SUBJECTS: Visit to Cairns; LNP cuts to funding for Cairns Hospital; Labor's negative gearing and housing policies; Climate change; Climate change policies; Campaigning; Funding for Labor's policies; Scott Morrison's plans for nuclear power in Australia.

MURRAY JONES, PRESENTER: Well things are certainly warming up, the gloves are off with the Federal election for 2019. Member for Sydney and Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the ALP’s Tanya Plibersek joins me. Good afternoon, welcome to Cairns.


TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It’s always wonderful to be with you Murray and always fantastic to be in Cairns.


JONES: And we’ve turned it on, there’s been a bit of cloud around today but still there’s sunshine, so that’s the main thing.


PLIBERSEK: It’s glorious, it's absolutely glorious.


JONES: Look, we need to, I guess, get into the guts of some of the things that have occurred particularly in the last couple of days, and local hospital funding is obviously something very dear to our hearts here. There has been talk over recent weeks about the $7.2 million cut to the Cairns Hospital. The Department of Health documentation seems to indicate a gradual increase. Now, it’s caused a bit of argument between the LNP’s Warren Entsch and the candidate for Leichhardt – the ALP’s Elida Faith. Can we get down to the bottom of this $7.2 million. What is it that Labor’s actually talking about here?


PLIBERSEK: Well, I’m not surprised Warren Entsch doesn’t want to admit that he and his Government are responsible for a cut, but there is absolutely a cut for Cairns Hospital and it’s because the money that was promised to the Queensland Government – including the money that was promised to Cairns Hospital – has not been delivered. And health funding’s just not keeping up with the cost of providing all those extra operations and medicines, looking after people, increased wages costs, electricity and so on. I think the easiest way of illustrating it – I wish we were on television right now because I’ve got a really good graph here – but in the 2014 Budget, the Liberals or the LNP as they are here were boasting about savings in health. They’ve got this graph that shows their savings in health – a saving and a cut - they’re the same thing. If you’re saving money as opposed to what would have been spent under Labor – that’s a cut.


JONES: Okay, so let’s be quite clear about this. You’re saying that it’s not actually a physical reduction of $7.2 million out of the budget. Basically, the budget has not kept, kept I guess, pace with the real costs?


PLIBERSEK: It hasn’t kept pace with real costs. It hasn’t kept pace with the extra number of people that being treated. It hasn’t kept pace with the new medicines and procedures that are being done. It hasn’t kept pace with the cost of electricity going up for the hospital, or doctors’ or nurses’ or pathologists’ wages going up. This money was promised to Cairns Hospital. Cairns Hospital isn’t getting it. That’s a cut.


JONES: Let's move on to negative gearing because I guess, on the federal level, it’s something that’s caused a little bit of confusion. Now, the Shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen over the last couple of days or actually, over the last couple of years, has nominated a figure of about 10 per cent and of that being new houses that would eventually be exempt from negative gearing. Now, that figure’s been jumping around a bit. What we’ve seen in the last couple of days was from 10 per cent, down to 7 per cent, some have said, 12 per cent and now 22 per cent. 22 per cent, obviously, does sound better for the ALP. But look, you know, that might make a lot of sense in the cooling markets like the big cities but in regional areas where we’re really struggling with housing, this is a concern. I mean, is it likely to actually cool off, you know, the housing affordability and availability in regions like Cairns?


PLIBERSEK: Well, I’m sure the LNP would like you to believe that, but I guess there’s a couple of things to say. The first thing to say is: everybody who is currently negatively gearing a property will be unaffected. There’s no change to people who are already negatively gearing. What we’re saying is, from the date of implementation of our policy if we’re elected, from then on, you will have to invest in new properties to get this tax benefit. And the reason we’re doing that is because we actually want to see more construction. We’re very worried about the number of new homes that have been built in recent years. There haven’t been enough to keep up with population. We want to see that construction activity, it provides jobs for the people who are doing the construction; and look, you know, I’m a parent – I’m a parent of three – I want my kids one day to be able to afford a home in Australia. Do we want to keep giving these tax benefits to people buying their tenth or their twentieth or their thirtieth home or do we want to say instead, young people entering the market deserve a level playing field. They deserve to be able to aspire, if they work hard, one day, to own a home of their own. And that dream is becoming impossible for so many Australians. So we say by restricting negative gearing to new properties we create jobs in construction, we increase housing supply, we give young Australians the hope that they’ll have a home of their own one day.


JONES: And you know, that incentivising does make a lot of sense but just say the economy starts to cool further and it means that there’s just simply not that construction happening, Labor’s not going to be able to rely on the income, could it have a more of a negative impact on housing though?


PLIBERSEK: No. Look, we’ve done a lot of modelling with the Parliamentary Budget Office and economists on this policy and we absolutely stand by it. But I tell you there is a very big risk to the Australian economy and that’s the fact that wages have been flat-lining for as long as they have. We know that if people don’t have ten bucks in their pocket on their way to work they don’t stop and buy a coffee. 


JONES: Sure.


PLIBERSEK: If they don’t know that they’re going to have a job or what they’re going to be earning next week or next month, they don't take the kids out for a pizza and a movie on a Friday night, and that reduction in consumer confidence. That reduction in people’s willingness to spend on, you know, the small luxuries of life has been having a really serious effect in our economy and in fact we saw just a couple of days ago the release of the pre-election fiscal outlook which shows that in fact we should continue to worry about very low wages growth and the impact that’s having on the economy, on economic growth for Australia. The Government’s got no plan for wages growth. Labor has a plan to make sure people’s wages go up.


JONES: Let’s talk a little bit more about one of the key planks, well certainly for the electorate with respect to what they’re expecting from major parties at the next election, is with respect to climate policy. There’s been talk even by the PM this morning of $35 billion costing, maybe in international credits, to Australia. You know, that’s something obviously the electorate wants. They’ve spoken very clearly about climate change but are they going to baulk and find it a bitter pill to swallow, $25 billion was the talk this morning, up to $35 billion this afternoon?


PLIBERSEK: I think by tomorrow the Prime Minister’s going to claim it’s eleventy-gazillion. It’s just nonsense, Murray. They are using nonsense presumptions in their modelling to try and blow out the figures. First of all you’re quite right that people expect action on climate change and there is a cost to inaction. I mean 64,000 jobs rely on our beautiful Great Barrier Reef and protecting one of the great natural wonders of the world. We know that there are jobs in constructing new renewable energy projects, we’re talking about an estimate of about 70,000 extra jobs from our renewables policies and we see them. We see extra investment in the solar farms, there was another story in the paper today about the extra jobs coming from that. We’ve got a hydrogen plant. We want to keep more of Australia’s gas in Australia to make sure that we’ve got cheaper sources of energy for our businesses that rely on gas. So there’s a cost of not acting. $18 billion we spent on natural disasters, that the last year we’ve got full figures for. Cost of insurance goes up as the frequency and severity of natural disasters goes up So let’s not pretend that "business as usual" has no cost, of course it does. When it comes to the cost of taking action, well first of all, we save $2 billion by not proceeding with the government’s silly emissions reductions fund that’s seen both the price of energy and pollution go up, they’ve put another $2 billion into this ineffective thing, we save that. And then, when it comes to our pollution reduction target of 45 per cent, the best modelling we’ve seen in recent years was done when Tony Abbott was the Prime Minister by a fellow called Warwick McKibben. That modelling shows that the government’s planned 26 per cent reduction in pollution and Labor’s planned 45 per cent reduction in pollution have the same impact on the economy because we allow carbon credits from overseas to be purchased. So it has the same impact as the government, and that impact is we continue to see growth in our economy every year of more than 2 per cent. So look, there’s a lot of hysteria being whipped up by the Prime Minister, the guy who took a lump of coal into Parliament, but Australians have decided for themselves. There is actually a reason that in 2007, there were about 7000 homes with solar panels on the roof. Today there are about 1.8 million homes with solar panels on the roof. Australians have worked out for themselves that renewables are getting cheaper and cheaper and cheaper, and investing in 50 and 60 year old coal infrastructure is quite expensive.


JONES: Let's talk a little bit more about the campaign and the way it is going. In this new-age, fact checking is something that the electorate is very good at, the electronic media is becoming better at, so I guess, so, you know, things can be a little bit tough. You know, the last couple of days we've had this superannuation tax issue that has come up for the Leader. How are things going? Have you hit a bit of a flat spot in the last day or so?


PLIBERSEK: Oh no, I don't think so. Bill did a fantastic press conference today and I think the issue you raised about superannuation, he was asked "Do we have any plans to increase taxes on super?" and he didn't think the journalist could possibly be asking about announcements we made in 2016. I think it's a very understandable thing that happens in a campaign. So many questions from so many journalists. It's easy to misinterpret one.


JONES: Look, let's move on to the Grattan Institute, because  I guess it's, you know, I guess to your benefit, it's generally known to be a fairly conservative institute. But with respect to some of the funding that the Liberals are talking about, with respect to social service infrastructure, general fiscal, education and health, likely to take a bit of a hit. Obviously the Prime Minister denies that. What's your take on the Grattan Institute as against what he says are Treasury and Government figures?


PLIBERSEK: Well, the Grattan Institute is a very independent and well-regarded institute. It doesn't lean to the government, it doesn't lean to us, it's pretty straight up and down. And what they've pointed out is that the Government's own figures show that when their high-end tax cuts are fully implemented, the Government will have to find $40 billion a year in savings if they're not going to blow out the deficit again. If they're not going to add to our national debt again. So, we say "Where is that $40 billion coming from?" There's already been cuts to health, cuts to education, cuts to aged care, you know all about the massive underspend in the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We don't want to see more cuts. The Government's got these tax cuts for high income earners. They will not explain how they will pay for them. We know how they will pay for them - by looking at what they've done up until now which is cut services, cut health, cut education, cuts schools, cut TAFE, cut unis, cut childcare, cut aged care, cut disability - we know what they will do.


JONES: As we wrap up this afternoon, just quickly, with respect to costings, when can we expect the costings from the ALP?


PLIBERSEK: Well we've just got the pre-election fiscal outlook figures back. Of course we have to update all of our costings as soon as we get new numbers from the Government, but we make clear all of our proposals before the election. We did that well before the last election and people will get it in plenty of time to make their minds up, whether they want bigger tax cuts for millionaires or multinationals, or better investment in schools and hospitals and incidentally, the same or bigger tax cuts for 10 million Australians - in fact, 3.6 million people on lower incomes get a bigger tax cut under Labor.


JONES: Enjoy yourself this afternoon because I believe you're here for the launch of Elida Faith, the ALP Candidate for the Federal seat of Leichhardt and hopefully the blow outs in costs won't be as much as nuclear power. Is that a good way to finish off?




PLIBERSEK: Well we hear that the Prime Minister is now, he's gone from carrying a lump of coal around to carrying around a radioactive rod like Homer Simpson in his knapsack. One of the most expensive sources of power we can get.


JONES: Been wonderful to talk to you. Thank you so much for your time because I know you've just arrived in town. Member for Sydney and Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Tanya Plibersek, have a wonderful trip to Cairns.