Bill's Transcripts

Press Conference: Canberra

SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government’s GP Tax; Tony Abbott’s cuts to health; Joe Hockey’s alternative Budget; Government in chaos; Abbott Government’s unfair Budget; FoFA; Senate negotiations; Clive Palmer; Corporal punishment; Visa arrangements; Climate change; National security; Qantas, Asset recycling;

This morning, our Shadow Health Spokeswoman and I received this petition from over 3,000 doctors stating very clearly, very directly, that this GP Tax is unfair. I recommend reading this petition. It has stories from GPs at the front line, warning the Federal Government that their GP Tax is bad for the health of ordinary Australians. The GP Tax they say, is making the people who can least afford to do the heavy lifting in our medical system, the sick and the vulnerable. And this is the honest voice of the GPs of Australia, the frontline people who save Australian’s lives and health. What we also see is that Joe Hockey is not just content going after pensioners and families with their GP Tax, going after pensioners and families with their Fuel Tax and their attacks on prices and cost of living but indeed Joe Hockey has said this morning, remarkably, that he has an alternative plan if his rotten and unfair Budget doesn't pass through - in large- through the Senate. Joe Hockey has decided that it's not enough for him and Tony Abbott to threaten families on ordinary incomes losing up to $6,000 a year. He said he has an alternative plan if his Budget doesn't get up. This is not right the way, right direction for Australia.


Enough is enough, Joe Hockey. Stop threatening ordinary people, pensioners, people who've worked hard their whole life with your Plan B of unfairness if your Plan A of an unfair Budget doesn't succeed. Joe Hockey needs to today stop threatening Australians, he needs to rule out further cuts to education, to health, to pensions, any more rotten surprises need to be off the table. If Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott cannot convince a democratically elected Senate in Australia, the second house of Parliament, the house of review that his unfair Budget is anything other than unfair, they need go to back to the drawing board and shouldn't be promoting manifest unfairness. What I would like to do is to ask my colleague, Shadow Minister Catherine King to talk more about the real stories of the front-line medical clinicians for whom the health of Australia so vitally depends.


CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks so much Bill. This petition tells a very important story about what is happening in general practise today and what general practitioners think of the Government's unfair $7 GP tax and what it will mean for patients across the country. This petition, signed by over 2500 doctors and 500 people, some of them specialist, who are saying this tax is poor health policy and are begging the Government, literally begging the Government to scrap this policy. I want to read out a couple of these stories that we've got in this petition and I do want to really encourage members of the media to actually look at it. We've got an example of a doctor from a St Kilda East practice and he says, "This 66-year-old pensioner came and asked are you already charging $7 for a visit?" My receptionist answered not yet it will start in July next year. He said, oh, good, because I want to quickly check with the doc if I should worry about this little headache I’ve had since the morning. I checked and his blood pressure was 2000 /150, with a slow pulse 68 per minute. The pain was radiating down his occupant”, and there is another technical word there that I won’t use, “and I gave him medications to lower blood pressure and called the ambulance which took him to hospital. On his discharge was written he had suddenly collapsed in the emergency department, was resuscitated and then underwent successful emergency surgery. I am 100% sure that if the co-payment was already applicable he would have gone home and died.” That is an extraordinary story for a doctor to be talking about. Another area in the area of immunisation, a doctor from Norwood in South Australia says she saw a 6-month-old baby recently for immunisation. She regular weighs the babies when they come in for that immunisation. “After weighing the baby I realised his weight was going down the percentiles. After questioning the mother about his dietary intake, I explained to her that he required more solids and more frequent meals. I doubt that this baby would have presented to me had the co-payment been in effect. Mum would probably have taken the baby for council vaccinations.” This just one example of how much difference a GP can make to a person's health and wellbeing over their lifetime. These are real stories from doctors about real patients - 2,500 of them. The Government needs to listen to these stories and needs to dump its unfair GP Tax today.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, further to Joe Hockey's threat I guess this morning, that the Government's now trying to new tactic of shaming Labor and it's reintroduced a Budget measure which Labor helped block in the Senate last week on the tax-free threshold and it's given it the name of the Labor 2013/14 Budget savings measure. Is this going to work with you?


SHORTEN: If Joe Hockey wants to try and get into the shame game, listen to what 3,000 doctors are saying. This is a national shame. I would choose the wisdom of 3,000 front-line GPs and medicos over Tony Abbott's quackery. We cannot afford the witch-doctor economics of Tony Abbott's rotten Budget which will make vulnerable people even more exposed. The stories in this petition are worth reading. When was the last time in living memory that 3,000 doctors, 2500 of them GPs, came forward and joined the political fray? These are not Labor or Liberal partisans, these are GPs at stretching point, at breaking point and they are concerned about people's lives so when Joe Hockey wants to play the so-called shame game, he is in a very big moral deficit when it comes to this unfair Budget. In terms of the savings and the particular measures he referred to, how on earth can Labor, who's on the side of the battler, on the side of people of low incomes, how can we support increasing taxes on people who earn $18-19,000 a year? If Joe Hockey thinks Labor is going to fall for a bit of his bluster, a bit of his bullying to promote further unfairness for people on low incomes, he will be sorely disappointed. Labor in a beauty parade will always pick ordinary Australians over the Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey’ unfair Budget.


JOURNALIST: These are your policies that you were going to book yourselves. Isn't it hypocritical for you to rail against them now when less than 12 months ago it was your policy?


SHORTEN: Yes, but your question assumes that there has been nothing between then and now - there has and we know it and you know it and I know it and Australia knows it. There’s an unfair Budget. How on earth can we vote to increase taxes on someone who earns $19,000 a year when they've got to pay more to go to work with their petrol tax, pay more to take their family to the doctor, when pensioners or part pensioners are seeing their rate of indexation being slashed. Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott changed the game forever in Australian politics when they brought down their unfair Budget which expects ordinary Australians to make all the hard decisions that Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey just won't do.


JOURNALIST: Are you concerned, given Palmer's deal about FOFA that Palmer has stated his opposition to the GP fee, are you concerned that he might be susceptible or the Palmer Party might be susceptible to changes to the model in order to get support, to get it through the Senate?


SHORTEN: It is fair to say that the people the Australians can rely on most to oppose unfairness in this nation is the Labor Party. The Labor Party will oppose the unfair GP Tax and we've got 3,000 doctors who are neither Labor nor Liberal, they just care about the wellbeing of their patients. We want to be on the side of the people who care and know what they're talking about. I hope Clive Palmer doesn't do another back flip. We’ll have to wait and see its part of the ongoing chaos of this Government but clearly what we are seeing is that the Government is now at odds even with itself when it comes to what it's going to do with this Budget. Joe Hockey said today, "There are other alternatives that we can take” - referring to his unfair Budget - there are other alternatives. Yet the Prime Minister, the missing link in this equation about the future of the unfair Budget, because he doesn't want to talk about the unfair Budget, he has said, "There is no alternative." He said this Budget is an act of political courage. He said as recently as 3 July this year, so it's not even one of his dodgy election promises - he said on 3 July this year, "Wishing there was an alternative will not create one." Joe Hockey says there are other alternatives. Who's running the Government? Joe Hockey or Tony Abbott? What on earth are they doing with this unfair Budget and what other dirty deal will they do with Clive Palmer to try and ram this unfair Budget on to the households of Australia?


JOURNALIST: Can you and Labor trust what Clive Palmer says to you?


SHORTEN: We were very disappointed that when it comes to the Future of Financial Advice that Clive Palmer has done a back-room deal with the Government which third parties, independent people, have said will weaken consumer protection in Australia. It beggars belief that when you've got this scandal at the Commonwealth Bank, when you've got David Murray coming out yesterday and saying we need stronger protections in terms of financial advice, there's the Government in the back room with Clive Palmer doing a deal which Seniors Australia, the Council of the Ageing and Choice all say will weaken protections for consumers. Labor is squarely on the side of consumers against vested interests, that's why we haven't changed our position and we were disappointed these unfair laws got through last nights.


JOURNALIST: Can you trust Clive Palmer to keep his word that he gives you?


SHORTEN: We believe what matters is the issues and we hope in the future Clive Palmer sticks to his guns. I don't know what deal got done behind closed doors but it is a bit of a dog's breakfast, isn't it? You have this - the Finance Minister saying, "We've got our views, we’ve got our views" and Clive Palmer dreams up some new proposition based on what he says is his 40 years in business and then all of a sudden the Government's running around like Mr Palmer's butler trying to keep him happy and in the meantime financial consumers are worse off. This isn't Government, this is chaos.


JOURNALIST: Labor says it's going to vote with the Greens to strike out a bunch of visa arrangements in the Senate. The oil and gas industry says that the effect of this will be that hundreds of workers, foreign works on oil and gas vessels will effectively have to down tools when this disallowance is passed. What’s your understanding as to what the impact of this vote will be?


SHORTEN: We believe that Australia's natural resources, onshore and offshore, when they're developed we should see Australians getting the opportunity to have those jobs. Australia has a skilled offshore workforce. We believe the priorities should be given to Australian jobs. We will work through the issues with all the relevant parties but Labor can make no apology for being on the side of Australian jobs.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, Kevin Donnelley, the head of the Government's curriculum review said there's some merit to corporal punishment. Do you they think that's right and should he remain in that position?


SHORTEN: That was a remarkable comment, I don't agree with it at all. Corporal punishment has been rejected by many experts for a very long time. Labor is completely surprised that Minister Pyne and Tony Abbott -  are they proposed the reintroduction of corporal punishment into schools? I think they need to state very clearly are they backing their chief education adviser or are they not supporting corporal punishment? There's no wiggle room for Tony Abbott. We don't need a sermon from Tony Abbott. He just needs to clear up is he for corporal punishment like his key adviser or is he against corporal punishment? There's no halfway house here.


JOURNALIST: Pyne's spokesman says that he is, the Minister, is against corporal punishment in all its forms so is that the end of the matter then?


SHORTEN: Well I think that Tony Abbott needs to clear up then if his chief education adviser is proposing such a remarkable proposition as corporal punishment, what's the point of having a chief education advisor? So I think there’s a challenge here for the Government, do they have confidence in their chief education adviser or do they want corporal punishment?


JOURNALIST: It looks like the carbon price is going to hit the fence as early today, you restated a commitment to a market mechanism emission trading in your speech on Monday. Have you given consideration to how you'll vote on Palmer's amendment on the CCA to establish a zero price trading scheme or are you going to wait until you see that or are you going to develop your own policy?


SHORTEN: First of all, just to go back to what I said on Monday, Labor believes in the science of climate change. We are deeply concerned for the future of the sustainability of our environment with this Government's proposals and policies. We think Tony Abbott is an environmental vandal. He has no commitment to meaningful action on climate change. Labor will stick to its guns. We made very clear on Monday that we don't support having a carbon tax, that we back a market mechanism. In terms of the propositions which Palmer and his crew are bringing forward, we have to see the final detail. But we are deeply sceptical, if the trigger to have an Emissions Trading System depends on everyone else in the world going first, we don't think that's the way to go. We do want to work in tandem with the rest of the world. We'll have to see the final detail, I think it is clear beyond doubt that Tony Abbott doesn't believe in doing any effective work on climate change.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, do you agree with Anthony Byrne's statements that a terror attack is imminent in Australia and do you think that data retention is the best way to stop such an attack?


SHORTEN: In terms of this important issue, we respect that we need to make sure that we provide national security in the strongest form for our citizens. We recognise that data retention is one of the propositions which our experts are recommending to us. In terms of advancing on greater data retention, Labor is also most concerned that we're vigilant with an independent security monitor. We haven't heard a lot from the Government on that. We don't want to politicise this issue, we think that national security is a matter which should be, in an ideal world, above politics because it's too important. So we are prepared to work with the Government to improve our national security but what we also believe is that we need to have a diligent and effective independent monitor to make sure that there are no abuses of national security. May I take one last question, just one more.


JOURNALIST: Joe Hockey said this morning that if Labor and the Greens did not approve Budget measures, you risk becoming irrelevant. Will you become irrelevant and are you becoming irrelevant?


SHORTEN: Labor knows what we stand for. We stand for fighting for people who need to go to the doctor, we stand on the side of pensioners, we stand on the side of families who are losing up to $6,000 a year. We don't believe our values become irrelevant merely because this Government’s trying to bully us with unfair measures. And what I would also say to Treasurer Hockey and Prime Minister Tony Abbott is this: if the Senate won't buy your rotten unfair Budget, the problem may not be the Senate, it may not be the people of Australia, it may be the Government who proposes this unfair Budget. And we say to the Government don't bully the Senate or threaten ordinary Australians with alternative measures. Everyone knows this is a bad Budget sinking fast. It is time for the Government to go back and listen to the people of Australia. Many other governments in Australian history haven't controlled the Senate, but this Government’s setting new records for being unable to convince people of the merits of its unfair Budget. The problem mightn’t be in the customers of this Budget, it might well be in the people making the Budget. Thanks everyone, last question on Qantas, sorry David.


JOURNALIST: Are you confident that the measures that the Government has now agreed on will be enough to improve Qantas's fortunes and will Labor wear any responsibility if the results come out and are woeful that, you know, you didn't move as far as Qantas wanted or the Government wanted?


SHORTEN: Well first of all, Labor’s always believed that having Qantas in majority Australian ownership is in the long-term interests of our economy and Australia. So we've proposed, though, a lot of flexibility within that one requirement so Labor put up sensible measures which will allow Qantas to be able to raise quite a degree of foreign equity whilst still keeping Aussie jobs here. But I say to the Government if you don't like what our sensible, pragmatic compromises, prioritising Australia, then you do your thing. But the Government's agreeing with us, this is an actual, agreed position. So we believe that Qantas and jobs in Australia and majority Australian ownership will keep Qantas working well and Labor and the Government are doing this together which is an important and successful development. Thanks, everyone.


JOURNALIST: Can I just ask if there’s been –

SHORTEN: I did say last question twice before.

JOURNALIST: Any compromise on the asset recycling legislation because that’s also before the Senate?


SHORTEN: Listen, we’ll keep debating our issues through on that. We stand for sensible reform of the Budget but we're not going to support an unfair Budget which treats ordinary Australians in a second-class way by this out of touch arrogant Government. Thanks everyone.