Prime Minister Transcript of interview with Tim Cox ABC Hobart 22 April 2010
Period of Service: 03/12/2007 to 24/06/2010
Release Date: 22/04/2010
Release Type: Interview
Transcript ID: 17235
HOST: Kevin Rudd, good to have you with us again. Good morning.
PM: Good morning, Tim. Thanks for having me on the program.
HOST: What exactly are you looking to achieve in Tasmania's hospitals, one, with a visit today, and two, in a wider sense?
PM: Well, let's be very clear about it - what we're trying to do is deliver better health and better hospital services to all Australians and all Tasmanians, and that's why we, together with the Tasmanian Premier, reached agreement in Canberra just a few days ago on a new National Health and Hospitals Network, funded nationally, run locally, and for the first time the Australian Government being the dominant funder of the public hospital system of Australia.
Where's the rubber hit the road, though, for Tassie? This is an additional investment in the three years ahead of $142 million into your health system. In emergency departments, what we're moving to over that period of time is rolling out a four hour target for emergency department waiting times. For elective surgery, what we're moving out over the next three years as well is moving to a target of 95 percent of people being seen within clinically recommended times and we're also rolling out another 30 hospital beds and that roll out will begin on 1 July this year. For doctors, and I think that's where the rubber hits the road, because you do have shortages in the medical workforce here, so what we're doing is investing in another 111 GP training places over the decade ahead, 20 junior doctors, 14 specialist doctors and 74 allied health workers. I can't turn things around overnight-
HOST: Prime Minister, have I got you there? No-
PM: -to grow the medical workforce here, because unless we do that all the other undertakings we give would not come to fruition because you need doctors to run the system.
HOST: We're losing your mobile signal a little, there, Prime Minister, so we'll get through these as quickly as we can. The shortfall at the moment for GPs in Hobart and in Launceston is in excess of two dozen, and I realise the COAG program and this new health agreement is not about short-term fixes, but surely this would be a major priority for the new health minister in the state. Do you see that there is some sort of flow on, perhaps, from the agreement at COAG to this sort of prima facie and immediate problem?
PM: I was talking to the Tasmanian AMA last night about that. I don't dispute the numbers, by the way. The AMA says that their calculation is that state-wide you're about 24 GPs short. I don't wish to verbal them, but that's what they told me, so I've got no reason to doubt what they say. Therefore, the practical thing is how do we actually turn that around as quickly as possible?
We do have extra numbers coming through the various medical schools of Australia because of the increased investment put in university training places, university places for medical students. You know where the gap has been, though, Tim? We haven't had, in the past, sufficient funding for training places in hospitals. That's where this new money comes in, so I believe that with these additional new GP training places and specialist training places, 111 GP training places, 14 specialist doctors, these will be rolled out year by year but we believe that what will happen over the period ahead is that this will offset the number of people who will retire and exit the system, and once we're through it we should have a better ratio of doctors to patients.
I can't turn this around over night. Remember, my predecessor, Mr Abbott, froze GP training places nationwide when he was health minister for four or five years. We're playing catch-up football here, trying to get this turned around, but I believe we are going to make a practical difference.
HOST: As you would know, though, and obviously this could be a big ticket item in the context of the COAG meeting or a smaller ticket item, but it comes down to money, to incentives, can you create incentives for doctors who are willing to move to or remain in regional and remote places and like it or not the people of Hobart and Launceston are in regional and remote places.
PM: Well, the Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, who you referred to before, has brought in, over the last 12 months, a national package, from memory, of about $130 million or $140 million, maybe a little more than that, to encourage doctors to go to regional and rural and remote areas and to stay there.
These are significant incentives - in the case of certain locations around the country, up to $60,000, $70,000, but the second thing is I don't have available to me on air right now where those lines would fall, for example, within the state of Tasmania, and if you like I'll have the Health Minister come onto your program to explain how that program works, but what we've done through two things, providing greater financial incentives for doctors to go to rural and regional Australia and to remote Australia, but secondly, most critically, Tim, adding to the overall number of GP and specialist training places, and we're doing 6,000 of these nationwide, is to increase the overall supply for the medical workforce. Unless we get that right, unless it happens, frankly, other reforms to the health and hospital system will fall away.
This is the critical engine room of it. That's why it's such a priority and why our investment in it is so significant.
HOST: The tone of the Federal Government with Colin Barnett, the WA Premier, has changed a little since COAG finished. Your tone, with respect, Prime Minister, was quite convivial with him the other day, saying I'm sure we'll be able to talk you around, whereas Nicola Roxon, of course, with that line ministers meeting in Perth today says that there'll be no extra funding for WA if it doesn't sign up to the agreement that the other states and territories have.
PM: Well, I'm sure we'll work our way through this. I've got to know Colin quite well over the last year or so, and when he's been Premier my job as Prime Minister of the country is to work productively and constructively with all premiers and chief ministers whatever their politics happens to be, because we've got to work in the national interest and we've got to work in the public interest. So I think we'll find a way through here. I'm sure there'll be the usual argy-bargy on the way through, but I'm determined, as I've said many times now in the last day or so, that the good people of Western Australia shouldn't miss out. Their hospital system is under real pressure there and we've got to make sure that better health and better hospital services are delivered there.
HOST: Prime Minister, I know we don't have very much of your time, but can you confirm for us that the Federal Government will be scrapping the replacement program for the home insulation scheme?
PM: Well, our practice, as you would know, Tim, is not to comment on continuing Cabinet deliberations, and I'm sure you'll find relevant ministers making statements on that in the period ahead, but Minister Combet is the minister responsible for that and I'm sure the minister will have things to say in the period ahead about the future.
HOST: You asked Alan Hawke to review the scheme. Will you be releasing the contents of the Hawke Review?
PM: In terms of where that particular review is up to and those arrangements, can I again suggest that we wait to see what Minister Combet has to say and I'm sure Minister Combet would have-
HOST: -Can the review, though, sorry, can the review, though, be released irrespective of Minister Combet says?
PM: As I said, in terms of the report itself and where it's up to and the deliberations on it and it's debate in the public domain, I'll wait for Minister Combet's statement on the above. As I said, it's not my practice to go into deliberations on air about the internal discussions of Cabinet. Minister Combet is the responsible minister. I'm sure he'll speak to these matters in the period ahead.
HOST: For householders around the country, though, who would be waiting to see what occurs on the 1 June when this new program of safety checks and the new rebate was to commence, those who are waiting to see what is in place, when will they know?
PM: Well, I'm sure Minister Combet will be clarifying all these matters in the period ahead. He's the responsible Minister and he's been doing an exceptionally thorough job on these questions and I'm sure you will find all the questions that you are putting to me answered by Minister Combet in due course, and again I'd have him appear on your program as well.
HOST: Alright, is safety now, though, your primary concern?
PM: Can I say it's always been the continuing concern of the Government and will remain so and Minister Combet has been re-evaluating all of those matters to make sure that these things are done properly and in the safest way possible and I have absolute confidence that he's doing a first-class job.
HOST: Mr Rudd, thanks for your time.
PM: Thanks. Appreciate you having me on the program.