MONDAY, 1 MAY 2017
SUBJECT: Malcolm Turnbull’s cuts to Medicare; Liberals’ cuts to unis and $100,000 degrees; Liberals’ $50 billion tax handout for big business and the banks; Adani; 2017 Budget
JENNY MACKLIN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FAMILIES AND SOCIAL SERVICES: Thanks everyone for joining us here at the Austin Hospital. I'm really thrilled that Bill Shorten has decided to come here today and see the outstanding work that this hospital in my community delivers to so many people, not just in this local area, right around Victoria and many, many people in different parts of Australia.
I want to say a big thank you to Judith Troeth, Chairperson of the board, Sue, to you, as the new Chief Executive, thank you so much for your leadership, and also to all of the professional staff that we've had the opportunity to meet with today. The doctors, the nurses and all the other staff who do such an extraordinary job by delivering some of the most complex care to some very, very sick people, and we thank them very, very much.
Bill, it's a great pleasure to have you here.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everybody, and I too would like to thank the staff and the leadership of the Austin Hospital. It was positively inspirational to hear some of the stories about what well-funded, quality, dedicated health care can do to change the lives of Australians.
The Budget is due in the next week, and budgets are about choices. And I encourage Mr Turnbull to take the following message on Medicare. All Medicare cuts should be reversed in full, on time, on Budget night. It's time for Mr Turnbull to prioritise Medicare over millionaires.
We see rumours and reports that the Medicare cuts will be reversed a little bit, tinkered at the edges. The truth of the matter is, that unless all Medicare cuts are reversed, anything less than that will be betrayal of sick people and Australians.
Specifically, what I mean is that it won't be enough to unfreeze the patient rebates for going to see a GP, unless the patient rebates to see the specialists are also unfrozen. You can't say that you are fair dinkum about Medicare, and that you've heard the message of the election, if a veteran seeking psychological treatment doesn't have the patient rebate increased modestly over coming time in the future.
You can't say you're fair dinkum about Medicare if the price of seeing, if bulk-billing becomes a thing of the past, to go and get a diagnostic image, an x-ray or a blood test. If you are someone receiving treatment for liver organ transplant, the challenge doesn't just start and stop at the GP, it's the ability to go and see the specialist and get the extra care.
I had the chance to meet patients recovering from cancer. The fight to recover from cancer does not stop once the treatment stops. And it's most important that all Australians get quality, affordable, health care, which depends upon their Medicare card, not their credit card.
Australians who fall sick and their families are brave people. The nurses and the doctors, the researchers, the specialists, all the people behind the scenes who administer a hospital, they're doing everything that Australians expect of them.
On Budget night, Malcolm Turnbull needs to get the message, that all cuts to Medicare must be reversed, in full, on time, on Budget night.
And again, I say to Mr Turnbull, if you're looking to find a way to fund the Medicare improvements which this nation needs, don't pass the $50 billion tax handout to the rich companies of Australia. Instead, prioritise Medicare.
Happy to take any questions that people might have.
JOURNALIST: How confident are you that these cuts to Medicare will be reversed?
SHORTEN: Well I'm not confident that all the cuts will be reversed of Medicare, that's why I'm making it an issue in the Budget, that the cuts to Medicare need to be reversed fully and on Budget night. I am not confident that the Government has heard the message on Medicare. It will not be enough to pick a point in the future and reverse the cuts to the patient rebates, and leave it at that for visiting the GP.
Let's unpack what I mean when I talk about cuts to Medicare. When you freeze the payments which GPs receive for seeing patients, when you freeze the payment for specialists for seeing patients, when you freeze the payments going to pathology labs or diagnostic imaging, what happens is that this is a patient rebate you are freezing. The Medicare rebate is not a payment to doctors. At the end of the day, it's the rebate that patients can claim back.
When you are battling with life-threatening illnesses, the last thing that you need is Malcolm Turnbull and his government wanting to give a $50 billion corporate tax giveaway on one hand, but freezing the rebates which patients receive when they are in the battle of their lives.
JOURNALIST: Just on other matters to do with Budget, Mr Shorten, do you believe that the university sector can absorb further funding cuts?
SHORTEN: Malcolm Turnbull likes to talk about being an innovation nation, but no nation can be an innovation nation when you're cutting funding to education. Why should university students have to pay much more to go to university at the same time as the Government is giving corporate tax giveaways of $50 billion over the next ten years?
Corporate profits in Australia are at a 20-year high. So why is that Malcolm Turnbull wants university students and their families to pay for his corporate tax giveaway to the top end of town?
If you want to be a productive, innovative nation, you've got to be a nation that doesn't cut education, but supports and invests in education.
JOURNALIST: On the topic of university, Mr Shorten, the Government says university funding has actually been increasing and many universities are engaging in very ambitious building projects. So is it fair for the sector to call itself cash-strapped?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, this for me is about university students and telling our young people that we want them to be more productive citizens. I don't think it’s the job of a government to discourage young people from accessing higher education because the price of higher education keeps going up and up and up. For me, it’s a false argument between the government and university administration.
For me the choice in this budget is, do you want to make it affordable for students to go to university, or do you want to give $50 billion away to corporate Australia? If Mr Turnbull is looking for some money in the budget to help get down debt and deficit, he should not go ahead with his $50 billion corporate tax cut to the top end of town, and he shouldn't be slugging university students with higher and higher fees to go to university.
JOURNALIST: You would agree that some universities have been spending pretty ambitiously, though, over the past few years with these huge infrastructure projects and massive salaries to Vice-Chancellors and what not?
SHORTEN: There they go again, the Turnbull Government, always dividing this country, they've got to find a new enemy to dislike. This week Mr Turnbull is having a fight with the universities. Why is it that everything is on the table for cuts except tax giveaways to the top end of town? Why is it that Mr Turnbull’s idea for a more productive’ educated nation’ is to make university students pay a lot more to go to university?
What should determine your right to go to university is how hard you work and the marks you get at school. And I don't want to create a fence, a wall over which students have to climb, of cost, in order to be able to go to higher education and to university. I do not want our universities being the reserve of people who have rich parents alone. I want to make sure that our universities are attended by pupils who get there on merit.
So Mr Turnbull should not look at slugging university students in Australia to help pay for his unfunded corporate tax giveaway to his rich mates at the top end of town.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, what is Labor's position on the Adani coal mine? I mean last week you said that you hoped the project stacks up economically but we have Mark Butler who said yesterday it would simply displace existing coal operations and cost jobs in the Hunter Valley. So what is your position on the coal mine?
SHORTEN: I hope that we can see more jobs created in central and north Queensland, and if they Adani coal mine can do that, if it stacks up environmentally and commercially, well all well and good. What I'm not going to do is back up a billion dollars of taxpayer money in a giant corporate giveaway to a coal company, if the deal doesn't stack up. I don't support the use of taxpayer money. If this coal mine stacks up it shouldn't require a billion dollars of tax payermoney, should it? Now if it does stack up commercially, if the science and the environmental safeguards stack up, well then yes, I am first in the queue to see that there is more jobs created, and that’s what we stand for. But I haven't seen the case to convince me that a billion dollars of taxpayer money should be used to underwrite a loan to this company.
JOURNALIST: Do you agree with Mark Butler’s sentiments though that it would be a miracle if it stacks up?
SHORTEN: I'm not in the miracle business or otherwise. What I think is that the deal has to stack up commercially, it has got to stack up scientifically and environmentally. There is no point in having a giant coal mine if you wreck the reef. But on the other hand, if the deal does stack up, if the science safeguards are there, if the experts are satisfied, then all well and good and there will be jobs created. But what I want to be very clear here, is the case for lending a multi-billion dollar Indian coal company, the case for lending them a billion dollars of Australian taxpayer money, that is not one which I would be up for. I think a deal has to stand up on its own two feet and it shouldn't be subsidised by the Australian tax payer.
JOURNALIST: Outside of Medicare, what are Labor's benchmarks for this being a successful Budget, what are you looking for?
SHORTEN: I think Medicare is right up at the top of the list and that’s why we are here today. I mean, before I move off Medicare, let me just state this – Mr Turnbull said, in that famous tantrum on election night, that he had heard the message on Medicare and in the days after that. If he's heard the message, he will reverse all the cuts to patient rebates in full and he will do it on budget night. He won't go ahead with the proposed price hike to medicine. He won't go ahead with the cuts to the bulk billing incentives for the pathology and x-ray sector and what he will also do is make sure that the cuts to the Medicare safety net, that they aren't gone ahead with either. These are fair dinkum tests. Mr Turnbull said that Labor was making up a story on Medicare, Mr Turnbull has got the opportunity to help improve and defend Medicare and protect it by not going ahead with all the cuts that he has proposed.
In addition to Medicare, I think the Government has got to explain what it is doing on housing affordability. What is it doing about creating jobs and infrastructure? What is it doing about tackling debt? I think the real test here is that the government has become fond of talking about good debt and bad debt, I do not believe it is good debt to put university students further in to debt so that the large companies can get a tax cut.
I think this government needs to explain why it is still pushing ahead with a $50 billion corporate tax cut, and who is going to have to pay for that corporate tax giveaway by the government? Is it the people who rely on Medicare? Is it university students? Is it first home buyers who are locked out of the housing market? Is it people who rely on well-funded schools? These are the tests that this government needs to demonstrate.
JOURNALIST: Economists today have highlighted ballooning debt that will need to be paid off by future generations, isn't it time to take the politics out and bring back responsible measures to bring debt under control?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all if the Turnbull Government really cares about our AAA credit rating they will not go ahead with their $50 billion corporate tax cut. That is the quickest way to torpedo our AAA credit rating. And why this AAA credit rating is important, is that if we lose that, the price of everyone’s mortgage is going to go up.
So this is a government who is jeopardising an increase to every Australians mortgage just so they can persistently and stubbornly go ahead with a $50 billion tax cut to corporate Australia. This government simply doesn't make sense when it comes to looking after working families.