Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Melbourne - Abbott Government’s cuts to hospitals; Tony Abbott’s Royal Commission



FRIDAY, 10 JULY 2015


SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government’s cuts to hospitals; Tony Abbott’s Royal Commission.


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning, everyone. It's great to be here at The Alfred Hospital with my Shadow Minister for Health, Catherine King. We have had the privilege of talking to the backbone of our health and hospital system: nurses, medical professionals. Listening to their concerns about the future of the health system, the overwhelming message from the front line of our health system, from the nurses who care for patients and their families every day is that they are feeling the strain of increased demand, they have got to do more than ever, and they are very worried that Mr Abbott is going to slash $57 billion from the health system and is washing his hands of the problem.


We heard personal stories from nurses who work in cancer wards and palliative care, in intensive care and emergency departments. Australia's nurses want a government who will back them up and make sure there are not massive cuts to the healthcare system, making the situation worse for nurses, doctors, and very importantly patients and their families. Happy to take questions. Before I do, I might just ask Catherine to say a few words.


CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks, Bill, and thanks very much for coming today to The Alfred Hospital to talk about the things that actually really matter to the Australian people, and that's the health of our nation. We spent the morning talking to nurses about what is happening here in this hospital. We know that this hospital will suffer a billion dollars in cuts over the next decade because of the decisions Tony Abbott has made. They are cuts that will hurt people - real people - in this community.


Nurses talking to us about their concerns for palliative care, for cancer patients, for being able to provide services for people who have both mental health and drug and alcohol issues, both here in the hospital and in the community. These are the things that Australians care deeply about. These are the things that Tony Abbott has actually trashed in both his first Budget and his second Budget.


SHORTEN: Thanks, Catherine. Are there any questions?


JOURNALIST: The Andrews Government has promised I think to fund 100 emergency beds over the next financial year. Do you think that will help solve the problem?


SHORTEN: I think Mr Andrews can be more trusted with the health of Victorians than Mr Abbott. In the course of this month, Mr Abbott's having a retreat with state premiers and state leaders. I think that Mr Abbott should reboot the health debate in this country. He should sit down with the state leaders and say that he understands that the Commonwealth Government collects the lion's share of taxes and that the Commonwealth Government is not going to leave sick people, nurses and families and doctors and states in the lurch. I think that Mr Abbott has got a special opportunity to come up with a new and better deal for the healthcare and the health of all Australians.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, Bruce Billson's been talking about you, he said the money that the AWU accepted from various companies it was negotiating with – he likened them to bribes. Were they bribes or should he apologise for that?


SHORTEN: Mr Bilson is pursuing the politics of smear. He is completely wrong and, furthermore, we have just seen an $80 million taxpayer funded Tony Abbott royal commission to smear their opponents. That Mr Bilson, a Liberal Minister is attacking a Labor leader is neither here nor there. The real issue, though, is what is Mr Abbott's Government doing about the real issues. They have got to stop playing the politics of smear and do something about making sure that Australia's nurses aren't left with more of a workload with less support.


JOURNALIST: The acceptance of that money though, do you agree that that looks dodgy?


SHORTEN: No, I don't. And more importantly, this country is ready for politics to step up to the issues of the future. I relish the opportunity and willingly cooperated with the royal commission because I am proud of my record of representing Australian working people. I am proud of that. Furthermore, I was willing to answer over 900 questions, funded by a taxpayer royal commission into politics of smear, but now it is time for the Liberal Government to get on with the job of running Australia, rather than engaging in political smear campaigns. Do your day job, Mr Abbott, that's what Australians want to see you do.


JOURNALIST: Kim Carr says the Abbott Government is setting a shocking precedent with the establishment of a royal commission and the future Labor Government would be under quote ‘incredible pressure to respond’. Now do you agree?


SHORTEN: I think Senator Carr is reflecting the concern of many Australians that Mr Abbott is debasing democracy in this country. It is not a fit and proper purpose to spend $80 million just to smear your political rivals. Mr Abbott is taking Australian democracy into the basement. I believe that if I and Labor were privileged to form a government, that we would elevate the standards and, furthermore, what Australians want to see – now, tomorrow and next week – is a proper debate about the future of this country, and it starts with talking to our nurses. We should be backing our nurses up, not undermining them.


JOURNALIST: A Labor government wouldn’t have an inquiry into the Liberal Party's political donations?


SHORTEN: Let's be clear here. Mr Abbott has taken Australian politics to a very unpleasant place. In opposition, he was the leading champion of negative politics and he hasn't shed those clothes since he became Prime Minister. I was happy to answer all the questions, I'm proud of my record of improving people's conditions, of cooperative industrial relations between workers and companies – proud of that. I'll back my record standing up for workers against the Prime Minister for WorkChoices, but we also need to say that Australians want better from their political representatives than a personality attack. The next election should be on who has got a better plan for jobs, who’s got a better plan for education, who’s got a better plan for caring for our sick. Health, education, jobs and fairness. That's what Australians are interested in. A plan for the future. Not a political smear campaign.


JOURNALIST: Can you categorically rule out opposing sort of quote ‘smear campaign’ for Liberals if you were to regain power?


SHORTEN: Well you're right, it certainly has been a smear campaign by the Liberals. What I offer Australians is a more positive view – not just of the future, but the way politicians should conduct themselves. What I say is that Mr Abbott, you’ve spent $80 million of taxpayers' money but you’re only spending $15 million on a domestic violence campaign. You have the wrong priorities Mr Abbott. What I say to Mr Abbott is if you want to have a debate about workplace relations and the fair go all around at work, let's do it in Parliament. Let's move away from this tawdry, low-rent path of royal commissioners, Tony Abbott’s royal commission to just investigate and smear their rivals.


JOURNALIST: So Mr Shorten, just putting aside your misgivings about the political motivations behind the royal commission, are you in any way chastened by your experiencethere over the last two days?


SHORTEN: I was always willing to cooperate with the royal commission. And I am proud and willing to talk about what I've accomplished for Australian workers and also consequently for more cooperative Australian workplaces. But 900 questions later, I think Australians now have the right to ask Mr Abbott a question: when will you get on with the business of running Australia? You have an Agriculture Minister who is off the reservation, we can't - he won't even turn up to do a photo opportunity with his boss. This is devastating for agricultural policy in this country. Either the Minister for Agriculture supports his Prime Minister or he doesn't and the consequences of not supporting it I think are severe and we need to have more sensible debates about the future, not this personality infighting.


JOURNALIST: But as someone who’s dedicated your working life for the union movement, I mean aren’t you disturbed at revelations, not necessarily just affecting you – but that workers are missing out because of sweetheart deals between unions and employers? I mean – isn’t that a concern to you, that we’ve had evidence to that effect?


SHORTEN: Chip, in my time and the evidence relating to me, Australian workers that I represented did well. I reject the assumption underlying your question -


JOURNALIST: But we’re not talking about just your – deals involving you Mr Shorten, I’m talking about the union movement more generally. I mean, there’s been a lot of damning material that’s come out of the royal commission would you agree?


SHORTEN: Well actually, I think a lot of material has been pretty thin. What this has been is an examination – on one hand there's been an argument that some unions are too militant and on the other hand that some unions are too cooperative. The real issue is what will the jobs of the future look like, what will the workplace relations of the future look like? These are the important policy questions. Now we all know – and you're all shrewd members of the media – you can see a smear campaign funded by the taxpayer run by Mr Abbott when you see one. You know that. The real issue about Australia's workplaces and workplace relations is how do we ensure that employees have good well paid jobs, safe jobs, jobs with good job security and consequently we need to ensure that enterprises in Australia are profitable, competitive and high-skilled. This is the future of workplace relations. We heard with the nurses upstairs, they're interested in how they get trained and retrained and the skills they need to carry out the functions which is their calling. To me the future of industrial relations is the best skills system possible, the best education system possible, not Tony Abbott's royal commission.


JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) …rebuild the trust in the electorate, what do you plan on doing to build that trust back up?


SHORTEN: We will outline in time for the next election a positive program for Australia's future in the next ten years – jobs, health, education, fairness. What Australians want out of the political parties is a competition about who’s got the best ideas for the future. Not this politics of smear.


JOURNALIST: Do you agree with Kim Carr that the Abbott Government is acting like a totalitarian state?


SHORTEN: Well I'll leave for others to judge what they think about the ethics of the Government engaging, spending $80 million -


JOURNALIST: But this is one of your Shadow Ministers making this comment -


SHORTEN: - that’s alright I'll let you finish then I'll answer.


JOURNALIST: But that’s what I’m saying.


SHORTEN: Australians will judge for themselves the ethics of spending $80 million of taxpayers' money on this rather than making sure we’ve got more nurses in the emergency department, or indeed we're tackling issues like domestic violence. I put it very squarely. I believe that in a choice between spending tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money on a political smear campaign or spending tens of millions of dollars helping the victims of domestic violence get the refuge and support, I know what I would do if I was Prime Minister. I just don't know that Mr Abbott's priorities are correct.


JOURNALIST: Would you set up a Royal Commission into Liberal donations?


SHORTEN: Well we’ve got disclosure laws and we're always up for a discussion about electoral reform and disclosure reform, there’s no doubt about that, and certainly in coming weeks we'll look at what else needs to be done to improve those matters. What I’m saying today, is talking to the nurses of Australia, the backbone of our health system, the people we count on when the chips are down, what they heard from Catherine King and myself as Labor's representatives is we will always do a better job in funding our hospital system and primary healthcare than Mr Abbott. Last question, thanks.


JOURNALIST: How should Australians judge Commissioner Heydon’s comments about your credibility as a witness?


SHORTEN: We know the Commissioner has got a job do. As far as I'm concerned, I'm always pleased to talk about what I've done representing Australian workers. For me, it was always about making sure that Australians are better off, that's what motivated me 25 years ago and it's what motivates me this morning talking to Australia's nurses. Thanks everyone, have a lovely day.