DOORSTOP: 24/4/22

April 24, 2022


MARION SCRYMGOUR, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR LINGIARI: Thank you all for coming. I want to firstly acknowledge the traditional owners, the Central Arrernte traditional owners of this great country, where we are meeting and having this press conference. I also want to thank Purple House for their hospitality and allowing us to do the filming here. I'm joined, of course, by Penny Wong, who is the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Mark Butler, who is the Shadow Minister for Health. We are here to make some fantastic announcements, important announcements, and I think what we often say, that the Territory always does better under a Labor Government federally, is so true. I think that when we look across the health sphere, and the chronic health of Aboriginal Territorians, but just Territorians full stop, I think that investing in health is really important. So, without further ado, I'll introduce Penny, and then maybe Mark, and then they will be open for questions. Thank you.

PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Thanks very much, Marion. It's great to be here and thank you again for being such a fabulous candidate for Lingiari. I'm joined also by Warren, who needs no introduction, and obviously my friend and colleague Mark Butler. Can I first thank Irene and Sarah from Purple House for inviting us here and having us here, and for all the work that you do? It's fantastic work, and happy birthday Irene. I hope we see many more. Walking through here, you get a sense of the sort of work Purple House and all the people involved in it do for the community and how important it is. Now, we do know Aboriginal community health services worked tirelessly to keep our First Nations peoples safe through the pandemic. We also know that these organisations have been stretched to the limit, and vital programs such as chronic disease prevention in our First Nations communities and health checks have had to be scaled back. Labor will take the approach of working in partnership with community-controlled and other health services to strengthen the sector and improve healthcare outcomes for our First Nations people. Labor has a better plan for a better future, and part of that has to be a better future for First Nations peoples here in this country. Mr Morrison is here – I think you might have seen him. He's doing what he knows he knows how to do – he’s making more announcements. He will make an awful lot of announcements in this current campaign. What I'd say to Australians is: Don't judge Mr Morrison on his announcements, judge him on what he's delivered for you, what he's actually delivered, and when it comes to First Nations people around this country, the gap in First Nations health is profound. It is profound, and, sadly, it hasn't improved under his Government. First Nations Australians are four times more likely to die from rheumatic heart disease. Four times as likely to have kidney disease, we've seen some of the consequences of that today, and more than twice as likely to die from suicide in their youth. So, the First Nations communities of this land need a Prime Minister who will take responsibility and deliver on his promises for all Australians. 

So too do our veteran communities. I'll hand over to Mark shortly to talk in a bit more detail about the health announcement, but I wanted to talk today about Anzac Day and about Labor's announcement today for veterans. As you know, tomorrow's Anzac Day. I'll be heading to the dawn service in Adelaide, as I'm sure many Australians will be across the country getting to their dawn service, paying respects, and giving thanks for the service of Australian men and women. But a measure of the nation's respect for its veterans is more than fine words. A measure of respect is in how we treat the men and women who have served us when they return, and how we treat their families. In the last week of the Parliament, we saw the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Andrew Gee, threaten to resign because the Prime Minister Mr Morrison had refused to properly fund veterans' services, just as he had resisted a Royal Commission on Veterans' Suicide for years, and he resisted properly funding Veterans' Affairs, even when his own Minister threatened to quit. What I'd say to you is, yet again, we see Mr Morrison's character on display. Why does he need to be dragged to do the right thing? So often, he has to be dragged to do the right thing. Anthony Albanese and a Labor government, if elected, we will fix the crisis in Veterans' Affairs and restore the respect that veterans and our families deserve. So today, I am announcing a $519.2 million plan to repair a decade of damage, a decade of neglect; and to strengthen the services veterans and their families count on. The plan will cut waiting times, because we'll boost the Department of Veterans Affairs in the way that Minister Gee wanted. We'll deliver 10 new veteran hubs, and we'll boost Defence ownership. We will increase the Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Veterans pension. We will put in place a Veterans Employment Program and we will put in place a Defence and Veteran Family Support Strategy. I'm happy to take questions on that later and the questions of the day. But I will hand over now to Mark to talk about the health announcements.

MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks very much Penny. It's a wonderful pleasure to be here with Marion and of course with Warren as well in Alice Springs. Thank you to Purple House, to Irene and Sarah and all the staff and volunteers at this wonderful organisation that's been delivering services for more than 20 years, for hosting us today and talking to us about the challenge of supporting people with chronic kidney disease, not just here in Central Australia, but the footprint of Purple House is extending right through the country delivering quality services and building on the work that they've done here in Alice. I also want to acknowledge Congress here today, who also deliver extraordinarily important wonderful health services to Central Australia. Today, it's my great pleasure to announce a package of $111 million to improve the health of First Nations Australians. Labor will deliver more workers and more services to continue to close the gap in Indigenous health. The scale of that gap I think is now well understood across our country. Today's announcement particularly focuses on two disease areas that are of particular concern in this community. The first, as Penny outlined, is chronic kidney disease, and the second rheumatic heart disease. Chronic kidney disease affects about four times as many Indigenous Australians as it does non-Indigenous Australians. Rheumatic heart disease is a disease described commonly as a disease of poverty which has been eradicated in most developed nations around the world. Indigenous Australians are about 15 times as likely to contract rheumatic heart disease and, shockingly, Indigenous children are 55 times more likely to die of rheumatic heart disease than their non-Indigenous counterparts in this country. One of the country's great strengths in our health system is the Aboriginal community-controlled health model. It is delivering wonderful services across the country, overseen by NACCHO, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, but working with around 160 community-controlled health organisations right throughout the country. As Penny said, they've done extraordinary work protecting their communities, vaccinating their communities, during this once-in-a-century pandemic. We've worked and engaged very closely with them to understand that sector's priorities in designing this program and, if elected to Government, we would have to engage and work very closely with them to ensure it is delivered in the most optimal way. It's clear to us that Closing the Gap needs more workers and Labor will deliver 500 additional trained Aboriginal health workers and Aboriginal health practitioners, expanding the capacity of the ACCHO sector very substantially. 

Closing the Gap also needs more dialysis units. Today, I'm announcing a fund of $30 million which will deliver up to 30 new units, each with four chairs on average, so an additional 120 chairs, of the type you see here at Purple House, distributed right through the country. On average, that should provide additional capacity to treat almost 500 patients who have chronic kidney disease, delivering this life saving treatment and, we hope, delivering it in places that are convenient for them, stopping people having to travel vast distances and come off Country to receive this life saving treatment. Labor will also double the Commonwealth funding available right now for treatment and prevention programs around rheumatic heart disease with an additional $12 million commitment I'm announcing today that will be provided to NACCHO to be provided to high-risk communities that are identified by them. So, doubling the commitment that's currently in place under the Morrison Government, making sure that more communities are able to access treatment and prevention programs to deal with this scourge of rheumatic heart disease that still exists here in Australia, overwhelmingly in the Indigenous population. As part of that, we will also have a fund of $1.5 million dollars to provide access to echocardio machines for those communities that don't currently have access to this very basic but important screening program that allows patients to be identified very early in their journey with rheumatic heart disease. So if elected, we look forward very much to working with NACCHO, with other services, importantly with state and territory governments, because a lot of this will require work with them to ensure that we can deliver a package that continues to close the gap in Indigenous health. In addition to the commitment for 30 additional dialysis units, each with four chairs, we are committing $15 million to water purification. What we know is that many communities, particularly remote communities, simply don't have access to water of a quality that allows dialysis units to be operated in their community. So, we will provide a $15 million fund, working with state and territory governments, and with services like Purple House, to allow them to install the sorts of water purification machines you have here, a reverse osmosis water purification machine, to allow dialysis units to be provided in those communities. We very much look forward to working with state and territory governments, many of whom, including the Northern Territory Government, are already doing this work to ensure that that service can be provided on Country. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: How soon will those 500 workers be trained, and how soon will those 30 dialysis units be set up?

BUTLER: In relation to the training, we intend to work closely with NACCHO, with the Aboriginal community-controlled health services, with the registered training organisations that they operate, to design a program for training these 500 additional Aboriginal health workers and Aboriginal health practitioners. We hope that the majority of those will be practitioners at the Certificate IV level, they can do a range of important tasks like yearly First Nations health checks. They've been very important in the vaccination program. We want to do that work over the course of the rest of this year if we're elected in May, and we would like to see those programs rolling out by the beginning of 2023. They will roll out over a period of time: 100 additional trainees in the first two years of the program, scaling up to 150 additional trainees in the third and fourth year, leading to 500 additional workers. Now this will be a very intensive program. It will be in small groups. It will involve an important mentoring component, which is important to ensuring a maximum level of completion of this training project, and we're confident there will be strong employment pathways at the end of it, because we hear very clearly from the community-controlled health sector that there are, at the moment, as I understand it, as many as 800 vacancies in that sector. They are crying out for more trained workers, and we want as many of them as possible to be Aboriginal workers as well. 

JOURNALIST: If I may ask, on something else today…

WONG: Anything more on this?

BUTLER: On health?

JOURNALIST: Yes, [inaudible question about dialysis]

BUTLER: Sorry, the roll-out of the dialysis units, look, we need to walk work very closely with state and territory governments about this and also, also, services like Purple House and other services delivering dialysis around the country, to, to start to identify the priority locations. So, we're keen to get this out as soon as possible. We don't have the locations in mind. We want to work with states and territories to identify those best locations, but we want to see these new units, and the chairs that they support, rolled out as soon as possible, but there is quite a bit of work for us to do with state and territory governments, and services like this, to make sure the investments go into the right place. 

JOURNALIST: Is this early next year, would that be the timeframe?

BUTLER: Well, look, I'm not going to set a particular timeframe on it, I know, talking to services, talking to states, there's a real thirst for this additional investment. Adding capacity for almost 500 additional patients is a substantial addition to national capacity. We want to make sure that investment gets the best bang for buck.

JOURNALIST: Have you guys costed this policy, and secondly, the CLP Territory Government in 2015 took control of homelands housing from the Commonwealth in exchange for a $155 million payment and [inaudible], and you've talked about the health outcomes of Aboriginal people, homelands are in disrepair, and the review found that the NT Government should talk to the Commonwealth again and get housing funding for that, does Labor have a policy of committing to funding homelands again?

BUTLER: I'll throw to Penny about homelands, but in relation to costings, of course, this policy is fully costed. Our costings will be released in the usual way, at the usual time, as happens with both major parties, happened at the last election, the election before it.


BUTLER: I said our costings will be released in the usual way, at the usual time, and that will be made clear by Jim and by Katy, but this this is not going to be undertaken in any different way to previous elections or any different way to the way in which the Coalition has dealt with this.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] …we haven't all done campaigns, when is the usual time you're talking about?

WONG: Well, I can tell you in 2013, when I was Finance Minister, I think Andrew Robb and Joe Hockey did it just a couple of days before the election. But I'd anticipate we'd give you a bit more time than that when I give you those. In terms of, can I go to this question, is that okay? In terms of the issue you raised, I'm aware that you know, you know a lot about these issues, what I would say is, I think you talk to Marion and you talk to Warren, you talk to many people here, in the, in Central Australia, and in the Northern Territory, we know that there hasn't been enough investment in remote housing in the Northern Territory, and what I would say is we understand this and we will have more to say about this. You should anticipate this is something Linda Burney and others, including Marion and Warren have been working on a great deal, I'm happy to take your question, Sarah.

JOURNALIST: Yes, thank you, so, today, Chris Bowen said that coal miners would fall under that, that, safeguard mechanism, this is different to what Pat Conroy has said that they won't people are confused about that ...

WONG: Well, there's, look, let's, let's remember a few facts. First, our policy is based on the safeguards mechanism. Whose mechanism is that originally? Tony Abbott's. Alright, that's the first point I'd make. Secondly, I would say, we will, we will cover the same 215 facilities, I think it is, as Mr Abbott and Mr Turnbull proposed. Third, the approach we are taking in utilising this mechanism, is that supported by the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group, that's the third point. What will happen under Labor is the Clean Energy Regulator will work with the facilities who are covered by this mechanism, Tony Abbott's mechanism, to ensure that there are specific obligations under the safeguard mechanism. But what I want to make very clear is that there will be no competitive disadvantage to any facility. So, we will not expose an Australian facility to a competitive disadvantage as against their competitors internationally. So, I think that is clear.

JOURNALIST: And how much would a carbon credit cost?

WONG: Well, first, I've made the point that there are a number of ways in which the Clean Energy Regulator could work with the facility to ensure that the principle that I've described is adhered to, it might be a technology, it might be using different means at the facility, the different technological means, and as you said, it might involve the market. That's a choice that the facility could make, and I'd say to you that our modelling assumes the same price as the Government's modelling.

JOURNALIST: Staying on the issue of climate change, something that is hugely contentious in the community, in the Northern Territory, the Beetaloo Basin project, in truth, will unquestionably increase global emissions and global warming. How does Labor support the expansion of gas exports, while also claiming that your climate change policies are far superior to the Coalition?

WONG: Well, I think anybody reasonable looking at the last nine years would not think there's been a reasonable policy from the Coalition on climate, we've had the climate wars. That's the first point. The second is, you know, ultimately the global markets will determine the mix of gas and in terms of export markets, gas has a role in terms of firming renewables, it has a role as an interim fuel. In terms of the Beetaloo, I am aware of that issue. In fact, when I was at the markets today, unlike Mr Morrison, I went to the markets, you know, that issue was raised, and I understand the Northern Territory Government has had a review. There are a number of recommendations which, obviously, they will work through, and we will look at that but you know, we don't have the view that you put that the way to deal with some of these issues is just to say, we're not going to have gas or coal, that's not the view Labor takes, and I understand The Greens and others don't agree with that, but, what we have said very clearly is that we will put in place a clear signal, a clear policy to drive, cleaner energy, cheaper energy, and more renewables into the system.

JOURNALIST: The Morrison Government is today giving an ironclad guarantee that they won't put up any taxes if re-elected. Can you match that?

WONG: Well, can I just say this? Mr Morrison gives a lot of so-called ironclad guarantees. I'd make this point, we have made repeatedly clear, repeatedly clear, that the only tax measure that we will be looking at, and people will be clear about what it is before the election is in relation to multinationals, but don't get distracted by Mr Morrison's stories. He has presided over the second highest taxing government in Australia's history, the first highest being the Howard Government. 

JOURNALISTS: [inaudible] 

WONG: Let's, let's, let's, let's just, you've had one, so I'll go to you? Sorry?

JOURNALIST: I noticed the ad featuring Gladys Liu, is the Labor Party at risk of vilifying Chinese-Australians ...

WONG: You're asking me that question?

JOURNALIST: ...for the crimes of the Chinese Communist Party? And secondly, are there any Labor frontbenchers who have ever taken donations from two Chinese billionaires who’ve consistently been named in stories on foreign influence operations of the Chinese Communist Party?

WONG: Well, first in relation to foreign interference, and foreign interference is something that is important to respond to, and it's important to respond to in a bipartisan way, which is what we did. And, as you may recall, you might not, Labor, through the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, and in the Parliament, supported the moves to ensure that we had a better legal framework in relation to foreign interference, and my recollection is, and I'll have to check this, in fact, we also ensured that we had more donation transparency than the Federal – than the Coalition, was prepared to engage in. In relation to Ms Liu, I think, there were, this was, a number of these issues were raised a few years ago in the Parliament, and I can remember, my then-counterpart, Senator Cormann, accusing me and others of attacking Ms Liu because of her ethnic heritage, which is not the case. I think there were questions that she should have answered then, and it's legitimate for those to be answered. I'm not, I don't know, what you're asking about in terms of the people to whom you've referred, and if you provide us with some more information, I'm happy to respond.

JOURNALIST: Why did Anthony Albanese give a speech praising one of those foreign billionaires?

WONG: Well, I don't know whom you're talking about, and if you give me more information, I'm happy to respond, but I guess what I'd say to you is this: We are very clear about China's aggression and China's assertiveness. We have been bipartisan on those issues that matter to Australians, to ensure Australian sovereignty is protected. It was the Labor Party that backed on a bipartisan basis a range of decisions the Government made on foreign interference on Huawei. I would make the point, we actually went further, we would not have leased the Port of Darwin, and I and others, led the opposition to the China Extradition Treaty, when Julie Bishop proposed that to us and proposed that to the Parliament. So, in this election, it does matter – the approach on how people would handle China's increased assertiveness. But let's not, let's not fall for the increasingly shrill and desperate attacks on the other side. On Mr Morrison's watch we have a security pact in the Pacific for the first time in Australia's history since World War II, and that has demonstrably made Australia, the region, less secure, and Australians less secure, yes.

JOURNALIST: On that security pact, in four weeks' time you could potentially be Foreign Minister, you've been very critical of how the Government has handled this situation, what would you be doing differently, and you've indicated, and Jim Chalmers has indicated, that there might be some additional investment into foreign aid. What are we looking at? How would you manage this relationship?

WONG: Well, with all due respect, I'm not going to make that announcement here today, we're making a different announcement here today, and you should anticipate, you will see more resources and more energy, from a Labor government, in the Pacific. 

JOURNALIST: Senator, just on that one, if I can quickly ask. I know you're obviously not gonna make the announcement today, but doesn't there need to be a re-think on how aid is spent, more so on infrastructure projects or on different policies ...

WONG: It's a good, it's a good question, it's a good question, and if we just take a step back for a minute, in response to that question: I said this, you know, China has changed and we know China is much more aggressive and assertive, and so the question is, how does Australia respond? What we've got to do to secure our region, we have to shore up our region. So, I can tell you what we wouldn't have done, we wouldn't have cut foreign aid and development assistance, which is important to development and national security, by almost $12 billion, which is what the Coalition has done. We wouldn't have cut bilateral aid to the Solomon Islands by 28 per cent on average per year. We wouldn't have mocked Pacific Island nations about water lapping at their doors, which is what Peter Dutton did, standing next to Scott Morrison, and we wouldn't have thumbed our nose at Pacific leaders when they told us at a Pacific Leaders Forum, two years ago, that climate change was their number one national security issue. So, yes, I do think there's a different approach. Do I think this is easy? No, it's not. It's serious business, which is why it shouldn't be the subject of shrill scare campaigns.

JOURNALIST: Senator, just on veterans, on the announcement, how quickly will Labor clear that backlog at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs  if you are elected?

WONG: As quickly as possible, but I would make the point it's substantially more than the amount Mr Gee got, so I would hope that backlog will be cleared as quickly as possible.

JOURNALIST: Senator, multiple Labor MPs some of them future ministers in a Labor Government have publicly opposed turning back the boats. You might say everyone agrees to the policy, but clearly this isn't the case ideologically. Can you guarantee, can you guarantee that the policy will remain under Labor? Even with the friction over it?

WONG: Yes, I can. I can give that guarantee. Thank you.