MONDAY, 21 JANUARY 2019
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s Queensland Jobs Not Cuts bus tour; Labor’s plans for Bundaberg Hospital and healthcare in Queensland.
ZAC BEERS, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR FLYNN: Good afternoon. Look, it's great to be in Bundaberg today. I'm here with Bill Shorten, Labor's leader, Catherine King, Labor's Shadow Health Minister, and Richard Pascoe, Labor's fantastic candidate for Hinkler. It's great to be in Bundaberg today, making a significant announcement about investment in community mental health services in this part of the world. It's great to be here with Bill and Catherine, making it clear that only a Labor government will invest in health services to make sure that communities like Bundaberg, and the broader region around Bundaberg, get the investment in services that they need. We've got a great announcement here today, and I'll let Bill and Catherine talk about the detail, but one thing is clear: a Labor government will make the necessary investment in health services in this region, to make sure that the people who live in this part of the world get access to the care that they need, particularly closer to home, right here in Bundaberg. I'll hand it over to Bill to walk us through the announcement.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks, Zac, or as I affectionately call him, Mr. Flynn. Zac Beers, Labor's Candidate in Flynn, and of course, Richard Pascoe, representing Labor in the seat of Hinkler. Today, I'm accompanied by Catherine King, who will take you through most of the detail of what I'm about to announce. But I'm really pleased that on our Queensland Jobs Not Cuts bus tour, we had the chance to see, firsthand, the fantastic work that they're doing here in Wide Bay and Bundaberg Hospital. One thing we do know, and we've consulted extensively with local health experts in the local community, is that the Bundaberg and Wide Bay area is crying out for more community mental health resources. Mental health still suffers a big stigma in the community, and in regional Australia they don't get their fair share of community health resources right now. So, I'm really pleased to announce that after significant consultation and work by our shadow ministers, talking to the locals and, of course, Senator Anthony Chisholm, who's here, I'm in a position to be able to announce that, if Labor was elected at the next election, we would provide $15.7 million for a new community mental health facility in Bundaberg. This is long overdue resources, and it's certainly going to help, I think, the medical and health services in the Wide Bay area provide the sort of care which every Queenslander deserves, every Australian deserves. Labor's vision for health in this country is it's your Medicare card, not your credit card, which determines your access to quality health care. Mental health is just as important as any other part of the health field. We want to make sure that, in regional Queensland, people don't face the massive travel times to get care, which they currently do in the Wide Bay region. The Wide Bay region is marked by a whole lot of socioeconomic indicators, which essentially boil down to the fact that they need more medical resources in this district. I'd now like to pass over to Catherine to talk further about Labor's exciting announcement for community mental health facilities for Bundaberg and the surrounding region.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks, Bill. It's terrific to be here with Zac, Richard, and also Anthony, who represents us up here as part of the Senate team. This is a terrific announcement for Bundaberg Hospital. We've just had a brief tour of the hospital, talked to some of the staff, both in their clinical team as well as in the workforce recruitment team, and they do a fantastic job. But what we know is that hospitals do need resources. The Turnbull, sorry, I meant to say Turnbull Government, then the Morrison Government - I get confused on a day-to-day basis, as well, about that. The Morrison Government has cut, over the term of the existing hospital agreements, some $3 million from this hospital. That means that there are less outpatient visits, less emergency department, people can be seen, and that really does make a difference. But what Labor wants to do is invest in this hospital. The $15.7 million announcement that we have made today will go towards ensuring better mental health capacity here in the community. We know that many people who suffer from mental health challenges often end up in our emergency departments. We know that they often do need acute services, and some of the funding will go towards increasing acute beds for mental health patients. But more importantly, what it's going to do is make sure that we're able to care for people in the community, so that they don't end up in the emergency department here at a very, very, busy hospital, and that they're able to receive the care in their community. I particularly want to acknowledge Richard's advocacy for this project. He cares passionately about this hospital, passionately about this community, and I want to thank him for bringing this project to us. Also, briefly, I want to mention an announcement we made today about Cairns Hospital. $60 million to support the Cairns University Hospital, really taking that hospital into becoming a tertiary hospital, working to ensure that they are able to retain and recruit the health workforce that they need in that part of this fantastic state. It's a terrific announcement. I'm heading up to make some further announcements in Cairns tomorrow, but it is an announcement that we're very proud to have supported in Cairns, and know that our local candidates, whether it be Zac, whether it be Richard, whether it be Elida up in Cairns, really are championing the state of Queensland.
SHORTEN: Thanks, Catherine. Now, I might just, because we had the opportunity to talk to some of our national friends at Maryborough, as we made our exciting announcement on procurement, invite the local journalists or the local media to take over.
JOURNALIST: The mental health of locals here is important, but this facility, this hospital is 100 years old, so the State Government's currently looking at a business plan to see if it's viable to get a new hospital. We already know that the hospital is needed, so is the Federal Government, the Labor Government, if elected, going to do anything about that, to help our State Government to pay for a new hospital?
SHORTEN: Thanks for that. We had a fantastic briefing from the Wide Bay Health Services area leadership, and they certainly made a very strong case for the need to put extra resources. Now, as you correctly identify, the decision falls with the State Government of Queensland, but we were talking about, for instance, where would be the site of our new mental health building that we're contributing. What I understand is that the Wide Bay health area is going to have their business case done by about April, but they certainly made it clear that, Wide Bay, just because it's not in a big city, shouldn't be assumed to be a rich or everyone's doing really well here. There are significant pockets of disadvantage, and there are significantly unfair health outcomes in this region, from obesity right through to so many other services. The point which Wide Bay health officials made to us clearly in our briefing before was that people spend a lot of money traveling to get health care out of the region. Now, people are happy to pay the money, on one level - their health is important. But it's an inefficient waste of literally $100 million a year, they told us. So we get that this hospital is built in a flood area, and anyone who can remember the 2013 flood here saw how it's precarious, so therefore, there's no doubt that change needs to happen. The good news for the Queensland Government and Wide Bay Health is that only a Labor Government, nationally, can be trusted not to cut health care and hospital funding. Catherine, before, said that the current LNP administration lead by whoever, today or yesterday or last week. They've cut $3 million from the Bundaberg Hospital. Now, we saw the fantastic staff and all of us were lucky enough to meet with some of them today. This is a staff who have had to rebuild the reputation of this hospital from some pretty tough circumstances. Anyone walking around sees that this a hospital with old bones; that, certainly, the facilities need to upgrade. So, Federal Labor would be a very good ally of Queenslanders, because we will find scarce money in the budget to work to work to improve health funding in this state, rather than provide better tax loopholes for big multinationals and people who already very well off.
JOURNALIST: These announcements that you've made throughout the state including in our region today, will they be honoured if you do form government but the local members aren't elected?
SHORTEN: Yes. What we're promising is what we're going to do. I have to say, I think, I know people get frustrated with day-to-day politics, but where in Wide Bay, if you look at the political pundits would say that the electorate of Hinkler, is probably well-known for voting more LNP than not for many years. But when I come to Bundaberg, I don't see LNP written on the map here, and I don't see Labor written. When I talk to health care workers or parents or patients, I don't see an LNP voter or a Labor voter, I see Queenslanders. This is a fantastic area. There's a lot of good news in this town. There's a lot of good news in this region, from agribusiness right through to education and health and all sorts of services. But I am absolutely 100 per cent committed to making sure that your postcode is not a predictor of your health. We will honour our promises, because we think that the health of every Australian, wherever they live, matters.
JOURNALIST: The LNP is saying that, if you vote them in again, their national health fund will give $8 billion to Queensland Health and more. It's not as much as the $15 million you're promising for the mental health facility here. What do you say about that?
SHORTEN: Well, I guess, the LNP's now had - I'll get Catherine to supplement this, because she's a wizard on these issues - the LNP has had six years now. This is my sixth January as Opposition Leader. If things are going to be so much greater under them, they've had six years to prove it, but in that time, we've seen the freeze on the Medicare patient rebate. We've seen private health insurance premiums go up and up and up, where it's practically becoming a luxury item. The fact of the matter is there have been cuts to hospital funding. The LNP have had, now, six years to prove if they're fair dinkum on health. Labor has made tough economic decisions. We are winding back unsustainable tax concessions that mainly benefit the top end, so that we can create room in a scarce budget to provide proper health care. But I might get Catherine to talk a bit more about some of the cuts they've done in the health system, and why, really, time's up for the LNP, because they've had six years, and they just haven't done what they said they would do.
KING: The LNP has been incredibly damaging to health across the country. We've had cuts to our public hospitals, including cuts to funding that was designed to improve waiting times for emergency departments and elective surgery. Millions of dollars cut from those programs. But we've also had cuts to public dental programs. Some of the most vulnerable people in our community trying to get assistance with dentures are not able to get assistance, because of the cuts of this government to the national partnership agreement on public dental. Cuts to prevention. You'd think if any one spend in health would be important, it's actually programs to help us lose weight, to stop smoking, to cut down on alcohol. They cut funding to those. The Medicare freeze has cut $3 billion out of the patient's rebate. That's $3 billion dollars less for people able to access services for Medicare, or for doctors to be able to provide those services. All of that matters, because at the end of that, are people who are suddenly finding themselves having to pay more and more for their health care, whether it's seeing a doctor, or whether it's being able to access dental care, or whether they're trying to get access to public hospital services and outpatients. That's what the LNP has done, and they don't deserve to be re-elected here.
SHORTEN: Alright. No more questions?
JOURNALIST: Yeah. I just have a quick question for Cairns. The Morrison Government has pledged $60 million to make the Cairns Hospital a university training hospital. Is this a commitment your government will follow through if elected?
SHORTEN: Catherine's going to go up and make further announcements tomorrow, but we’ve announced we will provide $60 million. $10 million to help with the purchase of the land, and $50 million for the construction of the new university hospital. The Government is coincidentally looking at our itinerary, and they're trying to rush in 24 hours earlier to make an announcement. Can I just say, that's fine? That's the way the system should work. We don't mind setting the pace for good health care in this country. We don't mind if the Government borrows our ideas and implements them, that's fine. But I can promise Queensland just one thing: when it comes to health care, we're going to prioritize your health care over bigger banks and better tax concessions for multinationals. We will always be a better bet in health care, nationally, because we think that the health of Queenslanders is more important than the bottom line of tax-dodging multinationals seeking to send Australian money overseas, when they should pay taxes in Australia.
JOURNALIST: The rollout of the cashless debit card starts in Hinkler next week. If elected, what are you going to do? Are you going to roll it back, or is it going to continue as currently planned?
SHORTEN: If elected, it is our intention to roll it back. It mightn't be possible to unscramble all the parts of the egg, if they've got some costs on IT or some costs on Canberra bureaucrats to help administer the system. We can't necessarily save all the money that they've spent, but it is our intention to roll it back.
JOURNALIST: Wouldn't rolling it back cost a lot of money, and why do you think that's necessary to do?
SHORTEN: Well, this government's proposing to spend $13.5 million dollars to save some money. It doesn't stack up. They prematurely rushed it, in terms of not waiting to see the full review of how it would work. I think, and the experts tell me, there are much better ways to use important taxpayer money to help people engage and get back into work and deal with challenges of addiction than this particular system. But as I recognize, if the government spends some money before we get to the next election, there's nothing I can do about that. But we will work with the community to roll it back and come up with better solutions, which actually help people who are down on their luck at the bottom of the cycle and lift them back up and get them back into work. Thanks, everybody. I'll see some of you tonight I hope.