Subjects: Hung Parliament scenarios; Party priorities; Superannuation; Medicare and bulk billing.
JOURNALIST: Let’s get down to the business of Super Wednesday and we are coming to, I think all three of you would agree, an unprecedented situation in South Australia for a federal election where a lot of Lower House seats may be in play or maybe not, and a number of Senate positions may be in play for the Xenophon Team. Sarah Hanson-Young, is that a fair call?
SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: I think the rest of the country has woken up over the last few weeks as to how important South Australia is in this overall election campaign and yes, the Senate is important but the Lower House is important as well. It’s been a nice change constantly hearing that only political leaders visit the western suburbs of Sydney and Queensland, it’s been nice to see a bit of focus back here at home.
JOURNALIST: Simon Birmingham, is it nice? Or is it fear and loathing in the Liberal Party? You might have a different version of nice.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well I think it will be nice to get past six o’clock on Saturday and I still have confidence that South Australians in the end will make a choice, and a clear choice between Malcolm Turnbull’s Government or Bill Shorten’s Opposition and whilst I know there’s a lot of talk about all of the other options I think South Australians, particularly in the Lower House will make that choice and I hope they make that choice in the Senate as well.
JOURNALIST: What do you fear then the most on Saturday night?
BIRMINGHAM: The instability, chaos, the idea…
JOURNALIST: [Talking over]…Losing.
BIRMINGHAM: [Continuing]…That if we do have a situation where people don’t make that clear choice we end up with another Labor-Greens-Xenophon-independent hung Parliament where Australia’s economic prospects are truly threatened.
JOURNALIST: Mark Butler, federal Labor President, federal Labor Member for Port Adelaide, what do you fear most on Saturday?
BUTLER: Well I think obviously there is concern about the prospect about a hung Parliament across the political spectrum because that can be a recipe for instability and a lack of public confidence in the Parliament but I think what I fear most is a returned or majority Turnbull Government. I mean, what we’ve seen over the course of this campaign is Mister Turnbull continue to cement his intentions around Medicare, his intentions around school funding – there’s a very significant difference around, particularly the two major parties, about what the next few years would hold for Australia depending on the result on Saturday night so that’s what I fear – I fear a situation where people will be required to pay co-payments to go to the doctor, I fear a situation where our schools will not be sufficiently funded over the course of the next years to prepare our young people, our children, our grandchildren for what is a very competitive environment out there.
JOURNALIST: You fear a Coalition Government with an absolute majority more than a hung Parliament either with Labor or with Coalition?
BUTLER: Well I think the prospect of a hung Parliament is slim – the chances of a hung Parliament is slim, the matter is…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…The question is do you think that’d be worse than majority Coalition Government?
BUTLER: There’s so many different permutations about what the hung Parliament could look like and who the crossbench was and quite how chaotic it was. You know, you could spend the next three days contemplating all of the different permutations around that. What we’re focused on is winning majority government and in doing that what we’re focused on debating is the consequences of a majority Turnbull Government being returned.
JOURNALIST: Simon Birmingham if we get down to the economy, is it fair to say that both major parties are asking voters to make a big leap of faith here? We’ve seen Scott Morrison, he’s pulling in an extra $2 billion from welfare overpayments – a very vague area of Budget expertise, you’re accusing the Labor Party of not having enough money and not having done their homework. Is it fair to say that for both major parties the projections are so vague that they’ve almost become meaningless?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: No I don’t think that’s the case at all Matthew. We released a very clear Budget programme, we’ve supplemented that during the election campaign and importantly here in the release of our costings we’ve demonstrated further savings measures that can be made. They’re modest in the scale of Australia’s welfare bill – point three per cent of what Australia spends on welfare but we believe and have done the work to demonstrate, that through improvements in the use of technology, and we can manage to make those savings.
JOURNALIST: In 2015 you pledged you’d get $5.7 billion from welfare fraud and overpayment, so is this in addition to that 5.7 billion?
BIRMINGHAM: Yes, these are new measures and this is a never ending task…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…Did you get your 5.7 billion though?
BIRMINGHAM: Well I believe all the measures related to that have been implemented and in terms of the Budget being delivered, that’s an ongoing delivery of course…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…Do you know how much it raised though?
BIRMINGHAM: [Continuing]…Ensuring compliance with our very generous welfare system is a never ending task and it’s important we are vigilant about it. Now of course we could have, I hear the calls, should we have released these savings measures earlier, should we have released them at the time of the Budget? But if we’d done that, you know what would have happened? Bill Shorten would have spent it! Because that’s what we’ve seen through this campaign that every single savings opportunity that’s there, he’s spent it, he’s latched on to things like our superannuation savings and said, “well we’ll spend that as well. We won’t tell you though whether we’ll actually apply the same policy or not”, creating new areas of chaos and confusion from the Labor Party about how they’re doing their costings. What Australians can be confident of in a Turnbull Government is that if we are re-elected we will keep spending under control, we do go to this election transparently promising to spend less than the Labor Party in a whole range of areas but also to tax less and to have lower debt and deficit.
HANSON-YOUNG: Doesn’t this just come down to, really, the priorities of what the Coalition are putting forward and their whole plan is based on $50 billion worth of tax cuts to businesses and in the last couple of days of the election campaign we now see them beating up on pensioners and the unemployed. I mean, c’mon.
BIRMINGHAM: It’s not beating up to say people should actually work within the rules of our welfare system though Sarah.
HANSON-YOUNG: Sure, but so many people – pensioners, the unemployed, desperately actually continue to say the system isn’t working for them, we actually need to see a system that delivers the help needed to get people into work, to get them the support they need, to get them back on their feet rather than at the end of an election campaign desperately looking around going, “ooh we need some savings, where do we take that from? Oh we’ll take it from the most disadvantaged people”.
BIRMINGHAM: And getting people into work is absolutely central to our message which is exactly why we’ve got to focus on how to grow the economy and create jobs…
HANSON-YOUNG: [Interrupting]…Billions of dollars to the big banks and pensioners will suffer…
BIRMINGHAM: [Continuing]…And get spending under control and we actually need to make Australia a more competitive place to invest.
JOURNALIST: Mark Butler, after campaigning for weeks and months on certain issues such as child care and then reversing the decision such as on superannuation and then saying “well, by the way we’ll take all the savings that the Government is promising on super but we won’t tell you how – what measures we’re actually going to take”, it is a bit rich, isn’t it? Right in the last few days of the campaign to say, “actually, all of that stuff, well we’re just going to pocket the savings and we’ll sort it out after polling day”?
BUTLER: Well, our super policy’s been out there since April last year and in spite of the hyperbole, particularly from Scott Morrison, that this was an attack on, you know, this was class warfare and this was some sort of unprecedented attack that they would never be a part of, what we’ve seen with the Coalition’s super policy is effectively them adopting our policy around the tax on contributions for people on very high incomes and the tax on earnings for people with nest eggs of one and half or $1.6 million and above. Where there is a difference is the cap that Scott Morrison has said they would introduce on non-concessional contributions to super – a cap of $500,000 that was made retrospective to 2007, that’s a relatively small part of the overall superannuation policy. On the big areas – the tax on contributions, the tax on earnings in retirement phase – there’s largely crossover now between the major parties. The Liberal Party has largely adopted the Labor Party’s position. But what we’ve now said…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…But you’re funding announced during the week takes in money that the Liberal Party’s policy is going to be raising for measures that you haven’t got in your [indistinct]…is that fair?
BUTLER: [Continuing]…dumped out by the Government with no consultation with the industry, no consultation with retiree groups and what we would do if elected on Saturday is to sit down with them, say that we agree with the overall envelope of savings that the Government has identified but we want to talk through, particularly I think Chris Bowen [indistinct]…
JOURNALIST: [Talking over]…But don’t you need to tell people…
BUTLER: [Continuing]…this retrospective non-concessional contributions tax.
BIRMINGHAM: So Labor wants to raise the same amount of revenue but won’t have the guts to tell the Australian people how you’d do it?
BIRMINGHAM: [Continuing]…That’s the truth of it…
BUTLER: [Continuing]…sit down the industry and with these groups and actually talk through different [indistinct]…
BIRMINGHAM: [Interrupting]…So you’re going to the election on Saturday saying we have the same revenue ambition but we’ve got no idea how we’re actually going to meet it. Anybody with superannuation is left in doubt as to what you’ll actually do under your policy. We’ve rolled ours out, not everybody likes it but we’ve spelt it out.
JOURNALIST: I know Sarah Hanson-Young’s probably quite happy not to be asked about super but [laughing]…
HANSON-YOUNG: I’ve boned up.
JOURNALIST: Right, she’s been boned up. Simon Birmingham, the Treasurer’s already started to modify your position on super, particularly that so-called retrospective measure, has he not?
JOURNALIST: Noel Whittaker in The Age on the weekend said that, “A situation where the proposal was undoubtedly retrospective is where the trustee of a self-managed superannuation fund had entered into a contract for the purchase of an asset using a limited recourse borrowing arrangement prior to budget night,” – I know this is technical – “with the settlement of the contract due after budget night”. Now people who have self-managed super funds will know what this is about. He says, “I am pleased to advise that the Treasurer has announced that transitional provisions will apply to allow further non-concessional contributions to be made in such situations…to enable the contract to be completed, taking into account existing financial arrangements”. Now that’s new, isn’t it? And that is a change from your policy.
BIRMINGHAM: Well Matthew I think that is truly in the technical detail of how…
JOURNALIST: [Talking over]…Not if you’ve got a self-managed super fund it’s not…
BIRMINGHAM: [Continuing]…no, no. Every bit of tax law has technical detail attached to it. All of that technical detail is absolutely unpacked following Budget announcements and that is a perfectly normal course of events that you’d expect to see. It’s nothing like saying…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…Right. He’s also said he’ll consult after the election with the industry, according to Noel Whittaker.
BIRMINGHAM: Sure. About the implementation of our policies and our policies are clear. Not this is – this is vastly different from saying, “we want to raise $6 billion of revenue but for large parts of that we’re not going to tell people how we actually raise it” which is Labor’s position now.
JOURNALIST: Okay. Mark Butler, Labor’s run a scare campaign on Medicare – it’s the central part of your campaign after about the third or fourth week, how do you privatise Medicare?
BUTLER: Well I think that question should be put to Malcolm Turnbull…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]….No, no, no, no – the question’s for you because you say they’re going to privatise it. Can you explain how do you privatise Medicare?
BUTLER: I think there are two things people are concerned about. One is, future policy decisions that this government might make about privatising the payment system and all of the data or the very rich data that people essentially give to the Medicare system to a private, potentially overseas company and they’re concerned about that because the Government set up a privatisation taskforce to look at that option. The other thing people are concerned about is effectively the privatisation of payments to people who would have to pay co-payments because of the Government’s decision to freeze the Medicare rebate to doctors. Now, there’s only one consequence – when the Commonwealth freezes the payments it makes to doctors to see patients, the only consequence is that private patients are going to have to pay…
JOURNALIST: [Talking over]…That’s not privatisation!
BUTLER: It is! Course – you might not agree with that. I can tell you, time and time again every conversation I’m having around Medicare, people are concerned about having to put their hands in their pocket to pay for going to the doctor.
JOURNALIST: [Talking over]…But every government Labor and Coalition will, over the course of their term, adjust the co-payment, the gap. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less, it fluctuates. That’s not privatisation.
BUTLER: No this Government has frozen the Medicare rebate for years into the future…
BIRMINGHAM: [Interrupting]…And the impact being that bulk billing rates have gone up Mark. Bulk billing rates have gone up under our Government.
BUTLER: Go and ask the College of General Practitioners or the AMA…
BIRMINGHAM: [Interrupting]…I’ll go and ask the doctors if they’d like more money, they’d say yes. Surprise, surprise!
BUTLER: Does anyone seriously think if you freeze the income of doctors running their surgeries, for years, that they’re not going to have to recoup that income from [indistinct]…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…Well hang on a second, can we have Sarah Hanson-Young? Sarah Hanson-Young, is this a bit of a – almost a esoteric argument for the Greens? Medicare.
HANSON-YOUNG: Look, I think the key issue here is the Rebate and the freeze on the Rebate. We do think, at the end of the day, when you go to the doctor and you’re having to put your hand in your pocket and pay more, that is a problem for people and they’re struggling with it. The overall, kind of, scare campaign around whether that looks like privatisation or not, I mean, that’s Labor’s bag and that’s what they’ve been campaigning on. What I’m interested in is how we make sure that people who need to get to the doctor, can get to it and pay for it. And that, ultimately, is the issue of the freeze of the Rebate. The other thing though we need to be looking at is how do we expand Medicare? How do we add in things like Denti-Care? We know that has a flow-on effect to people’s overall health, we know that the AMA has been calling for…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…That was the old Medicare Gold wasn’t it though?
HANSON-YOUNG: Well I’m not sure about the details of Medicare Gold but the whole idea around ensuring that children can access proper Denti-Care, that people throughout their life have access to pay for good dental health, how it impacts on the rest of their health. This is about being preventative. You want to stop chronic health issues, you’ve got to ensure that people can access the doctor properly.
JOURNALIST: This is Super Wednesday on ABC 891 Adelaide Breakfast with Matthew Abraham, David Bevan and in here Sarah Hanson-Young, she’s lead candidate for the Senate, she’s a Senator, Sarah Hanson-Young for the Greens. Senator Simon Birmingham, frontbencher, Education Minister in the caretaker government. Mark Butler’s the federal Member for Port Adelaide, National President of the ALP. Sarah Hanson-Young, who would you most like to work with? A Coalition Government or a Labor Government?
HANSON-YOUNG: Well we’ve been quite clear about this – I’d just like to say there was a lot of talk of fear in this session. Simon Birmingham’s fearful of what would happen, Mark Butler you fear this, you fear that.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: [Interrupting]…That’s what we were asked!
[All talking over one another]
HANSON-YOUNG: There was a lot of talk of fear and I guess my hope, actually, is that there is going to be a return of a strong Senate that will stand up to whoever is in government. To get to your question, who do you work with, who would you prefer? I want to see a Senate that is diverse enough to stand up to whoever’s in government. In the Lower House, the Greens have been quite clear that we don’t believe the Turnbull Government deserves another term.
JOURNALIST: So you would prefer to work with a Labor Government. Simon Birmingham?
HANSON-YOUNG: [Interrupting]…But we would actually like to make sure the people have a diversity in the Parliament.
JOURNALIST: Ah yeah. Well I think Nick Xenophon’s doing his best there, isn’t he? Is that your great fear?
HANSON-YOUNG: No! I think the more diversity, the better, I really do.
JOURNALIST: So you’d like to see more of the Xenophon candidates?
HANSON-YOUNG: I’d like to see more diversity – whether that’s more Xenophon candidates, I obviously want to see the Greens there…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…More Bob Days?
HANSON-YOUNG: Well I must say, on Bob Day today, those allegations around the group handing out nasty letter box drops about people who are gay being evil and telling people to vote for Bob Day, I’d say he needs to come out and condemn that very strongly.
JOURNALIST: Simon Birmingham, who would you rather work with? Xenophon candidates or Greens?
BIRMINGHAM: Well I’d much rather work with my Liberal and National party colleagues for strong and stable government but look, David, we have put the Greens last across the country in terms of our How to Vote arrangements because we think that the Greens are dragging the Labor Party further to the left. That’s part of the reason why we see a Labor Party promising so much more spending, and so divided on issues of border protection. So, in the end, we of course want to see as many in the Senate – Liberal and National Party Senators as possible – but…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…But you’d rather work with Nick Xenophon candidates in the Lower House to form government?
BIRMINGHAM: In the Lower House we are crystal clear – we want a majority, strong, stable Turnbull Government. In the Senate…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…Okay so if you don’t get a majority, you’re out? If you don’t get a majority of seats in the Lower House, forget it, Labor Party you go ahead, you work it out – you tick tack with Xenophon, you work with the Greens, you’re out of it.
BIRMINGHAM: Well Matthew, we sincerely hope that doesn’t happen…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…No, no I know that. But are you saying you won’t do a deal either Xenophon or the Greens now?
HANSON-YOUNG: [Interrupting]…I think [indistinct] arrogance.
BIRMINGHAM: I think the Greens are saying they won’t do a deal with us and I think the feeling is fairly mutual in that sense.
JOURNALIST: What about the Xenophon Team?
BIRMINGHAM: Well, the Xenophon Team won’t say who’d they’d deal with. This is part of the problem…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…No but I’m asking you.
BIRMINGHAM: They won’t give any clarity about who they’d back into government.
JOURNALIST: Well you’re leaving the gate open there. Mark Butler, who would you rather deal with?
BUTLER: We’ve said we won’t ‘deal’, in that sense, we won’t do an agreement or a coalition arrangement of the sort the Liberal Party does with the National Party in the Lower House. What we will do is present the platform that we’ve taken to the election and if, you know I’m obviously with Simon, we’re gunning for majority government here. But if we ended up with 73 seats each, then it would be a question for those crossbenchers to decide which party to give confidence to and that would be an assessment they’d have to take.
HANSON-YOUNG: The whole winner takes all attitude is…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…The only person answering the question is Sarah Hanson-Young and she’d clearly rather deal with Labor than with the Coalition. So Mark Butler, can we have another go at this, who would you prefer to deal with? Would it be a Xenophon or a Green?
BUTLER: You can have as many goes as you like David, we’ve made this very clear during this campaign that if there is a minority position in the Parliament that is elected on Saturday night, we will present the platform that we took to the election to the House of Representatives with our say, hypothetically, 72 or 73 seats and it will be a matter for the crossbench to decide which party they give confidence to.
JOURNALIST: I bet Bill Shorten will be buying a ham and pineapple pizza for Nick Xenophon, preferences all round.
BUTLER: You’ll hear Bill Shorten say exactly what I’ve said.
HANSON-YOUNG: I think the crossbench, obviously whether it’s in the House or in the Senate, it’s going to be diverse, it’s not going to be all Xenophon or all other independents or all the Greens – it’s going to be a collection of us. I guess the message I’d be putting out to South Australian voters today, just a few days out from polling day, it’s really essential that if you care about things like climate change, if you care about things like a better way to treat people coming to our country asking for our help as asylum seekers, you need a progressive voice in there as well.
JOURNALIST: Sarah Hanson-Young, thank you. Senator Simon Birmingham from Liberal Party, thank you.
BIRMINGHAM: We’ll see you on the other side.
JOURNALIST: The dark side of the moon. And Labor MP Mark Butler, thank you.[ends]