Assistant Minister Kearney – interview on ABC Afternoon Briefing – 4 July 2023

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister Kearney's interview with Matt Doran about the Ashes, RBA decision, cost of living, childcare, energy prices, and women's health.

The Hon Ged Kearney MP
Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care

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MATT DORAN: We're joined from our Melbourne studios by the Assistant Health Minister, Labor’s Ged Kearney, and live in Adelaide this afternoon the Shadow Health Minister, Anne Ruston. Welcome to both of you. I need to ask you about the cricket, are the poms just being whingers here - or we shouldn't call them poms - the Brits just being whingers here, Ged Kearney, your thoughts?
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE GED KEARNEY: Thanks for coming to me first, Matt. Oh, I think we won fair and square. I mean, there were a couple of interesting moments in that game, weren't there? There was that catch, that wonderful catch, that we all think is pretty much a catch and that a certain English batsman should have been out. I think we won well within the rules fair and square. And I think there's a lot of hype and congratulations to the Australians. Can I just say that we mustn't forget that our women's cricket team beat England as well, which is just as exciting too. So I think it'll all settle down once the second game, once the next game starts, rather, and we'll just get on with the job of winning again.
DORAN: It could certainly be a very tense match. Anne Ruston, you are the Shadow Minister for Sport, so this is definitely in your wheelhouse. Are we on the verge of some sort of diplomatic incident here between Australia and the UK?
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE ANNE RUSTON: Oh, I think, you know, Ashes Test matches have been something that Australians and the Poms have been fighting over forever and ever and I don't think this year is going to be any different. But you know, it's fantastic to see both our guys and our girls doing so well in the Ashes and hopefully we see them, you know, bring home the Ashes in both the teams. But, you know, it's going to be a great month for Australian sport, you know, especially for our women when we see the World Cup kick off here later on in the month. So I think we’ll just leave it on the sporting field and let's just keep having fun.
DORAN: Indeed. I think that's very good advice there Anne Ruston. There’s going to be some bleary eyed Australians watching the smorgasbord of sport that is currently on offer. Let's get to the other matters of state that are kicking around today. And earlier this afternoon we saw the RBA's latest decision on interest rates, a collective exhale from the Australian public seeing them on hold. Ged Kearney, it is clearly going to be welcome news but there are still a lot of Australians doing it incredibly tough at the moment and many of them would be questioning whether or not your Government's doing enough, wouldn't they?
KEARNEY: Well, I think that they'd be well aware by now, Matt - and yes, I think people are sighing with relief at the RBA's decision today – that a lot of the initiatives that we announced in the last budget to help households deal with their budgets and the stress on their budgets come into effect this week, actually, it's pretty exciting. Cheaper childcare, cheaper medicines, we of course are helping people with their electricity bills. We've got a range of measures that we know are A, non-inflationary, but B, will have a really marked effect on a lot of household budgets. So I think there's a double sigh of relief this week because they know that these measures that we implemented in the last budget are coming into effect and also that the RBA have kept interest rates on hold. So I think households have got a double welcome coming to them this week.
DORAN: I noticed some of your comments last week, Ged Kearney, when you hosted the Prime Minister at a childcare centre in your neck of the woods there in Melbourne, talking about the increase to the childcare subsidy, you cited your own experiences, your family's own experiences, where you, as grandma Ged take the opportunity to look after your grandchildren one day a week, noting how expensive childcare has been. I'm sure you're not alone in that situation there, but there are those very concerned that the increases to the childcare subsidy aren't actually going to go anywhere near far enough to easing those pressures, considering that so many childcare centres are ratcheting up their prices.
KEARNEY: Well, we're going to keep a very close watch on that. As the Prime Minister has said, we asked ACCC to make sure that the price rises are not inflated too much. We know that normally this time of year there is an indexation of childcare fees, but we're confident and all our modelling shows that the initiative, the budget initiative that we've announced will definitely go a long way to helping households. I know in my electorate around 6,200 families will benefit. They should save around $1,700 a year, Matt, on childcare fees and that's a long way for some people. That might even mean that extra day a week that they don't have to rely on grandma to mind the kids or the broader family village like my daughter's had to for so long. So we're pretty confident that this will make a huge difference to household budgets and to ensuring that women can work as much as they want, that they are productive in the workforce. There's a benefit for the families, but of course there's a marvellous benefit for the economy in productivity gains.
DORAN: Anne Ruston, you and your colleagues are very quick to criticise the Government for failing to act in this space, for failing to bring down inflation or at least the pressures that add to inflation. But the RBA Governor, Phil Lowe, has said today in his statement that there does appear to be something working here, that the situation is easing a little bit. He's not obviously saying it's job done. Does that suggest that you're not necessarily giving the Government enough credit for their policies here?
RUSTON: Well, I'll give credit where credit's due, but the reality is that, you know, this is a temporary reprieve for Australians. And of course, you know, any reprieve is welcome. But, you know, any credible economist that you speak to are expecting that we're going to see more interest rate rises between now and Christmas. So I don't think you can read too much into today's hold as being terribly good news for Australians. And it comes on top of, this is just isn't just mortgages. You know we're seeing energy bills go through the roof. Every time you go to the supermarket, you get stung more for everything that you're buying. I mean, the cost of living pressures that are facing Australians at the moment are enormous and this government is relying almost entirely on the Reserve Bank to pull its levers to try and get inflation under control. It's like, you know, the Reserve Bank has got their foot on the brake when it comes to inflation and this Government seems to have its foot on the accelerator, because I don't think you'll find an Australian out there that will tell you that they're feeling better off now than they were 12 months ago. So I think, you know, I wouldn't be taking too much credit for what's going on when it comes to inflation at the moment. We need to see much more active government and fiscal policy so that we can start driving inflation down, because right now everything's going up apart from real wages.
DORAN: I know that politics is often a forum for helpful suggestions across the political divide. So do you want to offer any, Anne Ruston, as to what you think the government should be doing in this space to act differently than what they're currently doing?
RUSTON: Well, if you have a look at some of the policies that have been put forward by this government in the last 12 months, I mean, first of all, $185 billion worth of additional spending, you know, obviously can do nothing apart from having inflationary impact. We've seen industrial relations policy that's putting pressure on the economy as well. And of course, we are seeing energy bills go up at the most extraordinary rate. So they’re three areas of policy that I think could be revisited to see if they can put some more downward pressure on inflation through those type of policy decisions because spending is always going to be an inflationary monster and inflation is the thief in the night. It's what steals your real standards of living.
DORAN: Ged Kearney, on that issue of energy prices, it was a central plank of Labors election platform that energy prices were going to be brought down to the tune of hundreds of dollars. That has not eventuated. That is one of the biggest burdens on household budgets. Is it a broken election promise?
KEARNEY: I'm absolutely 100% confident, Matt, that had we not been elected, we would be seeing much, much higher energy costs. Wall know that there was that secret report that the previous energy minister in the previous government didn't release just before the election. And what we've seen is every economist – and I don't know which economists Anne speaks to – but all of the economists that we hear commentating on the budget, the recent budget initiatives of the Labor Government is that our policies have not contributed to inflation. In fact, they have helped manage inflation. They have worked alongside the RBA and the energy rebates that we have introduced, we know are keeping energy costs down. They certainly haven't gone up as much as they would have under the previous government who voted against that policy that we introduced to help households with their energy costs. So I'm confident that we're doing the right thing.
DORAN: Anne Ruston, does the Coalition need to take a bit of responsibility for the situation that the energy market was left in after nine years in office, which has led to these it being more susceptible to these global fluctuations?
RUSTON: Well what I'd say is we weren't the party that went to the last election promising 170,  $275 reduction in energy bills. That was what this Labor government did. And subsequent to that –
DORAN: Sure, but my question was specifically as to whether or not the Coalition did enough in its time in office to ensure that the Australian energy market was robust and was able to ward off those sort of shocks that are now being seen in the system.
RUSTON: Well, the proof in the pudding is in our track record under a Coalition government, you've always seen lower energy prices, just like you see lower interest rates and you see, you know, lower unemployment rates. And so I think just look at the energy prices and the downward trajectory on energy prices when we were in government. But I'd just like to point out again, you know, Ged can say they wouldn't have gone up by as much if it hadn't been for the Labor Party. Your government was the government that went to the election and promised every single Australian a $275 reduction in their energy bills. And subsequent to that, all we've seen is energy bills go up by much, more than that amount.
DORAN: I'm sure we could fill the entire hour with discussion about cost of living, but I do want to touch on a couple more issues while we have the two of you with us and an issue that you have been working very closely on, Ged Kearney, which is access to women's reproductive health care. There was a Senate inquiry report which was delivered a couple of weeks ago, making quite a number of recommendations to address the serious inequality that there is right across the country in accessing that. We haven't heard from the government or we haven't had the government's response as yet. When can we expect to see that?
KEARNEY: Well, as you said, there were a large number of recommendations in that inquiry, and this is an area that is, as Anne would even know, is very close to my heart, and that is the area of women's health. And I think it is to her as well. I have spent a lot of time trying to improve the situation for women who don't fare as well through the health system as men do, which is becoming evident through research. But there are certain areas, of course, that we need to focus on and reproductive and maternal health care is one of those. And so we really welcome the inquiry. They've made some, as I said, far ranging recommendations, some of which we are already working on. And, you know, it was concerning to hear the state of the health system the way it was left by the previous government. I mean, we've heard terms like deserts of care when it comes to maternal and reproductive health care. It's particularly worrying for women living in rural and regional areas, but also in some respects for women living in our cities. So we are very serious about addressing this issue. We really welcome the report, we're working through that right now. As you can imagine, with a large number of recommendations like that, it may well take us some time to respond, but we are taking it very seriously. And we are, as a government so committed to primary health care and to making sure that everybody can access the care they need when they get it. Just in an example of one the things that I think will be welcome from women in particular is an introduction of an hour-long GP visit that will now be able to be claimed on Medicare, on the MBS by GPs. We know that a lot of women's conditions, particularly when it comes to reproductive health care, need that long conversation and that time spent with the doctor. And so I think this will be very welcome. And that's just one of the areas that we've started work already.
DORAN: Anne Ruston, on that criticism from Ged Kearney there about the state of the health system after nine years of coalition government, you are not only a representative of the great state of South Australia, but your neck of the woods is out in the Riverland, out in Renmark.Tell us what your what you hear in your patch. How difficult is it for women in regional areas of a state like South Australia to access health care, their health care needs, specifically that relate specifically to them as women?
RUSTON: Well, I mean, there's absolutely no doubt the facts actually prove it, that the further you are away from a metropolitan area are, the worse your health outcomes are. And that goes across the board, not just for women, but more generally. And so it's a great concern that we need to be working as hard as we can so that we can get equity in health outcomes. Whether you live in a metropolitan, city centre or whether you live out in the country. And, you know, certainly during the pandemic we saw some great innovations that led us to be able to have some equity options there, not the least of which was telehealth. But while I'm here sitting actually in Adelaide, I'd shout out for women's health. The endometriosis pain management clinics that have been rolled out around the country, the only capital city that didn't get one was Adelaide. So big shout out Ged, we'd really love a pain management clinic in Adelaide and so really hoping you might see your way clear to doing that because it's a long way for women in Adelaide or Mount Gambier to drive to Kadina to get access to that health care. So it would be really great to see one in Adelaide.
DORAN: Anything on the agenda there?
KEARNEY: Well, Anne and I, we're on a sort of a unity ticket when it comes to endometriosis and I know that the previous government did a lot of work in this area and so I want as much support as I can possibly muster for women with endometriosis. It really is one of those areas that is a prime example of where women don't do so well in the health care system. You know, taking around 7 to 9 years to just get diagnosed. And then of course, there being a dearth of options for treatment. So, you know, we'll wait and see how we go.
DORAN: Starting on a unity ticket with the cricket ending on something of a unity ticket on pain clinics. Ged Kearney and Anne Ruston, thank you so much for joining us on Afternoon Briefing.



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