SUNDAY, 01 MAY 2022
GREG JENNETT, HOST: Yes, we have been able to secure the first of our frontbenchers. Straight out of the auditorium. Joining us in just a moment now will be Mark Butler and we will be able to talk through the policy initiatives. In fact, he’s pretty much ready now Probs, take it away.
ANDREW PROBYN, HOST: Now, explain this cut to the…
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: Hang on a minute!
PROBYN: Oh, hello!
BUTLER: Not quite Paul Keating
PROBYN: You didn’t reach your arm out there; you didn’t spring up behind us.
JENNETT: A seamless integration none the less.
PROBYN: Mark Butler, you were intimating yesterday that you would be matching, if not bettering what the Government's put forward when it comes to slashing the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme expectations, both the general payment. What is the thinking here?
BUTLER: I think we're focused on two things which are core to Labor's campaign and core to Labor's long-term mission, which is easing pressure on household budgets and the universality of health care, the importance of affordable health care.
I think what we've found, particularly talking to community pharmacists and patient groups, is that the general patient payment for medicines has just got too high. If you compare other countries a $42.50 script payment for many families, particularly middle-income families, if they need more than one medicine, is really putting pressure on their household budget.
PROBYN: In fact, the message coming to you and to the Government was that it was so high, some people weren't filling the scripts at all.
BUTLER: That's right. I mean, you can look at ABS stats, Bureau of Statistics stats, as well as other sector-based stats show that hundreds of thousands of people aren't accessing the medicines that their doctors say they need simply because of cost. They're choosing which of their medicines, their blood pressure or their cholesterol medicine, for example. So if you've got a number of members of your family who need medicines to keep you healthy, this is a core issue of equity and of universality of healthcare.
JENNETT: So just run us through because they weren't spelled out in great length in the Leader's Speech. Just run us through the bare numbers. So you’re bring it down $10?
BUTLER: No, $12.50.
JENNETT: $12.50, sorry. Overall, what is the cost to the Budget and when would it take effect?
BUTLER: It will take effect on the first of January. The costings will be released in the usual time, but this is a fully costed policy, as I assume the Government's was as well. But we'll bring it down from $42.50 to $30, that will be the maximum payment for a general patient for their medicines.
PROBYN: One thing you're not changing, correct me if I'm wrong, is the safety net. The safety net for concession card holders is $326 and $1,542 for general patients. That means you would effectively have to fill more scripts under the cheaper co-payment than you would under the old. Why not bring down the safety net?
BUTLER: Well, we can't do everything obviously and the vast bulk of people don't reach their safety net. So a $30 maximum script price, even if all of your medicines are at that maximum price, and many aren't, many are below $30, you'd have to have dozens and dozens of scripts to get to that safety net payment.
So we think the focus, we've taken advice on this from patient groups and from the Community Pharmacy sector, we think the priority is to get that script price down and that's what we've committed to do today.
PROBYN: There was a lot of focus today on the care economy, disability care wasn't mentioned as part of that although it has been a subject of a lot of Labor talk. I know you're not technically the Shadow in charge of the NDIS, but there is the sustainability question when it comes to the NDIS. The Federal Budget is saying that it's going to get to something like $70 billion a year by 2032. What's Labor going to do to ensure that the NDIS is sustainable?
BUTLER: Labor created the NDIS. Bill Shorten in particular was a critical part of creating the NDIS. It has been one of the great reforms of the last couple of decades. It's changed lives. It's genuinely changed lives for people and families living with a disability. And what we'll do is bring that energy, bring that commitment back to making sure that the NDIS works for all Australians.
PROBYN: That doesn’t answer the question though, because the NDIS is exploding and costs way more than expected.
BUTLER: What we will do is make sure that this reflects the level of hope and ambition that our Government had but also families living with a disability had, to make sure that plans put in place with a properly staffed agency give them the hope and the opportunity to participate in Australian life.
What we'll see with Bill Shorten, the person who did more than anyone else to create the NDIS, is someone with the energy and the commitment to make this a really wonderful deeply entrenched part of Australian life.
JENNETT : At the margins some of the reviews go to consultants, the use of appeals to the AAT. If you look in the Budget papers, it's a pretty steep curve. None of those go to the heart of the big costs that are coming.
BUTLER: This will be a big part of our next agenda. I can tell you as a local Member, this is not my area of responsibility ministerially. But as a local Member NDIS is one of the biggest complaints I have from families who had so much hope, but are confronting a government that's focused on bureaucratic inertia and cuts being made to their plans.
We will restore the hope that was there in the initial reform to create an NDIS in the first place.
PROBYN: Do you concede though, that the very steep increase in the NDIS speaks of a system that's got some significant problems?
BUTLER: We haven't seen a Minister be able to spend the time and the commitment on making sure that this still relatively new social service, still only about 10 years old, is able to fulfil the promise that its creation gave to hundreds of thousands of families.
That's what you will see from an Albanese Labor Government, this sort of sense of focus, the sense of commitment to making sure this reform works for people.
JENNETT: Why don’t we step it back, because you are the first front bencher to join us after the Leader’s speech, the general dynamic of the campaign, what was the essence? What was the mood that you wanted to convey, or Anthony Albanese had to convey to voters in the broad today?
BUTLER: This campaign is focused on hope. That we can build a better future after a terrible few years that we've all experienced across Australia, with a once in a century pandemic, and just a spate of natural disasters that have really hit local communities very hard. We don't want to go back to some of the things that really did afflict Australian society before that three years of natural disaster and pandemic. We want to build a better future. And that's Anthony Albanese's commitment.
It's a commitment to building more things here in Australia. It's a commitment to fixing the aged care crisis, it’s a commitment to strengthening Medicare. But what Anthony’s story today, what his pitch to the Australian people really focused on, was that he will be a leader who steps up, who takes responsibility, who doesn't blame others when things go wrong.
PROBYN: In your home state there's always talk about Boothby. Will it or won't it fall. Labor's had high ambition before. This time around, what's your sense?
BUTLER: I think as a South Australian, I think the 1940s was last time we held Boothby. So as a local, we never underestimate the size of the mountain to climb to hold Boothby. But boundaries change. You know, moods change, I think in South Australia there's a real mood for change at a Federal level. They want to see a government in place that's going to fix some of those crises in the aged care sector and Medicare that I've just been talking about, they want to see a Prime Minister who steps up instead of trying to shift responsibility to others and pretending these things aren't his job.
PROBYN: You use the word ‘change’. Penny Wong, a couple others in the campaign launch that we've just seen have talked about Labor being the party of grand reform. Is there reform that we haven't been told about that you expect there to be?
BUTLER: I think the story Anthony has been talking about now for the entire period of his leadership, and he talked about it again today, is one of safe change. I think people have had a tough two or three years, they want to build a better future, but they want a Prime Minister and a government in whom they have confidence, who they think is authentic, who is going to end the mistakes and the rorts and take responsibility.
They're not looking for the country to be shaken up. They're looking for safe change to fix some of these endemic problems, which were apparent before the pandemic and have become even more apparent now.
JENNETT: Safe change? That’s rather modest in its ambition. I mean, just finally, if you can make some sort of comparison, you've been through a few disappointments in the last two elections. Is there a deliberate attempt to try to manage expectations this time around? Sounds like it when you use a phrase like safe change.
BUTLER: I don't think any of us in Labor underestimate the challenge of winning at a Federal level. We've only done it three times since the War. We know it's a particularly difficult mountain to climb for Labor at a Federal level. It's easier at a state level it would appear, but it is a challenge. But we're up for this challenge. And I know Anthony is up for this challenge. You saw that in the room with the energy that he brought, an energy that reflects I think, the energy that Labor has here in Western Australia, which is why it's been so wonderful to be here for the first time for our campaign launch.
You saw that energy exuded by the Premier Mark McGowan as well and you just know that a Federal Labor Government under Anthony Albanese will be able to work in partnership not just with Labor Governments like Mark McGowan's, but state governments across the country. And I think that's what The Australian people want coming out of this pandemic. They want more unity, more of a sense of cooperation than the division we've too often seen over the last couple of years.
JENNETT: All right, well, Mark Butler, you have your own campaign to wage back in South Australia before too long, I'm sure. So thanks for joining us this afternoon in our rolling coverage of this launch.