Q&A panel debates private health cover, GST hikes, returning asylum seeker children to detention and unions.

In a Q&A episode featuring a great deal of political shadow boxing and even some Seinfeld-esque debating “about nothing”, one audience member was at least able to elicit from Rural Affairs Minister Fiona Nash a promise to drop her private health cover while she remains in office.

The panel featured Senator Nash, Opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King, Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Secretary Dave Oliver, industrial relations specialist and columnist with The Australian Grace Collier and 3AW host Neil Mitchell.

It tackled a host of topics including the possible death of the GST, Sunday penalty rates and the way forward for unions. Here are some of the highlights.

Would politicians agree to use only the public hospital system while in office?

Neil Mitchell:

It is a disgrace. We’ve been told since Kevin Rudd said ‘The buck stops with me’ it will be fixed, Julia Gillard said the buck would be stopped with her. Would somebody pick up the buck and fix it for heaven’s sake?

Catherine King:

Public hospitals should not just be the safety net, but the best part of our hospital system they can be.

Fiona Nash:

Our public hospitals out in rural and regional areas where I am are by and large fantastic, and I get really sick and tired of people running down our hospitals and doctors and nurses to work in the regional rural areas … If she wants me to go off private health insurance while I’m in Parliament, sure.

What assurances can we take that the GST is ‘dead, buried and cremated’?

Neil Mitchell:

The PM promised economic vision. He said the one thing he would give us is economic vision and he hasn’t, he has given us a denial. Can you believe him? Yeah, I think you can.

I don’t think he has the political will to take it on. Even if he should, I don’t think he is interested in tax reform, just winning the next election. If he wins that anything can happen, perhaps even a GST.

Fiona Nash:

What we have is a PM that is prepared to take a debate about tax reform to the people, not make a call to actually have a grown-up, sensible, rational debate, so as you well know, there are a number of things on the table at the moment.

The PM has indicated he is yet to be convinced by some of those options on the table, and we will continue to discuss it with the Australian people, with the economists, with people in the community and amongst both sides of politics.

Catherine King:

This debate is like a Seinfeld episode, a debate about nothing. On the one hand Malcolm Turnbull talking about nothing, he doesn’t want to give people details about what he thinking about. There is no doubt the only thing that has changed in the past week is pressure from backbenchers and he is electionally nervous and after the election he will absolutely do this. This is what they want to do.

Dave Oliver:

The fact that a cleaner at Spotless pays more tax than the company itself is telling. If you want to fix the taxation, have a look at the top end. Don’t always go down the lower end … I would be very happy if the corporations in this country are actually paying the taxes they are supposed to pay now.

Should children and babies born in Australia be returned to Nauru?

Dave Oliver:

As a father I ask myself this question and I appreciate it is a complex issue and I agree we need to look at a regional solution, but I ask myself this question: ‘Could I take the hand of a child and lead him up a gang plank or put him on a plane to send them back to Nauru?’ And I couldn’t, and I couldn’t expect anyone else to do that.

Neil, I don’t know. Are you prepared to actually take the hand of a child, to put them on the plane, to send them back to Nauru? Because I cannot comprehend that for a minute.

Grace Collier:

Compassion is one thing but then you’ve got to look at the compassion to an individual and then the compassion to hundreds and thousands and tens of thousands of people behind that individual, and I think that’s the struggle that we all have.

There are just no easy answers, and I don’t envy anybody who works in that area because it would be an awful thing to do, to send anyone back, but… it has to be done.

How can union members’ funds be safeguarded?

Grace Collier:

I used to work in the union movement and I believe we need unions, the only way to make them stronger is to make it illegal for companies to financially transact with them in any way, and introduce some more governance standards.

Dave Oliver:

I am appalled by corruption wherever it is, whether it’s in the labour movement, whether it’s in politics – we have got another front-page story today about a Liberal MP, possibly acting in a dishonourable way, we’ve seen stories about what happens in the sporting arena, we know what happens in the corporate world.
That’s why the union movement, we have backed the call to set up a national crime commission to weed out corruption wherever it is.
Now, Malcolm Turnbull, he wants to use a spear on his political opponents. We are saying if you’re serious about cleaning up corruption, zero tolerance for corruption, use a net and back a national crime watchdog to oversee not just the union movement, but all aspects of life where corruption exists.

Should penalty rates be abolished?

Dave Oliver:

In this country, we actually value our weekends so our work life is centred on a Monday to Friday week.

Now I will buy the argument that we are move into a seven-day society when we can send our children to school on a weekend, play our major rugby league or AFL Grand Finals during the week or perhaps parliament might decide to sit on a weekend.

Neil Mitchell:

In holiday areas they closed on Boxing Day because they couldn’t afford the penalty rates. The pub wasn’t open on Christmas Day because they couldn’t afford the penalty rates.

You don’t want to rip off the pub, of course, but if you have the small business glowing, thriving, you need that co-operation.

We are talking about a fair wage, and a seven-day industry, 24 hours, seven days a week world, I think you have to accept there has to be a negotiated situation where they get fair wages, a fair deal, but you can still grow business.

Grace Collier:

Who is going to vote for somebody, who is going to vote for a pay cut? Nobody. It is politically toxic.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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