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Labor announces major boost to hospital fundi -

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Broadcast: 22/09/2004

Labor announces major boost to hospital funding

Reporter: Michael Brissenden

KERRY O'BRIEN: The cash was flying around on the campaign trail again today.

This time it was Labor hefting the biggest moneybag - $1 billion for public hospitals to pay for
more than two million free visits to specialist clinics.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul, though, because the money will be shifted from the States' competition
grants.

Mr Howard's contribution today was relatively modest by comparison - a mere $90 million to buy tool
kits for apprentices, while he sought again to highlight key themes of economic management and
interest rates.

Shortly we'll be talking with the Prime Minister, but first - political editor Michael Brissenden,
reflecting again on the campaign trail.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: As the practitioners will tell you, politics has its ups and its downs.

Is this campaign an escalator of opportunity for Mark Latham?

Are the trends polling up or down for the PM?

Both men could probably legitimately claim at the moment they're just one step from office.

It's close, for sure.

And with just over two weeks to go both men have honed their messages and they're trying as hard as
they can to convince the electorate that they have what the majority want to hear.

MARK LATHAM, OPPOSITION LEADER: When it's all boiled down, the election on October 9 is basically a
referendum about the future of Medicare.

For Labor, this is much more than a financial issue.

We regard good quality health care as a human right.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: October 9 will be a referendum on who can better manage the Australian
economy and keep this country strong at a time of international terrorism.

They are the two dominant issues of the election.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And today both stuck broadly to the script.

Mark Latham toured a hospital in Brisbane to announce an extra $1 billion to upgrade public
hospitals - money spent over four years and funded from money taken from the States' competition
grants.

This is the cash that the Government announced earlier this week it would spend to help fund its
water initiative.

MARK LATHAM: The Government was using its contingency fund to top up those payments, but our
commitment is to work with the States, rather than against them.

The Prime Minister tore up an agreement and used the money for political purposes.

We're using it for a national interest purpose - in our public hospitals.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well, water, hospitals - which one tops the national interest test?

One thing's for sure, it's all politics.

Ad it's perhaps no surprise the State Labor Governments think Mark Latham's plans for the money are
better than John Howard's.

MARK LATHAM: They've all agreed this is the top priority.

If we can do one great thing for this country working together, it is to give Australians a
world-class public hospital system.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: $350 million has been earmarked for general hospital upgrades, including
emergency departments.

$400 million has been set aside to provide more than two million free visits to specialist clinics.

And there's also more money for after-hour GP clinics and medical university places.

FEMALE UNIVERSITY STUDENT: We're first year.

MARK LATHAM: Oh, first year.

Oh, OK, you're just starting out?

FEMALE UNIVERSITY STUDENT: Ah, yes.

MARK LATHAM: How are you finding it?

FEMALE UNIVERSITY STUDENT: Ah, quite hard, actually.

MARK LATHAM: Yeah?

Well, let me just help.

FEMALE UNIVERSITY STUDENT: Please do.

Is this part of your children's reading initiative?

MARK LATHAM: (Laughs) MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well, no, but who knows what textbooks the politicians
are reading.

Mark Latham says his hospital policy is proof that only a Federal Labor Government can reach
cooperative agreements with the States.

Not surprisingly, the Government seems to be reading between the lines quite differently.

TONY ABBOTT, HEALTH MINISTER: It's most unfortunate that the Labor Party has abolished an existing
Medicare program - the Medicare safety net - to, ah, bail out the State Governments.

What Mark Latham is doing is taking away ordinary Australians' Medicare rebates so that he can give
more money to the State premiers.

I think that's a very silly thing for him to do.

Any additional money will just be, ah, swallowed up by the State public hospital system.

And the point I make is why would you trust Federal Labor with the health system, when State Labor
has made such a mess of the public hospital system?

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: This campaign has become an accountant's picnic.

There's figures flying around all over the place, each side is claiming to have the greater moral
authority when it comes to spending, taxing and saving.

There's money for hospitals, money for environmental projects, money today from the Prime Minister
to give every new apprentice an $800 tool kit.

Spend, spend, spend.

And all the while, there's more than a few economists who are starting to complain publicly that
both sides are simply throwing it around with an eye on October 9, not on the long term.

Labor says the Government has spent up to $60 billion in electoral largesse.

Today the Treasurer claimed to have found a hole in Labor's tax policy.

Labor, he says, has forgotten to allow for the payment next year of the low income tax offset
covering this financial year.

PETER COSTELLO, TREASURER: If people are entitled to receive the low income tax offset in respect
of the current financial year, under Labor's policy, there is a $700 million hole in its costing.

Labor can go the other way, of course, and say there is no hole in the costing, we just intended to
abolish the entitlement in respect of the current year.

If that is the case, that means that 3.5 million Australians who are entitled to, and are expecting
to receive a low-income tax offset in respect to the 2004-2005 years, will retrospectively have
that taken away.

SIMON CREAN, SHADOW TREASURER: He's wrong, dead wrong.

And NATSEM totally factored this into our costings and will stand by their figurings.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: It's a "He said, he said" argument.

Maybe there's a boffin out there who understands it, but the truth is most voters are just trying
to figure out who's telling the truth about interest rates and what sort of tax cut they'll be
getting.

The Government, of course, would like us all to think they're ordinary voters like this - John and
Lisa Downing, mortgagees in outer suburban Melbourne.

JOHN HOWARD (TO JOHN DOWNING): If you had a small interest rate rise, it would more than wipe that
out.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Prime Minister took the travelling press pack to see them today.

Naturally enough, there was only one main topic of discussion.

TRAVELLING PRESS PACK REPORTER: So have you decided who to vote for in the election?

It might sound silly, 'cause the PM's here, but - (Laughs) LISA DOWNING: Yeah, I probably have
decided.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Wonder who that could be?

Well, you wouldn't really expect the Prime Minister to take the pack to a house full of Labor
voters.

But you might have expected a concerted attack on the $700 million black hole.

This is the sort of pounce the Prime Minister and the Treasurer usually coordinate.

A feature of the campaign is the daily doorstop press conference, usually a wide ranging
free-for-all.

But, today, there was no talk of fiscal holes.

In fact, there wasn't much talk at all.

The Prime Minister is usually fairly expansive at these events.

Not so today.

The travelling scribes were left with questions hanging in the air after just over four minutes --
one of the shortest doorstops yet.

JOHN HOWARD: I've gotta go.

TRAVELLING PRESS PACK REPORTER: Prime Minister, should the Liberal Party - right.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: You might think that's inconsequential, but such are the atmospherics of the
campaign so far, that's left more than a few who are travelling with him wondering if the Prime
Minister is a little worried about the way things are going.

Is the escalator heading up - or down?

KERRY O'BRIEN: Political editor Michael Brissenden.

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