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Transcript of joint doorstop: Launceston General Hospital, Tasmania: 25 September 2007: Drought; clean energy; health and hospital services for Tasmania; Daily Telegraph report.

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Subjects: Drought; Clean Energy; Health and Hospital Services for Tasmania; Daily Telegraph Report

RUDD: It’s good to be here today with Nicola Roxon, the Shadow Minister for Health, and of course, Jodie Campbell, our candidate for Bass.

The drought is a matter of continued concern for all Australians. Last Friday I visited Walgett in North Western NSW and spoke to farmers there about the circumstances they are going through. On several occasions this year I’ve indicated to Mr Howard that we need to be doing more to assist droughted farmers. This is an exceptional drought. And that part of NSW, after seven years, they have had only one and a half crops. This makes it very difficult for those farming communities to survive.

Therefore, I would urge Mr Howard to do everything possible to make easier the eligibility criteria for drought assistance. I understand the federal Cabinet’s looking at this today. My view is the drought is so bad that it should be one of those things which gets put beyond party politics.

Our farming communities across the country need every bit of help and assistance. I’ve raised these questions to the Prime Minister a couple of times in Parliament and I have welcomed his announcement of a week ago to extend the area covered by those receiving drought assistance, and on top of that, I would encourage him and urge him today, and would support on a bipartisan basis, any measures which make it easier for droughted farmers and their families to get assistance at this very difficult time.

The other point I’d like to touch on concerns clean energy. Mr Howard made a statement the other day about clean energy. Yet today, we have a Minister of the Howard Government saying that wind power and wind energy is useless. Well, I am stunned by these remarks by a Howard Government Minister. It does tend to underline the fact that the Howard Government has not been serious, after 11 years in office, about clean energy.

After 11 years in office, on the eve of an election, to suddenly announce a target for clean energy which is designed to boost renewable energy, well, and then the Howard Government Minister comes out and says that wind energy is useless, I think underlines the Australian community’s scepticism about where the Howard Government stands on these questions.

We must boost the mandatory renewable energy target and we must encourage, therefore, wind energy, solar and other energy renewables. The fact that after 11 years in office, we haven’t had that encouragement from the Howard Government is illustrated by the fact that Vestas has had to scale back on its investments in wind energy in Tasmania, but we’ve also had Roaring Forties heading off to China to invest, rather than expand their investments here.

Therefore, I’d say the facts speak for themselves. The Howard Government which has not been serious about clean and renewable energy for 11 years, a Howard Government Minister saying that wind energy is useless, and we’ve got two major industries in this area basically saying because there isn’t sufficient direction from government, they’re putting their money elsewhere. I think this gives a stark reminder to us all about how serious Mr Howard really is about clean energy.

Finally, the reason we are here in Launceston today is to talk about health services.

Nationally, we have a major task of reform ahead of us, and that is to get the national health and hospital system right. That’s why we have indicated a $2 billion plan to work in partnership with the States and Territories to make sure that there is sufficient funding in the immediate term to deal with the huge backlog which has occurred in their capital and recurrent costs.

Part of that $2 billion plan, we also have an approach to GP Super Clinics to assist with primary health care in the community and also a plan to deal with the current undersupply of aged care beds. Right now across Australia, we have 2300 people who are in acute care hospital beds who should be in aged care facilities. They’ve already been classified to go there.

Now, here in LGH, for example, I’m advised that at any given time, up to 20 people are occupying acute care beds who are already classified to go into aged care facilities, the problem being the non-availability of those beds out there. So, we have a policy for dealing with that.

Today what I’d like to make absolutely clear is our response to Tasmanian health and its needs into the future.

Firstly, what I’m announcing today is a $50 million package for health services across Tasmania, the bulk of which to be spent here in the North and the North

West. One of the elements of that package is $15 million for an integrated care centre here at LGH, including the provision of a renal dialysis unit. That’s very important for this community. And we’ve listened carefully to what local experts and specialists have been indicating to us about where the needs lie. Other elements of the package, I’ll ask Nicola Roxon to detail presently.

The other thing I’d like to confirm today is that because heads of agreement have been signed between the Tasmanian Government and the Federal Government on the future of Mersey, if we’re elected to form the next government of the country, we will, of course, honour that agreement.

The other element I’d like to make absolutely clear today is that the $45 million, or thereabouts, which is then retained by the Tasmanian Government for use on health services, we will stipulate ourselves, if we form the next government of Australia, that every dollar of that $45 million will be spent in the North and the North West, including here at Launceston General Hospital.

Those are the three elements of what I’d like to underline in my statement here at LGH today. Beyond that, the rest of our health and hospital reform package, I would just conclude with these remarks. If we’re elected to form the next government of Australia, I’m acutely conscious of the other needs here at LGH and across the North and North West in my discussions this morning with the health experts and professionals had underlined that.

We’re determined to embark upon a long-term reform plan for health services in this part of Australia and more widely as well when it comes to the integration of those health services with hospital services.

But in the first 18 months of a government, if we form the next government of Australia, we’ll be sitting down with the States and Territories and drawing upon the $2 billion fund we’ve allocated to work out precisely what additional services, therefore, need to be funded here in the LGH and across the North and North Wester Tasmania. That is an important priority for us, together with health care needs across the country.

I conclude with this. We believe that what Tasmania needs and what Australia needs is a national approach, an integrated national approach to dealing with health and hospital services, not just one plan for one hospital in one seat in the country, but an integrated plan for all hospitals, all 750 public hospitals across our great country. And what I’ve announced today is one part of that overall approach to the nation’s future health and hospital services needs.

If I could just ask Nicola to detail the rest of our plan for Tasmania? Could I just ask her and then I’ll take any questions.

ROXON: OK. Thank you very much for that, Kevin. As Kevin has set out, we are announcing today a $50 million plan to provide health services and bolster health services within Tasmania. Kevin has already indicated that a key component of that is the $15 million that we are going contribute to an integrated care centre here in Launceston. That’s something that the Launceston community, Jodie Campbell, many of the professionals have been advocating for on behalf of patients for a long time and it fits very much with our emphasis of trying to make sure that there is community care available, that people are not always required to come to an acute setting to receive services and support and rehabilitation, renal dialysis, other services that are more appropriately provided in a community setting. So, we think that’s going to be of enormous benefit to patients in the community and also take a lot of pressure off the hospital.

We’ve also announced something that I know is of particular importance in the North, which is a $10 million investment in patient travel services. We know that it’s very often a pressure for patients to have to fund their own travel, to be paid amounts which do not cover their costs, and often, particularly for cancer patients, they’re travelling at times when they’re physically not well and it’s important for us to be able to provide support for them. This $10 million is going to be provided in a way that is flexible and is actually a first time pilot because the community have provided very many solutions already in Tasmania; funding their own buses. We think that we should invest in those community solutions and we look forward to working with the Tasmanian Government and the community on how that money can best be spent to provide support to patients.

We’ve also announced that we are going to commit $7.7 million for oncology services here in the North and North West. It is our preference, given the lack of those services in the North West, that they be able to be located in the North West but we think it’s vitally important that it’s part of an integrated strategy so the sorts of oncology services that are provided here at the Holman Clinic would be able to be part of services that are provided elsewhere across the whole Northern shore of Tasmania.

We’ve also made an announcement that we’re going to fund the first ever PET scanner in Tasmania. We, in fact, met a patient today who said he’s travelled to Melbourne four or five times simply because there is nowhere that he can get a PET scan undertaken in Tasmania.

Obviously, these sorts of services are vital for the health care that we now need and we think that that’s going to make a big difference to the services that are provided in Tasmania.

And importantly, we’ve announced in addition to the integrated care centre here at Launceston Hospital, which is going to provide frontline community care in Launceston, we’ve also made a commitment to fund GP Super Clinics in a number of other places across Tasmania; one in Devonport, one in Bernie and

one that will have two sites in the South, in Bellerive and Sorrell. We know that these services need to be able to be provided in the community. We know that managing chronic disease is increasingly a challenge for the community and providing support for the elderly to be able to get services but remain in their own homes, is something that these clinics are particularly suited to doing.

And on top of that, an issue that Kevin has already announced, our aged care commitments across the country will have an impact here in Tasmania when often on a night, 20 or so maybe in Launceston, but 70 or 80 elderly patients who should be in an aged care facilities, are in our hospitals and putting pressure on the Tasmanian health system as well.

Finally, something I know that many, many people in the North of Tasmania and the North West have suffered from, which is the Howard Government’s withdrawal of $100 million of funding for dental care services. We know that there are thousands of people in public dental waiting lists around the country and we have just recently committed to funding up to a million extra dental consultations to help clear those waiting lists so that public dental services around this State are able to do their job even better. We’re going to provide them with the resources to do that and we know that will make a huge difference in terms of preventable hospital admissions that Launceston Hospital and others are picking up the pieces from.

So, I think that outlines the main components and I’ll hand back to Kevin for questions.

JOURNALIST: If I could just ask, there’s a report come out today that says that Labor is actually already divvying up the spoils, the key jobs, the Speaker of the House and the Senate President ,and that there’s infighting amongst Labor about that. Is that true?

RUDD: I know how absolutely hard it is to win 16 seats. It’s like climbing Everest. Therefore, I will come down like a ton of bricks on anyone showing any level of arrogance.

JOURNALIST: You’ve said before you’ve warned people against hubris, are you concerned they didn’t hear your warning?

RUDD: Winning this election, and 16 seats, is like climbing Everest and I will be coming down like a ton of bricks on anyone showing any level of arrogance.

JOURNALIST: We’ve heard this morning that a patient spent two … well the patient died overnight, who spent two years in the LGH, waiting for an aged care bed. What does that say about the State Government’s level of competency to manage hospital (inaudible)?

RUDD: I’m always reluctant to comment on an individual case because I don’t know the circumstances. But can I say this? The Australian people, and I think the people of Tasmania, have had a gutful of buck-passing between Canberra and the States about who’s responsible for what. I don’t think anyone can say that all virtue lies with them. What I’m on about is not pointing the finger of blame, what I’m on about is coming up with a solution. What we’ve put on the table is money for 2000 transitional aged care beds in order to make it possible for people who are classified to go into aged care facilities to have a place. And secondly, critically, to free up the same number of acute hospital beds across Australia so that people who need the surgery, including elective surgery, can get it.

JOURNALIST: We’ve got internal Liberal Party polling showing that Coalition in WA thinks it can pick up a seat there. Does that fit with what you’ve heard and what you know, or is it a sign of desperation (inaudible)?

RUDD: I just haven’t seen that report.

JOURNALIST: How confident are you that the States will take the $2 billion over 18 months and be able to operate the health system, and how much weight are you putting behind having to call a referendum on the federalisation (inaudible)?

RUDD: When I look at great hospitals like LGH and the work that they do, and all the professionals here who have dedicated so much of their lives to delivering first-class services to this community, what I want to do is to make sure we get the national system right to support their hard work here on the ground.

As I’ve said before, I’m sick and tired of buck-passing between Canberra and the States and between the States and Canberra. I think it’s time the nation was able to turn around and have a leader who’s prepared to say the buck stops with me when it comes to the hospital and health system.

Therefore, our proposal is clear.

One; $2 billion up front nationally together with the other elements of our National Health and Hospital Reform Plan that we put out into the public domain.

Two; 18 months to negotiate cooperatively with the States and Territories a new deal to eliminate duplication and overlap between acute care hospital beds and nursing home beds and accident and emergency and general practitioner services, mental health, dental health, disabilities, this huge waste, duplication, overlap and a lack of coordination.

Thirdly; if that doesn’t work, if that doesn’t work, I am absolutely determined that we would then seek a fresh mandate from the Australian people for the Commonwealth to take over future funding responsibility for the nation’s 750 public hospitals. That is why we believe that we’ve got to go into negotiations with the States and Territories with a very clear approach which says at the end of the day there is a bottom line here and if it’s not met, then we will propose to go to the people to get our own mandate.

JOURNALIST: Have you consulted with State Health Minister, Lara Giddings, on that, on some of these funding arrangements and making that Mersey funding contingent?

RUDD: Shadow Minister, Nicola Roxon, has been speaking with the State Health Minister in detail about all elements of this proposal, including what you just referred to.

JOURNALIST: Can you guarantee that not one cent will go to any of the southern (inaudible)?

RUDD: Let me be very blunt. When it comes to the $45 million, which is retained within the State system, we will stipulate that every dollar of that is spent in the North and North West, including here at the LGH.

JOURNALIST: Sceptics will say that you’re doing this to try and win back Braddon. Is this a knee-jerk reaction John Howard’s intervention?

RUDD: We have a plan out there for the nation and my plan for the nation includes a $2 billion health and hospital reform plan, not just for one hospital in one part of Australia and one part of Tasmania, but for all of Australia’s 750 public hospitals. That’s a plan in three stages, like I announced before.

I would contrast that with the proposal which has been put forward by the Government, which cherry picks a hospital here or a hospital there, does a bit here, does a bit there, but doesn’t actually deal with the whole system. We have a plan for the nation and a long-term plan for the nation. Mr Howard seems to have a short-term fix for particular seats.

JOURNALIST: Are you also hoping to have another plan for Ouse and Roseberry hospitals as well?

RUDD: When it comes to 750 public hospitals across Australia, our $2 billion plan is designed to reach right across the national system, and how they integrate it together in the provision of decent health and hospital services across the State and across the nation. That’s the job of national government.

You know, people are just sick and tired with the buck-passing. They are really fed up with it. When I look at people who are, like your first- class medical professionals here at this hospital, the LGH, they’ve dedicated huge slabs of their careers to providing services to communities like this and to doing the best with the resources they provide.

The job of our national government is to provide leadership and to make that possible. It’s not the job, it’s not right for the national government to pull a billion dollars out of the national system, like the current government has done, and it’s not right for the national government to wash its hands of workforce planning so that we don’t have an adequate supply of trained medical specialists, doctors and nurses flowing into the system. That’s why we need a plan for the nation, not just a plan for the next election, which is regrettably, I think, is what Mr Howard’s put forward. Thank you.