THURSDAY, 23 JUNE 2016
SUBJECTS: Labor's positive plans for Australia; Medicare; Boat turnbacks; Tax cuts; Trade unions; South Australia
SALES: Bill Shorten, great to have you on the show.
SHORTEN: Great to be on the show, Leigh.
SALES: At your National Press Club speech a few weeks ago, 15 times you said the words "you can trust Labor". And I've lost count of how many times I've heard you say that elsewhere. Given your record, aren't voters smart to distrust you?
SHORTEN: Not at all. Labor's developed great policies in healthcare, education, jobs, renewable energy, the NBN, housing affordability, and also Labor has learnt to work as a team. One of the first things we had to do when we went into Opposition is become united. We've done that, we've been a strong Opposition, and now we're setting the political agenda by being a big target Opposition with lots of policies for people to talk about.
SALES: Let me take you through a few examples of why people might fear that they can't trust you. Can you direct me to where on the Liberal Party website I can find details of their policy to privatise Medicare?
SHORTEN: Well if you have a look at the taskforce which they set up, whether or not the Liberals have put it on their website doesn't change the truth that they are spending $5 million of taxpayer money to privatise the payments system of Medicare.
SALES: That's not privatising Medicare though, is it?
SHORTEN: Well, you asked me to point to why we argue that the Liberals are privatising Medicare, I'll be succinct. They set up a $5 million taskforce, to outsource, to pander to private operations, private operations, the payments system of Medicare, 2: the reference to the Productivity Commission from the Treasurer, Scott Morrison, which looks at outsourcing and looking at what is the best way to deliver human services from government, and 3: their actual cuts to Medicare. What they are doing is moving the burden of payment from government to individuals to pay for their own healthcare.
SALES: The head of the Australian Medical Association, Michael Gannon, says "in no way would the outsourcing of the payments system equal the privatisation of Medicare".
SHORTEN: Well, everyone's entitled to their own opinion -
SALES: He's head of the AMA.
SHORTEN: Well, you'll find that the AMA in February, the previous leadership, actually expressed concerns about the outsourcing of the payments system. And anyway, when you look at the payments system it's at the heart of Medicare. And people may care to, you know, fall for what Malcolm's saying, but I won't give up on Medicare, and I'm going to fight to defend Medicare and I don't think outsourcing the payments system is in the best interest of Medicare.
SALES: But, Chris Bowen, your own treasury spokesperson said that, in September 2009, "the public and private sectors have a common interest in providing payments services which are better tailored to customer needs". You yourself have considered that using the private sector is a more efficient way to deliver payments.
SHORTEN: Well, this government, with their plans for Medicare, are not in the best interests of Australians.
SALES: But no, no, we're talking about the payments system. You yourself have looked at privatising the payments system.
SHORTEN: Oh no, doesn't matter if it's Chris Bowen or myself, we've never contemplated outsourcing the payments system of Medicare, holus bolus.
SALES: I say again to you, "the public and private sectors have a common interest in providing payments services which are better tailored to customer needs". You have looked at this in the past.
SHORTEN: No, we haven't set up a $5 million taskforce. And, when you look at everything this government is doing to Medicare, I'm not going to take a backwards step in defending Medicare. They're freezing the GP rebates, they've set up a taskforce to investigate outsourcing the payments system, they're increasing the price of medicine, and they are cutting and slashing bulk billing incentives for pathology tests and diagnostic imagining.
SALES: Can you put your hand on your heart and look Australians in the eye and say that the Coalition has a policy to privatise Medicare?
SHORTEN: I can say to the people of Australia, that this election and their vote on July the 2nd will determine the future of Medicare.
SALES: Is the Coalition privatising Medicare?
SHORTEN: You've asked me to talk to the Australian people there and I just want to take another 30 seconds and answer your first question. On July the 2nd Australians will have a choice. It'll be about the future of Medicare. You can vote Labor and make sure that we keep the price of our healthcare system down and that we keep it in government hands or you can vote Liberal and you can look at the range of their cuts and the range of their manoeuvres and we will head down the path of an Americanised healthcare system, where it is how much you earn will determine the quality of your healthcare.
SALES: I started this by raising the issue of trust, and so why keep going on about the privatisation of Medicare? You're using words like the 'Americanisation of Medicare' and 'the privatisation of Medicare'. The Prime Minister has explicitly ruled it out, and labelled it 'the biggest lie of the campaign'. So why do you keep saying that Medicare's going to be privatised?
SHORTEN: Because throughout this election, as I've travelled around talking to tens of thousands of people, they keep telling me 'Bill, make sure you don't let the Liberals harm Medicare'. And so there is a big difference. Malcolm Turnbull's running dishonest ads where he says he guarantees Medicare funding. The only thing --
SALES: Sorry, you're not addressing my question which is you're claiming that they're privatising Medicare, holus bolus, and that policy doesn't exist.
SHORTEN: Well, no, I've said that they have plans to privatise the payments system and those plans do exist. I've said that they've set up a Productivity Commission investigation to look at the outsourcing and privatisation of human services. I haven't said it in this interview, but I've said elsewhere they're privatising Australian Hearing services. I've also said in this interview earlier that they have got a plan to cut the GP rebates by freezing them. So it means for six years doctors don't get an increase in their rebate. They have a plan to privatise prescription medicine, and they have a plan to cut bulk billing incentives for pathology and diagnostic imaging. When you add all of that up together, I do say to Australians you can trust Labor to defend Medicare, you just can't trust Mr Turnbull and his Liberal team to run Medicare in the best interests of all Australians.
SALES: So with that point, you know, basically what you're saying is you can't believe - to voters - you can't believe Malcolm Turnbull because of the Coalition's track record. So applying your logic then, when will you come clean about Labor's secret plan to reintroduce onshore processing and abandon boat turn backs?
SHORTEN: Ok well there's two big statements there, let's deal with both of them. I'm saying that Mr Turnbull can't be trusted on Medicare because of what he has said he intends to do with it. He intends to make you pay more to see the doctor, pay more for your blood tests, pay more for your medicine. These are facts, that's why you can't trust Mr Turnbull. And as for the second proposition you advanced, the Liberal Party's been trying to say to Australians that we have a different plan to them in terms of deterring people smugglers. They should be ashamed of themselves for running that argument, because we don't. That's the short answer. We don't have a different plan to the Coalition in terms of deterring people smugglers.
SALES: But if I apply the same logic that you're applying to Medicare, Labor has, in the past, said offshore processing was cruel, you abandoned it, you built new detention centres on the mainland, many Labor MPs are opposed to the current policy, so therefore we can't believe you now, when you say that you've got the same plan as the Coalition. I'm applying the same logic that you're applying to the Medicare situation.
SHORTEN: No, actually. Mr Turnbull's said in the future he wants to cut Medicare. I'm talking about Mr Turnbull's future plans. Not even their past record on Medicare. They have plans to cut the funding of Medicare in the future. I have plans to deter people smugglers in the future. And what I'm saying is our policies will be the same as the Coalition in terms of defeating and deterring the people smugglers. And this point is really important. I say, through this show, through to confederates of people who may talk to people smugglers in Indonesia and criminal gangs elsewhere: whoever wins the election on July the 2nd, the people smugglers are not going to be back in operation. We have a bipartisanship on defeating the people smugglers and people smugglers should be aware that they will not be allowed to ply their evil trade and encourage vulnerable people to get on unsafe boats and drown at sea.
SALES: Isn't the message that you are sending with your hyperbole around Medicare that you don't think that the truth alone can win the election?
SHORTEN: Not at all. I just think that the truth of the Liberal plans on Medicare are scary. And I will not be deterred, I will keep fighting to defend Medicare. Labor's made budget decisions, we've made budget decisions going forward which will see us unfreeze the rebates paid to GPs, which will see us reinstate the pathology bulk billing discounts incentive so that people get blood tests without paying big upfront fees. Labor's made a decision with scarce taxpayer money not to go ahead with the price hike. It's very important that we establish this beyond any reasonable doubt. If you vote for Mr Turnbull, large corporations will get a tax cut. If you vote for me and Labor, Medicare will be saved from the massive cuts which Mr Turnbull has foreshadowed in his most recent budget.
SALES: Why do you think company tax cuts now are so evil, where in the past, you, other senior members of your team have argued that company tax cuts lead to increased productivity, increased investment in jobs. You look at the record of Paul Keating in Office, he cut company tax rates from 49 per cent right down to 33 per cent.
SHORTEN: I'm glad you used the example of Paul Keating as an example of Labor's commitment to reduce taxes. You can only afford to reduce taxes when you replace them with other taxes. But Mr Turnbull keeps trying to pretend he's some sort of poor man's Paul Keating. He's not. When Paul Keating reduced company tax, he introduced capital gains tax and fringe benefits tax. Or, in other words, the revenue which the budget was foregoing corporate tax, was replaced by new taxes. Mr Turnbull's only picked up half of the lessen form the Labor Party; you can only abolish taxes or reduce taxes when you've got a source of income to replace them--
SALES: The source of income is from the investment and the jobs that are created.
SHORTEN: No, no, the source of income for Mr Turnbull's $50 billion tax cut is cutting Medicare, is cutting schools. Now I --
SALES: You've argued yourself that lowering the corporate tax rate assists in the creation of jobs. You said that in 2011. The creation of jobs is where the revenue comes to from government.
SHORTEN: Do you know where you got that speech from?
SALES: Council of Social Services.
SHORTEN: And do you know the context within that speech was given? It was given for the mining tax. There was a debate then that a mining tax would replace the revenue from - that was forgone from a company tax. See, this is Mr Turnbull's great economic mistake. We both know he's aware he's made this mistake. If you want to reduce corporate tax, something else has to give. Now, Labor people have said you can reduce one sort of tax if you increase another lot of tax. What Mr Turnbull's saying is you can reduce corporate tax, and you do that by not having as much money for schools and Medicare. Labor people just don't believe that you should reward large business at the expense of the cost of going to the GP or a properly resourced school in a poorer suburb of our big cities or in the bush.
SALES: Let me return you to the issue of trust and give you some other examples that might worry voters. Policies that you've screamed blue murder about for years, you now support. Take the Schoolkids Bonus, you complained non-stop about the Government's abolition of that and now at the eleventh hour you accept it.
SHORTEN: Well, hard decisions have to be made. I have to say that with the Schoolkids Bonus it would be good to keep it. The problem is, the Coalition's made such a dreadful hash of the economy. They've tripled the deficit, they've increased the net debt--
SALES: But you said in March 'Labor will stand with Australian families against these cuts, every day til the next election'. That was in March. We'd already had the mid-year economic forecast.
SHORTEN: Well no, since then we've had the remarkable development of the credit agencies saying that because of the Government, that the budget position, the AAA credit rating was under attack. And what we are doing, in contrast to Mr Turnbull, is we've set our priorities. So you're right, it's a tough decision. What we've said our priority is to make sure that every family's kid goes to school, gets a well-resourced school. What we've said is that we won't go ahead with the harsh cuts of Mr Turnbull, cutting payments to families whose total household income is less than $100,000. And what we've said to families is we'll keep the price of going to the doctor down, and we'll defend bulk billing. So we've got a proposition for families which is about schools and cost of living and healthcare.
SALES: Let me give you another example as you've raised health. You railed and railed about the Government ripping $57 billion out of hospitals in the 2014 Budget, and then when it comes time to put your money where your mouth is, you offer only $2 billlion on top of the $2.9 billion extra promised by government.
SHORTEN: Well, what you are referring to is the hospitals component of our health approach. Actually, what we've said for healthcare is that we will put back $12 billion over 10 years in terms of unfreezing the GP rebate--
SALES: It's not 57 billion.
SHORTEN: Perhaps if I could explain what we have said, and then you can give me your opinion. $12 billion has gone to GP rebates, tick. We've said that we want to not go ahead with the price hike for the Government's increasing the cost of medicine. That's about $3 billion approximately. We won't go ahead with their cutting of the bulk billing of diagnostic imaging. That's about $2.9 billion. So we are putting back some of the money or restored that they've cut. And when it comes to hospitals, which I think was at the heart of your question, we've decided to forego giving a corporate tax cut, and increase funding to hospitals, twice as much as Mr Turnbull's willing to do. Now, the beauty of what we're doing, is that our extra resources into hospitals is aimed at making sure that there's real hospital reform. We get waiting lists down for elective surgery, we get waiting times down in emergency wards. I'm optimistic that in the next four years of that hospital funding envelope, which is much more than Mr Turnbull's, we will see improvements which will overall decrease the long term costs of hospital care in this country.
SALES: You talk about your commitments to spending, Labor has been upfront that it's going to run larger deficits over the coming four years than what the Coalition will run. What is the economic case for running a larger deficit?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, we will get to balance in the same year as the Liberals. But what I won't do--
SALES: In the short term, what's your case for running a larger deficit? Economically?
SHORTEN: Sure. We've said that we will get to balance in the next four years, at the same time as the Liberals. In terms of the interim, what we won't do is tell Australians that one: we're going to go ahead with zombie tax measures which make the Liberal Party's position look better on paper but in reality they're just not true--
SALES: But I want to get to where you're coming from, because you look around the world and there's some potential real shocks in the system. You could have the Brexit tomorrow, you could have President Trump to be dealing with next year. Where is your buffer in the short to medium term if you're running higher deficits?
SHORTEN: Well, what I am trying to explain to you is that the Government doesn't have the buffer they claim to have to begin with --
SALES: You might be the Government in a week.
SHORTEN: Yes, but that's why--
SALES: Where's your buffer?
SHORTEN: What I've explained to you, first of all, is that you're making a comparison. You started off that series of questions with saying that the Government says that they have a better short-term position, what I'm saying to you is that is a mirage. What they have is what we call zombie cuts. They're proposing to increase the working age to 70. They're proposing to make unemployed people wait for four weeks before they get a payment. They're proposing harsh cuts to family payments. None of these measures will ever see the light of day.
SALES: So you're saying 'they don't have a buffer, we don't have a buffer'.
SHORTEN: No, I'm not. That was only the first of my two explanations. The first thing is, we must establish, beyond reasonable doubt, is that the Government's numbers are artificially pumped up by measures which will never see the light of day. The second proposition I have is that we will make structural change. We will improve the bottom line of the budget and we will do it in a sustainable fashion.
SALES: Is there new measures that we aren't aware of?
SHORTEN: No, no. What we will do is we will do this through long term reform. What I won't do in the short term is smash the healthcare system, is smash the school system and make savage cuts to funding just to feed some short-term objective. Our longer term economic story, which goes to the second part of that string of questions you asked me, is that we will invest in people because we think that is the long-term sustainable driver of growth, through education, TAFE, university funding. Then what we will do is we will invest in infrastructure. Infrastructure is road, it's rail, we're very committed to public transport investment. We will also properly invest in first class technology in NBN. What we'll also do is create certainty for new industries, advanced manufacturing and expand tourism, renewable energy. It is through these measures of investing in people, of investing in infrastructure, which crea tes productivity. Investing in new industries which creates greater competition, that's the way which we can have a very steady pattern to the future, a pattern of growth.
SALES: Alright, another issue of trust. I've put this to you before but let me raise it again. You've said repeatedly in regards to union misconduct that you have zero tolerance for criminality and illegality, and I've previously read you numerous judgements from courts all around the country labelling the CFMEU an organisation with total disregard for the law, and yet you continue to accept money from the CFMEU, the Labor Party does, and to allow them a say in the formulation of Labor Party policy. That's not zero tolerance, is it? It's a joint venture.
SHORTEN: Oh no, that's not fair at all Leigh. That's not fair at all. I don't think you can assert that the Labor Party has done any of those things so using it as a joint venture--
SALES: You do take money from the CFMEU, you do let them have a say in policy.
SHORTEN: Leigh I've just - it was that proposition about a joint venture. That's a bridge too far and that doesn't stack up. In terms of the CFMEU, I have got zero tolerance for when their officials break the law. They're absolutely not welcome in the Labor Party. I don't tar every building worker or every trade union with the actions of some officials. I don't expect Mr Turnbull --
SALES: I don't want to go to Mr Turnbull, what I want to go to is this, there have been numerous --
SHORTEN: You're setting double standards here.
SALES: No, I'm not at all. There have been numerous cases that I've read to you in the past where judges around the country have said that the CFMEU, as an organisation, not individuals, as an organisation, has a record of flouting the law. And I’m pointing out that despite you saying you have zero tolerance for that the Labor Party still has a very tight relationship with them.
SHORTEN: No, I don't confuse every person in that union with the actions of some officials. But we do have zero tolerance. We're the ones who have increased the penalties. We're the ones who've proposed new oversight in terms of the regulation of workplace relations. What I won't do though is engage in a general attack on the trade union movement, and label everyone with the actions of some people. But where there is criminal activity, the way you hunt it down is through the use of a joint taskforce of police. This government has called the whole election on the basis of their regulator, but they've proposing a system of bureaucracy which is not needed when you've already got the tools there. What we've got to do is give the compliance authorities the resources they need to do the job they've got to do. And while we're talking about flouting the law, how many bank scandals do there need to be before we get a Royal Commission into the banks?
SALES: Sticking with the trust theme, Labor's record in office. The Treasurer Wayne Swan promised four surpluses, you didn't deliver one. You promised an effective mining tax, it raised next to nothing. You promised no carbon tax. You introduced one. You dismantled the Coalition's border protection regime claiming that would save $60 million. It cost more than $10 billion. You axed two sitting prime ministers. Isn't that reasonable for voters to baulk at trusting Labor again with the reins of government?
SHORTEN: Well the Labor Party, when it woke up after the Sunday after the last election, realised that the good things it had done in office - the Apology, the handling of the Global Financial Crisis, a whole range of measures - have been overshadowed by infighting. Everyone collectively in the Labor Party learned a very valuable lesson the hardest way it can be done, administered by the Australian people. People want to see a strong Labor Party and they want to see a strong Liberal Party. What they want to see are united parties and I've got to just put on record my gratitude to my party for the sense of unity and purpose that we've had since then. When you talk about some of the programs and some of the measures of government, under this government, they've never recorded a surplus. Under this--
SALES: No, we're talking about your record.
SHORTEN: No, they are, but just, let's be clear. Under this government, and this is the government seeking to offer themselves - how do they say they've learned their lesson?
SALES: We're talking about your record. I'm asking how voters - if people think, "OK, well past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour," they look at some of those things I've outlined and they feel nervous about going back to Labor.
SHORTEN: Well let me reassure voters that for the last thousand days, my team has been united. I don't think you can say that about the other chap's team. In the last thousand days we've decided to be not just a strong opposition - and I think we ticked that box. We were doing so well, they got rid of Tony Abbott. But we'll also be now a strong alternative government. The conventional wisdom in politics, Leigh, is that you be a small-target opposition, you wait for the Government to fall over. We're impatient for the future of Australia. We're ambitious for this country. We can't afford three more years of inaction on climate change. We can't afford to see our educational rankings fall. We can't afford to see Medicare trashed. So we've put up positive policies and we're making clear choices. This government says that their economic plan for Australia is to give $50 billion away to large corporations. Ours is t o reinvigorate education and Medicare. The choice is straightforward.
SALES: I'm just wondering though, when you make a pitch like that, why then have you been relying for the past few days on hyperbole and exaggeration about the Americanisation of Medicare which Malcolm Turnbull, I come back to, has explicitly ruled out as their policy? If you've got your hundred positive policies why do you need to go down this path of exaggeration?
SHORTEN: Because Leigh, don't look at what Malcolm says, look at what he does. Remember what he was like before he became Leader of the Opposition?
SALES: Well remember what Labor was like when it was in government? We can keep going around on that sort of merry-go-round.
SHORTEN: Well no, OK, but we're not going round in that way. I don't think that's fair. Malcolm Turnbull's budget speaks to the future of Medicare. He is freezing the rebate which gets paid by the Government to doctors in lieu of seeing patients and not having to bulk bill - he's freezing it for six years. And the Royal Australian College of GPS has said that 14 and a half million Australians will pay more to go and see the doctor in the future under these policies. This is not us saying it.
SALES: But then again, I come--
SHORTEN: And that undermines Medicare, doesn't it? If it's harder to see the doctor and you lose bulk billing, surely, surely we should be defending bulk billing in this country and I will.
SALES: But then I come back again, say, to the example of the Schoolkids Bonus where you would've been making this sort of case about the Schoolkids Bonus and then you've reversed course, so how can people trust that you're not saying that about freezing Medicare rebates and you're not going to change your mind down the track?
SHORTEN: What we've said is that the policies we present to the people at this election will be the ones that we enact. We've committed not to spend money on any other programs that we haven't spoken to the Australian people about. We've done is we've gone out and had this debate with the Australian people and we've been listening to them and we are putting forward a policy which does properly fund schools, and hopefully that takes the pressure off parents at government schools that have got to pay voluntary levies. We do have a policy to properly fund hospitals and GPs and blood tests. That takes the pressure off self-funded retirees. We've got policies to help working parents, including working mums, go back to work by lifting the childcare rebate from $7,500 to $10,000. What that'll mean is that people can go back to work and not see most of their pay gobbled up in childcare fees. Our policies are the experiences of mi ddle class and working class people.
SALES: Before we run out of time, let me just zip around a couple of quick things. We're in South Australia. The Xenophon party is polling about a third - just under - of the primary vote. What lessons are you drawing from that about how people feel about the major parties?
SHORTEN: Well I haven't given up chasing people's first preference votes in South Australia, Leigh. And in fact today I outlined 10 of our jobs policies for South Australia.
SALES: People are pretty disillusioned though, aren't they, if that many of them are looking at voting for a minor party?
SHORTEN: Well, it's up to political parties - minor, major, individuals or teams - to actually put forward their policies and convince people to vote for them. I haven't given up convincing people of our policies. I have to say, being the Leader of the Opposition for the last thousand days, people have constantly written Labor off. They said Tony Abbott was unbeatable. They said the 2014 Budget was unstoppable. They said Malcolm Turnbull was unstoppable and they said that the Labor Party would split at the national conference over policies on refugees and people smugglers. Our critics have been wrong time and time again. What we are doing now is being a big target, big policy, brave party and I believe that on July 2nd we will see a good result from Australian voters and South Australian voters.
SALES: You point out that your critics have been wrong on a few occasions. Even your enemies are conceding that you're having a very good campaign. Your supporters are thrilled with it. If it ends up being a hung Parliament, would you really get that close to being Prime Minister and then walk away rather than negotiate with the Greens?
SHORTEN: We will not go into any Coalition, alliance - you pick the word - with the Greens. I'm chasing people's first preference votes. Australians want a clear result at this election. They want three years of certainty. We will give them that because we've got the best policies which are most positive and we're going to advance our case every day.
SALES: A lot of Labor supporters would be very disappointed to hear you say that you wouldn't work with the Greens, that you'd rather see a Coalition government there than some sort of arrangement with the Greens.
SHORTEN: No, I'd rather - I didn't say about a Coalition government. There's more than two options, Leigh. I know the insiders say it's either Greens or Coalition. There's a third option: the Labor Party in government, governing for all Australians, working with business, working with workers, but not on behalf of any vested interest.
SALES: Bill Shorten, thank you very much. We'll see you again before election day.
SHORTEN: Thanks, Leigh. Great to be with you.