TRANSCRIPT: Radio 6PR Perth, Thursday 30 June




SUBJECTS: Labor's positive plans for mental health; Australia's healthcare system; tackling drug and alcohol abuse; Liberals' plans for a $50 billion unfunded tax cut; nurse practitioners; Liberals' plans for a a wasteful and divisive plebiscite on marriage equality; alcohol advertising on television.

GARY ADSHEAD, PRESENTER: Joining me in the studio now Tanya Plibersek Deputy Federal Opposition Leader on the campaign trail. Thanks very much for coming in.


ADSHEAD: Two days to go. What is it like? I mean, this has been a long campaign, but the sort of schedule, how do you fit it all in terms of family, you've got other commitments - we all know how busy lives can be?

PLIBERSEK: Well I've got three kids, 15, 11 and 5, and my 5 year old told me the other day that he hoped I lose seat so I can be there a little bit more which wasn't very encouraging. I took it in the spirit it was meant though. Look, I think it is hard on people's families but the campaigning part of it I really enjoy. I love being out and talking to people. I've explained it to people - it's a bit like being an athlete who has been training for the Olympics and then you're at the Olympics. Because we spend the three years preparing for government, developing our policies, costing our policies, talking to people, testing what we've done in the past. Do we keep this? Do we change it in some way? And then you get the - whatever it is, six weeks, eight weeks - of a campaign and then it's all about your ability to communicate the policies that you've developed.

ADSHEAD: And of course it's a different world now in terms of how you communicate your policies.


ADSHEAD: Make it harder or easier - the way that it's all been diluted down through social media and the internet and so on? It's not just about that one campaign launch, or that one statement that's bold and brash, it's just every day...

PLIBERSEK: I think a few things have changed, I think a lot of the newspapers we get are definitely more partisan in the way they present the news. That's been a change.

ADSHEAD: I think the Australian's being doing a sterling job for the Labor Party this week, haven't they?

PLIBERSEK: But then you have got a countervailing force which is social media which allows you to talk directly with people, to communicate with them in a way that's much more personal, that goes into their homes at seven o'clock at night when they've got a minute to sit down after the kids are in the bath, or doing their homework and actually engage with you at a much more personal level. So I think, there's two things really happening - and one obviously makes life a bit harder, but one makes life a lot easier if you can actually communicate directly with people.

ADSHEAD: Indeed, now if you want to communicate with the Deputy Federal Opposition Leader, feel free to call - two days to go - if you want to ask Tanya some questions about their policies. Actually we might go straight to the lines because Frank's there. G'day Frank.

CALLER: G'day and Tanya welcome. I'm a great supporter already.

PLIBERSEK: Frank, that's very kind - thank you.

CALLER: I am concerned about mental health issues. I know it's started off as a bit of a slow issue as far as the election was concerned even to the point of - can we look at taking mental health training and making it a specific subject in secondary schools? I think we should be getting people when they are a lot younger than what they are prior to drug taking. What's your thoughts on the mental health side of things?

PLIBERSEK: Well Frank, thanks so much for ringing about this because it's such an important issue and it's one of the ones that people often bring up with me when you're talking to people one on one on street stalls and so on, because almost every Australian has been touched by mental health in one way or another. They've got family members or they themselves. And so we've said that we would accept almost all of the recommendations of the Mental Health Commission. We've said that we specifically want to focus on their recommendation of setting a target to halve suicide rates. To do that we really need invest in different models that work, and so we've said we'd select a series of sites across Australia to trial different whole-of-community approaches to reducing suicide because we know that there are some hotspots right across the country. You've mentioned drugs as well, Frank, and of course the connection between drug use and bad mental health outcomes is a really clear one - they go together hand in hand. Sometimes one causes the other, and sometimes the other way round - but we know they go together. So we also support much greater investment in drug and alcohol support services. We've seen a number of really important ones close or are at risk of closure because a $1 billion has been cut out of what's called the 'Health Flexible Funds' and they're the part of the health budget that actually support drug and alcohol services so we need to protect those services so that when people are ready to stop using drugs they can get a treatment place rather than be told they have to wait 6 months for treatment. We know that people have a moment when they're at rock-bottom, when they're able to change their lives around and if you tell them they can't do it for months to come; it can really, really set back their ability to change their lives.

ADSHEAD: It's a big issue here in Western Australia - there's just not enough beds, full-stop. Do you support involuntary, there's talk here among the state government, we're having situations, some of them high profile - drug use psychosis, crazy stuff on the street. Public. Put in hospital, two days later they're fine, out again - back in. It goes on and on. Involuntary? Even though they may not have committed a criminal offence.

PLIBERSEK: I think there are circumstances when you can be involuntarily treated for a mental illness, and I think that has to be left up to health professionals. I think the problem that you would have to look at with involuntary drug treatment, is will it work or not? If people are there against their will, there's not much evidence that it works. But what we do know that people who come into contact with drug and alcohol services who are ready to change, if they can't get a bed, they go back into their old cycles.

ADSHEAD: Alright, thanks very much for the call Frank. Let's go to Terry. G'day Terry.

CALLER: Yeah, g'day guys how are you all?

PLIBERSEK: Good morning.

CALLER: Some time ago the Productivity Commission made a recommendation to expand the number of Medicare items available to nurse practitioners and to expand the role of the nurse practitioner. What's the Labor Party's position on this at the moment, now considering your previous track record with nurse practitioners, when you were the Minister of Health?

PLIBERSEK: I was a big supporter of expanding what nurse practitioners could do. Australia actually lags behind some other countries, like in Britain nurses, for example, can be trained up to do colonoscopies in a way that takes pressure off the health system. I asked Health Workforce Australia to look at ways of expanding the role of nurse practitioners and we supported nurse practitioners in general practice because we know that that can really take the pressure off GPs. We've got a lot of GPs who are really under pressure and who are doing work that could very easily be done by nurses with extra training in those areas. We don't have a specific suggestion at the moment in our health policy, about which roles - that really is best done in consultation with the medical profession and with both doctors and nurses because we want to make sure that we get these sorts of decisions right. It is a way, though, of taking pressure off overworked doctors and pressure off our health budget, too.

ADSHEAD: Thanks for the call Terry. Let's go to Anne. G'day Anne.

CALLER: Good morning to you both.

PLIBERSEK: Good morning.

CALLER: I was reading the Sydney Morning Herald this morning and I read that the Liberals are going to take the supplement that the New Start people get. It's a miserable $4 a week - the Labor Government gave it to them - part of the carbon thing. Also, are we from tomorrow going to be paying for pathology, x-rays, MRIs, ultrasounds, pap smears - is this like privatising it all by stealth?

PLIBERSEK: Two great questions. Look on the pathology and diagnostic imaging, the change that the government have made is there's something called a bulk billing incentive, so the pathology collectors - if they bulk bill the patient, so if they just charge you on Medicare if you don't have to put your hand in your pocket - they get extra payment from the government. Now it's about $600 million the government have got rid of that. So, because the pathologists and the x-ray and MRI and all the rest of it aren't getting that extra payment from the government they're going to start charging patients extra - that's what their business model depends on. So how quickly they do it will depend on the individual, wherever you are getting your blood tests and so on, but what we know for certain is that if you've got a chronic illness and you're getting frequent tests, if you've got cancer and you need all of the tests that go along with something like that you will definitely have to put your hand in your pocket more because the government has cut this $600 million from that industry. On the other thing, about support for pensioners and people on New Start and so on, the other thing that you might have noticed is that Scott Morrison said a couple of days ago when the Liberals released their costings, they're going to find almost another $3 billion by crackdowns in this area. So you've got to ask yourself a question - there was a budget just 8 weeks ago. If they couldn't that $3 billion then, how are they going to find it now? I think this is just funny money designed to cover up the fact that they've got a tax cut for big business that will cost us $50 billion over the next ten years and they don't know where the money's coming from.

ADSHEAD: Anne thanks for that call. I'll come to you in a second Danny. I just wanted to ask you were you surprised to see Bill Shorten talking about how extremely comfortable he was with the idea of a plebiscite on gay marriage - 2013 that video was made.

PLIBERSEK: A year ago Malcolm Turnbull was saying he wanted a free vote in the parliament of Liberal members of parliament, so yes people change their views. I think, Bill's changed his view because he's seen some pretty disruptive and divisive debates about this around the world and I guess none of us really knew that it was going to cost $160 million and that's an awful lot of money. Also we've just heard from the Government that they want to fund both the 'yes' case and the 'no' case. So the $160 million is how much it costs to run the plebiscite - that's the Australian Electoral Commission estimate around that. And then on top of that we're going to fund people...

ADSHEAD: 10, 20, 10 million each perhaps...

PLIBERSEK: Well who knows? And then we're going to ignore - that's the worst part of it. We're going to have this $160 million plebiscite and then we're going to ignore it in the parliament.

ADHSHEAD: Well what are you going to do in the parliament though? What's Labor going to do?

PLIBERSEK: I'm going to vote for marriage equality. I've put bills to the parliament supporting marriage equality - if people want marriage equality they can vote Labor and you can have it within the first 100 days of a new government.

ADSHEAD: But if it plays out the way Malcolm Turnbull wants you won't stand in the way of a plebiscite?

PLIBERSEK: We haven't seen any legislation from the government yet, we don't know what it will look like. At the moment Gary, the problem is, the government wants to spend $160 million doing this and you can't even get Scott Morrison and Julie Bishop to say they'll abide by the results of that plebiscite. You can't get any Liberals to actually say 'yes, if I don't like the result anyway, I'll vote the way the plebiscite says.'

ADSHEAD: I thought they said they'd respect the Australian people?

PLIBERSEK: Well, what does that actually mean? Does it mean yes or no? It doesn't mean anything does it?

ADSHEAD: Let's go to Danny. Hello Danny.

CALLER: G'day Tanya and Gary. The reason I'm calling, is the lady that last called said about the pathology not bulk billing on Medicare, the way you answer that does that mean you're not going to bulk bill or you are going to charge people. Your answer was a little bit swayed - sorry for that - it's probably the way I am listening to that. Will you make sure, because when I went for a pathology test...

PLIBERSEK: We'll protect it Danny. We'll protect it. There's two big health cuts, in fact, three or four. There's the cut to hospitals and we've said that we would put an extra $220 million into WA hospitals over the next four years. There's the cut to Medicare itself. Now this is called the Medicare Benefit Schedule and that's what the doctor is paid for treating you so they get a certain amount of money for short consultation, a certain amount for a long consultation. The Government’s frozen that for 6 years and we've said we'd reverse that. So that will cost about $12 billion over the next ten years to make sure that doctors can keep bulk billing you. If they are told that they can't increase their prices for 6 years, you know what will happen. They'll say - you the patient - you need to make up the difference. Then there's the third area, and that’s the tests, the diagnostic imaging and the x-rays and so on. The Government have cut that extra money for the bulk billing incentive. We’ve said we would restore it so that you could still get your blood tests, your x-rays and so on on Medicare. And then there's a fourth area - the government’s trying to put up the cost of every prescription by $5. We've said that we'll block their attempt to do that. So hospitals, when you visit any doctor - your GP, when you get your diagnostic imaging or blood test, when you get your medicines, will all be more affordable under Labor.

ADSHEAD: Alright Danny. Bob's next. G'day Bob.

CALLER: How are you going? Tanya, what's your history?

PLIBERSEK: Work history or my family background or both?

CALLER: Work history? What did you do for a living?

PLIBERSEK: I worked in domestic violence for the New South Wales Government. I studied journalism before that and I've got a master’s degree in public policy.

CALLER: Right. Now you know and I know if we don't run our household budget we go broke. Now, when did you mob last have a surplus? That's what I want to know?

ADSHEAD: That’s like Karl Stefanovic!

PLIBERSEK: Bob, the real question is how the Liberals can afford a $50 billion tax giveaway for big business, $30 billion of that goes straight overseas to overseas investors. $7.4 billion goes to the big banks - like they're going to re-open branches and employ more people! $16 billion goes to people, another tax cut, to people on more than $180,000 a year. Now, I think it's really important to acknowledge that now's not the time for these massive tax giveaways because what the government will have to do is put up other taxes, reduce spending even further, or go further into deficit. This mob have tripled the deficit and they've added $100 billion to net debt. The debt is higher as a share of our Gross Domestic Product than it was when we left office, so they've actually worsened our budget position. The interest rates are a full percentage point lower now than when Joe Hockey said that they were at emergency lows because our economy was in trouble. We've had seven straight quarters of no growth in income, in living standards. Wages are flat. There's 50,000 more unemployed people since the beginning of the year. We're not seeing growth in full time jobs, we're only seeing growth in part jobs because business confidence is smashed, business investment is lower than it should be, consumer confidence is lower than it should be. You feel it here in WA. You're actually seeing it all the time because of the end of the construction phase of the mining boom, the economy here is stuffed and that's why we really want to invest in infrastructure to get WA working. That's why we want to invest in Metronet and a whole range of other infrastructure projects to support jobs and to support growth.

ADSHEAD: Alright Bob thanks for the call. Let's go to John. G'day John.

CALLER: Yeah G'day how are you going? One thing that seems to have - well, not mentioned at all by either party, and has gone through to the keeper, that January 1st 2017 there are many, many, many thousands of pensioners are not only going to lose their part pensions but are also lose their concession cards, creating a lot of hardship. It seems to me that neither party has not mentioned this at all due to changes in the threshold for singles and couples which are going back to ten years ago, the thresholds that were in effect ten years ago and many, many pensioners are going to be losing out and there's no mention of that and it appears from what I can read, not only the Liberals brought it into law from January the 1st 2017, but that Labor agreed to it and allowed it to pass through parliament. And yet that's to me where a lot of savings are being made at the expense of people that can least afford it.

PLIBERSEK: It's a really good point about pensioners. We’ve had to fight the Government all the way on the pension. We’ve had the effort from the Government to increase the pension age to seventy which would give us the oldest pension age in the world. We've had the Government try and change the indexation rate for the pension. When we were last in government we jumped the rate of the pension, but we also changed the rate at which it grew to make the improvements in the pension faster. We've had to fight them; we've managed to stop those two. We've had a much tougher time preventing this third one, because it's only so much we can do in the area of pensions, but I absolutely acknowledge and it's something we need to look at in government to make sure that we can continue to support pensioners into the future. We know that pensioners would be $80 a week worse off if we'd allowed that indexation change, for example.

ADSHEAD: John thanks for that. I know that you're bit restricted on time, but can I throw a couple at you. The Greens have said alcohol advertising - they'll ban it in terms of getting to kids - so four o'clock to nine o'clock - regardless of what sport might be on television. Do you have a view on alcohol advertising?

PLIBERSEK: I certainly think it's great to have alternatives and when we were in government we had the National Preventive Health Agency actually using health promotion sponsorship for sport rather than relying completely on alcohol advertising. We need to make sure that the sports can continue, that they have got the support they need to continue, but I think working with the community to talk about the harms caused by excessive alcohol consumption is a very important thing to do.

ADSHEAD: Another one that's come out of slightly out of left field, but it's by someone who's reputed in the industry in terms of drug reform, and that is the idea of meth smoking rooms in New South Wales where people can go so they inhale rather than inject.

PLIBERSEK: I'm a big supporter of the medically-supervised injecting room in Kings Cross. I argued in favour of its establishment about a decade and a half ago now, I think, maybe longer - maybe closer to 20 years and I did that because I saw what was happening with street-based drug injecting. I'm really worried about ice or meth as a drug, because of the very clear tendency to tip people over the edge into psychosis and because of the violence, the violent behaviour associated with it. I think you'd have to be very cautious about any sort of move towards suggesting that there was any safer way to do it. The thing about the medically-supervised injecting room is that it - you know we were talking earlier about - if you get that person when they're ready to give up and you can get them into a treatment bed, you can often, that can change their lives. That's what the medically-supervised injecting room has done for many, many people, and prevented many, many overdoses. What we've really been seeing with meth lately is hospitals having to upgrade their emergency facilities, padded secure rooms because people who are smoking meth hurt themselves, they hurt other people, they are difficult for medical staff to keep under control. It's a very, very dangerous drug.

ADSHEAD: Alright. Thanks very much for coming in. Only two days to go. Good luck with the election on the weekend. Nearly at the finish line.

PLIBERSEK: It's such a great pleasure to talk to you and it was lovely to have those calls from your listeners. Thank you.