THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
WEDNESDAY, 6 MARCH 2019
SUBJECTS: Labor’s National Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy; Medical transfers from Manus Island and Nauru; Treasury slapdown of the Government’s falsehoods on Labor’s negative gearing and capital gains tax policies
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well I'm delighted to be joined here today by several very significant women's health organisations and reproductive health organisations to talk about Labor's plan for a National Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy. This policy is long overdue and it would be the first of its kind in Australia. We know that from the teenage years we need to be working better with young people to educate them about sexual relationships including educating them better about contraceptives and STIs. We need to make contraceptives more easily available in Australia, we need to make the pill more easily available and we particularly need to make long-acting removable contraceptives more readily available too. We want to make it easier for people to avoid an unintended pregnancy. Of course, when a woman becomes unintentionally pregnant we also need to give her better options for ending that pregnancy with medical termination of pregnancy and surgical termination of pregnancy. What we are proposing today is to make medical termination of pregnancy more easily available with more doctors, more primary health care providers being able to prescribe RU 486. We also need to make surgical termination of pregnancy easier to obtain particularly in the public health system.
I'm going to ask some of the people who are joining us today to say a few words. You'll hear from Jamal Hakim, the CEO of Marie Stopes Australia, Professor Danielle Mazza from the Sphere Centre of Research Excellence in Women's Sexual and Reproductive Health, and Marilyn Beaumont from the Australian Women's Health Network.
I'll ask Jamal Hakim to speak first.
JAMAL HAKIM, ACTING CEO, MARIE STOPES AUSTRALIA: Thank you Tanya. Jamal Hakim, Chief Operating Officer and acting CEO at Marie Stopes Australia. We welcome the announcement today around the national approach to reproductive and sexual health. This is well overdue and we know that sexual and reproductive health has been underfunded for a very long time and in particular this will, the policy around national sexual reproductive health care, will address gaps that are present today around Australia. We see them every day in the work that we do at Marie Stopes and it will address some significant gaps in access to safe abortion care and particularly long term reversible contraception care as well. So this will go a long way to de-stigmatising the services and we welcome the courageous move towards making this announcement and this commitment that comes with funding as well which is really important. Because policy is one thing and the commitment to funding is fantastic. So we applaud Labor's move towards a national policy and we look forward to working on the delivery of that. Thank you.
PLIBERSEK: Thank you very much. Professor Mazza?
PROFESSOR DANIELLE MAZZA, MONASH UNIVERSITY: Good morning. Professor Danielle Mazza from the Sphere Centre of Research Excellence in Women's Sexual and Reproductive Health an Primary Care at Monash University. I'm delighted to hear about these wonderful initiatives that are so necessary to improve the lives of women in Australia. The focus on general practice and primary care is particularly important to enable women to receive comprehensive service delivery in women's health and to better train and support GPs to work with their practice nurses and local pharmacists to enable women to access medical termination of pregnancy and long-acting reversible contraception. Access is difficult in Australia, particularly in rural areas and initiatives such as the community of practice will go a long way towards enabling women to access these services. Every single initiative that has been listed in the policy announcement today is amazingly wonderful and I welcome it and strongly support it. Thank you.
MARILYN BEAUMONT, AUSTRALIAN WOMEN’S HEALTH NETWORK: Thank you. I'm Marilyn Beaumont. I'm the Chair of National Board of the Australian Women's Health Network and as a nurse I have been involved in the health industry for nearly fifty years. In all of those years we have been trying to get national leadership on sexual reproductive health. Federal governments have a significant role to play in the funding and policy arrangements around what health services will be delivered across Australia. The Australian Women's Health Network and its member organisations have been absolutely committed to making sure women get access to timely, safe and legal reproductive and sexual health services and I am amazed that I am still alive to see this extraordinary policy announcement by the ALP. It is an amazing thing and if we see it into fruition it will make such a difference in the lives of women and girls.
PLIBERSEK: Thank you. Do we have any questions about this policy area?
JOURNALIST: Are you prepared to also, maybe in the future, make contraception also tax payer funded?
PLIBERSEK: Well contraception is taxpayer funded. We subsidise it through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. You should be able to get a prescription for the pill for $6.40 if you are Health Care Card holder or $38 if you are not a Health Care Card holder. The bigger barrier I think is in having to constantly renew prescriptions or if you go away and you forgot to take your contraceptives with you, people have unintended consequences if their forget to take the pill for a few days because they are on holidays or they have gone away for the long weekend. So making sure that it is more easily available, making sure that we don't have to renew our prescriptions every year or even every eight months if you're on the pill. Making sure that there is more variety in types of contraceptives. The long-acting reversible contraceptives are very good solution for many Australian women, but they are actually quite rarely prescribed in Australia compared with Europe and the United State. Long acting reversible contraceptives are 99 per cent effective compared to the pill which is about 91 per cent effective. The difference between 91 per cent and 99 per cent effective is thousands of unintended pregnancies every year. So making sure that we don't put artificial barriers in the way of people properly looking after their sexual and reproductive healthcare is really important. That means easier prescribing, but it also means easier access to the most effective forms of contraception.
JOURNALIST: What do you think the number one reason why these long-acting removable contraceptives have a low take up rate?
PLIBERSEK: I think the main reason that the long-acting removable contraceptives have a low take up rate is because the complexity and the time it takes a doctor or a practice nurse to say, insert the implant, just isn't reflected in Medicare payments for these procedures. So we need to look at the Medicare Benefit Schedule to review the payment to doctors for doing this in a primary care setting, so your local GP being able to put in an implant, for example. If we renew the time and the complexity of the procedure and we make it more affordable for doctors to offer this service in their clinics, I am sure that we will see a greater take up over time. I think it is also really important that in our sex education, we are talking to young people really realistically about the range of contraceptives that are available to them. You've got the pill at 91 per cent effective, you've got long-acting, reversible contraception at 99 per cent effective, condoms 82 per cent effective. We need to be telling young people these statistics.
JOURNALIST: And I mean you obviously know that abortion is still a criminal offence in New South Wales, so you sort of have to decriminalise that before you go ahead taxpayer funding abortions in public hospitals. What steps would you take to do that?
PLIBERSEK: Absolutely. A third of Australian women live in a state where abortion is still illegal. I think most of them would be surprised to know that. I think most people who live in New South Wales don't realise that abortion is illegal in New South Wales and we've had to do all sorts of work-arounds to make abortion available. There's also quite tight restrictions around abortion in South Australia. The laws are different in every state and territory. Tasmania has very good abortion laws but it doesn't actually offer the procedure in a way that's affordable to most Tasmanian women, so women are still flying to Victoria to get an abortion and that obviously costs thousands of dollars to be able to do that. So, we need to focus on law reform, we need to focus on law reform in New South Wales and I'm very pleased to hear that Michael Daley has said that Labor, if elected, would refer this issue to the New South Wales Law Reform Commission. And I'm also pleased to hear that the Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has said that she is open minded about abortion law reform in New South Wales. This is a very important next step for New South Wales. There's ongoing legal examination of the situation in South Australia which, I hope, will lead to further changes in South Australia. We've seen very substantial changes in laws, most recently in Queensland, but it's not just the laws that we need to look at - it's actually the affordability and the accessibility of those services, even when they are legal. There are, in places like Tasmania - the barriers aren't legal barriers, they are barriers of affordability, availability, trained workforce and so on.
JOURNALIST: How will you manage religious fallout from the plan?
PLIBERSEK: Well, nobody for a second is suggesting that anybody who has a religious objection to providing this service should be forced to provide this service. But Australia is a country where 80 per cent of Australians support a woman's right to choose. Our laws have to reflect the majority view that a woman who wants to use contraception, or wants to end an unintended pregnancy, has the right to do that in a way that is legal, safe and affordable.
Okay, have you got other questions about other issues?
JOURNALIST: On other topics, yeah.
PLIBERSEK: OK, you guys might want to not get caught up in this. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: So just on Christmas Island, is Labor still comfortable with refugees from Manus Island and Nauru being sent to Christmas Island?
PLIBERSEK: We've said all along it's up to the Government to explain how the medical treatment there is better than it is in PNG or Nauru; But here's the Prime Minister; if he really wanted to be doing something for border protection, he could properly fund Border Force. We heard today that Border Force is running fewer boats because of funding cuts from this Federal government. And at the end of the day, is this trip to Christmas Island going to do anything to address the real issues in people's lives. We have wages that are flat-lining, living standards that are going backwards, the cost of everything is going up: the cost of childcare is going up, the cost of private health insurance is going up, the cost of power bills is going up, but wages are stagnant. I think everybody understands that this Government wants a distraction. This is another distraction because they can't run on their record and this is the Government that's doubled the debt, doubled the deficit, seen historic low wages growth, historic high underemployment, living standards going backwards, consumer confidence bottoming out, cuts to health, cuts to education. They can't run on their record. They can't run on a promise of unity and discipline. There's a scramble for the door when it comes to this Government, you don't know who the Minister for anything is going to be next week, and they can't run on a vision for the future. I mean, honestly, what is their vision for the future? They seek to divide Australians, they want to continue the cuts to health and education, they've got no plan for wages - one of the biggest problems that faces us today is historic low wages growth. That is affecting consumer confidence. It's affecting our economy, And of course it's affecting people's domestic budgets. Where is the Government's plan to address historic low wages growth and living standards going backwards? There isn't one.
JOURNALIST: If Labor is elected though, will you continue sending sick asylum seekers to this Christmas Island detention centre for treatment?
PLIBERSEK: Like we've said, it's up to the Government to show that medical services there are suitable. I think it's worth saying that Peter Dutton has brought about 400 people from Manus Island and Nauru recently to Australia for medical treatment and 500 accompanying family members and others. They have all been treated on the mainland, so it's up to the Government to explain why they want to spend this money in this way. I think most people understand that what this Government is about is telling lies to create a distraction before an election campaign.
JOURNALIST: Has the Opposition been told if Christmas Island will have adequate medical experts available for the refugees?
PLIBERSEK: I don't know the content of any briefings we've received, if we've received any.
JOURNALIST: I've just got a question on the negative gearing slap down. The Federal Treasury has scolded the Coalition for overstating the impact of Labor's negative gearing changes, so do you think this will stop the Government's campaign?
PLIBERSEK: Well one more lie, one more scare campaign. I mean, truly, this is a Government that has nothing left. It can't run on its record, it can't run on unity and discipline, and it can't run on a vision for the future. This is a Government that has nothing left but lies and scare campaigns. I mean, we knew this information, it was very clear. We have said all along that our policies and negative gearing and capital gains tax have a negligible effect. The government tried to use Treasury advice falsely to say something different. It's good that the truth's come out but it doesn't mean the Government won't try the next lie and the next scare campaign. That's all they've got left.
JOURNALIST: If the prices won't change much, which is what they seem to be saying, and it won't be cheaper for first home buyers, so what do you think the point of the policy actually is then?
PLIBERSEK: Well it's to make sure that first home buyers are competing on a level playing field. At the moment, under this Government's policies, if you're buying your seventh home you get more help from the government, from taxpayers, than you do if you're buying your first home. We just need to make the playing field a little leveller for people who are entering the housing market for the first time as first home buyers. A generation - I think actually more than a generation - generations of young Australians feel like the dream of home ownership is slipping out of their grasp. That's a problem. It's actually a problem for their family and household budgets, it's a problem for their financial security in retirement. It's also a problem for us as a nation that we're dividing older Australians from younger people, who are looking around them, they are saying "My work is increasingly insecure, I'm not sure if I'm going to have a job next week, I'm on a contract, my penalty rates are gone, I'm paying more for my university education, childcare costs are going up and I'm trying to start a family and I'm locked out of the housing market." I don't think we should accept that. As Australians, for our society where we've traditionally focussed so much on fairness, this issue of intergenerational fairness is a really important one and we can't continue to say to someone buying their seventh home or their tenth or their thirtieth property, that they get more help than a young first home buyer trying to enter the housing market.