Deborah Knight: And joining us, as he does every week, the Shadow Treasurer Angus Taylor. Government Services Minister Bill Shorten was unable to make it this week so in his stead is the Assistant Trade Minister Tim Ayres. Fellas, welcome to the show.
Angus Taylor: Good to be with you, Deb.
Tim Ayres: G’day, Deb. Angus, g’day.
Deborah Knight: Good to have you with us, Tim. Now, I want to start with the cheaper medicines plan, which the Prime Minister was crowing about yesterday in the Senate, halving the cost of medicines for Aussies from the start of next month. Tim, you’re a senator. How chaotic did it get in the upper house yesterday, because there were plenty of theatrics, and the Prime Minister – talk about cook-a-hoop in Question Time - did he really have to gloat like that when it got through?
Tim Ayres: Well, we’re very pleased that it got through.
Deborah Knight: You could tell.
Tim Ayres: It’s really important for Australians, particularly low-income Australians. It will halve the cost of medicines for millions and millions of Australians. You know, the older you get, the more scripts you end up getting. People with heart conditions, kids with Cronh’s disease, this will make a real difference. It should have been implemented by the last government because they had the report, the recommendation, in 2018. It’s supported by every health group in the Australian community. It’s the right reform and we saw the Coalition playing politics with this yesterday in the Senate. There were chaotic scenes. We did what we had to do, Deb, to make sure that ordinary Australians, low and middle-income households are getting relief as a result of this reform from September.
Deborah Knight: And, Angus, the Coalition, you did try to block it, but then you pulled the pin when you didn’t have the numbers from the crossbench. Did you get the strategy wrong on this?
Angus Taylor: No, not at all. Look, we’re in favour of cheaper medicines – of course we are. To say otherwise is ridiculous. Our problem is who’s paying for this policy, Deb. And the harsh reality of the way Labor has done it is it’s being paid for by small business people and the most vulnerable in our community, particularly in aged care who right now rely on subsidies from pharmacists to get access to their medicines. That won’t be possible as we proceed with this.
And we’ve got many, many communities in regional areas, including in my electorate, where there is either only the pharmacy providing health care in those towns or, in fact, the pharmacy plays a very, very significant role. And the risk here is that by asking pharmacists and customers, other customers, to pay for this, you are going to be hitting a group very hard who don’t deserve this outcome. And Labor needs to think long and hard about who’s really paying for this policy, and we think it’s the wrong people.
Deborah Knight: Do you think, though, Angus, that the pharmacists have been over-egging the argument here? Because they’ve been claiming that there will be widespread medicine shortages if this 60-day dispensing goes through – which it will be in three weeks’ time – and they’ve also said that the threat of the Webster packs being pulled from aged care homes when - that’s just scaremongering, because it’s already funded.
Angus Taylor: Well, it’s not. You see, someone has to pay for this, Deb. This is the thing about a policy like this.
Deborah Knight: But it’s already funded through the aged care package.
Angus Taylor: Well, hang on. Someone has to pay for this.
Deborah Knight: Yes, it’s already paid for. It’s already factored into the funding.
Angus Taylor: There is no question that many pharmacists subsidise their support particularly of remote customers and aged care customers. They subsidise those services and in a significant way. And they’re the most vulnerable in the community. Now, if you’re asking them to pay for this, I think it’s completely inappropriate. And I do think that’s exactly what’s going to happen. I mean, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to my pharmacists and others, aged care facilities around the electorate – deep, deep concern about who’s paying for this policy.
Of course, we want cheaper medicines, but the problem with Labor’s policies on trying to make things cheaper is no-one feels as though they’re any better off because the policies are not working. And this is just another example.
Deborah Knight: And, Tim, has the Federal Government done enough to ease the concerns of community pharmacists? Has there been enough consultation?
Tim Ayres: Well, I’ll make a couple of points about this, Deb. I mean, firstly, the Liberals – you know, Peter Dutton and Angus Taylor - say they’re so concerned about the cost of living that they vote against every measure that the government introduces. They voted against cheaper electricity and cheaper coal and gas. They voted against cheaper medicine, and now we see a new low in the campaign that’s been run against this very sensible set of reforms – trying to frighten aged care residents and their families about the impact of these reforms in aged care.
I mean, it’s just – it’s simply not true. Aged care facilities are required to have medicine packaged up properly to ensure that residents get the right medicine at the right time. The idea that Liberal and National MPs are wandering around their communities trying to frighten elderly Australians and families in order to prosecute yet another negative, you know, no real answer to the cost of living issues that are, you know, very challenging for households, you know, that is a new low and it’s the wrong thing to do. Aged care residents are secure in terms of their medications. There’s no impact as a result of this set of reforms, but many other people in the community will have much cheaper medicines as a result, and the government’s got a package there for community pharmacies.
These are important businesses, particularly in country towns and our outer suburbs. The government has got a package there for them. This is a sensible set of reforms. But for all of your listeners listening, if they’ve got regular scripts, this is going to make a difference in the order of hundreds of dollars.
Deborah Knight: Yeah, well, we’ll see how it plays out. I think the pharmacists have been over-egging it, and I think you’ve got to concede as much.
Angus Taylor: Hang on, Deb. Let me respond to the rot we just heard from Tim. The truth of the matter is Labor will never explain clearly who is paying for their policy. And that is because we know who is going to pay for their policies – some combination of hard-working small business people and the most vulnerable customers.
Now, Tim made the broader point that we voted against all these wonderful things. Well, I’ll leave it to listeners out there as to whether they think the cost of living is getting better or worse. We vote against bad policy that’s not going to deliver on the spin that Labor puts around it, and we’ll continue to vote against that. And we’re voting against it because Labor is simply not delivering on their cost-of-living promises, and I don’t see any change in sight.
Deborah Knight: Well, I think you’re on a hide to nothing, though, arguing that you’d block cheaper medicines for Aussies facing the cost of living crunch. I know you say you’re not opposed to it, but you were trying to vote down the policy.
Angus Taylor: Labor needs to explain who is paying for this. That’s the issue here.
Deborah Knight: All right.
Angus Taylor: Who is paying for it? And they won’t explain it because we all know who it really is.
Deborah Knight: All right. Now, I want to talk about the housing future fund as well because, Tim, the government didn’t have any luck getting that through Parliament yesterday. You’re still at loggerheads with the Greens. National Cabinet is meeting next week. What’s going to give here? The Greens say that they’re going to support this legislation if you bring in rental caps. Some state leaders, including the New South Wales Premier Chris Minns have already said no way is that going to happen. But what’s it going to take to get a concrete fix to the housing crisis? Because it’s crippling so many Australians – renters and home owners.
Tim Ayres: Well, two points here: firstly, the Housing Australia Future Fund will mean 30,000 additional homes. It’s one of a suite of measures that the government’s undertaking.
Deborah Knight: But the Greens aren’t going to back it, so it’s not going to get through. So, what are you going to do to bring about a shift with the housing crisis?
Tim Ayres: Well, we are going to fight for it. This is good policy. It’s going to mean 30,000 additional homes. I know that the Greens political party will have, you know, all sorts of slogans out there about housing.
I mean, the truth is, people can’t live in a slogan. You know, we are going to have to build additional homes. This measure will build 30,000 additional homes. There’s $2 billion there in additional investment for the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation. We’ve done increases in terms of Commonwealth Rental Assistance. There’s a range of other reforms here.
But if I can come to this National Cabinet point, this is a government that is going to work with the states. We’re not going to seek to divide and apportion political blame here. There is a set of challenges here in the housing market. But fundamentally what is needed is cooperation between national, state and local governments to open up more housing supply –
Deborah Knight: I want to go to that point.
Tim Ayres: – [indistinct] that have been undertaken, and that’s what Anthony Albanese will be doing. There’s a very credible set of measures out there already. There’s one measure that’s snagged up in the sort of negative politics of the Liberals and Nationals and Greens, you know, the sort of hyper-partisan politics in the Parliament. But we are going to focus on delivering housing for low and middle-income Australians.
Deborah Knight: All right.
Tim Ayres: That is a job here and we’re gonna get on with it.
Deborah Knight: Well, supply is the big issue, of course. That takes time, though, to build homes and we’ve got the housing crisis in the here and the now. The rent cap or the rent freeze is that big issue that you’re alluding to, Tim. And, Angus, should that at least be on the table if we’re looking to bring about a fix to this?
Angus Taylor: Sadly, rent caps don’t work, Deb. There’s nothing – there’s no better documented policy failure in history than attempts to cap rents. Now, here’s the situation, here are the facts: we have just in the year passed an extra half a million new Australians. In the year coming up it will be about the same – a million in two years. And that means you need something like four or five hundred thousand houses, and there is absolutely nothing that Labor is proposing – certainly not the HAFF that can’t even guarantee a single house will be built before the next election – that is going to solve that problem.
And if the truth is that Labor can’t solve that problem – and they won’t on the pathway they’re on at the moment – then you have to look very hard at their plans on immigration right now because it’s just an unsustainable situation.
Deborah Knight: All right. And I think just to say – Labor to say, “Well, we’re going to keep fighting for it,” well, if it’s not going to get through, you’ve got to look at other options. So that’s the reality you’re facing in the here and now.
I also want to look at China, because our tourism industry, very happy with the news that China has lifted its ban on tour groups coming to Australia. We’ve had the Chinese tariffs lifted on our barley. Tim, what’s happening with everything else? With our wine, with our timber, with our lobster? Are we any closer to getting those tariffs lifted as well?
Tim Ayres: Well, as you say, there’s still progress to be made here. I mean, it is worth for a moment pausing on and looking at the announcements that have been made in relation to barley this week. You know, that is a very good development. Australian barley growers have been largely successful at finding other markets around the world. But we should not – and the government has not – done anything but work very hard to secure this outcome in terms of barley.
Deborah Knight: And our wine industry is the same – they’ve done well finding other markets, too, but are we close to those tariffs being lifted?
Tim Ayres: That’s – I don’t want to contradict you, Deb, but actually it’s been tougher for the wine industry. You know, they have struggled to find overseas markets to match the volume that they were sending to China. It’s a market that wine growers have put a lot of effort into in terms of marketing and establishing new markets, so there are real challenges there for our wine industry.
But the government is going to continue to adopt the approach that we’ve adopted – calm and consistent, always focused on the national interest, stabilising the relationship with China and, in particular, the work that Don Farrell as the Trade Minister has been leading here, engaging in a process that is designed to deliver the best outcome possible.
Now, that did mean this week an announcement in terms of barley, also in terms of tourism. That matters for tens of thousands of businesses, hundreds of thousands of Australians whose livelihoods rely upon the tourism sector, particularly in small business. This will make a real difference, particularly in the regions.
Deborah Knight: Yeah, it’s very welcome. It’s great for barley, but you’re right, there’s more to be done. And there’s also more to be done with our diplomatic relations and with our Australians who are in detention.
Because we’ve heard overnight from the Australian journalist Cheng Lei giving a heartbreaking account of what she’s missing after being detained in China for three years now – missing her family, of course, her children, the Australian sunshine even. Angus, are we doing enough to bring Cheng Lei and other Australians detained in China home?
Angus Taylor: Well, can I say that I read that statement, and it was absolutely heart wrenching, and I encourage people to read it because it is – it tells you just the reality that you’ve got to balance these trade relationships, which are very important as you rightly say, Deb, but you’ve got to balance that with calling China out when they do the wrong thing. And this is clearly just absolutely devastating and tragic what’s happened to Cheng Lei. Please read the statement if you get a chance. An Australian journalist with kids here who is detained in an extraordinary way.
Deborah Knight: Yeah.
Angus Taylor: And so, yes, the government does need to do everything in its power to deal with those situations. And we will provide every bit of bipartisan support we can to make sure that occurs.
Deborah Knight: Which is good to see, yeah. The statement, part of it, saying she hasn’t seen a tree in three years, she misses the sun in her cell, the sunlight shines through the window, but she can stand in it for only 10 hours in a year. And she used to protect her skin from the sun when she lived in Australia. It’s heartbreaking in the extreme.
Now, I want to end on this: I’ve been building this life-size –
Tim Ayres: Really heartbreaking, Deb, yes.
Deborah Knight: Yes, and it’s important, Tim, that it is that bipartisan support for Cheng Lei, so that’s good to see.
But, look, a bit of fun with the Matildas. We’ve been building this life-size poster of Sam Kerr in the Afternoon’s office ahead of the Matilda’s quarter final match against France tomorrow. Go the Matildas. And there’ll be a lot of Aussie kids with Matildas posters on their bedroom walls at the moment, which is great to see. So, I want to know, who did you have a poster on your bedroom wall growing up. Tim?
Tim Ayres: This is going to date me badly – I had two big posters from memory. One was a poster of Dennis Lillee, and the other was a poster of Keith Richards.
Deborah Knight: Oh, yes.
Tim Ayres: One very healthy, you know, character who, you know, he was so exciting to watch, Dennis Lillee. Like absolutely remember all of those days sitting around watching particularly the One Day cricket in the little farmhouse that I grew up in but also Keith Richards. I think my mum was at the end of both of those posters.
Deborah Knight: A bit of Rolling Stones action with the sporting heroes.
Tim Ayres: I loved it.
Deborah Knight: Good combination.
Tim Ayres: You know, it is so good watching the Matildas. You know, it’s wonderful watching as the camera pans across and you see all those kids, particularly girls, so excited, so into sport. It is such a good development for the country. This season it’s been and this FIFA World Cup it’s absolutely marvellous to watch.
Deborah Knight: Yeah. Long may it continue. What about you, Angus?
Angus Taylor: Tim’s stolen my thunder, Deb.
Deborah Knight: Who did you have?
Angus Taylor: I’m ageing myself too, so it was cricketers for me. I was fanatical about cricket and trying to bowl fast. Could never bowl as fast as I wanted to, but it was Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, of course, who was even faster and in some ways even more exciting than Dennis Lillee. You never quite knew where it went with Jeff – with Thommo. But, yeah, cricket was my focus.
Deborah Knight: Yeah.
Angus Taylor: And can I agree that it’s wonderful to see our sporting success, and the Diamonds as well, of course.
Deborah Knight: Yes, well said. The netballers, just phenomenal effort. They’ve already won the World Cup. Let’s hope our Matildas can manage it. Good on you fellas. Thanks so much for joining us.
Angus Taylor: Thanks, Deb.
Tim Ayres: Good to talk to you. Thanks.
Deborah Knight: Angus Taylor and Tim Ayres for our weekly Question Time session here on Afternoons with Deb Knight.