SUBJECT/S: WA Senate Election; Abbott Government Hiding its Commission of Audit report; Abbott Government cuts to health care in WA; Trades Training Centres; Jobs; National Affordable Housing Program; Resignation of WA Treasurer.

MARK MCGOWAN, LEADER OF THE WA STATE OPPOSITION: First of all can I thank Bill and Tanya for coming to Western Australia, and in particular Bill for meeting with the state parliamentary Labor Party, addressing us and answering questions, and I think a very warm environment was there between the state party and the federal party.

I’ll just say a couple of words about the federal election, and then I’ll hand over to Bill and to Tanya, and then we’ll have questions at the end. I don’t know if you want to ask me about any events of the day, but you may well want to at the end of that.

First of all, I think this Senate campaign is an excellent opportunity for West Australians to send a message that they don’t like the style of government of Mr Barnett and the fact that Mr Abbott has said that that is the style of government that he wants to emulate, I think gives that chance for West Australians to say no. I think what we’ve seen in Western Australia is a shambolic and chaotic government at a state level, and I don’t think West Australians want to see that replicated at a federal level.

This government has been dysfunctional, divided, and dishonest over a long period of time, and I think West Australians increasingly are becoming disenchanted with the style of government we have in this state. I’ll hand over to Bill.

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Mark. It's great to be here with Mark McGowan, it's great to be here with Tanya Plibersek, my deputy, to talk about the West Australian Senate election. It's my third visit since becoming Leader of the Opposition and one thing's become clear to me as I talk to West Australians - they are very concerned about the cuts to education and to health care here in Western Australia.

There is a real opportunity in this West Australian Senate election, the first of its kind we've seen in the history of the Commonwealth, to send a clear message to Tony Abbott that Western Australians don't like the cuts that Colin Barnett is doing, and the fact that the Abbott Government is refusing to release its controversial 900 page report which will cut the quality of education and health care services in the west until after the Senate by-election, is a mean and nasty trick on West Australians.

This Senate election is about sending a message to Tony Abbott and to Colin Barnett.  West Australians love their quality of life here, they want to make sure that their families can get access to the best quality health care and they want their kids to get the best quality education. We've just very met with Scott and Abraham, two very talented teenagers who are studying trades training at their Trades Training Centre.

There are 49 trades training centres covering 150 schools in Western Australia. It is really important that our education system doesn't just train children for university, it trains our future apprentices, for our future trades jobs in the west. The Abbott Government has said they're not going to go any further with trades training centres and that is the wrong way to go. That is not the correct direction for Western Australia to be heading in.

This Senate Election is all about making sure that we don’t have cuts to education and health care,  it's about making sure we stand up for issues which go to cost of living and it’s about opposing the Abbott Government’s GP Tax. It's also about making sure that the middle class of Western Australia don't feel squeezed and that there are jobs in Western Australia, there's the opportunity to have quality education so that children and kids can get the best apprenticeship, so they can go and have the best jobs in Western Australia.

I might ask my colleague Tanya Plibersek to specifically talk about some of the concerns around housing and health care.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Bill. It's great to be here with both Mark and Bill today. This is a very important election, the upcoming Senate Election, because it's an opportunity for West Australians to send a very strong message to both Colin Barnett and to Tony Abbott that the cuts that Colin Barnett is inflicting on the people of Western Australia shouldn't be repeated at a federal level.

We know that right now sitting on Tony Abbott's desk is a Commission of Audit report that has some very nasty surprises in store for the people of West Australia, and people of the whole of Australia. The fact that this report's being kept secret until after the election should tell you how nasty its contents must be. Of course, as a former Health Minister, one of the areas that most concerns me are the cuts that have been made right here in Western Australia already to the health system, and the cuts that Tony Abbott has in store for the people of Australia.

When you look at what’s happened in the state health system here you've seen some very serious cuts already. We see, for example, the Fiona Stanley Hospital a year late, it's been a quarter of a million dollars a day to run an empty hospital. It's like something out of 'Yes, Minister.' On top of that comes reneging on the agreement to redevelop the Royal Perth Hospital. It's a $400 million redevelopment that the State Government has pulled out of. More than $180 million as well cut from upgrades to regional health facilities right around Perth. These are very serious cuts already and what we can't allow is for Tony Abbott to have open slather on further health cuts, for the people of West Australia.

You have got to remember that Tony Abbott as Health Minister is the man who was responsible for doctor shortages in Western Australia. When Tony Abbott was Health Minister he put a cap on GP training places and Western Australia has taken years to begin to recover from that decision of Tony Abbott as Health Minister. But wait, it gets worse. Tony Abbott's now proposing a fee to go to the doctor for every Australian, a GP tax.

When I was Health Minister we did everything we could to increase bulk-billing rates around Australia. We saw increases in bulk-billing rates here in Western Australia and Tony Abbott wants to chuck that out the window to chuck away all of that hard work to increase bulk-billing rates by trashing the whole idea of being able to go to the doctor when you need to without putting your hand in your pocket.

On top of that Tony Abbott’s also cut $10 million from a cancer outreach service that was negotiated with the West Australian State Government well before the election, the money was in the budget, this shows up as a cut in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, a $10 million cut to regional oncology services for Western Australia. We know one of the most serious consequences of the vast distances in this State is that people find it hard to travel for their medical care. The idea of the regional oncology outreach team was that people could stay closer to home for their treatment. That's another $10 million cut. The exact opposite of what Tony Abbott promised before the election.

I believe that Tony Abbott's in town today making some announcement about medical research. Of course, medical research funding is always welcome, but you look at his short history on this as PM, he's cut $12 million from the Millennium Institute, $10 million from the Westmead Children's Medical Research Institute. It is a history as a Health Minister and now as a Prime Minister, of cutting education and if West Australians care about – sorry, of cutting health - and if West Australians care about investment in their health system and having access to good health services, then they should send a very strong message to Tony Abbott and to Colin Barnett during this Senate election about health services for West Australians.

SHORTEN: Are there questions?

REPORTER: [Inaudible]

SHORTEN: The resources sector is very important to Western Australia. What we also see in Western Australia is that a lot of West Australians are feeling the squeeze. We've seen a slight increase in unemployment, cost of living is a challenge for West Australians. As we see a bright future for resources in Western Australia but what we also recognise is that what makes the quality of life in Perth and throughout Western Australia so enviable to the rest of Australia is having quality education and quality health services.

So the big issues in this election are having a strong West Australian Senate team who will stand up to Tony Abbott's cuts to education and to health care. We recognise that people are increasingly concerned about jobs, especially as you get investment easing up in some parts of the resources sector. And what West Australians want to see is a plan for jobs in Western Australia which is not been forthcoming so far from the Abbott Government. This Senate by-election is a chance to send Tony Abbott and Colin Barnett message - don't cut vital education and health care services.

REPORTER: Do you think losses in Tasmania and South Australia could damage Labor’s chances in the Senate election?

SHORTEN: What amazes me is the cynicism of the Abbott Government not releasing their clearly nasty proposal of 900 pages of nasty surprises and cuts to health care and education. I think it takes a high amount of cynicism to receive a report in early February and then make sure and sit on it and smother and hide the report until there's been state elections in Tasmania and South Australia.

But they really run out of excuses by holding on to this report till after the West Australian Senate by-election two months after they received a report. If it's 900 pages of nasty surprises that doesn't take two months to read, so I'm very concerned that West Australians aren't being told the truth by the Abbott Government and that they're not finding out what the Abbott Government is really proposing.

REPORTER: Has the Woolworths bailout indicated the Government position?

SHORTEN:  The Victorian – if you’re referring to SPC - the Victorian Government stepped into assist SPC. I'm pleased that there is good news at any point about jobs, I was appalled that the Abbott Government had no plans about SPC jobs. What makes their position so inconsistent is that a chocolate factory in Hobart can get Abbott Government taxpayer money, but a fruit processing factory in the Goulburn Valley doesn't. There's no consistency to what the Government is doing.

Since the Abbott Government was elected 63,000 full-time jobs have gone. I want to make sure that these very bright kids we’ve just met today, Abraham and Scott, that they can learn their trade, the Abbott Government is not interested in investing in that, and also I want to make sure that when they learn their trade there are jobs to go to. It isn't good enough that the Abbott Government is turning its back on apprentices, it isn't good enough that they have no plan for Australian jobs.

REPORTER: You raise some state-based issues, is that confusing the message to voters considering it’s a federal election?

SHORTEN: Tony Abbott said on March the 5th, with a twinkle in his eye, said that he wanted his Government to be the sort of Government that the Barnett Government is in [West Australia]. None of us asked Tony Abbott to use the Barnett Government as a role model for the sort of Government we wanted. Mr Abbott opened the door on comparing the Barnett Government to the national Government. We’re just following through and saying that the Barnett Government is a ‘mini-me’ version of the Abbott Government and what West Australians want is a strong Senate who is not focussed on agreeing with Tony Abbott, but is focussed on standing up for the quality of life and for jobs in Western Australia.

REPORTER: Do you have any comments to make on the resignation of the State Treasurer and the implications on this election?

SHORTEN: I understand that there are reports of mental health issues are involved in this, so I really wouldn’t want to comment too much. I suspect that there's questions for the Premier of Western Australia to answer. I might hand over to our colleague, my colleague, Mark McGowan, Leader of the State Opposition the deal with that matter.

MCGOWAN: Sorry, Emily, what was the question?

REPORTER: The implications of the resignation of Tory Buswell, do you think it has derailed the Senate campaign here in WA?

MCGOWAN: I just say a few things about that. First of all can I wish Mr Buswell, as I said yesterday, can I wish Mr Buswell the best, some things transcend politics I hope his personal health is on the improve and is under control.

Having said that, I do think there are further questions that need to be answered by the Government. We learnt today in the newspaper, that it appears there was at least one staffer who knew about the circumstances of the accident. I want to know whether other Government staffers, particularly in the Premier's office, were informed about what went on. I want to know whether or not people in the Premier's office, the Police Minister's office and the Treasurer's office were aware of all of the circumstances, yet didn't reveal them. I think that is a very important matter that goes to the heart of this matter.

The second point I’ll say is this. It's clear the Government is in chaos. We have a shambolic Government in Western Australia. For so long there has been crisis after crisis, failure after failure, dishonesty after dishonesty. And these events have with the departure of another treasurer have shown that at the heart of Government in Western Australia it's chaotic and dysfunctional.

Its impact on the Senate campaign, I don't know, but I do know this - when you have a dysfunctional and chaotic State Government, it can't help - sorry I do know this - when you have a chaotic and dysfunctional State Government, it can't help the Federal Liberal Party when they said they're going to model themselves on that same state Government.

REPORTER: Do you think that there needs to be a formal inquiry into the circumstances of the resignation and what people knew?

MCGOWAN: We're going to ask some questions today in the parliament in relation to these issues. We'll hold our judgment on whether or not there should be a bigger or a higher level inquiry in these matters until we get proper answers out of the Premier. But there is new information today according to the state's newspaper. There was at least one staffer who knew, that is different to what we were advised yesterday. I also understand that staffer spoke to the Premier's chief of staff on the first day that these issues came out, and I would expect the Premier to give a full explanation of the knowledge of his chief of staff and other staff members in his office about this series of events.

REPORTER: I have a question for the Deputy Opposition Leader about the social housing story on the front page of The Aus today. I wonder if you feel that it’s gone off track and needs to be revised or dumped?

PLIBERSEK: The National Rental Affordability Scheme is a terrific program. It's already delivered 14,000 now homes and another 24,000 in the pipeline. The vast majority of people who live in National Rental Affordability Scheme properties are people on very low incomes. Sole parent, pensioners, the whole range of people on low incomes including most particularly key workers. This is a scheme that was designed to bridge the gap between social housing, public housing and the private rental market by increasing the stock of affordable rental properties and it's done just that.

I think Tony Abbott needs to answer whether he's got a commitment to keeping this program going. This is a scheme that state housing ministers including Liberal State Housing Ministers have adopted enthusiastically. But the housing industry has taken up enthusiastically, that social housing experts have said is a success. So I think it's a very well designed scheme that is meeting its objectives, and what I'd like to see is a commitment from Tony Abbott that this isn't one of the secret cuts in that 900 page Commission of Cuts, because without additional investment in affordable housing we will continue to have people locked out of the housing market and we'll continue to see problems with homelessness.

The other question for Tony Abbott today is will he answer calls from around the country including from the Liberal Premier of Western Australia to renew the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness that expires on 30 June this year? We know that there are homelessness organisations that are already very worried about whether they'll be able to keep staff on, indeed I've heard reports from people who work in the homelessness sector that they're considering lay-offs already.

Tony Abbott's got a few questions to answer when it comes to housing: what are his plans for housing affordability? What are his plans for this National Rental Affordability Scheme? Is it one of the secret cuts in the Commission of Audit? And what’s he going to do about homelessness, is he going to go back to the situation that existed before 2007 when Liberal Governments, state and federal, said homelessness was in the too hard basket?

SHORTEN: Thanks everyone.