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Transcript of doorstop interview: [Canberra]: 7 August 2006: National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.

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TRANSCRIPT Minister for Health and Ageing Leader of the House of Representatives

Tony Abbott MHR

Doorstop Interview

National Bowel Cancer Screening Program 7 August 2006

TONY ABBOTT: Well, look, I'm very pleased to say that the Government's National Bowel Cancer Screening Program starts from this week. Test kits are being mailed out from today in Queensland, and it will start in coming weeks and months in other states. This is a very important addition to the Government's preventative health armoury. We know from the bowel cancer screening trial begun by my distinguished predecessor Kay Patterson that this is cost-effective in saving lives.

Bowel cancer is one of Australia's biggest cancer killers. Almost a hundred people a week die from bowel cancer, so I would very much encourage everyone who gets one of these kits in the post, as everyone turning 55 and 65 in the next two years will, I would very much encourage people, when they get these kits, to do the tests; to mail it off, and if they have a positive result, to go and see their doctor as quickly as possible.

REPORTER: So will this be automatic? You'll just get it in the post without even having to ...

TONY ABBOTT: It's automatic. Absolutely automatic. Over the next two years, every Australian turning either 55 or 65, that's more than a million people will get one of these kits in the post. Now, we know from the trial program that not everyone will do the test, but I would certainly encourage people who get the kit to do the test because it is a potential lifesaver. We know from the trial that something like 203 cancerous growths were detected in the 20-odd thousand people who returned the kits. Close to 100 pre-cancerous growths were detected.

So this is a potentially life-saving test kit that will be arriving in more than a million letterboxes over the next two years, and it's in everyone's interests, when they get the kit, that they do the test, and if they get a positive result, to see their doctor.

REPORTER: During the trial, was there any reason to [inaudible]?

TONY ABBOTT Inevitably, when you're talking about something like bowel cancer, there is a bit of a yuck factor. But this is quite simple to do. It's done in the privacy of your own home. It doesn't have to involve any other person just to get the test done and analysed. And if there is some blood present, well, you really need to get it followed up, because you could potentially save your life.

REPORTER: States were expressing concern that there weren't the resources in the public sector to deal with [inaudible] follow-up tests that would come from a positive [inaudible].

TONY ABBOTT: Yes. And my officials have been working through with each of the states and territories this issue, and we believe that all of these issues are manageable; certainly, the mail out starts in Queensland this week, and it starts in the other states and territories shortly. We're still finalising negotiations with Victoria and Western Australia, but I'm confident we can come to a satisfactory conclusion in the next few weeks.

REPORTER: So NSW [inaudible]?

TONY ABBOTT: Yep, in NSW the test kit mail-out starts later this month.

REPORTER: [Inaudible]

TONY ABBOTT: I do. Mmm hmm.

REPORTER: [Inaudible]

TONY ABBOTT: Oh look, the car I drive is a 1971 Rover V8, and it's been costing me about 80 bucks a week to fill it; and yes, I am very conscious of the impact of petrol prices on family budgets, and there are no easy ways to address this. But certainly, the tax cuts which the Government has put in place will help.

REPORTER: Have you thought about trading in such a gas guzzling vehicle?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, I'm also in to conservation; and I think that old cars that are still functioning should be conserved; and if I was to get rid of this car, I would be buying a very expensive new car, and therefore, adding to the consumption of scarce resources.

REPORTER: [Inaudible]

TONY ABBOTT: I'm very encouraged to see, but I don't think that any of us can, for a second, be complacent in this area. Yes, it is good news to see that mortality rate increases are declining in lung illness, in diabetes-related illness and death. It’s good to see that there has been an actual reversal of the death rates in heart disease. So these are very encouraging results, but they've only come about because of a very significant investment in indigenous health by state, territory, and the Commonwealth Governments over many years; and obviously, that's got to continue if these good results are to be built upon.

REPORTER: On embryonic stem cell cloning, will you ... what is your response to Kim Beazley's suggestion that this is an issue that demands a free vote in Parliament?

TONY ABBOTT: If it comes to another debate in Parliament, obviously, there will be a free vote, because that's the way these matters are always handled. But let's not forget that, in 2002, I think it was, we had a very, very long and very thorough debate on this whole question of human cloning and stem-cell research, and the Parliament decided that human cloning was not ... should not be permissible.

Now, I'm not aware that anything has changed significantly that would justify going through that whole process again. Now, I accept that some people don't share my view, and I respect their position, but I respectfully disagree with it. But there will be a debate about it that will go on; it may well be that people will raise this matter in the party room this afternoon, and I'll certainly listen to everything that's said. If anything is said. And if there's any need to reconsider the matter, well, obviously, that'll happen.

REPORTER: [Inaudible]

TONY ABBOTT: I'm sorry?

REPORTER: [Inaudible]

TONY ABBOTT: No, no I don't. I think that the whole party is extremely grateful to Peter for the work he's done as Treasurer and Deputy Leader over the last 12 years, or decade in Government; and I think all of us are quite exhilarated that the PM and the Treasurer are going to the next election as by far the best team in Australian political history.

REPORTER: [Inaudible]

TONY ABBOTT: Well, that assumes a whole lot of things which I don't think can absolutely be taken for granted. Certainly, the Government wants to sell Medibank Private. We very

much hope to go ahead with that sale; although, as Nick Minchin has made clear, certain aspects of that sale really will depend upon what the Government decides to do with Telstra. But the point Nick also makes is that there are already for-profit insurers in this field; and when it comes to premiums, the for-profits are very competitive with the not-for-profits; and when it comes to services, the for-profits are very competitive. So I think the fears that you refer me to are misplaced.

REPORTER: Mr Abbott, you're saying that you own your own car. I'm not sure that you own a mortgage, or not. But would you agree with your front bench colleague, where he said that some concern over the interest rates are somewhat exaggerated?

TONY ABBOTT: I think it's certainly fair to point out the difference between the scale of the interest rate rises that we've had over the last little while, and the scale of interest rate rises that we became used to in the 1980s, when it was by no means unusual to see a one percentage point interest rate rise. But certainly, interest rate rises hurt borrowers. They hurt them big time, and they'll certainly hurt me, and I suspect they'll hurt many tens of thousands of people in my electorate, and they'll obviously hurt millions of people around the country. But the point is, that the tax cuts that the Government has put in place will certainly go some way to helping people to cope.

Okay? Thank you.