Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Rockhampton - Malcolm Turnbull’s cuts to Medicare and pathology services; Malcolm Turnbull’s 15 per cent GST on everything




SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Turnbull’s cuts to Medicare and pathology services; Malcolm Turnbull’s 15 per cent GST on everything; future of the mining industry; petrol prices; Clive Palmer’s nickel refinery going into administration; mining related illnesses

LEISA NEATON, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR CAPRICORNIA: Hi everyone, I am Leisa Neaton, Labor candidate for Capricornia. It's my pleasure today to be touring CQUniversity campus with the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten. We are here today talking about health, in particular health cuts - another $650 million announced just before Christmas and how it is going to impact on things like digital imagery and pathology and it's going to hurt central Queenslanders. With the already high cost of living, cutting rebates, reducing the incentive for bulk-billing is going to hit the hip pocket of those who can least afford it. We have got real concerns for people who are managing chronic health conditions like diabetes, like cancer. And on top of that, this Government is talking about a cruel 15 per cent GST - it is simply not good enough. People in this area deserve better and I want to introduce Bill.

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Leisa, and it's great to be here with Leisa in Rockhampton and right now at Central Queensland University. I am here with Leisa because the Labor Party is determined to oppose a 15 per cent increase to the GST. We are also determined to oppose Malcolm Turnbull's Liberals' cuts to Higher education. When Malcolm Turnbull took over from Tony Abbott, we thought maybe their hard line of the Liberals against funding our universities properly would change. But he says one thing, the truth is he does another. The cuts to universities are still on the books of the Malcolm Turnbull's Liberal Government. We see here today the great opportunities that regional Queensland students get to learn dentistry, to learn the allied health professional skills which make such a difference not only to their own lives but in our communities. Under Malcolm Turnbull's Liberals, CQU will lose $60million over the next four years.

Now Labor has pledge for our policies to substantially restore that money. We have the 15 per cent GST which affects the cost of living for Rockhampton, we've got the cuts to CQU and also as Leisa has spoken about, Labor is up in arms and we are determined to stop the cuts to the bulk-billing incentives for pathology and diagnostics imaging services. In plain speak, Malcolm Turnbull's Liberals, Christmas Eve, announce that they will cut $650 million on the payments which go to offset the cost for patients of getting pathology test for important matters such as cancer, such as diabetes and other chronic illnesses, such as pap smears. Today, in Rockhampton, part of my national tour to talk about downward pressure on cost of living and in particular, to oppose the 15 per cent GST which the Liberal and National parties are actively considering. We are also going to stand up for the quality of our healthcare system and our higher education system.

Happy to take questions on these and other matters.

JOURNALIST:  How will the increase in tax impact the people of CQ and the people of CQU?

SHORTEN: There is no doubt that our cost of living is a giant issue at the moment. We've seen our national income increases - the lowest in 50 years, for the last 50 years we are now living in period where national income is increasing at the slowest rate ever. This is the worst possible time for people in central Queensland to have to pay a 15 per cent GST on everything. There are families who work hard to send their kids to university. There will be students here who are the first in their families to ever attend university. Now they are faced with the prospect of a Malcolm Turnbull Liberal tax plan which would see the cost of everything related to going to university be set at 15 per cent tax - that's too high. And that's all part of the broader cost of living. Young people don't earn, while they're studying, don't earn a lot of income. So whilst they might not be on fixed pensions, they will be on a low income. The challenge there is that if you just 15 per cent tax on everything that's going to hit young people really hard. It's a bad idea.

JOURNALIST:  Mining and resources is one of the main income generators in this region, in CQ - Will your government commit to the Abbott Point expansion and the Carmichael coal mine?

SHORTEN: Well first of all, the mining industry is experiencing a real global downturn as commodity prices are falling. My heart goes out to increased unemployment or the increased unemployed people as we've seen the mining industry contract. Also I have to say when we are talk about people who are full-time unemployed, I want to put a plug in that Labor is very committed to concern of contractors, casual and people who are insecurely employed. One of the big issues that I heard from workers this morning is the concern about casualisation of jobs in the region. So when it comes to the future mining; mining and coal does have a strong future in Australia - absolutely. But Labor will always be guided by the best science and the best processes. So we absolutely see a strong future for resources sector. We want to make sure that the best possible analysis, the best business studies are done in terms of the profitability, the best, most rigorous evidence is gained - so we will be guided by what the experts have to say about the environmental condition, about the viability of these projects going forward.

JOURNALIST: So is the Abbot Point expansion viable?

SHORTEN: Well there is a lot of people who say it is but of course there are some environmentalist who have a different view.

JOURNALIST: Should Clive Palmer done more to protect workers at Queensland Nickel?

SHORTEN: Well this is a very difficult week for Queensland Nickel employees. There are hundreds of them. There is also the contractors and other people who make a living from the plant. And then of course, there is all the small businesses and trade creditors who supply services and goods to Queensland Nickel. The first question is 'can the business be resuscitated?'. What has happened is we've seen administrators brought in - they are doing an analysis of the business, the strengths and the weaknesses, they are seeing if they can restructure the debts and see if the business can either trade out is a going concern or can be prepared for a sale so that new buyer can come in and invest. The worst possible outcome is that they just decide the business can't be salvaged and it is mothballed and closes it's gates. So we want the administrators to do well, we don't want to join in some sort of giant blame game - we want to see the business survive. But having said that, I expect and the Labor Party expects that the management of this company will explain to workers how exactly their entitlements are secure. There are people who are losing their job at the moment right around Australia and one of the worst things that can happen if you've lost your job is to then be told that there isn't enough money to pay you what you're owed. It is never appropriate for an Australian corporation, it doesn't matter if it's an investment bank, a bank, an insurance company or mining company or a manufacturing company, it is never appropriate for these companies to use the entitlements of it's workers as part of the ongoing business and when they can't pay the bills, they say to the workforce the money is not there. So our first hope is that the business can trade out of its difficulties and be restructured in such a fashion that there is a viable business going forward. We also want to hear that the workers entitlements are secure and finally, I've just got to put a plug in for the small businesses. Under our laws in Australia, if the entitlements are there, employees rank first in priority for their entitlements. What that means practically is that there will be a lot of small businesses, tradies, people who supply services, who won't have the same guarantees. It is very important that in any restructure or in any discussion about entitlements that we try to do as much and that the people who are responsible do as much as can to help the small businesses and the unsecured creditors not be forgot and get what they're owed as well.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the Government has done enough to pass on the savings of the falling oil prices or to pressure the oil companies to pass on the savings of falling oil prices to motorist?

SHORTEN: I am like most Australians. We are sick and tired of petrol companies playing games with the price of petrol. When ever it gets raised as an issue legitimately there is always some expert in a suit saying 'no, no - it's just the way of the world' or 'it's market forces'. Most motorists know that this is just a crock of nonsense. I think the ACCC just absolutely needs to redouble it's efforts to make sure that Australian motorists aren't being taken for a ride by petrol companies. And again the ACCC, the regulator needs to stand up for the motorists against the petrol companies, and most motorists would not believe enough is being done, and of course while the ACCC is doing that, this is not the time Malcolm Turnbull to introduce a 15 per cent GST on petrol. We already pay a fuel excise, a GST is a tax on tax on petrol. Families are battling to make cost of living payments and to make ends meet, the idea that Malcolm Turnbull and his team are contemplating a new tax, increasing the tax on motorists, especially when petrol companies, I think are taking us for a ride, it's just not on.

JOURNALIST: Some state Labor leaders are showing some flexibility and that they would still consider a rise in the GST if it would go to education and health, what do you have to say to that? Is it hard to maintain that opposition to the GST if others are also considering it?

SHORTEN: It's not hard for me to oppose an increase in the GST because a GST is simply stealing money from working families to give it to wealthy companies. Let me repeat that; I believe a GST is simply stealing money from working families, an increase in the GST is stealing money from working families to provide for tax cuts for wealthy companies. We saw that proposed in yesterday's media from elements within the Liberal Party, it is a bad idea. Let's be straight, I get why some state politicians are keen to try and find money for hospitals and schools. The reason why they are is because the Liberal Government, doesn't matter if it was Tony Abbott or now Malcolm Turnbull, are engaging in massive cuts to basic healthcare funding and basic school funding. So the state politicians are desperate but the truth of the matter is that no problem's going to be fixed by putting a 15 per cent tax on everything. The problem with a GST is that it will kill confidence.

In Rockhampton and Central Queensland we see rising unemployment, it's above 10 per cent. Now you've got small businesses in big towns shutting their doors and you see the for lease or for sale signs in the small shops. A GST kills confidence, if you want to stop people spending money in Rockhampton and anywhere else in regional Australia, you put a 15 per cent tax on everything. And Australians don't believe they're going to be properly compensated, and they shouldn't fall for that. The idea that the Liberal Party in Canberra, the Liberal National politicians are going to - who cut $80 billion from schools and hospitals are now simply going to use all that GST money to make up for the cuts they've made, you know, a crocodile wouldn't swallow that, and Labor's going to stand up for working families and everyday Australians who are making ends meet.

JOURNALIST: If you were in government what would you do to help get petrol prices down? Pressure the ACCC?

SHORTEN: Absolutely, the ACCC has got to do more than its doing. I'm not saying it’s never done anything, but all motorists have an inbuilt suspicion that they're getting treated as mugs by petrol companies and Labor's on the side of motorists. We believe the ACCC has to redouble its efforts, it's not good enough to simply say that's global oil prices or there's nothing that can be done, it's not good enough for those people in power to shrug their shoulders say we've got no - kick, you know, kick the can down the road and say there's nothing we can do about it. Labor understands, I understand everyday motorists have to pay more and more at the petrol bowser if the ACCC doesn't really police these issues.

JOURNALIST: Agriculture is a big industry here in CQ and Michelle Landry's been pushing for the (inaudible), is that something that you'll support or that will be funded under a Labor government?

SHORTEN: There's no doubt that we need to have greater water storage in the region, and there's no doubt we need to have greater infrastructure investment. I'm going to get Leisa to supplement my answer about the water storage in a moment, but let's talk about infrastructure. Agriculture and food are part of the future for Australia's economic growth. So Labor's absolutely on board and we'll work with the Liberal Nationals where ever there's a good idea to make people better off. But one thing I have noticed is that there hasn't been a lot of money spent on infrastructure in this part of the world in the last 2.5 years. It is no doubt in my mind, everyone knows and has known for a couple of years that the mining boom’s coming to an end, but where are the new jobs that are replacing that. The Commonwealth, in particular Canberra has an obligation in my opinion to help spend some money for productivity industry building jobs, and also to then make sure that that generates good advantages for businesses in the region, but I might get Leisa to talk a little bit more about the water storage issue.

JOURNALIST: Sorry just on the point of infrastructure, obviously there has been those job losses in Townsville, will the Government consider fast-tracking any infrastructure projects to compensate for the job losses?

SHORTEN: Did you say in Townsville?


SHORTEN: Well you know, central Queensland, people should be able to grow up and to live their lives in central Queensland and not have to go elsewhere to find vital work and vital services. Something which Lisa's been saying to me and indeed our candidates up and down the coast of Queensland, we need to have regional infrastructure expenditure, for instance, Labor's committed to help contribute towards the building of the stadium in Townsville, they have an NRL team there, and we want to help create that sort of confidence building infrastructure. But if we're going to generate infrastructure in this country we also need to make sure that we have skilled workforces. We are very concerned at the privatisation of TAFE and training in this state. We believe that we should be having more apprentices trained and we believe that a greater portion of taxpayer money should go to help TAFE as opposed to some of the private providers, where we've seen some really shonky things go on in terms of training. But Leisa might talk a bit more about the water.

NEATON: Sure, so look obviously we want to see the infrastructure created so that we can attract jobs and industry to this area. So yes, water storage is a priority for us, another priority is a faster and fairer NBN. We are being sold out by the LNP Government who thinks that it's okay to deliver a sub-standard network in this part of the world. That is not fair to the students in Capricornia, it's not fair to the entrepreneurs in Capricornia and it's not fair to the businesses in this part of the world. So yes water infrastructure and the NBN that is going to deliver, you know a nation building capacity to allow our businesses to be able to compete on the global stage, that's what we need to attract further employment. And opportunities for young people and workers who are being put off through down turns in the mining sector and contraction in industry, that's what we need in this part of the world, so if we can build those types of projects we have a chance to attract the start-up businesses, the new ideas because Capricornia is a great place to grow a new business.

SHORTEN: Great, good answer Leisa.

JOURNALIST: Malcolm Turnbull's speech in the US, he talked about the need for power sharing between Syria and Iraq and creative pragmatism. How do you feel about that?

SHORTEN: Well one thing I'm absolutely in favour of is Liberal and Labor working together on our national security. I've had a number of conversations with Malcolm Turnbull and we agree on quite a lot. What we certainly agree on is one, our defence forces are doing a great job there. Two, the long term solutions are not going to be solved by the ADF, the Australian Defence Force or indeed western military intervention alone. What we need is the leaders of that region to come together in the name of peace and start working together. You cannot drain the swamp of terrorism by military means alone. So there’s - and I think that Australians want to hear this, but it’s good be able to say it – there’s a high degree of bipartisanship between myself and Malcolm Turnbull on these matters, we are all committed to fighting terrorism both in our region, at home, and in the Middle-East. Our Defence Forces are doing a great job, and it’s up to the region to take the principal leadership to secure the security of their communities and Australia certainly is doing its bit as a global citizen to help those who need our help.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that Australia should reconsider boots on the ground in Syria or should we be leaving it up to the Middle-East?

SHORTEN: We haven’t see the terms of the American request, but again, Australia is making a force contribution second behind the United States, maybe it's third now that the French are more engaged, but we are right up the top. Literally, we punch above our weight when it comes to the contribution that we’ve been making to secure peace in Iraq and stop the terrorists in northern Syria and the damage they’re doing there and the harm and the crime they’re committing there. But the region needs to step up. The history of the Middle-East is that only through regional leadership, only through the leadership of those Muslim nations in the region can we see long-term peace and certainly that’s got to be the way forward, and the ADF and military intervention by the west can’t fix all of the problems.

JOURNALIST: Tony Abbott and Bronwyn Bishop are both up for preselection in the New South Wales political party debate in the oncoming election whenever it may be – what do you think? Do you think their time is done?

SHORTEN: Clearly there’s a lot of infighting within the Liberal Party. It’s up to the Liberal Party who they pick to be their representatives. If I was living in their electorates I’d be voting for the Labor candidate. Who the Libs pick is up to them, I think what people want to see though out of the Liberal Party, as they do out of Labor, is less focus on themselves, less focus on the infighting and the division and more focus on the needs of everyday Australians. That’s why I’m here in Rockhampton with Leisa. That’s why I’m absolutely opposed to a 15 per cent GST making every day people pay more for everything that they buy. I’m absolutely opposed to the cuts to pathology testing which will affect diabetes, chronic illness sufferers, cancer patients, women seeking pap smears, and I’m absolutely committed to making sure that Rockhampton gets its fair share of the NBN – not a second class NBN – it gets its fair share of infrastructure, and we’ve got to tackle the scourge of casualisation and insecure employment. They’re the real issues, they’re the issues that people are talking about around the kitchen table, not whether or not Bronwyn Bishop or Tony Abbott do or don’t continue in Parliament. Last question thank you.

JOURNALIST: What are your thoughts on the Capricornia election coming up?

SHORTEN: In terms of the Federal election?

JOURNALIST: Yep, and why should we vote for Leisa?

SHORTEN: Leisa’s outstanding, and I’ll tell you why she’s outstanding. She’s got a track record of standing up for people, you know if you’re going to vote for somebody you want to know are they good at representing people; that’s what she’s been doing her whole working life. Secondly, Leisa knows what’s going on here. She thinks it's ridiculous that you have a second rate NBN for Rockhampton compared to other parts of Australia. She’s a champion for Capricornia, she’s committed to making sure we properly fund infrastructure, she won’t vote for the GST in Parliament, that gives her a big tick already and of course she’s very committed to tackling the challenges of casualisation in the workplace. So on every – and I’m not trying to make her blush – but on every count, the issues which affect people; cost of living, health care, education, jobs, the environment, Leisa is streets ahead of anyone else running in the Capricornia election.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, just one more question, this issue’s been really big in our region, but there’s been recent cases of black lung disease. How important is it that the state and federal governments, the local governments and also mining industry work together to improve air quality?

NEATON: We’ve been very concerned about those reports and it seems that more instances are emerging in the media and so I really encourage people who have worked in the mining sector over a long period of time to make sure they are having their x-rays checked, to make sure they are working with their unions, with their employers to be sure that the industry standards around workplace health and safety in our mines are the highest, and so yes, I do believe that is a co-operative effort and people should be in there advocating for the health of employees and making sure that we get good outcomes.

JOURNALIST: What about all these communities that surround these mines as well – it’s not just the workers affected.

NEATON: Well I believe there’s monitoring in place, and you know, I’m not totally across all of the issues with the condition. What I’ve mainly heard about is the impact that it’s having on individual employees at this stage. But I’m sure that the unions and the towns will be working together to look at those issues that might be impacting on people in those mining communities who’ve lived in those areas their whole lives.

SHORTEN: I might just add to the general point; mining is a good industry, but it also needs to operate within a social licence of its communities. The truth of the matter is that it’s most likely that in 2016, over 200 people will die traumatically at work, which is a terrible number. But what’s also perhaps an even more shocking number is that there will be literally thousands of Australians who will have developed industrial diseases in the course of their employment which would have led to their passing this year. The point about that is that if you think that you have a condition which may have possibly related to your time at work, then you should go to your doctor. You don’t do anyone a favour by not researching what’s happening to you. I’ve seen exposure to benzene, exposure to silicosis, exposure to asbestos, and the truth of the matter is that we have people in our community who’ve been exposed to life-threating industrial dusts and diseases; they need to go and see their doctor.

In addition, what we also need to  do is if communities think that there is a legitimate issue worthy of investigation, they need to back in their own gut instinct. I’ve seen too many instances of workplace and communities where people were fobbed off by insurance companies or by mining companies and told there’s not a problem here, nothing to see here, keep moving. Now I think that in modern Australia in 2016, corporate Australia is a lot more switched on to workplace safety, and their community responsibilities. But I’ve been around too many mines in my time as a union rep to simply dismiss the anxieties and legitimate concerns of communities to make sure that their safe – and you have a right in my opinion to ask the previous company or the operators of facilities to make sure they are monitoring to make sure people are getting tested. So it’s no cause for panic, no cause for alarm but people need to back in their own instinct because Australian workplace history is littered with examples where people were ignored and we see the consequences. Thanks everyone.