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Transcript of doorstop interview: Sydney: 14 March 2008: Bonnie Babes Foundation; Fair Pay Commission; Indigenous Australians; New South Wales Liberal Party dinner.



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION THE HON. DR BRENDAN NELSON MP

14 March 2008

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON. DR BRENDAN NELSON MP, DOORSTOP INTERVIEW, SYDNEY

Subjects: Bonnie Babes Foundation; Fair Pay Commission; Indigenous Australians; New South Wales Liberal Party dinner.

EO&E………………………………………………………………………………......

DR NELSON:

I’ll just introduce to you Bernadette Cullen on my right here, and Kristie Raymond and Michael Newman behind me. Kristie is from Bonnie Babes, the Melbourne based organisation providing national support to women in particular, and their families who have suffered a stillborn baby or had a miscarriage or lost a premature baby. And Bernadette, with great courage, has come here today. Bernadette is the proud mother of two children, she lost however two of her babies with a miscarriage and she will talk about that later. And Michael Newman has done an enormous amount of work in interviewing hundreds of women in this situation and he’s written a book about it and in support of Bonnie Babes. The purpose of the press conference is to focus in particular on the desperate need of Bonnie Babes to extend its literally lifesaving work and providing emotional strength and resilience to Australian women and Australian families.

Prior to the election last year the Coalition committed to provide $800,000 to Bonnie Babes. The purpose of that money was to allow Bonnie Babes, which currently provides counselling, emotional and educational support to Australian women, provides that support to 12,000 right across Australia, and the purpose of the $800,000 was to enable this counselling service to provide a free call number right across Australia to allow low income women and their families especially to receive professional counselling and support when they most need it. The $800,000 will also allow Bonnie Babes to produce educational materials, not only for women who have lost their babies, but also for those health carers and professionals that provide support to them.

There are a number of measures of a caring society. But the extent to which we are prepared to support women in having a baby and counselling and supporting them if they suffer a miscarriage or a stillborn baby is a critical measure of a caring society. I say to Mr Rudd as the chief bureaucrat of Australia rather than the Prime Minister - to his balance sheet could he also add people? It’s extremely important that we understand, especially in the context of having a women in the state of New South Wales suffer the indignity of having a miscarriage in the toilet of a public hospital, another mother who found her stillborn baby in her personal belongings at a hospital in Victoria, it is extremely important that in a country that is doing so well, with a strong economy and looking at a $20 billion surplus, surely Mr Rudd you can find $800,000 somewhere in your pocket and somewhere in your heart for this Bonnie Babes organisation and the support that it provides to Australian women who suffer miscarriage or stillbirth.

Right across this country today, sadly and tragically, one in four women who is pregnant will suffer a miscarriage. One in 200 will have a stillborn baby and too often, despite all of the advances that we have made and all of the money that’s invested in all of these things, too many of these women find themselves at times of

crisis, along with their partners and husbands and families, without emotional and professional support. It’s all very well if you’ve got money to be able to pick up the phone and make a long distance phone call to Melbourne and spend two hours on the phone talking to a professional councillor. But if you’re living on $50,000 a year and you’ve got three kids, a car loan and a mortgage to feed, every minute counts that you’re on the phone and it’s essential that we have a free call number right across

Australia for all women. Doesn’t matter where they live or whatever their circumstances, and that’s why the $800,000 is so important to Bonnie Babes.

I might ask Kristie to speak about Bonnie Babes and Bernadette will speak about her experience.

MS RAYMOND:

The Bonnie Babes Foundation is currently assisting over 12,000 families ever year. Considering that the statistics are so high - there’s one in four pregnancies ends in a loss and one in 20 is a premature baby. Now with statistics that high every one of us is going to be touched by stillbirth or by miscarriage or by having a premature baby or being involved with somebody that has a premature baby at some stage in their life. So I really think it’s an important issue socially for us to ensure that there are support services like Bonnie Babes. It’s the only one of its kind. It’s the only one that has a 24 hour, seven day a week support service. Now they’re all volunteers and they’re not only over the phone, they can go into peoples homes, they will go into the hospitals and assist in many, many different ways. Apart from the fact that they help with vital research into these issues, they also provide many, many resources for education and

training, for not only the families themselves - and we’re including not just the mothers, we’ve got to talk about the husbands here. There’s whole lot of emotional things that they need to deal with as well, which is not so socially acceptable

sometimes. There’s also the siblings. There are just many areas that need to be addressed and Bonnie Babes does address those areas. Bernadette here was not fortunate enough to have the information to be able to assist her when she went through it, the hospital didn’t have the information that could assist her and part of the

resources that go out from the Bonnie Babes Foundation is to the hospitals and to health professionals so if they have people in this situation they know where to go. I don’t know if Bernadette would like to tell you a bit about her story.

MS CULLEN:

I’ve been through two tragic miscarriages. Both times I went to hospital and I was treated in a very matter of fact way. I was told these things happen all the time and I went through a lot of grief. I was extremely upset and depressed about what was happening. I didn’t think it would happen to me and despite being young and healthy it did. And I didn’t get the help I needed. I felt really alone and I felt angry that there was nobody to help me. I have had friends that have been through the same thing and they have had Bonnie Babes there to help them. I just wish that I had had Bonnie Babes to help me and I want mums of Australia to be able to have that support. There needs to be a support network and it makes me angry thinking that there may not be that available due to lack of funding.

DR NELSON:

I just say one other thing in relation to this. It’s $800,000. Now Mr Rudd did not commit to spending this $800,000 before he was elected. In terms of finding the money, Mr Rudd will save $800,000 by freezing my pay and that of the Liberal and National Party MPs over the next 12 months. As far as I’m concerned he can spend the $800,000 he saved on our MP pay rises by putting it into Bonnie Babes. He’s also just saved a million dollars for every Friday that the parliament won’t be sitting. It is a lot of money for Australians who actually earned that money but in terms of the women who will benefit from this and who so desperately need it, and any woman in Australia who is planning on having a baby unfortunately has a 25 per cent of losing that baby to miscarriage and for that and many other reasons I implore Mr Rudd and the Government to make the $800,000 available to Bonnie Babes. So I’m very happy to take questions.

QUESTION:

Dr Nelson you’re willing to give up your MP pay rise for this cause?

DR NELSON:

Well Mr Rudd, with my support, announced a month or so ago that there would be a freeze on MPs pay for the next 12 months. That will save about $1.8 million. The $800,000 that will be saved by freezing my pay and that of the Liberal and National Party MPs, as far as I’m concerned every cent can be put into Bonnie Babes. Mr Rudd increasingly is sounding like the chief bureaucrat of Australia rather than the Prime Minister governing our country and if he wants to look at his balance sheet and put some people into it, he can shift $800,000 from our pay increase that we’re not getting and put it straight into Bonnie Babes.

QUESTION:

While we’re talking about wage freezes, the lowest paid workers……

DR NELSON:

Ah well just when we’re finished with this issue I’m happy to take other questions.

QUESTION:

Why of all of your election promises did you choose this one for the Rudd Government to honour?

DR NELSON:

Well it’s extremely important. It might not seem like a lot of money to Mr Rudd and to the Government but it’s the women and their families and their partners and husbands who are behind this. It is a significant organisation that has struggled with

fundraising, with cake stalls, and raffles and corporate support, it has gone on for far too long without the support that it deserves and I just say to Mr Rudd, look into the faces and deep into the hearts of women right across Australia, particularly low income women struggling with kids and car loans and mortgages who can’t afford to make long distance phone calls which can last one or two hours talking to a professional counsellor when you are distressed about having had a stillborn baby or having had a miscarriage. This is a very, very important issue which is one of the measures of the extent to which we care for one an other, and that’s why it’s important. Okay well I might ask Bernadette and Kristie and Michael to step away and I’m happy to now take questions on other issues.

QUESTION:

…paid won’t be getting a pay rise, what do you make of that decision by the Rudd Government?

DR NELSON:

Well I think Mr Rudd needs to have the courage of his convictions and tell the lowest paid in this country what pay rise he thinks that they should have. We know the unions have said that they should receive $26 a week but Mr Rudd is running the Government of Australia. You’d think he’s running the chief bureaucracy of Australia. And the lowest paid in this country need to know what the Government of Australia thinks in terms of their pay rise. And whatever that pay rise is it should be as large as it possibly can be without pushing up inflation or having other Australians lose their jobs.

QUESTION:

Is that fair enough to just leave it to the Fair Pay Commission?

DR NELSON:

Well the Fair Pay Commission will obviously make a judgement based on what it thinks is fair. But isn’t fair that the Government of Australia should have an opinion?

Don’t you think that the Government of Australia should actually say to the lowest paid people in the country what it thinks that they should receive in terms of a pay increase? And as far as I’m concerned Mr Rudd is showing that he’s just gutless when it comes to standing up for the lowest paid and vulnerable in this country. We need to know what he thinks. We understand and it’s widely known in Canberra that Treasury recommended it be an increase of $18 a week. Mr Rudd needs to come clean with the most vulnerable and lowest paid and tell them what he thinks they ought to get in terms of a pay rise.

QUESTION:

What does the Opposition of Australia think it should be?

DR NELSON:

Well as I just said it should be the highest rise that they can possibly get without pushing up inflation or causing other low paid people to lose their jobs, or not get a job.

QUESTION:

And what, do you have a figure?

DR NELSON:

Well Mr Rudd is running the Government at the moment. I can assure you that within three years we’ll be working hard on changing that and he has the responsibility to put a figure on it. We know that his Treasury bureaucrats said it should be $18 a week. We’d like t know what Mr Rudd actually thinks.

QUESTION:

And if the Fair Pay Commission says it should be $26 and that won’t affect inflation are you happy to support that?

DR NELSON:

Of course, the Fair Pay Commission is just that. It takes into account the needs of low paid Australians. It also takes into account the responsibility to look at inflation. But it also takes into account the impact of any pay rise, particularly on small businesses who employ people, and whether or not a pay rise will cause people to lose their jobs. We will strongly stand by the decision that is made by the Fair Pay Commission, but you’d think that the workers of Australia, you’d think the lowest paid in Australia, would expect their government to actually stand up for them and tell the Fair Pay Commission what they think they ought to get.

QUESTION:

The Prime Minister says he’s doing merely what the Coalition Government did as well in not revealing that exact figure.

DR NELSON:

Well absolute rubbish. I think that was done on one occasion only. And in fact I ought to remind Mr Rudd that it was the Coalition Government that established the Fair Pay Commission.

QUESTION:

You’re going to a Liberal function this evening. Do you think the state Liberal Party should be disclosing which developers will also be attending?

DR NELSON:

Well Mr O’Farrell has made some comments about that. It’s organised by the Liberal Party and it’s fully compliant with the current electoral laws and all of those who make a contribution will fully comply with it.

QUESTION:

…Party headquarters won’t reveal who’s going?

DR NELSON:

Well as I say Barry O’Farrell has said what needs to be said about that.

QUESTION:

Do you hope they don’t sit you next to one of these developers?

DR NELSON:

Let’s just put this into perspective. We’re living in the state of New South Wales; we’re three years away from an election; we’ve got a government that is in an advanced state of decay. In fact all is not well in the state of Denmark. We’ve had the Labor Party deeply enmeshed in all sorts of political and other scandals in Wollongong. Let’s just keep the focus clearly where it ought to be, and that’s with Mr Iemma and his government.

QUESTION:

Will the Liberal Party think about a [inaudible] focus on political donations by taking…

DR NELSON:

And if Mr Iemma had accepted the recommendations of Barry O’Farrell the arrangements would be quite different.

QUESTION:

Who will you be sitting next to, do you know?

DR NELSON:

My wife and I love her.

QUESTION:

And on the other side?

DR NELSON:

I’m sure some very good people.

QUESTION:

Will you be worried if there’s a whole table of property developers there?

DR NELSON:

I’ll be sitting next to my wife and I’ll be very, very happy to speak to anybody else at the function

QUESTION:

Dr Nelson, Lateline last night had a story about… that was basically confirming a truck stop trade in prostitution for young Aboriginal teenagers and some of them are underage. What immediate action do you think should be taken to address that?

DR NELSON:

Well the first thing of course is policing. Security. To make that the laws of this country are upheld in relation to Aboriginal Australia and Aboriginal children in particular. I think that Mr Iemma needs to send whatever police force is required to

western New South Wales and other parts of this state to make sure that the issue is addressed. We need to take it very seriously and I say to those people who turned their backs and criticised me for what I said in the parliament when apologising to the separated generations of Aboriginal children, those people who chose to criticise me for shining a light into those dark areas of Aboriginal Australia where young children are abused and subject to all other kinds of distressing neglect, to simply have a think about what we would think if this kind of thing happened in any other part of Australia. Imagine if this kind of activity was going on in any part of suburban Sydney. I think Mr Iemma and I think his government would be a little bit more focused on it than they are. And every resource, federal and state, needs to be brought to this to deal with it.

QUESTION:

Some of the problems are obviously similar to what’s happened in the Northern Territory.

DR NELSON:

Correct.

QUESTION:

There are drugs involved.

DR NELSON:

Absolutely.

QUESTION:

And young girls having, you know, working as prostitutes to get money for drugs. So would you support any sort of extension of the measures in the intervention into other states?

DR NELSON:

Look. The circumstances of the Little Children Are Sacred report, the circumstances of the national criminal justice inquiry led by Sue Gordon which found sexual abuse in every one of the 97 Aboriginal communities it visited, are endemic in remote Aboriginal Australia. The Northern Territory intervention and that style of intervention needs to be extended into other parts of Aboriginal Australia. It is absolutely critical for us as a country to see that every child, Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, is able to be fed, clothed and protected from this vile kind of abuse and I think that Mr Rudd and the state and territory governments need to seriously consider an extension of a Northern Territory style intervention. And as we speak, and as you are reporting this, Mr Rudd and his government are going soft on the transfer of pornography across the Northern Territory. They’ve introduced legislation into the federal parliament which will actually water down significant aspects of the Northern Territory intervention, and I’d like Mr Rudd to explain to the average Australian, the average Australian parent and average Aboriginal parent, why he thinks it’s necessary to water down the bans on the access to and transfer of pornography across the Northern Territory, let alone why he won’t extend that kind of intervention into New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and other parts of the country. Thanks very much.

[ends]