Fare thee well
Now I know it’s early but courtesy of events in Maitland the campaign is now basically in bed for today, and Lenore Taylor and I really have to finish our podcast recording in order to have something for you by tomorrow. So with appropriate thanks and salutations, let’s fold the Politics Live tent for this evening.
Let’s summarise the events of the day.
- The Coalition kept stoking refugees, with the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, popping in for a chat with his favourite broadcaster Ray Hadley, and the prime minister declaring Bill Shorten was demonising Dutton. Additionally to the tactical politics, there was roads funding, with the Coalition matching a commitment to fund the Appin Road in western Sydney that Labor made yesterday.
- Labor flicked the switch to health, promising to unfreeze Medicare rebates in an effort to protect bulk-billing – thus far that policy is the biggest cash splash of the campaign. Bill Shorten was later witness to a car accident outside Maitland, a move that prompted him to suspend events for the rest of Thursday.
There was more, but that’s the guts of things. Rest up, see you Friday.
A couple of views of Malcolm Turnbull on the hustings, the first from Fairfax photographer Andrew Meares, and the second from the prime minister’s official photographer, Sahlan Hayes.
Back to the collision near Maitland, a quick update.
Meanwhile, how things roll on the wombat trail.
Coalition says Medicare rebates under 'constant review'
I’m just reviewing various statements and events that got a bit crunched when Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten’s press conferences overlapped earlier this morning, and I’m interested to see the treasurer Scott Morrison has left the door open on Medicare rebates – Labor’s policy of the day.
At one of his events today, Morrison said the rebate freeze was under constant review. Have a look.
Well, this is reviewed at regular occasions in relation to the budget as you would expect at Myefo and as part of the budget process and the decision we have made is that is the current timetable just as the original decision was made for a particular period of time and it is under constant review.
So, we will continue to do that.
An intriguing news break that I haven’t yet had a chance to get to. BuzzFeed’s Mark Di Stefano has a letter which reveals government minister, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, asked her staff to sign confidentiality agreements on Christmas Eve, ahead of a bruising preselection battle. One informant has expressed consternation to BuzzFeed. “Why were we being slapped with this the day before Christmas? It was highly unusual and the threatening subtext of the letter was basically demanding loyalty.”
Mark Di Stefano:
Several people received the letter many months after leaving Fierravanti-Wells’s office. According to Australian government protocol, staffers are to sign confidentiality agreements before they start working in an MP’s office and “on separation” from employment. BuzzFeed News asked several former ministerial chiefs of staff, who said they’d never heard of agreements being sent out months after employees had left.
According to one recipient, it was the unusual timing of the letter that had several people asking questions.
“It was to reiterate that we weren’t to talk about the manoeuvring in the office because she was going into pre-selection,” the recipient said.
A postcard from the electorate of Indi. Allow me to introduce the unknown candidate of Indi: Labor’s Eric Kerr. He is struggling for oxygen between two very high-profile candidates, the independent MP Cathy McGowan and the Liberal candidate Sophie Mirabella, with the Nationals’ Marty Corboy coming up in the middle.
Kerr is just 22 and has been a Wodonga councillor since he was 18. He says the issues in Wodonga are wide and varied over the 28,000 sq km electorate but he has one issue very close to his heart: marriage equality. He was raised by two mothers and finds it hard to believe same-sex marriage is still an issue in 2016. “As a 22-year-old in 2016, that’s the issue you should be able to say click, that’s done, that makes sense,” he told Guardian Australia.
“I don’t think it’s a [problem] in Indi. You have Marty who is a former Family First candidate, from quite a conservative background, not for same-sex marriage. Sophie is still holding her ground [against] I’m pretty sure.
“I’m not happy with Cathy at the moment because she is in favour of a plebiscite. You can support the right of same-sex marriage but you can’t then give the green light for an attack from the Christian lobby against all our families.
“It doesn’t make sense. For a conservative seat, the voices for same-sex marriage are few and far between. Jenny O’Connor [Greens] is for it and Alan [Lappin, independent] is for.”
Let’s move on from Maitland now unless there are any developments, which of course I’ll keep you across. Lenore Taylor has the latest in our series of campaign essays; this time she’s put Nick Xenophon under the microscope.
If Malcolm Turnbull wins the election, Nick Xenophon could help him introduce emissions trading, stop some of his company tax cuts, frustrate his attempts to cut Gonski schools funding and stall some of his sweeping changes to superannuation. If Bill Shorten wins, Xenophon could force big changes to Labor’s centrepiece policy on negative gearing.
And those nation-shaping or agenda-cruelling possibilities are what Guardian Australia has learned from just a few snatched conversations with the hyper-busy senator.
At this year’s election, the amiable lawyer who began his political career as an anti-pokies crusader and now leads an eponymous party is likely to become the head of a significant new political force. And, unlike the Palmer United party, which shot to prominence after the last election, possibly one with a chance at surviving the pressures of office.
So it seems fitting to ask: what would he do with his power?
If you’d like to read on you can find the piece here.
This picture records the Shorten convoy leaving the scene a few minutes ago.
From the scene, ABC reporter Stephen Dziedics.
We are just getting a few more details about what happened. It seems that as the opposition leader’s convoy was pulling over for a press conference that was going to be held, we’re told, just metres from where the accident happened, another car attempted to overtake and then went head-on into a third car coming in the opposite direction. Now, we have no word yet on injuries, we have no word yet on whether anyone has been seriously hurt or even worse, but we do know that one woman was trapped in the car for a while, some onlookers estimate it could have been as long as 45 minutes or an hour, and we believe she has been taken away in an ambulance, presumably to hospital. There was also another car involved, the one that actually tried to overtake Bill Shorten’s convoy, there was a woman and a child in that car. It seems that they weren’t seriously injured. At the very least, the doctors and ambulance officers here believe they didn’t think they were. Bill Shorten comforted the woman and her child in this car and they have been taken away from the scene by the opposition leader’s convoy.
Mike Bowers is on the scene at Testers Hollow.
Labor has cancelled all campaign events for the remainder of the day.
From the Maitland Mercury.
A head-on collision has occurred as federal opposition leader Bill Shorten arrived at Testers Hollow on Thursday. A woman is trapped in a blue sedan, which was headed towards Maitland. The occupants of the other vehicle are out of the car.
Shorten’s car was pulling up when the accident occurred. A woman in her mid-20s has sustained minor facial injuries and pain in the knee, Ambulance NSW has confirmed. Two other people injured will not be taken to hospital.
The opposition leader took a woman and her child, who were in the other car, to safety after the Cessnock road accident shortly before 1pm. Paramedics are assessing the woman, who has injuries under her arm.
Shorten has not left her side since the accident occurred, offering consolation.
Here’s some more particulars from Fairfax reporter Tom McIlroy, who is travelling with Shorten.
Apparently there has been a vehicle accident near Maitland where Bill Shorten is campaigning. Mike Bowers tells me the Labor leader is comforting some of the people involved in the crash. I’ll keep you posted.
I’ve escaped election watch briefly because the Australian National University is holding a forum to analyse the 2016 budget today at the National Library in Canberra.
It has political and bureaucratic luminaries on its panel, including former high-ranking officials from treasury, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and a former leader of the Liberal party, John Hewson.
First up, we’ve heard from Jan Harris, former deputy secretary to the treasury. Harris says the criticism of this budget is eerily similar to 2010 (when she was working at treasury) when the government delivered the biggest deficit in Australia’s history.
Some of the familiar complaints she’s hearing? The forecast return to surplus has been pushed back, yet again, into the future, and that means there’s no real fiscal direction in this budget; and the cost of one of the budget’s biggest policies – in this case, the corporate tax cuts – won’t show up until much later down the track, so the true cost of the policy is hidden.
And remember Dr Karl’s ill-fated promotion of the Intergenerational Report, where he warned about the gap between the government’s tax receipts and its spending commitments? “Well, not much has changed in the 2016-17 budget,” she says.
'I can't remember what the figure is … '
The conversation has shifted to asylum policy. Tanya Plibersek is asked what the costing is over a decade of Labor’s policy to boost the humanitarian intake. She can’t remember.
Q: Has Labor costed a 10-year number for this humanitarian intake?
I can’t remember what the figure is. I would have to check that.
Q: But it probably exists, given everything Labor has had to say about the company tax cut and the need for the government to fully disclose signature policies costed over 10 years, you would expect that there is a number over 10 years?
It’s very substantial. It is a substantial contribution. But we also have a government that has promised to bring more people from Syria and hasn’t done it. So, you know, I think we do have a responsibility to be a good international citizen.
The costing of Labor’s policy to boost the humanitarian intake is $1.8bn out to 2025-26.
Labor’s deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek, is on the ABC now speaking about the Medicare policy.
Q: Does Labor have a target for bulk-billing? What’s the optimum rate you are striving for?
When I was health minister we looked to get bulk-billing rates as high as we could. Certainly, you know, up in the high 80s is a good place to be. We are in the mid 80s now. I think it is very important to continue to try and improve bulk-billing rates because we know that it’s very good for patients to be able to visit doctors who are bulk-billing. We know it’s good for the health system overall.
Q: As you say, the current rate is hovering around 84, 85%. A lot of people talk about evidence-based decisions in health. Why not wait until there is evidence it is falling before making such a major financial contribution?
Because doctors are at breaking point now. We have heard from Professor Brian Owler, the head of the AMA, and he said doctors are just hanging on.
The treasurer, Scott Morrison, is standing up now in Sydney on the subject of Labor’s funny money.
Where he’s [Bill Shorten] is drawing that money from is vapour.
(I’ll get to the Labor policy documents on the Medicare announcement when I get some clear air.)
A couple of behind-the-lines views from Mike Bowers.
While I see the Labor senator Sam Dastyari in this photo I’m reminded that he has a phenomenal capacity to just appear beside you, and just as suddenly, vanish without trace. I can’t explain this quality. I can only tell you it exists.
The Coalition is regrouping on the Medicare policy by characterising it as unfunded spending. The treasurer, Scott Morrison, has had one go at this already this morning. The Coalition’s campaign spokesman, Mathias Cormann, is having a second go on Sky News now. I suspect we’ll hear more about this over the course of the afternoon. I can’t remember if I’ve told you already that we expect treasury to release updated economic forecasts tomorrow, the document known as PEFO.
How to make sense of the morning: campaign this lunchtime
A tough ask, making sense of this morning, but I reckon we can manage it.
To simplify things, let’s try and think about the past 48 hours of the campaign through the prism of agenda setting, because that’s how the back room folks think.
- The government wants the conversation to be about asylum boats. I don’t know if Peter Dutton’s sortie on Sky News about refugees being illiterate and coming here to steal Aussie jobs was deliberate or an accidental overreach. Everyone can come to their own views about that. But suffice to say once Dutton was out of the blocks, rolling the hand grenade down the campaign road, the Coalition moved in behind him with reinforcements. Dutton had to be repositioned slightly: the prime minister couldn’t agree with the sentiments in the same brutal manner they were expressed, but he could echo them in more statesmanlike terms. And by echoing Dutton, the echo chamber stays in the frame the Coalition wants. Forget Malcolm Turnbull’s weasel words at his press conference this morning, *I only respond to questions I’m asked of refugees, I’m focussed on jobs and growth* – absolute bollocks. The prime minister kicked off this whole sequence by standing in front of a Border Force vessel and conducting a beat down of Bill Shorten in Darwin a few days back. Turnbull and Dutton are performing a good-cop-bad-cop routine, pure and simple. This performance art is risky for the prime minister in this sense: it’s now perfectly possible to characterise him as Tony Abbott in a mask, he might cop a hit to his approval ratings, but I strongly suspect the Coalition is banking on this rhetoric benefiting the campaign in the marginal seats. And that’s where campaigns are won and lost. It’s a recurring oddity about the coverage of campaigns: the national media covers the national campaign, but elections are won and lost in a series of ground games largely out of the national glare.
- Which leads us to Labor. While the Coalition is obviously intent on trying to imprison Bill Shorten in its own message frame, Shorten is grabbing the nuclear codes to try and blast out. Today Labor has unveiled the biggest policy of the campaign, on health, where the government is politically weak. Shorten has got to keep trying to expand the conversation into territory more favourable to Labor. Because if he sits stuck in the boats prism there’s little prospect of generating real momentum, and given Labor is a lot further behind than the national polls suggest (both sides think this, for a range of reasons I won’t get us bogged down with right now), it needs momentum. Additionally to changing the conversation, I’m genuinely curious that Shorten has chosen to punch up on asylum. That’s not his normal modus operandi. He normally opts to neutralise rather than fight. So let’s see how that works for him. Will it win him points because he sounds like he’s saying what he means rather than playing it safe, or will it play into the government’s hands?
Right that was all pretty brisk. Lots to decode, give me a minute and I’ll get on to that.
Back to Bill Shorten now.
Q: Can you guarantee that resettlement services won’t suffer under the increased refugee intake?
We costed our policies. The Greens are out there promising everything to everybody. But our policies in terms of refugees are costed. And we submitted it to the parliamentary budget office, so I can guarantee that.
Q: We have seen more of your candidates suggest they have an issue with your asylum seeker policy. Have you personally reached out to them in a bid to change their minds or do you plan to lobby them and convince them that your way is the right way?
I think you see more of my candidates full stop. More seriously, the Labor party went through this issue openly and transparently at our national conference. What Mr Turnbull wants is the sort of issues you are raising. He wants us not to talk about Medicare. He wants us not to talk about properly funding our schools. He doesn’t want us talking about Australian jobs. It is very clear their campaign of deceit and lies will be seen for what it is.
Bill Shorten 'demonising' Peter Dutton, says Turnbull
Just because I didn’t quite grab the demonising quote before I switched between the leaders let me roll back and revisit that for completeness.
We are committed to an immigrant nation which is what we are. We are committed to a generous humanitarian program but we’ve got to do it properly and Australians expect their government and their prime minister to manage that process well – and that is what we are doing.
What Labor is proposing is just political. Bill Shorten is only interested in the politics of this issue. And you can see the way he leapt on it yesterday to demonise Peter Dutton as a means of distracting attention from Mr Feeney’s rather careless accounting for his real estate interests. That was all politics yesterday. We are focusing on governing.
'Instead they want to run a cry of xenophobia … '
Q: Yesterday you made comments about Peter Dutton. Malcolm Turnbull has just said you’re demonising the immigration minister.
People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, should they? The issue is that yesterday migrants were demonised by Peter Dutton, and Malcolm Turnbull backed in Peter Dutton over the great immigration history of this country.
We know why they’re talking about this every day. We understand why they’re doing it. What they want to do is say that Labor doesn’t have a strong policy to stop boats coming to Australia and they want to undermine the perception of our commitment to regional processing.
They are lying. And what they’re doing is getting increasingly desperate and they want to take the issues – they don’t want to talk about Medicare. They don’t want to talk about schools. They don’t want talk about their poor choices in the budget.
Instead they want to run a cry of xenophobia, they want to undermine the migrant contribution to Australia because they don’t want this election to be about the issues that matter to Australians.
We won’t let them get away with their lies. We will stand up to their bullying.
Shorten is asked why bulk-billing rates continue to rise, this suggests there isn’t a problem? The Labor leader says doctors have told him the rebate freeze makes bulk-billing unsustainable.
Bill Shorten is asked whether he can guarantee that fees won’t go up when the rebates are unfrozen. He avoids answering that question directly.
This is avery good announcement for patients, it’s a very good announcement for making sure we have affordable access to general practice in this country and I am going to back the doctors over Malcolm Turnbull any day on this matter.
He’s pressed on this point.
Q: Will the price stay the same? Can you say whether it will stay the same?
Let’s deal with the facts that are here. Our announcement today is one of the big issues in this election. Malcolm Turnbull should reverse the six-year freeze on the rebate because the only outcome of their six-year freeze on the rebate is bulk-billing is in trouble. And if you undermine bulk-billing, you undermine Medicare and Mr Turnbull and his Liberal colleagues know that very well.
This election ... is about choices. I happen to choose and Labor chooses our Medicare system over giving tax cuts to the top end of town. I choose bulk-billing and supporting and saving bulk-billing over giving Australia’s largest banks a $7.5bn tax cut over the next 10 years.
Medicare is a community standard. The PM needs to make a choice and if he’s got the wrong priority an he can’t choose people’s health he needs to get out of his job because Australians deserve better.
Shorten gets questions on David Feeney. Feeney stays in Canberra at a unit owned through the family trust of his wife.
Q: He hasn’t specifically listed or declared the unit, he hasn’t declared the family trust. Are you confident that he’s met his obligations? Were you aware of the unit and have you stayed there?
Thanks for those three questions, Joe. Let’s go to the heart of the matter. I expressed my displeasure yesterday on the report to you and directly to Mr Feeney about his failure to declare a property. I understand in terms of his wife’s declarations today that’s all been done to according to the rules and has adhered to the rules.
Q: Does David Feeney stay there while also claiming a travel allowance understand to be $270 a night?
It is not a practice I do, I have one house, it’s a mortgage, we live in it. But I understand it is a practice amongst members of parliament. I think Mr Turnbull has been in very similar circumstances in the past too.
Shorten is asked how Labor has arrived at the figure that patients, if the freeze is not lifted, will be about $20 out of pocket? He suggests the figure has come from the doctors, but inferentially, not directly.
Q: You have relentlessly criticised the Coalition over the $57bn that was taken out of health. Will you today commit putting that back in or will you not?
We will have more to say about our health policy as this election unfolds. But today there couldn’t be a clearer choice between Labor’s commitment to prioritise Medicare and the Liberals’ commitment to prioritise tax cuts for big business.
Bill Shorten confirms he will unfreeze Medicare rebates
Today’s launch by Labor is the biggest policy commitment of the campaign. As my colleague Gareth Hutchens reports this morning Labor has sided with doctors by promising to end the freeze on Medicare rebates imposed by the Turnbull government. It is Labor’s biggest announcement of the election so far, and will cost $2.4bn over the next four years, and $12.2bn over the decade.
Bill Shorten is speaking to reporters on the central coast now.
Q: Originally this was Labor’s GP tax. So you’re admitting today that you got it wrong and the government says you are just spending money you don’t have?
Bill Shorten says the freeze of the rebates Labor imposed in government was always meant to be temporary.
That was a temporary freeze. It was a matter of the budget. But when the Liberal party under Mr Turnbull froze the GP rebates for six years, that is more than a budget matter. That is a matter of undermining bulk-billing and Medicare.
In terms of the priority of this issue, today is a significant day. There is a battle on in this country about the future of bulk-billing. There is a battle on in this country about the future of Medicare. It is a battle between Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberals who are determined through their policies to undermine bulk-billing and Medicare and Labor who will fight with every ounce of our energy to defend and save Medicare.
I’ll come back to this shortly for some fact-checking and decoding but for now I need to keep moving on. The Labor leader has found the cameras now.
'I revel and I rejoice in the diversity of our nation ...'
Q: Can you understand why the sons and daughters of migrants and migrants themselves may be offended by the tone of rhetoric coming from the government on the issue of immigration?
We are an immigration nation. Barely a day goes past when I don’t celebrate that we are the most successful multicultural nation in the world and we are built on immigration. We glory in it. There is no country in the world. We are great at knocking ourselves, Australians. We are very critical. There are many things we can be very proud of. This great company here is an example of great pride.
Let me tell you our greatest assets are not under the ground, they’re the men and women walking around on top of it. Our assets are the 24 million Australians and we are the most diverse multicultural society in the world and we have done – we have achieved that remarkable harmony and we have done that because we have been able to do a number of things, as immigrants have come into Australia, including refugees, we have made sure that they are settled and that they get the services and support, language skills, training so they can integrate with us into our society and got on and get a job and build up their lives and pursue their Australian dream.
At the same time we have also ensured that right across the board at least when we’ve been in government that we keep our borders secure. This is part of the deal, part of the foundation of our success as a multicultural society is for Australians to know that the government that they elect determines who comes to Australia, and that you are not outsourcing your immigration policy to people smugglers which is what the Labor party did.
Turnbull says the Coalition has stopped the boats.
We have stopped that and our immigration program is controlled whether it’s the refugee program or the general program, it is controlled by the government and that is as it should be. That’s the foundation of our success as a multicultural society and there is no more – no greater admirer of our multicultural society, of the enormous range of faiths, religions, races, ethnic backgrounds, cultures, than me.
I revel and I rejoice in the diversity of our nation.
Q: There’s new research in the AFR suggesting the government struggled to sell its budget. Is that why both you and minister Dutton are focusing more on border protection because you believe that issue will win votes?
Can I just say to you that I’ve dealt with this issue when it’s been raised with me. I am here talking about exports, I am talking about innovation, I am talking about growth and jobs. So that is my focus. But when people raise this issue, obviously I respond to it.
Malcolm Turnbull is asked why a company tax cut is more compelling for voters than extra spending on health and education.
For every dollar cut in company tax, $4 of value is created in the economy overall, and that is why economists, governments including previous Labor governments, have supported company tax cuts.
Q: Just on that same point, John Daley has said the net benefit of tax cut also only behalf of the headline benefits. Is he right?
No, he is wrong.
In case you’ve missed this, John Daley of the Grattan Institute has said the following this morning:
Late last week, Turnbull said that each dollar in company tax revenue cut would deliver an extra four dollars in GDP.
His claim appears to be drawn from an earlier 2015 Treasury research paper that modelled the economic impact of major Australian taxes, including company tax. The more recent Treasury working paper, released in budget week, implies a slightly larger $4.30 increase to GDP from each $1 in revenue cut.
But again this misses a big part of the story.
First, this claim is about GDP, and therefore includes the disproportionate increase in the income of foreigners. Our analysis of the Treasury modelling shows that the increase to Australian incomes, or GNI, is only $2.80 per dollar of revenue lost from a corporate tax cut.
Second, when corporate tax is replaced by a still hypothetical but marginally more realistic flat rate income tax – rather than a complete fantasy tax that has no impact on the economy – the increase to Australian incomes is less again: only $1.80 per dollar of revenue lost.
Third, the prime minister has framed the boost to the economy in terms of the long-term increase to GDP per dollar of company tax cut. Treasury calculates the revenue “dollar” lost after considering the additional tax revenue that the government hopes to collect from all taxes in 20 years time as incomes rise because of greater investment.
Many people would interpret the prime minister’s statement to compare the ultimate benefit per dollar of tax revenue given up in the shorter term. On this basis, the increase to Australian incomes in the long term is only $1.20 for every dollar given up in the short term as a result of corporate tax cuts.
This story ends the same way. Corporate tax cuts may be worth doing, but the outcome is unlikely to set pulses racing.
Malcolm Turnbull is back in front of the cameras, speaking about the government’s economic plan before constructing a segue to roads in western Sydney, and through that, housing affordability. Labor pledged funding for the Appin road yesterday, today it’s the government’s turn.
We are committing $50m – you will see that in The Telegraph this morning, we are committing $50m to upgrade the vehicle separation and safety on that road and that investment will not only improve the safety of the Appin Road and of course protect the lives of the people of Campbelltown and those of this region, it will also unlock 35,000 new homes.
I was talking to one of the developers this morning on the train out here, 1800 homes will become available very shortly. Almost immediately. And 35,000 over the years ahead. Now this is how you address housing affordability. Housing affordability is the result of there being in sufficient supply of housing. You need to have more supply of housing.
It wouldn’t be an election without a bit of outrage.
While the campaign thunders on boats, away from the posturing a new survey shows Australians are among the most welcoming of refugees in the world, with seven in 10 saying the country should do more to assist people fleeing war and persecution, a global Amnesty International survey has found.
The attitude is in stark contrast to government statements this week. Immigration minister Peter Dutton argued refugees are largely uneducated and illiterate, and that accepting more into Australia would see them take jobs from Australians or burden the country’s welfare system.
But more than half of Australian respondents to the Amnesty survey said they would welcome refugees into their neighbourhoods, and more than one in 10 would welcome a refugee to live in their home.
Globally, China, Germany and the UK were found to be the countries with populations most welcoming of refugees, followed by Canada and Australia in fifth place; while Russia, Indonesia and Thailand ranked lowest of the 27 countries surveyed.
The prime minister is in Sydney visiting a business before heading west to Campbelltown later today. He seems to be back on jobs and growth today.
There are no fussier buyers than the Germans, as I’m sure you know.
We’ll take that as a comment.
The treasurer, Scott Morrison, is in Sydney and is holding a press conference which seems to have the singular objective of saying repeatedly that this is the same old Labor. He’s banging it like a preacher in a pulpit, same old Labor, same old Labor, same old Labor.
This line might be more resonant with this listener at least if we hadn’t seen the same old Coalition writ so large during the past 48 hours. I’ll score this encounter same old same old. Yawn.
Good morning everyone and welcome to Thursday. I’m very sorry for my late arrival, I’ve been recording a segment for our weekly podcast, which will be uploaded to iTunes tomorrow, tech gremlins and Miles Martignoni willing. So I’ve been out of range for the last hour or so.
I’ve sadly missed the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, on the Ray Hadley program, but I will review that in due course – Bridie has provided us with a comprehensive first take, and I’m sure I don’t have to actually listen to know what was said.
Labor is trying to make today health day with a major announcement on Medicare. The government clearly wants to keep asylum kicking on as an issue into a second day, and I gather there will be a roads funding announcement by Malcolm Turnbull.
Let’s sprint on. Today’s comments thread is open for your business. If the thread’s too bracing for you, Mike Bowers and I are up and about on the Twits – he’s @mpbowers and I’m@murpharoo. If you speak Facebook you can join my daily forum here. And if you want a behind-the-scenes look at the day and the looming campaign, give Mike a follow on Instagram. You can find him here.
Here comes Thursday.
And with that Herculean effort from Peter Dutton to continue the scare campaign on refugees and turn the election campaign to border protection issues I will leave the blog in the hands of Katharine Murphy.
Until 6am tomorrow it is toodles from me
Peter Dutton: I'm not going to stand back from what I said
Peter Dutton is doing his first interview since his comments about illiterate refugees stealing Australians job on Ray Hadley’s 2GB program.
Dutton is relishing the rhetoric, attempting to use the media attention to his comments to hammer Labor on asylum seeker policy and “border protection”. Desperate times call for etc etc.
I don’t think you can argue against the facts and those on the left that have spoken against what I said, I’m not going to stand back from what I said.
Despite saying that, Dutton seems careful not to repeat that refugees are illiterate or stealing Australian jobs.
I believe we have a very strong migration program, two thirds are coming in through the skilled program. It’s a good thing that helps us grow. In addition we bring 13,700 refugees a year we provide services, they come from war-ravaged parts of the world ... and we need to provide additional support.
So when i was asked do I think that number should go to 50,000, well in terms of Labor they doubled the number to 27,000 but Bill Shorten doesn’t want to talk about this. Labor haven’t done any work, they plucked the number out of the air.
Refugees contribute a lot but we need to be honest, many people come here with no English skills. Many people come here without basic skills and we need to recognise it costs a lot of money to support those people but the question is do we need to double that to 27,000 or 50,000 as the Greens propose?
Hadley responds it doesn’t matter if Labor sets the intake at 27,000 because another 90,000 will come by boat while other people are in camps “patiently waiting for their chance at freedom” (aka the elusive QUEUE)
It’s difficult for Bill Shorten because his party is torn apart on this issue. He doubled the [the humanitarian refugee intake] figure to get support on turn backs.
It’s not a reflection on people we are bringing in now but we have to recognise facts that people come here without formal education and without skills and we provide funding to improve their skills and thats a good thing.
Bill Shorten has failed the leadership test when it comes to border protection in this country – as Julia Gillard did, as Kevin Rudd did. What is he going to do to rein these people in?
Those people who come through refugee program come from war-torn countries facing persecution we do the right thing, we offer significant support. We should be proud of that. The question for Bill Shorten is how would he stop the boats if his party is divided? He’s a person who cant control own party, how would he control the borders?
Hadley is very happy that Dutton had the prime minister’s support and observes that Malcolm Turnbull has “let him off the leash” in the asylum seeker/refugee debate because he knows that will win the election – that is actually a semi-astute observation.
This gives Dutton room to talk about how 1,200 people drowned at sea under Labor and not a single person has drowned under the Coalition government. He does not mention refugees setting themselves on fire in offshore detention in the past few weeks but he does says he will get the remaining refugees and asylum seekers “off the islands”.
Either to their country of origin or to a third country to settle.
The boats will not recommence under this government. You need a prime minister who can keep this country secure, who can secure borders and keep Australia safe. Bill Shorten can’t tick any of those boxes.
The left is in control of Bill Shorten.
Hadley asks what Dutton will do if the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island “don’t go back where they came from”.
This is an issue for Papua New Guinea.
Ray “the interrogator” Hadley finishes by telling Dutton how he went to dinner last night and his friends were saying “Peter Dutton, we need more like him!”
Dutton says the facts can’t be argued with. He also mentions that in Melbourne they have problems in “the Somali community where some kids are running riot in gangs”.
I believe in what I said. My job is to keep people safe in this country, to protect the borders, that is what I am driven by.
It is about time a political party had a poet in residence, wouldn’t you agree? Well, one party does.
The Arts party is campaigning on tripling arts funding and Paul Karp writes they are taking quite the novel approach.
The poet-in-residence is Eido Boru and he’s already written a swag of poems for the party’s cause.
Want one million votes / For the balance of power / Wear an Arts T-shirt.
Haikus for votes, I love it.
Buckle up. I’m tuning in and will bring you the latest from what I am sure will be a very thorough interview
The national obsession with the alcohol our leaders drink
The most-watched electorate in Australia at the moment is Indi with much enjoyment of the battle between Sophie Mirabella and the Independent who unseated her Cathy McGowan.
But there are other candidates!
Gabrielle Chan has written about Labor candidate Eric Kerr who is gasping for oxygen in this race.
He’s a 22-year-old who has been a councillor since he was 18 and says same-sex marriage should be more of an issue.
I’m not happy with Cathy at the moment because she is in favour of a plebiscite. You can support the right of same-sex marriage but you can’t then give the green light for an attack from the Christian lobby against all our families.
It doesn’t make sense. For a conservative seat, the voices for same-sex marriage are few and far between. Jenny O’Connor [Greens] is for it and Alan [Lappin, independent] is for.
Michaelia Cash was also asked about Peter Dutton’s “illiterate” refugee comments seeing as a big part of the government’s policy to tackle wage theft is to protect migrant workers.
What Peter was basically saying in relation to Labor and the Greens, who would go back to open borders tomorrow?
Cash is redirected with it pointed out Labor won’t have an “open borders policy”.
He was making the economic case we are very proud as a nation; we are resettlement nation. That costs money. As a country we have determined we can properly settle with all the resources 13,750 [people], that’s what we can economically afford, and when you bring in people the right way you can say we will bring in an additional 12,000.
So isn’t Dutton’s characterisation that refugees are “languishing” on the dole incorrect? And what about “stealing Australians job”?
What he was saying was there are some people who come here who struggle with their own language and at same point there are others who would become contributing tax paying citizens, he wasn’t saying it as a negative.
Employment minister, Michaelia Cash, has been speaking on Radio National about the government’s policy to tackle wage theft, intrepid reporter Paul Karp tells me.
The package includes increasing penalties for intentional underpayment by 10 times, an offence holding franchisors responsible where they turn a blind eye to underpayment, and more powers to the Fair Work Ombudsman to gather information including to compel evidence.
Cash gave 7-Eleven a huge slap-down, describing it as a “perfect example” of why new offences to punish franchisors are needed:
The 7-Eleven business model basically dictated the only way you could make a profit was if you undercut wages. Now if a franchisor does this knowingly why is it that they are not held liable?
We’ll bring you a news story on the full policy later this morning.
The prime minister is on the move
Bill Shorten has given what my colleague Paul Karp calls “a very light and frothy interview” on WSFM in Sydney.
Asked about his surprise pash on the campaign trail from a fan of his called Margot, Shorten said:
My first reaction, other than surprise, was ... I thought Collingwood football club could use her as a tackler somewhere on the team ... she was deceptively strong.
Shorten was also asked to identify a series of audio clips of politicians singing.
We had Craig Emerson singing about the Whyalla wipeout, then Tony Abbott singing his karaoke favourite Suspicious Minds.
Shorten said he’d seen photos of Abbott on the campaign trail and noted that he’d been working out at the gym and his arms looked very muscled.
I always admired Tony’s fitness, just not his policies.
On the asylum seeker policy front, it is centre stage again and Anthony Albanese voted against turnbacks at the national conference.
Now Labor has multiple candidates speaking out against the policy, is that a problem?
Not at all. This is part of our strength. A confident party has a conference broadcast on national television ... and comes out of that process united. What we came out with is a very good position when you look at how we would treat asylum seekers, doubling intake ... having proper oversight and transparency of detention centres.
The latest Essential poll show 41% of voters trust the Liberal party with immigration policy while 28% trust Labor. Is asylum seeker policy a negative for Labor every way they turn?
We have a plan that we’ve put forward and it’s a plan based upon extensive consultation recognising that we made mistakes when we were last in government. We have a view you can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity.
Anthony Albanese is on Radio National talking infrastructure and specifically, the WestConnex, which is an issue of contention in the progressive (ie could vote Greens) parts of his electorate.
Albo has plenty of criticism for the project.
There’s no ideas about what happens when traffic comes out at St Peters, Haberfield, Rozelle. It doesn’t achieve its first objective. Originally what this was about was getting freight to and from the port. We announced a freight link plan to get trucks off the road, that’s the sort of thing that should’ve been done by the commonwealth in partnership with the states.
The current proposal for WestConnex doesn’t go near the port, it stops at St Peters.
This is a careful tightrope Albanese has to walk – Sydney is sorely lacking in infrastructure, particularly for the west and the road proposal is quite popular in the crucial western suburbs. He says the people of western Sydney will not support the plan when they are paying tolls in “excess of three figures a week”.
But when Labor was in government, indeed when Albo was infrastructure minister, the Greens say they provided funds for the project.
That just shows how hopeless they are – we provided $25m for planning, not for construction, not a dollar. We provided funding to get planning for Sydney’s transport plans right.
So does he want the WestConnex project halted? Albanese’s Greens opponent in Grayndler, Jim Casey, wants the project stopped.
Aren’t they duplicitous? The Greens MPs for Newtown and Balmain said if they were elected they would stop the WestConnex project. It’s a state project. The only way it can be stopped is with a decision by the state government.
"Medicare rebates freeze will end universal healthcare"
Labor health spokeswoman, Catherine King, was also on AM spruiking the opposition’s policy announcement that Labor will end the freeze of the Medicare rebate.
What Malcolm Turnbull has done by extending the freeze to 2020 is it will be ending bulk billing. We will see concessional patients having to pay and frankly ending universal healthcare.
This is about choice. People get sick; we want people to go to the cheapest and most efficient part of system, a GP, to stay well, to manage chronic illness. If they don’t do that people will end up in most expensive part of the system, the acute system.
King says doctors were not prepared for the government to extend the rebate freeze to 2020 in the latest budget.
However, Labor will not unfreeze rebates for pathology or diagnostic testing. King tried to dance around that one.
The government has said they have to deal with pathology companies. They have not got a deal with diagnostic imaging. The government has said they have resolved these issues. We will continue the freeze but we certainly believe the government is getting rid of bulk billing for diagnostic services.
The freeze has been in place for some time we are not talking about that today.
The cost of Medicare is climbing every year: how will a Labor government ensure that the increasing costs are sustainable?
By keeping people well. What we want is as many people going to GP because it is cheapest part of system. We want people to go for prevention, for advice.
King does not want to answer questions about the long term cuts to hospitals. Asked if Labor will restore all of the funding, she does not say yes, or no, to be fair.
We will have more to say about public hospitals. We will do far better than the Liberal party has done. They have frankly been a disaster for the health system.
Amanda Vanstone: Peter Dutton is right and we should be proud
Former immigration minister Amanda Vanstone has just been on AM talking about how Peter Dutton is right and Australia should be proud. Some fairly fascinating verbal acrobatics happening here.
We should be proud that we take people who are illiterate and innumerate. They’re not all [like that] of course ... but we should be proud we take these people.
She refers to former Labor immigration minister Mick Young, a “Labor stalwart”, and says she witnessed him giving a speech in which he said: “If you’re a fan of immigration you’ll keep the intake at a level that Australia can happily and comfortably absorb and he was right”.
So should Australia increase its humanitarian refugee intake?
I don’t know the mix at this point but do we take people who are illiterate and innumerate? Do we absorb them? Yes we do.
We are an immigration country; it is central to who we are. Therefore it’s very important we have the intake set at a level the community is happy with.
She tells an anecdote about an unnamed Labor MP coming to her when she was immigration minister to ask her to “do something about the African intake” as it was causing “dysfunction” in his electorate.
He was right. He’s not a racist. What he was saying was ‘you’ve got the intake wrong this year, watch it next year’.
She says Bill Shorten is being an opportunist by attacking Dutton’s comments.
Dutton is talking about our normal refugee intake and he is right. We should be proud he is right. We are one of few countries that says we will take these [illiterate and innumerate] people, we will house them, we will educate them, we will absorb them in the community.
Josh Frydenberg, minister for resources, energy and northern Australia, is on ABC breakfast. He is defending the government’s record on health as Bill Shorten prepares to announce Labor would end the freeze on Medicare rebates.
What we have shown is that the bulk billing rates and the Medicare funding have increased substantially and at the same time we’ve invested in other areas of health, for example doubling the amount that goes to public dental. We’ve more than doubled the number of PBS drugs that we have listed compared to the Labor’s time in office and of course the $2.9bn that we announced in the budget for public hospitals. So it’s a very strong record in health and we’ve got a number of budget priorities and you’ll hear from Labor plenty of spending promises but also a very big $66bn black hole.
Asked if the Liberal party would reconsider their continued freeze on rebate rate, Frydenberg says the policy laid out by health minister, Sussan Ley, stands.
Lastly, Frydenberg is asked if he agrees with Peter Dutton’s assessment of illiterate job-stealing refugees.
What Peter Dutton and I and all members of the Coalition agree is that the refugee intake has been part of the great Australian success story. It’s built us up as a prosperous, tolerant and cohesive nation and we’ve taken over 850,000 refugees since World War II and the Coalition continues to increase our humanitarian intake from over 13,000 today to 18,000 in a few years. It’s a great story.
I mentioned earlier that David Feeney’s tenants in his $2.3m investment house in Melbourne have put up a sign for the Greens candidate for Batman, Alex Bhathal.
There are more details from the tenants themselves on how that came to pass. One of the four people living there Cam Spurr told Fairfax Media one of his mates put him in touch with Bhathal’s campaign after they found out who owned their house.
I was on the fence about it but another housemate, Catrina, said ‘let’s do it’ ... so I said ‘sure’ and when we got home it was there.
He said the sign, about two metres tall, was larger than he was expecting.
I didn’t know it was going to be that big ... there have been lots of people walking past, putting photos on Twitter.
Hopefully [Feeney] doesn’t mind too much.
Oh Cam, I think he might mind a little bit.
Turnbulls’s welcome to Sydney last night when he landed from far north Queensland
The Australian political editor, Dennis Shanahan, has written that Malcolm Turnbull has shown “the necessary spirit on asylum-seekers for a Coalition leader and confronted suggestions that he is soft on boats”.
He gives Turnbull top marks for his handling of Peter Dutton’s remarks.
There was no lawyerly dissembling for the prime minister yesterday; no awkward body language nor any weasel words as he not only defended Peter Dutton’s unvarnished reality about the financial cost of taking refugees, but also refined and extended the argument.
The interpretation of Dutton’s comments as one about financial costs is a very generous one.
Shanahan says Shorten was sharp in his attack on Dutton but Turnbull was sharper in his defence.
Dutton will happily be called a xenophobe every day of the election campaign if it means the focus is on boats.
(There has been some consternation about my shortening of the Australian to “the Aus”, one of my dear readers thinks it should be the phonetic “the Oz”. Is there consensus?)
We emerge squinting in the daylight of day 11 of the campaign after scouring ourselves of the “illiterate refugees are taking Australian jobs” muck from yesterday. I will guide you gently through the morning and Katharine Murphy will be here in a few hours.
The big picture
Labor MP for Batman, David Feeney, now has every second political reporter rummaging through his register of interests as the story he forgot to declare a $2.3m investment home continues to rumble on.
Feeney charges taxpayers the $270-a-night travel allowance to stay in an apartment in Canberra during sitting weeks which is owned through a trust by his wife Liberty Sanger, the Herald-Sun reports.
The property – which was bought for $740,000 in 2008 and has a mortgage on it – is not listed on Feeney’s declaration of interests but does not have to be because of the trust it is owned through.
It is also perfectly legitimate for Feeney to claim the travel allowance while staying there. Malcolm Turnbull and Joe Hockey had similar arrangements, but it is not a great look considering the other investment property and it gives the original story more legs.
Feeney could suck a bit of oxygen out of Bill Shorten’s biggest policy announcement of the campaign to date – Labor will end the Medicare freeze on rebates which was introduced in 2012 and extended in 2014.
The policy comes as doctors have been arguing for an end to the freeze saying it is effectively pushing them into charging co-payments by stealth and meaning more doctors cannot bulk bill.
The policy will cost $2.4bn over the next four years, and $12.2bn over the decade. Shorten is using the policy to give the government a whack over Medicare.
It is vital we don’t create barriers for anyone who needs to see their GP. The Liberals’ assault on Medicare and universal healthcare must stop.
Security is so tight a routine request to see Turnbull and his wife, Lucy’s, menus on the VIP jet was refused because it has now become classified information.
A record number of politicians are being shadowed by Australian Federal Police this election because of growing security concerns, the Courier-Mail reports.
About 14 MPs have security detail because of threats of home grown terrorism as well from political activists.
The increased security comes from a boost to the AFP’s budget by Tony Abbott in 2014. Abbott was told when he was prime minister that security would be scaled back after the election.
The furore over immigration minister, Peter Dutton’s, comments about “illiterate” refugees taking Australian jobs does not look like it will have a day two *blesses self*.
On the campaign trail
Malcolm Turnbull is back in Sydney after spending yesterday in far north Queensland while Bill Shorten is on the Central Coast.
And another thing(s)
The government has returned to the tried and true scare campaign on asylum seekers because it has failed to sell the merits of its budget to voters, Phillip Coorey writes in the Australian Financial Review.
The two issues that have hogged the headlines – the company tax cuts and the allegedly retrospective elements of the superannuation crackdown – are among the most unpopular measures, suggesting Labor has framed the budget for the government with its criticisms of both measures.
Lenore Taylor has written about trying to pin down the environment minister, Greg Hunt, on what changes he needs to make to his Direct Action environment policy for it to meet the government’s emissions reduction target for 2030.
Taylor says he is meeting KPIs on avoiding questions.
This is not a nit-picking. It actually punctures the fiction that the government has found an almost cost-free way to achieve Australia’s emissions reduction task. It gives lie to the claim that only Labor would consider some kind of price on carbon.
David Marr is his usual eloquent and expressive self on the latest Behind the Lines podcast. He talks about why he would be worried if he was Turnbull and how the Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, is being blocked out of full participation in the campaign by the major parties.
Meanwhile, at David Feeney’s $2.3m investment property