SUBJECT / S: The Abbott Government’s Budget of broken promises; Tony Abbott broken promises on health and education; GP Tax; Tony Abbott on ABC radio; university fee increases; Cambodia; Gonski

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER:  Thank you for coming here to the Royal Prince Alfred hospital today. This is a fantastic hospital, it has seen a great deal of hundreds of millions of dollars of investment from the previous Labor Government, including the fantastic Chris O’Brien lifehouse cancer centre just up the road here. It is exactly the sort of hospital that will suffer because of the funding cuts in this year’s Federal Budget. This hospital is likely to lose hospital beds. It is likely to see people waiting longer for elective surgery and waiting longer in emergency. But it is not the only hospital in Australia that will feel that. Every hospital in Australia will feel that. Before the election Tony Abbott said as clear as day there will be no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no new taxes, no changes to the pensions. Since the election he has broken every single one of those commitments. We have seen $80 billion dollars cut from the states’ hospitals and schools. $80 billion dollars cut from health and schools in this Budget.  We have seen a whole range of health cuts that Catherine will speak about in a minute, but in terms of education we have not only seen massive cuts to school funding, we have seen the complete abandonment of the Gonski school education funding model. Something that has been severely criticized over night by the architect of the fairer funding system, David Gonski himself. You also see massive cuts to university education with students paying more for a university degree, and a university degree becoming out of reach for many ordinary Australians.

At the same time you see cuts to vocational education and cuts to funding programmes that help kids make the transition from school to TAFE or to university. So right across the board cuts to school funding, cuts to vocational education and cuts to university education. Tony Abbott also promised no new taxes and no increases on taxes. Well he has broken that promise in spades. He is increasing income tax for high income earners. He is increasing petrol tax for every Australian who drives. He is also levying new taxes on a visit to the GP and he is increasing the cost of buying medicines. He is cutting family tax benefit for many, many hundreds of thousands of Australian families who rely on that little bit of extra help from the government to make ends meet. And when it comes to pensions, pensioners are perhaps the hardest hit by Tony Abbott’s budget. Not only are they paying more for health care, not only are they paying more for petrol, but they will actually see a fall in the value of their pensions. We know people will be waiting longer to receive a pension, they will wait till they are 70 before they get a pension, but every pensioner, all of those people who are already receiving the age pension, who have worked hard the whole of their life to earn it are now going to see a reduction in the value of the age pension in coming years. This Budget hits every Australian and it breaks every promise that Tony Abbott made. Catherine do you want to talk a bit more about the health cuts?

CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks, it is terrific to be here in Sydney today with Tanya Plibersek, former Minister for Health, who presided over a huge investment in health in this country. A very important investment that has been absolutely trashed by Tony Abbott. What Tony Abbott said before the last election is that there would be no cuts to health, no new taxes.  We know in this Budget, we have seen $80 billion dollars cuts from health and education. That translates to $15 billion dollars in New South Wales alone.  $15 billion dollars which will see bed closures. Which will see more pressure on emergency departments and longer waiting lists for elective surgery. These cuts start in just under 39 days’ time. They are not cuts in the never, never. They are cuts that will start very soon and start to immediately affect public hospitals right the way across this country. We have also seen cuts to public dental, public dental waiting lists will also increase. We have seen cuts to preventative health measures. Measures that were put in place, funding to states and territories to keep people well, to keep them out of hospital.  And of course we have seen the GP tax. The GP tax will cost around about $285 million dollars in out of pocket costs every year for people of New South Wales. That is putting a barrier in the way of people accessing general practitioners.

And the Treasurer Joe Hockey and the Prime Minister can’t even get the details of that policy right. They have made a claim, twice made a claim that people with chronic disease, people with asthma, people with other chronic conditions such as Alzheimer’s who are going to see their GP will not pay this GP tax. That is simply another lie from Tony Abbott. People with chronic conditions will be paying $7 dollars every time they go to a GP for their standard consultation. That is what this policy is designed to do, is to make people pay more for accessing a general practitioner. And we know the results of doing that. The results of doing that will be that people will defer important visits to the doctor. Important visits where they may be managing their chronic condition or they may need to access advice about how they can stay well if they find out if their family has a heart condition or cancer within their families. People trying to access immunisation for their children. We know people will delay those visits. And we then know that from all of the international evidence that people will end up much sicker and they end up in emergency  departments. The cruel hoax of this budget is then Tony Abbott wants to put a tax on hospital visits as well. So, all around this Budget means that you will be paying more for the health services that you need and it is picking apart at the seams the fundamental health system we have here, Medicare. Labor will defend Medicare and we will certainly not be supporting Tony Abbott’ imposition of a GP tax every time you go to the doctor.

JOURNALIST: Ms Plibersek what did you make of Tony Abbott’s wink on radio yesterday?

PLIBERSEK: Well look, I think the sad thing is that it just shows that Tony Abbott doesn’t get it. He doesn’t get what struggling Australians are facing, the sort of difficult choices they are making, the sort of sacrifices they are making. I think it shows Tony Abbott is completely out of touch with how hard life is for a lot of people.

JOURNALIST: What about the university protests yesterday? What do you make of them?

PLIBERSEK: Well like I have said before I think university protests should be large and should be peaceful. I am disturbed when I see people being jostled or any violence at a protest. But I am not surprised that university students and parents frankly are very, very concerned about the changes in this Budget. And the changes that are being proposed by Tony Abbott, putting university education out of reach for a whole lot of ordinary families. You have got families with children being born today who will already be worrying about whether they can save enough to send their child to university. The same way parents do in the United States. What you have got designed here is a two-tiered system where wealthy universities will be free to charge whatever they want and wealthy students will be the only ones who will be able to afford to go to them and the rest of the student population will miss out.

They will either make the decision to not to go to university at all because they cannot afford it or they will be going to universities that find it much more difficult to raise funds. We are already seeing universities trying to work out how they are going to cope with a 20 per cent reduction in student funding. That is coming at a time when there will also be students reconsidering whether to go to university at all because they will be copping a debt of hundreds of thousands of dollars when they graduate at the same time as they are trying to start a family, buy a home, doing all the things you do as you start to move into adulthood.

JOURNALIST: A big part of tony Abbott’s election campaign was the fact that Labor didn’t have a mandate for the carbon tax and focusing Julia Gillard’s comments before the election. What do you say to Tony Abbott’s mandate for what he’s doing for health and education?

PLIBERSEK:  Tony Abbott before the election deliberately lied to Australians. If Tony Abbott had said before the election I am going to destroy Medicare, I am going to make it more difficult for people to see a GP and we are going to introduce fees for people to go to public hospitals, Australians wouldn’t have voted for him. And he knew that, so he didn’t take them into his confidence, he told them a deliberate lie about not cutting health funding. He told a deliberate lie to about not cutting education funding because he knows that Australians value quality education, not just for their own children, but for all Australian children. That is why Australians backed the Gonski education reforms.

So he lied about those reforms. He lied about being on a unity ticket with Labor about school education funding and maybe the cruellest lie of all is the lie he told Australian pensioners that their pensions would be safe. That he wouldn’t be going after pensioners. These are people who are already struggling on around $20,000 dollars a year. Tony Abbott wants to pay a millionaire $50,000 to have a baby but he wants to cut the pensions of people living on $20,000 a year or less. He never said that before the election because he knew if he did people wouldn’t have voted for him. People would not have voted for a two tiered user pays, dog eat dog system in health and education and in pensions the way we see in the United States.

JOURNALIST: Have you been surprised amount of opposition particularly from within his own party? Six out of eight state and territory leaders and also a lot of Coalition MPs.

PLIBERSEK:  Well I am not surprised that premiers, including Liberal premiers are saying hands off our hospitals and hand off our schools. What an outrageous thing to do to state governments to say we want to cut our deficit so we are just going to shove all of this spending that we used to share, we are just going to shove it onto you.  I meant it is a completely unreasonable, unbelievable thing to without warning, without discussion without negotiation suddenly just pull out of funding that the Commonwealth has always shared with the states in the past. This isn’t a new thing. For decades Commonwealth and State governments have been sharing responsibility for hospitals and sharing responsibility for schools. And for Tony Abbott to say ‘oh no that was never our job’. It is unreal. He has lost touch with reality to think that he can get away from that.

JOURNALIST: We now know that the Cambodia deal, the Cambodia resettlement deal, will include voluntary resettlement for abled bodied refugees who are able to work and contribute. Isn’t that enough information in the broad sense on whether Labor would support this deal?

PLIBERSEK:  We’ve had very little information about Cambodia. I’ve before expressed my concerns. Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in Asia. It’s a post-conflict country that still has many, many problems of its own. We’ve seen no details of the deal. It’s part of the extraordinary lack of transparency in the immigration system that Scott Morrison’s running. We still don’t have any answers on what happened on Manus Island, the investigation of the death of Reza Berati. So many unanswered questions and the Cambodian deal, we’re learning more from Cambodia about what the Australian Government’s proposing than we’re learning from the Australian Government.

JOURNALIST: David Gonski is pleading for Government to keep funding your Government’s needs based funding model while expressing regret that he did put a $5 billion price tag on those reforms. Isn’t it true that the budget can’t afford that excess?

PLIBERSEK:  No, it’s just nonsense that these education reforms are unaffordable. We can’t afford not to invest in Australia’s children. We can’t afford to leave people behind. We can’t afford to develop a permanent underclass of kids who get a second rate education, who can never afford to go to TAFE or university. We can’t afford to leave our kids behind. We have to invest in education so we can compete internationally and we have to invest in education to get the best and to get the most out of every Australian.

And I’ll tell you something about these school education reforms. They were funded ten years into the future. We laid out in our budget papers how the school education funding would happen and how the national disability insurance scheme would happen. We found during our time in government, $180 billion worth of sensible savings. We found during my time as Health Minister, billions of dollars of savings in the health system that protected patients’ access to healthcare. We found savings by paying less for older, generic medicines so that we could afford to by the brand new medicines that are being invented all the time. We found savings by means testing private health insurance. Both of these things, opposed by Peter Dutton. There are ways of finding savings that don’t hurt patients in healthcare. There are ways of finding savings in the Budget that make sure that every dollar of taxpayers’ dollars is being well and wisely spent, but that’s not what happened in this Budget. This Budget is an attack on the Australian way of life and it’s an attack on Australians, it costs the health system. That means people waiting longer for elective surgery, it means people waiting longer in emergency departments. It means the closure of beds and the sacking of doctors and nurses and other health professionals.

This Budget costs the education system. It means poor kids will get a worse education and that our whole system will be poorer for it. You’re not only losing funding here for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, you’ll lose funding here for kids for extension classes, for all of the enrichment programs that were proposed in the funding model that would have allowed Principals to say ‘We want to hire a music teacher’ or ‘We want to hire a language teacher’ all of those programs that make education better quality. That’s lost here as well.

The argument that the Australian Budget cannot sustain health and education funding is false. We have three triple A credit ratings from three major credit ratings agencies. Very few countries in the world have that. It was never achieved under the Liberals. We achieved it, Labor achieved that and frankly if you’ve got troubles with your budget as Tony Abbott claims, why would you spend $20 billion on a paid parental leave scheme that gives the biggest advantage to the richest Australians?

JOURNALIST: I’ve got a question for Mrs King, is Labor prepared to negotiate a lower price for the GP payment?

KING: Not at all. Where not prepared to negotiate on a GP tax at all. This is an unfair tax. It is a tax that penalises people going to the doctor. What a stupid policy. Why would you put a barrier in the way to people accessing a part of the system where you want people to go? You want them to go for prevention, you want them to go to manage chronic disease and you want to make sure they are staying well. This is stupid policy and it’s not just Labor saying that. Every single health expert in the country from the Australian Medical Association, Royal Australian College of GPs, Consumers Health Forum and the Public Health Association. They all know this is dumb policy and Tony Abbott should drop it.

JOURNALIST: If the problem is that low income earners can’t actually afford it, why not negotiate to exempt them from it?

KING: Well Tony Abbott has made a decision that everybody will pay a GP tax of $7 every time you go for a visit and he’s provided a very small exemption for a small number of people who are concession card holders after ten visits. What he doesn’t understand is it’s not just concession card holders who will feel this pressure. There are many people on low and middle incomes who in fact will find this very difficult. If you’ve got a family how on earth do you budget for when your kids get sick because that is basically what he’s telling people. You now need to factor into your budget the amount of GP visits you’re going to have each year. What we should be doing in the health system is making sure people have good access to General Practice. That is the basis on which Medicare is developed, making sure you have universal access so that you can go to the GP, the cheapest part of the system, and try to prevent unnecessary hospitalisations. Everybody knows this is dumb policy and it is certainly not something Labor will be negotiating on.


JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister and the Treasurer both appeared to make mistakes this week when trying to explain the GP co-payment. Does this show just how difficult it is to break down complicated health policy so that people can actually understand it?

KING: Well it seems to be that only Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey and Peter Dutton, the architects of this policy are seeming now to get stuck on the actual details, they’ve been called on them, they’ve misled people by saying people with chronic disease conditions will not have to pay that tax. They clearly do not understand their own policy, let alone the way in which the health system operates. We know people with chronic disease conditions will pay this tax. Everybody will pay this tax for a standard consultation. That is the way the policy is designed, it is in fact designed to discourage people from going to the doctors and accessing the doctor when they need to in order for the Government to save money.


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