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Transcript 15542

Interview with Chris Uhlmann AM Program, ABC Radio

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 02/08/2007

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 15542

Subject:
Mersey Community Hospital, Australian stock market, Dr Haneef

E&OE...

UHLMANN:

Prime Minister, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Chris.

UHLMANN:

Now Tasmania spent years preparing and now implementing a clinical services plan for Tasmania. Did you or your office read that before deciding to intervene in Mersey Hospital?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, we're aware of what the Tasmania Government's plan was and that was the downgrade the hospital in Devonport. I mean, let's understand what we have done here. We have intervened to save a valuable community facility, a public hospital, serving a community of about 70,000 people and what is more important here? A theory of governance or providing services to the community and my experience in 11 years as Prime Minister as I've gone around this country is that people want services, they are not fussed as to who delivers them. They are not marching in the streets in the name of either states' rights or centralism. What they're demanding is that good services be provided and they see the Commonwealth because of our good economic management being in a very strong financial position and therefore they increasingly look to the Commonwealth to provide services that are not being provided by the states.

UHLMANN:

But Prime Minister, it's more than a theory of government, we're talking about integrated health services and it would appear that the Tasmania Government after a lot of consideration decided that this was the best way to go so how are you going to run the system better and how are you going to integrate it with what's going on around it?

PRIME MINISTER:

There's no reason why it can't operate along with the rest of the Tasmanian health system. People raised the same objections when we announced Australian Technical Colleges. People said you're adding a layer of duplication, isn't that a state responsibility? What that had done of course is to spark a renewed interest in technical education all around Australia as a result of what we did with Australian Technical Colleges, the states are now in a number of areas returning to dedicated technical schools, something that should never had been abandoned in our education system 30 or 40 years ago so we are living in a new era of Commonwealth-state relations and in the first bit of the 21st Century Australians are interested in good outcomes, they're not interested in theories of governance.

UHLMANN:

But if the Commonwealth opens this door on services in this place then why not extend it to all services everywhere. Why don't you intervene in public transport in places where communities say that that's not working? What about hospitals elsewhere?

PRIME MINISTER:

The role of the Commonwealth is what I would call an overwatch role. We clearly have a division of responsibilities between the Commonwealth and the states in many areas. We clearly run things like foreign affairs and defence, immigration and so forth and the states clearly are responsible for issues like law and order and public transport and in so many of those areas states are doing a perfectly good job and I'm not arguing it but there are mixed areas and health is a mixed area. We have some responsibilities, the states have other responsibilities and we take the view that where there is a gap, and this applies not only in health, you mentioned the Murray-Darling. Well I'm proud of what we've done in the Murray-Darling because the old system was failing.

UHLMANN:

But you are cherry-picking Prime Minister, aren't you?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I'm not cherry-picking.

UHLMANN:

In this instance you're picking an area in a marginal seat in Tasmania?

PRIME MINISTER:

But what is wrong, if a policy happens to be good for the community, what is wrong with it also being popular?

UHLMANN:

If it's good for the community though isn't it good for the Australian-wide community? Why don't you take over hospitals Australia wide?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'll address that argument. What I said yesterday and I'd repeat it now very deliberately is that we will see how this intervention works out and if it does work out it could well be that we do the same thing in other parts of the country, but let us see how this particular intervention plays out. Let's work through it and see how it operates, I made that very clear yesterday and I don't walk away from that possibility.

UHLMANN:

And establish competing public hospital systems in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you're not competing here because you're replacing something that was being taken away.

UHLMANN:

Well where will you get the staff from, you'll be competing at the very least for staff.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the inquires that we have made indicate that there are quite a number of medical professionals in this area who will either stay on if they know the hospital is providing full facilities or be encouraged because they'll have an opportunity to participate in the administration of the hospital. You see, this is going to be run differently. It's not going to be run as part of a state bureaucracy, it's going to be run by a local community trust that's going to involve people in the local community, going to involve business men and women, going to involve health professionals. Now that will give a much greater incentive to many of the health professionals to stay there and to get heavily involved. It's a new community model. I find everywhere I go in the country people resent the fact that there's not enough community control of their hospitals and they're rather attracted to the idea of a partnership between the national government and the local community.

UHLMANN:

But you are going to have two hospitals half an hour apart now and the Tasmanian Government as I said invested a lot of money in trying to work out the best system.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, but they exist now. You ask the question as if implying that we're establishing it for the first time. This is the facility that's existed for years, for years and these are the sort of facilities that people who live in more built up areas of Australia take for granted and I take the view and I, at a time when the public sees this country as being relatively prosperous and affluent that these sort of basic public services ought to be available as freely in regional communities as they are in built up areas of the country.

UHLMANN:

Why should people not be cynical about this? This is a marginal seat in Tasmania, why start there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Chris you could say that about any announcement made by either side of politics in a period coming up to an election. Sure the local member, Mark Baker, and good on him, has lobbied the Government very hard and I found on an earlier visit to Devonport only a few weeks ago that there was tremendous community resentment. Now the fact that that community resentment manifested itself in a marginal seat or indeed any other seat, it shouldn't blind us to the reality of whether it's a good idea to provide the community service and if that happens to be a popular decision well what is wrong with that?

UHLMANN:

Prime Minister, if you're going to pick the eyes out of the federal-state relationship, why don't you hold a referendum on the states? Why don't you have the debate about the place of states in the Commonwealth?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, but that is a completely unrealistic and impractical way of approaching this issue because referenda to start with are very complicated, difficult issues and the arguments often get lost in a referendum and in any event I'm not seeking a tectonic shift, I'm not seeking a major realignment of constitutional responsibilities. I'm operating within the existing constitution...

UHLMANN:

And extending them.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, but what is wrong with what's happened? I mean, Australian Technical Colleges have bought about a renaissance of dedicated technical education in this country. The Murray-Darling Basin takeover has been applauded by everybody except the Victorian Government. The Northern Territory intervention to help indigenous people has been widely acclaimed throughout Australia. We've put $1.8 billion more in to disability support services. We're taking over some of the things the states said they would do in the early to mid-1990s. Now aren't all of those good things? Aren't all of those things to the benefit of the Australian people?

UHLMANN:

If you start to take over service delivery in public hospitals will all the money that you give be new money if you start ...

PRIME MINISTER:

This is new money.

UHLMANN:

This is, but will all the money in future, will you not start pulling back money from the states?

PRIME MINISTER:

We haven't made any other decisions. I mean, ask me that question if we do and, look, this is not an exercise in taking money away, this is an exercise in providing additional money. As a result of this decision the Tasmanian Government will have additional resources available for health services anywhere they like in Tasmania because this is over and above what is currently provided under the health care agreements which is more than 50 per cent of operating the public hospital system in Tasmania, but this is over and above so this is not about taking money away or substituting of pulling and taking. It is about new money, it's about filling a gap, it's about preserving a service, it's about looking after a local community of 70,000 people.

UHLMANN:

Prime Minister, the Australian stockmarket's taken a bath, the worst since September 11, 2001. Are you sure our financial institutions are secure?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they're very strong and I'm also very relieved that at a time like this we have a strong economy with a strong budget surplus, a low rate of inflation and a government that has managed the economy very well over the last 11 years and these events and I am very confident that the Australian financial system is strong, stable and secure and will be able to withstand any ripples of this kind but it is a reminder that you cannot take economic prosperity for granted. It is a reminder that the quality of national economic management matters a great deal and experienced people who've got the runs on the board and have built up strong budget surpluses are the people to stick to when there may be some uncertainty on the international scene.

UHLMANN:

And finally on the issues of Dr Mohamed Haneef, are you entirely happy with the way this affair has been handled by both the Government and its agencies?

PRIME MINISTER:

There was a mistake made in the DPP's office, that's been acknowledged but we move on, but I have every confidence in the Australian Federal Police. I defend very strongly their role and I certainly defend very strongly what Mr Andrews has done and I think we should allow the matter to play itself out.

UHLMANN:

Prime Minister, thank you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

Transcript 15542