TUESDAY, 1 MAY 2018
SUBJECT/S: Turnbull’s corporate tax handout; Turnbull’s $715 million cuts to hospitals; budget; NDIS; Live exports; Royal Commission into the Banks.
DR MIKE FREELANDER, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR MACARTHUR: Welcome everyone, a beautiful day in Campbelltown. I'd like to acknowledge this is the land of the Dharawal people and I acknowledge any Aboriginal people present here today, and I thank them for allowing us to meet on Aboriginal land. I'd like to welcome Bill Shorten to Campbelltown, he's been here many times, he knows the area well and I'm very grateful for his continued support, his knowledge and his enthusiasm for the electorate of Macarthur. I'd also like to acknowledge that we have here today Roger McIntyre, our candidate for Hume in the next federal election and Sally Quinnell our candidate for Camden in the next state election.
It's great to have Bill here today, this is Campbelltown Hospital, my hospital - I've worked here for 35 years. It's a great place, great people, great staff - under a lot of pressure because of the rapid expansion in our population and the lack of other health infrastructure in the area. Over here you can see our Clinical Services building, which is a great building for our medical students, where we are training our next generation of doctors, and further over the hill you'll see Western Sydney University, where our medical school is. So it's a very dynamic, growing place with lots of interesting and great things happening, but we need our infrastructure and it's great to have Bill here today to talk about that.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much Mike. Good morning everybody, it's great to be out here in South Western Sydney at Campbelltown Hospital. We've got a budget coming down in just over a week, and a budget is not just a statement of the government's books, it's a statement of the government's values. And I think that the cuts to Campbelltown Hospital which we are here today talking about, highlight the wrong values and wrong direction that the Turnbull Government is taking Australia.
How on earth is it the case that in the next three years the Turnbull Government is going ahead with $715 million worth of cuts, $3.35 million worth of cuts at this hospital alone. That's elective operations not able to be afforded, cataract operations, chemotherapy treatments not being able to be undertaken because the Turnbull Government can't find $3.35 million over the next three years. It's wrong and it's the wrong values. Yet somehow this government is able to find billions of dollars to hand away in corporate tax handouts to the big end of town, to the big banks. It doesn't make sense that the Turnbull Government can afford to give nearly $4 billion in tax cuts to the Commonwealth Bank, but can't find $3.35 million to reverse their cuts to this hospital.
Campbelltown is in many ways a microcosm of outer suburban Australia. Families move here for quality of life because they can afford the housing, because they want to raise a family and they want to be able to do so with some reasonable, decent standard of living. But that becomes a lot harder when you've got pressure on health costs through the cuts to Medicare. The freeze to Medicare which, in fact is crowding emergency departments and leading to more inadequate care. The AMA State President of NSW, Brad Frankum has said, that the only explanation, the chief explanation for the increased delays and increased numbers going through emergency departments, is because of the Medicare Freeze. They just don't get it. They should spend some of the money they're giving away in corporate tax cuts on the Campbelltown Hospital, and other hospitals just like this right across Australia.
And as for the banks and I mean it is ironic today, we're here, Labor's here talking about finding some scarce taxpayer dollars for the Campbelltown Hospital, and hospitals just like this right across city and country Australia. Yet at the same time, the Government is finding $65 billion to give away to the big business end of town, and in fact something like - in the next budget, over the next ten years, $17 billion to the big banks, billions of dollars for the Commonwealth Bank. How is it the case that the Commonwealth Bank who has been found to have had 54,000 different breaches of the law, is getting a reward of nearly $4 billion, and Campbelltown residents and hospital is getting a kick in the pants to the tune of $3.35 million in cuts to hospitals.
This government is hopelessly out of touch. They have a chance to redeem their reputation, don't reward the Commonwealth Bank in the budget next Tuesday night, with nearly $4 billion in tax cuts funded by taxpayers. Instead spend this money on the hospitals. It's not only a good idea, it's a less offensive idea than what the government is currently planning to do.
We're happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: What would your government do better in this situation with Campbelltown Hospital?
SHORTEN: We'd fund the hospital better, we'd reverse some of the cuts. We'd make sure that Medicare wasn't frozen. We'd make sure that we had a genuine strategy to keep private health insurance premiums which are rising, and costing families an extra $1000 since the Coalition was elected. So we've got a plan to put money into hospitals, we've got a plan to unfreeze the Medicare Patient Rebate payments, and we've got a plan to take real cost of living pressures off households by tackling private health insurance. And one other plan we've got, don't give the money to the Commonwealth Bank in the form of a reward of tax cuts, instead spend that money on sick Australians.
JOURNALIST: Where would the money come from to fund those, the investment in the hospital?
SHORTEN: You wouldn't give $65 billion away to corporate Australia, that’s already billions of dollars. I’ll tell you how I can find the money to fund hospitals in this country, I'm not going to give the Commonwealth Bank and the other big banks a tax cut.
JOURNALIST: Hospitals have been quoted saying staff numbers have increased here in the past couple of years is that not a sign that there has been an adequate commitment?
SHORTEN: Population numbers have increased far greater. Let's be clear - I can hear Mike literally itching to get into it. Come on, you go.
FREELANDER: Look, what we've seen is rapid increase in presentation to emergency. There were six per cent increased presentations last month in April, compared to April 2017. We're seeing the onsite GP Afterhours clinic suddenly close, no discussion, nothing, just close. We've seen rapid increases in the number of operations required, and rapid increases in the waiting lists for things like cataract surgery, to now being one of the longest waits in Australia to have your cataracts done - over 12 months. So we've seen all this increases in needs and very little funding increases. I met yesterday with the Nurses and Midwifes Association because they're very worried about the nursing staffing levels per patient. We've got some nurses in the children's ward looking after seven or eight patients on night shift, which is far too many to provide safe levels of care. So we would fund them properly by not giving tax cuts to big business. I don't call it trickle down economics, I call it siphon-off economics. Siphoning off money that could be spent on education and healthcare to big business and not providing adequate infrastructure in health and also in education in South West Sydney.
JOURNALIST: It seems atypical for someone in your position to be coming out with a political stance like that. How desperate is it here at Campbelltown Hospital to be making these statements directed at the Prime Minister?
FREELANDER: Look, it's desperate because we are facing this rapid increase in population, with rapid increases in presentations through our public hospital system for a whole lot of reasons, the Medicare Freeze is one of them, people dropping out of private health insurance is another, rapid increase in population is another. And we're seeing if you like, a tsunami heading towards us and trickles of extra funding without really looking at the big picture and how we can adequately fund all these new pressure points. I've worked in emergency, I've seen what it's like, I've seen the pressure that people, doctors and nurses worked under, and look I'm not just taking a political line. I think governments of all persuasions, State and Federal over decades have not provided adequate infrastructure to our growing areas in the West and the South West, but really the time has come. I grew up in the Whitlam time, he's an iconic figure to me because he recognised the needs of these growing communities and providing adequate infrastructure. Gough Whitlam was the one responsible for sewerage in South West Sydney and that is a great achievement in those days and we need to be responsible, the Labor Party needs to be responsible for providing adequate infrastructure because it's not being provided at present.
SHORTEN: Any other questions?
JOURNALIST: Does Labor fear a big spending campaign against them now by the business sector, and if so how would that be counted?
SHORTEN: Big business is going to spend money against the Labor Party because Labor is against giving big business unfunded, unsustainable, massive tax cuts and giveaways. I make no apology for standing up for the funding for this hospital, rather than giving a big bank a tax cut they don't deserve and don't need. Big business is going to fight hard through their political arm, the Turnbull Government to try and grab as big a share of the budget as they can. But I think it is unconscionable of the Turnbull Government to be rewarding their big business mates, with tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer money, when we've got waiting lists for cataract surgery at this hospital, when we've got waiting lists for chemotherapy treatment, when people have got a challenge just paying their healthcare bills.
This budget and indeed this next election is all about choices, it's about what sort of country we want to live in. Do we want to be a country which has the lowest business tax rates and the best deal for multimillionaires, or do we want to be a country where you don't have to wait over in a year to get basic surgery, where you can still afford to go and see the doctor. I am choosing the hospitals and healthcare system over rewarding big business mates of the Liberal Party.
JOURNALIST: There is also talk of income tax cuts in the budget? Does Labor have a plan to that effect and do you support that in the upcoming budget?
SHORTEN: Well our track record about supporting low paid workers is a good one. We are the ones who want to see a wages system which delivers real wages, which have flat lined under the Liberals. We're the ones who want to see working families in this country have a better strategy to cope with cost of living, by restraining the out of control increases of private health insurance. We're the ones in this country who opposed the Turnbull Government increasing income taxes in their last budget. Remember in the 2017 Budget, Mr Morrison and Mr Turnbull said there was an emergency in funding of our disability insurance sector, and they said therefore, we had to increase the income taxes on working class people. I said no, if you need to fund services for the government, get it out of the big business tax cuts you are hell bent on giving away to the big banks, rather than increasing the taxes of low paid and modestly paid Australian workers. Well, we won that argument. It took the government nearly a year to run up the white flag, but we won that argument. So when it comes to looking after people who don't earn a lot of money but work hard every day, Labor is your best bet.
JOURNALIST: How concerned are you about the Business Council's plans to ramp up their campaigning for the company tax cuts?
SHORTEN: I think it's amazing that big business is going to ask the banks of Australia to contribute to a campaign to give the banks of Australia a tax cut. Malcolm Turnbull may rely on big business to try and get him re-elected, I'm going to rely on millions of ordinary Australians. Malcolm Turnbull is the political arm of big business. Labor is the political arm of middle and working class Australians.
JOURNALIST: A study of the NDIS has shown that large numbers of people are actually worse off under the scheme. Do you think this reflects fundamental flaws in the scheme's design?
SHORTEN: I think people with disability deserve a better go than they get in this country and that was the basis upon which the National Disability Insurance Scheme was created; to end the second class lives lived by people with profound and severe disabilities and of course, their carers. But I, like a lot of people living with disability and their carers, have been massively disappointed at the disinterest and poor implementation of Coalition Government of the NDIS. It's the right idea but it's being badly implemented by a government who doesn't view disability as a central priority.
JOURNALIST: What do you think should be done differently to improve it? Like it is so clear that there are huge issues going on with it, including providers not being paid.
SHORTEN: What we've got to do is put people with disability at the centre of the scheme. There is a lack of people who have lived experience of disability at the highest echelons of the NDIS. What we don't want the National Disability Insurance Authority to become is another bureaucracy; out of touch from the needs of people disability. So one of the first things Labor would do is put the voice and experience of people who live with disability every day, and their carers in the middle of decision making. I notice for example, that this government has decided to contract out the call centre to a large global multinational labour hire company - that's just about cutting wage rates of people working in the scheme. What we need to do is go back to the true spirit of the NDIS because I agree, there are implementation problems, and to do that we need to put people with disability right in the middle of the decision making, where they were always meant to be, until the Coalition came to power.
FREELANDER: Can I say a quick few words – Look I deal with lots of people with disability and the NDIS is a dramatic thing and it's something we should forever thank Julia Gillard for. There are lots of things that need to be ironed out, particularly things like how do we deal with people with severe mental illness. They need to be properly funded. How do we deal with personal care issues, and a big problem that has not been addressed, is the workforce issues. There are huge, particularly in South Western Sydney, huge deficiencies in our disability workforce, and we need to look at how we can up-skill people and we can provide adequate training and adequate career prospects of people who work in the area of disability. So lots of things to be ironed out, but it is a huge new social program, as has been said, the biggest since Medicare, and these bumps need to be ironed out and it is important to know that there is bipartisan support for the theory of the scheme. The government should be arguing about how to implement this scheme properly rather than the funding which is guaranteed on both sides. They need to be arguing about how we implement it and how we can iron out these bumps. In particular, as Bill said, we need to get people with disabilities into the actual management practice of the NDIS so they can tell us what they want and how we can implement it.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that this local area is particularly poorly done by with the NDIS like one of your neighbouring MPs, Susan Templeman, has apparently the highest number of complaints coming to her in the entire country?
FREELANDER: I actually thought it was my electorate that had the highest number of complaints. Yeah look, the West and South West of Sydney have the higher levels of complaints and difficulties with the NDIS for all the issues that I’ve mentioned. In terms of the NDIS infrastructure, we're behind the eight ball compared to all the other areas of Sydney in NDIS, as well as transport, education and health. So yes, we need to have these issues fixed and we need to have the NDIS properly implemented. But the argument should be not about the funding of it, but how we iron out these problems and how we provide those services. That's what I want the government to be talking about. I have written so many letters to Jane Prentice who is the Deputy Minister responsible, to try and get some of these issues dealt with but as yet, there's very little response.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the manager of Emanuel Exports, who runs the ill-fated sheep export ship - where we saw that terrible vision from last year. They have said that was a catastrophic weather event, it was a one off time and that those kinds of things do not happen regularly. How convinced are you of that?
SHORTEN: I'm not convinced that animal welfare gets the attention it should under this government. I think any Australian who took the time to see the footage of the sheep in those conditions in the live sheep export vessel would have been appalled and wonder how that could happen. I don't think it is satisfactory anymore to just fob off the Australian public and industry, and say well that was a one off incident and that will never happen again. I think that the Government was doing the right thing to do a review and we offer them bipartisan support. But I'm disappointed that they're still allowing ships to set sail whilst this review is underway. They should have suspended any shipments going until this review was concluded, and Australians can be reassured that animal welfare is receiving the attention that it legitimately deserves.
JOURNALIST: So you would endorse a temporary ban of the live export of sheep like happened under the previous Labor Government, which had huge consequences for the live export cattle industry?
SHORTEN: It's different, we're talking about sheep not cattle as your question reflects. We also offered bipartisan support to the Government. But we think that if we're not sure what's happening and why everything's happening, and you're having a review, we think it's foolish to just wave through ongoing shipments until you've got to the bottom of the problem. What we said is that any shipments which haven’t already left the farm gate, there should be a suspension, but this government hasn't done that. So as usual, it's sort of, knows there's a problem, it does a half-hearted execution of the issue and in the meantime, we're no wiser as to what the fundamental causes are.
JOURNALIST: So despite the hindsight of what we saw happen to the cattle industry, you would still endorse a temporary ban on sheep export.
SHORTEN: Yes, we have said that. And furthermore, I don't think anyone can give a satisfactory explanation as to whether or not they're confident that the animal welfare system is working in the manner in which it should. Labor didn't invent the footage but we're not to ignore the footage when we see it, and I think Australians expect politicians to actually speak up rather than just ignore the problem and accept the excuses of exporters.
I might just make one final comment before we conclude if there's no other questions. Just on the Commonwealth Bank this morning and the dramatic and shocking revelations and confirmation of what people suspected by APRA, the regulator. This yet again shines a light on the delinquency of the Coalition Government in their refusal to have a Royal Commission for nearly two years into the banking and financial services sector. This government did not merely try and delay having a royal commission, they fought against having a royal commission. And these revelations, this systemic breaching, this pathology of law breaking within the Commonwealth Bank, highlights yet again how the delinquent the Turnbull Government were, in not having in the Royal Commission.
The second point which needs to be made here, is that what is the government going to do about the Commonwealth Bank now. They should not hide behind the fact that a Royal Commission is under way in order to implement the existing laws. I notice that the Treasurer has huffed and puffed about the board, and fair enough, the board has got questions to answer. But what is the government going to do right now, knowing there's been 54,000 breaches. If someone had breached Centrelink rules, some pensioner had breached it 54,000 times, the government would be all over them like a rash. But when it's the big end of town, the government is good at making speeches but short on actually implementing it.
And I think the final point which this Commonwealth Bank scandal of massive proportions reveals, is that why on earth is the Turnbull Government continuing arrogantly, pig-headedly, with giving the Commonwealth Bank nearly a $4 billion tax cut. Australians must wonder how out of touch this big business loving government is, when somehow after 54,000 breaches, after whistleblowers, after the dramatic and explosive revelations in the Royal Commission so far, why is the government still in its out of touch manner insisting upon giving the Commonwealth Bank a $4 billion tax cut and the banking sector billions of dollars more in tax cuts.
We are standing in front of Campbelltown Hospital. Campbelltown Hospital is where the real world goes when they get sick. This is where we need to see money being spent in the budget. It is not only a better use of scarce taxpayer dollars to fund our health system, our hospitals, look after our nurses and doctors and our patients better, but it's less offensive than rewarding the Commonwealth Bank with nearly $4 billion. What else will it take to wake the Turnbull Government out of their out of touch conduct where they would rather give nearly $4 billion to the Commonwealth Bank, than stand up for people who just need a decent healthcare system in this country.