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Transcript of Press Conference: Parliament House, Canberra: 10 February 2006: COAG. \n



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PRIME MINISTER

10 February 2006

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP COAG PRESS CONFERENCE, PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA

Subjects: COAG.

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

PRIME MINISTER:

Ladies and gentlemen welcome to this news conference. We have just completed what I think all of us would describe as an outstandingly successful and cooperative meeting of the Council of Australian Governments. I start this conference by welcoming for the first time the new Premier of Western Australia, Mr Alan Carpenter. We expressed at our meeting today our very deep regrets at the circumstances which led to Dr Geoff Gallop’s resignation as Premier of Western Australia and whilst we very warmly welcome Alan, we were all saddened by no longer having in our midst a colleague who we warmly regarded and worked with very closely. All of us wish Geoff and Beverley Gallop every success as he grapples with his illness and every happiness in the future.

I’m very pleased to announce, and the communiqué will record the details of agreements that we reached in a number of important areas about some short to medium term initiatives and in the whole area of economic reform, a significant further commitment to long term economic reform across all parts of the Commonwealth.

We’ve agreed on a collective investment of about $1.1 billion in a number of new health initiatives designed to improve GP services; to assist through an injection of $150 million, in ensuring that nursing home patients do not remain longer than they should in public hospital wards. This has been an issue of concern to State Governments over a period of time. We’re also together going to invest more in meeting the challenge of the large number of younger people who remain in nursing homes and that is something to which both the Commonwealth and the States are contributing equal amounts. We’re also going to streamline and improve the coordination of the HAC Programme which is a very important vehicle for delivering, at grassroots level, health and community services and also the assessment process for admission to nursing homes.

On the broader front of course, we made a major commitment together to address the huge challenge of mental health. We will, by not later than June, earlier, have from our officials an

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assessment of individual areas of change and reform that are needed in mental health. Both the Commonwealth and the States recognise that additional resources are needed, but it should be said that at both levels additional resources have, over the recent past, been committed to the challenge of mental health. We need to involve the psychologists and the medical profession generally. We need, as part of the campaign on mental health, to address cannabis and amphetamine abuse which is a key, but not of course the only ingredient in the problem. We need to address the particular challenges of people who are without adequate support and care in the community leading to a failure to take regular medication and a disconnect from the disciplined lifestyle that is needed to tackle the problem of mental health.

As part of the health reform programme we are going to have a national health telephone network which will have a triage system to ensure the efficient use of available GP capacity on a 24 hour, 7-day-a-week basis. As a major component of that we’re going to include support services for mental health and we seek to engage the major non-government organisations such as Lifeline and Kids Help Line, both of which, along with other organisations of similar kind, are often in receipt of calls from people who have mental health problems. So in the health area, there are major initiatives. We have sought to make measured, identifiable improvements in a number of areas and I think the detailed examination will support that conclusion.

Another major initiative is to tackle this absurd problem that trade qualifications and skill qualifications in some parts of Australia, unbelievably in 2006, do not have full faith and credit recognition in other parts of the country. And we have committed ourselves to major change and reform in that area and I think that will be of extraordinary benefit to people with qualifications.

I might also mention in the health care area if I can go back to that again that we recognise that one of the big problems is the shortage of doctors. We have a report from the Productivity Commission and that report is being seriously examined and will come back to the next COAG meeting. We did agree today that there would be an increase from 10 to 25 percent in the number of fully-funded places* in university medical schools that will bring, for medical students, the figure of fully-funded places up to the same level as exists for other faculties. I want to make it clear that it is not the intention of the Commonwealth that this increase will in any way replace future increases in HECS funded places, nor be at the expense of existing HECS funded places. It’s an add-on; it’s an addition and we think it will be a valuable further initiative towards meeting the problem of the shortage of doctors. It is a problem the Commonwealth’s been doing a lot about it recently but more does need to be done and at the COAG meeting we will have an assessment of the number of additional funded medical places that will be needed in order to cope with the problem. But this is a very significant issue all around Australia and we think in the short term the measure taken in relation to fully-funded places. And to make that work better, we’re going to increase; the Commonwealth is going to increase from $50,000 to $80,000 the loan that will be available for fully-funded medical places. I mean these are decisions of course that are within the writ of the Commonwealth, but they are measures that have been supported fully by COAG today. But I emphasise they are not designed in any way to displace the places that would be available under the normal HECS process; they’re meant to be in addition to.

In the area of infrastructure regulation we have agreed on an improved streamlined approach that will involve a requirement that approvals be given within six months, a common set of principles and a common certification process. The Commonwealth is of the view that there would be advantage in having a single national regulator particularly in relation to export

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infrastructure and we reserve the right to legislate to that effect, although we will want to see how the new arrangements operate in relation to that.

For the longer term, I think it’s fair to say that the major decision coming out of today is the total endorsement of a national reform agenda which will take forward the process of economic reform in the human capital area in competition, in infrastructure and human services. I think it’s fair to say that when people see the scope of this plan and recognise that there has been a total endorsement of it by the Commonwealth and the States, you will see that there has been made today an investment by all levels of government in this country of a decade and beyond commitment to further improving the productivity of the Australian economy.

You’ve heard me before use the analogy of running towards and ever-receding finishing line; well all of us have sought to do that today together. We all want a more productive Australia, we all want more jobs, we all want to maintain the momentum of economic reform. It can only be achieved if we work together and although we will have some differences on issues like industrial relations reform, we don’t have any differences in our desire to lift the productivity of this country and I’m delighted that we’ve been able to reach agreement and I thank all of my colleagues for that. You’ll see the details of the arrangement, but it’s right across the board and it’s upon the basis that all governments have an obligation to enact reforms for the benefit of Australians and governments are entitled to see and enjoy a fair sharing of the benefits and costs of economic reform. There’s a recognition of that by the Commonwealth and there’s an acceptance of that principle by the States.

So I want to conclude; we have also, I should say, noted some arrangements in relation to dealing with pandemics, an update of the national counter-terrorism arrangements and we have noted that at the next COAG meeting we will have from our officials an agreed response if possible to the Lockhart proposals in relation to stems cells, which was the subject of a report. Sadly the former Justice Mr Lockhart died in the middle of January and in fact his memorial service is being held in Sydney virtually as we meet. But this report is a very valuable contribution to the ongoing debate on that and we’ll be analysing it very carefully over the months ahead and be dealing with that at the next meeting. We hope to have the next meeting in June.

Let me finish by saying, I know I may have said this before and it’s been true on those occasions that we’ve had a very productive COAG meeting, but I think it’s fair to say that if you look at the scope of what’s been dealt with and what’s been agreed upon, this is an unbelievably successful COAG meeting and that is nothing more than what the Australian people have an entitlement to. They are fed up with Government’s failing to agree on important long term issues and we have worked very hard to bring about reforms today. In the short term and the long term, we have made huge progress and that is all to the benefit of the Australian people and I thank Clare Martin and all of my colleagues for working so constructively to achieve this outcome and we look forward to seeing it implemented.

PREMIER IEMMA:

Thank you Prime Minister. I endorse those comments wholeheartedly. The meeting was just conducted in the spirit of cooperation and goodwill, and we reached significant agreement, a renewed national effort to economic reform, long term, lasting economic reform, to boost growth, jobs, and investment. In the area of mental health, all I can say is that at long last there is real hope for the mentally ill and their families. The commitment to develop a national action plan, as soon as possible, but no later than in the next three months, to boost

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the quality of services and provide for sustained improvement in services for the mentally ill- encompassing all of the areas of service provision. The support in the community, the workforce challenges that we face including the distribution of the workforce, the professional boundaries around individual categories of the workforce, the support in the community through infrastructure, as well as supporting families and carers. This is a significant agreement today and at long last there is real hope for those suffering mental illness and their families and their carers.

In the area of health we’ve made significant progress on tackling some of the blockages in our health system. The Prime Minister’s mentioned the elderly awaiting placement in nursing home or other types of accommodation from public hospitals, the establishment of a national call centre linked to either existing services, or the potential to increase other services, for example general practice, linking the call centre to the provision of services, to not only take the pressure off our emergency departments and our nurses and doctors in those emergency departments, but to boost the quality of care and the services out in the community for the people of this nation. A commitment to examine and come back within a short period of time, the structural workforce issues in health, not just medical but nursing and the other healthcare professionals. These are significant agreements that will in the long term provide for sustained improvement in the quality of services in our hospitals, as well as out in the community.

The area of skills agreement again, the opportunity of streamlining the regulation of skills, the qualifications, the licensing agreements to provide for portability, mutual recognition and improving the processes-so again blockages in education and training, boosting the opportunity for jobs and investment and a better future for our young people. This has been a significant COAG and the spirit around the table has been one of goodwill and cooperation.

PREMIER BRACKS:

Thank you Prime Minister. Could I rather than going over the full gambit of the COAG agenda-which was productive, was effective, it has had a great outcome-could I indicate this day will go down as a day that we grasped the issue of reform, economic reform in the Australian economy and to boost our productivity potential in relation to the rest of the world. This is the day when we grasped the nettle and said that we need to increase the skills of the workforce and have higher educational attainment. This is a day when we grasped the nettle and said that we want to attack chronic diseases, obesity, diabetes, cancer, areas which we know have retarded the well-being of the workforce more broadly. And this is the day of course in looking at reduced business regulation and looking at incentives to get people into work and productive in the workforce. It’s a day where we set the agenda for a new national reform agenda. And I think what we have set will put us on a course where we’re more competitive than we would’ve been against the rest of world. There is relentless competition internationally-that is not going to stop-we need to be more competitive, use the capacity of our people better and to make sure that they’re better trained, better skilled, healthier, fitter and also to have those inducements and encouragements to remain and stay in the workforce for a long time.

Now I’m very pleased and I want to congratulate the Prime Minister for taking up the call and to indicate that there would be some resources which are going into a new national reform agenda. Resources on the basis of outcomes and the basis of the cost which is identified on a case-by-case basis, which must be applied as part of structural adjustment in achieving those outcomes. This is an important achievement. It’s one which will help our nation. It’s one which will improve the productivity of Victoria and our workforce in Victoria. And yes

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there’s been a lot of achievements today at COAG but I think the 10th of February 2006 will go down as a day when we grasped the need for a third wave of reform in our economy for the next decade and beyond. And that’s the responsibility we took up at COAG today and I congratulate the Prime Minister and my colleagues for doing what was required to make sure we don’t slip behind in relation to the competitors we have internationally.

PREMIER BEATTIE:

Well I’m happy, I’m very happy, these COAGs just get better. As a result of… what? And you get happier to. As a result of today’s decision the University of Queensland, in partnership with the Greenslopes Hospital will be able to start training another 60 doctors. Now this is a result of lifting the quota from 10% to 25%. Now I fully support this and I express my appreciation to my colleagues for supporting this proposition from Queensland because we do have a doctor’s shortage. I want to emphasise what the Prime Minister said and that is, this is not in replacement to any of the HECs places we will not do that but it does mean that we can increase the number of fee paying students who are being trained to be doctors so today is a great outcome. It also means that by June we will be looking at the future of workforce needs that is doctors, nurses, allied health professionals who will be able to start moving to ensure that we train enough Australians to be qualified as doctors and nurses to be treating Australians. So today in terms of health it’s a very significant breakthrough and I am delighted as I said I thank the Prime Minister and my colleagues. I endorse all the other things that have been said and as I said the COAGs just get better.

PREMIER CARPENTER:

Yes a very good day, I am very happy to be here. I came over saying that I wanted to develop from day one a good constructive, positive relationship with the Prime Minister and the Federal Government and I think we are off to a very good start on that. It’s been an excellent COAG meeting with, as you’ve heard articulated by the Prime Minister and the other Premiers, extremely important outcomes for the future of Australia, the future of Western Australia as well. So I am very happy with the way things have developed and the outcomes that we’ve got today. In particular I had the opportunity of raising my belief that Western Australia should now join the National Water Initiative and I intend to pursue that over the next week or so with the Prime Minister’s office. I also had the opportunity to raise, at least getting to the national strategic thinking, the possibility of a west-east transcontinental gas pipe line and I am encouraged by the response I got to that suggestion and I’ll continue to pursue that, I think that is potentially a very important part of a national infrastructure for the future.

But on health, mental health, education, other activities of government, very good progress today and of course as Steve Bracks said I think a very significant milestone in developing a resolve for continued economic reform in Australia. We’ve benefited as a nation from the economic reforms that we’ve undertaken and to let that benefit plateau and to not continue to pursue it wouldn't have been very unfortunate; a tragedy actually for Australia. So we’ve now taken the next step which is to say to ourselves we must continue the reform agenda. We’ve set in place a process by which that can happen. I think a better process even than under which it’s happened in the past and I’ll enthusiastically embrace and pursue that from the West Australian perspective. One other thing, it’s interesting coming from Western Australia coming obviously as a new Premier and being involved in the debate and seeing the way the agenda has developed here in the national capital. Western Australia is very, very important to the national economy and I think there is a slight lack of appreciation nationally about just what is happening in the West Australian economy and I am trying to remove any of that

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misunderstanding and enlighten everybody as to what is happening in Western Australia and how it’s important to the national economy. I spoke to the Prime Minister about it yesterday, about some of these projects and he quite rightly described them as national assets. If you look at the performance of Western Australia he’s right. So in that context, I’ve thought about it and I’ve decided that we will open a Western Australian Government office in Canberra, so that issues of importance to Western Australia, and to the national agenda, are pursued here on a daily basis. It’s very difficult from more than 3000km away to keep the profile of West Australian issues on the national agenda before the national decision makers. We don’t have the benefit of being able to travel up and down the east coast bumping into Prime Ministers, Premiers, leaders of industry on a daily basis. We aren’t 30 or 40 minutes flight from Canberra. So I am going to establish a West Australian Government office in Canberra. It will be charged with furthering West Australian interests keeping our issues on the national agenda and I think that will be in the interests of Australia itself. It has been a very, very productive two days.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you. Mike?

PREMIER RANN:

Thank you very much Prime Minister. Look the issue of health reform and also of course of trades are critically important. First on trades, yesterday the ABS statistics came out for South Australia showing the greatest number of people in jobs in our state’s history. We have big projects like the Air Warfare Destroyers project, a tripling of the size of the Roxby Downs mine that will create about 23,000 extra jobs; so one of the central issues facing Australia is trades, so it doesn’t make any sense that there is still barriers between the states in terms of recognition of qualifications. And of course obviously training of trades is going to be of critical importance to the future of this country, so I regard that as a significant breakthrough today.

On health and hospitals I should say that over the last couple of years we have gone out and recruited an extra - that is extra to the system - 349 doctors and more than 1300 nurses. We have had to go around the world to actually recruit them. That’s because there has been a critical shortage of places in our universities for doctor training. So I welcome the fact that in June when we return for the next COAG meeting we will be looking at the significant increases to HECS funded places in our universities for medical students. What I want to see for my state is South Australians being trained to be doctors rather than having to leave to find University places elsewhere, even though they have gotten 20 out of 20 results. So whilst we support it, the increase in full fee paying students today, the critical thing is more HECS funded places in our universities so that we can train local people, local students to become local doctors.

On other issues of course, we are delighted to have signed the agreement with the Commonwealth and the States for the establishment of a national call centre. I was particularly keen, not only to commit funds for South Australia for that, but also to ask whether have a significant component of mental health nurses who are available to help people particularly in rural and remote locations. I am delighted that that has occurred. But across the board, I agree that today, once again, has been a very productive outcome. I think that is again what the Prime Minister says, what the people of Australia expect of us. In terms of hospital funding we have made an important step forward, but in my state, a 35 per cent increase in the states contribution to hospitals in the past two years alone. We are also putting

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in many, many tens of millions of dollars more into mental health and I think what we all want to achieve is a productive partnership with the Commonwealth on health in the same that we did with the rescue of the river Murray two years ago and on anti-terrorism last year.

PREMIER LENNON:

Thank you John, the decisions we’ve have made today will make a very real difference to the quality of life and lifestyle of all Australians, no more so than in Tasmanian. I come to these meetings in the hope that we can be relevant to the everyday needs of the people that we represent and increasingly I think that is the case. Three decisions stand out that have been mentioned today. Firstly on health, we have increased our public health doctor numbers by over 200 in Tasmania, but to get more patients through our public hospitals we need to free up beds that are currently being used by people who could be better supported elsewhere in aged care facilities.

Today’s decision will benefit older people as well as it benefits those waiting for an operation. People have already mentioned the important priorities for supporting those with mental illness. Today I think is an important step forward in Governments, national and state and territory governments sharing responsibility in that regard. It is the responsibility of those of us in public office to provide a hand up to those most in need. I don’t think anyone could disagree with an agenda to give top priority to those with a mental illness so it is very pleasing to see that elevated to the national agenda today. And of course the national reform initiative is a most vital agenda if we are going to keep improving the quality of life and lifestyle of those people that we represent because nothing could be more important to your quality of life, than a secure job. The national reform agenda is about that.

We proudly proclaim at the moment - officially - that we are the fastest growing economy in Australia so for us skills shortages is a most vital issue, that of course is an announcement made by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, but nevertheless it has brought and enormous challenge for us in Tasmania and it is something that we look forward to with anticipation. It does require a national effort and in particular the decision that we have made today to remove the barriers to cross border qualification recognition is a very significant decision indeed, because a lot of the workforce around Australia is itinerant. It follows the investment trail and an ability for people to move between jurisdictions quickly for work should not be understated or under-estimated. So I go away from today having known that we have a achieved a lot for the quality of life and lifestyle of people living in Tasmania but also the other states and territories.

CHIEF MINISTER STANHOPE:

Thank you Prime Minister. I certainly endorse all of the comments that have been made today. It was a very productive meeting. I think that the initiatives that have been agreed to today are very, very significant in the context of the future of Australia and each of our communities and I am happy to echo all the sentiments and comments that have been made today by my colleagues.

CHIEF MINISTER MARTIN:

I suppose one of the aspirations of the Northern Territory is to grow our population sufficiently that I’m not the last one to talk at COAG. And we are growing in size can I just assure you. And I admired Alan and certainly welcome Alan for you putting West Australia on the agenda about how important it is to the national economy and I can’t let that go by

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without talking about how important the Northern Territory is to the national economy. I think there’s a bit of competition about which economy is actually growing the fastest. Paul’s just claimed it, I think Alan was claiming it and the Northern Territory claims it as well. And it was great to have Access Economics say that our economy was turbo charged in their latest report.

So while I’m saying that all aspects of what we did through COAG are very important, I suppose I’d thank Victoria for the national reform initiative. To focus in this third wave of reform on people is really fundamental to the Northern Territory. We’ve got the youngest population; we’ve got a population that certainly needs to have a greater focus if we can work together with the Commonwealth on skilling our people. And certainly when you look at the funding that’s now being talked about for those initiatives on a case by case basis, they are very important for the Territory. Just let me give you one example. We’re talking on a national level about the importance of numeracy and literacy. Yes, great. In the Northern Territory that goes hand in hand in our remote areas, particularly with getting students to school and we’ve got a problem with attendance. So while you’re looking nationally about can you raise your literacy and numeracy, yes, we’re trying to do that. But the greater you increase the cohort, the more that is a challenge.

So for the Territory, we have unique challenges that I’m confident after today’s discussion will be recognised in this national reform initiative. And so thank you Prime Minister and thank you Premier Bracks for the initiatives in those because I think they will work very well not just for the Northern Territory but for Australia as a whole.

COUNCILLOR BELL:

Thank you Prime Minister. Look the COAG agenda certainly has covered a very wide range of issues today. Many of those have been built on the changing demography of most of our cities and towns and our rural communities, and also a very strong growth in the Australian economy. And that’s put a significant pressure on health, skilling and certainly where we go to for the future. So local government particularly welcomes the commitment to the national reform agenda that’s been put to us today. We believe that if the reforms are to be fully successful there needs to be a whole of government; the three spheres of government approaching these issues collectively. They must include local government and I’m pleased that today’s agreement has specifically acknowledged the role the local government has to play in many of these issues. Local government is keen play its part. We look forward to working with the Commonwealth, the State and Territory Governments and our communities are certainly looking forward to the benefits that the reform agenda set today will bring to Australians, to everyday Aussies. Well done.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you very much. A few brief questions.

JOURNALIST:

What is the break-up, Federal and State and the timeframe of the health money?

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PRIME MINISTER:

The health money, the break-up is from recollection about $666 million from the Commonwealth and $479 million from the States; timetable various but commencing immediately.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard why do you think Australian Governments have failed the mentally ill for so long?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it’s a combination of circumstances. I think we made big mistakes in the 1960s when we thought that in the wake of the Richmond Report, the solution was to close the institutions. I don’t think we provided an adequate bridge between the institutionalisation of the past and the realities of people being out of institutions. I think at least a generation of Australians were too passive about the consequences of illicit drug use, but I think the other thing is that modern life has produced more mental illness. But finally, perhaps even more importantly, it’s something people talk about more. I think one of the great changes that’s occurred in modern society is that people verbalise and externalise their problems, particularly men, more than they use to. And maybe the reality is that a lot; there was a lot more mental illness years ago, but we didn’t know about it, we didn’t talk about because somehow or other it wasn’t the right thing to do and you just had to get on with life. Now sometimes it’s still not a bad idea for some people to be told they should get on with life, but I think it’s also the reality that we should understand that mental illness is a huge problem and there’s nothing to be gained by pretending otherwise. So they’re my thoughts, I’m sure that’s not a perfect description, but if you want to know my views, they’re my views.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister you’ve agreed to increase the loan for medical full fee paying students. Do you think you should consider doing that for other expensive courses as well?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we keep those things under regular consideration. We’re not proposing to, there’s a particular problem with medical courses, bear in mind that that’s the driver behind those changes, but we’ll think about that but I’m not promising to do so.

JOURNALIST:

Why does the increase places only extend to full fee paying places? Does the Commonwealth not have enough funding for HECs places?

PRIME MINISTER:

Hang on, hang on, look if you look at the communiqué you will see that what’s going to come back at the next meeting is an analysis of the additional places that are needed, so watch this space.

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JOURNALIST:

On the national reform agenda, can you clarify what level of resources the Commonwealth will be willing to put in, in the future and how do you reconcile, perhaps a question for Mr Bracks, how do you reconcile what the States were asking in the lead-up to this meeting, upfront payments and the Commonwealth’s unwillingness to provide that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what we have agreed to, and you can look at the communiqué, is that the benefits and the costs of reform; there should be a fair sharing of the benefits and the costs. What the Commonwealth has said is that we will fund to the extent necessary to ensure that fair sharing on a case by case basis. Now there are no specific amounts we have to look at plans we have to look at outcomes but the principle is that over and above other Commonwealth payments, I mean this is not some thimble and pea trick, it’s not putting and taking, robbing Peter to pay Paul or anything like that, if there is a demonstrated situation on a case by case basis where the states have bought a disproportionate share of the cost of the reform well there should be an adjustment. Now I think that’s fair. We didn’t agree to the idea of an upfront payment because that is just too generic but it’s tied to that principle of the fair sharing and on a case by case basis.

JOURNALIST:

Does that mean that there could be specific upfront payments?

PRIME MINISTER:

No it means that if it’s demonstrated in relation to a particular reform that a state has unfairly borne the cost, taking everything into account, gains as well as losses, then we would consider making, well we would make a payment. But it’s tied to that principal of the fair sharing of costs and benefits so it can’t be, I mean it’s very hard to see that as a generic upfront payment.

JOURNALIST:

Just to clarify does that mean it’s based on outcomes?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh it’s obviously got to be based on plans and outcomes, yes. We are not paying on the, you know…

PREMIER BRACKS:

You can’t run a charity.

PRIME MINISTER:

I feel on occasions though we do Mr Bracks.

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PREMIER BEATTIE:

That’s the first disagreement of the day.

PREMIER IEMMA:

The payments would be linked to achieving agreed action or progress and measurements.

PREMIER BRACKS:

If I could just clarify this, it was of course an effort by the states to try and have a run on of national competition policy payments upfront. We were unsuccessful and put a vigorous, a very strong case, that was not supported by the Commonwealth nor was it therefore in the COAG communiqué. But we fully recognise in moving to a new reform agenda model that requires a new funding arrangement based on measurable outcomes. So we accept and we sign on to the new reform agenda notwithstanding a view about existing precedence for existing competition policy payments and I think they are distinctive and they’re separate. But what we have now I think is a measurable set of performance standards which will be identified in terms of productivity reforms which can help the Australian economy significantly which we can all contribute to and which there will be payments.

JOURNALIST:

The states receive about $800 million per year at present Mr Bracks, do you envisage that the states going forward with this new agenda will receive that sort of largesse from the Commonwealth or is it a much smaller figure?

BRACKS:

Well we don’t know yet. That work is to be done with individual implementation plans looking at identified outcomes and following that will be the cost of that, the funding for that. It might be more and before the Prime Minister gets too upset, it might be less. I’m hopeful it will be more.

JOURNALIST:

The recent Productivity Commission report about the health workforce made the point that there’s no point just simply creating new space for medical students unless the public hospitals have the capacity to give them clinical training.

PRIME MINISTER:

I agree with that.

JOURNALIST:

Is that a subject that…

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PRIME MINISTER:

Well that’s an issue that we have got to both address because the control of that is in the hands of the states but there’s also a role for private hospitals too and I think Mr Beattie made that point in relation to Greenslopes.

BEATTIE:

That’s a really essential point here.

PRIME MINISTER:

Absolutely.

BEATTIE:

That we’ve got to stop thinking just about public hospitals being the provider of clinical training. The proposal that I’ve talked about and which I put to COAG today involves, in Queensland at least, Greenslopes Private Hospital will actually provide that training. Now yes, there will be some follow up that will have to be done by the public hospital system. But we’ve got to stop thinking about training just being in the public system. We can do this is partnership with the private system. The whole area of health is public/private anyway. Here you’ve got a hospital that will train 60 doctors, hopefully starting, up to 60 doctors, hopefully starting this year. So for the first time we might get a partnership between the public and private actually training doctors.

PREMIER IEMMA:

And the work will also involve the professional boundaries. It’s not just a case of boosting the numbers, the clinical placements; it’s also the roles of the professionals in providing the healthcare.

JOURNALIST:

The public mental health experts estimate that a billion dollars would be needed to really tackle the mental health situation in Australia. Are we likely to see that kind of money flowing from governments at the various tiers and when will we see money put on the table?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I would expect you’d start to see a discussion about amounts when we get the advice that we have commissioned out of this meeting, but I’m not going to start talking about amounts. I mean I understand why experts in any given field will nominate a figure, but I think all of my colleagues would agree with me that until we’ve got all the facts and we’ve made decisions we’re not going to start talking figures. We have both recognised today, both levels of government, that additional resources will be needed and that is understood. But I’m not going to start speculating about figures at this time; there’s nothing to be gained by that. Final question.

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JOURNALIST:

You said that Australians are being too passive in their understanding of the role that illicit drugs have played in mental illness. How do you see under the new system perhaps a more active approach on that is going to play out?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think one of the advantages of what I believe will come out of this process is that there will be a greater recognition of the role of the different areas of health professionals in dealing with the problem. There will be a greater understanding on the part of General Practitioners of their responsibilities. I think the more you raise a community consciousness of it and the more you recognise that it’s something that should be met head on and talked about and dealt with in an open, candid fashion and I think we can learn a great deal from the experience. And I mentioned them earlier and I’ll mention them again, that many of those private welfare organisations like Lifeline that for 40 years have been dealing perhaps in a coalface fashion with many of the problems with mental illness in a way that many other sections of the community haven’t been and a lot of those people have been the unsung heroes of this area for a very, very long time.

* refers to full fee paying medical places for domestic students. Please refer to page 14 of the COAG Communiqué

[ends]