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Transcript 16906

Prime Minister Minister for Health Member for Macquarie Transcript of joint doorstop interview Bathurst

Photo of Rudd, Kevin

Rudd, Kevin

Period of Service: 03/12/2007 to 24/06/2010

More information about Rudd, Kevin on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 09/11/2009

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 16906

PM: Let me just start by making some remarks about the floods in New South Wales on the mid-north coast.

Hundreds of households in northern New South Wales have been affected by heavy rain and flooding that began on the 5th of November. The New South Wales Government has declared four regions natural disaster zones on 7 November - Coffs, Bellingen, Kempsey and Nambucca. The Federal Minister for Families, Jenny Macklin, has announced that the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment will be provided to eligible people adversely affected by the 5 November floods on the mid-North Coast and the Northern Rivers district of New South Wales.

The Commonwealth also, through Emergency Management Australia, remains in close and constant contact with the New South Wales authorities and we stand ready to assist in whatever way we can.

The Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment will be provided to eligible people adversely affected by these floods in the mid-North Coast and Northern Rivers district, and, of course, we'll be thinking of all of our fellow Australians in those difficult circumstances as a result of that flooding activity.

It's good to be here in Bathurst today with the local member, Bob Debus, but also with the Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, because we're here to talk about the future of health and hospitals nationwide. We're here also to talk about what that means for local communities like this one, and this morning we spent time at the Bathurst Base Hospital. We were able to talk to quite a number of the local staff there, as well as some patients, about the delivery of health services in this part of Australia.

These health and hospital consultations are important for us nationwide. It's the 19th I've participated in myself personally since we began this process back in July, and of course the Health Minister has been party to a lot more than that - in fact, a total combined number among us all of some 70 nationwide out of the 750 public hospitals across Australia.

This is an important hospital for this region, and of course that's why we are also seeking to support it by investing, for example, an additional $156,000 from the Government to purchase new surgical equipment as part of the Stage 2 of the Government's $600 million nationwide plan to assist with elective surgery waiting lists. That also forms part of a $50.6 million investment into New South Wales hospitals more broadly to assist with elective surgery.

In addition, here in Bathurst the city will share in $10 million for construction and ongoing cost for a rural clinical school under the auspices of the University of Western Sydney, and furthermore, women diagnosed with breast cancer and their families will now have support through a nurse provided through the Australian Government-funded McGrath Breastcare Nurses Program here at Daffodil Cottage.

These are just practical illustrations of the sort of investment that we have sought to make as an Australian Government in to local healthcare needs, but on top of that it's not just what is necessary in the here and now to support the needs of this health and hospital community, it's what's necessary over the next quarter of a century, and I would like to thank all those who participated in the forum here in Bathurst today on their views, road-testing the recommendations of the National Hospital Reform Commission's report on the future of the overall system.

The contributions from the floor, from GPs, from the specialists, from other health professionals, was first class and it was good to get their direct feedback on the impact of those recommendations on rural and regional communities and this community in particular. All those contributions to the discussion and the debate, will be fed into our national decision-making process.

Finally, of course, the other reason for being in Bathurst today, and I think this is my third visit in recent years, is to participate in Community Cabinet here this evening in order to hear first hand from the wider community about their needs and priorities for the future as well. Both Bob and Nicola and other Ministers will be keen to hear first-hand what the local community has to say about jobs and the economy, about the delivery of education services, the delivery of health services, as well the whole range of activities where the Federal Government is engaged here in this important community.

Over to you, folks.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, on the Oceanic Viking (inaudible) does it involve guarantees of resettlement, possibly in Australia, and also possibly community housing rather than an Indonesian detention centre?

PM: Well, you know, as Indonesia said recently, they have infinite patience on this matter. Australia has infinite patience on this matter. Also, when it comes to Australia's border protection policy, let me be absolutely clear that that policy of ours, in the Australian national interest, will not be changed in response to any protests, any threats, any threats of harm, any threats of self harm. We will take as long as it takes to resolve this matter and any other matters into the future.

JOURNALIST: PM, how much of the (inaudible) was this morning's Neilson Poll, don't you feel that you now have more patience to deal with the Viking situation and people in detention in Indonesia?

PM: The job of being Prime Minister is to take decisions in the national interest, some of which may be popular, others of which are not, and in the case of border protection policy, there will be those who criticise what we do from the far Right, saying that we should throw kids back behind razor wire. We'll we're not going to be doing that. There'll be those who criticise what we're doing from the far Left, who say there should be no border protection policy at all. Guess what? We're not going to be doing that.

Our job is to take responsible decisions in the national interest, popular or otherwise, and that's what we will continue to do.

Our policy is clear cut. Can I say there is no alternative Coalition policy on border protection -a lot of criticism, no policy. Therefore, I find it interesting that even on the handling of this individual vessel, the Coalition today appears to be split right up the middle.

JOURNALIST: Does the infinite patience of the Oceanic Viking situation run out if the Oceanic Viking is needed back where it normally is, in the Southern Ocean?

PM: We, as I said, together with Indonesia, have great patience in dealing with this matter, but I want to be absolutely clear, absolutely clear, that our border protection policy will not change in response to any threats from anybody, any protests, any threats of harm or self-harm, into the future, and that's because this policy is in the national interest. It won't be changed. It will be implemented into the future and we will take as long as is necessary to resolve this matter and other matters, each of which has its own complexity.

JOURNALIST: You say you've got infinite patience, though, but doesn't (inaudible) the boat's licence to be there run out later this week? Will this thing go on further, past Friday?

PM: Every matter concerning border protection is complex, but our policy will not change. We will continue to implement it, and let me be absolutely clear: the policy will not be changed as a consequence of any threat or any protest from anybody at any time. It's the right policy and responsible policy in the national interest, whether it's popular or not, and we will therefore be implementing it into the future, and resolve this matter in whatever timeframe it takes, as we'll resolve any other matter in whatever timeframe it takes. Border protection policy is a complex business. We have currently engaged, for example, in a whole range of matters concerning border protection policy right across the waters to our north, the archipelago to our North, across the Indian Ocean, each of which is intrinsically complex.

We will work our way through each of these. That's what people expect of their elected government. We're implementing a responsible policy, border protection policy, in the national interest, and we'll continue to do so.

JOURNALIST: Do you think today's Nielsen poll shows that you over-reacted or panicked in response to last week's Newspoll?

PM: The business of government, the business of being Prime Minister, is to make hard decisions in the national interest based on the merits of each case, and we have done so in relation to this matter and other matters and will continue to do so in the future. As I said, this policy is a responsible course of action. I contrast it with those who flee - the Coalition - when asked this simple question: What is their alternative policy? I note on even this matter, concerning this particular vessel, they are split right down the middle about how it should be handled.

Our policy is clear cut. We'll continue to implement it. It's the right policy for Australia, and it will be complex and difficult in the future, but let me tell you, and be absolutely clear, we will not change this Australian Government border protection policy in response to any threats, any protests, any threats of harm or self-harm or anything like that because we intend to act in the national interest.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) Stephen Smith telling Sri Lanka? Are you going to offer the Government there money to stop the boats?

PM: We have been cooperating with the Government of Sri Lanka for a long, long period of time, and therefore we'll be working with them on the humanitarian challenges within that country.

Let us also put this debate in Australia within its proper context. What has happened worldwide in the last three years? You have seen a global upsurge in the outflow of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, from Afghanistan and from Iraq because the security circumstances in all those countries has got worse and progressively worse. That's what's happened around the world.

You've had, in the case of Sri Lanka, some 260,000 people who have been relocated within Sri Lanka. We already had 130,000 go across the waters to India. We've had tens of thousands move their way to other parts of the world, in Europe and in North America, and we've had something like 1,000 plus arrive in our own waters here - a global problem requiring a global solution.

In the case of Sri Lanka, then, of course we will work with the World Bank and other international institutions on dealing with the immediate humanitarian challenge. If you're dealing effectively with the humanitarian challenge at home and helping those 260,000 people to be effectively resettled, you're dealing also with a large part of the push factors which are operating worldwide, and that's what we're doing: responsible policy dealing with the global factors, with the push factors; responsible policy on regional cooperation, dealing with Indonesia and Malaysia; responsible policy in terms of the large-scale additional investment we've had running for the better part of the year now, a 25 percent increase in our aerial and sea surveillance in the waters and air space to our north.

This is the integrated approach to a responsible border protection policy which we are implementing. That's our policy. We took it to the last election. That is what we've been implementing since the last election, and I contrast it to our opponents, who first of all, after the Government was elected, backed each and every change that the Government made. Secondly, today when asked 'what would they do different?', run a million miles an hour.

JOURNALIST: PM, can you bring down grocery prices as you promised before the election?

PM: On the question of grocery prices, we have a very simple principle at work, which is if you maximise competition in the grocery industry, you therefore put downward pressures on prices. We came into Government with absolutely no Australian Government policy before seeking to boost competition in the grocery sector, and therefore this virtual duopoly was left unchallenged.

What have we done since then? In September, the Government's competition watchdog has ended restrictive agreements in leases between shopping centres and Coles and Woolworths which restricted rivals from setting up in those shopping centres. This, of course, now opens shopping centres for space for competitors like Aldi, like Franklins, like Foodworks and like IGA.

Also, we're working with State and Territory governments to ensure that planning laws do not unjustifiably restrict competition in grocery retailing, and furthermore, we changed the foreign investment rules and the timeframe for the development of vacant commercial space to allow foreign-owned supermarkets like Aldi and CostCo to open more stores in Australia.

The bottom line is this: together with the introduction of unit pricing, which becomes operational as of December, these are all concrete, practical measures that boost competition in the grocery sector when we've had too much control of the market from Coles and Woolies. These are measures which we have taken. Under the previous government, no measures were taken at all.

JOURNALIST: But you need to do more, because it's not flowing through.

PM: The decision by the competition watchdog was taken in September this year. The flow-through of that in terms of the ability for other food retailers to have better access to leases in supermarkets will flow from that. Unit pricing we've already introduced and takes effect as of December.

I contrast all these measures with those who might talk about prices for groceries out there in the community, like the Coalition, as opposed to the Government, which has acted in these competition-enhancing measures. That's our plan, that's what we've done. We believe that is better than the alternative which was, frankly, sit on your hands and doing nothing.

JOURNALIST: Are Community Cabinets working, and if so, can you point to scenarios in policy (inaudible) in places that show they are feeding through (inaudible)?

PM: First of all, in the response we have to 18 Community Cabinets so far, and 19 including this one in Bathurst, the community, in our experience, want the opportunity to directly engage those who are elected to govern Australia and to do so face-to-face, and therefore it is a good opportunity to hear from them and for our public servants to hear from them what is working and what is not within a given local area.

Secondly, and I will turn to Nicola for one example in a minute about, you know, how you respond and translate into policy.

I still remember full well a Community Cabinet in Western Sydney, I think it was at Penrith, where a lady stood up and asked me at some length about what we were going to do about supported accommodation for adult children with significant disabilities, and as a consequence of that we discussed it at length internally within Government and in the budget of 2008, I believe, it may have been the 2009 budget, we provided investment for that precise category of accommodation.

It was a very graphic presentation. It had an affect on the policy makers. We analysed it afterwards and then we took the decisions we took.

Do you want to add to that?

MINISTER: I was just going to add two other examples. I think very early on, at one of our consultations in Longman, a young boy asked a question. He had diabetes, I think he might have even been asking for his sibling. He stood up on a chair and said 'Prime Minister, you know, can you do something to help? We want an insulin pump but we can't afford it and can you support more research?'

We put in the budget last year funding for insulin pumps for children under 18 and there is a scale for, you know, incomes that they are on, but that was an issue raised directly by a young child to the Prime Minster that has been acted on.

And another one that we have been able to fund since: a number of women at different consultations have raised PCOS, a syndrome that is affecting a growing number of women and limits their fertility. They were asking for clinical guidelines to be put in place and some research money and we have just funded nearly a million dollars to the Jean Hales Foundation, directly following from that.

So they go from the quite large, feeding in to our deliberations on health reform or other things, to the very small and specific but important to people, important enough that they come and again to put their hand up and ask a question to the Prime Minister, so I think that gives you a good indication that it is working.

DEBUS: Can I just say that I have watched while the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health spent nearly two hours speaking to 100 or so health professionals and citizens from the Central West about the future needs of the health system, and they can hardly believe that two people of such eminence should have spent so long speaking so intelligently about that matter. I think their impact has been enormous.

JOURNALIST: So, Prime Minster, there will be some sort of action from issues raised tonight like water security for the wider region and an expressway to Sydney, which are probably the two major issues that you're going to hear about (inaudible)?

PM: I think the virtue of all these gatherings is that it is not just, frankly, open forum where people put the concerns of their community, but also in the separate sessions we have with individuals here and they represent community organisations or Chambers of Commerce, who then, frankly, go out and see every Minister under the sun.

On the specifics in terms of water security or the road links to Sydney, and I am relatively familiar with both of those challenges in this region, we will continue to work our way through those things and we will see what the community and the organisations have to say about it tonight and we are working closely with Bob on those challenges as well.

But the purpose of forums like tonight is to hear directly what it is on the communities' mind, to say what we can do, to say what we can't do, to say what we can continue to work on. I believe it is very important just to be frank with people.

The other thing is, we are talking here today and I think right now we must have a dozen or so Ministers working their way around this region in one form or another, including the Infrastructure Minister, and I am sure he has been engaged on matters such as that, matters such as Mount Panorama and others, and that is the right thing to do and that is how we seek to do it.

JOURNALIST: Doctors are protesting in Sydney today, I think they've got concerns about the GP super clinics, the lack of concentrated care and possibly loss of the family doctor. Are their concerns valid?

PM: Well, we've got doctors protesting in Sydney today about us expanding GP services around the country. I understand we have protests in Brisbane today from midwives about our reforms to the delivery of midwifery services which the Minister has been working on and I'll ask her to speak to it in a minute.

Look, if you're going to be in the business of bringing about significant national reforms it follows that not all of them are going to be universally popular at a particular time. What are we concerned about? How do you expand the range of midwifery services available out there in the community by providing a better funded role for midwives and that hinges off a significant addition to funding which the Minister has committed through the budget for those purposes.

Secondly on GPs, we went to the people last election and said that we're going to go out there and roll out thirty six GP super clinics across the country. People in most communities across the country say, that's terrific, you're bringing together GPs and a whole series of related services. You tailor it to the particular GP needs of a particular locality but obviously it won't always be completely smooth sailing, but, our job is to govern in the national interest. That means implementing what we've said before the election in these critical reform areas. Getting on with it, and obviously listening to people when they protest and raise concerns. But we intend to implement that which we said we would do. On the protests in Brisbane you might wish to add, and the other one.

ROXON: Look the family doctor is alive and well, and the proposals that the government has been implementing and others that are on the table as part of Health Reform Commission's work are actually to further support and enhance and strengthen the role of GPs in our community. And you don't have to just take my word for this, because it has been a policy that people have had issues with but now we see the AMA, the divisions of general practice, the College of GPs, the doctors in training, all putting a proposal to us about how we expand this exact type of infrastructure funding to more practices so that they can turn their own practices into GP super clinics. So this is an idea that we took to the last election, those 31 communities have welcomed the commitments to the super clinics. We've announced five since the election, and we now have GP organisations knocking on the door, asking us to expand the program, so that their existing practices can take up this opportunity of working in multidisciplinary teams, of offering extended hours, of providing more comprehensive care in partnership with other health professionals. So not everyone's going to agree with it. But that's a pretty good measure, those organisations don't always agree with any type of Government health reforms, and they're all now knocking on our door for this sort of infrastructure support.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, there's an inquest (inaudible) into the death of a young man who (inaudible). The inquest's findings found that there was a lack of mental health beds in that (inaudible) region contributed to his death. What's the Commonwealth going to do reverse that, and increase the number of beds available (inaudible)

PM: On the details of the findings, obviously I have not read the report and I'm not in a position to comment. I'll ask Nicola to respond more broadly to the delivery of mental health services on behalf of the Australian Government. Can I say this, however, more broadly on the question of mental health and gaps in the currently delivery nationwide. The figures that I was presented with this morning and delivered as part of my presentation had the effect of something like, two thirds of the 2.8 million Australians who are diagnosed with one mental health condition or another, go untreated. Two thirds. I'm right on that number?

ROXON: For adolescents.

PM: Yes, we're talking about adolescents here. Young people. So this is a real, real problem, and it's a problem across the country. So when we embrace the challenge of national health and hospital reform, what we are determined to do, is not simply allow the mental health challenge to fall off the edge and not to be part of how we deliver long term integrated health reform to the nation.

Primary health care is really important, through our GPs and GP-related services. Improved services in our acute hospitals is important. Preventative health is important. Aged care is important. But within that, dealing effectively and in an integrated way with the mental health challenges of young people and for the community at large is, frankly, an area of much unmet demand and we need, as a nation, to lift our game.

JOUNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: I'm just going to ask Nicola to add to that.

ROXON: Thank you, well, similar to the Prime Minister, with this report just being release we haven't had been able to look at all of the details but I also want to pass on our condolences to the family and the region because, I've think, two years on, the release of these coroners reports still open up a lot of, still fresh, wounds for people.

We are very conscious that this report has just come down. It's been handed to the New South Wales Government and of course the recommendations about extra acute beds I am sure and would expect will be considered closely, but we as a Government have been investing more in our public hospital services. That extra 50 percent increase in funding that we negotiated last year, started flowing from the first of July. We know that the Commonwealth, the previous Commonwealth Government pulled money out of public hospitals and that put a lot of pressure on the system.

We've turned that around. But we've also had very clearly, from our 70 consultations, the view put to us that mental health services, both in the community and in hospitals and the way that they are integrated needs to be part of what we're considering for the health reform process. We are doing that and I think getting the mix of the acute services that are needed for patients, but also early intervention for young people, for example, in Wagga the headspace service has been operating very well, the division of GPs runs that service. That will be appropriate for many young people, but we still need intensive services to be available in our hospitals and they're the sorts of ideas that have been put forward by the commission that we're considering carefully.

PM: Having said that folks we've got to zip. Thank you.

Transcript 16906