TRANSCRIPT: Press Conference, Canberra, Tuesday, 19 April

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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
 

THE HON CHRIS BOWEN MP
SHADOW TREASURER
MEMBER FOR MCMAHON

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
PRESS CONFERENCE
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
TUESDAY, 19 APRIL 2016

SUBJECTS: Labor's positive plans for the future of Australia; 2016 Federal Election; Company tax cuts; ASIC; Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal; Private Health Insurance Rebate

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Today is day one of Malcolm Turnbull's 74 day election campaign. And despite all the tactics and the political games of the Government which has seen the Parliament with absolutely nothing to consider today, Labor is ready for this election.

The choices couldn't be any clearer between Labor and Liberal. Labor has positive policies that put people first. The Liberal Party seems intent upon defending vested interests and the big banks. Labor is ready for this election because we know what we stand for. Decent jobs, well-funded education, quality health care, protecting Medicare, renewable energy encouraged to take up the burden of climate change, and a fair taxation system.

The Labor Party has spent the last 900 plus days preparing our positive plans for Australia's future. Labor is determined at the next election to protect Medicare from going down the path of the American two-tier health system, where it is your credit card which determines the level of care you'll get, not your Medicare card. Labor will protect penalty rates and the safety net of the minimum wage for Australian workplaces. Labor is committed to properly funding our schools.

Australians are getting increasingly sick and tired of a Prime Minister who dithers and does not deliver. Seven months ago, I believed that my job would be harder when Malcolm Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott but I thought we'd be in for a better standard of politics. Instead in the last seven months plus, we've seen a Prime Minister slowly shrink into his job.

The Labor Party by contrast has prepared for this election to tick the boxes of being a strong alternative government. At this election it's only the Labor Party who will guarantee not to privatise Medicare or any part of it. It is only Labor who has a fully funded and fair policy to make sure that every child and every school gets every opportunity. It is only Labor who can be trusted to take real action on climate change, especially by prioritising renewable energy. It is only the Labor Party who is offering to protect our Australian jobs from defence manufacturing right through to the vital steel industry in Australia. It is only Labor who has policies to advance the equal treatment of women in our society. It is only the Labor Party who has fully funded policies ready now for the public to see. Labor is committed to nation building. We're committed to making sure that our cities and our regions and our towns are connected by road, by rail. We are committed to ensuring that we have public transport projects as part of our infrastructure mix going forward. We're committed to making sure that families and small businesses wherever they live in Australia can be connected to the rest of Australia and the world through an efficient and effective national broadband network.

Labor's ready for this election, we look forward to putting forward our positive plans for Australians which put people first. Happy to take any questions that people have.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, amongst that list you've just offered you didn't mention Budget repair. Will you bring the Budget back to surplus any sooner than the current plan which is 2021?

SHORTEN: Well actually I said that our policies are fully funded and you're quite right, Budget repair is an important part of any alternative government's manifesto. The Labor Party's changed the rules in term of how Oppositions conduct themselves. I think even fair minded observers have been surprised and disappointed that Mr Turnbull seems to move from one idea to the next. It seemed to me that when he first rolled Tony Abbott he was offering new economic leadership; we haven't seen much of that. He was clearly interested in a 15 per cent GST, his Treasurer was out there spruiking it and pushing it around the place, but Mr Turnbull has changed his mind for the time being. Then Mr Turnbull started talking most remarkably about state income taxes; Labor couldn't believe its ears when we heard Mr Turnbull saying that his answer for Australia's future is to allow people who go to work not only have to pay income tax to the Federal Government but to States as well. So we by contrast prioritised and outlined some of our funded policies; we will make multinationals pay their fair share, we will rein in the excessive and unsustainable taxation concessions for people in superannuation at the very top end. We'll also clamp down on wasteful government spending. We don't see the need to continue Mr Abbott's discredited environment reduction policies and emission reduction policies. And we don't see the point of spending $160 million of taxpayer money on a plebiscite for marriage equality when the politicians can do that job in Canberra for the job we're already paid to do. And we've also made it clear that with negative gearing, whilst we won't change any of the laws affecting people who currently invested under the current laws, we’re most committed to make the choice to ensure that we can ensure a levelling playing field for first home buyers. No, Labor is preparing and working on Budget repair. I might ask my Shadow Treasurer to talk further about our sensible and well-funded policies.

CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Thank you Bill and just briefly to add to Bill's remark,  as he's said we've outlined more than $100 billion worth of improvements to the Budget bottom line over the next decade. We've made it very clear that we're making those tough decisions in part to fund important issues in hospitals and schools, but also very importantly to fund Budget repair. We've indicated our fiscal rule of more savings and spending over the decade. Now, in relation to the specifics of your question we will wait obviously for the Budget and PEFO and then provide further analysis and information about the full impact of our Budget bottom line compared to the Government's.

 

JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen you mentioned more savings and spending over the decade, is that new spending or do you intend to cut current spending?

 

BOWEN: Well, as Bill said we've already announced that we won't proceed with the baby bonus which is a Government's policy, we've already announced we'll abolish the emissions reduction fund which is Government policy, we've already announced that we would not have the plebiscite on marriage equality which is all Government spending. We will have further announcements to make but in terms of revenue and spending.

 

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten in regards to Labor's health plan are we going to see something before the Budget or before PEFO for that matter?

 

SHORTEN: Well first of all Labor can already - and I'll remind you of what we've already done in terms of protecting Medicare - not once but on four different occasions the Liberal Government in the last 1000 or so days have tried to introduce a GP Tax. It's only because of the staunch opposition of the Labor Party that Australians are not paying a GP Tax when they go to see the doctor. Labor is determined to win the fight on behalf of every Australian who has a pathology test, a blood test, people who go and get diagnostic imaging, x-rays. Currently the Government is proposing to cut the bulk-billing incentives which will absolutely lead to sick people, people needing the best possible treatment, either having to pay significantly increased fees or they'll just be discouraged from going to the doctor when they need to and then when they're sicker they'll go to the hospital and cost the taxpayer even more and get worse patient outcomes. I might get Tanya Plibersek also to talk a bit more about our approach to health.

 

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well, thanks very much Bill. Of course health is one area that Labor has always performed much more strongly than the Coalition in Government because we care about people's health and we know that the best way to keep people out of hospital is to keep them healthy, to invest in primary care. It's much cheaper to prevent someone from getting sick than to have them end up in our hospital emergencies. One of the most short sighted and disappointing aspects of this Government is the way they've cut funding for preventative health, $400 million, they've cut the health flexible funds, the funds that fund for example drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, sexual health services in our community, by cutting that kind of funding what you see are more people ended up in hospital emergencies. Another example of course is what they've done to dental care, we were very proud of our investment in dental care including most particularly the investment in Grow Up Smiling, the children's dental program that provides up to $1,000 every two years for more than 3 million Australian children to be able to get the preventative dental care they need to so that they have lifelong good teeth. We expect this Budget will see further cuts to that program that's already been cut once by this Government. So we are determined that our health policy reflects the need to invest in primary care, to keep people healthy and out of hospital, to work on prevention making sure that we tackle the big lifestyle disease challenges of our time. We've done that in Government and we'll do that again.

JOURNALIST: Will you restore their cuts from before? Their proposed cuts from the 2014 Budget from the health portfolio?

SHORTEN: Well let's see what this Federal Government is doing with its current Budget. I mean let's face it, this current Budget's falling in danger of just being a propaganda sheet for the Liberal Party, so we'll have to see what numbers they produce as Chris has outlined. I can make a couple of bedrock points, and not only can I make these points but they're reflected and demonstrated by our voting pattern in the Parliament for the past three years. We will not support the privatisation of Medicare, either by stealth or directly. We do not buy the argument that bulk-billing somehow is a service which shouldn't be available to many Australians. Our values in Medicare are as blunt as this: under a Labor Government, your Medicare card not your credit card determines the level of health care you get in this country.

JOURNALIST: Will the private health insurance rebate stay under Labor?

SHORTEN: Again, we'll see what the Government says, but-

JOURNALIST:  What's your plan on it?

SHORTEN: Well we'll announce our plan before the election. I think when you look at who's announced what, we're well ahead of the Government. Again I just refer you to that earlier point I made. The traditional approach in Australian politics is that an Opposition is a small target, and that you wait for the Government to make mistakes. The second part of that is happening, I agree. But we think Australians are frustrated with politics as usual. They actually want to see policies and ideas and debates.

JOURNALIST: Might you be a big target on this one, the private health insurance rebate?

SHORTEN: We're always be a much better bet on health care both with health insurance and Medicare than the Liberals.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, I understand Labor's committed to road safety. Brendan O'Connor this morning suggested that consideration would be given to the question of whether or not to bring back the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. How seriously will you be giving consideration to bringing that tribunal back, will you commit to that?

SHORTEN: A Labor Government is committed to safety on the roads, the safety of drivers, employee drivers and owner operators. We're committed to the safety of all motorists on Australia's roads. The fact of the matter is that 210 of our fellow Australians died in heavy vehicle collisions last year. The fact of the matter is, that for a truck driver, the road and their truck is their workplace. Yet sadly in heavy vehicle industry, the fatality rate is 12 times the national average of all Australian workplaces. I think it has been wrong of the Government to say there is no link between remuneration and safety. Australians know the stories. I've spoken to the widows of drivers myself. If you have very low rates of pay, if you're trying to make long distances or if you've got delays on the road, there's no doubt in my mind that low rates of pay are causally linked to some of the heavy vehicle tragedies we see. The Government, I think, was wrong to rely upon a PWC report where it's now been revealed by other academics that they had 96 surveys from individual drivers and they've ignored a lot of other evidence for the last 20 years. So Labor will work on measures which improve road safety, but I won't be so deliberately naive or as wrong footed as the Government and say there's no link between paying drivers poorly and not expecting some of them to cut corners to experience fatigue and we see the tragedies that happen.

JOURNALIST: Does that mean you are considering, you will consider?

SHORTEN: Clearly the Government's vacated the field. What they've done, they've said the Heavy Vehicle Regulator will cover these matters, but the Heavy Vehicle Regulator has no line of sight towards remuneration matters. That is the defect in what they've done, and in good conscience we're not going to see unsafe workplaces and just ignore them.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) shenanigans in the House today, can you assure people that Labor won't slow down appropriation bills that come in on 3 May?

SHORTEN: I'll let Chris answer that.

 

BOWEN: You talked about shenanigans, the issue is there's no legislation for the House to consider. We were called back, all flown in, in this urgent hearing, the Governor-General just yesterday asked the two houses of parliament to consider the registered organisations bill and the Government's not brought it forward and we're all going home tonight. This has been a farce of a sitting, a farce of a sitting. On the matter of appropriations, Labor's position has been very clear for the last 40 years and will remain so.

 

JOURNALIST: Just on tax, you have previously ruled out and said 'now is not the time for a company tax cut'. Are you leaving open the option for personal tax cut as an offer in the election campaign?

 

SHORTEN: My remarks have been specifically about company tax. I just don't believe now is right time for Mr Turnbull to be giving multinationals and banks a tax cut when there are so many other important priority; schools, hospitals, this is what's important. The Labor Party is quite different to the Liberal Party. We'll put people first, not large multinational and banks.

 

JOURNALIST: Does that mean you will consider or leave open the option of personal income tax cuts or addressing bracket creep during the election campaign?

 

SHORTEN: Only the Labor Party can be trusted to help put downward pressure on the cost of living for Australians. In terms of the Budget position, we need to see what the Government says. I am making it very clear that corporate tax cuts are not part of Labor's agenda. We have got to repair the Budget and we've got to do Budget repair that's fair. How is that Mr Turnbull supports giving multinationals extra profits or not reducing their corporate tax rate, yet at the same time he's not properly funding our hospitals, that he wants to take away bulk-billing from people who badly need blood tests, how is that Mr Turnbull thinks it's a good time to talk about company tax cuts yet won't properly fund or schools and even said, as recently as the last two weeks, that the Commonwealth should retreat from funding of Government schools. I mean truly, this is day one of a 74 day election campaign and here we all are, you and us, we're marking time just to suit the Prime Minister's convenience. The Parliament doesn't belong to Mr Turnbull, it belongs to the people of Australia. There are many issues which Australians want to see us speak up on; they want to know that their kids will one day be able to afford a house, they want to know that their kids are getting the best quality education. They don't want $100,000 degrees, they don't want to have to worry about the future of child-care and whether or not that's properly going to be funded. They certainly don't want to see Australian jobs sent overseas by poor decisions and inaction by the Government. They want to see multinationals pay their fair share. They want real action on climate change, not just some Abbott-lite policy of climate skepticism. Australians have many issues they want us to debate, a fair tax system and yet today, the Liberal Government and Mr Turnbull has assembled the Parliament and they literally have nothing to talk about. This Government has stopped trying to run the Government, they're just interested in being in the Government and that's not a good enough reason. By contrast today, Labor has again articulated that we're ready for this election, that we are working on our positive plans for Australia's future. Thanks ladies and gentlemen.

 

JOURNALIST: Just one question on ASIC - the Federal Government is posed to announced some return to funding from the Budget cuts in 2014. Will a future Labor Government match in any return of funds?

 

SHORTEN: Why is Mr Turnbull so determined not to have a royal commission into banks? Why is Mr Turnbull so keen to cover up for the banks? There is a difference, even in the last 12 months, Labor has had to move its position because when you see insurance products offered by banks being deliberately manipulated so that legitimate claimants of insurance policy can't get payed, you know there's something very rotten at the heart of the system. When you have ASIC investigating serious allegations, serious allegations of rate rigging from two of our four major banks, something has to give in the culture. And it is not good enough in this democracy to read reports that the Treasurer is checking with the big banks before he even launches an inquiry into them. No, that's not good enough. Nothing less than a royal commission will do. Mr Turnbull knows this, he just won't do the right thing here. His own backbench, some of them know it and they're speaking up about it. Mr Turnbull seems only focused about the date of the election, and nine times including as recently as Sunday, he said this election would be on July 2. And even today now, when you ask him questions when will this election be he's using weasel words. Australia needs a Prime Minister who will deliver not dither.

 

Thanks everyone.

 

ENDS