SUBJECT/S: Polls; GP Tax; Liberal Party chaos




KIERAN GILBERT: This is AM Agenda. With me now, Liberal frontbencher Simon Birmingham and Labor frontbencher Michelle Rowland. Good morning to both of you. Michelle, I’ll get to you first on this IPSOS Fairfax Poll. What did you make of it given the events on the other side of politics? Is it a bit of a worry that Labor’s vote has fallen four points, Mr Shorten’s approval rating also down?


MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: I’ve taken a pretty consistent approach to polls, Kieran, and that is you shouldn’t focus on them. You should be listening to your constituency and your electorate and the people you are representing both in your area and in your portfolios. And I can tell you what this poll is actually showing is I doubt there is a person who seriously believes Tony Abbott’s Prime Ministership is not terminal, seriously. I think this is a reflection of other contenders putting their hands up and it’s very clear that he is coming third to other contenders within his own party. But even putting all that aside, I don’t even think we need to go there.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That was the ‘I’m not going to comment on the polls’ comment on the polls.

ROWLAND: Well, I think it needs a preamble because it’s important to recognise that in even these numbers, if my colleague here wants to take pleasure in them, knock yourself out. But when you go around Western Sydney and speak to people who are about to vote in a state election in a couple of weeks’ time, Tony Abbott is toxic and he’s toxic not only because he lied to the electorate, he lied his way into Government, but because of his policies. It doesn’t matter who is leading the Liberal Party, they are toxic because of their policies. And it would be a very, very brave person to suggest that going into the New South Wales election you are going to have a better result than you would otherwise have with Tony Abbott there.

GILBERT: Okay, let’s get Senator Birmingham your thoughts on a bit of what Michelle Rowland had to say but also I guess this does give Tony Abbott some breathing space now surely?

BIRMINGHAM: Well Kieran, firstly in what relation to Michelle just said; let’s see the New South Wales election fought between the New South Wales parties. The Labor Party’s desire to create some sort of haze and drag all Federal issues into this really is of course an indictment of where they stand in New South Wales and where they have been as a government previously in New South Wales. In terms of the Federal sphere, Kieran, what I hear from colleagues and what I see from the Government and what I hear from people on the ground is that the public and the Government have all moved on from the events in the last few weeks far faster than it seems the media cycle necessarily has.


We are getting on with the job of governing and last week you saw that in intensity with policy debates and of course the Prime Minister out there delivering his National Security statement on Monday, releasing discussion papers in relation to foreign investment in agribusinesses and in residential real estate. You see steps forward in relation to the metadata laws that the Government will be hoping to progress this week. You’ll see the intergenerational report released this week that will outline, of course, the disastrous state of the Budget that we inherited from Labor. Real long term structural challenges that whoever is in government in Australia will face and our government is committed to fronting up to those problems and getting on with the discussing the sometimes difficult task of fixing them.

GILBERT: Is there a chance though that people have already factored in a leadership change as the pollster in Fairfax is suggesting this morning, that that’s what the polling is suggesting.

BIRMINGHAM: Kieran, I think people have factored in a government that is able to go like that to get back on with the policy debate, to get back on with doing the things Australians want to see in terms of tackling issues like the labelling of fruit products which came about last week in terms of responding to real community concerns and action from the Government to get on quickly with addressing those types of issues that matter to people’s day to day lives, not the inside Canberra chatter.

GILBERT: Michelle Rowland, just finally on this poll issue, is it maybe a case of people thinking for the first time – thinking about the alternative and they don’t necessarily like what they see in Bill Shorten and Labor, there’s not enough of an alternative there?

ROWLAND: I don’t get that at all. We are very clear about our need this year to be an opposition that actually has ideas, unlike when Tony Abbott was in Opposition getting elected with no plan to govern and you can see that in the results today. We’re releasing today a policy initiative in terms of multinational tax. We are also very concerned about making sure that we have the rest of our policies being rolled out. But look just to go to some of the things that Simon has touched on. I read a lot of analysis about the attributes of the Prime Minister are actually really down in the doldrums. Areas like trustworthiness, having a vision for the country. And again, I don’t need a poll to tell me that that’s the case. People know that this is a guy that is bereft of ideas. Any policy announcements that are being made are about saving his own job, ditching paid parental leave, something that he was a zealot, a zealot, about this – ditched it. Now the Medicare co-payment, we don’t actually know if it’s off yet. We’ve had that many false stops and starts about whether it was coming in or not coming in.

GILBERT: Okay. Well it’s actually going to go this week as far as I’m advised, the Medicare co-payment to go. Is this a sign the Prime Minister is listening and well, he probably should have done that a bit sooner.

BIRMINGHAM: Sussan Ley, the new Minister, has been out there consulting. That’s been evident to all, that’s exactly what the PM said weeks and weeks ago is what would happen. So there’s no surprise here, the Heath Minister with the Prime Minister’s full support has been out talking about what to do in this space. There’ll be more said in relation to that shortly, but of course what we can be clear on here is that the Government will only now move in relation to Medicare reform where we have the clear support of the medical profession. That’s not to say we’re going to stop talking and engaging with that profession about the type of solutions that can be embraced that will address the long term structural challenges we have with Medicare. The reality is, the Medicare levy only delivers half of what it costs to fund Medicare. The cost of funding Medicare is going up, and up, and up. And as a Government we’re at least willing to talk to industry, talk to the health profession to try and come up with solutions to these big problems the government faces.

GILBERT: We’re only three weeks away from the next Budget, and yet this has taken so long to come to this realisation that this is a dud politically.



BIRMINGHAM: Kieran, fixing the nation’s long term problems is not something that can be done easily. It’s not something that can be done easily when you have an obstinate and obstructionist Labor Party, when you have a difficult and challenging Senate, but these are long term problems and if it takes a little longer to have the discussions required to come up with the effective solutions that can get support from the medical profession, that can bring the community with us – then so be it. We’ll take a little bit longer to get those solutions. But we won’t back away from dealing with the problems even though the Labor Party seems to pretend they don’t even exist.

GILBERT: And with the Government now clearly listening on this front, and the Prime Minister to move on it, his polling has improved despite the characterisation that you’re saying he’s toxic in the electorate, well the numbers have improved. Is there a chance here that people are writing him off far too early once again?

ROWLAND: Who knows. I will just say in relation to what’s being said about this co-payment. Firstly, Simon comes in here and says the Government is listening. Well it’s taken a while. It sure has taken a while. I was sitting down with my local GPs in my area when this was first being discussed. And they were saying very clearly: how can you possibly attack primary healthcare and think you are going to have a more sustainable Medicare? How can you possibly attack the structures which go to managing long term issues like chronic disease, preventative health and so forth. Exactly the wrong way to do it. So they came in at exactly the wrong angle.

BIRMINGHAM: What about the long term Budget outlook, Michelle?

ROWLAND: You can go and support our initiatives where we’ve got $2 billion worth of saves in the area where Chris Bowen’s about to announce later today but I’ll put that to one side at the moment.

BIRMINGHAM: That’s a mere sneeze in the health system, you know that.

ROWLAND: Kieran, the issue here is that this is a Prime Minister who is only dumping this for his own job. All of a sudden. He was so committed to it – remember before the Griffith by-election: ‘Labor’s scare campaign, there’s not going to be a co-payment’. Budget comes in, everyone, backing the Medicare co-payment on the Liberals side. Talking about the sustainability of Medicare, talking about this medical research fund we were going to have, this was absolutely essential. I had people sitting there telling me we are hypochondriacs that see doctors and we need to send a price signal. And then it was a value statement. This is utter, utter rubbish.


What has this Government done in the area of health since it got elected? We’re nearly 18 months in and they are still fighting amongst themselves about whether or not they’re going to have a co-payment. Poor Bruce Billson, he was out there remember not too long ago saying it was off the table and all of a sudden he got told it was still on the table. These people do not know what they are doing and meanwhile in areas like mine you’ve got hospital waiting lists, you’ve got emergency departments overflowing, you’ve got cuts to health in the Budget. Utter debacle.

GILBERT: Simon Birmingham, your reaction to that and you can wrap up I guess with your response to that fairly [inaudible] criticism.

BIRMINGHAM: Well look, a clear rant there which is wonderful to identify that there are many problems facing the health sector and we absolutely acknowledge that. Part of that is the cost of delivering health care in Australia, the costs of running Medicare just keep escalating at a rapid rate. We want Medicare to be sustainable, we want a fair go for all Australians. We want to make sure we have a health policy in place that ensures those who are vulnerable, those who are less well-off are always cared for as they should be in a country like Australia. But it has to be sustainable. We have to find ways to pay for it. Now Labor can rant and rant all they want about these matters.

ROWLAND: It’s not called ranting, it’s called the electorate.

BIRMINGHAM: But the truth is you have to face -

ROWLAND: No, no – stop listening, that’s all right. Go on.

BIRMINGHAM: You have to face up to the fact that there are actually Budget pressures at some stage that you left a $600 million deficit -

ROWLAND: Yeah, don’t listen.

BIRMINGHAM: On track to be –

ROWLAND: Keep going.

BIRMINGHAM: What do you mean ‘stop listening’, Michelle?

ROWLAND: You’ve stopped listening.

BIRMINGHAM: Come on, Michelle.

ROWLAND: You stopped listening to the electorate some time ago.

BIRMINGHAM: You guys have your heads buried in the sand ignoring the facts.

ROWLAND: The facts?

BIRMINGHAM: The Budget facts this country faces are real challenges. Michelle, you left a huge debt.

ROWLAND: The facts are that your Budget hit people who could least afford it and now you’re dumping the most unpopular centrepiece of it.

GILBERT: We’ve got to wrap up, my apologies. We can continue this after the news – well, you can. We’ve got to keep going. A quick break, back in just a moment. Thanks for your company.