TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
ROSS HART MP
MEMBER FOR BASS
WEDNESDAY, 17 APRIL 2019
SUBJECTS: Labor’s cancer plan and plan to reduce elective surgery waiting times; Scott Morrison’s copying Labor’s announcements; Water planning for plantation forests; Scott Morrison ignoring the needs of Tasmanians.
JOURNALIST: Thanks for inviting us, by the way. We weren't invited by the PM when he was here so.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Really?
ROSS HART, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR BASS: Really? Welcome!
PLIBERSEK: We quite like the scrutiny.
HART: Welcome here, today. I welcome Tanya Plibersek, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition here, and a constituent, Michael Murrell, to talk here about the real stories behind the health crisis here in northern Tasmania. I'm doing a lot of campaigning on the doors in Bass, talking to a lot of my constituents about the issues that really matter for them, and health is definitely front and centre here in the electorate of Bass. But there are real stories behind those concerns with respect to the viability of the health system. Mr Murrell is a constituent - unfortunately, who I lose to my colleague Brian Mitchell because he's redistributed into the electorate of Lyons. But Mr Murrell and I have been dealing with each other with respect to an important issue concerning bowel cancer screening. His family, unfortunately, has a history of bowl cancer. He has been treated with polyps within his bowel, he has been put on the waiting list for a colonoscopy and unfortunately, despite being deemed urgent, he's yet to receive an appointment. This demonstrates the absolute failures that have been occurring within the Tasmanian health system and why it is that Labor's plan for extra funding to deal with both cancer and also with elective surgery waiting lists are the answer to the health crisis here in northern Tasmania. Michael, welcome.
MICHAEL MURRELL, PATIENT: Thank you. Well, in 2017, I was recommended by my doctor to have a colonoscopy. He sent a letter to the LGH. Two years later, eighteen months later, then I went to the hospital and had a consultation with the local physician. He marked my case as urgent. Urgent means I must be desirably treated within thirty days and that was exactly four months ago and I'm still waiting to hear when the procedure will take place to examine my bowel.
PLIBERSEK: Do you have any questions of Michael?
JOURNALIST: If we ask some questions to Michael and then we'll let him go. How stressful is it for you to know that you're an urgent patient and you haven't yet got an appointment yet?
MURRELL: It's just too much. I suffer from depression since I was 12 and the doctor has increased my anxiety and depression medication by one third for me to cope with the situation up until the colonoscopy is done and I find out what the results are.
JOURNALIST: And I suppose people might have suggested to you that you do this in the private system but is that something that's financially affordable for you?
MURRELL: Financially unaffordable for me. I don't know, I haven't gone into the cost of it. We don't have any Medical cover, medical health care cover. We live from payday to payday. My wife works, I'm retired. I live on a small pension and on her income.
JOURNALIST: And do you expect that, as a person living in a wealthy country, Australia, that when you needed urgent medical tests that you wouldn't be able to get them when you need them?
MURRELL: I think, really, it's a bit of a joke for a country so wealthy, as ours, to have to wait so long for a very, very simple procedure.
JOURNALIST: Thank you.
PLIBERSEK: Thank you Michael, very much. Well it's wonderful to be here with my friend and colleague Ross Hart, who is doing such a wonderful job representing northern Tassie. I'm here today with Ross talking about health because we know that this is the number one issue for Ross' constituents. He's been campaigning very hard to make sure that health services in his electorate meet the needs of his constituents. We have a real choice here in Australia between better hospitals and schools, and bigger tax loopholes for the top end of town. Michael's story today is so illustrative of what we're facing here in Australia. Just a few days ago, I was making an announcement that Labor, if elected, would invest more money to get more people to take the bowel cancer screening test. We know that this test saves lives. Bowel cancer if treated - if discovered early - is very treatable. Nine out of 10 bowel cancers can be successfully treated. But of course, the first step in treatment is having a colonoscopy to check whether in fact, an irregular test result is in fact bowel cancer. The fact that Michael has been waiting now for close to 2 years for this simple procedure is just shocking to me. It is absolutely shocking. This is not just an inconvenience for Michael. This risks his health, and I don't think it's an overstatement to say that it actually risks his life. He has a family history of bowel cancer, he has had polyps removed in the past. In 2012, he was told to have a follow-up colonoscopy 5 years later. Well, here we are, almost 7 years later and it's not Michael that's delaying. It's not Michael who hasn't looked after his health. It's Medicare that's let him down because of the underfunding of the Liberal Federal Government, joined here of course, by the Liberal State Government. We know that more than 18 per cent of people who get an irregular bowel cancer screen test result wait longer than the recommended period for a colonoscopy. This is completely unacceptable and of course, Labor's cancer package will reduce waiting times and reduce or eliminate out-of-pocket expenses for people who are suffering these very difficult circumstances like Michael. There could not be a starker choice at the next election. Do we want to properly fund our health system or do we want bigger tax loopholes for the top end of town? If people want a properly funded health system, a properly funded school system, then they have to vote for Ross Hart. They have to vote Labor. They can't let 6 years of cuts and chaos continue. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: How specifically would Labor, I suppose, reduce waiting lists for all patients like Michael waiting for things like colonoscopies?
PLIBERSEK: That's an excellent question. We have a $500 million, part of our cancer package, that would do elective surgeries like this colonoscopy, would mean that we could do many more colonoscopies within the recommended time. We also, of course, have packages within the bigger cancer package that would reduce or eliminate out-of-pocket expenses to see a surgeon, to see an oncologist, eliminate out-of-pocket expenses for MRIs and other diagnostic imaging. We've made a commitment around listing cancer medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule. Taken together, this is a $2.3 billion package that includes extra funding so that colonoscopies can be done on time, but covers a much broader range of tests and diagnoses and treatment.
JOURNALIST: How does the wait time in Tasmania compare to what you're seeing in other states?
PLIBERSEK: Well the wait times around Australia are unacceptable but the wait times in Tasmania are particularly unacceptable. I mean, Michael's story, sadly, is not an unusual one. It's all too common.
JOURNALIST: The Liberal Party have already announced a $92 million state-specific health package for Tasmania. Are we going to see a similar state-specific package from Labor?
PLIBERSEK: Isn't it terrific that what the Liberals do, they say in 2013, before getting elected, "No cuts to health, no cuts to education, no cuts to the pension, no new taxes, no cuts to the ABC or SBS". They break every single one of those promises in 2014, in their very first budget. And then "Oh my goodness! There's an election approaching. We'd better tip a bit of extra money back into the health system". People are sick to the back teeth of the Liberal Party cutting funding and then restoring a tiny bit of it. We have seen that with their university funding as well. They cut $58 million from the University of Tasmania and then they trickle a little bit of money back into certain projects that the university is promoting. Honestly, does anybody think that people will be fooled by the Liberals cutting funding and then giving a little bit back. You know, when I was a kid growing up, my parents would yell at my brother "Turn that music down" and what he would do was turn it up, make it louder, and then turn it back down a little bit, and try and fool them into believing that he had turned it down. What the Liberal Government does is cut funding and then increase it a little bit, hoping that people have forgotten about the much bigger cuts, much earlier. People don't cop that because they know, people who live in Launceston, who live in northern Tasmania, have seen the impact on their hospitals and on their health services. They're not going to be fooled by some dodgy, last-minute "Oh the election's on the horizon. Ooh we'd better increase funding with a little project here or there". Honestly, they take people for mugs if they think that an ordinary elector doesn't know that their health system has been gutted.
JOURNALIST: Will you fund the [inaudible] program again?
PLIBERSEK: Yes we would and we announced that some time ago. And isn't it interesting, that's a great example of the Liberals cutting a program. Labor says "Oh we'll fund that.' And they go "Oh wow! We might fund that too. What a great idea". They should never have cut it in the first place.
JOURNALIST: How do you go through the industry [inaudible]?
PLIBERSEK: Well, here's another great example where Labor has said some time ago that we would remove the arbitrary water rules around plantation forests. We said that some time ago and I believe Richard Colbeck actually wrote to the Environment Minister, Melissa Price, wrote to Government and said that the Liberals should do that do. They haven't got around it. I mean, maybe they'll get around to it today, maybe they'll announce it today. Once again, following Labor. We said ages ago, that it is important to make sure that we have a strong plantation forestry industry in Australia. We know that the demand for wood and wood products will increase in coming years. We're seeing, for example, a lot more wood products in construction; really fantastic, high value new uses for our wood products. We need to make sure that plantations are being restored as they're being harvested - that they're being replanted. On the 'business as usual' projections, these plantations won't be replanted. The Liberals have absolutely dropped the ball when it comes to the forestry industry and in particular, when it comes to plantation forestry investment. The survey that we've seen from the forestry industry is very interesting and I think the most interesting element of it is the fact that Labor has agreed to a number of these policies already. The Liberals, in six years, haven't got around to it.
JOURNALIST: Will there be discussion about that?
PLIBERSEK: Absolutely, because one of the reasons that we removed the arbitrary water restrictions so that we see more plantations being planted - that has the benefit of supporting jobs that come from the forestry industry. But it has a very important additional benefit from Labor's perspective. It means that we do better on meeting our pollution reduction targets. It's a win-win. It's great for jobs and it's great for reducing carbon pollution.
PLIBERSEK: Well, we take no vote for granted. We take no seat for granted. I know Ross doesn't take his seat for granted. He's been out there every day, door-knocking, phoning people, campaigning on the issues that matter, and the issues that matter in northern Tasmania, Ross calls me all the time, are better schools and hospitals - not bigger tax loopholes for the top end of town.
JOURNALIST: Scott Morrison said this morning that Labor doesn't have the funds to commit to irrigation commitments. What's your response to that?
PLIBERSEK: He had to say something didn't he? I mean, it's a bit pathetic isn't it that the Prime Minister comes down, you know we make an announcement last month - the Prime Minister flies into town and says "Wow everybody! Look, we're going to match Labor's commitment". He has to differentiate in some way. I think that it's very clear that we have the funds to back all of our commitments because we're not giving bigger tax loopholes to the top end of town. In fact, the Grattan Institute modelling of the government's proposals for tax cuts for people on very high incomes is that the government is going to have to find $40 billion a year when their tax cuts are fully implemented, from somewhere. So it's the government that doesn't have the money to back its promises. It's the government that has to have a secret plan to cut services or go into deficit, add to our national debt. What is it? Are we cutting - further cutting - schools and hospitals? That $40 billion figure that the Grattan Institute modelled would be the equivalent of the Federal government cutting all Federal goverment spending for hospitals and schools. Like, where are they going to find the money? Labor can fully fund all of our commitments because we're closing loopholes at the top end of town. And some of this has been very controversial. The Prime Minister is travelling the country trying to convince retirees who are unaffected by Labor's change to dividend imputation policies - franking credits - that they will be affected. We know that only 4 per cent of Australians will be affected. The Prime Minister is trying to pretend to every pensioner and every retiree that they're somehow losing out. It's controversial, but we're doing it so we can afford to invest in schools and hospitals. So we can afford things like the $100 million that we set aside for the Stage 3 of the Irrigation Plan. Don't forget, it was Labor that planned and funded Stage 1. It was Labor that planned and funded Stage 2. It is Labor that announced last month that we'd fund Stage 3 of this irrigation project. The Prime Minister rolls into town late and says that he'll match Labor - can't explain where the funding's coming from because, of course, he needs to provide an $11,000 a year tax cut to someone on $200,000. I think he's the one that has some explaining to do. The Grattan Institute modelling yesterday said that he would have to find $40 billion a year when his tax cuts are fully implemented. Where is that funding coming from? Is it more cuts to hospitals? Is it more cuts to schools? Is it more cuts to TAFE? Is it more cuts to universities? Is it more cuts to aged care? Is it more cuts to our National Disability Insurance Scheme, remembering that 77,000 people who should have got a package last year didn't because this government is so incompetent in rolling out the NDIS? Well, it's up to Scott Morrison today to answer questions about where the cuts will hit, who will be hit hardest, and - isn't it interesting that he hasn't invited you guys to go and ask him those questions?
PLIBERSEK: I'm sorry I didn't hear the beginning of that question. Could you start again, please?
JOURNALIST: The Wilderness Society last night launched their local campaign [inaudible], and they have suggested that Labor is talking the talk, but not walking the walk yet. Do you have a position on [inaudible]?
PLIBERSEK: Well isn't it interesting that we get attacked from one side and the other and we're sitting right in the middle. I think we've got the most sensible policies when it comes to both the environment and forestry. We need to find a balance between the two. We have said that we will have a new Federal environment protection agency, and new environment protection laws but we also acknowledge the importance of the forestry industry when it comes to jobs here in Tasmania. It's only the Labor Party that has a balance between these two.
JOURNALIST: How much extra health funding would Tasmania get under a Labor Federal government as compared to a Liberal?
PLIBERSEK: You're going to have to bear with me on the figures. I think the figure for the hospital funding alone is $35 million for Tasmania but that's not the only extra funding that Tasmania would receive under Labor. So I'm going to hand over to Ross, he can answer any detailed questions about his electorate and Tasmania for specific ones.
JOURNALIST: I just have one more question?
JOURNALIST: So far Scomo has only given regional Tasmania...
PLIBERSEK: Don't call him by his nickname, you're all going to start wearing baseball caps soon if you're not careful.
JOURNALIST: Sorry, Scott Morrison. Do you think he is ignoring Hobart?
PLIBERSEK: I know that Tasmania has very specific sort of regional issues that Tasmanians want addressed and I think the north of Tasmania, the north west, the area around Hobart, are very different in lots of ways. People who live in Launceston want to know whether Launceston General Hospital is going to be properly funded, whether services here in the local community are going to be properly funded so I think it's appropriate that Members of Parliament visit communities like this. I'm surprised that he hasn't been to Hobart at all. I mean that's really a question for him to answer.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the Coalition [inaudible] for an AFL team in Tasmania are dis-serviced by referring to it as an AFL team in Hobart in the media release?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think it misses the point doesn't it. Labor is committed to funding an AFL team. The government just doesn't get it.