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Meet The Press -

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December 3rd 2006


MEET THE PRESS PRESENTER GREG TURNBULL: Hello and welcome to Meet The Press. This morning, in the
middle of a fascinating Parliamentary fortnight, we'll talk to the energetic Health Minister Tony
Abbott. There's a lot on his plate - finding over $400 million to subsidise Gardasil, the cervical
cancer vaccine, revamping the health insurance system and playing a key role in the upcoming
therapeutic cloning debate, and yet he still finds time for politics.

HEALTH MIONISTER TONY ABBOTT (Wednesday): Mr Speaker, I think what we have heard today is the dying
rabble of this leader's leadership of the Australian Labor Party. When he talks about anything new
he'll get it mixed up. He goes roving, that's his problem, Mr Speaker.

GREG TURNBULL: The Health Minister shortly, and later the man himself, the leader of the
Opposition, Kim Beazley, puts his case for keeping his job.

OPPOSITION LEADERKIM BEAZLEY (Friday): Mate, I'm concerned about winning this next election and
making sure, after that, I'm the best Prime Minister this nation needs.

GREG TURNBULL: But first to what the nation's papers are reporting this Sunday December 3 - The
'Sun-Herald' says now it's getting really nasty as Kim Beazley vows no surrender. The 'Sunday
Telegraph' says Kevin Rudd leads an increasingly ugly fight for the leadership of the ALP. The
'Herald Sun' in Melbourne says seven people have decide on Victorian roads in a horror 24 hours. In
Perth, the 'Sunday Times' says the hunt will resume this morning for a five-metre white pointer
shark that bit off a teenager's leg as he surfed near Esperance. And the 'Sunday Age' says at least
500 people have died after a typhoon triggered landslides in the central Philippines. And, in our
final program for 2006, we thought we'd break with tradition and introduce the panel right from the
top. Welcome to Alison Carabine.

ALISON CARABINE, 2UE: Good morning, Greg.

GREG TURNBULL: And to Peter Hartcher from the 'Sydney Morning Herald'.


GREG TURNBULL: Alison, of course, from Radio 2UE. Our guest this morning is Health Minister, Tony
Abbott. Welcome to the program.

TONY ABBOTT: Morning, Greg.

GREG TURNBULL: On Friday you said you were mystified by the spectacle of the Labor Party tearing
itself apart. Over the weekend, has it become any clearer to you?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, what's clear is that a party that put Latham in nine months before the last
election is perfectly capable of dumping Kim Beazley nine months before this election. But I think
as far as the public are concerned it's just another example of politicians behaving badly, and I
don't know that this is going to do Labor any good for the next election.

ALISON CARABINE: Considering Labor's travails, do you think the Prime Minister may be tempted to
cut and run to an early election, possibly as early as July?

TONY ABBOTT: That's not his style. I think he will go full term. That's what he always does.

ALISON CARABINE: But he would be tempted no doubt.

TONY ABBOTT: Well, look, I guess all sorts of things go through people's minds, but the PM's always
been good at resisting temptation.

ALISON CARABINE: But considering the travails within the Labor Party, would the Government's
biggest challenge at the next election be avoiding complacency and a sense of hubris?

TONY ABBOTT: I think any Government which has lasted a long time and done pretty well has that
temptation, but I don't think anyone who is looking at this Government fair-mindedly would deny
that it's an energetic Government which is always coming up with new ideas.

PETER HARTCHER: Mr Abbott, your point a minute ago, comparing the parallels with this Labor
leadership question and Mark Latham, are you drawing some other parallels between Mark Latham and
Kevin Rudd perhaps?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, certainly Kevin, while he's a decent enough bloke, is quite inexperienced, and
the problem that Labor faces at the moment is that they're choosing, if you like, between a proven
failure and a potential disaster. The choice they've got is between a respectable loss and a
complete lottery, and that's the difficult choice that Labor members are chewing over this weekend.

GREG TURNBULL: Who do you think will win tomorrow morning? And let me put that another way, who
would you prefer to win in terms of your own political interests?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, it's a very difficult question to put to a Liberal because obviously we want to
win, and I suppose a very divided and traumatised Labor Party helps us. I guess the thing that I
find difficult as an observer of the ALP is that Kevin, for all his his qualities, strikes me as
being Beazley-light, and I'm not sure why you would replace someone who does have, for all his
faults, a strong record in the service of our nation with someone who's basically a new boy. I
mean, Latham at least had run a council. All Kevin's done is run a politician's office.

PETER HARTCHER: With Labor looking at generational change, does that not give Peter Costello every
right to think that the generational question is now open on the Government side as well?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, I think important question, Peter, always is who would do the best job. Now, I
think it's very clear that the best person to be Prime Minister at this time is John Howard. At
some point in the distant future that might change and we might change. But I think the first
person to recognise that would be John Howard himself.

ALISON CARABINE: But whatever happens tomorrow, Labor will go into an election year with a new
front bench. Isn't it time that the Government also freshened up it's Ministry?

TONY ABBOTT: That's really a matter for the Prime Minister. There have been Christmas reshuffle sin
the past. The PM has said no-one should be surprised either way.

PETER HARTCHER: Surely there'd be a reshuffle before Christmas.

TONY ABBOTT: Let's wait and see. It's entirely in the Prime Minister's hands. As far as I can work
out all the senior ministers in this Government are enthusiastically working at their posts.

GREG TURNBULL: That's a very disciplined response, but what about breaking with discipline just
because it's our final show? Which portfolio have you got your eye on?

TONY ABBOTT: I'm very happy where I am.

ALISON CARABINE: Your shadow Julia Gillard, she's a part of tomorrow's action. It's often been said
that because she's single and childless people wouldn't vote for her as a potential Prime Minister.
Do you think that's a fair argument to throw at a woman?

TONY ABBOTT: No, it's not and certainly Helen Clark in New Zealand refutes that. I don't think
Julia's problem is her personal status, so to speak. I think Julia's problem is that she's got very
little in the way of runs on the board. I mean, Medicare Gold is her one contribution to policy,
and that was a disaster. And one of the big questions, I suppose, if Julia and Kevin get up is,
will Kevin have Medicare Gold foisted upon him by a very ambitious deputy in what I suspect is
going to be a pretty unstable partnership?

PETER HARTCHER: Isn't it right then, Mr Abbott, that the real reason you're really worried about a
new Labor leadership team is that you'd get a much more sharper attack. You'd get a much more
aggressive Kevin Rudd, you'd have a Julia Gillard who knows a lot more about health policy. Isn't
that really your concern?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, there'll certainly be a honeymoon, no doubt about that, if there's a new team,
but I think it would be an unstable partnership. Julia, I presume, would want to take the shadow
treasurership away from Wayne Swan and yet her most recent contribution to economics was demanding
that we spend money immediately on Gardasil in a way that would have cost the taxpayer hundreds of
millions of dollars more. So, sure, there will be a honeymoon if there's a change, but I think it
will be brief, and I think that the Government's strengths will reassert themselves over an
unstable combination.

GREG TURNBULL: Time for a break. And not forgetting that we'll be talking to Kim Beazley later in
the program. When we return with the Health Minister, what to do about the disturbing resurgence in
the disease AIDS and, quite possibly, a plea to vote against therapeutic cloning.

GREG TURNBULL: You're on Meet The Press where we're talking to Health Minister Tony Abbott. And
through the week Mr Abbott was standing along side John Howard when he announced that the
Government will put over $400 million over the next four years into sudsidising cervical vaccine
Gardasil. Here's how the Prime Minister made the announcement.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD (Wednesday): This represents an excellent outcome so that this
remarkable Australian drug can be made widely and cheaply available to Australian women.

GREG TURNBULL: Tony Abbott, are a little bit embarrassed that you were standing firm saying that
this couldn't be done until 2008, and then along came your boss and said, "Have another look," and
suddenly it can happen in April?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, it wasn't quite as simple as that, Greg. In fact, the Pharmaceutical Benefits
Advisory Committee, which is the guardian of the PBS and national immunisation program, they wanted
to do this as quickly as possible as well, given the logistics of a 2007 roll-out. If there was
going to be a school-based vaccination program in 2007, a decision had to be made this year and
that's why the PBAC was very happy, in discussion with me, to expedite their reconsideration.

PETER HARTCHER: The Government was successfully able to renegotiate the Gardasil price down. Does
this not open up, for the Government and for the taxpayer, the prospect that there are lots more
savings to be found across the whole panoply of drugs on offer?

TONY ABBOTT: That's right, and this is one of the reasons why I'm pleased that we've got PBS reform
firmly established now. There will be large, mandatory price cuts for a very big range of drugs on
the PBS starting in 2008, and then we'll be working on disclosed prices. So that's why we think,
over the next 10 years, there's something like $3 billion worth of savings to the

GREG TURNBULL: Just on those savings, you've been in Government for over 10 years. What sort of
mugs are the Commonwealth Government to have been paying way over the odds for these drugs for so
long, if I may put it that way?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, that's a fair question, Greg, but, you know, you can't tackle all problems
immediately, and I suppose once you've tackled one lot of problems then a new lot of problems
become more pressing. So, as we have moved on and as we have addressed different issues, in the
health system, it became pretty obvious a couple of years ago that there was a lot of work to be
done on the PBS.

ALISON CARABINE: Mr Abbott, parliament will this week, in all likelihood, pass the Patterson bill
on human embryonic cloning. Can you guarantee that if the bill is passed that any applications by
scientists to harvest embryos won't be delayed or blocked by the relevant authorities, there there
won't be any political interference?

TONY ABBOTT: These matters are handled by a committee of the National Health and Medical Research
Council. It's an expert committee, it's a very diligent and conscientious committee. They've done
their job over the last few years without any political interference, and that will be the way
it'll be in the future.

PETER HARTCHER: On the question of AIDS, the infection rate has increased pretty dramatically, over
40%. It's happened on your watch. Do you accept any responsibility for this failure of public
health policy, and what do you intend to do about it?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, obviously, there has been no ministerial failure that has led to the rise in
infection, it's a rise in unsafe behaviour which has led to the rise in infections. I have asked
Michael Wooldridge and Professor Frank Bowden, who head up the relevant advisory bodies, for an
urgent report on what more the Government can try to do to get the 'act responsibly, avoid
dangerous situations' message out more widely to the people who really need to get it. I'll get
that report in the next couple of weeks, and then we'll consider what's needed.

PETER HARTCHER: But you can't have both parts of that proposition, can you? You can't say there's
no responsibility in the failure there but then also say you can have a role in improving it.
Surely if there is a ministerial role it represents some failure in it.

TONY ABBOTT: I mean, this problem was not created by me, but obviously I have a role, as the Health
Minister, in trying to address the problem and that's what we'll be doing in the next couple of
weeks. We should put this in perspective. Yes, there has been a significant increase in AIDS -
HIV/AIDS notifications, but we have done very well in this country, and our HIV/AIDS rate is
something like 10% of the rate in the United States thanks to very good public policy over the last
couple of decades.

ALISON CARABINE: On a more mainstream issue, tomorrow there will be a Parliamentary report into
health funding in Australia. It will concludes that it's a dog's breakfast, calling on the
Commonwealth to show more national leadership. Will you use this report to argue - to continue
arguing for a Commonwealth takeover of the hospitals which, of course, is a State responsibility?

TONY ABBOTT: It's been made abundantly clear to me, Alison, on numerous occasions over the last
couple of years that there is no appetite, both at the Commonwealth level or at the State level,
for a Federal takeover of public hospitals. We are a federation, for better or for worse. The
States do have to do something. They can't constantly demand that the Federal Government lead
without ceding the Federal Government authority as well, and so we'll just have to live with this
difficult situation. What you can be certain of...

ALISON CARABINE: Are you giving up?

TONY ABBOTT: No. What you can be certain of is that the Commonwealth Government will continue to do
it's part in the health system, play it's part in the health system, very well, and in the next
healthcare agreements we'll try to ensure that everyone knows exactly who is responsible for State
public hospitals and we'll try to ensure that they are better placed to run them, but they will
still be the people who run them.

PETER HARTCHER: The big new policy initiative announced by the Rudd-Gillard ticket on the Labor
side is a reworking of federalism to get better service delivery in areas like health, of course,
Labor being in power in all the States. Does this not raise the prospect that you, the Government,
could be caught flat-footed, exposed, for your inability to work with the States?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, we do work with the States very constructively, but the problem is always with
these joint programs, who is in charge? When something goes wrong, who is really to blame? Where
does accountability lie? And that's the problem with joint programs. So what I'm about is clear
distinctions so that we know who does what and then the Commonwealth can get on with doing its job
better and hopefully the States will lift their game as well. Tony Abbott, thanks very much for
being our guest this morning, and the best of season's greetings to you.

TONY ABBOTT: Thanks so much, Greg, and to you also.

GREG TURNBULL: Thanks to Tony Abbott, the Health Minister. And our cartoon of the week this week is
an animated view of our next guest, Kim Beazley, courtesy of Nicholson and the Rubbery Figures team
on the 'Australian' web site.

KIM BEAZLEY CHARACTER: What I want to impress upon you is that I stand for ordinary, decent
Australians and everything they hold true and fair and the failures that is make them what they
are, which is standing firmly against those things that are unAustralian, which is not what all
hard-working Australians want to be because Australian's are fair-minded people. They're all for
giving everyone a fair go, a fair crack of the whip, a fair suck of the sav.


KIM BEAZLEY CHARACTER: There, I did it. I talked the leg off a wooden stool. Ha, and they say I'm
not fit to be a leader.

GREG TURNBULL: Welcome back. When Kevin Rudd challenged Kim Beazley for the leadership of the Labor
Party, he summarised the case for change this way.

SHADOW FOREIGN MINISTER KEVIN RUDD (Friday): I believe that what the country's calling out for is a
new style of leadership. I believe the country's calling out for a fresh vision, for new ideas.

GREG TURNBULL: Kim Beazley, welcome to the program.

KIM BEAZLEY: Good to be with you.

GREG TURNBULL: Thanks for coming in. If Kevin Rudd's right and the country's calling out for fresh
vision, new ideas, you're in trouble, aren't you?

KIM BEAZLEY: Look, I have - one of the things I'm most proud of over the last couple of years is
establishing, probably for the first time in the 10 years we've been in Opposition, clear
differentials between ourselves and the Government on things that matter to middle Australia, be it
industrial relations, be it on global warming issues, climate change, skills, you name it, we've
established the differential and that's made us competitive.

PETER HARTCHER: Can you win?

KIM BEAZLEY: Yes, I'm confident we'll win and I'm confident we'll get a fresh start from tomorrow's
ballot. I think I've guaranteed that with the motion that I'm going to be moving. We'll have a
fresh front bench, an energised team, absolutely determined to deal with the Howard Government in
the nine months left to us of this term of Parliament.

PETER HARTCHER: Assuming that you're right and you do win, how big a winning margin do you need to
emphatically put this question to rest?

KIM BEAZLEY: Well, it doesn't matter whether it's between - one or 30. The simple fact of the
matter is tomorrow we unite. Tomorrow we refresh, unite and refocus again on the issues of
difference between us and the Government - the issues of difference now, which are more and more
vital to ordinary Australians.

PETER HARTCHER: A one vote margin, though, would suggest that your authority is seriously fractured
and split right down the middle.

KIM BEAZLEY: I don't think there is the slightest appetite for any more of this. What my colleagues
in caucus know and understand is the party and the Labor movement have an expectation that'll focus
on the needs of Australians, focus on the needs of themselves and not on ourselves, and I think the
way in which we'll deal with these things tomorrow will guarantee that.

GREG TURNBULL: In newspapers this morning one of them quotes you or people around you saying that
under Kevin Rudd Labor can't win because he's a new leader, untried, not enough time, then it
quotes Kevin Rudd or his people saying that under you Labor can't win because you've lost twice
before. Is there not a big danger that you're both right?

KIM BEAZLEY: Look, the Australian people cannot afford to have Labor write off the next election
with a new leader. I mean, that is the substantial risk there, and it is a point that I make
continually. I'm the bloke who's done the hard yards, I'm the fellow who's confronted Howard before
and, on general consensus of those who commentate on these things, managed to beat him in the
campaign and do pretty well in the vote, and you'll need a tough fighter to deal with this bloke
now and an experienced fighter. Very hard to build that personality in nine months.

ALISON CARABINE: Mr Beazley, it's a little over 24 hours until the ballot. No doubt you'll be on
the phone right up until you walk into the caucus room. What about the NSW right? How's your
support holding up there? They're integral to your leadership.

KIM BEAZLEY: Well, firstly I'm grateful for the support I've received from the NSW Premier. It's
very good of him to come out and make such a firm statement on my behalf, and I'm comfort I'll have
good numbers out of NSW and the other States.

ALISON CARABINE: So you're going to shore up majority support within the NSW right, you're
confident of that?

KIM BEAZLEY: I believe I have majority support, and I believe that I'll get a good vote and a
substantial vote from here and NSW.

ALISON CARABINE: That being the case -

KIM BEAZLEY: I've been fighting here for a very long time now. Two years is a long time in

ALISON CARABINE: If you do win the ballot, and you are certainly confident that you will do so,
what changes will you make to our leadership style to appease your detractors in the party room?

KIM BEAZLEY: I think one of the things that I've managed to achieve over the last two year -, and
remember we were in the depths of depression after the last election - is to make us contestable,
and I've done that by focusing on the things that Australians want us to focus on - themselves,
their hopes, their aspirations - be it, as I said, in industrial relations or on things like global
warming. And what I'll have tomorrow is a fresh team and a team that really has no appetite for any
destabilisation, an appetite only for victory.

ALISON CARABINE: Does that fresh team include Kevin Rudd in Foreign Affairs and Julia Gillard in
Health or would you shuffle them into other portfolios?

KIM BEAZLEY: I think they're extremely talented people, and one of the things you learn in politics
is to work with everyone, whether they're been before you or against you in the past. That's about
building a team, and they will have a prominent role in my team.


KIM BEAZLEY: No payback.

PETER HARTCHER: Mr Beazley, is the reason you're facing this challenge tomorrow because of what
Tanya Plibersek has called the "bitter has-beens" in your party or does it represent a collapse of
confidence in your leadership?

KIM BEAZLEY: Look, I've been around in politics a very long time and nothing surprises me in
politics. And you know very well that when you enter the political life there will be some who
agree with you and some who don't. The point is what do you do about it. And what I've done about
it is put in place a process that gives us that chance for a fresh start, and to say to my
colleagues, I'm the tough fighter and tough leader that you need. The runs are on the board. Let's
get on with in it in the nine months that are left to us.

PETER HARTCHER: You're telling us that you're facing a leadership challenge because you chose one.
Surely it's because there's a failure of confidence in your leadership.

KIM BEAZLEY: You've got to ask people for their motives about for doing the things that they do.
I'll tell you what my motives are. My motive is to do a bit of serious nation building after the
next election and putting down the policies before the next election which provide evidence of
that. That's what I've been doing.

GREG TURNBULL: Kim Beazley, you talk about a fresh team which you'll get if you win tomorrow. By
default you'll get a fresh team because you've strategically cleared the decks - all front bench
positions. Just a couple of weeks ago at the National Press Club you steadfastly said no reshuffle,
we don't need - governments need to refresh, oppositions need to consolidate. What happened there?

KIM BEAZLEY: Take a look at the last two weeks. Common sense dictates that what you do is you
reposition. To ensure you've got the best chance of winning at the next election is, firstly, you
have a leader who's tough enough and experienced enough to do it and, secondly, that deals with the
problems which appear to have emerged. We'll get both.

ALISON CARABINE: Would you concede, Mr Beazley, that any chance Labor had of winning the next
election has been wiped out by this latest round of party brawling?

KIM BEAZLEY: Certainly not. I think that the way in which the Government has been responding to us
on so many of these issues - responding but not very effectually - is pretty clear cut evidence
that we're cutting through, and we have been contestable, despite reasonable economic
circumstances, for the last 18 months, and I'll take some credit credit for that, thanks.

PETER HARTCHER: In the intense lobbying that's going on on both sides in the lead-up to this
ballot, can you guarantee that the pre-selections of caucus members haven't been threatened by
anybody on your behalf?

KIM BEAZLEY: Certainly not on my behalf, and I want to a clean fight.

PETER HARTCHER: So it's possible that they have been threatened?

KIM BEAZLEY: We must have a clean fight if we are to emerge from this stronger. Quite frankly, as I
said before, from tomorrow onwards there is going to be absolutely no appetite anywhere in the
Australian Labor Party or the labour movement, which has looked askance at this I must say, for
anything other than maximum unity and devotion to the main task.

PETER HARTCHER: But you are allowing it as possible that members are having their pre-selections
threatened in this process?

KIM BEAZLEY: As I said, I want a clear fight. What I want out of this is no retribution for any
people, but a focus on the main game.

ALISON CARABINE: What about your future if you lose, Mr Beazley?

KIM BEAZLEY: I'm not in the business of losing. I'm going to win tomorrow and then I'm going to
beat John Howard.

PETER HARTCHER: So your point about a clean fight, does that mean that you didn't condone the
apparent leaking to newspapers this morning of internal party polling?

KIM BEAZLEY: As I said, I want a clean fight, and I would urge everybody engaged in this to ensure
that in the remaining 24 hours of it it is.

GREG TURNBULL: We're almost out of time, Kim Beazley. Can I just ask, on the philosophical side, do
you worry about public life and your place in it when here you are being challenged when actually a
two-party preferred in the most recent news poll you're ahead 51-49?

KIM BEAZLEY: Well, we've been there for a very substantial period of time. No doubt the efforts of
the last couple of weeks will probably make a dent on that. But I think the truth of the matter is
the issues that we've outlined - the fight that we've picked with the Government on those issues
and which we are on side with middle Australia - mean that, at the end of the day, that's what will
prevail in the election. Our fighting ends tomorrow, but these problems for Mr Howard do not go

GREG TURNBULL: Thanks very much, Kim Beazley, for being our guest, and best of luck to both
contenders tomorrow. Thanks to Kim Beazley, and to Alison Carabine and Peter Hartcher on our panel.
That's our final program for 2006. Best of the festive season to all our viewers. It's good-bye
from Meet The Press.