TUESDAY, 6 MAY 2014
SUBJECT/S: Budget; Commission of Audit; Tony Abbott’s Broken Promises and Twisted Priorities; Cuts to health care; Cuts to pensions; Education funding; AFL.
HOST: A week out from the federal budget and support for the Abbott Government is in freefall, particularly over the controversial plans for a deficit tax. If an election had been held on the weekend, Labor would have won quite comfortably and the man who would’ve been Prime Minster, Bill Shorten, is in the studio with us now. Mr Shorten, welcome to Adelaide and thanks for coming in.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Pleasure to be here.
HOST: Now, a lot of our listeners have been debating this over the past couple of weeks since the deficit tax was floated and the Audit report was released. How much responsibility should rest with the Labor Party for the budgetary problems facing Australia?
SHORTEN: The budget emergency, so described by Tony Abbott, is an exaggeration. Now you’ve always got to make hard decisions, you’ve got to keep spending down, you’ve got to keep an eye on your books. But let’s set the record straight: when Labor was in, there was a triple A credit rating, our economy unlike many other first world economies grew by about 14 per cent, there were hundreds of thousands of jobs created. So whilst you’ve got to keep the budget under control, I do not believe that the set of circumstances being created which would justify Tony Abbott breaking his promises.
HOST: So the line is crisis, what crisis?
SHORTEN: Well, the line is Mr Abbott, you made a hero of yourself before the last election, the Mother Theresa of political saints by saying that broken promises were a no-go zone. Having staked your reputation, Mr Abbott, on not breaking promises, introducing taxes, making it more expensive to go to the doctor, scaring the daylight out of pensioners – this is broken promise territory and we will hold you to account.
HOST: I think our listeners would agree with you on the form of words, but what they would dispute is the sort of rose-coloured assessment of the Labor years. Because when you won power in 2007, John Howard and Peter Costello had a surplus of some $20 billion. Now this time a year ago Wayne Swan was promising a surplus, his quote was ‘come hell or high water’, and the deficit came in at $20 billion. So there was a $40 billion turn around in the state of our budget during the two years Labor was in power. You have to take some of the responsibility for that, don’t you?
SHORTEN: It was six years, I don’t have rose-coloured glasses -
HOST: Two terms.
SHORTEN: Yes. I don’t have rose-coloured glasses about everything Labor did, so I’ll be really straight. Labor made mistakes, the voters have spoken, the voters don’t get it wrong, they have spoken and Labor has to respect that. What I won’t do is allow the Abbott Government to get off its election promises to justify breaking its promises with a fictional budget emergencies.
You see, in those six years Labor was in we had the Global Financial Crisis. Every other first world country went into recession, we didn’t. We have a triple A credit rating. Creating jobs and keeping jobs, as every South Australian knows, is a fundamental task of Government. So what we say is that Tony Abbott should be bringing down his budget, he shouldn’t just be spending all his time though bagging the past.
He’s now the Prime Minister, he’s the man in charge, the buck stops with him. And you don’t need to slug the vulnerable, the elderly or the sick, just to break your promises. There’s got to be better ways to do it.
HOST: Speaking on some of these proposals in the Commission of Audit report, Mr Shorten, Jane and I just want to go through the headline areas in the report to ask you what Labor thinks about the proposals.
HOST: Firstly we want to look at health, and we want to know are you against the co-payment for Medicare and increase - we know that you are against that, and the increasing cost of PBS medicines. But at the same time do you think rich people should have access to public health care, or should they be paying their own way?
SHORTEN: Well in terms of the whole Commission of Audit, so I don’t frustrate the listeners, Labor’s not ruling in or ruling out every one of their ideas, we want to see what the Government does. But there are some things we’ve already given a view on and I’m really happy to do that.
And of course the number one issue is health care. Medicare, the Australian health system, is the envy of the world. That doesn’t mean it always gets it right, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done better. But when you look at what happens for instance in the United States, where your quality of healthcare depends on your credit card, not your Medicare card, we don’t want to go down that road. So we don’t support increasing a tax on people to go to the doctor, we don’t want to make it harder for medicines to be available to Australians, we believe in the universal system.
So you question was should you just slug the rich and look after the poor, well we have a progressive taxation system – all Australians already pay the Medicare system. We don’t think some sort of flat tax which would unduly hit the poor helps anyone. So if the price of universality or a Medicare system is one which is quality and high outcomes, then what we would do is we would say leave Medicare alone.
The Abbott Government, they’ve got this crazy paid parental leave scheme where they want to give millionaires, un-means tested, $50,000 dollars – it was $75,000 it’s now $50,000 - this is Mr Abbott’s signature scheme. That’s going to cost the bottom line $21 billion over four years. That’s just a vanity for Mr Abbott, it’s got no relationship – why should poor people pay more to go to the doctor, which they’ve already paid for in their taxes, and Mr Abbott gets away with having a paid parental scheme for millionaires?
HOST: On education, Bill Shorten, we know that Labor thinks that the Gonski funding model was the right thing for our schools. Just on university education, do you think that uni students can afford to pay higher fees given on average they will earn 75 per cent more than other workers?
SHORTEN: I’m very worried again to see the Abbott Government going down the American path of creating a system – and they’ve been very vague in their rumours, so we’re having a bit of a hypothetical debate here – but I’m very worried the Abbott Government wants to make universities the preserve of children from well-off backgrounds alone.
South Australia is a state not just of the cities, but the regions. It’s a legitimate aspiration of parents if their kids want to go down that path, to send them to university. I’m worried that the Abbott Government is proposing massive debts for students and their parents. They haven’t made the case for it.
Again, if you want to get the priorities right in the budget, and we didn’t come here just with knocking Government, dump your paid parental leave scheme. It’s just a white elephant, its twisted priorities and do that rather than slug middle-class and working class kids in the bush or in the city who want to go to university.
HOST: We’ve had lots of questions from our listeners about pension and especially about the pension age and it possibly going up to 70. What are your thoughts on that?
SHORTEN: In terms of living longer, Australians are living longer. But the labour market out there for older Australians is tough. If you’re above, I think its 55 or it maybe 50, you are likely if your unemployed, to spend twice as long being unemployed as someone who is younger.
Older people when they try to hang on to a job are the victims of discrimination. In this country of ours, the greatest country in the world, we still do discriminate against people if their older looking for work. So before you start asking for people to work longer, we need to deal with the issues of the unfair treatment of older people in the workplace. The other thing is people who work in physically demanding work, it doesn’t have to be a brick layer, it can be a carpet layer -
HOST: Or even be a teacher
SHORTEN: It can be a teacher, it can be a nurse, it can be a cleaner. The point of it is that your body isn’t what it was at 68 as it was at 48 or 28. So I reckon that the Government needs to give us a plan for adult education so that people have got options. So before you get on to whether or not people work longer, why don’t you look after the people rather than just make it about the budget?
HOST: When it comes to working out how much you should get paid when you’re on the pension or be given when you’re on the pension, should it be indexed to wages not CPU?
SHORTEN: Well, I think if the Federal Government wants to slow down the rate of indexation, indexation is the rate by which the pension increase each year or each 6 months, you can pick a number of measures but of course what the Government wants to do, it’s going shopping to pick a lower rate of growth of the age pension.
Let’s be really straight about the age pension, the age pension is not a king’s ransom. It’s not like winning TattsLotto. It’s a modest amount; the issue for the age pension is if you want to slow down the rate of increase of it, you’re making life harder for millions of people. We will fight for the pensioners.
HOST: What about the family home being counted against it?
SHORTEN: We think that it’s a crazy idea, again to be really straight. This Commission of Audit, who’s the Business Council of Australia’s plans for Australia which the Abbott Government’s outlined its vision, who knows if it will be this budget or down the track, I do worry that the family home will be on the chopping block for the Government.
What the Commission of Audit said, or the Government has said, is that, if you’re a single pensioner and your house is worth more than half a million dollars, that will be tested for the pension. Now the issue is a lot of pensioners are on fixed incomes but the one asset they have saved for over their 40-50 years, probably when their partner was alive, was the home.
So, half a million dollars sounds a lot to a young person who’s trying to get into the housing market, for pensioners, they’re very concerned, so I don’t think the family home and the threshold at half a million dollars or three quarters of a million for a couple, I just think that is needlessly scaring pensioners. There’s real anger out there, the Abbott Government has got some smart people in it. Surely they can come up with ideas to look after Australia that don’t involve scaring pensioners, the sick or people trying to battle to get to university.
HOST: So what would Labor do though to fix up the budget? Or is it your view that the budget is quiet fine and doesn’t really need fixing?
SHORTEN: No, you always need to be improving the budget, so we’re not saying do nothing, we’re not saying business as usual. But I do believe that you should scrap the $22 million paid parental leave scheme. The second proposition is that your policies should be about growth. South Australia for instance is feeling the economic waves of the decline of the car industry more than other parts of Australia.
We’ll be looking to see if the Government is making steps towards growing the economy. If your got a growing economy, then there is more taxes to go around, there is more income to go around, there is more opportunity to go around. Anyway, we will see what Tony Abbott with his budget, but surely the Liberal Party of Australia have more ideas then taxing the sick, people that go to work with a debt tax, an Abbott Tax, a broken promise tax.
There has to be better ways of running this country than the Abbott Government putting all the responsibly on people struggling to make ends meet from one fortnightly pay packet to the next.
HOST: And finally, and importantly Bill Shorten , you’re a mad Collingwood supporter, Thursday week, you’re playing your debut game at the new Adelaide Oval, the Crows are struggling a bit at the moment, but you’re not making the mistake of counting the 4 points already are you?
SHORTEN: No, but that’s the night I’m meant to be giving my budget reply speech.
HOST: Oh no.
SHORTEN: I know, and I’m not blaming Tony Abbott for that.
HOST: Will his tyranny ever cease?
SHORTEN: I’ve just realised, at twenty to eight, I’m going to lose my viewership.
HOST: Mr. Shorten, and please don’t be offended by this –
SHORTEN: That’s normally code for you’re about to be offended
HOST: Yeah, but is there any way you could play at full forward for Collingwood so we have a better chance of winning?
SHORTEN: Collingwood’s done well, 5 out of the last 7, Fremantle rattled us in the first game, Geelong was a close game. Collingwood is hitting its straps, anyway I don’t want to rub it in -- or do you guys want to talk about September and I don’t know fishing or skiing?
HOST: I barrack for Port Adelaide Mr Shorten so I’m looking forward to September.
HOST: Jane doesn’t need any encouragement talking about football.
SHORTEN: Port’s going well. As I’m sure all Crows supporters do, it’s the state doing well, not their individual team.
HOST: Incorrect Mr Shorten.
HOST: It’s two tribes.
HOST: Thanks for coming in Bill Shorten
SHORTEN: Thanks for having me. See you all.
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