Subjects: Disability Royal Commission; NDIS; Budget reply; Labor’s funding for cancer treatment.
KIERAN GILBERT: Joining us now, senior Labor front bencher Anthony Albanese. Thanks very much for your time. Let’s start with the breaking news; the Prime Minister is to detail the Government’s response on a Disability Royal Commission and, of course, this comes in the context of claims of an under-spend on the NDIS. So Anthony Albanese, your response to this and will Labor be backing the approach? Obviously it’s something you have supported.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well we called for the Disability Royal Commission. What we are disappointed with is the fact that it’s being funded through the cuts that have been made to disability insurance, the NDIS. We’ve got a $1.6 billion under-spend in the NDIS and the Government would have us believe that is because of no demand, whereas we know as local members, the representations that we’ve had to make. As Bill Shorten outlined in his Budget Reply last night, people haven’t been able to get a wheelchair, haven’t been able to get the services and packages that they need.
It is unfortunate but we certainly welcome the fact that the Disability Royal Commission is taking place. The Government were very reluctant and of course only agreed to it because of the numbers on the floor of the Parliament. What I want to see is the numbers change on the floor of the Parliament further so that there is genuine enthusiasm for the NDIS and it receives the funding that people with disabilities and their families deserve.
LAURA JAYES: Aren’t you undermining what is really necessary and important bipartisanship for the NDIS? Is it true to say the Government is cutting spending? Isn’t it more correct to say they just haven’t spent it yet? And with any big project like this, Anthony Albanese, there are always going to be problems with getting enough staff, enough trained professionals to actually roll this out. So what’s Labor going to to do, just spend this money for the sake of spending it when there are problems with getting the right amount of staff?
ALBANESE: No, what we will do as well is ensure that staff are properly trained. We have a plan for apprenticeships and last night we announced that a portion of that would be specifically to train carers and those people engaged with the NDIS. The NDIS is something that I’m very proud of – a creation of the former Labor Government. It’s good that there’s bipartisan support for it, but the truth is that the figures that we’re quoting are the difference between what the Government said it had allocated to the scheme and what it has actually invested. And it’s perfectly legitimate for us to point out that some of the Government’s projected surpluses are off the back of that under-spend.
GILBERT: There’s been a poor administration I think, that’s certainly the view of those in the sector that I’ve spoken to. And I guess the question goes to Labor now as the favourites to win the upcoming election, will you replace those that run the NDIS, the Board?
ALBANESE: No, but what we’ll do is ensure that the NDIS is properly resourced. What we won’t have is the sort of caps that have been brought in.
GILBERT: But you’ve got to have proper administration.
ALBANESE: We absolutely need to have proper administration, we need to get it right and we’re confident that we can do that. But we can’t do it if you are trying to look for savings while the NDIS is being established. Look, it is the case that the Government has supported the NDIS, but what they haven’t done is what they themselves said they would do in terms of the allocations that they’ve made.
JAYES: As for the announcement last night from Bill Shorten promising to list all medicines approved by the committee on the PBS, this is good politics Anthony Albanese but it’s bad negotiating tactics isn’t it? Now that drug companies know exactly where you stand and you’ve declared your hand, won’t taxpayers be paying more?
ALBANESE: No, because the PBS goes through a process which is independent of the pharmaceutical companies. They don’t get to list it by themselves. The assessments are made and then recommendations made to government. We’ll also make sure that for diagnostic imaging – everything from x-rays to MRI’s – that that’s covered. What we’ll do is ensure that when people are going through cancer, and one in two Australians will be impacted, will be diagnosed at some stage in their life. Every single one of us knows people in our family and our friends who’ve been impacted by cancer. At that time there can be massive out of cost expenses and what people need to do is to be able to concentrate on their health and getting better, concentrate on their treatment without worrying about whether they’re going to be able to afford that treatment.
Australians are generous people, we’re a wealthy enough country to be able to afford to look after those people who have cancer, who are going through these difficulties. Because at the same time that people are getting treatment, they’re getting chemotherapy, they’re getting radiography treatment, what occurs is that they often have to leave either full time employment or reduce their working hours to part time. So at the same time their income is going down, they’re getting hit by bills, they’re dealing with these health issues. How about we actually do better than that? And that’s what our reforms announced last night will do – the biggest improvement to the functioning of Medicare since Bob Hawke and Labor created Medicare.
GILBERT: Well it’s an ambitious program, there’s no doubt about that and I think across the board there has been support for the notions of greater support for people who are going through cancer treatment. I wonder can you reflect for us though this morning in terms of what is a big taxing agenda, a tax and spend agenda from Labor? It seems to go against the grain of not just recent political approach in Australia but in the western world, in terms of a big taxing approach. Can you explain that vision for us after the budget reply?
ALBANESE: Well what it’s about, Kieran, is removing loopholes from the tax system. Doing it in two ways. Making sure that in terms of negative gearing which was designed to encourage the construction sector, it was supposed to boost supply. But what we’re seeing is the first home buyer rocking up to an auction in Marrickville and competing with people who are investors and not being able to get into the market.
What we’ll do is quarantine anyone who has existing arrangements, nothing changes. But if you want to go into negative gearing, and we know that the most recent figures show that it’s people getting their fifth or sixth or tenth or twentieth house, is where most of the deductions are coming from in recent times. If you want to do that then invest in new housing that will boost construction and boost supply.
And with regard to the imputation issue, it’s simply the case Kieran that we are approaching $6 billion a year it’s costing to give people money, who currently aren’t paying any tax at all. So you can’t get a refund on your tax when you’re not paying anything and it’s simply not sustainable. This is a loophole, it’s grown. It was put in there by John Howard in 2001 or 2002 when they were looking to just throw money out the door at the height of the mining boom. The truth is that it’s not sustainable, we’ve said upfront that that’s the case.
When people think about it, that very soon there’ll be more money given to people, as a gift, than we currently spend on public schools as a national government, so we need to make these reforms. What we’re saying on all of our commitments – on education, on health, on infrastructure is exactly where the money’s going to. We are saying tax cuts for middle income earners will be the same; people under $40 000 though will be better off under Labor.
JAYES: Ok, just quickly on the Disability Commission that Scott Morrison is about to announce; they’ve allocated $527 million, Labor has only allocated $26 million. That’s a big difference, will you match the Government?
ALBANESE: Of course we’ll properly fund the Disability Royal Commission. The fact is that we supported and called for the Royal Commission. We await the announcement of this.
JAYES: So that’s a yes?
ALBANESE: The Government has of course been rolling out a range of appointments this week. In my area I’ve got to say, I think it is completely outrageous that the Government appointed Infrastructure Australia board members this week who went on to make partisan political comments. When we talk about lifting things up from the political fray and the ‘argy-bargy’ of day to day politics, that’s one of the things that Infrastructure Australia was created to do.
GILBERT: Anthony Albanese, we will talk to you next week, maybe at the start of the campaign.
ALBANESE: We’ll wait and see, I suspect that they might want to spend more of taxpayers money on advertising in the next week before they call it, but we’ll wait and see.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.