WEDNESDAY, 12 DECEMBER 2018
SUBJECT/S: Liberals’ cuts to hospitals; Labor’s plan to properly fund our hospitals; Operation Sovereign Borders; ALP National Conference; COAG; Closing the Gap; Medical transfer legislation
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody and welcome to St Vincent’s Hospital. Catherine and I have been privileged to see the remarkable staff and the work they are doing, with really strong Australians who are in the battle of their lives. I'd like to acknowledge Cedrick and Caitlin, and Sam and Lois, and the other patients we had the privilege of talking to today, and of course their supportive families. It reminds me indeed of the battles my own mum had when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She successfully beat cancer and lived for another 18 or so years after the treatment. But it really does bring it home to you, doesn't it? Be it personal or visiting these great patients, there's nothing more than your health. Family and health are the two most issues for people. If you have your health then you can have everything else. But if you or your family members who you love are dealing with health challenges, and of course there is nothing more challenging than cancer and the treatment for that, everything else becomes of secondary importance. And that's why a Labor Government if elected, will prioritise the health care and the proper funding of the health care of Australians.
We've outlined our plans and we'll have a lot more to outline before the next election. But I find this morning's announcements by the current Prime Minister insult the intelligence of the Australian people. Do they really think that people in Australia forget that something like $4 billion has been taken out of public hospitals in the last five years of Liberal government? Do they really think that people are going to forget the cuts to health care, the waiting lists for elective surgery, by simply putting back $1 billion? If you take $4 billion out over five years from public hospitals, putting a little bit over $1 billion back doesn't really fill the gap, does it.
Labor is committed to outlining election policies which prioritise the health care of all Australians. We've already outlined a commitment to fund our hospitals to an improvement of $2.8 billion dollars in the future, and we'll have more positive policies to announce before the next election. But we just say about today's announcement by the Government: too little, too late. The people of Australia remember the last five years of cuts. Taking out $4 billion from public hospitals and putting just over $1 billion back in the shadow of an election, doesn't really cut it. The Australian people remember the cuts. They want better from their governments and health care. And I'd now like to invite my Shadow spokesperson, Catherine King to outline a bit further about why the government's cuts aren't sorted out today, and indeed some more of our positive propositions for Australia's future.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND MEDICARE: Thanks very much Bill, and can I thank Angela and Andrew from St Vincent’s here for hosting us today, and taking us through a number of their wards to show the great work that is done here at this hospital, right in the heart of Melbourne. Well this cynical attempt by Scott Morrison to say somehow or other, after five years of cutting $4 billion out of our public hospitals that somehow or other, on the eve of an election, this coming in with a rescue plan is absolute an utter nonsense. This is the record of this government; elective surgery waiting times across the country have gone up under Scott Morrison. More than 270 days people are now waiting for elective surgery across the country and that's gone up by 10 days in the last year alone. A quarter of all patients are not seen by a doctor in emergency in the recommended times; again going up under Scott Morrison. And there is a reason that that has happened - it's happened because this Government has cut $1 billion out of capital in the 2014 Budget, over $200 million out of Labor's hospital reform program which was specifically designed to fund every hospital in the country to improve elective surgery and to improve the emergency department waiting times. And $2.8 billion in activity across every single hospital in the country. And now, Scott Morrison would have you believe that by putting a fraction of that money back in, and making communities bid for that money across the country, that somehow that is going to fix the crisis that he has created in his public hospital system.
I was very proud and am very proud that Bill Shorten back in May this year - May this year, announced our $2.8 billion fund to improve hospitals across the country. More money going to every single hospital - not a bidding war across the community to see who can get some of this paltry money the government is putting in. But $2.8 billion for every hospital, for more doctors, for more nurses. You can only trust Labor when it comes to health.
PATIENT: One question please. Does that include physio – out of costs once the patient is discharged from the hospital?
KING: We might take some questions from the media and I'll have a chat to you afterwards as well, but that's very kind of you. So activity, yes it does. So any activity that occurs in hospitals, our fund of course, increases that from 45 per cent to 50 per cent of growth, and that allows hospitals to do much more with the money that they're getting from Labor.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, why should voters believe that Labor would do a better job on health and hospitals than the Coalition?
SHORTEN: Because for five years, we've opposed the cuts of the Liberal Government to the health and hospital system. It's the Liberals who for five years have frozen the patients rebate which they get from visiting the doctor. So we've had five years of Liberal Government and we've seen what they've done. They've cut $4 billion from public hospitals, waiting lists for elective surgery have blown out, and when it comes to a patient going to see a doctor, the rebate they get from seeing the doctor has been frozen. So as the cost of going to see a doctor has gone up, under the Liberals, you end up paying more for your own health care, under Labor, you won't. What we've done by contrast, is we've made serious economic decisions - including making the negative gearing laws fairer, so we can not only prioritise health but we can pay for our promises. It's very straightforward - if you want better hospitals, you vote Labor. If you want to bigger banks, then you vote Liberal. It's all about priorities.
JOURNALIST: What rules need to be in place around that new $1.25 billion health fund?
SHORTEN: Well I'll get Catherine to supplement this, but let's just tell the truth here. The Government has taken billions of dollars out of health care over five years, there's an election within five months. So in the shadow of an election, they've done their research and realised no one trusts the Liberals when it comes to health and hospitals, so they've whistled up a tiny portion of what they've cut, and what they're going to do is engage in a political auction from February of next year to try and buy a few votes. This isn't health care, this is pork barrelling. If you want to have proper health care then one, you put a proper amount of money into the system, which is what Labor will do. And two, you work with the States and Territories. You know, the Federal Government doesn't run a lot of the health system, we provide the funding to the States, to the GPs. What we will do is make sure that we unfreeze Medicare, we'll make sure we put more money into hospitals and we've got more plans to decrease the out of pocket costs for patients in a range of very important medical treatment areas, and we can pay for all of our promises because we're making serious economic decisions. Everyone knows that the government thinks that health care in Australia is a political problem, I actually think that health care in Australia is a matter of families and people. When I was talking to Cedrick who comes in all the way from Berwick with his wife Shelia, when we're talking to Caitlin and her mum, comes in from upper Beaconsfield, when we're talking to Sam who has come in from the Western suburbs of Melbourne to start his treatment - that's why I want to be Prime Minister, so that these people can get better help when it comes to dealing with the big battles in their life. Labor doesn't see health care as a political problem we see it as a priority for Australians to make sure they get - they and their family get the best possible support.
Sorry did you want talk a little bit more about this?
KING: No I think you’ve covered it.
JOURNALIST: On the medical evacuations bill why not for the sake of clarity insert a clause that allows a Minister to refuse a transfer on character grounds?
SHORTEN: First of all, if there is a problem with someone seeking treatment to come to Australia because they've got a very serious criminal record, the Minister under our legislation can say no. The government is just – you know, we all know the government is desperate. They're heading into Christmas, people have stopped listening to them, people don't trust them. And what makes me ashamed of what the government is doing at the moment, is are they seriously arguing that someone who could be dying in Nauru shouldn't get treatment in Australia when their doctors recommend it, and the Minister still has the power to stop people on the basis of you know, do they fit into the security laws or will they cause troubles in Australia? You know, where this government is not being fair dinkum with the Australian people is when someone who is getting urgent medical treatment - and there are hundreds in Australia from Nauru, they're still supervised, they don't just get to roam around the country side. So the government is trying to needlessly scare people and the corollary of what this discredited government is saying, is they are saying our boarder security will not be in tact if someone who is very ill can't get medical treatment in Australia. Like why should someone die under our care in Manus and Nauru rather than come to Australia and get treatment, merely so the government can run a political argument.
The other thing is if we want to talk about border security - it is shocking that the work of our vessels and our border forces are being cancelled because the price of fuel is too high. What sort of ramshackle outfit is the government running when they say that they are cancelling vessels working up on the North West and the Torres Strait because they can't pay the fuel bills? You know the people smugglers aren't stupid. They see the government every day encouraging them to try their hand to come to Australia for political reasons. You know, the people smugglers will work out - they can read the newspapers like Australians can, they know that this government is cutting staff at airports, they know this government isn't paying the petrol bills for vessels and therefore curtailing the amount of time vessels are spending on the water. The people smugglers know there is a hole in the border security of this country because this current government is so busy fighting Labor they've forgotten to do their day job, which is put petrol in tanks so vessels can go to sea.
JOURNALIST: Was Labor consulted on the new head of Operation Sovereign Borders and if not, would you have liked to have been?
SHORTEN: Listen this government's got to - I don't know if we were consulted I have to say, I suspect not knowing given to form guide of this government. But I just give one note of caution, I don't know if we were but I don't suspect we were. What we're seeing is this government has got an election within five months, and they are literally rushing so many appointments through just to get people in place before the election. I think it would be smarter of the Government to sit down and talk to the Opposition. What people want in Australia is they want more cooperation and less conflict. We're not going to unreasonably withhold our agreement on people who are qualified to do jobs, but I think the government is now rushing appointments. I think it would be better if they sat down and at least spoke to the Opposition. They don't have to give us the right of veto, but I think most Australians expect our politicians to behave like adults, and where there's significant appointments this close to an election, what does it hurt the government to give the Opposition of the day a heads up just to see if there's any real objections. The government can still make the decision I mean, there's too much conflict from this government, not enough cooperation.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten the Transport Workers Union has called for you to allow industry wide bargaining across the aviation industry if you win the next election, is that something you're open to?
SHORTEN: Well, we're heading up to National Conference, there's plenty of people taking plenty of positions. I view this in the context of National Conference, and let me say about that and a whole range of issues which I am seeing reported in elements of the press, this is our 48th National Conference. We've been holding national conferences for the best part of 120 years, we are Australia's oldest continuing political party. What I predict is not what happens on any particular policy, but I predict at the end of this conference there will have been some forceful debate, there will be a lot of passion, a lot of idealism on display, and what we will see at the end of conference is a lot of unity. The Labor Party nationally is the brand for unity in this country, the government by contrast is the brand for disunity in the country at the moment.
JOURNALIST: On the National Conference, would you actually like to see a strong show of support going into the conference, or do you want to have that robust discussion by members?
SHORTEN: I've got no doubt that by the end of the process we will leave the conference for Christmas with good ideas put forward about our values, and a high degree of unity - and I hope a fair bit of debate, we want to have debate. Too much of Australian politics is done behind closed doors. I mean we've got a government who doesn’t even like coming to parliament anymore. You know, they cancel work, they go home early, they've only scheduled - the Morrison Government has scheduled 10 days of parliament in the next eight months. By contrast the Labor Party will have our debates, but I can promise Australians we hear you loud and clear; we won't be talking about ourselves, we will be talking about you. We will be talking about a fair go for all Australians. We'll be talking about making sure we properly fund our hospitals and health care, our schools, our universities, our TAFE and our early childhood education. We will be talking about how we help cost-of-living pressures by putting downward pressure on energy bills, by backing in renewable energy and how we therefore tackle climate change. We'll also be talking about wages policy, because in Australia this Christmas, everything is going up except people's wages, and of course we intend to make the economy work in the interests of all. Wages have flat lined in Australia, the corporate profits have increased six times the increase that wages have by in the last 12 months. It's not good enough.
JOURNALIST: On COAG, how important do you think Indigenous involvement is in setting the new Closing the Gap targets, and do COAG leaders today need to pledge to work with Aboriginal groups in the process?
SHORTEN: After 230 years of not listening to our First Australians, I think the time has well and truly arrived that we consult with our First Australians about decisions which affect them. It’s why we support a Voice to Parliament. I know some of the Labor Premiers have been very good at sitting down and working with First Australians. I say to every other Australian, First Australians don't want a special deal, they just want to enjoy some of the same outcomes which all Australians enjoy in health, and education and employment. I think, and this is the way I'd be if I was Prime Minister, you get a lot more out of this country and the Australian people when you sit down and work with them, rather than lecture them and dictate at them. That's how we will be, not only with our First Australians, but we'll bring employers and workers together, we want to bring together the whole health sector, all the professionals, the front line people, the researchers, the experts, and of course health consumers. This country works best when we work together and that's what we want to see across a whole range of our policies, and I think the national mood going into 2019 is enough of the conflict. Enough of Liberal/Labor all hate each other and they don't seem to talk about the people. We are here today because we want to see health care properly funded. That's what the people tell us and that's what we will do.
JOURNALIST: If I could take you back to Operation Sovereign Borders? Would Labor actually make any changes in regards to that, and if so do you see any reform for improvement or perhaps a review?
SHORTEN: I will tell you what Labor will do, we will make sure there is enough money in the bank account to pay for the petrol, to make sure our vessels are on the sea. We will make sure that there's enough overtime to pay the border force to do the work for Christmas, to make sure we monitor people coming from the airports. Politics isn't that complicated, you make your decisions, you make your priorities and you stick to them. What we don't want is government cuts to border security, undermining border security and putting all the blame therefore, back onto the Opposition. If I'm in charge, there will be enough money to make sure there is petrol in the ships to go to sea.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible questions)
SHORTEN: I'll come back to you in a sec. We said we’d have a chat to you especially.
JOURNALIST: Would you increase the Operation Sovereign Borders budget then, is that what you saying?
SHORTEN: We will do what it takes to keep our borders secure. If it is necessary to (inaudible) more vessels, we will. But I put the Government on notice today. Don't start encouraging the people smugglers to start before an election just to win a tawdry political argument, and don't for goodness sake, reduce the amount of time vessels are spending on the water. Don't for goodness sakes, reduce the number of staff who are working at our airports. Australians have a right to know that when they pay their taxes to Canberra, they are being spent on the priorities of the people, not just political point scoring.
JOURNALIST: On the medical transfers bill, would it only apply to the current cohort on Nauru and Manus or would it also apply to future illegal arrivals who might be sent to those places?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, we've got an issue around the current cohort. And again, what we're proposing with the medical transfer bill, I don't think is a great departure from what already happens. What it's doing is it's putting down on paper what has been happening in a de facto manner already. I do think if treating doctors says a very sick person needs to come to Australia, someone who is in Australia’s care, whilst the Minister has got the discretion, we have got to make sure that we are using the power of government in a transparent and fair manner. Again, all we're doing in my opinion is helping codify what has been happening in an existing manner and making sure that it's transparent and fair to all, and transparent to the Australian people.
JOURNALIST: So for example, if 100 people arrived on a boat tomorrow and they all asked for transfers on medical grounds. How would that work and how would you vet them for security purposes in 24 hours?
SHORTEN: Sorry, I think you know that whoever has ever texted you that hypothetical question - let's be clear. First of all, the Government says boats aren't coming under their watch, so he it couldn't happen, could it? The only way your question becomes a live question is if the Government drops the ball. We will take everything on a case by case basis, but let's go to the fundamentals which is underpinning your question Rachel, which is this. We will turn back boats where it is safe to do so. We are committed to offshore processing. We are committed to regional re-settlement. But what I can't do is say that if someone is dying on Nauru, refuse them treatment in Australia in a supervised fashion, where the Minister deems after seeing the evidence that it's appropriate to do so. A bit of common sense has got to emerge here, doesn't it?
JOURNALIST: The Government says someone in offshore detention who refuses medical services to worsen their condition would be eligible to come to Australia under this Bill. Why couldn't that happen?
SHORTEN: Do you know, I wish the Government hadn't cancelled Parliament and we could’ve debate these issues in the House of Reps. Isn't it funny, the Government can bombard by text message, but they are too frightened to debate the issues in the Parliament. I've got nothing further to add to what I've said earlier. We will turn the boats around where it's safe to do so. We're absolutely committed to regional resettlement and offshore processing. But what I'm not going to do is reduce this debate to the absurd
proposition that we would rather let people die on Nauru than treat them in Australia.
JOURNALIST: Peter Dutton says that there are no other third countries to send asylum seekers -
SHORTEN: Listen, Peter Dutton said he had the numbers to become Prime Minister, he tore down Malcolm Turnbull and he wrecked the Liberal Party. When Mr Dutton's own party don't vote for him, don't listen to him, I think I might take that advise, too.
JOURNALIST: So with that being said though, is there any scope there to resettle people to third countries?
SHORTEN: Listen, I don't think the government has tried enough. New Zealand offered to take people. We congratulate the Government on the work they've done with the American deal. It is as simple as this. We can have strong borders, but that doesn't mean you keep people in indefinite detention on Manus and Nauru because the government of the day is too lazy to negotiate resettlement arrangements with other countries. Just because the Government has failed, doesn't mean we should accept their failure as our benchmark.
JOURNALIST: What legal advice do you have that ASIO security clauses would prevent criminals or accused criminals coming to Australia if their offending isn't at the higher end?
SHORTEN: We are getting advice, the point about it all is though is that all we've done with the medical transfers arrangement is strengthen the existing rules to make sure that we include specific reference to ASIO. The Minister still has the power to say no, given all the facts, but what we don't want to do is see our medical treatment advice just simply ignored. All good? Thank you very much. See you, everyone.