Bill's Transcripts

Transcript: Interview with Raphael Epstein, ABC 774

SUBJECT/S:  private health insurance rebate (with Andrew Robb)

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Welcome to Fight Club.  Bill Shorten is the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, he's also the Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation, and Andrew Robb is the Shadow Minister for Finance, Superannuation and Debt Reduction.  They're both joining us from the Canberra studio. Good afternoon.

BILL SHORTEN: Good afternoon.

ANDREW ROBB: Good afternoon.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Good to have you both there.  I think we've got a little bit of a mic problem there.  I'm going to charge on, hopefully you'll be in front of the microphones so that we can hear you crystal clearly.  I did get some good feedback when I asked Andrew Robb and Nicola Roxon a few weeks ago on their day to day lives.  Can I just start with both of you a simple question, and just try and keep it short.

I just want to know what time did you wake up today, what you had for breakfast and what time you think you might be knocking off tonight, when you'll be stopping work.  If I could start with you Andrew Robb, what time you woke up?

ANDREW ROBB:    Six o'clock, had a swim, two boiled eggs and I'd say about 10:30 tonight.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: So you'll stop work at 10:30?

ANDREW ROBB:    Yes.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Two boiled eggs, does that keep you going, is that enough to keep you going through the day?

ANDREW ROBB:    Well it's that protein diet you see, I'm off the carbs and starting with the eggs and have a decent meal at night.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Okay good luck, fuelled by coffee too no doubt.  Bill Shorten, what time did you get up?

BILL SHORTEN:      6:30.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Breakfast?

BILL SHORTEN:      I missed breakfast.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: You missed breakfast?  That's not a very good example for you…

[Over speaking]

ANDREW ROBB:    [Indistinct 0:01:26.3]

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: That's not and I have to say that it's a shame this is not being televised.

ANDREW ROBB:    That explains a lot [indistinct 0:01:32.8].

BILL SHORTEN:      I was about to say that Andrew's looking good but I don’t know if his eggs made him any happier.  And I went for a seven kilometre run.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Right and what time will you knock off tonight?

BILL SHORTEN:      Ten o'clock, 9:30.

ANDREW ROBB:    After lobbying for the leadership.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Yeah, yeah okay.  Look we are going to get to leadership, but I do want to go through a few policy things as well.  I'm going to ask you…

BILL SHORTEN:      I make it clear, I would probably, if I was a Liberal I would vote for Andrew.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Yeah okay, look I'll give you…

[Over speaking]

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Whoa, whoa, whoa gentlemen.  And people need to understand I can't shut these guys up because they're in the studio in Canberra.  So I will charge on.  I'm going to try and keep your answers to thirty or forty seconds each, we will see how we go.  I promise you'll both get a chance to have a jab at each other.

Firstly, the Government has secured passage of the changes to private health insurance and the rebate.  I'll start with Andrew Robb, Andrew tell me your answer to this, there is no reason for taxpayers to give extra money, so a family on two-hundred-and-forty-thousand dollars can pay less for their private health insurance.  Can you think of any reason why taxpayers should fund that?

ANDREW ROBB:    Most certainly I can.  The rebate applying to all families - and don't tell me that a family on one-hundred-and-fifty or one-hundred-and-ten is wealthy, it’s offensive - but no family - every family that buys this health insurance means there's a bigger pool and the overall cost of premiums is then lower for low income people.  All of those people on twenty-five and thirty-thousand and it takes pressure off the private hospitals so that people who can't afford insurance can actually get good access to a public hospital.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But people on two-hundred-and-forty-thousand - a family on two-hundred-and-forty-thousand dollars don’t need help, do they?

ANDREW ROBB:    They need the encouragement - there's a lot of families - I've had lots of correspondence, I might add, from families who, you know, you've got two teachers on one-hundred-and-thirty-thousand gross, three kids and they're going to now face sixteen-hundred dollars increase, plus the cost of the carbon tax and the increase in their fuel - in their energy bills.

So here's a family that is now looking at an extra, you know, several thousand dollars a year and will get very little, if any, compensation from the carbon tax because that's all going to low income groups…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Okay.

ANDREW ROBB:    …therefore families - hard working families - people are out there doing it tough, working hard, trying to raise kids, educate them properly, they're to be done in the eye.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Okay, Bill Shorten, all this will do is anger families on a decent income and increase the premiums for the rest of us.

BILL SHORTEN:      I agree with the point you made that a family on two-hundred-and-forty-thousand dollars probably shouldn’t be getting a tax break, and I think that we can use that money better to support our health system.  I mean why should my secretary be paying for my private health insurance?

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Okay look, I want to move on to indigenous…

ANDRREW ROBB: Just on that…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: No look, Andrew I'll give you a chance, let's just try and rattle through some of the policy topics and we'll get a chance - you'll get a chance later on to pick up anything, just let me try and charge on, forgive me.

ANDREW ROBB:    Okay, I will.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Indigenous stuff.  The Prime Minister made her annual Closing the Gap speech, it's something that the Labor Government had committed to.  She mentioned things like indigenous mortality rates falling, literacy and numeracy improving since 2008.  I want to ask you both, I'll start with Bill Shorten, do you think partisan politics is stopping Australia and its ability to help our indigenous people?

BILL SHORTEN:      I'm not going to go totally after the Liberal Party on this issue, I think what we need to do is elevate this beyond partisan politics.  I think the big challenge is helping people find jobs.  I think there has been some progress there.  The Closing the Gap statement's important because it just makes sure that what's happening with Indigenous Australians isn’t out of mind, out of sight.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Andrew Robb, do you think partisan politics is stopping us helping Aboriginal Australians?

ANDREW ROBB:    No I don’t.  I think there's been a lot of misguided policy but a lot of goodwill on both sides of the house over many decades.  We have really poisoned many of their minds and their bodies with unfettered welfare and there needs to be a change in both sides of politics.  I think we've sought to do that in recent years and I thought that was reflected in the speeches this morning by both the Prime Minister and Tony Abbott, where there really was a bipartisan objective.  And a real determination, I think, within that chamber to eliminate the gap.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: And just to ask you both briefly, are the problems - particularly in remote indigenous communities - are those problems solvable?  Andrew Robb first.

ANDREW ROBB:    I've got no doubt.  You look around the world at indigenous communities, or deeply disadvantaged communities.  Look at China, they've got two-hundred-and-fifty-million people out of deep poverty and ignorance in the last fifteen years.  And a lot of it is related to education, first and foremost it’s got to be education.  The trouble is with the indigenous communities, much of our programs over the last several decades have led to a great disfunctionality amongst so many communities which makes education a really difficult thing to effectively put in place. 

We've got to remove the disfunctionality so they can be educated then I think they can very successfully, as many indigenous community people have, integrate into the rest of the community.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Okay and Bill Shorten, just quickly, do you think these problems have a solution?

BILL SHORTEN:      Yes I do.  I've got no doubt that if we can give greater control to local communities and - we can do better, so the answer is yes and we should never give up and we won't.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Okay a question for you, Mr Shorten, before Kevin Rudd was deposed were you shown - the months leading up to him being deposed - were you shown Labor Party polling, comparing his leadership to Julia Gillard's?

BILL SHORTEN:      No.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Did you hear anybody talking about that polling?

BILL SHORTEN:      No.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Do you think - well, no, let me rephrase the question - would the leadership speculation stop if Kevin Rudd came out and said I will not challenge Julia Gillard until the next election?

BILL SHORTEN:      I think that the best thing that members of this Government can do is not talk about ourselves but talk about the issues in front of the country and I'm going to lead by example.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But the Gallery aren't going to leave you be, would it make a difference to the coverage - well I mean you've got to deal with the world as it is not the way you'd like it to be - would it make a difference if Kevin Rudd ruled out a challenge?

BILL SHORTEN:      I think when you come to talking about the world as it is and the world we'd like it to be, what we want us to do is to make sure we've got strategies to help keep jobs, to promote jobs growth, to make sure the young ones and the not so young ones have got skills.  I know that some want to talk about leadership, I'm just not one of them, and I'm not going to.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Andrew Robb, a quick reply?

ANDREW ROBB:    Well the leadership issue, it should be talked about because it is really at the root of a lot of the crisis of confidence amongst the community.  People aren't spending money, companies aren’t investing because the Government is directionless, the Leader has no authority left.  She is devoid of judgement, we’ve seen that endlessly, and she can't be trusted.

So this is a Prime Minister who is finished, it's just a matter of where and when and I think the Government members should be talking about this - and I know they are, endlessly - about the dire situation we've got ourselves into.  There is no-one in charge and the country is the worst for it.

BILL SHORTEN:      Raf, I've…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Briefly.

BILL SHORTEN:      Well I've been adhering to your thirty second rule and I think I'm at least two minutes in credit.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Okay.

BILL SHORTEN:      I will just say about Mr Robb's comments, they remind me of when asked about the conduct of the Bishop, the actress - when the Bishop was talking about the actress, the actress said well he would say that wouldn’t he?  Mr Robb has obviously got an interest in causing chaos in the Labor ranks.  The truth of the matter is the Government does have a Prime Minister, we are focused on the big issues, the problem is that the opposition don't have an economic policy.

This idea that he crisis of confidence in Australia has nothing to do with what's happening in Europe, it has nothing to do with the high dollar - like when will those guys open an economic text book and read it.

ANDREW ROBB:    That's never been suggested by the way, it's got nothing to do…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Andrew a quick question for you.  Andrew a quick question for you, would you rule out wanting to become Shadow Treasurer before the next election?

ANDREW ROBB:    I will.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: So you're not interested in the job before the next election?

ANDREW ROBB:    Tony Abbott has said categorically that he will take the current team to the next election and I'm perfectly happy with that.  I've got not only finance, I've got responsibility for co-ordinating all of our policy development.  It's enormously stimulating and a great opportunity and I'm very happy doing what I'm doing.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Bill Shorten, do you believe him?

BILL SHORTEN:      Yeah.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: You do, okay good.  Look you might have a question yourself for Bill Shorten or Andrew Robb, one-three-hundred-triple-two-seven-seven-four, I'd love to know if you have a question that you would like to fire to them.  We're getting a lot of your text message questions as well so please keep sending them through.

I just want to read out a few of your texts and then we'll get a question from a caller.  Andrew Robb, I, a single parent of three children on forty-five-thousand a year, why should I be contributing to your private health insurance when I can’t afford the dentist for my kids and myself?  You people have absolutely no idea. 

Got quite a few of them Andrew, I thought I'd read them out but I will - I want to move on to a separate question, a separate text. 

What short, medium and long term plans do you both have to pay off the escalating Government and national debt?  I'll put that to you first Bill Shorten, have we got a debt problem?

BILL SHORTEN:      Our national commonwealth debt, compared to most other westernised nations is the envy of most western nations.  The Canadians are at thirty per cent plus, the Japanese at one-hundred-and-thirty per cent of GDP.  Australia will top out at about eight-point-two per cent.  So we're doing better than a lot of other parts of the rest of the world.  But we’re not complacent about that, that is why we're engaging in returning to surplus in the quickest time possible.  That's one of the reasons why we're not going to subsidise millionaire health insurance and use that two-point-nine-billion dollars to help pay off our net debt.

That's the first step, the other thing we're doing to secure the future of Australia is that the mining boom won't last forever.  We know that it’s a good thing, albeit it it's forcing the dollar to a pretty high level, that puts pressure on a lot of other sectors of the economy, tourism, education, manufacturing.  What we're seeking to do with the mining tax on the richest companies in the world is to help share the prosperity of the mining boom, by providing a tax cut for small business.

By helping fund the increase in compulsory superannuation from nine to twelve per cent…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Okay, okay.

BILL SHORTEN:      …so we're spreading the prosperity, we're going after some of the expensive programs such as millionaire health care, and we are doing relatively better than the rest of the world.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Okay, Andrew Robb do we have a debt problem, do you believe what Bill Shorten says?

ANDREW ROBB:    No I don't.  The Government conveniently tries to compare us with basket cases overseas, mismanagement overseas.  The fact of the matter is we’ve got the highest debt ever of - commonwealth debt in our history.  We've got the four highest deficits ever in the last four years.  We've got monumental waste, more waste than we've ever seen and we've got a raft of new taxes, nineteen new taxes since this Government came in.  And of course the carbon tax being the bete noire of them all, coming down the line.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But if the dollars up and bond yields are down, that's a verdict from the markets that our economy's doing much better than everyone else's isn't it?

ANDREW ROBB:    No, it's a verdict that our interest rates are higher than the rest of the world.  And in fact they'll talk about interest rate but the gap between our cash rate and the cash rate of all our major competitors has actually widened since the global financial crisis.  So that when there's money looking for a quick buck and it comes out of the US, they go for the highest interest rates and that's why you see the dollar move from ninety-eight one week before Christmas to a hundred-and-eight now, and it'll go up and down because of all this opportunistic money.

And the interest rates are high in part because the Government is spending - is borrowing one-hundred-million dollars - alright I'm sorry - one-hundred-million dollars every day, each and every day and have done for years…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Okay Andrew, I want to give…

ANDREW ROBB:    …but this is…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: …I want to give one of the callers a try thank you, Alan in Footscray has called in.  Alan what's your questions?

CALLER ALAN:       Look, I just filled my gas tank up.  In the last week, my gas fuel running costs to running around has gone up fifty per cent…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Sorry in the last few weeks you said?

CALLER ALAN:       In the last week it’s gone up from fifty-four to seventy-five-point-nine cents a litre.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Oh this is LPG?

CALLER ALAN:       LPG.  Okay so I've got double - I've virtually gone up - thirty-two bucks to fill the tank to forty-six bucks.  My Westpac mortgage has gone up, despite the fact the Reserve Bank has kept interest rates stable, indicated [indistinct 0:00:47.3 part 3].  Because what they're saying is while there's so much disarray, caused by the - I've got to blame you Liberals - distracting the attention from the actual issues, they can get away with murder.  And that's the thing, you're distracting the attention from the issues…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Okay Alan, I think - you think they're taking attention away from what we need to discuss and you've got a problem with LPG prices and your mortgage.  Andrew I'll give that one to you first.

ANDREW ROBB:    Thank you very much, it sounded like a Labor voter to me, but…

BILL SHORTEN:      So they’re not entitled to an opinion?

ANDREW ROBB:    They're entitled to but…

BILL SHORTEN:      Oh that's good of you.

ANDREW ROBB:    The fact of the matter is, petrol prices are a function of - and the management of the economy and interest rates - the Government is - the people in the power for the last four years, the people spending one-hundred-million - one-hundred-billion dollars a year more than they did four years ago.  A forty per cent increase in government spending when inflation's gone up thirteen per cent, that's this government.  And…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Well the LPG increase is a John Howard thing isn’t it?  Doesn't that date back to the Coalition Government, the LPG rises?

BILL SHORTEN:      Yeah, 2004.

ANDREW ROBB:    The gas and petroleum prices are largely determined on the international market and Bill will confirm that and the fact of the matter is if prices are going up like this.  And if interest rates are going up and if power bills are going up, all the more reason why the very last thing a government would do is implement the greatest carbon tax in the world when no-one else is doing it.

This is just madness, to lumber on people who are now suffering huge cost of living increases and a lot of doubt about their jobs.  Dick Warburton said four-hundred-thousand jobs at risk this year, four-hundred-thousand jobs…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I don’t think he'd be Bill Shorten's favourite economist but I do want to put that to you, Bill Shorten.  You hear a lot of people saying…

BILL SHORTEN:      He's also the chair of - he's helping you with the policy advisor at the moment…

[Over speaking]

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Can I ask Bill Shorten - two big issues for you, can you actually do anything about manufacturing, because a lot of those factors are out of your control?  You had zero net jobs growth last year, yet we're one of the few countries putting a price on carbon, on every aspect of our economy.

BILL SHORTEN:      Alright well let's go to that, but Andrew did have a bit of a free crack at the Government.  What I would say though is if we want to reduce debt then we should vote against millionaire health tax rebates.  The courtesy of what the Labor Government did, supported by the cross benchers, is we're now on track to return three-billion dollars back to the budget and force down debt.

And I think that's appropriate, we're not getting rid of health care and all of the scare stuff that the Lib's put up, but at a certain point you've got to say who do you - what do you use tax payer money for?  The second point though, going to your manufacturing and answering your question is manufacturing has got a future in Australia, but there has been a downward decline but that's been going on for the last fifty years.

In 1960, thirty in every hundred Aussies was working in manufacturing, now it's eight or nine in every hundred.  We are seeing some job losses there due to the high dollar and the pressure of that.  What we're putting in place to help manufacture is we're going to back up the local car industry, which the Opposition are walking away from. 

We are also training a lot more apprentices - remember in the '80s and the '90s…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Can I take you to the carbon tax, is there another nation putting a carbon price into every party of their economy?  Another nation?

BILL SHORTEN:      Lots of countries are moving towards putting a price on carbon…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But they haven’t done it have they, we're the first?

ANDREW ROBB:    They haven’t done in.

BILL SHORTEN:      Well no, other countries have already got trading schemes and other strategies to deal with carbon.  If you have a look at what the Liberal's plan is, their direct action plan's just a tax and we're moving in a sensible, staged way.  The scare campaign over the - putting a price on carbon is just that, a scare campaign and we'll no doubt see that on 1 July this year the sun will still come up.

                                    But when Mr Robb says that Australia's some sort of basket case…

ANDREW ROBB:    I said I was comparing.

BILL SHORTEN:      When he said earlier that - when I was being positive about Australia - he said oh no, I'm comparing us to the basket cases of the world.  I'm actually comparing our net debt of the Commonwealth Government to Canada, to Italy, to the United States.  Like, I'm glad Mr Robb's decided to [create that 0:05:07.1 part 3] they're all basket cases.

[Over speaking]

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I just want to try and wind that up, I just want to try and wind that up if I can gentlemen.

BILL SHORTEN:      Wait until the American's wake up and say Andrew Robb said you're just a basket case.

ANDREW ROBB:    Well in terms of fiscal management…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Okay I don’t want to keep going down that path, I've had a lot of text messages saying they don’t care about the leadership issue, but someone - Scott called in and wanted know, Bill Shorten, did you back the wrong horse with Julia Gillard?

BILL SHORTEN:      I support the Prime Minister, she is the best person for the job and I also and pleased that you reported the text messages of all those other people.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Certainly [willing to do that. 05:36 part 3]

BILL SHORTEN:      Andrew wants to make it an issue and we want to get on with business.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Andrew Robb, you've got fifteen seconds to respond and then I need to get on with the finance and the weather.

ANDREW ROBB:    Leadership, whether it's a company, an organisation or the country, the leader is first and foremost the determinant of how that organisation works, the culture, the direction.  At the moment Julia Gillard is directionless, she is lacking judgment, she's got no authority and must resolve this matter quickly.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Okay Andrew, the last question from both of you, I need two words, Bill Shorten, two nice things, two words, nice words, to describe Andrew Robb. Compliments.

BILL SHORTEN:      Two words is not enough, he's a country boy, and whenever he speaks even if I don’t agree with him I don’t doubt his sincerity and [indistinct 0:06:25.5 part 3] position.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Okay thank you Bill Shorten.  Andrew Robb, two nice things about Bill Shorten.

ANDREW ROBB:    [Indistinct 0:06:29.9 part 3].

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Sorry?

ANDREW ROBB:    Charming smile.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Charming smile, fair enough, thank you very much.

ANDREW ROBB:    I said two words, I can go on if you like?

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: No that's okay.  Look I appreciate it gentlemen, thank you for letting me try to break you up from the distance.  Andrew Robb and Bill Shorten thank you very much for joining us.  Have a nice afternoon, thank you.  Time for a quick finance update…