Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Canberra






SUBJECT/S: Fight to Save Medicare, GP tax, section 18c of the racial discrimination act, Gaza conflict, changes to higher education, national security, surrogacy laws, senate voting reform, double dissolution election

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It maybe 40 years after Gough Whitlam first introduced Medibank to Australia, but yet again, Labor is being called upon to defend the principle of universal accessible healthcare for all. The message is very clear, from the old Parliament to the new Parliament: Tony Abbott – keep your hands off Medicare. Get rid of this unfair GP Tax, which is a terrible idea scaring millions of Australians. We want to have the best healthcare system in the world.  In order to do that, it should be your healthcare card which determines the quality of your health care, not your credit card. We don’t want an American-style health system in Australia. Labor built Medicare and we will fight to keep Medicare on behalf of millions of Australians. Happy to take any questions people have.

JOURNALIST: It appears the community has had a win over 18C. Do you think the same thing may happen over the Medicare levy?

SHORTEN: There is no doubt yesterday, in the midst of the Prime Minister announcing national security laws that was used in part to cover up this embarrassing back down by Tony Abbott and George Brandis.

No one believes in Australia - apart from George Brandis and Tony Abbott - that you’ve got the right to be a bigot. At last the Government has backed down, reluctantly under community pressure from a wide range of Australian people. I think that the back down shouldn’t just stop at the Abbott government’s green-light on hate speech.  There should be a back down on the GP Tax, there should be a back down on cutting the pension, there should be a back down on cuts to hospitals and schools, there should be a back down on the Petrol Tax. I believe that the Government will eventually back down on this rotten GP Tax but one thing is for sure, Labor will fight to defend Medicare, bulk-billing and the principle of universal access to health care

JOURNALIST: One of the things that the community groups have been saying to us is that by tying it to anti-terror laws, it paves the way for the government to re-introduce changes to 18C down the track. Is that a concern to you?

SHORTEN: I am most concerned that the Abbott Government has only retreated from watering down protections against hate speech in this country. Tony Abbott needs to come out and just say “no one has the right to be a racist in Australia, No one has the right to be a bigot”.

The Abbott Government has just put the watering down of hate speech laws in the top draw. It may be off the table but it is sitting there in the top drawer of the Liberal Party waiting for another set of circumstances for the Government to resuscitate this unfair, bad idea.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, on Gaza, do you agree with the Government that (inaudiable) Israel has been indefensible.

SHORTEN: There is no doubt in my mind that the sort of civilian causalities that we’ve seen in Gaza is unacceptable and I’m pleased that there is a ceasefire in place. Like all Australians, we deplore the violence. On one hand, Labor acknowledges that Hamas has used civilian venues to send missiles into Israel but Israel’s shelling of UN compounds has left everyone appalled and everyone greatly concerned about the disproportionate response.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the Education Minister is going to bring the universities legislation to the August sitting. Is there any room for compromise on that from Labor’s point of view?

SHORTEN: It is a bad idea to make it hard for working class and middle class kids to go to university. The Abbott Government should go to an election to seek a mandate to introduce the changes which as they currently stand, discourage hundreds of thousands of people from the prospect of sending their kids to university.

Going to university is a big step for a lot of families. But the message that the Abbott Government is sending, cutting 20 per cent of the funding of universities, increasing the interest rates on student loans means there will be lots of people now reconsidering whether or not their children can go to University. Like so many other unfair features of this unfair Budget, the Abbott Government should just dump their changes, go back to the drawing board, and start again and ideally, if they think they are good ideas, present them to the people at an election before they ask the Parliament what Labor believes are rotten, unfair measures.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] has revealed he has spoken to cross-bench senators and also with the AMA, and there is possibly some wriggle room. Is there something that can be done between the two major parties that can negotiate middle ground on a GP co-payment?

SHORTEN: How can there be a middle ground on putting a new tax on sick and vulnerable people? There is no middle ground. It’s a bad idea, they shouldn’t do it. They should put that in the bad idea waste bin and start again.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of the confusion around this morning where the Prime Minister seemed to suggest that people’s web history be kept and later suggested it wouldn’t?

SHORTEN: Well, first of all, the Government’s announced changes to data retention on the basis of national security. Let me state Labor’s position - we are up for a debate which sees our national security laws improved and adapted to the modern age. We believe that security of Australians is a first order issue, full stop. But we also have concerns that when you store so much information about so many Australians that this needs to be done very carefully and in a very considered way. We are concerned that the Government is going to ask the internet providers to pay for these measures which will see a new Internet Tax on all Australians.  We are also concerned to be very careful that there is no risk that ordinary Australians are being treated as if they are criminals. So we get the need for national security but what we say to the government is we acknowledge that, and we’re up for that, but we’re also going to jealously guard the privacy of our citizens and make sure that whatever is proposed in the national security doesn’t infringe the day to day rights and responsibilities of Australians using the internet.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of the concept of tying these two announcements in together; do you think that that was a deliberate ploy to sort of take attention off some of the changes in the anti-terror legislation?

SHORTEN: I think that national security is always a work in progress and we don’t dispute the importance of a lot of the measures which the Government have said. But there’s no doubt that combining the announcement of dropping their crazy proposals to water down laws which protect people from hate speech and racism, the fact that they’ve announced the backflip in the same press conference was designed to try and avoid any further embarrassment for the Government than otherwise currently exists. In terms of the actual laws a lot of them, have been debated in the past. On data retention though, again I state on the one hand we recognise the importance of national security but on the other hand, let me make it very clear, it’s important that we don’t create the risk of treating millions of ordinary Australians as if they’re potential criminals. And it’s also most important that when you store so much information about so many people that the issues of peoples freedoms and rights are considered before there’s any rush to legislate.

JOURNALIST: Should the states and also the Commonwealth take another look at surrogacy laws do you think?

SHORTEN: I think every Australian’s been concerned about the reports around baby Gammy in Thailand. What I recognise here is that there’s probably lots of facts which are emerging which we don’t all know yet so I wouldn’t want to rush to judge the whole system based on this particular set of events, we do need to have more facts.

But I also recognise that for a lot of Australians who are desperate to have children and are unable to do so, there is a lot of loving potential parents out there who just want to raise children and families of love. So before we start creating too much debate I recognise there are plenty of people, plenty of views in this and what we need to do is have a sensible conversation making sure that Australians understand the jurisdictions that they’re operating in, that the rules are clear. But again, I would just say that for people seeking surrogacy I can understand why they do that and I’m just wary of not judging every parent by the facts of this case.
JOURNALIST: Just on another subject, both the Liberals and Labor are forwarding submissions to change the Senate voting system, is that an issue you think should be dealt with this term or is it too delicate given that the balance of the senate itself?

SHORTEN: Does anyone seriously think the government, which is struggling with its unfair budget, is going to advance any proposals for Senate voting reform in the near future, I don’t. There’s been work done by Joint Parliamentary Committees in the past on this matter.  But my analysis is that the Government is floundering with its unfair budget, it’s failing to convince the crossbench senators of the merits of their unfair changes so I would say that it goes into the hypothetical box, the government doing too much on Senate Electoral Reform. Perhaps if I could have one more question.
JOURNALIST: There was double dissolution back in 1974 that saw the birth of Medicare. Do you think there’s a chance of a double dissolution in this term of government perhaps about the GP co-payment or the budget?

SHORTEN: I would admire the government if they had the courage to take their budget proposals to the people before they ask the Parliament to vote on it. There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the government before the last election did not say they were going to cut schools and hospitals. They did not tell people they were going to cut pensions. They did not tell people that they were going to make unemployed people go for six months without any income. They certainly didn’t tell people thinking of sending their kids to university that they would double and triple the cost of university fees and they never told anyone about the GP tax.

I think it’s clear to most Australians that the budget is unfair, that it’s based on broken promises and lies and perhaps the best thing for the Government to do would be to show the courage of its convictions and take it to people to decide and then let the Parliament see what the people direct. In the meantime I don’t think the Government’s going to do that so we’ll stick to our guns and stand up for ordinary Australians.


Thanks everyone.