SUNDAY, 18 FEBRUARY 2018
SUBJECT/S: Labor's plan to cut hospital waiting lists; poker machines; Coalition leadership crisis.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Bec White is clearly the most exciting candidate running for Premier in Tasmania in this election and I think everyone would agree with that. She has outlined plans today which go to the everyday needs of Tasmanians - not only her plans to help make education more affordable, but it's a genuine cost of living reform.
Today in particular, I was pleased, launching her campaign, to make a promise to Tasmanians that if you vote for Bec White and if you vote for us at the next Federal election, and my very good team with me, we will slash waiting lists for elective surgery.
The words 'elective surgery' don't really capture the true nature of what is happening to everyday Tasmanians. Tasmania has some of the longest and worst waiting times for important surgery, like cataracts, hip replacements, fixing up one’s knees. This is a diabolical situation.
Labor is guaranteeing today that if you vote for Bec White, we will at the national level find the scarce taxpayer money to help make sure that Tasmanians aren't getting a substandard healthcare deal.
Why should everyday Tasmanians wait for well over a year in many cases for cataract surgery, for hip replacement, for knee replacement surgery, at the same time Mr Turnbull wants to give away billions of dollars of Tasmanian taxpayer money to multinationals and millionaires?
This is all about priorities. Bec White has got the right priorities for Tasmania, just as Federal Labor has the right priorities. We want to put the health of Tasmanians up ahead of the financial balance sheets of giant multinational corporations.
JOURNALIST: Do you support banning pokies from Tasmanian pubs and clubs?
SHORTEN: I have seen this debate. At its heart, it is a state issue. I will say though, with Bec White, clearly what you see is what you get and I respect the fact that she is so committed to making these changes.
JOURNALIST: But do you –
SHORTEN: It's a state issue.
JOURNALIST: You say we need someone who supports Tasmanian jobs. This, in essence, is about Tasmanian jobs.
SHORTEN: I understand, without litigating the whole Tasmanian election in the next few minutes, that she has got very good jobs policies. We heard the ones about the $1000 scholarships. She wants to make sure that apprenticeships aren't something which are in museums but are actually a real option for young Tasmanians kids. I understand that she wants to replace and repair some of the funding cuts which will put more teachers in the schools in Tasmania. She is certainly a big fan of the renewable energy industry and the blue collar jobs that go with that. So I believe she has a good jobs agenda.
I might share the questions - I'll come to you.
JOURNALIST: - stance on pokies in this state?
SHORTEN: It's a state matter, but what I am saying is that I do respect the fact that she is not trying to be a small target. She says, this is what I believe.
I think people are over modern politicians in terms of just hoping to fall into office because the Government is incompetent. I have to say, nationally, we are going to take on the big private health insurance companies who's fees are going up. We are the ones who lead the debate to have a royal commission into the banks. We are not going to prioritise giving tax cuts to large multinationals who are barely paying any tax now. I'd rather see that money go to so that people in towns in Tasmania don't have to wait for over a year to get cataract, knee or hip replacements surgery.
Sorry, I said I would go around. I will come back.
JOURNALIST: Malcolm Turnbull did appear though to be backing in the Liberal Premier's stance on pokies. Why won't you do the same with Bec White and her policy?
SHORTEN: At its heart it is a state issue. I did see Mr Turnbull's flurry of press conferences last week, I wasn't there obviously, maybe you were. But I thought Mr Turnbull doesn't really have a plan for Tasmania. I thought maybe if he was coming down here, he might have said, alright, we got it wrong on hospitals, Tasmania does have some of the most diabolitical waiting lists for elective surgery. I thought maybe he might say, actually, Tasmanian kids do deserve the option of going to TAFE. Why should young people in Tasmania have to leave the Island and go to the mainland just to pursue the sort of standards which are available to other parts of Australia?
JOURNALIST: Are you worried about a backlash from the hospitality industry? Is that why you are not prepared to come out and back her policy?
SHORTEN: I am not running for Premier, that's why I am not backing into the whole issue at all.
JOURNALIST: Do you agree that ripping pokies out of pubs and clubs will result in job losses though?
SHORTEN: Well, I understand there are two points of view on this, but Bec has certainly got a very clear view that what she wants to do is create sustainable jobs. It is a state issue at it's heart though.
JOURNALIST: Bill, you do aspire to be Prime Minister –
SHORTEN: Yes, is that the question? The answer is yes.
JOURNALIST: Do you have a view on the damage done to punters in pubs and clubs when pokies -
SHORTEN: Gambling addiction is terrible - just to answer your question first. I think gambling addiction is a real scourge. I have seen it my own family in previous generations, it is terrible.
I think that what Bec is endeavouring to do here is try and tackle some of those issues. I get that other people have got a different view. That's why you have elections, because you put up competing policies.
What we have said today, to be very clear, is that I actually think that the waiting list times in Tasmania is a national disgrace. Why should Tasmanians who need hip replacements, Tasmanians who need knee replacements, Tasmanians just waiting for cataract surgery - why should the average waiting times be multiples longer than it is elsewhere in Australia.
And this is where the Turnbull Government really need to get that there is a cost of living issue here, that there is a waiting time issue here. I just say to Mr Turnbull, reconsider giving away corporate tax cuts which are unaffordable to large corporations.
Last week we learned that one in five large corporations isn't even paying tax. But that's not enough for Mr Turnbull, he thinks he wants to give them a tax cut when they are not even paying tax.
JOURNALIST: It sounds like you have a personal opinion on the scourge of gambling. Does that trump jobs, the argument of jobs on the other side?
SHORTEN: I don't see it as a simple binary. I certainly do have a personal opinion. But, I also like a punt. I go to the races. What I do know is that when it comes to jobs, Bec has got a series of policies in a series of areas promoting it.
And what we heard today from her launch, and I think even her critics would say she performed pretty well today, was that she is outlining that education is the great enabler. Why should Tasmanian kids have to leave Tasmania to get the sort of educational opportunities which kids on the mainland take for granted? She wants to reverse the brain drain, she wants to see more investment in TAFE and university.
We are right up for working with her but today in particular, I and my team are very pleased to be able to say that if you vote for Bec White on March the 3rd, you have got a fair dinkum chance of reducing your waiting times for that vital surgery.
It's such a dry term, 'elective surgery', isn't it? Sort of a statistical accounting sort of term. But what it really means is that the waiting times, is that you're in pain for a year, cataract surgery, 500 days. Hip replacement, what is it, 442?? This is crazy stuff.
JOURNALIST: If it is so terrible, why make it contingent on people voting Labor at the state level?
SHORTEN: Because the Libs don't have a hospital policy.
JOURNALIST: I am sure they will put the money where you –
SHORTEN: We will certainly no, let's be clear, Matt. Sorry, that misunderstands the nature of what we are saying.
Bec's election comes first, ours comes second, but we're not going to change our policy. We will put the money in. But wouldn't it be nice if Tasmania had a Premier who would fight for Tasmanian hospitals, rather than being a cheer squad for whatever cuts the Government comes up with?
JOURNALIST: So just to clarify, the money isn't contingent on the Labor Party being elected at the state level?
SHORTEN: We will back in the policy anyway, absolutely. But of course, when I look at Bec's policy, $75 million for healthcare. Really, if you think that healthcare is important, there is only one choice and that's Bec White on Saturday [March 3rd].
JOURNALIST: Will you introduce a ministerial, I guess, shadow ministerial sex ban like Malcolm Turnbull has done for his ministers?
SHORTEN: Could you just repeat that question. I want to make sure -
JOURNALIST: Would you go down the same route as Malcolm Turnbull on the sex ban?
SHORTEN: Okay –
JOURNALIST: Bad choice of words –
JOURNALIST: A ban on shadow ministers having sex with staff.
SHORTEN: Okay, let's be very direct here. Mr Turnbull, for the last 11 days, has seen his government embroiled in crisis. He doesn't know what to do with Barnaby Joyce and we all know that is true. What he has tried to do last Thursday is he said, oh, it's not about Barnaby Joyce anymore, although, he did belittle him, poured shame on him in a manner which I haven't seen a Prime Minister do to his number two ever in Australian history. So what he said was, don't look over at my scandal, don't look at my weakness, don't look at my inability to control who is in Cabinet, let’s instead talk about changing the ministerial code.
Now, he is shooting from the hip. I don't give instant answers on important issues. It is an important issue, I get that. The conduct of ministers and indeed, politicians, is an important issue. I will consult with my colleagues, we will talk to the experts. But isn't it ironic that the only thing Mr Turnbull thinks is wrong with his ministerial code is this question about relationships between staff and ministers?
Why doesn't he think it is wrong that Mr Joyce wouldn't identify in his declaration of pecuniary interests who is giving him free rent for six months? Why doesn't Mr Turnbull talk about whether or not it is right for ministers to give close friends special jobs in different ministerial offices?
We all know that Mr Turnbull can't control his government. And what he wants instead to do is talk about the issues of relationships between ministers and staff. We will look at this question, we will take it seriously. Women have a right to go to work and make sure they are free from harassment, to make sure they have equal opportunity.
But what I am not going to do is just shoot from the hip and play Mr Turnbull's game, because the real issue here, the real scandal is that the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia are only interested in themselves and not in the business of government or the business of Australia.
The real scandal is we have a Prime Minister and a Deputy Prime Minister who are not interested in anything other than themselves.
JOURNALIST: So you're looking at it, when can we expect to see an announcement?
SHORTEN: Oh, I don't think Mr Turnbull has even written it down, has he? I don't know whether your paper or your media outlet has seen his proposals. We will look at it, but none of us came down in the last rain storm, did we?
We know why he is talking about this. He has got an issue about his own Prime Ministership looking weak. You've got a Deputy Prime Minister who came out the next day, after Malcolm Turnbull poured an amazing, I thought a very, very brutal attack on his Deputy Prime Minister. The next day, the Deputy Prime Minister came out and growled at him and called him inept. And then on the third day of this saga, they're all meeting and apparently they are getting on just fine. It beggars belief. There are a whole lot of things in this that really shows the weakness of Mr Turnbull. He is Mr Missing in Action on leadership.
He heard about the problems in Barnaby Joyce's life. We know that, they said, last August. But in December, when Barnaby Joyce gave him some good news to win a by-election, they're hugging each other like best friends forever. A week ago, Mr Turnbull was saying, oh well, it's personal business, it's no one’s business. A week later, he wants to issue all sorts of new edicts and instructions. The next day, Joyce has a crack at him. Clearly it is on for young and old in the Coalition. And now, Mr Turnbull wants us to believe that everything is actually fine?
This is a circus, this government. We've been back in our electorates, my colleagues and I - they're sick of all of us, they're sick of the soap opera. The real scandal here is that the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister look like they are only in it for themselves, and they are not interested in anyone else, and I think that's a shame.
JOURNALIST: Will you give a guarantee not to change the GST formula distribution in a way that will disadvantage Tasmania?
SHORTEN: There's no doubt that Federal Labor is the best friend for Tasmania when it comes to looking after Tasmania –
JOURNALIST: Will you give the guarantee?
SHORTEN: I can give it in my words, thanks. Your question, my answer. I say to Tasmanians, you can't trust the Federal Liberals on the GST.
Now, we've made clear, when I travel to Perth, what I’ve said is I think they have missed out on funding, but I am not going to do necessarily, by tipping up the GST formula. What we also need to do is make sure that we have an independent grants commission process.
It is not me who has been going around the country like Mr Turnbull being all things to all people. I understand that we are a federation. I understand, for instance, our bona fides are in the health system. Why should Tasmanians have unacceptably longer waiting times for the sorts of surgery which the rest of Australia takes for granted? That's our commitment, we will fund properly the schools, we will fund properly the healthcare system. We don't believe in robbing Peter to pay Paul.
JOURNALIST: Should Barnaby Joyce resign over the saga –
SHORTEN: He should have resigned some time ago. If I was Prime Minister, I would have sacked him.
JOURNALIST: You said that women deserve to feel safe at work. Instead of considering introducing a ban, why not just do it then?
SHORTEN: Because I don't just shoot from the hip. You saw Mr Turnbull's press conference last Thursday. It was very unusual event, wasn't it? We will consider it. We haven't seen anything. We will talk to him and see what it is all about.
But what I don't believe, in politics, is just instant answers. I think you understand as well as I do, that Mr Turnbull doesn't want to talk about Barnaby Joyce anymore. He has given up on that, that's mission impossible for him. He is just hoping the National Party sort Mr Joyce out at some point in the future, he has given up.
Well, let's be clear. Mr Turnbull, too weak to get rid of his Deputy Prime Minister, too weak to do the job.
In terms of a specific proposal, I will talk to my colleagues about it. Maybe Mr Turnbull would have done better talking to a few more of his colleagues in the last few months.
One last question.
JOURNALIST: Do you play the pokies?
SHORTEN: Not for a long time. Sorry, last question.
JOURNALIST: Just to clarify on the GST, so you're not giving a guarantee to change the formula?
SHORTEN: Sorry, could you repeat that question without the use of all the double negatives?
JOURNALIST: Will you guarantee not to change the GST formula and if not, why not?
SHORTEN: I guarantee not to politically interfere with the Commonwealth Grants Commission. They're the people who work out the formula and I think that's good.
JOURNALIST: So if the grants commission changed it –
SHORTEN: Well, that's the case as it always has ever been. I'll tell you what I guarantee: not to have political interference because I am trying to sure up a few seats in one jurisdiction or another.
The other thing I will guarantee Tasmanians and indeed, all Australians – we cannot be in a race to the bottom between states. I do think Western Australia needs more support, but I also think Tasmania deserves support. The way I can deliver on supporting both Tasmania and Western Australia, and Queensland and South Australia and all the other jurisdictions, is I am not going to give $65 billion away of taxpayer money to large corporations.
I have got options available to help all of the states and the necessary services they provide to everyday Australians, because I am not a servant of the vested interest and the multinationals. I am not the one saying vote for me at the next election because I want to follow Donald Trump and give American-style corporate tax cuts to millionaires and large corporations. I am on the side of everyday families and I am on the side of Tasmanians.
Thank you very much.