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Thursday, 23 August 2001
Page: 30145

Ms JULIE BISHOP (2:30 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Health and Aged Care. Is the minister aware of very recent claims concerning allegations that people are being turned away from accident and emergency wards in Western Australian public hospitals?

Dr WOOLDRIDGE (Minister for Health and Aged Care) —I thank the honourable member for her question. Of course there was substantial talk on this yesterday, but the honourable member has asked me if I am aware of very recent statements on this issue, and we do have further information today on this issue. The whole question of the Leader of the Opposition's credibility turns on the issue of what was said in the caucus meeting. The Leader of the Opposition at a press conference yesterday, and in this House in a censure motion yesterday, made a great point of saying that he had not used the words that his daughter had been `turned away'.

I was charitable; I was prepared to concede that one person's briefing could have got it wrong. Of course, unlike the coalition which actually have one person—the member for Menzies—do the briefings after our party room meetings, the Labor Party needs two: one from the Left and one from the Right. It is a little bit strange that both people yesterday got it wrong, and even stranger that the member for Jagajaga, the shadow minister for health, went on radio and used the same phrase `turned away'. So three separate people having been at the one meeting all apparently had the same take from it. But, no, the Leader of the Opposition said, `To the best of my recollection, I haven't used those words.' I do not want to denigrate the profession of politics, but most of us know that, when someone uses a caveat like that, it actually means, `I don't think I can be found out.'

In a doorstop this morning, the Leader of the Opposition was asked about this inconsistency. He was asked by a journalist:

Jenny Macklin remembers you saying that she was `turned away' in caucus.

BEAZLEY—If you take a look at what Jenny Macklin had to say, I think it was a little bit different from that.

Let us have a look at what Jenny Macklin did say the day before. I will read a transcript from 2GB, Graham Richardson at 4.30 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. I quote:

MACKLIN—When Kim told us that story today in caucus, everyone gasped because you do not imagine that people will be turned away in an emergency.

As far as I can see, the Leader of the Opposition's doorstop this morning, trying to suggest that it was a little bit different, is complete rubbish. It was in fact absolutely spot-on; it was absolutely dead identical. There is more because, over the last 24 hours, members of the press gallery have been phoning around and asking for independent confirmation of what went on in that caucus meeting. This can be very annoying for people in government because usually we are the beneficiaries or otherwise of this, but it can also be useful. Let me read what two journalists have written today about this supposed comment in caucus. Mark Mallabone from the West Australian said:

Though the exact wording of his comments is unclear, some Labor MPs said they were told she was `turned away' from several public Perth hospitals before eventually finding a bed.

Some Labor MPs, plural. Ian Henderson from the Australian wrote:

Another Caucus source told The Australian yesterday that Mr Beazley's remarks to caucus had left the clear impression that his daughter `couldn't get a bed' at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and that she `was ferried around until they got her into a private hospital bed'.

Here we have two different sources completely contradicting the Leader of the Opposition, backing up the three sources yesterday completely contradicting the Leader of the Opposition—a person whose credibility is in tatters.