Labor will always protect Medicare - Press Conference Transcript



SUBJECT/S: Labor’s plan to protect Medicare; Budget; Superannuation; Scott Morrison; NBN; Petrol prices; Labor’s plan for a banking Royal Commission; Asbestos

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMPETITION: Good morning everyone, thank you very much for coming out to Macquarie in the heart of the Fenner electorate. My name is Andrew Leigh, the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and member for Fenner and it's a great pleasure to be welcoming Opposition Leader Bill Shorten here to the National Health Co-op. The National Health Co-op began life as the West Belconnen Health Co-op in 2010, it was an initiative of the local community who wanted to do something to raise accessibility to bulk billing. Since then it has expanded to seven sites across the ACT and is now in conversation with three states across Australia. 

The co-op model is a great one for delivering healthcare, because it is focused not on how much money it makes but on how much good it can do in the local community. And in ensuring that people get access to bulk billing doctors by providing access through a membership based model to bulk billing doctors. The National Health Co-op ensures that people get ongoing care, get to see a doctor before problems turn too serious and get access to Allied Health services such as mental health, such as pathology, such as diabetic wrap around care. It's a great model and I would really like to thank Blake and the team for taking the opportunity to show Bill Shorten what the National Health Co-op is achieving here today, and to remind Canberrans and Australians about the value of Medicare for Australia. I will hand over now to Bill Shorten. 

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody and it is great to be here at the National Health Co-op. I am here and Andrew is here because we are committed to protecting bulk billing against the cuts of the Turnbull Government. Ever since Mr Turnbull's famous tantrum on election night, where he complained about the Medicare campaign, and him saying subsequently that they had heard the message, that the Liberals are not trusted on Medicare – for the last two months this government has done nothing to fix up the problems in Medicare. In fact we've seen absolutely no action to unfreeze the indexation payments to GPs, to clamp down on the increases to prescription medicine, to reverse the bulk-billing cuts for X rays and blood tests, not to provide additional funding for hospitals that they desperately need. 

And of course it's been revealed the privatisation taskforce of the payments system has just been churning on in its work, funded by taxpayers to privatise integral parts of Medicare. Malcolm Turnbull cannot avoid the issue of Medicare now the election is over. It's a simple truth, you either fix a problem or you decide that you are not going to deal with it. They are the choices. Mr Turnbull has decided he is not going to deal with the problem and he's going to carry on with his policies. 

But the problem with Medicare reflects a deeper question in the Government. What it reflects is that Mr Turnbull does not have the courage to lead his government. His Treasurer Scott Morrison is determined to go ahead with the billions of dollars of cuts to our healthcare system and Mr Turnbull is too weak to stand up to Mr Morrison. This is not a united government. 

Medicare is actually a test, not just of the 45th parliament but of Mr Turnbull's own leadership capacity. He cannot continue with the cuts to Medicare. You will not repair the nation's economy by punishing sick people, that is not a strategy of growth or opportunity for the future. Labor will make sure that Medicare, protecting Medicare, stopping the cuts, stopping the privatisation, stopping the undermining of Medicare. Labor will fight for Medicare. For us Medicare wasn't just an election issue, it's a 365-day a year issue and we will fight every day to defend Medicare in the new parliament, starting next week. 

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, do you hold the same concerns as the Treasurer who today has warned Australia could fall into a recession if enough is not done to fix the Budget?

SHORTEN: There he goes again, Scott Morrison. Quick to blame everyone else for the problems that he's meant to be in charge of. Every day since he became the Treasurer he has been quick to blame everyone else for the problems. The one thing in fact which I think unites Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison is their propensity to blame everyone else for the problems. No amount of bad tempered foot stamping is going to fix the nation's problems. I think that Mr Morrison and Mr Turnbull need to go to a quiet place, get over the tantrum they have had since the election and start Governing. 

The fact of the matter is they could start by improving Medicare and defending Medicare. The fact is, they could take up our package which I outlined yesterday, $80 billion in improvements to the bottom line. We've even offered these bunglers in the Government the opportunity to fix up the mess they have made of superannuation. This government lurches from one problem to the next problem, they're not strong, they won't show leadership. All they want to do is blame everyone else. They're the Government. They should govern. Australians don't want a whinger as Treasurer, Australians want a doer as Treasurer. If they can't govern they should get out of the way and let the rest of us get on with the job of looking after Australia.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] gross debt as a reality?

SHORTEN: I see we have a Treasurer who is manifestly incapable of fixing the problems. This is the fourth year of a Liberal Government. The Liberals have been in power now for the last term and they've now wasted the first two months of this term. It’s the Liberals who've increased the deficit. It's the Liberals who've mismanaged the accounts. The Liberals are always quick to blame everyone else. They're the Government. That's their day job. If the only plans they've got are plans which nobody else wants to sign up to, they can keep saying that everybody else is wrong or maybe they can have some quiet reflection and re-examine the way they're doing business.

This is a Government which is incompetent. It stuffs things up. We've seen that. And now they're just quick to blame everyone else. We've offered them a fix on superannuation, everyone knows that. We've said that you can have no retrospectivity if we sign up to a compromised plan. Because you shouldn't change the laws that people have invested under in good faith in the past, and then after they've invested under one set of laws, this government comes along with a wrecking ball and changes the rules after people have already invested in good faith. We've also offered plans yesterday to improve the bottom line for Australia - $80 billion over the next ten years - and all we got from the Government was the usual knee jerk reaction. If it's not their idea they're not interested in working with anyone else.

JOURNALIST: This scary forecast of $1 trillion, the Treasurer has put the blame in your court, saying if you don't get the ball rolling by helping the passage of the $6.5 billion worth of savings measures then you are sending us down the path of a trillion dollar debt.

SHORTEN: What a surprise, Scott Morrison says it's someone else's fault! Last time I looked his title was Government, ours is Opposition. If they can't govern, they should get out of the way and let some people who can govern do it.

Yesterday at the National Press Club, in good faith we offered solutions to two issues with are driving Australians really to the point of frustration. One is they want to see a better Budget. We offered $80 billion worth of improvement. $80 billion worth of improvement. Some of which the Government agree and some of which they don't, but they should look at ideas other than their own. 

Furthermore, that we've said we'll have a look at their bill - they can't even give us the legislation, that's how hopeless they are. But also we've offered to fix the superannuation issue. Labor didn't invent this superannuation mess, this train wreck. There's been a real loss of faith in our superannuation system since Budget night in May when the Government brought down a Budget with unconsulted, unexpected changes which ambushed hundreds of thousands of people and created uncertainty in the minds of millions of other people who hold superannuation accounts. Australians are sick and tired of politicians, regardless of their political affiliation, tinkering with the superannuation. We've offered a package which will stop the tinkering, which sets the rules clearly for the future and doesn't change the rules in the past.

Mr Morrison has got to stop chucking tantrums and blaming everyone else and focus on his day job. This is a Government of first-class whingers and bunglers, and they've got to stop being unhappy since the election and get on and do their day job. They won the election. They now need to start acting like a Government, not a bunch of movie critics.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, regarding the raids yesterday, do you expect the Liberals to support the Labor's application to put parliamentary privilege on any document seized yesterday? And from the raids in Melbourne during the election campaign? And have you spoken to the Greens or any Independent Senators about whether they will support that application?

SHORTEN: I have haven't spoken directly to other parties about this. Let's go to the issue, the heart of the issue here. The NBN, which is a part of the Government, is desperate for bad news about the NBN not to get out. It's a farce really. Australians who get inadequate reception already know that the NBN promises which were made via the Government, the Liberal Government, haven't been kept. So why the Government is engaging in this sort of approach to try and stop the public finding out, and to stop you and the media from being able to report it and to discourage whistle-blowers. This is not a healthy sign for this government or indeed this country. 

Politicians need to be able to get information. There needs to be the institution of privilege. This government though, at the heart of it, is driven by Mr Turnbull's desire to suppress any bad news about the way they handle things. We saw on the Census they blame the ABS, they blame the public service, they blamed IBM. We saw in the Northern Territory Royal Commission they quietly blamed the Royal Commission. 'They should have told more about his background', whatever. Now what they're doing is they're blaming the Opposition even though they're the Government. 

When it comes to the NBN, rather than be honest about the fact that the costs have blown out, that there are massive delays, that the promises haven't been kept, instead they're involving the NBN and the police. This is not the way to run a country. The incompetence of this government, the list is getting longer and longer and I don't think the Government's handling the NBN issue at all appropriately.

JOURNALIST: Are you confident of securing the numbers in the Senate to ensure that parliamentary privilege is placed on those documents?

SHORTEN: I'm always cautious about predicting numbers. But what I do know is that we've got the right argument. I do know the principle is right, and I've also got to say to the media, this is about your ability to get information sometimes and whistle-blowers. Understand, you can't be happy, I imagine, that there's information which is being kept from you and your job to tell the Australian people. 

This is not the way business should be conducted in this country. And the information which is being contested, to such an extent by Malcolm Turnbull because he doesn't want to be embarrassed, a lot of that information under previous Governments was just released as a matter of course. So why is this Government so keen to keep the public and to keep you in the media from finding out the truth of what's happening?

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister said he will speak to the boss of the ACCC today regarding petrol price gouging. Do you believe that this is an issue and what needs to be done to ensure motorists can afford to pay for petrol?

 It's a vexed issue. But Malcolm Turnbull being forced to concede on the Alan Jones show that he'll make a phone call doesn't make me think that petrol prices will fall. Remember he gave the famous lecture to the banks at the 199th anniversary of the Westpac, that didn't really change much, did it? He came out and asked for the banks to pass on the Reserve Bank interest rate cuts, of course they ignored him. So I don't really expect the oil companies to change their practices. It's not an easy issue to solve to be fair but when Malcolm Turnbull says he's going to make a phone call, my advice is that if you find a low price petrol station fill up today. 

JOURNALIST: So what should be done, what could be done? 

SHORTEN:Well, I do concede it's a vexed issue. I do think a lot of the media reporting has actually probably been as good as anything else to identify and put pressure on oil companies to stop profiteering. You know, we need in this country, and that's why Labor's been so committed, it's a separate issue but we will not give up up on the bank royal commission. I don't accept like the Liberals do, just because large and powerful companies take more and more profits and force the prices up for Australians and in the case particularly the fees and charges that are charged by banks, it doesn't mean we have to accept it as the natural order. We have to push but I am not pretending that there is a simple solution with petrol prices but I do acknowledge the good work of the media.

LEIGH: Just to add to that, Labor took to the last election a plan in order to increase the penalties on Australian firms who are doing the wrong thing by consumers. We also proposed the ACCC have a market studies power. Here, the question is not whether or not the Prime Minister can ask the ACCC to do something, but what teeth the ACCC has to do it. Because frankly if all you're doing is asking a sheep to do a tiger's job, it is not going to have much teeth.

JOURNALIST: The Greens are proposing a parliamentary commission of inquiry if the Government refuses to budge on a banking royal commission. Is that something that you've have spoken to the Greens about or is it something Labor would support or consider?

SHORTEN: Our first priority is a banking royal commission. And I'd just say to the Greens, whilst they may be trying to get some compromise out of Malcolm Turnbull, let's not short sell the Australian people. We want a banking royal commission. The Government will do anything it can to avoid it. Remember before the last election Malcolm Turnbull said that regulators had enough power? And then he contradicted himself straight after the election when he realised the banking royal commission was not going to go away and he said I've come up with this new idea, parliamentary sort of hearing for a day, a House of Reps committee. Now as it emerges that would have even less power than the regulators so it was the equivalent of flogging the banks with a wet lettuce leaf. But what he did do after the election is that he conceded at least Labor's point that there's a problem, which he wouldn't concede beforehand. 

Now we see some renegade Coalition MPs saying we don't even need a royal commission, we will just set up a new tribunal. Well, we have one service already, the financial services ombudsman service but that in it of itself obviously not changing the culture. What Australians want is not a system which goes after banks once they've ripped people off. What Australians want is to stop the rip-offs in the first place. Labor will persist with its calls for a banking royal commission. And we think that is the right way to go. And we're not going to give up merely because Mr Turnbull says he doesn't want to do it. My experience of Malcolm Turnbull is if you put enough pressure, this guy gives in.

JOURNALIST: Just on asbestos, there's been a number of cases of contaminated building products despite the ban on asbestos in Australia? Who's to blame for that and do you think there should be mandatory testing of all building products being imported?

SHORTEN: Asbestos is a terrible killer. It's not a well-known fact but asbestos will kill more Australians than we lost in World War I. Asbestos has killed a wave of workers who worked in the mines. It's killed a wave of workers and the consequences are being set for trades people and people who worked in construction with asbestos-related materials or in the military and were exposed to it in insulation. And now there's a third wave coming through, your home renovators who might be taking down buildings which were built previously in an area where there was asbestos. Asbestos is dreadful. So, that's why when there are calls from unions and victims groups, from the representatives of victims that we need to be tougher and more vigilant on asbestos. We need to listen and respect that call because it's such a killer.

This Government has Australian Border Force which part of its brief is to monitor the import of dangerous materials. We've said in the past that we don't think enough is being done on it. Again, some of the important revelations today show this is still a problem. The Government did a brief four week analysis back in February. That wasn't good enough. So I think that the Government should meet with us and, more importantly, we should meet with victims. We should meet with their representatives and I'm even suggested to the Government to do something they don't normally do, why don't they meet with some of the unions representing workers because unions have done a lot of fighting on asbestos to defend and let's work out what we need to do to improve it. There's been plenty of papers written in the past, even when I was a Minister, we set up a centralist asbestos agency but this Government, in my opinion, may talk about health and safety but when it comes to asbestos clearly, not enough is being done and the testing regime does need to improve.

Thanks everybody. 


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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.