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Health tops COAG agenda -

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Health tops COAG agenda

AM - Thursday, 20 December , 2007 08:03:00

Reporter: Chris Uhlmann

TONY EASTLEY: Labor's political domination will be on show today when the Council of Australian
Governments (COAG) meets in Melbourne.

It's the first gathering of Australia's leaders since Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister.

Health is at the top of the agenda, but education, climate change, water, infrastructure,
Indigenous affairs and skills training are also up for discussion.

Chief political correspondent Chris Uhlmann reports.

CHRIS UHLMANN: It's a deliberately ambitious agenda, designed to showcase the work ethic of the
Rudd Government and the advantage of having coast-to-coast Labor.

ANNA BLIGH: Infrastructure.

ALAN CARPENTER: Skills.

MORRIS IEMMA: Reforming health.

JOHN BRUMBY: The Murray-Darling.

KEVIN FOLEY: Making education the number one priority.

CHRIS UHLMANN: The nation's leaders and treasures meet in Melbourne today, and Victorian Premier,
John Brumby sees that as a symbol of a new age of cooperative federalism.

JOHN BRUMBY: I'm just delighted that the first COAG meeting is being held in Melbourne, which was
of course the seat of our federation and I think most people would describe as the idea centre of
Australia.

CHRIS UHLMANN: That claim won't be up for discussion because it would ensure an argument and the
premiers and Prime Minister are keen to avoid fights.

All agree with NSW Premier Morris Iemma that the most urgent task is fixing the health system. But
some will dispute his way of measuring success when it comes to carving up the Commonwealth's
$100-million to help reduce elective surgery waiting lists.

MORRIS IEMMA: We will be seeking our fair share of that, given that we're already meeting two of
the key performance targets.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Fixing the ailing hospital system is a task the premiers believe will requires a lot
more Commonwealth money when the next Federal-State health agreement is negotiated.

With rampant health inflation, South Australia's acting premier Kevin Foley paints a grim picture
of the future.

KEVIN FOLEY: South Australia's entire state budget will be consumed by the health budget probably
in the next 25 to 30 years.

CHRIS UHLMANN: There are other large questions. In the West, Premier Alan Carpenter, needs more
people with more skills to feed his booming economy.

ALAN CARPENTER: There are other issues that are critically important as well, and they'll be
important to other states. But for the West Australian economy and therefore the national economy,
we desperately need more workers.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Queensland's Anna Bligh wants the Commonwealth to pitch in and help build the
infrastructure demanded by Australia's fastest growing state.

ANNA BLIGH: We want to make sure that we're working hand in hand so that the public investment,
whether it's from the State or the Commonwealth, is - we drive those dollars as far as we can and
we get the best economic return on them.

CHRIS UHLMANN: The South Australians want to talk about the Murray Darling, even if Victoria has
ensured it's off the agenda for this meeting.

KEVIN FOLEY: We have a serious dispute with Victoria. We are the downstream State when it comes to
water and we don't accept Premier Brumby's and the Victorian Government's position.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But, since it's birth, one word has defined Labor: solidarity. And above all else
that's what we can expect to see publicly showcased today.

KEVIN FOLEY: As Kevin Rudd said, the blame game, the sort of skirmishes between Commonwealth and
State Governments has to end.

CHRIS UHLMANN: And in one sense the blame game is dead. Because, from now on, whatever goes wrong,
it will be Labor's fault.

TONY EASTLEY: Chief political correspondent Chris Uhlmann.