SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

FIONA MCLEOD

LABOR CANDIDATE FOR HIGGINS

TRANSCRIPT

17 April 2019

DOORSTOP – PRAHRAN

TOPICS: 2019 ELECTION, CLIMATE CHANGE, HUAWEI, LABOR’S FUNDING ANNOUNCEMENT FOR COMMUNITY MENTAL HEALTH IN HIGGINS, LIBERALS’ SECRET CUTS TO PAY FOR TAX CUTS FOR TOP END OF TOWN, SUPERANNUATION

E&OE - PROOF ONLY

FIONA MCLEOD, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR HIGGINS: Good morning everyone, I’m absolutely delighted that Senator Penny Wong has joined us here at Star Health this morning in Prahran and thrilled that I’ve been able to deliver for the primary and preventative health services that are provided here at Star Health in an integrated model.

I’ve seen firsthand in my work as President of the Law Council, the impact of delivering integrated primary health services, in that instance with legal services, and I know how important it is that we address these primary and preventative health services in a community model like this. It’s a perfect example of those services being co-located and it’s a fabulous example of what Labor can do for Higgins. This project demonstrates that Labor will deliver on our values – building a fairer society with a focus on health and education, and all those traditional values that Labor stands for.

Can I please introduce to you now, Senator Penny Wong (applause).

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Thanks very much Fiona, it’s fantastic to be here in Melbourne – pretty windy day but it’s still lovely – and to be here with Fiona in the seat of Higgins to make this announcement. We’re also joined by Josh Burns who’s our candidate for Macnamara – a progressive, intelligent contributor. He’d make a fantastic addition to the Labor caucus. I’d also make the point about Fiona, I think her capacity speaks for itself as former President of the Law Council – a wonderful candidate and someone who we would welcome very much into the federal Labor caucus. But more importantly, in respect to both Josh and Fiona, we need these seats to win government and if people care about a whole range of policies, including the sorts of community health support that we’re going to be announcing today, then obviously elect a Labor government and that means electing these two very impressive Victorians standing beside me. Another impressive Victorian standing beside me is Judith Klepner, who’s going to respond after I make the announcement. She knows much more of the detail and will give you a lot more information about the services.

So we’re making an announcement today about this Star Health Mental Health Community Hub. A Shorten Labor Government will provide $4 million towards the expansion of the facilities here and elsewhere to ensure that more services can be provided to people in need. People in need of GP and dental services, people in need of assistance with alcohol and drug issues, people in need of assistance because they’re grappling with family violence. And this is the sort of announcement you can make when you prioritise better health care, better schools and hospitals over bigger tax loopholes. And that is the choice at this election and we’ve been very clear about that. We’ve been very clear as the Labor Party and put forward our policies that, in government, we will prioritise this sort of health facility, our public hospitals, Medicare over bigger tax loopholes; just as we will also focus on action on climate change and I’ll respond to some of that after this. But I thought first it might be good for Judith to explain precisely what this funding will deliver. I understand a contribution will be made as well by Star Health to make sure we can put together the $5 million.

I just want to say one point, I was with Tanya Plibersek a couple of days ago, and here I am today making health announcements. One of the things as a politician that is wonderful to get the opportunity to do, is actually see firsthand and hear firsthand from those who are affected by some of the decisions you get to make. So we have made big policy decisions, we’ve made political decisions about what we prioritise, but the wonderful thing is to know the sort of services for people that can be provided as a consequence of those decisions. It is very moving, we made a cancer announcement in Adelaide a couple of days ago, we’re making this mental health announcement today, Bill will make more announcements in WA. And ultimately, it’s about the election campaign, but it’s actually about the sort of country we want and it’s about the sort of services and support we want for our fellow Australians; and particularly here what Star Hub is dealing with is people who do need our support, who do need our help. It’s the right thing to do and it’s also the sensible thing to do. So I’ll hand over to you [Judith Klepner] (applause).

JUDITH KLEPNER, PRESIDENT, STAR HEALTH SERVICE: Thank you so much. It’s such a wonderful thing to welcome a commitment like this and I’d really like to thank you very much Senator Wong and Fiona…

WONG: You should probably thank her [Fiona McLeod] actually (laughs). She was the persistent one.

KLEPNER: And of course, the services we provide at Star Health are so important in our local community and it’s by providing wraparound health services in the local community that we actually keep people out of acute care; that we can treat people who might have mental health and other alcohol and drug issues and provide them with other wraparound health services, whether it be dental care, podiatry, GP services and all of the rest. And when they come in for one of those services, they actually get joined up with all those other services. Small problems that are linked up can be dealt with before they become big problems. And intervention and assistance with peer support that many of our former clients offer as well is just such a wonderful thing to see.

The mental health focus of this announcement is important because it’s particularly people with mental health issues that experience many of those other health problems. And of course, if you have a mental health problem, you are less likely to see your other health issues addressed. So they are all tied up and the sort of services that are provided in a community health setting such as this one, do keep people out of an acute setting and prevent them from developing problems that become much more intractable, much more expensive to treat and in the end save our health budget many millions of dollars. So it’s a front-end approach, it’s one that community health in Victoria and elsewhere should be, and are rightly, passionate and proud of; and I might say you’ve chosen a very good community health service to support here. Our staff are so passionate about what they do, they’re so invested because the organisation believes in what it does and has a lot of very skilled people working for it who wouldn’t work anywhere else.

So thank you so much and we’re very much looking forward to seeing this commitment delivered on. The commitment will provide for the capacity to add two new floors to expand the services that we offer – the wraparound services of which I speak – to improve the conditions within which people are working in the existing premises and make a big difference to the accessibility for clients and the working circumstances for the people who work here. So, a brilliant decision and we’re looking forward to it being delivered. Thank you so much (applause).

WONG: So I’ll take any questions on this announcement and then if there are media here who want other questions of the day, I’ll take that after – maybe Judith might want to depart so she’s not next to me while we’re batting away those. Anything on the announcement today that anyone would like to ask about? All done? Yes? [Judith departs] Thank you very much for your time.

Before we go to questions of the day, I just want to make two points. First, one of the things we know because the Grattan Institute has released its report demonstrating this, is that to provide the sort of tax cuts that the Coalition is proposing for high-income earners, you are looking at, in the 10 years, around $40 billion a year to be cut from the federal budget in terms of expenditure to fund those tax cuts. So it will cost $40 billion a year for those tax cuts to be funded. Just so you’re clear, and I know people here do care about health and hospitals, and schools, that’s as much as the federal government spends on public schools and public hospitals in a year. It’s five times what we spend on child care. So we are talking massive cuts that the Coalition is refusing to disclose to the Australian people. We know where they’ve already cut money but what they’re proposing is tax cuts, which will require more cuts to schools and hospitals, and I think it’s about time Scott Morrison answered that.

I also want to make a comment about the Greens. I saw the Greens launch, I think today, yesterday – I was the Climate Minister in 2009 and I worked very hard to try and get action on climate change and it was very disappointing to me to recall, that at that time, we got an agreement with Malcolm Turnbull on bipartisanship on climate, which was destroyed because the Greens chose to vote with Tony Abbott, Nick Minchin, Eric Abetz and all of the others who deny that there is such a thing as climate change. And we paid for 10 years, the price for that inaction. I know people in this electorate, in the electorate of Higgins, care about climate change. The Labor Party cares about climate change and we have sought to give effect to effective action on climate change. I want to say to everybody, we don’t get effective action on climate change by holding press conferences, we don’t get effective action on climate change by complaining, we get effective action on climate change by changing the government. And if you want to get action on climate change, change the government and elect the two people next to me. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Just a question for Fiona McLeod on Labor’s super tax policy. In the 2016 election Kelly O’Dwyer had a lot of trouble selling the Coalition’s super changes to her electorate. So do you support Labor’s higher tax then on super?

MCLEOD: So the taxes that are going to be introduced were explained by Bill Shorten yesterday. What Kelly O’Dwyer did back in, I think it was about three years ago now, was introduce a cap on the contributions to superannuation that has compounded the difficulty for people today. So I think she introduced a $1.6 million cap and that was a bone of some contention for some of the people in Higgins.

What the Labor Party is doing is introducing fairness back into the taxation system so that we can actually address questions of cost of living and the hope that the next generation have a chance of having an improved quality of life. We are facing the first generation who will be worse off than the last – that is the first time this will occur – and only Labor’s economic and monetary policies will seek to address that. Thanks.

JOURNALIST: Are you worried about Labor’s super changes having an impact on your election prospects?

MCLEOD: No I’m not. I understand there are concerns from a number of people in the election about that and I’ve been speaking to people about that. If you’re talking about franking credits, what’s happening at the moment is that the government is paying something to people who are not paying tax and it’s unsustainable. So Labor is seeking to restore fairness to the system and to be able to afford the health, hospital, education, university, NDIS and all those other services; including our strong action on climate change. We need to look at the fairness of the taxation system and that’s what Labor is doing. And can I just say, if you target tax cuts at the lower end, you actually generate discretionary spending. People who need services, people who need goods, will go and spend money on those things. If you target tax cuts at the top end – people who are already well off – then they are going to park those cuts in their assets and you don’t generate economic stimulus. Thanks.

WONG: I can’t add to that answer, it was an excellent answer, so I’ll just leave her to it, but I would make the point on tax cuts. The Coalition’s tax policy just demonstrates the point that Fiona is making. They’re asking you to support millionaires getting an $11,000 per year tax cut while someone on $40,000 gets $11 per week. They’re also asking you to support tax cuts – that which they call tax cuts – which will lock in cuts to health and education. Now, I was the Finance Minister for a number of years and I can say to you this – tax concessions cost the budget money and you have to decide whether or not it is a tax concession, a tax loophole; that is it continues to be in the public interest or whether it needs reform. We’ve been up front about this.

JOURNALIST: Senator, I have a foreign affairs question.

WONG: My goodness (laughter). It’ll be the first one of the campaign, mate (laughter). Ah no, second one of the campaign.

JOURNALIST: Khaled Sharrouf’s children have been reunited with their grandmother, but what would you like to see in this situation going forward?

WONG: Can I say first, I would like these children not to be used as a political football and I would really encourage both the media and our political opponents to not do so. The second point I’d make is we are talking about Australian citizens, we are also talking about children who have been pulled into an appalling situation; their parents’ behaviour has been appalling. But I think we all would agree that we don’t visit the wrongdoings of parents, as bad as they are, as appalling as they are, on children. Now obviously we have been provided with some briefing, we certainly will seek more, and going forward the government should take advice about how to deal with this. But the reality is, they are Australian citizens.

JOURNALIST: Just another question on foreign affairs and foreign policy (laughs).

WONG: Wow! See, come to Melbourne.

JOURNALIST: There are reports coming out of China today that Huawei will wrap up their lobbying efforts after the federal election. Is Labor firm in its commitment to ban Huawei from the 5G rollout?

WONG: We have been very clear that we will continue to take the advice of our national security agencies and our intelligence agencies on these and all other matters.

JOURNALIST: So ruling out?

WONG: I’ve answered that question sufficiently. Thank you very much.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.