PETER VAN ONSELEN: As promised, I am joined now by Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Dr Andrew Leigh live from the nation's capital, thanks for joining me. Do you reckon it's tricky to describe the biggest faux pas of the campaign in your National Press Club talk as Malcolm Turnbull is saying that politicians don't always do what they say when the next sentence that followed that was him talking about the Labor Party and not about himself?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Peter as you know, Malcolm Turnbull was referring to parties, plural, and it did come from a political party which promised no cuts to health, no cuts to education and no cuts to ABC and SBS and basically then treated that as a to do list over the course of the last few years. We've seen a party that promised that the budget would be in surplus in their first year and every year after that.
VAN ONSELEN: That's not the question, the question is, Bill Shorten made it sound like this was Malcolm Turnbull talking about himself. But the full transcript as pointed out to him by multiple journos in the Q&A session of that speech yesterday. The full transcript was him actually talking about you guys. Now you can take issue with him on whether or not he's right about that. But for Bill Shorten to make out that this was Malcolm Turnbull talking about himself when the very next sentence made it clear he wasn't. That's pretty fraudulent, isn't it?
LEIGH: Not at all, Peter. This quote was Malcolm Turnbull talking about political parties in the plural. The fact he then went on to bad mouth the Labor Party is no great surprise at all. What is a revelation is that the Liberal Party seems to think that keeping promises is for other people. This is the Party of John Howard who said there would never ever be a GST. This is the party of Tony Abbott who said there would never ever be cuts to health. This is the party that is now telling Australians don't worry, Medicare is perfectly safe in our hands. Do you believe that? I've got a bridge you might like to buy.
VAN ONSELEN: Let me ask you about Medicare. Because there is that campaign that Labor is running. Do you believe that the Government if re-elected will sell Medicare?
LEIGH: I certainly believe that the privatisation of the payments portion of Medicare is a clear and present danger. I certainly believe that the private share would increase under the Liberals. As you know, that GP freeze means higher private payments by Australians. And I certainly believe that under the Liberals you're going to pay more for pathology, you're going to pay more for diagnostic imaging. Their aim is to increase the private share; this is of course a political party that has spent a quarter of a century trying to destroy Medicare. No surprises now, they're trying to weaken it again.
VAN ONSELEN: And there's a lot of what you said there that I would probably have similar concerns about. But you don't think they're going to sell it because I think that's what most people think privatising Medicare means.
LEIGH: Medicare is fundamentally the payment systems. So if you're talking about privatising the payment system that is effective privatisation of the system but Australians are concerned too that the Government's privatisation agenda with Medicare goes deeper and is going to affect the bulk billing rate. Over time it's hard to imagine that bulk billing will stay high. The Australian Medical Association has warned about this and certainly when I go out into my electorate and speak to local GPs, the real concern that I get back that you can't just keep on ripping money out of health like the Liberals have and expect things to carry on as usual.
VAN ONSELEN: The other issue of course is a number of Labor MPs have cited GP co-payments as an example of a step towards the privatisation of Medicare. You've got Bob Hawke fronting television almost ironically I would argue, given that he tried to introduce co-payments and of course that cost him his Prime Ministership amongst other things when Paul Keating took him out. You yourself have advocated co-payments in the past. It's a bit of a stretch or at least a bit embarrassing isn't it to be arguing if co-payments if so fact lead to privatisation when someone as prominent as Bob Hawke actually advocated co-payments?
LEIGH: Peter, we've got pretty clear evidence now that increasing out of pocket costs makes it harder for people to get in to see the doctor. Australians need to have better primary healthcare because if they fall through the cracks they're people that are just going to end up in hospital. What we don't want is people with diabetes who could have been managed at the GP with a diabetes management plan presenting in emergency rooms because they were priced out of going to see the doctor. That's not just bad social policy, that's bad economic policy, hospitals are so much more expensive.
VAN ONSELEN: I agree with you on that, and that's why I think it's a shame to me that we haven't managed to get past the federalism debate around delineation of health responsibilities as well with barriers over time that have been faced there.
LEIGH: That's a good point.
VAN ONSELEN: But a little while ago, you described co-payments as a sort of step towards privatisation. Were they a step towards privatisation when Bob Hawke did it or indeed when you advocated them albeit when you were a learned academic in a position to be able to advocate a range of possible policy scripts?
LEIGH: I've changed my view, as we've spoken about many times on this program -
VAN ONSELEN: - against privatisation, that's what I'm asking. When you are advocating co-payments did you think of that as a step towards privatisation. Do you think Bob Hawke did when he did?
LEIGH: It very clearly does increase the private share. You've got Malcolm Turnbull in 2009 saying he though the best thing for Australia would be if everyone had private health insurance. The Liberals have foreman Medicare, they have foreman trying to rip money out of the universal public part of the system. Who does that hurt? It hurts low and middle income Australian households who worry that they can't both put food on the table and take a kid along to the doctor. It then hurts productivity because if someone doesn't go to the doctor because they're worried about the cost of healthcare, turns up to work with the flu and then infects all of their co-workers. So this isn't simply a question of health policy or social policy, it goes to the fundamental equity of the Australian system and that's why Labor is standing up for Medicare at this election which is a referendum on Medicare.
VAN ONSELEN: You mentioned that you've changed your view on co-payments, on the issue of a plebiscite on same-sex marriage somebody that has changed their view is Bill Shorten. He once said that he believes personally speaking I'm completely relaxed about having some form of a plebiscite. Now he's worried about a homophobic campaign being funded in a plebiscite construct with the for and against case. John Keynes said when the facts change you can change your mind, I'm all for that. My concern is the way that all of a sudden Bill Shorten is labelling as some sort of element of homophobia, the idea of a plebiscite and what it might mean. That's not just changing your mind is it, Dr Leigh that's turning around an absolutely budging in a position in a position that you held just a short time ago?
LEIGH: Peter we've seen in the Irish referendum the increased calls to mental health support lines from gay and lesbian teenagers. We've seen the homophobia that that campaign aroused. I don't want to see Australia go through that. I don't want to see young gays and lesbians subjected to that. There's a young couple in my electorate, Emily and Ellie, one of the 31 Canberra couples who married when same-sex marriages were allowed for 5 days in Canberra in 2013. They're now coming up on 3 years since they were able to tie the knot, the knot that was quickly untied -
VAN ONSELEN: Dr Leigh I've got to jump in -
LEIGH: Why should they have to wait?
VAN ONSELEN: I agree with you, I have long been an opponent of a plebiscite and I've long highlighted what I worry about around mental health issues particularly in the wake of Ireland and what occurred over there but you're not telling me surely that Bill Shorten was so naive or ignorant to these issues pre-Ireland, are you? Because people have long known that these were the problems attached to a plebiscite, was he just not aware of that?
LEIGH: Well Ireland definitely brought out the concerns there, Peter. But I think too the odd thing about the plebiscite is what the Liberal Party is saying they're going to do in response to it. We had Scott Morrison yesterday ducking and weaving on the very simple question of, if Australia votes yes in the plebiscite, will you vote yes in the Parliament. He says he will respect the vote of the Australian people but then he won't say if that actually means to vote yes. I respect the All Blacks but I'm not going to barrack for them. I don't know what Scott Morrison and the rest of the hard right of the Liberal Party mean when they say they will somehow respect the plebiscite result. So then what's the point of spending $160 million for a tax-payer funded opinion poll that the Libs will ignore.
VAN ONSELEN: I'm with you on that, I think it's absurd I've been talking about it all afternoon how silly it is to allow a free vote when you're having a plebiscite. To me that's just crazy. But what I'm concerned about is if Bill Shorten as little as 3 years ago was so poorly read in history about referendums and votes on people's rights, how could he have not been aware of that back then and has only been alerted to it today. You would have been well read on those issues as I am about the problems of having rights based votes. It's a problem.
LEIGH: Peter I think it's easy to be wise in hindsight but I think these referendums, these conversations really have highlighted the dangers. This is an area where many people views have evolved. There's many people in the Parliament who would vote yes on a conscience vote to marriage equality now and who voted no when the vote came up in September 2012. So I think an evolution is reasonable. What's not reasonable is at a time when debt is as high as it has been in decades, to take $160 million worth of taxpayer money and spend it on an exercise that the Liberal hard right is going to ignore. That's what's unreasonable here, not the fact that many Parliamentarians views on same-sex marriage have evolved in a direction of equality. We ought to welcome that.
VAN ONSELEN: We've got to go, but if the Government wins this election can we have a side bet the loser buys dinner with expensive wine if they don't in fact privatise Medicare? That's my view.
LEIGH: I would never gamble on something as important as that, catching up with Sky presenters and learning their wisdom is always something I'd welcome.
VAN ONSELEN: Thought you were going to say you'd never have dinner with me. Alright Andrew Leigh, appreciate your company thanks very much as always for joining us.
LEIGH: Thanks, Peter.
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