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Transcript of doorstop interview: Sydney University, Sydney: 24 August 2004: American Alliance, Orange Grove, Medicare, honesty, Sally Robbins.



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FEDERAL LABOR LEADER MARK LATHAM

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP AT SYDNEY UNIVERSITY

SYDNEY

24 AUGUST 04

*E&OE ** Subjects: American Alliance, Orange Grove, Medicare, Honesty, Sally Robbins

JOURNALIST: Mr Latham, can you ever imagine yourself being in a position where you need to tell the Americans and US Presidents to get stuffed, as Mr Hawke put it in his larrikin mode?

LATHAM: I think Bob was pointing out that from time to time you have disagreements and of course you find the appropriate diplomatic language to express those disagreements. The point of the American Alliance is to keep it strong but to recognise that it’s not a rubber stamp, there will be points of disagreement and Bob outlined one of those that he had in his time with Star Wars. Today, of course, we have a similar point of view with regard to the Son of Star Wars. Within the terms of the Alliance, a strong Alliance, there is always room for disagreement and expressing that in the appropriate diplomatic way of course would be the path that a future Labor Government takes.

JOURNALIST: Mr Latham, what do you think about Orange Grove closing down tomorrow?

LATHAM: I think the closure is on Thursday, as I understand it, but a Federal Labor Government in the future stands ready to help with anything that can be done to get people back into work. There are probably two courses here. One is to help people, through labour market and employment programs, to get back into jobs. We’ve announced some initiatives, particularly for mature age workers, that are aimed at helping people bounce back after redundancy so that they don’t spend a lot of time in the unemployment area, recognising that the longer they are unemployed the harder it is to get back into work. We want people to bounce back as quickly as possible and our policies would be helpful in that regard. If the Federal Government picks them up and applies them at Orange Grove now that would be helpful as well. The other possibility of course is that, as a result of all these inquiries, it might be conceivable in the future that

the centre would reopen and the retail chains would be able to re-establish the jobs but that’s something that’s going to depend on the prompt recommendations of these various inquiries. The matters are complex. There are allegations of corruption on both sides of the fence and we’ll just have to wait and see what happens with regard to the rezoning and the future of that particular facility.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the New South Wales Government has made a mistake by what it has done with this?

LATHAM: I’ll be looking at the findings of the inquiries to get to the bottom of it. It’s complex. There are allegations of corruption being made on both sides and I think it’s prudent to wait and see what comes out of it. There are complex local and State planning matters and processes that are being followed and I’ll be waiting to have a look at those before passing any judgement as to the right and wrong. I certainly feel a great deal of sympathy for the people who are going out of work. If this could have been avoided, it would have been much preferable but in the circumstances what needs to happen is [inaudible] recommendations to see if the centre can be re-established and if that’s not possible then employment and labour market assistance to get people back into work as quickly as possible. People shouldn’t just be thrown onto the scrap heap. They should have a decent prospect in life and that’s where Federal Government assistance can make a good difference.

JOURNALIST: Mr Latham, have you got any comments on the upcoming Hicks trial in the US and Australia’s relationship regarding those trials?

LATHAM: Labor made an offer to the Federal Government some time ago to see if we could get Hicks and Habib back to Australia. They refused our offer. We think it is preferable to have Australian citizens dealt with under Australian law and processes. But, given that our offer was rejected, we’ll now have to await the outcome of these processes at the military commission. I hope they get a fair trial. I hope it’s prompt and I hope that the law is not only seen to be in force but that’s what happens in practice.

JOURNALIST: Are you of the opinion that he will get a fair trial?

LATHAM: I’m hoping that he does. Our preference was to have him in Australia where he would have got a fair trial. That was the Australian guarantee that we were looking for. Other nations have secured that, Britain in particular. It would have been preferable to have Australian citizens back in this country hoping for a fair trial but obviously we’ll be watching the process very closely in the coming weeks and months.

JOURNALIST: On the comments on the safety net, Mr Howard this morning said that you don’t like private health insurance, and that your comments against the safety net - your comments saying it was a flawed system - showed your prejudice against the private system. What’s your reaction to that?

LATHAM: I like Medicare. I want to save Medicare, because Medicare is about universal health provision for all Australians. That’s the thing that we rely on in this country with regard to the health system. If it’s not universal, it’s not Medicare and Mr Howard is going down the path of privatisation. He has taken a billion dollars out of our public hospital funding and he is wanting to put back in $500 million in the private system. What’s the point of taking a billion dollars out of the public system to then try and put $500 million back into the private system later on? That is the privatisation of the health system. Labor doesn’t support that. We want to ensure that we’ve got good health provision for all Australians. That’s what we’ve always wanted to achieve through Medicare and only by putting a priority on the public funding can you achieve those goals for the benefit of the Australian people.

In relation to John Anderson’s comments yesterday, this reflects another broken promise by the Howard Government. In the 1996 election campaign, when Mr Howard was asked about the impact of his health policies, he said they won’t create a two-tiered health system. That’s what he said in the 96 election campaign - they won’t create a two-tiered health system. Yet we’ve got the Deputy Prime Minister yesterday saying that they’re aiming at a two-tiered system and this has got the support of country voters. Well, that’s not true and it’s not right for the Australian people. We shouldn’t have two-tiers where 60 per cent of Australians are in the second-tier without private insurance and getting a second-class service. The Australian way is to have one tier - that’s Medicare - to make sure it’s a world class health system where you can get the care that you need, not on the basis of your income level but on the basis of your medical need.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] if the Government tried to offer younger Australians additional private health insurance rebates [inaudible] Tony Abbott [inaudible]. Would you reject that just like you rejected concessions for older Australians?

LATHAM: Yes, we would because our priority is to put any additional money into the universal health system, to put it into public health, where all Australians can access it. Mr Howard himself agreed with that principle in November last year. He said ‘if there is extra money in the system, don’t lift the private health insurance rebate; put the money into other areas.’ That was something that he was talking about in November. I think that indicates that his tactic now is more about politics than good health policy. Labor stands rock solid

behind Medicare. If there’s extra money that’s available, we want to put the money into Medicare. We want to put it into universal health provision as the best way of ensuring that all Australians have got decent care and the peace of mind that comes from a quality health system.

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister said this morning in response to the Labor press statement that the Government had 28 lies. The Prime Minister said this morning that everyone is entitled to change their opinion. What is your response to the Prime Minister?

LATHAM: If you think the Prime Minister hasn’t been lying, go ask Mike Scrafton. If you think the Prime Minister hasn’t been lying, then have a look at the detail of the kids overboard affair. These are matters on the public record where he hasn’t told the truth and he needs to take responsibility for that. If you think the Prime Minister hasn’t been telling the truth then go talk to the 43 eminent Australians who came out and said, ‘We need truth in Government. We need truth in Government as one of our fundamental principles.’ It’s not just the Labor Party saying these things. We do need truth in Government. Many prominent Australians are saying it. The Prime Minister needs to take

responsibility for these acts of dishonesty and set the public record straight.

JOURNALIST: And Mr Costello’s vision for the future that is being talked about today, do you think that raises concerns about leadership tensions on the opposite side?

LATHAM: Absolutely. I think it exposes deep divisions within the Liberal Party about social policy. You’ve got Peter Costello rightly saying that children shouldn’t be growing up in Australia behind barbed wire. They should be out of the detention centres. The only way that is going to be achieved after the next election is the election of a Labor Government. If you want to get the children out of detention, then it’s our policy that we will get it done in government. So too with the Republic; he is saying he wants an Australian Republic. The only way we’ll have progress on that important issue after the next election is with a Labor Government. Our policy is to throw the process back and open to the Australian people. We’ll have a plebiscite asking: does Australia want to become a Republic? If the answer is, yes, another plebiscite about the preferred model and then, at the time of the following election, a referendum, hopefully moving towards an Australian Republic. We want the Australian people to have control of the process and that way Peter Costello can advocate his preferred model for the Republic. Malcolm Turnbull can advocate his preferred model for the Republic. Everyone can have their say. This is the way the policy can be progressed, but I think it does highlight deep differences between the Prime Minister and Mr Costello. I think also another area where Mr Howard needs to be honest, because the public must be confused - ‘Well, what is the real Liberal Party

stance? Do they want the kids in or out of detention? Do they want a Republic or are they opposed to it?’ What are they going to get after the next election if the Government is returned? Mr Howard needs to be honest about his own future. I think one of his greatest acts of dishonesty is not being clean and open with the Australian people about what he plans to do after the next election. Is he going to stay for 12 or 24 months and then hand over to Peter Costello or has he got some other plan in mind? In terms of honesty, he hasn’t even got it in him to be honest with the Australian people about his own future. I think he needs to clear that up as soon as possible.

JOURNALIST: When Bob Hawke said that he thought John Howard truly believed that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, do you share that opinion?

LATHAM: I think he said he was inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. That was my reading of Mr Hawke’s comments. But his following point was the key one that the Government went in claiming to the Australian people that this conflict would make Australia safer, and that hasn’t happened. That has been an act of deceit and dishonesty. It’s weakened our national security. It’s made us a more prominent target for terrorism. It has made Australia so much more vulnerable in the war against terror. That’s the really unfortunate thing out of the Iraq war.

JOURNALIST: Do you think John Howard honestly believed that there were weapons of mass destruction?

LATHAM: I haven’t really thought about it, other than he was making that claim. But that’s not really the fundamental thing for Australia’s future. For Australia, it’s about our safety, our national security, and Bob Hawke was right in saying that the Government misled the Australian people. The act of dishonesty where he’s been trying to say to the Australian people this would make us safer

in the future when in fact it has made us less safe in so many respects. That’s the thing that the Government should be held to account for.

JOURNALIST: What do you think about obstetricians increasing fees and undermining the Medicare Safety Net? LATHAM: It’s a real weakness in the Government’s approach because specialists shouldn’t be allowed to shift their fees into the Medicare system and

then get money back through the safety net. If people are rorting the system, if it’s open for abuse, the Government has got to close that loophole as quickly as possible. Our approach of course is that you don’t need a safety net at all. If we restore bulk-billing, if we save Medicare, then you don’t need a safety net. You only need it if you turn the system into a high wire act and the families are at risk of falling off. The Government’s got flaws in its safety net. Our approach is

to actually save Medicare and restore bulk-billing to where it used to be, a national rate of 80 per cent.

JOURNALIST: Have you got any comments on the Olympic rower Sally Robbins being called unAustralian for her collapse during the race?

LATHAM: I don’t think she’s unAustralian. I think that’s very unfair commentary about her. I can understand why her team mates were frustrated and angry in the moment but I think we have also got to put this into perspective - that anyone who goes to the Olympics that’s a great achievement in their life. We are talking about real human beings here, not robots. In these events, people come under intense pressure and all sorts of challenges. I think we’ve got to have a bit of understanding for people in those circumstances. We all know in sport things go wrong. I think we’ve got to have a bit of understanding in her circumstances rather than putting silly labels on her like that. She’s an Australian who has represented her country. I think she can be proud of that. Going to the Olympics is a proud achievement and we need to have a bit of understanding in her circumstances.

JOURNALIST: Mr Latham, there’s been a number of biographies written about you. What’s different about this one?

LATHAM: I’ve got to have a read of this one to be able to answer that question. I’ve had a pretty good look at the other two. But let me have a look at this one in detail and I’ll give you a good old review.

JOURNALIST: How are you such a popular subject for biographers? Mr Howard has only had one real biography and you [inaudible]

LATHAM: It might be a measure of the interest in the subject matter and their lives. Hopefully, this surge in books is a sign that Australians might change the Government and there’s interest in the alternative and people want a different approach in this nation, a different kind of future and hopefully out of the books people get a good understanding of me and we go forward with that approach with a Labor Government after the next election.

JOURNALIST: How far has the Howard Government moved away from the Australian ideal of a fair go and equality of opportunity?

LATHAM: I think Bob Hawke summed it up very well; they’ve fundamentally undermined Medicare. I mean, when Bob was around in 1987 this is what John Howard had to say about the health system: ‘The Medicare system is a total disaster. We’ll pull it right apart. The second thing we’ll do is get rid of bulk-billing.’ That’s what he said in 1987 and that’s what he’s been on about ever

since. Bulk-billing has collapsed and Medicare is being undermined in so many different respects and so, too, the points Bob made about the education system are entirely valid. We need educational opportunity for all instead of a system where you only get the best education if you’ve got the money.

JOURNALIST: Bob Hawke might be quite handy to have on the election campaign.

LATHAM: Yes, well, he told her he is off visiting a few seats so his contribution is always welcome. Thanks for coming along.

[Ends]