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Transcript of doorstop interview: Melbourne: 23 October 2006: dental; overseas trained doctors; Alan Jones biography; Senator Stott Despoja.

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Shadow Minister for Health Manager of Opposition Business


ISSUES: Dental, overseas trained doctors, Alan Jones biography, Senator Stott Despoja

JULIA GILLARD: There are two major health issues in the news today, which demonstrate the long term incompetence of the Howard Government when it comes to health.

The first is this major report from ACOSS on dental care in this country. This report confirms that 40% of Australian adults go with out dental care when they need it.

This information comes on top of the fact that we know there are around 650,000 Australians on dental waiting lists around the country. Some of them waiting three, four, five years for the treatment they need. There have been staggering stories of individuals taking their own teeth out with pliers because they can’t keep waiting for public dental care.

This crisis has been caused by the Howard Government. It abolished the Commonwealth dental program ten years ago, it ripped $100 million out of dental care each year and that crisis has developed to the stage where 650,000 Australians are in queues waiting for dental care, when they should be in a dental chair.

Labor will, in government, implement a dental program. It is time the Howard Government stopped denying there is a national crisis and take some leadership.

Secondly, today’s newspapers report that there are overseas trained doctors practising in this country who have not meet Australian Medical College standards. Once again we have a medical workforce crisis because of cut backs the Howard Government made on coming to office.

In 1996 it cut back the number of GP training places. Now throughout the country and in many outer suburban areas people can’t access a doctor. This crisis means there is pressure to bring in overseas trained doctors even if they don’t meet Australian standards.

It is simply not good enough for patients not to know whether the doctor they are dealing with has met the appropriate standards.

Labor believes there should be a system of national accreditation for doctors. The Howard Government has promised one but it has not delivered and it should deliver on something as basic as whether or not a doctor is appropriately trained and qualified.

JOURNALIST: Dental is the responsibility of the States and Territories, why aren’t you criticising their contribution?

JULIA GILLARD: If you track where the money comes from and that’s the important issue, every State and Territory government in this country has increased its investment in dental care. The level of government that has stopped funding dental care is the national government, the Howard Government. If the Howard Government

was prepared to work in partnership with the State governments we simply wouldn’t be seeing this crisis.

It is not true to say dental care is historically the responsibility of the States. If you open up the constitution, it will tell you the national government has responsibility for dental services.

JOURNALIST: Have the States and Territories done enough?

JULIA GILLARD: There is always a need to look at future needs but we do know that here in Victoria and around the country that State and Territory governments have lifted their investment in dental care, but they have been throwing money into the hole that the Howard Government created.

The Howard Government pulled $100 million out of the dental system. Without the Howard Government playing its part, it’s impossible for the State and Territories to get in front.

JOURNALIST: Should people be worried they might be seeing a doctor who does not have the appropriate training?

JULIA GILLARD: I think people have a right to be worried. We have to remind ourselves that some of the overseas trained doctors are amongst the best in the world. Some of the overseas trained doctors come here having been leaders in their own country and have come to Australia to practise medicine.

But with a failure in national accreditation, there is always a chance there are doctors slipping through who don’t meet Australian standards. The Howard Government should fix that. People shouldn’t have to worry when they go to a doctor whether or not they are dealing with someone who is appropriately qualified.

JOURNALIST: What do you think about the stories of Alan Jones and his sexuality from the weekend newspapers?

JULIA GILLARD: I have seen the extracts from the newspapers on the weekend. I haven’t obviously read the book. I think questions about people’s sexuality are genuinely private matters. I think that is as true of Mr Jones as it is of every Australian.

JOURNALIST: What about his influence on politics?

JULIA GILLARD: I think the influence of Mr Jones as a media commentator on politics is a legitimate matter for public discussion but I think matters about his private life ought to be left in the private domain.

JOURNALIST: Natasha Stott Despoja is leaving parliament. Is it sad in a way, that she is leaving?

JULIA GILLARD: I was very sad to hear the news yesterday that Natasha has made the decision to leave politics. I can absolutely understand why she has done that but she will be missed. She has been a trail blazer in so many ways. When she was first elected she was the youngest women to do so, she was the youngest to lead a political party in this country.

I think the decision she has made is going to reinforce to many Australian women that there are still things that are very unique about women’s lives and women’s choices. I wish her all the best. We are still going to have her around for another 18 months and then she is going to get on with her life she has chosen to lead and she will be missed by all of us.

JOURNALIST: Is this a sign that it is too difficult to balance a political career and a family?

JULIA GILLARD: I think women in all sorts of occupations around this country whether in politics, business, working in a factory, being a teacher or a nurse, women understand there are big pressures trying to balance work and family life.

It has been a consistent claim of Labor that the Howard Government needs to do more to assist families. John Howard once described this as a BBQ stopper, well the BBQ is well and truly out. We need a better national debate about balancing work and family.

Politics does continue to be that bit tougher for women. I am sure it will equalise over time but it is that bit tougher now and it is always a sad thing to see a leading female politician leave politics. We need more women in politics and it is always sad to lose one.