Sky News AM Agenda (5)

18 May 2016


SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Turnbull’s Cuts to Medicare; Peter Dutton’s Comments on Asylum Seekers; David Feeney

KIERAN GILBERT: This is AM Agenda. With me now, Liberal Senator Zed Seselja, and Labor frontbencher, the Shadow Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation, Jim Chalmers. Jim, you would be obviously very pleased to hear the words of Brian Owler -- almost an endorsement for a Labor vote. He didn't go that far, but he went pretty close.

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES AND SUPERANNUATION: He made his view very clear. But it's not just the doctors who support our approach to Medicare. It's vast swathes of middle Australia who know that the cuts that Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal Party are making to Medicare are doing a lot of damage to household budgets. What today is about, it really goes to what is arguably the key choice at this election and that's whether it's your credit card or your Medicare card that determines the level of healthcare you receive in Australia. We think it should be your Medicare card. The Government has had many attempts at attacking and diminishing Medicare. Whether it's this freeze, whether it's the GP tax that they tried, whether it's privatising some of the functions of Medicare.  Medicare will arguably be the key battleground in this election. We've got a policy that we're very proud of, very proud to announce today whereas the Liberal Party just have a series of cuts which will really impact on middle Australia.

GILBERT: Senator Seselja, Brian Owler was effusive in his praise for the Labor plan. He says that the AMA doesn't take sides but he didn't have any criticism at all. He said that it's nice that they're finally listening to the doctors and calls on the Coalition to do the same, Senator.

ZED SESELJA: Well there's two main responses to Labor's announcement. One is they can't afford it. They've got a $66 billion black hole. There just simply aren't enough new and increased taxes to pay for all of Labor's spending. They simply can't deliver it. But the second point and a very important point is that bulk-billing has gone up significantly under the Coalition Government. It averaged around 79 per cent under the previous Labor Government. It's now at around 85 per cent, a record high. So bulk-billing is going up under our policies and you would argue that Labor's policy which can't be delivered, that they can't afford, will do nothing other than potentially put a bit more money in the pockets of some doctors, because the doctors are responding to the various policies and they're bulk-billing at record rates.

GILBERT: They say, his argument this morning, Dr Owler, is that it can't be sustained for the foreseeable future with this freeze on the indexation of the rebate set to remain in place to 2020 under the Coalition.

SESELJA: Well Kieran, the freeze first occurred under the former Labor Government and has continued under the Coalition Government, and under that freeze, we've seen the rates of bulk-billing go up to record levels. They are at 85 per cent and they averaged around 79 per cent under the former Labor Government. So you can't argue that bulk-billing isn't happening or that people are paying more when more and more Australians are being bulk-billed under our policies.

GILBERT: Let's get Jim Chalmers's reaction to that specific point, Jim, if you can on the fact that bulk-billing rates have gone up even while the freeze is in place. The Government argues because it's been able to divert money to other areas of primary health care and elsewhere within the health system.

CHALMERS: Look, I'm more prepared to take the AMA's word for it than Zed's word for it on this occasion. We do know that we're at a tipping point, that if the freeze continues it will have a dramatic impact on bulk-billing but also more broadly. When you think about deterring people from going to a GP, as the original GP tax and now this GP Tax by stealth is designed to do, it's really dumb because what it means is that more people will present to emergency departments at the same time as the Turnbull Government is cutting funding to our hospitals. But just more specifically Kieran, on what Zed said about the cost of our policy, and yes, it is a big investment in healthcare in Australia, and yes, that doesn't come cheap, but what we're talking about here is $12.2 billion over ten years which is just over a fifth of what the Liberal Party plans to give to multinational companies with their big business tax cuts. So when Zed says, look the country can't possibly afford this $12 billion, you've got to remember that he's talking about that at the same time as they found $49 billion for a big business tax cut. So every Australian needs to understand that it's not that the country can't afford $12 billion for this Medicare policy, it's that their Government, the Turnbull Government, would rather give $49 billion to big business in this country instead of invest in Medicare for the vast swathes of the Australian people.

GILBERT: You've asked-- no, no Senator Seselja, you asked where the money was coming from. Labor has said it's coming from, in part, from money diverted away from the corporate tax cuts which your Government has announced and into this. What's wrong with that?

SESELJA: Well there's two points here Kieran. One, the Labor Party still has a massive black hole. There simply aren't enough new and increased taxes to pay for all their promises. That's the first point. The second point, when Labor wants to tax small businesses more, that's their policy, small businesses will pay more tax under the Labor Party. Now what that does is the economy grows slower, there's less jobs. Not only is there less money in people's pockets and less jobs, Governments over time, of course, get less money to pay for critical services. It's not a magic pudding where you can just keep taxing everyone more and more and somehow the economy won't skip a beat. We've got a plan to grow the economy starting with small business tax cuts so that there is more jobs and eventually, of course, there will be more money then to spend on important services such as health.

GILBERT: We've got to get to a few other issues. I want to ask you about Peter Dutton's comments. Peter Dutton is going to be on 2GB with Ray Hadley just after nine o'clock eastern, and we'll get some of those comments as soon as we can off the 2GB broadcast. But in the meantime, Senator Seselja, as someone who comes from an immigrant family yourself, give us your reaction. Do you support all the language, the message, from Peter Dutton on that?

SESELJA: Yes I do. And let's look at what Peter Dutton said and the truth he's pointing to. He's pointing to the fact that if you go down the Greens path and Labor's going at least half-way towards the Greens policy on asylum seekers and humanitarian intake, that there is a significant cost and we have an immigration program which is very well balanced, it's compassionate with our thirteen thousand, moving up to eighteen thousand, humanitarian intake. But we focus a lot on skilled migration and that goes up and down as our needs as a nation occur. If the overwhelming part, or if a massive part of your immigration program is based on the humanitarian impact as the Greens and Labor would like to see, that has a serious cost. That means we're not primarily focused on the skills and needs of the Australian economy, we are primarily focusing on the humanitarian aspect. Now I think we've got a great record when it comes to humanitarian resettlement, but this idea of 50,000, and Labor is drifting towards that, has a serious cost.

GILBERT: What about specifically, before we go to Jim Chalmers, the suggestion that refugees take Australian jobs? Are you comfortable with that characterisation?

SESELJA: Well he made a couple of points and the reality is, and it goes to my earlier point, that we need to have a finely balanced immigration program. If a dominant part, or a much larger part, of our immigration program is not based on the skills we need, then there will be impacts in terms of welfare and of course there will be impacts in terms of some of the low skill job areas as well.

GILBERT: Let's get Jim Chalmers' thoughts on this. Because, among others who have supported the comments of Peter Dutton was Mark Latham, former Labor Leader last night.

CHALMERS: I don't sign up to either of those views put by either of those people. I think there's a really disappointing tone and aspect to the debate right now. The Liberal Party is channelling Pauline Hanson. Malcolm Turnbull was given the opportunity to repudiate those comments from Peter Dutton, repudiate that Hanson approach to politics. He didn't take that opportunity, in fact, he endorsed the views of Peter Dutton. I think that's why a lot of people who expected better from Malcolm Turnbull, people who expected actual leadership from Malcolm Turnbull are very disappointed in the way that he's gone about this. It also shows that the sort of extreme elements of his Party are leading him, rather than him leading his Party. And the final point I'd make about that is that anyone who has been around politics knows what's going on here. We've got this orchestrated, gutter commentary from Peter Dutton and others in the Liberal Party to distract from the fact that this election is actually about something else. This election about the Liberal Party taking money out of hospitals and schools and Medicare and giving it to big multinational companies. That's why they go out of their way with this extreme language to try and distract people and to divert attention from what this election's really about.

SESELJA: Jim, you know that's rubbish.

CHALMERS: I believe it to be true, Zed.

SESELJA: You underestimate the intelligence of the Australian--

CHALMERS: You should be better than this. You should reject the commentary from Peter Dutton too--

SESELJA: Let me finish because I let you finish too. You underestimate the intelligence of the Australian people. A statement of fact in relation to the costs associated with resettlement and the dangers of a Greens-Labor policy in this area, and the Australian people support our policies in this area because they understand that you have to get that balance right. You have to have strong border protection as we do, we have to have --

CHALMERS: We're not talking about a balance, you've got this gutter commentary from Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull.

SESELJA: You again underestimate--

CHALMERS: You may as well join Pauline Hanson's One Nation, Zed.

SESELJA: You're effectively having a go at the Australian people, because the Australian people support our policies in this are.

CHALMERS: No, I'm having a go at you and Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull for a failure of leadership.

SESELJA: That's something that fundamentally the Labor Party doesn't seem to understand.

GILBERT: We're going to have to wrap up with David Feeney's properties, Jim Chalmers. He's got another one as it turns out that hasn't been declared. What's your position on this? Because obviously it's not what you want to be talking about today, but it's the front page of a few of the papers, this oversight. Well it extends to another property apparently.

CHALMERS: I don't know much about the property that you're referring to but my understanding is that it has been disclosed and that everything has complied with the rules. But I think in general, David himself and Bill Shorten and others have said that it was an important omission, the failure to disclose that first property. David has said that himself. I think he has rightly been towelled-up a bit in the media about all of this. It's not the central component of the campaign, but people are right that we should disclose any properties that we own. He's taken steps to rectify that and that's the end of the story.

GILBERT: Yeah, well he did, what Jim said is right in terms of one property. Another, from what I understand from looking at the report today, and this, my question to Senator Seselja, is based simply on this newspaper report which suggests that the trust which owns the property is declared. Is that sufficient Senator Seselja in terms of transparency. Is that what the Liberal and National Party members do?

SESELJA: Well firstly I'd say congratulations to David Feeney for being so successful that he can forget about $2 million plus properties. I'm sure a lot of people would love to be in that situation. Good luck to him. But there's a real hypocrisy here where the Labor Party are saying well it's fine for David Feeney to sit on his negatively geared $2 million, $2.3 million, property but he wants to deny teachers and nurses and emergency services workers the opportunity to invest and get ahead. And of course with all the flow on effects for renters and the property market generally. So I think this highlights fundamentally, Labor's hypocrisy on this issue.

GILBERT: Okay, we're out of time gentlemen, unfortunately. Jim Chalmers, Zed Seselja, covering a few different issues this morning, gents. Talk to you throughout the campaign again. A quick break, back in just a moment here on AM Agenda.