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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript - 24461

Joint Doorstop Interview, Perth

Photo of Abbott, Tony

Abbott, Tony

Period of Service: 18/09/2013 to 15/09/2015

More information about Abbott, Tony on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 17/05/2015

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 24461

Subject(s): New medical school for Curtin University

Location: Perth


It gives me great pleasure to welcome the Prime Minister to the electorate of Hasluck and the Premier Colin Barnett.

Their visit today announces an initiative that builds on the medical workforce that we need for Western Australia. This also adds to the $500,000 in infrastructure that was recently announced in the seat of Hasluck as well.

Prime Minister, it’s tremendous having you here and this is an initiative that will serve the east metropolitan area well.

I also want to acknowledge my state parliamentary colleagues who have worked equally hard on this issue and the city of Swan. There are many others but the announcement that the Prime Minister is about to make means that WA will be well served into the future and that the medical needs of regional and rural West Australians, as well as those in the metropolitan area will be well serviced over the next two decades.

Welcome, Prime Minister.


Thank you so much, Ken. Thank you.

It is good to be here in Midland, it’s good to be here with Ken Wyatt, the local Member, it’s terrific to be here with the Premier Colin Barnett and with my other state and federal colleagues, to say that the Curtin Medical School will become reality.

This has been a dream that has been nurtured and nourished by doctors in Western Australia for a very long time, because we all know that Western Australia has a significant doctor shortage. Western Australia is down about 1,000 doctors compared with the standards that apply in the rest of the country. Around our country only 26 per cent of doctors are overseas trained. Here in Western Australia, 38 per cent of doctors are overseas trained.

So, plainly, Western Australia needs more local doctors and thanks to the announcement today that’s exactly what will happen. As of 2017, there will be 60 places at the Curtin Medical School; as of 2022, there’ll be 110 places a year at the Curtin Medical School. This is a Commonwealth commitment that will eventually run to about $20 million a year when the school is fully operational.

I want to thank, as I said, Ken – the local Member – for his persistent lobbying on this. I want to thank all my West Australian colleagues, including Christian Porter who’s here today, who’ve been very strong on the need for a third medical school for Western Australia. The Premier has been talking to me about this for quite some time now and I’m really pleased that we’re in a position to do it.

Obviously, it’s very important that the Commonwealth works closely with the West Australian Government to try to do the right thing by the people of Western Australia. I was here in Perth about 10 days ago to announce almost a half a billion dollars of additional road infrastructure funding by the Commonwealth to the state and this is a further announcement which demonstrates the very strong commitment of this Commonwealth Government to the great state of Western Australia.

This is obviously happening in the context of a Budget that was brought down last week. It’s a Budget for confidence, it’s a Budget for jobs, for growth, for opportunity. It’s a Budget which acknowledges to continue tight fiscal circumstances that we find ourselves in, but which is determined to invest in what is necessary to make our economy stronger, what is necessary to make our country stronger.

It’s actually a Budget for hope, the Budget that we brought down last week – for hope and confidence with its focus on small business, on families and on economic infrastructure. And in the end, a new medical school is part of the economic infrastructure of our country because if we have more doctors, we have better health, we have more productive people, we have a stronger economy and a happier society.

So, I’m really pleased to be here this morning. I think this is a very, very exciting announcement. I know the Vice Chancellor and everyone else associated with the university are very excited. I know that local doctors are particularly pleased that this is finally happening and I might ask the Premier to support these remarks.


Good morning and welcome to the site of what was the old West Australian railways workshop – a part of Midland with heritage buildings which is being progressively redeveloped.

It’s a great day and thank you, Prime Minister, for the commitment of the Commonwealth Government toward the medical school of Curtin University and indeed to the development of a university campus on this site.

I guess the issue goes back two or three years. I’d always been conscious that the eastern suburbs of Perth did not have the same access to tertiary education as the other parts of Perth did. And indeed, enrolments in university courses are about 10 per cent lower here – there was a clear need I think to extend university education. In talking to the universities and particularly Curtin, Curtin indicated a willingness to work with the state government on developing a university campus in the eastern suburbs, but particularly for the university was the development of a Curtin Medical School. And as the Prime Minister has said, the case is very strong. On a per capita basis we are 900 to 1,000 doctors short in Western Australia compared to the country as a whole.

The other dimension that has always worried me from a moral or ethical point of view is that while about 25 per cent of Australian doctors are trained overseas, in Western Australia it’s 38 per cent and many of those doctors are coming from undeveloped nations. And I think the real part of it that appeals to me and this Prime Minister is that we are taking responsibility for training doctors here.

For the public at large, the shortage of doctors obviously in rural country towns where many cannot get a doctor or only have a doctor one day a week – whatever it might be, but also in the outer metropolitan areas of Perth where waiting times to see a doctor are just really unacceptable. So, this Curtin Medical School will concentrate on producing undergraduate courses, producing GPs to work in the suburbs, outer suburbs and country areas of Western Australia – and that is exactly what we need.

At the last election in 2013 with these talks going on, I made the commitment that the state would provide $22 million to Curtin University to help build the campus. Curtin will be obviously the major funder of that – I think over $60 million. Also providing the land, which is around $5 million worth of land and also, during the initial years, funding, obviously, the places for intern traineeships once the graduates are out there.

But I think the Commonwealth coming in now gives that long term, permanent funding to the university places. I thank you very much for that, it’s needed and I know for Curtin University this is a big step for the university now to have a medical school, it’s one of Australia’s biggest universities and that will add greatly to its prestige and what it delivers for the community. So, for the eastern suburbs of Perth – a university presence at large – for Curtin University – that final step of having a medical faculty – and for West Australians – a great improvement into future healthcare by simply having more doctors.

And if I many, Tony, I’d like the Vice-Chancellor of Curtin University to say a few words too.


Thank you very much, Prime Minister, for your support. Thank you very much, Premier, for your support.

This is a very exciting day for Curtin University. As the Premier has indicated, we’d been planning to have a medical school for quite some time, so to be here this morning to hear the announcement is fantastic.

It’s fantastic for the state of Western Australia – we are the only state in Australia not to have an undergraduate medical programme, as well as postgraduate training programmes into medicine. We’ve heard from both the Premier and the Prime Minister about the doctor shortage in Western Australia – this will help address that shortage.

Our course will be focused on training doctors for primary care and we hope therefore that they will be likely to service regional Western Australia, the outer suburbs of Perth, rural Western Australia, where we know the shortages are absolutely acute.

The Midland campus here will also obviously be the home of the clinical school for the Curtin medical programme, but it will also be a base in which many of our nursing and allied health students will undertake some of their training and we will also use it as a base to look at offering other higher education offerings into this region. As the Premier’s indicated, participation in this region is lower than other parts of Perth and we will be seeking to address that through pathway programmes into higher education and also looking at other opportunities that we can provide young people in this part of Perth.

So, it’s a fantastic day for Curtin University and for the state and indeed the nation, so thank you Prime Minister and Premier.


Thank you so much. Thank you, Professor Terry.

Ok, are there any questions?


The AMA – at a national level and a state level – has been quite critical of this announcement, Prime Minister. They’ve said that the problem is not with numbers of doctors, the problem at the moment is with there not being enough training places for them afterwards. Do you think that they’ve got this wrong?


Look, I always take the AMA seriously. I have a great deal of respect for the AMA. I worked very closely with the AMA when I was the Health Minister between 2003 and 2007 and I continue to work with the AMA. They’re absolutely right to be concerned about the subsequent clinical training places and what we’ve done is work with the West Australian Government to get a guarantee from the West Australian Government that the clinical training places will be provided, as well as the new university school – the medical school – here at Curtin. You might have noticed that the Midland Hospital is being dramatically expanded and that in itself will be a place where more clinical training places can be provided. So, I’m confident that long before these additional students are coming into the system as graduates, we will have a much stronger clinical training system in place here in the West.


Prime Minister, there’s some interesting reports out just this morning that the EU is already in talks with Tunisia and other African countries. They want to set up transit camps and they’re doing that to prevent people from getting on boats. It’s being reported as a plan inspired by Australia’s stance.


Well, that’s interesting. I’m not familiar with those reports, but I am obviously aware of the terrible, terrible, situation in the north of Africa and in the Mediterranean where you’ve got literally hundreds of people drowning and thousands of people attempting the perilous sea crossing. This is a problem which is acute there; it certainly has been acute in our part of the world, as well. And the point I make is that if you want people to be safe, you have to stamp out the people smuggling trade – simple as that. As long as there is people smuggling, there will be deaths as sea and the only way to stop the deaths at sea is to stop the boats and that means – I have to say – turning boats around. Now, the Australian Government is prepared to turn boats around, we’ve been able to do it safely and effectively and I am not surprised that other countries are now doing likewise.


Prime Minister, some figures released by the Treasurer today seem to suggest that some Australians are getting benefits that are too generous. Would you say that’s the case?


I’d say that as far as the Government is concerned you should always be better off in work than out of work. That’s the whole objective of a decent social security system. It is to provide people with a basic level of support, but you should always be better off working than on welfare. That’s got to be the target of any sensible government to ensure that the system is so organised that you are better off when you go into work.


Does it concern you that the system – the welfare system – currently is structured so that a single parent earning say $30,000 at the end of the day has much more disposable income than someone earning three times that?


Well, what we want to do is have a system that has appropriate incentives built into it and just as you should be always better off in work than out of work, we want to see a system where if you earn an extra dollar you get to keep a reasonable percentage of your earnings. And the difficulty that we have had with the system that’s grown up over the years like Topsy is that you’ve got different benefits, you’ve got different withdrawal rates, you’ve got some benefits that have drop-dead cuts offs and yes, there are all sorts of people in all sorts of different circumstances who can find that they earn an extra dollar and instead of being better off, they’re worse off.

Now, it’s right and proper that over time we should be going through the system to try to ensure that this is no longer the case. You should always be better off in work than on welfare and you should always be better off when you earn more. Earning more should not penalise you; earning more should benefit you. As the Treasurer and I have been saying repeatedly on Budget Night and since – we want to encourage people who are having a go. We want our country’s best days to be ahead of us. We believe that this is a Budget for hope and confidence and optimism and tackling over time these sorts of issues is a very important part of that.


Prime Minister, tell us about this plan to GPS track domestic abusers? How would you decide who’s tracked and do you expect states and territories to support it?


This is a matter where the Commonwealth, obviously, has to work in the closest possible harmony with the states and territories and we’ve got major discussion going on with the states and territories. We put it on the COAG agenda. We’ve established this working group that’s headed by Ken Lay – the former Victorian police commissioner – and Rosie Batty – the Australian of the Year. We want to look at really lifting our game when it comes to dealing with the scourge of domestic violence. At least one woman a week is dead as a result of violence at the hand of a partner or an ex-partner. It’s completely unacceptable, it’s a scourge, it’s got to end. And yes, we should be prepared to look at all sorts of new initiatives and new measures, particularly to deal with repeat offenders and that’s the context in which the Government is thinking about the sorts of measures that you’ve raised.


On the iron ore inquiry, Prime Minister – do you think the BHP and Rio are manipulating the ore price?


Well, I’m very reluctant to make that statement and what I think is important is that we do get to the facts here. There are all sorts of claims floating around. The important thing is that we have a dynamic, creative, productive iron ore industry for the future. We are by far the world’s largest exporter of iron ore. Iron ore is an incredibly important commodity for this country and for the wider world, so we want to ensure that the market is operating as it should. Now, I don’t come to this with any preconceptions, I don’t come to this with heroes and villains, I support all of the great Australian companies that are active in this field. I’m pleased that BHP has been here doing so well for so long – likewise with Rio. I’m also pleased that there are some dynamic newcomers in this field that are challenging the dominance of the two big Australians. But all I want to do is to know the facts and once the facts are out there, people will be in a position to make judgments.


Do you have any concerns that holding the inquiry might send a signal to foreign markets that Australia is willing to interfere with free markets?


This is not a Government that interferes with free markets. The iron ore market has never been subsidised or supported by government. It’s one of those great relatively new industries that has grown-up because of the dynamism of the businesses involved, the creativity of the entrepreneurs involved and we’re not in the business of holding them back, we’re not in the business of holding their hands. They don’t need to have their hands held. They certainly don’t want to be held back and this Government will never do that.


WA’s health and education grants in the Federal budget barely increased while other states skyrocket – is Canberra dudding WA?


Well, that’s not true. That’s not true at all. I’ve had a look at the figures and I’m trying to remember them precisely. But from memory Western Australia’s hospital funding goes up 27 per cent over the forward estimates. From memory, West Australia’s school funding goes up 40 per cent over the forward estimates. So, the money increases every year – from memory, it increases rather faster for Western Australia than for the other states.


After the events off the coast of Thailand reported at the weekend, the UN’s accusing nations of bouncing boats around. Does it seem to you that each country’s looking after itself and we need more of a regional solution?


Well, Australia has always been only too happy to work with our regional partners to tackle this problem. But the problem is people smuggling – that’s the problem. The problem is people smuggling. As long as the people smugglers put those in search of a better life into leaky boats and send them out into the open sea, you will have deaths. And that’s why the heart of this is stopping the boats – that’s the heart of it.

Now, I’m in no way critical of regional countries for the efforts that they make to stop the boats. Yes, we’ve always got to be humane and we’ve always got to be decent, but in the end we have to stop the boats. And if that means taking more vigorous action on the high seas, if that means taking more vigorous action to uphold safety at sea closer to Burma and other countries which appear to be the source of this latest surge of boat people, well so be it. But I don’t apologise in any way for the action that Australia has taken to preserve safety at sea by turning boats around where necessary and if other countries choose to do that, frankly, that is almost certainly absolutely necessary if the scourge of people smuggling is to be beaten.


Transcript - 24461