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Transcript of press conference: Headspace Sunshine, Victoria: 30 August 2013: The Coalition's policy to improve mental health; PBO, Treasury and Finance Departments deny Labor’s claims; costings; Charter of Budget Honesty; Syria



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Joint Press Conference, Headspace Sunshine, Victoria August 30, 2013

Subjects: The Coalition's policy to improve mental health; PBO, Treasury and Finance Departments deny Labor’s claims; costings; Charter of Budget Honesty; Syria.

E&OE...........................................................................................................................................

TONY ABBOTT:

It's good to be here at the Sunshine headspace. I want to thank Professor Pat McGorry and his team for making Connie

Fierravanti-Wells, the Shadow Minister for Mental Health, and David McConnell, our candidate for Gellibrand, so welcome. I'm here today obviously, eventually, to comment on various issues that you want to question me on but particularly I'm here to launch

the Coalition's mental health policy for the 2013 campaign.

Mental health is the hidden epidemic in modern Australia. Youth mental health is a particularly important issue. In any one year, some 25 per cent of youngsters aged under 25 will experience a mental health issue. I regret to say that the principle cause of

death of people under 25 is now suicide. Seventy-five per cent of mental health issues become apparent before the age of 25 and mental health accounts for some 60 to 70 per cent of the disease burden for people under 25.

So, mental health is a very important issue in our society. For too long, mental health has been neglected but I'm pleased to say

that in recent years the Australian Government, and the states, to their credit, have been doing much more in this area. When I was the Health Minister in 2006, the then Government announced the $1.9 billion better access to mental health programme. It

was one of the significant achievements of the former Government in which I served. Back in 2010, in Opposition, the Coalition announced our support for a dramatic expansion of the headspace youth mental health centres that had begun in my time as

Health Minister and also our support for a significant expansion of the EPIC - Early Psychosis Intervention Centres. To its credit, the current Government has largely adopted those policies. We are in the process of expanding the headspace centres from the

current 55 to about 90 and the Coalition fully supports that expansion.

Today, I announce that an incoming Coalition government will commit $18 million to giving Orygen, the Orygen Mental Health Research Centre, which Pat McGorry has founded and heads - we will provide Orygen with this funding to become a centre of

excellence in youth mental health research. We also announced today $5 million for the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre so that they can improve access to mental health treatment through e-health needs. Again, this is a very important way of

enabling young people to access the information they need and ultimately the services they need if they are to receive the help that they deserve from our society. We will also commission from the mental health commission, a review of the effectiveness of

our current mental health treatments and programmes because as in all things this is a work in progress.

As a former health minister I well understand that we have never spoken the last word here. We have never spoken the last word. We are always learning more and as our knowledge increases, as our awareness grows, we are always further developing our

programmes, our treatments and this is abundantly true here in the mental health space because it's a subject which until recently had a great deal of stigma attached. I think because of the great work of people like Pat McGorry, a former Australian of the Year,

we understand so much more, we accept so much more readily but this is an area where we are constantly expanding and developing. What I announce today is not an attempt to reinvent the wheel, not an attempt to start again from a clean slate. You

might have noticed that I haven't been critical of the Government in this area because I accept that when it comes to mental health both sides of politics want to do the right thing, both sides of politics are essentially supporting the good work that our

mental health teams are certainly doing. We want to build on the foundations, we want to build on the strength we've developed over the last few years.

I'm going to ask Connie, the Shadow Minister, to speak briefly to this announcement and then I'll ask Pat McGorry to support

these remarks and then we’ll take some questions on the policy and then I might allow Pat to graciously withdraw and we'll take some more general questions.

Connie, over to you.

Tony Abbott Federal Member for Warringah | Leader of the Opposition

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CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Thank you, Tony. Can I say that today's announcement builds on your commitment in this area, Tony, that you began when you were the Health Minister. It has been a journey and it is a journey as Tony has correctly said, that is continuing. One in five people

in Australia have a mental health issue and as Tony correctly pointed out, suicide is now the highest killer of young people between 15 and 24 years of age.

Can I particularly pick up on the comments that Tony made about the National Mental Health Commission? The commission will

be resourced to enable it to undertake an important assessment of all our mental health programmes, both at a government and non-government level and this very much picks up the advice that we've received from Professor John Mendoza in his recent

report Obsessive Hope Disorder.

Our intention is to make sure that we look at and spend our money wisely in the most effective programmes and in so doing, we want programmes to be targeted. We want programmes to be cost effective but we also want to ensure that as part of that we pick

up the gaps that currently exist in research and in workforce development and training to ensure that the needs of our Australians, both young and old, all Australians, their needs are met, not just in metropolitan areas but also in rural, regional and remote areas.

Thank you.

TONY ABBOTT:

Thanks, Connie. Pat?

PATRICK MCGORRY:

Mr Abbott, Connie, I just want to, on behalf of all my colleagues at Orygen and headspace and indeed all the people working in

mental health research around Australia, our colleagues who are all contributing to this great mission really to improve the mental health of Australia. I just want to thank you for this tremendous support you're providing, this leadership on this - I think a nation-building issue, mental health. It's come out of the shadows. Australia is actually the country in the world where this is progressing in the best way and I think for the next decade this is one of the things we really have to improve as you say, building on what's

gone before.

I particularly appreciate your acknowledgment of this as a bipartisan issue. This is something that all political leaders, I think, deserve credit for in this space but particularly Mr Abbott because I think when he was Health Minister, as you've heard, he came

and visited and listened to our young people and I think that that commitment is, as you can see today, continuing on and we really appreciate it.

We do need the engine rooms of new knowledge and translation to be supported and that's what this announcement from an

Orygen point of view will secure. It will secure the next generation of research. We all know the treatments and interventions in mental health need to be improved upon, you know we've made progress but we need to make more and we need to make it

available to people at the frontline in the community around the country because so many people with mental health are still getting a very raw deal and in a rich country like Australia that's not acceptable. So, we have to improve our knowledge and our

translation of skills and knowledge across the country.

Young people are an absolutely vital part of this because they experience the main burden of the onset of mental health, as Mr Abbott just outlined. Seventy-five per cent of mental disorders appear before the age of 25, that's why the youth focus is so

critical. Of course other parts of the life span do need support too. There are previous generations of people with mental illness that have been left on the scrap heap we have to bring them back into the mainstream of Australian life, decent housing, decent

employment opportunities for them too. So, in other areas of mental health there's a lot more work to do as well. I welcome the announcement about the Mental Health Commission being strengthened to look at this issue because we've got to spend the

money wisely, we've got to put it in evidence-based programmes not in red tape and we've got to actually make sure that every Australian with mental health gets a fair deal just the same as they would with cancer, with diabetes or cardiovascular disease.

That's not occurring at the moment and so we have a lot of work to do but Australia is very well positioned and with this type of commitment from the top of our political leadership to this issue, I'm very confident we will actually see major progress over the

next five or ten years.

So, thank you very much.

TONY ABBOTT:

Thanks so much Pat. Now, we'll take some questions on mental health issues and then general issues. So, start off on mental health issues.

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QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, can you just give us a bit more detail about this review and I suppose the obvious question that arises is will funding still - do you guarantee funding in spite of the review?

TONY ABBOTT:

Yes, we do. We are not in the business of cutting health. We appreciate that our front-line health professionals, our front-line

health workers are under a great deal of pressure. They do not deserve their funding cut. The only people who've cut health funding in recent times are the current Government which cut $1.6 billion from public hospital funding and, as we know, has

reduced Medicare funding as well, as well as delaying the introduction of drugs on to the PBS.

So, we're not in the business of cutting health funding as any of you who were following the announcements that Joe Hockey made the other day would know. We can more than cover the costs of our major campaign commitments out of sensible savings.

No cuts to health, no cuts to education, no cuts to pensions, no changes to the GST, all of the scare that we've seen from Mr Rudd and his team is just that. Scares based on lies.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, you've said repeatedly there will be no cuts to education. Does that include universities?

TONY ABBOTT:

Let's stay on mental health and then we can go on to general issues.

QUESTION:

A question for Professor McGorry and perhaps you as well Mr Abbott. The policy has training and career support for up to 12,000

mental health clinicians, what about support for people with a mental illness who might need more support in trying to find employment as well. You're saying about jobs, jobs, jobs but there doesn't seem to be anything new there within this policy.

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, there is nothing specifically for that in this policy but there are already a range of services available and by improving our

knowledge, through funding Orygen as a centre of excellence in youth mental health, over time we will develop better and more effective techniques for trying to ensure that young people with mental health issues do get into employment.

One of the insights of Orygen is that it is more than possible to take people from a bad space to a good space, to take people

from a position where it's very hard for them to function, particularly in employment, to a position where they can function in employment because the objective of all of our health treatments, mental and physical health treatments, is to make people well,

to make people whole.

So, I take your point, Tom, that there is no specific additional funding for mental health employment services in this particular policy but I'm acutely conscious of their importance. There was considerable additional funding for mental health employment

services in the better access to mental health policy that I released back in 2006 but we have to accept that these are different fiscal circumstances, in part because of the actions of the current Government. We will do what we usefully can now. We will do

more in the years to come.

One of the reasons why I keep saying that the foundation of better services is a stronger economy is because obviously the stronger the economy, the stronger the revenue, the more money there is available to spend on the services we need.

Pat, sorry, that was a very long answer, do you want to say anything on that subject?

PATRICK MCGORRY:

Just to add vocational recovery is an absolutely essential part of what we're trying to do here with youth mental health, it is a

central feature of headspace. One of our researchers [inaudible] has produced data which this announcement will support further work in which shows that even young people with a serious mental illness like psychotic disorder, schizophrenia, 85 per cent of

those young people can return to school or work with the right type of intervention. That's come out of the research that we've carried out at Orygen.

So, we hope to do more of that and to translate that into other parts of Australia.

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QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, I have one more question on this if that’s alright. As you would be well aware, one of the things that's important to people with mental illness is feeling comfortable about where they're being treated. Can you guarantee that this review won't cut

places where people feel comfortable and force them somewhere else?

TONY ABBOTT:

Again, yes, I can. We are not about cutting services and the people on the Mental Health Commission are absolutely committed to the best possible treatment for people with mental health issues. Now, I think the best people to try to ensure that we are doing

the right thing are the members of the Mental Health Commission and their support staff. We are trying to make the strongest good-faith effort that we can in current circumstances to improve these services and that's why we're going to have this review,

not with an idea, not with the objective of radically changing things but with the idea that we have a good foundation, how do we make what is a good and improving system even better? That's what we're trying to achieve here.

Connie, do you want to add to that?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Just to add to that, what's really important in mental health is that we know what works. We spend the money where it works and

we have a workforce to deliver those vitally important services. That encapsulates where we want to go in relation to this and, as I said, it's very much one of those structural issues that Professor Mendoza recently recommended and has been a

recommendation in a number of the reviews that will also help, as I said, to identify where the gaps are and ensure that we are spending resources in the best way possible.

QUESTION:

I imagine this [inaudible] also matches the commitment from the Government on the mental health spending. How much is the

total mental health spend and is it quarantined so post your review there's no way that mental health funds currently allocated to mental health can be diverted?

TONY ABBOTT:

Latika, let me say it again - no cuts to health. No cuts to health. Now we don’t rule… Well, no cuts to health means no cuts to

mental health. We don't rule out shifting money from bureaucracies into front-line services. We certainly don't rule out that. But no cuts to health, in fact there's a modest additional spend under the policy that we announced today and we matched the

Government's commitments to more youth headspace centres because, on this, there is essentially a bipartisan agreement that mental health is the silent epidemic of modern times. We do have to do more and by investing more money in mental health

treatments, we will, over time, be a more productive society.

QUESTION:

I suppose, just one more on mental health, do you promise to accept the recommendations of the review? For example, if it recommends more acute mental health beds in hospitals, will you accept that and I guess the other thing is look at the interface

maybe just comes to mind like the NDIS and mental health and as you say employment services as well.

TONY ABBOTT:

We want the review to tell us what it believes is the best way to make a good system better. We will be making it clear to them that the fiscal position is very, very tight. One of the things that we've done well in this country, though, is we have applied cost

effectiveness testing to different parts of our health system, cost effectiveness testing has long been applied to the introduction of new drugs on to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. In more recent times, cost effectiveness testing has been applied to the

introduction of new treatments on to Medicare through the Medicare Services Advisory Committee. I would like to see a similar rigour brought to mental health because, if we can, with a reasonable evidentiary base, say that additional mental health services

will be cost effective over time, obviously that gives us a better basis for additional funding.

QUESTION:

Will you be pushing the states at all for more money in this area?

TONY ABBOTT:

I’m wanting to work in the closest possible collaboration with the states and to give credit where it's due, when I was the Health

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Minister I worked very closely with the then NSW Health Minister, Morris Iemma, subsequently Premier, who had a real passion for improvement in this area and look, I'll be working closely with the states. I'll be expecting the states to at least maintain their

current funding in this area but you won't find me, should we win the election, someone who gives the states ultimata, take it or leave it offers. We'll talk, we'll negotiate, we'll improve but we will act like a responsible adult government talking to other

responsible adult governments.

QUESTION:

Just on shifting money, potentially, from bureaucracy to front-line services in mental health, would those involve job cuts and would those job cuts be included in the 12,000 you've already foreshadowed?

TONY ABBOTT:

I'm not going to get into that level of specificity, Latika, just to say that we are going to protect and preserve front-line services and

that means protect and preserve, as far as we possibly can, front-line staffing but if, at the end of the day, there are fewer staff in the Department of Health in Canberra, fewer bureaucrats in Canberra, well, I think that's just the price we may well pay for getting

better front-line services within at least the existing funding envelopes.

QUESTION:

Professor McGorry, does this concern you about what might go, what services might go under this review?

TONY ABBOTT:

But there are no services that will go under this review.

QUESTION:

You're assessing the effectiveness though, if there are some the government deems to be not effective?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, it’s not a question of what the government deems, it's a question of what the mental health commission deems. That's the body doing the review and the Mental Health Commission is as familiar with these issues as anybody can be and if we move from

less effective treatments to more effective treatments, that surely is a good thing. If services which are currently less effective are upgraded to be more effective, and proved to be more effective, again, that surely is a good thing. The Mental Health Commission

is the last group that are going to be taking an axe to mental health services and that's why we think it's appropriate that the Mental Health Commission undertake this review.

QUESTION:

How long will that review go for?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, we're not going to rush them but we want it to be as expeditious as is possible.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible] have been criticised in some of its job cuts for reclassifying what front-line services are. Can you rule out the fact that

that won’t happen?

TONY ABBOTT:

I should point out that the Commonwealth does not, as a general rule, directly provide services itself, it funds others to provide services so when it comes to medical services, we fund doctors to provide services, when it comes to hospitals we fund the states

and the private sector to provide services. When it comes to pharmaceuticals we fund the drug companies and pharmacists to provide services. So, it's not really a question for us but, provided, as it will be, the funding is maintained, staffing changes at the

front line should not be necessary.

QUESTION:

I think Leah's question was actually to Professor McGorry.

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TONY ABBOTT:

I was just making it quite clear that I have said repeatedly today we've not talking about cuts to services. Pat.

PROFESSOR MCGORRY:

I've got a lot of faith in Professor Allan Fels, the head of the National Mental Health Commission. He absolutely understands these

issues and I think a review of spending is fine because, as you all know, I've advocated for growth and investment in mental health over time and I still believe that is necessary but we've got to make sure that investments that we make, as both Tony and

Connie have both been saying, are well targeted just like in any area of health care. We can't afford to waste precious dollars in mental health as in any other area. I will always fight for retention of front-line staff. I work every day in the health system and I

know how difficult it is for people to get access so we cannot have cuts and you've heard a commitment to that from Mr Abbott today. What we can insist upon is evidence-based care. I'm a researcher, I've dedicated my life to making sure we have an

evidence-based approach in mental health which we didn't have until the last 10 or 15 years and I'm totally committed to that and I don't think we should be investing in things that don't have an evidence base.

QUESTION:

Professor, do you think in the system, in your experience that there is too much money in the bureaucracy as opposed to front-line? Do you think there is waste there?

PROFESSOR MCGORRY:

You can always improve the efficiency of we're doing in health care. We're spending lot of money on health care. We can always have a look at it, surely. I trust the people that would be having a look at it.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, when you release your policy costings, what exactly-

TONY ABBOTT:

Ok, well I assume we're moving from mental health issues to other issues and thank you for the interest you've shown in mental

health issues. I’ve got to say that this particular policy has attracted more interest than some of the other policies that I've announced over the last few weeks. If I may just offer a couple of comments before we take questions.

Day eight, eight days to go, rather, before Australia votes. I want to stress the fact that this election pits the positive plans of the

Coalition against more of the same from the Rudd Government. Every day I'm out there promoting our policies for a stronger Australia and a better future. It's more and more obvious that all Mr Rudd has to offer is a scare campaign. The Government has

no record to defend and no vision for the future. Again, I want to be crystal clear to the people of Australia what will happen if you change the government. We'll build a stronger economy so that everyone can get ahead, we'll scrap the carbon tax, we'll end the

waste, we'll stop the boats, we'll build the roads of the 21st century but to do all of that we need a strong and stable majority government and for the next eight days that will be the message that you will be hearing from me to do what's necessary to create

hope, reward and opportunity, to ensure that we get the reduced pressure on cost of living and the increased job security that the Australian people are entitled to expect, we need a strong and stable majority government in Canberra.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, when you release your policy costings, what exactly will you release? Your independently done costings, a letter from

your so-called angels or full costings from the Parliamentary Budget Office or all of the above?

TONY ABBOTT:

As you know, all of our policies are being fully costed and fully funded and, as you saw from the Parliamentary Budget Office yesterday, you saw a letter making it quite clear that they are working on the basis of the information that we are giving them and I

think implicit in that was a statement of confidence in the material that we have released so far, so what you will know in good time before polling day is exactly what we're spending, exactly what we're proposing to save and exactly how different the overall

budget bottom line will be under us than under the Government.

QUESTION:

It seems that "in good time", the phrase we've been hearing, is going to be less than a week. For such important figures for voters

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who are mostly not economists, is that really good time?

TONY ABBOTT:

What people want to know is that under the Coalition taxpayers' dollars will be respected and I think they've already got a pretty good idea that this is a Government which has got all of its costings, all of its forecasts wrong. What we've seen over the last

couple of days in increasingly hysterical statements from Mr Rudd and his Ministers, they've got their own figures wrong, now they've got the Coalition's figures wrong as well.

QUESTION:

You said repeatedly there will be no cuts to the education budget. Does that include universities [inaudible].

TONY ABBOTT:

What we've said for months now is that we don't rule out accepting savings which the Government has proposed and obviously

you'll see more from us on this in coming days. We don't like many of the things that this Government has done. We think many of the things that this Government has done are a breach of faith with their own commitments but nevertheless, we can't rule out

proceeding with expenditure reductions that this Government has already announced.

QUESTION:

You're not releasing your costings until late next week, isn't Labor right to say you're hiding them?

TONY ABBOTT:

Absolutely not because they will all be there for the public to see and make a judgment about before polling day.

QUESTION:

What did you make of Treasury and Finance's decision and the PBO's decision last night to release those letters?

TONY ABBOTT:

It was a slap in the face for the Government. Mr Rudd's claims that there was some problem with our costings, some problems with our figures have exploded in his face and the point I make is that when it comes to costings, when it comes to Mr Rudd’s

statements about budgetary matters, as long as his lips are moving he’s not telling the truth.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, if Labor has got the figures so wrong why not just end the confusion and just release the costings today?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, that’s exactly what Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb and Mathias Cormann did on Wednesday. They fronted the Canberra press gallery and subsequently Joe Hockey fronted the Press Club, they provided a list of all of our saves - all of our saves so far,

$31 billion of saves. Then the following day Mr Rudd and Mr Bowen and Senator Wong came out and said that the Treasury disagrees, that the Parliamentary Budget Office disagrees and within a few hours the Treasury and the Parliamentary Budget

Office came out and said that the Government is wrong. Simply wrong. Now, this is an implicit statement that our costings are accurate.

QUESTION:

In light of the comments from the head of Treasury and the head of Finance, does there need to be any changes to the Charter of

Budget Honesty legislation process? Just the way this whole thing has been used in this campaign?

TONY ABBOTT:

We are precisely following the Charter of Budget Honesty, the Charter of Budget Honesty, Sid as you might remember, was amended when the Parliamentary Budget Office was set up to provide that policies could be submitted either to the Treasury and

Finance or to the Parliamentary Budget Office and that’s exactly what we’ve done.

QUESTION:

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Warren Truss said yesterday that all regional contracts or regional grants that aren’t signed into contract will be cancelled. That

includes a $10 million grant to the Fremantle Football Club and about $40 million in grants to WA community organisations. Are these really cuts that you are going to go ahead with?

TONY ABBOTT:

Some of the grants that this Government has announced, obviously, will be matched by us. I’m not sure about the particular ones

you refer me to now. We have indicated that some funding, some spending that’s funded by the mining tax won’t be going ahead. Where the Coalition has decided to match that particular spending we’ll be making a particular announcement.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, we’ve just received some breaking news that a unit of Australian Special Forces troops are under investigation for

mutilating a body. Have you been briefed on that and what is your response?

TONY ABBOTT:

I have not.

QUESTION:

Is that unacceptable?

TONY ABBOTT:

I’ve heard, I’ve read no news reports, I’ve had no briefings. I’m not going to jump to conclusions about Australian Special Forces and at some point in the future, if you want to ask me a question I’ll be happy to answer it but I’m just not going to answer this

question on the basis of no knowledge whatsoever.

QUESTION:

On Syria, can you just lay out some principles, if you’re elected on September 7, does any action by Australia require a UN Security Council resolution. Just what are the principles on which you would act?

TONY ABBOTT:

First thing to say is that what has happened in Syria; the apparent gassing of hundreds and hundreds of innocent civilians is an

abomination. That’s the first thing to say. Second thing to say, is that this matter is being investigated by the United Nations and may well be subject to UN Security Council resolutions and it would be wise to wait for that investigation and those resolutions

before taking further steps. Obviously, it is the general disposition of the Australian government, regardless of whether it’s a Labor government or a Coalition government to support our friends and allies wherever we can. Fourth, we should be very reluctant to

get too involved in very difficult conflicts which we may not be readily be able to influence for good. We should be very careful about getting involved in a civil war between two deeply unsavoury sides. This is a time for cool heads not for intemperance or for

belligerence.

QUESTION:

You sound like you are erring on the side of not taking action.

TONY ABBOTT:

I should point out that should any action be taken it will be taken by countries with the capability to do so and Australia is not one of those. We have no military forces in the Mediterranean. We don’t have access to the kind of, we don’t have ready access to the

kind of weaponry that apparently is, possibly going to be involved should anything be done. This idea that Australia is going to be a key player here is, I think, to rather exaggerate our own importance.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible] our allies should?

TONY ABBOTT:

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It’s important to do what you reasonably can to uphold the universal standards of decency. It’s important to do what you reasonably can to ensure that abominable acts don’t recur. But again, we’ve got to be very careful here to avoid making bad

situations worse. We all know what a powder keg the Middle East is. We’ve seen western intervention in Iraq and in Afghanistan, for the record, I strongly supported western intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan for the record, I strongly supported Australia’s

involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan but we have to digest the lessons of both of those interventions. I certainly do not rule out future interventions in conflicts but this is a very, very difficult conflict, it is a civil war between two equally unsavoury sides.

We’ve got to be very careful about actions that might, in the long run, make a bad situation worse. As I said, the UN is investigating, there may well be Security Council resolutions down the track. This is a time for cool heads. It’s not a time for

intemperate action and it’s not a time for Australia to exaggerate its own role in what is a very difficult international situation.

[ends]

© Tony Abbott MHR 2010 | Authorised by Tony Abbott MHR, Level 2, 17 Sydney Rd, Manly NSW 2095

www.tonyabbott.com.au

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