SUNDAY, 22 MAY 2016
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s positive plans for Medicare and healthcare; MP entitlements; Malcolm Turnbull’s NBN mess.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Good morning everybody. It's fantastic to be here in the seat of Reid making yet another health announcement which is an important announcement for the nation. Just a couple of days ago, we made the announcement in terms of unfreezing the Medicare Benefits Schedule and the importance that will have for patients. We've just visited Drummoyne Medical Clinic, talking again to doctors and patients about the importance of primary care. As I said a couple of days ago, we know that 1 in 20 patients are delaying or avoiding going to see a GP today because of cost. Today, we are about to make an announcement about what happens for people with the price of medicines. We know that 1 in 8 Australians don't go and get their scripts filled at pharmacist now because of the cost of medicines. Malcolm Turnbull wants to make this even worse. I'd like to welcome Bill Shorten to make an announcement as to how Labor will improve that situation.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Catherine, and what a beautiful Sunday morning in the electorate of Reid for us to make this really important and significant announcement.
Following upon our commitment to oppose and scrap Malcolm Turnbull's GP tax by stealth, today I can declare that Labor will scrap the price hikes to prescription medicine that the Liberal Government are proposing in their Budget. Specifically, Labor, over the next four years, will oppose cuts of $971 million because we do not believe the case has been made out to increase the price of prescription drugs. The sort of patients we are talking about helping here are people with asthma or parents of children with asthma. We are talking about the patients who suffer from depression and other forms of mental illness. We are talking about patients who have to pay the price of prescription drugs because they are battling high cholesterol. The Labor party is committed to the view and the vision that sick people should not be deterred from going to the doctor because of the price of seeing the GP or the cost of medicine. One of the great things about Australia is that we do deliver a pretty reasonable level of healthcare, a quality level of healthcare, to all Australians. Labor's policies that we have been announcing this week are about preserving Medicare and keeping down the price of medicine and prescription drugs. I am personally really pleased with the difference this policy will make to literally millions of Australians who are rely on prescription drugs. Only Labor will put forward policies which prioritise the health of Australians. In this election, you can vote Labor and put downward pressure on the price of medicine or you can vote Liberal where the price of medicine just goes up and up. I’m happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Are people supposed to forget what Labor did in government in 2011 where there were freezes in both the Medicare rebate space and on the PBS? And can you rule out Labor imposing any kind of freeze in government, no matter the budget position?
SHORTEN: Well, there are several assumptions in your question. The first thing is that, what happened in 2011 was a previous government. My united Labor team is forging policies for the future. In an election, you make choices as a political party, about the reasons why you think people should vote for us. I want to say to people in the high street of Australia, the people who go to their local pharmacist, if you go to the pharmacy after 2 July, under a Labor government if we are elected, you will be paying less money to go and get the prescription drugs you need. There is a very clear choice right now for Australians. If you want bulk billing defended, if you want to make sure that prescription drugs have downward pressure on their prices, well then you vote Labor. If you want to guarantee the demise of bulk billing, if you want to guarantee paying more for prescriptions at pharmacies, vote for Malcolm Turnbu ll.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) The Coalition aren't making expensive promises thus far. Aren't you sort of, making a reality of Scott Morrison's claim that ‘every time you open your mouth, it is just to spend more money'?
SHORTEN: I did not hear the first part of your question, sorry. Do you just want to repeat it?
JOURNALIST: Sure. Your spending already, so far in this campaign, is into the billions of dollars.
(PLANE FLIES OVERHEAD)
SHORTEN: The good news is that plane is on time. But anyway...
JOURNALIST: Are you making a reality of Scott Morrison's claim that 'every time you open your mouth, it is just to spend more money'?
SHORTEN: Scott Morrison thinks that Australians have got political amnesia and have already forgotten his Budget on 3 May. His Budget on 3 May made the following commitments. To give $50 billion over the next 10 years in business tax cuts to large companies, foreign companies, big banks who do not need it, frankly. In his Budget, he handed back $17 billion over the next 10 years for people who earn over $180,000. For instance, someone who earns $1 million, will get a $17,000 tax cut this year compared to last year courtesy of Scott Morrison. Scott Morrison is going to dig in and defend the right for property investors to be able to get taxpayer subsidies for negative gearing and enjoy the current generous capital gains tax concession discounts, which is another $32 billion. Scott Morrison, in those three decisions, is already spending $100 billion in the form of tax concessions or give-aways to the big end of town.< /span>
So, when Scott Morrison says that somehow that Labor is doing the wrong thing in terms of making spending commitments or scrapping unfair decisions of this current Liberal Government, in terms of undermining and attacking Medicare, it is all about choices. When Scott Morrison says 'oh, we do not have the money and therefore we've got to price up the cost of prescription drugs to pensioners’ or ‘we don't have the money and we can't properly fund our schools’, or ‘we don't have the money, therefore GPs are going to have the charge a tax for people to come and see the doctor’ – it is all about choices.
The measures which I have just gone through that Scott Morrison is pushing through in his budget are measures which we are not going to do. There is $100 billion over the next 10 years. Instead, we have just chosen to spend money on defending pensioners access to healthcare. I think it is not an ideal situation that in Turnbull's future, if you get another three years, that parents are going to have to choose between seeing if their kids can get the prescription drugs and afford to go to the doctor just because Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull want to give a tax cut to the big end of town. This election is all about choices. We choose the health of everyday Australians. They choose the bottom line of large multinationals.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, how do you justify politicians claiming the cost of staying in Canberra as a tax deduction? Do you do that? Would you commit to tightening or stopping that practice if you win government?
SHORTEN: Thanks for those three questions, Joe. Just on the questions about what MPs do. I understand that what has been reported today is within the rules. For myself, I was not aware that you could do that. For better or for worse, I own one house and I live in it. So I have not made those claims but I understand they are within the existing rules, set by an independent tribunal.
JOURNALIST: Is that fair? You are campaigning on putting people first.
SHORTEN: We certainly are.
JOURNALIST: Don't you think people would think that having that within the rules is a bit odd? Would you close that down?
SHORTEN: Again, I say that these matters are set by an independent tribunal. I have never done that practice myself. In terms of our campaign about putting people first, we are. That's why we are going to back in keeping the prices of prescription medicine down. We are putting people first by unfreezing the rebate to doctors so we can preserve bulk-billing. This election is a referendum on healthcare. I think that a Prime Minister who cannot put the health of Australians first needs to find a new job. I am prepared to put the health of Australians ahead of tax cuts to multinationals and high net worth individuals.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask have you or your office seen those leaked NBN documents or did you know that they had been leaked?
SHORTEN: In terms of the NBN documents, personally what I have seen is what I have seen reported in the media. In terms of who or what has seen what, I think all Australians should have seen these documents. I actually think it is scandalous that the Government is going to such effort to stop these documents from the public domain. As I said on Thursday and Friday when this story broke – Friday I think it was – I don't think the public should have this sort of information hidden from them. Why is it that Mr Turnbull and arms of the Government are going to such effort to hide the truth from people about scandalous blow-outs in terms of the cost of the NBN. Why are they going to such lengths and putting in such a big effort to stop the media from being able to publish information which in former government's times was just made available? Mr Turnbull is deeply embarrassed by the failure of the NBN; by the fact that in 2013, he promised he could build the NBN for $29 billion, now it’s going to cost $56 billion. It is a scandal in Australia that our internet speeds has meant that Australia has fallen from 30th in the world to 60th in the world. The Liberals made big promises upon which voters relied and trusted them in 2013 about the roll-out of NBN reaching millions of households. That simply haven't delivered that and what's the Government's answer to all of these damning facts about their own incompetence? They want to bury the truth. Well Labor is not up for that.
JOURNALIST: Presumably, from what you're saying, a future Labor government that you lead will not calling in the AFP when information is leaked from any department that's potentially embarrassing to the government. Is that a commitment you –
SHORTEN: No, what I am actually saying here is that information about the progress of the NBN shouldn't be treated as some secret of the state.
JOURNALIST: So why seal the documents?
SHORTEN: Sorry, let me just go to his question first. You're asking how would a future Labor government handle these matters; what we will do is make sure that the promises we make on NBN are kept. We will make sure Australians do get access to well-priced technology.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) There were no crimes that they were highlighting. They were just leaking commercial-in-confidence information.
SHORTEN: What we think is that this information should not be causing the sort of overreaction of the arms of the Government in terms of trying to suppress the information. The public have a right to know how much NBN is costing. The public have a right to know why the delays. The public have the right to know what sort of administrator Malcolm Turnbull is of a Government department and of a major Commonwealth infrastructure project. For us, the media have the right to publish this. I did say that we will look certainly at how we improve protection for whistle-blowers in the future.
JOURNALIST: Tim Costello has said this morning that asylum seeker policies are akin to a life-long indefinite torture and there's no question that it's a psychological torture. How do you respond considering you support the same policies the Government does?
SHORTEN: We certainly are equally committed as the Government in terms of deterring the people smugglers and the criminals syndicates who would put vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees on boats, and then they drown at sea. We are not going to reopen the seaways between Java and Christmas Island – full stop. In terms of what Tim Costello is talking about; the cost and the pain and the suffering of indefinite detention, he has a point. What I would do if elected Prime Minister, is I would prioritise in my dealings with nations in our region regional resettlement. The answer to defeating the people smugglers cannot be indefinite detention and that is what the Government is pushing - that proposition. The truth of the matter is that this government has let delays blow out. They haven't been transparent as they should have been in terms of the treatment of people in our care. I sympathise with what Tim is say ing. And the best answer is to defeat the people smugglers and then make sure that the people in our care, directly or indirectly, get proper regional resettlement.
JOURNALIST: Back on the PBS, how will Labor fund this policy? There was a Senate inquiry last year that found the PBS was unsustainable at the current spending rates. Isn't it fiscally irresponsible to be throwing more money at the scheme?
SHORTEN: What I might do is get Catherine to answer the second part of your question. But in terms of how we fund our sensible policy which defends and save Medicare, which keeps downward pressure on the price of prescription drugs, is we have chosen not to spend $50 billion in the next 10 years on multinational tax cuts. We have chosen to keep the higher income deficit levy because we think that the time is not right now to give tax cuts to people who earn $1 million in income a year. We believe it is long overdue to deal with the unsustainable nature of tax concessions in negative gearing. We will do budget repair, but we will do budget repair that is fair. We actually think also that you do not actually save money in the long run by deterring sick people from going to the doctor or by deterring sick people from being able to afford prescription drugs. This sort of crazy right wing economics of the Government show s its real futility when you just think about this following story. If you have high cholesterol and you need drugs to treat that and you are deterred from being able to get those prescription drugs by the cost of it, you get sicker which means you go to hospital. Which means you need further treatment, rather than the modest treatment of prescription drugs. The truth of the matter is that the Labor policy of having universal Medicare, properly funded as we are prepared to do, means that sick people get the primary care they need rather than requiring secondary and tertiary care which is much more expensive for the taxpayer. This is about making sure that you have economic growth that is twinned with fairness. A fair deal is sustainable economic growth and it keeps downward pressure on our health prices. In terms of the PBS, I might ask Catherine to talk a little further about that part of your question.
KING: Growth in the PBS has actually slowed and it has slowed as a result of significant structural reforms Labor made in government. Simplified price disclosure and then accelerated simplified price disclosure which the Government, then in Opposition, campaigned against and then accepted pretty quickly. So that’s been an important principle of structural reform for the PBS. We showed in government we were able to do budget repair that was fair. That didn’t attack patients and didn’t drive up the costs of medicine. That is what this Government wants to do with its 2014 budget measure to make people pay $5 per prescription and 80 cents per prescription if they are concession card holders.
JOURNALIST: Will you commit to letting the PBS advisory board do its job and these decisions won’t go to Cabinet as they did last time?
KING: The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, those decisions still go to Cabinet today. The Government lifted the amount that would go to Cabinet and we would keep that policy and that principle.
JOURNALIST: Just going back to the tax deductions. Will you be speaking to your MPs about those deductions and adviinge them against double-dipping?
SHORTEN: MPs across the political spectrum, I expect to abide by the rules. The rules are set by an independent body. But, I certainly do expect all MPs, not just Labor MPs, but all MPs to stick within the rules. Can I just take two more questions?
JOURNALIST: The original question on the leak...
SHORTEN: Sorry I asked Dan but then I’ll come to you.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask why your local candidate, Angelo Tsirekas, isn’t here today? And what do you make of the claims that he hasn’t resigned yet as Mayor of the Canada Bay electorate?
SHORTEN: I don’t know if you were at the GP surgery before?
JOURNALIST: No I wasn’t. It was a poor arrangement, I didn’t make the cut.
SHORTEN: Sorry about that, but you will see that Angelo was there. He’s got a bridge opening to go to and he asked me what he should do. I said: “Mate, always back your local priorities.” I felt I would probably be able to cope with this press conference but Angelo was certainly there. In terms of local government arrangements, I’m not aware of them.
JOURNALIST: In terms of the NBN documents, you say the public has a right to know, but then Labor has pushed to have these documents sealed until after the election. So what do you have to hide?
SHORTEN: I am glad you’ve raised that. This has been a little bit of a cheeky Liberal furphy running around the paddock to try and distract from the issue of the cost blowouts in the NBN. Senator Conroy has tried to table these documents in Parliament, the Liberals didn’t want that. The idea that somehow the Liberals are reversing it by saying: ‘Labor wants to keep all of this secret.’ No we don't. We wanted this information out. This information should have been out long before the manner in which it has come out now. You’ve got to ask yourself now, is this country worse off because we now know that Malcolm Turnbull can't run a large infrastructure project. Is this country the worse off because we now see some of the blowout in cost? Is this country worse off because we now understand that Australia has slipped back in the rankings in terms of our technology and 21st cent ury infrastructure? The truth of the matter is that this whole controversy which has blown up now is because of Mr Turnbull's obsession to never to be embarrassed. The truth of the matter is the facts are embarrassing for this Government. And that’s why today, Labor is committed not only to make sure that people know what is going on, but there are serious positive propositions going forward.
We will not be distracted by the Government's antics from talking about health care. We are not distracted by the Government's antics and them trying to throw a bit of mud and mess up the political landscape because we know that un-freezing the GP tax, unfreezing the GP rebate which stops the GP tax of Mr Turnbull’s, we think that is good for all Australians. This morning, Catherine and I are announcing what we’re doing. Removing and scrapping the price hikes that Mr Turnbull wants to put on prescription drugs. We think that’s good for sick people in Australia. We think that’s good for the quality of the Australian health care system. We will, every day between now and the election, make saving Medicare and saving bulk billing, putting downward pressure on the price of prescription drugs, a national political issue because we’ve got positive plans for the future of Australia. See you soon.