TUESDAY, 30 OCTOBER 2018
SUBJECTS: Dr Brian Owler; Labor’s fight to protect Medicare from Liberal attacks, Bennelong local issues, Labor’s foreign policy platform; cyber security; Nauru.
JEROME LAXALE, MAYOR OF THE CITY OF RYDE: Good morning, everybody. My name is Jerome Laxale, I am the mayor of Ryde. It's great to be out here at Ryde Hospital in the centre of Bennelong on this wonderful day. It is always exciting when Bill Shorten comes to town, he always comes with some good news and exciting news. And without further ado, I'll introduce the Leader of the Labor Party and the next Prime Minister of Australia, Bill Shorten.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning, everybody. It's fantastic to be back in Bennelong.
I acknowledge the presence of our state candidate for Ryde and the mayor, Jerome Laxale. I've also got with me Senator Jenny McAllister and of course, we've got a special guest, Professor Brian Owler.
We're here today to make it very clear to Australians that we regard the health of every Australian to be of fundamental political importance. Health care under the current conservative Government has gone backwards. First, they froze Medicare. Then they cut funding to hospitals. And now, yet again, they're undermining our whole Medicare system by the use of labour hire companies to do core tasks of the Medicare payment system.
Labor will stand up for the health of Australians. We’ve made it clear that we will properly fund our hospitals. We've made it clear that we respect the job of our health system, but that the increase in out-of-pocket costs to patients has been caused by the ruinous freeze on Medicare for the last number of years.
There are plenty of issues in the next federal election but no issue is any more important than health care. One of the reasons why I want to be Prime Minister is to put health care back up the top of the charts when it comes to the policies of the national government.
And to that end, demonstrating Labor's absolute commitment to making sure that health care is a number-one issue in this election, to making sure that Medicare gets the important treatment it deserves, I'm pleased to announce that Dr Brian Owler will be nominating to become the Labor candidate for Bennelong at the next federal election.
Dr Owler needs little introduction, but let me remind people of some of his remarkable service to the Australian community. He's been President of the Australian Medical Association, leading the campaign to make sure that Coalition governments reverse their cuts to Medicare and to the hospital system. But not only is he remarkable advocate on that issue, he is a well-known road trauma specialist, a road trauma surgeon, who's had to do many amazing things to help keep people alive. He is a neurosurgeon, very distinguished. He is someone who has been an advocate on pool safety, on road safety. He's a person who puts the well-being of the community first. He brings a distinguished medical career to the national parliament if in fact, he is elected in the seat of Bennelong.
Mr Medicare is coming to Canberra to make sure that we put Medicare and health care right up the top. He, like Labor, believes that it should be your Medicare card, not your credit card, that determines whether or not you get quality health care in this country.
Without any further ado, I'd like to introduce to you the person who I hope will become Labor's candidate for Bennelong, Dr Brian Owler.
DR BRIAN OWLER: Well, thank you, Bill. And thank you, to Jenny and Jerome for coming out today as well and thank you for coming along too.
It is an honour to have the opportunity to be the Labor candidate for Bennelong at the next federal election. This is a decision I've obviously thought long and hard about. But it was a decision I came to because this is a time that I believe that people need to step forward if we are going to see a Shorten Labor Government elected.
I come from fairly modest background but my parents worked hard, I worked hard. And through the opportunities of education, through school and university, I was able to become a doctor and, of course, a neurosurgeon. I know that the hard-working people of Bennelong want the same opportunities for their children, and it's Labor that has the policies that provides them with the opportunities through preschool, school, TAFE and of course, university as well.
I have fought hard and passionately to defend Medicare and our excellent Australian health care system against the constant attacks from a Liberal Coalition Government. I have been successful in doing that. And I believe that it is Labor that will protect Medicare and also invest in our health care system for the health care of all Australians and I know that's important to the people of Bennelong as well.
I think this nation is sick and tired of not having their opinions listened to. I think when it comes to policies like energy, like climate change, it is Labor that has the responsible policies for the future.
I know that trying to win this electorate at the next election is going to be an enormous task. But I think the division that we've seen recently amongst the Coalition, particularly the Liberal Party, was really the last straw. I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that the people of Bennelong have a strong voice in Canberra and I'm going to do everything that I can to make sure that we elect a Shorten Labor Government at the next election.
SHORTEN: Thanks very much, Brian. Are there any questions for us?
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, yesterday you made a couple of references to issues where you disagreed with the US. Could you detail what the Labor Party's position is on China and what China is doing in the South China Sea?
SHORTEN: Well, thank you. Before I get to foreign policy, are there any questions about Dr Owler's candidacy and then I'm happy to come to that as the first question after that?
JOURNALIST: Can we ask Dr Owler, how confident you are that you can take on John Alexander at the next election for Bennelong?
OWLER: As I said, I think this election is going to be a really difficult task. We know that the seat has been won by Labor before and I think that it is certainly possible. But I'm not going to take anything for granted. I'm looking forward to getting out and talking to the people in the electorate of Bennelong, hearing what is important for them and to address their issues. I think the people of Bennelong want a strong voice in Canberra and I think that their needs are going to be best served by electing a Shorten Labor Government.
JOURNALIST: Aside from health care, what do you see as the big local issues?
OWLER: I think there are a number of them. Education is a big issue in this electorate. Certainly, there are a lot of hard-working families that want to make sure their children have every opportunity for the future. So education is a big issue. Infrastructure, particularly the NBN, has been an important issue for people in Bennelong in the past, and it continues to be. I know that population and the infrastructure to support that population in the electorate is also important to them as well. But of course health care is important to everyone and I understand that people are going to be very interested to make sure that they protect Medicare and of course funding to public hospitals.
SHORTEN: I might just add, Brian's being a bit modest. Bennelong is a hard seat to win. Whilst Brian Owler brings a lifetime of standing up for people, he hasn't sought to go into some safe seat. Bennelong is a Coalition seat. It's hard to win. Very hard to win. But I just think that shows how fair dinkum he is. The reality is that he wants to do his apprenticeship - he wants to put the case to the people.
John Alexander is a nice person. But, after the last by-election, they sort of, I think, had to push him a bit to run then. I think you need a bit of energy in the seat now and that's what Brian will bring.
I'm happy to go to your question on foreign policy.
JOURNALIST: Yesterday, you made a couple of references to issues where you disagreed with the US. Could you detail what the Labor Party's position is on what China is doing in the South China Sea?
SHORTEN: There's no doubt that Labor believes in freedom of navigation. We believe and we support international-based rules systems and that includes the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. We think that the best way to resolve tensions there are through diplomacy.
What I said yesterday in our foreign policy address is that a Labor government will have an independent, ambitious and confident approach to foreign policy. If you like, we will practice foreign policy with an Aussie accent. We don't look at China through the prism of worst cast scenario solely. We look at how we can be constructive.
America is our oldest ally in terms of the ANZUS Alliance and that is a pillar of foreign policy. But of course, our trade with North Asia is very important, our trade with China. China is our principal trading partner. So I think a false binary of America versus China actually gets us nowhere.
What Australians want Australian foreign policy, understanding the importance of America to us and of China.
What we will also do, is when we have disagreements with China - because they have a different political system which means it's inevitable we will have disagreements where our values diverge - is we won't practise megaphone diplomacy and we won't let other countries do the talking for us.
I owe it to Australians if elected, for Australia to talk in its own interests. That's why I've said for example, we need to expand our engagement in the Pacific. People look at the Pacific and whilst the islands are relatively small in size, it is really the blue continent and it's a massive area of sea which Australia should extend a helping hand to the ten million people of the Pacific. So we need to increase our engagement, rather than worry about who else is there. We just need to do our job properly, just as we need to do our job properly looking after the domestic interests of Australians, including, of course, defending Medicare against Liberal governments.
JOURNALIST: On foreign policy, Mr Shorten, Malcolm Turnbull has been in Indonesia seeking to reassure them that talk about moving our embassy in Israel is not a done deal. What's your view on that?
SHORTEN: Well, this government is making us the laughing stock around the world. Imagine what the Indonesians think. Here's Malcolm Turnbull, who they last met as Prime Minister, is now no longer Prime Minister, going up to explain that the current Prime Minister didn't mean what he said.
I mean this is the problem - Liberal disunity and division is making us the laughing stock elsewhere. We need to improve relations with Indonesia. That doesn't mean we're not allowed to make our own decisions. Of course we are. But our relationship with Indonesia hasn't progressed in the way it should have. We have 18,000 companies in Australia who export to New Zealand, but only 2,000 who export to Indonesia.
Indonesia's economy is growing. So if we're going to make foreign policy decisions, which our neighbours might have a view on, I think it's smarter to tell them before they read it in the newspaper or send them a text message. So having sent them a text message about this cynical decision to chase a few votes in Wentworth, we've then sent the Prime Minister they sacked.
I mean the other question - which I'm sure the Indonesians have asked Mr Turnbull - is one which the Government and Mr Morrison haven't answered - why isn't Malcolm Turnbull still the Prime Minister of Australia?
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you want a Human Rights Commissioner. Will that Commissioner raise human rights with China?
SHORTEN: Yes. And raise them with other countries. Of course we do.
JOURNALIST: Are you going to raise cyber attacks by China?
SHORTEN: Cybersecurity is not just an issue to do with China. It's an issue to do with Russia and other countries. There are also cyber-attacks on us which are done by criminal gangs as opposed to state-based organisations. I think what Australia needs to do is generally strengthen our cyber security. It's not just enough for our defence forces to be cyber secure - although that's fundamental. It's not just enough for our big banks and some of the big institutions - we need to help small and medium-sized businesses improve their cyber security. We need to create greater literacy amongst Australians about just being secure with their data protection, full stop.
JOURNALIST: What is Labor willing to negotiate with the Government to get kids off Nauru? Will you support banning them from reaching Australia if they go to New Zealand?
SHORTEN: First of all, Labor supports strong borders and we'll turn back boats where it's safe to do so. We don't want the lethal trade of the people smuggler gangs back. Having said that, I think I'm like most Australians - we've kept kids this detention for five years now. That's just too long. I think shame on the Government for not having done more to resettle the kids. And for me, the issue of Nauru currently is about the health of children and where the treating doctors and the medical experts say they should be brought off the island to get proper treatment, then we should just do that. It shouldn't be a political negotiation. I encourage Mr Morrison to take up New Zealand's offer. Labor has compromised on our position. We've said that, why don't we offer the people going to New Zealand the same deal that we offered the people being resettled in the United States? That's a good starting spot for negotiations. But I just say to Mr Morrison. Five years is too long. Australians are not comfortable having children in detention after five years. It's just too long. Before the Wentworth by-election, Mr Morrison was dangling the carrot of saying we'll get the kids off. But after the result in Wentworth he seems to have gone on a go-slow. I would just encourage him to talk to Labor. We can work this out together and I think Australians expect nothing less. Not ultimatums, let's just look after the kids.
JOURNALIST: If nothing is sorted out before the federal election and Labor wins that, what will you do?
SHORTEN: We've already proposed a Private Member's Bill. Let's not be so pessimistic to think that these kids have to wait in detention until the next federal election. What we've said is that we want the New Zealand deal back on the table. What we've said is that we want the treating medical advice to be the dominant issue, the welfare of the children. We've said where the Minister exercises discretion, he should have the availability of an independent medical panel and the AMA have graciously agreed to be part of that panel to make sure that kids' welfare is number one. And really that's the Australian way, isn't it? Thanks, everybody. Cheers.