The payment system is critical to Medicare - Sky PM Agenda


SUBJECTS: Asylum seekers, Marriage equality, Labor’s positive plans for Medicare, Costings

DAVID SPEERS: You're watching PM Agenda. Plenty to talk about as we were canvassing before the break and I'm pleased to say with us this afternoon, both here in the Canberra studio, the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and the Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh. Thanks for joining us. I want to start on asylum seekers, Malcolm Turnbull said today 28 boats have been trying to come to Australia, 734 passengers in total under the Coalition's watch. So they haven't tried to stop coming here have they Senator? 

CORMANN: But we've been successful in stopping them coming here and that's because we had a very clear policy framework with temporary protection visas with regional processing and with a commitment to turn the boats around where it's safe to do so. And of course what we know is that more than 50 Labor members and candidates in open defiance against Bill Shorten's assertion that he would continue the strong policy framework of the Coalition.

SPEERS: A few candidates overnight have been expressing various views. Let me ask you, Andrew Leigh, would this specific boat though, from what we know, the vessel was intercepted, people taken aboard the Navy and Border Force vessels, their boat was scuttled or burnt in the water and flown back to Vietnam after being processed at sea, is that what Labor would do?

LEIGH: David, we've said we'd pursue the same set of policies the Coalition would in terms of deterring people coming to Australia. But we don't believe that it's necessary to have people locked up in punitive conditions in Manus and Nauru in order to achieve that.

SPEERS: But on the turn backs though, you'd do the same? Scuttle the boat, process them at sea and fly them back home?

LEIGH: We had a debate at our national conference last year, it was a fractious debate as you would recall. But Bill Shorten's argument carried the day. Labor is committed to offshore processing, to the refugee resettlement agreement and in extreme cases to boat turn backs. These are operational matters you're asking about but in terms of policy we've made that decision on refugee resettlement and turn backs.

SPEERS: The big difference you have is temporary protection visas for those that are here already. Would this make a big difference, do you think, if there were no temporary protection visas, those people here were allowed to stay permanently? 

CORMANN: Temporary protection visas are a fundamental pillar of our border protection framework. That's what takes the product away from people smugglers to sell. 

SPEERS: Doesn't sending them off shore send that, or sending them back?

CORMANN: All 3 pillars are important pillars that have all been central to the success of our protection policy framework. You take one away you obviously weaken the border protection arrangements we have in place. Andrew says they have the same policies as the Coalition. They don't. They don't have a commitment to temporary protection visas and the other point that I would make is that Kevin Rudd in the lead up to the 2007 election was saying the same thing that Bill Shorten is saying. He said he would turn boats around, he was talking tough on border protection and after the election, the left of the Labor Party got on top of Kevin Rudd and he went weak at the knees and we've had 50,000 illegal people here arrive illegally.

SPEERS: On the temporary protection visas, Andrew Leigh, do they send the wrong message by Labor saying we'll get rid of them, you can stay permanently if you're here?

LEIGH: There's no deterrent impact on people who might come to Australia from mistreating people who are already in Australia. The deterrent impact from people making the journey comes in the refugee resettlement agreement primarily but also partially from turn backs. But it is also important to make the point that Labor's policy is different from the Coalition's in terms of our generosity. We would double the refugee intake; we'd give another $450 million to the UNHCR. We would have mandatory reporting of child abuse in our detention facilities and we'd have a children's commissioner in place. So all of those things represent our willingness to be decent with those who we accept but also to make sure that people don't lose their lives coming to Australia.

CORMANN: People smugglers are able to tell potential victims that as long as they get to Australia they will be able to say, that is the incentive that people smugglers have been using to encourage people to get onto those leaky boats, taking temporary protection visas away, helping people smugglers sell a product of if you get to Australia you can stay in Australia. That is what has put so many people at risk when they went onto leaky boats on the sea. 

LEIGH: There's no evidence of that. You look back through the introduction of TPVs. The evidence is – 

CORMANN: 50,000 people arrived here illegally. 1,200 people drowned at sea when you were last in government. More than 800 boats arrived here illegally.

LEIGH: Let's actually talk about the facts. You look at the introduction of TPVs in 1999 and they have almost no impact on asylum seeker flows. After the horrendous Siev X disaster, the Howard Government made policy changes which seemed to have an impact on asylum seeker flows. TPVs are a way of treating people who have arrived in Australia. They don't have an impact on -

SPEERS: Let's move on.

CORMANN: You're confirming that you don't have the same strong border protection policies as the Coalition.

LEIGH: In terms of people coming to Australia, we support the refugee resettlement agreement, we support turnbacks where they are necessary.

SPEERS: If you're saying there's no point punishing or penalising those that are here to try to stop others coming, could you apply that to Manus Island and Nauru as well and say there's no point punishing them to try to stop others coming?

LEIGH: The point is to say to people don't get on a leaky boat because if you do you won't be resettled in Australia. That's what has the deterrent effect. That's why after Labor put that policy in place in 2013 we saw a 90 per cent fall in asylum seeker boat arrivals. That's a Labor policy, put in place and reconfirmed at our last election. 

SPEERS: We need to move on. Gay marriage. Mathias Cormann you are opposed. Have you suffered the same sort of bigotry that Scott Morrison says he has?

CORMANN: Well look, I've got a personal view which is well known and I support the Coalition policy to have a plebiscite should we be successful at the next election. In Australia there's a diversity of views on the issue of same-sex marriage and in a democracy the way to resolve a diversity of views is at the ballot box. That is the appropriate way forward.

SPEERS: I'm just wondering whether you've received any sort of personal abuse or bigotry because of your position? 

CORMANN: Australia's a democracy. There's a diversity of views gets debated and that is appropriate, and we would expect in the lead up to the plebiscite there will be a debate in Australia about the right way forward and ultimately there will be a vote and that will determine the way forward and that will hopefully achieve a more permanent resolution of this issue than has been achieved so far. I mean this has come before the Parliament on a number of occasions now. Every single time the Parliament has reconfirmed the current definition of marriage. The Coalition has decided in order to facilitate a more permanent resolution the best way to deal with this is to put it to a vote for the Australian people to settle.

LEIGH: Will you follow that?

CORMANN: I'm not sure what you're trying to achieve here. I'm on the record of saying if Australia support same-sex marriage then I will respect that verdict. I'm long on the record.

SPEERS: I think he said yes. Would the Liberal Party have a conscience vote in the next Parliament on this?

CORMANN: You know, obviously all of that detail is yet to be announced. What we have said –

SPEERS: I thought that was dealt with in the last party room conference.

CORMANN: On the other side of the election there will be a plebiscite and the plebiscite will determine obviously the way forward.

SPEERS: But I thought it was decided that you would have a conscience vote?

CORMANN: That was not decided. What the Coalition has decided is that we would have a plebiscite should we be re-elected on the 2nd of July. 

SPEERS: Andrew Leigh, do you think there would be the sort of hatred and violence that some fear if we do have a plebiscite on this issue? 

LEIGH: It's certainly a risk, David. You look at the Irish experience where you saw young gays and lesbians accessing mental health services in increased numbers during the period of the referendum.

SPEERS: Was there violence?

LEIGH: I'm not sure on terms of violence.

SPEERS: That's the claim being made, what's the evidence that there's going to be some violence?

LEIGH: There were increased calls for help to suicide help lines by young gays and lesbians who faced campaign essentially saying that their own sexuality was wrong. I don't want to see young Australian gays and lesbians be subjected to that. I think Parliament should just –

SPEERS: Just to be clear, your concern is more about the anguish that gay and lesbian Australians will face through this process rather than actual violence per se?

LEIGH: The violence itself is a possibility. You open up –

SPEERS: But based on what because as you've heard the Prime Minister and others say, they have greater faith in the Australian people?

LEIGH: Well, I think that once you open up this sort of a debate, once you give taxpayer dollars to haters, then you've got a real risk in this campaign. There are certainly aspects of those who argue against same-sex marriage through decent views, but then there's a nasty strand there. I don't want young gays and lesbians to be subjected to that, particularly, David, given that some in the Coalition party room say that they will just ignore the results of the plebiscite. Regardless of what it comes through with, they will vote exactly the same way.

SPEERS: Let's turn to Medicare and try and settle this argument that's been going for a few days now. In fact, let me ask you both, why is outsourcing or privatising the payment system of Medicare such a bad idea? Andrew Leigh, you first.

LEIGH: David, this is the very heart of Medicare.

SPEERS: The payment system.

LEIGH: Absolutely. The payment system is critical to Medicare. Labor has always supported Medicare, the Coalition spent a quarter of a century trying to destroy Medicare. 

SPEERS: Let's get to this question though, why would outsourcing, and improving it at the same time, be such a bad idea?

LEIGH: I don't know of any evidence, David, that it would improve it. I certainly know that it would continue down a pathway the Coalition's long wanted to go down. In 2009 Malcolm Turnbull said that he would like to see everyone with private health insurance. In 2014 you saw the Coalition bring down a budget which had GP tax in it. You've seen the Coalition at every turn look to decrease the public role.

SPEERS: Let's stick to this issue about the payments system, Mathias Cormann, would it be such a bad idea?

CORMANN: Bill Shorten is running a desperate lie on this. Bill Shorten knows we're not privatising Medicare. He clearly hasn't got anything to talk about it when it comes to the economy, to jobs and to growth. He has already had to admit he will deliver bigger deficits and higher taxes so he doesn't want to talk about that. Chris Bowen, when he was the Labor Human Services Minister looked at the appropriate ways to modernise the Medicare payment system -

SPEERS: Is that such a bad idea?

CORMANN: We looked at the appropriate way to modernise the Medicare payments system. We will be doing it in house. We will be ensuring that the Medicare payment system is as user-friendly as possible for patients.

SPEERS: Why is that? Is it because you don't trust the private sector to handle that information, I'm trying to get a why?

CORMANN: We've looked at this whole issue and we will be modernising Medicare in house, in public hands, that is our commitment. But I mean, Bill Shorten has deliberately set out to deceive the Australian people. He deceived Bob Hawke, he is deliberately setting out to deceive the Australian people. He was called out today for his lie about a national president of the AMA who clearly spelled out that what Bill Shorten is trying to say is completely false.

SPEERS: Do you accept that, that the Government, the Coalition won't actually privatise the payment system? They've made that pretty clear now for a few days.

LEIGH: Believing that the Coalition don't want to privatise Medicare is like believing the Rolling Stones are going to stop touring. Frankly, they want to do it, they've always wanted to do it. Their fans want them to do it. The Coalition have been against Medicare at every turn. This freezing of the rebates is effectively increasing the private share. It leads to an increase in out of pocket costs.

SPEERS: If freezing the rebate, Andrew Leigh, is effectively privatising Medicare why did you do it?

LEIGH: We did it for a matter of months. This has been in the deep freeze for 6 years.

SPEERS: Was that a temporary privatisation?

LEIGH: You're comparing 6 months with 6 years, really, what the Government is doing in freezing the rebates - 

SPEERS: If the out of pocket costs equals privatisation, we've had privatisation then for a long time.

LEIGH: Look what's happened under the Coalition.

CORMANN: Bulk-billing rates are higher than under Labor. He can't handle the truth.

LEIGH: That does sound great coming out of your mouth. At the last election 2013, you had Tony Abbott saying no cuts to health and then immediately goes around and rips $57 billion out of hospitals. If you believed Tony Abbott then maybe you should believe Malcolm Turnbull when he says they won't privatise Medicare. 

SPEERS: Let me get to what is still a big outstanding question in this election campaign. When are we going to see Labor's costings?

LEIGH: We haven't seen bottom line from either party, David. You will see Labor's costings ahead of polling day and you won't see them on the last Thursday before polls close. 

SPEERS: When will we see them?

LEIGH: Which is when you saw the Coalition's costings.

SPEERS: So earlier than Thursday next week, can we assume this week or will it just be a day or two earlier than Thursday?

LEIGH: People will get to see them well before the blackout period which is when the Coalition put out their costings last time around. They were too scared to have them subjected to public scrutiny. They waited until the media blackout period, the Thursday before polling day before they finally put them out. Frankly, neither party has put out its bottom line. I wouldn't be surprised if ours –

CORMANN: Firstly, we delivered the budget on 3 May, which showed that we were paying for all of our spending commitments with savings and other parts in the budget, which was ticked off by the Secretaries of Treasury and Finance independently in the pre- election economic and fiscal outlook. To the extent where there have been additional commitments in the election period which are significantly less than the unfunded spending spree that Bill Shorten has been on. We will pay for those with savings in other parts of the budget. More than pay for those with savings in other parts of the budget. And you will see that in good time before the election. 

SPEERS: Earlier than Thursday next week? 

CORMANN: Obviously sometime between now and the election.

SPEERS: So it might be Thursday or Friday night before the election?

CORMANN: I'm not going to give you the date today. I know you would like me to announce it.

SPEERS: I would like you both to announce it.

CORMANN: We've released a budget. That budget was given the tick of approval by the Secretaries of Treasury and Finance. Labor has already admitted that they will deliver bigger deficits which 3 respected economists have said will threaten our AAA credit rating which would hurt jobs and growth. That's why Bill Shorten doesn't want to talk about the economy, that's why he wants to run a dishonest and deceptive campaign on Medicare.

LEIGH: You will get something from Labor that you won't get from the Coalition. That is 10-year numbers instead of 4-year numbers. The reason that matters is that we have savings that build over time, negative gearing and capital gains tax changes -

SPEERS: You won't include in that 10-year figure what you will spend on hospitals.

LEIGH: We will include all of our promises.

SPEERS: So you do have a 10-year funding commitment on hospitals.

LEIGH: All our funding will be in the 10-year numbers. From the Coalition you won't get a 10-year number. Their policies are like a stick of dynamite with a long fuse - a company tax cut that blows out the budget at the end of the 10-year period. 

CORMANN: The company tax cut that you used to passionately support as a way to boost investment and economy

LEIGH: A company tax cut which will deliver 0.01 per cent to households.

CORMANN: He wrote opinion pieces on it in Australian Financial Review and in fact he said it was important to spread it out to bigger businesses when he was arguing against the paper.

LEIGH: If you ask Australia's top economists, 2 out of 3 say you should do education rather than a company tax cut. 

CORMANN: Ken Henry said the beneficiary of a company tax cut are the workers.

SPEERS: Big business have been a little concerned about the Prime Minister's language saying if you don't want the tax cut to go to the biggest business chuck us out in 3 years. Is that really the message?

CORMANN: Obviously we're putting forward our 10-year enterprise tax plan which will boost investment and growth and increase real wages over time. We want to deliver our 10-year enterprise tax plan and we would like to see people re-elected at this election and hopefully at the 2 or 3 subsequent elections. But the point the Prime Minister was making was a self-evident point that over a 10-year period in the Australian political system you have 3 elections, because every 3 years the Government appropriately has to front to the Australian people and the Australian people get to decide whether they continue to support our plan for jobs and growth or whether they want to go for the alternative which doesn't have a plan for the economy, which wants to jack up taxes. 

LEIGH: It's a 10-year plan with a 4-year costing. A primary school kid could tell there's 

CORMANN: You've learned from your leader how to lie, clearly. 

LEIGH: Looking forward to your 10-year costing, Mathias. If you can match Labor with 10-year costings -

SPEERS: We are looking forward to seeing the costings of both of you. People are voting early and I'm sure as soon as we can see what the impact will be on both sides that will be great. Thank you both for joining us this afternoon. We'll take a quick break, back with more.


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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.