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"We are the party, after all, that created Medicare." - Sky News TV Transcript




MONDAY, 22 MAY 2017

SUBJECTS: Australian philanthropy; modern slavery; Medicare levy; Global gag rule.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:  Let's get into it with you, Senator Singh. And I am sorry because this is your first appearance on 'To the Point' and it’s more shambolic than most, so let's try and bring some order to it.

You would have seen today Andrew Forrest' $400 million dollar donation – philanthropic gift – some of which will go to combatting modern slavery. In his remarks Bill Shorten seemed to suggest that there was more that the Parliament could do about combatting modern slavery. Your thoughts on Andrew Forrest's gift, but also your thoughts on whether government and the opposition need to take up the challenge here?

LISA SINGH, LABOR SENATOR FOR TASMANIA: Absolutely. I really welcome Andrew Forrest's contribution. It was very philanthropic of him to focus on modern slavery in his suite of gifts – the donations he's provided. But I know that Andrew Forrest's had a commitment to this issue for some time and has been looking at the whole supply chain to stamp out modern slavery. For myself, I'm with a number of parliamentarians currently on a joint parliamentary committee inquiry into modern slavery, and looking into the virtues of a Modern Slavery Act for Australia – something that we don't have but like-minded countries like the UK, France, Canada all have. So, we'll see what comes out of that. I think that it is time though that Australia addresses this issue. We don't realise that in modern Australia we still are dealing with people being treated as slaves. Evidence that we'll find in that inquiry I am sure will be compelling. I've already been looking through some of the submissions and they are very compelling. They address issues like forced labour, sexual servitude, things that we shouldn't have in a modern Australia.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Senator, what about the broader issue about the lack of philanthropy in Australia compared to somewhere like the United States? Obviously this is a great day because you've got a wealthy Australian giving literally $400 million towards various causes. But on the way through Andrew Forrest made some very valid points; that we don't do enough in comparison to have a culture of giving like the United States. He says it’s getting better here, but it's still got a ways to go, doesn't it?

SINGH: Yeah, it's very interesting. I mean, we always reflect on ourselves as being quite compassionate and giving – particularly around volunteering in fact. We have some of the highest rates of volunteering in the western world in Australia, but obviously when it comes to philanthropy there's a different kind of bent on it. I think Andrew's set the bar though, that's for sure today, with what he's announced, and I think I would hope that at least going forward that perhaps things do change in that space for Australia and that we do become much more accepting of the idea of philanthropy that the US has had in its culture for a very long time.

KENEALLY: Senator Singh, reports today of course that Shadow Cabinet debated whether or not to apply the Medicare Levy across the board or just to those earning over $87,000. You're not currently in Shadow Cabinet, what's you view?

SINGH: That's exactly it, Kristina. I'm not in Shadow Cabinet so it's a little bit hard to know any detail of that and I wouldn't be discussing it here even if I was in Shadow Cabinet.

VAN ONSELEN: Be free to have an opinion then, Senator?

SINGH: I wouldn't be on this program announcing what goes on in Shadow Cabinet.

KENEALLY: OK Senator, I understand that but what's your view on the universality of Medicare? Medicare is a universal service. The levy up till now has been levied universally. If we start to introduce to tiers within Medicare levies, do we start to introduce tiers within Medicare service? I mean, the universality of Medicare some people would argue is one of its greatest strengths. Labor seems like its willing - with this position - to introduce the notion of tiers within Medicare and by extension the NDIS.

SINGH: Let's be really clear here when we talk about the universality of Medicare. Because what that really means – and it is something of course Labor is rock-solid committed to because we are the party, after all, that created Medicare – is that every person, no matter what their situation, can access a GP. To have that opportunity to not have the situation like we do have in the United States where healthcare comes down to the size of your wallet – that's about the universality of Medicare. Now of course that has to be funded and that's where the Medicare levy comes into play. But what we've just had is the government announce in its budget an increase to the Medicare levy to pay for the NDIS.

Now Bill Shorten made clear in our budget reply that we also support the full funding of NDIS. But when we look at funding it through the Medicare levy we will do that by not slogging some of the lower end of those workers in our community. Instead what we want to do is actually go to the higher end of workers – the millionaires in fact – who can of course afford to pay more. That's a core Labor value; that those who can and should pay more do so. And those that need protection and support shouldn't be slogged with that cost. Now that's the heart of Labor's position and it's something that I completely support. And you only need to look at the swathe of the government's budget to realise that this kind of idea that they can use the word “fairness” without backing it up is starting to fall apart. And it falls apart because they have given the big end of town a tax cut, while attacking and slogging the lower end of town – those that can't afford it – with a tax increase. And that is something that Labor does not support.

VAN ONSELEN: Senator who do you agree with? Do you agree with Anthony Albanese that this was a budget that was moulded on Labor, or do you agree with Bill Shorten that it is a budget that falls short of Labor values?

SINGH: Look, this has been such a beat up! I mean honestly, there are so many different ways that you can describe the government's budget. You know, we're not all cookie cutters where we say the same thing. We're not robots. We can say it however we want to describe it.

VAN ONSELEN: I thought the talking points were supposed to sort that out.

SINGH: I support – clearly – both Bill Shorten, Anthony Albanese, and anyone else who wants to have a different flavour to how they see and how they interpret the government's budget. Clearly this budget is all about words and nothing about substance. He uses this word "fairness" in some way of trying to win back electoral support. But we only have to dig down into the detail to realise that while it's come some way in trying to copy or mirror some of Labor's ideas such as needs-based school funding it then falls short of fairness by not funding schools properly and adequately. Let’s all say it how we see it, and of course I would hope in the Labor caucus we all say that differently, not all the same.

KENEALLY: Senator Singh, you are on the senate estimates committee for foreign affairs. One of the issues that continually catches my eye over recent days is President Trump's global gag rule – that is this rule that prevents US aid from going to services that support or provide abortion services or even provide counselling or referrals if they don't provide those services themselves. Trump continues to up the ante with the implementation of this global gag rule and some other nations are pledging their own funding to fill what some are saying will be a $600 million hole. Should Australia contribute to that pledge process, and if so how much do you think would be appropriate?

SINGH: Yes, I do think Australia should step up and contribute to this process. There was an opportunity to do that a couple of months ago where there was a pledging conference held in Brussels with a number of countries pledging. I understand that Australia sent its Women and Girls Ambassador, Sharman Stone, to that conference, but didn't pledge anything. Now this is going to affect – this global gag rule of President Trump is going to affect – millions of women and girls in our region and indeed across the world that are seeking sexual and reproductive support services. This is something that Australia should indeed fund and it is something I am willing to ask the government more about in terms of the next pledging conference which I understand is around July about what it might be willing to contribute in that conference and I hope it is something, not nothing.

KENEALLYAlright Senator Singh we're going to leave it there thank you-

SINGH: But of course what we've seen already Kristina, is a big massive cut to the foreign aid budget, so I don't hold my breath. You know, we've got record low levels of our commitment to foreign aid, so I simply do not hold my breath about what this government may or may not do.

KENEALLYAlright senator we'll have to leave it there thank you so much for joining us on ‘To The Point.’

VAN ONSELEN: Thanks for your company.

SINGH: Thank you.