Doorstop Interview - Health and Education
Minister for Health and Ageing, Tony Abbott, with the Minister for Education, Science and Training, Brendan Nelson, attends a doorstop interview to talk about Health and Education.
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15 July 2004
Doorstop Interview - Health and Education
I'll say a little bit about Labor's health proposals and then I'll ask Brendan to say a bit about Labor's education proposals, and if you've got any questions we'll do our best to deal with them. Just on the health proposals which have come out today, to the extent that it's clear, it seems that Labor wants to reform Medicare out of existence.
It seems that almost everything will be up for grabs - the MBS, the PBS, the aged care subsidies as well as the health care agreements - and to the extent that it's easy to see what they've got in mind, what they seem to want is something more like the National Health Service of the United Kingdom. To the extent that we have any detail, it seems that they want the Australian people to support a blank cheque for reform, and reform's all very well but it seems that, at the end of this process, Medicare as we know it will no longer exist.
The other point I want to make is that Mark Latham himself said in December last year that simply proposing more commissions and more inquiries was low grade politics. In June, he sent a letter out to all his shadows calling on them to refrain from the establishment of more inquiries, and yet Labor's Health Reform Commission is nothing but another inquiry. But it does open up a yawning void, it does open up the great unknown, and it seems that there's really only one party in Australian politics which now totally and unambiguously supports Medicare and that is the Coalition. The Howard government supports Medicare and our message to the ALP is, hands off Medicare, because it's a good system and Labor shouldn't try to dismantle it.
Mr Latham and his deputy, Jenny Macklin, have identified a number of changes in the last few months in relation to school funding under a Labor government. They've said the number one issue for non-government schools is fees. Jenny Macklin has identified the Bunbury Cathedral School in Western Australia as being one of the schools that would have its funding cut under a Labor government. That means that one hundred and twenty-seven schools across Australia that charge fees above (indistinct) educating a hundred and twenty-three thousand students will have their funding cut under a Labor government.
Mr Latham has again today refused to rule out those schools as having their funding cut under a Labor government. He's also yet to offer any kind of resistance to the unions taking to the High Court a proposal to appeal federal government funding for Catholic, Jewish, Anglican and Christian schools throughout Australia. And Mr Latham needs to immediately reassure the families of the one point one million kids in Catholic and independent schools throughout Australia that a Labor government would not reduce, cut or remove any of the funding to support those students.
It also seems that, today, no wonder the Premiers were smiling before they even had the meeting because, sensing that they're going to have a novice getting control of the Australian taxpayers' chequebook, the Premiers have gone to Melbourne to see that they can get more money from the Australian government. And what Mr Latham's managed to achieve is to sign up to support the Australian government's commitment for indexation of public schools over the next four years but simply allowed the states and territories to say that they will increase their funding.
Last year, the states and territories would not even agree to a minimum inflation increase to school funding, yet they regulate, administer and primarily fund state schools across Australia. And it's pretty scary stuff when you've got Labor state governments wall to wall across Australia. They sense they've got a novice in the form of Mr Latham who might get control of the taxpayers' cheque book, and like bees to honey they've all herded off to see Mr Latham to try and get more money out of the Australian government whilst, at the same time, not increasing their own funding for Australian state government schools.
I mean, it's pretty hard to get Bob Carr to a footy match but to see him bust down the doors to get there to see Mr Latham because he senses that the taxpayers' chequebook is going to be opened up under a Latham-Crean government is pretty scary for the average worker.
In general, they seem to be talking about better cooperation and less duplication between the Commonwealth and states. Isn't that a good thing?
And to the extent that cooperation is feasible and will make a difference, will improve services, that's precisely what the government is doing. But I think the point Brendan makes is right, I think that the experienced and wiser state Premiers seem to have taken the brand new Opposition Leader in a bit. I mean, why, for instance, would any federal Labor government want to destroy Medicare just to help the state governments out of a jam that they've got themselves into with their public hospitals?
So, I really think that this is all to rescue the state governments from their financial problems with public hospitals. It's not about improving Medicare and certainly there's no point destroying the Medicare system as we know it, just to provide some kind of an inadequate lifeline to the state public hospital systems.
Any other questions?
Just on another issue …
Yeah, could I just say one other thing in relation to the school levy? Mr Latham has indicated he intends to cut the money to non-government schools throughout Australia. Australian parents need to know which schools, how many schools, how much money are those schools going to leave … how much money are those schools going to be losing, and Mr Latham is going to need a lot more than a stunt a day to keep good policy at bay, which is what he's trying to do at the moment in … he might be able to hoodwink the state Premiers but I doubt that he'll hoodwink the average Australian taxpayer.
Mr Abbott, the AMA says bulk billing is dead in the water. What's your take on that?
Oh well, the AMA have never been big fans of bulk billing. The government supports bulk billing, we believe in bulk billing, we don't think it should be compulsory but we certainly think it should be available. And under the changes put in place through MedicarePlus, there has been a significant jump in the bulk billing rates.
Now, I don't have a bulk billing target but certainly I would imagine the bulk billing rates will increase in the next quarter, given that they increased substantially in the last quarter and the new incentive payments had only been in place for two of the three months.
Does it bother you that the AMA is calling for bulk billing's abolition?
The AMA is a highly reputable organisation, it makes a great deal of sense on a great many issues, but on this particular issue the AMA's position and the government's position are different.
Mr Abbott, just a different issue, there's a meeting of five hundred nurses from the Royal Australian Nursing College on our (indistinct) at the moment. They're concerned about bullying and violence and unreported violence and they've called for a national … a chief nurse to be appointed at a national level. Are you interested in that?
I'm aware of their desire to see a chief nurse because Jill Iliffe and I have had conversations along these lines. I'm not attracted to the idea. The chief medical officer is there to advise the government on matters relating to health professionals and the professional aspects of our health system, and the chief medical officer does a very good job.
But he's obviously not addressing their concerns …
… about violence and intimidation.
Well, I'm not sure that he's not more than capable of addressing these concerns if they've put a case to him. I mean, have they put a formal submission to the government? Have they discussed these matters with the chief medical officer? But in any event, if the problem is claims of violence and intimidation in hospital emergency departments, that's really an issue for the state governments.
I mean, the state governments run public hospitals. Many of them have been mismanaging some, if not all, of their public hospitals, and why should Mark Latham destroy the Medicare system just to try to help the states out of a difficulty with their public hospital systems?
And I don't say that there aren't problems in our public hospital system. What I do say is that the best part of our health system are the parts which are demand driven, patient initiated programs like the Medicare Benefits Schedule and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. And why should the Medicare system and the PBS be destroyed just because the states have got a problem with their public hospital systems?
So, I really think that the problems with the system are there for the states to address and it's high time that the states should address those problems rather than hoodwinking the comparatively inexperienced leader of the Opposition into so-called new policy which would, basically, destroy the Medicare system as we know it.
Thanks very much.