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Transcript of doorstop interview of the Leader of the Opposition: Mitsubishi Plant, Adelaide: 25 November 2004: Skills shortage; small business; Medicare Gold; Leadership.

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Subjects: Skills Shortage; Small Business; Medicare Gold; Leadership

LATHAM: If I could just address a couple of issues before taking your questions. The first is that on my visit to Adelaide, whether talking to larger corporations or small business the common theme is, the importance of the skills

shortage, of revising the apprenticeship system and extra training investment. Making sure that as the economy grows they have got the trained staff to keep up the capacity and improve productivity. So this will be a major focus of Labor’s policy making. To try and overcome the skill shortage. It has been a major area of Howard Government neglect, under investing in skills right around the economy.

In talking to small business this morning there is also a very substantial agenda that needs to be addressed about the weight of paper work and compliance costs, red tape, the impact of the GST, the need for broadband services and competition reform. We will be working hard I collaboration with the small business sector to try and get those issues right and overcome the neglect of the current Government in all those key areas.

The second issue I wanted to say something about was the Productivity Commission Report. About the inefficiency of the health system and how this will add to a lot of tax payer and consumer cost in Australia in the years ahead. I think the key point for Labor is that this verifies what we were saying about Medicare Gold. That, if one level of government looked after the hospital care and the aged residential care for senior Australians, we would have a much more efficient health system. I don’t think it is realistic that one level of government is going to take over all the health responsibilities. We should co-ordinate the care of the high user groups. That is what we wanted to achieve through Medicare Gold and there are many hundreds of millions of dollars that could be saved annually by that efficiency between Federal and State Governments and that would ease the burden on taxpayers and consumers in the decades ahead.

JOURNALIST: But doesn’t it suggest that in fact Medicare Gold would have been unaffordable? When you look at the figures released by Mr Costello who says that an elderly person costs eighteen times the amount to keep them in health care as it does a younger person?

LATHAM: Medicare Gold wasn’t just about getting senior Australians off the waiting list and into hospital beds. It was about good health economics, it was about the efficiency of the health system. If you have one level of Government looking after the hospital system and the aged residential care you

don’t get all the cost shifting and inefficiencies. In the current arrangements where the states look after the hospital care and the Federal Government has got the primary funding responsibility for the nursing homes and the aged residential care. And there were other efficiency features from Medicare Gold; holding down specialist costs, making better use of the 30% private health insurance rebate. So it was about good health economics and unless we sustain the efficiency, improve the efficiency of the Australian health system then we are going to carry the cost of inefficiency for decades to come. That is a huge burden. We know that the society is ageing and unless we make the efficiency gains now we will need higher taxes and higher out of pocket expenses in the health system. And that is what we are trying to avoid through Medicare Gold.

JOURNALIST: One of your frontbenchers; Kerry O’Brien said today that you still have to prove yourself as Leader. Do you agree with him?

LATHAM: Well I have proved myself by being unopposed for the Labor leadership in the recent ballot. All those issues I answered those matters yesterday and we are out talking about the policies and the things that make a difference for the Australian people. Whether it is the skills gap, productivity improvement, helping the small business sector talk about the efficiency and fairness of the health system, these are the things we need to focus on. Being here at Mitsubishi today has been a real eye opener about the productivity gains they are making through the new models, the new technology. We are talking about 40% efficiency gains that sustain the work force. That is the sort of thing Labor wants to be apart of in the future and that is our positive agenda.

JOURNALIST: Does it worry you though what one of your senior front benchers is saying?

LATHAM: Well I have just answered the question.

JOURNALIST: You have been Leader for almost a year, have you proved yourself in that time?

LATHAM: I have answered your question. You can re phrase it as many times as you like but I have given the answer.

JOURNALIST: I will ask you another one. Mr Downer says you won’t last until next Christmas what do you say to that?

LATHAM: I have already lasted longer than Mr Downer ever did as Opposition Leader so I don’t think you would take him as a role model or his good advice about how to do the job. He [inaudible] as Opposition Leader, we remember his period all too well as I am sure the Liberal Party does.

JOURNALIST: Things can move pretty quickly with only a couple of Caucus meetings left do you think you are absolutely secure in your position?

LATHAM: I answered those questions yesterday mate, so you are raking over the same ground.

JOURNALIST: Would you say though, that the comments from your front bench have been unhelpful?

LATHAM: Well I answered that earlier on. Are there any other questions that are different from things we have canvassed in the last thirty six to forty eight hours? If not we will see you later on. Thank you.