SUBJECTS: Malcolm Turnbull’s attack on Medicare; Marriage Equality Plebiscite; Banking Royal Commission.
DR JOHN HOUSTON, PRIMARY HEALTHCARE CHIEF CLINICAL OFFICER: It's been a pleasure to have Mr Bill Shorten here and well-known local paediatrician, Michael Freelander at Campbelltown Medical Centre. This centre’s been here for many years delivering bulk billed, comprehensive medical care to the people of Campbelltown. But the services we're delivering to the people in Campbelltown are becoming increasing under threat given the freeze on a Medicare rebate and that the general challenge to general practice, which to our mind and to people the world over, is proven to be one of the most effective, both clinically and financially, in delivering outcomes that will meet the need of patients and the community as a whole. This area, without a bulk-billing service like this, would put immense stress onto the public hospital system and the clinical outcomes from that would be disastrous. I will introduce Bill and Michael.
DR MIKE FREELANDER, MEMBER FOR MACARTHUR: Thanks very much, John, it's really a great pleasure to come to Campbelltown Medical and Dental Centre. It's a wonderful centre providing comprehensive care and really very little cost to our patients and we could - our health system couldn't cope without it. So, I'm very grateful for you allowing us to come today. I'm very happy to welcome Bill Shorten to Campbelltown again today. Bill really understands healthcare, he understands what a burden healthcare costs can be, particularly on young families that I've seen for many, many years and Bill's determined to make sure that we continue to support Medicare, reinforce Medicare and make sure that Medicare continues to provide healthcare for our families for the future. So, it's with great pleasure I'd like to introduce Bill Shorten, the leader of the Labor Party in Federal Parliament and our next Prime Minister. Thank you.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everybody. It's great to be at Campbelltown at the Campbelltown Medical and Dental Centre. And It's great to be here with Dr Mike Freelander, who secured, I think, the largest swing in the last federal election, not the least of which because of his own distinguished record in standing up and providing quality healthcare for the people and children of Campbelltown.
It's been five weeks since the election and we've heard nothing from Mr Turnbull about the future of Medicare and opposing the cuts to Medicare. It's almost like Mr Turnbull's Government says now the election's over, they don't have to worry about Medicare anymore. That's not a luxury which is being afforded to millions of Australians who are suffering and are going to suffer with the Government's harsh cuts to Medicare. Mr Turnbull, after five weeks, now needs to come out of hiding and talk about his plans for Medicare.
On election night Mr Turnbull said the Government had heard the message that they had listened to the message on Medicare. If Mr Turnbull really is fair dinkum and if he's really heard the message on Medicare, he needs to commit to the following forthwith. He needs to unfreeze the indexation increases to GPs. He needs to reverse the bulk billing cuts to diagnostic imaging and to the other services which they're proposing to cut. Furthermore, he needs to make sure that he doesn't go ahead with his increases to prescription medicine. I think he should also match Labor's proposals to properly fund our hospitals. You can't say you have heard the message about Medicare if you're still making billions of dollars of harsh cuts to Medicare which is going to harm the patient outcomes for literally millions of Australians.
What's doubly frustrating about Mr Turnbull's complete radio silence on Medicare since election night is on one hand he and his Government are cutting Medicare but on the other hand they're giving a free ride to the banks. How is it that even yesterday when the banks thumb their nose at Australians by not passing on the full interest rate cuts to customers with mortgages. All Mr Turnbull's good for is an empty lecture and 24 hours of tough talk. The truth is that the banks only respect strong action. Mr Turnbull needs to be less talk and more action on bringing the banks to account for their arrogant conduct.
The Reserve Bank has decided to reduce interest rates, the official interest rates to historic low levels. They do this so they can revive the economy. All the banks are doing is they're pocketing a billion dollars in extra profit when the interest rate cuts are designed to revive the economy. Mr Turnbull also has been very silent in terms of credit card interest rates. How is it that credit card interest rates can be so high and even when the official cash rate, the cost of borrowing money is reduced, banks are still not passing on that reduction at all in reduced credit card interest rates. Mr Turnbull needs to be less talk, more action on banks. The banks will only respect the Government if the Government's serious about a royal commission, nothing less is going to make the banks respect the politicians.
Happy to take question on Medicare, banks and any other matters.
JOURNALIST: How did your meeting with the Prime Minister go this morning and what process has he laid out for constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians?
SHORTEN: Australians expect the Leader of the Opposition to I think, periodically sit down and talk in a civil fashion with the Prime Minister. That's exactly what I did this morning. We covered the topics of the future of marriage equality and constitutional recognition of our first Australians in the nations birth certificate, the Constitution. They were civil discussions. Mr Turnbull clearly pressed his case for the value of the plebiscite. I certainly expressed my support for a more direct route of a vote in Parliament. But I've undertaken to listen to what Mr Turnbull has said and I will talk to my colleagues. In terms of constitutional recognition of our first Australians, we both agree that more progress on that would be desirable and that's certainly what we seek to do.
JOURNALIST: Will there still likely be a referendum in 2017 and a vote on gay marriage by the end of 2016?
SHORTEN: These matters are in control of the Government of the day. Certainly, I think the case for putting our first Australians in the Constitution is well and truly overdue. We have a Referendum Council which Malcolm and I jointly appointed, made up of half Indigenous leaders, half non-Indigenous leaders and we look forward to getting their recommendations in order for the Parliament to consider how to progress constitutional recognition. I believe the fastest road to resolving the marriage equality debate in Australia is to have a vote in Parliament. Mr Turnbull has a different view and his Government's position is to have a plebiscite of Australians to decide on that matter. We will continue our discussions on these important matters.
JOURNALIST: Are you still aiming for the referendum on recognition in May next year, is that still the goal?
SHORTEN: In an ideal world it would be. I think the next practical step is hear what the Referendum Council comes back to both Mr Turnbull and I in terms of recommendations. It is important that we are bipartisan in our goals on this and I believe we both are.
JOURNALIST: Did you discuss the prospect of a joint sitting on the Government workplace bills?
JOURNALIST: It was announced this morning there is a $330 million proposal for a private hospital in Gregory Hills, what are your thoughts on that and do you think that South-Western Sydney needs more public health services?
SHORTEN: I haven't followed that announcement this morning. I make the general point about the healthcare system. What the Federal Government should do is unfreeze the GP indexation which means that GPs effectively are getting recompensed for the cost of living in terms of the cost of healthcare. We need to make sure that getting an x-ray or blood test, that you can still get bulk-billing for that. We want to make sure the cost of prescription drugs doesn't go up as the Government wants to take it and we think our hospitals should be properly funded. I am happy to see if Mike wants to supplement on this specific question.
FREELANDER: Thanks, look I'm aware of the proposal. I think it will take some pressure off our public hospital system, having a bigger private hospital in the Gregory Hills area. As you know there's enormous development with hundreds of thousands of people moving into the area between Gregory Hills and Penrith, with Orion Park and other areas being developed. There certainly is a need for more health services. But I go back to Bill's point we need to properly fund our public hospital system, we need to make sure that we continue to support and strengthen Medicare and look at standards of care equivalent to what is being provided here at the Campbelltown Medical and Dental Centre and a one stop shop and proper comprehensive healthcare provided by bulk billing.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, if I might return to the joint sitting. Does Labor support the prospect of a joint sitting or is it a waste of money?
SHORTEN: Well we've had a double dissolution election. Whether or not there is a joint sitting will be in the hands of the Prime Minister.
JOURNALIST: Did you raise with the Prime Minister this morning the idea of a treaty going beyond constitutional recognition?
SHORTEN: We had a range of discussions in terms of Constitutional recognition and what Aboriginal leaders are saying. In terms of the next practical steps we want to hear what the Referendum Council, which we jointly set up, has to say and what their recommendations are to us.
JOURNALIST: Pauline Hanson looks to be powerful than ever, it seems as if she's got four Senate spots. Are you nervous about what lengths the Coalition may need to go to appease that side of the equation to get legislation through?
SHORTEN: Pauline Hanson's One Nation party appears to have four Senators. They have four Senators because the Greens political party and Malcolm Turnbull changed the rules in the Senate and then Malcolm Turnbull called a double dissolution. The presence in such numbers of One Nation in the Senate is a direct result of Mr Turnbull and Mr Di Natale's actions in terms of their so-called electoral reform. In terms of what happens in policies, millions of people voted for the Labor Party. I want to assure them we are going to fight for Medicare, we are going fight for Australian jobs and we're going to fight to make sure that our education system is serving the needs of our young and giving them the best chance in the future. What we will also do is fight for a banking royal commission. Quite frankly, I am astounded that Malcolm Turnbull is so hard on Medicare and so weak on banks. He just thinks the more he talks, that the banks will change their ways. The banks have challenged Mr Turnbull directly. They are not changing their credit card interest rates, they are only passing on effectively half of the official interest rate cut on to mortgage holders. These banks don't care what Malcolm Turnbull says. The fact of the matter is the only thing which has kept the banks in line during the election period was the threat of a Royal Commission. Mr Turnbull needs to listen to the Australian people, not just on Medicare, he needs to listen to the will of the Australian people on a banking Royal Commission. The Australian people want a banking Royal Commission. They are sick and tired of the banking culture which sees scandal after scandal. They are sick and tired of the banks thinking that when the Reserve Bank makes the very unusual decision to lower the official interest rate, to lower the cost of money to 1.5 per cent, the Reserve Bank of Australia didn't do that so banks could be $1 billion richer. The Reserve Bank did this to help revive the Australian economy. Who do these banks they think they are, that they can pocket $1 billion in profit, off a policy decision designed to get the Australian economy moving again and revived again. The problem is that the banks think they are stronger and tougher and more important than Mr Turnbull and I think Mr Turnbull privately thinks that too.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask whether you've seen the Bill Leak cartoon in The Australian today, and if so what you thought of it?
JOURNALIST: There's criticisms that it's racist, that it is quite negative, showing negative attitudes towards Aboriginal parents, would you be concerned about that?
SHORTEN: I haven't seen the cartoon, and please don't tell The Australian, but I don't always read every page of them every day, sorry.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask about the plebiscite, did the Prime Minister ask for Labor's support for the enabling legislation and if so what was your response?
SHORTEN: The Prime Minister wants us to agree with the plebiscite, absolutely. There's a lot of detail to go, I said I'd listen. Australians expect me to listen to the Prime Minister and I'll do that. Australians also expect Labor to stand up for people. We're the party which puts working class and middle class families first.
I haven't seen the case properly made for $160 million taxpayer-funded opinion poll which won't bind conservative members of Mr Turnbull's own party. I think if Mr Turnbull had his way in a perfect world, he would agree with Labor's position that we should have a vote in Parliament. Now he's bound by his party and he's going, taking the second-best option. We'll just see how this debate progresses, and I intend to talk to my colleagues further. Sorry, I might just take two more questions
JOURNALIST: Just back on the banks if I may, the banks have come out this morning and said they need to pocket this profit that they're getting from not giving up the full interest rate cut and they also, they argue that's to shore up stability in our financial system given the global circumstances. They also argue that a royal commission will erode confidence in Australia's banking system. What do you make of those two claims?
SHORTEN: You've got to love the banks. As Paul Keating said, always back a horse called self-interest in every race. The banks are standing up for their profits, they're entitled to do that at one level. I'm standing up for Australia.
The fact of the matter is, there have been tens and tens of thousands of people who've been ripped off by banks. Every time there's a scandal, we know the formula. The scandal's revealed after there's thousands of victims. The banks say we don't know how it happened, it must have been some sort of loan operator and the banks have learnt the error of their ways until we have the next scandal.
Nothing less than a royal commission will make the banks sit up and pay attention. I think it is really wrong of the banks when the Reserve Bank of Australia reduces the interest rate, not so banks can make $1 billion, they do it so they can revive the economy to encourage people to spend more. If the cost of money is less, the theory goes that businesses will make more decisions, consumers will open their wallets, there'll be a greater sense of economic activity. All that's happening is the Reserve Bank makes a monetary policy decision and on the back of the Reserve Bank's decision to cut interest rates, the banks are pocketing hundreds of millions and $1 billion worth of profits. That's not a strategy for economic revival, that's just a strategy to make even more money than they're currently making. I'm interested in getting the Australian economy going and small businesses being able to feel confident to spend money, to get more construction going, consumers being able to spend in the high streets of the suburbs and country towns of Australia. The banks are just interested in making more profit. Mr Turnbull has to decide, is he the Prime Minister for banks or the Prime Minister for Australians because you can't always be both. Perhaps one last question.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the plebiscite now is unavoidable, and has the Prime Minister asked for your input on the wording and the timing of it?
SHORTEN: The Prime Minister would like us to support a plebiscite, there's no question about that. I have to say I'm just not convinced. I think a lot of Australians aren't convinced. What is the case for having a taxpayer-funded opinion poll which won't bind members of the Government?
Also, there's a lot of, experience shows that where you have these debates you get a lot of harmful and silly and extreme things said. Why should the children of same-sex attracted couples have to be subjected to having their carers, their parents' relationships to have to undergo the ordeal of a public opinion poll? Why is it that some Australians have to have their relationships undergo a public opinion poll and many others don't.
I think most Australians know that a plebiscite is a second best option. Let's just see how we go in terms of persuading the Parliament. I'm interested in resolving this issue.
There's a lot of matters, a lot of challenges in Australia. Medicare, what happens in terms of the banks and their performance. Marriage equality is an important issue but it's not the only issue. I would rather have this issue dealt more expeditiously, and the quickest way is for the Parliamentarians to do their day job. But Mr Turnbull has a different view, and as people would expect, we discussed the views and I listened very carefully to his point of view. I promise Australians we will be constructive.
JOURNALIST: But will Labor vote against the legislation then?
SHORTEN: Let's cross that bridge when we get to it. OK, thank you everybody and to Primary Healthcare and the doctors here, they're doing a great job.