THURSDAY, 15 MARCH 2018
SUBJECTS: Labor’s plan for better health care; Labor’s plan for a fairer taxation system; Batman by-election; NDIS.
GED KEARNEY, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR BATMAN: Well, good morning everybody, thanks for coming. I'm Ged Kearney, I'm the Labor candidate for Batman and we're here this morning at a wonderful community health service, Your Community Health in Reservoir. It's one of four health services provided by your Your Community Health, and it is vitally important to the people of Batman.
One of the universal issues that people raise with me, right across the whole electorate is the issue of community health care. So many people depend on the wonderful integrated services they have here, from dental health, to the general practitioners clinic, to the great Men's Shed, and the general services they provide to the community. It's very important that we have primary health care, it keeps people healthy and prevents them from actually having to attend tertiary institutions like our hospitals.
I'm very pleased to be here today with the Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare, Catherine King, and of course the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten. It's fantastic to have two senior members of the Shadow Cabinet here with me today and without further ado, I'm going to hand over to Catherine, thank you.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND MEDICARE: Thanks, look it's lovely to be here at Your Community Health. Can I thank Penny and Peter for hosting us here this morning. To be here with Ged and with Bill, to see Ged as a former nurse who gets health care deeply. She's advocated for people across the country, through her work with the ACTU, but her work as a nurse in particular, means that she actually understands deeply the importance of health care to Australians across the community.
If you want someone to fight for you on health, Ged Kearney is the person who will really take it up to Malcolm Turnbull, in Canberra for the people of Batman.
We are here at Your Community Health, and what we've seen today is a few things that the Turnbull Government has done. The first is the impact of cuts to public dental services. This service here provides seven dental chairs. They have had funding cuts as a result of Malcolm Turnbull's decision to cut $300 million a year out of public dental. That matters to people. It means people wait more to get access to dentures, to get access to emergency dental care, and to get access to the oral health care they need. We also know that Malcolm Turnbull's freeze on the Medicare rebate, that patient rebate that goes to making sure that people can access affordable GP care. Not a single dollar of that has been lifted. And here in this community of Batman, people pay some of the highest out of pocket costs across the state, paying $36.50 under Malcolm Turnbull to go and visit a GP. All of those things matter when it comes the health care. If you want to stand up for Medicare, if you want to protect Medicare, then Ged Kearney is the person to do that in Batman and Australian Labor is the people to do that across the whole of the country. Thanks, Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody. It’s great to be here at this fantastic community health service, and I congratulate the staff and volunteers who fill part of the safety net of the community's health.
I think it is scandalous that under the current Turnbull Government we've got people waiting for public dental treatment for up to two years. This service is doing everything it can; it's got a fantastic atmosphere. But there is something wrong in Australia when people are waiting for dental care for up to two years. That's too long. Because everyone knows good dental health is fundamentally connected to good health overall. That's why a vote for Ged Kearney on Saturday is a vote to end the freeze on Medicare, to properly fund hospitals and community health centres, and of course, to cap the premium increases of private health insurance by two per cent for the first two years of a Labor government.
People, not only in Batman, but across Australia, deserve a fair go. A fair go for their health. A vote for Ged Kearney is a vote for a fair go for the health of this community. Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: Bill are you confident Labor will win this weekend and do you think you should?
SHORTEN: First of all, it will be a tight contest. It will be a tight contest; it's going to go down to the wire. But Ged Kearney is fighting for every vote she can get. As to whether or not Labor should win, of course we should. What we've got in Ged Kearney is we've got someone who was a nurse for over a decade, there are very few people in this electorate who at some point haven't needed a nurse from the Austin Hospital just to get them back on track, to look after them and make them better. Ged Kearney has been a nurse and she's been looking after people in this very community.
Then she went on to become a distinguished leader of the Nurses’ Federation. Ged and her colleagues have made sure that nurses, the front line of our health care system, get proper conditions. As the President of the ACTU, Ged Kearney has extended her work to stand up for the disempowered and the disadvantaged in our community and in our workplaces. She was instrumental in rolling back John Howard's dreadful WorkChoices, and she's certainly been standing up for people in insecure and casualised employment.
Ged also is someone who was raised in this community and in turn has raised her family in this community. Ged is the real deal; she's integrity; she's real action; she’s real change. So I think we should win because we've got the best candidate.
Talking of candidates, it would appear that despite my opposite number, Senator Di Natale, saying that he would have the greatest grassroots campaign in Australian history, we can't even see the Greens volunteers turning up to back in the Greens.
I mean it's as simple as this: if the Greens political party don't want to vote for their candidate, why should anyone else?
JOURNALIST: There's about 5,000 people in Batman who are affected by your dividend imputation changes, and we saw some angry pensioners last night at the town hall expressing their concern about how they'll be impacted. What do you have to say to pensioners impacted by this and what changes are you considering to make it fairer for them?
SHORTEN: First of all, don't buy the hysterical scare campaign of the Government. Let's put some facts on the table and then I'll go specifically to a couple of points you raised. Under Labor's proposal, we're simply putting a marker in the ground and saying this: how can it possibly be fair that some people can get up to $2.5 million of taxpayer money for a so-called tax refund when they haven't paid any income tax? This is the practical effect of the current Turnbull laws which favour the wealthy over everyone else. You can pay no income tax, yet you can get a tax refund of thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars. This is an absurd situation. And when I hear the story about waiting lists for public dental, when I hear the story of people diagnosed with early dementia not able to get packages of support. When I visit the local schools like St Gabriel's and when I visit other local government schools and I don't see enough teachers and enough teachers’ aides, it's a question of priority. It's a tidy little arrangement if you’ve got millions in superannuation but you get, effectively tax free, the income from it, you also get another cheque from the government. It's not sustainable.
But let's go to some of the specific things that you're raising and some of the scare campaigns of the Government. Let's be clear the Government is using pensioners to protect the wealthy. This is what this government always does, it will always protect the very wealthy at the expense of workers and middle class families. So let’s put some facts right out here. One, it doesn't decrease anyone’s pension. Two, it doesn't require anyone to pay any more tax. Three, it doesn't affect anyone's shares or dividends. Four, it's not retrospective. Five, 92 per cent of Australians don't currently get this tidy little arrangement.
Now, I understand that when people talk about retirement and people talk about pensioners, everyone immediately says, well what does this mean? Well, let's be very, very clear: less than 10 per cent of people who get a pension or a part pension are affected. And let's also be very clear, Labor will always be better for pensioners than the Government. And the proof is in the last few years of government administration.
It was the Liberals who voted to kick 100,000 pensioners off the aged pension altogether. It was the Liberals who voted to reduce the part pension for 270,000 pensioners. It was the Liberals who denied the energy supplement of $360 a year to 400,000 pensioners. It is the Liberals who want to give Australia the world's highest retirement age, at the age of 70. It is the Liberals, as Catherine King has said, who are backing in a freeze which is seeing pensioners pay more and more out of pocket expenses, not just for GPs but also for specialists.
So I give this guarantee to Australia's pensioners: you know the Government for what they are, they don't care about you. And I promise pensioners of Australia that we will always be better for pensioners.
JOURNALIST: Ms Kearney told the same town hall meeting there was time to review that policy on axing dividend imputation credits. Are you two not on the same page on that?
SHORTEN: Oh, no, that's not right. What we're on the same page about is this: this country needs to have an economy which delivers for working and middle class people. Labor is committed to growth, we're committed to increasing productivity, we're committed to fair wages, we're committed to making sure that the Budget reflects the right priorities of working people: reducing waiting listed for aged care, reducing waiting lists for elective surgery, making sure our schools are properly funded. That's what we should be doing as a government.
There are clear choices in Australia at the moment on the economy, you can go with Mr Turnbull's strategy where, they say that if you look after the top end of town and if you look after corporate tax cuts of $65 billion, if you look after the negative gearing property investors rather than first homebuyers, if you look after a situation where some Australians are getting a disproportionate amount of taxpayer money even though they pay no income tax.
Or you can take the Labor way called fairness. It's not fair when we have a two-class tax system. It's not fair when you can opt out of the tax system if you have a lot of money yet everyone else just has to pay as you go. It's not fair that people are waiting two years to be able to access basic dental hygiene. It is not fair that we don't have enough special needs aides in our schools.
So we are most committed to reform, reform which serves the interests of middle and working class people and when it comes to pensioners - it's very straightforward, we'll always do a better deal than the other mob.
And I have to say the Green political party need to be careful about what sanctimonious lectures they're handing out, if they want to be fair dinkum on the case of protecting pensioners they shouldn't have voted to do in 270,000 pensioners and reduce their part pension and they shouldn't have voted with their Liberal allies to kick 100,000 pensioners off.
JOURNALIST: What would that support look like though for pensioners and low income earners who are adversely affected but these changes? Would you give them a supplement similar to the energy supplement that the Turnbull Government scrapped?
SHORTEN: Well, two things. I think maybe part of that question is referring to a story which appeared in The Australian, that story is not correct but having said that, here's a plan to look after pensioners - unfreeze Medicare Mr Turnbull and -
JOURNALIST: But for the imputation?
SHORTEN: No, you've asked how do we look after pensioners and how do we look after low income -
JOURNALIST: - Adversely affected by these changes unveiled two days ago.
SHORTEN: Well, let's be clear low: income people in this country have been devastatingly impacted by the Turnbull Government. So we're not going to take lectures from the Government who show this born-again interest in using some pensioners, a small number, to justify giving their rich mates lots of taxpayer money.
But the heart of our story on imputation - something which most people haven't heard of because most people aren't getting it, is this: how on earth is it fair to give people a taxpayer funded tax refund when they haven't paid any income tax. Now when it comes to the pensioners to go to the specifics in your question, Labor wants to see all pensioners get the energy supplement. Mr Turnbull doesn't. Labor doesn't want people to have to work to 70 before they can access the aged pension, Mr Turnbull does. Labor opposed the new harsh assets tests, which saw nearly 400,000 pensioners either kicked off the pension or reduced in the pension. And Labor fundamentally opposes - as we have since Tony Abbott and then Malcolm Turnbull kept it - the Medicare freeze.
When we talk about the Medicare freeze, let me speak in plain English what that means: the Liberal Government have frozen the patient rebate. They haven't increased the patient rebate, which patients get to go and see a doctor or a specialist and, as Catherine said earlier, we are now seeing the out-of-pocket expenses for pensioners increasing, increasing, increasing. That's a great plan for pensioners and we will have more to say about pensioners between now and the election.
At the end of the day, what we're doing with our reforms to negative gearing, to not giving large corporations a tax cut, to reforming the use of income-splitting in family trusts and indeed, to not providing big tax refunds to people who pay no income tax, we are creating the capacity to prioritise hospitals and waiting lists and aged care and schools and also tax relief for low and middle-income earners who have got nothing with the current cost of living pressures under the current Turnbull Government.
JOURNALIST: Why has South Australia-
SHORTEN: Sorry, I'll come round again.
JOURNALIST: Just to clarify, does that mean you would rule out any kind of means testing on the dividend imputation changes?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, we're sticking to the principle that it's unsustainable to keep handing away $6 billion and soon $8 billion of taxpayer money, disproportionately to people who are already wealthy in retirement. What we're not saying that we're increasing taxes. Only this Government in its hysteria to protect the very well off, argue that by not giving someone a tax refund when they didn't pay income tax, somehow that's a tax rise, we're just going to stop handing away truckloads of money to people who are already, in many cases, very comfortable. What we want to do instead is make sure that there's tax relief for low and middle-income earners, to make sure that people aren't waiting for two years to get basic dental hygiene. We don't want to be a country which we spend more giving away money to people who are already very well off than we do on the childcare of the nation, than we do on the universities of the nation, than we do on even the Federal Police and keeping Australians safe.
Sorry, who was next?
JOURNALIST: Why has South Australian Labor done a preference legal with Cory Bernardi? And what sort of message does that send to voters in Batman?
SHORTEN: Well, none at all. In this election in Batman we're not preferencing the Conservative Party ahead of the Greens.
JOURNALIST: But are you in South Australia. What do you think Batman voters will make of that?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, it's a matter for the South Australian State Labor team, that's up to them. I'm interested in Batman and I'm interested in Ged Kearney because I think she's going to be a great candidate.
Everyone knows that the contest here is between Labor and the Green political party. When we look at this election, let's be clear, I predict that in the eventuality - if the Greens are successful with all of their division and chaos notwithstanding - the person who will be happiest will actually be Malcolm Turnbull. I predict that if people vote Green and not for Ged, the person who will be cheering the most will be Malcolm Turnbull, because he will - even though he didn't bother turning up to the election, he's already given up Batman - he's the one who will say this is a vindication of his policies.
What Ged offers Batman is she offers real change, she offers integrity, she offers a lifetime - from being a nurse through to being a leader standing up for the disadvantaged - she brings authenticity to this proposition plus of course her long local engagement. But the question of preferences - have a look at our how to vote card, we're putting the Bernardi party behind the Greens.
JOURNALIST: Ged, last night you told the town hall forum that there was still time to review changes to dividend imputation credits. How wedded are you to this policy?
KEARNEY: Well, I think Bill has really answered that question. I think what I was getting last time is that there is time to have a look at how this impacts everybody right across the spectrum and I think Bill's covered off on the response to that quite well.
JOURNALIST: Are you satisfied though, knowing that many people in your electorate, up to 20 per cent who are over 65 could be adversely affected by this change?
KEARNEY: I am totally confident and totally satisfied that Labor is the party that will look after low-income people including retirees and pensioners.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that the timing of this announcement has impacted your chances of winning the election on Saturday?
KEARNEY: Well, you know there's a lot of discussion about it. I think it will still be a very tight competition and tight contest no matter what. But I'm still - I've got a couple of days to get out there and get every single vote that I possibly can.
SHORTEN: Alright well, on that basis, we might take one more question and then we -
JOURNALIST: -Yeah I've got a question. NDIS - can't get no funding.
SHORTEN: The National Disability Insurance Scheme was a Labor initiative. Unfortunately the Liberals have been in power for the last four and a half years and they haven't done the implementation in the way which was intended and one of the things which I found really hard about it - so if Labor gets back in, we'll make sure that goes right back on track the way it should.
The other point I've got to make here is that the Government's justifying increasing income taxes on people of less than $87,000 because they say they can't fund the NDIS. One, the NDIS has enough money in the bank for the job to be done for it. But two, if the Government really believed it, why are they asking people on $50,000 and $60,000 a year to pay more tax, yet they're giving away truckloads of money in unsustainable tax lurks and loopholes to the top end of town?
I just say to people, politics is about choices. The economy is about choices. Political parties are about choices. We're choosing to stand up for lower income taxes for less well paid people and less corporate tax cuts for the big end of town. We think that health is important. You never run into the Liberals talking about community health in this country. You never see them worrying about dental waiting lists of two years. You never see them doing anything about the excessive and blowing-out waiting lists for aged care.
Ged Kearney in Batman, Labor in the nation - we're on the side of working people and we intend to an economy which is fair, which delivers for working people rather than just the very rich and powerful in our society.
Thank you very much.