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Galleria Shopping Centre, Morley, WA: transcript of doorstop interview: PBS, UN Report into Woomera Detention Centre, David Hicks, election issues.

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Subjects: PBS, UN Report into Woomera Detention Centre, David Hicks, election issues

CREAN: But for Labor, Australian families today would have been slugged an extra $190 a year for their pharmaceutical bills. But for Labor, the cost of pharmaceuticals would have risen today by 30 per cent. And but for Labor, the top 10 most commonly used drugs would have gone up today 30 per cent either for pensioners or families or both. Labor will continue to oppose the Government’s hike on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and on prescription drugs. Labor remains committed to opposing it because it’s not necessary. We’ve shown the Government how it can fix its Budget bottom line without being unfair to families, without being unfair to pensioners. This drug and asthma inhaler will go up from $22.40 to $28.60 if the Government has its way. That’s one inhalant for one member of a family. Everyone knows that if someone in the family gets sick the rest of the family get sick. Usually, this compounding problem means a family simply can’t afford the medicine that the kids are calling for. That’s why the Government’s charges area unfair and that’s why we’ll continue to oppose this.

JOURNALIST: … Doesn’t that mean, I suppose, for governments that new drugs are not able to get on the PBS list?

CREAN: That’s the Government’s choice and that’s blackmail. It’s as simple as that. The Government is saying pass the 30 per cent hike or we will restrict access to further drugs. That’s blackmail, that can’t be condoned and we’ll oppose that, too.

JOURNALIST: Well are you swayed by …

CREAN: No, I’m not swayed, I’ve never been blackmailed in my life and I’m not going to be blackmailed by Peter Costello. It’s about time Peter Costello did what was right for the community, did something right for the families, was fair to them. He went to the last election promising he


wouldn’t put a GST of 10 per cent on drugs and now he wants to put a 30 per cent hike on drugs. It’s not fair, it’s not necessary and we’ll oppose it.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned about the changing status in the Senate that your obstruction’s not going to make any difference?

CREAN: We will continue to oppose it and we will urge others to oppose it. Now, the Democrats have signalled that they’ll oppose it. Why? Because Peter Costello was sent to negotiate with them and he blackmailed them. No negotiation on his part. He said take it or leave it. That’s his idea of negotiation. Meg Lees, at the time, said she would oppose their measures. I expect she’ll continue to oppose them.

JOURNALIST: Are you planning on talking to her about this issue?

CREAN: We’ll continue to talk with all people, as we always do in the Senate. I mean, the Senate is a fluid situation at all times. But I don’t see the need to have further discussions when someone has already said these increases are unfair and I’ll oppose them. I simply expect her to honour that commitment.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that she is wavering on this issue?

CREAN: Well, we’ll see.

JOURNALIST: It’s a very expensive system though and it’s going to continue to get more and more expensive and eventually you will be in Government, your Government will be in Government and your going to have to pay for it. I mean how long to go sort of letting compound and compound?

CREAN: You do it in a fair way, as we’ve done it in the past. I’ve

heard this argument that the Government said we introduced a co-payment scheme. It’s true, but we made sure that pensioners were fully compensated for the increase. The Government’s given no compensation here. We also introduced a system of indexation which still remains. But we also said at the last election there are a number of ways you can tighten up on the PBS scheme to stop the cost. The Government has picked up some of those measures, why not all of them? Our view is if they pick up all of them they can meet a lot of the cost over-run. We challenge the Government to produce the figures on those other measures. They haven’t. What have they got to hide? Our view is that they can crack down and tighten up in terms of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme without slugging families and pensioners a 30 per cent increase.

JOURNALIST: … tighten up though, surely, eventually, pensioners and families are going to get caught in that crackdown?


CREAN: No, I think it’s the … that there are a number of measures that were put forward. We put them forward in the last election. I can provide you with the list. It’s interesting that the Government picked up some of them, but why not all of them? I mean, these are issues which both sides of politics, or let me put it another way, these are issues which both sides of politics could agree on because Labor supports tightening in those areas.

JOURNALIST: On another issue, the United Nations have labelled Woomera Detention Centre inhumane and degrading. What’s your view on that?

CREAN: Look, we don’t need the United Nations to tell us that Woomera should be closed down. We don’t need the United Nations to tell us that the kids should be out from behind the razor wire. We don’t need the United Nations to tell us that we need to process asylum seekers’ claims more quickly. These are the things that Labor has been calling for consistently. The Government’s ‘Pacific Solution’ has now been revealed as a political solution - extremely costly, probably in the order of $500 million to $1 billion, but they won’t tell us. And a solution that isn’t working because people that the Prime Minister said would never set foot in the country are setting feet in this country. What we need is a lasting solution and the lasting solution has to be about quickening the time asylum seekers claims are considered in. If people are found not to be genuine asylum seekers, returning them home and ensuring that there aren’t endless rights of appeal. These are reforms that Labor is committed to and I’d urge the Government to stop playing politics and adopt a lasting solution.

JOURNALIST: What about the detention of children? That was another thing that came under the spotlight?

CREAN: I’ve said the kids should be out from behind the razor wire. It is not appropriate for them to be kept there. There have been trials at Woomera for the housing of children with their mothers outside the razor wire. They were successful trials. There were no people absconding. If the trials were successful why isn’t it implemented in full? You don’t need any UN reports to tell you that. We’ve done it here so let’s adopt a consistent policy and a lasting policy and a more humane policy. That’s what I want.

JOURNALIST: Is there any damage that you foresee for Australia’s reputation consistently rejecting findings of UN reports?

CREAN: The great tragedy in all of this is Australia has and has had a tremendous reputation in taking its fair share. But what we’re now having done to us consistently is criticism from overseas. That image, image brought out of our commitment over many years of bipartisanship on this issue, is being eroded by this Government, this Government playing politics. It’s not developing policy, it’s got no lasting solution, it’s the political solution,


not the ‘Pacific Solution’, and it’s doing Australia damage on an international scale.

JOURNALIST: Are the findings in any way likely to sway your own review of immigration policies?

CREAN: We’ll have a look at the detail. I haven’t, of course, seen the full report but I’ve visited the Baxter Detention facility. Julia Gillard and members of my team have visited many of the others. We will discuss the circumstances, the conditions under which people are held and that will form part of our report. But I’ve always been committed to the view that we need to process asylum seekers more quickly. We need to look at the conditions under which they’re held. We need to close Woomera. We need to get the running of the facilities back into the hands of Australian Protective Services so that there’s government accountability. There needs to be more scrutiny of them by the media and those seeking to review them in this country. These are all positive things that we can do but still be tough on border protection.

JOURNALIST: The Government’s tried to discredit the findings, saying Mr Bhagwati was only there for one day. Do you think that’s fair enough?

CREAN: The Government always wants to shoot the messenger. The trouble is it’s got so many bad messages lately, the Government, it can’t continue to get away with blaming the critics. It’s got to face up to the fact that its solution has failed. It’s got to face up to the fact that there is a better way to do it and if it’s prepared to work with Labor to get that better solution, I’m sure we can get to a lasting outcome. A strengthening of border protection, a more humane approach, and better recognition than the recognition we deserve.

JOURNALIST: Mr Crean a US court has ruled that David Hicks is ineligible for trial in the US. What should be done with him?

CREAN: I haven’t seen that. I’d have to have a look at it. But I

think that, as I’ve consistently said in relation to David Hicks, he should be given Australian authorities … Australian consular access should be, he should have access to them. So, I’m not too sure of the circumstances.

JOURNALIST: … (inaudible) …

CREAN: Well, I’ve taken the view that he should be tried in accordance with Australian law. That is the preference that we’ve had. But we recognise that there are international considerations here. While that’s being sorted out he should be given, or Australian representation should be afforded to him. Australian consular access should be afforded to him.


JOURNALIST: Do you think the border protection is going to be the defining issue at the next federal election?

CREAN: No, I don’t. I think the defining issues in the next election will be the pressure under which Australian families find themselves, pressure between work and families, financial pressure. I think the issues at the next election are going to be education and health. I think they’re going to be regional economic developments and I think the solutions are working in partnership with communities and other levels of government to meet these needs. They’re the policy agendas that I’ll be focussing on. They’ll be the policies that determine the next election.

JOURNALIST: When do you expect to have your own Immigration policies out there?

CREAN: We’re continuing to work on them. I would expect them to be out in the next couple of months.