Bill's Transcripts

Radio: 3AW - Tony Abbott’s attack on Medicare; Martin Place siege






SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s attack on Medicare; Martin Place siege.


NICK MCCALLUM, HOST: Happy new year to you, Mr Shorten.


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Happy new year to you too, Nick.


MCCALLUM: So why did you decide you would try and block this measure in the Senate?


SHORTEN: We looked at the Government’s proposal, but for a number of reasons we formed the view that this is a bad idea. First of all we spoke to GPs and their representative, the AMA and the Royal College of GPs, and they explained pretty clearly to me, they said if you’ve got a good GP out in the suburbs and that GP has been practicing medicine for 20 and 30 years, they don’t necessarily need to take 15 minutes to diagnose the issues. But the reality is, it’s taken 30 years of experience to be able to form that pretty productive judgement. And the second reason is that what’ll happen is that surgeries who have to charge, who receive a lower payment from the Government to see people, they still have costs, so they’re going to have to charge a gap. And what’ll happen is that a lot of doctors will just give up bulk-billing altogether.


So what you’ve got is you’ve got doctors saying it’s not good medical practice and they’re also saying that bulk billing will be killed. And we think this is bad because a lot of people have to go to the doctor on a regular basis, just don’t have the money to be able to pay to do that, and that’s why we have bulk-billing.


MCCALLUM: You certainly appeared to indicate in December that you were quite favourable to ideas to reduce the shunting in and shunting out, and there are quotes of you here talking about how you would encourage people not to be shunted through in six minutes for a doctor, and that you were considering –


SHORTEN: Let’s be really straight here, you know the Opposition can’t win either way. If we say when the Government comes up with an idea that we’ll have a look at it, then subsequently we form the view that it’s a bad idea which this is –


MCCALLUM: So you’ve changed your mind?


SHORTEN: Well no, not changed our mind, we said we were open to look at what the Government says. See, Tony Abbott wants to believe that whenever you disagree with Tony Abbot you’re just being negative, the truth of the matter is that we had a good honest look at his idea, and we went out and spoke to people. Tony Abbott doesn’t appear to be speaking to doctors, doesn’t appear to be speaking to patients -  do you really think Nick that the Government has come up with this 20 dollar reduction in payments to go to see the doctor, do you think they’ve come up with it because it’s the best medical policy, or because it’s just a back door way of getting up their GP Tax and undermining Medicare? I mean it did seem to come out of the blue didn’t it?


MCCALLUM: Well yes it was announced in, or certainly details of it were announced before Christmas but you did appear though –


SHORTEN: We said we would look at the idea, absolutely mate.


MCCALLUM: It did appear though that you were quite, more than open to the idea, you appeared to be quiet supportive of an idea to reduce this shunting in and shunting out, as you explained it.


SHORTEN: Let’s be straight here. Plenty of people say the Opposition should just roll over and agree with the Government. Certainly, we look at every Government idea on its merits. But the issue is, you go and talk to GPs which is what I have been doing, you go and talk to the AMA, you go and talk to the doctors reform society, you go and talk to royal college of GPs – they all said ‘Bill, it isn’t going to work. This isn’t a good idea’. When you actually stop to think about it and go beyond the simplistic stuff that the Government says, the doctors are right.


And the other thing is we are seeing GPs shutting down bulk-billing. Now I believe Tony Abbott doesn’t like bulk-billing and I think he thinks that bulk-billing should just be for the very poor and that is it. Whereas the strength of Medicare is its universal system, where it doesn’t matter how much money you have on your credit card, it is your Medicare card which determines your health care. Health care in Australia affects all of us. It is just one of those issues which is just fundamental to the sort of economic society we are going to be, to the sort of fairness we have and the Government, let’s face it, they have rushed this idea. And if it was such a good idea, they certainly weren’t flagging they were going to slam through regulations just before Christmas. The point I am making there is they don’t even take it to the Parliament.


MCCALLUM: And that is part of the problem isn’t it? People, with all this political fighting going on no matter what side you are on, what it means is as from Monday these people are going to have to start paying probably an extra 20 bucks and when Parliament resumes and it hits the Senate, it is going to be knocked back. So people are going to be confused, they are going to be paying money, they aren’t going to be paying money – we are talking about sick people here and in many cases, in very poor circumstances.


SHORTEN: The simple answer is that the Government should put its proposition through the Parliament, especially with matters as controversial as this. Do you know the Government never tried to sit down and speak with our shadow health spokespeople? I mean since they have announced this, they have changed their Health Minister, they’ve put up regulations just before Christmas in the best traditions of Yes, Minister, you know, you sort of bring out your bad news just before Christmas just when everyone’s going on holidays. But GPs and doctors have said – and then it starts on January the 19th, where was that coming from?


I mean, and the thing is the Government say they’ve got to make these changes. It’s not about better health care, it’s about them trying to deal with all their Budget issues. But the thing is, all the money they raise from these extra taxes on going to the doctor is going to go into a future fund for medical research. It’s not about sorting out the current challenges. So I am deeply sceptical of the extent of the crisis the government says they’re trying to solve. I think this is just about killing off bulk-billing and I think they’re not very good at talking to people first.


MCCALLUM: Okay, and just to clarify one thing very quickly, you or your spokesperson was not consulted or they didn’t sit down and say how can we talk about getting this through the Senate? That never happened?


SHORTEN: No, this Government would rather talk to just about any other else other than Labor and it’s a free country, they can talk to whoever they want. But our opposition isn’t based on the fact they didn’t talk to us. My point is they don’t talk to anyone and that’s a real problem I think, for the way they’re running their government.


MCCALLUM: Okay, Mr Abbott on this radio station yesterday said it’s up to the critics, and obviously one of them is you, is to come up with an alternative. They need to make Budget cuts, they need to come up with a system, a self-sustaining system. You don’t like what they’ve come up with, what’s your alternative?


SHORTEN: Well first of all, when it comes to the Medicare reforms that they’re touting, they’re not reforms, they’re just taxing people to go to the doctor. I think what the Government should do, and it’s the way we’re going to do it, is talk to people first, then provide your ideas.


MCCALLUM: So you don’t have any specific plans at the moment?


SHORTEN: We’re working on our plans and as you appreciate Nick, seasoned political observer, before the election we’ll reveal our plans. But there can be no doubt in my mind that the Abbott Government should do what I’ve been doing which is get out and talk to people. You can’t go wrong listening to people. Now ultimately you’ve got to make decisions, I appreciate that, but this is a government who if you don’t tell them what they want to hear, you know, they put down the shutters.


MCCALLUM: Okay and I know you do have to move on but I quickly wanted to ask you about the Sydney siege. Should the victims of that attack receive more compensation from the Commonwealth?


SHORTEN: I feel for the people caught up in that siege that day. I think that what the Commonwealth should do is whatever we can do to clear away any red tape. If there’s compensation available for people, we should be making it possible for people to claim it. I have no doubt that they were the victims of an incident which had a big element of, you know, terror in it, so I would like to see the Commonwealth, and we’ll work with the Government, do whatever we can, to help people move beyond what happened.


Compensation, and I’ll bet you any victim who was there would agree with this statement, no amount of compensation is better than it not happening at all, and everyone would prefer that it never happened, but the fact is people did go through that trauma and I do think that we’ve got an obligation to try and cut away all the red tape and just look after the people involved and help them get back on with their lives.


MCCALLUM: I know you’re very busy in Queensland so I appreciate your time. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.


SHORTEN: Lovely to chat with you.


MCCALLUM: Thank you very much.