Subject: (Bali 9 Executions; May Budget; Marriage Equality)
DAVID LIPSON: I’m joined now by Liberal frontbencher, Senator Simon Birmingham, and Labor frontbencher, Bernie Ripoll, thankyou both very much for your time. Things don’t look good, Senator Birmingham, for the Bali 9 duo and this as well amid allegations of serious corruption involving the Indonesian legal system.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: David, we are dismayed and disappointed by the situation that this duo is facing in Bali at present. We are very disappointed that Indonesian authorities have not heeded the calls to provide some relief to them to date, that they have not responded to the calls for clemency to date. The government has of course left no stone unturned in the fight for clemency for this pair of Australians and we will continue to do absolutely everything that is possible until all hope is lost, which we hope does not occur this week but of course is looking very, very dire. The foreign Minister and the Prime Minister have made additional pleas over the weekend, direct to Indonesia’s President, to Indonesia’s Foreign Minister. Our diplomatic representatives in Bali and in Jakarta are doing all they possibly can to assist the families and to provide pressure on to the Indonesian government. Ultimately, we certainly believe, and the Foreign Minister has made it clear in her representations, that no execution should be taking place until all legal avenues have been exhausted and we would appeal once again to the Indonesians to grant at least a stay of execution until those legal proceedings are completed, but ultimately, we appeal to President Widodo to look in to his heart, to think about the wrongs of what is happening here and to grant permanent stay of execution and clemency to those two Australians.
DAVID LIPSON: Bernie Ripoll, if these executions do go ahead this week, how should Australia react?
BERNIE RIPOLL: Well I think firstly David, it is a tragic set of circumstances and everyone must be feeling terrible about what may be taking place very, very shortly. I think, like the government, all of us should be working very hard right to the last moment to make sure that we can find a way to grant these two young men life, to make sure that they’re not executed. I think…look between all countries, there are different views about capital punishment. Certainly, from an Australian perspective, I think it’s wrong and I think most Australians, if not all Australians, think it’s wrong and that we should be continuing to do all the work that we can to make sure that it doesn’t go ahead. Obviously, if it does happen, we’ll continue to work with Indonesia, we’ll continue to work with the authorities to see what we can do to help the families, to help people in these circumstances. Certainly, I think it’s wrong, I think capital punishment does not solve the problem and it certainly isn’t the answer to the problem in the first place. We understand these men have made some very, very bad mistakes but the price of those mistakes should not be their lives.
DIVID LIPSON: Turning now to the budget, and the governments looks set to end some of the discounts that people get for headache pills, like Panadol, in the upcoming budget; still with me, Simon Birmingham and Bernie Ripoll. Simon Birmingham, will the government…how much will the government save here? And is it, I suppose a question of rorting going on and if so, by whom?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well David, what we are very determined to do in addressing, of course, the big picture of the budget, is to put the whole budget settings on a more sustainable footing and then in particular, in relation to health care, around the pharmaceutical scheme that is so important to the support we provide to thousands of Australians every year, to make sure that it’s continued growth, and we are of course always talking about continued growth, in the cost and support around pharmaceuticals is equally on a sustainable footing and in negotiating the community pharmaceutical agreement this year, we have, for the first time, opened up negotiations to involve all stakeholders and players, so that consumers have a seat at the table as well. Susan Ley is working very hard to achieve an outcome that ensures consumers get a good deal and a fair deal and we are trying to put downward pressure on pharmaceutical prices wherever we possibly can and that’s important for those making the payments, as it is for the taxpayer of course, who subsidises billions of dollars in pharmaceutical payments every single year. Negotiations are ongoing and we are not going to play them out in public, but we are hopeful of being able to make good progress in getting a deal that ensures the continued support for pharmaceuticals for Australians who need them is strong and viable but also sustainable in to the future.
DAVID LIPSON: Bernie Ripoll, It looks like Labor will support the government in this…in these measures. It would affect a whole lot of people though, so many people take headache pills, why target such a big area where so many people will be impacted?
BERNIE RIPOLL: Well that’s a question that needs to be asked of the government and let’s see what happens when we actually get to see the budget, but what the government has promised and the big picture that Simon’s talking about, is that there is $57 billion worth of cuts over the next ten years to health. We’ve seen hundreds of millions of dollars cut from state budgets from health and for hospitals and we’re now being told by the government, who are saying they are going to cut a further $1.3 billion out of pharmaceutical benefits scheme and the impact that this will have will be on the elderly, it will be on families and it’s another cost of living pressure that this government is imposing on families. So, when I hear the government talking about cost of living and about families, I just keep thinking like they must be thinking, that here’s another cut, here’s another cost of living pressure, you know another $1.3 billion worth of impost directly on family budgets. These aren’t so much, savings for government; these are new taxes for ordinary people and for families. We saw the government’s credentials on this, their colours are flying high and proud, it’s a GP tax, it’s $57 billion worth of cuts over the next 10 years. This is a massive, massive hit in an area that Tony Abbott promised, solemnly promised, he would not cut health spending. I can’t see how the government or Tony Abbott can explain this when you’re talking about so much cuts in an area they said they wouldn’t touch at all. So this bewilders me, but we’ll see what comes out of the budget and we’ll see what the government actually wants to do in terms of hitting the hip pockets of ordinary Australians.
DAVID LIPSON: Senator Birmingham, a bit to respond to there but, in particular, the cost of living element of this, it will impact on family budgets.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well David, I think the first thing to appreciate here is that there are a couple of things you can do in reforming the way the pharmaceutical scheme works that aren’t necessarily hitting the family budget and can improve a better bottom line result for the taxpayer. One is in driving the shift to generic medicines where they are available, so that you are pushing away from the very highly priced medicines to generic medicines that can do the same job at a much, much cheaper price for consumers and for the taxpayer. The other thing you can do is make sure that you create more competition in relation to the pharmaceutical scheme and that’s what we are seeing in some of the mooted reforms that are being played out, giving some greater price flexibility for pharmacists to be able to discount for pensioners and other concession card holders, some of those rates that are charged so that you’re putting some downward pressure on prices at that point. Overall, it’s important to realise that spending on health, as on education, continues to go up under this government. All we’re trying to do in the budget settings is put that growth rate, in terms of the spending, on a more sustainable trajectory. The Labor party had spending growth completely out of control and hence of course the level of deficit and debt were completely out of control. We’re are trying to stem that rate of growth so that it is closer to CPI type levels, so that it is something the country can afford in to the future because if consumers aren’t paying for medicines or other services upfront, they’re paying for them through greater taxes and greater debt on the other side of the ledger if government is having to subsidise or pay for them more. So trying to get the settings right, so we put those downward pressures on prices, drive the shift to generics wherever possible is all about sustainable setting for lower prices for consumers and the least possible cost for taxpayers in to the future.
DAVID LIPSON: So Bernie Ripoll, what would Labor do in order to find savings in the health system and to, as Senator Birmingham says, make the system more sustainable?
BERNIE RIPOLL: Well that’s a lot of what Simon has just said early on, is exactly what Labor was doing. Increasing competition, making sure there are more generic brand pharmaceuticals available, putting downward pressure and that was taking place and if the government is continuing Labor’s programme in that area, well I welcome it of course because that is the right settings. The fact is though that public health spending is sustainable, is on track and in fact the government’s own modelling has shown that what the government is spending today in terms of GDP percentage. So what they’re spending today on health is the lowest it has been in 30 years, that’s the fact, lowest it has been in 30 years, it is sustainable in to the future. We can always do more and we should, but we shouldn’t mix that argument up with what the government is actually doing which is $57 billion worth of cuts over the next ten years. That will have a direct impact on the quality of health care; it will have a direct impact on family budgets and cost of living pressures. It also means that for some families and for some of the elderly, there will be less choice. Cutting hundreds of millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars, from state public hospital budgets means the states have to find the money elsewhere and so they’ll be looking at other ways to collect those types of taxes from families. So whether it is collected from the federal government or from the state, the overall impact of the cuts from Tony Abbott means that cost of living pressures go up for families and it costs them more. Simon Birmingham can well say “but we’re spending more today” the reality is you can’t argue away the fact that you can’t be spending more and saving more at the same time. The fact is they are cutting health budgets and they promised they would not.
DAVID LIPSON: Bernie Ripoll, I want to get your thoughts on another matter and that the matter of same sex marriage. Tanya Plibersek pushing to lock in the Labor party to voting in favour of same sex marriage, where currently it’s a conscience vote arrangement. What do you think the national conference should do? Should it be a conscience vote or should this be a lock in vote for Labor?
BERNIE RIPOLL: Well I’ll let the national conference decide for its self what is wants to do as an authoritative body but, I can tell you what I want to do…well my view is quite simply that it should be a free vote, it should be a conscience vote for all of the Parliament. Certainly, it has been in the past for Labor MPs and it should continue to be the same, but Tony Abbott and the Liberal party should also have a free vote, I think the Liberal party ought to have a free vote and look, last time it came before the Parliament I thought the community wasn’t ready and I voted not to change the current circumstances. I have changed my mind, I think the facts are in front of us and I think we should allow same sex couples to marry, I think that is the right thing to do and I think Australia is ready for that and I think the Parliament is ready and I think…
DAVID LIPSON: …do you think the push from Tanya Plibersek could actually damage the campaign? Because it is somewhat hypocritical to be calling on the coalition to allow a conscience vote, when a conscience vote wouldn’t be allowed under these changes proposed by Tanya Plibersek.
BERNIE RIPOLL: Look, I don’t think any of those things, I think what Labor will do is what it has always done on these matters and I think people will vote with their conscience on matters they feel are critically important to them, and I think there is now a building a natural majority in the Parliament and I think if we were to have this vote, the Parliament would support it. I think the critical point here is even last time; potentially the vote would have got up had there been a free vote, a conscience vote on the Liberal party side. If that were to be the case, then I think we’ve got a serious possibility that the law will change, and it should change…
DAVID LIPSON: …Simon Birmingham, do you think the Liberal party should allow a conscience vote on this matter which has not been allowed so far? Tony Abbott said he’d discuss it in the party room after the election; we’re 18 months in now…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: David, my position on this has long been on the public record in support of a shift to a conscience vote, a change, and I think many Australians have been undertaking the same journey that Bernie obviously has in terms of changing their position and recognising that this is an acceptable reform that recognises the equality in relationships around Australia but, it is concerning to me to see the Labor party divided in the way they’re having this debate around forcing a position on this issue. I think we need to respect the views of all sides of this debate, recognise that people come with deeply held views, often informed by their religious or moral or ethical influences in their lives and we should respect those differences of opinions and recognise that across the Parliament, across parties, those differences exist, and I would urge the Labor party in that sense to be very mindful of not turning its back on those who hold a deeply held view, just as I would urge on my own side, people to respect the differences of opinion that exist.
DAVID LIPSON: Simon Birmingham, Bernie Ripoll, thanks very much for your time this morning.