Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Cairns - The Liberals’ cuts to hospitals; Labor’s positive plan for Cairns; Counter-terrorism and Australia’s role in the Middle East






SUBJECT/S: The Liberals’ cuts to hospitals; Labor’s positive plan for Cairns; Counter-terrorism and Australia’s role in the Middle East; Yellow Crazy Ants; Multiculturalism and Inclusion; Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals plan to raise the GST to 15 per cent; Polls.


JAN MCLUCAS, SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: Hi, I am Jan McLucas. I am a Cairns-based Senator and it’s my great privilege to welcome Bill back to Cairns again. (inaudible) in the last little while so it’s great to have you back.


This follows yesterday’s senate select committee of inquiries evidence that shows that our hospital in this region will lose $609 million because of the change in funding arrangements that the Commonwealth Government has put in place.


This will start from the 2017-18 financial year and the evidence we received yesterday shows that we will lose 234 extra staff that would have come online had the funding arrangements that were put in place by Labor into (inaudible) care. This has been backed in by the Queensland Department of Health officials who gave us evidence yesterday but also by the Queensland Minister for Health.


So this figure that we saw in today’s paper is accurate and I’m calling on Queenslanders, and people in North Queensland to send a strong message to this Government that we in the North, with our population and the burden of disease that we have, along with our ageing population cannot afford to carry this sort of cuts to our health system into the future.


Having said that, Bill, it’s great to have you back. We are also joined by Sharryn Howes, the federal candidate for Leichardt, Norman Jacobsen, the federal candidate for Kennedy. Bill, thanks again for coming along.


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Jan, good morning everyone. It’s great to be at JCU. Cairns is really lucky to have a university of this calibre in its community. I see a really bright future for Cairns as an education city. It is a leading city in tropical Australia and it has the opportunity to be a centre of learning for all aspects of life in the tropics for the whole of the region.


There is no doubt that Cairns being one of our larger cities close to Papua New Guinea also is an important gateway to that part of the world as well. So JCU is doing a great job and we’ve seen some of the life-saving research which the School of Research is doing. We are here also at JCU not just to see the really great work they are doing, but also to draw attention to the fact that whist the Liberal Government may have changed the salesman, the substance of the Liberal Government hasn’t changed since Tony Abbott was rolled. We see the dramatic headlines in the Cairns Post where there is $609 million being cut by the Liberal Government to the hospitals here in Cairns. What this means is it means job loses – about 234 job loses it is estimated over the future time. Also, what it means is longer waiting list and it means less quality medical care.


Also at JCU, we see that the Liberals’ higher education plan would cost it over $100 million in the next 4 years. That means more students discouraged from pursuing a career, pursuing studies which would take them through JCU and it sees less opportunities of more young people having to leave the region to pursue their studies. So whether its higher education cuts or dreadful cuts to hospitals, the Liberal Government in Canberra still doesn’t seem to get the needs of North Queensland and Far North Queensland.


And of course on top of that, cost of living is a real challenge in Cairns and what we see is the Liberal Government are proposing to put a 15 per cent price hike on everything; on fresh food, on education, on the cost of going to the doctor. The Liberal Government in Canberra is out of touch with the lives that the people in North Queensland are living. Only Labor can be trusted with health and education, the cost of living of Queenslanders and people living in Cairns.


Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: What guarantees can you give about the future funding of the Cairns Hospital if you were in Government?


SHORTEN: Labor is always better than the Liberals when it comes to hospital healthcare. Part of the guarantee we can give is look at our record over the last two years. While Malcolm Turnbull was voting for Tony Abbott’s savage cuts to hospitals and healthcare, for the GP Tax, Labor has been holding the line. It is only Labor in Opposition who stopped all Australians paying a GP Tax. We are determined to put better funding into our hospitals and healthcare and as we get closer to the election and the course of next year, we will have more to say about our specific policies.


But I think the question you ask about what we would do at an election and after an election, does raise this question of a test for Malcolm Turnbull as well. He hasn't really been tested on any matter to do with economic leadership yet. I think his next Budget will be where the rubber hits the road. Where all the talk has to be tested by action and in the meantime, I think it is long overdue for Malcolm Turnbull to tell Australians exactly what he has in mind with his GST.
JOURNALIST: Should the Government rule out troops on the ground in Syria and Iraq?
SHORTEN: I don't think it is at all a probability or even a possibility that we will be sending our troops into Syria. Barack Obama has ruled out sending American troops to Syria. There are dreadful problems in Syria, we have seen them unfortunately, reach out and not just affect people who live in Syria and Iraq but we saw last Friday night those dreadful attacks in Paris.


This ISIL and other terrorist organisations are evil. They are just evil. Evil is the best word to describe them. But the solution to terrorism in the Middle East isn't sending a whole lot of Australian soldiers and put their boots on the ground. Now I know that some in the Government have assured me they have no plans to do it but I see other Liberal members saying there must be more Australian soldiers on the ground in Syria. I think the Government just needs to unequivocally state what they are thinking. Labor will work with the Liberals on national security. It is what people expect us to do. All around Australia, people horrified by these images should be consoled by the fact that when it comes to fighting terrorism Labor and Liberal are in this together and we are not going to let the terrorists or evil people divide this nation.  But I don't think as part of that response it is necessary for Australian troops to be sent into the middle of Syria. I don't believe that will change anything and I think the Government just need to be very clear about that.


JOURNALIST: What's your preferred response then after the Paris attacks?


SHORTEN: Well I certainly think that Australian ADF is doing a great deal proportionately. We are one of the most significant contributors to fighting ISIS already. We have I think its nearly 800 Defence people either training Iraqi troops and carrying air missions to interdict ISIL. I think one of the best things we can do is make sure we have strong laws in Australia, that our security and law enforcement agencies are well resourced in Australia to do their bit to keep us safe.
Another part of the response has to be we cannot divide this country. I think overwhelmingly the Australian reaction has been sensible and it's been moderate. Everyone deplores the evil. We want to do everything we can to help the victims and we want to do everything we can to punish the people who committed these evil acts but we also can’t let terrorists win in this country. The aim of terrorism is to create fear and to create greater division . They can't bring down the Australian way of life on their own. If we get sucked into this sort of cycle of angry language and trying to divide our own community and make people not feel welcome in our own community, that's when we reward the terrorists for their evil actions.
JOURNALIST: Is Labor open to expanding Australia's military role in the Middle East to less restrictive air strikes and Special Forces on the ground as suggested by Tony Abbott?
SHORTEN:  The way it works now is we have pretty tight rules of engagement. Our Air Force want to operate on the best intelligence possible when they try and carry out a strike against an ISIL target. We want to be sure that we are actually causing harm to bad people and not innocent people. It's very difficult for our men and women in the Air Force and military generally carrying out their role - they are highly trained.  I haven't seen the case made by our security agencies or our defence forces for an expansion of the role. And you have to ask yourself if we were to expand our role, what is the end we are achieving?


I think that ultimate peace and stability in that region has to be driven by the nations of that region. I think people appreciate some of the conflicts run very deep. There is lots of religious division and these terrorists carry out acts of great evil and atrocity.
I think what we need to do is work with our intelligence agencies, we need to work with our entire community in Australia, we need to discourage anyone who might be lured into going to that region to participate in that conflict from going. We need to punish people who do go there.  The whole history of this conflict shows that just sending in large groups of troops from the West doesn't always end up achieving what you want and, in fact, can cause further problems down the track. It has to be a regional-driven solution but Australia is a responsible nation. We are working with other nations and I'm confident that the current track we are on is the right track.


JOURNALIST: Do you think health funding should be based on population or what the States have been telling you?


SHORTEN: I think that health funding should be based on need. I think it should be based on  the principle of universality. The Liberal Government, and you need to be a bit of a student of history - the Liberal government’s really from the 1960s to the 1990s, when they were in opposition or government, never really bought into Medicare. They never really believed in universal health. Always trying to chip it away. I thought that genie had been put back in the bottle in the late 90s but clearly in the last two Budgets, we've got a Liberal government who is keen to make swinging cuts to healthcare.


The point about healthcare is it is not just expenditure. This nation functions efficiently when we have efficient health systems. In America where they don't have universal healthcare, employers either have to pay for the healthcare of the employees or people have no health insurance at all. In America, they spend between 17 and18 per cent of their total economic output on healthcare. In Australia, we spend roughly just above 9 per cent. So what drives me is recognising that universal healthcare combined with good preventative healthcare, good primary healthcare  and indeed focusing on a person's first 50 years of life because if we can get that part of their health right, that going to improve their second 50 years of life.


These are the principles that we should have. One thing is for sure - I don't agree with the sort of savage cuts that the Liberals are making to hospitals. I don't agree with their consent, morbid fascination with introducing some form of tax on going to the doctor. I don't think putting a GST, putting a 15 per cent price on health items that don't currently attract it, that's not going to make this nation healthier. It's going to make it sick.


JOURNALIST: If elected, would Labor increase funding to combat yellow crazy ants in the Far North?


SHORTEN: I might get one of my local colleagues to talk about those ants after I've gone to the national questions.


JOURNALIST: A political party representing Australian Muslims is being launched in the wake of deadly attacks in Paris.  Do you welcome that?


SHORTEN: Anyone has got a right in Australian democracy to have a say - let me say that in the outset. But I don't believe that Australian politics is best served by the introduction of a lot of religion into politics. I think the two should be broadly separate. People can bring their own personal values to politics - that's very important regardless to one's faith. I think the best system we can have is broadly based parties, not single issue parties. And I don't necessarily want to see religion for being a lightning rod for people being for and against a particular party. I don't think that's ultimately going to help the debate about inclusion and multiculturalism but you know, we live in a democracy and everyone gets a vote and everyone has an opinion.

JOURNALIST: What do you think - sorry just on the same subject, what do you think it says about Australian society that we have now a pro and anti-Islam political party?

SHORTEN: Well I think what it says is that we're not much different to other parts of the world, they'll always be some people who want to argue about religion but I think we shouldn't get too carried away by looking at the fringes, and whilst these people may represent a point of view, the vast bulk of Australians politically, are pretty moderate. There's just some just to the right, there's some just to the centre, in fact when you look at Australians, you know I don't think it's easy just to categorise people based simply on their religion, their ethnicity or indeed a particular political label. In my experience, what most Australians want is they want good schools for their kids, they want to be able show that they can get a job and keep a job and that their kids are trained for those jobs of the future. They want to make sure that if they need to go and see a doctor, it's not prohibitive, they actually want to see real action on climate change, they want to make sure that Australia's a country where you don't just have to live in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney to get ahead, and that we're a country of strong regions. Australians I think, the vast bulk of us,  we want to get on with our lives we want to see a fair degree of fairness, we want to see us become more prosperous and we don't like extremes of inequality, and as for some of the religious debates which go on, I think most of us don't see that as part of our main thinking in life.

JOURNALIST: The latest Fairfax poll has the Coalition leading and the gap widening. How do you feel about that? Are you concerned at all?

SHORTEN: I feel confident that in an election Labor will close that gap. The real issue here is that there's an extended honeymoon. Australians are pleased that Tony Abbott's gone, and so they're grateful, I think, to have politics in Australia where we don’t have that sort of harsh Abbott Liberal style approach rhetorically. The problem though is the policies are still there. We've got cuts to hospitals in Cairns, we've got proposed cuts in funding to James Cook University, we've still got climate change policies which put Australia at the back of the pack that mean we're doing nothing to stop the coral bleaching and the future degradation of the Great Barrier Reef. So I believe it's now time for Mr Turnbull and the Liberals to start showing some real leadership rather than just having conversations. I think they should come clean about the GST; they're going to put the price of everything up by 15 per cent, I think Australians want to see that detail. And I think the Budget whenever Mr Turnbull brings that down, will be a real test of his economic credentials.

JOURNALIST: 18 per cent of respondents say that they prefer you as the PM, do you see that as a problem that can be resolved?

SHORTEN: I see that as a base to build upon.

JOURNALIST: Doesn't the fact that there's been a poll showing more than half the people support a GST increase, show that your scare campaign isn't working?

SHORTEN: No I think what it shows it that Malcolm Turnbull hasn't told Australians what he plans to do with the GST. I think if you look at that poll, it's based on the assumption that everyone will be compensated. Really we just need to draw our breath don’t we  and say so they're proposing the increase the price of everything by 15 per cent, and then they say but that'll be alright, you'll all get compensated. Now first of all that sounds like they're taking money off you on one hand and they're going to give it back to you, it does raise the question why bother to begin with. Secondly when it comes to people and increase of prices, I think a lot of people haven't seen the case why the price of everything should go up 15 per cent, when in fact we've got multinationals who don't pay their fair share, where we've got ridiculously generous superannuation tax concessions where a few people are getting vast tax concessions subsidised by everyone else. I look forward to Malcolm Turnbull moving from the talk zone to the action zone. I look forward to hearing their detail of their GST because so far what people have heard, I don't think is as popular as the implication in your question. And I also think that the Turnbull Government has to bring down a Budget, and I think that's where we're going to see us move from the conversation and the post euphoria of Tony Abbott being gone, to the hard work and the real choices which we need to set our course.

JOURNALIST: Just given the latest poll, so is there anything that you think you're doing wrong and is your position safe?

SHORTEN: I think that when we look after the policies the polls will look after themselves. I think today that we're here talking about $609 million being cut from Cairns, we're doing the right thing and eventually we keep talking about the issues that matter - people want to hear us talk about proper jobs in Cairns and Far North Queensland, they want to hear us talking about funding for this university, and that's what Labor will do, and I am very confident that as people get to meet our candidates which is Norm Jacobson for Kennedy, Sharryn Howes for Leichardt, that they'll realise that Labor's on the side of people and that we've got policies which help everyone that we don't want to put 15 per cent on top of everything. Now someone did ask about yellow ants, but I’m going to take a leave pass and let my North Queensland colleagues talk about this.

JOURNALIST: Yes, will you commit to funding more to stop the spread of yellow crazy ants?

MCLUCAS: Well it was Labor in Government that put money forward to yellow crazy ants, we did that work, that work is under way. It has been shown the be extremely successful so now is the time for this Government to back in that money because we are close to getting rid of these ants, and if we don't complete the job, they'll be back in force so, it's the time for this Government to respond to the problem we've got in the wet tropics, to do with yellow crazy ants.

JOURNALIST: How important are the seats of Leichardt and Kennedy to Labor's overall strategy?

MCLUCAS: Very important, that's why we're working hard to make sure that our candidates who are excellent candidates are out there in the community, are talking to people, are making sure that the connections are made so that the voice of North Queenslanders, whether they be in Kennedy or in Leichardt will be represented in a Shorten Labor Government.

SHORTEN: Thanks everyone.