Bill's Transcripts


MONDAY, 27 JUNE 2016

SUBJECTS: Medicare; Hospitals funding; Costings; Customs scandal; Superannuation.

BILL SHORTEN: Six days to go in the election and Labor is most committed to defending Medicare. We've just been visiting hospitals talking to patients, talking to their parents, talking to the kids, talking to the hard working staff here at this very, very good facility. There is no doubt in my mind that defending Medicare against the ruthless cuts of the Liberal Government is a first order issue for Australians. Mr Turnbull has made choices in this election, so have I. Mr Turnbull's chosen to give a $50 billion tax cut to large corporations. We've chosen to properly fund our hospitals. Mr Turnbull has chosen to defend banks, we've chosen to defend Medicare. Mr Turnbull has chosen to keep going ahead with his six year freeze on GP rebates, we've chosen to unfreeze the rebates. Mr Turnbull has chosen that from Friday, the bulk-billing incentives which are available for blood tests, which are available for X-rays, for those bulk-billing incentives, will be cut. We've chosen not to cut them, and in doing this, we do so because we fundamentally believe that the health care of all Australians and any Australians is a matter for all of us. You cannot be Prime Minister of this great country if you're not prepared to prioritise the health care of Australians. We believe that an economic plan requires a healthy Australia. We believe that a prosperous Australia requires an Australia where it is your Medicare card, not your credit card, which determines the level of health care. 

This election on July 2 will be a referendum on the future of Medicare, we remain absolutely committed to put forward our positive plan for health care in this country. Our positive plans to help save Medicare from the dismantling by Mr Turnbull piece by piece, brick by brick of our Medicare system. And we are confident that the Australian people, on July 2, will choose to prioritise and defend Medicare, not large $50 billion tax cuts for large corporations.

Before I go to questions though, about defending Medicare and other matters, I feel it is important to talk about the major, massive corruption scandal facing Mr Turnbull and his Government. If the reports in today's media are even half true, the Australian Government has lost control of its visa system to the crooks and criminals. When you look at the very serious allegations which are being raised, Mr Turnbull has serious questions to answer about the integrity and administration of our visa system, and the Government's abject failure to uphold a straight visa system in this country.

These are serious allegations. Allegations of organised crime, running immigration rackets, providing false visas which allow people to illegally enter this country. It's a most serious matter that whilst this Government has been in charge, the Liberal Government, with senior ministers serving as Immigration Ministers right under their very noses, we discover that if you pay up to $50,000 you can get a bogus work visa to illegal enter this country. Mr Turnbull has to explain to us, how widespread is this problem? How many tainted work visas are there? Labor's been calling for reform of the visa system and today's scandalous revelations require the Government to provide a full accounting immediately of the crisis in our visa system. The crisis in our visa system which undermines people's confidence in the ability of this Government to competently manage anything. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Has Peter Dutton taken his eye off the ball here with what you were just talking about in favour his laser-like focus always being on asylum seekers and part B, isn't this another reason why Labor should back a Federal ICAC?

SHORTEN: Well there’s plenty in what you say, so let me take all of the parts of your question, Heath. First of all there are a million people currently in Australia who have visas which give them some work rights. It is appalling and astounding and many Australians will be up in arms as they learn the news that it is possibly for criminal gangs, for organised crime overseas, to manipulate and bypass, almost casually, the integrity of our visa system. The fact that Australian visas are for sale for cash, for sexual favours, for corruption in other countries, undermines the very heart of our immigration system. In terms of the investigation and the best response, let us just recognise that there are even more allegations which are going to be revealed, we understand, tonight and tomorrow.

But Labor will not allow the Government to sweep this massive undermining of confidence in the integrity of our visa system. The fact that this Liberal Government has handed control of our visa system to criminals and crooks. We believe that the Government must make a full accounting, we'll certainly see what further facts come to light in the next 12 hours and 24 hours. We are not going to let this issue rest. Australians are very concerned to make sure that Australian jobs are going to people who are properly here. This Government cannot tell us right now, as we speak, who is here, what are the circumstances in which they're here, are they actually doing what the visas say they're meant to be doing, how many people have manipulated the system and got in under Australia's guard, and then we see a complete breakdown of the visa system. This is a major crisis for the way we handle visas and the way we handle people co ming to this country seeking to work. Full stop.

I answered part B by saying we'll watch what gets revealed in the next 12 hours. There is no doubt in my mind, though, that the Government simply brushing the matter off and saying that we'll worry about it on July 3. That won't cut it. I talk to everyday Australians, Labor's been talking about reforming the visa system. Everyday Australians will probably at some level think we always wondered if this system is being reason properly. Now we know it. You have senior ministers, Dutton and Morrison, renowned for arrogance, renowned for their addiction to secrecy, and clearly now renowned for their competence at managing the visa system. This is a major crisis and nothing less than a full accounting will satisfy the Labor Party.

JOURNALIST: What will you do to get to the bottom of this visa situation and to crackdown to stop these rorts?

SHORTEN: Well, Labor has, we announced a series of reforms I have to say, not even knowing the extent of the corruption which has now been revealed. What we've said is that employers should not be allowed to bring people here unless they've tested the local labour market. We have to make sure there's more resources for enforcement, we have to make sure that the job listed on the application is actually bona fide. What these allegations reveal is that Australian laws are being gamed by criminals and this government hasn't got a clue what to do about it. They clearly haven't been aware of it and now we find out that our visa system is in tatters.

JOURNALIST: Just on Medicare, obviously that is a focus as we head to July 2. Do you think that voters believe your message though, considering the latest Newspoll actually has the Coalition ahead?

SHORTEN: I'm very confident that Australians are very concerned about the future of Medicare. I have to say to people that Australians, wherever I go, want to be reassured that we will defend and save Medicare. They want to hear Labor's policies to make sure that we keep downward price on the cost of medicine. They want to hear Labor's policies that we will save bulk-billing in GP clinics. It was the Royal Australian College of GPs who said that the Liberal policies mean that 14.5 million Australians will pay more to see the doctor. Australians want to hear that at least there's one major political party in this country on their side. The people we just visited in these hospital wards, they know the importance of well-funded hospitals, the parents here know the anxiety of long waiting times making sure their child is okay. Labor is the only party who can be trusted to properly support our hospitals, to ma ke sure we retain bulk-billing, to keep downward pressure on the price of prescription medicine. This is what Australians want and Labor will defend and save Medicare with every ounce of effort that we can muster before the 2nd.  

JOURNALIST: If that's the case though, then why is the Coalition now ahead in the Newspoll?

SHORTEN: Well, I think you're question assumes an election outcome which I don't.

JOURNALIST: On your costings that were released yesterday afternoon, how can voters trust your economic credentials when you've said that the deficit will be $16 billion worse over the forward estimates under Labor?

SHORTEN: We're very determined to reduce the deficit, but we're not going to do it by smashing household budgets. Our numbers, our costings which we produced yesterday well in time for the election, in good faith with the Australian people I might add, our costings show we achieve balance in the same year they do. And because we're introducing long-term reforms, what it means is that we can make long-term improvement to reducing debt, reducing government debt, in the future because we're making the long term reforms now, without making savage cuts to the things which really matter to Australians – Medicare and education. And furthermore, this Government is deceitfully relying on fake savings which no-one in Australia expects them to be able to pass. I mean, I think it's long overdue for the Government to reveal their own costings, don't you?

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, your costings yesterday showed that you're banking the savings from the Coalition's proposed changes to super, so are you adopting all of their policies and if not, are you not giving retirees total uncertainty until Labor does reveal its own plan?

SHORTEN: Well, let’s be straight about superannuation here. The Government, in their budget, ambushed a lot of us with their radical changes on superannuation. I'm on record as expressing severe concerns, like a lot of other people too I might add. When we are in government, if we win the election, we're going to revisit these measures because we're not sure how workable they are. The Government says, hand on heart, they're not retrospective. We're sceptical of this and if we form a government we'll be in the best position possible to actually see the accuracy of what they said before the election as compared to afterwards.

JOURNALIST: Will you be committing to the policy?

SHORTEN: The Government says the changes are not. We are sceptical of this. Truthfully, what we need is to get the head of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Finance, and Treasury to actually sit down and examine these rushed changes by the Government to see if they stack up or not. Government is the best place for us to do that from.

JOURNALIST: How can you include those savings in your costings unless you're supporting them?

SHORTEN: Well, first of all the Government has asserted that they’re not retrospective but let's also be very clear here. When we form a government, if we wn the election, we will revisit these measures to see their workability, to fully understand if they can actually be done. There's plenty of people who are saying that these changes will be very hard to implement. For example, one of them is, they require people to keep records for ten years retrospectively when in fact they don't. But, the fact of the matter is that the best place for us to determine the truth of what the Government's finally said will be using the most senior public servants if and when we win the election.

JOURNALIST: Tony Burke this morning talked up the benefit of ten year costings and you said this election is about healthcare. Are you going to the election with a questionable bottom line since you've said nothing on hospital funding beyond the four years of the budget, and as Chris Bowen said this morning, have your prioritised schools over hospitals?

SHORTEN: First of all, I don't know if we've seen the Government's costings over ten years, in terms of health care, and I can tell you the answer to that, they haven't revealed them. What we're doing is providing long-term forecasts and long-term analysis of our position because Australians deserve to be treated with a long-term vision, not just a short-term fix til after the election. When it comes to healthcare, we're making it clear that we will unfreeze the GP rebate going forward and this is a benefit and something we factored in over a decade. When it comes to retaining the bulk-billing incentives for diagnostic imaging and for X-rays and for pathology, we've been able to analyse that over the ten years. With our hospitals agreement in particular, we are optimistic that because of our better planned, more productive investments we're making over four years, and these are four y ear agreements with the states, that at the conclusion of four years, especially if Labor gets elected on July 2, we will have achieved improvements which will actually see us be able to estimate lower costs in hospitals than we otherwise would. 

JOURNALIST: Picking up on that point, how do you anticipate those costs for hospital will be lower? What are you basing that upon? This morning we heard Andrew Leigh say that all the costings, all the amounts for hospital funding are in the costings. Is that true and does that mean you wouldn't you renegotiate with state and territory governments for future hospital funding past the forwards?

SHORTEN: I'll answer that but I realise it was a second part of the earlier question which I just want to come to about education and healthcare. We've made choices about what we've prioritised. We are prioritising defending Medicare and we are prioritising properly funding schools. What we're not prioritising is giving a $50 billion tax cut to large corporations.

In terms of your question, the hospital agreements are negotiated every four years. What we've done in our hospital funding package, which I know has been well received at the Monash Hospital here, is that we are providing extra resources for hospitals, full stop. We're going to the 50 per cent efficient pricing of what states require to run their hospital system. Now, what we've seen from efficient pricing when Labor last negotiated the hospital agreement, is we have seen improvements to the bottom line, both in patient care in terms of performance and in terms of cost. What we're also doing, apart from that 50 per cent efficient, funding delivering reforms in hospitals, is that we're also providing additional money to help reduce waiting lists for elective surgery, waiting times in emergency hospital wards of hospitals. So that combination of reform we believe will generate improvements but we'll have to see how that system rolls out and you can't be in a position to know the success of those reforms until we've undergone that period.

One thing I can guarantee, Mr Turnbull's not funding hospitals as well as we are. Full stop. Mr Turnbull's making changes which will discourage bulk-billing, which means that patients in some cases, tragically and sadly, defer going to see the doctor until they're sicker. He is increasing the price of prescription medicine and he's cutting the bulk-billing incentives for blood tests and for X-rays. This all means that the prospect for Australians is they're going to pay more for their healthcare if Mr Turnbull's returned on 2nd of July and that is a statement beyond doubt. Sorry I might share the questions around.

JOURNALIST: If Labor has nothing to hide with its costings why won't you release the PBO correspondence and how many of your policies does the PBO rate as low reliability?

SHORTEN: First of all, if we talk about hide and seek, the hide and seek game of this election is finding the Coalition costings, isn't it? We should almost set up a competition because they're not producing them. Labor brought out a costings panel. These are very respected leaders in the business world, very respected business minds, very respected accounting minds. Our costings panel has looked at all of our propositions and they've put their name to it. I'll back that up against Scott Morrison who can't produce his costings. At some point the Australian people deserve to hear from the Government on their costings, we've put ours out on the table. We've done it earlier than people have done it ever before in the past. Remember the Hockey ambush on the nation and the nation's media, dolling it out on the Thursday night before the election? I know that some of you have forensically as ked me, will you release your costings? We have and we stand by our costings, full stop.  

JOURNALIST: Given healthcare is your focus this week, why aren't you –

SHORTEN: It's one of our focuses.

JOURNALIST:  Why aren't you giving the states an idea about how much you're budgeting for hospitals over the ten years ,and also which have you backed away from your promise to fully return the money that the Abbott-Joe Hockey budget took out of hospitals?

SHORTEN: Well, first of all, we're doing what all the other political parties are doing with the hospital profile, we're providing four years. So we're doing nothing more or less in terms of transparency about the hospitals. What we are doing on hospitals though, which our opponents are not doing, is we're properly funding hospitals. I'll tell you what, if you did a straw poll of eight states and territories, they're pretty keen to get their hands on our hospitals package. I'm not saying the Liberal premiers won't vote for Liberal candidates, but I am saying their little inner health child is saying, gee, I just wish Malcolm Turnbull had done what Labor have done. I've got no doubt about that. When you look at the AMA, for instance, or the Royal College of GPs, the Royal Australian College of GPs, they know the greatest challenges to our health costs are l osing bulk-billing through the freezing of rebate and of course properly funding hospitals.

I can go to every hospital in Australia and say vote Labor because we'll provide for more funding for hospitals. I can go to every Australian who is currently on an elective surgery waiting list for hip replacements, for knee reconstructions and say vote Labor because we're actually going to make it more possible for you to have your surgery more quickly. I can look at everyone who uses prescription medicine and purchases prescription medicine and say vote Labor because we're actually keeping the price down and we're scrapping the price hike. And I can do all of that because we are not doing Mr Turnbull's key number one economic plan, which is a $50 billion tax give away to large companies. That is why we can make the promises we're making, full stop. 

JOURNALIST: On the superannuation again, are you not leaving older voters and retirees in limbo by not admitting what your policy is going to be? Do you not consider them an important demographic in the lead-up to Saturday's poll?

SHORTEN: My words, I think all superannuants have been deeply let down by this government. Our policies on superannuation have always been well cast and well advised and consulted well in advance of this election. It was in the middle of last year that we proposed reforming the top end of superannuation tax concessions. What we've also said is that we want to restore the money which with the tax credit, which was the tax deduction which was available for people who earn less than $37,000 a year. There's 3.5 million Australians earn less than $37,000 a year. Currently, when they pay their superannuation they've got to pay 15 per cent tax on their superannuation, which is in many cases is higher than their actual marginal rate of taxation. The Government scrapped that tax deduction which would have seen literally hundreds and thousands of dollars put forward into people's low paid workers' superann uation accounts, and through our campaigning, we're able to make sure that that is reversed and that low income superannuants, low income workers get better superannuation.

In terms of what the Government's doing, we have concerns with the way they're implementing and rolling out. These changes are not due to 1 July, 2017. I'm confident if you get a government in charge who actually understands superannuation, we can move beyond the shocks and surprises which this government administered with no warning on budget night this year. 

JOURNALIST: Just on super, you haven't answered the question as to how Labor can actually hang on to the Government's revenue from these retrospective super changes and not implement them retrospectively yourself. Are you planning some other hit to super that we don't know about, and secondly, you've complained about a $57 billion funding shortfall for health, yet your costings don't complete that shortfall, don't fix it. Are you going to make any more health funding announcements this week that might get you there?

SHORTEN: Well first of all, I'm pleased that The Australian newspaper is recognising there’s a debate about these changes are retrospective, because that has been something which has concerned us and if there's been a change of –  

JOURNALIST: And we've written about it before, many times –

SHORTEN: If there is a change of editorial policy which is actually saying these things are retrospective, that's a development in the public debate. Let me be very direct about this, I have grave concerns about the way this Government is handling superannuation. They froze the 9.5 per cent increase going up to 12 per cent, they froze it. They're happy to pocket 15 per cent superannuation themselves as a defined benefit, this government, but they have not supported working Australians lift super from 9.5 per cent to 12 per cent. Then this government made a whole lot of unannounced changes on budget night which has caused great consternation. The best place for us to work through these changes, to understand the implications, is from government, and that is what we're going to do.

You asked about the $57 billion too, I beg your pardon so did someone earlier on. We would like to reverse every cut this government's done, but we have to make hard decisions. This government has smashed a lot of the issues which were important to Australians. Remember in 2013, in the week before the election, Tony Abbott said there would be no cuts to health care, no cuts to education? Then in the 2014 budget that's exactly what they did. We called them out on that. Not everyone agreed with us, as I recall, but we called them out on that. What we are doing, is we are doing improvements to what the Government is doing in health care. The simple fact of the matter is though, is this Government has tripled the deficit, the simple fact of the matter is this Government has increased net public sector debt on every Australian in the country. The fact of the matter is this Government has caused a lot of harm, we can't un do every bit of the harm, but what we are doing is we are reversing $12 billion worth of cuts to Medicare and bulk-billing and the GP rebate. We are reversing approximately $3 billion worth of price hikes that they're putting on other PBS, we are actually opposing cuts which over ten years will see something approaching $3 billion in terms of bulk-billing incentives for diagnostic imaging centres and for pathology labs, and of course our hospitals package is much more generous than what the Government's offering, and so is the package we're offing for elective surgery. So when you total all those things up, we're a much better prospect for the health of Australians than the Government.

JOURNALIST: There is some independent praise for your release of costings yesterday and the rigour of the figures, there's also a view among experts that your budget deficits over the forward estimates would increase the risk of Australia losing its triple-A credit rating. Do you acknowledge that if you run the budget deficits you say you will run that there is a real risk Australia will lose its credit rating anyway?

SHORTEN: Complete rubbish. Not that you asked that question, but the proposition behind it. The only party in this election who has had the credit agencies question their ability to hang on to the triple-A credit rating is the Government. The fact of the matter is we're making long-term changes. It would be perhaps easy for us just to simply adopt every fake measure the Government has and say, see we could make it look better, but we knows that’s not right. We know that, for instance, the proposition that this government is ever going to increase the work age to 70, we know that won't get through any Senate of any foreseeable makeup of the future. So this government is massaging its own budget numbers based on false savings, zombie measures, I think they're known as.

By contrast, what we're doing is we're implementing change, but for instance with negative gearing, we're doing its prospectively. What we're doing is all existing investors, they invest under these rules, they're fine, because that's where we head and so we could make quicker measures, but the point about it is that would affect people more, disadvantage people far more, so we're going to do slow and steady improvement, structural budget reform without smashing household budgets.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, What would you say to Victorians who are considering not voting for you on Saturday out of spite for the way Daniel Andrews has handled the CFA dispute, and secondly, after the riots in northern parts of Melbourne yesterday, would you consider perhaps banning the burning of flags?

SHORTEN: Let's talk about the first question that you asked and I think in your question you answered it, you’re saying, is the CFA and a decision by Mr Andrews something which should be a reason to vote in a Federal election? You're quite right, they are separate matters, you are quite right. The fact of the matter is the safety of all Victorians is what interests me. I have no doubt that career firefighters and voluntary firefighters and their leaders will sort these issues out. I'm a bit disappointed that it has taken as long as it has, but, as I've said in the past, in each negotiation there is always a start, middle and end. Volunteers are at the heart of the CFA and I've got no doubt this will be resolved and I've got no doubt that it is a state issue. I think it's interesting today that Mr Turnbull's so-called political solution doesn't appear to stack up legally. I t hink what is important is the volunteers and career firefighters are not used as pawns in some Federal election when in fact the solution resides far closer to home at the state level.

In terms of burning the flag, I deplore burning the flag. Anyone who burns the flag is an idiot. I don't think we need a law to ban burning the flag, frankly, I think everyone knows it is a stupid, idiotic thing to do and I think 99.999 per cent of Australians think it is an idiot act to do. One more question.

JOURNALIST: One more question on Border Force. One of the main whistleblowers is a Joseph Petyanszki, he was an investigative chief for the Immigration Department from 2007 to 2013. You're saying today there is a full-blown crisis, surely then, it began on Labor's watch?

SHORTEN: No, I don't think that’s the case. I think that it was Labor who instituted a Customs Reform Board, I think they had a number of eminent Australians, David Mortimer, a business leader, former Police Commissioner Ken Moroney, Justice Wood. Now that was set up to improve the operations in terms of the culture of customs. What happened is this, though, this government merged customs in a sort of sidelining and abolishing the oversight of these very important people who could have, I think, potentially make a difference. This government, on its watch, has undermined our visa system. I think that it is outrageous, leave aside an election or not, that we don't know that the people coming here on work visas are bona fide. I think it is outrageous and undermines the integrity of our visa system to find out if there are hundreds of allegations, even if half of them are true, this is an incompetent gove rnment who has not been managing the visa system. Now the visa system is in crisis, there is no doubt in my mind that this government has lost control of the visa system in favour of criminals and crooks and this government needs to answer these questions right now. 


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