Subjects: Labor’s $125 million investment in healthcare in Western Sydney; Labor’s infrastructure investments for Sydney; Paul Keating; Labor’s $500 million initiative to reduce hospital waiting times; small business policies; helping older Australians back into work; Ministerial and leaders’ debates; Yang Hengjun.
DIANNE BEAMER, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR LINDSAY: Back in 1997 when I was a state member around here we opened an oncology unit at Nepean Hospital, and that was a great boon for people in this area. We needed something that was local, something that was Nepean. But years later it is no longer fit for purpose. And I have been talking to doctors and to patients and a doctor told me that if you get a diagnosis there and you need a bit of quiet space in which to talk to your family, perhaps regroup, that quiet space here is the footpath. And it isn’t good enough. I am so grateful here today and the people of this region I know will be so grateful here today for this announcement. I am just going to make it short and say I am absolutely astounded that you’re all here to cheer on what is going to be one of the fantastic things for Nepean Hospital. And let me introduce you of course to Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: That’s Di Beamer, full of energy and looking forward to being the next Member for Lindsay if she is elected on May 18. Good afternoon everybody and welcome to Sydney’s western suburbs. Great to be here and great to be here announcing $125 million to assist in the cancer treatment, to assist in better services for the population of the mighty outer western suburbs of Sydney. In many ways today’s announcement highlights the issues in this election. Nepean Hospital has had $5.7 million cut from it. Nepean Hospital has outgrown its current facilities and needs new investment, not cuts. So Labor because we have made a decision to put patients first, to put tax subsidies for millionaires last, we are in a position where we can make real change. It was pretty inspirational to meet Sandy and Kim in the scanning, in the diagnostic imaging centre we have just been to. Just a little bit of a story on Sandy. Sandy got through a battle with breast cancer then got diagnosed with pancreatic cancer five years ago. Pancreatic cancer is bad. It’s survivor rates are very low. She is a remarkably strong woman supported by her very impressive and loving husband Kim, three kids, 18, 21, 23. But for their teenage years their mum has been in the battle of their life. What we heard from a real person, living in the real world, is that their out of pocket costs of fighting cancer have been over $100,000. This isn’t the way Australia should be. What we need is real change. We need to make sure the Nepean Hospital gets the investment it deserves. That Sandy and Kim in the fight of their lives get the support they deserve. We are going to put $2.5 million into the Hawkesbury Hospital emergency department to upgrade that. This is what this election is about. I spoke to a really marvellous nurse, Louise Maher before and I said how do you do it? For 30 years she has been a nurse looking after people diagnosed with cancer. She said we put patients first. That’s what I want to put to you in the last two weeks of the election. One of the key issues is it’s all about the choices. We are going to put patients first and we are going to put tax subsidies for millionaires last. Now also as we talk about infrastructure we are joined by Anthony Albanese who is here to announce further infrastructure investment for the mighty western suburbs of Sydney.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTUCTURE, TRANSPORT, CITIES AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Well thanks very much Bill and Di and Susan Templeman. It would be great to see Di Beamer back in the parliament. She was a fantastic representative in the state parliament and will be even better in the national parliament. It’s great to have my friend running here. Can I say that today we’re announcing $50 million for planning work for the outer orbital, the M9. We know that there is massive congestion on Sydney’s roads, particularly in western Sydney. We also know that what we need to do is to get planning ahead of need. This is a great example which is why Infrastructure Australia recommended this as a priority project. $50 million will ensure that you can have proper community consultation so that it’s got right. So that the community through local government can actually have that input into the route and into issues which inevitably will be raised, because this is a challenge to build a road in areas that are already subject to development. But if we get that planning right now it will be far easier than if we go and retrospectively after the housing is built there to go back and try and build this outer orbital that will be so essential not just for western Sydney, but will also link up with the Central Coast and with the Illawarra. It will take congestion out of the centre of Sydney as well as being good for western Sydney. This follows the other announcements that we’ve made. The $3 billion commitment to North-South rail from the Western Line here up through Rouse Hill but down to Badgerys Creek airport and to the Macarthur region. It follows the $3 billion commitment to Metro West which has not been matched by the government. We want also for that to be stage 1 and Stage 2 to be planning to extend that Metro. Good in itself but also taking pressure off the congested main Western passenger line. We also have commitments today we’ve announced Blacktown City, one of the largest councils in Australia, 370,000 people that’s been excluded from the Western Sydney City deal. We’ll include them and we’ll have genuine regional partnership across this sector. We’ve announced our support for the third crossing of the Hawkesbury. We’ve announced park and ride facilities, I must say a year before the government decided that this was necessary in their most recent budget. We’ve announced a pipeline to Western Sydney airport so that we will take trucks off the road rather than having fuel taken to that airport on trucks travelling through Sydney’s suburbs. Our commitment to Western Sydney through infrastructure is to get it right, is to work with local communities. We will invest. For too long there’s been a failure to invest in our outer suburbs of our cities. Labor will do just that.
SHORTEN: Thanks, Albo. Are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: On your announcement today, $125 million in six years time which is half the capital costs of building this centre. It’s a good thing for the area, but isn’t there a critical need now in cancer units like this for additional funding? They’re overrun, their demand is high, their ability to deal with the patient load is insufficient. Don’t they need a funding injection within six years, like straight away?
SHORTEN: Spot on, Mark. I think you’ve gone to the heart of this election in one question. That’s why Labor’s going to put back $14 million into the hospital here. That’s immediate. What we’re going to do with that $14 million is help make sure there are more nurses and more doctors. Because of Susan Templeman’s lobbying, we’re going to make sure that the emergency department at the Hawkesbury Hospital can take more people which will lead to less pressure on Nepean Hospital. That all happens straight away. But it doesn’t just stop there. Elections are about choices. The government chooses to give billions of dollars right now to the top end of town, to welfare for the well-off. I choose to spend some of that money instead on providing scans and support for bulk billing, for visits to the oncologist, right now. Let’s not forget that on Budget Reply night, I outlined the most ambitious policy to start funding assistance for cancer treatment right now. There’s are a very clear choice and, Mark, your question goes to the nub of it. There is a crisis now. Only Labor is prioritising putting money on the table to help with the out of pockets. So when the voters strip away all the ads and all the negativity and all of the stuff that’s going on, there’s very simple choices. One in two Australians will get a diagnosis of cancer in their life. Out of pocket costs are expensive. To be honest, I was surprised when, within 10 minutes, the current Prime Minister sneered at our cancer proposal. He said it’s all free if you go through the public system. No, it’s not. We’re talking to the survivors. It’s not. But what’s more is then they said we couldn’t afford it. Always remember that politics is about choices. When Mr Morrison says he can’t afford to help people in the fight of their lives now, or he can’t afford to put back the money into Nepean Hospital, he’s made a choice. He just didn’t choose the patients. He chose instead to defend unsustainable and indefensible subsidies for the top end.
JOURNALIST: Former Prime Minister Paul Keating yesterday described the nation’s spy chiefs as nutters. He said that they’re setting the foreign policy for Australia and damaging our relationship with China. Do you share any of those concerns? What would an incoming Labor government do in terms of those leading our security agencies?
SHORTEN: Well, no, I don’t share those concerns. Paul Keating’s an elder statesman of Australian politics. He’s never been shy of saying what he thinks. But for myself and for my Opposition team, we’ve worked very well with the national security agencies. They know that and we know that. And we of course will continue to take the professional advice of the people who help keep Australians safe.
JOURNALIST: How do you ensure the states spend this $500 million reducing hospital wait times? Will there be some sort of benchmark or target set?
SHORTEN: Absolutely. What we will do is we’ll put more money on the table to the states. Just to explain to people who are patients or waiting for elective surgery. What happens is that currently Canberra, the national government to whom the lion’s share of taxes are paid, they’re only paying 45 per cent of the key hospital costs. Whereas we think that Canberra, because of its significant, they’re wealthier than the states, should help provide additional so they should pay 50 per cent. We’ll sit down and do partnership arrangements with the states. A lot of our announcements are guided by the best advice of state experts right now.
JOURNALIST: Was former Prime Minister Paul Keating wrong then? This is a man who you have said you take great advice from. He’s a man you said you listen to. Is he wrong when he says the security agencies are filled with nutters?
SHORTEN: Yeah, I don’t share that view. I do not share that view. Having said that I thought some of his other characterisations perhaps were more pertinent. But not on national security.
JOURNALIST: Do you feel disheartened, does it shatter your confidence that your personal approval rating is going down with Australian voters and what more can you do to turn that around?
SHORTEN: No I don’t and I don’t share the view. Listen, for 2,030 days I’ve lead a united team in the good days and the bad days, when the polls are good and when they’re not so good. I’ve learnt very early on in this job not to comment on the polls. We’re all going to find out in 13 days who wins the election. What I actually think Australians want is not for us to talk about ourselves, they want us to talk about the people. There’s a real choice at this election. Very simply, vote for real change. End the chaos in Canberra. Vote Labor.
JOURNALIST: Medical professionals have raised concerns about Labor’s transgender policy, that your National Centre and your Sexual Orientation Commissioner could influence GPs on how they provide advice – do you respect that opinion?
SHORTEN: No, I just think that’s rubbish. That is not our approach. That is a rubbish story and no doubt the government will help, be fuelling it. Can we just get back to what is important. We have heard this government run all sorts of desperate smokescreens, camouflage and what have you. I tell you what I’m interested in. I’m interested in the fact Sandy and Kim have had to pay $100,000 out of their own pocket to get cancer care. That might not concern the government. It concerns me. There’s a real choice at this election. For me it’s not about those sort of rubbish stuff which emerges from the fringes. What concerns me is that Australians in the fight of their life have to face the chance of going poor when they fight cancer. It’s pretty straightforward, isn’t it? Cancer makes you sick, but it shouldn’t make you poor.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, on the small businesses ..(inaudible) … can you explain why you’ve scaled that to keep with the policy the 2016 election? The small business sector is concerned about red tape and compliance in hiring these people. What sort of assurances can you offer that it won’t be particularly burdensome and it is worth their while to do this?
SHORTEN: My word it’s worth their while. I was pleased to see the Council of Small Business Associations, you quoted part of what he said, but there was something else he said. He said he thought this was a good idea. They want to make sure they don’t want to get tied up in red tape. That is fair enough. But, there is a real problem in Australia. And, you can see it any Saturday when you go to the shopping centres or indeed when I do my town hall meetings. I frequently run into very well presented, very hard-working older Australians. But, you know, they have been on the rough end of economic change. They have lost their job. But, we have a problem in Australia, don’t we? That once you’re 55 and 60, the old economic job market can be pretty harsh for no other reason than you’re older. I run into people all the time who have got their CVs, they have got 30 or 40 years of work experience. They don’t get an even go. This is a real problem. This is not a confected issue. For people in this age group, they spend twice as long on the unemployment queue. So, what I want to do is use a little bit of incentive to help small business, perhaps give an older person a go. I mean, let us call it for what it is. We are a bit quick in this modern age just to write-off the experience of older people. So I think it is a good initiative. We are mindful of the issue of red tape. We won’t get bogged down in that. But, do you know what happens right now to older people? They get sent to job interviews which are not appropriate, you know, just so the job provider can tick-a-box and get a grant of money. We are actually fair dinkum. In terms of compared to 2016, which was the other part of your question. Don’t ignore the Australian Investment Guarantee. That is a $3.3 billion baby which is great for business. Did you know that if you invest, if we get elected that is, if you spend more than $20,000 investing in new technology, which is productive, which is on a depreciation schedule, we are going to give you 20 per cent upfront extra. What that means is if you buy a, you know, a $100,000 unit for your factory or for your business, extra 20 per cent can be written off day one. That means you get money back for your investment. It’s estimated that this will enhance wages and it will enhance employment. So if you look, Andrew, rather than just cherry picking one program which we announced, which is a good one all on its own, and you put together, you bulk up, what we are doing. We are actually doing more for small business than the government.
JOURNALIST: Given your faith in the Labor Government’s ability to work well with national security agencies, would there be any change at all in Australia’s attitude or foreign approach in China?
SHORTEN: Well, I gave my Lowy address, I don’t blame anyone if they haven’t refreshed themselves lately on it. But what I said there is that when it comes, parking aside the fact we are going to we are going to work with our national security agencies – and I reckon I have had had more briefings in Opposition than when the Liberals were in Opposition from the national security agencies because we take it seriously. But with China, obviously we have to mind our national security interests. There is a debate which says we shouldn’t look at the rise of China solely through the prism of strategic risk. You know, China buys a lot of our materials. What we will be is, we will put Australia’s interests first. And we will mind the security, we will also make sure that we try and gain the best deal I can for Australian jobs, Australian exports, dealing with China and other Asian economies.
JOURNALIST: Who is going to be your Home Affairs Minister if you are elected? Don’t Australians need to know and have confidence of the person that is going to be in charge of our security agencies?
SHORTEN: Well, I think it would be premature of me to declare victory in this election, so I won’t. We will have a Home Affairs Department. We have announced some of our positions, but will finalise it when we see who gets elected and doesn’t. But, you know, I noticed old Peter Dutton stuck his head up here, came out of witness protection briefly. Sort of reminds me about the Liberal launch. I mean, Mr Morrison is going to have it in Melbourne. I just wonder who is going to be there. I have got my whole team at my launch. Will we see the Minister for Environment? Will she make, she is more on the endangered species list than the ones we’re trying to protect, will she be there? And, as for Peter Dutton, he is the one who famously said you can’t go and have dinner in Melbourne. So, he might be too scared to have dinner in Melbourne. Will he be too scared to turn up to the launch?
JOURNALIST: Mr Dutton said he wants a debate at the National Press Club with one of your, with your next Home Affairs Minister. Will you stump somebody up for that?
SHORTEN: Listen, I’m glad you went to that. I might, Anthony has been struggling to find someone to debate him. I think Michael McCormack is your opposite number. But, you know, as for debates, I might just let Anthony talk about the difficulty of finding Coalition ministers.
ALBANESE: Look, we in Bill’s team have been quite happy to have debates, and indeed, I’ve written to Michael McCormack, I’ve sent text messages, I’ve sent smoke signals, to try and find him, and he can’t be found. I mean, he’s the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, he’s in charge of infrastructure, but I can’t find him to have a debate. We proposed at one stage the National Press Club this Friday and apparently there’s now problems with that. I anticipate that the problems will dissolve on about May 19 and he’ll be prepared to have a discussion. But it goes down to what the Coalition, what the government’s attitude is towards debates in general. I mean, you’ve been travelling in these travelling parties for a few weeks and for a couple of weeks they were saying this bloke didn’t want to debate their bloke. Bill didn’t want to debate Scott. That wasn’t true. We were negotiating all of that through. What we know now is that Scott Morrison basically got creamed by Bill Shorten in the two debates that have been held. Creamed, absolutely. One nil, then two nil. There were going to be three rounds. When you’re two nil behind, you maybe concede. But he should have further debates. There’s been some agreement about the National Press Club. But the question is, why is Scott Morrison chicken to go on Q&A? Why won’t he go on a program that goes for an hour, where you have questions from a host, questions from the audience, in a – it’s a tough gig doing Q&A for an hour. He’s not prepared to do it. He should do it. He should stop running scared, because if he went on Q&A and broke out of the egg and went on, what he might get asked is where is the $77 billion coming from?
JOURNALIST: That’s what he was asked on Sky New with the exact same format?
ALBANESE: With due respect, not everyone has Sky News. With due respect. Have a look at Q&A, and the ratings that Q&A get on a Monday night, compared with – I’ve got to tell you, Sky News on a Friday night. I’m sure is very good. I don’t know because the footy is on and that’s what I’m watching. I’m watching the footy on Friday night. I’m sure they were good. He should do Q&A and he should do it, he should commit to do it, because they advertise it tonight, they advertise what’s on next week. He should just do it.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten will you pull out of Wednesday’s debate because you’re not happy with the format?
SHORTEN: What? We’re the ones who wanted Wednesday’s debate. Let me just – hang on a sec. We wrote to the other people, the Liberals, six days ago. You know they’ve just sort of, there’s been some movement in the bush and they’ve materialised and said, “OK, if we have to we’ll do it.” I’m not going to pull out of any debate.
JOURNALIST: So there will be a debate on Wednesday night?
SHORTEN: That’s what I hope. But the other thing is, I’m going on Q&A tonight. See, we don’t need to go to Liberal Party, invitation-only events to answer questions. Anyway, look, we’ll go on Q&A, happy to do Leigh Sales a couple of times, you know, we’ll do our chats.
JOURNALIST: Will you get Mr. Albanese to debate Mr. Dutton on National Security?
SHORTEN: Listen –
ALBANESE: I want to debate my counterpart.
SHORTEN: Listen, let’s be clear. Peter Dutton had a debate with Ali France and that didn’t end up so well. Peter Dutton doesn’t pick my team line-up, and I’ll just go back to where we started here. Mr Dutton may be feeling the pressure in his seat. That’s not my problem. I’ll tell you what is my problem, and I’ll finish up this press conference on this point. My problem is that this government is pretending they can’t afford to do more for Nepean Hospital. This government is pretending that they can’t do more to help cancer patients with out of pocket treatment. This government is pretending that they can’t afford to help three million pensioners with the cost of their dental care. When they tell Australians they can’t afford to do more on healthcare, what they’re actually telling Australians is that they don’t deserve it. This election is about a choice. It’s 13 days until the election, it’s about a very clear choice. For us, it’s about prioritising Australian hospitals, Australian patients, Australian healthcare, over providing thousands of dollars in tax cuts to the top end of town, or looking after property investors, or going soft on multinationals.
JOURNALIST: Paul Keating said there would be a dramatic shift in relations with China under Labor. Do you share that view, and what about Yang Hengjun who has been detained since February without seeing his lawyer. Do you think China should be giving him access to his lawyer.
SHORTEN: I don’t think it’s fair of you to conflate Mr Keating’s comments with that second matter, which is very concerning. Not everything is an argument between us and the Government, especially on national security. It is very concerning about the detention of this person. We support the efforts of the government. We’ve had some briefings on it. But I would just say for this man, I wouldn’t necessarily conflate it into the election cycle, because we’re about looking after this fellow, aren’t we? Thanks everybody, see you a bit later.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.