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Transcript of interview with Kumi Taguchi: ABC News Breakfast: 23 June 2016: CFA; Medicare; marriage equality



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SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INVESTMENT

SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

E&OE TRANSCRIPT TELEVISION INTERVIEW ABC NEWS BREAKFAST THURSDAY, 23 JUNE 2016

SUBJECT/S: CFA; Medicare; marriage equality.

KUMI TAGUCHI: Let's turn back to Federal politics now. It's just over one week until Australians go to the polls. Joining us now is Labor senator Penny Wong from Adelaide. Senator, thanks so much for your time this morning.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON: Good to be with you.

TAGUCHI: Let's start with the CFA dispute. This looks really likely to threaten some key Labor seats here with a lot of Labor voters saying they will be switching sides this election because of their anger over that CFA dispute. What are your thoughts on that?

WONG: What I would say is this is obviously a matter for the State Government, although Malcolm Turnbull is desperately trying to leverage this into the Federal sphere. All of us across the political spectrum, the Labor Party certainly, values the dedication, the commitment, of volunteer and paid firefighters. Bill's been saying this dispute should be settled. We're hoping it will be settled, but let's be very clear this is Malcolm Turnbull wanting to play politics with what is essentially a state issue. I suspect people will go to the polls thinking about Medicare, education, and jobs, those will be the primary issues when people enter the ballot box.

TAGUCHI: Well, Senator, let’s turn to Medicare. Josh Frydenberg was on the show earlier this morning and he said that under no circumstances would Medicare - of course reiterating that - be sold off to private providers and also quashing any claims that vaccination records would be potentially passed on to private providers under a Coalition Government, which Bill Shorten and Labor is now going to be talking about today. What about those vaccinations? Where are these comments coming from in terms of from Labor?

WONG: Well, we've seen a contract for consideration of these matters to be dealt with by the private sector in the same way that the cancer registry is it being dealt with by the private sector.

There is a pattern of behaviour here. I'm not surprised that Josh said ‘we won’t do anything to Medicare’ before an election. Just like Tony Abbott said there would be no cuts to health and no cuts to education and no cuts to the ABC.

Since this Government was elected we've seen consistent and persistent attacks on Medicare. From the attempt to introduce a GP tax in 2014 to the GP tax by stealth which is being implemented. Medicine is becoming more expensive. We've seen cuts to the bulk billing incentives, so it makes it harder for Australians to get the pathology tests that they need, and we've also seen contracts being given to consider how parts of the Medicare payment system could be privatised. So Australians are concerned about this Government's attitude towards Medicare and they're right to be concerned.

TAGUCHI: There are concerns over that backend, the payments system, some antiquated systems that exist within Medicare. How would a Labor Government update those systems without going out to any private contractors? How would that be funded?

WONG: Well, it's very clear that IT upgrading and updating is an ongoing task of government. That’s something, when I was Finance Minister, you have to look across the board at different departments and different agencies and how we improve the IT system, whether it's in the Finance Department or elsewhere.

But the point here is, we go into this as people who are part of a Party that for decades have supported Medicare, we built it, we've always protected it. The Liberal Party go into this as a party who has a history of first opposing Medicare, let's remember, and this term undermining it and damaging it. That's the reality.

TAGUCHI: Let's turn to same-sex marriage. Bill Shorten writing on his Facebook page overnight that he was determined that Parliament would decide the issue directly instead of a plebiscite. If that were the case, how do you think that a Parliament would vote on that issue?

WONG: Well, if we are successful next weekend we will introduce legislation to deliver marriage equality without the need for an expensive and divisive plebiscite. We've made that very clear. We would hope that members of the Liberal Party, who we know support marriage equality, including Malcolm Turnbull, but who have basically done what the conservatives want by putting this to a plebiscite. Let's remember that's why Malcolm Turnbull is doing this. He's not doing this because he believes it. He's on the record as saying this should be a parliamentary vote. He's doing this because he has to, because Tony Abbott and others have demanded it - and Barnaby Joyce - I mean, these are the people who are determining Liberal Party policy.

What I would say though is that if we are elected we would hope that those in the Liberal Party who are supportive would actually ensure that they stood up for what

they believed in and they supported a bill. If they did so we'd have marriage equality within 100 days.

TAGUCHI: And Senator, if the Labor Government is not elected what will the Labor’s stance be on same-sex marriage, having then said a plebiscite is not the way to go? Malcolm Turnbull is pretty much determined to go the plebiscite angle. What will be your argument around that if the Coalition is returned to power?

WONG: Well, my focus, as you would probably expect, is on working to elect a Labor Government who will deliver marriage equality. That's my focus. I'm on the record about why. I think a plebiscite is the wrong way to go.

There is a people's vote on marriage equality and it is on July 2. People have a choice of electing a government that will deliver marriage equality or electing a government which is divided to the core on this issue. As has been seen in these last days they are divided to the core and, unfortunately, on this issue, Malcolm Turnbull is weak. He has not been able to stand up to the conservatives who will never support marriage equality and will do everything they can to oppose it.

TAGUCHI: Labor Senator Penny Wong joining us from Adelaide. Thanks so much for your time.

WONG: Thanks Kumi.

ENDS