TRANSCRIPT: Doorstop. Sydney, March 13 2016

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THE HON BILL SHORTEN MP
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG

THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS
AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
 
 

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
DOORSTOP INTERVIEW
SYDNEY
SUNDAY 13 MARCH 2016

 

SUBJECT/S: Launch of Chris Gambian, Labor candidate for Banks’ campaign; Turnbull’s Liberals cutting the kids dental scheme; chaos in the Turnbull Liberal Government; Election timing; Queensland Nickel workers; WA Labor; Senate reform; Report into MP entitlements; asylum seekers.

CHRIS GAMBIAN, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR BANKS: G'day everybody, thanks for coming down today to Peakhurst. My name's Chris Gambian, I'm the Labor candidate in the seat of Banks. It's an absolute pleasure to welcome Bill and Tanya here to Peakhurst and to the seat of Banks.

The thing about the seat of Banks is in many ways it's a microcosm of Australia. We have all types of people from all walks of life, from public housing down here in Riverwood, all the way to multimillion dollar mansions on the waterfront at Lugano and Oatley and Connell's Point. The thing about this electorate is that people have very, very specific asks of government and that is to just make life a little bit easier, to let them get on with their working day without being held back by what is fundamentally sometimes an unfair economy. The unfair advantage that comes from investors being able to get more help from the government than people buying their first home for example, so buying a house here in Riverwood or Peakhurst can cost you a million bucks, which is almost impossible.

Thankfully we have in Bill Shorten, a leader who is absolutely committed to helping people reach their dreams and I think a leader that has the courage of his convictions, and a leader who is going to be the next prime minister of Australia. So I'm delighted to welcome Bill Shorten here today.

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everyone, it's fantastic to be here with my Deputy Tanya Plibersek and we're launching Chris Gambian's campaign for the seat of Banks and there's hundreds of community people here who want to see something better for this country.

One of the reasons why I'm enthusiastic about Chris Gambian's campaign is because on all of the issues which matter to the electors of Banks, Chris ticks all the boxes. He'll stand up for our schools; he believes that every child in every school should get every opportunity.

Chris Gambian believes that with our health care system it should be your Medicare Card not your credit card that determines the level of health care you get in this country. He believes in fighting for Australian jobs, he believes in real action on climate change, especially prioritising renewable energy and he believes in a fair taxation system so the great Australian dream is for a first home owner to be able to enter the housing market, not to have the 10th investment property of a property speculator supported by the Turnbull Government.

By contrast what we see is Mr Turnbull offering no economic agenda for Australia. Tomorrow will be the six month anniversary of Mr Turnbull's new economic leadership that he offered Australia. The truth of the matter is in the last Parliamentary week before the Budget what Mr Turnbull's offering is cuts to Medicare, cuts to family payments, cuts to childcare support and we've learnt today - and Tanya's going to talk about this more in a moment, he even has decided to go after kids dental care.

You can tell a lot about the priorities of a government and a political party by what they prioritise. Labor wants to tackle the excesses of negative gearing; we want to make sure that multinationals pay their fair share. We want to tackle some of the excessive, generous and unsustainable superannuation tax concessions which tax payers are currently supporting for people who already have millions of dollars.

By contrast, Mr Turnbull wants to go after the vulnerable, the disadvantaged, those without a voice in our political decision making and make their life harder.

It is clear now at the six month anniversary of Mr Turnbull's ascension to the Prime Minister, that he's basically given up on all of the hard things to do. Instead he's just obsessed about the date of the election. Australians are massively disappointed by Mr Turnbull, they want to see an economic plan. They want to see a government focussed on the Budget, and the nation's problems, not a government who is focussed on just keeping their own jobs and racing to an earlier election because Australians are waking up fast to what Mr Turnbull's doing and it's not a lot for people. I'd like to hand over to Tanya and then we'd be pleased to take questions.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Bill very much for letting me say a few words. It's great to be here with my friend Chris Gambian. Chris really truly is a local; he had his first job just up the road at the BP and his mum and dad live just up the hill there. So I think he'll make a fantastic local member.

But I wanted to say a few words about the story in today's paper about the potential closure of the kids' dental scheme. Now you've got to take a step back in history to remember where this program came from. When Tony Abbott was the Health Minister he introduced a program called the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme that was supposed to cost $90 million a year. Instead that rorted scheme blew out to cost $80 million a month. There were 1,000 complaints made about that scheme when I was Health Minister. People who received dentures that didn't fit, people who were given cosmetic work they didn't ask for, people who where work was charged for but in fact not given to patients.

So we closed down the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme and did two things in its place. We boosted funding for public dental including the construction of new dental facilities right across Australia. In their first Budget the Liberals got rid of $400 million worth of that investment in public dental and constructing new facilities, helping train new dentists and so on. But in their second Budget they started their attack on this kids' dental scheme which was the other terrific investment we made.

$125 million cut last year in the Budget from the kids' dental scheme. This kids' dental scheme means more than 3 million Australian kids can get basic dental care for the first time. It's means tested, it's targeted to the families who need it most, so families who get Family Tax Benefit or an equivalent payment. It's $1,000 every two years for kids up to the time they turn 18 and it covers check-ups, fluoride treatments, cleaning, scaling, fillings and so on and it means that these kids start life with decent teeth.

We read earlier this week that more kids than ever are having all of their baby teeth pulled out of their mouths in hospital because dental care has become such a critical issue in Australia. Instead of promoting this scheme, instead of making sure that the parents of every child whose eligible get access to the scheme, the Liberals have hidden it and now they're going to cut it.

More than a million children have already benefited, but that means there's 2 million more kids out there who are eligible who haven't yet benefited. It is a shocking thing to think that this Government would rather take money away from looking after kids' teeth than go after multinational tax avoiders, go after people with millions of dollars in their super, who don't really need more help from the taxpayer to save. Go after all of the things that would make life fairer instead of actually going for the savings that we've outlined that support fairness and equity in our society, they're actually going to make it harder for millions of children to see a dentist. It says everything you need to know about Liberal Party values when they'd rather go after looking after kids' teeth than rorting multinational companies avoiding their tax.

SHORTEN: Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST: You talk about how voters are finding Malcolm Turnbull? That was levelled a lot of people at the last Rudd Government, Gillard Government then the Rudd Government again. Why should voters give you another chance after only three years?

SHORTEN: Voters should seriously look at the Labor Party at the next election and give us their first vote because if you want to stand up for Australian jobs then only the Labor Party can be trusted to do that. Be it defence manufacturing - if it wasn't for the Labor Party, those 12 submarines would definitely have been built overseas. We believe in Australian jobs, that's why we back in renewable energy so it delivers the jobs of the future.

Voters also want a fair taxation system. It is not fair in Australia - and we have a bell-shaped tax curve where if you earn no money, you pay no tax, the vast bulk of the working class and middle class just pay tax as they go, but if you have a lot of money in this country you can minimise your tax down to nothing. So if voters want a fair tax system, they vote Labor.

And for voters nothing's more important than the education of our young people. Only Labor has fully-costed policies which will see every child in every school get every opportunity. Labor will reverse the trend to privatisation in our TAFE sector. We will put downward pressure on fees at university and we will definitely oppose the $100,000 university degrees and the deregulation of the Federal Liberal Government.

And when it comes to health care as you've heard Tanya very articulately enunciate, be it dental care for our kids, be it Medicare, be it supporting the right of women seeking pap smears and mammograms not to have to pay a tax up front, a co-payment charge up front, or people battling with cancer seeking blood tests necessary to their treatment, only Labor can be trusted not to put co-payments in front of pathology tests.

So for Australian voters, if they want action on jobs, if they want action on fair taxation which also lets first-home owners back into the market on a level playing field, if Australian voters want an education system which provides potential for all, a healthcare system where it's your Medicare card not your credit card which delivers the standard of care that we all deserve, and if they want real action on climate change with the prioritisation of renewable energy, the choice is Labor at the next election, the choice is Chris Gambian in Banks.  

JOURNALIST: Labor's cutting down of two Prime Ministers and the dysfunction that came from that is still really fresh in people's minds. Has Labor learnt its lesson?

SHORTEN: Federal Labor is united. For the last two and half years I couldn't have asked any better from the rank-and-file of the Labor Party, from our supporters in the union movement, from the Parliamentary team, in particular but not limited to my great Deputy, Tanya Plibersek. If you want to look at disunity and dysfunction, have a look at the civil war in the Liberal Party. They said that they would be the 'adults in charge' and then two years later they carried out Tony Abbott.

We've seen the book wars going on, where it seems that everyone who has been a Liberal politician or worked for a Liberal politician just can't wait to get their bile out of their system and bag everyone else. And what I find remarkable about the current dysfunction and disunity at the heart of the Liberal Government is that Mr Turnbull said that he would provide new economic leadership. It was almost as if Australians hoped, and they had high hopes that Mr Turnbull could change the Liberal Party. The problem in the last six months is that the Liberal Party has changed Mr Turnbull.

I don't know if Mr Turnbull really believes in having a plebiscite on marriage equality with $160 million that will cost taxpayers. But it doesn't matter what the old Mr Turnbull thinks, the new Mr Turnbull is a hostage to the right-wing of his Liberal Party. You have him overruling his Attorney-General. You’ve got their Treasurer in witness protection, and now you've got Mr Turnbull last Saturday night couldn't even go for a walk in Oxford Street without getting a leave pass from Cory Bernardi and Eric Abetz. They have division in this Liberal Party and now what Mr Turnbull wants us to do is think that the most important question the Government has is which Saturday to hold an election. He's wrong.  

The most important question for this Government is what are they going to do with the Budget? Are they going to prioritise going after multinationals not paying their fair share, dealing with the excesses of negative gearing which distort our housing market rather than go after Medicare, the pensioners, the kids at school and indeed kids needing dental care.

Labor has learnt its lessons. We've been doing our work in Opposition. We've been a strong Opposition and now we're ticking the boxes as an alternative government. Something unusual has happened in the first two months of this year. The Government has shrunk into being a negative small target government and the Opposition has grown into being a positive alternative with policies which are fully funded and costed and which put people at the centre of everything that government does.  

JOURNALIST: What do you make of Clive Palmer's comments that it'll be eight weeks until work starts again at the Yabulu refinery? 

SHORTEN: I think Mr Palmer has got questions to answer. I visited Townsville on Friday. One thing I really hate is when I see blue collar jobs going. This is a refinery which late last year employed 800 people directly and there's another 1600 people who indirectly earn their livelihood out of the Townsville Nickel Refinery. It's an important economic driver for the growth and prosperity of North Queensland, in particular Townsville.

I do believe that there's been a lack of focus paid on the interests of the workers at that refinery. I do believe that there needs to be questions answered by Mr Palmer about what's happened with the management of that company. But also along the way, Mr Turnbull has an opportunity to finally show that he cares. The Fair Entitlements Guarantee scheme provides a safety net for workers' entitlements when the company just hasn't got the money to pay out the entitlements and there's a long protracted process by the administrators and the creditors to chase up what money is available in the company.

Mr Turnbull is relying on a technicality. Normally the Fair Entitlement Guarantee is triggered by the liquidation of the company, but having looked at this business and the plight of the 800 workers, they've all been sacked and they're not even getting their long service leave, that's their money. They're not getting their annual leave. That's their money they've earnt. Now, I believe the Government has a discretion in advance of a liquidation believing that a liquidation is likely and that's what the administrators certainly said. Mr Turnbull could show he cares and help put some income, the safety net scheme which exists for just these purposes.

The workers of North Queensland, the workers in this refinery, they didn't ask to be let down by global nickel prices or by management conduct. They certainly paid their taxes, every week they pay their taxes to the Commonwealth of Australia. It’s now time for Mr Turnbull to show that he cares about people. This is an important decision for him, but that doesn't absolve Mr Palmer and his company and their management for their conduct and in the meantime what really riles me up is that you've got 800 families wondering where their next dollar is going to come from to pay the mortgage, to pay the car payment fees. You know the story when you lose your job, it's devastating. Now these people who've paid taxes deserve more support from the people they've put their trust in. 

JOURNALIST: Do you support any moves by Stephen Smith to become the new leader of the opposition in WA?

SHORTEN: It's a state matter in Western Australia, I'm not inclined to get involved in this matter. I do expect Western Australian state Labor to sort this matter out very quickly, because my focus and the focus of all of my federal team is about a better Australia in terms of jobs, in terms of fair taxation, in terms of education, in terms of health care and in terms of renewable energy and climate change.

JOURNALIST: Do you think he'd be a good leader?

SHORTEN: Well, I think that Stephen Smith had a distinguished career in Federal politics. I think Mark McGowan has been doing a good job in terms of his opposition role at the WA level. I'm simply not buying into it. Labor voters across Australia expect us to be united. They expect me to focus on the issues which affect millions of Australians. That's why I'm here launching Chris Gambian's campaign with Tanya Plibersek.

Today we will promise the voters of Banks, that if you want action on jobs, healthcare, education, renewable energy, a fair taxation system, opposing some of the dreadful cuts that Mr Turnbull’s lazily considering, such as cuts to pathology testing, cuts to digital - cuts to diagnostic imaging and of course these cuts we've read today about children's dental work. What sort of Liberal Government do we have in Canberra? They can't do anything about multinationals, they can't do anything about the excesses of negative gearing. Superannuation tax concessions for the super wealthy, that's too hard, but they can focus on kids' dental. That takes real skill. Mr Turnbull has had a look at the problems of Australia and he's basically found it too hard. He's given up on governing, now the biggest question he expects us to believe that Australia confronts is which Saturday should be an election. Well, Mr Turnbull has proven to be a massive disappointment at the six month mark of his prime ministership of this nation. Australians are waking up to Mr Turnbull and they're waking up to him fast. Mr Turnbull knows this, that's why he's in such a rush to have an early election.

JOURNALIST: This morning the Finance Minister said that this week you'll be dealing with Senate reform, but do you think the Government will also ask Parliament to sit for an extra week in May?

SHORTEN: We've read in today's newspapers that Mr Turnbull is so keen to have a Budget one week earlier that he will charge taxpayers $1 million a day to call Parliament back early. My advice to Mr Turnbull is you've got the top job, you've wanted it your whole life, congratulations - now do something with it.

The point of high office and the leadership of this nation is not simply to drive around in white limousines and have the fancy offices, the point is to do something for the Australian people. He should bring down his Budget, he should explain this week what his economic plans are for the nation. We all know that they wanted to have a 15 per cent GST. Labor's staunch opposition on behalf of Australian people has temporarily stopped it. Although goodness knows what Mr Turnbull if re-elected would do after the election in terms of a 15 per cent GST.

Australians want action on jobs. They don't want to see our supply ships being built in Spain. You know, it's never been a more exciting time to be a Spanish dockyard worker under Mr Turnbull's Government. They want action on affordable housing; they want action in terms of negative gearing and the excesses of negative gearing. Every time there's been a hard issue in the last six months we've seen Mr Turnbull shrink and shirk the challenge. He shouldn't be playing games on the date of an election, he should be focussed on looking after the needs of the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: Do you think a report into MP entitlements should recommend cutting back more perks for politicians?

SHORTEN: We're up for sensible reform. The Government's going to provide us with a public copy of the report. We'll work through the issues. We're up for sensible reform, full stop. Absolutely.

JOURNALIST: There are Let them Stay rallies across Australia today. What's your position on these church groups trying to block border force offices and stopping these 300 people being deported?

SHORTEN: If I wasn't going to buy into to state politics I'm not going to buy into the administration of religion in this country. What I can promise Australians who are concerned about the issues to do with asylum seekers and refugees is that we support regional processing, but we do not support indefinite detention at Manus and Nauru. An elected Labor Government would clear the log jam, we would get on with regional resettling. I have to say in passing,  watching what's unfolding in Manus and Nauru now, highlights the futility of the deal done between the Liberal Party and the Greens' political party when they opposed the Malaysia regional resettlement which could have dealt with a lot of these issues. Thanks everyone.