ABC RADIO ADELAIDE
WEDNESDAY, 20 APRIL 2022
STACEY LEE, HOST: On the Federal Election campaign trail, Senator Anne Ruston is a Liberal Senator, and she is reported to be the Federal Health Minister if the Coalition wins the Federal Election. Good morning, Anne Ruston.
SENATOR ANNE RUSTON: Good morning.
DAVID BEVAN, HOST: You are also the campaign spokesperson for the Coalition – can you, for our listeners, rule out introducing a cashless welfare card for pensioners under any circumstances, should the Scott Morrison Liberal Government be re-elected?
SENATOR ANNE RUSTON: I can absolutely guarantee that to you. This campaign that has been run by the Labor Party, is an absolute lie. They know it’s a lie, and I can absolutely guarantee you, that under a Coalition Government, there will never be a plan to force aged pensioners onto the Cashless Debit Card.
BEVAN: So, who does have a Cashless Debit Card right now?
RUSTON: The Cashless Debit Card operates in four trial sites around Australia. The trial sites were places that came forward and sought to have the card in their communities. It’s also transitioning, in the Northern Territory at the moment, off the ‘Basics Card’ which is another form of income management which is, as the card name depicts, is very basic. It also operates in Cape Yorke under the Families Responsibilities Commission. So, these are the places where the Cashless Debit Card currently operates as a form of income management.
BEVAN: Do you have any plans to expand the Cashless Debit Card to anyone?
RUSTON: Right now, we have no plans whatsoever, apart from supporting those people who are currently in the sites where the Cashless Debit Card operates and where income management operates, to support them to stabilise their life. This is a working age payment program that supports Australians that are finding it tough at the moment to get their life stabilised so they can get back into work. So, the idea that the Labor Party would seek to fare older Australians with lies around a pensioner’s card or the intention of the Government with this card, is absolutely despicable.
LEE: But you’ve just said, right now you have no plans to expand it. You’re leaving a bit of room there to change that in the future?
RUSTON: Not at all, not at all.
LEE: Okay so you’re ruling out expanding it at all, apart from the four trial sites and where you mentioned in the Northern Territory and Cape Yorke, it will not be expanded anywhere else under a re-elected Coalition Government?
RUSTON: The legislation that currently sits in the parliament is very clear about the sites that the Cashless Debit Card can operate in. That is absolutely embedded in legislation and in fact last year, when the legislation was updated in the parliament, Rex Patrick put an amendment to the legislation that said that we needed an iron-clad guarantee that pensioners will never be forced onto the Cashless Debit Card. We supported Rex’s amendment, the Labor Party did not. You also listen to the people that represent seniors in Australia; Ian Yates from Cota, Ian Henschke from Nations Seniors. A quote from Ian Yates – ‘We are 100% sure that claim has no basis’. The national body that represents Australian seniors, knows that the Labor Party is lying, I just wish the Labor party would stop scaring older Australians and come clean with the truth.
BEVAN: Can you rule out large scale cuts to Medicare?
RUSTON: Absolutely David, there will be no cuts.
BEVAN: Not large scale, not small scale, there will be no cuts to Medicare?
RUSTON: There will be no cuts, David, and I think our track record speaks for itself when it comes to Medicare. Year on year we have increased Medicare. In the budget going forward, year on year on year there are increases in the funding towards Medicare. When we came into Government, the previous year, when Labor left office, Medicare funding was $19 billion. Ten years later, Medicare funding is $31.4 billion and increasing every year. But not only that, during that time we’ve been able to make sure that introduced 2900 new or amended medicines so that Australians can get more affordable medicines. We’ve seen the bulk billing rates increase from 82.2% to 88.8% which means that nearly nine out of ten Australians don’t pay when they go to the doctor. We also legislated a guarantee for Medicare. I think this government’s track record shows that we absolutely are committed to Medicare, but it also shows that a strong economy enables us to provide these essential services Australia-wide, and none could be more essential than health.
BEVAN: Can you see any merit in extending Medicare to dentistry?
RUSTON: At the moment we are absolutely committed to making sure that we provide support to Australians in relation to cost of living and to the essential services that they provide. Obviously, we will continue to make sure that we make changes to our Medicare system and to our health system that respond to things that Australian’s need. One of the greatest things that has happening in the last two years has been the huge escalation in things like telehealth.
BEVAN: The question wasn’t about telehealth, Anne Ruston, it’s a fair question and look, maybe you don’t have enough money, maybe you think it isn’t sustainable, but maybe it’s a good idea. Do you think there’s any scope for Medicare to include dentistry?
RUSTON: Obviously, we continue to look at opportunities to be able to improve our Medicare system. Right now, Greg Hunt is still our Health Minister, I’m looking very much forward, over the next few weeks, to be able to pick Greg’s brain so that I can get myself up to speed on the details of ongoing health policy and considerations that may be undertaken as we speak. Right now, he remains the Health Minister and I very much look forward (should the Australian public give us the honour of re-electing us) to look at all of these health policies that Australians rely so heavily on, to make sure that we continue to have a world class health system. But, the only way we have a world- class health system is if we have a strong economy that affords to be able to continue to provide these services for Australians.
LEE: It’s seventeen minutes to nine on ABC Radio Adelaide. Anne Ruston I want to ask you about Vickie Chapman’s decision to leave the State Parliament, did that come as a surprise to you?
RUSTON: Yes, well Vickie has been a member of the Liberal Party and has made an extraordinary contribution to South Australian politics over many, many years. She takes with her a huge amount of history, and there are some great young people who are coming through who I’m sure will take the opportunity to fill the huge gap that will be left by Vickie Chapman.
LEE: How do you read it? Do you think Vickie Chapman needed to go to bring in that renewal that you talk about?
RUSTON: Not at all, not at all. I think one of the great things about our party is the breadth of experience and the depth of the different types of talents. We draw people from all sorts of places, whether they be from rural and regional areas, whether they be from the city…
BEVAN: Anne Ruston, if she wanted to go, she didn’t have to do it on the day David Speirs was announcing his leadership. I mean, some people might call it an act of bastardry!
RUSTON: Look, I don’t know the rationale behind the decisions that are made – I mean none of us do. I congratulate David Speirs on being elected by the party room as the leader of the Liberal Party going forward, and I very much look forward to working with David and the rest for his team around pursuing and putting to the Australian public, in particular the South Australian public, about all the good policies that the Liberal Party has here in South Australia, and federally to support them.
LEE: Alright well, Mark Butler is the Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing, and joins us this morning. Mark Butler, Anne Ruston has just absolutely guaranteed that pensioners will not be moved onto the Cashless Debit Card, will Labor stop saying it now?
MARK BUTLER MP, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: What we’re doing is drawing attention to comments that Anne and the Prime Minister Scott Morrison made about their view that the Cashless Debit Card should be expanded. It’s not just Labor that talked about that, Bridget Archer – a Liberal MP and member of Anne’s party room – has expressed her concerns in the Parliament about the possibility of the Cashless Debit Card being expanded. I know it took Anne a while to get to any concrete commitment, she said ‘not right now’…
BEVAN: No, she couldn’t have been more clear, Mark Butler, and the Prime Minister couldn’t have been more clear. Under no circumstances will a Coalition Government introduce a Cashless Debit Card for pensioners. Do you accept that as of this morning, as of quarter to nine, that that one’s been put to bed, you won’t raise it again?
BUTLER: As of right now, Anne Ruston has said something very different to her comments over the course of this parliament. The Prime Minister has said something very different to what he’s been saying over the course of this parliament. It’s not just Labor that’s been drawing attention to this, it’s members of Anne’s own Coalition party room. What we’ve said is we’ll abolish the Cashless Debit Card. People will have to make up their own minds whether they believe what Scott Morrison said in 2019, or what Anne Ruston said in 202, or what they’re saying now. Look at what Anne described as the track record of this government that was elected on a platform of no cuts to health, no cuts to education and look at what happened after that.
BEVAN: Can you point to a statement where either Scott Morrison or Anne Ruston have said ‘we want to expand the Cashless Debit Card to pensioners?’
BUTLER What I can point to is comments from Scott Morrison who said that the Cashless Debit Card commended itself for wider application.
BEVAN: Okay, hang on. We agree on this, Mark Butler, we agree on this. You can find no place where Morrison or Ruston have said ‘we want to expand the Cashless Debit Card to pensioners.’ You can’t find any place where they said that explicitly, and they have now explicitly said they will not do that. So, do you agree that one’s dead and buried.
BUTLER: No, I don’t, I don’t at all. The way in which you kill this thing off, is if you do what the Labor Party has done and said that this Cashless Debit Card is not a good tool of public policy, particularly when you have the Prime Minister and the Minister breezily talking about the possibility of expansion, even if they didn’t mention particular groups, everyone knows what sort of groups are covered by government payments.
LEE: Yes but, Mark Butler, political parties are within their right to change their policies and to change their minds on things as you and Labor well know. You’ve had Ian Yates from the Council of the Ageing saying ‘Labor is scaring pensioners with this false information’ Anne Ruston, who will be the Health Minister if the Coalition wins this election, has absolutely guaranteed it will not be expanded to pensioners, and you’ve just said you don’t accept that. How is this not fearmongering?
BUTLER: What we have said is we’ve drawn attention to comments that the Prime Minister and the Minister at the time, Anne Ruston, have made over the course of this parliament. People will make up their own minds about whether they believe these assurances given right at the end of a parliamentary term in the shadow of an election, or whether, really, Scott Morrison and Anne Ruston were talking about their true intentions through the course of the parliamentary term. As I said, it wasn’t just us that drew attention to this, it was members of Anne Ruston’s own Coalition party room that expressed deep concern about the possibility of this policy tool being extended to other Australians. People can make up their own mind, which of Anne’s comments they believe.
BEVAN: Ian Yates from the Council of Ageing says that you should stop scaring pensioners.
BUTLER: No, No, what we’re doing is drawing attention to comments made by the Prime Minister of the country, and the relevant minister.
BEVAN: And are you also saying to the people ‘it’s okay, he’s promised that he will not do this.’ So, we’ve flushed that out, we’ve got it on the record, now we can move on. But, you’re going to continue to scare them, I suppose that’s how you run campaigns, but you’re happy to continue to scare people even though you’ve been told not to worry about.
BUTLER: Let’s just step back, David, let’s just step back. If we had not drawn attention to this, if we had not said that the Prime Minister was out there breezily saying he thought this was a good policy tool, and we should now look at expanding it, Anne Ruston said exactly the same thing. If we had not drawn attention to this, what are you saying would’ve happened? There would’ve been no debate the Prime Minister of the country indicated that he wanted to expand this tool. That’s precisely the job of the opposition!
BEVAN: And now you’ve got the assurance.
BUTLER: And people will have to make up their own mind of which of Scott Morrison’s comments, they think, tells the truth. People will make up their own mind about that. Ian Yates obviously has, but people will make up their own mind.
LEE: Alright. We asked Anne Ruston, back there, about Medicare. She says there will be not cuts to Medicare under a Coalition government. What are your plans with Medicare, and will you include dentistry?
BUTLER: Well, let me just talk about Anne’s comments first. She said that we should take the government on it’s track record. Well, this was a government elected on the basis that there’d be no cuts to health and the first budget sought to introduce a co-payment for every single Australian going to the doctor. Pensioners, people on low incomes, would all have to put their hand in their own pocket. Eventually, we managed to defeat that, but even after Tony Abbott had withdrawn that proposal, Anne Ruston was still in the Senate. After Tony Abbott had hoisted the white flag, saying that Medicare would not be sustainable without a co-payment system, would not be sustainable, at a time when the budget was on the fast track to budget surplus apparently, we weren’t a trillion dollars in debt.
LEE: Well, we want to talk about moving forward. We want to talk about Labor’s policies, not Tony Abbott, those days are gone, we want to talk to you about your policies. Does Labor have a plan to include dental in Medicare?
BUTLER: I’m not talking about Tony Abbott, I’m talking about the new Health Minister designent, and her track record. Not fleeting comments at a dinner party, but in the parliament, after even Tony Abbott withdrew his comments about a co-payment. The fiercest advocate at that time for a co-payment, is the person that Scott Morrison has hand-picked for the Health Ministry if he’s re-elected.
LEE: Is this the problem for Labor? We’ve just given you an opportunity to talk about your policies and you’re not taking it. People want to hear about what your policies are.
BUTLER I’m happy to talk about my policies, but what I’m also going to do, is respond to mistruths being spoken to your listeners by Anne Ruston about the track record of this government. The track record of this government is billions of dollars in cuts to Medicare through a Medicare rebate freeze that Scott Morrison extended when he was treasurer, that each and every year takes more than $500 million out of the Medicare system, which is why people are paying more than they have ever paid before to go to the doctor. One in three people paid gap fees, not one in ten as Anne just said, one in three who pay gap fees. Now over the course of this campaign we’ll be outlining our plans to strengthen Medicare, to make it easier to go to a doctor. We’ve already talked about urgent care centres which will allow people with minor emergencies to access free care, fully free care, seven days a week, instead of having to line up for a hospital emergency department when their child falls off the skateboard and busts their arm, or they get a deep cut. This is a big debate this election, Medicare has been run down over the last ten years, and an election is about choices. You have the choice between a party that is committed to strengthening Medicare, or one with a track record of deep cuts.
BEVAN: I’m sorry, maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention because we were getting a lot of texts coming through, but have you ruled out including dentistry or not? Did you rule it in or out?
BUTLER: Well, we’ve still got a range of our health policies to outline over the course of this campaign. We’ve still got five weeks of this campaign to run which I’m sure will delight your listeners, David. In our platform we’ve got a strong commitment, over time, to include dentistry in Medicare.
BEVAN: Over time? Well, will your children or your grandchildren get dentistry in Medicare?
BUTLER: Well, what I can say is the last government provided access through Medicare to dental care for children. Hundreds of thousands of children get Medicare benefits because of what we did in the last government. That’s had a huge impact on their oral health which will pay dividends for decades to come. There’s obviously more to do, this has been a long-standing anomaly, not covering dental care, and at some point in the future it’s going to have to be dealt with, but we’ll have more to say about that over the course of the campaign.
BEVAN: Mark Butler, thank you for your time, and before that, Anne Ruston.