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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 8 May 2006: Allergy Awareness Week; Budget; Medicare Gold; Labor; Medicare.

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Shadow Minister for Health Manager of Opposition Business


ISSUES: Allergy Awareness Week, Budget, Medicare Gold, Labor, Medicare

JULIA GILLARD: This week is food allergy awareness week. Anaphylaxis Australia will be launching the week this evening. The theme of the week is Supporting Allergic Friends Everywhere.

Now we know that allergies have doubled in Australian children in a generation, we just don’t know why that is occurring. It is unexplained, but allergies have doubled in a generation.

We know 10 per cent of children suffer from some form of food allergy, 1 per cent are allergic to peanuts. We know that one in 200 children will have a severe allergic reaction and that can be life threatening. And tragically we know up to 10 Australians die each year from anaphylactic shock. Now, we need to work out why allergies are increasing and we need to find a cure.

A Beazley Labor Government will commit $5 million to research into food allergies in the hope of finding a cure. And I am calling on Tony Abbott today to match Labor’s commitment in tomorrow nights Budget. With the Budget coming in the middle of food allergy awareness week, the Minister for Health should be taking this issue seriously and making sure that there are research funds available.

I also note today that John Ilhan, who is the head of Crazy John’s, probably better known to Australians as Crazy John, has actually committed $1 million of his own money to research into allergies in the hope of finding a cure. And the Victorian State Government has committed almost half a million dollars into research.

If State Governments are responding, if private individuals are making such generous commitments, it is time that the Howard Government did the right thing and matched Labor’s commitment for a $5 million research grant into

allergies which are affecting Australian children, worrying Australian parents, causing concern in our childcare centres and our schools. It is time to get this fixed in a Budget that we know has such a big budget surplus.

JOURNALIST: Given the whole debate about whether tax cuts might be overstimulating the economy and the size of the surplus, is this precisely the sort of thing you can spend money on and get a result for?

JULIA GILLARD: Well when you spend money on research into conditions like this, over the longer term if you can find a cure, it’s a great investment because you are going to save money. We know of course that there are kids around this country who need treatment, who everyday have to carry around an EpiPen with

adrenaline shots in case they have a food substance that unbeknown to them has got the food they are allergic to in it. When you have got all of that medical expenditure, if we could find a cure you would not only improve kids lives, you would not only take a burden off their parents shoulders but you have actually saved some money in the health system for the long term. So that is a prudent investment and an investment that should be made.

JOURNALIST: What else do you think, what else will you be looking out for in the Budget?

JULIA GILLARD: Well of course tomorrow’s Budget should have in the Budget papers the delivery of the COAG agenda. As we would all recall earlier in the year the State Labor Governments dragged the Howard Government kicking and screaming into making some additional investments in health. We would for example expect to see the $1.8 billion for mental health in this Budget or at least the start of it.

What we are worried about though is that that money won’t be spent effectively. With know that things like our mental health system need rebuilding from the ground up. They don’t need a tinker, they need a complete rebuild and that

rebuild can only be done in partnership with the States and whilst the process started off in partnership, the Howard Government has now walked away and is doing its own thing and as a result will be doing a less effective thing than it could have done if it was prepared to worked with the States and the Territories.

JOURNALIST: Was it your idea to dump Medicare Gold from Labor’s health policy platform?

JULIA GILLARD: After the last election we had a review process of the policies that Labor took to the election. At the time of that review we decided of course to set aside the fully costed policy which was Medicare Gold and I never thought we would be taking an identical policy to the next election.

However, we did at that Caucus review and Kim Beazley has since reiterated that there are key things in our health system that need fixing, that Medicare Gold pointed to. One of the biggest of those is that every year we waste about half a

billion dollars because frail aged people end up in acute hospital beds, they should be in residential aged care. It is dreadful for the older Australians involved and it is dreadful for the system. That structural problem in our health system

still needs resolving. At the next election we will have policies to resolve it if the Howard Government fails to act in the mean time.

JOURNALIST: So you will be maintaining some of the principles from Medicare Gold?

JULIA GILLARD: Yes we will because fixing that structural problem in our health system is vital to our health system. It amazes me that Tony Abbott can sit by cheerfully year after year watching half a billion dollars get wasted and doing absolutely nothing about it.

JOURNALIST: What did you make of suggestions that Stephen Smith should be moved from IR and possibly even yourself out of health as part of a broader effort to reinvigorate the Labor frontbench?

JULIA GILLARD: I see speculation come and go in the newspapers but it is just that. Stephen Smith is obviously engaged in the fight against the Howard Government’s extreme industrial relations legislation. We know that is already hurting families with the capacity to hurt families even more severely over time. Fighting on IR is a job for all of us. Kim Beazley is certainly well engaged in the industrial relations fight as is every member of Labor Caucus because there is

nothing more vital to us than getting rid of these extreme industrial relations laws.

JOURNALIST: Do you agree that this week is a test of Kim Beazley’s leadership?

JULIA GILLARD: I think Budget week obviously is about the Government’s Budget and Labor’s response. Kim will give Labor’s response on Thursday night and I am absolutely confident it will be a good one.

JOURNALIST: The problems you have identified in the health system would the Government be better off putting a lot more money into health than tax cuts?

JULIA GILLARD: Well what the Government would be better off doing is making the money that it spends, including the additional money coming through COAG, work for the system.

This is a Government that tipped money into health in the lead up to the last election, then it took money out of health at the last Budget, obviously we are expecting to see the COAG money in health tomorrow but the problem of the

Howard Government is whilst it spends from time to time, it doesn’t have a coherent plan about how to make Australia’s health system work. What we actually need is we need a Health Minister who isn’t off on a bike somewhere every day of the week, but who is actually at his desk working out how to improve Australia’s health system.

JOUNALIST: Do you think that Labor needs an experienced leader to win the next election?

JULIA GILLARD: Kim Beazley will be Leader at the next election and he is obviously an experienced Leader.

JOUNALIST: There is some concern in the Federal Court, well a Federal Court Judge has had problems in the way the Government prosecutes doctors misusing Medicare, do you see any wider implications of that?

JULIA GILLARD: I have noted those reports with concern this morning, that there was a Federal Court case, an issue about the statistical sampling of cases when a doctor is being prosecuted. Obviously we need a rigorous system to make sure that no one is abusing Medicare if there is any hole in the system

prosecutions then it has got to be fixed.

ENDS Contact: Kimberley Gardiner 0417 428