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Townsville: transcript of doorstop interview: Thursday 22 May 2003: Medicare; terrorism; troop return; US base in Australia; cannabis trials.

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Subjects: Medicare; Terrorism; Troop Return; US Base in Australia; Cannabis Trials

CREAN: I’m here today to save this office and many more like it around the country because, under John Howard’s proposals, Medicare will not survive. In contrast, under the initiatives that I put forward on Thursday night, we can restore bulk billing and save Medicare.

I’ve announced two important initiatives. One is to lift the patient rebate for everyone, everywhere by $5 per patient. And, secondly, as an added incentive to areas in which bulk billing has declined dramatically - such as Townsville and outer regions - additional incentives to encourage the practice to bulk bill more.

Without bulk billing, Medicare dies. And if Medicare goes, ordinary Australian families simply won’t be able to afford health care. I don’t want to see the Americanisation of our health system.

We have a world-class health system, and people have paid for it. They’ve paid for it through their taxes, and they’ve paid for their Medicare Levy. Why would you destroy it? John Howard wants to destroy it, and his plan will destroy it. My plan will save Medicare and restore bulk billing.

The other important thing that we need to understand is that our health system is in crisis - not just because bulk billing is declining, but because our hospitals are being put under more and more pressure. Why? Because the Federal Government won’t enter a decent agreement with the States on a five-year basis to give certainty in the long term. Lindy Nelson-Carr is the Parliamentary Secretary for Health in the Queensland Government, and knows the consequences of this.

But it’s also interesting that if you go and visit the hospitals, more and more are we finding the emergency wards clogged up because people who can’t find a bulk billing doctor go to the emergency ward. So, if we restore bulk billing, it’s not only good for the patients, it takes pressure off our public hospital system. My commitment is to save Medicare, and the initiatives that I announced on Thursday night will do that.


JOURNALIST: On a separate issue, Mr Crean, Australia has been named in the latest al Qaeda tape. I mean, where do you see the Government’s role in that?

CREAN: I haven’t seen whether these tapes have been authenticated, but if the tape is authentic, it does pose the serious question. The Howard Government said our involvement in the war in Iraq would make us safer. This is hardly an indication that we’re safer as a nation. It does mean that we have to redouble the effort to fight terrorism. And I’m sick to death of the ‘ad hoc-ery’ by which this Government is approaching the issue.

I want to see a Department of Homeland Security to coordinate better our intelligence-gathering and pinpoint where these threats are coming from and how to deal with them.

I want to see a National Security Adviser established - a person that reports direct to Government, so that Governments are in immediate receipt of information that they can act upon quickly when necessary.

And I also want to see the regional summit. I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister is visiting a number of countries, but what he really should be doing is getting all the countries in our region together to develop a collective response to this threat from terrorism. It’s on our doorstep. It affects us, but it affects many other countries and we’ve got to fight it together. That’s what I want to see the Government doing - a comprehensive strategy, not ‘ad hoc-ery’.

JOURNALIST: If the war in Iraq hasn’t made the country safer, were the efforts that the troops put in overseas, were they wasted?

CREAN: No, the efforts that the troops put in were a magnificent effort - attested to not just from our own Defence Forces and the heads of the Defence Force, but from the allies.

I think that our fighting men and women - not only on this occasion, on every occasion - have done magnificent jobs doing their job. The great thing about today is that all of them have come home, have returned home safely and with honour. My only hope now is that everyone else who is still over there returns home quickly and

safely as well.

JOURNALIST: Mr Crean, will you support having US bases in Australia?

CREAN: I saw this report today, and it highlights what I said before about the ‘ad hoc-ery’. It’s very interesting that that report was news to Alexander Downer. He knew nothing about it. And yet Robert Hill did know something about it. We’ve got a situation where the Government is not even talking to itself about what it’s proposing to counter terror. And that’s a real worry, when Ministers themselves don’t even know what is happening through the Government.



Now it is true that, through the Alliance, we have had many joint exercises with the US, and that should continue in common cause - whether it’s the War against Terror or threat to either one of our sovereign soils.

But the Government really does have to come clean and explain what’s involved here. And if the Government doesn’t even know what’s going on, no wonder the Australian public will be confused.

JOURNALIST: But even if it’s true, [inaudible].

CREAN: Well, if what you’re saying to me is, should we continue more joint exercises with the US, my answer to that is clear - yes. But if what’s really proposed is a permanent US base on our soil, I think that’s going too far.

And I think that the Australian people deserve an explanation as to why we need that. We’ve been told by the Government that our Defence Forces and our counter-terrorism capacity is adequate, that everything that’s being done is necessary. If the story about a permanent base is true, it would seem to suggest they’re not adequate. I want the Government to come clean as to precisely what is involved in this initiative.

JOURNALIST: So you wouldn’t want to see a base in a garrison city like Townsville?

CREAN: I want to see our Defence Forces continue to be the basis upon which the security in this region and the nation is based around, together with the other operations around this country. We have committed in a bipartisan way to the support and the adequacy of our defence capacity. I am a great supporter of the Australia-US Alliance, which talks about joint manoeuvres and joint exercises. And we have the Pine Gap facility - which is a joint facility, but where we retain sovereign control.

What I don’t think is appropriate is a permanent foreign base on Australian sovereign soil. And I want to know what is the real strength behind the report today. It would appear that even the Government doesn’t know what is proposed, and they should come clean and explain what is proposed.

JOURNALIST: What’s your perspective on the New South Wales Government’s stance on marijuana?

CREAN: Well, I answered this question yesterday, and I listened to Bob Carr - in fact I spoke to him again today on this. The initiative that he’s announced makes sense, because all he is proposing is that - in circumstances in which the only treatment that people can get to relieve nausea from treatment that they have to have for cancer and for other treatments - if the only treatment on medical advice is the proposal that he’s put forward, to me it makes sense. You’ve got to have regard to what the concerns of the patients are. And easing their pain, it seems to me, has got to be the priority. I think it’s a compassionate approach. But it’s a courageous one, and I’ve indicated that to him.