Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts.These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Q And A -

View in ParlView

TONY JONES: Good evening and welcome to Q&A. I'm Tony Jones and here to answer your questions tonight: international human rights advocate and author, Geoffrey Robertson; NSW Premier Mike Baird; international editor of The Economist Helen Joyce; the President of the Business Council of Australia, Catherine Livingstone; and Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen. Please welcome our panel. Let’s go straight to our first question tonight. It is from Marcus Rigg.


MARCUS RIGG: Mike Baird, you said last week, “We cannot see the images we have seen and feel the things we have felt and then go back to business as usual”, and, yet, it seems that it’s still business as usual with Tony Abbott refusing to increase the overall yearly intake of refugees. While I applaud any effort to help the Syrian people, when will Tony Abbott face the fact that, whether he likes it or not, Australia is going to have to play a more active role in the global humanitarian crisis.

MIKE BAIRD: Well, I think firstly, I mean, all of us in this country, indeed across the world, have been moved by that image and the many images we’re seeing of a humanitarian crisis. It’s almost unprecedented and I think that what that means is there must be action. There has to be action. I mean, we can’t sit here in this country and let those sorts of events take place and not say we want to help because we do, and I think that's exactly what the Prime Minister has said. I mean, the Prime Minister has actually said Australia will do more. He has sent a senior minister over to Geneva to determine what action that should be but, ultimately, what we have to do is to do more and we have to help and I think the Prime Minister has outlined that's exactly what he is going to do. But the world is a very different place and I think anyone that has looked at those images and is not moved, well, they’re not human. And I think that what you are seeing, these sort of times and events, I actually think you will see the best part of humanity come to the fore, and I think you’re already starting to see it.

TONY JONES: Mike Baird, we’ll go back to the questioner, who’s got his hand back up.

MARCUS RIGG: What I had understood is that we would take more Syrian refugees but then we would take less refugees from other places. So the same number of refugees would come but what happens to them?

MIKE BAIRD: Well, I think what I heard the Prime Minister say today, he was open for us to take more and he hasn't defined that and I think it’s very hard to define it. I mean, it is an incredible problem and it’s a problem that requires action and I’ve said this stage, New South Wales is happy to play a big role in that. I mean, we are happy to contribute financially. We are happy to support in any way that the Prime Minister will ask the states, and you’ve seen the other states do that as well, so we have to respond and we will.

TONY JONES: Do you, first of all, think that he should take more, should increase the intake of refugees?

MIKE BAIRD: Well, that's exactly what he has said he will do.

TONY JONES: Well, no, he hasn't specifically?

MIKE BAIRD: Well, he has. He said today in Parliament ...

TONY JONES: He said there’d be a bigger response. That could be in terms of money. It might be in terms of bringing more people but I'm just asking what you believe he should do?

MIKE BAIRD: Well, I mean, let's see what the response is. But my position is very clear. We should be doing as much as we possibly can and, in terms of the remit of New South Wales, that’s exactly what we’ll do. We are happy to do anything, because you cannot see those scenes and not want to respond because you have to.

TONY JONES: I will go to the other politician on the table, because the Labor Party has, in fact, called for a larger intake?

CHRIS BOWEN: Yes, because if you say we're going to take more refugees from Syria, that is saying we are going to take less refugees from South Sudan, Asia, Africa, anywhere else, and these are people who are deserving as well. We don't have pictures of their plight on our television, but they shouldn't be the ones who pay a price because we're taking more refugees from Syria. We should take more refugees from Syria. We should increase our intake immediately and urgently. We've suggested 10,000 as an immediate intake and an increase in our intake of 10,000 and all people affected by the Syrian crisis.

TONY JONES: Okay. I’m just going to see if we get bipartisan support on that. Mike Baird, 10,000 more. Do you think that is a good idea from Labor?

MIKE BAIRD: Well, I mean the question is how many more.

CHRIS BOWEN: 10,000.

MIKE BAIRD: I mean, how do you know it’s just 10,000. How do you know it shouldn’t be more and this is my point. It’s very easy and very simple to put a number up, but what can we actually do and can we do more than that. I mean, who’s to say we can’t do more.

CHRIS BOWEN: At the end of the day, Mike - At the end of the day, Mike, you have to have a number. You have to have a number. We’ve suggested ...

TONY JONES: Well, are you prepared to accept that perhaps it should be even more?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, what we've said is let’s have an urgent meeting with the premiers, the community sector and everybody involved who wants to get this sorted and we've said 10,000 is our suggestion as a proportionate response from Australia. We can do it very quickly and we can increase the intake, not make other people suffer. This is obviously a very important crisis in our moment in history. Now, the photo which everybody is talking about, that is perhaps that is the most important photo that has been taken this decade, this century so far. That has crystallised concern. It has put this issue in our line of sight. It is reminiscent to me of that photo of Kim Phuc running away from the napalm in Vietnam which just changed the world's understanding and view of a crisis. This crisis has been going on for years. Hundreds of thousands of people have died but it is now in the world's eye of sight, so let's take this opportunity and actually come together and move the debate away from the simplicities, the slogans, the banalities and actually come together in a moment, hopefully of national unity and of international cooperation and deal with this crisis.

TONY JONES: Catherine Livingstone?

CATHERINE LIVINGSTONE: So, I mean, I absolutely agree. What I do think, though, it’s important we can be very compassionate in the moment, but this compassion has to last and we have to be prepared not for just for two weeks or two months. We’re talking about people's lives and we have to commit to a thoughtful process of including the refugees, be very prepared to invest in them and help their transition and also the transition of the communities into which they go. So, this isn't just something because we've seen a photo and we feel compassionate today. This is compassion continuing for as long as it takes until those people feel settled and safe in Australia.

TONY JONES: And what do you think about this question about the numbers? Do you think we should increase our refugee intake? Labor is saying 10,000. Mike Baird is saying perhaps even more?

CATHERINE LIVINGSTONE: Well, I mean, I agree to displace one refugee for another seems lacking in compassion. I don't know that you can come to a number until we start the process and just see what we can cope with in terms of investment and time. This is I mean, 10,000 people, it’s a lot of people. I mean, I know Germany is talking about 800,000, but 10,000 is a lot and we have to make sure we can do it properly and when we've done some properly, we can do more properly.

TONY JONES: Let me go to Geoffrey Robertson. Germany, Angela Merkel sort of stands out like a kind of moral beacon in Europe at the moment.

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: Yeah. Look at the photographs today which, will restore any lack of faith in humanity you might have had by seeing that earlier photograph. The Germans and it’s ironic, isn’t it, these grandchildren of the Gestapo are now the angels of mercy and Angela Merkel is saying, "Look, we have a bill of rights." The first right is the right to human dignity and this was adopted by the European Union a couple of years ago. I was in the first case. I was asked by the European court, what are the philosophic basis of the right to human dignity and I said, firstly, the parable of the good Samaritan. We don't pass by when someone is bleeding to death; secondly, Shakespeare's Portia’s speech in The Merchant Of Venice about the quality of mercy; and, thirdly, the great German philosopher, Kant, who said basically the categorical imperative, treat others as you would have them treat you. And it is these great humanitarian principles that are motivating Germany and I must say Sweden and France and 27 of the 28 countries, apart from Hungary which is run by a very nasty government at the moment, are motivating to take over a million. Germany is going to be taking over million and you saw today they took them with open arms. Who should we 10,000? We should be taking 30,000 at least. And because the message is no country is an island, not even Australia, and when we sent Peter Dutton all the way to Geneva at considerable expense, when he could have telephoned Antonio Guterres, who is the UN High Commissioner for refugees and we’ve got an embassy in Geneva, which is in touch with them every day, he will be telling Mr Dutton in a few hours what he told The Guardian this morning, namely that the UN is running out of money. It has got a 10% cut in its budget. People in its refugee camps, two million in Turkey, one million in Lebanon, 630,000 in Jordan, are having their medical services cut. They have $13 a month for each family to feed and clothe each family. So I would hope that as well as taking at least 30,000 refugees, Australia will step up to the plate with a very large amount of money because - to give to the UN Human Rights.

TONY JONES: Okay. We’re going to quickly go to another question on this subject. It’s from Nilesh Nandan.


NILESH NANDAN: Are some refugees more equal than others? I don't see the point of having a reallocation of an existing quota if the total quota doesn't increase in any way. What do we say to all of those refugees from other countries currently in the queue who have had their place in the queue put back?

TONY JONES: I’ll just throw that to Mike Baird for a quick response?

MIKE BAIRD: I mean, everyone matters and this is part of it and I think part of your question and what Geoffrey said, I think that one of the things that has warmed my heart has been the response on the ground in Germany. So it's not anything other than to see this incredible outpouring of humanity that says welcome.

TONY JONES: Mike Baird, do Australians have it within their hearts, within their souls, to behave like that, do you think, and does the Government? Is the Government in a position to encourage people in that direction?

MIKE BAIRD: Yes, yes, and yes. I honestly think, in terms of what you are seeing across this country, is almost unprecedented. I think there is an outpouring. I mean, you’ve seen it from Premiers of all different political persuasions. You've seen all types of different community groups saying, "We have to help," and, ultimately, yes, there’s a process we need to go through but I think what I'm proudest of is people across Australia saying, "We desperately want to help," and they want all of us to play a role in that and that's what we are determined to do here in New South Wales. Everyone ...

TONY JONES: Helen Joyce? I’m sorry. Sorry, Mike.


HELEN JOYCE: I’m heartened to hear that you’re talking like this here in Australia, because you can pretend this that this doesn’t affect you if you want. I mean, in Europe we can’t pretend that. That's what that picture showed us. The countries that are on the front line where the refugees are entering, where they’re coming in, via Greece and Italy and now Hungary, those countries are faced with events overtaking them and countries like Britain that can kind of, you know, pretend that it doesn't affect them, except when the look at people queuing at Calais, we’re seeing how they’re having to react to events and coming along behind. You could ignore it if you want, and I'm really happy to see that you’re not. I'm not sure I know what the right number is. I think generosity is certainly required now but, please, it’s about money as well. It’s not about just numbers of refugees. Most of the refugees are still in neighbouring countries. If you look at small places like Lebanon, they're overwhelmed and they have no money and they've been very, very generous in taking these people in. So please also, you know, don't focus on it just being about the refugees that you take, that 10,000 people, 30,000 people. That’s wonderful but there are literally millions of people who are relying on us to help them where they are now and that's actually much easier and we can do it extremely quickly.

TONY JONES: Chris Bowen, I will get you to respond that briefly and I have another question when you do.

CHRIS BOWEN: Yes, because we do need to provide the cash, as well, to provide the support for those service, non government services and government services, on the ground, not only in Europe, but in countries who have been dealing with this for some time: Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey. Again we've suggested today the figure of $100 million as an immediate contribution from Australia.

TONY JONES: Now, Mr Abbott said today, and I'm going to the point in that question earlier, are some refugees more equal than others, I think is what he said. Mr Abbott said today, "We will give people refuge, in particular women and children from persecuted minorities in camps". Now, do you think he is responding to some calls, including from within the Coalition, for Christians to be rescued from the conflict?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, Tony, this is something that actually I've dealt with for a long time because I represent more Iraqi Australians than any other MP, and they are predominantly Christians, Assyrians and Chaldeans, and they have suffered from the fall of Hussein for 15 years now or so, the plight of being persecuted in Iraq, and then many of them had to flee to Syria and they sought refuge in Syria and have had to now leave Syria and have sought refuge in Lebanon and Jordan and elsewhere. And the fact of the matter is that any none discriminatory approach will see those people heavily reflected in our refugee intake, as they should be, as they should be, but it is also very important that Australia's refugee intake, as the same with our migration program generally, always be strictly, strictly, non religious and strictly non discriminatory, but the fact is that Christians and Mandaeans, who are followers of John the Baptist, who have been persecuted so badly in the Middle East, should and will be heavily represented in our refugee intake.

TONY JONES: Now, Mike Baird, should as some people have called for, should persecuted Christians be prioritised in a kind of rescue operation?

MIKE BAIRD: I mean, I think that everyone has the same value. I mean, the circumstances and the numbers are incredible. I mean, in Syria, half of the country is displaced. I mean, there are millions and millions of people that no longer have a home. Every single person in this position has value and, ultimately, we have an incredible responsibility to do it and the argument can be, well, the Prime Minister hasn't gone far enough. Well, I think we should say, well, he’s moved. Let's encourage him to do more and that’s the debate and I think that's what you’re hearing across the country.

What if he doesn't, by the way? What if he doesn't do considerably more? When you hear the calls from people like yourself for extending the refugee intake considerably, even more than Labor is saying, do you think he will actually suffer a political consequence if he does not?

MIKE BAIRD: Well, I mean, it’s not - I mean, ultimately, this shouldn't be about politics. I mean, I think people are a bit sick of that. I mean, surely this is just a genuine human response to tragedy. I mean ...

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: Yeah, but Australia doesn't step up, we get another editorial in the New York Times saying that Australians are a mean and miserable race, and this is we've got to answer this. It was terribly damaging.

MIKE BAIRD: Well, you can defend us, Geoffrey.

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: Well, there is an element of truth. It was the Hawke Government that put little children behind barbed wire at Woomera. Now, we take great delight that a triumphant - we've turned back a few boats. What's happened to the people in those boats? We don't know. I suspect some of them are at the bottom of the sea because people smugglers are unlikely to give them their money back, or in mass graves. I don't know. We don't because it's operational secrecy. But we have to step forward and I’d like to see us not only offer 30,000 places, not only offer 30 million to actually support the work of the UN in the refugee camps, but say something to our great and powerful friend, America, because America has taken no refugees as yet, even though the crisis is partly caused by its initiative in 2003 in Iraq, and I would like to see it pay a lot of money to the UN to actually give these people some hope of a decent life.

TONY JONES: Okay, what you've just said there - thank you very much. What you've just said, Geoffrey, has bearing on our next question. It's from Narelle Clark.


NARELLE CLAK: My question is to Chris Bowen. Politics reached a new low last week when the ALP and the Greens accused the Prime Minister of considering sending in our air force into Syria to help his polling numbers. What solution does the ALP have to this horrible refugee crisis if it doesn't include making Syria safe for Syrians?

CHRIS BOWEN: Narelle, with respect, I don't accept the premise of your question at all. We have provided a lot of bipartisan support to the Government, some people would say too much but we've made the calls as we've seen them in Iraq. We've said that we are happy to receive briefings on Syria, and if the Prime Minister has received a request from the United States, he needs to make the case to the Parliament and to explain the reasons. He needs to explain the legality. Now, the collective self defence probably applies here, but we need to make sure that that's the case. What's the mission? Is it to degrade ISIS, as we're doing in Iraq because they go over the borders to Syria? Well, okay, that's legitimate. Is it to bring down the Assad regime? That would be a completely different question. If the Assad regime falls, what comes next? If we've learnt nothing from the last 15 years in the Middle East, we're very quick to go in, but we think nowhere near enough about what comes next. Who replaces them?

TONY JONES: So, can I briefly ask - since that question was highly political, can I briefly ask is Labor in a position where it's going to say, "No, we won't support the bombing unless you can tell us what happens next , unless you can tell us what the game plan is for who rules Syria"?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, we haven't seen a proposal yet. We’ve seen speculation. We've seen, you know, leaks. We have not - this is a very serious matter. I mean there are very few things a Government can do which should weigh on their mind more than sending Australian military personnel into harm's way.

CHRIS BOWEN: And it needs to be handled very, very carefully. Now, I’m not going to respond to, you know, speculation. If the Government has a proposal to make - we read that there may be a proposal this week, we will, as we have on every other instance, sit down with them, hear what they have to say, but we’re making the point that these things need to be thought through because the Assad regime, as terrible as it is, we need to ensure that if it does fall as a result of intervention that we are not plunging Syria into further chaos and misery and that at least if that happens, there is some thought given to the plan. Now, ISIS or Daesh, of course, we are fighting them in Iraq. If it's an extension of that operation into Syria, well, okay, let's have that conversation. Let's hear the case and we will respond and engage in the same constructive way we always have when it comes to these matters in the Middle East in recent times, but we’re not - you know, we’re the Parliament of Australia. We’re not a rubber stamp. We want to hear the arguments and we want to be briefed on all the contingencies. We’ve got questions to shall asked about the safety of Australian military personnel, about what plans will be in place if an Australian plane fell in Syria, what would be the contingencies, all sorts of legitimate questions which the Australian people, I would suggest to you, would expect us to be asking before providing support or otherwise to the Government.

TONY JONES: Catherine Livingstone, Tony Abbott hinted quite strongly today that bombing ISIS in Syria is on his agenda. Should it be?

CATHERINE LIVINGSTONE: Tony, I am absolutely no expert in military matters, I don't think I'm in any way qualified to comment on whether we should be taking that sort of action. I think Chris has really covered the issues in terms of the questions we need to ask so, really, I think it would be inappropriate of me to comment.

TONY JONES: Well, I will go to Geoffrey Robertson on that because the question of the legal basis for doing this...

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: There’s technical legal questions, but they don't, I think, matter here because Assad has not given us formal permission to enter. He hasn't made a request to the Australian Government but, of course, he is delighted that his enemies, ISIS, are being bombed and, of course, ISIS is a genocidal group and there is a law, international law, which permits the world to destroy genocidal groups. But the real issue is that the bombing is serving no purpose except encouraging refugee flight. It is a disaster. It is not working and we are on the 75th anniversary of The Blitz.
Now, did that degrade the potential of Londoners to fight? Of course not. Bombing by itself - the Americans like it because it's safe for their pilots but bombing by itself will not destroy ISIS. On the contrary, they embed themselves with the local people and they have a resistance that enables them to fight and fight again and all the evidence is that the bombing campaign is not working and that America at this stage has no further plans for boots on the ground. So, a question is whether we should be assisting Assad, who is, in many ways, the cause, the root cause, of the problem when four years ago he cut down the peaceful protesters and, in fact, adding to the refugee crisis. I have to say that in any real democracy this would be debated and voted on in the Parliament. It is extraordinary that the Government will simply, by itself, make the decision.

TONY JONES: Mike Baird?

MIKE BAIRD: Well, I mean, I think I mean, ultimately what you have to do in any situation like this is rely on the best advice you have, and it's complicated. There is no guarantee of success, these are extraordinary circumstances. You have to rely on the experts, and I'm obviously not privy to their counsel, that would consider these matters, but you have to rely on the experts and if military intervention is required, well that's something that you have to weigh up as part of the response.

TONY JONES: Helen Joyce, is it possible to quantify whether the bombing to date has been at all successful?

HELEN JOYCE: I certainly can't, but I'm absolutely sure that whatever we do, it continues to be extremely difficult there, so our own Prime Minister David Cameron has, in my opinion, used the idea of going, you know of increasing military action as a way to deflect from what I think is the urgent moral question, which is dealing with the refugee crisis.

TONY JONES: He is in the position that this Government is in, of imminently deciding whether to join the US bombing campaign in Syria?

HELEN JOYCE: Yes. Yes, he may find that he’s not able to do that because he doesn’t want to have another vote in Parliament that he might lose. He wants to get broad support before he has that sort of vote and the very next likely next Labour leader has already said that there’s no way that he would support any more military action. But my point is simply that whatever we do, it continues being very difficult there. I don't think anyone disagrees with that. It’s an extremely difficult situation. The question is, you know, do you make it a bit better one way, a bit better another way? We are going to have a refugee crisis. It continues. What do we do with that?

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: And a lot of refugees actually don't want to spend the rest of their lives in Europe.

HELEN JOYCE: Oh, sure, yes.

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: They want to come back to their families, where their parents are buried. They want to come back to Syria.

HELEN JOYCE: Well, they’ve been waiting in Turkey to go back.

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: We've got to give them, however long it takes, however long it will take to get Iran and Russia to get rid of Assad. It may be 10 years, but we've got, hopefully, to leave them a place to come back to.

HELEN JOYCE: To support people where they are, yeah.

TONY JONES: Okay. We’re going to move on. You’re watching Q&A, where we encourage our panellists to stick to the facts. If you hear any claims on Q&A, you think need checking, send a tweet using the hashtags “factcheck and #qanda. Now, last week’s tweets generated a fact check on coal seam gas and US carbon emissions by The Conversation, so keep an eye on our Twitter account for future fact checks. Well, our next question comes from Sheila Dhillon.


SHEILA DHILLON: Hi. This question is for Catherine Livingstone, totally on a different tangent altogether from what's been discussed just now. When my grandfather visited Australia from Singapore for the first time in 1996, I took him to watch a live sitting in Parliament, and after 20 minutes he whispered in my ear and said, "Are you sure you want to call this country your home?", and then he said, "Because it looks to me like it's being run by a bunch of monkeys in a circus." And 20 years on, I still have not sought my Australian citizenship and it's not because I don't love this country and everything it's given to me, but I ask myself what would that additional benefit be and it’s a voting right, and if I do get that, it would be wasted either way. So my question to you is: As the leading propagator and aggregator of change in this country and reform, what is the biggest single frustration with the Australian political landscape and how would you rate the circus today?

TONY JONES: How would you rate the circus today, Catherine? Get you going on a diplomatic note.

CATHERINE LIVINGSTONE: Right. So, Sheila, thank you very much for that question. I think my response would be we can criticise our political representatives, but leadership is a collective dynamic and we are all responsible for leadership, so not just politicians, but business, and civil society, very much in a collaborative way. So that's why we came together just over well, nearly two weeks ago now in a national reform summit, where you had business and unions and civil society all represented, and we came together to see what we could agree on in a reform context and we did reach agreement. There are things we didn't agree on, but that was good, too, that we identified those, but we did reach agreement on the really important thing for Australia now is growth because growth means jobs, and jobs means social wellbeing. So, growth is really important. We agreed that having a Budget back in surplus was important. We agreed that preserving Australia's AAA rating was very important. So then we went on and said, "We've agreed on that, what's next?" We agreed that we should have a comprehensive discussion about tax reform and tax. We also agreed that we should look at significant areas of expenditure, including health system, not to cut it but to redesign it so we could have better outcomes for a lower cost, which is achievable. We also spoke about taking then years to do this. This is all about transition and I think the concept of transition has been missing somewhat in policy. You can't do overnight policy changes, but you can transition, so we said we have about ten years in Australia to get to a point where our policies are fit for purpose in 2025, but we need to spend the next two years designing those policies, particularly the big expenditure policies and also the tax policies.

TONY JONES: Now, one of the problems, of course, with a ten-year plan is three elections pretty much in that time frame and isn't that in a way, doesn't that go to the heart of the question here? I mean, how do you actually get political leadership in this political system we have to agree to a ten year plan of any kind?

CATHERINE LIVINGSTONE: Well, I think the ten years is the good news, Tony, because the ten years says that we’re looking for bipartisan support, so from Labor and from Liberal, because over ten years there are going to be changes of government, so one side or other of politics is going to be dealing with the situation. I think the issues that we agreed on, and this is, as I say, the collective leadership, are ones that there could be and should be bipartisan support for. I don't think they’re so partisan that we couldn't get agreement, but it is the next two years of thinking through and designing those particular policy areas of tax and Federation, of course, and health and skills. I don't see the then years as a problem. It’s the ten years we must commit to, but the first two years which is the design and I think we can get bipartisan support because business, unions and civil society all came together and agreed.

TONY JONES: Let's hear from Chris Bowen. A ten year plan that would happen under the term of this Government, the plan at least, would Labor be prepared to get on board, in a bipartisan fashion, with a ten year plan to save Australia's economy?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, we are certainly on board for a ten year plan and reform. What's in that plan, although, is the big question. It’s very easy to agree on the need for reform but actually arguing out what that reform is, is very important. So I'm happy to deal with that and thank you for the question, Sheila. You know, Australia actually has the highest take up rate of citizenship of migrants, equal with Canada, of any country anywhere in the world, so we’re getting something right, and we have 24 years of uninterrupted growth, which is the longest or the second longest period of economic growth of any developed country in the history of the world, depending on how you define it, and a lot of that has come from difficult decisions by politicians, so I’m going to defend politicians for a moment there, and say...

TONY JONES: Okay, but let me just say a bit of a reality check here. We’re headed over a revenue cliff.

CHRIS BOWEN: But the fact is I agree with you. Tony, I agree with you because, although we’re still having those 24 years of uninterrupted economic growth, it’s now weaker than it has been for most of that period and I’m not just talking about last quarter, which was a terrible set of figures, I’m just talking generally that our economic growth is weaker and there is no law that says the 24 years of uninterrupted economic growth continues. We have to continue to reform, we absolutely do, and we have budget pressures. So we, in the Opposition, have said we’ll do things, like high income superannuation changes. It’s unfair and unsustainable the way it is. It’s unpopular sometimes to say so, because it means some people pay more tax, but it’s the fastest growing area of the Federal Budget in terms of tax concessions and almost 40% of benefit goes to the top ten per cent of income earners. If you’re having a debate about the budget, it doesn’t always need to be low income earners who automatically get brought in to the discussion. Let’s have a discussion about fairness at the same time.

TONY JONES: Okay. I’m just going to quickly go to another question on this subject and then bring in the rest of the panel. It’s from Bill Bisset.


BILL BISSET: Given Rupert Murdoch's recent comments that “Australia is almost ungovernable because of the Senate and the Greens and Labor relationships with unions, how can any elected mandated Australian Government hope to manage the economy when you have a hostile Labor opposition not passing reasonable budgetary measures to enable the Government to effectively run the economy?”, my question is to Chris Bowen. How would Labor raise the necessary tax income to pay down the national debt, whilst maintaining existing welfare and social programs if they were in Government?

TONY JONES: Okay. That's your question to Chris Bowen, but I’m going to throw it around the panel and the top of that was, “Given Rupert Murdoch’s” - because we had a bit of a sound problem. “Given Rupert Murdoch’s comment that Australia is almost ungovernable because of the Senate, the Greens and the Unions”, how is this going to work? And I’m going to go to Mike Baird here, because I want to know what you think about your federal colleagues on both sides of the aisle in terms of their reform credentials?

MIKE BAIRD: Well, can I go to the question we had before that one, and then I’ll come to that one? Just quickly, I mean, I think, firstly, Australia is the best country in the world and, you know, I've had the opportunity...

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: New South Wales, I think.

MIKE BAIRD: New South Wales?

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: Except for the sharks which you’re not doing anything about.

MIKE BAIRD: Yeah. No, no, no, you were going so well, Geoffrey. And I think, in terms of the political leadership, which comes back to this one, it is a usual part of the democratic process, there is going to be frustration ins and outs. The truth of the matter is, and I sense this myself, what we're sick of in politics is every single day the issue of the day becomes a chance for political point scoring, and I think what the community wants, what the State quantities, what the country wants, just tell us, political class, what's the problem and how you’re going to get on and fix it, and have the real discussion, and don't just think for today and Question Time this afternoon, and I'm glad you didn't come to NSW Parliament you know, focus in on what needs to be done, and if you do that, I strongly believe politics will take care of itself, and I think there has to be much more of that and I do think at the leaders' retreat that we had there was a lot of collaboration. I've developed a lot of time...

TONY JONES: The problem is that leaders' retreat ends up becoming a metaphor where everyone retreats from what they agree to.

MIKE BAIRD: Well, we are actually having the sort of discussion we should be. You know, when the word GST or three letters GST comes out, all of a sudden everyone runs and there is this frenzied panic, but we’re actually talking about it and credit to the South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill. He and I have looked at this and we want to ensure that what we are doing is right for our states and country, not just today, but into the long term and I genuinely think that's what the country wants to see.

TONY JONES: There’s a few other people want to get involved and, Helen, you go ahead.

HELEN JOYCE: I just wanted to say to Sheila, would you reconsider? You’re not the only person in the world who looks at politicians and doesn’t like what they see. I see this mood everywhere. I don't exactly think my own politicians in Ireland are all that amazing but, you know, even if there’s a marginal difference, even if one is a bit less of an idiot than the rest of them, by picking them you are raising the standard and this business of the short termism of the politicians and this business of, you know, the sound bites and the rest...

MIKE BAIRD: I don’t know I feel about that.

HELEN JOYCE: ...if you vote - if you vote and you reward the people who do take a long term view, well, in a democracy we get the we get the elected politicians that we deserve. We really do. So, please, you’re obviously a committed person, you are here today, you’re asking great questions, you’re part of your country - your adopted country's civic life, would you reconsider?

TONY JONES: You can actually say whether you’d reconsider on that basis but keep it brief, very brief.

SHEILA DHILLON: I would on the basis of that longevity and the commitment. I mean, you’ve got Catherine making these ten year plans but where is the commitment from both sides of the government that that plan will continue over that period?

HELEN JOYCE: You vote for them. You vote for them, okay. Get one of them to say it and then vote for them.

TONY JONES: Okay. Well, I’ll go to Chris Bowen, because we heard a question up there which is really targeted to you. I threw it to the rest of the panel, but really the question is whether Labor's obstructionism is part of the problem here with our political system?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, I don't accept obstructionism. I mean the Senate plays a role. I mean, Hawke and Keating introduced massive economic reform and with not a majority in the Senate for one day but they were good reforms. And you called them reasonable budget measures. Well, I don't think reducing the pension to 16% of average weekly earnings is a reasonable budget measure. It was an outrageous budget measure and we opposed it and it was the right thing to oppose it.
Cutting family payments when a child turns six is not something that we will support. It’s not the right response It’s not the right policy. Our job as the Opposition is to support good policy and oppose bad policy. Now, we’ve passed some measures, which we’re not entirely happy with, but at least we can live with, but we can't live with the pensions being 16% of average weekly earnings when it’s been at least 25% since the early 1970s with bipartisan support and not one word of a mandate. Not one word from Tony Abbott or Joe Hockey before the last election to say, "Well, we’ve got a bit of a problem here and the pensioners are going to pay the price for it." I make no apologies for opposing that and the other Budget measures which we opposed. And I was asked the other day, “Well, if Australia is in such dire economic circumstances, why don't you support these cuts?" Well, how does cutting the pension help the Budget of Australia’s families and, therefore, economic activity? It doesn’t. Now, we’ve already, as I said, outlined some measures. Hi income superannuation, multinational tax, abolishing direction action, the subsidy to polluters. These are policies we've already outlined. There’s more to come. There’s been some measures which other political parties in the past have ruled out doing anything about. I have not done that. We’ve kept them on the table. Bill Shorten and I have said that some measures we’ll have more to say about, which both parties in the past have said, "We will never touch", but in these sort of circumstances we need to have a conversation about some of these things, which will be controversial in some areas and will be difficult for some people, but we've got to have an honest conversation and we will actually have a different approach of getting a mandate for what we want to do, because when I'm Treasurer in the next Labor Government, I want to be able to say when we’re introducing a budget that we’re implementing a plan we got the support of the Australian people for at an election, not announce our election policies eight months after the last - after the election, which is what Joe Hockey did when he brought down his first disastrous Budget.

TONY JONES: Okay. Let's go back to a question which raises the issue of tax reform mentioned earlier. It’s from Simone Black.


SIMONE BLACK: Why is increasing the GST considered one of the best options for raising revenue given that it is a regressive tax?

TONY JONES: Mike Baird, you need to ex plain that one?

MIKE BAIRD: Well, I mean, in simple terms, if you look across the world, the GST, in any tax analysis, is viewed as a very efficient tax. When we sit globally in terms of OECD countries, we have effectively one of the lowest. So the OECD average is 20$. We’re at 10%. We have a huge challenge in terms of our competitiveness. Income tax is up in pretty much the top quartile, so we’re not competitive in income tax, but we have pressing needs in relation to our health services in particular, and we have, in terms of a fiscal cliff, it is the biggest challenge if you ask me what do I sort of lie awake at night thinking about well, surfing, actually, but…


MIKE BAIRD: But in terms of problems, in terms of the biggest problem we have, it's health funding. It’s massive. Health funding is going and how we fund it is the biggest challenge we face in this State and, I believe, across the country. So we need tax reform.

TONY JONES: Can I just bring you up on that point because, as you mentioned, this all sort of came up at the leaders' retreat and soon afterwards Joe Hockey came out talking about tax cuts. Now, was he proposing, do you understand this, that he was proposing to use a GST increase to fund tax cuts? And if he did that, would you oppose it, because you want to use it to fill a revenue hole for health?

MIKE BAIRD: Well, you can do both. You can increase the GST. You can pay compensation through tax...

TONY JONES: Well, your friend the Premier of South Australia says that's not true.

MIKE BAIRD: Well, if you pay compensation through tax cuts it is and there is a balance towards health.

CHRIS BOWEN: That's the bit that’s not real personal income though. That's just compensation though. I mean, the problem with this...

MIKE BAIRD: Well, no, no, no. You can fund it on the basis of that. You can fund part of the compensation, not all of it, part of the compensation come in income tax cuts, which means on an overall basis, the competitiveness of Australia is maintained. You put the balance towards health funding, which is our big expenditure needs, and you look after, in terms of the question of regressive, you look after those who haven't got a capacity to afford it and that’s how you do it.

TONY JONES: So, very briefly, Mike Baird, very briefly, you wouldn’t want to put the excess raised by the GST increase into the other big funding hole, which is education?

MIKE BAIRD: Well, and you haven't got money for everything. I mean, it’s not a money tree.

TONY JONES: But you wouldn’t - I'm just saying you wouldn't propose doing that? Health and education is what a lot of people would like to see the extra money spent on. You’re saying health and tax cuts? Is that right?

MIKE BAIRD: But, well, effectively health and compensation for the rise of the GST.

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: Why don't you have to pay GST on Viagra but you do on tampons?

TONY JONES: I think we can take that as a comment, Geoffrey. I don’t really think we need to go around the table.

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: Well, I think it’s a relevant question and what about all those...

MIKE BAIRD: I don't know whether it is, Geoffrey.

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: ...promises that the State premiers made back when John Howard introduced GST that they would take the money and they would abolish land tax, sales tax?

MIKE BAIRD: All the taxes...

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: Are you going to do that?

MIKE BAIRD: All the taxes that we’ve agreed to take away have now been taken away, but coming back to the important point on this - I just pretend I didn't hear Viagra - there is no doubt this is not a magic pudding, and the challenge that we have in terms of the health costs, by the time we get to 2030, the expectation is that both budgets, Commonwealth and States combined, are $35 billion a year short. In relation - that's just maintaining existing standards of health funding. So the money has to come from somewhere and if you raise the GST to that level, you pay the appropriate compensation, you can get to a position where we can meet that gap, but it can't go on and on. So the question of education funding, of course I’d love it to be there but you have to be honest with the community. You have to tell them how you are going to - what you’re going to do, how you’re going to raise the money and what you’re going to do with it. You can't pretend it’s going to go on and on.


TONY JONES: Okay. I just want to hear - yes, I do want to hear from Catherine on this

CATHERINE LIVINGSTONE: I mean, there’s the question of tax reform and, again, we've said we want really everything on the table, rather than things on and off and so on.

MIKE BAIRD: Correct.

CATHERINE LIVINGSTONE: But if you do tax reform and you don't reform the areas which are very high in growing expenditure, as much as you increase revenue, as you say, it will be effectively gobbled up by the expenditure, so that's why we've said it’s really important to take those high expenditure areas and redesign them so they're fit for purpose. So in health, moving from fee for service to a really customer-focused health system focussed on outcomes for the customer, the patient. If we continue running with the health system we have, well, you’ll have to increase the GST again and income again. I mean we’ll never catch our tail and that's..

TONY JONES: Did you see - incidentally did you see the Medicare co payment that the Government proposed as being a logical way of doing that?

CATHERINE LIVINGSTONE: I was talking about a redesign of the system, not cherry-picking things on the edge. I mean, this is why, in the ten-year plan, we have to spend two years working out how we redesign these very high expenditure and growing areas. So, health, I mean, I’ll debate you on using a GST increase, let's say hypothetically, for health. If that gets hypothecated to health, it takes away the flexibility that the states have.

MIKE BAIRD: Yeah. I think you can do both, Catherine, and that's the point. So I think you can direct the extra revenue towards the health expenditure and you can deal with the competitiveness of the economy through paying the compensation through income tax. But the point I’ll make, you know, overall, look at how efficient Australia is in terms of its health provision versus the rest of the world. So as a percentage of GDP we are about 9.1%, it goes all the way to 17% in the US, so I don't disagree in terms of the models that we’re going to use and we have to be smarter in the way we deliver it.


MIKE BAIRD: And coordinated care, absolutely that has to be part of the solution, but there is no silver bullet in terms of trying to pretend that $35 billion a year is going to come in savings in the health system, because it won't.

CATHERINE LIVINGSTONE: Oh, I absolutely agree.


CATHERINE LIVINGSTONE: But there has to be a combined commitment.

MIKE BAIRD: Yep. I 100% agree. Yep, absolutely, Catherine.

TONY JONES: Chris Bowen, a quick final word on this before we move on, because we’ve got a few other questions to get to.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, I think the questioner was onto something. I mean, the GST is a regressive tax and I don’t agree with the Premier, with all due respect. You can't spend a dollar twice. You know, Mike said, well, increase the GST to pay for health. Joe Hockey said increase the GST to pay for personal income tax. Catherine's organisation might suggest increasing the GST to pay for a corporate tax cut. Others might - have suggested say increasing the GST to get back to Budget surplus. You raise a dollar, you can only spend it once. The fact is, increasing GST to pay for health is not tax reform. It’s a tax rise. It’s just a tax increase. Now, we can argue about whether the tax increase is necessary or not but don't dress it up as tax reform.

The fact of the matter is if you increase the GST, you have to spend close to 60% on compensation and then you’ve only got 40% of what you've raised left and it doesn't go very far and the tax reform debate is being dragged down the simplistic path of saying if you’re pro increasing the GST, which impacts on low income earners the most, then you’re pro-tax reform. If you’re not, then you’re anti-tax reform. You can be anti-sensible reform.

MIKE BAIRD: Well, Chris, how would you fund - Chris, how would you fund that health (indistinct)?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, we’re here, Mike, because your Prime Minister cut $80 billion out of your budget and didn't even give you a telephone call to tell you and now you’re paying for it by increasing the GST is your proposal.

MIKE BAIRD: No, that’s not true.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, he did ring you? Okay.

MIKE BAIRD: That is a different argument.

CHRIS BOWEN: Okay, he called you first but...

MIKE BAIRD: The question - no, no, that’s ...

CHRIS BOWEN: (Indistinct) when you said you’d fight it all the way - you said you’d fight those $80 billion worth of cuts all the way and now you're not fighting them. You just say, well, let’s increase the GST to pay for them.

MIKE BAIRD: Well, no, that’s not right. I mean, Chris, the point you have to make, and this is very important on this GST debate, because Labor spent a lot of time saying how terrible GST was. You got into government. You did nothing about it. You had the opportunity...

HELEN JOYCE: I’m starting to feel a sympathy with Sheila here, I have to say.

MIKE BAIRD: You had the option to take it but you didn’t.

HELEN JOYCE: I’m watching.

MIKE BAIRD: You didn't, Chris, and ultimately the regressive nature you talk about, which has been raised, you can deal with. You can deal with that regressive nature.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, only by compensation, which takes up 60% of the revenue.

TONY JONES: Okay. All right. Okay, now we're into the circular political argument. It is time to ...

HELEN JOYCE: Yeah, we’re into the Sheila territory.

TONY JONES: Exactly, Sheila's father would probably be very happy watching this. It is time to move along.

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: Sheila's father was concerned with, there at a time of Lee Kuan Yew and, of course, there was no Opposition in Singapore because ...

TONY JONES: Okay, Geoffrey. All right.

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: ... because Sheila when, if any electorate at that time dared to vote for the Opposition, they would lose their electricity, their sewerage.

TONY JONES: Okay, Geoffrey. Geoffrey, before we lose the plot - before we lose the plot, we’ll move on. Our next question comes from Maria MacNamara.


MARIA MACNAMARA: Catherine Livingstone, you've successfully led companies at the bleeding edge of innovation with CSIRO, Cochlear and Telstra on your resume. Recently you warned that rapid advances in technology are rendering traditional business models obsolete and that unless Australia adapts, we will be overwhelmed within a decade. If that's the case, was there sufficient representation from the innovation entrepreneurship and start up sector at the National Reform Summit?

CATHERINE LIVINGSTONE: Well, Maria, thank you for that. The National Reform Summit picked up the productivity question and absolutely agree that the way we are going to achieve the productivity increases we need is through innovation, so that was the principle agreed and then it’s now in terms of the work program it's to see how innovation actually would be achieved. But I have to say we've asked ourselves this question repeatedly over 15 years. I think there have been 16 60 sorry, 60 reviews into innovation and at some point we have to stop asking the question and act. And that's not to say there’s been no action but, in fact, we need a more integrated plan for innovation, including encouraging start ups and entrepreneurs.

But then that goes back to the skills question and education and, as you probably know, I've been pretty vocal about the importance of STEM education in schools, and STEM, and, it’s not just STEM. It’s STEM and humanities, but basically it’s a proxy for teaching children how to think and how to solve problems so that they will end up with the 21st Century schools of computational thinking, design thinking, cognitive load management and so on, which we look for in our university students and graduates, but you have to start that at a very young age, primary school. Then you get entrepreneurs, because they’re focused on problem solving.

TONY JONES: Catherine, the digital disruption, question - you gave a big speech at the National Press Club about this and I’ll ask you to respond briefly to this because we’re running out of time, but I was astonished to hear in that speech that 40% of the US workforce, that's 53 million people are now earning income from these new models, new disruptive models, like Air BNB, Uber and others?

CATHERINE LIVINGSTONE: Well, yes, and actually the point is that they’re freelancing.


CATHERINE LIVINGSTONE: They are not working in companies with permanent jobs in that sense. They are freelancing and that has all sorts of other implications for income security and consumption and so on. But it does show the disruptive level of these business models, which are actually, if you like, crunching value chains and squeezing the value out of them, which is really quite unprecedented. But not to be frightened about it, actually it's how we take advantage of it which comes back to the skills.

TONY JONES: Okay. We’re going to move on again. Our next question is a video. It’s from John Grayson in Lambton, New South Wales.


JOHN GRAYSON: My name is John Grayson. I'm 34 years old and I have a terminal brain tumour. My question is open to the panel. When I eventually die, I am going to end up with right hand side paralysis, blindness, being mute. I will end up in severe, chronic pain. I will have cognitive impaired ability and I will eventually die. What I want to know is why I’m forced to go through that torture. Why can I not put in place now safeguards that say when I get to a certain ability I can choose to end my own life? We do not force animals to go through that torture. Why do we force humans?

TONY JONES: Helen Joyce, I’ll start with you. You might want to explain what The Economist’s role in this is.

HELEN JOYCE: Yeah. So I’m here in Australia because I was invited to speak at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas yesterday and the talk I gave was on assisted dying, which is a topic that The Economist has written a great deal on and we editorialised in June on this and we support law changes around the world to allow people who are in exactly this sort of very tragic situation to take control of themselves if they wish. This is an individual choice. Nobody is saying someone must do this. They’re saying if this person wishes to do this, that is their right as a human being. Now, what we've seen is that a few places have taken this sort of legislative measure. So some states in America, starting with Oregon, allow doctor-assisted dying for people who have terminal illness and a couple of European countries, including the Netherlands and Belgium, allow it in a broader range of situations, for example in unbearable suffering. We haven't seen the sky fall in. People who don't want to do this, don’t have to do this. It is a human right, we feel. We feel that it’s a choice that people make and we feel that the reason that you aren’t allowed to do it, if I can give you two words, is political cowardice.

TONY JONES: Mike Baird, political cowardice or religious conviction?

MIKE BAIRD: Look, it’s such a tough subject this. I mean, I had very strong views, then in my first election campaign doorknocking I opened the door and a man - he couldn't believe his luck, I don't think - he asked me to come in because he had always wanted to speak to a politician but he had never done it and he shared his plight and the pain he was in, his wife right next to him, and he just pleaded for me that if I got in, that I would enable him to take his own life. Now, that will always haunt me. It is just such a terrible position, as we heard from the man in the video, on where his life is going, but the concern I have in this is that, you know, how do you put a definition around the quality of life and life itself? I think that, at the moment, we have a point that if anyone is off drowning off the coast, everything is done to save them. You know, we've got aircraft going, we’ve got vessels, anything that are going to save a life and my concern is the unintended consequences if we went down this path, on what it might mean.

TONY JONES: You don't see it as saving someone from horrific and unbearable pain?

MIKE BAIRD: I understand and I feel that. I mean, it’s not something that you can discount but my concern would be, you know, making a judgment on life.

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: Look, we have a fundamental right...

HELEN JOYCE: There is experience…

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: ...not to be subjected to torture and if that torture is cancer, if it's a terminal illness, we are entitled to take ourselves out of it. It is an awesome decision to make, but it’s we are entitled to make it without the intervention of the state, without having those who assist us, often our loved family with whom we have a final meal or whatever, arrested and charged with assisting suicide. Surely that's right.

MIKE BAIRD: Well, as much as I would want to agree, I mean, the concern I have is what does it mean in terms of the definition of life? Where do you get to in terms of advancements in medical technology all of a sudden?

TONY JONES: Sorry, can I just bring Helen back in here because she started to answer and ...

MIKE BAIRD: (Indistinct)

HELEN JOYCE: It’s just simply that there are places that are already doing this and it has not led to the sort of disaster that the fear mongers have suggested that it will. These are individual choices. There will certainly be people - many, many people - I would say the majority of people want to wring out the last drop they can, even in very limiting circumstances. That's fine. That's their choice. And then there are other people who feel that maybe those last few weeks, which may be in great pain or great discomfort, or extremely restricted, cast a shadow back over the rest of their lives and kind of ruin the end of it, or that they risk going into hospital and becoming completely incapacitated and not even getting to say goodbye to people. I think a really important thing that we’re all doing here though is we’re starting to talk about something that we don't talk about enough, that’s going to happen to all of us and everyone we love, which is die, and in our society we’ve become very fearing of talking about death. So either we've seen someone close to us die and we’re shocked by how it comes, or we haven't and we’re ignorant. So now that we’re all talking about it, hopefully we can do this all a lot better for everybody, whether they take the assisted dying route or not.

TONY JONES: Let me go to the other side of the panel and, Catherine, listening to this, what are your thoughts?

CATHERINE LIVINGSTONE: I’d absolutely endorse the point that we have to learn to talk about death and until we have that conversation and not at the point of crisis, we can't have then the next conversation, which is about assisted dying. So there is a step between that we have to go through, but I come back to the point I made with Sheila, this is a community leadership responsibility. It is not to the politicians. It is to the community, we have to have the conversation. We have to decide what we want and then over to the politicians to enact it.

TONY JONES: But how does one do that? Obviously the politicians, in a sense, get the final say, because they change the laws or don't? Do you think there should be some sort of plebiscite on this issue?

CATHERINE LIVINGSTONE: No, I think it’s you start with forums and conversations and the momentum would build one way or the other, but we have to talk about it, have to talk through it, otherwise it becomes sort of yes/no, political battle and I don’t think that’s very helpful.

HELEN JOYCE: You know, Australians support this. We did polling in 15 countries - Australia, mostly European countries, also Canada, America, Japan and Russia - and a majority was in favour of allowing assisted dying in every one of those countries, except Russia. And then when we asked more specific questions about in what circumstances you would like to do this, to see this legal, yes, some support does fall away, but there is broad based support and separate polling in individual countries going back quite a long way. This is not a new phenomenon.


HELEN JOYCE: This is a right people feel that they should have.

TONY JONES: I’m just going to quickly hear from Chris Bowen. We’ve got one last question to go to, so have to keep it brief. I’m sorry about that

CHRIS BOWEN: We need to tackle this. I think the matters that Mike raises, while legitimate, can be worked through, and they’re worked through in every other country and you need all the checks and balances to ensure that it is a genuine decision, properly made, but we have to tackle this. It hasn't been discussed in the Federal Parliament for a long time. Last time it came to a vote was before I was the Federal Parliament. I’ve been in 11 years. This should be on the agenda.

TONY JONES: Do you think a majority of your colleagues in Federal Labor would support that? There is a lot of religious objection there?

CHRIS BOWEN: Look, it would be a conscience vote and every MP would vote according to their conscience. I would guess that there would be strong support on my side of politics for some sort of reform here but, you know, every MP would have their own process to go through to think through the issues and make sure that the checks and balances are appropriate. At the end of the day, it is about dying with dignity, which I think Geoffrey made the point is a pretty fundamental human right.

TONY JONES: We’ve got time for one last question. It’s from Yvonne McMaster. It’s sort of related.


YVONNE MCMASTER: I'm a retired palliative care doctor, now a full time advocate for better resourced palliative care services throughout Australia. My question is largely for Mike Baird. Mike, what sort of death do you want? I ask because, as Catherine Livingstone pointed out earlier this year, 70% of Australians would prefer to die at home but only 14% of them manage to do it. The majority die in hospitals at a cost in New South Wales alone of a billion dollars a year. When will governments recognise that adequately resourced palliative care would improve and enhance end of life care, while saving hundreds of millions of dollars?

TONY JONES: By the way, are you talking about palliative care within the community, so that it could be administered effectively to people in their homes? Is that what you are saying?

YVONNE MCMASTER: Certainly that's a great need, but palliative care everywhere can reduce costs. Palliative care in aged care facilities, palliative care in acute hospitals, where conversations happen then about the goals of care.

TONY JONES: Okay, let's go to Mike Baird, since you addressed the request to him first.

MIKE BAIRD: Yeah. I mean, well, firstly, thank you for what you do. I mean, it is incredible that we have people like you. I mean, I've seen friends in terrible situations and the angels that come in terms of palliative care is really beyond words. So the logical extension of that, should we do more to support you, absolutely, and part of the challenge that we have in terms of a budget, there are so many different priorities, but what we need to do and we've spent a lot of time trying to get our budget into a position that we can actually do, improve services, look after the vulnerable, build the infrastructure, we are in that position. So we should be doing more to support you and we will be.

TONY JONES: Is it just a - well, you might want to ask the follow up question there, Yvonne.

YVONNE MCMASTER: My heart lifted to hear Catherine talk about redesign of services because that's what we are really on about. You don't have to spend all that money in hospitals, much more expensive, you can...

MIKE BAIRD: No, it's absolutely true and our Health Minister, Jillian Skinner, is a big believer in the palliative care model that take to community based care as opposed into direct hospital care, which is exactly that point.

TONY JONES: Okay. Let's hear from Catherine on that, since you've obviously been quoted.

CATHERINE LIVINGSTONE: Well, I mean, this is absolutely the case and if you have the conversation early enough, then you know exactly what someone wants, the extent of the palliative care and their decisions towards end of life and, hopefully, there is a health directive in place as well, which is all discussed well before anyone gets sick. But then palliative care can be a very important part of the system and, again, a better designed system.

TONY JONES: Now, we need brief answers from everyone, because we are, in fact, just about over time. So, Chris Bowen, again a quick response from you?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, again, thank you for what you do and thank you for raising it with us tonight and part of a dignified death is, as you said, dying with every support you can, surrounded by your loved ones if possible, in your own home. That's what the vast majority of people want to do, so I think, well, here’s one area where perhaps we can all work together towards that aim.

TONY JONES: Geoffrey Robertson?

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: Well, I agree, thank you for your work. It’s vital. You ask how I would like to die. I'm not sure. I know how I wouldn't like to die. George Orwell, in 1984, said everyone has one fear of dying and he said, Winston Smith's fear was being eaten by rats. That's a particularly English fear of dying.

HELEN JOYCE: Shock for you, isn’t it?

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: My fear is being eaten by a shark off the coast of New South Wales.

TONY JONES: Now, Geoffrey, call me crazy but for some reason the image that came to mind was an overdose of Viagra. That would be a bad way to die.

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: At least I wouldn’t have to pay GST.

TONY JONES: We need a proper, serious ending, Helen.

HELEN JOYCE: What I’d say is I’d ask all of you and everyone who is watching at home to think about maybe having a conversation about this yourselves. Certainly it was a privilege for me being involved in writing this material because a lot of people told me their death stories, those of people that they loved and people in their families and we need to talk about it. There’s an awful lot more. So if you’ve got a difficult conversation with someone that you’d like to have, maybe it won't be so hard if you just start it. That’s what I found myself in my own family. So good luck.

TONY JONES: Well, that is all we have time for tonight. Please thank our panel: Geoffrey Robertson, Mike Baird, Helen Joyce, Catherine Livingstone and Chris Bowen. Thank you very much. Now, next Monday on Q&A, next Monday: folk singing legend Joan Baez; the Minister for Justice Michael Keenan; the Labor MP who now holds Kevin Rudd's old seat Terri Butler; and the editor of The Spectator Australia, Rowan Dean. Until next week's Q&A, goodnight.