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14 August 2012  Transcript of the Hon Peter Dutton MP, Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing interview with Peter Van Onselen - Sky News - Showdown

Subject: Health portfolio, private health insurance, border protection


VAN ONSELEN: Welcome back you’re watching Showdown with Peter and we’re joined by Peter out of Parliament House in Canberra, Peter Dutton, thanks very much for your company.

DUTTON: My pleasure Peter, thankyou.

VAN ONSELEN: Thanks Peter, good to have you on board. Straight into health matters. Actually no, we won’t do that. The mandatory question on asylum seekers, the opposition, obviously this isn’t the kind of issue you want to be gloating about, but at the end of the day it would be hard to not to rub their faces in it a little bit for the Labor Party. At the end of the day,  they seem to have largely capitulated to what your side of the Parliament is after?

DUTTON: Well I think, Peter, the Australian people will make their own judgements about the Prime Minister’s leadership and the way in which she has performed on this issue, but in the end we have a three pronged approach and they have only taken up one aspect of that. That causes some concern. I think of course to all Australians who are pretty worked up about this issue, when we’ve seen 22,000 people arrive, it’s been at a cost of $4.7 billion that the Government’s wasted on this program. It just shows that the Government is not performing for the Australian people and I think people will make their judgement at the time of the next election.

VAN ONSELEN: I am sure they will and clearly it’s a lot of damage that’s been done to this Government, on this particular issue and now there is the humiliation of at least a partial backflip. Do you at least concede, putting your political strategist hat on, from their perspective at least, the issue is resolved to some extent and the political bleeding can at least partially stop?

DUTTON: Well I think, Peter, the problem for Labor going forward is that they are torn internally on this issue. This is why Kevin Rudd when he was elected, in 2008 completely undid John Howard’s solution and I know that Julia Gillard, at the moment, is putting a brave face on it, but she was the architect of this failed policy, when she was the Opposition Immigration Spokesperson before the 2007 election. Kevin Rudd embraced what she has recommended to him, so both of them are in a very difficult position, but in the end, I think the test will be whether or not this Government stops wasting money, whether or not they can stop people drowning at sea and whether or not they can stop the boats coming. 

VAN ONSELEN:  I think we both know they’re not going to stop wasting money, but on the issue of them being torn, it’s also fair to say the Coalition has been torn on this as well, Judi Moylan, Russell Broadbent, Mal Washer, they’ve all got clear problems with the issue of offshore processing to some extent and then you can throw in Sharman Stone, who has been dumped as the Shadow Immigration Spokesperson. She was the person as the Shadow Immigration Spokesperson who endorsed the closure of Nauru?

DUTTON: Well I think obviously some of my colleagues have different views on this issue, but they’ve had the same views and they have been consistent in those views, even when John Howard was Prime Minister and despite those differing views, we were still able to come up with a coherent policy, that the majority of our party supported and that stopped the boats from coming and that’s the true test. If you want to be humane in these circumstances, you’ve got to stop people drowning at sea and you’ve got to give people who are desperately waiting at camps around the world, wanting to come to our country,  a chance to exercise that right. But if their position is being displaced by people turning up on boats, I think that is not only a bad outcome for them, I think also for the Australian public they say that’s not the right process. I think that Tony Abbott has been absolutely consistent, as has Scott Morrison on this issue. There are three pillars to our approach and the Government sought to adopt only one of those pillars and the test will be now, how long it takes that Government to adopt the other two.

VAN ONSELEN: Let’s switch gears and discuss the portfolio of health, which you’re the Shadow Spokesperson for. You were a rising star of the Liberal Party in the last term, you were doing quite a bit of media and suddenly you get lampooned with the Shadow Health Portfolio and we hardly ever see you again, what happened?

DUTTON: Well you’re all too kind, thanks for inviting me onto the show.

VAN ONSELEN: Well I am trying to raise your profile, at the end of the day, as Shadow Spokesperson, your harder to find, well we could go anywhere on that. What happened, are you being hidden from view, does the Coalition not want to talk about health matters?

DUTTON: No, I think there is a time and a place for all public policy discussions. At the moment obviously and over the course of the last couple of years, the political space has been completely dominated by the waste of the Government, the carbon tax, by their failings in border protection and all of those issues rightly dominate the media space and I have taken the approach that if we are to be elected at the next election, health is one of those issues, where we need to hit the ground running because it’s a very important issue, especially given that we’ve got an ageing population. There has been enormous waste by the Government in the health portfolio as well and I want to make sure we can realign some of our efforts in health, so that we get the better health outcomes that Australians deserve in the 21st century. So I have been behind the scenes meeting with many of the stakeholders. Health is massive portfolio. It’s the biggest social portfolio for a Government to manage and I believe that it’s very important to be across all of that before you come into Government and that’s been my priority, as opposed to seeking out any media attention for the work we are doing behind the scenes.

VAN ONSELEN: Just as a quick interrupter, on Twitter, there is a tweet that has been re-tweeted a couple of times, “Peter’s not acknowledging us now, he’s had his dummy spit and now he’s ignoring us”, I obviously need to read that out to refute the suggestion. But there is one Mr Dutton for you, saying, “Well done to you Peter Dutton on Showdown, the inefficient implementation of policy by this Government has been unacceptable and wasteful.” So there you go, you’re getting twitter support at the moment. On the issue of private health insurance now, we’ve got a situation where the means test for the private health rebate was put into effect and opposed by your side. I think it’s about a $2 billion dollar price tag attached to it. You guys have a little bit of egg on your face, don’t you, because the percentages tell us that, since it’s come in, there has not been a decline in the number of people taking out private health insurance despite yourself and others from the Coalition telling us there would be?

DUTTON: Well the funny thing is, Peter, if you scratch below the surface a little, you’ll find that people who were most effected, higher income earners, were most effected by the changes in the rebates, the Government projected they were going to save $2 billion dollars. So obviously they projected they’d fall out or downgrade their private health insurance. But those private health holders who are on high incomes have actually prepaid their insurance before June 30. In some  cases they have been allowed to pay it for up to two years, which means they have gone around the Government’s proposed changes to the rebate which makes a mockery actually of what the Government was trying to do because the Government has missed out on revenue and I think it goes to show the incompetence frankly of this Government. They can’t even get a tax grab right and I hope we can hold the numbers up in private health insurance because at the centre of Tony Abbott’s time as Health Minister was to get a good balance between the public and private systems and if you drive people out of the private health insurance market, into public hospital waiting lists, you’re just going to see worse outcomes in our public hospitals. So I want to make sure we get the balance right and that’s what we’ll propose at the next election.

VAN ONSELEN: So those numbers that you’ve just put up them, I didn’t realise that, that’s fascinating, for a start, so you’re saying that people were able to pre-pay their private health in a way that then presumably hits the budget bottom line if they do it that way?

DUTTON: Yeah, well I am sorry if high income earners like yourself didn’t get in on this lurk but if you prepaid your private health insurance before June 30, you weren’t effected by the Government’s changes from 1 July. And so hundreds of thousands of people literally,  have pre-paid their health insurance, so they’re not going to be effected by this slug.

VAN ONSELEN: That would be another hole in the budget then wouldn’t it?

DUTTON: Well it will be and this is the problem, this has the potential to be a couple of hundred million dollar hit on the Government’s revenue and the Government should have tightened up the this loophole before June 30 and they allow these people to prepay their insurance and really go around the Government’s intent, so far as their policy is concerned. I think it further underscores this Government’s approach. They haven’t been a good Government. They haven’t been able to implement policy, even where they may have had a good intent and as a result of that, the numbers haven’t fallen away from private health insurance coverage. So I think that completely undermines the Government claims that they have done anything substantive in the private health space. This is a Government that goes form bad to worse.

VAN ONSELEN: I tell you what, in terms of mounting an economic argument, and in terms of some of the problems with what the Government has done, you just did that far more eloquently, I am wondering if you’re pitching for an economic portfolio? I mean Andrew Robb, Joe Hockey – your mate, none of these guy have mounted an argument about the private health means test. Maybe you should be in a finance portfolio?

DUTTON: Well you’re always provocative on this show, which is why your rating are so high I presume. Look I think Andrew Robb and Joe Hockey are doing a great job in their portfolios. I was the Assistant Treasurer when we were in Government.

VAN ONSELEN: See there’s another push. You’re pushing for the job again.

DUTTON: No, no, this is a nice angle mate but look I sought the health portfolio out, from firstly Brendan Nelson, but successfully when Malcolm Turnbull became leader and Tony was kind enough to keep me in the portfolio. I just think it’s an area with enormous expenditure going forward and I want to make sure that we are spending it in the right ways because we have one of the highest life expectancies in the world, but we could do so much better in the area of health and I think if we could take away some of the money this Government has built up in the level of bureaucracy, you know this Government has 6,500 people in their health department, 3700 of those in the department,  just in Canberra alone and yet they don’t run one public hospital, they don’t employ a nurse or a doctor.

VAN ONSELEN: You almost sound surprised as you say that?

DUTTON: I just think for people it’s worth underscoring. If we can try and turn some of that spend into spending money on people to get more elective surgery done, if we can reduce waiting times in emergency departments, for me at the moment that’s the real challenge and that’s what I have been apply myself to. I think if we can demonstrate that, if we’re successful at the next election, people will quickly see that the Coalition is better at managing the health portfolio than what Labor pretends to be.

VAN ONSELEN: Alright Peter Dutton, we are out of time, but just quickly a tweet came in from one of our viewers saying, “I pre-paid my private health insurance for three years”, so there you go plenty of people on Twitter into the lurks that you were referring to, that I wasn’t unfortunately. Thanks very much for joining us for this episode of Showdown, much appreciated.

DUTTON: Pleasure, thanks very much Peter.


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