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Transcript of interview: Sky AM Agenda: 17 December 2015: Malcolm Turnbull's health cuts; ASIO briefings

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SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Turnbull’s health cuts: ASIO briefings.

INTERVIEWER:: Catherine King, Thank you very much for your time this morning. Let‟s start with that point about the pathology services which since, well, 5 or 6 years ago have only seen an increase in bulk billing of 1 per cent from 86 - 87 per cent. Do you concede that that is a program that hasn‟t been working?

KING: Well of course what the Government is trying to hide is in fact that 1 per cent represents thousands of services, thousands of services where people have been bulk billed for those services. If the government says that that has been a waste of money, then our view is that it has its priorities absolutely wrong.

The minister seems to be taking a very big gamble with patients on this one. She is trying to say: “Oh well there will be no change whatsoever.” The pathology groups, the diagnostic imaging groups are all saying well bad luck, we think there will be a change. There will be a substantial change, and the people who suffer at the end of it will be patients.

This is a very big gamble the Government is taking, in some instances potentially as we‟ve heard, with some patients‟ lives.

INTERVIEWER:: But half a billion dollars, I know you can‟t put that up against people‟s lives, but surely if it has only improved things by one percent, could that money not be spent better elsewhere within the health and hospital system?

KING: Well, again I‟d say, that this is thousands of services that that one percent actually represents, and again you can‟t just say we‟re going to rip $650 million out of

the incentives paid to ensure pathology and diagnostic imaging is bulk billed, and not expect that it is going to have an impact on patients.

Now we‟ve seen the finance minister and the treasurer spend two days trying to pretend “Oh no, this‟ll have no impact on patients.” I‟m pleased that the health minister has at least had the decency to tell the truth - it will have an impact on patients. She knows it will have an impact on patients. I don‟t think that the pathologists and the diagnostic imagers having $650 million ripped out of their businesses, out of the goodness of their hearts are just going to say we‟ll let that go. The cost will be passed onto patients, and that‟s the problem with every measure this government takes. Is that they are blunt instruments, they don‟t think them through, they don‟t consult or negotiate, they just announce them and at the end of the day it is patients that will bear the brunt.

Now in the case of diagnostic imaging in particular, there are already upfront costs that people pay, and in the case for example of an MRI, potentially this will mean you‟re asking people to find $500 before they then can claim any of the rebate back. That is a substantial amount of money for people to find.

I think this is exactly the sort of measure the government was trying to introduce back in 2014 with the GP Tax, which included extending that into pathology and diagnostic imaging. They are very complex areas, and this government has not given a thought to what will happen to patients. It is using this money, in essence MYEFO is a bit of a fraud with some of the figures it‟s got in it. It‟s using this money to account for some of the spending it‟s already made. It‟s not going back into better outcomes in health.

INTERVIEWER: Just on that MRI figure you mentioned up to $500 is what people may pay for an MRI upfront. But, you know, the increase as a result of these changes is closer to $60, and $420 is currently paid by the government. That‟s the current average bulk billing patient rebate. So you know, are you being a bit misleading with that, and I suppose the question really is should the MRI provision companies, should the providers be absorbing some of these costs?

KING: Well the government is saying that‟s what they should do. The providers are saying that‟s not what they are going to do. My interest and concern in this is what happens to patients. The government has without consultation has said it‟s going to take $650 million out of the system. $650 million that is designed to try and ensure that we do have high rates of bulk billing. In fact in diagnostic imaging there has been a substantial increase in bulk billing rates since these incentives have been in play. The minister is saying basically she just hopes on a wing and a prayer that somehow nothing will change. The reality is that the providers are saying it will change, they will now be put into the position of charging a co-payment and that means that patients suffer.

INTERVIEWER: Sussan Ley last night on Sky pointed out that back in 2012 the Labor government cut $550 million out of pathology by restricting growth rates. And apparently

that went into other government priorities not health, so Labor has some form in this area doesn‟t it?

KING: Labor managed, when we were in government, to find efficiencies in the health system without doing the sort of damage this government is doing to patients. Every time this government looks at the health budget it sees it as a source of cuts. It does not think through the consequences.

INTERVIEWER: But how is the government taking money out [it‟s] damaging and when Labor takes money out it‟s not damaging, how does that work?

KING: Well again I would say look at our record in government. We were able to invest substantial new money in our public hospital system. Money unfortunately that has been cut by this government. We built cancer centres across the country, new medical research institutes. We listed new medicines; we put new items onto the Medicare Benefits Schedule. We were able to do all of those things whilst still finding efficiencies, whilst still finding savings across not just the health budget but other parts of the portfolio, and substantially expand the amount of revenue, the amount of money that actually went into health.

This government‟s record when it comes to health has been to cut to the bone, to attack primary care, to attack patients and to rip money out of our public hospital system. It hasn‟t been investing back into the system at all and frankly I don‟t think they can be trusted with the health system and they‟ve proved it again with this mid-year economic financial outlook.

INTERVIEWER:: So will Labor try and block these measures in the senate?

KING: Well my instinct always is to stand up for patients, to stand up for a decent affordable healthcare system for Australians. It will depend in the way this government introduces the measure. It looks as though it will have to be done by regulation. We will seek to use every mechanism we can to oppose these measures in the senate, and certainly I would hope the cross benchers and the Greens would join us with that.

This is of course all happening in the context of the government `undertaking an entire review of the Medicare Benefits Schedule, trying to engage clinicians proactively on having better efficiencies better quality of medicine across this country.

This seems to me to been to have been „Let‟s get a quick save out of the health portfolio‟. Poorly thought through, particularly in the context that there are going to be some major changes that are coming down the track with the MBS review. I think the government needs to rethink its proposition. I don‟t think it will get through the senate, but let‟s see - they could be mean and tricky about it and try a raft of other measures with it. So we‟ll give it a red hot go.

INTERVIEWER: You‟ve pointed to the you know the tobacco tax increases that Labor has promised, that would raise some $47 billion, but you haven‟t released the modelling on the numbers of smokers that you would expect to see, and particularly the decline that the number of smokers. Why won‟t that modelling be released?

KING: Well, we asked the Parliamentary Budget Office as oppositions do, to cost our measures. It is not our policy to release the advice to us, nor was it the now government‟s when they were in opposition. It is a very simple thing, if the government wants to look at this proposal, and I do note that we‟ve had the health minister of the nation actually ridiculing this measure, which is incredible to have a health minister, on a measure that will in fact reduce the number of people smoking, and is a very important health measure, somehow [she] deciding that she‟ll make it some kind of -

INTERVIEWER: You say it will reduce the number of people smoking but by how much, you won‟t say?

KING: We have said when we announced the measure, but also the Parliamentary Budget Office figures, I‟m pretty confident in them. If the government wants to go and use its own resources, it has a Treasury, it has the Department of Finance or the Parliamentary Budget Office. It can do that pretty quickly. They know what the figures are and they will have that before them very quickly.

We do know that excise is one of the measures recommended by the World Health Organisation. Increasing excise is one of the measures that does reduce smoking rates and it‟s an important measure. Now, we have put that on the table - the government has ridiculed it and dismissed it.

We‟ve put taxation changes in superannuation and multinational tax on the table as well. The government has completely dismissed it. This government does not seem to have a plan for where it can find savings properly. By improving health, which is one of the measures that will happen through tobacco taxation, and it seems to just, again, be using the health budget as a source of cuts.

INTERVIEWER: I just want to ask you about a very separate issue, and that is the report from Greg Sheridan in the Australian Newspaper today that several Liberal backbenchers have claimed that the ASIO boss Duncan Lewis, is playing politics with Islam for calling up several MPs and urging them to use soothing language when debating Islam. What do you make of that?

KING: Well, it shouldn‟t be up to the head of ASIO to pull Liberal Party backbenchers into line. It should be up to Malcolm Turnbull to be saying to his members of parliament, when they are doing inflammatory things that, advice would tell you, you need to be very cautious about your language. It should be up to Malcolm Turnbull to be pulling these members into line, it shouldn‟t be up to the head of ASIO.

We do know, the head of ASIO has said this publicly, that if you use inflammatory language, if you go and attack people within the Muslim community in the way in which some members have done, it is sending a very powerful and wrong message. You need to be very careful about that.

We are in positions of great authority, and people listen to us. You do need to be cautious with your language, and if Malcolm Turnbull thinks its ok for his members to be saying these things, then he should say “I don‟t care if they say them or not.” It shouldn‟t be up the head of ASIO here to be pointing out that there is a bit of a security issue here.

The best thing we can be doing, is be working with members of the Muslim communities across all of our communities. Making sure that they are included. It is absolutely. Look, if you want to radicalise a young person, you can certainly see that if they are isolated from the rest of society, if they experience significant racism as they‟re growing up and they‟re not included in the daily lives of the entire community then you can guarantee that that is a recipe for disaster, and these backbenchers frankly should know better.

INTERVIEWER: Shadow Health Minister Catherine King, great to have you on the show this morning, thanks for that.