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Meet The Press -

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PAUL BONGIORNO: Hello and welcome to Meet The Press. The nation is on federal election alert. And
health has roared back onto the political agenda. Duelling hospital plans, finger-pointing at the
States, and promises to fill a huge cavity of dental waiting lists for pensioners and low-income

OPPOSITION LEADER KEVIN RUDD (Tuesday): End the blame game, end the buck-passing. Let's have a
re-established Commonwealth dental health care program to make sure that we can deliver these 1
million dental services to people who need them.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD (Tuesday): His scheme is going to cost $290 million, and he is going to
fund it through the abolition of a Coalition plan worth $384 million, Mr Speaker, so in other
words, he is going to rip $100 million out of dental care. What a phony!

PAUL BONGIORNO: Shadow Health Minister Nicola Roxon is our guest. And later, is there a housing
affordability crisis or not? But first, what the nation's papers are reporting this Sunday,
September 23. The 'Sunday Tasmanian' reports, "Hobart ablaze." The city's biggest department store,
Myer, became a raging inferno when a fire broke out. Customers fled the blaze as it spread quickly
through the building. They were followed by firefighters in breathing apparatus who barely escaped
as floors began collapsing. The 'Sun-Herald' leads with, "Racing fights for its future." Interstate
war over horse flu vaccine. NSW Racing is desperately trying to secure vaccines for its 26,000
thoroughbreds. But the federal minister says priority will be given to safeguarding the Melbourne
Cup in Victoria. The 'Sunday Age' reports, "Chaos rules hospitals." A doctor from the Monash
Medical Centre claims understaffing and overcrowding are jeopardising patient safety in Melbourne
emergency departments. The 'Sunday Times' says, "Doctors' groups slams Labor health plans." Kevin
Rudd's reversal of policy to keep rather than scrap the Medicare safety net has angered the Doctors
Reform Society. It says the move shows interest in a fair go for patients is only superficial.
Health always figures as a major concern for voters. This election year is no different, but talk
of federal takeovers is a new dimension. Welcome to the program Shadow Minister


PAUL BONGIORNO: And good morning, I should say. We will go to hospital takeovers in a moment. But
during the week, the health of the Leader of the Opposition came to the fore with the story that he
had a heart procedure 14 years ago. Now, Labor claims that was a smear, but don't the voters have a
right to know that the alternative prime minister is physically fit for the job?

NICOLA ROXON: Well, I think it's apparent to everyone that Kevin is absolutely fighting fit. He has
an enormous amount of energy. He leaves someone like me who is 10 years younger than him left for
dead when it comes to the amount of energy and campaigning and his ability. There are thousands of
Australians around the country who have had some sort of heart procedure. I think this is really a
sign of desperation from the Government that they don't want to fight us on policy issues and our
plans for the future. They are just looking at everything to try to bring Kevin down, whether it's
fair or not. But I don't think the public will buy that.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You don't think it was a cover-up?

NICOLA ROXON: A cover-up by the Government?

PAUL BONGIORNO: No, a cover-up by Kevin Rudd that he didn't tell his biographers.

NICOLA ROXON: Not at all! Look, I just think that this is a nonsense. This is a cover-up by the
Government, trying to deflect and detract and distract from the fact that they don't have the sorts
of plans that we do for the future. We asked the Government repeatedly in Parliament this week to
debate us on our alternative plans for the future, but Mr Howard ran away from that and instead is
organising, getting people to run out these sorts of issues which are not the key battleground that
we are going to have when we face this election.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, in Question Time during the week we saw those amazing scenes on Thursday.
Now, didn't that do Kevin Rudd a fair bit of damage? Didn't he look like another screaming, ranting
politician, along the lines of Peter Costello and Tony Abbott, if you like?

NICOLA ROXON: No, I don't think so. I think there is always robust debate in the Parliament, but
what we really wanted a robust debate about and what we offered twice and what Kevin was offering
to the Prime Minister was actually to have a national debate on our alternative plans for the
future. Now, they didn't want to do that. Mr Howard would much rather talk about smear or
somebody's health issues 20 years ago or a range of other things of the past, when we're trying to
set out plans for the future, and he clearly doesn't have any that he is prepared to debate.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, going to plans for the future, isn't the decision to maintain the Medicare
safety net actually a bit backward-looking? Your predecessor Julia Gillard described it as a sham
when the Government introduced it, and of course, we have the Doctors Reform Society today
suggesting it is throwing fairness out the back window, if I could borrow a phrase.

NICOLA ROXON: Look, we know that the take-up is a bit uneven around the country and that's why
we're prepared to invest in services like the GP super clinics that we are planning which will
absolutely prioritise going to areas where there is a low take-up of the safety net. But the truth
is this is a universal program. It doesn't have universal benefits because there are some parts of
the country where they simply cannot get the services that are needed, and that's a failing of the
Howard Government's. But the real issue is there are now over 1 million people who rely on this
safety net. There are more and more people under enormous financial pressure. We've had five rate
rise increases since the last election. People are under enormous pressure with childcare costs and
petrol costs and grocery costs, and we are not going to take away something that provides some
relief for people with high health care costs when they are facing so many other pressure because
of the Howard Government's policy.

PAUL BONGIORNO: But isn't it in fact though a subsidy to wealthier patients who can afford very
expensive doctors?

NICOLA ROXON: Well, no, I don't think that is an accurate description. Even in an electorate like
mine in the western suburbs of Melbourne which is not a wealthy electorate, there are over 4,000
people any year who actually get some benefit from the safety net. It is for people who have high
healthcare costs, and we're going to make sure that we get services to communities that don't have
access to them, so that this will be a more universal protection. But we simply are not going to
take away something that provides some relief to working families when they are under pressure from
so many different directions, courtesy of the Howard Government.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Just going to your dental announcement, during the week the Prime Minister rather
strongly in Parliament suggested that you are short-changing your policy to the tune of $100

NICOLA ROXON: Well, look, he either misunderstood or wilfully ignored the fact that this is our
first instalment of our dental plan. We intend to use the funds from their program, and more, to
provide relief for the one in three Australians that are now unable to get dental care because of
cost. Our first instalment is a commitment to fund up to a million extra dental appointments and
treatments for those 650,000 people that are on waiting lists around the country, and Mr Howard
must know that his program so far has been a shambles. Just as an example, not one single person in
the Northern Territory under the age of 24 has had any benefit from his program in the last three
years. So their program is failing and they are wasting money committing more to it and we are
going to use it for a much better purpose.

PAUL BONGIORNO: When we are joined by the panel, we will run a calculator over Labor's health
plans. And as one critic put it, in Parliament last week we saw the mud wrestle at the end of the

DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER JULIA GILLARD (Thursday): Underneath we've got the trawling and the dirt
and the carry-on.

TREASURER PETER COSTELLO (Thursday): It's low-based politics and it tells us something about the
low-based nature of the Leader of the Opposition.

KEVIN RUDD (Thursday): You lack the courage to ever be Prime Minister of this country.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD (Thursday): I can beat the Leader of the Opposition without resort to

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on 'Meet The Press' with Shadow Health Minister

NICOLA ROXON. And welcome to our panel, Eleanor Hall from ABC Radio Current Affairs. Good morning,


PAUL BONGIORNO: And Steve Lewis from the News Limited papers. Good morning, Steve.

STEVE LEWIS, NEWS LIMITED: Good morning, Paul.

PAUL BONGIORNO: During the week, Health Minister Tony Abbott dismissed reports of Kevin Rudd's
heart health problems, attacking instead the health of Labor's policies.

HEALTH MINISTER TONY ABBOTT (Thursday): He doesn't have any health problems, he has credibility
problems. That election health slush fund is already being raided for things like GP clinics. It
looks like that's the funding source for Labor's aged care proposals, and he doesn't have a serious
policy. That's his problem.

ELEANOR HALL: Nicola Roxon, you have already earmarked $220 million out of your health reform fund
for these GP super clinics. Is Tony Abbott right? It this just an election health slush fund?

NICOLA ROXON: No, this is a $2 billion health and hospital reform plan and it clearly stated when
we announced it that we would be spending money to help kick-start these reforms. It is absolutely
designed for the purpose of us being able to spend money investing in frontline care, like GP super
clinics, and also funding announcements that we know are very important ones - a PET scanner for
Newcastle, an MRI machine for Cairns. There will be a range of commitments that are made from that
funding, but they will all form part of a national plan, in stark contrast to the Government, that
just has one plan for one hospital in one electorate in one State, with no guidelines that comply
with it.

ELEANOR HALL: So this $2 billion is not just for the purpose of bringing incentives into the State
system to ensure that that duplication between State and Commonwealth is reduced?

NICOLA ROXON: No, a big chunk of it will be for that and, as we've made quite clear, a big chunk of
it will also be for the Commonwealth to deliver on what it needs to, to help drive these reforms.
We need to bolster frontline care in the community, to make sure that people can get the care in
the places that are appropriate and when they need it, and not rely, for example, on our emergency
departments in hospitals simply because they can't find a GP.

ELEANOR HALL: If you are going to eat into this $2 billion, how are you going to ensure that the
States do measure up and don't need to be taken over by the Commonwealth?

NICOLA ROXON: Well, one of the things that the states legitimately complain about is that they need
to pull their weight, but the Commonwealth needs to, too, and I think under the Howard Government,
what we've seen is them having a real sort of patch-up approach to health care, nothing that is
expenditure that helps drive reform for the future, for the challenges that we need to face with an
ageing population, the increase of people with chronic disease. So the difference is that we are
going to spend the money for a purpose which will actually help drive the reform that's needed,
rather than the Government either patching up an electoral problem or something in a marginal seat
that has taken their interest.

STEVE LEWIS: Nicola Roxon, we've seen further headlines this morning out of Melbourne about the
state of the hospitals down there. You have threatened, if Labor wins, a federal takeover of the
State system. What makes you think that Canberra is any better place to run the hospitals than the
States and Territories?

NICOLA ROXON: Look, our proposal, even if we get to that, if our cooperative negotiation with the
States are not successful...

STEVE LEWIS: You have said you will go to a...

NICOLA ROXON: That's right, if that's not a successful way to bring about reform, we have said that
we will ask the public for approval to take over financial control of the hospitals. That would end
some of the cost and blame-shifting, particularly around the funding arrangements. The proposal is
not for Canberra to run the hospitals. If we got down that path, we've made quite clear that
hospitals might be run by local communities, they might be run by local governments, they might be
run by area health services, but that will only be if our negotiations with the States are not able
to bring about the sort of reform that we all know is needed.

ELEANOR HALL: What if you end up in a situation where you have some States meeting the benchmarks
and some States that need to be taken over by the Commonwealth? Isn't that a bit of a mishmash?

NICOLA ROXON: Well, look, that is possible, but let's actually deal with step one first, which is
if you have a Commonwealth government seriously committed to bringing about the change that's
needed, seriously committed to partnering the states and ending the blame game, seriously committed
to investing in areas that are already their responsibility, we think there can be enormous change.

STEVE LEWIS: Let's move to another integral part of the health system, the private health rebate,
the 30% rebate. Labor has said, "Yes, we will keep it," but you have not said whether you will keep
it in total. Can you say now that Labor, if elected, will maintain all of the ancillary measures
that encompass the private health rebate?

NICOLA ROXON: Yes, I can. We've committed to it. We've committed to the 30%. We've committed to the
35% and 40% for older Australians. It's similar to the safety net. We know that many people rely
heavily on the assistance that is now provided and would not be able to have private health
insurance if that rebate wasn't paid. And lifetime health cover and others that go with it, we are
committed to those. We understand that Australia now has a mixed health system, both private and
public, and we need them both to be strong in order for the community to be able to get the

STEVE LEWIS: So you will not wind back that 30% private health rebate, despite the fact that Labor
has been ideologically opposed to it in the past?

NICOLA ROXON: No, we won't.

STEVE LEWIS: Do you expect to be Health Minister in a Rudd government?

NICOLA ROXON: Well, I certainly would like to be. We're doing everything that we can to win this
election. We know it's going to be a very hard-fought election. But when I look at Tony across the
table and see how much he has lost interest in the health portfolio and really doesn't want to
drive the changes and meet the challenges of the future, I know I can do that job better and I
would be very excited to have that opportunity.

STEVE LEWIS: Have you been given a commitment by Kevin Rudd?

NICOLA ROXON: No, look, I haven't. I'm sure nobody has. We are focused on winning the election, not
divvying up the spoils. We've got a big challenge ahead of us, and I think that we can meet that
challenge, but let's focus on that first.

STEVE LEWIS: Just onto another issue that you've been an advocate of, the republic issue. You were
the spearhead of a cross-party push several years ago. If Labor wins, do you expect the republic
issue to be reignited?

NICOLA ROXON: Look, it's been a longstanding commitment of ours and there are many people, myself
included, who are very passionate about it, but I think that when there are so many pressures on
families across the country, there is some business that we will need to attend to first. Health
care is an obvious area - education, tackling climate change. But the republic will be an issue
that we will pursue passionately. Just Mr Howard has left us a few other things to fix up if we are
elected at this election that we may want to concentrate on in the first few months.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Just finally, given Labor's longstanding opposition to the safety net, do you give
a rock-solid personal guarantee, if I can put it that way, that should you win the election that
the safety net will stay?

NICOLA ROXON: It's funny that you use those words. Of course, many of your viewers would be aware
that Mr Abbott made a commitment which he did not keep. They are the only ones that are in the
business of breaking their promises. We are setting out a comprehensive plan and the safety net is
part of that plan that we are committed to and we will be running on for the election.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Thanks for being with us today, Nicola Roxon.

NICOLA ROXON: Thanks very much.

PAUL BONGIORNO: When we return, David Imber from Australians for Affordable Housing. And from 'The
Australian' newspaper's web site, Peter Nicholson and Paul Jennings team up for this cartoon view
of John Howard staring down moves for him to hand over the top job.

JOHN HOWARD: Oh, another busy day at the office. Better wipe my feet again otherwise Jeanette will
kill me.


Oh, thanks, Pete. Look, Jeanette, dear, I cannot get any sense out of those dills in the Cabinet.
Will you just tell me honestly, should I resign?

JEANETTE: Well, um...

JOHN HOWARD: That's exactly what I said to Downer. I will stay on as long as the party wants me,
longer even.

JEANETTE: Did you wipe your feet, dear?

JOHN HOWARD: Yes, but I'm happy to do it again.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet The Press. Housing affordability, either ownership or renting, is
the other side of the interest rate debate. Kevin Rudd made it a key plank of Labor's campaign.
Coalition MPs are certainly worried. They proposed a number of solutions at the joint party meeting
on Tuesday. The Prime Minister and Treasurer cool on many of the remedies. Both seem reluctant to
admit there is a crisis at all.

JOHN HOWARD (Thursday): A true housing crisis in this country is when there is a sustained fall in
the value of our homes, and in house prices, Mr Speaker, and for the Leader of the Opposition to
use careless language, Mr Speaker, is only aggravating rather than helping the situation.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Good morning and welcome to the program, David Imber of Australians for Affordable


PAUL BONGIORNO: The Prime Minister has got a point there, hasn't he? We know that the value of
people's homes has actually added to their wealth, being able to borrow on it, so they wouldn't see
it as a crisis at all.

DAVID IMBER: Well, the 1.1 million Australians who are currently experiencing housing stress -
two-thirds of those are in the rental market - they certainly believe there is a housing
affordability crisis, and so do we. It has never been more unaffordable to purchase a first home or
to rent for many people right across the country.

PAUL BONGIORNO: I guess part of the crisis for the Prime Minister is that many people who are
seeing, especially in Western Sydney, their housing values fall, that's pretty critical for them as

DAVID IMBER: Absolutely, but so are the record number of defaults in Western Sydney and right
across the country. We are seeing a real crisis now not just in terms of home ownership, but in
terms of the rental market, and really it's a combination of market failure and government inaction
that's got us to this point.

STEVE LEWIS: David Imber, you've done some modelling in the Prime Minister's own seat of Bennelong
on housing affordability. An average family needs eight times their income to buy the average
family home, if you like. How bad is Bennelong compared to other electorates?

DAVID IMBER: Look, it's very concerning for people in Bennelong who want to live in that area.
Housing prices used to be about four times average annual incomes. It's now six to seven times
across the country, but eight times in Bennelong. This just highlights that there are hot spots
right across the country and Bennelong is one of those seats that is experiencing housing stress,
and that's why we believe there should be a housing plan. And certainly the Prime Minister should
address it, given it's his seat.

STEVE LEWIS: Let's go to some of these solutions. You've talked about, as one of the remedies,
addressing the very lucrative tax concessions that are in the system. What are you talking about?
Are you talking about scrapping negative gearing, for instance?

DAVID IMBER: Look, I think it's important we have a conversation about tax. There has been
unlimited negative gearing in this country for many years and its champions say that it provides
affordable rental housing. But we've got the lowest vacancy rates in the country and people
struggling, 40, 50-deep at some inspections to get into property. The system isn't working, and
it's also made it much harder to be able to afford to buy your first home, because investors are
pricing out first home buyers, so we need to have a conversation on tax, and that's also always
very sensitive at election times to talk about things like negative gearing. But I think it's a
mistake to believe that we have to switch on or switch off tax concessions. We can phase in a
fairer system, and that's what the Productivity Commission, among other groups, have suggested we

ELEANOR HALL: Isn't there a danger, though, that if you do start tinkering with negative gearing,
you will have people withdrawing from the private investment market and you will simply make
housing affordability worse, particularly for those people who are renting?

DAVID IMBER: The housing market, Eleanor, is quite dynamic and we saw a lot of people move in and
out of property with the recent superannuation changes. It is never a static system. And at the
moment, the current tax system encourages investment in speculative property which has pushed
prices up for everyone. Only a small percentage of people own more than two properties in this
country. But the investors and speculators are really pushing up prices, fuelled by tax concessions
that all Australians are paying for.

ELEANOR HALL: So is your plan just about getting rid of the tax concessions or are you suggesting

DAVID IMBER: Absolutely we need to do more. We need to have a holistic plan to solve the housing
affordability crisis. It is a complex crisis. It affects renters and those in the market for home
ownership, and we need to have a comprehensive plan. At the moment there is not a federal housing
minister, there is not a federal vision for housing affordability, and we really need to have the
Commonwealth and the States working together to ensure that we don't have any more than 1.1 million
Australians in housing stress.

STEVE LEWIS: Just on that point, Peter Costello points the finger at the States and says a lot of
the blame has to lie with them and the fact that they're locking up land. Do you believe that is a
major problem, that the states are hoarding land and that if all land was released it would put
downward pressure on housing prices?

DAVID IMBER: Look, land supply is really an (inaudible). We have a shortage of available and
affordable housing. We don't have a shortage of land. Prices on the fringes of the cities are
actually quite low and haven't been increasing as fast as prices closer in.

STEVE LEWIS: So it would do nothing to housing affordability to release more land in the outskirts
of Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane? It might make a marginal difference in some markets, but it's not
the main game. The main game is ensuring we have a comprehensive policy solution which includes
increasing public and community housing, reforming rent assistance, reforming the tax system. They
are the main issues, and the States need to contribute to that. But land supply, particularly given
we're seeing now revelations in this weekend's papers that a lot of land is simply owned by
developers who aren't giving it up, so I think it is a real furphy on the land supply issue.

ELEANOR HALL: So what exactly are you asking the Commonwealth to do in terms of increasing the
affordability in the outskirts of cities and those areas you are talking about?

DAVID IMBER: We need to ensure that there is affordable housing where people want to live and
primarily that's within established cities or towns. The Federal Government has cut public and
community housing spending by 31% over the last decade, meaning that important housing tenure
actually serves less people than it ever has. That's a big concern for us. There is a real need for
public and community housing and we're not seeing that sort of increase.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Do you accept, though - and this is a point that the Federal Government has made -
that the States haven't cost effectively used the money they're getting, and in fact, I think the
Federal Government is now suggesting that it will directly fund people who want to build houses?

DAVID IMBER: Well, look, I think we want to see the Commonwealth and the States working closer
together and it's true that there has been less public housing built as a result of the cuts in
federal grants and we also think that the State governments should be spending more on public and
community housing, but I think it's something that low and middle-income earners could do without,
to be watching a debate about who is responsible, rather than what the solutions are and when those
solutions are going to be implemented.

PAUL BONGIORNO: At the end of the day, it's the market that decides all this, isn't it?

DAVID IMBER: Yes, but it's the Government that sets the market parameters. I mean, it's negative
gearing, capital gains tax concessions, it's the first home owner's grant. All of these are
government interventions in the market. We don't have a free market. We've got a slightly regulated
market with lurks and perks for those at the high end - speculators and developers - and really
we're seeing low and middle-income earners struggling.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Thanks for being with us today. And thanks to our panel - Eleanor Hall and Steve


PAUL BONGIORNO: In the coming weeks, as the federal election nears, we will be teaming up with
MySpace.Com to give our viewers - that's you - a chance to put questions directly to our political
guests. You will be invited to upload video of short, sharp questions like our to the men and women
who want your vote on election day. To find our more, go to MySpace. com/meetthepeople. Until next
week, goodbye.