WEDNESDAY, 4 APRIL 2018
SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Turnbull’s cuts to hospitals; private health insurance rebates; energy policy; Peter Dutton’s comments; Greens RBA housing policy.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND MEDICARE: Good morning everybody and its fantastic to be here at Sunshine Hospital with local Member, Bill Shorten. We're here today to highlight once again the mess that Malcolm Turnbull is making of our public hospital system. Here at Sunshine Hospital and across the Western Health hospital district, Malcolm Turnbull is cutting $11 million out of the services here for the west. We know that, that translates through to over $250,000 emergency department visits, over 50,000 cataract extractions or over 7,000 knee replacements across the state of Victoria and $183 million out of public hospitals over the next three years in Victoria.
We know here at Sunshine Hospital there's over 1,600 people waiting for elective surgery. We are asking public hospital staff to keep doing more and more and more as the demand increases. Malcolm Turnbull is not prepared to back our hospitals, back our hospitals and our hardworking doctors and nurses, by actually properly funding our public hospitals.
With 1.73 million emergency department visits since 2016 in Victoria alone, you can imagine the strain that our public hospitals are under. Cutting over $715 million out of public hospitals is not what this country needs. What this country needs is a hospital system that works and a Federal Government and a Federal Labor Government that will invest in our public hospitals. I'll hand over to Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody and thank you Catherine. I just want to thank the staff of Western Health both at the Sunshine Campus and beyond here. The staff here are doing remarkable work and they're servicing one of the fastest growing communities in Australia. But it isn't good enough when the staff are working hard, when we see the Turnbull Government cutting $715 million from hospitals right around Australia. This is the wrong priority. My home in the Western suburbs deserves a health system which doesn't see $11.5 million being cut from the hospital here.
Labor, if elected, will prioritise the health of Australians over corporate tax cuts for the top end of Australian business. It's a very simple choice. Do you give $65 billion away to the corporates and large multinationals and big banks, or do you fix our hospitals and help restore some of the funding cuts to our hospitals, which make such a difference in the lives of the patients, such as the two very special gentlemen we met just previously.
Every day Mr Turnbull is Prime Minister, is a day closer to Australia having an American style health system. I promise that if Labor's elected we'll prioritise the health of Australians over the corporate balance sheets of large multinationals and big banks. Mr Turnbull should fix our hospitals now. He should restore the funding cuts to hospitals now. Australians deserve nothing less.
The next election will be a referendum on the sort of country we want to have in the future. Do we want to be a country which has the world's best corporate tax rates for large multinationals and big banks, or do we want to be a country which has the world's best hospital system? For me the choice is perfectly clear. I pick hospitals; I pick people before profits. That's what I'd like Mr Turnbull to do as well.
Are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: Can you assure families you will keep the private health insurance rebate if elected?
JOURNALIST: If the Prime Minister -
SHORTEN: Sorry, if I could - I appreciate I answered that very quickly but just let me unpack it a bit further. Let me be very clear here, unequivocal. Private health insurance premiums, the prices have been going up too far, too fast. There is something wrong with our private health insurance prices when wages are moving just on two per cent, yet we see private health insurance premiums over five years moving by 27 per cent. I don't know about you but I know that most Australians I talk to are sick of fat cat CEOs of private health insurance companies getting bigger executive bonuses, of making bigger and bigger profits, whilst families are missing out with higher price rises and with more exclusions in their policy.
What Labor will do if we are elected, is we will actually stand up to the big private health insurance companies. We put them on notice right now. We will cap your price rises to no greater than two per cent for the first two years of a Labor Government. In the meantime we'll sit down with our private health insurance providers and the whole system through the Productivity Commission to see what improvements we can make together. The health system of Australia works best when we put people before profits and when we sit down and talk to all of the stakeholders. But also let me be very clear, we are not scrapping the private health insurance rebate. We want to make private health insurance and health insurance generally, more affordable not less affordable.
JOURNALIST: If the Productivity Commission recommends changes to the private health insurance rebate would you adopt those?
SHORTEN: We want them to do a piece of reform work which this Government is just incapable of doing. I expect the Productivity Commission will come up with recommendations which stop the out of control price rises. You know, when you talk to families in Australia, right across Australia, they understand two things. There's nothing more important than a person's health and of course, family. And when we've got these cost of living assaults, relentless day in, day out. I mean it was only over Easter that the health insurance premiums went up again. The system isn't good enough the way it is.
But one thing I will also promise, is we think there is a role for private health insurance. We're not interested in scrapping the rebate, it is an important part of our system. But for goodness sakes, when will we do something about cost of living. The spiralling, out of control costs of premium increases which is actually creating an unsustainable private health insurance system. We're here to fix our hospitals, we're here to fix healthcare and we'll work with all stakeholders to do it.
JOURNALIST: Following today's story in the Australian about the Liddell power station, would Labor support any push by private operators such as a lender to keep Liddell open beyond 2022?
SHORTEN: Well, whether or not one company wants to buy the assets of another company will be up to those two bodies, and whether or not it stacks up will depend on all the available evidence, and the commercial case. But one thing I'm not up for, is Mr Turnbull using taxpayer money to spend on old coal power technology just to ensure his own political survival. Let's be clear why there's a debate about the coal industry in Australia. It's because the right wing of the Liberal Party want to force a political outcome on Mr Turnbull because they don't like him. The real question here for Mr Turnbull to answer is, will he tell the Australian people today that he rules out using taxpayer money to subsidise old coal-fire powered technology just to save his own political skin.
JOURNALIST: What about saving the hundreds of jobs though, the blue-collar jobs which will be lost if the power station closes early?
SHORTEN: Well as I answered you earlier, whether or not one company buys the assets of another company will be a commercial transaction. But what I'm not interested in, is having taxpayer money being used, not to save the jobs of coal workers but to save Mr Turnbull's political skin. Mr Turnbull knows that using taxpayer money is not the way to go, he gets it. But I'm sure that he will ignore his own common sense when it comes to saving his political skin.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that Peter Dutton is affecting Australia's relationship with South Africa?
SHORTEN: I don't know what's motivating Mr Dutton with his comments about South Africa. For me, what matters is making sure that we tackle cost of living in Australia. You know if I go and ask the patients here if they are concerned about what Mr Dutton is saying about South Africa - they're not raising that with me. What they want to see is more resources for hospitals in working class suburbs around Australia, both the town and the city and the bush.
I mean the reality is that this hospital is having millions of dollars of cuts over the next three years. What that means is it puts greater stress on an already stressed system. Every day Malcolm Turnbull is Prime Minister of Australia is a day closer to us getting an American healthcare system. That's why Labor will prioritise the health of Australians, prioritise the hospitals of Australia, over corporate tax cuts. As for some of the other political debates, if Mr Dutton wants to enter a beauty parade to win the right wing of the Liberal Party for votes in the future to undermine Mr Turnbull, that's a matter which is up to them, which has got nothing to do with the long term needs of Australians and cost of living.
JOURNALIST: So you're not concerned there could be a prospect of a diplomatic incident developing?
SHORTEN: Listen, I'm not going to give Mr Dutton's beauty parade for the right wing of the Liberal Party any more attention than it deserves.
JOURNALIST: What do you think about the Green's proposal for a peoples bank, managed by the Reserve Bank and low cost loans for Australians?
SHORTEN: Well I have to say, and we haven't heard his speech yet, so we'll wait to see what the Greens political party says at lunchtime. But it does seem to me like a thought bubble, without a lot of homework. I mean, the Reserve Bank of Australia, people think, does a pretty good job. Its key role in our economy is to provide independent monetary policy. Just because the word ‘bank’ appears in the title of the Reserve Bank of Australia, doesn't mean that it's a loans bank like other banks in Australia. Now I think there is a problem with housing affordability, but the real answer here isn't to put more cheap cash into the market, which will actually just boost the cost of housing. What we should do is tackle negative gearing and I think that's better reform.
In terms of other propositions well, I think the Greens are seeking a bit of attention at the moment. But the real challenge here is what are we going to do to help housing affordability, and I think what we've got to do is reform our tax system rather than perhaps add more debt onto the bottom line for Australian taxpayers, rather than potentially undermine our AAA credit rating, and rather than interfere with a bank that's doing the job of independent monetary policy and isn't in the same marketplace as all the other banks.
JOURNALIST: The other concept Senator Di Natale is meant to put across in his speech is about a universal basic income. Would you support a complete overhaul of Centrelink?
SHORTEN: Well I think there's two concepts being joined in one question there. I do think the funding for Centrelink has seen too many staff taken away from the front line. Just because someone gets a pension doesn't mean they should be treated as second class. So there is obvious needs to help restore the support we have for Centrelink. But that's a different issue than totally overhauling and providing a pension to every Australian. We believe fundamentally in a mean's based pension system in this country. So in other words, if you're hard up, you should get some reasonable and modest government support. But whether or not we provide income to every Australian, especially some people who don't need it, I think that's probably a bridge too far.