THURSDAY 30 JUNE 2016
SUBJECT/S: Medicare; Hospital funding; Marriage equality.
MICHAEL BRISSENDON: I'm joined live now in our Brisbane studio now by the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten. Bill Shorten, good morning.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning, Michael.
BRISSENDON: Like I say, you do continue to say you genuinely observe and discern a mood to change the government, but certainly the polling doesn't suggest that you're ahead in enough seats to win, and the betting agencies still have you as an outsider. So, on those indications alone it suggests the mood isn't there?
SHORTEN: Unlike those people, I'm out there talking to tens of thousands of people during this election. Australians feel let down by the last three years of Liberal Government. They feel let down in terms of jobs. We lost the car industry, for example. We see apprentice numbers plummeting. They feel let down in education. They don't see the same support for schools coming forward in the future they think their children deserve, or that for allowing kids to be able to afford to go to university and not pay $100,000 degrees. And they feel let down in terms of Medicare. This Government is undermining the basis of Medicare with its savage cuts and what that means is that in the future, more Australians will pay more just to see a doctor.
BRISSENDON: It has been at times a bitter campaign and both sides have run negative scare campaigns. Yours was, of course, on Medicare, and you're continuing on that theme today. Was it necessary to go as far as you did and suggest that when the Government certainly came out and said there was no agenda, there will be no changes to Medicare?
SHORTEN: First of all, it's not that our campaign is negative. It's that what Mr Turnbull wants to do to Medicare is negative. Australians are genuinely frightened and concerned about the cuts in healthcare and the challenges to Medicare that this government presents. People know how important Medicare is in terms of being able to afford to see the doctor and help pay the bills, and I don't know if it's Mr Turnbull, he probably doesn't rely upon Medicare like many people do, but the cuts are real. Labor did not invent the privatisation taskforce. The Liberals did.
BRISSENDON: But the Government says there will be no change.
SHORTEN: You and I both know that they set up a $5 million taskforce to look at outsourcing, privatising the payment system. Mr Turnbull's beat a temporary retreat, but he hasn't beat a temporary retreat in terms of freezing the rebates paid to doctors for six years. He hasn't beat a retreat in terms of the price hikes he's planning for medicine. As of 1 July, tomorrow, they're cutting the bulk billing incentives for blood tests and x-rays. This Government can't be trusted with Medicare. By contrast, Labor's made a clear policy priority. We've made a choice. We will properly fund Medicare. We won't smash that, and instead we won't go ahead with $50 billion worth of corporate tax cuts. It's just a matter of choice. Mr Turnbull's chosen the top end of town. We choose Medicare.
BRISSENDON: You've beaten a retreat on hospital funding. I mean you railed against the $57 billion taken from the states from hospital funding in the 2014 Budget. You’ve admitted you can't find the money to put any more than $2 billion back. But that suggests, doesn't it, that there were some aspects of the 2014 Budget that were, with hindsight, right?
SHORTEN: No. The 2014 Budget and the Liberal's government has been based on a lie. In 2013 they said there'll be no cuts to healthcare and education. They've made cuts to healthcare and education. Now why should we, as the Opposition, let the Liberals off the hook for lying to Australians three years ago? By contrast, what you say is $2 billion for hospitals, just to put that in the correct frame, we've decided to double the funding to hospitals that Mr Turnbull's offering in extra funding, and in return, what we're going to ask the states to do is reduce waiting lists for elective surgery, like knee reconstruction or hip replacement. We're very committed to properly funding our hospitals. I was at Royal Brisbane Hospital this morning. There was no nurse there saying that Labor is doing a worse job than Liberals when it comes to hospital funding. The exact opposite.
I was talking to the front line, nurses in emergency wards. I spoke to one nurse this morning. She's done eight shifts over the last five days, staff shortages. She knows what happens, and I just tested the proposition which I'm putting to Australia, I tested with her. If people have to find more money to go and see a doctor, will that lead to longer queues in emergency wards? She said absolutely. I spoke to the nurse who runs some of the outpatient services. She's worked at the hospital for 35, 36 years. She knows that when it costs more to get the materials you need in healthcare, if patients have to pay more, they'll often do with less. This is the real world. This is the Australia that Mr Turnbull is overlooking in his rush to sort of tick the boxes of corporate tax cuts and tax cuts high net worth individuals.
BRISSENDON: Sure, but by not putting the money back that was taken out in the 2014 Budget, you're essentially agreeing that it was a legitimate avenue for cutting spending, aren't you?
SHORTEN: No. What I'm recognising, and we are putting more money back than the Government is –
BRISSENDON: But you're not putting, well, $55 billion's a big hole.
SHORTEN: We are putting more money back but the fact of the matter is, this government has mismanaged the nation's books. The deficit's tripled. This government has made promise after promise and they've managed to significantly underperform and over promise for the last three years. So we can't repair every bit of damage this government's done in our first term. We simply can't. But what we've decided to do is prioritise and make choices with scarce taxpayer money. We've prioritised Medicare. We've prioritised properly funding education, NBN and building infrastructure that creates jobs. We cannot afford Mr Turnbull's economic plan for Australia. He is proposing to give $50 billion away in the next ten years to large companies. It won't go to productive investment. He's old bank, Goldman Sachs, his old investment bank that he once ran, has said that 60 per cent of this tax cut will go overseas.
BRISSENDON: You mention priorities. What do you put a higher priority on? Protecting the AAA credit rating or properly funding schools and hospitals?
SHORTEN: I believe that the best way to protect the AAA credit rating and to protect our budget is to invest in the long term drivers of growth. The OECD has said that if you invest in education and public infrastructure, they're the most reliable ways of generating a solid economy in the future. I don't accept the argument that the only way you protect the national budget is by smashing the safety net of Australian society. I don't accept the argument that the only way that you look after the AAA credit rating is relying on zombie cuts which will never pass the Senate or relying on measures which actually undermine and will impede the future growth of this country, and indeed the unity of this country.
BRISSENDON: So if you win on Saturday, do you rule out any cuts to any area of the health budget in the next three years?
SHORTEN: Well, let’s be very straightforward here. We are ruling out the cuts to bulk-billing incentives, which will affect the costs of getting a blood test or an x-ray. We are ruling out the freezes to Medicare, the freezes to the payments to GPs for the rebates for the next six years. What the Government is doing is they're not going to increase, from 2014 levels until 2020, the amount of money they give doctors for seeing patients. We are ruling out Mr Turnbull's very low offer for hospitals. Instead we're offering 50 per cent of the efficient price of hospital funding to states. That will have a material difference in terms of the healthcare of this country and the administration of our hospital system.
BRISSENDON: But I repeat, do you rule out any cuts to any other areas of health and health budget in the next three years?
SHORTEN: We do not foresee a set of circumstances whereby we would be cutting the Medicare offering to Australians, full stop.
BRISSENDON: Let's talk about a couple of issues. If you don't win, Malcolm Turnbull has made it clear that he'll see the result as a mandate for his policies. Well, you'd expect him to say that, wouldn't you? But would you respect the mandate on the same sex marriage plebiscite? That's certainly been one of the issues of the campaign that would be in the minds of voters as they cast their votes on Saturday, isn't it?
SHORTEN: I've made it a practice during this election campaign not to answer hypotheticals which position Labor as losing this election, because I don't think this election is over. I believe that there is, as you said in your opening, a discernible mood for change. In terms of the marriage plebiscite, you and I and most Australians know that it’s a bad idea. What's happened in the last three years is that the community's moved. People support it. There are some people who don't, I acknowledge that. But the community's moved on and frankly politicians are lagging and the community's leading. Why on earth should we be bound by a deal that Mr Turnbull did to appease some of the Abbott Conservatives to flick their vote to him when he took over from Tony Abbott last year? Why should we be bound?
BRISSENDON: So you won't support the plebiscite?
SHORTEN: We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. But I think the more important question is Michael, will Malcolm Turnbull if he loses the election, allow a conscience vote of his MPs? All the traffic has been coming one way about the plebiscite. We know it’s a bad idea. I think the question Mr Turnbull needs to answer today, is that if he loses the election will he drop his Tony Abbott compromise which will see damaging debate in the community and will he just go back to the old Malcolm Turnbull.
Malcolm Turnbull is talking about the need for politics to work together. Well that’s exactly what I said on Tuesday. The problem is that Malcolm Turnbull only ever wants to work with people when it’s on his own terms. This marriage equality debate is one where he needs to respect the will of the people and just have a vote in parliament and get on with it within the first 100 days.
BRISSENDON: A plebiscite would settle it though wouldn't it? Couldn't it actually –
SHORTEN: No, a plebiscite actually won't settle it Michael, with respect. Mr Turnbull said he can't even get his Cabinet Ministers to agree to be bound by a plebiscite. What will settle it is a vote in parliament. What will settle it is if Labor gets elected, that’s how we'll just move on with this debate.
BRISSENDON: Does it have to be ugly though? Couldn't it be a unifying moment? A plebiscite that is.
SHORTEN: Are we just in this game just to appease Tony Abbott and the far-right? Why is it that Tony Abbott gets to set the agenda on marriage equality with a plebiscite?
BRISSENDON: I think everybody wants this issue settled and we're all trying to find the best way to do it.
SHORTEN: That's right, but Michael why do we have to overcomplicate politics? If the quickest way between A and B is to go in a straight line than isn't that just having a vote in parliament? I saw what happened in the Irish referendum and there were damaging debates. Mr Turnbull has –
BRISSENDON: Ireland as a whole has come out looking pretty good. There is a sense of unity around the idea isn't there?
SHORTEN: You and I know that for marriage equality to be achieved in Ireland it had to go to a referendum. But under our system of parliament it’s a change to the Marriage Act, a simple two word change to the Marriage Act in essence. Why on earth do we have to go down a plebiscite? The plebiscite idea now has been principally championed by the opponents of marriage equality and the people who like marriage equality just want the matter dealt with. You and I know that Malcolm Turnbull agrees with us, or agrees with me on this, but he can't control his own party. That’s not leadership, that’s followership.
BRISSENDON: One issue that certainly does divide your side still is this issue of boats and asylum seekers. I know that you continue to state that there is no substantive difference in policy on the issue between you and the Government, but this doesn’t seem to be the message that people smugglers have does it?
SHORTEN: I can't be blamed for what the Government chooses to lie and mislead in this election about. But unlike Mr Turnbull, I took this policy to my national conference and we had the debates. I remember the newspaper editorials, ‘oh that’s it, Labor will split, it’s all over’ –
BRISSENDON: Yeah you took it to conference but it isn't really resolved is it?
SHORTEN: Well it was, yes. I was honest enough to put my propositions to the party. That’s how we do things in a proper and functioning united Labor Party. We debate the issues, we set our directions, and then off we go. I won that debate. I can't think of a single argument that Malcolm Turnbull has won within the Liberal Party. They've still got state branches in the Liberal Party having inquiries into the existence of climate change. They're still having arguments about marriage equality. 61 of Mr Turnbull's candidates are proposing and have supported on the record cutting penalty rates full stop. Mr Turnbull doesn't run his party –
BRISSENDON: To be fair your party are still having arguments over it even though your conference settled it.
SHORTEN: I think the key point in that question is that the conference settled it.
BRISSENDON: Yeah but you know, you point to divisions but everyone has divisions within their parties on these issues –
SHORTEN: Well no, fair is fair –
BRISSENDON: You still have a division on this issue don't you?
SHORTEN: No. On July 3rd if Labor wins the election, the people smugglers will not be back in business. I will fight and deter them with all the strength of my capacity. I do not believe, and I fundamentally believe that we cannot have a policy which provides incentive for cynical and criminal syndicates to be able to undermine and encourage people to get on unsafe boats and then these people, on the journey to Australia, drown. I have to say that if we want to talk about borders and visas, what has happened this week is that we found out that there’s hundreds of allegations being investigated. The dodgy 457 visas, the visas with work rights are being sold for up to $50,000 via criminal gangs and syndicates. This is a real problem.
BRISSENDON: Do you believe the reports that the message out there that a change of government will see a change of policy, that’s the message that does seem to be there –
SHORTEN: No, that’s the Liberal Party talking points.
BRISSENDON: Do you think that if you win that your government will be tested by a new wave of boats?
SHORTEN: I cannot say what all the challenges on an international level will be and predict when they happen but I can say this – we will stop the people smugglers, and the Liberals know it. And they just want to talk about the issue. They don't want to talk about us because they've run out of policy themselves. Malcolm Turnbull in the last nine months has disappointed many Australians, he has demonstrated at least in my opinion a degree of out of touch thinking from his economic plan of $50 billion dollars’ worth of tax cuts to that advice he gave on ABC radio that if you want to be able to afford a house, get rich parents.
The fact of the matter is that Labor's issues – jobs, education and Medicare – are the issues which people are talking to me in the streets about. They want to know that they can afford their childcare, they want real action on climate change, they want a first class NBN. The Labor agenda is the Australian agenda.
BRISSENDON: Just one final question on this. You've suggested that you would have a more compassionate policy towards those that are still in the camps that the previous Labor government opened, what would that be? And on Four Corners on Monday night, you didn't really rule out a New Zealand solution, is that what you're thinking?
SHORTEN: I don't believe that you need to have indefinite detention and that you can't have regional processing as a price of deterring the people smugglers. So I stand by everything I've said during this campaign. But what I'm going to again repeat is that when it comes to fighting criminal gangs in South East Asia who would lure people onto unsafe boats and see them drown at sea, they're not getting back into business. And they can test Australian politicians’ resolve on this but I believe on this both Liberal and Labor are equally committed to that.
BRISSENDON: Alright just finally, yesterday you posed the question, yow many more seats does Mr Turnbull have to lose before Tony Abbott moves on him. Well how many seats do you need to win to keep your job?
SHORTEN: I intend to do very well at this election, and the reason why is because millions of people are counting upon me and Labor. There are millions of Australians who absolutely want to make sure that Medicare is properly secure and properly funded, that their kids, regardless of the wealth of the parents, get the chance to be in well-resourced schools, that we don't have $100,000 degrees, that the child care rebate can lift so that working parents, in particular working mums, don’t have to choose between seeing all their wages eaten by child care fees. We're a party who are going to stand up for working and middle class Australians. The best way to unite our society, the best way to create consensus is to look after people and provide them with the tools –
BRISSENDON: But there is talk already isn’t there of what’s going to happen after –
SHORTEN: Oh, it’s pretty predictable –
BRISSENDON: And who may succeed you?
SHORTEN: You know, I don't know if the bookies had bets or not on whether some conservative newspapers are trying to stir up a bit of grief for Labor in the couple of days before the election. The record of the last three years speaks volumes, and I want to put on record my gratitude to my Labor team and indeed the broader Labor Party. We've been more united in the last three years than in about the last 15-20 years. So I can submit to the Australian people in terms of leadership, look at the last three years. By contrast, Mr Turnbull clearly leads a divided party. He is scared of his far right and he hasn't got the courage to back in real policies, for example on climate change. Now I think when it comes to leadership, Labor has been steady and stable and we present ourselves to the Australian people with a united team of experienced frontbenchers, very energetic and passionate people running as our candidat es, and we've got policies which, as the saying goes, put people first.
BRISSENDON: Alright, well crunch time comes on Saturday. It's been a long eight weeks, thanks for joining us Bill Shorten.
SHORTEN: Thank you very much Michael.