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Transcript 41534

Radio interview with Rebekah Lowe, ABC Broken Hill

Photo of Turnbull, Malcolm

Turnbull, Malcolm

Period of Service: 15/09/2015 to 24/08/2018

More information about Turnbull, Malcolm on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 29/03/2018

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 41534

Subject(s): Royal Flying Doctor Service; Regional health; Water management; Indigenous incarceration rates

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning, it’s great to be with you. I was just talking to Sarah, one of your producers, who said that last time I was there, I fixed one of your cameras!

[Laughter]

I’m not sure I can give a technical overhaul of the station this time.

REBEKAH LOWE:

Ok now look, you are here to announce $84 million extra for mental health resources and dental clinics in regional Australia, that’s nationwide funding?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, the Royal Flying Doctor Service is a nationwide service. It’s an iconic Australian service. It helps well over 300,000 people per year, including 36,000 air retrievals, that’s picking people up and taking them to hospital. More than 70,000 road transfers, it visits regularly 217 remote communities and visits 44 different locations each day. Some of them of course it visits every week.

So it provides Medicare-like services, GP-like services to remote locations that don’t have a resident doctor.

REBEKAH LOWE:

This $84 million is extra funding and why did the federal government want to contribute that much money towards mental health programs in regional Australia? Why was it so important?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s vitally important that all Australians have access to the best medical services that we can provide. That’s our commitment. We are managing the Budget, bringing it back into balance and at the same time, providing more and better health care to all Australians. Including Australians in remote and regional parts of the country.

Mark Coulton, your local member, is a passionate advocate for the whole of his community from the big towns, big centres like Broken Hill to very remote locations.

So, this is a national service. I was just talking to Martin Laverty, the CEO, he was recently in Marree which is a small community, about 150 people living there. About 600 in that district in South Australia, that gets a visit from the Royal Flying Doctors Service every week. The people there that work closely with the Country Women’s Association. They and many other organisations in regional Australia really welcome regional funding. This is about ensuring that we deliver the very best medical services we can to Australians, wherever they live.

REBEKAH LOWE:

Prime Minister what do you hope the outcome will be, from this funding?

PRIME MINISTER:

That Australians in regional and remote Australia will be leading healthier, longer lives, and you know, mental illness -which is something that we haven’t talked about enough in years past, it’s been a bit of a taboo - it’s important that those services are provided.

What this is doing is enabling an extra 50 psychologists and mental health nurses to be getting on the plane and going out to those consultations. Whether it could be Marree, it could be the Nullarbor Plains Roadhouse, it could be remote locations in Cape York.

Right across the country, we are doing everything we can - at the same time as we are bringing the Budget back into balance – we’re doing everything we can to ensure we list the latest, life-saving drugs, we provide additional funding for hospitals across the country and we ensure that we do everything we can so that people in remote and regional Australia, the most remote communities, can get access to top quality medical services.

REBEKAH LOWE:

When it comes, I guess in practical terms, I’m not sure how much the federal government have a say in it, but will this create positions and new roles within regional Australia? Or will this be a fly-in-fly-out situation? Or will it actually allow more medical staff to be on the ground here in regional areas?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well of course the Royal Flying Doctor Service flies out of regional Australia, including in Broken Hill where we’ll be today. So yes, the answer is there will be more health professionals employed in regional Australia. We’re doing everything we can to encourage more doctors to work in regional Australia, but there are some communities that are very small and not able to support a full-time medical practice there.

So that’s one of the reasons the Royal Flying Doctor Service was established all those years ago.

REBEKAH LOWE:

Now obviously, money going to mental health. We must talk about water, Prime Minister, because this is a major issue for people here in the far west and I’m sure you are well aware that many parts of the Darling River system are now empty. People can walk across it, they can even play cricket on it. We’ve seen that over the weekend drought. It’s not the only reason for that river bed being empty, it is government mismanagement that’s contributed.

Allegations of water theft were made last year, when does the Federal Government step in and announce a Royal Commission?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there have been a number of inquiries into the water theft as you describe it in New South Wales. Both by, at the federal level and by the New South Wales Government. I think all the facts are well understood. We know what the rules are, they just need to be properly enforced.

That is what is being undertaken by the NSW government and indeed through the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

REBEKAH LOWE:

Are you fully aware of how many of these graziers and residents are suffering at the moment, without water?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am very familiar with the consequences of drought. I mean, I’m not trying to make a case for my own situation, but just so you know, Lucy and I have cattle and sheep properties in the upper Hunter. We have some of our cattle on the road with a drover, they’re in the long paddock. We’ve had a shocking drought up there and we have been hand feeding for a very long time.

So drought is very tough and I understand. I’ve been to parts of the country and the Darling, further north than Broken Hill, up closer to Queensland, where a lot of that grazing country has suffered from the reduction in what I call the smaller flood flows. It’s important, what people often overlook,  is that Australia is a flat country. Our rivers are designed to flood, they’re designed to spread out, and as you extract more water for irrigation, that obviously has a cost on the environment. That’s why getting the balance right is so important. That’s why – you may remember I was the Water Minister in 2007 when John Howard announced the National Plan for Water Security - we took a leading federal role in resetting the balance between irrigation and the environment. I think we’ve got the balance right. We are continuing to do that, to get the balance right between irrigation and the environment and managing water flows through the system.

REBEKAH LOWE:

It is hard though, for people who are living on the land now, knowing that there’s these allegations being made about water theft. Knowing that there’s constant inquiries but nothing is happening. Yes, drought does exist, but there’s also that management side of things. It’s hard for people to hear words when there’s, they feel like there’s no action, isn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you say there’s no action Rebekah. It’s easy to just say there’s no action. I mean let’s be quite clear; stealing water is stealing. Okay? It’s an offence. It’s a crime.

All Australians need to be confident the rules governing water use are applied fairly and without fear or favour and so must be. Now I announced a six point implementation agenda for the Basin Plan in November last year and all the Basin’s governments - so that’s Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia - have agreed to develop a compact, an agreement for compliance to enforce the basin rules, the water rules.

I mean this is a question of enforcing the rules that exist. Now New South Wales has already started legal proceedings against a number of people who allegedly have breached water management rules. It is a question of enforcing the rules.

Stealing water is a crime. It’s like stealing cattle or stealing money, you know. The law has to be complied with. So it’s not a mystery Rebekah, what happened, people were taking water to which they were not entitled to and that is being cracked down on now.

REBEKAH LOWE:

You mention there you were Water Minister when John Howard was Prime Minister as you mentioned. He also promised money to reconfigure the Menindee Lakes to reduce the evaporation, make sure the lakes operated more efficiently. Do you know what’s actually happened with that money?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there has been work done there, I know. The work is designed, as you know - your newsreader was just making some observations about that - the whole object is to try to concentrate the water so you reduce, you know, the evaporative area. The great problem with the Menindee Lakes is of course that they’re very shallow. The best water storage is obviously, the deeper the better because it presents less of a surface to the sun to evaporate. That’s one of the reasons why we supported the pipeline that went along the Darling Anabranch, so that the Great Darling Anabranch can now run as a natural ephemeral stream and the water that is needed for all of the graziers along that water course, is done by the pipeline.

It’s one of the reasons why you have the pipeline being built by New South Wales from Wentworth to Broken Hill. I mean wherever we can what we need to do in managing water in a hot, dry continent, is where we can possibly do it, we should pipe it rather than running it in open channels. Where we can configure storages so that they are deeper, then you have less evaporation. I mean we live in a big flat - by and large - dry, hot country. So we have got to be smart about the way we use water.

It’s a great passion of mine, I love talking about it and I love doing things with water. We’ve done a huge amount, whether it’s back in the days when I was John’s Water Minister or now as Prime Minister setting up the Snowy Hydro 2.0.

Water is the source of life, it’s a vital, vital resource.

REBEKAH LOWE:

When you fly over today towards Broken Hill you will see the empty lake beds, you’ll see how empty they are and that there really is no water. A lot of people are feeling quite despondent at the moment. We had a grazer just call us, Julie McClure, said we talk a lot about water theft, mismanagement. Is there dollars to look at reengineering the whole system and look at retaining the water? Is there are money towards that to make that happen on a federal level?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well yes there is, we’ve got a large water fund, you need to have the projects to match it. I’d be delighted to meet Julian and obviously the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud would be delighted to meet him and obviously Michael McCormack the Deputy PM.

Managing water in a continent that is short of water and is flat and hot, is a big challenge. Look just to give you a little statistic, for people interested in water. The fall in elevation from the dam at Albury, you know the Hume Weir at Albury, New South Wales on the border, over the 2500 kilometres all the way to the Murray Mountains, is about 175 metres. So that’s as flat as a billiard table basically and you know the country out where you are at Broken Hill; it’s flat too. It’s along the Darling and so what that means is that you don’t have a lot of great natural damn sites. So you know the Menindee Lakes are ephemeral lakes. Before the regulation and the embankments and all the various barriers that were put in there, the Menindee Lakes would be full when there’s a flood and then dry when there wasn’t.

So managing water in a flat, hot, dry continent is very challenging, which is one of the reasons why pipelines like the one along the Darling Anabranch or the one from Wentworth to Broken Hill, are very important. Anything you can do to store your water away from the sun obviously is much more efficient. It’s why groundwater is very important by the way.

REBEKAH LOWE:

Alright well, Prime Minister we’ve just got a couple of minutes before you go. You also have handed some legal reform, a blueprint to tackle soaring indigenous incarceration rates. Can you just explain that to us, please?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well this is the Australian Law Reform Commission has done a report on reducing Indigenous incarceration. It is a very big agenda both for my Government and for all governments.

As you know the criminal justice system is overwhelmingly a state and territory responsibility. This is going to be part of the refreshed Closing The Gap agenda.

We’ve been focused on this at COAG. A huge part of this is ensuring that we break the cycle of ‘prison, release, back to prison’. So the key thing is early intervention so that for example, a young person gets into trouble, goes to prison, what you need to do is make sure they get the skills to be able get a job, hold a job and stay out of trouble when they get out. It’s just important to break that cycle.

There’s a lot of recommendations in that report and we’ll obviously go through it very carefully. But we’ve being paying a great deal of attention to this I can assure you, particularly Nigel Scullion the Indigenous Affairs Minister and Michaelia Cash, the Jobs Minister. We’ve been working very closely on it.

REBEKAH LOWE:

Prime Minister I must let you go.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good on you Rebekah, great to talk to you.

REBEKAH LOWE:

Alright we’ll see you in Broken Hill.

[ENDS]

Transcript 41534