SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Turnbull’s attack on Medicare; sale of AUSGRID; Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act; Rio Olympics.
JULIAN HILL, MEMBER ELECT FOR BRUCE: Hello everyone, I'm Julian Hill the newly elected Member for Bruce and as you can tell from my voice I'm not feeling that well, so, my staff have been joking that I have start out my political career as a politician who listens and doesn't talk. I'm delighted to welcome Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition and my colleague Catherine King, Shadow Minister for Health, here to the electorate of Bruce. I can say throughout out our very long campaign that Medicare was overwhelmingly an issue of concern for the electorate and we received strong support. It's such a pity that the Government hasn't heard that support and decided to adjust their policies. So, very happy to welcome Bill to talk a little more. Thank you.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much Julian and good morning everybody. It's great to be here in the seat of Bruce.
On the Sunday after the election, Malcolm Turnbull conceded that the Liberal Party and his Government had a problem with Medicare. But you can't concede you've got a problem with Medicare and be taken seriously if you still go ahead with all of the cuts that this Government are making to our healthcare and Medicare system.
Medicare will be one of the most important issues for the 45th Parliament has to deal with. It is important that if Mr Turnbull and the Liberals want to be trusted on Medicare they've got to reverse the cuts they are making to Medicare. They've got to unfreeze the indexation, so that your suburban GP can still bulk bill. They've got to not go ahead with their increase to prescription medicines, that's very important. They've got to not go ahead with their cuts to the bulk billing incentives for diagnostic imaging for X-rays, for blood tests and for X-rays and the like and they certainly need to match Labor that's proposals to properly fund our hospitals.
This Government needs to hear the message of the people of Australia from the last election. Mr Turnbull thinks that Medicare was an election issue but it's not an issue now for his Government. He couldn't be further from the truth. His Government and his backbenchers need to understand that they need to act on Medicare, the people of Australia expect nothing less from Mr Turnbull's Liberal Coalition Government.
I might ask Catherine King, my Shadow Minister for Health, to say a few words and happy to talk about this and other matters and the choice here for Mr Turnbull is very simple: he can either choose to defend Medicare or he can choose to defend the banks with big tax cuts but he can't do both.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks Bill. It's terrific to be here with Julian and with Bill at Waverley Gardens. We know here in the east of Melbourne there are 1 in 20 patients that avoid or don't go to see a GP already because of the issue of cost.
We had Malcolm Turnbull during the course of the election continuing to say that he was going to have a freeze on the Medicare Benefits Schedule. What we know from practices across the country, they are already starting to drop bulk billing. We've seen a practice here today that has 8 practices across Victoria who are saying that they will have to stop bulk billing, the vast majority of their patients, if the freeze continues.
We've had Malcolm Turnbull say he's heard the lesson of the electorate. He's heard what the electorate had to say during the course of the election campaign when it comes to health but there's no evidence in the weeks since that election day that Malcolm Turnbull or his Health Minister have done anything, anything at all, to actually change their policies.
Today, the freeze on the Medicare Benefits Schedule remains and that is affecting patients across the country today. The intention to increase the price of medicines remains. The first act the new Health Minister's going to have to do in this Parliament is introduce the regulations to cut bulk billing for pathology and diagnostic imaging. All of that remains. If Malcolm Turnbull is honest with the Australian people that he actually has learnt the lesson of the election, he will unfreeze the Medicare Benefits Schedule and actually defend bulk billing and make sure we actually have a universal health insurance scheme that is for all Australians and that he actually has listened to the electorate.
SHORTEN: Thanks Catherine, are there any questions on this or any other matters?
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, could I just ask you about Ausgrid. Do you think the Treasurer should approve the sale of Ausgrid to a Chinese State owned company?
SHORTEN: Labor has three principles by which we think this deal should be assessed and these all go towards the national interest. Does the sale of Ausgrid undermine in any fashion our national security? Does it ensure there are more or less Australian jobs and what will be impact on electricity prices?
For me, the matter of foreign investment comes down to Australian jobs, the prices that consumers and families pay and of course, where relevant, national security. What we don't need is for the Liberal Party just to rush this through as they did with the Port of Darwin. They need to take these matters seriously. They can't dismiss concerns around jobs, around electricity prices, and around national security merely because Premier Baird wants to try to get an inflated price before the next election for the sale of New South Wales electricity assets.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, do you support Nick Xenophon's announcement that he has ruled out supporting future changes to the Racial Discrimination Act?
SHORTEN: Well, let's just put the record straight here, Labor has already said before Senator Xenophon the case has not made out for any changes. We are pleased though that Senator Xenophon will be taking the same position that Labor's taken on a principled basis.
The real issue here is, is Malcolm Turnbull going to sell out protections against hate speech so he can get other of his laws through the Senate? This is the problem of Mr Turnbull's making, because he changed the Senate voting rules, because there are so many splits and divisions within the far right of the Liberal Party and beyond, he's now put the Parliament hostage to some of these claims from the crossbench. What Mr Turnbull needs to do today, is say that 18C and freedom of speech and the protection against hate speech are not up for negotiation. This shouldn't be a matter which drags on.
JOURNALIST: Could I just ask you again about Ausgrid? What would you consider to be risks in handing over this critical New South Wales infrastructure to a company owned by the Communist Party?
SHORTEN: First of all, Australia has foreign investment in this country, it's a part of our economic mix. We have the Foreign Investment Review Board, who looks at foreign takeovers or foreign ownership proposals on the basis of the national interest. What I'm asking the Government to do is to prioritise, when they look at this bid, Australian jobs, keeping downward pressure on electricity prices, and of course, if our defence experts say there are any implications for national security, because of the sensitive nature of particular infrastructure being purchased, well then we expect them to take a very close examination of all proposals, including Ausgrid.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about Scott Morrison's comments about the Royal Commission on the banks? He said it was "nothing but a populist whinge", what would you say about that?
SHORTEN: I wish Scott Morrison would listen to the people of Australia. There's been financial scandal after financial scandal, and yet this Government wants to do everything it can to protect the banks from the full scrutiny of a Royal Commission. And what we've seen is before the election, Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull, the banks' best friends in Canberra, they said there was no need to have any inquiry that that the regulator could to the job. Then this week, we've seen Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull accept half of the Labor critique. And they've said: oh well, there will be new inquiries and new investigations, but it will be a Parliamentary inquiry, not a Royal Commission.
What Mr Morrison and Mr Turnbull forget is that when it comes to other matters, they believe that a Royal Commission and nothing less will do. But when it comes to the banks they're determined to let their friends in the banks be examined by Liberal-controlled committees of politicians in the Parliament. It's not good enough. What we saw last week is the banks refuse to pass on the full interest rate cuts proposed by the Reserve Bank of Australia. The reason why the Reserve Bank of Australia lowered the interest rates was to get the Australian economy going. Our economy under the Liberals is in the doldrums. It's flat lining. It's mediocre. It's wallowing in mediocrity. The reason why the Reserve Bank lowered the official interest rates was so that people would be more inclined to borrow money, so that there'd be more economic activity, so that consumers would spend more money because they were paying less in interest rates and their mortgages and their credit cards.
But the banks have just laughed at Mr Morrison and Mr Turnbull and why wouldn't they? Turnbull and Morrison are completely weak and useless when it comes to getting action out of the banks, so the banks have done is they've pocketed a billion dollars of money in extra profit which was designed to help stimulate the Australian economy. The banks have had a good look at the economy and they've said 'don't worry about the rest of the economy, we'll just look after our bottom line'.
What a Royal Commission can do is look at how widespread the problems and corruption are in our financial services industry. They can look at whether the culture of banking is influenced by the remuneration practices in banking. Put another way, what exactly is the relationship between the bottom line and bank executives' golden profit, shares and the other bonuses they get? Does in any way the remuneration structure that banks' executives get mean that when you get rate cuts like what we've seen, they've decided to pocket the rate cuts and not pass them on to the people of Australia? There's no doubt in my mind that we need to have an overdue discussion in this country at the highest level, and if the Government won't do it, a Royal Commission certainly will. We need to see what is the impact upon mortgage holders and the economy when the banks pocket some of the interest rate cut which were designed to get Australia moving again? What is the impact upon credit card holders and the Australian economy when the banks keep the difference, they keep the interest rate cuts and don't reduce credit card rates in this country, especially when so many households have such high credit card debts? The case is overwhelming for a Royal Commission. The only people in Australia who don't want a Royal Commission are the big banks, Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull and frankly that's not a good enough reason not to have a Royal Commission, and we will not give up on this question.
JOURNALIST: Just on changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, what exactly would the consequences be, do you think?
SHORTEN: First of all, we have protections in our laws and they've been there for twenty-plus years, against hate speech. It is important that whilst we have freedom of speech in this country, that people aren't able to use the speech to be able to denigrate and revile minorities. Because the way this country works best is that when we ensure that we have diversity and therefore we don't support changes to 18C. My concern is that Malcolm Turnbull is now so hostage to the right-wing of his party and also people of a right-wing extreme persuasion outside his party, that he can't actually say no to these people any more. Because Mr Turnbull has a one-seat majority in the House of Representatives, he needs every backbencher to agree with him every time. This is why I'm worried about the future of protections against hate speech. It only takes a couple of those backbenchers to start threatening Mr Turnbull and Mr Turnbull will just turn to water and do whatever they say. We've seen Turnbull back down on a range of issues. He backs down to the banks, he's backed down in terms of supporting Kevin Rudd for an international position. Goodness only knows what he will do on 18C if people put pressure on him. I ask Mr Turnbull today: just rule out changing 18C in the life of this Parliament, and we can get on with dealing with the big issues which go to jobs, which go to education, which go to Medicare.
JOURNALIST: Just on a bit of a lighter note, we're a couple of days into the Olympics, we've already picked up a few gold medals. What do you make of the performance of Australia so far?
SHORTEN: I couldn't have been more proud of Australia. Like everyone else we've been adjusting to Rio de Janeiro hours in terms of watching events. We are seeing not only champion performances by our successful medallists but we're seeing a lot of Australian teams and individuals moving through the heats and the various stages as they approach their chance for glory. But every Australian I reckon is enjoying these games, we've had a marvellous start and I think most of us are looking forward to finding out and getting the updates on how Australian athletes are going. They make us all a little more proud to be Australian. Thanks everybody.