Speeches and Transcripts

Dr Omar Khorshid on ABC Q+A Thursday 24 March 2022.

Transcript:   AMA President, Dr Omar Khorshid, Outlet: ABC Q+A, Thursday, 24 March 2022


DAVID SPEERS:       Tonight, budget pressures. More Australians are struggling to make ends meet at a time when the Government needs to control its own spending. How will it play out with an election around the corner? Welcome to Q and A.


             Hello, I'm David Speers. We're coming to you live from Melbourne tonight. And joining me on the panel: CEO and founder of OzHarvest, Ronni Kahn. President of the Australian Medical Association, Omar Khorshid. In Hamilton in Western Victoria, Minister for Trade, Tourism, and Investment, Dan Tehan. Shadow Minister for the Environment and Water, Terri Butler. And economist and CEO of the Committee for Economic Development, Melinda Cilento. Great to have you all in the room as well tonight.


             Terrific to have so many here with us this evening. Remember, you can stream us on iView, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. #QANDA is the hashtag. Please get involved. Our first question tonight comes from Stradeos Pavlis.

QUESTION:   Hi. We all love our coffee here in wonderful Melbourne. The story is, coffee is about to get really, really, really expensive. As coffee is a cornerstone of the hospitality industry, will this damage our economic recovery?

DAVID SPEERS:       Gosh, petrol, now coffee, where will it end? Look, I'm sure for many who can't afford it, coffee can be a luxury, a takeaway coffee. But I think as Stradeos indicates there this is also a jobs creator. If people stop buying coffee, this becomes a bigger issue. Melinda, let me come to you first on this. What would happen if coffee hit, as some have suggested, $7 a cup?

MELINDA CILENTO:          Well, look, I have to say that's a crisis here in Melbourne. We all know it.


             I think we- it would be pretty serious for all of us and we'd be thinking about all the things we'd have to substitute so that we could still get a $9 cup of coffee first thing in the morning.

DAVID SPEERS:       Nine dollars? It's already gone up since I asked the question.


MELINDA CILENTO:          Well, there we go, inflation already. But I think that's the critical thing. We all know it's pretty hard to substitute coffee, so I'm going to be getting rid of a whole bunch of other stuff to make sure that I can afford the heart starter in the morning.

DAVID SPEERS:       But it is symbolic of what's happening right across the board. How serious is this cost of living pinch right now?

MELINDA CILENTO:          Look, you know, I think for most of you in the audience, anyone who's going shopping on a regular basis has noticed how prices are increasing and, you know, what you're being asked to pay for when you go to, you know, click pay and hit your card. So it is a really significant issue. There's clearly some prices of goods and things like fuel that we've seen a really significant spike, and what people are trying to figure out is that temporary or is it going to be sustained and flow through? But I think the shorter…

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] And is there answer to that? Is that clear?

MELINDA CILENTO:          Look, I think the shorter answer is that inflation is going to be higher than what we've seen for a while and it's going to be higher for longer. So we're- how high, I think is the question that everyone's grappling with.

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] But we need to get used to this.

MELINDA CILENTO:          Yeah, absolutely.

DAVID SPEERS:       So Ronni, what are you noticing at OzHarvest?

RONNI KAHN:          Well, the challenge is that vulnerable people get hit first and get hit the hardest, and we're already seeing that. One in six Australians currently suffer from food insecurity. I mean, that is according to the Food Bank Hunger Report. So that is horrendous. These people are already having to make choices around rent, around shopping, and around medical supplies. Now it's fuel and it's about choosing. What do they give up on? And so this is going to be an enormous crisis, an enormous challenge.

DAVID SPEERS:       Dan Tehan, let me ask you in your electorate where you are, what's the biggest cost of living pressure or concern that the people raise with you?

DAN TEHAN:            The biggest would be around fuel, David. They realise that, since the illegal and immoral invasion by Russia of Ukraine, we've seen a big spike in the fuel price. And given the distances that people need to drive - whether it's to get to work, whether it's to take kids to sport on the weekend, that would be the biggest impact that inflation's having in regional and rural areas.

DAVID SPEERS:       So what do you hope the Budget on Tuesday will do about it?

DAN TEHAN:            Look, the Budget obviously will look at addressing cost-of-living issues. We're absolutely aware that's one of the pressures on household budgets. It would also make sure that we continue to drive a strong economy, continue to provide employment. Because obviously having everyone in a job helps to deal with these cost-of-living pressures. So we'll want to focus on that as well, and a strong economy also enables us to provide the services, whether it be the health services, the education services to be able to make sure…

DAVID SPEERS:       [Talks over] We'll come to that. Just on- fuel, you've nominated as the biggest issue in your electorate when it comes to cost of living. Do you want a cut in fuel excise?

DAN TEHAN:            Well look, the Budget will be delivered next Tuesday by the Treasurer. I'm not going to-

DAVID SPEERS:       [Talks over] Thought you might say that.

DAN TEHAN:            I'm not going to [indistinct].

OMAR KHORSHID: [Talks over] There is another solution though.

DAN TEHAN:            …in any way. He's a good friend of mine and I don't want to ruin that friendship. But, look, we're absolutely aware that cost-of-living is something that we've got to deal with. Obviously, with what we've done over the last two years, it's been a key focus. It's why we've provided over $30 billion worth of tax cuts, you now, $10 billion per annum into childcare, driven electricity prices down by 8 per cent over the last two years. So…

DAVID SPEERS:       [Talks over] I thought you might say all that as well.

DAN TEHAN:            …it will continue to be a focus of the Government.

DAVID SPEERS:       Okay. Sorry, Omar. You were just…

OMAR KHORSHID: Yeah, I was going to suggest there's another obvious solution, Dan, to the impact on families of higher fuel prices and that's to break that reliance on fuel. And I guess, as an owner of an electric vehicle for the last four years, I'm lucky enough to be able to afford one. But I know that is just not available for so many Australians. And, you know, is there going to be anything in the Budget that's going to make electric vehicles more accessible to more Australians so that we can break our reliance on these increasingly expensive fossil fuels and, of course, deal with this - it's not impending anymore, is it? - it's a right-here, right-now reality of climate change.

DAVID SPEERS:       That's a pretty good question. Dan Tehan?


DAN TEHAN:            It is a good question and it's one that we do have to deal with. We've got to deal with here and now, and the here and now - especially out in regional and rural Australia - is the majority of people will drive petrol cars or they'll drive diesel cars. So we've got to take that into account. But we've also got to look at what's happening as more and more people do purchase electric vehicles...

TERRI BUTLER:       [Talks over] But you can change the policy setting standards to increase the take-up of EVs is the point. Not to speak for the doctor. But you can change the policy settings to have the take up of EVs. You've got to…

DAN TEHAN:            [Talks over] Well Terri, you- Terri. Okay, Terri.

TERRI BUTLER:       …admit that they won't ruin the weekend first, though, of course.

DAVID SPEERS:       Okay, let's just finish the answer there, Minister.

DAN TEHAN:            Terri, let's have a deal, I won't interrupt you, let's not you interrupt me, and I think then we'll have a very good conversation. I'm happy for you to have your turn when it's your turn. What I was going to say…

DAVID SPEERS:       [Talks over] Alright. Well look, I'm not going to be party to any deal. I'll keep interrupting. Sorry, finish that answer there.

DAN TEHAN:            You can keep interrupting. But I just feel the need to finish the response…

TERRI BUTLER:       [Talks over] Oh, so he can interrupt but I can't?

DAN TEHAN:            …because I think it's a very important question and one I'd like to focus on because if you come down to western Victoria and go to Deakin University, their Warrnambool campus, the government has invested in very important research there to us to be able to drive hydrogen when it comes to buses, when it comes to trucks. Because in regional and rural Australia, long haul transport is absolutely key to how we transition. And the Federal Government is investing heavily in that so that we can make sure when it comes to buses and trucks…

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] Okay.

DAN TEHAN:            …they can be powered on hydrogen. And we've got the workforce to be able to force it. If you look at what we're doing at Portland Aluminium, the biggest user of electricity in this state where…

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] Okay, we're getting a bit away from the electric vehicles question- sorry, Minister…

DAN TEHAN:            [Talks over] …we're looking how we can power that by hydrogen, so [indistinct].

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] Okay, we're just getting little bit away on the question from Omar Khorshid, it was about subsidies for electric vehicles. Terri Butler, what do you think the Government should be doing about either fuel prices or coffee prices? What should they be doing?

TERRI BUTLER:       Well, look, you can't have a meaningful discussion about cost-of-living unless you acknowledge that wages have flat lined in this country for far too long. We have to address the fact that wages are languishing. That's absolutely crucial. If you want to about costs going up, it seems like everything is going up except people's wages. You have to address that question. We also have to acknowledge…

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] We'll come to wages a little later…

TERRI BUTLER:       [Interrupts] But you can't separate the two, David, because…

DAVID SPEERS:       [Talks over] …but on these prices, is there anything Government can do about these prices?

TERRI BUTLER:       What you can do about EVs, as has been pointed out, is you can change the policy settings to increase the take up of them. And we've got policies to do that. The Queensland Government has policies to do that. It's happening around the country. Most governments are doing it. This Government has a prejudice against electric vehicles for some reason. I don't know why, but they do. And before the last election they were telling us that we're going to ruin the weekend by promoting them. I mean, this is the sort of nonsense that we have passing for public policy in this country.

MELINDA CILENTO:          David, if we could come back to the cost of living pressure and the question around, you know, we've picked a couple of things, we've talked about price increases. There are definitely some temporary aspects to this which I think is why we're having conversations around temporary measures in the Budget. But I think that whether it's price increases or whether it's interest rate increases which we're going to see, household budgets are going to be under more pressure than they have been for a while. One of the things that you see always when interest rates increase, when price pressures increase, is the second income earner comes in. So people either look for a job when they haven't as a second income earner in the family, or they look to work more hours. The thing that can't be escaped here is the need to look at childcare again. I know there were measures in the last Budget, but particularly for low income households, childcare is a huge cost. It's going to be something that they're looking at, not just this week, next month, next year, it's got to be something that's looked at.

TERRI BUTLER:       So I have to share…

DAVID SPEERS:       [Talks over] Well, I want to continue- because we've had a lot of questions coming around cost of living and the pressures that people are under. And I want to bring in here right now, Bridget Anderson, to tell us- well, Bridget, tell us a little bit about your situation if you can first.

QUESTION:   Right. I'm a 61-year-old woman with a teenage son. I have my own health issues. I don't own a house, and I don't have any superannuation. I don't have investments, but I don't have credit cards or debt either. With rising cost of food and rent, I can see my future living in my only asset which is a 1974 Kombi. Right? That's my future, full time, and passing my youngest child onto his older siblings for- to be their responsibility. For the past few months, my family and I have had terrible food insecurity just because the fridge broke. Right. Nothing- not major, but the fridge broke down and we were using ice for weeks. The- so we have been living on charity food for quite a few months. When my fortnightly disability support pension comes into my account, within about 12 hours everything is spent on bills. They're really- I'll be lucky to have $10 left for a travel card for the week. Today again, Thursday, we went and got another load of food from a charity to support us for the week. I'm not sure I can actually see this cycle that my family is in ending anytime soon. So my question is: why does the Government think one off payments actually help me and others? When is the Government going to talk about people like me and raise the rate of the disability support pension so I can live above the poverty line?

DAVID SPEERS:       Bridget, Thank you.


             And, Dan Tehan, I will come to you in a moment. But, Ronni, how familiar is that sort of story?

RONNI KAHN:          It's the story that I hear every single day. It's the demographic that we deal with: one off payments. During the pandemic, we saw what happened with JobKeeper. During the time that JobKeeper was paid, people could afford or were managing their budgets a little bit better. After March, when the JobKeeper stopped, we had more people coming to us, more demand, and the exact situation reverted. And it's even worse now because of the cost of living. This week, I was going to share a story about a nurse, a single mother, who literally had to make a choice about- she wanted to go to work. She had to make a choice. To go to work, she has to put her child into child care. In order to put her child into child care, she then had to make a choice. She couldn't drive her car to work because she couldn't pay for fuel, or she had to buy food. This is the reality in this country, this generous, abundant, extraordinary country.

DAVID SPEERS:       So Dan Tehan…

TERRI BUTLER:       [Interrupts] Sorry, can I just tell you something as well on this point? I think we also have to draw in the issue of, not just wages, but job insecurity when we talk about cost of living pressures and people facing homelessness. And I say this because during our floods a few weeks ago, we ran a barbecue for people who'd been displaced by the flooding and a young man told me that he lived in his car.

RONNIE KAHN:       [Interrupts] Yep.

TERRI BUTLER:       During the floods, the rain bomb that we had, he had nowhere safe to even park it. His car was- the windows didn't work, he got soaked. But the thing that really stayed with me is the fact that he had a job. He was a delivery driver, and he couldn't get enough shifts. And so we have in this country someone who's working in employment and is still homeless.

RONNI KAHN:          [Interrupts] 64 per cent of people who come to us for support have got jobs. They just cannot afford to live on the wages that they are getting.

DAVID SPEERS:       Let me come back, though, to Bridget's question, Terri Butler. Bridget's saying, what about the disability support pension? Should that be increased?

TERRI BUTLER:       Look, I think that the disability support pension has been- frankly, it's been getting more and more difficult to even get the disability support pension. I don't know if that's been your experience, but my office helps people all the time who have struggled...

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] Should it be increased?

TERRI BUTLER:       …to get the disability support pension. So let me just say that point, David, because it is important. There's been a deliberate policy by this Government to try to shift people off the disability support pension. The former Social Security Minister, Christian Porter, spoke about that at the Press Club some years ago. Was very proud of getting people off the disability support pension. But, of course, the difficulty with that approach is it's only a good thing to reduce reliance on the disability support pension if you're reducing need, not if you're reducing capacity to get it.

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] Okay. But Bridget's question is about whether that can be increased. Should it be increased?

TERRI BUTLER:       And so the question on the amount of money. We have to look at, in this country with the cost of living pressures that we're under, all of the different components of cost of living. As I said, incomes is definitely one of them. It's a really important question. Of course, we have to look at that in the context of broader government priorities, broader decision-making in relation to spending. But we have to think about childcare, as Melinda said, power prices, house prices, the lack of social and affordable housing in this country is something that needs to be addressed as well. All of these different items when it comes to cost of living, and of course, the prices of food, the disruption of the supply chains and the increased reliance on foodbanks, charities, etcetera. We have to look at all of these things in a comprehensive way.

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] Dan Tehan- Let me come to you, Dan Tehan, on this because Bridget's other point is one off payment isn't, by its nature, going to fix a long-term, permanent problem, is it?

DAN TEHAN:            Well, I mean, without knowing Bridget's full circumstances, it's hard to tell that. I don't know how old her son is, etcetera. But what- everything that this Government has tried to do is to make sure that we've got people through the pandemic and now to make sure that we've got a strong economy as we come out of this pandemic so we can continue to make the payments that we need to make to support people who are dealing with these cost of living pressures. And the best thing that we can do is try and get as many people into work as we possibly can and try to get them as many hours as we possibly can. And the fact that we've got an unemployment rate now at 4 per cent, we've got youth unemployment rate at its lowest level since 1971. The forecast is that that unemployment rate will go to below 4 per cent. That means that there's going to be more and more opportunities there for more and more people to get work. And that means that we get the revenue so that we can provide support…

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] Okay, but not with respect- sorry to interrupt, but- I was just going to say, with respect, not someone like Bridget, who's shaking her head here in the studio. The question is about the…

RONNI KAHN:          [Interrupts] And 64 per cent.

DAVID SPEERS:       …disability support pension.

TERRI BUTLER:       [Interrupts] David, can I…

DAVID SPEERS:       Let me just quickly get an answer from you, Dan Tehan. Is there a case to you think are increasing it?

DAN TEHAN:            Look, it does increase. It gets indexed every year, and will continue to do that. But what we want to be able to do is to make sure…

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] I'm talking about an increase above inflation to help someone like Bridget.

DAN TEHAN:            Well, what we want to do is make sure that we can make other payments to assist her. We want to make sure that the opportunities are there for her son to be able to get an apprenticeship, to get the skills and training that he will need, and to make sure that there's employment for him when he leaves school. That's the best thing that we can do. And that's why we're so focused on a strong economy. That's why, coming out of this pandemic, the fact that we've got unemployment now down to 4 per cent, it is quite remarkable when you think about what we were having forecast when we headed into this pandemic. We've got a situation now where the biggest issue that's raised with me by, whether it be farmers or businesses in my electorate, is that they need more people to be working more hours. So we're in that situation where we can both provide those opportunities for people to be able to improve their wages and to be able to help deal with the cost of living pressures that they've got.

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] Okay. Appreciate that point, and we've heard that point. Sorry, Melinda, you just wanted to jump in.

MELINDA CILENTO:          Just a couple things. Firstly, as part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Australia committed to halving the rate of poverty in Australia in 2015 by 2025. We've gone nowhere. It's clear that's because things like income support payments are not sufficient. There has been a huge campaign in raising these- the rate of these payments, supported by the Business Council of Australia, CEDA, ACOS, the former Prime Minister, John Howard, you know, Chris Richardson from Access- Deloitte Access Economics. I mean, the evidence is compelling and everyone agrees, but we don't get it to happen. And the other point to make…

OMAR KHORSHID: [Interrupts] This is a question about…

MELINDA CILENTO:          Sorry, is that we talk about the unemployment rate…

DAN TEHAN:            [Interrupts] No, but we did get that.

MELINDA CILENTO:          [Talks over] There are 560,000 people who are unemployed at the moment. There are 930,000 people on JobSeeker, right? So yes, the unemployment rate is low, but there are a whole bunch of people…

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] Who are still on that JobSeeker. Omar?

MELINDA CILENTO:          …who are still not getting sufficient incomes.

OMAR KHORSHID: I think this is a question about what kind of country we want to be and I just keep going back to the lessons from COVID. And we learned in COVID that we could things differently. We could even see a conservative government throw money around like it was free. We saw that we were willing to take sacrifices in order to look after the health of other people. We all felt pretty safe from COVID, at least I did, but I wanted to make those sacrifices to help the other people, the vulnerable people. We've seen it with, of course, the increase in JobKeeper, JobSeeker, and we just need to go forward. And if you ask Australians, are they willing to forgo their tax cut so that we're not seeing somebody who's in employment - they're not a dole bludger, they're in employment but they're living out of the back of their car, most Australians are going to say yes to that. They will forgo their tax cut and they will be very happy, as long as they can trust the government to spend the money, and that's a big question. But if they know that money is going to go into proper supports, into disability support pensions, into JobKeeper, JobSeeker, etcetera, and of course, into our health system, into public hospitals, into primary care, you know, these are important things that make us proud to be Australian because we know that everybody has access to these minimum services.

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] Well, on the theme of spending more on all those areas you list, I want to go to our next question. It's a video question. It comes from Jeremiah Appleby.

QUESTION:   Over the last two and a half years, the Australian Government has spent $311 billion on COVID-19 response. I know how important this all is. I have COVID and am currently isolating. But this is still $311 billion of debt. How long will it take future generations to pay this off?

DAVID SPEERS:       So, Melinda, this is the flipside of the argument, right? All of these- you can make a case for all of these spending areas, but it all, you know, adds to that debt bill. The latest Budget update had net debt hitting just over 30 per cent of GDP, $673 billion this year, and on track to get to nearly a trillion dollars. We'll get the next update next week in the Budget, but how concerning is this?

MELINDA CILENTO:          Look, I mean, obviously we should be focused on it and I think in the context of the upcoming Budget, you know, the reality is we are going to have to grow ourselves out of this debt scenario. We do need a strong economy. I think what it means from that perspective in the upcoming Federal Budget is that money that is being spent is making an investment. Now, it's making an investment in quality of life. If you- the analysis around increasing JobSeeker and the like shows you that the dividend back to the economy is actually really strong. The same with childcare subsidies. Yes, they cost the Budget, but actually they boost GDP and they're positive in that sense. So, yes we need to be worried about debt. If you look at the Parliamentary Budget Office analysis of where we are at the moment, it is sustainable but we do need to be looking at how do you stabilise debt, how do you make sure that money is being spent, is investing, and delivering a strong economy and participation and jobs.

DAVID SPEERS:       I mean, Jeremiah's 16. His question was specifically, you know, how long will it take for future generations to pay it off. Is there an answer?

MELINDA CILENTO:          It's- I mean, if you look at the basic projections now, it is a long, long time. But I do think you have to reflect on where we would've been keeping the economy as strong as it has been, making sure- like, for someone like Jeremiah, the worst case scenario would be that we would end up with an unemployment rate in double digits, and you get a permanent impact from that. We've seen that in some of the European countries after the Global Financial Crisis, and that is really detrimental to someone like him. So, you know, there is a trade-off here. We do need to be focused on it. For our part at CEDA, we're really pushing for people to be looking at a long term strategy for this and figuring out how we deal, not only with paying down debt, but some really big challenges at us in terms of aged care and a whole bunch of other demands.

DAVID SPEERS:       Well, indeed. Terri Butler, Labor does want to spend more in some of these areas, and you've already announced plans, whether it's childcare, you've talked about TAFE, university, we'll see what more comes in the campaign. Would debt be inevitably higher under Labor?

TERRI BUTLER:       No, not at all. Because, of course, what are the ways you can help pay down debt faster? People know in their own households one way to help pay down debt faster is to increase the household income. And growing the economy…

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] So tax more?

TERRI BUTLER:       No, I'm not talking taxes. I'm talking about growing the economy. Melinda talked about growing out of the debt, growing the economy to be able to pay down the debt. And if you think about childcare. So we have a policy, Cheaper Childcare, it was one of the first policies that Anthony announced as Opposition Leader. The reason for that is because early education is important for kids and childcare, cheaper childcare, is important for economy. It can lift women's workforce participation, and it can make us a more productive country. So…

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] Do you accept the Government has made changes to improve the childcare subsidies?

TERRI BUTLER:       [Interrupts] Well, let me talk to you about your macro-economic point, though, which is this. Your question is, does spending necessarily mean more debt? If it's better quality spending, if it's investment in things that are more productive, if It helps to grow the economy, then you can grow the economy and that helps to pay down debt quicker. And that's really what we're talking about. Our skill packages, free TAFE, more university places, cheaper childcare, the Rewiring the Nation policy which pushes down power prices in the short term but also makes us more productive as a country. These are all policies that are aimed at growth, and growth is how we're going to deal with this debt, David. I think that's a really important point.

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] Well, indeed, Dan Tehan, that's the Government's approach to, isn't it? To grow our way out of this debt?

DAN TEHAN:            Well, I think Jeremiah's question is a very, very good one, and two years ago when we were faced with the choice of having to literally dial down our economy, to stop movement in our economy, we knew that there would be an impact which would drive a recession, potentially a depression. We also had the advice coming from Treasury and Finance that the last time that there was a recession, the recession that we had to have, Paul Keating's recession, there was literally a decade of scarring on youth unemployment and on female participation in the workforce. So we took a decision which was that we didn't want to see that scarring occur because the Government was having to deliberately dial down our economy. And one of the things I'm most proud about is that as we've come out of this pandemic two years later having taken the decisions that we've taken and having to balance that debt versus what we would be doing for young people, we have a situation where we have youth unemployment at the lowest levels it's been in 40 years. So for Jeremiah, the opportunities are there to be part of the workforce that will lead to us being able to stabilise the debt, get the fiscal buffers back in place, and be able to get the trajectory of the economy and our debt and deficit back on track. And the fact that he's going to be able to do that by being able to be part of the workforce is just so, so important because when we had Keating's recession we had to have, there was a decade of scarring amongst young people as a consequence of that. And we won't see that as long as we get the economy right over the next three to six years, and that's why it's going to be such an important choice at the next election as to who's going to steer the future economic response.

DAVID SPEERS:       [Talks over] Well, just on that, Omar, let me ask you - are either side being serious about the costs that are coming on aged care, health, on the National Disability Insurance Scheme, on mental health?

OMAR KHORSHID: I think we have grossly underestimated the need for spending into the future, particularly around the pure healthcare and aged care settings. That's because we have not just an ageing population, we've got a bulge in the baby boom who are getting to that stage in life when both health and aged care becomes very expensive. But also, medicine's amazing. We are keeping people alive who used to die. They used to get a cancer, it was untreatable, they would pass away. Now, we have very specific drugs, and our current Health Minister's been fantastic at approving lots and lots of new drugs. These are keeping people alive longer, which means they're living with chronic disease, they're living for long periods of time with chronic disease. And of course, they live with the consequences of those cancers and things.

            So, the need for spending is huge. That's why we want to see some more focus on structural changes to improve the actual healthcare system's efficiency, to prevent hospitalisation…

DAVID SPEERS:       [Talks over] Which- Yeah.

OMAR KHORSHID: … look after people out of hospital. But I think we also need to remember that money being spent on these programs - we've just been hearing about money spent on healthcare - is actually an investment. It's not just a hole in the bucket, which I think is how many governments think of health - it's an investment in people. Not in bridges, not in new roads, but in people. And it's people that will take our economy forward.

RONNI KAHN:          So, I do want to say that food insecurity is a huge health crisis that we are facing. Five to six million people in Australia suffer from food insecurity. And what we know is that, a household that is food-secure costs- a household that is food insecure costs 76 per cent more to the economy than a household that is food-secure. So that adds to the whole health issue. So the food insecurity is a health crisis.

DAVID SPEERS:       It all adds up. It all adds up.

RONNI KAHN:          It all adds up, and we are facing that.

DAVID SPEERS:       We need to move to our next question, which is also a video question. comes from Scott Hochgesang.

QUESTION:   Hello, panel. My question is: what is the right level of immigration to allow into this country? What is the balance between pursuing economic growth versus controlling cost-of-living pressures for our current residents?

DAVID SPEERS:       Melinda?

MELINDA CILENTO:          Well, this the first thing I'd say is: we haven't had much immigration for the last couple of years, and we still have house prices going up, and we still have cost prices going up. So, there's a little bit more nuance to this, I think. Look, David, let me just - let me tell you a bit about the conversations that I'm having with business at the moment. And what we're hearing is that skills shortages are really a real challenge for them.

DAVID SPEERS:       Business is desperate to bring in more skilled migrants, right?

MELINDA CILENTO:          Yeah. Well, they're- I mean, what they're talking about is the fact that investment decisions that they're making are being influenced by whether or not they think they can get the skills they need. And if I give you one example - businesses who accelerated their digitisation during COVID, for all the right reasons, now want to embed those technologies, want to be able to leverage those. And they're not being able to access the skills that they need.

            I'm also talking to large businesses that run global businesses. They're worried that, when borders open, the workers that they have that want to pursue opportunities overseas, are actually going to leave faster than they can get people in. So, it's a really big issue. We found that in our own members that we surveyed. And we think it's something that really needs to be addressed.

DAVID SPEERS:       So, let's hear from, well, Terri Butler, you first. Would Labor increase the skilled migration intake?

TERRI BUTLER:       Yeah. Look, I think what's interesting out of the COVID international borders issues has been how much difficulty it's caused. You know. Melinda's said that we've still seen all of the inflation - notwithstanding the sharp decrease in immigration. But there's been, also, some very obvious difficulties arising from the fact that people can't necessarily rely on immigration and short-term skilled migration in the way that they used to be able to. And that's happened throughout the labour market. And so, because there's just fewer people coming in with those specific skills that there are shortages for, that's also having a knock-on effect in all sorts of occupations.

            So I'd say that, firstly, it's not as- it's, I think, with respect to the questioner, it's not as simple as a kind of a binary between increasing immigration on the one hand or having less pressure on the other.

DAVID SPEERS:       Have you worked out what Labor would do?

TERRI BUTLER:       Look, I think that - I mean, obviously, I'll defer to Kristina and Andrew on this - but, from my perspective, as someone who represents a really multicultural community, who represents a community that I think is really open to immigration. And also I might just add, a community where there is a lot of student accommodation and we've really felt the absence of international students on those visas - I think Australians are really open to more immigration. I think they want to see-

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] Sounds like you would welcome an increase.

TERRI BUTLER:       Look, what I would welcome is a national debate where we recognise that immigration has different nuances, different consequences, and different approaches. And what…

DAVID SPEERS:       [Talks over] Is that a yes?

TERRI BUTLER:       … we should do is get the right settings [indistinct]…

MELINDA CILENTO:          [Talks over] Princess Leia. I know you wanted to be involved in this.


            Is- Immigration is positive.

TERRI BUTLER:       [Talks over] That's positive. I know, don't give him a simple answer, no.

DAVID SPEERS:       Alright. Okay. Dan Tehan, what about you? Should it be increased, skilled migration?

DAN TEHAN:            Well, the first thing, David, is we've got to make sure that we keep investing in apprenticeships, in skills and training to make sure that we've got as many Australians in work as we possibly can. Then what we've got to do is make sure that we target the skilled migration that comes into the country so that it drives employment further. So, where there are skills that we need that we will know will expand businesses, create more jobs and more opportunities, that's where we really need to be focusing in on at the moment.

DAVID SPEERS:       Yeah. I think we all get that. I'm just- The question is - should it be increased further from where it is?

DAN TEHAN:            Well, at the moment, it's at 160,000. We've got to make sure that we're bringing in the right people with the right skills that's going to lead to us growing the economy, plus doing investing in the right place. We also have to look at opportunities, like we did with the UK Free Trade Agreement that we negotiated. We were able to - with the United Kingdom - agree that young people would be able to move between Australia and the United Kingdom for three years if they're under 35 to either work or study.

            So there's opportunities like that…

DAVID SPEERS:       Okay.

DAN TEHAN:            … which will also enhance opportunity for young people in Australia and young people in Britain. So they're the types of opportunities that we want to be looking for…

DAVID SPEERS:       Okay. Alright.

DAN TEHAN:            … as we seek to make sure that we maximise employment here in Australia.

DAVID SPEERS:       A nuanced answer as well!


            Let me ask, both of our politicians here tonight, about the story we heard today. That the government has finally signed the deal with New Zealand to resettle a total of 450 refugees who've been in offshore detention to New Zealand - 150 a year for the next three years. Dan Tehan, why didn't this happen nine years ago?

DAN TEHAN:            Well, David, obviously we've got to negotiate these things. We've got to negotiate them in the right way. Because the last thing you [indistinct] want to see is the-

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] Nine years, though?

DAN TEHAN:            Well, David, what we've got to do is make sure that you get the arrangements absolutely right. Because the last thing we want to see is a return to the boats coming, the deaths at sea that we saw 1200 people died - none of us want to see that. What we've made sure is that, with all the arrangements that we've entered into - whether it was what we entered into with the Obama Administration in the US, whether it's what we've done here with New Zealand - is to make sure that those settings are right and that it's not going to lead to that illegal people-smuggling starting up again. That's why we've-

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] Well, this is the issue. Because the Prime Minister repeatedly said he was opposed to this deal with New Zealand. And he said that he didn't flip-flop on this. So, what has changed? Has it got anything to do with the fact that we're now on the cusp of an election and you're under pressure in those inner-city seats from progressive Independents?

DAN TEHAN:            No. It's got to do with with being able to come to an arrangement where we know that it will keep our borders secure, and that's what we've done. It's why we entered into the arrangement that we did with the Obama Administration.

            What we've been able to do is to make sure that we've put a stop to the illegal boat arrivals. And we've done that by making sure that whatever we've done - the arrangements we've entered into - have sent a very clear signal that there is no way that the boats should start again. And that will continue to be the approach that we're taking. Because none of us want to see a return to what we saw, historically, under the previous Labor administration.

DAVID SPEERS:       Well, Terri Butler, this won't cover all of those still in detention nine years on. Should the rest of them be released and allowed to come to Australia, if they can't go to New Zealand under this deal.

TERRI BUTLER:       David, before I answer your question, let me say that was utter nonsense from Dan, with respect. It was utter nonsense.


TERRI BUTLER:       In fact, what's happened is that people have lost years of their life, because this government refused to accept a deal that has been on the table from New Zealand for years. Peter Dutton has throughout that entire time, as has Scott Morrison been making the same sorts of claims that Dan has just made now, that there was some sort of pull factor that this would start people smuggling, if they accepted the New Zealand settlement deal, and that was always nonsense and it's still nonsense, and I'm surprised that…

DAVID SPEERS:       [Talks over] So, what about those it doesn't cover?

TERRI BUTTLER:    … even after the humiliating back down that we've seen today, I'm surprised that Dan would try to run those lines.

DAVID SPEERS:       So, what about the rest that aren't covered by this? Should they be let go?

TERRI BUTLER:       David, I had- in my electorate, we had the Kangaroo Point APOD, the alternative place of detention, and it was a disgrace. We had people who were stuck in a hotel for months and months and months, and why were they in Australia? Because they had been medevacked here because they were in desperate need of medical treatment. And instead of caring for those people, this government allowed them to sit there and languish in that hotel. It was a disgrace. And I think, David, that most Australians, and I know that my electorate feels this way, would like to see a much more humane and more sensible approach from governments when it comes to asylum seekers and refugees.

DAVID SPEERS:       So, release those who can't be resettled?

TERRI BUTLER:       David, if someone's not a national security threat or some sort of safety risk, why not release them into the community? Why not have people in the community where they can be safe, where they can be with friends and supporters and loved ones, and where they can actually participate in our society? It's a no-brainer.


DAVID SPEERS:       Minister, I just want to do a bit of a gear shift here and ask you about another story that broke late today. It's in relation to our region. The Solomon Islands has apparently signed an agreement with China that would allow greater Chinese police and even military presence in the Solomons. Some are worried this could mean the first Chinese military base in the Pacific in our backyard. No one from the government has yet been able to comment on this. I do need to ask you about it. Is the government concerned about this development in the Solomons?

DAN TEHAN:            Yes, we are concerned, David, and what we've always wanted to ensure, and we've done this through our Pacific step-up, is to make sure that everything we're doing is enhancing the sovereignty of Pacific Nations, making sure that everything we're doing is to support and help them when it comes to their sovereignty. And all the assistance that we have given is absolutely in their national interests, and we're concerned that this isn't the case in this situation. Obviously, it's just developing as today, so we're trying to get more detail around it. But it is a concerning development.

DAVID SPEERS:       Is it a betrayal at all? Is that what you're suggesting?

DAN TEHAN:            No, I'm not suggesting it's a betrayal. All I'm saying, it is concerning. We always have wanted to do everything we can through our Pacific step-up to invest in a way that enhances the national interest and the sovereignty of our Pacific friends. We continue to do that through infrastructure loans, through assistance, whether it be around helping with their roads, whether it be helping with hospitals, but everything that we're trying to do is about enhancing the way of life of the people of the Pacific, and we want all countries doing that with how they deal with the Pacific. And our hope is that this is in the best interest of the Solomons, but we obviously need to get across the detail in a deeper level, but it does seem very deeply concerning.

DAVID SPEERS:       Let's move on to our next question. It's a video one from Daniel Lee.

QUESTION:   My wife and I welcomed our first child at the Warrnambool Hospital in 2020 and we cannot fault the exceptional care and attention that we received. Whilst I appreciate the pressures that the global pandemic and the last two years have placed upon health systems worldwide with unprecedented levels of funding and appreciation for the work that health professionals do, why are Victorian hospitals at breaking point?

DAVID SPEERS:       Omar Khorshid, let me come to you on this. It's not just an issue in Victoria. We just saw the South Australian election that was very heavily focused on ambulance ramping and hospitals. Why are hospitals so stretched?

OMAR KHORSHID: Have you got a few hours? It's a long story. And the problem is it is actually a story of decades of underinvestment. And it's state governments and it's federal governments that are responsible for that.

DAVID SPEERS:       So what needs to happen?

OMAR KHORSHID: What we'd like to do is see governments looking forward. Now, every state and territory has problems with their public hospitals, every single one. So to say that state governments aren't performing - well, are all of them not performing? That doesn't make sense to us at the AMA. So we've decided that really, we need a national solution. We are seeking, pretty unapologetically and pretty loudly, a national solution through an increase in the Commonwealth's contribution to paying for public hospitals.

DAVID SPEERS:       This is your pre-budget submission to say that you're-

OMAR KHORSHID: [Interrupts] That's right. So, we've made a number of suggestions on how to improve health care for the community, but on public hospitals, we're suggesting that the Commonwealth increase its contribution from 45 to 55 per cent-

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] To fifty?

OMAR KHORSHID: 50 per cent- sorry, slip of the tongue. 55 will do it.


DAVID SPEERS:       [Talks over] It's inflation, [indistinct].


OMAR KHORSHID: So that's about $20 billion, if you also remove the cap on the Commonwealth contribution.

DAVID SPEERS:       Over four years?

OMAR KHORSHID: Over four years, that's right. So it's a lot of money, but it's the kind of money needed to enable our state governments to do what they need to do. Now, they need, of course, to come to the party too. We know-

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] They don't just pocket the change?

OMAR KHORSHID: Correct. Well, that's what has been happening. That's what we've heard from both Liberal and Labor when we talk to them about this. They say, well, the states will just pull the money out so we're not doing it. We don't want to be blamed for the bad public hospital performance. What we need here is some leadership. We need our whole system, our two levels of government to work together. And we think 50/50 is a pretty good place to start when you’re wanting to work together on a major challenge. But we also need to see some changes to the system so that hospitals are actually rewarded for doing a good job for actually delivering better health outcomes, for delivering more care.

DAVID SPEERS:       So, performance pay.

OMAR KHORSHID: Performance pay. And also that state governments- that the system allows our states to actually invest where they need extra capacity. Because right now, the funding formula actually just drives the price down. It's held hospitals to account, but it's been driving the price down. It's been driving hospitals to becoming more and more efficient, but they've reached breaking point. They just can't do anymore. They're full all the time. And that's why you can't get in the front door in an ambulance. It's why you can't get in the front door if you've got a mental health problem. It's why you're going to wait over a year if you've got a sore hip or a knee in many states around Australia, and that's pre-COVID. You add COVID on top of that, it's an upcoming disaster. And I think that's why we really need to see, from both sides, as we go into an election scenario, we need to see what they are actually going to do in health. None of this sort of, we're going to be nice to Medicare, we support health. We actually need to see, what are they actually going to do, where are they-

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] Well, I suspect we'll hear- you know, wait for the budget. So, let me come to you, Ronni, on this. Do you think this is a good idea? How important is it to have a well-funded hospital system after living through what we have in the last couple of years?

RONNI KAHN:          It's absolutely fundamental. How can we not have a, well-funded health system? I mean, it affects every single level of society. So, it makes sense that there's 50 50. I mean, we have- it's absolutely crucial.

DAVID SPEERS:       Terri Butler, let me see if we can get any clarity. Labor did promise 50/50 at the last election under Bill Shorten. Are you going to do the same this time?

TERRI BUTLER:       Well, look, I'll defer to Mark Butler, the other Butler, on that question. But I will say this, we've just had a massive shock to the health system. But as the AMA are pointing out in their pre-budget submission, things were difficult before COVID. So I think what's happened is that more Australians than ever before have had a bit of a window into the health system and have actually started to recognise the strain a little more. I think that's pretty clear. So I think there's a very clear case to be made for some reform in relation to the way that heath is managing to-

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] And to increase funding, just to come back to the point that Omar has raised here about the need for a 50 per cent Commonwealth commitment.

TERRI BUTLER:       Yep. And in terms of that point, I think the other point that was made which is about how do you make sure that there's additionality, not cost shifting by the jurisdictions, because the last thing you'd want to do is go through a big reform process and have no actual outcomes for patients. And at the end of the day, that's what's really important. So I think it's a really important conversation to be having, and I really welcome the AMA-

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] So, watch this space- watch this space at the moment.

TERRI BUTLER:       [Interrupts] Absolutely watch this space. But I want to say one other thing, and that's related to what Ronni has said and what everyone has said tonight. Health is more than just hospitals and doctors. There are- every social policy, almost every government policy is a health policy. Food Bank in my electorate, OzHarvest of Ronni's, FareShare in my electorate, those food security organisations, they're also about health policy. Housing policy is health policy, incomes policy is health policy. So we have to take a holistic approach when it comes to health.

DAVID SPEERS:       Well, just on that, Ronni, do you get the support you need in crises? And the crisis we've just seen in Northern New South Wales and South-East Queensland.

RONNI KAHN:          Absolutely not. I mean, if you think about our sector- I won't even talk about disaster right now. Disaster relief, we actually did get a little amount last week. That was to help us- see us through in Northern Rivers. But the point is that we have to lobby so hard every single time through a disaster. So, the point is, funding needs to come down to fund our sector. If I think about our sector, one point- and sector, I'm talking about the third sector. 1.3 million people work in our sector. It's a $160 billion turnover. It's a significant sector, and we are relied upon to deliver enormous services, and we are constantly underfunded, constantly demanding, asking, begging for funding.

OMAR KHORSHID: Sounds like you're talking about the health system there.


RONNI KAHN:          Well, we are the health system. The truth is, we are the health system. We're all- it's about the health of our nation.

DAVID SPEERS:       It's all interlinked.

OMAR KHORSHID: And I think the South Australian election shows us that if you don't have pretty clear health policies going into this upcoming election, you're going to be really pushing the proverbial uphill, because people aren't going to believe you unless you are honest, upfront, and certainly our job is to make sure that happens.

DAVID SPEERS:       We've got to move to our next question. It comes from the Markos Hasiotis.

QUESTION:   As someone who experienced bullying while growing up, I find it disturbing that adults in Parliament, the people who are supposed to be role models, are accused of engaging in that exact behaviour. How can we improve political culture going forward?

DAVID SPEERS:       Well, Terri Butler, you were a workplace lawyer before entering Parliament. How does the workplace of parliament compare to most?

TERRI BUTLER:       Well, I've got to tell you, it's quite different in a lot of ways because of course, what you have in the parliament is a really significant power differential, and when it comes to bullying, I'm sure you know, as someone who is a survivor of bullying, a lot of bullying is about the way that power is exercised. And I think that for all of us, whether we're in Parliament, whether we're in big organisations where there are power differentials - it's not the same extent as being in a parliament, but there's still in all sorts of organisations large and small differences in the level of power that people have - the question is, how do we manage to prevent the misuse and abuse of those power structures. In our party, I mean, you know, every organisation in the country has got more to do to improve its culture. I think that's very clear from events of particularly the past 12 months. But in our party, we've been very clear that we want to have genuine processes through which people who are experiencing any sort of misuse of power, bullying, harassment, sexual harassment, can actually bring forward complaints. We've got a really, I think, strong policy that we brought in in 2018 and revised again a few years later that's in force now. And I've really- we have the best group ...

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] Well, it has been- it has been under scrutiny in the last couple of weeks, as you know. Friends of the late Kimberly Kitching, who died just two weeks ago, have suggested that some of your colleagues were bullying her. They've denied that. How should those claims, under the process you're talking about, how should they have been handled?

TERRI BUTLER:       Yeah. Look, I mean, that wasn't brought forward under the process that I'm talking about. That complaint wasn't made. I think it's actually really- honestly, David, I think it's really sad that we're talking about a workplace bullying complaints process following the death of someone quite young by a heart attack. I think that's- it's been a coarse and unsettling time, I think, for everyone who's got an interest in these issues of politics and power, but also in bullying and culture.

DAVID SPEERS:       Are you saying her friends should not have raised this?

TERRI BUTLER:       No, no. I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying that it's been unsettling for everyone. But in this case, everyone in our Party was aware of our processes, because we'd gone through such a deep and wide and public, frankly, process of creating them of- and everyone knew how to bring a bullying complaint. So, I think that if somebody chooses not to do that, then I think after their death, it's difficult to pursue it. Having said that, I would say that every party should have a bullying process. Every party should be open about what that bullying process is. If people have got a complaint, how is it pursued? Who do they complain to? And how is it managed? And I would- I'd really encourage everyone to have one of those.

DAVID SPEERS:       Well, Dan Tehan, let me ask you on this. Do you think - and we've heard the Prime Minister talking about this a lot over the last week or so. Do you think Labor should be having some sort of inquiry into this, even though, as Terri Butler says, no complaint by Kimberley Kitching was actually- no formal complaint was raised?

DAN TEHAN:            Well, David, first of all, my thoughts and prayers are with Kimberley's family and friends at this time. Obviously, very tragic. She was an extraordinarily vivacious person, someone who was frank and fearless in her advice, worked in the national interest, and someone, I've got to say, whose company I really, really enjoyed. And I think she'll be very much missed in the Parliament. And it's a great shame that we lost her at such a young age because I think she still had a hell of a lot more to give to this country. I think, in this instance, we should be listening to the family and friends. They would- they've requested that they would like to see this matter investigated. So, really, I'd just leave it there and, if that's what they've asked for, then I think that it's something that should be seriously looked at.

OMAR KHORSHID: Can I just make a point about bullying processes? And of course, every organisation has to have processes. But I'm not sure I've ever seen one of these processes deliver a good outcome. Certainly, in the medical profession, we've realised it's all about culture. It's about respect. And it's about everyone calling out behaviours that are not appropriate when they see them immediately. It's about all of us taking responsibility rather than asking somebody else to fix something. Because I don't think that's possible. I don't think that's possible with the legal processes and the burden of proof, it's really hard to get a bullying or harassment allegation over the line. And at the end of the day, the victim actually feels even more violated, I think, by the end of it. So, I really think it's about culture. It's about openness and transparency and it's about respect for other people. And that's the lesson that we've got to learn, I think, from these tragedies.


TERRI BUTLER:       I think- can I say- this is always the tension in matters of this nature and without talking about the specific one raised. But you've got to find a way that everyone takes responsibility for culture, but particularly the leadership of organisations. And you also have to not deprive respondents of fairness. And then you also have to not deprive complainants of agency. They've got to choose their own destiny and have their wishes respected. And so, this is an ongoing and evolving challenge for all organisations. I think it's really important that, when we talk about culture - culture is, of course, a very amorphous beast, but it's everyone's responsibility. I think there's also a really important reminder, which is to always centre the person who's having the experience, and make sure that they get dignity and respect throughout any processes and feel heard when they want to be heard. And that's a very difficult balance to strike, David.

DAVID SPEERS:       Let's go to our final question. It's a video question from Leanne Adey.

LEANNE ADEY:       Those of us on a minimum wage who try and survive on under $50,000 a year are drowning in debt. Why can't our wages be realistic and truly match the cost of living? And why are all the hardworking people forgotten that are earning under $50K? They've got to get realistic and realise that it's the little people earning little wages that are doing all the hard push and not getting the benefit of a real wage. It's about time someone stood up for us little people.

DAVID SPEERS:       All right.


DAVID SPEERS:       Ronni, you did reference this earlier - the fact that so many people that you help are actually wage earners - they've got a job.

RONNI KAHN:          Yeah.

DAVID SPEERS:       What's the answer, though, to boosting the wages for, you know, as Leanne puts it, the little people?

RONNI KAHN:          Absolutely. I mean, the story that I gave is about a nurse. I mean this is a nurse; a front-line, essential worker, and she can't afford to live on her wage. So, Leanne, thank you. And we absolutely have to up the wages to make them realistic. People are giving their time, they are working.

DAVID SPEERS:       Well, Melinda, a nurse, I suppose, is a state government employee, a public service job. What's the answer to boosting- I mean, should governments be boosting public-sector wages? What about private-sector wages?

MELINDA CILENTO:          I mean, look, the- can I say one thing? You know, everyone I'm talking to at the moment is talking about wages pressure in their businesses. And the conundrum, quite frankly, as an economist, is not showing up in the data. Now, there will be a lag, I think, because you've got enterprise agreements that will take longer to be renegotiated. But I think there is this big question out there at the moment around everyone you talk to anecdotally is talking about higher wages, having to pay more. So, I just think there is- I just have to put that out there. In terms of the issue of care workers, we've done some research on this as well. Omar’s talked about the need to be investing in this. If you look at aged care, for instance, we know there is going to be a massive shortage of aged care workers in the future. Wages is a critical part of it. Wages, skills, actually acknowledging the skills that these workers have, which quite frankly aren't acknowledged, and investing in them, both through wages and training and education, which is the productivity puzzle which is what economists like me are also going to say. You need higher productivity.

DAVID SPEERS:       Well, aged care workers is something the Federal Government could do something about. Dan Tehan, do you think they deserve to be paid more? Should they be paid more?

DAN TEHAN:            Well, there is a Fair Work case, David, that's coming up where this is being looked at. And I think we can wait and see what happens with that Fair Work case. But obviously, the case has been put by various organisations that there should be a lift in wages in the sector and they're working to examine it at the moment …

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] You can have a- you can have a view, though, Minister.

DAN TEHAN:            Well, my view is that what we should be doing is making sure that those people who are working in the aged care sector are recognised for the skills that they bring to that job. And I'm sure that the Fair Work Commission will do that. But I'll say more generally, as well, that one of the things that I'm hearing across my electorate and across the country is the fact that we do have such a tight employment market is leading to pressures on wages, because employers are seeking to be able to maintain employees, often with more generous wage packages as a result of that …

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] But it hasn't happened yet. I mean, last year wage growth was 2.1 per cent last year, and inflation was 3.5 per cent.

DAN TEHAN:            Well, I mean- look, I can only talk for what I'm hearing anecdotally, and we'll wait and see whether it shows up in the data or not. But if you get out and talk to businesses, talk to farmers at the moment, there is pressure for them to be able to maintain employees. They are looking at ...

DAVID SPEERS:       [Talks over] So, it's coming?

DAN TEHAN:            … wage increases to be able to do that. If you look at what's happening in the hospitality sector, they're under pressure as well to be able to maintain employees, to be able to get those employees to work cross across weekends, through in the week at night. So, my view is, anecdotally, we are hearing that there is pressure on wages. Now, we haven't seen it come through the data at the moment, but the best thing that we can do is have as near to full employment to get the type of pressures on that we need to see those - that sustainable increase in wages.

DAVID SPEERS:       Terri Butler, back to Leanne's case. Would her wage be any better under a Labor Government?

TERRI BUTLER:       Well, David, first, back to your previous question - I just want to say that aged care workers absolutely deserve to be paid more. Because that work is incredibly difficult.


DAVID SPEERS:       So, just to be clear on that - Labor would pay aged care workers more? Labor would pay aged care workers more?

TERRI BUTLER:       [Talks over] And - no, no, no. The question is …

DAVID SPEERS:       [Talks over] Labor would pay aged care workers more?

TERRI BUTLER:       … whether people deserve to be paid more. They do. And they also …

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] Labor would pay aged care workers more?

TERRI BUTLER:       And they also - we haven't announced our aged care policy. But I just want to make the point …


TERRI BUTLER:       Well, we haven't.

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] Well, you've just …

TERRI BUTLER:       No, no. But you asked the values question, and let me give you the values answer.

DAVID SPEERS:       All right. The policy is important too, to be fair, for a politician.

TERRI BUTLER:       People- everyone in this room has got a friend or family member in aged care. And we've all just seen, through the Aged Care Royal Commission, but through our own experiences of the family members who could not get out during the COVID pandemic, who could not see family members during the COVID pandemic, and of course, we've seen a lot of people die in aged care without even having their family around. So, I think there just needs to be a fundamental question, do people deserve to be paid more? It should be answered yes.

DAVID SPEERS:       Okay.

TERRI BUTLER:       The business-model question and the question about workforce is much more complicated question. But it's one you just can't have a government that shies away from, crosses their fingers, and hopes that things get better. We cannot have that. The Government needs to address the Aged Care Royal Commission recommendations. We need better aged care.

DAVID SPEERS:       All right.

TERRI BUTLER:       Now, on your question about ...

DAVID SPEERS:       [Talks over] Just quickly.

TERRI BUTLER:       ... full employment and wages growth, we have seen it's just a fact in this country a decoupling between low unemployment and wages and upward pressure on wages. It's a very strange phenomenon. But we've had this situation where we've had a government who's made about 55 different projections that wages would go up and has been wrong in about 52 of them. So, someone in their show, before next week, needs to sit down and have a good, hard look about what they will say to Australians about wages because we need upward pressure on wages.

DAVID SPEERS:       [Interrupts] We'll see what's in the budget. I'm sorry. We are- we are running out of time. But, Omar Khorshid, I just want to get a final word from you. Because we know, not just aged care, but the health workforce has been under a lot of pressure over the last couple of years, many of them burnt-out. How are wages factoring into this equation and trying to retain that important staff?

OMAR KHORSHID: Well, particularly for nursing staff, wages is a huge issue. And we've certainly seen wage caps, we've seen freezes from various state governments, including the Labor state government in my own state of Western Australia. So, nurses are not feeling valued. Doctors, a little higher on the wages scale, but again not seeing wage rises consistent with inflation. And that's, of course, coming off the back of the incredible demands they've been put under. Lots of people leaving the profession and, of course, the impending demand that we've already talked about. So, we do need to find solutions to staffing in our healthcare sector, which will include immigration, but we've also got to have that conversation about valuing those people.

DAVID SPEERS:       All right. Terrific. That is all we have time for. Thanks to our panel: Ronni Kahn, Omar Khorshid, Dan Tehan, Terri Butler, and Melinda Cilento.


DAVID SPEERS:       And thanks to those of you here in the audience and at home for sharing your questions.

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