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Transcript of doorstop interview at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney\nwith Anthony MP, Shadow Minister for Employment Services and Training, and Tanya Plibersek MP, Federal Member for Sydney: 29 July 2004: Closure of nursing course at Sydney University; Government policy on divorced parents.

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Transcript of Doorstop 29 July 2004 at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Sydney.

With Anthony Albanese MP, Shadow Minister for Employment Services and Training, and Tanya Plibersek MP, Federal Member For Sydney

Subjects: Closure of nursing course at Sydney University; Government policy on divorced parents

GILLARD: Tony Abbott is meeting with the state health ministers in Hobart. He's told them there's nothing wrong with Australia's health system. Well, there is something wrong with it. We don't have enough nurses, we don't have enough doctors and the Howard Government is presiding over the closure of nursing courses like the one at Sydney University. What kind of Health Minister is it who sits in denial in Hobart whilst the Sydney University course is closed? Minister Abbott today should get the support of his state colleagues to tell Brendan Nelson, the Minister for Education, and John Howard that we need more nurses, we need more nurse training places and we need the Sydney University course to stay open.

And while Minister Abbott is at it, he should adopt Labor's plan to get doctors bulk billing again for all Australians. He should adopt Labor's plan for dental care, so that half a million Australians can get off dental waiting lists and into a dentist's chair. He should adopt Labor's plan so that people can get after hours treatment through Medicare After Hours and he should adopt Labor's plan for a true partnership with the states instead of continuing the war on health. Minister Abbott won't be doing his job unless he achieves those things today.

My colleague, Anthony Albanese, will now be talking about skills shortage issues with the closure of the nursing course.

ALBANESE : This week, we have seen the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry say that the major issue stopping investment in Australian business is skills shortages. It's important to note that skills shortages aren't just about the traditional trades and the fact that we have skills shortages in areas such as plumbing, carpentry, construction and engineering. Skills shortages are most important when it comes to human services and we have massive skills shortages when it comes to nurses, nurses not just in hospitals but also in aged care facilities where there's an absolute crisis in terms of a shortage of nursing places.

The closure of nursing at Sydney University is a direct result of the Howard Government's policies. Brendan Nelson has allowed universities to increase HECS by 25 per cent, with the exception of nursing courses. Hence, Sydney University has made a decision based upon the financial imperatives and structures put in place by the Howard Government to get rid of nursing. It's an outrage and Brendan Nelson - but also Tony Abbott - have a responsibility to intervene and to tell the University of Sydney that it's just not on to get rid of these nursing places.

Nurses are amongst the most valued members of our community. It's about time the Howard Government valued their contribution.

REPORTER : Brendan Nelson claims that by closing down this nursing faculty, they're actually increasing the numbers of the two faculties where they will be transferred to. I think they said two or three hundred more places. Do you not accept that or…

GILLARD : Maybe Tanya might want to respond to that.

PLIBERSEK : Brendan Nelson has said by transferring places to UTS and the Australian Catholic University that he will cover off the shortage from Sydney University. It's just not the case. You could expand numbers at the Australian Catholic University and UTS and Sydney University and we wouldn't even begin to make a dent on the 1500 jobs that can't be filled in New South Wales alone. There is a crisis across the country. We cannot find enough nurses. And to be closing down undergraduate nursing degrees in that circumstance is madness. It means that Sydney University is being run like a business, where they offer courses like law, that you can charge a lot for, and are inexpensive to deliver, instead of courses like nursing where there is a national shortage of nurses and a national imperative to train more of them.

It's also important to say that Sydney University has some particular aspects to its courses that won't be duplicated at other universities. They've got a nursing arts degree and a nursing science degree that are the most popular and sought after nursing degrees anywhere, and they've got a Bachelor of Nursing Indigenous Australian Health which is unique in Australia. We all know that there are many Indigenous communities in Australia that don't have adequate health care, and to be closing down this specialised course that has taken many years to develop, that offers excellent training to nurses, is again incredibly irresponsible.

REPORTER : They've also … they haven't guaranteed … they've also said that they're looking to find a home for that particular Indigenous course as well.

PLIBERSEK : Sure. They're looking to find a home. Now, wouldn't you actually make a commitment that you were going to keep offering those first rate sought after courses before you allow Sydney University to jettison the less financially attractive courses? These are jobs that the Australian community needs and Minister Nelson has a responsibility to ensure that Sydney University keeps offering these courses.

REPORTER : Julia Gillard, what about the situation with the states? You're saying that it's a federal

situation, but New South Wales, for example - code reds, bed shortages - is that all down to the federal government? Surely, the states have got a responsibility?

GILLARD : Well, can I say this? Number one, it's the federal government, the Howard Government, that works out how many health professionals we're going to train. You can't run a hospital if you haven't got enough nurses. You can't run a hospital if you haven't got enough doctors. We haven't got enough of either and that's because of Howard Government policies. And the Howard Government last year ripped a billion dollars out of our public hospitals. At the same time, they've driven Medicare into crisis, which means more people are in emergency departments and they have under-funded aged care, which means frail, aged people end up taking up acute hospital beds. Is it any wonder, given those policies from the Howard Government, that our public hospitals are doing it tough?

REPORTER : In light of yesterday's audit of the New South Wales system, are you critical of the Carr Government for reducing beds by 14 per cent?

GILLARD : Look, the Carr Government is doing the best it can under the policies that the Howard Government has defined for it. Minister Iemma says he needs more nurses, and the Howard Government isn't supplying them through the training places. Minister Iemma says he needs co-located GP clinics. Labor is committed to them, and Minister Abbott has done absolutely nothing.

Minister Iemma says he needs more nursing home beds to help him move frail aged people to nursing home beds where they would be better off and to free up acute hospital beds and the Howard government hasn't responded. The Carr Labor Government is doing what it can. What is lacking is a true partnership with the Howard Government to fix our health system. Labor's committed to a Medicare partnership with our state colleagues, including the Carr Labor Government, that would address each of these crisis points for our public hospitals.

REPORTER : What would Labor view as an incentive to keep Sydney Uni's course open?

GILLARD : Well, we'd have an entirely different set of education policies which means that the dollar signs in Sydney University's eyes which are driving it to close this nursing course wouldn't be there. As Anthony Albanese has said, this has solely happened as a result of Howard Government policies which basically say nursing isn't worth as much, we're not going to give you as much money to get it done and so Sydney University responds and says, let's get out of what it defines as the low value course of nursing into other things.

Well, the Australian community knows nursing is a high value occupation and they know we need more nurses trained.

REPORTER : But even if you win the election at the end of the year, it'll be too late. The course will have been canned. Everything will be (indistinct). Aren't you willing to offer them an incentive on top of that to keep the course going?


Well, this is a direct result of the Howard Government seeing education as a commodity. What we're seeing under Brendan Nelson is education being reduced to something that's just about dollar values. One of the reasons why these HECS payments have been increased for courses other than medicine is simply to return more revenue to the universities. If you have a user pays system, then eventually you will see less and less courses in areas of social need. Not just nursing but areas such as social work and others.

As regard to the transfer of this university's facilities to other campuses, one of the great benefits of the University of Sydney's nursing course is also its co-location with this hospital. It's a direct result, they're on the same blocks of land, and if you get rid of the course you get rid of that direct relationship between nursing and the delivery of nursing and that's one of the reasons why this course simply shouldn't go. It's not too late. It's not too late for Brendan Nelson to intervene and we're calling upon the Howard Government to intervene to place pressure on the University of Sydney to reverse this measure.

REPORTER : There are only two ways you can reduce the incentive for the university to cut the course. You could either force the universities not to charge higher HECS fees across the board or you could allow the universities to increase its HECS fees for nursing. What would you choose?

ALBANESE : Well, we've made it very clear that we're against an increase in HECS payments just as we're against full fee-paying students being able to pay for university degrees of up to $150 000. Labor does not see education as simply a commodity that's bought and sold. We see education as being vital for the health of our community and there's no education that's more important for the health of our community than the education of nurses.

PLIBERSEK : Can I just say, on higher education, this government has cut $5 billion from the university sector and Labor's commitment is to restore over $2.34 billion in our first term alone. That is going to make a significant difference to the way universities have to operate.

REPORTER : Do you think that divorced dads got a raw deal with Mr Howard's package today?

GILLARD : Look, I haven't had the opportunity to look in detail at the package. As you would be aware, there was an all party parliamentary committee that looked at this area and did a lot of good work. We've been waiting for the Howard Government to respond to that all party parliamentary committee. Obviously today's announcement will be viewed in the light of the recommendations which members across the board supported.