5 March 2015
Transcript - #2015005, 2015

In the role of: Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer [23 December 2014 - 20 September 2015]

Interview with Rafael Epstein and Anna Burke, Fight Club, ABC 774, Melbourne

SUBJECTS: Bali Nine; Australian deployment of troops in Iraq; Co-Payment; Polls

EPSTEIN:

One day Brad Pitt will join us for this segment but he's busy today. Not busy though and willing to give up their time is Anna Burke former speaker, the ALP Member for the seat of Chisolm in Melbourne. Anna Burke Welcome.

BURKE:

It's very nice to be here… [inaudible]

EPSTEIN:

No indeed. Anna Burke I just want to make sure you are in front of a microphone that you can see a red light on. I actually can't quite hear you but I'll welcome Kelly O'Dwyer as well. She is the Liberal member for Higgins, the seat that was of course once occupied by Peter Costello the former Treasurer. Kelly O'Dwyer is the Parliamentary Secretary to the current Treasurer, Joe Hockey. Kelly welcome.

O'DWYER:

Thanks very much Raf. Great to be with you.

EPSTEIN:

Kelly I'll start with you, and I'm hoping that Anna Burke's got her own microphone switched on, but I'll start with you. Do you think there's actually anything the Australian Government can do at this stage once the two men have been transferred to that island in Indonesia?

O'DWYER:

Well we certainly haven't given up hope. The Australian Government has been waging diplomatic efforts – at all levels of Government - to the Indonesia Government, from the Prime Minister down. Our Foreign Minister of course has been doing an extraordinary job putting the case as to why it is that clemency should be provided to both Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. We know that these men committed a terrible crime, we know that they should pay for that crime, but we don't believe in the death penalty – which is why we are putting significant resources into pleading for clemency. Both of them have demonstrated after 10 years in prison in Indonesia that they are reformed characters and while they need to pay the price for their crimes, we don't think it should be the ultimate price.

EPSTEIN:

Anna Burke, I just wonder if, I'm sure you're aware that the more Australia speaks out about it and I'm not suggesting we shouldn't, but the more we speak out about it, perhaps that means the more entrenched becomes the death penalty in Indonesia. It's sort of a horrible situation for everyone.

BURKE:

Well it's a terrible situation and tragically there is politics in Indonesia that is being played out in this. But I think the more we speak out about it – about opposition to the death penalty overall, Australia as a nation we see people in Indonesia now starting to take up that call as well, and if we don't speak out what happens – as Ghandi says, an eye for an eye only makes all of us blind. And what are we going to do be blind to this situation? So it is difficult because we are dealing with two young men's lives. But, the overall principle, and I shudder at the thought of what's going through those young men and their families as we sit here, and having spoken to Kim Nguyen, just yesterday, who's been through this in a horrifying manner, this is something that is just unfathomable but unless we speak to it, we will never see the end of this barbaric practice that does not reduce crime.

EPSTEIN:

I'd like to ask, and I'll start with you Anna Burke, but to both of you, does the AFP need to say anything at this stage? Those men wouldn't be in this situation if they hadn't done what they'd done. Anna Burke, do they need to say anything publically?

BURKE:

I think it's a difficult situation and I suppose we do need, as the Australian public, to understand after when this thing is resolved, why they didn't let them get on the plane and get off in Australia. I think we do need an answer to that.

EPSTEIN:

Does answer mean inquiry of some sort?

BURKE:

Oh look, I always shudder at the word inquiry, cost and where it leads and what it does. But I think we need answers, how we get those answers I thinks important. Because I think the Australian public is saying that a father, of one of the nine, went to the police with good intentions of stoping this crime and yeah the crime stopped, but in Indonesia. The crime was going to be perpetrated in Australia. I think a lot of people are scratching their heads about why they didn't let them get on a plane and picking them up when they got here.

EPSTEIN:

Kelly do you agree?

O'DWYER:

I think it's very reasonable to ask those questions and I think it's very reasonable to get some answers. Just as I think it's very reasonable when you have any law enforcement action, particularly one that has received a level of controversy, to review it and to do that in a fairly public and transparent way. I don't have any problem with transparency, and I don't see why anybody else would.

EPSTEIN:

Ok, let's move on to the almost certain deployment of, perhaps 300 Australian soldiers, who will be training the Iraqi army possibly by April or May this year. I know it's supported by both sides of politics, so to throw another voice into the mix – Andrew Wilke the Independent from Tasmania, former Intelligence Officer, long known for his opposition to military involvement in Iraq. He told Radio National this morning that he thinks the deployment will actually increase the risk of a terror attack here. Have a listen.

WILKIE:

'When the Prime Minister addressed the media yesterday he did not rule out the dispatch of more Australian Defence Force personnel. Frankly Fran, I think this is a bad decision by the Government. It will not help solve the crisis in Iraq. What it will do is increase the likelihood of a home grown terrorist attack on our soil, by disaffected Muslims within this country who will see this as an inflammatory move.'

EPSTEIN:

Kelly O'Dwyer, as part of the Government, do you think he is right?

O'DWYER:

Well, it's probably not going to surprise you Raf to know that I disagree with Andrew. I mean I respect him, I respect him for putting his views but I think he is quite wrong on this point. The first thing to mention is that we have been invited, by the Iraqi Government, to come in and help train their troops who are going to be engaged in combat action against Daesh or ISIL, as it's more commonly referred to, who are committing acts of terror. Not only in Iraq but also in Syria. We cannot stand silent while we are seeing beheadings, crucifixions, rapes...

EPSTEIN:

We do stand aside when there's a pretty bad Islamic militia in charge in Libya, there's crimes being perpetrated in the name of horrible causes all over the world. Why this one?

O'DWYER:

Well we are part of an international deployment, we have been invited by the Iraqi Government to use our specialist skills in order to help them to be able to better protect their country, their sovereign nation. And, as a responsible member of the international community, we believe that we have a role to play in doing that. It is a big commitment to send troops overseas, we don't do it lightly. It's one that is a heavy burden that rests on the shoulders of the Prime Minister and the Security Cabinet and the Cabinet more generally. But it is an important decision and it's a decision that we take not only in the national interest, but also as part of our international obligations.

EPSTEIN:

Anna does the risk go up because of this?

BURKE:

Look I always think that any involvement in these conflicts puts us at risk. You know and we're sending 350, maybe more troops into harm's way, regardless of whether they're training or on the front lines. So I am concerned about the notion of mission creep. And that at the beginning of this process, when the building partner capacity came together in this mission, they said we won't be having mission creep and now we're seeing mission creep. I think the Labor party set out some signals about, yes our support for the deployment but within fairly strict guidelines about it being contained to Iraq. That this is about the Iraqi Government getting back on its own feet and building its capacity to fight insurgents within its own borders. The difficulty with that is we've had troops there for a very long time who were supposedly, who tried training them before. So you know this is a complicated, difficult situation. I think we need to go into it with eyes wide open. With the Government providing the sort of advice it did in the Parliament belatedly, and a little begrudgingly, yesterday so that we know what we are getting into and as you say why here. Why not Syria? I know Iraq's invited us in, I know there is a difference, but around the world terrible things happen each day but we don't seem to want to pay attention to them as much. Having said that there is this conflict there, we have been part and parcel of why it has grown of why it has grown the way it has grown. I don't think we can turn our back on it.

EPSTEIN:

Kelly O'Dwyer, look I do want to get onto things like the Medicare. I just wanted to put one situation to you, and in full recognition this isn't your portfolio. We got some interesting allies on the ground in Iraq, the Iranian General who's leading one of the major assaults at the moment, used to coordinate attacks against American troops and presumably Australian soldiers as well. We're effectively allied with the President of Syria, who's been part of the worst humanitarian catastrophe since World War II. We have some very unpleasant allies in this battle.

O'DWYER:

I think the Prime Minister actually responded to this question some time ago when he said it is a very complex situation in the Middle East and people that you are dealing with in the Middle East are not always the people you would choose to be dealing with in perfect circumstances. We don't have wonderful democracies in the Middle East apart from the State of Israel which is a beacon of democracy in an otherwise undemocratic part of the world. But it is complicated, and that is part of the problem here. Because it is so complicated, because it's such a confusing situation, we are seeing an insurgent group that is committed to the destruction of not only individuals, but a nation, and particular ethnic groups. Completely and utterly wanting to destroy and subjugate women, we have seen them run rampant and we cannot stay silent in circumstances like that, we do need to act.

EPSTEIN:

Kelly O'Dwyer is the voice you've just heard. She's the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, part of Tony Abbott's team. Anna Burke is also with us for Fight Club, she's the former speaker of course, she's the ALP member for the seat of Chisholm. Someone asked me if Kelly O'Dwyer should be the Malvern Mauler which I think would make Anna the Box Hill Brawler. I think if I can get it out there. It's quarter to five on ABC Melbourne 1300 222 774 if you want to put a question to either Kelly O'Dwyer or Anna Burke. Kelly O'Dwyer I'll kick off again with you. What is the Government's policy on Medicare? The Health Minister seemed to say to me yesterday in principal you would like more people to have an out of pocket cost when they go to the doctor. Have I characterised that correctly or not?

O'DWYER:

Well, basically what the Health Minister has said is we know we have a problem with Medicare as it stands today. We know we have a problem with funding Medicare as it stands today because Medicare is growing. It's been growing exponentially from 10 years ago it was around eight billion dollars, it's now upwards of $20 billion and within the next 10 years we are going to see it blow out to around $34 billion. We want to make sure that Medicare can provide the services that people, particularly in vulnerable situations, need for their health care needs. The Health Minister has said that around 70 per cent of people who receive bulk billing payments, around 70 per cent of those people are not concessional card holders – they're people who would otherwise be able to make some form of contribution to their health care arrangements. The co-payment which was one idea that the Government did float, is clearly an idea that does not meet with public approval and does not meet with Parliament's approval and that idea has been scrapped…

EPSTEIN:

I don't understand where the Government is at with that how can the Prime Minister say that it is dead, buried and cremated?

O'DWYER:

Because that idea is completely and utterly off the table. What the Health Minister has said is that we are going to need to find a way to make sure that we can continue to fund Medicare because the Medicare Levy doesn't do it.

EPSTEIN:

No

O'DWYER:

The amount that we pay in the Medicare Levy has actually been going down in terms of how much it covers of Medicare. So we need to be able to consult and that's what she's doing right now with doctors, with various stakeholders, to make sure that we can put it on the sustainable footing we need it to be on so that everybody can have access to world class health care.

EPSTEIN:

I will get to your calls in a moment on 1300 222 774 but Anna Burke though, the Health Minister said to me yesterday that the Medicare Levy used to contribute 67 per cent of Medicare spending. It now contributes 54 per cent of spending. Do you agree that we need to do something to try and re-coup a little bit more money out of people's pockets to cover health spending?

BURKE:

The actual increase in Medicare spending is very small and actually given the size and growth of the population, it has actually been tracking very well. We don't have a blow-out in Medicare. We do have a blow out as I think you've pointed out on this show on numerous occasions, in hospital costs. The way of keeping down hospital costs is to get people to get primary health care at the beginning of their journey as opposed to putting the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.

EPSTEIN:

Well Labor didn't have a good record with the States and hospital funding though did they? I mean they tried…

BURKE:

We actually introduced and had a hospital agreement that was signed up with the states that we were tracking through to achieve this end. The Government may say that the co-payment is dead, buried and cremated, as the Prime Minister has said on WorkChoices, both of them will bob up with another alliteration with another name into the future. There are other ways of looking at our health care and our health dollar to achieve better outcomes into the future. And it is not slanging individuals who cannot afford to pay a co-payment or taking away from the universal access issues. The majority of people in my electorate and Kelly's would already be paying on top of their bulk billing rate – the majority of them already are.

EPSTEIN:

Kelly O'Dwyer I will get back to you very soon but first though I want to get Chris Miller a chance to update us on the roads.

*** BREAK ***

EPSTEIN:

Kelly O'Dwyer is with me, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer. Anna Burke as well, the ALP member for the seat of Chisholm. Kelly O'Dwyer if I can pick up on something Anna Burke said. The productivity commission says that spending on GPs is pretty stable, the proportion of GDP we spend on Medicare hasn't gone up much. Is she right?

O'DWYER:

Well actually health spending has increased and will only continue to increase and I'll tell you why. Tomorrow, the Treasurer is going to be releasing the intergenerational report. The Intergenerational Report will demonstrate that as our population increases, our population is also ageing and over the next 40 years it's going to be ageing very dramatically, which means there is going to be increased pressure on our health budget so while you might say we can cope with the pressures today, not long from today it will be much more difficult to cope with those compounding pressures and that's before you take into account the fact that we might want to increase funding in the health space for new therapies for instance or…

EPSTEIN:

A lot of people text in to be honest in this discussion and just say well jack up the levy.

O'DWYER:

We already have a two per cent Medicare Levy on top of people's taxes that they pay above a certain threshold, that means our top marginal taxpayers, in addition to the deficit levy now as well, it's about 49 per cent – it's pretty significant. Now about one sixth of people pay two thirds of all of the income tax so while Labor can pretend that we can keep increasing and increasing the burden, and by the way that one sixth includes people on incomes of around $80,000, it's not sustainable. We actually have to look at this in a much more sophisticated way. The Labor Party says the solution is just increase debt, ever exponentially, or increase taxes, or do both. We say you also have to look at the spending side and need to look at where you get value for money and you need to be able to make some decisions about that. That's what people do every day in their households, every day with their budgets, they need to make decisions about that and that's what we have to responsibly do as a Government as well.

EPSTEIN:

Anna Burke I will get a response in a moment but John's called from Geelong. John what did you want to say?

CALLER:

Good day mate. Look, I've been worked in the public health system for over 40 years and gladly just retired recently but look I think one of the problems with the costs of public health is, a lot of the publicly funded, i.e. tax payer funded health networks have corporatized themselves and they are working on this business model which means that they employ a heck of a lot of PR people and experts in everything but actually help service delivery and I think if they looked at the people who provide services to the sick rather than these PR boffins and these advertising experts, because they are running them like it's a private business except that it's public funded and to my way of...

EPSTEIN:

but all of these corporatised profit goes back into the business.

CALLER:

What's that?

EPSTEIN:

Even if you are corporatized as a public body, the extra cash goes back into the business.

CALLER:

Yes, but as far as I'm concerned, public health system shouldn't be about raising money, they should be about providing services to sick people.

EPSTEIN:

Ok, I don't know what you make of that Anna Burke. Do you think he's right? Is part of the problem not running things properly?

BURKE:

All look, I think going back to what Kelly said, that the cost of the health budget overall is growing – that was my point. It's not the Medicare component that is growing; there are other ways of saving…

EPSTEIN:

But there's increasing costs isn't there…

BURKE:

There is increasing costs there's no two ways about it…

EPSTEIN:

So Labor needs to propose some sort of savings don't they…

BURKE:

Well we've introduced yesterday a bill that taxes multinationals literally, not about raising taxes and hurting individuals in their own pay pocket…

EPSTEIN:

But it's not that much money Anna Burke, three billion dollars, two billion dollars over three years not that much…

BURKE:

But it is a way of starting to look at other saving measure and other areas who people who are currently enjoying the benefits of running their business in Australia and not paying for it. So you know we can throwing out all the glib lines about we want to raise and cause debt, well the Liberal Party doubled the debt in the first 12 months of being in office, let's talk about that for a change. So it's not a one way street, there are issues that need to be addressed and there are many factors in the health system that we could look at where money could be saved and money could be raised.

O'DWYER:

I am going have to very quickly respond to that point about doubling the debt, simply because it's a total inaccurate statement to say that. Labor outside of the forward estimates period didn't actually fund a lot of the promises that they made. On coming into Government we actually had to make provision for payment of those services that had been promised that were to be delivered, that's why they were included in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook when we came into Government. It's not correct to say we doubled the debt, if fact we had no net debt when we were last in Government and that's the position we would like to be in.

EPSTEIN:

Well you might say its Labor's Budget settings that you were unable to change but it is the case that debt and deficit have gone up since you came to power.

O'DWYER:

We've slowed the real growth in spending, we have slowed the real growth in spending for on average 3.6 per cent down to about 1 per cent

EPSTEIN:

But still very different to the figures of debt and deficit isn't it…

O'DWYER:

But it is still spending, but we are still going up, were not actually and at this point, this is what your listeners need to understand Raf, were not actually reducing the debt. Right now we are still borrowing every day, $100 million dollars a day just to deliver the services are currently being delivered, that's before we pay back one red cent.

EPSTEIN:

Look, I need to get to the weather soon but I do want to ask you both briefly about the polls and I'd like to start with you Anna Burke. I've put this to a few Labor people publically and they haven't bitten much but do you think its diabolical for Labor with the Government in this much trouble, Labor has not been able to capitalise and two polls have support for the Coalition increasing, doesn't it prove you are just not doing and saying the right things.

BURKE:

Oh look its two polls out of many, you know we can all sit here and naval gaze on polls and we can actually get on with doing many things.

EPSTEIN:

Labor could have taken the chance to be a bit more positive and pronounce a bit more of a vision while the Government was in trouble though?

BURKE:

Well, were working towards our policy announcements, we've got National Conference coming up in June/July. Unlike this Government we actually want to go and consult and understand, we don't want to do what this Government has just done in the Medicare co-payment and introduce something that was so on the noise its had to be gotten rid of. Now, were actually taking the time we've got in opposition to actually consult and listen to come up with some well-crafted policies as opposed to rushing out to meet the needs of the current journalists who say we have got to have a costed policy. How many costed policies did Tony Abbott have at this point in the cycle before going, you know…

EPSTEIN:

That might be one of the reasons he is in trouble now, but Kelly O'Dwyer just briefly, is the Prime Minister out of trouble? Nothing to see here?

O'DWYER:

He has the full support of the Parliamentary team, his doing a very good job and I think you would have seen from his performance in the Parliament today that he is on top of all of the key issues.

EPSTEIN:

We'll see what happens

BURKE:

Expect the 39 people who voted to have a spill motion.

EPSTEIN:

But we won't know until there is another vote. Kelly O'Dwyer and Anna Burke thanks to both of you.

O'DWYER:

Thanks very much Raf. Thanks Anna.

BURKE:

Thanks Raf, see ya!