SUBJECT/S: More Medicare bulk billing; Optus network outage; Cost of living; The PM’s important work overseas; Infrastructure
ROB MITCHELL, MEMBER FOR MCEWEN: Welcome everyone to Wallan this morning. We’re here at the Wallan Family and Specialist Centre. I’d like to thank Dr. Aluthge and his and his wife for their hospitality and showing us through. Today is an exciting time to be able to have Richard Marles, Acting Prime Minister with us today to talk about Medicare, and the great improvements that the Albanese Labor Government has done. This is the biggest single investment in Medicare in 40 years. And what it means for people in Wallan and the people that were cured is that some 39,000 pensioners, concession cardholders will get access to bulk billing as well as some 31,000 children. And this is something that’s been so important throughout our region, the shortage of doctors and the inability to get to a doctor and get bulk billing Medicare has been a real struggle for families. So, this is a fantastic announcement that the Albanese Labor Government delivered on the 1st of November. And it means that we’re going to have healthier communities and a lot, a lot more opportunity for people to be able to get to a doctor when you need one where you need one. And I think it’s so exciting. It is great to have Richard with me. It’s fun. So, I will hand over to you and say thank you for coming out and sharing your time with us this morning.
ACTING PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, thanks, Rob. It’s great to be here in Wallan with Rob Mitchell and our fantastic member for McEwen. Can I thank Dr. Aluthge for hosting us here at Wallan Medical and Specialist Centre. Last week, we saw the introduction of the tripling of the bulk billing incentive. This is the single biggest investment into bulk billing in Medicare’s history. And it comes on top of a $1.5 billion investment in increasing the Medicare rebates, which in turn, encourages GP centres, just like this, to keep prices low. And in turn, this comes on top of the 60 day scripts that will make medicines cheaper for those with chronic illnesses, and the cheaper medicines package which we put in place at the beginning of the year. We really understand that Australians are doing it tough with cost of living. And from the very moment that this government was elected, we have been focused on easing the pressure on cost of living. And there is no more important space in which to do this than in health. That’s why the tripling of the bulk billing incentive is so important. It does allow more people to access health care- primary health care- more cheaply. Be it health, be it more affordable childcare, fee-free TAFE, placing downward pressure on energy bills in the package that we did at the end of last year, we have been utterly focused on the question of reducing the burden of the cost of living because we understand that with the inflationary environment around the world from which Australia is not immune, this is putting real pressure on household budgets and on the budgets of small businesses.
I might just also address what has happened today in relation to Optus. Earlier this morning, I spoke with Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, the CEO of Optus about what has occurred. The CEO informs me that what has occurred is to do with the deep core network of Optus and they are working to identify precisely the fault and the process by which it can be rectified. We have been particularly concerned as a government in relation to critical services and infrastructure which use the Optus network. The CEO has assured me that teams from Optus are working with those critical services to troubleshoot this as best they can to ensure those services are able to manage in this circumstance. Obviously it is fundamental that Optus is transparent and prompt in the way in which it is communicating with its customers in relation to the way in which their services have been disrupted. We are focused on the impact on government services and particularly in respect of keeping people safe and that goes to the 000 network. The Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland has been in contact with other telecommunications providers from very early hours of this morning to ensure that the impact of this outage on the 000 service is minimized. There is an impact particularly for those using landlines on the Optus network. But for those using mobile phones and other services, there has been significant work done in minimizing the impact so that there is, is increased or as available access to the 000 service as is possible. Keeping Australians safe is the focus of the government’s actions here. We will continue to monitor this situation very closely we have offered all the assistance that we can provide to Optus in rectifying this situation. But this continues, obviously to be a matter which is ongoing and we do clearly encourage Optus to be communicating with their customers about the progress of this issue.
JOURNALIST: So just on the critical impact. What impact is the outage having, particularly on government departments, such as your own? Is it having any impact on Defence as such?
MARLES: Look, I don’t have advice that it’s having an impact on Defence. We are first and foremost, focused on those immediate emergency services and on keeping people safe. And that’s why we have been very focused on the 000 services but we are looking about the impact across government.
JOURNALIST: Is there a way that ACMA or the federal government communications department can direct Telstra to help divert landline Optus, 000 calls through the Telstra network at all? Is there any way of doing that?
MARLES: I don’t know the answer to that question- in terms of what the technical feasibility of that is, we have the Communications Minister has been speaking with ACMA and has been speaking with other telecommunications providers from the very earliest hours of this morning to see the minimization of the impact of this outage on access to the 000 service. So, whatever can be done is being done. And we are very concerned about this, obviously, and the primary issue here is to be working with Optus itself to have their issues rectified as quickly as they can.
JOURNALIST: On cost of living, which you mentioned before in regards to being here. Interest rates obviously went up yesterday, there’s been a study that came out overnight that said you now need three average incomes to buy the average priced house in Australia. What are you actually doing to help people who can’t afford to stay in their homes, especially in the fall off the mortgage cliff and next year?
MARLES: Well, we’re very mindful of the impact of the interest rate decision yesterday. And we know that it’s not easy news for mortgage holders. And it does have an impact on household budgets, as it has an impact on the budgets of obviously, small businesses. We are, as I said, looking at a range of measures that we have been working on since the day that we came to government- $23 billion worth of measures which are focused on easing the cost of living pressures. We’re also very mindful about housing, and getting more houses built in this country. That’s why we were so committed to getting the HAFF through the parliament and fulfilling the election commitment that we made at the last election to establish the HAFF. That is why we have been investing more money in our agreements with the states to get the states moving in terms of seeing more houses constructed, getting more housing stock out there is the most significant thing that we can do in terms of the question of housing prices.
JOURNALIST: How about to alleviate inflationary pressures. Immigration is obviously always one that’s mentioned in this context, isn’t it about getting inflation under control so the Reserve Bank doesn’t just have to keep doing this?
MARLES: Well, I mean, what we’ve seen is a global inflationary environment for which we are not immune. And as a matter of record, that inflation started increasing in Australia under the former government, indeed, the single largest rise in inflation occurred under the former government. So this is not something which is confined to this government, nor is it confined to Australia and the whole world is experiencing an inflationary environment. In that context. What is critically important is that in terms of the way in which we are managing fiscal policy, and managing the budget, we’re not contributing to inflation, which is why we did something that the Liberals never did, and that is produce a Budget surplus. So we’ve been completely prudent in the way in which we’ve been managing the budget, revenue upgrades have been returned to the bottom line, we’ve been focused on making sure that our fiscal management does not contribute to inflation, and that the expenditure that we are doing is focused tightly on easing the cost of living pressures. And that has been our strategy since the moment that we came to office.
JOURNALIST: Just on cost of living and interest rates. The Prime Minister has touched down for the Pacific Islands Forum. He’s been fresh from trips to China and the US. He is back in the US next week for APEC. Is he traveling too much at a time when Australians are doing it so tough? Following another rate rise?
MARLES: Well, the work that the Prime Minister is doing is profoundly important for the nation’s economy. I mean look, what the Prime Minister was doing is profoundly important for jobs in this country. I mean, since coming to power, one of the commitments that we made was to attempt to stabilize our relationship with China. The outcome of that is there for all to see. There are many aspects to that in terms of much better communication with China- the defence dialogue starting with China- but central amongst that is getting trade back up and running with our largest trading partner. Trade means Australian jobs. Trade contributes to the Australian economy. That’s what the Prime Minister is doing. So whether the Prime Minister is in Beijing, or whether he’s in Washington, or whether he is at the Pacific Island forum, his work is about the national interest here. But his work is about Australians livelihoods here. And that has been the focus of his work over the past few days.
JOURNALIST: Are you aware in the PM’s been briefed on the Optus situation?
MARLES: I’m not aware of that.
JOURNALIST: One of the things stoking inflationary pressures is the billions of dollars the federal government is going to put into road and rail. And is also putting this kind of strain on construction workers. That review is overdue now, how close is the government to actually prioritizing that pipeline of work? And how important would that be to the overall inflation problem?
MARLES: It’s a good question. The review is a focus of the government. And it’s not far off. But the important point here is the doing of the review of what we’re seeking to achieve. Firstly, the commitments that we made at the last election in relation to infrastructure will be delivered, the review does not affect them. But it is critically important that the pipeline that has been put in place is actually deliverable. That is why we are undertaking the review into infrastructure, to make sure that there is value for money that it is contributing to the economy in a productive way. And that this is rolled out in in the most seamless way. And to that end, obviously, in doing the review, we are working closely with governments around the country, including the Victorian Government, around how we can better cooperate with those governments around infrastructure projects.
JOURNALIST: Queensland has asked that states like Victoria, which have high debt, and are on track to get a lot of the money, bear the biggest brunt of this and slow down a lot of that work. Do you think that there’s reason for that sort of call?
MARLES: This, this review is being undertaken to make sure that the pipeline of infrastructure is actually deliverable. Because what we inherited from the former government was a mess. What we inherited from the former government was a completely undeliverable pipeline of infrastructure projects, it needs to be brought back in order. In doing that our focus is on the national interest and achieving a fair outcome across the whole country.
JOURNALIST: And I’ve just had one local actually. Just on the infrastructure review, would that have any impact on significant projects such as the one diamond which I know you’d be aware of Rob.
MITCHELL: So the Wallan Diamond Interchange, which is to complete the full interchange on the Hume Highway was an election commitment we made and we’re delivering that. What the Acting Prime Minister mentioned about pipelines and projects that had no funding was what was delivered under the former government. The former government made a promise to the people of Wallan to build this and never put the money aside for it.
JOURNALIST: So you’re both confident this review won’t put that project at risk?
MITCHELL: The review has – from day one that the Wallan Interchange will go ahead. In fact, it’s moving along quite nicely. We’ve got a lot of the planning works, consultation work, we’ve done the community consultation, it is happening. It will be delivered. And there’s just no doubt about that at all.
MARLES: Thank you.