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Press Gallery, Parliament House, Canberra, 19 October 1999: transcript of doorstop interview [Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI); David Kemp]



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

Kim Beazley

Transcript of doorstop interview, Press Gallery, Parliament House,

Canberra, 19 October 1999

 

E & OE - Proof Only

Subjects: MRI, David Kemp

JOURNALIST:

Mr Beazley, the Health Minister is leaving the door open for a Royal Commission into the MRI scam. How likely do you believe that would be?

BEAZLEY:

The door must remain open and the door must be walked through. The simple fact of the matter is this: an Auditor-General's inquiry cannot get into the Minister's office or to the Minister himself. A Royal Commission can call the Minister to give evidence to the extent of his knowledge and ultimately make a judgement about the degree of his culpability for what has obviously been a massive Budget leak, producing what he describes as a scam. Now, it's important to understand, the Minister is out there identifying the principal problem as people backdating contracts. There are not 52 backdated contracts. We are being informed constantly, and this is why we're asking the Minister for the dates, of people who were signing up contracts as late as six hours before the Budget was brought down itself. This is not post-Budget. Those who are post-Budget are obviously the people who weren't in on the joke. The people who were in on the joke are the people that we are concerned about, we're obviously concerned about the others as well. But the point is this: there are a large number of people who had knowledge of the Minister's cast of mind. Remember this is a Ministerial decision against Departmental advice and against the recommendation of the technology group.

JOURNALIST:

The Minister says the decision was widely expected, that he had been negotiating with the College of Radiologists. Weren't these people taking a pretty good punt?

BEAZLEY:

You don't take a punt on a $3 million purchase. Well-off though the radiologist may be, they don't have the spare $3 million to fling around the place. This is not a punt. This is based on certain knowledge. And that is the issue here. This is the most serious scam I think that the Government is directly associated with in which there appears to be at least somewhere situated within it decisions that are emanating from the Minister's office. We haven't had this before in this Government and that's why a Royal Commission is needed.

JOURNALIST:

Are you alleging corruption or just sloppiness?

BEAZLEY:

I don't know what is involved here. That could only be properly established by a proper inquiry. And a proper inquiry has to be a Royal Commission. All I can go on is what the Minister himself says. He says this is a scam. So, with the Minister himself saying that, that quite clearly is territory to which attention needs to be paid very seriously by this Government and they're not doing so, so far.

JOURNALIST:

Aside from the question of the leak and the scam, what now needs to be done to clean up the mechanics of this decision to make sure that the taxpayer is not funding any more machines than they should?

BEAZLEY:

The original advice from the Department seems to be quite sensible, and the original advice of the medical technologists seems quite sensible, and that is this: that they should have identified areas of need on a regional basis, mainly, in relation to the provision of these services, allowed a small number of additional machines into the areas associated with that and that ordinary process by which the number of these machines has built up over the last decade continued. That was the advice of the Department and it seems to be eminently sensible. So, obviously what is required is to return to the situation the Department recommended.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think the Minister should have foreseen what would have happened with regards to this rebate?

BEAZLEY:

I think that is quite obvious. I mean, the moment he started chatting to people who might have had a direct interest in this he should have sought some more advice on whether or not their discussions with him amounted to a conflict of interest. If he was prepared to swear them all to secrecy, which apparently he was prepared to do, then he clearly thought there was a possibility some advantage might be taken of the conversations that he was having with them. There is so much inconsistency ... Minister's advice. Firstly, he says 'I didn't tell them anything'. And then he says, 'I swore them to secrecy'. I mean, you don't swear people to secrecy on nothing. You swear people to secrecy on something. Well, what was it? Well, obviously, it seemed to be advice about what the Minister's intentions were and what the Government's intentions were ultimately. So, quite clearly, we have here massive murkiness which has cost the taxpayer $150 million and a murkiness which cannot be cleared up by anything other than a Royal Commission.

JOURNALIST:

What ... John Howard...?

BEAZLEY:

Well, if John Howard takes seriously pride in his Government, he'll do it. If he doesn't take it seriously, he won't. This is one of those, it doesn't often happen in the life of a government but it does happen from time to time. This is one of those occasions when we get to understand the and whether or not he really wants a government which has not only the appearance of probity, but the reality. So, it's a major test for John Howard, this one. You take all the big budget Ministers now. You've got Kemp utterly discredited. You've got Jocelyn Newman in Family Services utterly discredited. You've got Wooldridge, now in serious trouble. You've got John Moore, a laughable object. These are the four big areas of government expenditure, the four big Ministers in the portfolios that directly impact upon the life of the nation. And the Prime Minister has Ministers failing in all of it.

JOURNALIST:

And with regards to David Kemp, how big a defeat was it for him in Cabinet? What's his future as a senior Minister?

BEAZLEY:

Well, it was a picture, sitting where I sat in Parliament yesterday and you looked across: Costello and Reith with faces like thunder. They'd clearly been arguing that morning that the Prime Minister should have left himself with the wriggle room that he had tried to leave himself within the previous Friday. As you know, and I know, the public will never believe that the Government has really retreated from this. All that has happened is that Kemp has been humiliated. That will sit there in the bottom drawer waiting for the opportunity to drag it out, just like the goods and services tax. Just like the goods and services tax which was on the 'never ever'. So there'll be the Americanisation of the higher education on the 'never ever'. And Kemp knows it but Kemp is going down. He's going down as a temporary sacrifice. We now have the ironic position, even though the Labor Party is in Opposition, and it is only a year since the last election and two years before the next, the Labor Party now has more higher education policy than the Government.

Ends

 

 

jy  1999-10-21  09:47