TUESDAY, 6 MARCH 2018
SUBJECTS: Malcolm Turnbull’s Medicare freeze; Adani; RET; US steel tariffs; foreign donations.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everybody. It's great to be here in Adelaide and of course with Jay Weatherill listening to this fantastic announcement, which will help make Adelaide and South Australia one of the health leaders in research throughout Australia.
It was very inspiring to listen to the researchers - the people doing the work, talking about how what's happening here because of Labor vision in the past and indeed, Jay's ongoing vision for healthcare in the future. The kids with brain tumours will be able to get more timely assistance, the people suffering from prostate cancer won't have to have their tests sent to Melbourne or indeed go to Melbourne to get some necessary treatment which isn't in their best health interests.
So I congratulate Jay on continuing to make the health of all South Australians a key issue in the State Election and that's the other reason why I am here today. Healthcare and the health of South Australians and all Australians is a number one issue in this State Election, as it is at the national political level. What we have seen is South Australian hospitals because of the Turnbull Government cuts to healthcare - to hospitals, South Australian hospitals will be $531 million worse off in the next two years in cuts. And when you look at that cut on top of what's happening with the increasing out of pocket expenses, for South Australians when they need to see a GP or a specialist, the prognosis is not good.
What we see is that the out of pocket costs have increased for people wanting to see their GP by about 22 percent and the out of pocket costs, the gap which they have to pay to see a specialist has gone up by about 32 percent since 2013/14. So the prognosis for the out of pocket costs, the cost of living for South Australians and Australians going to see a doctor and specialist is getting worse. In South Australia alone now, the most recent figures show that it costs the gap - to see a GP is on average over $31 for a South Australian to take their children to see the doctor, and to see a specialist it's higher than $58. The Turnbull Government and the Liberals generally don't prioritise health.
Now what Labor is saying for South Australians is re-elect Jay and what we will do at the national level is unfreeze the Medicare Rebate. The Medicare Rebate is the patient payment they get for going to see the doctor to help offset the cost of seeing your doctor. We can afford because we're not giving corporate tax cuts to the big end of town, to help unfreeze Medicare which would put $2.4 billion back into the pockets of patients rather than sending it offshore to large corporations. But our promises on health just don't stop at unfreezing Medicare. We want to help restore hospital funding to reduce waiting lists and what we also want to do is tackle the out of control price increases of private health insurance companies. The big private health insurance companies have increased the premiums by 25 percent since the Liberals came in. So Labor has a policy at the next national election to cap the increases in Private Health Insurance at two percent for each of the first two years of a future Federal Labor Government.
If Australians and South Australians want to make sure that they can afford to see a doctor, that their family can see a doctor when they need to, I recommend voting for Jay Weatherill at the next state election because these sort of ideas that he's put forward, which improve the opportunities for all South Australians can only come, with a Jay Weatherill Government.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: What do you think his chances are of winning?
SHORTEN: Jay's in the best position to answer and of course it'll be up to South Australians, but I have to say it's an uphill battle, but I think Jay has actually shown the most policy vision. I think any fair minded observer if they saw the debate last night will know that Jay put forward the best vision for South Australia and I think that when you look at today's announcement for example, on healthcare, nothing is more important to South Australians than their health and the health of their family. We can talk about everything else, but if you don't have good health, or if your family don't have good health, a lot of the rest of what we do really is, comes second. Jay's got the vision for healthcare and I can work with Jay Weatherill to make sure that we properly provide the healthcare that South Australians deserve, and I can pay for my promises because I'm not giving $65 billion to large corporations in tax cuts which will be sent overseas.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten how do you react to - on another topic, allegedly some of your front bench colleagues are saying you've lost the plot on Adani, that you're off the reservation it was stated. How do you react to that?
SHORTEN: I've learned not to react to unsourced and anonymous comments on the social media. I think anyone who did that, you know, that's just a distraction. Let's be very straightforward here about Adani. I have made it clear that I am a sceptic and increasingly sceptical of the Adani proposal. Labor has said since the last Federal election that if it doesn't stack up commercially or environmentally this project shouldn't go ahead. Labor said at the last Federal Election that we wouldn't provide tax-payer funds. So I think that, that is the right approach and that is the right policy and I make no apology for putting forward a view which says we are increasingly sceptical. I am not a fan of it. I mean they've missed seven key deadlines since 2011. If Adani was to be believed they would have been shipping coal for the last three years to Asia, it just hasn't happened.
One thing I have made very clearly as well is that it is a principle of Australian government that when one government replaces another government, you don't rip up the contracts and the approvals which have been entered into in good faith by a previous government. That would be to invite sovereign risk.
So Labor has a very clear position. If the proposal doesn't stack up commercially and environmentally, it shouldn't go ahead, but we won't engage in sovereign risk. And the reason why I won't do that is because I don't want to expose taxpayers in the future to billions of dollars in compensation claims.
I might go to you then to Michelle.
JOURNALIST: Just on that sovereign risk, is it true that even your Shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen privately raised concerns about creating sovereign risk questions about Adani?
SHORTEN: I think it is a sensible proposition for any government or any opposition to look at sovereign risk. Chris and I both have this view that you can't undo the past and you can't retrospectively change projects. So sovereign risk is an important principle and I have explained that to people in the environmental movement that you can't wish that issue away. Labor will, if we get the privilege and the opportunity to form a government after the next election, we will respect the principles of not creating sovereign risk.
JOURNALIST: So is this your final policy, the one that you have just outlined to us about Adani, or is the policy still in evolution in any aspect?
SHORTEN: Well, I think the ball is really in the Government's court and Adani's court. We have made it very clear. We said at the last national election, no taxpayer money. The Government needs to clear up its position on that, we've been very clear. We have said repeatedly for months and months, that this proposal has to stack up commercially and environmentally, I think that is sensible. We have also made very clear that we are increasingly sceptical, I am. But by the way, I don't think I am Robinson Crusoe there. If you look at millions of Australians, they are equally concerned. But what we won't do is we won't engage in sovereign risk. They are our rules, that's what we say. We won't expose taxpayers to future compensation claims. But now the Government needs to spell out its position. Are they going to put a single dollar of taxpayer money into this project? What does Malcolm Turnbull personally think about this mine project? I think the Government, and Adani also need to say, are they going to come good with their proposals or not? I mean very bank in Australia has knocked it back. That is not Labor, that's the banks, the super funds. So I think there are question marks but what I won't do is leave North and Central Queensland in the lurch.
That's why we have been working on Real Jobs for Regional Queensland. I understand that Queenslanders, and North Queenslanders have been let down in the past, for example by Clive Palmer with the collapse of Queensland Nickel. Labor won't stand by and just pretend that one project is going to solve all the problems of Central and North Queensland. Instead, we are proposing to widen the Port at Townsville, to put in the second stage of the Ring Road at Mackay. To build the Gladstone Port Access Road, to build the Rookwood Weir in conjunction with the State Government. These will generate thousands of real jobs which don't depend on projects which may never come to fruition.
I'm just going to share the questions, I'll come back to you.
JOURNALIST: Just to clarify, you say that you won't rip up any contracts but are you also not going to revoke any approvals. Because at the moment there doesn't seem to be an actual contract to sign but there is approvals given so you count both of them?
SHORTEN: If approvals have been granted and they are based on the best possible evidence, that is right, they stay. That's what sovereign risk is about.
JOURNALIST: Sky News has been told that frontbenchers say they don't understand why you are saying that you don't support Adani because that's not the position of the Cabinet, of your Shadow Cabinet. Why are you saying now that you don't support it?
SHORTEN: I don't accept the proposition of that question at all, at all. What I do know is that Australians and Queenslanders are getting increasingly sceptical about the missed deadlines and the broken promises around Adani. Labor led at the last national election and said we wouldn't put taxpayer money in there. The Queensland Government just before its election, adopted the same position. We have seen mixed signals out of this distracted and chaotic Coalition about whether or not they would put Commonwealth money in. I am very interested to find out what Mr Turnbull's position is about Adani and whether or not he is putting any taxpayer money in or if he will rule that out. But in terms of the sovereign risk proposition we have been talking about, Labor understands it is a principle of Australian democracy, that if previous governments have entered into commercial arrangements or otherwise, including approvals, you just don't rip these things up.
The Queensland Government just before its election adopted the same position. We have seen mixed signals out of this distracted and chaotic Coalition about whether or not they would put Commonwealth money in. I am very interested to find out what Mr Turnbull's position is about Adani and whether or not he is putting any taxpayer money in or if he will rule that out.
But in terms of the sovereign risk proposition we have been talking about, Labor understands that it is a principle of Australian democracy that if previous Governments have entered into commercial arrangements or otherwise, including approvals, you just don't rip these things up.
JOURNALIST: Last year, late last year Premier Weatherill retweeted a tweet that said 'coal is dead'. Is that a proposition you agree with?
SHORTEN: Technically coal is not alive. But if you are talking about my view on the coal industry, no there is a role for coal in Australia, absolutely. So I am grateful to you for raising that, because what's happened is that this Turnbull Government because they have no real policy on renewable energy, they've got no strategy to help find new gas or indeed to have transition power for Australia's industrial manufacturing needs, is they want to say that Adani is all about everything else, it is not. This is a single project and I, like many Australians don't think it will go ahead. But having said that, when it comes to coal I say in particular to our coal communities in the Hunter Valley and in the Bowen Basin, what they do there is valuable. What they do there in terms of - for instance the coking coal that they produce in the Bowen Basin, it is the coking coal which goes into the production of steel. You know the Greens love to talk about public transport but you don't make tram tracks out of bamboo you make it out of steel. So coal still has a role for the foreseeable future going forward.
JOURNALIST: Are you happy to lose support in North Queensland and for Cathy O'Toole by not backing Adani to pick up seats (INAUDIBLE)
SHORTEN: I don't accept the assumption that it is either/or. What Australians want is they want a government focused on their needs, not ourselves. They are not interested in the political games. They want to know what it is that we are going to do for them. In North Queensland, we have made it clear that we want to widen the channel so Townsville can take larger ships and so all the containers which currently move elsewhere in Queensland can be shipped more cheaply in and out of Townsville Port. That's what Cathy O'Toole is interested in. What we want in Townsville is water security. I guarantee you, the big issue in Townsville is security of water. If the water supply there is secure then Townsville becomes a stronger investment destination. What people what in Townsville is better transition for our Defence Force veterans when they leave the military, and to make sure they have better support for when they move back into civilian life. That's what the people in Townsville are talking about. In terms of Melbourne, what people want there is better public transport. They want a Federal Government that properly invests in infrastructure in Victoria rather than neglecting it as Mr Turnbull has.
JOURNALIST: On the approval process, you seem to leave a small loophole there in terms of new information. If there was new information, could that approval process be revisited by a Labor Government?
SHORTEN: Listen, that is a hypothetical. Let's go very straightforward here and this is what people want to know. We believe that the deal has to stack up commercially and environmentally. People know it hasn't. It is not just Labor saying this, the fact of the matter is not one of our big banks wants to invest in this project. We want to see this - we believe that projects have to stack up commercially and environmentally. No superfund in Australia is investing in this project. Adani has missed a whole lot of deadlines. If you look through the archive of boosterism and press releases saying that they will be digging up and exporting coal, it just hasn't happened. S no, we are not leaving any loopholes. Sovereign risk though is a fact and what we have to do is make sure that we don't expose Australian taxpayers to sovereign risk. This is a complex issue, there is no doubt about it.
JOURNALIST: But you did say Mr Shorten, that you would in government order an investigation of that report that the company had given incorrect information.
SHORTEN: Well then that report that you are talking about was a finding that Adani had falsified samples reports -
JOURNALIST: So you are going to investigate it?
SHORTEN: If I can just answer your first question. That was an issue which Mr Turnbull should resolve now. Has Adani falsified or tampered with sample reports? What we are talking about is an incident where after a cyclone there were coal tailings allegedly distributed at very high levels into the wetlands in the area outside the coal loading facility. Then there was a debate that's been raised in The Guardian which says that these reports were falsified. That's what that issue is about let's not confuse it with the whole issue of sovereign risk. I would hope that Mr Turnbull gets to the bottom of what's happened there because I think that is a legitimate thing for Australians to expect.
JOURNALIST: But you promised to as well.
SHORTEN: If he doesn't get to the bottom of the samples issue, I will. But let's go back to what I think your core point is. Labor doesn't believe this project is stacking up commercially or environmentally. And that is not just Labor who believes that, I think that's the markets. A whole lot of people don't believe that. But what we also need to recognise is that sovereign risk is a real issue and that if there's approvals granted and if there's - the mine is going, if it is there, we're not going to just pretend that we will expose the Australian people to taxpayer compensation claims because we just won't.
JOURNALIST: What is your response to the fact that three unions have been allowed to create what's been dubbed a 'super union'?
SHORTEN: Are you talking about a union amalgamation?
SHORTEN: Which one?
JOURNALIST: The CFMEU, MUA and the textile union?
SHORTEN: I think they are having a vote of their members. I am sure that is allowed under the law, they've had that vote.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that they are known as the militant unions. Are you concerned, as business has said, that they will stymie business?
SHORTEN: People have got a right in this country to join a union if they want to, they have got a right not join a union. What we see is that we have got a government who is engaging daily on union bashing. So I think what this Government needs to do is focus on the real issues of Australians which is low wages growth. You know, last financial year corporate profits were up 20 per cent but real wages went up 2 per cent. We are seeing an unequal distribution of national income and what's Mr Turnbull's response? Backing in cutting penalty rates. We have a casualised workforce and we have labour hire companies without proper regulation at the national level, we see women paid far less than men, we've got a gender pay gap. If Mr Turnbull is so worried about unions, maybe what he should do is look after workers because so far I haven't seen him do a lot of that.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, what is the Shadow Cabinet's position on the Adani mine? Yesterday you said you don't support it, is that Shadow Cabinet's position?
SHORTEN: I have been through this time and time again. Our position is that if the project doesn't stack up commercially and environmentally, we don't support it. We've made it clear that we won't provide any taxpayer funding but we've also made it clear that we won't engage in sovereign risk. By that what I mean is that we won't rip up arrangements which have been entered into because that would expose taxpayers to compensation claims and that is just not a principle of our democratic system.
JOURNALIST: Premier Weatherill has promised a 75 per cent renewables target for South Australia if he is re-elected. Do you think that is something that should be done around the nation?
SHORTEN: Well, our plan is to have 50 per cent of our energy mix come from renewable sources by 2030. Different states are in a different state of readiness. Let's go straight to why Jay and plenty of Australians want to see a greater emphasis on renewable energy. It is because it is getting cheaper. Jay's plan with battery storage, with renewable energy and the use of new technology to achieve better outcomes for Australian people, both for environment, jobs and lower costs, I think that is the right direction.
JOURNALIST: Just to be clear, do you think 75 per cent is the right target to be aiming for?
SHORTEN: Perhaps I can let Jay answer. I'm not running for Premier, Jay is doing a good job of that.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask you one more question - can I just be clear, so Shadow Cabinet's position is you don't support it if it doesn't add up economically but then yesterday, you said you don't support it - so which one of those is your actual position?
SHORTEN: It is the same. Labor -
JOURNALIST: It's not because you are saying you don't support it wholeheartedly whereas I think -
SHORTEN: I don't support it because it doesn't add up commercially and environmentally. It is the same project, it is the same proposition.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, are you concerned about the prospect of a trade war breaking out, particularly in concern with what is happening offshore at the moment?
SHORTEN: It would appear to me that President Trump has dudded Australia and indeed, Malcolm Turnbull. I think it is hard for any Australian Prime Minister to just simply change the policy of the United States, but I think we need to try, he needs to try. I also think he needs to just get on the phone. I'm not going to hold Mr Turnbull responsible if President Trump doesn't do what he wants, I want to be clear this is a problem we are all into together. But I think we need to try our hardest. What concerns me though is not just finished steel and aluminium products which we export to America, whilst that is important. What concerns me is that if there is steel and aluminium being produced around the world, which there is in China, other nations, Europe. If it can't find a home in America then it is coming to our shores. And the real issue is that we have one of the most open markets in the world. So I am concerned about the impact of a flood of new imports as a result of a trade conflict between Trump and China or Trump and Europe, and the problem is that we get caught in the back wash of that.
I mean, Jay has done a great job, helping along with the workers of Whyalla revive our steel industry. Steel in Australia is a very important industry, they've gone through some hard years and they're just getting back on their feet. Now, this could potentially hit them for six. And so it is important that the Coalition Government in Canberra doesn't just focus on getting some imports into America, but that is important. What is the plan of Mr Turnbull to protect Australian steel and aluminium in the event of an escalating trade conflict between America and other parts of the world.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, are you concerned about Chinese nationals making significant donations to political parties whether it be Labor or Liberal?
SHORTEN: Yes, I am. Labor has said we won't take donations from foreign nationals full stop. Of course we are concerned about it. There seems to be in the South Australian election, an extraordinary amount of money, extraordinary amount of money by anyone's standard, by any state election standard, coming in from particular sources and the lack of transparency around that is deeply disturbing. And I think it is - the Liberals should actually adopt Labor's policy. Let's just be very straightforward. The Liberals are waiting for the law to change before they refuse foreign donations. I think they should just adopt best practice like Labor and say, hey we want people to have confidence in our electoral process, snd if you are getting million dollar amounts coming in from foreign nationals that is deeply disturbing.