TONY BURKE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Thanks for coming out to Campsie. I have been spending the morning with Catherine King and we have been meeting with locals concerned about the Government’s changes to health. In particular before I ask Catherine to make some comments about health and the Government’s Budget cuts, there have been some developments overnight in Joe Hockey’s reboot that I do need to refer to. Every few days we are told that they are going to reboot the conversation about the Budget. Well yesterday we had all guns blazing . Both Joe Hockey and Mathias Cormann out there doing every interview they could.
By the end of the day Joe Hockey was still there and it took within a day for him to go from newly energized to getting to the end of the day and thinking maybe we need to reboot again. Because by the end of the day Joe Hockey was once again getting it wrong. In an interview with Peter Van Onselen, Peter Van Onselen challenged Joe Hockey as to why the Government was making changes to the pension when they promised they wouldn’t. And Joe Hockey said that the government had not yet made a decision as to whether those changes would be introduced to the Parliament before or after the election. Problem for Joe is that they are not only in the Parliament, they already have gone through the House of Representatives and are now with a Senate committee. Last night Joe Hockey thought he could get away, in a tough spot in an interview, by claiming that legislation hadn’t even been drafted that has gone through the House of Parliament that he is a member of. This Government has a Budget that needs more than a reboot.
The problem is every time they press reboot on this thing it comes up and it is still a Commodore 64. It is still a computer that nobody would want in their home any more. They still every time they try to reboot think that the only problem around this Budget is the conversation. The problem is the content. And the problem is people responsible for that content. Both the Prime Minister, and Joe Hockey and Mathias Cormann. The people who put an unfair Budget together. I hand over to Catherine King for one of the most stark examples of that unfairness.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks very much Tony. And it is lovely to be in your electorate here today talking to people about just how unfair the Abbott Government’s Budget is when it comes to health. We know that the GP tax will hit low, middle income and vulnerable patients. Labor stands absolutely opposed to this GP tax. It unpicks Medicare apart at the seams. It ends universal access to healthcare and it is bad policy. And again I say to Tony Abbott and to Peter Dutton this is bad health policy and this tax should be axed. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Catherine, do you support the AMA’s proposal, which they have released today?
KING: The AMA is obviously entitled, and has put a proposal to the government. I note that the government on its rhetoric yesterday has not even listened to that proposal and is not listening to the AMA, to the Royal Australian College of General Practice, to the Consumers Health Forum. Labor will not be voting for the GP tax in the House or the Senate in any form because it is bad healthcare policy and it unpicks Medicare.
JOURNALIST: The AMA model though protects the vulnerable, isn’t that something that Labor would support?
KING: Again the AMA has put a proposal to the government and that is a matter for the AMA. They are perfectly entitled to do that. But what I am concerned about is what is happening for the whole of the population, what is happening and what is Labor’s position. And Labor’s position is very firmly this GP Tax is unfair. It unpicks Medicare at the seams and it should be opposed. It is bad health policy. Why would you be putting a barrier in the way of general practice. The place where you want people to go. To access their prevention. To access chronic disease management. To stay well. Why would you be putting people in the position, here in a diagnostic imaging place, where they would be paying, not just $7 but hundreds of dollars more to access the diagnostic imaging that they need? It is bad health policy and it should be scrapped.
JOURNALIST: Does that mean Labor will not support it in any model? Not even the AMA’s model?
KING: That is correct. Labor will be voting against the GP Tax in the House and in the Senate because it is bad health policy and it is basically Tony Abbott destroying Medicare.
JOURNALIST: And Minister Dutton says today that he has been talking to cross-benchers. Has Labor considered getting into the debate with its own model?
KING: We don’t support putting a barrier in the way to the most efficient part of the health system. Where you want people to go to stay well and to manage chronic disease. We want people to be able to access healthcare on the basis of their healthcare needs not on their basis of their capacity to pay. That is what Medicare is. A universal health insurance scheme that everyone pays into through their Medicare Levy and draws down on, on the basis of need. We do not want to see a US style two-tiered healthcare system in this country. That is what Tony Abbott wants us to do and that is what the GP tax does and we will be opposing it.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the AMA model with its number of exemptions, do you think that makes it any more or less effective?
KING: Again I am not going to get into the debate now about what the AMA’s model is. That is a matter for them and they have obviously put that to the Government and the Government will comment on that. I do note however that it appears from the rhetoric yesterday that the Government isn’t even prepared to listen to the AMA on any model at all. It is very determined to impose this GP Tax on every single doctor visit. On every single time you have to go and see a pathologist and every single time you need to get diagnostic imagining. Whether you are a pensioner, whether you are someone on unemployed benefits, whether you are at your last pay packet for the pay period and you haven’t got a dollar to spare, Tony Abbott wants to impose this GP Tax on everybody. And it means everybody will be paying more to access their healthcare and it picks apart Medicare at the seams.
JOURNALIST: So what would Labor do to make the healthcare system more sustainable?
KING: Labor in government found substantial savings that were all reinvested back into the health system. Across all portfolio areas $180 billion worth of savings. We means tested the Private Health Insurance Rebate, something that the now government opposed when they were in opposition. Finding savings in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme . All of it, every dollar of it reinvested back into the health system. We know that Tony Abbott wants to impose this tax. We know that he wants to save a million consultations, or stop a million consultations going to general practice, going to pathology, going to diagnostic imaging and we know that that is bad health policy and unfair and certainly something that we won’t support.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask what the difference between $7 and the PBS scheme is and the doctors co-payment?
KING: The PBS scheme in terms of the co-payment which was introduced a long time ago now, had two components of it. The first is that there is no equivalent of the Medicare Levy when it comes to Pharmaceuticals. Secondly a Pharmaceutical allowance was also introduced at the same time. Recognising that there was substantial problems for people accessing medicines who are concession card holders. What we now know is that when John Howard was in Government he broke that nexus. Every time they increased the Pharmaceutical Co-payment they didn’t increase the Pharmaceutical Allowance. We know that what this government wants to do in the entirety of its Budget is to transfer costs away from the commonwealth onto patients. They also increase the cost of medicines in this Budget and that is something that Labor won’t be supporting either.
JOURNALIST: Can I also ask the $5 bulk-billing, is that just another cost to patients?
KING: Certainly in terms of bulk-billing the insidious nature in the way they have designed this policy is, it is not just a $7 GP Tax it is also cutting the bulk-billing incentive. So it is putting doctors in the position where they have to charge patients who are ill coming to see them or they lose a substantial amount of their income. What an appalling choice for a Government to put a general practitioner in, to who is wanting to care for his patient or her patients in the communities that they either have to charge their sick patients more or they take a pay cut. This is Tony Abbott’s Australia. Tony Abbott’s Australia where your credit card is going to mean more than your health care card.
JOURNALIST: So if the AMA came to a Labor Government with their proposed co-payment model, because they have long suggested that they support one, would you be open to listening to their proposal?
KING: We should not even be having this debate at all. Frankly Tony Abbott before the last election said there would be no cuts to health. There would be no new taxes. Here we are having to debate a $7 GP Tax. Making it harder for people to go to the most efficient part of the system, primary care. I want to see primary care strengthened. I want to make sure that people are able to access the healthcare that they need on the basis of need. Not on whether they have got the ability to pay. That is what Medicare is and Labor built Medicare. We have had to defend it a few times now from Liberal governments and we are in a fight again about it.
JOURNALIST: The Government says that the Medical Research Fund sits against national debt and helps reduce it. Isn’t that a reason to support it?
BURKE: What needs to be understood here is that what the government is doing. In the first instance they claim that the GP Tax was going to make health expenditure more sustainable. By their own admission the money is not going into health expenditure. By their own admission. Secondly the money that goes into that fund doesn’t all get spent in that year on medical research. It is only the interest from it that gets spent on medical research. So you end up with a situation where a fraction of the payment that is made on education goes into medical research in that year. If they wanted to say that this was purely about having an impact on debt the problem they have got is this; it makes no difference to Australia’s level of gross debt that you establish a fund of that nature. It makes no difference to what interest the Government pays on its bond market when you establish a fund of that nature. So most of the arguments that the Government has put forward to back this fund in as an excuse for introducing the GP Tax, the Imaging Tax and Pathology Taxes. The excuse that they have got there, the reasons they have given, don’t stack up when you go through even their own analysis.
JOURNALIST: We are in your electorate today and what do you think of the Government’s negotiations with Islamic leaders?
BURKE: I hope they can improve the way they have been handling it. It is in the interest of every Australian that the government has a sensible and constructive relationship with every community, including communities in the area that I call home. And in a number of ways the Government has been making a mess of those discussions. Why on earth they linked giving up bad changes to the Racial Discrimination Act to try and win support to stop terrorism I will never in my life understand. They have handled it in a clumsy fashion. It is in the interest of every Australian that they lift their game and they improve. I hope they do. There is a good level of good will from people wanting to help. The Government needs to be respectful in those relationships and stop making a mess of it the way they have.
JOURNALIST: And do you think that the Prime Minister’s phrase ‘Team Australia’ is alienating Islamic groups and other groups?
BURKE: I think there is an issue of the overall demeanour. I think these issues are about building respectful relationships. I think you can read too much into an individual catch phrase.