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Transcript of joint doorstop interview: 5 February 2011: Cyclone Yasi; Labor's flood tax; Coalition's plan for hospitals; crisis in Egypt



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MHR FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WARRINGAH

5 February 2011

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MHR, JOINT DOORSTOP INTERVIEW WITH SENATOR THE HON. IAN MACDONALD, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR NORTHERN AND REMOTE

AUSTRALIA

AND MR EWEN JONES MHR, MEMBER FOR HERBERT TOWNSVILLE

Subjects: Cyclone Yasi; Labor’s flood tax; Coalition’s plan for hospitals; crisis in Egypt

E&OE……………………….…………………………………………………………………

TONY ABBOTT:

It’s good to be in Townsville. Obviously Townsville has had a pretty traumatic couple of days along with the rest of north Queensland as a result of Cyclone Yasi. It’s good to be here at the Menkens' family business. Obviously ice is in great demand at the moment because about 50 per cent of Townsville is still without power. The good news is that life in Queensland is slowly returning to something like normalcy and I’m pleased to say that the military convoy which has been heading to Cardwell has made it through Ingham, which is good news for all those people further north who are dependent on that convoy for vital supplies, but obviously I’m here today with my north Queensland colleagues, Ewen Jones, the new member for Herbert and also with Senator Ian MacDonald, the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern Australia. I think it’s terrific the way parliamentarians have been standing with their community at a difficult time. All of the federal MPs based in north Queensland have been providing exemplary leadership at this difficult time and I think that Queenslanders generally but north Queenslanders in particular have been showing typical Aussie grit in the face of what was undoubtedly an unprecedented and a furious storm. So, I might just ask Ewen and Ian if they’d like to say a few words.

IAN MACDONALD:

Yes well, thanks Tony it’s great to have you here, it’s great to see the support we are getting from people. Look the important thing I think to remember Tony is that north Queensland will bounce back. We are a great area up here; some of the best natural scenery in the world. We’ve got the Army barracks, we've got a great commercial centre here. We'll be back in operation, I think, within a week. A lot of people will be in some difficulties for some time but the real message is that we are back on top of it and it’ll only be a couple of weeks before things are back to normal. It's a great place for everyone to come and spend their winter holidays up at Mission Beach and Cardwell.

TONY ABBOTT:

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Ewen?

EWEN JONES:

I’d just like to speak on behalf of the people of Townsville. I think it’s just been a wonderful time for Townsville to come together. We are one community and the volunteerism that’s gone through the community, to see all the guys here behind me, just rugby mates, work mates, friends and family and they’ve just come together and that's all over the city. We are a great town and it’s a very proud moment to be a member of the community of Townsville. Thank you.

TONY ABBOTT:

And look, I should just stress Ian MacDonald’s point that, yes, there has been a cyclone event but Queenslanders recover quickly from these. Certainly, I think that Queensland will be beautiful in a couple of days time and perfect a couple days after that, at least as far as the tourism industry is concerned. It's my plan to come up here quite a bit in the course of the next few months. Certainly in the winter time I’ll be on Cape York and I’m told that the Festival of Running here in Townsville in August is a great attraction and I’ve had a few invitations already this morning. Any questions?

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, Julia Gillard says she’s going to cut some spending in the budget to pay for the cyclone repairs. Do you have any suggestions of where she might find cuts?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, there certainly is fat in the Budget. When the Prime Minister announced the flood tax she also said that if the expenses exceeded what was anticipated then there would be further spending cuts. Obviously, expenses will be somewhat higher due to Cyclone Yasi. There will have to be more cuts. I am happy to sit down with the Prime Minister in the spirit of national unity to identify those savings because I think that after everything that Australians have suffered over the last few weeks the last thing we need is another tax.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible]

TONY ABBOTT:

I think everyone knows that the Government has been extravagant; I think everyone knows that when you’ve just had the roof blown of your house the last thing you do is renovate the bathroom and I don’t think we need, at a time like this, the kind of prioritisation that the Government has equated to the National Broadband Network. Sure, everyone wants good broadband services but at the moment it is far more important that we get the railways working, that we get the highways working. I don’t think it’s a very high priority in Queensland right now to get interactive gambling or faster download speeds.

QUESTION:

Given the scale of the you know, the cyclone coming on top of the floods, isn’t it worth reconsidering whether a levy needs to be consider in addition to budget cuts?

TONY ABBOTT:

I accept that we've had a very severe flood followed by a very severe cyclone. These are historically extraordinary floods and an historically extraordinary cyclone that we’ve just had, but prudent governments

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do meet reasonably foreseeable events from the ordinary revenues of government, and, let’s face it, we've known since the very beginning that Australia is a land of drought and flooding rain. Natural disasters are not unknown in this country. We’ve had floods before, we’ll have floods again. We’ve had cyclones before, we’ll have cyclones again, and if we have a new tax every time we have a big storm, I’m afraid that we will soon be amongst the highest taxed countries in the world

QUESTION:

What are you expecting to see when you travel north later today?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, obviously there has been much greater devastation in towns like Cardwell, Tully and Innisfail and I think that scale of property damage up there is obviously much greater than here in and around Townsville. Towns like Mission Beach has been particularly affected but, again, it’s the same stoical Queensland and Australian spirit that will be at work in all of these places and I expect the recovery efforts to be strenuous and the recovery to be as swift as human ingenuity can make it.

QUESTION:

There are reports today that the Prime Minister is considering walking away from the commitment the Commonwealth's made fund hospitals up to 60 per cent in exchange for the GST. What's your view on that?

TONY ABBOTT:

I always thought that the GST grab was a bad idea. I thought that there was no way on earth that Victoria would agree to lose 30 per cent of its GST to get local hospital boards and case mix funding that it already had. So I think that the Rudd reforms were always wrong-headed. There are conflicting reports in the paper today about what the Prime Minister is now intending. Plainly she is walking away from the Rudd reforms. The important thing is to get change right and a change which involves local control of local hospitals and direct funding of local hospitals would be a change for the better, and I would urge the Prime Minister to pick up the hospitals policy that the Coalition took to the election which was good policy. It was based on directly funding public hospitals based on the actual work that they did.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible] areas in which you could see some additional funds for [inaudible]?

TONY ABBOTT:

Again, I think the important thing is to get the policy right and when it comes to public hospitals what we need is locally run public hospitals that are funded in accordance with the work they actually do and that’s what the Coalition policy provided for, the policy that we took to the election. I think if the Prime Minister is looking for a better policy than the wrong-headed one that Kevin Rudd embraced, there’s one already made for her, on the shelf. Just reach up, Julia, pick up our policy off the shelf, it’s yours. It’s good policy and if you want to implement it, you’ll get support from us.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, are you happy with Canberra’s response to the crisis in Egypt?

TONY ABBOTT:

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I think all of us want to see liberalisation, democratisation and democratic pluralism in the Middle East. The important thing is to get there with the least possible disruption of people's lives and I guess that I would urge President Mubarak to heed to the voice of the Egyptian people but I would also urge the people on the streets to act with moderation and I would urge people to be very, very careful about trying to take the law into their own hands.

Ok, thank you.

[ends]