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Opposition Leader discussses MRI, education.

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CORDEAUX: Michael Wooldridge, the Health Minister, has been forced to admit that radiologists may have cashed in on a Budget leak, a very profitable one for them. The Opposition is calling for a Royal Commission into a situation in which as many as 52 high tech, $3 million Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines may have been bought with inside knowledge of a pending Medicare rebate for the service. Kim Beazley is with us. Leader of the Opposition. Hello, Kim. How are you?


BEAZLEY: Good morning to you, Jeremy. It’s raining and wet here.


CORDEAUX: Well, it’s lovely here, I must tell you.


BEAZLEY: That’s good.


CORDEAUX: You’ll have to come visit with us soon.


BEAZLEY: I will. I intend to shortly.


CORDEAUX: How would this Budget leak have occurred? What are your suspicions about it?


BEAZLEY: Well, one thing we do know is the process the Minister has put in place will not establish that. He’s left it at an Auditor-General’s inquiry. But the Auditor-General cannot go to his office and cannot go to he, himself. So, you need a Royal Commission to do it. This is a $150 million scam. We do know this: that the Minister himself finally persuaded his colleagues on the Expenditure Review Committee to take the decision to allow machines in under the Medicare net on the Budget cut-off night, about a week before the Budget, and that he had, in the course of that week, meetings with radiologists from the Royal College. Now, the position the Minister was arriving at was opposed by his Department and opposed by the technology advisory group for the Health Department. So, it was a unique position adopted by he, himself. And, somehow or other, it got into the hands of those who could personally benefit from it. The Minister, himself, now is going around saying, ‘look, the problem is flawed, it’s backdating’. Well, there weren’t 52 contracts backdated. You know, there might be half a dozen, perhaps a dozen contracts that were backdated. But all you can say is that they must be the radiologists who weren’t in on the joke. Because, from the time the Minister started to consider this seriously, which is about February of last year, right through to the Budget in May, various radiologists seemed to have inside information, doing insider trading, which could only have come from conversations which were well connected with the cast of the Minister’s mind. Now, there is no way the Auditor-General could actually arrive at a conclusion on that. As I said, while he can do over the Department, he cannot do over the Minister’s office, or the Minister himself. That can only be done by a Royal Commission.


CORDEAUX: Well, here was a genuine effort to improve public health and these medical people have allegedly exploited an opportunity. Greed would have to be the only motive. So, why not just unilaterally disallow these 52 high tech machines?


BEAZLEY: Well, that is what the Minister has finally, after eight months of nagging by us, appears to have done in some form. I think he’s let four in, if you like, under the bar and he’s put in a couple that are in regional areas which are not served by the machines. But it’s an important thing to comprehend this, Jeremy, the Department said you should only identify regions which are not properly served by them at this stage of the game and allow a process whereby MRI machines go into those regions. And the technology advisory group for the Government said something very similar as well. What the Minister decided to do was to set aside all that good, sound advice. And that is what has created the situation which we are now confronting. That has undoubtedly created the situation. But the question is, in terms of those who have personally benefited from it, how did they get access to the Minister’s cast of mind? And, in particular, because we are very interested in the dates and the timings of signing up these contracts, how many of them occurred in that week between when the Expenditure Review Committee approved it and the Budget finally revealed it and the Minister, in the middle of that week, met with the lobby groups associated with the Royal College? And how was the information transmitted to them? Because, you see, it’s a very serious thing for the Minister, indeed, and I think only a Royal Commission can tease that out. It is a very serious thing for the Minister indeed if, in some way or other, his office was responsible for that leak. That is a major Budget leak.


CORDEAUX: Just quickly, because we’ve only got a few seconds left, speaking of leaks, this leak of Dr Kemp’s Cabinet submission and the changing of the mind of the Prime Minister with regard to the charging of fees for university students. This must be very embarrassing for Dr Kemp.


BEAZLEY: Well, it’s extremely embarrassing for Dr Kemp. The Labor Party, though it is in Opposition and is two years out from an election, now has more higher education policy than the Government. That’s the first thing I’d say about it. The second thing I’d say about it is that the Prime Minister’s retreat is, however, scarcely believable. You know, I think no matter what the Prime Minister might say about it now, as he tries to clean up the mess that is left behind, the truth is the average Australian believes that when a government says something that is in line with the known ideology or attitude of philosophy of the particular political party, any statement that they would ‘never ever’ do it is merely a statement on hold until the opportunity arises. And I think that people are concerned about this. Mums and dads who have got people in their sub-teens or mid-teens know in their heart of hearts that, when the opportunity arises, if this Government is returned, then they will do something like introducing American-style university fees.


CORDEAUX: All right, Kim. We’ve got to leave it there. Have a great day.


BEAZLEY: Thanks, Jeremy.


CORDEAUX: Nice to talk to you.