Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Joint press conference with Prime Minister and the Premier of Tasmania


Subjects: DisabilityCare Australia; Medicare levy; Tasmanian forestry agreement; Tasmanian economy

PM: We’re here today for three important reasons.

First, the Premier and I have signed the inter-governmental agreement on forestry. This has been a long process for the people of Tasmania but now, with the forestry issue settled, we can get on with investing in Tasmania and we are jointly committed to jobs and growth in Tasmania.

So I thank the Premier for the agreement we’ve signed today.

I am l also here to announce today a $22 million investment to help with the movement of freight here in the north of Tasmania. That too is about jobs and growth.

It’s about an investment of $12 million into the maritime college, an investment of $5 million into industry training of workers in the maritime industry and a capital investment into Bell Bay, so freight can be moved more efficiently.

But third, and standing here with the people who live and work here with the people with disabilities that we have met today, most importantly the Premier and I have signed today an agreement to roll out DisabilityCare throughout Tasmania.

We had already agreed that Tasmania would have a launch site and we would learn from that launch about the provision of services to young people, to adolescents moving into young adulthood.

Today we have reached the agreement to do more to ensure that DisabilityCare is rolled out right throughout Tasmania.

It’s going to take some time to do. We have always been clear about that.

But what this means is that by 1 July 2019, DisabilityCare will be here and operational for people in Tasmania with significant disabilities and Tasmanians will have the reassurance and peace of mind which comes with knowing that if they or a family member in the future ever confront a disability they will get the support that they need.

So it’s a truly significant day. I will hand over to the Premier and let her take questions. I’ll say a few more words after that about disability, and hand over to Jenny Macklin and then we’ll take your questions. Unusual ordering, there we go.

PREMIER GIDDINGS: Thank you, Prime Minister, and thank you also for allowing me to speak at this point before I have to go because today is indeed a really important day for Tasmania on so many fronts.

As the Prime Minister has spoken about, she and I did sign the inter-governmental agreement this morning on the forestry issue so we can see the funds that have been promised to Tasmania and to those sawmillers who have their log quotas bought back, the communities that will have us work with them around economic development initiatives and of course the management of the reserves that have now been created or are in the process of being formalised actually funded.

We couldn’t have done it without the Australian Government and I sincerely do thank Julia Gillard and her Government for what they have done in being patient and working with us over the three-year period to see an outcome for forestry in this State.

So thank you very much for your personal commitment.

The Prime Minister also mentioned the help that the Australian Government is providing us with freight.

I also noticed an announcement yesterday with the University of Tasmania which we believe is quite significant and will help us to leverage NBN in this State, and most importantly, the announcement today of the two governments once against working together around the needs of people living with a disability in Tasmania.

This isn’t just about Tasmania. This is a reform that is about all Australians living with a disability, and I hope that it will not be long now before we see all of the other States also sign up to this critical reform.

Here in Tasmania this reform will assist almost 11,000 Tasmanians when it comes into its full being in the financial year 2019/20. I do want to actually also spend a moment to thank Cassie O’Connor, the Minister for Disabilities, for her role in helping to negotiate this agreement with the sector.

This has taken a huge effort by many, many people over many years as well to achieve what has been reached today.

These things don’t happen overnight. None of the issues that we’re covering here today have happened overnight, whether it be forestry, disabilities, freight or indeed further investment in our university here in Tasmania too.

It’s been a massive effort, it’s a day we can all be very proud of. And I know particularly with NDIS just how important this has been.

Important to mums and dads who are raising their children with a disability, worried about the future of their children. Important for those carers and providers of services who needed certainty that they would get the funding they need to look after people with a disability in our community.

And most critically important for those who are living with a disability in our community to know that they will get the help they need when they need it.

So this is a historic day, this reform is as big as Medicare in its day, and it’s absolutely fundamental and the commitment that’s been shown by Jenny Macklin for all these years by Cassie O’Connor, by Julia Gillard and by the other premiers who have already signed up does, I believe, need that recognition and most importantly the campaigners who have not given up.

They have been tenacious and their hard work has paid off here today.

So we thank you, everybody, who has had a role to play in delivering this much-needed reform and we look forward to delivering it here in Tasmania.

JOURNALIST: Premier, was yesterday’s announcement a game changer?

PREMIER GIDDINGS: We were determined to make NDIS work in this state regardless.

What the announcement of the DisabilityCare levy through Medicare has enabled us to do is to get some financial relief from the burden that we were willing to carry because we understood how important this was to people living with a disability.

But the result of this means that the growth funding, the additional funding that we will put in to this disability sector, half of that, around half of that, will now be covered by the contribution we will receive through the Australian Government, through that Medicare levy increase to cover DisabilityCare.

So it certainly does help alleviate some of the pressure we had on our budget in those out years.

JOURNALIST: What are the funding figures?

PREMIER GIDDINGS: Effectively over a six-year period we’re putting in an additional $134 million and generally speaking, when we start to get into the settled system that is around about an additional $37 million per year beyond that, there are some additional costs in the very first year that lifts that figure up, but on an ongoing basis it’s around that vicinity.

So we expect through the levy we will get roughly $22 million back so it’s around about half of that additional cost in those ongoing out years.

JOURNALIST: Where will the rest of Tasmania’s share come from

PREMIER GIDDINGS: Well obviously there are issues that will be dealt with through budget processes. As the full NDIS does not begin until the financial year 2019/20, at this point in time, it will not show up in our budget because it is beyond the out years of our budget.

But it will be an issue that future governments will need to fund but this is manageable.

If you are talking about an extra $20 million-odd, that can be done and any government, whatever political persuasion, who uses it as an excuse not to deliver for disability, I believe should hang their head in shame.

JOURNALIST: Does this mean there won’t be an impact on the aim to return to surplus by 2014/15?

PREMIER GIDDINGS: The issue around returning to surplus in the state budget is not associated with this issue because of the fact that this is beyond the out years of our budget. But what I would say is, while you will have to wait for budget day to see what the impact is, Tasmania is facing challenges.

It is becoming harder in that respect and we are doing our best to work towards our fiscal strategy.

JOURNALIST: Have you received any assurance that Tasmania’s take from the GST won’t be reduced as a result of this?

PREMIER GIDDINGS: We have signed up to NDIS under the same conditions as South Australia has signed up which did have a clause within it to ensure our state was not put at a disadvantage around the GST component of disability services and the Australian-funded aspect of that and the Australian Government are working with us over that transition period to ensure we’re not put at a disadvantage.

JOURNALIST: Why are you aiming for 2019 instead of earlier?

PREMIER GIDDINGS: Essentially it’s about how and when we can be ready to really go into the full scheme. And we are very pleased that on 1 July of this year we will begin the first cohort of those who will be on the full NDIS scheme.

They will be people from the age of 15 to 24 years of age and we’re very pleased that they will get the immediate benefits of a full-blown NDIS and they will have the comfort of knowing that that will not change in their lifetime, that they will go on to receive the benefits that they start receiving on 1 July.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

PREMIER GIDDINGS: There’s around 1,000 of those people who fit within that age category and they are spread across the state, as you would expect similarly to our demographics as they are.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

PREMIER GIDDINGS: This morning was an important step, but the significant step, the historic step that has been taken on this issue of forestry indeed was taken on Tuesday night.

That was the time when the Tasmanian parliament put its efforts, its confidence, its belief in our future and our forest industries and our reserves agenda together.

That was so significant, in fact I personally felt the weight of this issue lift off my shoulders with that successful vote. So today has just been another day, an important day to put signatures on pieces of paper, but really the historic moment happened two nights ago.

JOURNALIST: When do you expect federal money from the forestry peace deal to start flowing?

PREMIER GIDDINGS: Immediately. So for those in the sawmilling industry who need to have their quota bought back we will now have those funds flowing immediate.

There are other aspects to the agreement which mean that we have to wait, so for instance the reserves must go through the Tasmanian parliament, there is still a period of disallowance for that to occur, that disallowance period will not finish until around September, October of this year.

Therefore, there will be no funds flowing for economic development initiatives before that time.

However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t start talking to those communities involved who have suffered from the downturn in forestry to talk to them about what ideas they have and how we might be able to assist them to diversify their local communities.

But it is absolutely critical that none of those funds actually flow before the reserves get finally through the Tasmanian parliamentary processes.

JOURNALIST: How will the peace deal work without the support of the Australian Greens leader?

PREMIER GIDDINGS: The Australian Greens leader is only one voice, and it’s a voice that now finds itself on the fringe of this issue.

In fact, yesterday I spoke very much around the analogy that we’re all on a train here, heading forwards. And there are three people who have stepped off the train and are left on the platform and they’re Christine Milne, Will Hodgman and Jenny Webber.

I don’t know if they like that company but I can tell you what, I am very comfortable with the company that I am with on the train moving forward.

And they include key stakeholders in the industry, they include key stakeholders in the environmental movement, they include the combination of the political representation of Tasmania in the state parliament, the Labor Party, and the Greens, with the exception of one member who chose to vote an alternate way.

But I can assure you the vast majority here are on the train, moving forward. And there are very, very few left on the platform. Thank you very much.

PM: I know this is an unusual format for a press conference with people coming and going but I might just say a few things and then I am very happy to take your questions.

When yesterday I announced with Wayne Swan and Jenny Macklin that we would be asking the Australian people to endorse a half a per cent increase in the Medicare levy to help fund DisabilityCare, I said then that I really understand that when we speak about these issues there are more than 400,000 Australians hanging off every word.

They are the Australians who have disabilities and then of course there are the millions of other Australians – family members, friends or carers who care passionately about this issue.

So I want to be clear with people today, 24 hours later, about where we are and about what will happen next. Because this is an issue where I don’t want people unnecessarily worried. I always want to be clear about where we are.

To just briefly go through the history. Of course this started with advocacy from the disability sector asking for a long-term solution, a national disability insurance scheme with security for the future, and all credit to their campaign and there are some great campaigners here today.

We responded to that by asking the Productivity Commission to provide us with advice about how to get something as big as this done, something as big as Medicare done and we got a great Productivity Commission report.

We accepted many of the recommendations but we actually decided to start launching the scheme a year earlier than the Productivity Commission had recommended because we were so keen to start making a difference in the lives of people with disabilities.

We found a billion dollars in the federal budget, not easy to do in these economic times, but to fund those launch sites. And those launch sites start on 1 July, including one here in Tasmania.

At the same time, we put to the parliament the legislation that sets up DisabilityCare, that deals with issues like eligibility, the way the scheme will work, and I am very pleased that that legislation went through the parliament with bipartisan support, that was good to see, so that legislation is done.

We have continued to negotiate with states and territories and to reach agreements to roll the full scheme out, and I am pleased to be here in Tasmania announcing the latest of those agreements.

What happened yesterday was we announced that in order to finance some of the cost of DisabilityCare, that we would want to see an increase of half a per cent in the Medicare levy, Australians making a contribution to this cost.

Now that half a per cent in the Medicare levy starts on 1 July 2014. So it needs to be legislated by then to become the law of this country by then.

I would want to see that legislation dealt with and dealt with in a way that is not political. If it was possible to get bipartisan support for that legislation then of course that would be very welcome, and I would very much welcome the Leader of the Opposition today stating that the Opposition was prepared to support that legislation in a bipartisan way.

If that was possible, then we would bring the legislation to the Parliament and bring it very soon in the forthcoming parliamentary session.

If the Leader of the Opposition is not prepared to support that legislation, then it will become a question for the Australian people at the election and I will be asking them in that election to endorse a half a per cent increase in the Medicare levy.

I know for many who are so passionate about this issue they say if you can get it through any which way in coming weeks why not do that? The issue here actually, fundamentally, is about security of the funding for DisabilityCare.

And you don’t get that security if legislation can be supported at one moment but it is possible beyond an election that it will be taken away or fail to have support, particularly when the legislation wouldn’t even come into effect at that point.

So I don’t want this to become the province of political tactics and political games, legislation coming into the Parliament one day, knocked over in the Parliament potentially a few months later.

When we do this I want to be able to say to the Australian nation, ‘It’s done and it will be there for the long term.’

There are two ways of doing that – ensuring that the legislation once passed is there and there with security for the long term.

The first is for the passage of the legislation to have bipartisan support which I would welcome.

The second is for the Australian people to endorse it and make it very clear that this is what they want for the future.

So we await today the decision of the Opposition. Let me say again it would be terrific to see the half a per cent increase in the Medicare levy pass with bipartisan support.

That would give security for the future around the half a per cent increase in the Medicare levy. If that is not possible because of the view taken by the Opposition, then security for the future around a half a per cent increase in the Medicare levy can come in September when people make their views on this important matter heard.

I will turn now to the Minister for Disability Reform.

MINISTER MACKLIN: Thanks very much, Prime Minister.

Just to add some remarks to the Prime Minister’s outline of how we’ve got to this historic day.

but just before I do that I do want to say a very big thank you to St Michael’s for having us here today and for bringing all of these people into your very, very special place and I especially want to congratulate you for the outstanding independent living units which are providing such security and happy places for people to live, so thank you very much for having us.

I do want to add some detail to the remarks that the Prime Minister’s just made. The Prime Minister has outlined how important today’s announcement is here in Tasmania.

But of course this is the product of an enormous amount of work and is being replicated around the country. We have an agreement to launch DisabilityCare here in Tasmania on 1 July.

So of course that means that the Commonwealth has had to get an agreement with the Tasmanian Government, allocate funding from the Federal Government and from the Tasmanian Government.

We have staff employed, some of whom are here today, who are getting ready to make sure that this is real on 1 July here in Tasmania.

Exactly the same activity is taking place right now in the Hunter in New South Wales. This is a very big launch site in New South Wales; around 10,000 people will come into DisabilityCare from 1 July.

We’ve got a major agreement with the NSW Government that extends beyond the launch site, agreed between the Prime Minister and Premier O’Farrell last December.

This is a big agreement for the biggest state in the country and demonstrates all of our commitment to delivering DisabilityCare Australia in that state for 140,000 people with a disability in New South Wales.

As with Tasmania, we have staff on the ground in Newcastle getting ready for the launch on 1 July.

Moving to South Australia, we also have an agreement for the launch of DisabilityCare in South Australia. That was agreed last July but, between the Prime Minister and the Premier of South Australia.

The way we’re starting in South Australia is for little children, so starting with the nought-to-fives and gradually increasing the age over the next couple of years.

The Prime Minister and the Premier of South Australia have also agreed to the full rollout of DisabilityCare across South Australia, requiring South Australia to put additional funding in just as New South Wales and Tasmania have and of course the Commonwealth is committing funding to those states as well.

We have staff ready to go on 1 July in South Australia to make sure that little children come in to DisabilityCare Australia.

And then to Victoria, we have a very large launch site in Victoria. In the city of Geelong and the surrounding areas, around 5,000 people with disability will come into DisabilityCare Australia from 1 July.

We have an agreement with the Victorian Government signed between the Prime Minister and the then Premier of Victoria, and of course we hope to get an agreement to full rollout in Victoria as soon as possible.

Once again, in Geelong, staff on the ground ready to go, and I’ve personally seen the office down in Geelong, it’s all right in the centre of the city and of course a very important place for people with disability. A one-stop shop, a place for people to go and get advice and get their plans agreed.

The reason I want to outline this is that today’s announcement is really the culmination of an enormous amount of work by people with disability and their advocates, by the Productivity Commission, by the Commonwealth and the states getting us to today.

What the Prime Minister announced yesterday of course was the next step, the important step to add some funding security to the development of DisabilityCare Australia.

But of course the funding goes to make sure that we not only give the funding security, we also have the legislation to establish DisabilityCare Australia already through the parliament.

I think this is very important for everyone to remember. It went through the Federal Parliament after much discussion and negotiation with disability and carer advocates, with the states and territories, with providers over a long period of time.

That legislation went through with unanimous support of the parliament at the end of March. I emphasise this because today we’ve seen from the Leader of the Opposition questions around eligibility for the scheme.

The Leader of the Opposition should read the legislation that he voted for at the end of March. The eligibility criteria for people to come into the National Disability Insurance Scheme is very clear in the legislation.

It is not responsible to now raise these issues when you have voted for this legislation just over a month ago. Read the legislation, get on board, support the increase to the Medicare levy to give security to people with disability that there will be this funding source right out into the future.

Thank you.

PM: Happy to take some questions.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, in terms of the non-levy component of the funding for the NDIS, have you identified the source of that funding and will any of us be in the federal budget?

PM: We’ve been making long-term structural saves, the kind of saves that make a difference to the budget and grow over time.

For example, we did that with the private health insurance rebate. So we are able to associate a number of these long-term structural saves with the other costs of DisabilityCare and we are happy to answer questions on that.

What is the issue now, though, is whether or not there will be bipartisan agreement to the half a per cent increase in the Medicare levy.

As I said in my earlier remarks, I would genuinely hope that there would be bipartisan agreement around something that is so important for our country and so important to people with disabilities now and in the future.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, have you lined up yet to sign up the other states to a full rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, that would be Western Australia, the ACT and the Northern Territory?

PM: Just in terms of who’s signed up for the full rollout, New South Wales has signed up for the full rollout, here in Tasmania, signed up for the full rollout, South Australia has signed up for the full rollout, the ACT has signed up for the full rollout.

That means that we are still negotiating with Queensland, with the Northern Territory, with Western Australia and with Victoria.

JOURNALIST: So have you set a time when you are hoping to sign up with those other states?

PM: We haven’t set a deadline. We are keeping working in the negotiations. A number of those states are participating in launch arrangements, so they have said we are happy to work with you to get this scheme launched, everybody is still in the discussion about full rollout.

Obviously many of the premiers and the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory would be digesting the news from yesterday and what it means for their budgets.

Given we have said a section of the Medicare levy money would come through the fund to them so they would get a grant equal to a quarter of what is raised.

JOURNALIST: You ‘re not heading off to Western Australia or the Northern Territory tomorrow?

PM: I speak to premiers in a variety of ways. Sometimes face to face in their state, sometimes by phone.

We negotiate between officials so it is not a question of that. Everything we’ve done including the agreement here has been the subject of patient methodical work, month by month, word by word. That’s how it happened.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, why make this an election issue when fundamentally the Coalition are supporting the NDIS if you could it get it through wouldn’t it be highly unlikely they would be able to repeal it?

PM: You can’t ask me that question, it is not a question for me. I would very much welcome it if, just like we had bipartisan support to set up DisabilityCare, there was bipartisan support for the increase in the Medicare levy. I would genuinely welcome that.

I can’t say those words of welcome now because we don’t know that the Opposition’s position is.

Now to get security, we’re talking about something that starts on 1 July next year, and then would be there for the long term. All of us here would be paying this extra Medicare levy for years to come.

To get that kind of security for the long term, you need bipartisan support or you need it to have been very clearly articulated that that is what the Australian community wants.

What I don’t want to see is the uncertainty that would come, including for the people we’ve met today, the certainty that would come if this went through the parliament, the Opposition didn’t support it, there’s an election coming, if the government changes will it be taken away?

All of that uncertainty, all of that political tactics, that’s not what this is about.

This is about getting things right for the long term and that is why I’d absolutely welcome bipartisan support if it’s forthcoming.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you suggested a moment ago the Coalition might support the legislation for the levy.

PM: We don’t know.


PM: Specifically I did not suggest that. I did not suggest that. I am putting two scenarios to you and you’ve confused between them. Let’s clarify that because I don’t want that standing as an interpretation of my remarks. That is not what I said.

What I said is there’s two ways of getting long-term security here – bipartisan support, which I would very much welcome. If there is not bipartisan support then the Australian people get to have their say in September.

I am not suggesting that the Opposition would provide bipartisan support and then revoke that support. I am not suggesting that.

JOURNALIST: The crossbenchers seem very supportive of this legislation. So do you need the Coalition’s support? Are you playing games?

PM: Listen to my words and just think about it in terms of security. We have a federal election coming up, if the Opposition chooses to go to that federal election saying they don’t support an increase in the Medicare levy, even if it went through parliament now, then clearly depending on the outcome of that election it can be taken away.

Well, it would be a lot of politics to put the legislation in only then to have it in contest and potentially taken away.

Let’s do this once, do it right, do it for the long term. How do you get there? You get there with bipartisan support or it being very clearly said by the Australian people that they want it.

Let’s not put the people we’ve met today through the prospect that it’s in and they think it’s going to start and then it’s taken away. Let’s not do that to people.

JOURNALIST: When the Premier referred to Tasmania not being ready for a 2018 rollout, is that purely a funding issue?

PM: The building of this takes funding, absolutely. But it also takes the development of workforce and services, so we are talking about a huge change.

And just in the mechanics, the logistics, the common sense preparations for that, it’s a huge change and we want to get this right.

We have always side that it would take a number of years to build. We have had our eyes on that 2018/19 financial year and here in Tasmania it will be in full start from 1 July 2019 at the end of that financial year.

Thank you very much.