MONDAY, 25 MARCH 2019
SUBJECTS: Labor’s plan to end Morrison’s Medicare freeze in the first 50 days; federal Budget; Fiona McLeod in Higgins; NSW election result; negative gearing; 2019 federal election; climate policy.
FIONA MCLEOD, CANDIDATE FOR HIGGINS: Good morning everyone and welcome to Ashburton and the fabulous electorate of Higgins. Bill, we're really delighted you are here this morning with Catherine and Jennifer. Jennifer of course is the candidate for Chisholm, which is right across the road.
We have a really important announcement today on the critical area of health which as you know is a priority area for a Labor Government.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Fiona. That was Fiona McLeod, Labor's new candidate for Higgins. I'm here with Jennifer Yang, Labor's candidate Chisholm and of course Catherine King our Shadow Minister for Health.
I'm really pleased to announce that if a Labor Government is elected in six or seven weeks’ time, within our first 50 days we will reverse the freeze to Medicare items, we'll make sure that the out-of-pocket costs - which have been going up under the current government - that that stops now because we're going to start the indexation of 100 Medicare items on the 1st of July this year.
For the last five and a half years Australian patients, Australian families, and Australian GPs, have had to bear the burden of the unfair freeze on Medicare patient rebates. For the last five and a half years under this government, when a patient's gone to see a doctor they've had their rebate frozen - that's the payment that goes back to the patient. In the last five and a half years though, inflation has gone up. Everything's gone up except people's wages. But unfortunately the patient rebate that's the same now as it was in 2014, which effectively means that this Liberal National Government in Canberra have been cost shifting the cost of health care in this country back on to the wallets and purses of families and patients, and of course the GP surgeries. Everything's been going up but that rebate has been frozen. So Labor is going to make sure that we deliver a real cost of living benefit to patients and that we also make sure that it is your Medicare card not your credit card which determines the quality of health you get here in this country. And this will cover items such as mental health programs, chronic illness check-ups, pregnancy consultations. This is good news, it's fair dinkum, it's real and only Labor can be trusted with Medicare and only Labor can be trusted to make sure it's your Medicare card not your credit card which determines the quality of health in this country.
I'd now like to invite my colleague Catherine King to talk a little bit further about this important announcement today.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND MEDICARE: Thanks Bill and look it's terrific to be here in the Ashburton Medical Centre alongside Fiona and Jennifer. This is a $213 million investment in general practice. We know that General Practices and the patients who rely on them - the thousands of patients every single day visiting general practices - have found that their costs are going up. The cost to see a GP in the years since the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government have been in power has gone up by 25 per cent. People are now paying more out of pocket to see a GP than ever before, and that, let alone the cost to see a specialist which has gone up by even more.
People across the country are in desperate need to access general practice services. They come to these practices every single day and under the Morrison Government their costs have been going up. Well Labor wants to put a down payment on our investment in general practice - $213 million to once and for all end this six year Medicare freeze that has done untold damage to our health care system and support the patients who are here like those in Ashburton Medical Centre.
SHORTEN: Thanks Catherine, are there any questions on this?
JOURNALIST: Is this a carbon copy of the Mediscare campaign you ran in 2016 election?
SHORTEN: Well I don't agree with the assumption of the question. What this is about is making sure that it's your Medicare card not your credit card which determines your health care in this country. Australians in the 1980s went without a wage rise to pay for Medicare, and we pay our Medicare levy as well, and people pay their taxes to Canberra. But what's happened is even though Australians have already paid for our health care system, this government has put the cost of the health care system back onto the burden of Australian families and their savings.
Now, what is truly scary, is that for five and a half years this Government's frozen the patient rebate. That's estimated to have cost Australian patients billions of dollars even though they've already paid for their Medicare system through their taxes. What's really scary is this Government's cut $2.8 billion from hospitals even though Australians pay taxes to make sure that our hospital funding isn't cut. What's really scary is this Government's cut nearly $2 billion from aged care services. What's really scary is that this Government has cut $360 million from preventative health programs. And you know what's really scary? Another three years of Liberal Nationals being in charge of our health care system - that will take it to nearly nine years. They've done damage, we've got to stop the damage, we've got to put the patients back at the centre of our health care system.
JOURNALIST: Are there are - sorry - are there any circumstances in which a Shorten Government would reintroduce a rebate freeze down the track?
SHORTEN: No, we have no plans to do that. In fact I think one of the big lessons that we've seen in the course of this decade is that health is a number one issue. There are other important issues to people, I get that. But so long as Australians have got their health, and their family have got their health, then we can deal with everything else that life turns up. That's why Labor has made some serious economic reform decisions, because we are determined to be able to pay for the best health care system in the world. You know, I'm ambitious for Australia, not to have the best tax deductions and loopholes in the world, but to have the best quality health care and it starts with preventative health, and of course then it must fundamentally put GPs and patients at the centre of what we do. We want to have the best hospital system in the world. We've got to have a better aged care system than we're currently doing. So we see health care as a fundamental issue of a Labor government.
JOURNALIST: How can you assure Australians of this though given that Labor introduced the rebate or the rebate freeze when it was last in power?
SHORTEN: What you're referring to is that the government made, the then government, made a decision to delay indexation from September of one year to line up for the next financial year of July. But I know what the Government's pushing - the government actually wants to get a magic wand out and make you forget the last five and a half years, as if it never happened. Well the current fellow who's the Prime Minister in three of his budgets he presided over cuts to Medicare. The current Health Minister, when he can put his head up from his frontline marginal seat in Flinders, is running around and blaming Labor for everything that he's been in charge - I mean you got to love these Liberal Ministers in Canberra - they take the wages, they take the limousines, they take all the top class benefits of being a Minister and then they want to blame Labor who's not in power.
I didn't make Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and now the current Prime Minister cut health care - but I can fix it.
JOURNALIST: So will you guarantee that you won't introduce a rebate freeze?
SHORTEN: We have absolutely no plans to introduce a freeze on the patient rebate. We want to fix the problem that they've been making.
JOURNALIST: I've got another question. So the government signalled it will spend half a billion dollars on health before the election - will Labor match that?
SHORTEN: We're going to spend more than the Government on health care. If the government wants to have a competition about who do you trust on health care and Medicare, I'm up for that contest. I mean, the government is sort of dropping heavy handed hints that the election will be on May the 11th. The real issue is the budget. What this government wants to do - and their tactics are pretty obvious aren't they - they've basically shut down Parliament for the first half of this year to avoid scrutiny on their record of cuts in health care. Then they're gonna have a budget where hey presto, they want to try and pretend that they haven't been the government for the last five and a half years – but you can trust them over their promises in the next five weeks.
This Budget is not designed in the national interest. This Budget is not designed to last either. It's designed to stick together with sticky tape and ice cream sticks and paddle pop sticks to get through to the election in six weeks’ time. Don't judge the government by the promise they're going to make in the budget. Judge them on the cuts that they've made over the last five and a half years. You know for Labor, we sincerely believe, we believe you know what, we think this card should be what determines your health care in this country not your credit card, it's Labor DNA.
JOURNALIST: How do you fancy your chances here in Higgins?
SHORTEN: Well we've got the best candidate, we've got the best policies we're the most stable and united party and I think that when you look at the long term people are over the negativity of the last five and a half years, people want positive policies.
Fiona McLeod, Senior Counsel is someone who's spent 30 years with a really top shelf legal career and also serving people who've been done over by the system. She's got a good record in the private sector. For Labor to be able to attract a candidate of Fiona's calibre to run in Higgins shows that one, people like Fiona with her track record of contribution in public life see a value in the Labor Party in politics. But it also reflects we are the stable and united policy party of Australian politics, aren't we? Really I mean we're on our third Liberal Prime Minister, we've had countless Health Ministers, we've had 12 energy policies, we had 22 reshuffles.
Lifelong Liberals are contemplating voting Labor for the first time because they just want one Prime Minister for three years and they want a vision for the future not for just politics as usual.
JOURNALIST: So how confident are you that you can win the seat?
SHORTEN: Sorry, I might come back to you?
JOURNALIST: Sorry - how confident are you that you can win this seat? Thanks.
SHORTEN: Listen it's an uphill battle, Labor's never held Higgins. I mean Higgins is where - Higgins has always been, the Liberals have taken it for granted as a safe seat. But I just say to the voters of Higgins have a good look at the not only the curriculum vitae not only the accomplishments of Fiona McLeod, but have a look at why she's running and the values which motivate her and perhaps we might get her to explain. It's an uphill battle but I've got the best candidate, we've got the best policies, we're certainly united and we will put One Nation and extremist parties last which is what a lot of people in Higgins want to do. And we will take a fair dinkum climate change policy to the next election.
I mean if the Liberals really were fair dinkum about climate change Malcolm Turnbull would still be Prime Minister wouldn't he.
Would you like to hear from Fiona about the challenge?
JOURNALIST: Just quickly why did you drop Josh Spiegel?
SHORTEN: Oh, he's a lovely fellow, he's a lovely fellow and we're going to hear a lot more from Josh but you'll get an almost unique opportunity with Fiona McLeod and she can speak for herself. You know, head of the Law Council of Australia, head of the Australian Bar Association, but it's not even the achievements on paper. Why don't we hear from her in a moment, Josh has got a great future and do you notice in the Labor Party we do things well. And yes, we replaced a man with a woman. I don't know if the Liberals have ever done that but I'll come back and answer your other questions but there’s been a couple on Higgins. Fi?
McLEOD: Yes, good morning everybody and it's a real pleasure to be here. Thank you Bill for that introduction.
People have been asking me why I stepped forward to Higgins and the answer for me was really simple. After all of my work being a champion for social justice, for people through the legal system, I saw that it was time to step forward and try and make that contribution for a broader range of people from within Government. And that's my goal to make a contribution to a team that not only can address the economic issues that we're facing and the challenges that we're facing there, but also bring heart. Bring heart to the role so that we're actually not leaving people behind.
What I ask myself before I made this decision is what planet are we leaving for our kids? What are we doing or not doing with the current government about climate change. How are we ignoring the environment when the economic situation and our future is so tied up with the environment and we've got to look at these things and tackle them seriously as the Reserve Bank Governor has said recently.
So the environment and the climate change inaction from this government is a primary motivation for me as is creating opportunity for our kids. Now we know about the crush on the cost of living for most people and people in this electorate are feeling that crush.
What does it cost to come to the GP? What are the pressures on GPs to keep the doors open and provide the excellent services that they are providing? Where are the cost pressures, cost of living pressures across mental health, across aged care, across women' s reproductive health? All of these issues are critical and not just in health but the cost of going to the shops, to the Woollies across the road. The cost of paying bills week in week out and it's only Labor that can address these cost of living issues because the government seems to have forgotten the little people.
So cost of living issues are really important to me. And the third thing that I wanted to mention this morning is that old chestnut of trust in government. Now, this is something I know a lot about having worked on issues of trust and championing a National Integrity Commission for a long time. It seems now that we have a government that thinks it's okay to just say, don't ask those questions talk to the hand that was last week. We are no longer in that position. We need to restore, critically restore trust in government and our public institutions and I've got a lot of ideas about how we can do that within Labor and bring those ideas to the table.
SHORTEN: Thanks Fiona.
JOURNALIST: Bill can I ask you, how important will Victoria be then to the next federal election?
SHORTEN: Everywhere in Australia is important to me for the next election, we're chasing every vote everywhere. But Victoria is certainly a place where I think Labor's message is resonating well.
We've got Jennifer Yang running in Chisholm, that was a seat held by Julia Banks for the Liberal Party but then the Liberal Party and her have parted ways, she's now running against the Health Minister which is not exactly a glowing endorsement on the Health Minister's health policies is it, or his role in getting rid of Malcolm Turnbull.
We're competitive right across Victoria because I think Victorians want to see better public transport in our cities. They want to see women get more equal treatment than they've been receiving. They want to see real action on climate change. They're looking for stability. Plenty of Victorians also say that everything's going up except our wages. They're sick of the fact that because of no climate policy energy bills are going up. They're deeply frustrated that with the Medicare freeze on patient rebates the out-of-pocket cost to see a specialist have gone up 38 per cent, to see a GP somewhere near 25 per cent. Victorians are doing it hard just to be fair, are all Australians.
You know our story, Labor's story is one for middle and working class Australians. We can pay for our promises because we're making serious economic reforms. We're offering a better, bigger, fairer tax cut to nearly 10 million working Australians. We want to restore people's penalty rates. When you look at it we are the only party seeking to form a government who've got a package of measures to help with cost of living.
So I think we're going okay in Victoria but that remains to be seen and I think we're going okay across Australia but the sheer audacity of running such a talented candidate as Fiona McLeod in Liberal heartland shows that we are chasing every vote, everywhere. If you've been voting Liberal or National your whole life and you don't like their disunity. If you've been voting Liberal or National your whole life and you're concerned about the infighting in the National Party. If you're concerned about the fact that they got rid of Malcolm Turnbull and no one's ever explained to you why, this time round send them a message. Your vote is not going to be taken for granted. Labor's got lots of policies we don't expect everyone in Australia to like every one of them but we want your votes because for the last five and a half years, we've worked hard to earn it. We've got the policies, we've got the talented frontbench, the talented backbench and we are united.
You know that old saying in politics from John Howard and Bob Hawke: If you can't manage your own party, you can't manage the Government and you can't manage the nation.
JOURNALIST: Just turning to New South Wales, do you think Michael Daley should step down now and how worried are you about a leadership challenge in New South Wales ahead of the federal election?
SHORTEN: Well that's a state election issue. I'm not running for Premier of New South Wales. But as I said yesterday, I congratulate Gladys Berejiklian. She's a more moderate Liberal and I suspect that those hard liners behind Peter Dutton and Tony Abbott and Morrison who got rid of Malcolm Turnbull must be realising that people don't like extremes in political parties.
In terms of who the New South Wales Labor Party pick, that'll be a matter for them. But I did say yesterday - and I do repeat - his comments which were video taped were wrong. I've told them they were wrong. It's not even that you shouldn't say them, you shouldn't think them.
JOURNALIST: Okay we're weeks away from the federal election, why don't you say when negative gearing changes will be introduced?
SHORTEN: We will answer that within days and weeks. But fair's fair, we announced our negative gearing policy three and a half years ago. Like the Liberal Party, they're going to spring all sorts of little measures in this budget which they've only been thinking of because of focus group research in the previous month before the budget.
We're treating the Australian public with respect. See, I don't want to win the election just because we're not the Liberals - although, that's a pretty good reason to vote for us. I want to win the election because we've got positive policies which speak to the lives that people live. You know, sometimes we over-complicate politics, don't we? Really it's about your family, it's about your health. You want to make sure you're in good health and if you're not, you can see someone. You want to make sure your family is okay, doing alright, and of course they need to see a doctor, we want them to be able afford to do so.
And beyond that, then we're putting policies which are about cost of living. Going to the letter box now and getting one of those envelopes from the power company is like an episode of lion-tamer without a chair and a whip. You don't know what's going to pop out of the envelope and your generally sure it's an increase in your bill. So the Government has just failed on that front for the last five and a half years. Climate change, just how hopeless is Australian politics that we haven't got good policies on climate change. Everyone knows it's real, everyone knows that it's getting worse and everyone knows this Government is broken. Expecting this Government to do something on climate change in the next three years when they've got rid of Malcolm Turnbull, the only Liberal who actually wanted to do something about it. This Government is broken on climate change.
So if you look at it, we've got lots of good things we're offering people and in terms of our negative gearing policy, we'll certainly clarify that in the very near future.
We wouldn't mind the Prime Minister clarifying when the election is. The biggest tip is he's brought the budget forward. Everyone knows that the election date is going to be five or six weeks after the budget and the budget's all about just trying to get people to miraculously forget the last five years of chaos and confusion and division and hope they can magic up some money and then everything will miraculously as if it's never happened for the last five and a half years.
JOURNALIST: Is that result in New South Wales a wakeup call though for Labor and are you worried about seats like Lindsay?
SHORTEN: It's always flattering to have your lines quoted back to the next day. I do think that all parties can learn from elections. I think fair minded commentators have agreed that it was fought on state issues with less federal implications. But I for one think you can always learn from every other experience. And for me what I've taken out of it, is the rise of these third parties. These third parties can't form governments. The people are protesting. And what that tells me is that if you just go negative and you've got nothing positive to say, people are going to switch off you. That's why we're outlining positive policies like today where we're saying to patients, under a Labor Government, your patient rebates are going to go up again after being frozen for the entire period of the Coalition Government.
Perhaps one or two last questions.
JOURNALIST: When will you confirm your final position on using Kyoto credits towards a Paris climate target?
SHORTEN: Very soon. We've already put out a lot of our climate and energy policies. We're committed to 50 per cent renewables by 2030. We're committed to reducing carbon emissions greenhouse gases by 45 per cent by 2030. By 2050, we want our nation to be a zero net carbon pollution emitter. We've also said that we want to help households with the family bills by encouraging a roll out of more batteries, so people can, the two million households who have already got solar rooftop can store that energy and we can encourage more people to go down that path. So in the very near future. I did also say in Tasmania on Saturday, where we were talking about our exciting new irrigation projects for agriculture in Tasmania, to make Tasmania one of the food bowls of Australian agricultural exports, I did say then that we're seriously considering what some of the more progressive nations have done; the United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, New Zealand and not using the Kyoto credits. But we haven't got to a final position and we're taking expert advice.
JOURNALIST: Could I just ask you a question? Why didn't you get the swings then to you that you got in the Victorian election and what do you make of that result in New South Wales?
SHORTEN: I'm not to be a commentator on state elections. As I said, I'm not running for State Premier but I've got no doubt that perhaps people thought that Premier Berejiklian was a moderate Liberal. They hadn't had the leadership instability that their Federal partners have had. But I also think that in the case of Dan Andrews, he had a very strong story to tell too.
But one thing I think we all know is that when a government is divided, when a government's avoiding the scrutiny of Parliament, when a government's presided over five and a half years of everything going up but your wages, when they've frozen Medicare - well people are going to say 'why would we give this Government another three years when they've had nearly six years and done nothing good with it except perhaps hurt people's hip pocket?
JOURNALIST: If I could just ask once about taxes please? There's talk of tax cuts in the federal budget. How big do tax cuts need to be for it to be worthwhile to most Australians?
SHORTEN: That's a hard question because every Australian's circumstances are different. But probably the nearest - we'll have to wait and see what's in the budget although - they have moved the budget forward by a month and they've made sure that there's going to be little scrutiny of the budget after they bring it down. So their tactic is clear: 'Let's just try and get through the six weeks and hope people forget the cuts to schools and hospitals in the last five years'.
Going to your idea of winners and what is enough for people; the nearest illustration I can use of our thinking on this is that last year the Government proposed a tax cut of about $500 dollars for people. Of course at the top end, they wanted to give a lot more away to very well-off people. Labor came up with a policy of giving every Australian who earns between $41,000 and $90,000 a year $928 back. So look at some of the great staff who are working here, some of them might be on the front desk, some of them might be health professionals, even the people who come here after hours and clean up. Maybe there's a married couple, one person earns $90,000, one earns $60,000. Under Labor in our first three years, they're going to get nearly $6,000 back. Under the Liberals, they'll get $3,000. So all I know is that we're offering bigger, better, fairer tax cuts. If the Government does more, we'll have a look at them, if the nation can afford it - well, we've got more room in our budget because we're reforming the loopholes, we're cracking down on the multinationals, we're saying that to the top end, we can't have unsustainable tax subsidies for some people when the vast bulk of working people in this country are going backwards. And they're going backwards, wages have stagnated, people are spending more of their household savings just to make ends meet, the energy bills are up, the out-of-pockets to see a doctor.
This country and the economy is not working in the interests of everyday Australians; the small businesses, the pensioners and the vast bulk of working people. Labor wants to change that. I think this country does best when everyone's getting a fair go not just the lucky few at the top end.