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Victoria: Premier discusses proposed State changes to the national gun laws; calls on the Commonwealth for adequate health care funding.



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PETER CAVE:   By the end of today’s meeting between the Prime Minister and the Premiers, it should be clear whether Australia will stick with uniform gun laws or not.  The Prime Minister says he’s not budging on the issue, but Queensland and Victoria say their proposed changes - shorter waiting periods for gun purchases and greater access to semi-automatic shotguns - are  mere technicalities.

 

The other contentious issue is health, with the Commonwealth offering the States only half of the $5.5 billion they say they need.  On the line now is Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, and to speak to him, our chief political correspondent, Matt Peacock.

 

MATT PEACOCK:   Mr Kennett, you say we went over the top with gun laws after the Port Arthur massacre, but Mr Howard says that your gun proposals have him very worried.  After dinner last night, are you sticking to them or will you be backing down?

 

JEFF KENNETT:   Well, Matt, can I also say I think that the journalists have gone over the top, and this isn’t the major issue of today’s meeting between Premiers and the Prime Minister.  It is an issue he’s put iinhe laws that we have introduced are not as your introduction referred to them.

 

The 28 days cooling off period remains for the first weapon, and where there is a genuine reason for a person to get a second weapon in less than 28 days, they’ve got to get the permission of the Police Commissioner or the firearms body.  And in the Northern Territory where this applies, there has only been one occasion on where that option has been picked up in the last 18 months.  I’m not sure of the number in Western Australia.

 

So these are just sensible changes.  They will not in any way lead to a major change in the way in which firearms are used in this State.  And the one in terms of semi-automatic shotguns, only applies to about a hundred people who are clay target shooters on approved ranges.  Now, again, I think you’ll find that most of the reporting of this issue has been quite irresponsible.

 

MATT PEACOCK:   Premier, it’s not just the reporters, though, surely.  It’s the Prime Minister.  He’s saying that he’s extremely worried.

 

JEFF KENNETT:   Well, Matt, as I’ve just explained to you, these changes are already in place in other States and Territories.  They are only minor.  There are protections there.  As I said, approval necessary by the Police Commissioner or the Firearms Registry.  They exist in Northern Territory and they’ve only been used once. 

 

MATT PEACOCK:   Are you concerned that Mr Howard might impose sanctions or withdraw money, if you go ahead?

 

JEFF KENNETT:   I’m not concerned at all.

 

MATT PEACOCK:   Just to move on to health.  Joan Sheldon has threatened that if the Commonwealth doesn’t meet health demands, you might not play ball with tax reform.  How serious is your problem with health and is there any chance of a trade-off here?

 

JEFF KENNETT:   Well, let me say that the issues confronting all Australians on the access to good health care is very serious, indeed.  There has been a tremendous increase in demand created by new technology and new drugs;  there’s been an increase in demand through population demographics;  there’s been a massive reduction in private health insurance.  And even many people, Matt, with private health insurance, are using public facilities and not calling up their private insurance because of the gap payment.

 

So, the health issue is perhaps the most important for all Australians and certainly important for the Premiers in terms of trying get into place a financial agreement with the Commonwealth on a whole range of other issues.

 

MATT PEACOCK:   More important than tax reform, for example?

 

JEFF KENNETT:   Well, the health issue is living with today and providing for the needs of the community today:  tax reform is something that will hopefully be articulated by June, and that is generational for the country and absolutely necessary to be addressed and resolved as we move into the next election.  They’re both very important.  We’re not going to have an outcome on tax reform today.  I hope we move one pace closer to a commonsense position, but we won’t have an outcome.  In terms of health, I don’t think you’ll find the Premiers walking out, but I do remind our listeners that perhaps the singular most important issue that has confronted people in the health area in recent times has been the botching of the nursing homes deal.

 

If this matter isn’t resolved today, then elderly people in this country, having been literally scared witless by the nursing home proposed changes, are going to bear the brunt of the failure of Canberra to meet the States in terms of providing health car e that we both have a joint responsibility for, because in real terms, most of the money on health care is spent on ... in the last few weeks of a person’s life.

 

So, again, it is the elderly who are going to pay the biggest price because the States ... and it’s not a question of States’ rights, we just physically, financially cannot afford to continue to provide, given all the changes that are taking place.

 

MATT PEACOCK:   A quick, final question, Premier:  how united are the Premiers on tax?  I understand you’ve agreed on a State income tax.

 

JEFF KENNETT:   The Premiers are united.  No, we’ve just talked about principles and we all see this as being terribly important for Australia.  We don’t look at it so much as an issue for individual States.  We’re not in a position of competition, either one State against the other or the States against the Commonwealth.  But this is the time in our history - there have been two attempts.  Matt, if we don’t get it right this time, Australia’s competitiveness, our security of jobs will be very much eroded.  So, there’s no half-way house.

 

MATT PEACOCK:   Premier, thanks for joining us.

 

JEFF KENNETT:   Thank you.  Have a good day.

 

PETER CAVE:   The Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, speaking to Matt Peacock.