THURSDAY, 19 MAY 2016
LEIGH SALES: I'm joined now from Canberra by the two politicians who hold the Finance portfolios for their teams and they're also acting as campaign spokesman, Mathias Cormann and Tony Burke.
Thank you very much to both of you for being with us.
MATHIAS CORMANN, FINANCE MINISTER: Good to be here.
TONY BURKE, MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS AND SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER: Good evening.
SALES: Tony Burke, if I can just start with you, there's some reports coming in that we're getting Federal Police raids at Labor Party offices in Melbourne. What's going on?
BURKE: Well, I'll leave that for the AFP to give reports as things happen. But, certainly, it is the case that those raids are happening. There are allegations floating around about documents that were leaked from the NBN and there's no doubt the leaks that came from the NBN caused immense damage, immense damage to Malcolm Turnbull when they showed that the cost blowout of the NBN, the fact that it was slower, the fact that it was going to be delayed. The thing that I also know with this is during the life of this parliament, Leigh, on 23 different occasions we've asked about leaks from all parts of this government right through to the National Security Committee of Cabinet. The night before the Budget, you had Government staffers handing out cabinet-in-confidence documents around the press gallery. And I also know how many of those inquiries have resulted in police raids. I don't know how many times they've been referred to the AFP, but I do know how few times they've resulted in police raids.
SALES: So are you suggesting that the Government has improperly lent on the AFP to cause them to raid ALP offices in Melbourne?
BURKE: I make no criticism of the AFP at all. I simply know that when there have been leaks even from the National Security Committee of this government, when there have been Government staffers walking around the section of the building I'm in right now handing out cabinet-in-confidence documents, the Government ...
SALES: OK, you made that point. So you can't tell us any more about this raid? You made that point already.
BURKE: The Government hasn't previously acted on referrals to the AFP.
SALES: Senator Cormann, can you shed any light on this matter?
CORMANN: That's the first I've heard of it. I'm not aware of it. The AFP obviously is an entirely independent organisation that makes their own judgements on these things.
SALES: OK. OK.
BURKE: But they don't make their judgements on what gets referred to them.
SALES: Thanks. Let's move on. Against the backdrop of the campaign, Australia has just posted the slowest wage growth in decades. Mathias Cormann, between that, low inflation, low productivity and a stubborn deficit, do politicians need to level with Australians and say to them that they're unlikely to continue enjoying rising standards of living?
CORMANN: Well our economy's an economy in transition. We're dealing with global economic headwinds, we're dealing with lower global economic growth and we're dealing with much lower global prices for our key commodity exports and that is of course why it is so important that we continue to implement our plan for jobs and growth. And, I mean, if you look at the results that we've achieved so far, the economy is growing at three per cent - higher than any of the G7 economies, double the rate of Canada, employment growth is strong, the unemployment rate at 5.7 per cent is not as low as we would want it to be, but it is much lower than what had been anticipated when we came into government in 2013. So we've got to keep heading in the same direction, we've got to keep implementing our plan for jobs and growth, including a more competitive enterprise tax rate.
SALES: Tomorrow Treasury will release the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Outlook. Senator Cormann, would you expect it to be basically the same figures as the Budget?
CORMANN: Well, the Budget was delivered about two weeks ago, so I certainly wouldn't expect there to be any material variation, that's right.
SALES: Tony Burke, Labor announced its Medicare indexation policy today, but wouldn't it be more honest to have a conversation with the Australian people about the problems with the long-term sustainability of bulk billing?
BURKE: Well, no. I mean, my fear with the GP tax, which is being introduced by stealth through the ...
CORMANN: Introduced by Labor.
BURKE: But the - introduced. Nice try, Mathias.
BURKE: You tried to introduce it in the 2014 ...
SALES: Well it's correct, isn't it? He is correct.
BURKE: No, no, no, we ...
CORMANN: Well that is exactly right.
BURKE: We shifted the indexation date by eight months.
CORMANN: Ah, ah, OK.
BURKE: We shifted it by eight months to bring it in line with the financial year. That is completely different to a ...
SALES: So for you it's a shift.
BURKE: That is completely different to freezing the rate all the way through to 2020, which they only sought to do once their original co-payment GP tax had failed in the Parliament. The motivation here's quite clear. Now, the biggest concern about this ...
SALES: How is that addressing the bigger picture question that I'm asking about which is levelling with the Australians about the long-term sustainability?
BURKE: No, no. But you've got to remember what happens to the Australian population when people ask this question before they go to the doctor. My concern isn't that people end up with $20 a week out of their household budget because they went to the doctor. My concern is the people that as a result of this don't go to the doctor as bulk billing rates fall as this (inaudible).
CORMANN: Bulk billing rates are higher. Bulk billing rates are higher ...
SALES: Why are you scared to answer my question about the long-term sustainability?
CORMANN: ... than they were under Labor.
TONY BURKE: Because the long-term sustainability of Australia's health is a decent thing to pursue. Medicare has given as a unit cause of health care a much better financial outcome than a system like exists in the United States. We have good productive rates of health care in Australia with the Medicare system. It might be an ideological position from the Liberal to want to shift to a co-payment system, which they're doing by stealth here, but it is not what we believe.
SALES: Senator Cormann, let me - let me ask you for your response.
CORMANN: Well, I mean, inconvenient truth for Labor is that they're trying to save bulk billing rates when bulk billing rates are actually higher than they were under Labor. They're trying to save Medicare when Medicare is safe. I mean, our funding for Medicare is higher than it has ever been. Yes, I mean, we need to identify savings and efficiencies in order to invest them in other parts of the health system. $2.9 billion additional funding for state hospitals, more than a billion dollars in additional funding for drug treatment - drug treatment services through the PBS for cancer treatments and hepatitis C treatments and the like. So we are paying for our funding increases by making savings and efficiencies in other parts of the budget. Labor is just trying to go the easy road by jacking up taxes, which hurt jobs and growth.
SALES: Tony Burke, a response there.
BURKE: Find a doctor who will say that this isn't putting pressure on them to bring in co-payments and that's where Mathias' argument falls down around him.
CORMANN: 85 per cent bulk billing rate right now.
SALES: Tony Burke?
BURKE: You extend it to 2020 - it's like saying if someone goes without a pay rise for a few months and that's the same as saying now you go without a pay rise for five years. It's a completely different economic impact and Mathias knows that.
SALES: Let me move on to another subject before we run out of time. Senator Cormann, haven't Peter Dutton's remarks about asylum seekers backfired on the Coalition because many Australians weren't born here and in particular many people had parents and grandparents who weren't born here who came to this country not able to speak English, dirt poor and who slogged their guts out to make a better life for their children, so therefore are Peter Dutton's remarks not a slap in the face to those people?
CORMANN: Not at all. Peter Dutton is a very effective minister for Immigration and Australia of course is a very successful multicultural country with people coming here from all corners of the world. Indeed, I came here from a particular corner of the world. I wasn't born here and of course I still speak with a funny accent, as some people might say. But the important point here is that people across Australia need to be able to have confidence in the integrity of the system. People need to be able to have confidence that people come here through an orderly process. And Tony Burke is here and he was the Minister for Immigration for two and a half short months and in that period more than 80 illegal boat arrivals arrived on our shores with more than 6,600 people on them.
SALES: Let me ask ...
CORMANN: Peter Dutton has presided over more than 600 days without an illegal boat arrival and that is what - these are the outcomes that the Australian people want to see.
SALES: Tony Burke, let me throw it back to you and pick up on the point that Mathias Cormann raised, which is: has Labor not given up any moral high ground in this discussion because of your performance on this issue in your six years in government?
BURKE: Well, first thing, when Mathias referred to my time as Immigration Minister, in that period there was a 90 per cent reduction in the number of boats coming and people putting their lives at risk on the high seas. In terms of the Government's policies that are about stopping ...
CORMANN: More than 80 boats.
SALES: Tony Burke.
BURKE: ... that are about stopping people taking that risk on the high seas, our policies, as a result of a national conference, are the same as the Government's. Our policies on how to treat ...
CORMANN: But you don't believe in it.
SALES: Tony - allow Tony Burke to finish, please.
BURKE: Sorry, Mathias! I had 33 people die on my watch! Don't you tell me I don't believe this. Don't you tell me after I've had those names on my desk. On the policies as to how you treat people who are in our care in detention centres, on those issues, we have a very different approach to Peter Dutton and a different approach to the Government and an approach that people used to think was closer to Malcolm Turnbull's views, except now they've seen, far from him changing the Liberal Party, the Liberal Party has changed him.
SALES: Gentlemen, we are out of time, unfortunately. Tony Burke, Mathias Cormann, thank you very much.
BURKE: Thank you.
CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.