THURSDAY, 19 MAY 2016
SUBJECT/S: A stronger Medicare for all Australians; Higher Education; David Feeney; Indigenous Health; Asylum Seekers; Labor’s plans to properly fund schools; Australia Day
EMMA MCBRIDE, CANDIDATE FOR DOBELL: Good morning. I'm Emma McBride, the Labor candidate for Dobell. I am so pleased to welcome the Labor leader Bill Shorten, Catherine King the Shadow Health Minister, and Anne Charlton the Labor candidate for Robertson to Wyong today. It is very exciting that today Labor is going to be announcing a significant announcement on health and Medicare which will mean so much to this community and to the nation. Welcome, Bill Shorten.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody. Today is a significant day in this election campaign because today Labor will defend Medicare. We will defend an Australia where it is your health care card not your credit card that determines the quality of health care you get in this country. So today I am pleased to announce that a Labor Government will unfreeze the medical benefits schedule from 1 January 2017. Labor will protect bulk-billing. By reversing Malcolm Turnbull's GP tax and, as such, this is not just a matter of money and the Budget. This is a battle to defend bulk-billing. As such, it is a battle to defend Medicare. It is a battle between a Government determined to undermine Medicare by targeting bulk-billing and an Opposition, a Labor Party, who will do everything we can to save Medicare. Mr Turnbull had a choice in his Budget. He could have chosen not to give $50 billion worth of cuts, tax cuts to big business, but h e chose to do that and instead he's frozen the medical benefits schedule which undermines bulk-billing. Mr Turnbull and his colleagues know that, if they can bring bulk-billing undone, then they bring Medicare undone. Labor will fight this election on defending Medicare and defending bulk-billing. It's now my pleasure to introduce my Shadow Minister, Catherine King on this important day to talk further about Labor's commitment to saving and improving Medicare.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks very much, Bill. It's lovely to be here with Emma and with Anne. Today is World Family Doctor Day, the 19th of May, and it's a terrific day to be making what is a very, very important investment in primary care. Here in this general practice and in general practices across the country patients are coming in to see GPs, to see practice nurses, nurse practitioners, dietitians, speech pathologists, people who are working in the front line of primary care, keeping our nation well. Primary care is at the heart of Medicare. And at every opportunity since the 2014 Budget, Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott have tried to make it less affordable for people to see and access general practitioners. We know that putting a barrier in the way of people accessing general practitioners, as the Medicare benefits schedule freeze does, is bad health policy, it's bad for patients and bad for doctors. Labor will stand up for Medicare, stand up for patients and reverse this freeze on general practice.
SHORTEN: We're happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: This was Labor's GP tax. So you're admitting today that you got it wrong and the Government says you are just spending money you don't have.
SHORTEN: The temporary freeze to which you refer was put in place until 1 July 2014. Labor always budgeted to not continue the freeze beyond 1 July 2014. That was a temporary freeze. It was a matter of the Budget. But when the Liberal Party under Mr Turnbull freezed the GP rebates for six year, that is more than a Budget matter. That is a matter of undermining bulk-billing and Medicare. In terms of the priority of this issue, today is a significant day. There is a battle on in this country about the future of bulk-billing. There is a battle on in this country about the future of Medicare. It is a battle between Malcolm Turnbull's Liberals who are determined through their policies to undermine bulk-billing and Medicare and Labor who will fight with every ounce of our energy to defend and save Medicare.
JOURNALIST: How many other ALP policies are going to be funded by blocking the Coalition's company tax cuts?
SHORTEN: It's a matter of choices, isn't it. This election and indeed a budget. Mr Turnbull chose to provide tax cuts to big business which will total $50 billion. Labor chooses to defend Medicare with an announcement which will cost $12 billion over 10 years which will preserve bulk-billing and preserve our Medicare system. A Prime Minister who doesn't choose to prioritise the health of his people needs to change his priorities. And a Prime Minister who can't change his priorities, he needs to get out of his job.
JOURNALIST: You have relentlessly criticised the Coalition over the $57 billion that was taken out of health. Will you today commit putting that back in or will you not?
SHORTEN: We will have more to say about our health policy as this election unfolds. But today there couldn't be a clearer choice between Labor's commitment to prioritise Medicare and the Liberals' commitment to prioritise tax cuts for big business.
JOURNALIST: How do you arrive at that figure that patients, if the freeze is not lifted, will be about $20 out of pocket?
SHORTEN: We are deeply grateful to the advocacy of the Royal College of Australian General Practitioners, and the AMA led by Brian Owler and many consumer groups. They have made it perfectly clear that if you freeze the rebates which GPs receive. If you keep them at 2014 levels in 2015 and 2016 right through to 2020, doctors will be left with no choice but to levy upfront fees. At least with Tony Abbott he said he wanted to have a GP tax. Mr Turnbull is trying to come in the backdoor of every GP surgery and levy a new GP tax, force the GPs of Australia, they're the front line, the family doctor is the front line of medicine in this country. And what Mr Turnbull and his ruthless policies of undermining bulk-billing will do is that they will undermine Medicare generally. I do not want Australia to go down the path of a two-tier American system. Where you have a basic level of medical care for the truly impoverished and then the other standard of care is for those who are truly well off. Australia has an efficient health care system. It can always make improvements, but we spend about 10 per cent of our economic output on our health care. In America, in its two-tier, two-class system it costs the American economy about 17 per cent. Medicare is not just fair. It is efficient. And what we are doing is preserving bulk-billing. I do not want people who are sick on fixed income pensions, parents with kids, or adults with chronic health conditions to have to choose between being able to afford the shopping that week, the power bills that week, or going to the doctor. And the truth of the matter is that the Government's freeze on the GP rebate doesn't actually help the taxpayers' bottom line. What happens is sick people defer going to the doctor because they don't have the money and then when they're sick they end up in the emergency wards of our hospitals and that costs a lot more to the bottom line. So what we are doing today in defending Medicare is we're keeping true to the genuine Australian community standard of Medicare, where it is, as I have said before, your Medicare card, not your credit card which determines the level of care and that happens to be the best deal for the sick, for the taxpayer, and for our country.
JOURNALIST: Why can't you speak today on hospital funding and guarantee you will return the money when you have been demanding the Coalition to do that?
SHORTEN: Well first of all there's another 46 days to go in this election and we're not going to say everything today. But let us not underestimate the significance of today's announcement. This Government has made a clear choice - they say that the best way for Australia to be a better country is to give $50 billion in tax cuts to big business, another $17 billion in tax cuts for people who earn a million dollars or beyond $180,000. $67 billion, that’s the Turnbull agenda. Give the cuts, the improvements in tax position to the very well off in society. Labor couldn't have a more diametrically different vision of this country. I actually think it's better for Australia that parents can take their kids to see the doctor when the kids are sick and not when the parents can afford to. I think Australia needs to be a country where if you are a self-funded retiree or an elderly pensioner and you budget carefully you don't have to pay big up-front fees to go to the doctor. This is a very important health care announcement but I also think this is the sort of announcement by emphasising fairness that we drive economic growth in this country because we have a cheaper medical system than the American model and the consequence of Mr Turnbull undermining bulk-billing, undermining Medicare is we get on that slippery slope to an Americanised health care system where how much money you have is the determinant of the quality of your health care.
JOURNALIST: This is the significance of making this announcement in Dobell, in a marginal seat like Dobell?
SHORTEN: We have an outstanding candidate in Dobell, she's awesome. And our candidate in Robertson is equally awesome. The point about making the announcement here is the communities on the Central Coast are dynamic, vibrant communities. People live here for the quality of life, but they've got their fair share of people on fixed incomes, people who work in Sydney and come home of an evening. A lot of young families here. They deserve a quality health care system on the Central Coast just as much as the eastern suburbs and Point Piper in Sydney. What a Labor Government will do is we will govern for all Australia, not just the big cities, not just the people who have the money to be able to afford to go and see the doctor. We will govern for all Australians no matter what their economic circumstances. And for all regions in Australia. The Labor Party is making it very clear in this election that we are the party w hich has the interests of the regions of Australia most at heart and Medicare I think is the gold standard in terms of our commitment to Australians, their health and our future.
JOURNALIST: The Coalition is pledging $32 million to a medical school in Gosford, attached to Gosford Hospital. Will Labor support that? Will Labor money towards a similar school?
SHORTEN: We are all over the Liberals when it comes to higher education. Really, they are the ones that want to give 20% cuts to higher education. These are the people who are still encouraging the rorts in the vocational education sector and TAFE by having large uncapped private loans to private providers. We made it clear last year that we would provide a minimum guarantee of funding to all students in all courses at university. So we will have a look at what the Libs have said today but really, isn't it funny, they want to talk about a medical school but the problem is they want those medicos they train to become GPs at practices where they will have to charge large up-front fees. For me it's all about people. The announcement we're making today, that Catherine and I are making today is all about, as we say, putting people first. I want the people who come to this surgery to be able to get quality health c are and not be put off by having large up-front fees which deter people from seeking health care and then lead to a logjam and congestion in our emergency wards. Our proposal is not only fair, it's economically sensible.
JOURNALIST: When he is in Canberra, David Feeney stays at a unit that is owned through the family trust of his wife. He hasn't specifically listed or declared the unit, he has declared the family trust. Are you confident that he's met his obligations? Were you aware of the unit and have you stayed there?
SHORTEN: Thanks for those three questions, Joe. Let's go to the heart of the matter. I expressed my displeasure yesterday on the record to you and directly to Mr Feeney about his failure to declare a property. I understand in terms of his wife's declarations today that all has been done to according to the rules and has been adhered to the rules.
JOURNALIST: Does David Feeney stay there while also claiming a travel allowance understand of more than $270 a night?
SHORTEN: Well, it is not a practice I do myself, but I do understand because I don't have any property in Canberra, in fact, I have to declare I have one house, it's a mortgage, we live in it. But I understand that it is a practice amongst members of Parliament. I think Mr Turnbull has been in very similar circumstances in the past too.
JOURNALIST: Will Labor restore funding to successful Indigenous programs such as those that have helped smoking?
SHORTEN: Great question. We are finalising our views on those matters and I might ask Catherine to supplement it. We are very committed to closing the gap in Indigenous health. Indigenous health hasn't had enough coverage in this election and we have had Pat Dodson out there providing further policies to me with my shadow spokespeople. But I might ask Catherine to talk about that because this is an issue that doesn't always make the front page but it is incredibly important.
KING: Thanks for a great question. We were really shocked, I think, when the Government took the decision to cut the smoking cessation programs for Indigenous health because they were working. It's one of the population areas we want to get smoking rates down. We will have something more to say about that. But we do think that you don't make sure you have good Indigenous health in this country by cutting programs like this. We are very keen. We have seen the Deadly Choices program. The great work that that has done. I was actually in the Northern Territory you might have seen on Monday making a terrific announcement there for cancer treatment. But I also had the opportunity to make an announcement at Danila Dilba, a terrific Aboriginal medical service and they are in no doubt the Deadly Choices program has been pretty important for Indigenous health in that community as well as for getting smoking rates down.
JOURNALIST: Can you guarantee that as result of today's announcement that the fees people pay at the doctor will not go up?
KING: I'm going to back College of General Practitioners, the Australian Medical Association; we have had the Consumers Health Forum out today as well as the Australian Health Care and Hospitals Association. This is a very good announcement. This is a very good announcement for patients, it's a very good announcement for making sure we have affordable access to general practice in this country and I am going to back the doctors over Malcolm Turnbull any day on this matter.
JOURNALIST: Will the price stay the same? Can you say whether it will stay the same?
SHORTEN: Let's deal with the facts that are here. Our announcement today is now one of the big issues in this election. Malcolm Turnbull should reverse his six year freeze on the rebate because the only outcome of their six-year freeze on the rebate is bulk-billing is in trouble. And if you undermine bulk-billing, you undermine Medicare and Mr Turnbull and his Liberal colleagues know that very well. This election, as I said in the opening back a couple of Sundays ago, is about choices. I happen to choose and Labor chooses our Medicare system over giving tax cuts to the top end of town. I choose bulk-billing and supporting and saving bulk-billing over giving Australia's largest banks a $7.5 billion tax cut over the next 10 years. Medicare is a community standard. The Prime Minister needs to make a choice and if he's got the wrong priorities and he can't choose people's health, well then he needs to get out of his job because Australians deserve better from a Prime Minister.
JOURNALIST: If the freeze is so prohibitive, why do bulk-billing rates continue to rise?
SHORTEN: Well, there's no doubt in my mind that bulk-billing is fundamentally important to the provision of health care and a lot of GPs are doing their absolute best they can to ensure bulk-billing. But the experts - not Malcolm Turnbull - I don't know if he calls himself a medical export - probably - but the point about it is when it comes to bulk-billing the AMA, the Royal Australian College of GPs, the allied professionals all say that a six-year freeze makes bulk-billing unsustainable. And when it comes to the health care of Australians, as Catherine said, I choose the doctors and the experts over right-wing Liberal ideologues who have never liked Medicare to begin with.
JOURNALIST: Yesterday you made comments about Peter Dutton. Malcolm Turnbull has just said you're demonising the Immigration Minister. What's your response to that?
SHORTEN: People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, should they. The issue is that yesterday migrants were demonised by Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull backed in Peter Dutton over the great immigration history of this country. We know why they're talking about this every day. We understand why they're doing it. What they want to do is say that Labor doesn't have a strong policy to stop boats coming to Australia and they want to undermine the perception of our commitment to regional processing. They are lying. And what they're doing is getting increasingly desperate and they want to take the issues - they don't want to talk about Medicare. They don't want to talk about schools. They want don't want to talk about their poor choices in the Budget backing up big business tax cuts over every day Australians. Instead they want to run a cry of xenophobia; they want to undermine the migrant contribution to Australia because they don't want this election to be about the issues that matter to Australians. We won't let them get away with their lies. We will stand up to their bullying on behalf of a great migrant tradition in this country and we will make sure this election is fought on the issues which matter to everyday Australians: Medicare, properly funding our schools, making sure that we have jobs for our young people and we have a great TAFE system to retrain our older Australians. We will fight the issues on what matters to every day Australians. We will call out their lies and deceptions for exactly what they are.
JOURNALIST: Can you guarantee that resettlement services won't suffer under the increased refugee intake?
SHORTEN: We costed our policies. The Greens are out there promising everything to everybody. But our policy in terms of refugees is costed and we submitted to it to the Parliamentary Budget Office so I can guarantee that.
JOURNALIST: Analysis today shows that private schools will be more heavily funded than government schools within four years based on current spending in Labor's plans. Is that the right balance? Does change need to be made in that time period?
SHORTEN: I am not going to go down the divisive path of pitting non-government schools against government schools. But what I can say to parents in Australia, regardless of where you send your children, we will fund the schools according to need. We’ve done the homework. We've got the evidence. The jury has come back with a verdict. We have worked out what needs to be done to properly resource our schools. We have done our homework over the last year and a half how we pay for these measures. We will make sure that children, whether or not they go to a non-government school in the bush or a big government school in the city, we will make sure that kids get it funded according to need and we do this because we actually think that the taxpayers of Australia who pay their taxes to Canberra have a reasonable and legitimate expectation that they will see some of those taxes come back in the form of ext ra resources for their kids at school. And what I also have to make clear is remember what Mr Turnbull said, he said that in a perfect world that the Commonwealth government wouldn't even fund government schools. If you want to see a real menace to government schools in Australia, have a look at the Liberal Party of Australia.
JOURNALIST: Your Labor candidate for the seat of Swan has suggested scrapping Australia Day and having it instead on Wattle day. Where does Labor stand on Australia day? Should it remain on the same day or should it be switched to another day?
SHORTEN: We support Australia Day being on 26 January.
JOURNALIST: We have seen more of your candidates suggest they have an issue with your asylum seeker policy. Have you personally reached down to them in a bid to change their minds or do you plan to lobby them and convince them that your way is the right way?
SHORTEN: I think you actually see more of my candidates full stop. I don't know how Mr Turnbull is going showing up with his candidates. More seriously, the Labor Party went through this issue openly and transparently at our National Conference and I won the argument and the Labor Party policy is very clear. What Mr Turnbull wants is the sort of issues you are raising. He wants us not to talk about Medicare. He wants us not to talk about properly funding our schools. He doesn't want us talking about Australian jobs. It is very clear their campaign of deceit and lies will be seen for what it is. The Labor Party policy is settled and I lead my party, and I am in step with my party. We can't say that about Mr Turnbull and so many of the policy backflips he has had with his party. The truth of the matter is that, since Malcolm Turnbull got elected, he has turned into someone who has changed a lot of the views he said before he got elected: marriage equality, climate change, and he's also in the past talked about the excesses of negative gearing. Mr Turnbull is a captive of his party, I lead my party. Last question.
JOURNALIST: Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull say this is money you can't afford. How can you guarantee this is not just reckless spending?
SHORTEN: Great question because it's another disinformation campaign from the Government. On Budget night our hapless Treasurer announced $50 billion in tax cuts for business, in particular big business. And we say instead of spending that $50 billion we would spend $12 billion on unfreezing the Medicare rebates because I believe in bulk-billing, I believe in saving Medicare, as I've said, there is a clear choice in this election: You can either have a Prime Minister who doesn't back the health of Australians, or you can have a Labor Party who is committed to defending bulk-billing, defending Medicare and giving a fair go to the frontline of our medical services, our great GPs of Australia and on that note I would like to wish everyone a happy World Family Doctor Day and I will see you at the next event.