DAVID LIPSON: Welcome back and welcome, also, to Labor MP Rob Mitchell and Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham. Thanks for your time today, gentlemen.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good afternoon, David.
ROB MITCHELL: Good afternoon, David.
DAVID LIPSON: First to you, Senator. I want to ask you about this dental scheme – $4.1 billion put forward by the Federal Government. Is that something the Opposition would support?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, David, we’ll always welcome sensible investment in healthcare and sensible investment in improving dental services, especially for young Australians, but, as always with this Government, the devil will be in the detail and we will want to see whether it is all it is stacked up to be – whether, in fact, it is new money; how much of it is new money; if it’s not, where it’s been taken from and who will be missing out as a result of that. Really, there’s been a bit of a track record in the Government of not being able to trust them when it comes to some of these announcements. There have often been devil buried in the detail of many of these healthcare announcements so we’ll work through it but, superficially, in terms of better dental services, greater investment in dental services for young Australians, of course that’s something that would be welcomed.
DAVID LIPSON: Well, the Government’s also scrapping the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. The Health Minister was pretty scathing of this scheme this morning. Here’s what she said:
TANYA PLIBERSEK: It’s been one of the most widely misused schemes ever designed in our public health system … there have been dentists charging millions of dollars, in some cases doing work that is completely unnecessary and, in some cases, charging for work that hasn’t even been done. It is an extremely poorly designed scheme and I am very pleased to be seeing the back of it.
DAVID LIPSON: Conveniently for the Government, this is a scheme that was put into place by Tony Abbott when he was the Health Minister. Here’s what the Shadow Treasurer had to say about this scheme a little earlier today:
JOE HOCKEY: The Commonwealth had a very good dental scheme, which we set up, which was working and if it was being rorted it was being rorted on Labor’s watch so, again, this is typical of this Government. They need to announce big, heroic reforms but they’re not telling anyone how they’re going to pay for it.
DAVID LIPSON: Rob Mitchell, if it was being rorted, why did it take the Government five years to scrap this scheme?
ROB MITCHELL: Well, I find that answer from Joe Hockey absolutely bewildering. This scheme was brought in place by Tony Abbott when he was Health Minister and it was failing from day one and we’ve been working through that, through Minister Kim Carr, to try and get that corrected but it was being failed when Tony Abbott promised that would cost $90 million per annum and it was costing 80 million per month. This was just an absolute black hole of funding but, when we talk about dental care for kids and dental care for low income earners, it’s only Labor that’s put these policies and programs in place. We had dental care for low income earners and Health Care Card holders but that was removed very quickly by Peter Costello when he was Treasurer which then left a black hole in dental care for people. What dental care does is, if we get in early and help the kids get the proper dental care upfront, we alleviate a lot of long term illnesses associated with poor oral health and I know, myself, that in areas across McEwen there’s been up to 48 months’ waiting lists for public dental. That hasn’t been addressed and now what the Government’s doing is addressing that now, seeing the problem and we’re alleviating that problem step by step and it also means that our elderly and frail will not have a lot of the issues associated with mouth ulcers which then stop them from eating properly and I’ve seen this when I’ve been doing Meals on Wheels throughout the community.
DAVID LIPSON: Sure but, just back to the question I asked on the Chronic Disease scheme that the Government is scrapping from November, you said that there were problems since day one. Day one was five years ago. Why take so long to deal with it?
ROB MITCHELL: Well, we’ve had to go through a whole range of investigation on through this and it hasn’t been a very simple scheme. It’s not like putting in a piece of paperwork and getting money back. There was actually a lot of issues related to people over-claiming, under-claiming, delays in paperwork. I know, myself – I’ve seen, through dental experts – the issues that they’ve had with this program and that’s why it’s been supported by the Australian Dental Association to support what the Government’s doing to actually end this now and get a better scheme in place that’s going to deliver better health outcomes for Australians.
DAVID LIPSON: Simon Birmingham, do you think this program should be scrapped and are the problems as bad as the Health Minister says?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, David, I think it is a very valid point that you’ve tried to push Rob on – that, if there was rorting, if there were problems, why haven’t they been fixed over the five years of Labor rule but, in terms of the scheme itself, I think we need to look at what it was trying to tackle and what it was trying to tackle was the integration of dental problems into chronic health problems and you talk to any medical practitioner, anyone in the health sector, and they recognise that we need to deal in a more holistic and a more integrated way with some of these healthcare problems and issues and I think the Government needs to be very careful that it isn’t cutting off a valuable area of work, in terms of its programs, where we can get better healthcare outcomes by ensuring that the relationship between dental problems and other health problems isn’t ignored, which can ultimately balloon into a far greater problem if not treated and cared for in a timely manner and an appropriate manner.
DAVID LIPSON: Well, the other thing that’s delivering a little less certainty for the budget in the future for the Federal Government is yesterday’s scrapping of the carbon floor price. This was pretty unpopular with business and today business has welcomed the move. Largely, now, they want to see the carbon tax itself actually scrapped but Tony Abbott was asking some big questions about the scrapping of this scheme today. He said it does deliver more uncertainty for the Government. Here’s some of what he said:
TONY ABBOTT: This is a Government which is in a desperate hole. If the European price goes up, well, our economy is devastated. If the European price goes down, our budget is devastated…
DAVID LIPSON: Simon Birmingham, linking to Europe, of course, in 2015 is something that businesses have welcomed. A floating price, a market mechanism – that would normally be something that the Liberals would support, wouldn’t it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, David, this is an artificial market so let’s not get too carried away with it. It’s an artificial market created for the purpose of trading in these carbon permits. What we’re going to see is, of course, great uncertainty as a result of this change. If the price goes up in Europe, and the Greens have forecast it could be $50 per tonne by 2015 – that’s nearly twice what the Government has forecast to date. If that’s the case, it will have devastating consequences to electricity prices in Australia, to the cost of living and to businesses in Australia. If the price crashes or stays where it currently is, which is just a fraction of what Australian industry is paying today, well, then, of course, it has serious budget ramifications, so the Government is taking an enormous punt with Australia’s future, and with the future of the budget, as a result of this and let’s not forget it’s just less than two months since the carbon tax came into operation and we are seeing sweeping changes and Australians will rightly wonder just how much thought and consideration really went into the structure of this carbon tax if it needs such significant change less than two months into its operation.
DAVID LIPSON: What if the carbon price, though, Senator, ends up somewhere in the middle, as the Treasury forecast – somewhere around $29 a tonne? That would be right in the middle of what you say will cause problems for the Government or for families at home.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: And, if that’s the case, then Australia, along with Europe, still has some of the highest carbon prices in the world. Australia’s system is harsher than Europe’s, in terms of its breadth and its scope and its application across industry and the treatment around free permits and so on but the key point to remember is that Australia’s economy is far, far more reliant on agricultural exports, on mineral resource exports, on things that are not really what the European economy is reliant on. Our competitors are countries in North America, in South America, in Africa, in our region. It’s not the Europeans who we’re competing with for key export dollars and it’s against those other countries that the carbon tax is really making Australia far less competitive in the long run and hurting Australia’s industries’ prospects of growing and creating jobs.
DAVID LIPSON: Okay, well, we saw some pretty ugly scenes in Melbourne yesterday with police and union protesters clashing right in the heart of the CBD. A few horses were sort of slapped around, roads closed down and the like. Rob Mitchell, the Opposition claims that it is related to the abolition of the ABCC – the [Australian] Building and Construction Commission…
DAVID LIPSON: Simon Birmingham.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It’s very clear, under Labor’s watch, union thuggery is back and that is what we’re seeing here – that people are not able to safely access their workplace without police intervention. Now, this is just an outrage and the Government should be looking very closely at all of the changes they’ve made and particularly the abolition of the ABCC to ensure that they actually get us back in a position where people can safely go to work, where builders can get on with the job of actually building projects in this country rather than seeing what will become a slow but escalating burn of hurt across the Australian economy if we see these types of actions of union militancy just get further and further out of hand.
ROB MITCHELL: So, what differences have been changed?
DAVID LIPSON: Rob Mitchell, what is to blame for this? What’s changed, if it’s not the abolition of the ABCC, what’s causing what seems to be an upswing in these protests?
ROB MITCHELL: Well, it’s a workplace dispute and I’d ask Simon: tell me, what are the differences between the ABCC and the Fair Work [Fair Work (Building Industry) Act 2012] Building Code? What are the differences? Because you can’t answer that, because there is none.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, if there’s no difference, Rob, why did you need to abolish it?
ROB MITCHELL: Well, what we did…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: If it was working so well and you haven’t changed anything, why did you need to abolish it?
ROB MITCHELL: What we did was bring in line with the rest…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Quite clearly things aren’t working as they were because we have riots on workplaces. You’ve got a real problem here.
ROB MITCHELL: Now, now, just take a breath, Simon, and I’ll explain it to you very clearly and simply.
DAVID LIPSON: Well, it’s got to be very quick, Rob.
ROB MITCHELL: What we did was bring it back to the same level of penalty…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think the footage speaks for itself.
ROB MITCHELL: … the same level of penalties as what every other industry has. We didn’t single out a building industry or any other industry to make a specific target. We put them all at the same level. That’s the difference.
DAVID LIPSON: Okay, I’m sorry to cut in there. Rob Mitchell, Simon Birmingham, thanks very much for your time today and your insight on some of the political issues of the day.