KIERAN GILBERT: With me this morning, the Manager of Opposition Business and the Shadow Finance Minister, Tony Burke. Tony Burke it looks like Labor’s had a win here with the GP co-payment to be shelved.

TONY BURKE, SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER AND MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS: This is a complete mess for the Government where this is up to. In one paper they’re saying they’re getting rid of it, in another they’re saying they’re going to find a way, without having to report to the Parliament, of being able to keep the payment. The one thing we know for sure is that Tony Abbott believes there should be a tax on people every time they go to the doctor, and whatever political games he might play over the next few weeks won’t change the fact that we know from the Budget they believe this charge should be in place. We also know it doesn’t matter what they say before an election, after the election this is the sort of thing that they’ll introduce. Tony Abbott will not be able to walk away from this policy.

GILBERT: Well he’s saying that Labor is sacrificing the national interest for short term politics, that this is something that is much needed economic reform to put it on a sustainable footing. What do you say to that given that there’s no alternate savings measures that Labor’s putting up?

BURKE: In the first instance though, doesn’t that say it all? If even at the point where they’re claiming they might walk away from it, they’re saying it’s in the national interest. That makes clear that this will remain an issue all the way up to the next election, no matter what they do now. If even at the time that they’re leaking to some papers they might walk away from it, they’re still saying it’s in the national interest, that means if they can’t introduce this before the next election then they’ll introduce it after. This is core central belief of Tony Abbott that he believes people should have to pay a tax when they go to the doctor, effectively a tax on being sick.

The claim that Labor hasn’t had serious savings measures is absurd. One of the first things they did was get rid of tax on high income superannuation that we had in place, get rid of tax measures that we had to deal with multinationals shifting money across to tax havens and then they’ve got the spending measure of all spending measures with what they want to do on Paid Parental Leave, where they throw out all the concept of means testing and introduce the principle that the more you earn, the more extra money the government will give you. In terms of budget responsibility they do not make the cut at all. Budgets are about priorities, they have prioritised hurting middle and low income Australians every chance they can get.

GILBERT: The Government’s point is and I guess this is a moot point now given it is going to be shelved; it’s going to be scrapped but –

BURKE: Scrapped is brave when he is still saying it’s in the national interest.

GILBERT: Well sure –

BURKE: They might press the pause button on it.

GILBERT: They say that Labor introduced a co-payment for the Parliamentary, sorry for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, the PBS, if you’ve got a co-payment for medicine, doesn’t the same principle apply for a GP visit?

BURKE: No not at all. When you go to a GP you find out whether or not you’re sick. If you delay going to the GP, by the time you finally present to an Emergency ward, you can have all sorts of complications. This idea that people should self-diagnose, that you can pick, before the GP has checked someone out, what the actual level of sickness should be is an approach to google medicine.

GILBERT: So you’d say this is a win though for you, for Labor, because you’ve been saying you want to protect universal healthcare, so this is a win for Labor isn’t it?

BURKE: Every day we can stop the GP Tax is a day that is good for the people who rely on Labor to represent them. But be in no doubt, be in no doubt at all, if Tony Abbott is still referring to it being a national interest, that says if it’s not an issue this side of the next election he’d be trying to introduce it straight after the next election if he wins again.

GILBERT: Now on the Australian Submarine Corporation, the Defence Minister has said he regrets it, it was a slip of the tongue. That’s happened before with Ministers he says, but in terms of the principle, the basis of his point it’s been vindicated again by the front page of The Australian today a report that shows the construction of the warfare destroyers is at risk of even further blowouts, hundreds of millions of dollars. So the underlying point that he’s making is right isn’t it, that this corporation does have some serious problems?  

BURKE: What he’s done today is leak certain paragraphs of a report that the Government had since April, since April. I don’t think anyone would believe it’s just purely a coincidence that they’ve decided to find the worst paragraphs of that report that they can and put them out the moment the Defence Minister’s in a position where Australians are recognising that the man needs to be sacked.

GILBERT: Now, but the point he’s making is that the ASC is an organisation that has its problems, now if he’s had a slip of the tongue why should he quit - he recognised it straight away?

BURKE: Well even the Prime Minister yesterday was claiming that he’d done the right thing and apologised, there had been no apology, there had been no apology at all. The Prime Minister was wanting to assert ‘well that was one of the reasons why he shouldn’t be sacked,’ well that hadn’t even happened, hadn’t happened and still hasn’t. You’ve got the Defence Minister of Australia talking down what ends up becoming Australian defence equipment. What becomes essential Australian defence material and equipment and he’s talking down the quality of it. That’s not just an unwise piece of rhetoric, that’s a serious issue to say to the rest of the world that the Defence Minister of Australia doesn’t have confidence in our own submarines.

GILBERT: The Parliamentary Budget Office has told the Financial Review that the rapidly declining iron ore prices, the commodity prices and productivity has really a very short term, medium to short term structural problem that needs to be dealt with in terms of savings. Is it time that both sides of politics have to get this right because if we don’t we’re facing even greater debt and deficit down the track aren’t we?

BURKE: Well the report that’s come out today goes to three of the key leavers in terms of productivity, participation and then also whats happening with terms of trade, and goes through as the likely trend lines on those as what it means for the Budget. It needs to be understood that that report deals with the Budget as it was brought down in May. So it looks at the outcome of Joe Hockey’s prescription and says these are the outcomes, which are negative where we’re heading. So this’s based on even if Joe Hockey got the whole budget he wanted, and the problem’s this: when one of your key drivers, one of your three key drivers is labour productivity, the worst thing you can be doing is cutting your investment in science and cutting your investment in education and cutting your investment in health. These are the drivers of making sure that people get to work each day, of making sure that people work as effectively as they possibly can. For the drivers that that report refers to the Budget is the worst prescription you could have.

GILBERT: Tony Burke thanks for your time.

BURKE: See you again.   


Tony Burke