TONY BURKE, SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER: Last night Joe Hockey made it crystal clear the Government is gearing up to break its election promise to pensioners. The day before the election Tony Abbott made, in no uncertain terms, a commitment that there would be no changes to pensions, no changes to pensions. There is no way of reading what Joe Hockey said last night, other than by recognising that they are gearing up to break that promise. And to break the promise at the exact same time that they’re saying pensioners need to pull their weight and at the same time saying pensioners need to take cuts, they can find $5.5 billion for an overly generous paid parental scheme that delivers the opposite of means testing, a paid parental Leave system that actually says ‘the more you earn, the more you get.’ 

It’s not good enough for this government to manufacture a budget emergency, it’s not good enough for this Government to have the sort of twisted priorities where they aim for people who are the most in need and then shovel all the benefits to people who are the wealthiest. That is the clear pattern, the clear pattern that’s emerged here. Joe Hockey had only been on office a few months when he’d more than doubled the deficit by adding $68 billion to it. At the time we said he was doing it so that he could create some sort of crisis to justify the cuts he wanted to make. We now know those cuts are aimed at those who can afford it least. Those cuts are aimed at education, at health, at pensioners, at the same time that he can find all the money he needs to pay some of the wealthiest people $75,000 for having a child.

JOURNALIST: Mr Burke when Labor increased the pension age, while in office, didn’t you flag then further increases that would be needed as the population aged?

BURKE: All the information on which the Government is basing, and the comments that we heard last night, were based on information that was provided in the Intergenerational Report. Joe Hockey last night provided aging population information as though it were new. It was produced in the Intergenerational Report and published in 2010. They knew all of this information before Tony Abbott stood up and said there would be no changes to pensions. He said that knowing all the facts and we intend to hold him to it.

JOURNALIST: Joe Hockey also mentioned there needs to be a look at the superannuation preservation age, which is currently set at 60, is that something you would support in the future perhaps?

BURKE: We’ll wait until we see proposals on these issues. At the moment, at the moment we’ve got them flagging a series of broken promises and it’s important to put down the marker straight away that we intend to hold them to account on this.

JOURNALIST: But shouldn’t those on higher incomes be forced to pay a fee for bulk billing doctors for example?

BURKE: Where you are right now has one of the highest bulk billing rates in Australia. Here, 97 per cent of the people, exactly where we’re standing now, get bulk billing when they go to see the doctor. They have one thing to take into account, which is whether or not they’re sick. They don’t have to take into account whether or not they can afford it. Joe Hockey has no credibility arguing in favour of means testing when they’re putting forward a Paid Parental Leave System that is the opposite of means testing. Means testing is about saying ‘the less money you’ve got, the more help you’ll receive,’  their Paid Parental Leave Scheme is about saying ‘the more money you’ve got, the more extra the Government will give you’. They are twisted priorities, they are wrong, and it’s something they can’t be allowed to get away with.

JOURNALIST: I know you’ve been talking about what people here in Lakemba are doing in terms of bulk billing, but shouldn’t those on higher incomes, just to bring it back to the Commission, be forced to pay a fee for bulk billing doctors.

BURKE: One of the challenges, if you create a situation where people have to determine whether or not they’ve got enough money at that point in time to go to the doctor before they go, you end up with people putting off treatment, you end up with the additional costs to the tax payer of people who could have been dealt with fairly simply early in an illness, not presenting until something’s quite advanced. That’s a bad outcome in health costs and a terrible outcome for the individuals involved.

JOURNALIST: How hard will you fight against these changes?

BURKE: We oppose them. We oppose them. We believe in Medicare, and throughout the entire election campaign Tony Abbott claimed that he believed in Medicare too. What we’re finding now, is issue after issues that he said right up until the day before the election were solid commitments – one-by-one they’re knocking them over. They promised no cuts to health and now we get a GP tax, they promised no cuts to education, now they abandoned Gonski, they promised no changes to pensions and we see what they’re doing right now on pensions. One at a time the promises that were made by the Prime Minister the day before people voted are turning out to be completely hollow.  

JOURNALIST: So will Labor look at trying to block budget bills?

BURKE: Let’s wait till we see the bills, but be in no doubt, if the Government thinks they can say one thing before an election and do the exact opposite in their first budget, they’re going to find that it’s not something the community lets them get away with.

JOURNALIST: Just on a separate topic. Given your past links to Eddie Obeid are you confident you won’t be called before ICAC?

BURKE: Well I don’t accept the premise of the question. I was a member of Parliament at the same time that he was a member of parliament, and so I don’t accept the premise of the question. Anybody when ICAC asks them to participate or assist in any way should provide that assistance.

JOURNALIST: Thank you Mr Burke.

BURKE: Ok, thank you.



Tony Burke