SUNDAY, 12 JUNE 2016
SUBJECTS: Labor’s plan to reduce hospital waiting times and protect Medicare; 2011 National Health Reform agreement Health funding; Liberals’ preference arrangements; Commitments to North Queensland infrastructure and jobs; marginal seat polling; private health insurance; health funding; CFA.
CATHY O’TOOLE, LABOR’S CANDIDATE FOR HERBERT: It's really fantastic to have the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten here today and the Shadow Minister for Health, Catherine King. Once again, what we're seeing is Labor saying North Queensland is important. We are here at the Townsville Hospital, which is the largest tertiary hospital outside of the south-east corner. Health is absolutely critical to us here and it gives me great pleasure to welcome Bill Shorten and Catherine King to make an absolutely amazing announcement for our community and the country today.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Cathy. Before I turn to our hospital and medical announcements, I just want to recognise today is the 20th anniversary of the worst peacetime loss of Australian Defence Forces since the Voyager disaster in the 1960s. This is a very tough time for families of loved ones who were lost 20 years ago in the Black Hawk disaster. I do also wish to acknowledge the remarkable work done by emergency teams, the bravery shown by defence forces, and by local emergency teams. There were 14 people who received commendations for their bravery in the aftermath of this rescue. What also was really lovely this morning when I had an opportunity to lay a wreath, talking to members of the aviation air regiment was they were at pains to also say the emergency services of Townsville played a crucial role on that tragic time 20 years ago.
Today, Labor is pleased to announce we are making a major boost to Australia’s hospitals. An affordable boost to Australia's hospitals. We want to see a genuine attack on waiting lists for elective surgery. We want to see pressure taken off the shoulders of doctors and nurses in our emergency departments right around Australia. For us, the health of Australians is a priority issue. With other matters, just as we've been doing with Medicare, just as we've been doing with medicine, just as we've been doing with primary care, Labor is prioritising the hospital system of Australia as a key issue in this election.
When Labor proposes boosting funding to hospitals, for us, it is not just a spreadsheet of numbers, as important as that is. For us it is all about the thousands of Australians, our fellow Australians, who when they need quality healthcare, deserve to be able to get the best possible support in our amazing hospital system. We ask a lot of our doctors and nurses and allied health professionals, but we also ask a lot of patients when we have waiting lists growing and we don't have proper funding to reduce them.
For me this announcement, what this essentially means, is that for the thousands of Australians right now, many of whom are living in pain, while they're waiting for a phone call from their doctor, their surgeon, their specialist or the hospital to say their operation can go ahead, for us this is all about making sure our health care system works in reducing waiting lists, along with everything else we've said in this election. It is about making sure every piece of the hospital system and our health care system fits together. That's why in this election we've outlined our commitment to save Medicare, we'll disband that task force aimed to privatise parts of our Medicare system. We'll unfreeze the rebates for GPs. We'll make sure we don't go ahead with the threatened price hike under Mr Turnbull for medicine. We'll have more to say about primary care in a moment from my Shadow Minister, and of course w e'll properly fund hospitals.
What Labor doesn’t want for this country is for our hospital system to go down the path of a two-tier health system like we see in the United States. That's why we're so pleased to prioritise scarce funds to make sure our hospital systems work in the interests of all Australians. I might now just ask Catherine King to add some more detail about the great announcement we're making today.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks very much Bill. It's terrific to be here. This is my third visit to Townsville Hospitals. I’m here with Cathy O'Toole and the Leader of the Opposition making what is a very important announcement. What this shows today is it’s only Labor Government's that are interested in investing in our health care system. What this announcement shows today, is it’s only Labor governments that are capable of reforming our health care system.
This announcement, $2 billion extra under a Labor Government invested in our public hospital system, will mean for those patients who on waiting lists for elective surgeries, we've seen reports today in New South Wales alone the elective surgery waiting list, particularly for cataracts and orthopaedics, people waiting for hip surgery, have blown out in New South Wales alone. We know people want to get their elective surgery. We know people, if they end up in the emergency department, want to be treated efficiently and want to get onto the next part of their journey to get well.
This announcement today locks Labor in to the 2011 commitment we made to fund our hospitals at 50 per cent of growth in the efficient price to 2020. The other part of our announcement, is we will charge already announce the permanent Australian health care reform commission to commence work immediately on establishment to look out what the next reform will look like. In particular, we want to look at the role the Commonwealth might play in subacute, rehabilitation, palliative care, geriatric evaluation and management, that very important part of the system that in fact is transitioning people out of acute-care and into subacute and back into the community or back into residential aged care.
The other part of the announcement we're making today, I am very proud of. We're announcing today over the next two years we spend $100 million on looking at new models of primary care. Patients entered medical homes. Better integration, better coordination for patients with chronic disease. This is a real substantial investment, alongside Labor's investment in unfreezing the Medicare Benefits Schedule rebate to make sure we have the best primary care system we can possibly have and the best hospital system we can possibly have.
SHORTEN: Thanks Catherine. Are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: You spend two years accusing the Government of ripping $57 billion out of hospitals and not having a long-term plan for hospitals. You've just unveiled a plan with just $2 billion extra and only for four years. Is that hypocritical on your part and does that create a credibility issue for you?
SHORTEN: There's no doubt that the Liberals before the last election said there'd be no cuts to health care. In their first budget they made slashing cuts to health care. The Liberal Party at the last election said ‘trust us on health care’ and they broke their word. Labor did call them out for breaking their word and for making slashing cuts to health care.
What Labor has done, is we've made tough decisions. We can't replace every dollar the Liberals have taken out of the system. But we have made tough decisions to priorities health care as part of this election and Labor's program for improvement to this country. We believe the health care of anyone of us should matter to the Government of Australia. That's why we have taken a long-term approach. We are restoring funding to the levels of the 2011 agreements, before the Liberals ran amuck with their cuts and their lies.
Furthermore, we've also said as part of our health system we will unfreeze the rebates the doctors receive. That's a significant change. We've also said we're going to keep the price of medicine down. That's a significant long-term change. Catherine briefly mentioned there our commitment to primary care. What we also do is fight the privatisation of Medicare or any part of Medicare with all of the energy we have got. You don't set up a task force to look at privatisation unless you have a plan to privatise our system.
When you add up all the pieces of Labor's long-term approach: hospital funding, Medicare, pharmaceuticals, and prescriptions, and you also look at our anti- privatisation push, what we have is we've got all of the pieces working together. We don't want to go down the path of an American health care system. That's what will happen if you vote Liberal after July 2.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, on Medicare Isn't it a bit disingenuous to say the Liberals will privatise Medicare. They're just going to privatise who actually hands the money out over the counter. The money still comes from the Government. Then on that issue I understand you've got Bob Hawke in some ads tonight on Medicare. Would you say for people that don't know much about you, your Prime Ministership, if you are elected, will be more known for things like your beer drinking skills or would it be like Paul Keating's management of the economy?
SHORTEN: Well there's a range of questions there. Let's got to what's the most important issue for Labor today, that's reducing waiting lists and it's helping our overworked and overstressed hospital system in Australia. We've made it very clear we want to see a partnership between the Commonwealth and the states. That's why we've said we'll fund 50 per cent of the efficient price of running our hospital system, 50 per cent. Mr Turnbull has come in at below that.
Secondly, what we're doing with Medicare, is we are determined to keep it in public hands. The Government's spending $5 million to investigate the privatisation of the payment system. The payment system is at the core of the Medicare story. By having one payment system, by having one organisation paying it out in Government hands what we see is the ability to measure the system. We also see you don't have to serve a profit motive as well as the people of Australia. If you privatise our payment system as Mr Turnbull clearly wants to do, what happens is all of a sudden we've got to start finding money to pay a private company and their shareholders to make profits even before we then find the money to pay our doctors, to pay the costs of our system. Labor is completely against privatisation.
Now, I am really pleased Bob Hawke is a standing up in our fight against Medicare. Labor built Medicare. The Liberals cannot be trusted to build and maintain Medicare. Any student of history will tell you back in the 1970s when Labor first pushed for universal healthcare, Fraser then abolished it. It took Bob Hawke and a Labor Government in 1983 to reintroduce it. And for a series of elections after that, the Liberals were always trying to undermine Medicare. I frankly thought the Medicare wars were over. But now we see Tony Abbott and now Malcolm Turnbull making swinging cuts, that's unarguable, freezing our GP payments for six years; that'll kill bulk billing. Now they've set up a secret task force in their own Department of Health to actually look at how you privatise the system and parts of the system.
No wonder Bob Hawke is up in arms. No wonder Australians are up in arms. We have just decided to fight this election on Medicare. And yes, if you don't worry about our hospital system, if you're not worried about bulk billing, if you're not worried about protecting Medicare, then I suppose Mr Turnbull's a good bet. But if you care about Medicare, if you want to make sure you can afford to see a doctor, if you want to keep the price of medicines down, if you want to make sure these amazing hospitals are working as they should, if you don't want the American-style two two-tier health system, vote Labor on July 2.
Sorry, there was the other questions about...
JOURNALIST: You want to talk about your beer drinking skills.
SHORTEN: I don't think they're as good as Hawkies.
JOURNALIST: No comment on that. In terms of the funding announcement, you said you are restoring it to the 2011 National Health Agreement levels. My understanding is that would be $7 billion, not $4.9 billion. Looking at the health agreement of 2011 across 2017, 18 and 19 . How did you get to $4.9 billion?
SHORTEN: That's just not correct. I'll get Catherine to explain why, but it's simply not correct.
KING: So what we're restoring from the 2011 agreement is the National Health Reform Agreement, I think you're referring to some of the other agreements. On top of the 50 percent, we're also investing significantly in additional funding over four years for elective surgery and emergency departments. That is also in addition to the 2011 agreement.
This is also, I guess, a really great example of how Labor's health reforms have worked. The cost of hospital activity has come down because of Labor's reforms. Now, these are reforms that the Liberal Party said they thought were rubbish and they cut in the 2014 Election. We have seen the cost of hospital activity across the board come down by about $125; when you look at things like hip surgery it's about $5,000. These reforms worked. Malcolm Turnbull, embarrassingly, had to admit that back in April, but he has not put enough money in to actually drive those reforms further.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister has confirmed they'll put the Greens last in every seat, handing you a bit of a lifeline in some marginal electorates. How do you describe this decision and secondly, will you do the same?
SHORTEN: I'm chasing every first preference I can for the Labor Party. Australians today, again see the difference between Mr Turnbull and myself. He's talking about political deals, I'm talking about reducing waiting lists for Australians sitting at home in pain. I'm talking about how you protect Medicare, how we will oppose the privatisation of any part of Medicare, how we will make sure GPs are able to afford to be able to keep bulk-billing, how we keep downward pressure on the price of medicine.
Today's announcement by us, gives people sitting at home waiting for elective surgery hope. Today's announcement gives hope to our nurses there will be more support and less cuts in the hospitals of Australia. By contrast, Mr Turnbull wants to talk about his political manoeuvrings and his preferences. I think Labor's agenda are the issues vitally important to Australia's; jobs, Medicare, education. Australians are interested in this agenda, the Labor agenda. We are determined to win government. In order to win government, we intend to win as many seats as we can. I will do what we have do to make sure the Labor Party does as well as it possibly can, because we have an agenda which is what Australians are vitally interested in. Full stop.
JOURNALIST: You talk of hope then, surely Mr Turnbull's announcement gives you hope in some of those seats Labor could lose to the Greens.
SHORTEN: Let me make it really clear: what Mr Turnbull does in his deals is up to Mr Turnbull. What I'm interested in is talking about the issues that are vitally important to Australians. When you talk about these seats, Labor is running to win this Election. He can worry about second and third preference votes, I'm worried about the first preference votes. What I'm going to do, I'm going to chase the votes of Australians because we've got the best agenda to protect Medicare, to make sure we have jobs for Australians. Also, because we don't think now is the time to give a $50 billion give away to large corporations. Our agenda is the Australian agenda. Mr Turnbull's just interested in the political games.
JOURNALIST: There's a $42 million commitment to the Hann Highway, the inland highway in North Queensland, will Labor look to match that commitment?
SHORTEN: Labor's made a series of commitments about improving for instance the Bruce Highway. We'll have more announcements to come in remaining days. The announcement which I expect Mr Turnbull to make, should be backing in the Townsville Stadium. It beggars belief since Labor set the pace on this issue, back in October and November of last year, the Liberals have basically sneered at the aspirations of creating 700 jobs with the Townsville Stadium. It beggars belief they're so out of touch with the needs of North Queensland, with the tourism needs, with the needs of this community, they have to be dragged kicking and screaming to do anything on the Townsville Stadium.
We'll have more to say about infrastructure statements between now and the Election. Labor has been setting the agenda in Townsville and the surrounding region, because we are committed to helping fund the building of the Townsville Stadium. If Mr Turnbull now, after his candidate Ewen Jones has said ‘if you want the stadium, vote for Cathy O'Toole’. If at the last minute you've got the Liberals panicking because the word is out there on the street people like Labor's positive policies for jobs in Townsville, well you've got to wonder if Mr Turnbull's being dragged to make an announcement on Townsville Stadium, how much does he really want to do it.
JOURNALIST: Today marginal seat polling suggests whilst Labor is doing pretty well nationally, it's not doing well in the seats likely to decide the Election. That accords with an observation you're making, big-ticket national announcements, like you are today on health, while Mr Turnbull makes highly targeted smaller, but obviously effective announcements at an electorate level. I know you don't comment on polling, technically, but broadly, can you comment is that a right observation? Are we seeing you run a national campaign and Malcolm Turnbull run a highly targeted marginal campaign?
SHORTEN: I'm running a Medicare campaign. I'm running a hospitals campaign. I'm running a schools campaign.
JOURNALIST: National issues.
SHORTEN: I'm running a school’s campaign. I'm running a Medicare campaign. I'm running a hospitals campaign. I'm running an Australian jobs campaign. Mr Turnbull can play whatever games he wishes to do on preferences or any other matters. Everyone knows Labor are the underdog in this Election. We've got a steep climb. But nonetheless, as I travel around Australia, in Townsville, in Cairns, in Rockhampton, in Mackay, right around Australia, what I'm seeing is a positive reaction to our positive plans.
Australians don't want Mr Turnbull's $50 billion tax giveaway to the companies. Australians want real action on multinationals so they pay their fair share. Australians want to see their kids being able to afford their first home. Australians want budget repair that is fair. Mr Turnbull is representing the top end of town. I'm representing the dreams and aspirations of middle class and working class Australians. I couldn't be more pleased to be in Townsville today promising greater funding for hospitals. Because actually, that's not just a National issue, that's an everyday issue.
The issue of waiting lists, is an issue that affects the people of Australia who are currently waiting at home for the phone call from the hospital to say there's room, we can have the operation now. Too many Australians, who've paid a lot of taxes over the years, are waiting too long for the medical care they deserve. Too many doctors and nurses are being asked to do so much with so little. They deserve a government in Canberra who is committed to the health of Australians, not just the political games of Mr Turnbull.
JOURNALIST: The Coalition says it'll simplify private health insurance, is this something Labor will look at?
SHORTEN: I don't know about you, but when I heard the Government's now proposing colour-coding as health insurance reform, I thought they were joking. I mean really, that's the sort of announcement you make when you've got nothing else to say about the health of Australians, isn't it? I actually think if Mr Turnbull says colour coding is health reform, I think he's insulting Australians. Quite frankly, about that announcement, they shouldn't have even bothered. It's just drawn attention to the fact if you vote Liberal in this Election, you're going to see the bulk-billing go, because the GP rebate won't be increased. If you vote Liberal in this Election, your medicine's going to cost more. If you vote Liberal in this Election, you're going to see the privatisation of Medicare and the poor funding of hospitals setting back so much progress which has happened over the la st few years.
JOURNALIST: Given you've been campaigning against the $57 billion tax cut, sorry, health cuts, until today, what are the services you are giving in principle support to cutting, given that you're saying you can't restore the former level of health funding?
SHORTEN: First of all, let's be clear, I am campaigning against the Liberals breaking their promise at the last Election. I am campaigning against ruthless cuts to the health-care system, but what we are doing today, and I'll get Catherine to expand upon it, is we are providing certainty and a lifeline for Australia's hospitals. I tell you, you could walk around this hospital, and the 6,000 staff who work here, there won't be anyone unhappy with Labor's propositions to properly fund our hospital system. I might get Catherine to talk a bit more about what bang we're getting for our buck. We do make tough decisions, but we've just decided to fight this Election on a better quality health care system because we don't want to go down the American road. Catherine.
KING: Thanks very much. The additional $2 billion we're investing on top of what the Liberals have promised, in our public hospitals, means more nurses, more beds, more doctors. For example, here in Queensland, the equivalent of the money we could put in for elective surgery is around 3,000 hip surgeries. This is a real investment in people waiting on elective surgery waiting lists, trying to make sure they get the surgery they need.
JOURNALIST: What is the 10-year cost, can I ask? Because you've set a 10 year economic plan, what's the 10 year cost?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, like the Liberals, our funding envelope extends over the next four years. In that time there will be a new agreement negotiated with the states. We're also optimistic that if elected, our reforms are going to make a genuine improvement to the bottom line of our hospital costs and we'll see better outcomes for patients within the next four years. Perhaps I might take one more question.
JOURNALIST: CFA members are threatening to quit in Victoria over the workplace agreement. What would be your message to volunteers who want to pull the pin?
SHORTEN: I'd ask volunteers not to do that. What matters to the volunteers, what matters to me, what matters to career firefighters, is the safety of Victoria. I have no doubt when I think about all of the volunteer brigades, when I think about all of the professional firefighters, when I think about all the people involved in this dispute, there is a common cause that unites us. It's the best safety outcomes for Victoria and Victorians.
I would say to volunteers, if you feel very strongly, by all means express your views, but the work of resigning would be I think counter-productive. You know, there is a situation where there is a start to this argument, there is a middle to this argument, but there will be an end. What I'm confident about is, having seen our integrated stations and knowing career firefighters and knowing volunteers, there is much more here that unites us and there is much more which can be done to resolve it. I'm confident the people closest to this negotiation will work the issue through. That's what matters, the safety of Victorians.
I actually did say last question, but I missed you yesterday, so....
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned about the impact that dispute is having on Labor's brand in Victoria? If you say you're not, why are Stephen Conroy and Kim Carr working behind the scenes to try to resolve it?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, the people who are working hardest to resolve this dispute are the volunteers, the professional firefighters and the State Government. In terms of concerns, my priority isn't a particular federal issue here, my concern is making sure Victoria has the best possible fire prevention and firefighting system. I have got no doubt, having seen after the aftermath of the Black Saturday fires, when I worked on bushfire reconstruction for the government of the day, I saw what these volunteers did. I also saw what the career firefighters have done.
I know this is a big issue and we want to see it resolved, but I know a lot of these brigades, and I know a lot of people who do this work. We are very fortunate to have our volunteers, we're very fortunate to have highly trained career firefighters. I have no doubt this issue is capable of resolution.
In terms of the Federal Election, I don't agree with Mr Turnbull trying to politically grandstand. What matters here is the safety of Victoria and the safety of Victorians. I don't believe that Mr Turnbull's conflict-based solutions are where this dispute needs to go. He knows he can't fix this issue. Fundamentally at its heart, it's a State issue. I'm more than confident this will be resolved. Thank you everybody.