to say and not that he needs me to say it, I think he has been a bit more interested than Mr Turnbull and I have written to Mr Turnbull as recently as last week about similar matters.