Transcript of Press Conference - Royal Hobart Hospital $240m funding; Health and Hospital Fund; mental health; national health reform; Tasmanian health system and budget
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The Hon Nicola Roxon MP21 April 2011
Minister for Health and Ageing
The Hon Lara Giddings MP
TOPICS: Royal Hobart Hospital $240m funding; Health and Hospital Fund; mental health; national health reform; Tasmanian health system and budget
Nicola Roxon: I'm delighted, Premier, that you're able to be here today for this very important announcement, I believe a very important announcement for all Tasmanians. And the government is very excited to be able to be here, and you can tell that by the vast number of people that are here with us; of course Carol Brown, Katrina Bilyk and Julie Collins as part of the government, and Andrew Wilkie who, of course, has been advocating for this particular investment that's being made today as, I might add, have the colleagues behind me who for some time have been talking to us about the hospital.
It really gives me great pleasure to be able to announce that the Commonwealth Government is funding an additional $240 million for the redevelopment of the Royal Hobart Hospital.
And I want to, firstly, congratulate the Tasmanian Government for their very high quality application to the Health and Hospitals Fund.
People will recall that this was part of our agreement with Andrew Wilkie, as the minister - as the Member for Denison, that we would fund this investment in the Hobart Hospital if the Health and Hospitals Fund - an independent board - assessed that the application was up to scratch, that we would get value for money, and that we could be confident that that was the service that would deliver the best value for the Tasmanian community. And we are confident of those things.
So it's really great to be able to be here with the Premier to announce that this $240 million will flow. It's in addition to the $100 million that's already been paid to the Tasmanian Government for the early works that have commenced for the women's and children's facility. And I'm sure the Premier will want to talk to you more about that.
But this is part of a much bigger investment that the Commonwealth is making. Our Health and Hospitals Fund is a $5 billion fund. Before the last election, $3.2 billion had already been allocated, and there are many beneficiaries across this state of that early investment, whether it's cancer centres or others that will be built over time.
As part of our negotiations with Andrew Wilkie, Mr Wilkie asked that we make available the remaining money, or up to $1.8 billion, to be able to have a specific fund for rural and regional facilities. And of course with our classification system, all of Tasmania, including Hobart, is in that regional category. And we were happy to make that commitment. We've been absolutely inundated with top quality applications; more than $5 billion worth for the remaining $1.8 billion. They're all being assessed.
But the reason I'm able to make this announcement today is that assessment has come back positively for the Hobart Hospital. And, because we have publicly made this commitment to Mr Wilkie and to the community that the funding would be made available if the Health and Hospitals Fund approved it, we are able to announce that today. The funding has already been provided in MYEFO that was announced late last year.
So I want to briefly, before handing over to the Premier, just emphasise how much this is part of a broader strategy for the government to ensure that health and hospitals services are available to all Australians, no matter where they live; our big investment in infrastructure through the Health and Hospitals Fund. And today is one of the biggest investments that we're making, but also our investments in extra GPs, in training GPs and nurses of the future, in our GP super clinics. These are important investments that are improving health services right now, and will improve them for many decades to come into the future.
The funding that's being made available for this hospital redevelopment means that we will increase the number of beds here at Hobart Hospital by 195, a huge extra number, increasing the services and facilities by more than a third; subacute and non-acute beds, same day beds, 12 new operating procedure rooms. Again, I don't want to take you through too much of that because I know the Premier will be keen to.
What you've seen - some of you have had a chance already probably to look at these plans - is that, really, this money will allow the site to be reorganised in a way that is better for the doctors and nurses that are working here, which is very important, and also more convenient for patients.
So we're very excited. I know that Carol and Katrina and Julie, as long time residents, will be pleased and relieved that this work is now coming to fruition. I think Mr Wilkie can feel very proud today that his negotiations have made it even easier and even clearer for the government to make this investment. And I think you often find, when you make announcements like this, that there are a lot of proud parents who feel responsible for the investments that are being made, and I know everybody standing up here today feels like that.
So thank you, Premier. I might hand over to you, and of course we'll answer questions when we're finished.
Lara Giddings: Thank you very much Nicola. And, indeed, it's a very proud day that we all can feel that we own this decision, and we thank the Australian Government very much for their contribution to the redevelopment of the Royal Hobart Hospital.
Nicola and I worked together as health ministers and it's a great opportunity to welcome you here to the Royal Hobart Hospital, and of course all of your parliamentary colleagues; Mr Wilkie of course, Julie, Katrina and Carol who I've been working with, and I must say also Duncan Kerr as the former Member for Denison who did a lot of work with me around the Royal Hobart Hospital as well.
But, more importantly, it's also about the staff here at the Royal Hobart Hospital and within the Health Department who have put in the long hours for many years now around the planning that's required for this very hospital.
We all know that this is an old hospital, it's a hospital that has grown in a topsy-turvy way, it's no longer providing services in the most efficient way possible. It certainly continues to provide excellent services, and I do commend the staff for the work they do here in a very difficult circumstance where we see demand increasing on all of our hospital services.
And I know that the staff here will be breathing a huge sigh of relief to know that the funding is coming that will help complete this first major stage of the Royal Hobart Hospital redevelopment.
There will of course be a second stage, and we'll be asking all of these people around us to be working with us down the track when we're at a point where we're ready to go into the next stage which will ultimately provide us with essentially a new hospital here on this site.
In the meantime, as we work through the first stage, we in fact have four phases of that stage, and this really is a joint group initiative by the federal and state governments. In fact, the federal government is contributing in total $340 million and the state government is contributing $225 million to this entire project.
We, in a sense, are contributing 40 per cent which was part of the initial negotiations we had when there was some [indistinct] with national health reform around the Australian Government taking up 60 per cent of capital infrastructure.
We have been working with the Gillard Government around the next steps in national health reform, and we're very pleased with the progress that has been making, and we're very pleased today with the commitment that has been shown with this investment.
We are already delivering on this new Royal Hobart Hospital. The first $100,000 that the state government contributed, you can see the action is out there. If you look at the forecourt you will see where the new PET scanner is going to be put. And, again, I do thank Nicola particularly for the work she did with us to get that PET scan a licence and get a service here in Tasmania for cancer patients. That is a critical public patient service that is required.
But there will also be an expanded intensive care unit which is critical for the increased level of surgery that we're going to see happening through this site as well.
In phase two we've mentioned that there will be the new cancer centre and that's well underway in terms of the planning aspects…
Female Speaker: [Inaudible]
Lara Giddings: [Laughs] It's not quite there and it - that also includes a new linear accelerator bunker as well, and of course improved outpatient cancer care, chemotherapy services, and other patient support services as well.
Where the Australian Government comes is with phase three, which is the first $100 million that Nicola mentioned, which is helping us to deliver on the new women's and children's services including that much needed adolescent unit as well. So we're very pleased with the work that's happening there.
The funding that has been announced today - the additional $240 million - will see, as Nicola said, increased bed capacity here at the Royal Hobart Hospital by some 195 new overnight beds. It will also see increased capacity in our theatres.
And some of the new initiatives which I'm really excited about, because I know when I first became health minister and we were talking about what are the new models of care that are being provided that improve efficiency in a hospital but also maintain excellent patient care. And it's frustrating at times for all of us to know how long it takes to first off do the planning, work out where you can put these new models of care in, and then of course find the funding that can help deliver it.
So much of what's being delivered now is work that began in my time as health minister, for instance including new 23 hour units around day surgery and also the admission and discharge lounges, which will help us to move patients through beds a lot more efficiently, as well, freeing up beds for more patients. And there will also be co-location of certain services as well, which will of course help with that flow across the hospital.
So this is only, as I said, the end in that sense of the first stage of the redevelopment of the Royal Hobart Hospital, but it's a significant, very significant move forward.
Half a billion dollars is going to be spent through and over the next six years or so and will deliver the first part of this major redevelopment of the Royal Hobart Hospital and all the benefits that that brings with it.
I might, just as a comparison, also say to you that I am very conscious as a Treasurer that we do have some softening in our economy, and this injection of capital funds is quite significant in terms of providing the confidence that the construction industry are looking for at this time as well.
In fact, when you look at the entire amount, the $565,000, that is in excess of the stimulus funding that has come into Tasmania over the last two years through the Building the Education Revolution program and also the social housing program. And we know what a benefit that stimulus money has had here in Tasmania.
So that level of capital investment has a wider benefit to the wider economy and jobs, and of course, the wider community, as well as importantly, to health services in this state, recognising the fact that the Royal Hobart Hospital is the tertiary referral hospital for Tasmania as a whole.
So as Nicola said, there are many parents to this announcement today, and each and every one of us can rightly be proud of what has been achieved and what will be achieved here on site.
And once again, I thank you, Nicola, for contributing to this Royal Hobart Hospital and showing that the Gillard government is very much committed to the public health system and the public health system here in Tasmania.
Nicola Roxon: Thank you.
Lara Giddings: Thank you.
I believe Andrew is going to say a few words.
Andrew Wilkie: [Indistinct] just a couple of words.
I'm obviously tickled pink at the announcement today of $240 million from the Health and Hospitals Fund. Added to the $100 million that the Federal Government has already paid to the Tasmanian Government, it brings the federal contribution obviously to $340 million, which is the Federal Government honouring in full its commitment it made to me - or more specifically, which the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, made to me immediately after the election as one of the conditions for my support.
So I'm pleased that the money is flowing as promised, and I'm also pleased that my agreement with the government remains strong. So it's very, very heartening, I think, from a political point of view as well as from a medical point of view.
The challenge of course now is for the state government to deliver this project on time and on budget, and I'm confident the state government will deliver this project on time and on budget.
Over half a billion dollars over five years is an enormous project, not only for health outcomes, but as the premier has referred to, also as a stimulus to the economy during soft economic times.
And I'm sure that the construction industry will be very, very pleased now to see this sort of money being spent and these jobs now being available for their workers, many of whom are probably now entering a quiet time as the - as a lot of the federal stimulus spending is coming to an end.
But the pressure is on the state government. I've made no secret of the fact that I have had concerns up until now. The first milestone the state government achieved but only by flying someone to Canberra on the day the paperwork was due, and the second milestone was missed by a few days.
Now, in fairness to everyone involved, the hospital staff are working very, very hard to bring this project together, and I have no doubt that the department has been working very, very hard to pull this together.
We are trying to achieve a lot of things in a short period of time, but I will be keeping a close eye on the state government from here to ensure that from here, it runs on schedule, the money is well spent and the project comes in on time and on budget.
I would remind though the premier and the minister that there's a lot more to health care in Tasmania than a new building. And I am concerned of the talk that there'll be cuts to the Royal's operating budget in the forthcoming state Budget at a time when the hospital is doing it tough. I don't believe the operating budget for this hospital can be cut by a single cent, let alone the $40 million about which there is some speculation.
So I take this opportunity, Premier, to say on behalf of the hospital, please do whatever you could do in a tough economic time, I know, at a time when you've got to get the Budget back in order. It's not your fault that you've inherited this Budget. I just ask you on behalf of the community and on behalf of the hospital, do whatever you can to maintain the funding of this hospital during your forthcoming state Budget.
And I say to the minister, there are other areas of need in southern Tasmania. There's been much speculation of a $400 million cut to the National Health and Medical Research Council, which would have a disproportionate effect on the Menzies Institute, which is virtually a part of this hospital and just across the road.
So I take this opportunity - I've already raised this with the Prime Minister, I've already raised this with the Finance Minister, and I now raise it with you, Minister, the Health Minister. This is not the time to be cutting back on health research and it would cost enormous angst and it would be entirely counterproductive at this point in time if the National Health and Medical Research Council suffers the sort of cutbacks that are being speculated in the media.
But I want to end on a really positive note. This is great news for Tasmania. It's great news for the electorate of Denison. It's great news for people who are suffering ill health. This hospital has a very, very proud history. An enormous number of people have been born, been fixed, and unfortunately have died in this place.
It is a place of enormous importance to the Tasmanian community, and that we're now embarking on a half billion dollar project to rebuild it and to upgrade it is great news.
So thank you to the Federal Government for providing that $340 million. Thank you to the Prime Minister for honouring the agreement with me. And the ball's now in the premier's court to bring it in on time and on budget. Otherwise, I'm going to be snapping at your heels and I'll be a real pest.
Nicola Roxon: Okay. Any questions?
Question: So was there any ever - ever any doubt that this funding would come through for the Royal Hobart?
Nicola Roxon: Well, we've been very public that our commitment was always based on the application from the state government being of a high quality and meeting the standards that the board we're required to assess projects by, and it met those standards.
So yes, if a high-quality application had not been made, this project would not have proceeded. But I was always confident that the Tasmanian Government would do everything that they could, and indeed they have done everything they could, to make sure that this application was top quality.
And I am very confident that the state government, working with us, will be able to deliver this project as promised because it's vital for Tasmanians. And ultimately, the state government and our government want to deliver benefits and better health services to the community here in Tasmania.
Question: The state government has the Budget blues, to put it nicely. Four hundred million dollars over four years may have to be cut from the health budget. Are you concerned we're going to have a brand spanking new hospital with no staff to fill it?
Nicola Roxon: Well, I'll let the premier answer questions about the state Budget. Of course, we are due to have our Budget in the coming weeks as well.
I think it's known that across the country we are facing some difficult choices and some difficult economic times. But really, what that means for us at the federal level is that we're examining closely every bit of expenditure to make sure taxpayers are getting value for money, and we're going to prioritise the areas that are important.
And we have already flagged that investments like this in the Royal Hobart Hospital as one of the areas of importance, and we've already funded other investments, whether it's for GPs, whether it's for specialist training places, whether it's our ambitious health reforms that have been agreed to now by every state and territory.
And that means that we are assisting our state colleagues who have been facing a very difficult challenge with meeting the growing health costs across the country; the ageing of the population, increasing chronic disease. That's why all governments, I think, came to that difficult health reform process, wanting to look at ways that we could do things differently. And that process is going ahead well. It will require lots of ongoing work between us and the state government here, as it will between us and the state governments elsewhere.
But I'm pretty optimistic about that and I'll obviously allow the Premier to answer the questions about her Budget.
Question: Minister, you've heard the criticisms of [indistinct] state government [indistinct]. Have you been satisfied with the way that they've handle…
Nicola Roxon: The process has been absolutely appropriate, from my point of view. There were - there was an agreement that we would pay $100 million upfront that was not contingent upon the assessment from the Health and Hospitals Fund; $50 million of that was paid straightaway, another $50 million was made contingent upon a milestone being met. That milestone was met and the money was paid.
I'm not privy to the comments about, you know, whether people flew the applications to Canberra or not but ultimately I don't mind how those applications are lodged as long as they meet the timeframes that are required.
We've got a close working relationship. It's actually lovely to have Lara as the Premier, someone who was the health minister when I first became Health Minister; Michelle O'Byrne as the health minister who was elected to the federal parliament when I was. We have a good working relationship.
But, like Mr Wilkie, of course we want to hold the government to account in the same way that they would hold us to account if we didn't come through with commitments that we had made to them. That's normal in a federation, that we keep an eye on each other and make sure that promises that are made are kept.
I don't think there's anything new. And, in fact, the additional protections we have are very detailed negotiations, very detailed plans, and very detailed contractual arrangements that go with this commitment.
Question: In the application process, were there any provisions for specific staffing levels or specific ongoing funding that the state government had to contribute to the Royal Hobart Hospital?
Nicola Roxon: Well, there are specific commitments about the contribution, the 40 per cent contribution effectively, that the state government will make for the infrastructure. This is an infrastructure investment. It's not one where we would seek to make agreements or put requirements on the state about other industrial issues or staffing issues that might relate to this service. So that's the same everywhere, and we wouldn't seek to try to have any sort of say through this process in what are appropriate staffing levels or otherwise in a state-run hospital.
Question: It is a little concerning that you would give the money to build this hospital without making sure that there would be the staff to actually [indistinct]…
Nicola Roxon: But - well, I think we're actually talking about two different things here, before people run away this idea. This announcement today is a particular process for investment in infrastructure, a very big injection of funds into a capital project which will be one of the biggest in the state. That's one thing. And we have very strict agreements, processes, which mean we will pay money when certain milestones are met; an oversight process which is a strict one. That's one part of what we're doing.
With our health reforms, we have instituted a very substantial financial reform which means that the money that state governments spend and that the Commonwealth spends will be more transparent than ever before. We'll be putting money into a combined pool which means there's no opportunity for one government to increase their share and another government to pull out their money. We'll both be required to meet that 50 per cent of growth in hospital expenditure into the future.
We've agreed to more accountability than ever before with the Performance Authority, with the MyHospitals website.
So I think you can actually see the government's health reforms delivering on making sure that all governments stick to the commitments that they've made. And we have had no reticence from the Tasmanian Government to be part of those important reforms.
Question: You know full well that Tasmania has some of the worst performance [indistinct] elective surgery and things like that. Now if more of your ongoing funding is going to be dependent on meeting performance benchmarks, do you have concerns [indistinct] health funding cuts that Tasmania will have [indistinct]?
Nicola Roxon: Well maybe, unlike some of you, I don't get concerned about speculation before budgets. I'd rather deal with what is a reality when budgets are announced.
We know that in a period like this before the Commonwealth Budget, people speculate about all sorts of changes. I'm sure they'll be speculating about changes here.
We have very clear expectations about what our money from the Commonwealth level is being invested in, and any matching funding that is required from the state government. I think the Tasmanian public will be delighted about the news today. I mean, whichever way you look at it, this is fantastic news for Tasmania. And we have lots of other agreements with the state government that relate to different parts of the health system which we will make sure we hold the Tasmanian Government or the New South Wales Government or the Northern Territory Government to account on.
And, similarly, the states have rightly required of us, at the Commonwealth level, that we are accountable for the areas that are our responsibility; making sure there are enough GPs that people can access, something that the Commonwealth funds, and causes many problems if people can't access their GPs because they'll turn up here at the Hobart Hospital instead.
So I think this is a new era of both levels of government expecting more accountability from each other. And, ultimately, it's not about us talking to each other, it's about us delivering to the public. And our reforms will deliver better health services, more transparency and more accountability to the public.
Question: The state's half-yearly report says they're expecting [indistinct]…
Nicola Roxon: Sorry, I didn't hear the…
Question: The state's half yearly report says we're expecting half of this money, $120 million, before 30 June. Will that be forthcoming?
Nicola Roxon: Well, we negotiate with the states and territories the payment process for that. I don't actually have the timetable in front of me for each of those different payments. They're contingent upon particular things being met.
My understanding is the state government has put in, in their application, the phasing for the money, and we have agreed to the proposal that has been put forward.
Question: So you're confident that the state government will have the staff to put into [indistinct]?
Nicola Roxon: Well, I'm absolutely confident that it's in everybody's interest across this state, let alone across the spectrum of people who are here today, to make sure that services can be delivered properly in this new facility. It's about us training enough staff. In our universities we're investing more than ever before in that area. It's about us making sure we're properly acknowledging what nurses can do and what doctors can do, and whether we can train up other staff in more innovative areas. That's why we're making investments in our health workforce. It's about getting better services outside hospital so that we can make sure people aren't unnecessarily presenting here.
I think all those raft of different policies are now coming together to show the community how serious we are about doing things differently into the future. And I have every confidence that the state government will want those investments to be as successful as we want them to be.
Question: Tony Abbott announced $430 million [indistinct] for mental health. Is the government going to do something similar to that in its Budget?
Nicola Roxon: Well, I mean, Mr Abbott really needs to start coming clean, I think, with the public. He's got a big credibility gap when it comes to investments in mental health. He went to the last election saying that he would fund a significant mental health package by pulling money out of GP services, GP infrastructure and e-health.
We now have more than 200 GP practices across the country that have got building works going on right now so that extra GPs can be employed, or practice nurses can be employed, or the next generation can be trained. And Mr Abbott isn't saying whether he's going to pull that money off people.
Mr Abbott has never publicly said whether he supports this investment in the Hobart Hospital.
Now, we need to know if his option is to be taken seriously, he needs to show us the money. How is he going to pay for it? He needs to make clear that instead of just announcing what might be a nice policy idea, he'll actually show us how it can be funded.
This is the Leader of the same party that has voted against more than $8 billion worth of investments - savings… $8 billion worth of savings in our parliament, and they're blocking another $5 billion. Where is Mr Abbott getting $2 billion from?
And I'm very sure that the cheers will very quickly turn to tears when people find out that Mr Abbott does not intend to fund this, and tell us how he will fund it for more than two years.
That's not a policy announcement we can take seriously.
Question: John Mendoza has warned the government's promised mental health spending [indistinct]. Can you guarantee that any of the money will be spent in this term?
Nicola Roxon: Well, Mr Mendoza is not sitting around our Expenditure Review Committee table, and the Budget is still several weeks away. So I'm not going to, as I said in answer to an earlier question, speculate about the detail of investments that have not been announced and will be announced in the Budget.
But people can be very sure the Prime Minister has made clear, the Treasurer has made clear, and I have made clear that mental health is a second term priority for us. We've made very clear that we think that there is unmet need that needs to be dealt with. Only very recently the new headspace service was announced here in Hobart. It's part of investments - nearly $500 million worth of investments - that our government has already made.
So I think that we have got some runs on the board here. There is more to be done, and we've made clear that we will deal with that in the Budget.
But people can be assured that if and when we make announcements, every dollar of new investments will be properly funded, and our commitments will be properly costed; unlike Mr Abbott who has now repeatedly made promises with no idea where the money will come from.
And, really, I don't think you can be the Leader of the Opposition and want to be Prime Minister if you think that money just grows on trees.
Question: How quickly can the government deliver [indistinct] more for mental health?
Nicola Roxon: Well, I think there are a range of structure challenges, it's true, in mental health. There are a range of workforce issues which means that a huge investment in one day would not be able to be picked up effectively across the country. It is an area where you need to make sure you can scale and plan your investments properly. That's why Minister Butler has been working very carefully with mental health advocates, consumers and carers about this package. And we will make our announcements when it's Budget time.
Nicola Roxon: Okay Premier?
Lara Giddings: Thank you.
Question: [Indistinct] that this could become a white elephant; that we're putting all this money into a building and we may not have the staff?
Lara Giddings: This is a first stage, a major stage, of a long transition that we're going to be making from the existing infrastructure that we have here on the site, which everybody agrees is old and not providing for the level of care that we want to be able to provide to Tasmanians. It's going to be a long period of time that we will see this Hobart hospital as a bit of construction site. So we don't need to rush ahead, as the Opposition would try to do, in actually saying how all the new infrastructure will be funded in terms of increased bed capacity.
It's going to take some time before we see those beds come online and what my hope would be is because we're making the tough decisions now, tough decisions that Will Hodgman refuses to make himself, that we will be in a position, where we will have our economy growing and our budget back on a sustainable footing, that it will enable us to be able to invest again into health services here in Tasmania.
Question: Could you please go through a bit of the timelines of when actually these beds will be available and what sort of timelines you're working on at the moment?
Lara Giddings: Well the funding that's been announced today is phase four of stage one of the re-development of the Royal Hobart Hospital. And we expect that phase four will be delivered within the next six years. So there is a period of time that will take for us to be able to undertake all the various phases that are currently underway or planned for on this site. So the very first works that are currently underway include the new PET scanner area for instance and the expanded intensive care area as well, two critical parts of the hospital.
And then we'll be moving on to the new women's and children's area and in time we'll move on to the funding that has been announced today.
Question: [Indistinct] the government doing to make sure it meets those benchmarks this week [indistinct] for this space?
Lara Giddings: Which benchmarks are you talking of?
Question: The benchmarks for the funding.
Lara Giddings: For the funding. Well my understanding is that we have met all the criteria; we've met all the time frames that we've been asked to meet and I have full confidence in the staff here at the Royal Hobart Hospital's project management team that they will continue to deliver as they have already done so.
Question: Will you confirm that the health budget needs to be cut by $400 million over the next four years?
Lara Giddings: I won't be speculating on what quantum of funds are required from any part of government until we have gone through the process and delivered a budget which will be announced in June. So people will have to hold on until that period of time to know what exactly is happening with the State Budget. And that's an important process that I will not be pre-empting.
What I would have to say though is that we have a major problem with the State Budget. We have around about $200 million that needs to be found each year out of the consolidated fund. In a $5 billion budget, that is a significant amount of money. The health and human services area of our State Budget accounts for about $1.4 billion of the $5 billion. We cannot quarantine that. It will have to provide some of the savings and efficiencies that have been driven, not just by the Budget itself, but also by national health reform as well, which is going to insist on us being even more efficient with our health dollar than perhaps we have been in the past.
So it is important for people to understand that we've all got to do our bit to find the savings that are required to ensure that we do avoid going into net debt; that we can get the State Budget back on a sustainable footing, so that once again we can see the Budget growing; that we get back into surpluses, which gives us the ability then to look at reinvesting in vital services that Tasmanians need across health, education, police and of course growing jobs in the wider economy.
Question: On a different topic, it's been a year since a leader and the Greens in this state got into bed together to form government. Is the relationship still have that spark [sic]?
Lara Giddings: Oh that's gorgeous. We still look at each other adoringly. No, all jokes aside the relationship is going very well with both Nick McKim and Cassy O'Connor. They are both two very dedicated ministers who are working really hard and delivering in their portfolio areas, as Tasmanians would expect.
I find that they add very positively to the Cabinet process and of course to the parliamentary process as well and we are engaging the Green backbenchers as much as we can, as you would expect.
Question: Just back on health is - cutting back the amount of local area health networks and options save money?
Lara Giddings: I've consistently said too that as we go through a budget process I'm not going to be ruling in or ruling out any one project at all, but we will be looking at absolutely everything. And anything that can be looked at, that's going to not damage front line services and critical care to patients of course will be looked at more favourably than other services that do in fact touch patients. But I expect the fact that the problem that we're facing with the State Budget is so large that Tasmanians will feel the pain of the cuts. Whether it's in education, whether it's in health, whether it's in police, whether it's in primary industries, the environment, you name it, every part of government is having to do its bit.
And I must say that the Opposition tends to be all care and absolutely no responsibility. If you don't want us to cut various parts of government, it's your responsibility to come to the state government and say this is how you can make the savings that you need to make. It' not good enough just to stand up and say to the state government, you're not allowed to cut in this area, or this area and then expect us to find the savings elsewhere. The reality is everybody thinks that there is a ho… there are a number of hollow logs in government. There isn't.
Question: Just on the topic of Pontville, we had a meeting there last night. We heard some major concerns on the [indistinct] up there. [Indistinct].
Lara Giddings: I recall that when we did our bit to help the people of Kosovo only, you know, a few years back, that the same community was very concerned about these Kosovo refugees coming to live in their community, in a community space that actually had no barbed wire around it all. And there were similar fears expressed at that time.
Very soon those Kosovars[sic] arrived and they blended into the local community and they were accepted by that very same community. And when it came to say goodbye to those people from Kosovo, we had tears in our eyes. We were waving them goodbye. We were sorry to see them go.
I expect that we will have the same experience with this detention centre. The only difference being that this time around, unfortunately, we have barbed wire holding in these desperate people, who have escaped from war zones like Afghanistan; difficulties in Vietnam. Difficulties from other parts of the world, where they have gone through harrowing experiences.
So I would say to the people of Pontville and Brighton and a community that I grew up in largely, that just calm down. That we have been there before as a community. We have delivered for people who have been in crisis and in need of care before. We've done so with compassion and I believe we can do so again.
Question: Is it embarrassing to you - as you say, you're from that area - to hear some of the borderline racist comments that are coming out?
Lara Giddings: Look, I understand people find situations that they are unfamiliar with, scary. And I what I heard from last night's meeting was a normal reaction of human-beings to a situation where they feel uncomfortable, nervous and scared.
All we can do, as political leaders, is provide some level of comfort and say many of us have been there before. We've experienced this fear before and we found it to be unfounded. In fact, we in fact found a position where we embraced these people and we were very sorry when we saw refugees leave our community in the past.
These people, I expect, will have a very similar experience in Tasmania. We are a compassionate people. We are a good people here in Tasmania, but I understand the fears that the local community may be feeling, and I would just say to them that please, come with us on this journey. It is something which obviously is not, in fact, in the [indistinct] of the state government. It is a Commonwealth government decision. It's Commonwealth government land. But we ought to, as a wider community, embrace these people.
Question: Just a final question with the centre at the - as you point out, this time it will have barbed wire. There are some security concerns, given what's been happening in [indistinct] in the last couple of days. That's not an area for [indistinct]. Is that something locals should be worried about?
Lara Giddings: What I would say again, and from listening to media reports today, that even in the situation of Villawood, we have seen a protest, but we have not seen people trying to escape the facility, or do any more than make a stand in - within that facility.
I don't believe that there is any risk to the people of Tasmania by having this facility here for the period of time that it will be here.
Question: Are you aware of the federal government's [indistinct] sort of expression of interest down there? [Indistinct]
Lara Giddings: No, I'm not aware of that. But, again, we've got communities like King Island who have, in fact, been calling out for their community to be considered for this sort of centre.
Question: Would you be opposed if this went beyond the six month term?
Lara Giddings: Well this is something that I hope doesn't go beyond the six months term, because I actually hope that the people who are within that centre are processed efficiently and quickly. And should their refugee status be found to be correct that they are, in fact, allowed to live within this broader Australian community.
Question: [Inaudible question]
Lara Giddings: Well as you would know Sue, we have already got, in our mid-year report, a figure of [indistinct] right now - I have it here in front of me - the - there's $94 million that are already in the budget and forward estimates from 2010-11 to 2013-14. And the balance of our contribution of $131 million is to be funded in 2014-15 through to 2015-16.
This was all reflected in our mid-year financial report. As you'd also know that we only do forward estimates three years in advance and, therefore, a large portion of that funding falls outside of that forward estimate period that we report on. But I can absolutely guarantee you that the state government will be abiding by our contribution which equates to $225,000 - $225 million all up.
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