Bill's Transcripts

Doortsop: Canberra





SUBJECT/S: Mental health; Abbott Government’s cuts to Medicare; Qantas; Craig Thomson; Manus Island.


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon. It is great to be at the launch of the BeyondBlue bus tour which helps raise awareness of mental health problems and indeed, the availability of solutions and support for people living with mental illness or indeed, families seeking help for loved ones. This is a great initiative today. It is bipartisan, I totally support what the Prime Minister and Jeff Kennett had to say about the importance of dealing with mental illness in our communities. I think in fact it’s important as we wait with some eagerness for the Government's drought package, that there is consideration given to some of the mental health pressures that our farmers and people living and working on the land face. Mental illness can effect anyone, doesn’t matter what your income is, or where you live in Australia. This is an important issue which the national parliament, quite rightly, is united behind tackling. I’m happy to take any questions.


REPORTER: Bill, on the issue of this apology in parliament regarding Craig Thomson, is it over the top?


SHORTEN: We will be supporting the resolution. We do think that what Craig Thomson has done is a disgrace. It is a betrayal of his members, it’s a betrayal of the unionists everywhere and it is conduct which puts them beyond the pale. So Labor will be supporting thi resolution.


REPORTER: Do you regret that Labor stood by him for so long?


SHORTEN: We certainly believe that no one is above the you're law. It doesn't matter if you're a union rep or a business person or a politician. What Craig Thomson has been found by the court to have done is disgraceful and it is a betrayal of what Labor stands for.


REPORTER: Given the problems that Qantas is facing and this $300 million loss they are expected to post on Thursday, should Alan Joyce fall on his sword?


SHORTEN: I am not going to get into management bashing here. What is important to Labor is that jobs are saved. What is important to Labor is that we have a national aviation carrier which remains in majority Australian hands. Clearly Qantas has got very difficult issues to face. Labor waits with great interest what the that Government will do. We do note however that they have said they are going to amend the Qantas Sale Act which will allow potentially foreign governments to buy the airline. Eight out of the 10 top airlines in the world are owned by foreign governments. Labor doesn't see why Australia should hand away a national icon to a foreign government. In addition, the Sales Act guarantees or requires jobs be kept in Australia. Labor is most concerned if the Abbott Government's plan for jobs is to sell our national icon offshore and to send thousands and thousands of jobs offshore. That is not a plan for Australian jobs.


REPORTER: Do you agree with your Senate colleague Sue Lines that Scott Morrison has blood on his hands?


SHORTEN: There is no doubt that what is happening at Manus Island is a tragedy. There is no doubt that there should be a full and independent inquiry. What Tony Abbott does with his ministers is a matter for him. But clearly the high jump bar is pretty low for ministerial responsibility.


REPORTER: Does he have blood on his hands?


SHORTEN: I believe that what happens with Minister Morrison is up to Tony Abbott. It raises the question though, what does an Abbott Government minister have to do to be sacked?


REPORTER: The Prime Minister just told us that despite his speech last night about the need to rein in spending on health and education, he is going to stick to his election commitments which would seem that he won't be cutting health or education in the next three years?


SHORTEN: The Prime Minister has already started the process of cutting healthcare and I might ask my colleague Catherine King to further answer this question. But let me be very clear about where Labor stands. Healthcare in this country should depend on your health needs, not what you can afford to pay. The Abbott Government's championing of a GP tax which increases the cost of living, which makes it more difficult for sick people, and more expensive for sick people to seek the health care they need, that is not the Labor way. Medicare is a great Australian institution and we should not go down the American path where the people who can get the best quality healthcare are the richest people in the country. Labor believes in universal, accessible healthcare. The Abbott Government is itching to further cut healthcare and to attack Medicare, and Labor will stand up for healthcare in this country and Medicare. I might ask my colleague Catherine King to further answer that question.


CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Bill’s absolutely right, we have already seen cuts in the healthcare portfolio. Some $400 million out of public hospitals in the forward estimates, we’ve then also seen the health priority projects such as $50 million to stroke coordinators. We’ve also seen cuts to cancer care nurses to be placed in the all of the regional cancer centres, as well as funding to the Alcohol and Other Drugs Agency, a very important agency, 50 years old, established around the time of the Menzies Government, which has been providing advice to governments about alcohol policy, particularly around issues of alcohol and violence. So the Prime Minister has already broken his promise. He said last night, as has his ministers, that they are intending to make savage cuts to health. I think that is absolutely what are going to see and it will be a horror budget for health. Their attacks particularly on Medicare on its 30th anniversary, a universal healthcare system that has served this country well is particularly concerning for Australian families.


REPORTER: Mr Shorten, is Labor just scared of saying what it really thinks about Manus Island for fear of alienating voters it believes want it to take a tough line on border protection?


SHORTEN: The death of a young man in custody in Manus Island is a tragedy. That is the most important issue as far as Labor is concerned. We have got a minister who last Tuesday was happy to say that this death had occurred outside the wire, yet in parliament yesterday was remarkably evasive as to what he knew and when he knew that that information was wrong. What we have here is a breakdown of ministerial accountability. Ministers should know what is happening at Manus Island. Everyone knows that this government, the Abbott Government, has been treating its immigration and border protection policies as a secret from the Australian people. Whatever Australian people think about asylum seekers, I believe most reasonable people expect a full and frank answer about what has happened and why this has happened and they believe Minister Morrison should come clean about what he knew and when he knew it. This should not be the subject of political games.


REPORTER: Do you think it is appropriate that the investigation look into the actions of Labor in setting up the centre there?


SHORTEN: The problem with this Abbott Government is they’re an opposition in drag. Whatever the question, their answer is to try and blame the previous government. When will the Abbott Government start earning their pay for their day job? Be it Medicare, be it cuts in education, be it the Commission of Cuts, be it all the problems with jobs. The Abbott Government look like they miss opposition, where all they could do is blame Labor. On Manus Island, the death of this young man has occurred in a way which was not what the Minister initially told us it would be, and the Minister has been very evasive in terms of what he knew and when he knew it. The job of the parliament is to hold the Government to account and we will certainly do that.


REPORTER: Just on gay marriage. Caucus has endorsed Tanya Plibersek's bill. Is it playing politics to reintroduce something that parliament’s already defeated?

SHORTEN: No, what Caucus has decided with my support also, was that this should be a matter that is open to a conscience vote or a free vote. The Liberal Party has a tradition of saying its members are free to vote, but it is remarkable that when it comes to these issues of faith or these issues of deep personal conviction, the Liberal Party insists upon binding its members. Our challenge to Tony Abbott is simply allow your members a free vote and then let's see what the will of the parliament is. It won't go to a vote though until there is a free vote from the Liberal Party, so it won't be coming back to parliament until the Liberal Party decide if they want to allow a free vote for their members.


But again, what all of this goes to show, is that when it comes to the big issues, be it Medicare and the cuts to Medicare, be it the GP tax or be it the problem with jobs in this country or the challenges of Qantas, the Abbott Government does not have a plan for the future, they would just rather play politics as they do all the time.


Thanks everyone, have a nice day.